In About Schmidt, Alexander Payne's black comedy about a retired insurance man's reassessment of his bleak life, Jack Nicholson's Warren Schmidt sets out from sleepy Omaha in his huge motor home and takes I-80 to Denver, where he hopes to prevent his daughter's wedding to a dopey waterbed salesman. Payne shot very little of the film here -- a few establishing shots and casual exteriors -- but in the course of things, Nicholson takes some very specific Denver street directions ("...then turn left on Speer"). Thanks to the magic of movies, Nicholson also winds up in a Denver hot tub that's not really in Denver -- with pushy Kathy Bates.


Last year, hard times killed the Denver Jazz on Film Festival at age four. But from the ashes rose the Denver Jazz on Film Series, a slightly shorter, but no less syncopated, bow to a great American art form as interpreted by moviemakers around the world. Thanks go to the new Starz FilmCenter on the Auraria campus (also home to the Denver International Film Festival), which screened twelve jazz-related films over Valentine's Day weekend, including a vivid documentary about the late saxophonist Dexter Gordon, Bertrand Tavernier's classic Round Midnight and cinematic glimpses of jazz greats Chico Hamilton, Thelonious Monk and Stephane Grappelli. Happily, the out chorus is still on hold: Denver Jazz on Film will return to Starz next winter.


Most of the movies that clog area theaters fall into predictable categories: comedies, dramas, action-thrillers, idiocy. But the Denver Pan-African Film Festival, sponsored by Starz FilmCenter, offers cineastes a tasty alternative. Last year's event featured a hefty menu of fifty flicks, ranging from light entertainments to wrenching documentaries, and the 2003 version, scheduled to take place April 21 through 27 at Starz, promises to up the ante.


Once housed at the venerable bookstore's LoDo events space, the long-running Tattered Cover Film Series moved to the Starz FilmCenter this year without amping up the price. Curated by critic Howie Movshovitz, the series uncovers both obscure gems and the occasional classic, such as Casablanca. They even pay for the parking, too: All you have to buy is the popcorn and soy-milk latte.
Wanna know who wins the Worst Parent or Guardian in a Movie award for 2002? What

about Actor Who Should Have Known Better? Or Worst Attempt to Act Smart? Abby Winter and her partner, Laura Peterson, will happily slag off -- even at industry favorites. The roommates use amusing photos of their cats, Gleason and Mr. Thornhill, as their rating system; a hissing, hairball-hacking Gleason is the worst snub they dole out (and they do it often). They've targeted Titanic as the worst movie of all time and were even tepid about O Brother, Where Art Thou? Although the site doesn't have a professional polish, Winter's sardonic wit and Peterson's childish graphics are good for endless hours of entertainment.

Each spring, lindy hop king Frankie Manning returns to Denver, like the swallows to Capistrano, for a weekend of dance, dance and more dance. The octogenarian's history as a dancer dates back to the heyday of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, where he helped invent the original lindy moves. When swing gave way to bebop, and jazz audiences stopped dancing, Manning took a thirty-year break and went to work at the post office. But he's been back on his feet since the 1980s, dancing across the country and becoming an annual fixture at Karen Lee's dance studio alongside his son and fellow dancer, Chazz Young. Swingers, take note: Reservations for his April 16 through 19 Denver turn are going quickly.


Mercury Cafe
The Mercury Cafe's indomitable life force, Marilyn Megenity, has seen it all -- good, bad and ugly -- in the many years she's been running the place. So if she personally endorses something, it's gotta be good. Right now she's touting the Middle Eastern Peace Dance, which is held the last Saturday of every month and features live music by Sherefe and the Habibis. It seems to encourage what Megenity calls "that old wild hippie freestyle," a sweet-vibed communal phenomenon some of us haven't seen since 1970 -- give or take a few Phish concerts.


First of all, there's no need to arrive single, but if you do, there's no need to be shy. Nor do you have to be accomplished on the dance floor, though you'll see plenty who are. Known for its friendly regulars and non-threatening atmosphere, the forty-and-over Sunday-night Sharp Images dance has endured for at least fifteen years, for reasons that will become obvious the minute you step in the door.


Wife-swapping is dead? It simply ain't so. If you've always wanted to have group sex with a charming, friendly group of people -- and do a little drinking and dancing beforehand -- you've just hit the jackpot. Formed in 1969, the Golden Circle is Colorado's oldest and most legitimate swingers' club, a strictly couples-only affair for people who believe that swinging isn't sleazy, just an alternative lifestyle.


Collecting art has never been an inexpensive hobby. But even the poorest aesthete can build up a cachet of original works at an Art Trading Card swap, where painters, drawers and doodlers convene to barter tiny masterpieces. The cards are only two by three inches -- about the size of your average baseball card -- so you'll probably still need to find something for the wall above the sofa. In the meantime, go forth and trade: Outside of what it might cost you to create or reproduce your own cards, this club is absolutely free.


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