The 31st Annual Young People's Film & Video Festival
As I write this, I am still stinging with disappointment over the fact that a short film made by 11th and 12th grade students at Lincoln High School entitled "Dry Humping Saves Lives" was not included in the stack of review DVDs I was given for the 31st Annual Young People's Film & Video Festival. Thus hampered, all I can say is that many of the works, which were made by 1st-12th graders, are films that only a mother could love—although there are flashes of comedic genius, as in "Introducing the Presidents," an animated short by second graders chronicling our nation's presidents (excepting Bush Jr., Richard Nixon, and Andrew Jackson). Other films are technically keen, but suffer from lackluster scripts ("Penguin Holiday"), and the live action dramas run from promising ("The Mix Tape") to tepid ("Tile 'M' for Murder," a Scrabble thriller). Still it's going to be totally worth it to sit through the bad along with the good, all for a chance to see the surely stupendous "Dry Humping Saves Lives." MARJORIE SKINNER Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Best of the Northwest
The Northwest Film Center's collection of films from the 33rd Northwest Film & Video Festival, featuring the usual suspects (Matt McCormick, Andrew Blubaugh) and a few regional filmmakers you probably haven't heard of yet. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
I liked this movie better when it was a TV show called Queer as Folk. Boy Culture's acting is terrible, the characters are walking melodramatic stereotypes, and the dialogue is wooden—Queer as Folk had all these things too, but at least in the Showtime series there was some ridiculously hot sex, and after five seasons you grew to love the characters, no matter how horribly written they were. Boy Culture is about a male escort with a tough exterior and a heart of gold who falls in love with his roommate. It isn't the worst movie I've seen, and it is set in Seattle (and, partially, Portland), and you do sort of get into the film's rhythm after an hour or so. Still, it leaves me wondering—what's happening with queer cinema, and why are so many mediocre movies allowed to sneak through? SCOTT MOORE Cinema 21.
Oliver Stone meets Fidel Castro—in the most literal and theatrical sense. In 2002 Stone traveled to Cuba to interview Castro over the course of three days, and the resultant hours of footage were edited down to just over 90 minutes for the HBO documentary Comandante. The film is peppered with Stone's signature edits, commentary about conspiracy theories, and enough culled war footage to make it a companion piece to Platoon—and if you can get past Stone's style, you'll be treated to a gratifying visit with Cuba's favorite dictator. Amid conversations about Che Guevara, Gorbachev, Sophia Loren, and Castro's theories about the Lone Gunman, the duo tours Havana, much to the joy of gawking Cubans. While short on heavy journalistic questions, Stone has an obvious admiration for Castro and for Cuba, and that regard makes for an interesting film about a very interesting man. COURTNEY FERGUSON Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
2004's Night Watch was some crazy shit: A Russian horror/fantasy epic, it featured vampires, witches, shapeshifters, demonic dolls, and enough prattle about the eternal battle of good vs. evil to fill a thousand dungeonmasters' wet dreams. Its sequel, Day Watch, offers more of the same—vampires, demonic dolls, etc., now with 800 percent more sports cars driving along the sides of buildings, plus galloping horses crashing through brick walls and enough body-swappin' slapstick to make one long for the days of Freaky Friday. It's kinda cool and kinda weird, but it's mostly just like having a Russian nerd show you his crappy comic book collection for a few hours. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst.
Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso), an American filmmaker with a healthy dose of liberal guilt, teams with dreamy Tibetan monk Dhondup (Jampa Kalsang) to deliver a thing to some guy. The plot doesn't matter—Dreaming Lhasa, as it plods along with all the energy of a funeral march, is mainly a contrivance to show us the post-Tibet life of Tibetans. The main draw is the claustrophobic camerawork, which provides a fleeting glimpse inside the crumbling Indian slums the disillusioned exiles inhabit. On a related note, I checked my watch at one point during the film, and realized that—impossibly—only 30 minutes had passed. This made me sad. THOMAS LUNDBY Living Room Theaters.
A very unfunny film designed for those who love both animals doing wacky things and the fantastic fables of the Old Testament. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
I learned a lot about my gender from Evening. Women are: weak, needy, insecure, indecisive, and borderline insane. Many of us suffer from personality disorders. Evening conveys this information through a series of flashbacks: Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave) is on her deathbed. Every time she closes her scary lizard eyes, she flashes back to the day on which she made the Greatest Mistake of Her Life (predictably enough, it involved not marrying the right man). The best thing I can say about this movie is that young Ann (played by the ever-charming Claire Danes) wears some really nice dresses. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
This dark comedy was made by Justin Wescoat Sanders, a former editor (and current contributor) for the Mercury—which means that there's no way we can give this movie an objective review. That said, okay: The Faithful follows Aaron (Sanders), a fantastically repressed twenty-something who sells cell phones, goes to church, and is engaged to Jennifer (Ladawn Sheffield), a girl who says "darn" instead of "damn" and insists on being celibate until she and Aaron get hitched. Enter the rebellious Alice (Brenda Arellano), whose forced free-spiritedness tempts Aaron away from his lackluster life. The Faithful bears most of the hallmarks, both good and bad, of Portland's usual low-budget indie features—but in its best moments, the film possesses a quiet, moving sadness that's hard to shake. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Director Tim Story's first Fantastic Four aimed for a lighter, goofier tone than X-Men or Spider-Man or Batman Begins. In some ways, Story succeeded (it is a nice change to have superheroes who aren't super-grumpy), but in most, he failed—the first Fantastic Four boasted the intelligence and feel of a crummy sitcom, and Rise of the Silver Surfer fares only marginally better. The sequel's scarce improvements are largely due to the Silver Surfer, whose inclusion is more than welcome: As the metallic, CG Surfer flies over Earth marking spots for destruction, there's a fluidity and grace to his character that's only improved when he begins talking like Morpheus, thanks to the voice of Laurence Fishburne. But then cue the product placement (the Fantastic Four's "Fantasticar" is made by Dodge, while the Thing's favorite beer is Dos Equis), the janky storytelling, and—somehow, against all laws of physics and taste—an absolutely repulsive-looking Jessica Alba. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Introducing the Dwights
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
The latest comedy from Judd Apatow (Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Freaks and Geeks), Knocked Up is—and there's really no other way to put this—fucking hilarious. Starring the great Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl as two singles who unexpectedly find themselves pregnant, I'd be shocked if a funnier or sweeter movie comes out this year. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
La Vie en Rose
Even if you're like me and find most musical biopics depressingly formulaic, you might think Oliver Dahan's Edith Piaf movie is a slight cut above. Sure, it checks off all the genre's requisite ingredients (childhood trauma, drug addiction, troubled relationships), and is about as consistent as its heroine's mental and physical health. But stretches of the film, which traces Piaf's rise from Parisian poverty to international stardom, feel uncommonly—even thrillingly—intimate. JON FROSCH Fox Tower 10.
License to Wed
This new estrogen-washed rom-com features one of my current TV star dreamboats, the droll John Krasinski (Jim from The Office). I love this guy. He's got this great, loosey-goosey acting style—like a cross between Hugh Grant and Robert Redford—and I can totally see him as a romantic lead. But then the movie studio sours the deal: "Well, if you want John Krasinski, then you're also going to have to take Mandy Moore and Robin Williams." NO EFFIN' WAY. I'll take Mandy, because I can IGNORE Mandy. (Her cardboard characterization of this film's central cardboard character is dead-on in its cardboard-iness.) But you can't ignore Robin Williams, because he refuses to let you—not even for a split second. The studios know he's pulling your mom and dad into the cineplex, which means you're going to have to endure an hour and a half of the same tedious improv he's been beating into the ground since Good Morning, Vietnam and Patch Adams. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Live Free or Die Hard
The good news about Live Free or Die Hard: Despite being the oldest person in the cast by about 20 years, BRUCE WILLIS IS STILL AWESOME. Here, Willis has some great action sequences and a few killer jokes—at his best, he makes this entry as fun as the previous three. But now for the not-so-good news: Live Free or Die Hard, with its annoying PG-13 rating and light, funny tone, isn't nearly as intense or cool as the series' earlier, better movies. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! on pg. 17. Clinton Street Theater.
The Miracle of Candeal
Fernando Trueba's Sundance-approved "musical documentary" from 2004. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Paris, Je T'Aime
Paris has gotten more valentines than any other city in the world. The reasons are obvious: It's beautiful, and it makes people want to be in love. So the impulse behind Paris, Je T'Aime is nothing new—the results, though, are as stunning and varied as the city itself. Paris is comprised of 18 five-minute films, unrelated save that they are each set in a different Paris neighborhood. If sitting through 18 short films sounds tedious, consider the talent involved: Alfonso Cuarón, the Coen Brothers, and Alexander Payne are among the directors, and actors include Steve Buscemi, Fanny Ardant, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Juliette Binoche (and yes, Gérard Depardieu is in it). Even if there's no amour lost between you and Paris (I hear some people don't like the French?), Paris, Je T'Aime is worth seeing: The films included range from hilarious to heartbreaking, and together they capture the expansiveness and excitement of being alive and in love with a city. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
Private Fears in Public Places
This is the quintessential angsty French film: a moody, snow-swept ensemble piece that makes a point-by-point argument for the impossibility of meaningful human connection. Thanks a lot, France. If anyone needs me, I'll be in the corner, crying and drinking laudanum. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
There's no question that Sicko is a brilliant documentary. Michael Moore outdoes himself—largely by stepping aside, keeping his usual "gotcha!" pranks to a minimum, and personalizing a complex issue. The question, however, is how effective Moore's public shaming of the US health care industry will be. He's recast the debate in terms we can all understand—explaining the problem as "[here is] what the greatest country ever in the history of the universe does to its own people, simply because they have the misfortune of getting sick." But will Americans listen? And if they do, will they join Moore in demanding a solution? AMY J. RUIZ Various Theaters.
Sum of the Parts
Batty Krieg (Raymond Steers) dresses like a condescending hipster, so of course he has to spend half the film rattling off exposition to an "ignorant" audience. (Yes, we know what the Human Genome Project is—we have the Discovery Channel, too.) Sum of the Parts' story is about Batty's secret wish to be a manly man like his father, but that sounds too much like a male Terms of Endearment—hence the shadowy assassins and F-bombs that permeate the film. If you want that kind of story done well, rent Pulp Fiction and watch the Bruce Willis segments instead. THOMAS LUNDBY Hollywood Theatre.
Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama
Not screened for critics, the official synopsis for this documentary about "one man's journey through the Northern Himalayas" begins thusly: "Why do the poor often seem happier than the rich? Must a society lose its traditions in order to move into the future? How do you reconcile a commitment to non-violence when... when...." Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Cinema 21.
Shit yes. Finally. Look, Portland—how many more times do you have to watch the goddamn The Dark Crystal or The NeverEnding Story? Every time some coffee shop or bar decides to get all crazy and have a movie night, that's what they show: Fucking gelflings flying around on Falkor and shit. Which is fine and good and whatever, but ENOUGH. Time for Total Recall, bitches! Arnold's in top form in Paul Verhoeven's 1990 action/sci-fi classic, which has Schwarzenegger teaming up with Martian mutants to kill people and blow shit up. Ever-so-loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, Total Recall has it all: A cool story, special effects that were badass at the time and still look awesome, some killer one-liners ("See yoo at dah pahtee, Reektah!"), and, yes, a chick with three boobs. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Over 20 years since the debut of 1984's Saturday morning cartoon/toy commercial Transformers, it makes a perverse sort of sense that executive producer Steven Spielberg chose director Michael Bay to resurrect Optimus Prime and crew. With Bad Boys, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor, Bay's spent his entire career trying to turn real-life people and places into preposterous cartoons; here, he's charged with turning a cartoon into something vaguely resembling reality, and he does so with shameless, contagious glee. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! on pg. 17. Clinton Street Theater.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
British director Ken Loach surveys his setting with an unforgiving, steady eye: Involving the Irish Civil War and the Irish War of Independence, the story of The Wind That Shakes the Barley is closely tied to that of the Irish Republican Army. Brothers Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Padraic Delaney) are set in disparate directions: Damien to study in London, and Teddy to stay behind. But several vicious actions by Ireland's British occupiers change Damien's mind—soon, he's fighting in the IRA alongside his brother. But the real conflict begins when the British and Irish sign a treaty—while Teddy accepts the compromise, Damien is intent on continuing the fight. Barley won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and it's apparent why immediately: The plight of the rural Irish is painstakingly detailed, though screenwriter Paul Laverty's story is less about politics and more about obsession. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst.
You Kill Me
I'm a big fan of director John Dahl's mid-'90s films The Last Seduction and Red Rock West. Both films are gritty tales of backstabbing, noir-ish twists, and strange interpersonal dynamics, all peppered with incredibly memorable characters. Dahl's panache for quirky characters is striking, but with all the oddballs in his newest film, You Kill Me—from Ben Kingsley's alcoholic hit man to Bill Pullman's real estate agent to Luke Wilson's gay recovering alcoholic—one can't help feeling that he's just trying too hard to recreate some old magic. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.