A substandard heist film starring homophobic humor and cleavage shots, co-starring Salma Hayek and Pierce Brosnan. Woody Harrelson is typecast back into the likeable dumb guy he was first introduced as on Cheers, but now he's a bungling FBI agent; after a humiliating defeat by Pierce (his jewel thief nemesis), Woody's character follows him to an island paradise, where Pierce and fiancé Salma plan on retiring. Cat and mouse games and opaquely obvious clichés abound, insulting all but the most idiotic of viewers. (Marjorie Skinner) Regal Cinemas, etc.
If you're looking for a way to drive up high school suicide rates, then make sure teachers show Oliver Stone's THREE HOUR LONG Alexander in history class. A sweeping, mind-numbingly annoying epic, Stone is possibly the only director in the world that can put hunky Colin Farrell in a largely gay role, yet still make it ridiculously unexciting. And who can even tell if this lumbering mess is historically accurate or not? Especially since the narrator, Old Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), mumbles his way through all the important exposition, leaving the viewer helplessly confused for the first third of this THREE HOUR movie. To the film's credit, there's a fairly entertaining battle scene where elephants stomp people to death. But that's about it. Otherwise, all you have is THREE HOURS of ramshackle accents, overwrought symbolism, and Colin Farrell tromping aimlessly around Asia. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.
The new remake of the '60s free-love classic Alfie is also moderately fun while it lasts, but only because of the juggernaut charm of its leading stud, Jude Law. Jude plays the titular, tit-loving Alfie, a chick-bagging cad in modern day Manhattan. A part-time chauffeur, Alfie cares little for the monetary pleasures of life, as he is intent on boning every beautiful woman in NYC. But while the script bubbles with a certain witty repartee, the story seems entirely geared toward cheering for Alfie's downfall. Unfortunately, the kind of comeuppance women audience members are praying for never really comes, which leaves one wondering, "What exactly was the point of this movie?" (However, if the point is "Jude Law is hot," then I'll allow it.) (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Cinemagic
* Almost Peaceful
Technically sloppy but otherwise engaging, Almost Peaceful portrays the lives of a Jewish tailor, his family, and his employees in post-WWII Paris. Underlying the action (which consists mostly of office drama and the requisite angsty French sex) is an unusual take on the Jewish experience that focuses on the difficulty of re-integrating into Parisian society, rather than on the Holocaust itself. (Alison Hallett) Hollywood Theatre
With an amazing turn away from the cynicism of Delicatessen, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes no bones about being sweet and charming. A quick-moving narrative about a shy, sexy, and dreamy Parisian who helps friends and strangers fulfill their fantasies while shying away from her own. Cute as a button. Really. You'll love it. Laurelhurst
* Andrew Dickson's Swan Song
The Northwest Film Center has dubbed Andrew Dickson "a kingpin of the Portland film community for almost a decade." Wow. A kingpin. If over 20 years of reading Spider-Man comics has taught me anything, it's that kingpins are not to be fucked with. Anyway, this program is Dickson's last Portland show, and he'll screen some of his films, talk about his work, and auction off some of his personal items--items, I'd wager, that are fit for a kingpin! (Erik Henriksen) Guild Theater
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez
A TV movie set in Texas in 1901, about the law, language barriers, and that crazy bastard Edward James Olmos. Fifth Avenue Cinemas
Annette Bening gives a high-decibel performance as a whorey London stage actress who learns how to love, then forgets how to love, and then remembers again, courtesy of some late afternoon "teas" (nudge, nudge) with a callow young American (Shaun Evans). Bening can be entertainingly malicious--particularly in the latter scenes--but for the most part, the costumes are hotter than the actors in this lackluster period piece. (Alison Hallett) Cinemagic
Black Audio & Sankofa Film Collectives
In the midst of my straining attempt to watch the Cinema Project's latest program--made up of two films, Handsworth Songs and Territories, from the Black Audio and Sankofa film collectives, respectively--the tape broke after 20 minutes. So all I can really offer is a film short on how I was bored and annoyed with the first 20 minutes of artsy faux documentarianism, though I have a hunch that had the tape not broken, all I'd have to offer is a short on how I was bored an annoyed with an hour and a half of artsy faux documentariansm. (Alison Hallett) Cinema Project
Undercover cops cross paths, double cross, and cast sinister glances in Mexico. Starring Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, and Raymond Burr. That's right--Raymond Burr! Motherfucking Perry Mason, yo. Show some respect. Cafe Nola
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
In Bridget Jones: The Unnecessary Sequel, pathetic, ruddy-faced, obese loser Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) gets pissed off at her dashing lawyer beau, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). They break up, Bridget whines, smokes, stuffs her fat face, and almost hooks up with Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Then we get back to the Bridget/Darcy romantic crap and basically end up right where we were at the end of Bridget Jones's Diary: The Unnecessary Original, with Bridget looking pathetic, enormously fat, and disheveled, and Darcy proclaiming his eternal love. Basically, plus and minus a few twists and turns, this is just a crappier version of the original movie, with painfully cheesy music. (Katie Shimer) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Filmmaker Ross McElwee goes to his home in North Carolina and researches his family's history with tobacco. Includes examinations of a McElwee/Duke family rivalry, a tangential look at Gary Cooper, and probably a few hacking coughs. Guild Theater, Whitsell Auditorium
* A Christmas Story
Little Ralphie's epic struggle to get a Red Ryder BB gun is hilariously depicted in this Christmas classic based on the book by Jean Shepherd. Laurelhurst
Christmas with the Kranks
Tim Allen's career is starting to revolve solely around making family friendly Christmas movies. This year's offering, Christmas with the Kranks, has a nuclear family (Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) deciding that since their daughter will be serving in the Peace Corps this year, they'll skip Christmas and take a cruise. (Apparently, for the Wal-Mart/Oprah crowd, this is a shocking, gasp-inducing decision.) But predictably enough, their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) decides to return at the last minute with her new fiancé, causing the Kranks to tailspin into creating a Christmas miracle. If you're swamped with a suicide-inducing list of stuff to do for the holidays, chances are you're already busy as hell. Save some time and pain by not paying eight dollars to watch yet another crappy Tim Allen Christmas movie. (Lance Chess) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Closer See review this issue. Century Eastport 16, Lloyd Cinemas, Tigard Cinemas
Clue: The Movie
When I was in junior high, I dated a Mormon girl who was really into drama (though she grandly called it "theatre"). She and her theatre-lovin' friends fucking loved this goddamn movie. During each of the many times I had to watch this film with her and her wildly emoting, pubescent thespians, I vowed it was the worst movie ever made. That's probably still true. I mean, it's based on a board game and stars Tim Curry, for chrissakes. (Erik Henriksen) Pix Patisserie
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
The story of Mary (Lindsay Lohan) clawing her way to the top of the ranks of the New York City pop music megastar echelon while simultaneously enduring the daily doldrums of high school is basically retarded, and the actor playing Mary's high school love interest is clearly a fag-in-waiting, but this quasi-musical (it's for kids) is riveting because Lohan's breasts are really, really big. (Christopher Frizzelle) Valley Theater
Val Kilmer channels Mr. MoJo Risin' for Oliver Stone. Mr. Stone, coincidentally, is currently "riding the storm"... the storm of critics' hatred for his epic bomb Alexander! Kazing! Clinton Street Theater
* End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones See review this issue. Cinema 21
Johnny Depp provides a quirky, believable performance as the wildly imaginative James Barrie, who's stuck with a bitchy wife (Radha Mitchell) and mired in conservative, early 1900s British society. But Barrie dreams big, even as his plays fail, and when he meets up with the Llewelyn Davies family--made up of charming widow Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her three impossibly adorable sons--he hatches the idea for Peter Pan. It goes without saying that sweet interludes, heartbreak, tragedy, and saccharine-sweet inspirational sound bites ("Just believe") soon follow. To be fair, Finding Neverland is a pretty decent film. It's not bad at what it attempts--indeed, at times it's damn near skillful and clever in its technique and imagination--it's just that its heavy-handed attempts to be Oscar worthy are so transparent that they prevent the film from ever becoming an entity in and of itself. (Erik Henriksen) Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Lloyd Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6
* Friday Night Lights
With a good deal of trepidation, I went to Friday Night Lights expecting a cleaned-up, Disneyfied version of H.G. Bissinger's book about high school football in a suckass Texas town. But as directed by Peter Berg (Bissinger's cousin, interestingly enough), the film is just as compelling as the book. Instead of being what could have been a dorky, feel-good film, Friday Night Lights revels in its rough 'n' tumble narrative--and now it's one of my favorite sports films. (Phil Busse) Edgefield, Mt. Hood Theater, Valley Theater
* Garden State
First time writer/director Zach Braff plays Andrew "Large" Largeman, a struggling L.A. actor who returns to his New Jersey home for his paraplegic mother's funeral. Large's less than cheery homecoming is uplifted by Sam (Natalie Portman), a compulsive liar who lives with her mother and a house full of hamsters. Sam is carefree, beautiful, charming as hell, and just what Large needs--so of course they meet, hit it off, and you can probably figure out the rest. (M. William Helfrich) Fifth Avenue Cinemas, Fox Tower 10
Takashi Shimizu redirects his Japanese hit Ju-On into The Grudge. Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an American exchange student in Japan, checks in on an old woman--and finds the woman nearly comatose, the rooms of her house filthy, and an all-encompassing sense of dread in the air. But that's just the warm up: when Karen follows hair-raising noises up the stairs, she discovers a terrifying little boy (Yuya Ozeki) trapped in a closet. While Stephen Susco's script plays to Shimizu's strengths, this haunted house tale stumbles by shifting to a mostly American cast, and the original's pervasive sense of tension has been lost in translation. (Erik Henriksen) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Two Chinese expatriates (Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung) shake it up in Argentina in Wong Kar-Wai's impressionistic look at lost love. Guild Theater
Hard Goodbyes: My Father
A quiet, slow-moving film about a young boy, Elias (Yorgos Karayannis), learning to cope with the loss of his father. While this should be heartbreaking, Karayannis isn't a mature enough actor to give necessary depth to the role of troubled, imaginative Elias. The filmmakers' reliance on long, silent, and supposedly emotional shots feels equally hollow--writer/director Penny Panayotopoulou would have been better served to emphasize the sense of whimsy that is the film's strength. (Alison Hallett) Hollywood Theatre
The Chinese martial arts drama Hero blows away everything else currently playing--and possibly any other film released this year. It's that good. And yeah, it came out on DVD last Tuesday, but go see it on the big screen while you can. You'll be glad you did. (Erik Henriksen) Laurelhurst
A 1942 musical with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds. If you've ever harbored a deep desire to see whimsical holiday-themed shenanigans--like, say, Crosby doing a musical routine in blackface to celebrate Lincoln's birthday--then this is your film. Umpqua Bank
* Hollywood Buddha See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater
* I ♥ Huckabees
Jason "That Kid From Rushmore" Schwartzman plays Albert Markovski, a hipster/hippie whose experience with strange coincidences inspires him to hire two "existential detectives," Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin). A lackadaisically twisting, pseudo-intellectual examination of any and all pop philosophic concepts follows, as enacted through a veritable all-star cast (most notably a perfectly cast Jude Law, plus Mark Wahlberg, who's at the top of his underestimated game). David O. Russell's script is something at once contrived and organic, bearing its characters through the film like the best comedies and dramas--imperceptible in its mechanics, yet never timid. Watching Huckabees, you never get quite lost--you always know it's a movie--but it's so confident in its uniqueness that you won't really care. (Erik Henriksen) Fox Tower 10
* The Incredibles
For those who haven't seen the pervasive marketing on every cereal box and soda can, the Incredibles are a family of superheroes. Problem is, superheroes have been forcibly retired, and the Incredibles have to pretend they're a normal, boring family, acting decidedly un-incredible in the sprawl of suburbia. All of this is just expository setup, of course; with teasing glimpses of super-powers, it all leads up to the predictable but exhilarating moment when the Incredibles ditch suburbia and save the world. There's so much to like here: The jaw-dropping animation, the retro-futuristic production design, the self-aware script and fully-realized characters, the relatively dark tone, and the flawless voice acting. In fact, writer/ director Brad Bird and Pixar have made a film so good that criticizing it becomes an exercise in nitpicking. (Erik Henriksen) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Liam Neeson's rendition of revolutionary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is a scientist to the bone. Sexual desire, feels Kinsey, is just a biological impulse, and should be openly discussed and explored. As a professor in the 1930s, Kinsey makes waves with his explicit sexuality classes, and Kinsey convincingly argues that its subjects' unflinchingly technical attitude towards sex helped liberate the American people in a time of intense prudishness. Good point, but what's missing is any exploration of why Kinsey is the way he is. This is the way of the Hollywood biopic; leaping frantically from rock to rock along the surface of its chosen figure's life, but never stopping to dig down and see what's underneath. (Justin Sanders) Fox Tower 10
Lightning in a Bottle
A concert film documenting last year's "Year of the Blues" celebration at Radio City Music Hall. Featuring a spectrum of performances that ranges the likes of Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, David Johansen, and those shitheads from Aerosmith, Lightning plays out like a DVD extra on Martin Scorsese's The Blues documentary--a lengthy curiosity that seems a little baffling as a theatrical release. There are certainly a number of powerful performances within, but for the most part, Lightning represents a Cosby Show-esque reflection of the Blues (hell, Bill even makes an appearance)--a tamed, "sophisticated," and largely neutered depiction of one of music's most riotous forms. (Zac Pennington) Hollywood Theatre
An emaciated Christian Bale plays Trevor, a factory machine worker with extreme insomnia--his claim of not having slept at all in a year requires a little suspension of disbelief, but whatever. He pads through a fairly miserable existence consisting of work, bleaching things, hanging out in an airport café, leaving himself notes, and screwing Jennifer Jason Leigh. From there, the film plunges into delirium, as Trevor grapples with a deteriorating mental state and the mysterious and ominous clues that have begun to show up in his life. A psychological thriller in the vein of Memento or Fight Club, it suffers at the hands of its predecessors, sucking all the ingenuity out of what now seems like an old trick. (Marjorie Skinner) Hollywood Theatre
* The Motorcycle Diaries
A duo of anonymous (to me) medical school friends (Rodrigo de la Serna and Gael Garcia Bernal) ride, push, and carry their motorcycle across Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Peru, generally achieving the kind of good times/bad times adventure balance that all great road trip stories thrive on. After traveling thousands of miles, it's made clear just who Bernal's playing: Ernesto Guevara. (Justin Sanders) Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Fox Tower 10
* Napoleon Dynamite
There are plenty of laughs to mine from the pseudo-tortured lives of realistically nerdy, unpopular, and just plain odd 14- to 18-year-olds, and as Napoleon Dynamite proves, young geek alienation is just as fun to parody as its grownup counterparts. (Jennifer Maerz) 99W Drive-In Theater, Avalon, Cinemagic , Kennedy School, Laurelhurst, Mission Theater, St. Johns Pub, Valley Theater
Though even the most blockbuster-lovin' cinephile would agree that National Treasure has a deeply stupid plot--Nicholas Cage plays "Benjamin Franklin Gates," who's tyring to find a wondrous treasure from a map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence--the screenwriters throw in enough pseudo-history to make it "buyable," if not believable. Plus, director Jon Turteltaub gives the affair a rollicking "Goonies for adults" vibe that forces you to put aside any annoying intellectual cynicism. While I'd only give it a B-minus at best, National Treasure is still a pleasant enough escapist venture that at least won't make you stick a pencil in your eye. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.
NWFC School Selections
A First Thursday screening of recent work from the Northwest Film Center's School of Film. Old Town Pizza
In a WWII Japanese internment camp, Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, and Cate Blanchett decide to start an uplifting prisoners' choir. The last film of the astonishingly awkwardly named Spanish Socialist-Madrid Memorial Progressive Fall Film Fest at PSU. PSU Smith Memorial Union
Peppers and Nudes
A portrait of photographer Edward Weston, who used items as diverse as seashells, bell peppers, and cliffs to imply the curves of the feminine form. Sexy! Sort of. Not really. Never mind. Whitsell Auditorium
The Polar Express
Tom Hanks provides almost all the voices in this computer animated story about a young boy traveling to the North Pole on a magic locomotive. If you can get past the ubiquitous Hanks, The Polar Express is, surprisingly, not that bad. The startling effects and pervasive Hanks content are pretty much it, though--simply said, this is a movie about a train going to the North Pole for Christmas, with more Tom Hanks than you can shake a Bosom Buddy at. If that's your bag, then go see this sugary, sugary sugar plum. Otherwise, I'm sure Tiny Tim needs his crutch kicked out from under him, Ebenezer. (Lance Chess) Regal Cinemas, etc.
The familiar warm fuzzy that is Ray is pretty much exactly what one has come to expect from the biopic genre: a breezing over of the moments in an extraordinary person's life, all cut-up and mixed about to form some semblance of a "happy ending," with enough tips of the hat to allow every member of the audience a knowing nod of recognition. Other familiar biopic conventions you've got to look forward to: bad visual metaphors and enough loose ends to suggest that the director's cut DVD will add about three hours to its already bloated running time. The only real surprise comes in Jamie Foxx, whose solid performance as Ray Charles was enough to make me reconsider my long-standing disdain for the man. (Zac Pennington) Regal Cinemas, etc.
First-time director and sicko James Wan's Saw is in the same vein as Seven, about an evil, maniacal fuck who's out to teach people a lesson. While the film succeeds in scaring the living shit out of you, it does have some failures--including a bunch of characters you don't care about, a predictable if not entirely obvious ending, and a tendency to take the carnage so far that you might end up laughing. (Katie Shimer) Lloyd Mall
Shall We Dance?
A good dancing movie is like a porno you can watch with your mom--hot young things dry hump to sexy music, usually followed by a makeout session that tastefully fades to black, allowing your dance-fevered imagination to fill in the blanks. Shall We Dance?, however, substitutes "washed-up actor" and "singer with more ass than talent" for "hot young things," resulting in perhaps the most un-watchable dancing movie ever. Richard Gere and J.LO's sole attempt at a steamy dance number never overcomes the "ew" factor, and the climactic dance competition fails to live up to even the questionable standard set by Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. As far as emetics go, next time I'll just shove my finger down my throat. (Alison Hallett) City Center 12, Lloyd Mall, Milwaukie 3 Theater, Tigard-Joy Theater, Westgate
* Shaun of the Dead
A sharp, clever, and gory horror-comedy that manages to be as scary as it is hilarious, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's Shaun of the Dead shows all the marks of becoming a classic (and yeah, I know that sounds clichéd--but in this case, it's actually true). (Erik Henriksen) Avalon, Laurelhurst, Mission Theater, Valley Theater
Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a would-be writer who accompanies his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a week-long trip through California's wine country for a final bachelor's hurrah before Jack's upcoming wedding. While the week begins idyllically enough, glaring character flaws are soon revealed--wine connoisseur Miles' pedantic ranting about pinot gris hardly conceals his deep dissatisfaction with life, and Jack is an immature man-child determined to get laid one last time before tying the knot. While Sideways is enjoyable, it's ultimately unsatisfying--we watch as Miles and Jack are stripped of all their illusions, but we never find out what they're replaced with. (Alison Hallett) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The year is 1939, and Jude Law is Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan--an aerial ace called into action when gigantic, clanking robots invade downtown New York. He soon learns the robots are part of a larger plan involving the disappearance of world famous scientists--a case that's being investigated by Joe's former love, plucky reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow). With its dependence on cutting-edge technology and 100-foot tall clanking robots, one might mistake this for a "nerd film." Thankfully, there's so much more to Sky Captain. At its core, Sky Captain is a story of innocence and connection, as Joe and Polly reignite the flame of their former love--okay, while fighting 100-foot robots. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Avalon, Laurelhurst
Something To Make Life Happy
Portland area youth interview elderly immigrants from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, as part of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. Hopefully these old people will have interesting and profound insights to share, unlike the old people we already have in Oregon--who just sit around collecting Social Security, bitching about the weather, and reading the Willamette Week.
* The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
In the light of recent animation blockbusters like Shark Tale, The Incredibles, and The Polar Express, SpongeBob is something of a relief--it's nothing more than a giddy cartoon, far from the sweeping epic that every other cartoon movie of late strives so hard to be. And it doesn't hurt that SpongeBob himself seems perfectly happy about just being a kid. His film follows suit--it's a colorfully funny and whacked-out flick that should please the kiddie, stoner, and parent crowds all at once. Plus it has David Hasselhoff in it. (Michael Svoboda) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Team America: World Police
If you possess an extra ass, you'd better bring it with you to the theater, because you're going to laugh at least one of them off. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have not only created a meticulous homage to the terrific Gary Anderson Thunderbirds series of the '60s (in which a globe-trotting team of marionettes save the world), but also a biting commentary on the very modern "war on terror" that gleefully cuts both ways. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Avalon, Bagdad Theater, Laurelhurst, Mission Theater, St. Johns Pub, Valley Theater
The Time of Your Life
James Cagney sits in a bar and watches life pass him by. Kind of like your life--if you were named James Cagney. Old Town Pizza
* Vera Drake
With women in a frenzy over the GOP's implied threat to yank our reproductive rights from under us, it's as good a time as any to revisit the wholesome, family value-driven days of illegal abortions, yeah? Besides working as a maid, factory worker, and homemaker for her husband and two grown children in '50s London, the beatifically portrayed Vera (Imelda Staunton) performs illegal abortions. When disaster strikes a teenaged patient and Vera gets pinched, the devastation she faces puts the finishing touches on the film's masterful, horrifying recreation. Vera Drake is a remarkable film, with gripping (if occasionally frustrating) acting, and my god is it scary. (Marjorie Skinner) Fox Tower 10
* The Yes Men
Artist activists Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum--AKA the Yes Men--specialize in what they call "identity correction." Armed with suits from thrift stores and cleverly rendered PowerPoint videos, the Yes Men crash lectures and conferences around the world, sarcastically representing what they feel are the true motives of the organizations--like the WTO--they impersonate. Astonishingly, they're met with overwhelming approval by the business elite, despite the absurd and horrendous statements they made (for instance: that third world hunger could be solved by recycling feces into hamburgers, or that corporations should reinstate slavery to help their bottom line). (Marjorie Skinner) Laurelhurst
A sweetly subtle Merchant-Ivory period piece about the tribulations of an idealistic young maid (Minnie Driver) and her love interest (Rhys Ifans), a doily magnate. Throughout, Zombie Holo--hey, wait a minute! That's not right! This is a goddamn zombie movie! Blind Onion