AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
The 18th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films ends Saturday, March 1. Films weren't screened for critics; more info at africanfilmfestival.org.
A feature about "youth, identity, and life in the new South Africa." PCC Cascade Campus.
UNDER THE MOONLIGHT
A drama from Burkina Faso. PCC Cascade Campus.
ZANZIBAR SOCCER QUEENS
A documentary about the Women Fighters, a group of women playing soccer in the largely Muslim society of Zanzibar. PCC Cascade Campus.
"This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye." Living Room Theaters.
The first hour of Atonement, based on the book by Ian McEwan and set in a pre-war English country house, is faultless: a pungent stew of pleasure and dread, shrill suspicions and pouting revenge. The film's casting is brilliant, the production design impeccable, the point-of-view switchbacks beautifully turned. Sloughing off the novel's pretentious narration, the film nonetheless bows to McEwan's conceit by weaving the sounds of a typewriter into the score. And even if the second half of the film is disappointing, relative to the first, it's not entirely wrongheaded. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
"How am I immature?" "Well, emotionally, sexually, and intellectually." "Yeah, but what other ways?" The Press Club.
A film about a visit to Israel by Egyptian policemen in which nothing really happens. But this examination of Arab/Israeli tensions and the frustrated romance that perhaps lies beneath them is remarkable indeed. The policemen are in an orchestra, and their brooding chief (Sasson Gabai) is fighting cutbacks to continue performing. Thanks to the chief's inept, Chet Baker-loving son (Saleh Bakri), the band ends up stranded overnight in an Israeli town, at the mercy of a sexy, alluring, and Jewish restaurant owner (Ronit Elkabetz). There are no Egyptian actors in the film—those playing the Egyptian policemen had to learn new languages to act the parts. But to an international audience, their acting is convincing, and one is left thinking how nice it would be if the two sides of the Middle East conflict would just get a room and be done with it. MATT DAVIS Fox Tower 10.
Be Kind Rewind
The man who gave the world the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directs Be Kind Rewind. The story is about a video store in Passaic, New Jersey. The store only rents VHS tapes. Mos Def works in the store; Jack Black hangs around the store. Believably, the old building is about to get knocked down for a new condo. Believably, Jack is electrocuted while trying to sabotage a power plant. Unbelievably, Jack becomes magnetized. Unbelievably, his magnetized body erases all the VHS tapes in the video store. To stay in business, Mos Def decides to make homemade versions of the films that were erased by Jack Black's magnetized body. No, a human cannot be magnetized. Yes, Jack's electrocution would have killed a normal human being. No, we can never imagine Mos Def and Jack Black as best friends. None of this makes sense, none of it is bad, and none of it as impressive as Eternal Sunshine. CHARLES MUDEDE Various Theaters.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
As a largely innocuous addition to Hollywood's ample teen quirk flood, Charlie Bartlett certainly could be a lot worse—but it's a bummer for those of us still locked in perpetual adolescence to see yet another perfectly good teen antihero opportunity devolve into a charmless, self-consciously peculiar Ferris Bueller retread, directed by a guy who clearly hasn't set foot in a public high school in well over three decades. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
City of Men
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Writer/director Tom DiCillo's film winds effortlessly between the inner lives of celebrities and the inner lives of bottom-feeding paparazzi. The charming Toby Grace (Michael Pitt) is our guide, a homeless yet adorable young man who begins his journey with Les Galantine (Steve Buscemi), a photographer who gets excited when he's paid $700 for a shot of the fictitious celebrity Chuck Sirloin's crotch bulge. Impressed with Galantine's bravado, Toby becomes his assistant. While his ineptitude as an assistant becomes quickly apparent, his social skills are unmatched, and soon he's flirting with a sexy casting director (Gina Gershon) and attending parties at the apartment of mega-pop-star K'Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman). Predictably, it's not long before he's left Galantine in the dust of his path to stardom. JUSTIN SANDERS Living Room Theaters.
Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Movies that are "based on a true story" are usually dismal affairs—extraordinary human experiences flattened into pseudo-inspirational morality tales. An emphatic exception is Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the autobiography of the completely paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby. Diving Bell is that rare case where an amazing story and amazing filmmaking collide, a rich and beautiful film that does full justice to its source material. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
In Imagination, child psychologist Dr. Reineger (Ed K. Gildersleeve) has a lot of patience with a girl named Anna (Nikki Haddad) who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Anna and her identical twin sister, Sarah (Jessi Haddad), frequently escape to a land of make-believe where they frolic with white deer and many-eyed birch trees. Having Assburger's myself, I had absolutely zero patience for the film-school wankery in this overly long film—it's a 20-minute short in the body of a 60-some-minute feature. Imagination is painfully boring, woodenly acted, and tediously pretentious. Co-writer Jeffrey Leiser's score is one of the few reasons to continue watching, while his director/co-writer/brother. Eric Leiser's animation sequences can be interesting and surreal. But overall, it's nearly impossible to get past Imagination's bad storyline and artsy drudgery. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Martin McDonagh's uneven but entertaining dark comedy follows two hit men (perfectly played by the often-terrible Colin Farrell and the always-excellent Brendan Gleeson) stranded in a tiny Belgian tourist town. Dealing with midgets, Euro trash, and a fair amount of blood, both men crack wise, get fucked up, and make increasingly poor decisions. Awkwardly teetering between melodrama and slapstick, In Bruges never finds its footing, and it all goes shamefully and irrevocably to shit in its final act (despite Ralph Fiennes' fantastic attempt at a last-minute save, playing Farrell and Gleeson's disgruntled boss). But up until then: Great characters, and certainly a fun enough way to kill a few hours. ERIK HENRIKSEN Cinema 21.
Combining the goofiest parts of The O.C., Star Wars, and any movie in which a shouting Samuel L. Jackson acts all crazy, Jumper is kind of great. I mean, not for everyone—in order to enjoy the film, you need to like at least two out of the three things above. Or you need to be a 12-year-old boy. If that applies, though, have I got a movie for you! And me! ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
There's a perfect little gem of a movie buried inside of Juno, an offbeat-yet-honest portrayal of a precocious high school girl, Juno (an acerbic Ellen Page), who gets pregnant, finds herself unable to go through with an abortion, and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Unfortunately, it's not enough that Juno is funny, well written, and perfectly acted; director Jason Reitman seems determined to get his piece of the saccharine twee-cinema pie, and the film has a too-precious lacquer that can distract from its best moments. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Living in Oblivion
Hey Catherine Keener fans! Keener and Steve Buscemi star in Tom DiCillo's send-up of independent filmmakers. They also make fun of Brad Pitt. Living Room Theaters.
Bala (Send a Bullet)
São Paulo, Brazil, is fucked, and this stylish documentary shows you how so, without preaching. We're introduced to money-laundering frog farmers; embezzling politicians; kidnappers who cut people's ears off; people missing ears; and plastic surgeons who have grown rich by sewing ears back on. Apart from a real-life cast of characters that makes the work of Tarantino look unimaginative, Manda Bala's most striking feature is its zinging Brazilian score. São Paulo may be fucked, but it's more chic than Oceans Eleven, and Manda Bala captures this disgusting irony with flair. MATT DAVIS Hollywood Theatre.
On paper, it's nothing that we haven't seen before: A stereotypically villainous corporation hurts the little guy; our conflicted protagonist (George Clooney) has to figure out what to do. But that's where all the impressive names behind Michael Clayton—Clooney's, Steven Soderbergh's, Anthony Minghella's, Sydney Pollack's—come into play: An impressive cast, a good sense of production, and writer/director Tony Gilroy's solid direction allow Michael Clayton to take a John Grisham-y concept and amp it up. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Country for Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen's unforgettably stylish paean to risk, violence, and resourcefulness, based on the throbbing, violent thriller by Cormac McCarthy. No Country's conflict is as lean and primal as they come: one badass chasing another through the the unforgiving landscape of Southwest Texas. Few contemporary directors are as well suited to the task: Through meticulous editing, sound design, and cinematography, the Coens pace and manipulate the narrative tension to masterly effect. When that tension's relieved, it's through the two channels that they know best: violence and humor. They've teased out the wry, deadpan pathos from McCarthy's novel, and use it mostly to decompress the audience, only so they can begin the process again. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
Steinways are the most expensive pianos on the planet for a reason, and this film explains why, spending a year inside the company's Queens factory following the manufacture of one piano. All Steinways are painstakingly handcrafted by an assortment of oddball characters, many of them surprisingly rough-necked and blue collar for such a highbrow firm. The film also features talk about the pianos from famous players like Harry Connick Jr. and Lang Lang, not to mention legendary concert pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, telling the chap in the tryout room he needs to play "a monster." It's both calming and engaging stuff, albeit surprisingly so. MATT DAVIS Hollywood Theatre.
The Other Boleyn Girl
See review. Various Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis II, are reimagined in an excellent animated treatment that condenses the events of the two books into a frank, poignant coming-of-age story that surpasses its source material in both visual elegance and storytelling economy. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Siblings Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are quietly unhappy adults whose dysfunctionality is traceable to their disturbed childhood, thanks to an absent mother and abusive father (Philip Bosco). As their father's health declines, Wendy and Jon—despite years of estrangement from the volatile old man—relocate him to a nursing home near Jon's house. The Savages is bleak, but it will likely resonate strongly with the boomer crowd, who are starting to deal with these issues themselves. The film's impact is somewhat diminished by a tacked-on, redemptive ending (which will also probably resonate strongly with the boomer crowd), but there are enough small, powerful insights here to forgive a little happily-ever-after. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
See review. Various Theaters.
Step Up 2: The Streets
Step Up 2: The Streets is all about sitting back and watching some crazy kids spin on their heads. It doesn't get much more entertaining than that—besides, the climatic splashy dance-off (yes! a dance-off!) has a troupe of rain-drenched hotties shaking their stuff. 'Nuff said. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a sexually repressed high school student who, unbeknownst to her, has vagina dentata—i.e., her red snapper has really, really sharp teeth. Combining black humor, monster-movie horror, and the best of '70s sexploitation flicks, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein's fascinating film manages to avoid the Fatal Attraction cautionary tale pitfalls and successfully aims for a message of female sexual empowerment. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
The Spiderwick Chronicles has a few things going for it that other recent kids' movies haven't: Seth Rogen as a CG hobgoblin. A lack of an overt religious agenda. Some genuinely tense moments. It doesn't sound like a lot—but hey, with cinematic pickings for the future leaders of this country (dear Christ) as slim as they are, a little goes a surprisingly long way. Some elements of Spiderwick are refreshingly grounded, while others are predictably overwrought and terrible. But hey, it could be worse! It could be Bridge to Terabithia. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Will Be Blood
"I have a competition in me. I do not wish to see anyone else succeed," confides Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a moment of rare candor. "I hate most people." This is Plainview's secret, which emerges slowly from his veneer of confident sophistication until it becomes a misanthropic force too large for any man to harness. Plainview's greed and loathing is at the heart of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's new film of astounding depth, intensity, and brutality. Based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, Blood finds Anderson with a refined vision and cinematic maturity that not even his best films could have prepared us for. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
Bono... AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE! (Sorry, he's still a douchebag.) Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
In the first five minutes of Vantage Point, KA-BANG! President William Hurt (William Hurt) gets shot! Twice! And then, just when everybody's like, "Whew! Thank Christ that's over, that was cra—" KA-BOOM! There's a huge explosion! Then, REEEEE-WIND! We see the whole catastrophe from a different point of view. (And yes, literally with the rewinding—Vantage Point's footage plays back in reverse, like they're editing this thing on a VCR.) And it happens over and over, since we end up seeing the bombastic event through seven different real-time perspectives, including those of a grumpy ol' Secret Service Agent (Dennis Quaid), Hurt, and Forest Whitaker, who plays the film's very own bumbling Zapruder, capturing the assassination on his camcorder. Sigourney Weaver, Lost's Matthew Fox, and some less famous people show up, too, and their one unifying thread—other than their shared presence at the event—is that individually, all of their stories are pretty boring. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Set in the midst of the peasant revolts that wracked Mexico during the 1970s, The Violin is an excellent portrayal of one man's dangerous decision: Taking advantage of his unthreatening status as an old man and violin player, he embarks on a mission to supply ammunition to the guerrilla forces that have been kicked out of their village by the government army. Filmed in black and white, the film is as beautifully shot as its story is suspenseful. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.