The basic plot of Alien--bored space truckers run afoul of a slime-dripping, indigestion-causing E.T. --is kept deliberately simple. What strikes on repeat viewings, aside from the sweet knowledge of the majestic badass that Sigourney Weaver will soon become, is how overtly sexual it all is, loaded with enough close-ups of sharp-toothed torpedoes and gnashing orifices to make Freud choke on his cigar. Director Ridley Scott created a pure, disturbing, organic nightmare that holds up like a dream. In his jacked-up re-release, Alien: the Director's Cut, Scott takes the opportunity to add a handful of scenes that nicely flesh out the nastiness, including a gnarly coda that makes the fate of the poor bastards in the supporting cast even grislier. Unfortunately, as in his earlier Blade Runner revamp, the director has inexplicably cut out some of the more outwardly inconsequential moments--nothing important to the plot, exactly, just character-building grace notes that a movie this clinical desperately needs--which makes the times between slimy penetrations a bit of a yawn. Still, when it works, it works, to a degree that renders all complaints about shallowness or exploitation moot. Gazillions of duplications and untold gallons of cinematic slime later, it can still put you off your popcorn. (Andrew Wright)
Beyond Borders opens and closes in London, with jaunts to such cheery locales as Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya along the way. It stars the great Clive Owen and the rapidly deteriorating Angelina Jolie. It aims to be an important, life-affirming romance. It is, in a word, a disaster. (Bradley Steinbacher)
* The Candidate
From Michael Ritchie, the director of Bad News Bears and Downhill Racer, comes a satirical film about political campaigns that out-wags Wag the Dog. Robert Redford plays a charismatic lawyer who is talked into running for California's senator. How smart is this film? It won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1972. Part of the "Me for Mayor" film series, a campaign event for mayoral hopeful and Mercury news editor, Phil Busse.
Cult of Camp
Clips of camp cinema and other under-appreciated and forgotten film genres like the scopitone.
* Daughters of Darkness
Two beautiful vampires lure men into a blood sucking nightmare by showing their legs while hitchhiking.
Demonlover See review this issue.
* Dirty Money
Alain Delon plays a police commissioner who's run out of leads on a heroin running ring, until a tip leads him to a quiet coastal town. There he meets a hot woman who, unfortunately, ends up being involved with the scheme.
* Freaks, Sleaze, Gore, & War: Three Nights with Jack Stevenson
Film writer and collector Jack Stevenson introduces all three nights. November 4 & 5 he screens propaganda films made by the US military, including LSD Trip to Where (1968) about the dangers of, yes, LSD, and 1967's Army Medicine in Vietnam, a film that prepared war medics for the brutal injuries they'd be treating. (Warning: Extremely Graphic.) Thursday's first program Depraved: Journey to the Center of Sleaze features a satanic German stag film, and showing Tues-Thurs at 9, Stevenson screens Tod Browning's heart-wrenching film about a band of circus freaks who join forces to seek revenge on a super bitchy trapeze artist.
Gigantic, like every German film ever made, explores the meaning, not of love (never of love), but of friendship. The film spends its first half-hour showing us the drab, soulless side of modern German life; the last half hour is spent on long shots, set to drab, soulless pop music, of our three young heroes staring blankly into the future, thus establishing the depth of their friendship. In between we get adventures with a drab traveling Elvis impersonator, a soulless Foosball game filmed from every imaginable angle, and a girl almost falling into a coma because life in Hamburg is so drab and soulless. (Gregg Lachow)
The Holy Land
Set against the violent political background of modern-day Israel, The Holy Land tells the story of Mendy, a yeshiva student who falls for a Russian prostitute named Sasha and becomes torn between his strict religious background and his overactive libido. Once Mendy is entrenched in his newly scandalous lifestyle, though, his world becomes more complicated--and depressing--the more he tries to figure it out, and his new friends only confuse things further by blurring the line between needing his friendship and making him feel used. (Jennifer Maerz)
The Human Stain See review this issue.
In the Cut See review this issue.
George Clooney is charming, playing a caricature of a rich divorce lawyer who is bored with winning cases and making buckets of money. Enter Catherine Zeta, a gold-digging man-hater, who is just clever enough to perk Clooney's interest. A battle of the sexes ensues, between two of the most selfish, loveless human beings on the planet. The Coen brothers give us a pleasant comedy with Intolerable Cruelty, which is worth seeing for Clooney's performance alone, but the film doesn't breach any new territory, and certainly doesn't measure up to Fargo or Miller's Crossing. (Katie Shimer)
* Kill Bill: Volume 1
Unlike the meandering plots of Tarantino's previous films, Kill Bill is dead-on simple: Uma Thurman stars as "The Bride"--an assassin who's shot in the noggin on her wedding day by a band of killers sent out by her former boss, Bill. Unfortunately for the prop masters who had to come up with a kajillion gallons of fake blood, The Bride didn't die--and after snapping out of a coma, she commissions a samurai blade from a venerable sword-maker (Sonny Chiba) and sets off to slice and dice everyone who dared ruin her perfect day of wedded bliss. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* Little Shop of Horrors
Rick Moranis tries to become a success with the help of an evil, man-eating plant.
* Lost in Translation
In less delicate hands, Lost in Translation could easily have been a dull, pretentious disaster, but Sofia Coppola has two cards tucked up her sleeve. One is the city of Tokyo itself, which has never looked so mysterious and engaging in an American film, and the other is Bill Murray, the bulk of whose part comes across as having been improvised. Why someone has not thought of dropping Murray among the citizens of a strange foreign city before remains a mystery, but without him--and despite the fine work of Coppola and Scarlett Johansson--Lost in Translation would surely fail. (Bradley Steinbacher)
The décor at The Olive Garden takes more of a stab at intelligent humor about Italians than this played-out "comedy" does. The premise, as if it even matters, involves an old-world Italian couple who just "can't get used to this cuckoo American world of ours" and want their two adult children to live with them forever. Mambo Italiano is aiming for the camp side of the comedy spectrum, but the film plays out more like a bad prime-time TV show than anything that'll make you laugh--ironically or not. Worst of all, it seems only Angelo's papa, Gino (Paul Sorvino), is able to keep his accent together throughout the film. (Jennifer Maerz)
Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson See review this issue.
* Melvin Goes to Dinner
A true-to-life comedy about a group of regular people who not only happen to be eating dinner together, but also have secrets to hide.
For all the "inexorability" and "meditation" of its violence, Mystic River feels desperately contrived. Whether director Clint Eastwood has some deep understanding of the nature of violence remains unclear. What is certain is that he knows how to make a movie, even a dumb one, well worth watching. I only wish someone would send him some better books. (Sean Nelson)
* Party Monster
Seth Green plays James St. James, a trust fund party prince(ss) who rules the late '80s NYC scene--that is, until corn-fed Midwesterner Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) arrives and stuns New York with his gigantic, pouty lips and hairless body. Culkin's Alig is the main character, though Green steals every scene; he's sorely missed when the movie starts to focus on the plot (about Alig murdering his drug dealer), rather than its fantastic costumes and fagtastic banter. Not that the directors/writers, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, should have bothered; the movie is far more interesting as a dance party fashion parade. Be warned, you won't care about anyone in this film, or anything they do--but you do get to see Macaulay Culkin's little round ass. (Steven Lankenau)
Pieces of April
The teen princess every guy wants to spear, Katie Holmes, stars in this comedy of errors about a choker-wearing girl on her own in NYC who invites her family for Christmas dinner.
* Poor Boyz Movie Tour
Showing tonight (Wed Nov. 5, 8 pm) are Ready Fire Aim and Session 1242. Ready shows progressive skiing with the help of helmet cams, helicopters, you name it, while Session features Oakley skiers on the world's sickest slopes and terrain.
Combining the two most odious tools at Hollywood's disposal--celebrities portraying the mentally handicapped and Cuba Gooding Jr. --Radio is something like Rudy meets The Waterboy. With "heart." Oh, the heart.
* Runaway Jury
Set in modern-day New Orleans, John Grisham's latest pulp fiction-turned-screenplay draws on the standard Grisham tricks. There's the expected cynicism and paranoia. And where we're ignorant about what happens behind the closed doors of jury rooms, Grisham fills in with grandiose conspiracies. Here, the story begins when a daytrader is murdered. Two years later, his widow has brought to trial a liability suit against the gun manufacturers. Though we want justice to prevail, powerful gun company CEOs conspire to sway, bribe, and bully a jury to rule their way. Runaway Jury is not the greatest movie ever made about juries. That honor remains firmly with The Verdict (1982), starring Paul Newman. But then again, The Verdict lacked foot chases, no-holds-barred fight scenes, high-tech gadgetry, and Gene Hackman. Where other Grisham screenplays have been tired and predictable, this story is a fun romp, careening through hairpin plot turns. (Phil Busse)
Scary Movie 3
An unfunny spoof on The Ring, 8 Mile, and Signs with lots of poignant jokes about how African Americans solve arguments with gunfire. No, not really. (Katie Shimer)
School of Rock
While I am passionate about rocking, The School of Rock, starring Jack Black, employs every cliché imaginable, from Kindergarten Cop to Spinal Tap, while promoting a sickly Gen-X nostalgia and not being funny, to boot. If the film is about the generation gap and the power of rock to span the ages, it's unfortunate that its power stinks like a rotten corpse. (Julianne Shepherd)
* The Station Agent
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), The Station Agent's protagonist, was born a dwarf, and has built up a stone-faced resistance to the stares and slurs directed at him daily. When he inherits a small abandoned train station in rural New Jersey, he leaves the city and makes the shack his home. Within a day, the locals notice him and are banging on his door. First comes Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a recent transplant taking care of his ailing father and running a Cuban food truck parked just outside Fin's station. Next is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a painter living in semi-seclusion after the death of her young son, who meets Fin after nearly running him over with her SUV. All three are damaged goods. Through conversation, beer, and lots of walking the rails, this unlikely triangle forms a fucked-up family of sorts. Dinklage stands out as a great performer and brings depth to a role that could have been treated as novelty. Cannavale and Clarkson add weight and texture to their characters' lives. (Brian Brait)
Tackling as elusive and controversial a subject as Sylvia Plath is ambitious, which is probably why Christine Jeffs' film (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) works in fits and starts, sometimes opting for the burnished lens of Hollywood and forced poetic imagery. Paltrow affects the groomed, upper-middle-class accent her character requires, though imbues it with a labored sarcasm that stings more like The Royal Tenenbaums than Fulbright scholar. Sure, Plath's poems teeter with sharp wit, but Paltrow's wry delivery can't transcend Gwyneth Paltrow playing Sylvia Plath. Though they look alike, she never fully inhabits the poet's complexities. As with Jeffs' debut film, Rain, Sylvia purports to be about its women, but relates to them via its men. In Sylvia, Plath's husband Ted Hughes is the focal point; Jeffs takes the husband-as-suicide route and blames Hughes. Sylvia does nothing to dispel the myth of Plath's persona, and neither does it add to it. For all practical purposes, it's another stereotypical romance film, hinging its plot on the famous tale of a woman's madness. (Julianne Shepherd)
* Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The story in the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is remodled a bit: a group of five teenagers on their way to a Skynyrd concert get stranded in a Texas town, after a distraught hitcher blows her brains out in their van. Eventually, they figure out the paranoid truth: everyone they meet wants to kill them. What TCM lacks in rivers of flesh, it makes up for in emotional trauma. It's obvious the filmmakers intention was to maintain the feel of the original--that your're there with the characters, claustrophobic and terrified. It works, but this version's MO is just perpetual psychological bludgeoning and sadistic anticipation, a la Session 9, with elements of Blair Witch. (Julianne Shepherd)
* Trinh Minh-Ha Program
Cinema Project brings to PDX a series of experimental documentary films by Trinh Min-Ha, who through music composition, film, and writing, has tackled issues of feminism, cultural difference, and artistic convention. The program runs from Nov 3-6, and Min-Ha will be in attendance for the last night's screening. Selections from her work to be presented are Naked Spaces: Living Is Round, which documents the people living in West African villages. Visually, it's astounding, but sparsely narrated and a bit slow. Also, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, which addresses the women in Vietnamese culture and Shoot For The Contents, about Chinese art and politics will also be shown this week. (Check Cinema Project film times for dates and times.) (Marjorie Skinner)
Under the Tuscan Sun
Under the Tuscan Sun finds Diane Lane luminous as Frances Mayes, a San Francisco writer who gets totally reamed in a messy divorce and hops a plane to Italy when single life in the city becomes unbearable. She stumbles across Bramasole, a dilapidated villa in the country that becomes her home. In Tuscany, she finds love, empowerment, and humility. Plus some hot Italian guys! Be fooled not, however; the tone of Tuscan is light as frothed milk, with numerous cultural inaccuracies and beige gloss-overs of life abroad, a reality pureed for easier enjoyment. Too bad life abroad isn't all amazing vistas and music-cued montage, but then again this is pure fantasy. This film is enjoyable--if not entirely forgettable--if you just let it wash over you, like a sunny day. (Brian Brait)
Here is a decent film that could have been so much better. Taking its title from an opportunistic columnist, the movie tells the true story about a writer who helped to unravel the heroin drug trade in Dublin. Cate Blanchett plays the title role. Following leads and flirting her way into dangerous places, Guerin truly did bring about justice with the use of her pen. But largely leaving out how Guerin scarified her family life and minimizing how she used her sex appeal to lure in leads, turns the story into a paint-by-numbers morality tale. Director Joel Schumacher oversimplifies the true humanity and struggles that she faced. (Phil Busse)
Tonight Jack Sargent screens a collection of 1945 war propaganda films, Our Job In Germany and Cold War classic, Survival Under Atomic Attack. Both entertaining and chilling.
Here's the real deal! Three Colombian documentary-makers turn their cameras onto their own lives and show, lo and behold, that even tense revolutions can have warmth and humor.
Welcome to Hadassah Hospital
A true life Israeli version of E.R. . The main subject is Dr. Ai Rivkind, a doctor so blunt and straightforward that he is offensively heartless. But can you blame him? His job is to treat suicide bombers as well as their victims. Often side-by-side!
Whipped & Abused
Yummie! An adult-only evening. Tonight's game is spot Pee-wee Herman. A collection of seven decades of illicit, perverse and, at times, erotic films from the 1910s to the swinging 70s. Followed by an impressive collection of (sweaty) women-in-prisons films.
Every man's fantasy: As a wandering worker, he stumbles upon a happy, healthy, and hot farm-owning widow. She invites you in for a stay and, ba-da-boom! Told from the perspective of the farmer's wife, played by 1970s French pin-up Simone Signoret.
A historically accurate thriller about a plot to overthrow the Left in Greece. When a prominent Leftist leader is murdered, government officials try to cover their roles, and the murder itself. A prosecutor must act as a detective to uncover the truth.