* African Film Fest: Portland Community College
PCC's film fest continues. On Thursday, Feb. 7, they show LuMumba, about the rise and fall of the humanitarian Congo leader, Lumumba, and Steve Bantu Biko: Beacon of Hope, a catalogue of the life of South African Black Conciousness leader, Steve Biko, who was killed in police custody at the age of 30. Included are television interviews, antecdotes from his wife and family, and an overview of his political career and influences in the community. Also, Thunderbolt, about the clash of traditional and modern values in a romantic couple. On Thursday, Feb. 14, Andanggaman will be screening, about a 17th Century black man whose banishment spares him from enslavement or death. His family is captured, taken to the cruel King Andanggaman's, and he follows in an attempt to rescue them. Faat Kine takes an interest in the empowerment of African women, showing a self-sufficient heroine who runs her own gas station, much to the chagrin of local men. Finally, Our Friends at the Bank will screen, about the influence of the World Bank on contemporary Uganda.

Big Fat Liar
Yet another teen comedy. This one is about a kid, Jason (Frankie Muniz-Malcolm from the great show Malcolm in the Middle), who writes a brilliant essay, which somehow gets over to a Hollywood producer, who of course makes the film. Jason and his buddy then travel around looking for the producer, in order to get the credit they deserve.

* Birthday Girl
Nicole Kidman stars as Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride commissioned by Limey nebbish banker, John. Problems ensue, however, when John discovers Nadia doesn't speak a lick of English and two of her Russian pals show up unannounced. I'm only going to give this film a solid, rather than enthusiastic, recommendation because of the emotional distance between the actors and audience. Regardless, if you're in the mood for a thinking-person's rom-com, Birthday Girl provides a rarely seen view of romance: down and definitely dirty. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

* Black Urban Communities: The Fillmore
Powell's Chicken is one of the best and eclectic soul food joints in San Francisco. Sadly, Powell's is one of the few reminders of a neighborhood once known as "the Harlem of the West." Formerly a proud African-American neighborhood and a gathering place for some jazz greats, the history of the neighborhood is now buried under yuppie's penthouses and swank shopping boulevards. The Fillmore dredges up some of this history: An award-winning documentary about the ill effects of urban renewal programs and, ultimately, gentrification. (Phil Busse)

Collateral Damage
Kind of like The Fugitive, (same director) except that Harrison Ford is replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and instead of being pursued, he's the pursuer. Oh, and Tommy Lee's not in it. He must have been too busy chasing ass with Benicio.

* Count of Monte Cristo
Kevin Reynolds' rendition of The Count of Monte Cristo is a zippy piece of entertainment masquerading as a mini-epic.

Demon Seed
A sci-fi film about Alex Harris, a dude who does research on aliens, who's also employed by the Department of Defense. His wife, however, is the only person who has the clarity to point out the problems with his job.

* The Don and Bill Show: Slightly Bent
Ten animated shorts showcasing the works of cult animators Don Hertzfeldt and Bill Plympton. Included are Hertzfeldt's Rejected, where art, commercial culture, and madness collide, and Lily and Jim, a melodramatic portrait of the challenges of dating. Plympton's shorts include Eat, where a bistro becomes chaos, and Your Face, about a man whose head distorts as he sings about his girlfriend.

Gosford Park
Robert Altman's latest is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery set in the posh environs of a late 19th-century English mansion.

I am Sam
This latest Hollywood take on the retarded is not a complete disaster. There are two reasons for this: a) Sean Penn is Sean Penn, even when he's playing (and often failing to play) a man with the intelligence of a seven-year-old, and b) Dakota Fanning, perhaps the most adorable girl ever burned onto celluloid.

* In the Bedroom
A college boy (Nick Stahl; never liked him before, but he's great here) having a fling with a townie single mother (Marisa Tomei, back from the dead and in excellent form), the boy's parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who carry the picture with a realistic melancholy gravitas), and the mistress' ex-husband (William Mapother, who is related to Tom Cruise, but a fine actor nonetheless; he recalls Eric Roberts in Star 80, the creepiest creep in movie history) form the locus of Todd Field's insidiously gripping adaptation of Andre Dubus' deeply moral short story. (Sean Nelson)

* Kandahar
Kandahar tells the story of Nafas, a female Afghan expatriate, now living in Canada and working as a journalist. Her sister is still trapped in the title city, maimed by a land mine and unable to tolerate the subhuman conditions for women, which are enforced under Taliban rule. When the sister writes of her intention to commit suicide, Nafas decides to return to Kandahar and intervene. The beauty of this film is confusing, even sinister, because of the implicit suffering that it generates, but painfully worth seeing. (Sean Nelson)

A lantana is a pretty pink flower. Lantana the film is a bud that never blooms. The long, slow film opens with a dead body and ends with a couple dancing, and in between are 120 minutes of middle-aged people living miserably.

* Lord of the Rings
Remarkably true to the epic book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though enhanced by computer animation, and certainly made in the post-Xena/Beastmaster era, this first installment promises to launch Lord of the Rings into the Star Wars strata. In a way, it's like playing the Final Fantasy VII role-playing game, only you probably already know the story and you don't have any controllers. And Sean Astin is in it. Aside from the early-on, too-fast editing that slows down as the movie unfolds, there's only one really cheesy part, graphics-wise. You are now an adventure dork. Make plans to see it twice. (Julianne Shepherd)

* Monster's Ball
A racist death row executioner falls for his most recent victim's black wife. Stars Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Barry.

Open Your Eyes
A wealthy man falls for his best friend's girl, gets in a car wreck, wakes up, and thinks everything is okay, but really, the plot twists have just begun.

I'll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Chris Klein. I thought to myself, I thought: "As I live and breathe! It's a young Jimmy Caan." Screw all these motherfuckers (John McTiernan, Klein, L.L. Cool J, Jean Reno) for remaking Norman Jewison's 1975 classic. We'll pillage this movie next week when they let us see it.

Session 9
An asbestos abatement crew gets the bid to clean out an old insane asylum. When some old session tapes are found of a patient with multiple personalities, things start to get creepy, especially when a personality called Simon shows up in SESSION 9. AHHHHHH!

The latest effort in the horny teen prankster genre is horrific as the rest, chock full of jocose obscenity and people falling down. It's a step above American Pie and leaps and bounds behind Parker Lewis Can't Lose.

Rekindling the highly unsuccessful Hollywood gimmick, David Yonge shows clips of films such as Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, and pumps smells into the theater that correspond with the scenes. Weird.

Prominent Yakuza member Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano) is sent to the island of Okinawa to stop a gang war, in this tightly-wrought Japanese action flick about loyalty and betrayal.

* Storytelling
The latest jaded drama by Todd Solondz, genius writer/director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness. See review this issue.

A Walk to Remember
An unforgivably sappy teen romance starring Mandy Moore as a Christian girl who, through her kindness and faith, saves a troubled local hottie (Shane West) from the path of sin and ruin. As a film, AWTR barely passes muster above your average afterschool special, and as family-oriented fare it makes the horrendous mistake of assuming the average 13-year-old is a complete dolt.