Arts + Scene » Filmland

War and High Society

Two Oscar-winning films finally arrive in Humboldt County

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Opening

88 MINUTES.College prof moonlighting as FBI agent receives death threat stating he's got only 88 minutes to live. Rated R. 107 m. At the Broadway.

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM.American teen is transported back in kung fu time when he finds weapon of ancient warrior in pawn shop. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.Loser musician goes on vacation to escape his TV star ex-girlfriend only to find her and her new rocker guy staying in the same hotel. Rated R. 111 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

MADAME BUTTERFLY.San Francisco Opera performs captivating tragic opera in pure Digital Cinema. SF Opera Cinemacast runs April 19-20 at Fortuna.

RUN, FAT BOY, RUN.Man tries to win back woman he ran from at the altar by trying to run a marathon. Rated PG-13. 110 m. At the Broadway.

SHINE A LIGHT.Martin Scorsese's documentary on The Rolling Stones. Rated PG-13. 122 m. At the Minor.

Other Screenings About Town

BUMPING INTO BROADWAY: HCAR SILENT MOVIE NIGHT.p.m. Arkley Center, 412 G St., Eureka. Scotia Ragtime Band provides original score and sound effects to 1919 Harold Lloyd classic. $16/$11 students and seniors. 442-1956.

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE.8 p.m. Accident Gallery, 210 C St., Eureka. Director/HSU alum Sean Wilson's film explores the lives, careers and sacrifices of CA's wild land fire fighters. $5. 845-8701.

Reviews

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE:The Mideast debacle in Afghanistan and Iraq has inspired more than its share of documentary exposés in recent years. This one isn't an overheated polemic á la Fahrenheit 9/11, but a straightforward job of reporting and storytelling, which makes it all the more effective.

The film focuses on the story of the death of Dilawar, an innocent young Afghani taxi driver, at the Bagram Air Base in 2002 at the hands of American forces, and convincingly suggests his case was an early symptom of a policy that would lead to the more widespread abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Director Alex Gibney, who did a similarly thorough job of methodically unraveling the Enron mess in The Smartest Guys in the Room, masterfully uses Dilawar's story to illuminate the broader issue of how torture was defined down so that anything short of death and organ failure were, in their Orwellian definition, "enhanced interrogation techniques."

He makes the most of that hoariest of documentary techniques, the talking head interview, and the grunt level soldiers who committed Dilawar's torture give their own accounts of the incident. They're not monsters, but victims as well of a system of tacit approval of torture by the highest levels of the U.S. government and a lack of discipline and control over the process of interrogation of subjects (many of whom were turned in for cash bounties). The vague guidelines they were given, plus the post-9/11 desire for revenge, made this kind of abuse inevitable. The film also points out the fact that no one above the rank of staff sergeant was ever prosecuted.

The film's critique is more effective for the fact that it relies greatly on testimony from military legal officers and Republican insiders like Colin Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkinson, plus copious memos and documents. John McCain is also featured as a principled opponent of torture (before presidential ambition convinced him to soft-pedal the issue).

If seen, a viewing of this film will probably change more minds than yet another sermon to the already converted. Though it won this year's Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, a planned future showing on the Discovery Channel was recently canceled — it's apparently still too soon to suggest on television that government sanctioned torture is now as American as apple pie. At the Minor. Ends Thurs., April 17.

THE COUNTERFEITERS:Winner of this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, The Counterfeiters asks hard questions of what are limits of what one should do for survival.

It's the story of a Russian Jew, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics). A club owner and forger in 1936 Berlin, he cares only about money after losing his wife and child. Caught by the officious Herzog (Devid Striesow), he is imprisoned, first in a hard labor camp then later in a concentration camp. He insinuates himself in better quarters and comforts by drawing and painting flattering heroic portraits of the camp's Nazis and their families.

Eventually he and other skilled prisoners are enlisted by Herzog, now a Nazi officer, to participate in Operation Bernhard, a scheme to collapse the British economy with fake English pound notes. They are treated relatively well, given comfortable living conditions and weekends off, unlike the unfortunate prisoners that they hear outside the walls of their barracks. Solly does what he must to survive, despite the entreaties of a hotheaded Communist (August Diehl) who wants to sabotage the project. They eventually do perfect the pound, and then take on the more challenging project of faking the dollar.

The film's greatest success is the complex humanity of the characters. Sorowitch is both selfish and a realist. He takes pride in his craftsmanship, even though he knows he's doing the Devil's work. He does slowly let himself have some feeling and sympathy for his fellow prisoners though, and reveals the loss of his wife and child to a fellow artist from his home city of Odessa.

In some ways the blandly efficient Herzog is Solly's opposite number. Unlike his underlings, he knows enough about modern management not to use violence randomly, and there's a strange rapport between he and Solly as two men who go along to get along. The film subtly suggests that this attitude is what fascism thrives upon.

Though the story of the concentration camps has been told many times before, writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky brings a unique ambiguity to a subject that too often is presented as a simple morality play of good and evil. Ruzowitzky is not satisfied with such comforting equations, all to the good of the film. At the Minor.

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR THE DAY:Based on the 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, this comedy is both farce and romance, and it succeeds admirably at both. Frances McDormand is Guinevere Pettigrew, a dowdy out-of-work governess in 1930s London who, in a last-ditch effort, surreptitiously latches on to a job as a social secretary for a ditsy American actress, Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams).

Delysia is playing the field with three men: her earnest pianist Michael (Lee Pace), oily nightclub owner Nick (Mark Strong) and young would-be theater producer Phil (Tom Payne). She's wildly ambitious and flighty, and Guinevere's first task is to extricate a naked Phil out of Nick's flat before Nick arrives. From the start Guinevere is thrown into an upper crust social milieu and has to think on her feet, both to keep her job and to avoid being found out. Delysia has to choose between her true love, the man that will make her a star or the guy with the money.

Amy Adams has rarely been as good as she is here, and she makes what could easily be an annoying character brim with wit and comic charm. She's both sexy and funny, and effortlessly calls to mind such '30s actresses as Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur.

Frances McDormand injects just the right amount of realism, especially in her scenes with Joe (Ciarán Hinds), who plays a lingerie designer who finds in her a kindred spirit. As other partygoers celebrate the entry into the war, she whispers, "They don't remember the last one" in such a way that concisely suggests her back-story in a rueful glance.

Though this kind of film is not usually my cup of tea, it easily won me over. It's a frothy comedy, somewhat predictable, but so well performed and ingratiating that it's hard to resist, even though the end piles on the sap pretty heavily. But I guess it's not really a romantic comedy without a happy ending. At the Broadway.

Continuing

21.Group of brilliant students and unorthodox math prof take on big casinos and win their way into racy Vegas lifestyles. Rated PG-13. At Mill Creek and the Broadway.

10,000 B.C.Cavemen on epic battle quest. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At The Movies.

BE KIND REWIND.A man whose brain becomes magnetized destroys every tape in his friend's video store; the men set out to remake lost films. 101 m. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

DRILLBIT TAYLOR.Dorky teens hire former soldier of fortune as bodyguard, only to find he has his own agenda. 102 m. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

HORTON HEARS A WHO.Mocked do-gooding elephant attempts to rescue a microscopic civilization. Rated G. 87 m. At Mill Creek, The Movies and Fortuna.

LEATHERHEADS.A ragtag team in early (1920s) professional football league is saved by golden-boy war hero. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

NEVER BACK DOWN. Teen joins underground "fight club." Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

NIM'S ISLAND.Author's literary creation inspires young girl's fantasy island; author and girl unite to conquer Nim's Island. Rated PG. 94 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

OTHER BOLEYN GIRL.Beautiful Boleyn sisters, driven by family's blind ambition, compete for King Henry VIII's love. Rated PG-13. At the Minor.

PROM NIGHT.Tragedy revisits Donna when prom night turns deadly, and she knows the one man to blame. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

RUINS.Friends on vacation in Mexico are persuaded by German tourist to hunt for his lost brother, last seen near mysterious ruins. Rated R. 91 m. At the Broadway.

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.The Grace family moves into the Spiderwick estate, the home of a dead ancestor, and discovers the evil creatures that already reside there. Rated PG. 96 m. At The Movies.

STOP LOSS.Decorated Iraq war hero returns home to the States only to be called back to the war against his will. Rated R. 113 m. At the Broadway.

STREET KINGS.Veteran LAPD vice detective seeks to clear his name by finding his partner's killer. Rated R. 109 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SUPERHERO MOVIE.Spoof movie takes aim at biggest superhero blockbusters of our time. Rated PG-13. 85 m. At The Movies.

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