RAY Well, at least he’s not around to see this crap.
Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating
Dirs. Franco & Kenneally
Opens Fri Nov 5
Clinton Street Theater

If you're searching for another documentary touting the horror of American excess like Supersize Me, you'd better look somewhere else. Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating is a cute, loving look at one man's journey from being a loud-mouthed fan to an actual competitor in the sport of professional ingurgitation.

After becoming obsessed with contests in which contestants attempt to cram as many hotdogs down their gullets as possible, "Crazy Legs" Conti--part-time window washer, nude model, and sperm donor--decides to become a member of the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating). After his humble beginning eating 34 dozen raw oysters in one sitting, he moves on to other foods--sticks of butter, pancakes, and the true test of a competitive eater, hotdogs. During his journey, he meets with early victory, overconfidence, failure, and elation as he finally earns the right to compete with such world-class professionals as Kobayashi--the thin-as-a-rail Asian hotdog eating phenom.

Though the cinematography barely rivals that of your Uncle Woody's Christmas videos, with a charming, eccentric subject like Crazy Legs the directors could hardly go wrong. His Rocky-esque rise to the pros is predictable, but the story fits like a comfortable shoe and rises above other similar sporting tales by addressing the root of competition--the need to belong. And there's no gratuitous vomiting, which is always a plus. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

Northwest Film & Video Festival
Dirs. Various
Fri Nov 5-Sat Nov 13
Guild, Whitsell, Backspace, NWFC School of Film

The 31st annual film fest from the oft-ignored Northwest Film Center boasts shorts, documentaries, and full-length films from around the Northwest. Plus, it shoehorns in some classes for aspiring filmmakers and an installation-based video showcase, Self Serve, at gallery/videogame haven Backspace.

The fest kicks off on Friday with a shorts program, Sacrifice and Redemption, and a party at Aura. Saturday starts off with Buffalo Bill's Defunct, continues with the fest's second shorts program, Strangers in a Strange Land, and concludes with Homecoming, about a post-9/11 Newport, Oregon family. Sunday features Scared Sacred, in which a filmmaker named Velcrow Ripper--no, seriously, that's his name--examines sites of violence around the world, and a third shorts program, Eyes on the Prize.

During the week, Monday has the drama The Music Inside, Tuesday boasts the Sundance-approved doc Big City Dick (which follows Seattle's autistic street performer Richard Peterson), and Strangers in a Strange Land repeats on Wednesday. Next week's Mercury will have the lowdown on the films finishing up the fest from Thursday through Saturday, or hit www.nwfilm.org for a full schedule and info on the festival's classes.

Check out the Mercury's Film Shorts (pages 47 and 49) for our thoughts on Sacrifice and Redemption, and Buffalo Bill's Defunct. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Dir. Hackford
Now Playing
Various Theaters

Has anyone ever made a good biopic? Someone must have at some point, but in the wake of the familiar warm fuzzy that is the Ray Charles biopic Ray, I'm having a difficult time coming up with one that doesn't suck.

As far as Ray is concerned, it's pretty much exactly what one has come to expect: a breezing over of the moments in an extraordinary person's life, all cut-up and mixed about to form some semblance of a "happy ending," with enough tips of the hat to allow every member of the audience a knowing nod of recognition. Other familiar biopic conventions you've got to look forward to: bad visual metaphors and enough loose ends to suggest that the director's cut DVD will add about three hours to its already bloated running time.

The only real surprise comes in Jamie Foxx, whose solid performance as Charles was enough to make me reconsider my long-standing disdain for the man. All in all, it's Hollywood pap that you can take your mom to, which is all we can really ask for anymore. ZAC PENNINGTON