49 Up is the seventh film in Michael Apted's incredible documentary series, which began in 1964 London. Fourteen children where chosen from different walks of life, and thrust into a captivating sociological study that threatens to continue well into their golden years. They were interviewed at length, and mused with precocious and sometimes heartbreaking sincerity on their ambitions, their attitudes toward money and family, the opposite sex, and—more subtly—class consciousness. Then, every seven years, Apted and his documentary crew returned to his subjects to see how life was turning out, and in the process, to reveal how profound threads of continuity run through human life. 49 Up does not paint a pretty picture of middle age: When the very loveable Paul is asked if he still has ambitions, he replies, "Not really." Even though the subjects were unwitting participants in this great documentary experiment as children and are wary of the films' value now, their uneasy, prolonged participation with Apted belies their faith that this project is indeed worth more than the sum of its 12 evolving parts.
Todd and Jan Wolfhouse (Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter), to get back at some asshole Germans, put together a team of misfits to compete in the Beerfest Olympics. Insert all your favorite Broken Lizard actors, dick and burp jokes, and a nasty run-in with mustard. Go into Beerfest expecting a good time, a lot of laughs, and not much else—and you, like me, will likely enjoy this hilarious masterpiece. I loved this movie—and I'm not just saying that because I'm drunk! (Christine S. Blystone)
A French movie about Bernie (Albert Dupontel), "a frustrated and mildly retarded 30-year-old" who tries to learn the truth about his parents. [Insert joke about how Bernie would inevitably better if it were Weekend at Bernie's here.]
The Black Dahlia
It's not director Brian De Palma's fault that The Black Dahlia is somewhat of a disaster—adapting James Ellroy's confusing, circuitous novel—which deals with a dead would-be starlet and the two cops who try to solve her murder—could drive anyone to mediocrity. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Catch a Fire
See review this issue.
Conversations with God
Ugh. This faux-spiritual piece of cinematic drivel made me want to eat broken glass for two straight hours. Based on the life of Neale Donald Walsch and his best-selling Conversations with God "nonfiction" books, the premise is that Walsch (played by Henry Czerny) starts hearing a voice, the voice of god, and (lucky) you get to experience these prolonged conversations. Not only that, but you are forced to witness the horrors of his motivational speeches... the horrors of watching him cry, during his brief stint of being homeless, while eating from a dumpster as a young child looks on with pity... and, the horror, the horror, of hearing pithy sophisms like, "I don't want to make a living, I want to make a life." (Courtney Ferguson)
Death of a President
See review this issue.
Martin Scorsese's made a bunch of important movies. Movies that changed things, that define American cinema: Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. The Last Temptation of Christ. Goodfellas. That sweet music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad." So even though it's pretty goddamn great, Scorsese's latest, The Departed—an intense take on the cop thriller genre—can't live up to the expectations his IMDB page inspires. But while The Departed is nothing revolutionary, it is one hell of a genre film—smart and forceful and fun. (Erik Henriksen)
In the first half of The Descent, writer/director Neil Marshall threatens to drown you in a convoluted psychological tale of transcendence—but you'll be happy to know the film later incorporates practically any and all horrors that could be lurking in a cave hundreds of feet below the surface. (Jenna Roadman)
The Devil Wears Prada
First, the clothes: The Devil Wears Prada's costume designer, Patricia Field, sails in on her Sex and the City cred to whip up a populist but appealing parade of sartorial eye candy (which, interestingly, turns out to be very much in the vein of what Teen Vogue was doing in last year's "Back to School" issue, but with higher heels). As for the film itself, it's as fresh faced and middling as you would imagine, given its basis in a chick-lit story by Lauren Weisberger, whose novel is a pseudo-biographical tell-all about Condé Nast-y's queen bee, Vogue Editor Anna Wintour (Meryl Streep). (Marjorie Skinner)
Employee of the Month
Dane Cook is painfully unfunny. Jessica Simpson is an empty-headed hussy. This film was not screened for critics. Draw your own conclusions.
Jet Li's much-ballyhooed farewell to the historical martial arts genre serves as a rousing reminder of the actor's glory days—when Li's unbelievable physical grace enraptured an entire generation of jaded video store clerks. A semi-fictionalized recounting of the life of Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia, Fearless' plot allows Li to revisit many of his old tropes. And while the presence of action choreographer Woo-ping Yuen ensures the film has plenty of dazzling choreography, a surprising focus is on the main character's interior journey from brash powerhouse to reflective man of action. If, as Li claims, this is his final historical go-around, he's chosen an appropriate sendoff. (Besides, if he really feels it's time to pack it in, who's gonna argue with him? You?) (Andrew Wright)
A Film Celebration of Portland Transportation
Locally made short films and historical presentations, all centered on "Portland's world class transportation system." Go ahead: Just try to come up with a more boring event. Go for it. Try. C'mon! We will give you five dollars if you can. Which you can't.
Flags of Our Fathers
If you're as bored by the self-congratulatory backslapping of "the greatest generation"—those who lived and fought through World War II—as I am, you'll find Flags of Our Fathers a welcome relief... despite the overly dramatic title. Though Steven "How can we make this more manipulative?" Spielberg is the producer, Clint "I'm actually a very fine director" Eastwood is behind the wheel. While Flags seems, from the outset, to be tailor-made for insulting the brain (yet another rousing rah-rah for the brave men who gave their lives so the rest of us wouldn't live under Tojo's iron thumb, blah, blah, blah, blah, BLAH), Eastwood smartly gives us something we rarely see in such re-creations of famous scenes from the war: the truth. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Alison Lohman plays Katy, a young girl who falls in love with a wild mustang named Flicka; when her father sells the horse to the rodeo(!), Katy decides to win Flicka back by riding her in a rodeo competition. This is a classic "horse girl" plot, and Lohman makes a great horse girl: She's sufficiently spunky, and she has the requisite long, messy brown hair. Unfortunately, country music megastar Tim McGraw plays Katy's father, which might explain why Flicka turns into country music porn partway through, leading to an orgy of belt buckles, cowboy boots, and American flags. Ultimately, Flicka's doomed by its phenomenally bad nü-country soundtrack and a gratuitous use of montages—a combination that creates some of the most unwatchable sequences in recent cinematic memory. (Alison Hallett)
The Forest for the Trees
A look at "an unlikely team of young activists and old civil rights workers who come together to battle the US government." Their methods of battle do not, unfortunately, include kung fu.
The Grudge 2
Not screened for critics, The Grudge 2 is yet another film about a creepy Japanese ghost who looks like Michael Jackson.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
This could've so easily been crap. The "thug kid growin' up in the summertime mean streets of New York" memoir has been done to death. But A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints succeeds, with writer/director Dito Montiel mixing a plotline revolving around a younger version of himself (played by the kid from Holes) with an older model (Robert Downey Jr.). The flashback scenes are scary and funny, but the real meat of the film comes in Downey's portrayal of a man burdened with the realization that he's skipped out on everyone who ever loved him. The night and day polarities of the past and present take you deep into Montiel's head. It's a harrowing place, but by the film's end, you might realize it's a psychic landscape not too foreign from your own. (Adam Gnade)
As we move into fall, when Hollywood rolls out a parade of shameless Academy bait, the fixers are attempting to position Hollywoodland as a hard-boiled noir throwback. Like the movies it's clearly trying to emulate, Hollywoodland presents a revisionist take on a footnote of Golden State history: Was George Reeves, erstwhile Superman, truly a suicide? All the interesting parts of Hollywoodland are bound up in the personal drama of Reeves (an uncharacteristically nuanced Ben Affleck), but the detective aspect, less than ably anchored by Adrien Brody, feels perfunctory in comparison. Forget hard-boiled—Hollywoodland is unevenly poached. (Annie Wagner)
Hour of the Wolf
Ingmar Bergman's film about "painful memories." Ker-SNOOZE.
Take Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, two of the best actors working today, and throw in a few interesting themes—science vs. magic, order vs. chaos, politics vs. love—and it'd seem like The Illusionist has everything going for it. But it doesn't. Writer/director Neil Burger doesn't know what to do with these two great actors, let alone how to handle what should have been a multi-layered drama. Five minutes in, one realizes that just about everything in The Illusionist, with the exception of Giamatti, feels like a cheap TV movie. (Erik Henriksen)
An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth is workmanlike and clumsy at times—but it's also hugely invigorating. Tracking Al Gore's global-warming lecture as he schleps his Apple laptop across the country and to China, it's a collection of scientific facts and correlations made urgent through human drama and low-tech slide-show magic. It should be required viewing for every American citizen. (Annie Wagner)
Yes, it's another movie about Truman Capote. However familiar the subject, Douglas McGrath's Infamous quickly establishes its own rhythm, shuffling with ease between an amusing look at NYC social butterflyism and the darker, sardonic Kansas segments. Admittedly, the film does have to deal with a rather large elephant in the room, given Philip Seymour Hoffman's towering performance in Capote just last year. But here, as Capote, Toby Jones' lolling ease at impersonation permeates the film, and while McGrath and Jones can't match the intensity of the earlier film or actor, Infamous' knowingly glib, facile tone makes for a fearsomely entertaining night out. (Andrew Wright)
IT (INDEPENDENT TUESDAYS)
Homemade film and video!
Jackass: Number Two
Most importantly: Is Jackass: Number Two funny? Jesus Christ, it's fucking hilarious. Like, "My gut's sore from 95 straight minutes of laughing this hard." Like, my jaw literally hurt all night after seeing this movie. And: "I haven't laughed this hard since the first Jackass." (Chas Bowie)
Jesus Camp falls into the category of films that I wanted to like more than I did. In some ways, it's a dream of a documentary: an intriguing, inflammatory idea combined with apparently unrestricted access. Unfortunately, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady can't resist the temptation to turn the film into a polemic about how fundamentalists are taking over the country and ruining our government. (Well, yeah—no shit.) (Alison Hallett)
KISS: Kissology, Vol. 1, 1974-1977
See My, What a Busy Week! on pg. 23.
KnowFilmFast Horror Film Competition
The annual screening of the films made for the Know's "KnowFilmFast Horror Film Competition," in which all of the films were made in 66 hours and six minutes (aah!), and all of them are no longer than six minutes and 66 seconds long (AAH!). More info: theknow.info.
The Last King of Scotland
The story of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (played with charisma—and a lazy eye—by Forest Whitaker). It starts happily enough: The Ugandan people are all for Amin's 1971 overthrow of Prime Minister Milton Obote. They dance in the streets, sing, and clap. It's nice. Things are good. Then, of course, things get heavy. This is no spoiler if you know your history, but by the end of Amin's rule in 1979, some 300,000 of his own people had been butchered in the name of purity and progress. While beautifully shot and flawlessly acted, Last King is intensely savage. You might be appalled and you might be disturbed. Get over it. Like Hotel Rwanda or Schindler's List, this is important. (Adam Gnade)
loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies
See review this issue.
Man of the Year
Lately, Robin Williams just makes me sad. Look through a list of his films and you'll see he's been in a lot of shit (Patch Adams, Flubber, and RV)—but remember when he was in Good Morning, Vietnam, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo? Maybe it's okay to like him again now that the legitimately good Man of the Year is out. Full of pithy rants about America's fractured political system, Man of the Year teams a kinder, gentler Williams with director Barry Levinson for a film that doesn't disappoint. (Courtney Ferguson)
Yes, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette has all the stuff everyone thinks they know about that infamous queen: The "let them eat cake" thing, the decapitation thing, the thing about one woman embodying all that's wrong with monarchies. But Coppola sees Marie Antoinette's story differently: as a story of teenage euphoria, as a study of naiveté, as a tragedy of manners and history. And whether or not it's accurate, Coppola's rose-tinted version has beauty, verve, and spirit. But despite a solid start and a strong finish, Coppola gets sloppy in the laggy middle. Marie Antoinette's life is largely one of utter extravagance, based on an obliviousness to anything beyond Versailles' immaculately tended gardens: She gets drunk, fucks around, has loud parties, and generally acts like any other teenager. The film's entire second act follows a life that's both idyllic and pathetic, and it's perfect material for Coppola—but instead, Coppola hangs this portion of the film on star Kirsten Dunst, who's neither talented nor interesting enough to make it work. Thanks to Dunst's uneven portrayal, Marie Antoinette slowly becomes as indulgent and trivial as the actions of its subject. (Erik Henriksen)
So there's this woman and her husband and they build a house, but then she dies in the heart of it so the house is scary and it has a heart, and a chimney with smoke that comes out of it, and a big mouth. It has legs and arms and walks around, and these kids go in with a key but then it's pretty scary. Yeah, I liked this movie! You should go see it! But it was pretty scary. I had to hold my dad's hand for a lot of it. (Kayla, the Mercury's resident six-year-old)
F. W. Murnau's truly frightening Nosferatu (1922), the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Martin Lawrence should be kissing my ass right about now. Or at the very least, leaving funny outgoing messages on my answering machine as Shenehneh. It only seems fair, seeing as how I've got his back in every argument about his comedic brilliance. Until the series' disastrous final episode (in which Martin and Gina couldn't be on screen together because of his alleged sexual harassment), Martin was the funniest jam on mid-'90s television. When Jackie Chan knocked on the door looking for Shenehneh? Comic genius! When Bruh Man from the fifth floor came in through the fire escape? Pure gold! When Martin told Pam that her hair was so nappy, even Wilson couldn't pick it? ROTFLOL! Then Martin went insane and ran up and down the road, falling into comas (still funny!) and dicked around for a bit until making Big Momma's House 2 (classic!). So while Open Season—an animated feature about a domesticated bear (voiced by Martin)—won't make me think any less of Martin, I do cringe at the thought of having to defend it in polite conversation. My foolproof comeback? The episode where Martin dressed up like Santa Claus. Now that's comedy! (Chas Bowie)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Second verse, same as the first: Just like the first Pirates, this is big, messy, loud, nonsensical, pretty, fast, fun stuff. I mean, there's a fucking awesome giant sea monster! And: There are undead pirates who sail underneath the waves, who—thanks to some pretty amazing CG and make-up—have physically melded with creepy sea creatures. And: ludicrous, Looney Tunes-worthy action sequences, Johnny Depp's inimitable charm, and a balls-out, near-perfect mix of action and comedy. Yeah, not all of it works, but that's kind of the point. (Erik Henriksen)
A period piece about dueling magicians, The Prestige shares subject matter with the recent/mediocre The Illusionist, the inescapable Harry Potter, and Susanna Clarke's 2004 novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Thankfully, The Prestige has an identity of its own: Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, who, along with Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) aims to become the top illusionist in Victorian London. When Angier's wife dies in a fumbled illusion, the stakes intensify; driven with hatred and envy, Borden and Angier go to the ends of the earth (read: Colorado) to outdo each other. Christopher Nolan's film gets clunky at times, and it's overlong, and the lightweight Jackman is no match for Bale. But Nolan knows what he's doing, and by the final act, the film's immensely entertaining narrative tumbles, rather impressively, into place. (Erik Henriksen)
Princesas takes a sympathetic look at an unusual aspect of globalization: the effect that an influx of broke, desperate women can have on a country's extant sex industry. Caye (Candela Peña) is a Spanish prostitute whose business has dropped off in the face of increasing competition from undocumented immigrants, mostly from South and Central America. Caye resents and mistrusts these girls, until she meets Zulema (Micaela Nevárez), a sexy young woman from the Dominican Republic. The two quickly bond over haircuts and shop talk, and their unlikely friendship sustains both of them in the face of the loneliness and violence that they both confront on a daily basis. While the plot meanders a bit, solid performances and graceful cinematography ensure that this quiet, compelling film doesn't overstay its welcome. (Alison Hallett)
Here's a decent enough Halloween flick: A killer goes after high schoolers in this 1980 horror film. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen.
See review this issue.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Clinton Street just won't stop showing Rocky Horror for some reason, but at least for Halloween they're going all out, with live cabarets for all the shows on October 27-29, and 31.
Running with Scissors
See review this issue.
Santa Claus is a Shit
We didn't get to screen this in time for press, but based on its title alone, it gets a star. (And this despite the fact it's from France!) It sounds like a movie full of Xmas cheer, with things revolving around a suicide hotline, a "woeful, manic-depressive transvestite," and "a most unusual Santa Claus." As to why it's screening the day after Halloween and not around, say, Xmas, your guess is as good as ours.
The annual gore-porn film series predictably returns, just in time for Halloween. Not screened for critics.
School for Scoundrels
You might be tempted to see School for Scoundrels because of all the funny people that are in it: David Cross, Sarah Silverman, and Ben Stiller. You might think, "Funny people make funny movies. I bet School for Scoundrels is going to be funny!" Right? Wrong. Here's a better way of looking at it: Funny people need to get paid, just like everyone else—which is why they end up playing underwritten supporting roles in marginally entertaining movies like this one. (Alison Hallett)
The obvious advantage to John Cameron Mitchell's second film is that many people will see it, and continue to talk about it, because of the sex. Frustrated by what he interpreted as a "lack of respect" toward sex in American cinema, Mitchell—who, five years ago, directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch—has filmed graphic, well-lit, actual sex scenes, but avoided creating pornography. The characters' common ground is a fictional Manhattan sex salon run by Justin Bond (of Kiki & Herb), and the scenes here are Shortbus' most vibrant. It's in the sex salon scenes that we get the glamour fix we expect from the man who brought us Hedwig, as freaks and hipster celebrities revel in the idealized club, where sex collides with art and music, and much is made of freedom and experimentation. But even at its warmest, Shortbus is oddly standoffish—just as its take on sex is to think about it too hard, paralyzing it from the waist down. (Marjorie Skinner)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Considering that Anchorman is probably the best movie Will Ferrell will ever make, comparing Talladega Nights to it is kind of unfair—but also inevitable. Ferrell's Ricky Bobby is a borderline retarded, all-American racer who drives a Wonder Bread-branded car and serves as a hero to mouth-breathing NASCAR fans everywhere. Until, that is, a nemesis shows up: the all-French racer Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen). Disappointingly, Ferrell just phones it in here—it's the film's two supporting characters who make Talladega so entertaining. Da Ali G Show's brilliant Cohen is hilarious as the crêpe-loving Girard, and he's shown up only by the great John C. Reilly, who giddily plays Ricky Bobby's dumb, loyal friend Cal. Whenever Reilly and Cohen are on screen, Talladega Nights is a blast—fast, goofy, unpredictable, and willing to go all-out for laughs. You know, sort of like Anchorman. (Erik Henriksen)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
The story arcs of horror prequels are at a disadvantage to their more linear counterparts—if for no other reason than the assumed knowledge of who dies and who doesn't. In its favor however, the horror prequel is given a lot more license to up the creep factor—providing, presumably, a palpable depth to the motivations of its typically (and in this case, literally) faceless killer. In the case of this prequel to the annoyingly stylized 2003 remake (wrap your head around that one), the filmmakers relegate the very purpose of a prequel—the elucidation of historical details—to its stale, post-Seven title sequence, and spend the rest of the movie basically remaking the remake. Which is fine, honestly—they do a pretty good job of it. Sure, they're still working within the music video cliché constructs of most contemporary Hollywood horror, but with an appropriately brutal hand that the other, more chickenshit remake wholly lacked. Oh, and just in case it isn't entirely obvious: Everybody dies. (Zac Pennington)
The US vs. John Lennon
The problem with The US vs. John Lennon is that there's hardly a movie here; it's more a portrait of Lennon's activist leanings. And it doesn't help that there's already a powerful documentary portrait of the best Beatle on video store shelves—it's called Imagine, and it's a much better film than this one. (Chas Bowie)
Warren Miller's Off the Grid
Here you go, trustafarian snowbunnies: The latest (57th!) film from the unstoppable Warren Miller brand, in which "Olympic skier turned NFL football player Jeremy Bloom serves as narrator as the world's best winter sports athletes embark on a global mission to discover the deepest snow, the steepest mountains, and the world's gnarliest snowball fight." No, we didn't make that up. (You can tell because the only people who still use the word "gnarly" [or variations thereof] are trustafarian snowbunnies.)