Portland Latin American Film Festival (PDXLAFF)
Not all of PDXLAFF's films were available for review, but we were able to check out a few. For more info on the festival, see the film feature about it. All films that screen on Friday, September 21-Sunday, September 23 will be shown at the Living Room Theaters.
See Film review.
Winner of the "Best Documentary" award at the Arizona International Film Festival (shocking!), Crossing Arizona examines the controversial issue of immigration.
See Film review.
A Mexican action film from 2006, Erendira, Untamable is set during "the conquest of Mexico by the Europeans in the 16th century."
The Hands (Los Manos)
It's a miracle! Mario, a priest in Argentina, can heal people with his bare hands! Except his superiors in the Catholic Church—not to mention the local cops—don't like his little miracle project. (They say he's practicing medicine illegally, and "emulating Jesus." Oooo, snap!) The plot is pretty damn hokey—though apparently based on a true story—but the film is a polished, pretty look at Argentina's faithful. AMY J. RUIZ
The Last Gaze (La Ultima Mirada)
A Mexican drama/romance about a nearly blind painter and a girl working in a brothel in the Mexican desert.
An outstanding film set in the final days before Pinochet's coup in Chile, told from the point of view of two young boys (Matías Quer and Ariel Mateluna). Machuca shows a vehemently divided country through the relatively unbiased eyes of its young characters. It's a singularly moving story—seething with hatred, but at least temporarily transcending it. MARJORIE SKINNER
My Best Enemy
(My Mejor Enemigo)
The drama My Best Enemy takes place against the backdrop of Chile and Argentina's 1978 conflict.
My Mexican Shiva
(Morirse Esta en Hebreo)
My Mexican Shiva follows the family of the recently deceased Moishe, a 75-year-old Mexican Jew. Two angels watch over the family during shiva, their seven-day mourning ritual, and the family begins to unwind in dysfunction. It's charmingly acted and well written—and if you hear anyone comparing it to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you should punch them in the throat. SCOTT MOORE
The Sugar Curtain (El Telon de Azucar)
Director Camilia Guzman Urzua examines what it was like to grow up in Cuba during the '70s and '80s.
To the Other Side (Al Otro Lado)
Three short stories—from the perspective of those left behind—focus on the theme of immigration.
The 11th Hour
We're all royally screwed. It's going to take an environmental disaster of biblical proportions to change our wasteful ways. And by then? It'll be too late. I suppose that's not the message I was supposed to take away from The 11th Hour, Leonardo DiCaprio's foray into Important Documentary Filmmaking. As producer and narrator, DiCaprio—along with a great cast of experts—attempts to fill viewers with the hope that, if we all just work together, we can stop global warming, keep poisonous chemicals out of the oceans, etc. But The 11th Hour's insistence that daring scientists and emerging technologies will solve our environmental problems could have a very negative effect: It takes the responsibility for change away from us everyday schmoes, the very people to blame for the planet's problems. SCOTT MOORE Fox Tower 10.
2 Days in Paris
Romantic comedies have become so routine, so processed, so horribly unfunny, that Julie Delpy's hilarious and astute 2 Days in Paris carries a jolt of surprise. The movie follows Franco-American couple Marion (Delpy, the most unaffected of pretty French actresses) and Jack (Adam Goldberg, in a major comic performance) on a stopover in Marion's hometown. Writer/director Delpy, finding cores of truth in clichés about Ugly Americans and temperamental Frenchies, writes dialogue that's a delirious blend of bawdy French farce and Woody Allen-ish neuroses. As for she and Goldberg, they just might be the prickliest, most luscious screen couple we've had in ages. Delpy has made something rare: a romantic comedy that feels spontaneous and handcrafted, rather than shat out by a studio and a couple of stars. JON FROSCH Fox Tower 10.
3:10 to Yuma
Director James Mangold's last film was the Johnny Cash tribute Walk the Line, a perfectly serviceable entry into the genre of the cheesy biopic, and one that handily accomplished its twin goals of (A) tugging on heartstrings, and (B) snagging an Oscar or two. Walk the Line wasn't anything extraordinary, but it worked out just fine, I guess; likewise, Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. It just sets out to be a decent enough Western, and it pretty much succeeds. Based on Elmore Leonard's short story, 3:10 features an impressive cast (Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), some gorgeous New Mexico scenery, and a veritable checklist of Western standards/clichés: mopey and leather-faced men, dusty shootouts, a bloody holdup. And that's about it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The screener for Ajafea arrived too late to be screened in time for our issue to go to press, so we'll let the press release do the talking. "Ajafea, the first feature film from Portland writer/director brYan, takes a new approach to the modern horror movie by providing the viewer with shockingly real monsters: depression, paranoia, and suicide. As it chronicles the deepest, darkest places in the human soul, Ajafea becomes conscious of itself as a movie, and its protagonist becomes conscious of himself as a character within that world. The question of meaning in a finite existence is grappled with, and it is ultimately the thirst for truth and the need to achieve a higher consciousness within this plane of existence that drives the main character to give in to his own demons." In other words, look no further for this weekend's date movie! Clinton Street Theater.
Director Andrew Neel—artist Alice Neel's grandson—pieces together his grandmother's life using "archival video and intimate one-on-one interviews with Neel's surviving family members." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Balls of Fury
A ping-pong comedy with a genital pun for a title? A no-name protagonist (Dan Fogler) who manages to be both unlikable and heroically unfunny? A squandered Christopher Walken guest-spot? There's got to be something nice to say about this movie, hasn't there? But as much as I would like to be charitable, the only thing Balls of Fury's 90 laugh-less minutes really has going for it is its merciful brevity. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
The Brave One
As a woman whose fiancé is brutally beaten and killed, Jodie Foster gamely tries to rouse the Charles Bronson lurking in her soul as she haunts New York's darkened streets killing every pervert, wife abuser, and iPod thief in sight. Ultimately, The Brave One's downfall comes from a case of bad timing: While the film gamely tries to justify its theme that killing people is okay if they're really, really bad, and if the shooter feels conflicted about it—it's no longer 1984. Perhaps the denizens of 2007 aren't feeling the same sense of urban hopelessness that Bernard Goetz and the rest of NYC experienced in the mid-'80s, or perhaps we're able to better see the moral ambiguity of villainy, rather than the one-dimensional evil of Death Wish's rapists and murderers. Or maybe Jodie Foster just isn't a very good Charles Bronson. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
I had high hopes for Chalk, a comedy that takes the brilliant mockumentary style of Spinal Tap, The Office, and Best in Show and sets it loose on a troupe of novice high school teachers. Sadly, Chalk didn't live up to my expectations. It's a sweet look at a tough year for first-time teacher Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer), whose students practically assault him one hour and 10 minutes into his teaching career, forcing him to shape up fast—too bad the film's pseudo-documentary camera work isn't polished enough to highlight the comedic work of the actors. AMY J. RUIZ Hollywood Theatre.
Death at a Funeral
Imagine, if you will, a seven-year-old child who's been educated exclusively by DARE officers and otherwise confined to a tiny closet with a pit toilet and a TV on which two awful BBC sitcoms are playing on a continuous loop. Such is the stunted mind (belonging to writer Dean Craig) that conceived Death at a Funeral, a puerile, scatological farce in which the most memorable characters include (A) a man who ingests a pill that looks like Valium but causes him to pull all kinds of funny faces and crawl on the rooftop naked; and (B) a dwarf, played by Peter Dinklage, who's also a cruel, blackmailing homosexual. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
The British take their seafaring pretty seriously. The Royal Navy was instrumental in the expansion of the British Empire, frequently sticking it to the incompetent French and Spanish navies. None of that has anything to do with Deep Water, a British documentary chronicling a disastrous 1968 around-the-world-without-stopping solo yacht race put on by London's Sunday Times. But the Brits' proud maritime history does help shed some light on just how freaking crazy and obsessive they can get about boating, and how that obsession can quickly lead to tragedy. Donald Crowhurst was a failed businessman with a family to feed—and zero yachting experience. The lure of the Times' race—and its prize money—was too much for Crowhurst to pass up, so he got financial sponsorship and began building a state-of-the-art boat in hopes that his technology could make up for his inexperience. But, ha ha, nothing goes according to plan (remember the word "disastrous" up above?), and Crowhurst and his fellow competitors fall into a lonely, psychotic world, turning the film into a documentary version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but on water instead of outer space. It's compelling, frightening, and sad stuff. But since it's a British production, the talking heads—yacht racers, friends, family members, journalists—have the uncanny ability to talk about the tragedy as if they were talking about folding laundry. Stoic and proud to the end, those Brits. SCOTT MOORE Cinema 21.
Not screened for critics, Dragon Wars is a South Korean film (though it stars American actors) about... ah, dragons. Having a war. In Los Angeles. Yes, it sounds awesome! But keep in mind that if it was actually awesome, the studio would probably want to show it to critics, rather than trying to hide their movie like they were little ashamed babies.Various Theaters
See review. Various Theaters.
Film Projector Loops
40 Frames, the Northwest Film Center, and Portland State University combine their mighty forces with this, the first entry in their "A Living History of 16mm Film Screening Series." It kicks off tonight with "a collaborative visual and musical performance involving multiple 16mm film projection loops with [a] musical score." Film projector loops by Devon Damonte, music by Curtis and Michael Knapp. More info: 40frames.org. Oak Street Building.
Good Luck Chuck
See review. Various Theaters.
To his credit, Rob Zombie's remake of the greatest slasher film of all time is clearly a labor of love—it winks, nods, and bludgeons its way through the source material in a surprisingly satisfying fashion, giving fans of the original film more than enough hyper-stylized meat to sink their teeth into. Realizing that the arguably feminist fable of the original could scarcely be outdone, Zombie wisely explores a storyline typically reserved for prequel fare—laying out the recipe for Michael Myers' "perfect storm," as well as fleshing out his relationship with Dr. Loomis (played awesomely by Malcolm McDowell). The move isn't entirely successful, to be sure: Senseless slaughter is less effective when there's some convoluted sense in it, and by the time the film catches up to the original's familiar narrative, there's little room for the patient suspense that film depended on—and Zombie's left to clean house in a more economical way. Still, there's a surprising lack of sacrilege throughout—a pleasant treat considering the legacy marring of some other recent horror "reimaginings." ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
The Hunting Party
See review. Various Theaters.
In the Valley of Elah
See review. Various Theaters.
The King of Kong:
A Fistful of Quarters
Our villain in the hilarious documentary The King of Kong is one Billy Mitchell—born in Massachusetts in 1965, he currently owns a restaurant chain and has a passion for both patriotic neckties and, one assumes, hair conditioner for his flowing, carefully coiffed locks. Mitchell has set records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Burgertime, and achieved a "perfect score"—3,333,360 points—in Pac-Man. He has been called the "Gamer of the Century," and he is an insufferably arrogant dick. Our hero, meanwhile, is Steve Wiebe, a painfully earnest Redmond, WA man who lost his job at Boeing at age 35—on the same day he and his wife had signed the papers for their new house. Wiebe, now teaching junior high school science, found solace and direction in Donkey Kong, at first playing when his children went to sleep, and then aiming at the impossible—beating Mitchell's record score of 1,000,000, which had gone unchallenged since 1982. The resulting battle is nothing short of epic. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
Manhattan Short Film Festival
Twelve international films that are 12 minutes and under in length. Audience members vote on the films—as will audiences in 98 other cities—to determine the winner. More info: msfilmfest.com. Hollywood Theatre.
So you hated your gym teacher. Who fucking cares. Wait, what? He used to punch you in the stomach? He beat you in the genital region with any number of blunt objects? Every day? Wow. Well, that must have been really satisfying for you when your gym teacher WENT TO JAIL FOR FUCKING CHILD ABUSE. End of story! No? Beginning of story? Fuck me. LINDY WEST Various Theaters.
No End in Sight
You're forgiven for being fatigued by the unrelenting incompetence of the Bush war machine, and especially fatigued by the redundant reiterations of that incompetence by ever-multiplying documentarians. Given the obviousness, ubiquitousness, and hopelessness of the situation, does the world really need another Iraq War documentary? As it turns out, it may have only needed one. No End in Sight hardly unveils any information that hasn't been covered in countless documentaries, and feels largely like a solid primer on the invasion. But it is the first that has relied extensively, almost exclusively, on intelligence officials, military commanders, and former members of the Bush administration. Not long into the film, one gets the sense that these people are speaking to director Charles Ferguson as a way to atone for their participation in the bungled mess that has turned a nation into a sea of chaos. SCOTT MOORE Academy Theater, Laurelhurst.
There's not a lot to hate about Once, a little Irish film about a downtrodden vacuum repairman/street musician who meets and falls in love with a Czech immigrant, and then spends a weekend recording an album with her. The story is a tad trite and overwhelmingly cutesy—it's the kind of film where everyone has good intentions and becomes fast friends, no one is wary of strangers, and a hit album can be written and recorded in a weekend. The unnamed lead characters' cute-as-a-button accents salvage what would otherwise have been an insufferably saccharine film—you'd have to be a robot (or irredeemably burned by love gone bad) to not enjoy it. SCOTT MOORE Various Theaters.
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 Laurelhurst.
Aaron Katz's film follows Jamie (Erin Fisher), a cute young gal from Atlanta, who's supposed to meet her flaky friend when she gets into Brooklyn. But her friend's cell phone is dead, and Jamie's stranded—luckily, she runs into an equally attractive young man (Cris Lankenau) on the subway platform, and spends the next 24 hours hanging out with him and wandering the city, conversing. In other words, this is the hipsters-in-Brooklyn version of Before Sunrise, with less articulate conversation and more text messaging. AMY J. RUIZ Hollywood Theatre.
Resident Evil: Extinction
Milla Jovovich returns to kill even more zombies. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
A sweet, dark film about a stuttering high school student—but be warned: You're going to hear inevitable and angry comparisons to Election, The Squid and the Whale, and every Wes Anderson film ever made. But don't let that bother you. Director Jeffrey Blitz (who previously made the spelling bee documentary Spellbound) knows how to make a good film, and while it resonates with quirky Andersonisms, it's still immensely fresh, likeable, and genuine. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
Rush Hour 3
I'm sure you know the ridiculous formula: Chris Tucker sings falsetto; Jackie Chan tries to stay awake through the final stage of his career; and the two of them close the movie by singing the song "War (What Is it Good For?)" at the base of the Eiffel Tower. But taken with just the most rudimentary level of analysis, Tucker, the movie's "loveable" star, is the embodiment of America's crass, violent arrogance. Early in the movie, we learn that he's in trouble with his police sergeant for illegally imprisoning American doctors of Iranian descent. His defense? "You know they looked like terrorists! Just because they cured cancer in a bunch of mice doesn't mean they aren't planning to blow shit up, too!" (Big audience laugh here). Later, when Tucker and Chan run into some surprisingly well-articulated anti-Americanism in Paris, Tucker's character puts a pistol to a Frenchman's head and makes him sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at gunpoint. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
Iceland: The only place whiter than Portland. Screaming Masterpiece offers a glimpse of Iceland's burgeoning music scene, from its rich past to the new turks on their way up. Made up mostly of live footage and band interviews, this is ideal viewing for any Icelandaphile. But if your Icelandic tastes don't extend beyond Björk or that downloaded Sigur Ros CD your roommate burned for you, this might not be your cup of Súrsaðir hrútspungar (traditional Icelandic rams' scrotum). EZRA ACE CARAEFF Hollywood Theatre.
"You fool! Damn you! You call yourself a horse? For shame! Hey, wait! Please! I apologize! Forgive me!" Camellia Lounge.
Shoot 'Em Up
A quick list of what goes down in Shoot 'Em Up's first minutes: Clive Owen ravenously chomps down on a carrot; a pregnant woman frantically seeks a place to give birth; one car slams into another with jaw-clenching intensity; Paul Giamatti cheerfully recites a sinister limerick; the aforementioned baby is delivered (with the help of Owen's handgun); maybe a thousand bullets shatter glass, concrete, and bone; and all of it's blasted out to the relentless drums and squealing guitars of Nirvana's "Breed." The point is this: Shoot 'Em Up is a blast, funny and clever and loud and fast. On its own, the film's opening sequence would be amazing enough; as an introduction to the gleefully violent Shoot 'Em Up as a whole, it heralds one of the craziest, funniest, and most badass action movies in recent memory. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various 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.
More My Little Pony than The Lord of the Rings, Stardust is a lighthearted comic fantasy romance apparently made by and for 12-year-old girls. There's plenty of heart and humor to be found in Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' illustrated novel, on which Stardust is based; problem is, director Matthew Vaughan can't quite balance the tricky job of gently mocking the clichés of the fantasy genre while simultaneously making a film that's crammed full of them. From a narrative perspective, the film stalls for a good hour in the middle, with dubious character motivations, goofy romance, and the schemes of an eeeeevil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) never quite gelling together. Just for good measure, there's also an all-too-brief appearance by Ricky Gervais, a slew of slapsticky ghosts who're friendlier than Casper, and—in surely the biggest "what the fuck?" moment in a film with more than its fair share—a prancing, cross-dressing, lisping, fabulously gay sky pirate played by Robert De Niro. (No, really—the fuck? Can someone please explain any of this to me? Anyone?) ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The latest from director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (who previously collaborated on the mostly awesome 28 Days Later and the pretty crappy The Beach), Sunshine takes place 50 years from now, with a barren Earth frozen by a solar winter: The sun is dying, and humanity finds itself staring down a cold, dark death. Humanity has just one plan, and it is desperate and flawed: Loading a huge bomb onto a spaceship, the Icarus II, a small team of scientists will attempt to jumpstart the sun. To give away more of the plot would be a disservice; suffice to say that (A) things go wrong, and (B) Boyle and Garland use their relatively simple concept to delve into themes ranging from religion to sanity to sacrifice. But mostly, Sunshine is a tense, drawn-out thriller. Despite a strange spell in which Boyle decides to briefly turn the smart Sunshine in to a dumb slasher flick, he's patient and clever, and the film plays out with a sense of both inexorable doom and dumb hope. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
Like Freaks and Geeks, Superbad smartly manages to capture all the excitable, desperate awkwardness of adolescence; like Arrested Development, it handily makes trivial events and throwaway dialogue into sidesplitting jokes. (Both accomplishments are helped by the awesome performances of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.) But maybe most impressively, Superbad just feels a lot like high school. Except (barely) less awkward, and way, way funnier. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
"Hey, I'm not square. You're the one that's square!" Laurelhurst.
It's strange that the American film machine's seemingly limitless capacity to digest and destroy all that which nostalgia holds dear has yet to entirely tear through the upper echelons of our collective animated history. Okay, so they live-actioned (and typically CGI-ed) Garfield, Scooby-Doo, Transformers, Fat Albert, and The Flintstones into oblivion, but just think of all of your favorite cartoons they've yet to gut—suddenly you've got a wealth of blessings to count, don't you? So why on god's green earth would anyone make a movie based on a fumbling, terribly animated rhyming dog with ill-defined superpowers? Can you think of a shittier cartoon? Why Underdog? If the product is any indication, my guess is the producers simply couldn't afford the rights to the Huckleberry Hound script. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
See review. Clinton Street Theater.