Nov. 1-8, 2006

A week of calamities: The Cold War, the Iraq War, and Katrina all over again.

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Billy in the Lowground Director Mary Simpson, writer Fionn Meade, and musicians Foghorn String Band combine forces in this multimedia screening event. (NR) Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 206-267-5380. $5-$8. 8 p.m. Wed. Nov. 1. Camp Death/Tourist Trap Performance art trio Blood Squad hosts Camp Death, a teen slasher film improvised onstage, which screens with Tourist Trap—a schlocky tale of road-trip horror. 21 and over. (NR) Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 206-523-3935. $10. 10 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3-Sat. Nov. 4. Don't Bother to Knock SAM's fall noir cycle continues with this 1952 psychotically charged thriller that also happens to be Anne Bancroft's first role—and according to many critics, Marilyn Monroe's big bid for acting cred. (NR) Museum of History & Industry, 2700 24th Ave. E., 206-654-3121. $58-$65 (series), individual ticket price not provided. 7:30 p.m. Thurs. Nov. 2. Dr. Strangelove You know the plot of Stanley Kubrick's landmark 1964 A-bomb farce: Sterling Hayden launches an attack wave of B-52s to wipe out Russia—which has a retaliatory doomsday machine. Intentions—for good or evil—have their opposite effect in Strangelove's satire. Our meek president (Peter Sellers) only hastens war with his pacifism. Wimpy Brit Lionel Mandrake (Sellers again) ends up feeding ammo to Hayden instead of stopping him. And in the sole remaining B-52, the resourceful bomber crew led by pilot Slim Pickens perseveres on its glorious flight—in a backhanded celebration of all the courage and determination that makes our country great. And we're rooting for them the entire way. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thurs. Nov. 2-Sun. Nov. 5. Green Film Series The first installment of a monthly showcase of environmental documentaries features The Greening of Cuba (a 1996 film focused on sustainable agriculture) and The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (made a decade later). (NR) 911 Media Arts Center, 402 Ninth Ave. N., 206-682-6552. $5. 7:30 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3. The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends There are a thousand good reasons to get out of Iraq. Not so many good movies, however. This well-meaning but inept documentary plays like a post-traumatic stress disorder infomercial about vets and their families. The Ground Truth—be wary of any movie with "truth" in its title—will merely reinforce your own views on the war, whether pro or con. Dead-end Bush supporters are unlikely to be swayed by the veterans interviewed here, some with horrific and disfiguring injuries, who all speak in the same chorus of disillusionment. Patricia Foulkrod stumbles over the movie's most interesting idea—that the VA is diagnosing preexisting "personality disorders" rather than PTSD to keep treatment costs down—without interrupting her anti-war rally. Still, you're likely to remember some of the vets. Says one, "Americans want to honor their veterans in a cursory way, like putting a yellow sticker on their car." Or making a movie. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Rainier Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 835 Yesler Way, 206-722-4880. Free. 6:30 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3. The Harder They Fall Bogie's final star turn is a 1956 noir based on the career of boxing writer/promoter Harold Conrad. (NR) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 3 p.m. Sun. Nov. 5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame The 1923 silent classic, starring Lon Chaney, will be accompanied live by organist Andrew J. Peters. (NR) Plymouth Church Sanctuary, 1217 Sixth Ave., 206-622-4865. $5-15. 7 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3. Independent Exposure This hour-long compendium of 13 shorts is preceded (at 7 p.m.) by Kiki Allgeier's Connect With Me, in which the artist combines video and live performance to relate how a girl is abandoned by her mother to be raised by three surrogates. Among the main program's highlights is an eerie three-minute documentary about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; stills of the 146 dead young immigrant women—many of whom jumped from the burning building to their deaths, anticipating 9/11—are solemn and disturbing. The whimsical (but hardly blasphemous) Dutch Burka Boogie Woogie choreographs two dancers inside one very elastic black burka; it's the sort of thing that'll probably be huge with closet fans of YouTube in the Islamic world. Edited to furious club beats, Aileen McCormack's monologue Carla Cope is an angry, hectoring rant about New York after 9/11, a five-minute distillation of five years' worth of rage. It's like Laurie Anderson on meth. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9 p.m. Wed. Nov. 8. Kochuu: Japanese Architecture Influence & Origin Translated as "in the jar," Kochuu refers to the Japanese practice of building enclosed physical spaces that create otherwordly impressions. This doc examines contemporary Japanese architects working with old philosophies in mind. (NR) Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 206-523-3935. $2.50-$5. Fri. Nov. 3-Thurs. Nov. 9. Let's All Make Love in London: The Films of Peter Whitehead SEE PREVIEW, PAGE 81. (NR) The Monster Squad This 1987 cult favorite about a group of monster-movie-loving kids, and their misadventures, should satisfy your sweet tooth for camp. (PG-13) Egyptian, 801 E. Pine St., 206-781-5755. $6-$9. Midnight. Fri. Nov. 3-Sat. Nov. 4. Motherhood Manifesto Based on Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner's book of the same name, this film makes a case for enlightened public policies (like paid family leave and universal health care) that would ideally take some of the load off working moms. Rowe-Finkbeiner will lead a discussion. (NR) Keystone Church, 5019 Keystone Place N., Free. 7 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3. Venezuela Rising A street-level account of a Caracas community organizer also touches upon the tentative democratic decisions being made in her community. (NR) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9 p.m. Wed. Nov. 1. What Is it? Weirdo extraordinaire Crispin Glover unveils his nine-years-in-the-making directorial debut about a tormented young man, in which he also plays the man's inner psyche. Following the film, Glover will appear in person to narrate a one-hour slide show. (NR) Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway, 206-325-3113. $15-$18. 8 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3-Sun. Nov. 5. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts Spike Lee's four-part HBO documentary is screened over two evenings. In it, though Katrina couldn't have been prevented, Lee makes a damning case that our leaders failed on every level to respond both before and after that catastrophic storm struck the Gulf Coast. (NR) Revolution Books, 1833 Nagle Place, 206-325-7415. Free. Acts I and II: 7 p.m. Fri. Nov. 3. Acts III and IV: 6 p.m. Sun. Nov. 5. Continuing Runs Catch a Fire The latest from director Phillip Noyce is being sold as a firebombing thriller, when it's much, much more. And what it's definitely not is the standard-issue movie about apartheid; there's no white protagonist, no pale-faced hero riding in on his high horse to save the oppressed black man in need of his wisdom and strength. It's the story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a family man who intended no harm till harm was done to him. After the Secunda oil refinery at which Patrick's a keep-yer-head-down foreman is partially destroyed, Patrick's arrested, detained and severely beaten by thugs who work for Security Branch Colonel Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), a family man himself who considers himself nothing more than a good soldier. As metaphor for the making of martyrs or true-life tale, it's gripping stuff—a big-scale thriller and small-scale heartbreaker about a man pushed too far. (PG-13) ROBERT WILONSKY Redmond Town Center, Kirkland Parkplace, Metro, Lincoln Square Cinemas Conversations With God Author Neale Donald Walsch claims to have literally taken dictation from God in answer to some of his own questions, and the New Agey books that resulted have gone on to huge success. But how do you make a movie out of it? Conversations opts to tell the backstory of Walsch, played here by Henry Czerny under an astonishing variety of fake beards. Injured in a car crash, fired from his job, evicted, unemployable due to age and ailments, he does a stint in a homeless camp before a series of divine coincidences starts propelling him upward again. It's an agreeable enough tale right up until God butts in and starts talking; even if you can swallow the premise, it isn't particularly cinematic to watch a guy endlessly scribbling on legal pads. The rest of the film serves as an infomercial for the book, with every other character tediously going on and on about how amazing it is. (PG) LUKE Y. THOMPSON Uptown, Metro Death of a President Manufactured history guarantees a manufactured controversy: Gabriel Range's DOAP, which docu-dramatizes the 2007 assassination of George W. Bush, has been excoriated on talk radio, damned as a snuff film, banned by two theater chains, and been garlanded with celebrity dis-endorsements. Dramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle, Range's British-made movie is a faux documentary with fake talking heads and seamless digital effects. Invented characters are gumped into actual news events and vice versa. The editing and audio sleight of hand are nearly as impressive. Bush is but a special effect. DOAP is really a movie about 9/11—an essay on a national tragedy used to create an even greater tragedy. It's also a movie about itself—a demonstration of reality shaped to fit a particular hypothesis. But the film's warning about blowback has its own unintended consequences: What follows the assassination is so awful that anyone might be excused for leaving the theater convinced of the urgent need to keep Bush alive. (R) J. HOBERMAN Bellevue Galleria 11, Varsity The Departed No studio director was a greater hero to the Hong Kong new wave than Martin Scorsese. Now he returns the compliment by remaking Infernal Affairs. Its key dramatic roles assumed mainly by cell phones, Affairs is one of those rare movies in which the premise is the star; Scorsese, however, has necessarily packed his remake with names. Matt Damon plays a rogue cop, with Leonardo DiCaprio as his undercover counterpart. Towering over both youngsters, Jack Nicholson has the meaty role of the patriarchal crime boss. Neither a debacle nor a bore, Departed works—but only up to a point, and never emotionally. Nicholson boasts at the onset, "I want my environment to be a product of me." Yeah, yeah, and that's the problem. Overwrought as Departed may be, it's nothing that wouldn't have been cured by losing Jack (and maybe half an hour). Too bad the bottom line meant Scorsese had to sell that hambone Mephistopheles his soul. (R) J. HOBERMAN Columbia City, Kirkland Parkplace, Neptune, Lincoln Square, Majestic Bay, Mountlake Flags of Our Fathers The first movie in Clint Eastwood's planned diptych about the battle of Iwo Jima is also the biggest physical production of the 76-year-old director's career, and one of his best—a conflicted and searching deconstruction of the patriotic WWII movie and, with it, the mythology of America's "Greatest Generation." The movie's chief concern is the iconic photograph of six soldiers planting an American flag atop Mount Suribachi and how, for the three who survived the battle (Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and the excellent Adam Beach) their lives were irrevocably altered by their newfound celebrity. Flags jaggedly flashes back and forth between the the battlefield and the clinking banquet rooms, where the flag raisers shill uncomfortably for the war bond effort. Eastwood is refuting an entire way of reading history with simple heroes and villains. Flags reminds us that in war who is just and unjust depends entirely on where you're watching from. (R) SCOTT FOUNDAS Kirkland Parkplace, Lincoln Square, Majestic Bay Flicka It takes a pristine gift for mediocrity to ruin Mary O'Hara's muscular children's novel about a wild boy and his wild horse, but director Michael Mayer has brought off the massacre with aplomb. The boy has become a girl (Alison Lohman), and we can tell the kinship between girl and horse by the teased hair they both toss whenever adversity heaves into view. The lighting gives the movie a distressed Ralph Lauren look, and the few scenes of genuine rodeo excitement are marred by the fact that Lohman, by way of masculine disguise, has dressed herself up to look like Johnny Depp, pirate-style. (PG) ELLA TAYLOR Kirkland Parkplace Cinema 6, Lincoln Square Cinemas, Mountlake Flyboys Anyone who wants to start feeling good about war again—and hey, pilgrim, isn't it about time?—might do well to take in Flyboys. In this elaborate, computer-generated fantasy, the plucky volunteer pilots of the World War I Lafayette Escadrille are once more cast as dashing knights of the sky. As for that other, less glamorous side of WWI—embodied in the grim, futile slaughterhouses of Verdun and the Marne—well, there's no point in revisiting that old mess. Instead we have handsome pilots (James Franco, Martin Henderson, and Abdul Salis among them) cast into an aerial spectacle in the service of myth, wherein the paths of glory are unsullied by doubt or disillusionment. You won't find much All Quiet on the Western Front–style despair vexing these flyboys. WWI may have been the bloodiest, most useless atrocity in the history of mankind, but not tonight, not in this movie. (PG-13)BILL GALLO Bellevue Galleria Gridiron Gang Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson stars in this well-meant trifle as an idealistic corrections officer who starts up a football team at a juvenile detention center in L.A. Never mind the obvious parallels to Remember the Titans; what we get here is one huge, indigestible sports-movie platitude. The troubled, belligerent teenagers are variously appealing, but what we have here is another overdose of inspiration, pure and simple, about Winning and Losing. That the movie's based on "a true story" makes little difference: true, false, or fudged, Gang massages and manipulates us with a fervor bordering on shamelessness. (PG-13) BILL GALLO Admiral Twin Hollywoodland Glamorously adult, Hollywoodland purports to part the veil on the circumstances by which George Reeves, the actor who embodied the superhero on '50s television, wound up with a bullet in his brain. Suavely self-satisfied Ben Affleck is typecast as the unfortunate Reeves. He takes the Superman gig in desperation, its ridiculous success ends his serious career, then suicide. Or was it? Scenes from Reeves' life alternate with the investigation into his death conducted by private eye (Adrien Brody), who gloms onto the case in an effort to establish his own super bona fides. Hollywoodland has an easy, sleazy appeal that half camouflage the unconvincing Rashomon riffs on Reeves' demise. (R) J. HOBERMAN Crest, Admiral The Illusionist Director Neil Burger's very handsome movie is set in pre-WWI Vienna, and there are allusions to the historical catastrophes that will soon wreck most of Europe. Wandering magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) returns home to confront evil Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a proto-Hitler figure who raves about "mongrels" in the streets. With his new name, Eisenheim conceals his Jewish ancestry while also wooing childhood sweetheart Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel). The best thing about The Illusionist is its gaslight-and-sepia patina, like a vintage postcard come to life. Otherwise, the plot is transparent, and Eisenheim's big trick—the mystery that Paul Giamatti's detective narrates—is laughably predictable. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER Uptown Cinema, Metro Jackass: Number Two If your face doesn't immediately light up at the thought of Johnny Knoxville launching himself airborne on the back of a giant rocket, or Chris Pontius slipping a sock puppet of a mouse on his dick before inserting it into a hungry snake's lair, then JNT is definitely not for you. As for me, I can't wait to see it again. Like the TV series and the first movie, JNT consists of Knoxville and company testing their dude-worthiness by way of increasingly absurd and/or dangerous stupid human tricks, and occasionally turning their havoc on the general public. As ambush comedians, the gang lacks the political subversiveness of Borat. But as merry pranksters, they have no match. And as they age (Knoxville is now 35), they only grow in appeal. Proudly hurling their bodies into harm's way, a devilish glint in their eyes, it's as if they've discovered the fountain of youth, and its name is Jackass. (R) SCOTT FOUNDAS Bellevue Galleria Jesus Camp "They've got to be shaking their heads," says cheerful Missouri evangelical pastor Becky Fischer of the urban liberals who'll presumably be alarmed by this documentary. Well, yes and no. It may shock some naïve blue-staters that Fischer and her fundamentalist Christian cohort are training preteens with summer camps and special programs to proselytize in what's repeatedly called "God's army," but that's not what's so dismaying about Jesus Camp. For starters, Fischer is a basically likable soul. And the three pious kids we mainly follow through home schooling, field trips, and musical numbers don't really seem such a threat to the republic. But the way the movie lumps together these Jesus campers, Bush's White House, and the organized political right as a collective menace makes their filmmaking suspect. Awkwardly interpolated with the commentary of Air America radio host Mike Papantonio, Jesus Camp isn't entirely unfair and condescending, but it feels like a documentary produced by Todd Solondz. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER Crest, Bellevue Galleria Jet Li's Fearless In what's being promoted as his last wushu movie, Jet Li plays real-life martial artist Huo Yuanjia (1868-1910), whose defiance of colonial powers is here given the Paul Bunyan treatment. The film's long central flashback relates how asthmatic child Huo eventually became a wushu master, defeating all comers until pride (and the bottle) got the better of him, leading to bloody revenge and a contemplative period of self-exile. Eventually he returns to kick imperialist ass, of course, and none too soon for Li's impatient fans, who'll suffer the didactic melodrama and wall-banner slogans—"We must strive to better ourselves!"—just to see the guy fight one last time. Director Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) overloads most bouts with CG and sound effects (all the Westerners grunt like animals compared to civilized Li), though he cuts the volume for part of the climactic tussle. Finally stripped of the speeches and embellishment, Li dances best without music.(PG-13) BRIAN MILLER Bellevue Galleria Keeping Mum Exactly the sort of coy, patronizing pap you'd imagine actors like Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith take merely to pay debts or mortgages, Keeping Mum involves a country vicar (Rowan Atkinson), his sexually frustrated wife (Thomas, pining for Atkinson's attention), and a dotty busybody maid (Smith) who seems to solve the family's various problems with just a twinkle of her watery eye. If the exquisite, heather-thatch-and-old-churchyard village ambience doesn't assail your blood sugar, Dickon Hinchliffe's non-stop, abusively rosy-cheeked soundtrack will. But—and this is where I imagine Richard Russo's original story comes in—we know thanks to an opening flashback that Smith's coot is actually a quiet sociopathic husband-killer, and the bodies begin to primly drop. (One of them, thank Christ, is Patrick Swayze, as a seductive-lech golf pro.) Obvious, simplistic, and never funny, Johnson's movie may be useful only as real estate porn—Cornwall and the Isle of Man never looked so super cute. (R) MICHAEL ATKINSON Crest, Bellevue Galleria Little Miss Sunshine A contemptible would-be comedy that had them in stitches at Sundance this year, Sunshine portrays anyone not cool enough to attend Sundance in contemptuous terms. It belongs to the genre of what might be called flyover ridicule: All those people living below, as we fly our private jets to Park City from the coasts, who'll never appreciate indie cinema, who are content with their ugly homes and drab dreams, who participate in tacky JonBenet Ramsey-style child beauty pageants—wouldn't it be hellish to live among them? Which is precisely where Sunshine plunks us down, among the Hoover clan, which includes a failed motivational speaker (Greg Kinnear), his sensible wife (Toni Collette), a seven-year-old aspiring beauty queen (Abigail Breslin), and a suicidal gay Proust scholar cousin (Steve Carell). Sunshine's condescension finally gives way to outright hostility at the big California pageant, which ends in a jaw-dropping musical number. (R) BRIAN MILLER Uptown Cinema, Big Picture Redmond, Seven Gables, Lincoln Square Cinemas Man of the Year Writer-director Barry Levinson's return to the political realm after 1997's Wag the Dog is no heroic comeback. Buried beneath its pale satiric surface is a not-bad idea—what would happen if an outsider candidate, a TV comedian played by Robin Williams, became a White House insider—but Levinson's too distracted to make any kind of point. He loses his movie, his audience, and his purpose in a tangle of conspiracy theories and crackpot notions that sink the movie just when it begins to transcend expectations. Feel free to walk out when Laura Linney shows. Nothing against Linney, but her appearance here, as a worker at a voting-machine manufacturing company ruled by despots more concerned with profit than precision, throws the movie out of whack. What could have been something prescient and relevant ventures deep into nutjob territory even Oliver Stone's abandoned for higher ground. (PG-13) ROBERT WILONSKY Redmond Town Center, Big Picture, Metro, Lincoln Square Cinemas, Mountlake Marie Antoinette Drop-dead hip or cluelessly clueless? Sofia Coppola's candy-colored portrait of France's infamous teen queen is a graceful, charming, and sometimes witty confection—at least for its first hour. The famously shy Coppola's bold exposé of backstage royalty opens with a big wink and a few crashing chords, courtesy of Gang of Four. A slice of Austrian apple strudel imported to marry the 15-year-old French dauphin, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) arrives nakedly vulnerable in Versailles. Here, as with Coppola's previous features, an unformed young woman must find her way in a confusing, if stylish, world—it's as though the defining moment in the filmmaker's artistic life was her arrival as a 20-year-old actress on the set of Dad's Godfather III. Marie's gravitas arrives like a bolt from the blue; the bubble bursts and the movie crashes definitively to earth at the moment when, informed of her legendary one-liner, the queen turns all, like, serious: "I would never say that." Whatever. (PG-13) J. HOBERMAN Metro, Majestic Bay, Mountlake 9, Bellevue Galleria One Night With the King Not screened for the press, the Bible story of Esther (TV actress Tiffany Dupont) also stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. (PG) Lincoln Square Cinemas Open Season A pleasantly restrained Martin Lawrence voices the likable grizzly bear hero of this computer-generated feature. Raised by a ranger, he's lost when exiled to the woods, thanks to a wild-eyed mule deer (Ashton Kutcher, channeling Donkey from Shrek). As is usual in computer animation, the film's look is overbright, its green world appearing as natural as supermarket produce under fluorescents. Directors Roger Allers and Jill Culton don't trust their material in the two big comic sequences, a sugar-fueled rampage in a convenience store and a flood, and cut them too quickly for all the jokes to register. On the plus side, Open Season enjoys a clear narrative, real rooting interest, and good inter-species rapport. On the downside, there's a surfeit of cruel bunny rabbit gags. The film ends with a goggle-eyed rabbit being thrown right into the camera. Are we watching a Shrek knockoff, or Fatal Attraction? (PG) GREGG RICKMAN Redmond Town Center, Bellevue Galleria 11, Mountlake The Prestige If the greatest magicians never reveal their tricks, director Christopher Nolan wouldn't make it past the children's birthday party circuit. It's the practical side of magic that appeals to him most, though stagecraft matters in his latest, about two rival illusionists (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) who obsessively pursue each other from turn-of-the-20th-century London to the wilds of Colorado and the stages of the West End to the laboratory of the mad-genius inventor Nikola Tesla (played to paranoid perfection by David Bowie). Set as the last vestiges of the Victorian era give way to the Machine Age, it's a lopsided but compulsively absorbing movie in which the director seems most drawn to characters on the periphery—Tesla and wizened illusion designer Cutter (Michael Caine) and, by extension, all those other men through the ages who have sought to bridge the gap between the real and the illusory, the natural and the supernatural. (PG-13) SCOTT FOUNDAS Kirkland Parkplace Cinema 6, Metro, Lincoln Square Cinemas, Mountlake The Queen More fun than any movie about the violent death of a 36-year-old woman has a right to be, Stephen Frears' The Queen is also as exotic an English-language picture as the season is likely to bring. It's set in the the traumatic week between Diana Spencer's fatal car crash and the state funeral that the British public forced into existence. The film's theme is the monarchy in the age of mechanical reproduction. It opens by boldly quoting Shakespeare and intimating a droll disdain for democracy by Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) in the face of Tony Blair's 1997 landslide. After Di's death, Elizabeth's instinct is to do nothing. Blair's is infinitely savvier. The new PM (lookalike Michael Sheen) steps into the breach, as Frears cuts between the cheeky operatives in Blair's office and the clueless royals. Paradoxically, the repeated use of Diana's actual image grounds the movie both in reality and myth. (PG-13) J. HOBERMAN Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square Cinemas Running With Scissors Adapted from Augusten Burroughs' wacky memoir, this inevitable Oscar contender has been shaped by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy into an enjoyably overwrought ode to the kid's miraculous survival of everything from parental abandonment and pedophilia to bad '70s fashion. As deadbeat mom Deirdre, a pill-popper who dumps Augusten in her shrink's hot-pink shack of a Victorian mansion, Annette Bening calculates the precise sound of each pharmacological slur right down to the milligram. But even more impressive is her ability to humanize a character that in other hands would look like a vicious satire of '70s New Age feminism. Burroughs, played from age 13 to 16 by wide-eyed newcomer Joseph Cross, serves as the straight man, so to speak, in a screwball farce where the inmates are running the asylum and the actors—Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes—are given free reign to ricochet off the walls. (R) ROB NELSON Metro, |Lincoln Square Cinemas Saw III Milestone in motion picture history: On pre-Halloween weekend, 2006, Saw III grossed $34.5 million to become the Iraq War era's bloodiest chart-topping torture movie whose victims don't include Jesus of Nazareth. God or the MPAA's Dan Glickman only knows how this work of pure entertainment got an R rating "for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language," including the scene wherein a woman hangs butt-naked from the ceiling of a cold meat locker, shivering to death as she's periodically sprayed with water. Director Darren Lynn Bousman favors a bile-green lighting scheme (bile-green may very well be the new orange) and likes using subliminally fast edits in some of the torture scenes, pushing the envelope of post-MTV horror. Most of this is laughably absurd, but, unlike the first Saw, the epic third installment gives no indication that its humor is remotely intentional. (R) ROB NELSON Metro, Lincoln Square Cinemas, Mountlake School for Scoundrels This remake from Old School director Todd Phillips concerns a man of little confidence who enrolls in a class he believes will teach him self-reliance; in short, it's Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite, quite literally. Jon Heder plays a N.Y.C. parking-enforcement officer like a kindly simpleton who wears kiddie pajamas and mumbles whenever in the presence of his crush down the hall (Jacinda Barrett). A friend suggests he enroll in a class taught by Billy Bob Thornton; in it are other neutered man-children who live with their grandmothers and take no for an answer. But Barrett's character is the MacGuffin with as much charisma as a McMuffin; she's just there to bring together and yank apart Heder and Thornton, who spend the film's final half fucking with each other until the inevitable scream of "Uncle!" Their shenanigans, though, are never terribly nasty. (PG-13) ROBERT WILONSKY Admiral Twin, Bellevue Galleria 11 The Science of Sleep True to the duality of its title, Michel Gondry's fantastically imagined film is poised at the dreamy intersection between the rigidly ruling physical laws of our waking lives and that nighttime realm where emotion has its revenge on logic. Gael García Bernal's artist character, Stephane, returns to the Paris of his childhood, sleeping among the toys of his youth. Across the hall lives Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), much more of an adult. His infatuation with her takes the form of handcrafted gifts and programs enacted in the TV studio inside his head. (The latter is a kind of Pee-Wee's Playhouse with blue screens and cardboard cameras seemingly assembled by a seven-year-old out of the family recycling bin.) Reality and unreality are painstakingly stitched together in Gondry's wondrously handmade universe (virtually a children's pop-up book on the big screen), even if the cruel truth—that love can go unrequited—threatens to slice them apart again. (R) BRIAN MILLER Varsity Shortbus The sex is real in John Cameron Mitchell's experiment in hardcore moviemaking; only the setting—an animated N.Y.C. cityscape, benignly watched over by a fluorescent Statue of Liberty—is fake. To an extent, that describes the movie: a sexually daring, dramatically timid roundelay that employs unsimulated twosomes, threesomes, and even solos for skin flute in the service of subplots reminiscent of late-night cable soap. Mitchell convenes a sexually frustrated sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee), an auto-fellating ex-hustler (Paul Dawson), a morose dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish), and other pleasure-seeking New Yorkers at an orgiastic Brooklyn lounge called Shortbus. The attempt to convey character through sexual activity is admirable, but watching the group through sex goggles alone eventually filters out almost everything else that's interesting about them. Yet there's something refreshingly frisky and celebratory about Mitchell's film that offsets its flaws. Shortbus' messianic sex-positive cheer seems more startling than its straight-up intercourse. Be sure to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner." (NR) JIM RIDLEY Egyptian Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby Like Anchorman, with which the latest Adam McKay-Will Ferrell collaboration shares its essential plot of a celebrity humiliated and redeemed, TNTBORB offers just enough story to justify this being labeled narrative. But the tale of Ricky (Ferrell), an abandoned kid who grows up to be a famous NASCAR driver despite being offered useless fortune-cookie advice by his stoner-speedster dad, is just the watered-down glue that keeps the movie from playing like a series of sketches. There are two kinds of scenes in TNTBORB: The short ones that advance the storyline; and the prolonged sequences in which Ferrell and/or John C. Reilly (as Ricky's best friend) and/or Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ricky's French fancyboy rival) make shit up and crack one another up and stop cameras and start all over again. There's no difference between the movies and the end-credit outtakes in these movies. (PG-13) ROBERT WILONSKY Admiral Twin The U.S. vs. John Lennon This generic VH-1 rock-doc is snazzy, mawkish, and practically Pavlovian in recycling all requisite late '60s images. Yet it's not only poignant, but even topical. In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were recruited them to appear at a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally." Two days later, Sinclair—serving a 10-year sentence for passing two joints to a narc—was freed, pending appeal. Follow-up plans were made for a magical mystery tour to culminate at the 1972 Republican Convention. Next, John and Yoko played a benefit for the families of prisoners shot during the Attica uprising. A memo from Senator Strom Thurmond to Attorney General John Mitchell suggested Lennon be deported; a month later, the INS refused to renew his visa. Lennon eventually prevailed, but he was neutralized for the duration of the presidential campaign. The film establishes its protagonist as the most quick-witted of public figures. You needn't be half as sharp to grasp the parallels made to Bush's America. (PG-13) J. HOBERMAN Crest

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