Around the World in 80 Days
Opens Weds., June 16, at Metro and others
Surprise: ATWI80D is funnier and more genuine than you'd probably expect. Yes, it's a formulaic, big-budget Hollywood comedy, but director Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer) has a nice touch with his cast, which includes a fine crop of English character-actor funnymen. British comedian Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) plays inventor Phileas Fogg; Jackie Chan is his valet, Passepartout; and Cécile De France is the tagalong love interest. At 50, Chan has matured into a solid, charming clown; De France, a comely young Belgian new to American screens, lends a blazingly loopy smile and a deft feel for bits of comic business. Like the 1956 original, the movie offers up dozens of cameos, including Owen and Luke Wilson (as the Wright brothers), Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a bizarre turn as a horny Turkish potentate), Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Kathy Bates, and others. A surfeit of Chan's trademark comic fight scenes can be forgiven because they're coherently directed, and if you can overlook some dismal special effects, three or four flat scenes, and bit or two that are just yucky, this makes for a surprisingly agreeable couple of hours. (PG) NICHOLAS H. ALLISON
Opens Fri., June 18, at Metro
Director Mario Van Peebles stars as his own father, Melvin Van Peebles, during the making of the pioneering 1971 blaxploitation indie film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. As invented and portrayed by the elder Van Peebles, the outlaw character Sweetback was the Australopithecus Superfly, a man who boldly defied racist white cops and racist white society. But, as the son portrays the father, Melvin becomes an even wilder character, crazed by ambition, sex, money, power, and an insane vision that made him spurn Hollywood offers to make Song, which opened in one deserted theater in Detroit. (It went on to gross $62 million in modern dollars.) Mario, who did a bit part at 13 in his father's film—in a sex scene!—does right by his dad, even if that means depicting him as more than a bit of a monster. In the process, he earns his own up-from-nowhere auteur status. (R) TIM APPELO
Shows Sun., June 20, 7 and 9 p.m. at Seattle Art Museum
The movie that Neil Young's cinematic rock opera/soap opera most resembles is Lars Von Trier's Dogville—both are simply-filmed parables of America set in one tiny town glimpsed diagrammatically from above and exemplified by a few vivid rural types standing for humanity. Though Dogville contains genius, I wouldn't sit through it again on a bet; I plan to watch Greendale again when it's out on DVD in July. Still, it's best to grab this rare chance to see it on the big screen. Nobody in Hollywood will offer him cinematography work, but only Neil Young could have dreamed up and captured these scenes on his beloved underwater camera. The look is the visual equivalent of the grungy Young/Crazy Horse soundtrack, which comprises 10 darn melodic Young tunes with catchy lyrics about saving the Earth, honoring wise dads, forgiving trigger-happy dumb pothead sons, defying corrupt authority, and cherishing old ladies and beautiful young idealistic girls who express their innermost souls by dancing their booties off. Besides achieving real mise en scène, Young nails some pretty images, like the fluctuating light from an upstairs window occupied by a girl dervish rocking out to Neil Young. Greendale's fantasy is anchored in reality: The villain of the piece, Powerco, is really Enron, recently revealed to disrespect both Earth and old ladies. If you want further insight into each song's and scene's meanings, see Young's semi-explanations on www.shakeypictures.com/press. Or just go to the film; even if your head doesn't always quite get the gist, your tapping toes will. (NR) T.A.
The Saddest Music in the World
Opens Fri., June 18, at Varsity
Set in 1933 Canada, Saddest Music captures the unsettling feel of those economic hard times, when people turned to pop culture to bolster their spirits. Director Guy Maddin, Winnipeg's answer to David Lynch, uses archaic lenses that render everything outside a central circle of focus a picturesque blur—and the middle of the frame is pretty dang blurry, too. He's not trying for period realism, but period surrealism. Isabella Rossellini stars as an obscenely rich psycho-nympho amputee beer baroness with glass legs full of brew. To secure Winnipeg's title as the world capital of sorrow, she stages a contest for the teariest tune on Earth. Each country contributes a weird entry contingent, none weirder than the doctor (David Fox) who drunkenly sawed off Rossellini's legs and his slick, pencil-thin-mustached son (Mark McKinney). McKinney absolutely nails the snap-happy style James Fox sent up in Thoroughly Modern Millie, fused with a period cynicism as darkly snarky as Nathanael West's. Rossellini goes to town, topping her previous high-water mark for weirdness, Blue Velvet, in a story much better resolved than Lynch's. Maria de Medeiros, Bruce Willis' pouty Pulp Fiction passion pillow, drifts beautifully through Maddin's faux snowdrifts as an amnesiac wife caught up in a blinding Freudian blizzard. There's something ultimately frivolous and indulgent here, but you won't see anything quite like it for a long, long time. (NR) T.A.