24th Reel Music Film Festival
Continues through February 4. All films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
BURN TO SHINE: PORTLAND, OREGON
Buncha Portland bands get together in a house that's set for demolition, play a song apiece, then clear out while the thing is burned to the ground. Deal is it's supposed to be about the houses, their deaths, and what they stood for, but what comes through more is a time capsule of this city's music scene. We get a Decemberists performance just pre-Crane Wife, there's a prime-era Sleater-Kinney song a year before it was announced they were breaking up, there's the Shins, the Thermals, and the Gossip—all bands that broke through (be it mainstream or indie) in 2005. ADAM GNADE
THE JOHNNY OTIS STORY
Gotta love the Reel Music for bringing out Johnny Otis, who posterity considers the "Godfather of Rhythm and Blues." The man produced the original version of "Hound Dog" (Big Mama Thornton's), was covered by Elvis and Eric Clapton, and discovered Etta James. This is a great portrait of Otis, but more so, it's a solid essay of white/black relations, pre- and post-civil rights. Sometimes race has nothing to do with ethnicity. ADAM GNADE
15th Portland Jewish
Continues through January 29. All films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
FROM SHTETL TO SWING & CHAGALL: TO RUSSIA, ASSES AND OTHERS
Shtetl to Swing: You'd think that a film documenting the 19th century emigration of Jews to America, and their subsequent impact on the nation's culture, film, and music, would be pretty entertaining—sadly, this Harvey Fierstein-narrated documentary loses its oomph about a half hour in. It's a story that anyone knowledgeable in American pop music already knows, and there's little new insight into the diaspora's hand in creating jazz—although the film does feature a weirdly apologetic explanation for Al Jolson's blackface routine. You'll be better off just staying at home and throwing on some Artie Shaw or Marx Brothers. SCOTT MOORE Chagall: Oh my god I love Marc Chagall! The short biography Chagall reveals the artist's amazing spirit through a multitude of his works and interview clips, which show his beautiful character—and ultimately exemplify his statement, "Love is the true color, the true matter, of art." Just try not to fall in love with him, too. ERIN LACOUR
GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS
Vittorio de Sica's 1970 drama. Not screened for critics.
LONELY MAN OF FAITH: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF RABBI JOSEPH B. SOLOVEITCHIK
Ethan Isenberg's film documents the life of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, considered the most influential rabbi of the 20th century. The film illuminates the accomplishments of "The Rav" through moving interviews with his former students. Revolutionary in his ideas, Soloveitchik pushed the boundaries of Jewish Orthodoxy to include secular study alongside sacred. ERIN LACOUR
MAURICE SENDAK & ALL HIS WILD THINGS
"My particular gift, perhaps, lies in the fierceness with which I've retained those experiences—the feelings of childhood that enriched my life as an artist, that galvanized me into being an artist," Maurice Sendak says in this hour-long bio, which features plenty of great interviews with the dude who wrote and illustrated one of the greatest books ever written, Where the Wild Things Are. Preceded by animated shorts based on Sendak's works. ERIK HENRIKSEN
RAPE OF EUROPA
When Hitler swept through Europe, he did more than destroy nations and lives—he irreversibly upended the art world by damaging classic architecture, destroying art he deemed "degenerate" (anything produced by Jews or Slavs, and anything depicting reality in abstract ways). The Rape of Europa documents this devastation and highlights the efforts of brave souls who attempted to save collections at the Louvre and other museums. The subject is fascinating—sadly, the presentation is about as dull as a community college art history class. SCOTT MOORE
Three Mothers is one of those slow, comfortable, warm family saga movies that are perfectly suited to a dreary Portland winter day. Three women living together in Israel—60-something triplets from a wealthy Egyptian Jewish family, named Rose, Flora, and Yasmin—are at personal crossroads in their lives. All three take turns telling their stories to Rose's daughter, who is doing some soul searching as she tries to begin her own family. Family secrets emerge as the intertwined stories surface, and the symbiotic sisters reconcile with their pasts. AMY JENNIGES
E.B. White wrote, "No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky." For Toots Shor, the statement certainly rings true. Toots tells the story of a lucky "Jew kid" who made a name for himself in prohibition-era New York and went on to be one of the "ornaments of the city." ERIN LACOUR
TREMBLING ON THE ROAD
Not screened for critics, this film examines the reactions to another film, Trembling Before G-d, which was about gay and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews.
An uneven but engaging tale of drug slinging, violence, fear, and youthful stupidity. Alpha Dog is based on the true story of young criminal Jesse James Hollywood; story aside, it's the performances that carry the film. Emile Hirsch plays lead character Johnny Truelove, and Six Feet Under's Ben Foster knocks one out of the park as an unhinged, speed-addicted white supremacist. But the real star of the film—and this surprised me as much as it'll surprise you—is one Justin Timberlake, who steals the show with a performance that offers comic relief and a dose of human compassion. And a tight tank top. SCOTT MOORE Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Animation Show
Produced by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt—no slouches in the world of animation—The Animation Show aims to present "the best animated short films from around the world." Whether they achieved that is up for debate—this year's collection is a mixed bag not only in terms of style, genre, and media, but also in quality. While most of the shorts are enjoyable and hold up to repeated viewings, a couple are irritating and dull. The shorts that succeed, though, make the entire experience worthwhile. As with all collections of short films, brevity is both a letdown and a godsend—you wish the great films could go on for hours, but you're happy when the mediocre ones end after six minutes. SCOTT MOORE Hollywood Theatre.
Kelley Baker's film, screened in conjunction with his workshop "Guerilla Marketing & Self-Distribution of Your Film." More info: hollywoodtheatre.org. Hollywood Theatre.
Cave of the Yellow Dog
Ostensibly a feature film, Yellow Dog is more a moving-picture postcard. The plot (girl finds puppy) is simple and unimportant. The main attractions are the long, slow shots of the Mongolian countryside and its residents as they make cheese, herd animals, dismantle a yurt, etc. It also contains the following mother-daughter exchange: "Could you collect some dung for curing the meat?" "But I've never collected dung before!" "Well, you can try." BRENDAN KILEY Laurelhurst, Living Room Theaters.
Children of Men
Children of Men is the best film I've seen all year, and you should go see it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
Diva Dog & Off the Chain
Two films about pit bulls from the folks at Pawsitively Pit Bull, a non-profit dog rescue for pit bulls. Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
A horror flick starring that Boromir dude from Lord of the Rings. Not screened in time for press; hit portlandmercury.com on Friday, January 19 for our review. Regal Cinemas, etc.
I Like Killing Flies
This quick documentary about Shopsin's, a beloved diner in Greenwich Village, should make the must-see list of anyone who's ever worked at or eaten in a restaurant. Kenny Shopsin is a working man's Woody Allen who waxes existential as he flips chocolate chip pancakes, and his diner is equally famous for his extensive menu and quality food as for his confrontational brand of "customer service." Shopsin comes across here as the quintessential New Yorker, for better or for worse, and this documentary captures a little slice of his entirely captivating life. Plus, those pancakes look delicious. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Admittedly, David Lynch's Inland Empire wasn't that much fun after the first viewing. The film is three hours long, and it's a long three hours. Plus it's shot on ugly digital video. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't see it—in fact, you should see it two or three times. A spectacular Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace, an actress starring in a film that centers on an illicit affair between a rich Southern man (Justin Theroux) and his employee (Dern). But things are never what they seem in Lynchvania, and what follows is a metaphysical stew, spiced up with Lynch's trademark oddities like prostitutes dancing to Little Eva's "The Locomotion," mutant rabbit people in a laugh-tracked sitcom, and gypsy curses. The resulting mind-fuck will leave you a mental midget for days—if you thought Mulholland Drive left you in a thought-provoking fugue, you're about to be floored. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Kelley Baker's film, screened in conjunction with his workshop "Making the Extremely Low Budget Movie." More info: hollywoodtheatre.org. Hollywood Theatre.
Late Night Shopping
2001's "quirky urban comedy set in Glasgow." Not screened for critics. Living Room Theaters.
Letters From Iwo Jima
See review this issue. Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Oh, hell yes. The Kennedy School's annual LOTR extravaganza, featuring all three theatrical versions of the films, shown in a row, which should make for the Best Saturday Ever for all sorts of J.R.R. Tolkien nerds. (That includes me.) Admission is $3 for each film (or three cans of food for the Oregon Food Bank), and there'll be all sorts of other stuff going on—costume contests, special food ("My Precious Onion Rings," "Cracks of Doom Molten Lava Cake"), live music, and more. Just don't let that dude wearing the rubber elf ears start talking to you about the downfall of Dark Lord Morgoth in the First Age. Trust me. ERIK HENRIKSEN Kennedy School.
A French movie even your dad could sit through—which, depending on the father, is either a slight nod to the film's crowd-pleasing mediocrity or a serious condemnation. Either way, rest assured that this French film—though largely stomachable—is scarcely more than heartwarming, frog-fashioned schlock. Based around the now mythical 1914 Christmas Eve ceasefire and fraternization between French, British, and German forces in the trenches of WWI, Merry Christmas also has the unique distinction of being the only French film I've ever seen that might actually have more English dialogue than French—which should at the very least make your dad happy. ZAC PENNINGTON Living Room Theaters.
The New York Times has already declared writer-director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha) the voice of his generation, and on a purely surface level he is. The conversations in his new film, Mutual Appreciation, are casually awkward, with stumbling sentences and stalling for time—"um"s and "uh"s and "I mean"s. It sounds true, like eavesdropping on boozy kitchen chatter at a house party. But dig past the natural performances and indie cred and the film feels slightly smug. You want to root for Mutual Appreciation, but the characters let you down. Not because they're unlikable, but because they're so good-natured it's hard to think of them as anything beyond a pleasant distraction. Bujalski's made an entertaining, often outright funny second movie. I don't know if I'll remember a frame of it this time next year. BRADLEY STEINBACHER Living Room Theaters.
Any opportunity to sit down and watch Robert Altman's (and, in another sense, America's) 1975 masterpiece, Nashville, on the big screen is reason enough for a disproportionate level of excitement. But when the print is a brand new 35mm copy straight from the Paramount archives... well, then it's okay to tinkle just a few drops in your pants. Nashville is quintessential Altman: a myriad cast of characters, none more important than the others; overlapping dialogue; roving camerawork; and interlocking storylines all gel to create a genuinely revolutionary cinematic experience. But this isn't boring film school stuff: Nashville is fascinating, funny, thought-provoking, and utterly humanistic. CHAS BOWIE Hollywood Theatre.
See review this issue. Cinema 21, Cinetopia.
Paper Rad: Trash Talking
When Aphex Twin's Windowlicker video came out on VHS in 1998, I immediately bought a copy and showed it to every person who walked in my house for the next five years. It's not fair to call the mandatory screenings a litmus test, since nearly every single person agreed it was one of the best things they'd ever seen. Last year, a new DVD came my way that occupies the same role in my life—Trash Talking by psycho/lo-fi/visionary art collective Paper Rad. Clocking in at an epileptic 60 minutes, Trash Talking is a mind-altering collage of 8-bit graphics, dancing Gumbys, trance-inducing RGB color flashes, and troll dolls. Lots and lots of troll dolls. It's as if Paper Rad collected every videotape, website, radio advertisement, and sticker collection you've ever seen, threw it all in a blender, and resurrected the shards into a post-techno monument to the pixilated moment where your childhood and the distant future collide. CHAS BOWIE Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
A movie about a killer crocodile, starring that annoying dude from 7-Up commercials. Not screened for critics. Regal Cinemas, etc.
Who the $#%@ Is Jackson Pollock
Retired truck driver Teri Horton absolutely does not give a shit about Jackson Pollock. But when she found one of his paintings in a thrift store for five dollars, she bought it anyway, "to throw darts at it." A collector from Saudi Arabia later offered her $9 million for the painting, but she's told all Johnny-come-latelys to fuck off out of sheer contempt for the art world, which holds her in equal disdain. There are also some questions about whether the painting is authentic or not, and I'd love to be able to tell you more about the movie, but since the movie industry is so fucking scared that movie critics are going to make millions of dollars bootlegging their abysmal films, they mail us ghetto, copyright-protected DVDs that don't play on computers and half the DVD players out there. So thanks a lot, Hollywood assholes. Anyway, I read this film is really good, and that when you pit a working class American against the disgusting machinations of the elite art world, you can guess who comes off looking better onscreen. CHAS BOWIE Clinton Street Theater.