CUCKOO

Runs Fri., Aug. 22-Thurs., Aug. 28, at Varsity

An odd little movie in the best sense of both words, Alexander Rogozhkin's self-scripted shaggy-dog parable

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Cuckoo, The Childish Film Festival, and More.

CUCKOO

Runs Fri., Aug. 22-Thurs., Aug. 28, at Varsity

An odd little movie in the best sense of both words, Alexander 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 others' language; 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. (NR) ROGER DOWNEY

THE CHILDISH FILM FESTIVAL

Runs Fri., Aug. 22-Sun., Aug. 31, at Cinerama, Grand Illusion, and Little Theatre

What at first glance seems like nothing more than a toned-down version of Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animationone animated short in this omnibus fest is Josh W., about a bug- eating kidturns out to be a refreshing late-summer reminder that our concept of "children's cinema" could use some retooling. (Spy Kids 3-D, anyone?) The beautiful 10-minute nature saga The Flower, the Bird, and the Sun behaves like an oil painting come to lifeall Van Gogh sunflowers and heroic bees. Thunder Pig and Colorforms slyly satirize superhero blockbusters and upper-crust mores (respectively) without surrendering for a moment their freewheeling, kid-friendly, anything-goes momentum. Dialogue is sparse in many of the fest's foreign titles, so children and their parentsrelieved, no doubt, to be skipping Uptown Girlscan revel in the visual playfulness and antic plot twists of shorts from the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, and Iran. It's kinda like SIFF for your (inner) child. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER

THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD

Runs Fri., Aug. 22-Thurs., Aug. 28, at Grand Illusion

In this classic, little-known French children's film (shown as part of the Childish Film Festival, see above), a vain king decides to marry a beautiful shepherdess. But the shepherdess loves a poor, dark-skinned chimney sweep, so with the help of a wise, good-natured bird who nests on top of the castle, the lovers flee to the city below. In his determined search for the escaped duo, the king destroys his entire kingdom. But love triumphs in the end, and the king's oppressed subjects are set free. Originally adapted in 1949 from two Hans Christian Andersen stories, then revamped in '79, the animated film is closer in sensibility to The Red Balloon than The Lion King; young kids may get frustrated with the subtitles while older, Pixar-accustomed preteens might get antsy during its 83-minute length. Art and philosophy buffs, however, will enjoy the symbolism and the underlying message about the power of love, art, and freedom. (NR) KENNEDY LEAVENS

STEP INTO LIQUID

Opens Fri., Aug. 22, at Guild 45

Dana Brown's new surfing documentary promises three things: "No special effects. No stuntmen. No stereotypes." Well, two out of three ain't bad. A few of Brown's interview subjects say "gnarly," and more than a few posit things like: "Surfing is the ultimate spontaneous involvement in a natural medium." Despite such grandiloquent thoughts on the cosmic import of taming waves, however, the film does have a certain sunny integrity, not to mention a solid pedigree. (Brown's father, Bruce, is responsible for the 1966 surfing über-doc The Endless Summer.) Liquid even makes some forays into political commentary, depicting a wave-riding lovefest between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland (awkward) and a veteran's return to Vietnam, three decades after his tour of duty, to catch some killer waves (entertaining and moving). Ultimately, Liquid really makes you wanna surf, which is probably the highest compliment anyone could give it. (NR) N.S.

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