War, a train wreck and Amy Sedaris
'The Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq' (NR)
The death mentioned in the title is that of Raad al-Azawi, a young photographer killed by Iraqi soldiers in 2004. Director Andrew Berends follows the man's younger brother, Ibrahim, who's torn between taking over his brother's photography business and providing for his family, or joining up with Sayid Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to seek revenge.
Berends' access to the insurgents and to Ibrahim's family is remarkable, and the images of wounded Iraqis lying in hospitals, of families mindless with grief, and of Iraqis jubilantly cheering the deaths of Americans are chilling.
But Berends' film suffers from a lack of focus and a stridently one-sided point of view, offering up graphic images for shock value and straying too often from the main story. While valuable as a behind-the-lines view of the tragedies of the war, as a documentary it disappoints.
- Dawn Taylor
'Look Both Ways' (PG-13)
The live-action feature debut of Australian animator Sarah Watt examines an eventful weekend in the lives of several people who are loosely connected by their proximity to a train accident.
Chief among these are a greeting-card artist (Justine Clarke) who constantly imagines cartoonish death scenes and a newspaper photographer (William McInnes) who has received what could be a death sentence from his doctor.
Reminiscent of such Down Under notables as 'Lantana' and 'Bliss,' as well as the work of Paul Thomas Anderson (especially 'Magnolia'), Watt's ambitious drama aims to snatch something life-affirming from the jaws of mortality and misery.
She finally does so in spite of a tendency to trip herself up with repetitious motifs (the animated sequences and several musical interludes linking the various characters) that tend toward the precious and tidy. In the end, it adds up to more than you might expect early on.
- Pat Holmes
7 p.m. FRIDAY, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. SATURDAY, 7 p.m. SUNDAY, July 7-9, Whitsell Auditorium
'Strangers With Candy' (R)
This prequel to the peculiar television series about Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), self-proclaimed 'boozer, user and loser' who returns to high school at age 47, is often hilarious, sometimes not, but true to the spirit of the television show.
The film, like the TV show, parrots the style of late-1970s after-school specials and plays like a series of connected comic sketches. Sedaris is still fascinating as the grotesque, sexually aggressive Jerri, and Stephen Colbert, as science teacher - and righteous Christian - Mr. Noblet, gets in a few good digs at creationism. There are also goofy guest appearances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Broderick and Allison Janney.
First-time director Paul Dinello - who also plays art teacher Mr. Jellineck - has a rather sluggish hand, and many potentially great scenes fall flat due to poor pacing. It all wears a little thin after the first 60 minutes, indicating that some comedy, no matter how well-executed, is best conveyed in shorter form.
Also new this week
A talented but at-risk teen struggles to stay on the basketball team in 'The Heart of the Game,' a gripping documentary filmed over six years at a high school in Seattle (Fox Tower). Another documentary, 'Loose Change,' asks provocative questions about the government's involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Clinton Street Theater). 'The Refugee All Stars' is a tale of devastation, strength and the power of music, as musicians forced from their home in Sierra Leone by a brutal civil war band together (Hollywood). The Refugee All Stars also perform live at the Oregon Zoo at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 12. The Northwest Film Center's 'Sons of Samurai' series continues with 'Kill!' (9 p.m. Friday, July 7, Whitsell Auditorium) and 'Harakiri' (7 p.m. Thursday, July 13, Whitsell Auditorium).