THE ANIMATION SHOW
7:30 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 25, at Seattle Art Museum; and Fri., Sept. 26-Thurs., Oct. 2, at Varsity
This festival of animated shorts should attract a wide audience. Serious cinephiles will want to check out ambitious, Oscar-nominated foreign titles like Katedra, which recalls Final Fantasy in its stunning resemblance to live-action sci-fi, and La Course a L'Abime, a gay romp in the world of Impressionism set to the strains of Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust." Connoisseurs of the lowbrow will revel in early works by Beavis and Butthead creator (and Show co-producer) Mike Judge; the festival's other producer, Don Hertzfeldt, supplies several of his patented gag reelswicked, mean, and piss-your-pants funny. Trust me: Until you've seen stick- figure children get the beating of their lives from demonic balloons, you have not truly lived. Special bonus: an excerpt from Mars and Beyond, a quasi-hallucinatory 1957 cartoon that speculates about life on Mars with enough visual imagination to make would-be Asimovs whimper with delight. Note: Judge and Hertzfeldt will introduce SAM's Thursday show only, then participate in a moderated Q&A; tickets are $6-$7, available in advance at Scarecrow Video. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER
5, 7, and 9 p.m., Tues., Sept. 30, at Little Theatre
Eighth-grader Tara Neal wrestles boys. And she wins a lot. But next year in high school, the rules say she'll have to stoponly same-sex wrestling is allowed at that level in Texas. The rationale? Wrestling is too sexual; and besides, girls are too
fragile for such rough sports. Tara and her family think that's a crock. Shown as part of the Little Theatre's First Person Cinema series, Diane Zander's compassionate film documents part of Tara's eighth-grade seasonher triumphs and losses on the mat and her struggles off of it. Mostly, Tara relishes what could be her last year wrestling competitively. It's hard not to root for vivacious Tara as Zander captures her primping and shopping at the mall with her friends, interacting with her coaches and teammates, and bonding with the handful of girl wrestlers at the national championship. (NR) KATIE MILLBAUER
Opens Fri., Sept. 26, at Harvard Exit
A bunch of disparate people have individual appointments to meet in Madrid's central square on a sweltering day, but, as the trailer goes, "their lives will change forever" when each hooks up with the wrong person in a felicitous chain of events. The dewy young filmmaker mistakes a desperate hooker, waiting on a client, for his sister's actress friend. The desperate hooker's virginal, would-be john is enticed by a flirtatious gay guy, whose missed online sex connection has erroneously picked up another flirtatious gay guy, whose roommate . . . etc. Ah, the serendipity of life! Co-writers/directors Juan Luis Iborra and Yolanda García Serrano put over this playful Spanish baloney in a pleasant enough manner, despite the fact that they occasionally stop to have the pensive hooker say things like, "I hate photos; I've got nothing worth remembering." It's just wispy, good- natured matinee fodder, brightened by a genuine spirit, attractive cast, and refreshingly unmannered sexuality. (NR) STEVE WIECKING
Opens Fri., Sept. 26, at Guild 45 and others
It was a dark and stormy night. This biopic about the 16th-century German friar who defied the pope, fractured the Catholic church, and launched the Reformation begins with a ludicrously bad scene in which then-law student Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) pleads for his life during a lightning storm. "Spare me!" he shrieks to God Almighty, perfectly reflecting my sentiments about the film to follow, which I expected to be one of those cut-rate Europudding historical epics, the obscure cast linguistically mismatched, the plot having to do with inscrutable grudges hatched centuries before our nation's founding, the whole thing destined for TNT or a Hallmark special. Amazingly, even though I prepared myself to side with the Inquisition (burn the heretic!), I must now recant my vote of damnation.
Luther is bad, but not that bad. Yes, it will become mandatory field-trip material for thousands of bored schoolchildren. Yes, it will piss off the Catholic Church, which appears only slightly less venal, corrupt, and ridiculous than in your average Monty Python sketch. And, yes, as befits three decades' worth of tumultuous history in the Saxon principality of the Holy Roman Empire, the dialogue feels like it's been translated from the Aramaic to the Hebrew to the Latin to the German to the English. Unlike Mel Gibson's controversial, subtitle-free Christ biopic The Passion (unlikely ever to reach Seattle screens), Luther is all too risibly literal-minded. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you," a friend warns Luther of his dissent and disobedience. Later, a peasant shouts, "You can burn his books, but you can't burn his ideas!" as the Inquisition does just that. There's even a crippled, mute little waif girl who seems to have wandered in from Les Miz for Luther to dote overfor his is a God of love and kitsch. As Luther's protector, Prince Frederick, Peter Ustinov appears to be playing Quentin Crisp playing Peter Ustinov circa Quo Vadis.
Why sit through 115 minutes of Cliffs Notes history and ecclesiastical howlers? One reason, if you're a few years past your last college course, is to have bloody European history beaten back into your thick secular skull. After Luther thumbs his nose at papal authority at the 1521 Diet of Worms, his native Wittenburg dissolves into factional bloodshed. The camera pans over piles of disemboweled bodies like Bosnia before its time, interdenominational cleansing with the fresh, violent fervor of a new faithlike Islam versus the West, or Sunni versus Shiite. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER
SPEEDO: A DEMOLITION DERBY LOVE STORY
Runs Sat., Sept. 27-Sun., Sept. 28, at Little Theatre
Part of the First Person Cinema documentary series, Speedo takes the viewer to the track without the smell of burned rubber, welded metal, and stale Bud. Director Jesse Moss follows Ed "Speedo" Jager onto the demolition derby circuit and into his no less battered personal life as well. Speedo yearns to be a stock car racer, assuming he'll eventually be "discovered" because of his derby exploits.
Unfortunately, the somewhat patronizing film uses the unwitting Speedo for laughs; controversy erupts when officials think he gained an unfair advantage by welding part of his car back together. "The unfair advantage is under my hat," Speedo retorts. Yet there's more to Speedo's life than winning trophies: The first sign that things are awry at home is when his wife comments that the car crashing is "more than a hobby now." This film has everything a redneckor Capitol Hill poseurneeds for a good time: wrecked cars, wrestling, lots of beer, and a trip to Hooters. Note: Moss will introduce the screenings. (NR) BRANDON IVEY