SIFF Week 1: Picks & Pans

Thursday, May 217 p.m., The ParamountPICK: In the LoopWait—they're showing a British TV satire for SIFF's gala opener? Not exactly. The creative team behind the BBC's The Thick of It has reunited much of the original cast, added a few Yanks (led by James Gandolfini in the Colin Powell role), and rewritten history—the lead-up to the Iraq War, though Iraq is never mentioned—into a transatlantic political farce. I loved it. The movie is talk talk talk, interrupted by a little sex and drinking, then back to the talking, which soon becomes shouting, screaming, and cursing. The Brits are led by Peter Capaldi, who plays a foul-mouthed and thoroughly frightening Scotsman at a British government ministry. We've all heard of the Boss From Hell. Well, Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker is the boss to whom all the underling Bosses From Hell report. Around him swirl doctored intelligence reports, leaks, blunders, and neocon ideologues. The latter fly especially thick when In the Loop jets over to Cheneyland, aka Washington, D.C., where the younger Brit bureaucrats meet their American counterparts. (Look! There's Anna Chlumsky, the girl from My Girl way back when.) Steve Coogan has a small supporting role, but the movie is Capaldi's. "Walk the fucking line!" he barks at a polite, weak, idealistic MP (Tom Hollander), who later asks himself, "Is the really brave thing doing what you don't believe?" Well, in politics I guess you can convince yourself of anything. (NR) BRIAN MILLERFriday, May 224:30 p.m. Harvard ExitPICK: EldoradoThe title of Bouli Lanners' modest yet surprisingly affecting road-trip/buddy movie, which refers to an imaginary place of great wealth and opportunity, isn't necessarily ironic: The writer-director-actor has a profound love for the flat expanses of the film's southern Belgium and its gas stations, snack shops, and RV parks. Eldorado is a tale of two guys, fat and thin: Stroppy vintage-car dealer Yvan (Lanners, dressed like a Walloon Kevin Smith) comes home one night to find smack-scrawny Elie (Fabrice Adde) robbing him. Instead of calling the cops, Yvan becomes oddly protective of the pathetic felon and offers to drive him to his parents' house near the French border. The voyage provides both lovely shots of low-country landscapes—which suggest not the starker palette of Dardenne brothers' territory, but magic-hour prairie heartland—and genuinely funny encounters with weirdos (a car-accident fetishist, a nudist named Alain Delon). When the traveling companions reveal their backstories, the monologues avoid mawkishness, further upending all low expectations of this frequently trite genre. In its final act, Lanners' film is smart and confident enough to acknowledge that certain lives are dead ends while others get tired of just spinning their wheels. (NR) MELISSA ANDERSON Also: Pacific Place, 9 p.m. Mon., May 25.4:30 p.m., EgyptianPICK: The Higher ForceYo, wassup! This movie's straight outta South Central. But I'm talking about South Central Reykjavík, where David and his homies form possibly the worst band of criminals in cinema history. (Or at least Icelandic cinema history.) The Higher Force takes its name from the instructional/inspirational kung fu lessons our hero watched on VHS as a boy. The lessons didn't take. In his 20s, aspiring poet David (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon) is still just a pudgy, flunky loan collector in a gang whose uniform seems to be track suits, NBA jerseys, and cornrows. (Some even sport grills!) The women are so tacky they'd look up to Britney Spears. The wangstas are so weak that they listen to hip-hop on cassette tape. In an all-white country, they're poor white Viking trash. David's stock rises within the gang, however, when he implicates a lonely old schoolteacher as being, in secret, a top-level mobster. David's VHS guru tells him "Nothing is as it seems," which seems to be the operating principle behind this scruffy gangster spoof by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson. At a certain point, Michael Imperioli even appears to impart a little Sopranos cred (most of the dialogue's in English). None of it makes any sense; all of it made me laugh. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Neptune, 7 p.m. Wed., May 27.4:30 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: Summer HoursWith Summer Hours, director Olivier Assayas stages a tactical retreat from the hookers and junkies of his Boarding Gate and Clean to the heart of a bourgeois French family. Summer Hours opens with a gaggle of first cousins romping around the verdant grounds of the rustic estate, somewhere north of Paris, where their parents grew up. The occasion is a 75th-birthday celebration for their chic grandmother, Hélène (Edith Scob). Assayas, who has always excelled at choreographing a fête, uses the first half-hour to introduce Hélène's three grown children, as well as her devotion to the estate. For all the local color, there's a global backbeat: The youngest child (Jérémie Renier) runs a Puma factory in China; his sister (Juliette Binoche) is a New York designer; and, though living in Paris, the eldest son, Frédéric (Charles Berling), is an economist. Lunch devoured, everyone rushes off, leaving Hélène to sit in the dark. She's alone—and she does die, off-screen, perhaps a year later. Too chatty to be ascetic, Summer Hours is nevertheless almost Ozu-like in its evocation of a parent's death and the dissolving bond between the surviving children. It's also an essay on the nature of sentimental and real value—as well as the need to protect French culture in a homogenizing world. Assayas has his own preservationist agenda. Praised as "classically French" by the hipsters of culture weekly Les Inrockuptibles, Summer Hours exemplifies, even as it ponders, France in the age of unstoppable globalization. (NR) J. HOBERMAN Also: Uptown, 6:30 p.m. Sun., May 24.7 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: The Exploding GirlZoe Kazan—the only actor who didn't chew and spit out the scenery in Revolutionary Road—finds a much worthier vehicle for her talents in Bradley Rust Gray's lovely film about a young woman at home in N.Y.C. during a semester break. When not palling around with Al (Mark Rendall) or enduring a series of maddening cell-phone calls with her boyfriend, Kazan's Ivy is frequently seen in moments of silent contemplation while the city blooms and bustles around her. (NR) MELISSA ANDERSON Also: Pacific Place, 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 23.7 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: Nurse.Fighter.BoyMove past the title of this affecting little Canadian drama. The plot is familiar, and we've seen these characters many, many times before. Yet the movie directly acknowledges its own archetypes, beginning with the title, then infuses them with Caribbean mysticism, folklore, and music. A Jamaican immigrant nurse (Karen LeBlanc) is the single parent of a boy (Daniel J. Gordon) about 13 years old. She rides her bike to work along weedy back alleys in the working-class quarter of an unnamed city. Meanwhile at home, her boy is a latchkey kid, left alone to contemplate the paternal and spiritual void in his life (yes, it's that kind of movie). Also, a cute girl next door has a crush on him. The film is color-coded, and mother and son live in a warm, reddish voodoo cocoon. Out in the cold blue world, a boxer (TV veteran Clark Johnson of The Wire and Homicide) fights for cash in the street. He's alone, but he takes to training kids at the local gym. All three leads bring heartfelt plausibility to roles wrapped in magical New Age sentiment. NFB is the kind of movie that, in outline, I'd usually hate. But it's to the great credit of writer-director Charles Officer that the whole corny, mumbo-jumbo pie actually works. And it helps too that the high-def photography is so well-lit for the black skin of his three fine leads. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Harvard Exit, 4:30 p.m. Sat., May 23 and Admiral, 1:30 p.m. Sat., June 6.7 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention"Not a composer, but an inventor of genius" was Arnold Schoenberg's description of John Cage, and the phrase is even more apt for Seattle-based, German-born Trimpin, subject of Peter Esmonde's doc. As an artist, Trimpin's staked out territory where sculpture, installations, computer technology, and musical instruments overlap, continuing Cage's legacy of finding beautiful sounds where no one else would think to look, his DIY, tinkering-in-the-garage spirit, and his unflappable, unaggressive demeanor. Probably his best-known work, locally, is his spectacular tower of self-playing guitars at EMP; Esmonde takes us concisely through the project from conception to completion. He visits a few of Trimpin's other constructions as well—the locations of which are never identified. It's an irritation that grows more acute the more beguiling the work; I'd gladly travel to see Trimpin's Seismofon, arrays of tuned tubes strung across some ceiling somewhere played by automated clappers that respond to Internet-posted earthquake data—but where is it? Is it still up? (Yeah, I could Google it, but that's no excuse for Esmonde not including any informational captions.) The Seismofon's warmly woody rippling—imagine that the Close Encounters aliens had a marimba band on that trippy starship—is a prime example of Trimpin's guiding belief that sound is always the end, gadgetry the means; no matter how intricate his machines, the music that travels from them to your ear is what's most enthralling. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Also: SIFF Cinema, 1:30 p.m. Sat., May 23; Kirkland Performance Center, 4:30 p.m. Mon., June 1.7 p.m., NeptunePICK: The Yes Men Fix the WorldIf Michael Moore has taught us anything, it's that lampooning corporate greed can be a tricky enterprise. Let the ship drift too far off its natural tack, and you just end up looking like a blowhard. It's lucky, then, that the angry pranksters behind The Yes Men Fix the World have done their research. Their second documentary sees Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno again spanning the globe while impersonating shills for all your favorite soulless global conglomerates (Dow Chemical, Halliburton, etc.) When easily duped media and conference organizers come a callin', Bonanno and Bichlbaum—just two of what their press materials claim is a veritable army of like-minded activists—are there to present proposals outrageous, grotesque, and, in one particular case, earnest enough to be plausible. Their Fortune 500 victims are naturally horrified, which is a delight to behold. Exposing the ruthless ethos underlying the corporate mission statement was never so fun. (NR) VERNAL COLEMAN Also: Neptune, 11 a.m. Sat., May 23; Kirkland Performance Center, 4:30 p.m. Thurs., June 4.9:30 p.m., EgyptianBaby LoveWhile the Czechs have become renowned for twink porn, the French have mastered the twink romance: delicate young men who fall for delicate—but slightly more muscly—men. Vincent Garenq's Baby Love is a refreshing break from all that self-discovery: This twisty little comedy is all about the conflicted passions of middle-aged gay men struggling to form their own families. Pediatrician Manu (Lambert Wilson) is 42 and desperate to have a child; his longtime partner, Phillippe (Pascal Elbé), doesn't want to give their life over to an infant. So Manu dumps Phillippe, fails to convince an adoption agency he's straight (French law, so liberal otherwise, forbids gay people from adopting), and finally charms a young Argentine woman (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), in Paris on an expired visa, to marry him in exchange for bearing him a child. Thank God for the French: Even when they attempt to do heartwarming, the bleak, melodramatic side of their psyches can't help asserting itself. Between the quasi-sociopathic charm Manu exerts and the jealous passion his baby mama unleashes, Baby Love has more teeth and more nuance than your average gay movie with a message. Not a whole lot more, but at least it's not about first love. (NR) JONATHAN KAUFFMAN Also: Uptown, 1:45 p.m. Mon., May 25.9:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: Can Go Through SkinIn her harrowing debut feature, Dutch director Esther Rots skillfully evokes the psychological effects of assault. Just recovering from a breakup, 30-something Marieke is attacked in her bath by a pizza delivery boy. She flees her Amsterdam apartment for a frozen rural shack, which she starts to clean up in a release of pent-up fury. But a new home, new kittens, and even a new relationship with a burly villager can't subdue her intensifying anger and paranoia. She begins to plot revenge against her attacker, encouraged by a fellow victim she meets in an online chat room. In her fragile state of mind, Marieke feels her grip on reality slipping in this uncompromising and tough-minded work. (NR) FRAKO LODEN Also: Uptown, 11 a.m. Sun., May 24.9:30 p.m., SIFF CinemaDeparturesLoath as I am to give any further wind to the orgy of self-congratulations and poor taste that was this year's Academy Awards, I do feel obliged to offer a few words on the outcome of the Best Foreign Language Film contest. Alas, when the envelope was opened, the Oscar went to Japanese director Yojiro Takita's relentlessly mediocre tearjerker Departures, about an unemployed cellist who takes a job as an "encoffinment" specialist, preparing dead bodies for cremation. Admittedly, Departures' win wasn't a total surprise. While it may be one of the lesser-known of the nominated films (it played relatively minor film festivals and has yet to be commercially released in the U.S.), voters in the Foreign Language category are obliged to see all five nominated films, thereby placing the contenders on a somewhat level playing field. It's hard to imagine a Hollywood remake of Waltz With Bashir or The Class that would have roles in it for many Academy members, but an American Departures starring Sean Penn as the cellist/undertaker and Kate Winslet as his clueless wife...well, that may already be in the works. (The film opens here June 5). (NR) SCOTT FOUNDAS Also: SIFF Cinema, 2 p.m. Sun., May 24.Saturday, May 2311 a.m., EgyptianCaptiveLike an obverse version of Prisoner of the Mountains (1996), two Russian soldiers in Chechnya kidnap a local youth to lead them to a rebel hideout. This entails a lot of marching in the woods, drying socks by campfire, and bickering over which Russian gets to guard their "trophy," who happens to be an unusually handsome lad. "Are you going to breast-feed him?" one soldier sneers at the other. There's a war going on, but these three exist for a while in a kind of idyll. As long as they don't make contact with the rival forces, it's almost like a camping holiday. Or even a gay camping holiday, though the film pulls back a bit from the original short story. Tenderness among men, and jealousy among men, isn't exclusively homosexual, after all. And on the larger stage, submission is like national surrender; and the urge to conquest is like...you know. But the fog of war—or perhaps the fog of filmmaking—eventually overtakes these three. Captive builds enigmatic sexual tension toward violence that, like Russia's endless forays into the Caucasus, is muddled, inconclusive, and sad. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Egyptian, 9:30 p.m. Sun., May 31.11 a.m., Pacific PlacePICK: Fig TreesBeyond category. It's a documentary about AIDS activists. It's an opera. There's a kid in a squirrel suit. Maria Callas appears. Tom Hanks gets looped in from Philadelphia, and there's a countdown of the greatest AIDS pop songs ever. Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson create Four Saints in Three Acts, traveling back and forth through time. We learn about palindromes and reverse musical scores. And there's even a trip to the zoo. The AIDS activists are Tim McCaskell (in Canada) and Zackie Achmat (in South Africa), who may never have met, but director John Greyson uses their lives as an artistic springboard into the realms of opera, queer theory, theater history, the lives of the saints (not strictly adhering to the Bible, mind you), the politics of antiretroviral drug therapy, and of course The Matrix. (All roads lead to The Matrix.) If there's a more audacious, imaginative film at SIFF this year, I haven't seen it yet. And don't get me started on the double-amputee dude playing the piano, because I don't want to drag in David Lynch. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Pacific Place, 7:15 p.m. Tues., May 26.11 a.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: Morris: A Life With Bells OnThere had better be a big royalty check to Christopher Guest for this one. The mock doc follows dancer Derecq Twist (writer/star/co-director Charles Thomas Oldham) from his rural English village to the bright lights of Hollywood and beyond, while we—and the world—discover the supposed folk-dance phenomenon that is the Morris. (Oldham will attend this morning's screening.) A shy, pasty-white, virginal tractor mechanic, Derecq is transformed into an intense, beribboned, high-stepping, hankie-waving competitor when his troupe meets rival squads. (One is led by the priceless Ian Hart in Rambo-meets-Riverdance mode.) Somehow Derecq must coach his team of yokels into strict Morris discipline by imparting "the three P's: passion, practice, and the desire to be the best." Stretched to 101 minutes, the film does run out of steam, but your smile will last from the first hour. Director Lucy Akhurst plays the team's trainer, while Derek Jacobi shows up as the evil corporate overlord of folk dancing, which is said to be a multibillion-dollar enterprise. Well, they've got my money. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: SIFF Cinema, 7 p.m. Sun., May 24.1 p.m., EgyptianPICK: I Know You KnowRobert Carlyle can always be relied upon as an interesting actor. Here he plays a suave English superspy in the late '80s—or so his son believes—with verve and panache. He springs off a private jet and into an exotic sports car; he makes mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night; he carries a gun; he wears the very latest fashions (or at least they were in the early '80s). Something's not right about Charlie as he so boldly blusters his way through life. And soon his 11-year-old son Jamie (Arron Fuller, just another excellent British child actor) begins to wonder the same thing: Why do they live in a tatty Wales flat? Why are they now driving an old beater Mercury? And why does Charlie think their flat is bugged? Who's listening to them, who's following them, where is the source of this unseen menace? Writer-director Justin Kerrigan says his own childhood is the basis for this embellished tale. "I'm Britain's No. 1 agent!" Charlie insists to his son, but Britain itself is in decline in I Know You Know. The coal mines are closing and men are being made redundant in Margaret Thatcher's new England. In that economic reality, the panic and pain Carlyle expresses is that of 007 being demoted to zero. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Uptown, 7 p.m. Mon., May 25.1:30 p.m., NeptuneThe Anarchist's WifeSomeday this war will be over. Really, I mean that. Stop looking at your watch. This time it's the Spanish Civil War, and it goes on forever. And if that's not long enough, we'll toss in World War II, free, for the price of one ticket! Idealistic lawyer Justo picks the losing side against Franco, then flees into exile—and possible death—just at the wrong time. D'oh! The Nazis have invaded France! With wife Manuela and kids left back in Madrid, we remain with her to face the bread lines, random bombing, and humiliation meted out by the gloating Fascists. Real newsreel footage is spliced into the melodrama, as if the remote has skipped onto the History Channel. And occasionally The Anarchist's Wife finds a fresh detail in such well-thumbed history, like an ostrich escaped from the bombed-out zoo, running past corpses down the elegant old street. But not even a third-act detour to France can save this picture. Who knew an Anarcho-Communist-lesbian resistance cell could be so boring? (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Neptune, 9:30 p.m. Sun., May 24.4 p.m., UptownThe Desert WithinA devout peasant decides to build his own church, pressing his many children into labor, and you just know the location won't be someplace nice—by the beach, say, or in a cool, pleasant forest. No, since this is post-revolutionary Mexico in the late '30s, with the new government having banned the Catholic church back in their home village, Elías and family travel out into the godforsaken desert, where their faith must be tested. And then tested some more. And then after you think the kids passed the last test, Elías demands a new test, and we start thinking about an extended trip to the popcorn stand. As the new church rises over a decade, the Hernández family predictably crumbles. The widowed patriarch is clearly insane. His daughters rebel. One son, destined to be an artist, talks to his paintings, which—in one of the movie's few lively touches—sometimes spring into animation. Director Rodrigo Plá gives the film a weathered, rusticated, color-bleached texture that often morphs directly into these artworks and animation. Dead saints and dead family members commune with the living from their altars and picture frames. The budding artist asks "What do you want from us, father?" SIFFgoers will find themselves asking the same question of the movie. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Uptown, 9:15 p.m. Tues., May 26.4 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: TulpanThe first feature by Russian ethno-documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy is a fiction founded on a powerful sense of place—and that place, namely the vast nowhere void of southern Kazakhstan, could easily be another planet. The movie is not so much a documentary as it is a dramatic account of a documentary situation. Absence is the operating principle. The movie takes its name from the never-seen object of our hero's affections—evidently the only marriageable maiden in the territory. Dvortsevoy populates the inhospitable terrain of the so-called Hunger Steppe with actors who lived as nomadic sheepherders during the course of the shoot. (Askhat Kuchencherekov plays the luckless Asa.) As fluid as Tulpan seems, it's painstakingly constructed out of a series of observed moments, staged interactions, and precisely dubbed sounds. Call it cacophonous minimalism. Everything makes noise—camels snort, sheep bleat, people declaim, machines sputter. This funkball pantheism suffuses the narrative. Tulpan has a very simple story, but it's a continuously mysterious experience—at once direct and oblique and very much a show. (NR) J. HOBERMAN Also: Pacific Place, 6:45 p.m. Sun., May 24.6:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: Treeless MountainKid performers naturally introduce elements of magic and mystery into the most banal situations. They are most resonant, however, when their characters are compelled to fend for themselves—childhood as an existential condition—as in Morris Engel's The Little Fugitive (1953), Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon (1995), or So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain. Actually, Treeless Mountain, an American indie made in Korea, doubles the condition by featuring two round-faced, bright-eyed children. Already a latchkey kid with a distracted, prematurely worn mother, 6-year-old Jin (Hee-yeon Kim, no relation to the director) is uprooted along with her younger sister, Bin (Song-hee Kim, unrelated to both), and left in a distant town to stay with a gruffly alcoholic "big aunt," while Mom goes in search of the girls' feckless father. Even when the children have been doubly abandoned, dumped by Big Aunt at their maternal grandparents' farm, Treeless Mountain is skillfully unsentimental—because of, but also despite, the presence of two irresistible, unselfconscious performers in virtually every scene. Taking its title from the barren mound of dirt overlooking the bus stop where the girls last saw their mother, the film is a careful construction. Indeed, it is so closely edited that one is never quite sure how much time has elapsed since the kids were abandoned. But then that's part of the pathos—neither do they. (NR) J. HOBERMAN Also: Pacific Place, 1:15 p.m. Sun., May 24.6:45 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: I'm No DummyA documentary about ventriloquists—or "vents," as those in the trade call themselves—sounds like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, a put-on. What's next—mimes or children's birthday clowns? But anyone with a memory extending back to '50s or '60s TV programming, and later the Johnny Carson show, and still later Soap, will find this doc unexpectedly fascinating. On the '70s sitcom parody Soap, for instance, that possibly insane blonde guy with the dummy he couldn't control is Jay Johnson, who earned a Tony Award in 2007 for his stage act. He and other present masters of the craft are knowledgeable interviewees, with a strong personal connection to the early TV pioneers. (Old television clips are amazing, including the famous Señor Wences.) The circle of vents is small and tight-knit, and also likely shrinking. After the practice graduated from vaudeville to nightclubs to early TV networks (which needed cheap programming), ventriloquism appears to be receding to regional theaters and Branson, Missouri. If not quite a lost art today, in a few more decades I'm No Dummy may serve as a nice eulogy. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Johnson and others from the film will perform at 6:15 p.m. Also: Pacific Place, 4 p.m. Sun., May 24; Kirkland Performance Center, 7 p.m. Wed., June 3.7 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: Still WalkingHirokazu Koreeda's touching, acutely observed drama about a 24-hour gathering of the Yokoyama clan—together for their annual remembrance of a deceased son—dissects family allegiances and fissures with uncommon grace. As the surviving son (Hiroshi Abe), his sister (You), and respective spouses and broods settle in at their elderly parents' seaside home, quotidian events—meal planning, children playing—subtly shift to the more emotionally raw realm of buried resentment and disappointment and the futile efforts for parental approval. (NR) MELINDA ANDERSON Also: Pacific Place, 11 a.m. Fri., May 29.7 p.m., NeptunePICK: We Live in PublicOndi Timoner's Sundance prizewinning doc follows obsessive self-documenter Josh Harris on his decade-long odyssey from multimillionaire Internet pioneer to Manhattan art-world cause célèbre to bankrupt (financially and emotionally), mentally unhinged exile. In 1999, before reality TV boomed or the words MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube had entered the lexicon, it was Harris who launched the underground art project "Quiet: We Live in Public," in which 100 like-minded exhibitionists lived for 30 days in open cells under the constant scrutiny of video cameras and Orwellian interrogators. Timoner (DiG!) was there from the start, and she stuck around for Harris' equally catastrophic second act, in which he and his then-girlfriend equipped their apartment with wall-to-wall surveillance cameras and proceeded to live their lives, for your viewing pleasure, at the Web site weliveinpublic.com. Harris' gradual implosion is both repellent and mesmerizing, Timoner's film unsparing in its scrutiny. She films, therefore he is. (NR) SCOTT FOUNDAS Also: Egyptian, 11 a.m. Mon., May 25.9 p.m., EgyptianPICK: Chef's SpecialMaxi is a very high-strung Madrid chef who flames brighter than a crème brulée blowtorch and who'd sell three limbs and his grandmother to get a Guide Michelin star. Getting in the way are his estranged children, 15 and 7, back in his life; a needy, nymphomaniacal maitre d' with a penchant for drama; and the closeted Argentine soccer star who just moved in across the hall. The screenplay for Nacho G. Velilla's comedy, a hit in Spain, is sloppy with dropped plot points and implausibilities. Even if you don't think the futbol babe's way out of Maxi's league, there's still the obvious hurdle that Maxi's a complete bitch. (And no man who wants to stay closeted should be seen within 50 meters of him.) Still, there's considerable fun in the script's stylish foul-mouthery ("Spanish is such a rich language when it comes to disrespecting somebody," says Maxi's wastrelly sous-chef) and in one of the funniest inadvertent coming-out scenes since Ellen blurted into that airport mike. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT Also: Pacific Place, 3:30 p.m. Mon., May 25.9:30 p.m., UptownPICK: BronsonPusher director Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson is a blistering biopic of the notorious British felon Michael Gordon Peterson (aka Charles Bronson), who has spent most of his adult life in solitary confinement, where he has managed to become a physical-fitness expert and an award-winning poet and artist. With a grab-bag of visual and sonic tricks borrowed from the likes of Kubrick and Peter Greenaway, Refn stages Bronson as a kind of sociopathic vaudeville, as Peterson (played with an all-consuming mania by actor Tom Hardy) recounts his life before an audience while a series of abstract formalist flashbacks illustrate his violent journey from the crib to various other barred enclosures. (NR) SCOTT FOUNDAS Also: Neptune, 9:30 p.m. Tues., May 26.9:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePICK: Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed CountryHow we view the relationship between traditional and new media should forever be changed by Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard's terrific documentary about a loosely organized network of scrappy underground videographers who risked their lives photographing the abortive 2007 uprising against Myanmar's military dictatorship. Spooked by memories of a similar rebellion in 1988, the government shut down the Internet and local media and banned foreign journalists from covering the demonstrations, which were led by Buddhist monks and students with growing support from an emboldened public. Burma VJ takes us on a roller coaster of alternating hope and despair as the young guerrilla reporters, always on the lookout for ubiquitous informers, wade into the thick of the struggle with Handycams hidden in bags, then transmit the footage to a hidden colleague who smuggles it out of the country via satellite. The raw, shocking images of courage and brutal backlash, here enhanced by added voiceover from two anguished young cameramen, were then broadcast, uncanned and unpolished, by the mainstream media. There was no happy ending, but if Burma VJ's account of the efficacy of dictatorship threatens to crush you, the sight of a sturdy young back disappearing into the mountains, returning from a Thailand hideout for another round of bearing witness, should make your heart burst. (NR) ELLA TAYLOR Also: Pacific Place, 5 p.m. Tues., May 26.Sunday, May 243:45 p.m., EgyptianPICK: The Cove"I was buying a new Porsche every year," says a rueful Ric O'Barry, who as a young man was instrumental in the '60s TV show Flipper. He caught and trained the several dolphins who made the program a hit (inspiring countless divers and marine biologists along the way); then when the show was cancelled and its mammalian stars abandoned, he claims his favorite, Cathy, committed suicide in his arms. Go ahead and cry now, because this Sundance prizewinning documentary gets even heavier. O'Barry was radicalized by his Flipper experience, dedicating his life to freeing or protecting the thousands of dolphins that because of Flipper became profitable trained attractions for commercial aquariums around the world. The Cove director Louie Psihoyos, himself a diver and environmentalist, here follows O'Barry and a Dirty Dozen–style brigade of eco-activists to Taiji, Japan, where migratory dolphins are corralled by the thousands in a hidden cove. A few are sold to marine parks for six figures an animal. The rest...well, imagine the worst. The Cove is, in a way, the companion documentary to a real-life horror movie, a maritime snuff film. Few SIFFgoers will have a guilty conscience about eating dolphin meat (which carries dangerous levels of mercury), but some will have to explain to their kids why the summer trip to SeaWorld is being cancelled. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Neptune, 6:30 p.m. Mon., May 25.4 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: WelcomeEuropeans—the filmmakers, at least—are fascinated with the subject of immigration. Recent dramas like Michael Winterbottom's In This World have been unsparing in their view of Fortress Europe, which slams the door on refugees from countries destabilized by the wars and politics of the West. From France, Philippe Lioret's Welcome tackles the same topic, though with more of a conventional coach-and-athlete Rocky approach. The coach (Vincent Lindon) is a middle-aged former swimming star who now leads water-aerobics classes at a municipal pool in Calais, on the English Channel. The athlete is a 17-year-old Kurdish Iraqi refugee (Firat Ayverdi) trying to reach his girlfriend in London. He fails at other avenues of smuggling (boat, truck, etc.), so you can guess his next thought when he shows up at the pool for a swimming lesson. It's illegal to help the refugees who huddle outside a Red Cross feeding station, where the coach's soon-to-be ex-wife volunteers. He wants to impress her. But more than that, he's lonely; and the couple has no kids. Yes, formula is strongly at work here, but Casablanca was formulaic, too. And the veteran actor Lindon displays some of that same Bogart weariness: the burden of ideals one dares not show, the yearning of a cause worth fighting for. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Harvard Exit, 9:15 p.m. Tues., June 2.4:30 p.m., NeptuneMaradona by KusturicaFallen idols both, former Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona is trailed around the world by Bosnian expat director Emir Kusturica. Both peaked in the '80s—Maradona leading his team to victory in the 1986 World Cup with the notorious "hand of God" goal, Kusturica with films like the Oscar-nominated While Father Was Away on Business. Time hasn't been kind to either figure. Making like Oliver Stone and Castro, Kusturica treats the pudgy former coke-head footballer like some kind of political hero, but the politics here are awfully confused. Kusturica seems stuck in the '90s, still pissed about NATO bombing the Serbs. And poor clueless Maradona inveighs against the second President Bush as if he were responsible for the Falklands War, NAFTA, and the entire "economic subjugation of Latin America." As usual, Kusturica has absolutely no discipline as a filmmaker, and the few good bits here are almost random: black-and-white newsreels of Maradona as a football prodigy; a Church of Maradona whose members, Guffman-like, venerate him as a saint; and a stunning montage of his greatest goals set to the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." Skip the film and look for those clips on YouTube. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Harvard Exit, 9:45 p.m. Wed., May 27.5 p.m., SIFF CinemaFavela on BlastWhere would we be without yet another SIFF title set in the teeming, colorful hillside slums of Rio? I loved City of God, too, but enough already. Favela on Blast is a confusing Brazilian-made documentary about "baile funk"—basically the musical love-child of old American vinyl dumped on Brazilian shores. I say confusing because different favelas (i.e., slum neighborhoods) appear to have different styles of baile funk, each represented by a different musician or DJ, but no one ever explains what that difference is. And the names of the performers—or of the favelas?—often appear as white-on-white graphics, impossible to read. Dark faces are often shot, for picturesque effect, against the famous Rio skyline, but those faces are then so underexposed as to be indistinguishable. One guy says "Samba was the ghetto music some time ago. It left the favela for the world. Funk is repeating the same story." True—it is the same story, as we've seen in countless rap and music documentaries before. Still, the editing has energy, and the imagery can't be had in any other city in the world. One tough-talking MC is interviewed while holding his infant daughter's baby bottle with a hog wallowing in the stream behind him. It seems a totally normal, natural, happy scene. No explanation required. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: SIFF Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Mon., May 25.6:45 p.m., EgyptianPICK: Pop Star on IceWhy hasn't this guy hosted Saturday Night Live yet? Give the man a TV show already! Even if figure skater Johnny Weir doesn't win a medal at next year's Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver (he choked at Torino '06), he's got what few elite athletes possess: wit, self-awareness, flamboyance, and a love of showbiz. Gee—doesn't that sound kind of gay? Exactly. Those who follow the sport already know Weir's not-so-secret secret, which he never exactly confirms with adoring female fans or disapproving officials. But for us outsiders (non-gay, non-skater, or both), this nimble documentary makes it a pleasure to meet the 24-year-old skater. Lithe, androgynous, graceful (duh), he lives his life as performance off the ice, too (though the camera surely encourages him). Sitting in the tub with his boyfriend, he creates a hilarious female Russian journalist character—with spot-on accent—to get the dirty truth about Weir. A timeline takes us back and forth among a blur of competitions, and we follow on the inevitable visit to Johnny's childhood home in Pennsylvania. There he learned to ice-skate at the late age of 12 on a frozen pond perforated with cornstalks. But Weir claims no traumas, and seems to have lived a life remarkably free of homophobia. However, NBC clearly demanded money for its HD Olympic broadcast video that the filmmakers couldn't afford, so the quality of competition footage is lacking. And there are big gaps in the film: What does Weir's father, a bearded, bearish, blue-collar-looking dude, think of his son's fame and career? He's just a silent figure on the periphery. But Weir is happy to have the spotlight instead. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Kirkland Performance Center, 11 a.m. Fri., June 5.9:30 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: $9.99The stop-motion animated puppets in Tatia Rosenthal's beguiling first feature look like claymated slabs of glazed meat, at once unreal and hyper-real. Which makes them perfect carriers of the off-kilter existentialism of Etgar Keret, who co-wrote the screenplay for $9.99 with Rosenthal, based on his own short stories. With Keret you never know where laughter ends and heartbreak begins, and so it is with these lost souls (voiced by Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, and other luminaries of this Israeli-Australian co-production) who keep colliding in a naturalistically evoked apartment building that could be found in any warm-climate city, whether Tel Aviv, Sydney, or Los Angeles. Their gait is stiff, but they're tormented by the full range of emotional incompleteness, from shame to lust to longing to confusion to plain old weariness with the struggle to stay afloat. There's more fun than mawkishness, though, in the underachiever who evades his fiancée's demands by cavorting with two-inch-high frat boys, the suicidal (maybe) guardian angel (maybe) who'd rather be anywhere but here, the penthouse hottie who likes her men absolutely hairless, and the 20-something who seeks solace in a $10 life manual because his loving single father has no time to listen. The cut-rate how-to proves more potent than you'd think, which says something wise and wonderful about the way the material world can hold out ridiculous but transcendent spiritual release. I'm not revealing how, but let's just say that $9.99 doesn't end like that other movie about "the pursuit of happyness," and all the better for it. (NR) ELLA TAYLOR Also: Harvard Exit, 4:30 p.m. Thurs., May 28.Monday, May 251:30 p.m., NeptuneI'm Gonna ExplodeDrama/Mex, the last feature from Mexican writer-director Gerardo Naranjo, never made it to Seattle theaters. Despite the wonderful textures and beguiling young leads of his latest, this flawed teen drama also faces an uphill fight. Fellow students at a parochial school for the well-to-do, Roman and Maru mistake their outcast status for something more than it is. He's a spoiled, pouty rebel who brandishes a real gun. Maru is calmer, harder to read, more inclined to mess with her lower middle-class family than share his revolutionary fantasies. First they stage her kidnapping, putting both families in a panic. The movie's best scenes follow, as they camp on the roof of his father's crumbling mansion in Salamanca (in the mountains north of Mexico City), sending the adults out to pursue false leads—via cell phone—so they can raid the fridge. But whether Naranjo has the French New Wave or Bonnie & Clyde in mind, this outlaw couple is mainly posturing, not provoking anybody. The stakes are small, and the film means to be profound. As the increasingly erratic and unlikable Roman waves his pistol around, it feels like Naranjo is desperate, too. The gun has to be fired, and it's not hard to guess who'll be hit. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Harvard Exit, 9:30 p.m. Thurs., May 28.4 p.m., SIFF CinemaPICK: Gotta DanceAge doesn't matter unless you're a cheese, this documentary tells us (quoting Florenz Ziegfeld). But age does matter: The featured group of 60-and-older performers has to overcome a number of age-related obstacles—from self-consciousness to utter unfamiliarity with hip-hop to decades of muscle memory of performing the wrong types of dances—to become the NETsationals, the NBA's first senior dance team, which supports the New Jersey Nets. They're a diverse bunch. For example, there's a kindergarten teacher, a former bombshell who lost her husband to a Playboy bunny; another woman spent World War II in hiding in the Philippines. But they're all old, and they all decide they want to go in front of tens of thousands of basketball fans and perform dances usually reserved for lithe, spandex-clad 20-somethings. There's underdog drama aplenty—first-night jitters and, later, the harsh realities of the business of show. But Gotta Dance goes beyond that, delving into the lives of some impressive individuals who refuse to stop growing, even in their golden years. (NR) DAMON AGNOS Also: Kirkland Performance Center, 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 3.7 p.m., Northwest Film ForumIt Came From KucharThe sincere, outer-borough, downmarket alternative to Warhol in the '60s, the Kuchar brothers have a reputation that's today rather hard to maintain—or explain. Once championed by the Village Voice, and here praised by John Waters, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, and others, the gay identical twins took a literal approach to the movies they devoured and copied. The results were not cool, not detached, not campy, not sophisticated...just, well, adoring. Shot on Super-8 and later 16mm film, their shorts are amateurish cross-genre tributes to Westerns, melodramas, and sci-fi pictures all at the same time. The acting and production values are terrible. Yet the titles are genius: The Devil's Cleavage, Hold Me While I'm Naked, Lust for Ecstasy, Corruption of the Damned...Wait, if you're already damned, how can you be corrupted? You get the idea. But the appeal today will mainly be to fans and film students, and documentary director Jennifer Kroot appears to be both. She loves these peculiar old men, who today tend to work separately on the East and West Coasts. And they seem too absorbed in their prodigious ongoing output to pay any attention to her or to their place in film history. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: Northwest Film Forum, 9:30 p.m. Wed., May 27.Tuesday, May 264 p.m., EgyptianDaytime DrinkingAn enjoyable ramble through slacker South Korea, but not much else, Daytime Drinking's plot—not that there's much of one—hinges mainly on hangovers, text messages, broken hearts, ex-girlfriends, binge drinking, and lost cell phones. It's kind of a MySpace generation mish-mash—all the problems in life for a guy just out of college, or the army, and none of life's solutions. Hyuk-jin (Song Sam-dong) gets stranded in a coastal resort town when his buddies fail to meet him for the weekend. He loses his wallet, phone, and pants in roughly that order. Some take pity on him, some take advantage, but Hyuk-jin seems incapable of self-rescue. "You're like a leaf, floating on the ocean," he's told. (Great career advice, that.) If there's a lesson to his aimless, sad-sack misadventures in the sticks, it's this: Never leave Seoul ever again. (NR) BRIAN MILLER Also: SIFF Cinema, 9:45 p.m. Mon., June 1.9:15 p.m., Harvard ExitPICK: ZiftTwo decades of Communist-era hard time prove the truth to parolee Moth (Zahary Baharov) of Dante's injunction "Abandon all hope," repurposed here as an injunction to prisoners upon their release. Bulgarian filmmaker Javor Gardev tracks his camera around like a helpful Virgil as the freed Moth is immediately seized by an old comrade in crime, out to locate some still-missing loot. Chases, escapes, and double-and-triple-crosses follow in a film noir pastiche equal parts Old Hollywood (Gilda, D.O.A.) and hipsterish. The overall frenetic energy is that of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Trainspotting, while the femme fatale's musical number is pure David Lynch. Gardev's satire of state propaganda slaps on another layer of ironic varnish. Out of this welter of influences, he forges a moving tale of emotional dislocation and loss, adding up perhaps to an allegory of nostalgic regret for the lost prison state of Iron Curtain–era Bulgaria, which may indeed look good to its former inmates compared to the hideous world of modern capitalism. (NR) GREGG RICKMAN Also: SIFF Cinema, 4 p.m. Mon., June 1.

 
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