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Greengrass in Iraq 

Plus: The unattractive, Sub-Apatovian She's Out of My League

click to enlarge Greengrass in Iraq
  • Greengrass in Iraq

Previews

Opening Friday, Mar. 19, watch the fur fly in Bounty Hunter. A professional person-tracker portrayed by Gerard Butler gets his dream assignment when he is called on to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife, played by Jennifer Aniston. Rated PG-13 for sexual conduct and violence. 111m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Being a kid sucks. Based on the best-selling illustrated novel by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows a young boy through middle school as he deals with the horrors of adolescence. Rated PG for crude humor and language. 101m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Are you sure you don't want universal health care? Then I hope you paid for that high-priced mechanical organ keeping you alive. Otherwise you might have to deal with the Repo Men. They are under orders to get back the goods, by any means necessary. Rated R for violence, grisly images and language. 113m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Garnering two Academy Award nominations, the foreign language film White Ribbon tells the tale of a children's choir in pre-World War II Germany where strange accidents are occurring. Rated R for disturbing violence and sexuality. 144m. At the Minor.

My Grandmother, an eccentric Soviet silent cinema classic, kicks off a three-film series at the Arcata Playhouse on Monday, Mar. 22, organized by saxophonist/Dell'Artisan/Burner Zuzka Sabata. Proceeds from the screenings will help build a kinetic fire sculpture a Blue Lake crew is taking to Burning Man 2010. Georgian anarchist director Kote Mikaberidze's 1929 film was banned by the Soviet regime for 40 years for its satiric look at bureaucracy. Its style is eccentric with stop-motion, puppetry, exaggerated camera angles, animation and crazy sets reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Adding to the fun is a new soundtrack by a Bay Area jazz combo, The Beth Custer Ensemble, which includes guitarist David James from Spearhead, drummer Jan Jackson from Motherbug and bassist Mark Calderon, who played with The Meters. Nils Frykdahl from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum narrates the film's intertitles. Altogether, it makes for a wild ride.

Gracing the screen at the Arcata Theater Lounge once again this week to appease the masses is The Big Lebowski (1997) on Friday, Mar. 19, at 7 p.m. Have you been jonesin' for gratuitous shots of David Bowie's package on the big screen? Labyrinth (1986) plays on Sunday, Mar. 21, at both 5:30 and 8 p.m. Japanese Sci-fi geeks should check out Gamera (1965) on Wednesday, Mar. 24, at 6 p.m.

Reviews

GREEN ZONE: Previews for this tense actioner set in the early days of the Iraq War emphasize the previous collaboration between British director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Certainly there's a touch of Jason Bourne in Damon's Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, whose Army unit is tasked with the unenviable job of finding the alleged WMDs that we were told justified the invasion of Iraq.

Spoiler alert: There were no WMDs and the war did not turn out as cleanly as American spin doctors promised it would. When Miller's unit tries and fails to find WMDs, he suspects that his guys are operating on faulty intelligence -- and he wants to know why. Some Bourne-ian puzzle-solving follows, and as we navigate Baghdad's mean streets we experience the frenetic nature of the war with hand-held camera work that makes us feel as jumpy as the soldiers. (It's hard to imagine, but cinematographer Barry Ackroyd also shot the much calmer Iraq tale The Hurt Locker.)

As Miller peels away untruths, he finds an ally in CIA vet Martin Brown (a frumpy Brendan Gleeson). Both of them try in vain to school administration point man Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, in slick bureaucrat mode), who serves as a stand-in for duplicitous diplomats like Paul Bremer -- of course, he's more in the business of massaging the truth than revealing it. There's also a Judy Miller-esque reporter (played by Amy Ryan) who helped make the case for WMDs -- she suspects she was duped and wonders by whom. Eventually the WMD McGuffin falls by the wayside and Miller goes rogue. The action ramps up in a post-invasion Baghdad that's getting politically messy. A central question becomes whether or not it's a good idea to disband the Iraqi Army, and the fate of Baathist General Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor) hangs in the balance.

Greengrass worked on the script with screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River); they were "inspired" by the non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran. While there's a ring of truth in the ripped-from-the-headlines storyline, the various characters tend toward stereotypes. You could argue that this simplification helps us understand the complicated mess we made, but it's also clear that Greengrass has a point to make about the lies that took us to war and those who told them. In a time when it was hard to tell who the good guys were, it's easy to recognize the bad guys. Rated R for violence and language. 115m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

-- Bob Doran

SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE: Spoiler Alert! In case there was any doubt in your mind after watching the trailer for She's Out of My League ... yes, she's firmly out of his league. The problem is that he won't be called up to the majors any time soon.

Super-nerd Kirk (Jay Baruchal) is a TSA agent at the airport. Super-babe Molly (Alice Eve) loses her phone in his line. Nerd helps babe get her phone back. Blammo! Commence unlikely relationship. What follows are the natural insecurities Kirk endures over how he will be able to satisfy Molly despite his unimpressive physique, mundane job and classless family. Along the way, he also must deal with his discouraging friends (who rank Kirk a "5"), Molly's stunt-pilot ex (who thinks Kirk is gay) and her disapproving parents, whose initial meeting with their daughter's new love interest comes at, let's say, an awkward moment. Will their love endure? Take a guess.

Naturally, the odds are against this odd couple. What affects the film's believability is they stay that way. To the writers' credit, Molly is more than just a chick with a hot body. She's refined, intelligent, has actual feelings and has been hurt in the past. On the other hand, Kirk is a nerd. Now, we are supposed to swallow that, as a result of her past negative relationships, Molly sees Kirk as "safe," and is willing to overlook the class chasm between them. What doesn't compute is that he never exhibits qualities endearing enough to make you believe Molly would ever actually see anything in him.

Remarkably, it's actually the crude humor in She's Out of My League that works best. For example, after his friends wax poetic about the romantic benefits to "manscaping," Kirk decides to heed their advice, but finds the process more difficult than expected. Luckily, his chubby friend is willing to step in and give the up-close-and-personal touch the job requires. Okay, classic. The problem is that's not the kind of film the rest of the movie is trying to be. Kirk's more revealing conversations with his friends cleverly touch on real issues of self-confidence and not being hindered by your insecurities. Good stuff. Then comes the testicle shaving. Good stuff also, but incongruous.

Side note: The film takes place in Pittsburgh and the filmmakers actually made it look like a city a person could hang out in. Who knew?

While She's Out of My League, at times, flies at similar altitudes as the Judd Apatow films it attempts to emulate, the insanely implausible nature of the relationship between Kirk and Molly puts the film in danger of crashing into the mountains and leaves you with a cheap Knocked Up knock off. Rated R for language and sexual content. 105m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

-- Andrew Goff

Continuing

ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's very public love affair takes a journey down the rabbit hole. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

AVATAR. Military forces attempt to control and exploit a region and its people, whom they know little about (In 3D). Rated PG-13. 162m. At the Broadway and Fortuna (3D).

BROOKLYN'S FINEST. Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere and Don Cheadle play three New York cops who have a rough day on the job. Rated R. 133m. At Mill Creek.

THE CRAZIES. Something is infecting the citizens of Ogden Marsh with insanity. Bummer. Rated R. 101m. At the Broadway.

CRAZY HEART. Jeff "The Dude" Bridges earned Oscar gold by playing a washed-up country singer. Rated R. 112m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF. The gods of Mount Olympus have walked out of Percy's Greek mythology texts and into reality. And they aren't happy. Rated PG. 120m. At Garberville.

REMEMBER ME. Twilight-heart throb Robert Pattinson plays a rebellious youth. Get ready to swoon. Rated PG-13. 112m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SHUTTER ISLAND. Two U.S. marshals investigate the disappearance of a criminally insane murderer on a remote island. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R. 138m. At the Broadway.

THE YOUNG VICTORIA. Dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule. Rated PG. 105m. At the Minor.

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