Opens Fri., Oct. 24, at Pacific Place and others
Angelina Jolie in the desert: smart white linen pant suit, designer shades, adorable straw hat. Angelina Jolie in the jungle: cargo pants, clingy tank top, sensible boots. Angelina Jolie on the snowy steppes of the Caucasus: apr賠ski attire, gloves, adorable fur hat. These are the three moods of Angelina Jolie during this ludicrous travelogue-cum-tearjerker insofar as Jolie's moods actually change. As the time and place shift from 1984 Ethiopia to 1989 Cambodia to 1995 Chechnya, you can't tell the difference between (a) concern for the refugees, (b) being in love with dashing, hot-blooded doctor Clive Owen, or (c) concern for the refugees and being in love with dashing, hot- blooded doctor Clive Owen. No matter how many stamps her passport may bear, Jolie's passport photo looks exactly the same: pouty lips pouted, pouty brow poutily furrowed, pouty gaze poutily directed ever so slightly downward to signal an unsmiling-yet-pouty dejection at man's inhumanity to man and the globetrotting Owen's seeming indifference to her.
Borders is a film about many things, all of them badly stated. The foremost idea is that Jolie deeply cares about the fate of the world's 50 million refugees (as mentioned in the end credits). She made this flick for honorable reasons; this is no Lara Croft video-game romp through disposable Third World sets. But coming on the heels of Michael Winterbottom's clunky yet compelling refugee docudrama In This World, Borders merely joins the list of other failed Hollywood efforts to address Third World suffering (Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis, Harrison's Flowers with Andie MacDowell, Beyond Rangoon with Patricia Arquette, City of Joy with Patrick Swayze). The movie isn't deeply offensive, because no movie with Angelina Jolie could possibly be deep in any sense. It merely represents the locus where infinite need meets an infinite capacity for Harlequin-romance hokum, since that is Borders' main theme. As a helpful CIA spook tells Jolie of Owen, "You're willing to risk your life for love." Thanks for the clarificationI guess that's why it's called the intelligence agency.
When not trapped in her loveless London marriage, Jolie periodically leaves her desk at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) to join Owen and his not-so-merry band of do-gooders around the globe. Everyone's suffering from chronic compassion fatigue syndrome, meaning a lot of wistful cigarette smoking while staring into the (a) sand, (b) jungle, or (c) snow. Owen does occasionally cut through the bunk; he's a Conrad-quoting altruism addict who confesses, "It's the weirdest, purest thing, suffering . . . straight from God."
Yet here that purity is corrupted by the media prism. A re-creation of Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 photo of the emaciated Sudanese refugee child and the vulture is rendered via CGI (no orphans were actually starved, you see), as are the flies that buzz around the open wounds and walking skeletons. And that photographer, we should not forget, committed suicide soon after receiving his Pulitzer. He had chased away the vulture, then watched the child rejoin the endless procession of refugees (many of whom would surely die, he knew, despite what efforts he or any foreign aid workers might've made), but he couldn't save himself from the subsequent guilt. Because there are always more wars, more famines, more refugees, more vultures, and more photographers to document them for horrified Western eyes. Go aheadmake a movie about that. (R) BRIAN MILLER
GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS
Runs Fri., Oct. 24-Thurs., Oct. 30, at Varsity
Good drag and good taste are rarely good bedmates, a valuable thing to remember before viewing Richard Day's appallingly funny camp comedy. When heartsick Coco (Clinton Leupp) shamefully confesses her two abortionsshe'd fallen in love with the abortionist and had to find some way to see him againEvie (Jack Plotnick), her aged, one-eyed, has-been roommate, coolly retorts, "I've had more children pulled out of me than a burning orphanage." This is one of the film's more restrained passages, ladies, so either stick to Under the Tuscan Sun or lay back and roll with the punches.
Things get messy in Coco and Evie's Hollywood dump with the entrance of Varla Jean (Jeffery Roberson), a porcine ingenue who just might make it in Tinseltownonce Evie's genitally challenged son Stevie (Ron Mathews) stops her from whoring for that European pimp with the blinding body odor. It's that kind of movie: Writer-director Day tosses in any dirty detail guaranteed to get a laugh, then steamrolls ahead without worrying whose sensibilities he may have offended.
Day has a way with dialogue (Coco's suitor proposes with, "Whaddya say you and I stop chasing happy and settle for each other?"), but none of it would fly if he didn't have drag queens who could actually act. His trio of stars isn't accidentally funny, like some of the starlets from Warhol's factory; they're potty-mouthed performers with the kind of disciplined snap that wouldn't be out of place in some '30s screwball affair. Day also has the benefit of a production designer (Shannon Schwiebert) and cinematographer (Nicholas Hutak) who know how to make an asset of a small budget; the ingratiatingly chintzy look is something the similarly campy Die Mommie Die! (arriving Oct. 31) never quite achieves. The result will have anyone willing to embrace it in tearful hysterics. (R) STEVIE WIECKING
NOTHING SO STRANGE
Runs 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 24-Sun., Oct. 26, at Consolidated Works,500 Boren Ave. N., 206-381-3218
Brian Flemming's sharply written mockumentary opens with a plausible eventthe assassination of Bill Gatesand moves compellingly through the alternate universe it conjures into being. We follow the mixed-up leaders of Citizens for Truth, a band of conspiracy theorists that finds parallels between the Gates hit and the Zapruder film, the Warren Report, and other key elements of the JFK investigation. Strange rarely makes you laugh out loud: Flemming's misguided activists never wink at the camera; the film is often beyond deadpan. (In response to a silhouette photo of the alleged assassin, an African American, Citizens for Truth retorts: "Everybody is a black man in silhouette.")
Apparently Strange's satiric bite has been deep enough to sting its subject. A Microsoft spokesperson reportedly responded to the film thusly: "It is very disappointing that a movie maker would do something like this." On the contrary: Where authors like Douglas Coupland have merely poked and prodded the Gates mystique, Flemming uses the man, the myth, and the legend as a perfect platform for his savage critique of well-meaning activism that spins crazily out of control, drowning in ego, eccentricity, and corruption. Note: Flemming will attend for a Q&A following the screenings. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER
PIECES OF APRIL
Opens Fri., Oct. 24, at Guild 45
A charming, loopy little film by the obliquely genial About a Boy/Gilbert Grape auteur Peter Hedges, April was shot on HD video for the approximate cost of a Tacoma condo. Still, it has a lot more heart than the Thanksgiving movie it most resembles, Jodie Foster's 1995 Home for the Holidays, plus a Stephin Merritt soundtrack so good I bought the CD.
Here, the home in question belongs to April Burns (Katie Holmes). Her adorably lopsided face has never looked more guilelessly inviting; she's shed her Dawson's Creek sheen for the grittier allure of a New York boho girl. April was a teen rebel who drove her mom (Patricia Clarkson), dad (Oliver Platt), and prig sister (Alison Pill) crazy; now she's invited them to rebond over turkey and meet her kindly black boyfriend (Derek Luke).
As her family makes a farcically ill- fated drive from the suburbs and April's boyfriend goes off on a mysterious adventure, her oven dies and she frantically consults cute neighbors: half- comprehending Asians, gruffly lovable blacks, and a high-strung gay guy. Despite Holmes' artless charm, the real star is Clarkson as her cancer-afflicted, pot-smoking mom (reportedly inspired by Hedges' own mother). She's a quizzical, soulful, magnetic presence with a half-dozen indelible performances in the past two years. Clarkson's face has a mystery that eludes this formulaic tale. You should make April a Clarkson double feature with the similar, superior The Station Agent; she's radiant enough to illuminate even the gloomiest October weekend. (PG-13) TIM APPELO
Opens Fri., Oct. 24, at Metro and others
From screenwriter Mike Rich (The Rookie) comes another sports drama based on a true story. In this case, however, Rich has that age-old movie trope, the Saintly Simpleton, to add to the mix. As James Robert Kennedy (aka "Radio"), a developmentally disabled man in small-town South Carolina in the late 1970s, Cuba Gooding Jr. does get the most challenging role he's had since Jerry Maguire, but what he and director Mike Tollin do with the character is hard to watch. In his friendship with an embattled high-school football coach (Ed Harris), Radio symbolizes all that is good, pure, and right; apparently, it takes a man-child to raise a village. Not only did this hokey old premise have me yawning, it had me yearning for documentaries like How's Your News? that depict the disabled not as saints or heroes but simply as peopleas a diverse community of quirky individuals, not as paragons of virtue. Unless you really need the saccharine uplift, tune Radio out. (PG) N.S.