This Week at the Seattle International Film Festival

Buffalo Soldiers, Just Walking Home, and more.

Buffalo Soldiers

9:30 p.m. Sat., June 7 at Egyptian

4 p.m. Sun., June 8 at Egyptian

Buried by its studio (Miramax) after its Toronto Film Festival debut the week following Sept. 11, Soldiers is wholly out of stepand wholly welcomein the new Bush II era of superpatriotism. It's set in 1989, during the Bush I era of collapsed Cold War patriotism, as punch-drunk superpowers teeter exhaustedly in the ring, waiting for the Berlin Wall to fall. On a U.S. Army base in Stuttgart, supremely cynical supply clerk Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) is a smack-dealing, black-marketing Sammy Glick figure who observes how his fellow enlistees in the all-volunteer army are "criminals and dropouts." For Elwood, the service is a wildly profitable scam until his racket is threatened by a hard-ass sergeant (Scott Glenn) with a babely daughter (Anna Paquin). Compared to this amoral dark comedy (where you root for the crooks over the cops), M*A*S*H makes the armed forces seem almost wholesome and respectable. Some may not want to see GIs shooting up, then shooting one other, but I suspect Soldiersbased on Robert O'Connor's 1993 novelis a movie Anthony Swofford (Jarhead) would approve of. BRIAN MILLER

The Cuckoo

9:30 p.m. Sun., June 8 at Egyptian

1 p.m. Thurs., June 12 at Cinerama

An odd little movie in the best sense of both words, Rogozhkin's self- scripted shaggy-dog parable contrives a way to bring together a young Finnish intellectual, a grizzled Russian soldier, and a Lapp shamaness in the same rickety wooden hut in the waning days of WWII. The contrivance doesn't stop there: None of the three speaks more than three words of the other languages, and you wouldn't believe the number of amusing misunderstandings this entails. Well, maybe you would. But if you're willing to go with the premise, it's likely you'll be won over by the sheer charm of the performanceschubby, bullet-headed Ville Haapalo is a find as the Finn fed up with combat, and character actor Viktor Bychkov does a memorable and touching turn as the quintessential Russian everyman. Most winning of all is the glorious desolation of a dark northern landscape under a late-summer polar-blue sky, vividly captured in Andrei Zhegalov's cinematography. ROGER DOWNEY

Double Vision

Midnight. Sat., June 7 at Egyptian

9:30 p.m. Tues., June 10 at Cinerama

What with SARS and the lingering Asian fear of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult, the specter of a high-biotech, death- worshipping, live-forever Buddhist gang of paranormal serial killers ought to be a lot more frightening. Vision clearly has Seven on its mind (or fed into its Final Draft screenwriting software template), but David Morse is no substitute for Morgan Freeman, nor Tony Leung Kar-fai for Brad Pitt (though he is handsome and similarly scuzzed-up). Morse plays the FBI man brought to Taiwan to assist in the murder investigation of Leung's guilt-wracked cop (bad marriage, traumatized kid, yadda yadda yadda). My favorite line? "Your so-called scientific methods are only useful when dealing with mortals like ourselves," Leung tells Morse. Other supernatural mumbo-jumbo is interspersed with too-convenient clues (plus only one big, bloody martial-arts showdownnot big or bloody enough). It would've helped if they'd also added Buffy to the CSI and X-Files modules in the software. B.R.M.


1 p.m. Wed., June 11 at Cinerama

Budgeted at $12 million, Devdas is the most expensive film ever produced in India. Now that Moulin Rouge and Chicago have rekindled our passion for movie musicals, the time seems right for Bollywood to take hold here. Problem is, this three-hour-plus retelling of the 1917 novel previously adapted nine timesis about as subtle as a tap-dancing elephant. The story is a tragic variation on the old Bollywood standby: Boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love; boy's mother offends girl's mother; parents forbid marriage and arrange for the girl to marry another boy. Boy then grows up to become a bitter, lovelorn alcoholic (overacted by superstar Shahrukh Khan) forever pining for his lost love, Paro (Aishwarya Rai). If you want subtlety, there's heaps of that elsewhere at SIFF. Devdas is both wonderful and awful at the same time: It's over over-the-top. Visually, it's opulent. Plotwise, it's cheesy. Yet there's something elegant and operatic about the whole spectacle. ANDREW ENGELSON


11:30 a.m. Sun., June 8 at Egyptian

Eleven big-name directors were invited to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001, last fall with the gimmicky timing of 11 minutes, 9 seconds, and one frame per each short film. My top pick: Loach's astringent historical reminder that Sept. 11 is also the date of Chile's 1973 CIA-backed coup. Tanovic (No Man's Land) similarly links the date to the Srebrenica massacre. In Gitai's staging of the aftermath of a Tel Aviv car bombing, an aggressive TV correspondent is told her reporting won't go out because something "really, really important" has happened in New York. "Are you crazy?" she explodes, "Who gives a shit about New York?" Makhmalbaf's effort is humanistic, Penn's embarrassingly squirm-inducing. Gonzᬥz I�itu's attempt to turn the event into an art piece (using actual sounds and retina-blinding flashes of falling bodies) seems pretentious and self-important. That this uneven omnibus still has no distributor should surprise no one, given America's nanosecond memory span. Whatever its flaws, it's worth a look. SHEILA BENSON

Last Scene

7 p.m. Thurs., June 5 at Harvard Exit

4:45 p.m. Tues., June 10 at Egyptian

After making a name for himself in Japan's psycho-horror genre, Ringu director Hideo Nakata tackles far less sinister material in Scene. This gentle, lightly satiric film tells the story of a former matinee idol, Ken Mihara (played as a young man by Hidetoshi Nishijima and by Johnny Yoshinaga in old age), and his bittersweet relationship with the Japanese movie industry over the course of six decades. As in Cinema Paradiso, the wise elder befriends a young person whose love of film is just beginning to develop, and intergenerational bonding ensues. (Mayumi Wakamura brings a lovely stillness to her role as the property manager who takes Mihara under her wing as he struggles through his final TV movie.) The film takes a turn for the maudlin in its last scene, but in general the sepia-toned snapshots of past moviemaking glories are effectively offset by Nakata's knowing jibes at his own pulp-horror oeuvre. What stays with you is Scene's heartwarming suggestion that people who make movies for the right reasons will somehow find one other in the end. NEAL SCHINDLER

I'm The Father

7 p.m. Mon., June 9 at Pacific Place

1:45 p.m. Sat., June 14 at Pacific Place

Fairly well-worn though its story line may be, this film about the disintegration of a family isn't afraid to wring considerable emotion from its three main characters. Marco (Sebastian Blomberg) suffers fits of frustrated rage fueled by alcohol; his wife (Maria Schrader) bears a perpetually troubled expression and teary eyes; and their 6-year-old son, Benny, is prone to moody outbursts. While the beginning of Father runs its course in the suburbs, the second part has a slight Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮠road-trip feel: Marco and Benny take off in a station wagon on an aimless drive through the desolate countryside while stopping at tawdry motels. While Father doesn't offer any epiphanies or solutions about troubled marriages, it's incredibly easy to sympathize with the flawed characters and their familiar problems. There are no black-and-white victims or villains, only the push-and-shove downward spiral toward inevitable divorce. Who's doing the pushing? Who's doing the shoving? In an all-too-realistic environment, it seems like everyone. ROSIE BOWKER

Julie Walking Home

4:45 p.m. Wed., June 4 at Harvard Exit

Good thing Miranda Otto has an ongoing gig as ɯwyn in Lord of the Rings, because Walking is so bad it could've made her career walk the plank. Otto stars as the wronged wife of well-meaning garbage-dick Henry (William Fichtner) in what I earnestly hope will be the most shamefully unresolved flick the once-promising director Agnieszka Holland makes in this century. In the pointlessly drifting soap bubble that is the story, adultery is displaced by disease-of-the-week terror when one of Julie's generically adorable twins gets cancer. What can Julie do but consult a generic Polish faith healer (Lothaire Bluteau)? Bluteau does all he can with his underimagined part, but there's no magic in it. There are also still less-fleshed-out subplots about Julie's septuagenarian dad's drinking; his courtship of a Polish dame half his age who becomes his midnight trampoline for a green card; and his Catholic anti-Semitism vis-୶is Henry. The movie is like Six Subplots in Search of a Plot. My advice: Don't wait around for one to emerge. TIM APPELO

The Missing Gun

4:45 p.m. at Mon., June 9 at Egyptian

A Chinese-language scholar I know tells me this movie is novel because it's in southern Mandarin dialect. All I know is that I like its strict economy of story and motivation. A small-town cop loses his gun after a drunken wedding reception, then spends the rest of the movie trying to find it. (No, it's not a remake of Kurosawa's Stray Dog, though it shares that theme.) Ma Shan doesn't have much going for him: His marriage is iffy, his son talks back, but he's a good cop. Actor Jiang Wen shows us all Ma's sudden desperation when his piece goes missing; it's not just a loss of face for him, it's a loss of everything. He starts sweating so hard that his sweat is sweating. He's like Columbo without his coat. Gun's jittery camera reflects Ma's mental unraveling, but the movie has its quietly powerful moments, tooas when Ma and his wife (Wu Yujuan) silently acknowledge their shaky, enduring bond. B.R.M.

Once Upon A Time In The Midlands

6:30 p.m. Fri., June 6 at Harvard Exit

1:45 p.m. Fri., June 13 at Harvard Exit

Barely a pick, though heartwarming and original at its best, Midlands is partly a flimsy parody of spaghetti Westerns set in Nottingham. But its true shaggy-dog appeal lies with the characters. The first scene is a gem: Cheap hood Jimmy (Carlyle) sleeps one off until he notices what's on TV and wakes with a start. His ex, Shirley, is on a talk show, and her milquetoast boyfriend, Dek (Notting Hill's Ifans), is stammering out a surprise proposal. Stunned, she refuses. So Jimmy heads back home to Nottingham to reignite their romancepausing first to rob a clown with his clownish thug pals. Soon everyone collides: Shirley, thugs, undersexed Dek, Jimmy's fun-loving foster sister and her cowboy-singer husband, the whole small-town population. Director Meadows makes us feel at home in his movie, clustered right up with his warm, squabblesome clan as they all cram onto one bed for TV and pizza. The tale ambles and sags, but it takes you someplace. U.S. premiere. T.A.

Too Young To Die

9:30 p.m. Wed., June 4 at Broadway Perf. Hall

There's great temptation to reduce Too Young to its oddly steamy sex scenes, which is no disservice to its actors. Scenes of Park Chi-gyu and Lee Sun-ye, the seventysomething real- life stars of this real-life narrative, shagging on tatami mats are romantic and quite lovely; they definitely convey a strong sense of who these characters are. In one of their many moments of passion, Chi-gyu speaks to his beloved Sun-ye with a dry, matter-of-factness that correlates perfectly with their matchup: "Good fit," he says. "You like how it feels?" The tale, based on the actual life experiences of the two debut actors, is about falling in love late in life, when one's desire for companionship is much simpler but the need to remain an individual is more complex. Like all excellent love stories, the beauty of this romance is in the good fit. LAURA CASSIDY

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