The Band's Visit
A film about a visit to Israel by Egyptian policemen in which nothing really happens. But this examination of Arab/Israeli tensions and the frustrated romance that perhaps lies beneath them is remarkable indeed. The policemen are in an orchestra, and their brooding chief (Sasson Gabai) is fighting cutbacks to continue performing. Thanks to the chief's inept, Chet Baker-loving son (Saleh Bakri), the band ends up stranded overnight in an Israeli town, at the mercy of a sexy, alluring, and Jewish restaurant owner (Ronit Elkabetz). There are no Egyptian actors in the film—those playing the Egyptian policemen had to learn a new language to act the parts. But to an international audience, their acting is convincing, and one is left thinking how nice it would be if the two sides of the Middle East conflict would just get a room and be done with it. MATT DAVIS Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
Be Kind Rewind
The man who gave the world the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directs Be Kind Rewind. The story is about a video store in Passaic, New Jersey. The store only rents VHS tapes. Mos Def works in the store; Jack Black hangs around the store. Believably, the old building is about to get knocked down for a new condo. Believably, Jack is electrocuted while trying to sabotage a power plant. Unbelievably, Jack becomes magnetized. Unbelievably, his magnetized body erases all the VHS tapes in the video store. To stay in business, Mos Def decides to make homemade versions of the films that were erased by Jack Black's magnetized body. No, a human cannot be magnetized. Yes, Jack's electrocution would have killed a normal human being. No, we can never imagine Mos Def and Jack Black as best friends. None of this makes sense, none of it is bad, and none of it is as impressive as Eternal Sunshine. CHARLES MUDEDE Laurelhurst Theater.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Can't Stop the Serenity
See feature. Hollywood Theatre.
Mike Nichols' 1971 film (featuring a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer) depicts two friends (Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel) struggling with women, love, masculinity, and the shifting sexual landscape in the bruised aftermath of the '60s. Garfunkel is surprisingly credible, as is Candice Bergen playing a virginal coed, but Nicholson is at his absolute actorly peak, years before he ever turned into Jack. Ann-Margret is riveting as a model who gives up her career to become Nicholson's doormat, only to spiral into depression and sloth. This is her finest hour, and barring the subversively perfect The Graduate, this is Nichols' best work, too. NED LANNAMANN The Press Club.
The Children of Huang Shi
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Ale (Alejandro Polanco) is a charming, foul-mouthed urchin who works long days at a NYC chop shop and hustles stolen goods to earn money to take care of his older sister. He's relentlessly optimistic, mining for hope in a world that offers little—but this is not inspirational material. Chop Shop's filmmakers sagely bear in mind that no matter how charming you are, dire poverty is pretty damn hard to get out of, and in this surprisingly moving little film, Ale is no exception. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The dubious return to the magical land of Narnia, where lions are even more Jesus-y and those four Pevensie kids get on your last good nerve. With nearly an hour of tacked-on battles, sword fights, and overlong journeys, Prince Caspian is bloated and lacking in all sorts of magic that it purports to have. In shooting for Lord of the Rings-scale epic scope, Narnia just comes off as the Shire's unsophisticated backwoods cousin—desperate to please, and without a clue how to do so. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
The Fish Fall in Love
An Iranian film from 2005 that "uses the language of food to paint a richly textured portrait of life and love." This one time I used the language of food to finger-paint a ketchup smiley face on a Burger King window. It was pretty radical! Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Foot Fist Way
The Foot Fist Way is consistently funny, and occasionally hilarious, and within three months, you're going to want to kill anyone who brings it up. That's just the way it goes with things like these—be they Napoleon Dynamite or Borat or anything with Dave Chappelle. They come out, they're funny, and then they're ruined—shattered into a thousand YouTube clips, poorly imitated at a billion water coolers—and films that were once hilarious become useful only as a metric for determining who you'll never talk to again because they won't stop with shit like, "Shall we shag now or shall we shag later, baby! Wahwahweewa! Rick James, bitch!" Ad fucking infinitum. I'm pretty sure that's where The Foot Fist Way is headed, too, which is too bad, because for what it is—a dark, weird, and clever lo-fi comedy—the film's pretty great. ERIK HENRIKSEN Clinton Street Theater.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Even if the Judd Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall leans too heavily on what's rapidly becoming an Apatow formula (loveable-but-goofy everyman hooks up, then grows up), there's still enough charm in the process for it to work. Between its killer one-liners ("When life gives you lemons, just say, 'Fuck the lemons!' and bail!"), clever comedy, and likeable characters, Sarah Marshall's a worthy addition to the Apatow canon. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A Four Letter Word
Luke (Jesse Archer) is a promiscuous, glitter-wearing "gay cliché" who considers giving up his man-whoring ways when he meets butch, well-endowed Stephen (Charlie David). Fucking, crossdressing, and shittalking ensue. Paradoxically both awful and thoroughly entertaining, A Four Letter Word features terrible acting, relentless one-liners, a bizarre fascination with addiction recovery meetings (is that a gay thing?), and an ending that is simultaneously incredibly predictable and unexpectedly touching. It's ridiculous. It's trashy. I totally recommend it. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
Mercer White (Lou Taylor Pucci) is one lucky guy. Sure, his long-absent older brother is a scumbag and crook, and his sort-of girlfriend is making porn videos with her cousin. Oh, and his mom just died after a long and awful illness. But when Mercer steals a Volvo station wagon at a Eugene, Oregon carwash, the car's owner calls the cell phone left inside—and she turns out to be Zooey Deschanel! Jackpot! What's more, Deschanel's character is probably the nicest person in the world. She's not angry with Mercer—she doesn't even call the cops. They make an agreement: As Mercer drives south to look for his brother, he'll recount his adventures for her over the phone. It's a small, somewhat precious twist on the familiar road trip movie, but The Go-Getter has a lot going for it. It's a coming-of-age story that sticks, and grows, with you. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
I've been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's since The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and Signs; even after most (justifiably) jumped ship with The Village and Lady in the Water, I stuck by him. Shit, I defended his movies at parties. Well, yeah, so that's over now, but at the time, it wasn't entirely wrong-headed: Shyamalan's earlier films had moments of ominous, quiet beauty, and he composed shots that were striking and eerie and unexpected. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and Signs are full of weird, astounding, and beautiful moments, and there is not a single one of those in The Happening, a film that somehow feels lazy and rushed at the same time. The worst thing about The Happening isn't that it's not frightening, nor that it's filled with stupid people, nor that one can't even tell when it's supposed to be scary or funny. Shyamalan's made a really shitty movie, yes, but even worse, he's squandered a chance to remind people that he was once capable of making stuff that was great. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
The laudable raison d'être of this Harold & Kumar, as was the case with 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, is to offer up plenty of jokes about getting high, getting laid, and farting—but while White Castle hung those jokes on the ramshackle framework of college hijinks (a trip to a burger joint goes awry), Guantanamo Bay hangs them on what might as well be a synopsis of an episode of MacNeil/Lehrer. Guantanamo Bay is certainly funny, and the fact it's also pretty clever shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who saw the first film. But what is kind of surprising—and more than welcome—is that Guantanamo Bay seems to be doing two things: On one hand, it's a dumb slapstick comedy, gleefully satisfied with exploiting the lowest common denominator, but on the other—and I realize how ridiculous this sounds—the film's fully willing to mine Americans' current political and social disenfranchisement for laughs, happily riffing on the hypocrisy of elected officials, America's stellar record of human rights, the racist incompetence of Homeland Security, and, perhaps most damningly, the befuddled complacency of the American people. When this sort of angry, ridiculous stuff has seeped into even our stoner comedies (the laughs at the screening I attended were equally enthusiastic for jokes about both airplane security and blumpkins), there's something kind of amazing going on. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Martin McDonagh's uneven but entertaining dark comedy follows two hit men (perfectly played by the often terrible Colin Farrell and the always excellent Brendan Gleeson) stranded in a tiny Belgian tourist town. Dealing with midgets, Euro trash, and a fair amount of blood, both men crack wise, get fucked up, and make increasingly poor decisions. Awkwardly teetering between melodrama and slapstick, In Bruges never finds its footing, and it all goes shamefully and irrevocably to shit in its final act (despite Ralph Fiennes' fantastic attempt at a last-minute save, playing Farrell and Gleeson's disgruntled boss). But up until then: great characters, and certainly a fun enough way to kill a few hours. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst Theater.
The Incredible Hulk
More of a continuation than a remake of Ang Lee's critically mixed Hulk (2003), The Incredible Hulk seems intent on repairing the damage inflicted by its predecessor. "The first 40 minutes of Ang Lee's Hulk were painfully slow!" fans and critics complained, so Marvel has responded by summing up Hulk's origin in less than five minutes and then leaping right into an amazing, Bourne Identity-style chase scene through the slums of Brazil. "The acting in Ang Lee's Hulk was atrocious!" So now we get the excellent Edward Norton as Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner, as well as William Hurt as General "Thunderbolt" Ross. (Too bad about Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, though.) "Ang Lee's Hulk had too much psychological mumbo-jumbo!" Enter a straight-ahead, bread 'n' butter storyline: Unable to cure the gamma radiation poisoning that causes him to Hulk out, the undercover Banner reunites with former flame Betty Ross and battles the strong, creepy-looking monster the Abomination (Tim Roth). But just because criticisms are answered doesn't mean essential problems are solved. While the first two-thirds of The Incredible Hulk are a fun, no-nonsense romp, the action actually slows to a stop whenever Hulk hits the screen. The cartoonish-looking hero may look big and bad, but he fails to carry any real emotional resonance, which is key when you're dealing with the most misunderstood character in the Marvel Universe. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
To lapse into shameless nostalgia for a sec (which Crystal Skull does a few times, too): Crystal Skull is the first new Indiana Jones flick I've seen since I was nine, and as the opening credits rolled, I felt a type of excitement I hadn't felt since then. It stuck, and it stayed, and even when the end credits came up, I was still grinning. Above all, and despite its flaws (one scene, involving monkeys, will likely make you want to gouge your eyes out), Crystal Skull is mostly just pulpy, goofy, ludicrous fun, but it's also a reminder: Indiana Jones has been gone for entirely too long, and it's good to have him back. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
"He's got a two-day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody's got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan. He speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom. He'll blend in, disappear—you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the grail already." Pix Patisserie (North).
Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., awesome as usual) invents high-tech weapons and sells them to the US Army. But when he's unexpectedly captured by the Taliba—er, some generic, eeeeevil Middle Easterners who just so happen to hide out in caves in Afghanistan—Stark builds himself an armored suit and escapes. Soon, he has the familiar realization that with great power comes great responsibility, and within no time, he's zooming around in his flying tank suit, making wiseass comments and beating up evildoers. Light and fun and loud, Iron Man often feels just like the best, poppiest superhero comics. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Kept and Dreamless
An Argentinian film following a nine-year-old girl and her "assortment of offbeat family members." Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's Global Lens series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
This Lebanese film from 2003 won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Director Randa Chahal Sabbag was reportedly "totally stoked," and hoped the award would finally lay to rest ugly rumors that The Kite was just "The Kite Runner, but with less running." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Kung Fu Panda
The latest animated film from DreamWorks, Kung Fu Panda features Jack Black as a paunchy panda who unwittingly becomes the kung fu savior of the world. So it's kind of like Beverly Hills Ninja, but, um, animated. It's incredibly detailed, too: The animators are so OCD that they even go to the trouble of animating the nipples on the rhinoceros prison guards. Seriously, keep an eye out for that. This movie should be rated PG-13 for that alone. DREW GEMMER Various Theaters.
The Love Guru
See review. Various Theaters.
See review. Cinema 21.
What? It's a giant goddamn moth. Damn straight that deserves a star. Laurelhurst Theater.
The little fat girl from Little Miss Sunshine went on a diet, and now they're trying to cram her once more into to the hearts of Americans. I saw Nim's Island so you don't have to. Close your heart and keep it closed. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
After saving the Allies' bacon in WWII, a strapping French superspy goes undercover in Cairo on a mission complicated by slumming Nazis, henchmen in fezzes, and ridiculously leggy dames. Oh, and an assassin who wields chickens. Bond spoofs may be old hat, but director Michel Hazanavicius generates such a rolling comedic momentum—and a few genuinely ace retro action sequences—that the thing feels like the first of its kind. The rare spoof that actually improves as it goes, due in large part to the increasingly hilarious deadpan machismo of star Jean Dujardin. Even his goddamned teeth are funny. ANDREW WRIGHT Clinton Street Theater.
Portland Film Race
See My, What a Busy Week!. Hollywood Theatre.
Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind
An experimental film by John Gianvito, inspired by Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and described as "a visual meditation on progressive history in the United States." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See My, What a Busy Week!. Broadway Metroplex.
Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) are best friends who want to be writers, submitting their manuscripts to publishing houses with the blithe confidence that their talents will be recognized. And they are: First Phillip, and then Erik is published, and the young men are challenged to balance their literary ambitions against both their personal demons and the pressures of the publishing world. Lest we escape a film about Creative Young Men without a reminder of how troubled they all are: Phillip was recently released from a mental hospital, after a dangerously obsessive relationship with a beautiful girl triggered a psychotic episode, while Erik navigates his career as an author with an easy charm that masks a fundamental selfishness. For all its highbrow ambitions, Reprise works best on a superficial level: It's fun to watch beautiful Swedish hipster boys argue about literature, make out with girls, and occasionally take their shirts off. Reprise is pretentious but harmless, self-absorbed but beguiling, and not a bad way to pass a few hours—much like hipster boys themselves, come to think of it. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Roman de Gare
A literary thriller in which truth is subjected to constant manipulation, Roman de Gare centers around a man (the famously fish-lipped Dominique Pinon) who is either the ghostwriter to a famous author of pulp novels (Fanny Ardant), an escaped child rapist and murderer, or a runaway husband who has inexplicably departed his humdrum life. Joining him is Huguette (Audrey Dana), herself a character with creative attitudes toward reality. The film's pace is mild, and more wickedly playful than nerve-wracking, so that the audience is curious and charmed by what's happening with these eccentric French liars, with their wine cellars and rural farms and yachts docked in the south, but not nervous or scared by them. I'm tempted to say that Roman is "more style than substance," but that sounds like an insult to style. So instead I'll say that it's substantially stylish. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Sex and the City
The Sex and the City movie is a whole lot of Sex and the City, an epic smorgasbord that covers every type of girl problem, a couple of friendship problems, borderline pornographic sex scenes, corny one-liners, and gratuitously sappy romantic moments. In short, and as advertised, it delivers the big-budget, steroid-enhanced, ultimate Sex and the City mind clobber. But the opulence of it all—from the fairytale New York apartments and LA condos to the $65,000 diamond rings—make it somewhat difficult to keep up with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) as they pull faces through the entire spectrum of Girl Problems, most of which are still Boy Problems. Remember when Carrie had to use her credit card to buy tomatoes because she'd spent every penny on Jimmy Choos? Let's just say that Choos are the new tomatoes, and the distance between us, along with my ability to relate to her, has grown. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Smart People's cast is solid and understated, with strong turns from Dennis Quaid, Thomas Hayden Church, and Ellen Page; in painting a portrait of an unhappy, literate, and too-clever family in suburban Pittsburgh, writer/director Noam Murro hits several choice moments of sweet and melancholy humor. The problems kick in during the third act, though: As Murro guides his subjects, one by one, toward happiness, he loses sight of their acerbic and believable characterizations, softening up their wry, weary dialogue and patching over their witty discontent with too-easy solutions. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time The New Yorker has served as a deus ex machina.) ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
A Snowmobile for George
Writer/producer Todd Darling tears more than a few pages out of Michael Moore's book in making this homey, homemade agit-doc about the Bush administration's deregulation policies. Using his pollution-spewing two-stroke snowmobile as a starting point, Darling's soon hopping across the country and investigating everything from the Klamath Basin irrigation controversy of 2001 and 2002 to the fallout, both figurative and literal, that enveloped Manhattan in the days after 9/11. Darling's journey feels earnest enough, even if nothing new is learned ("polarized voters are easier to manipulate" is one of his big revelations). ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
When Speed Racer ends and you walk out of the theater, you realize something: The real world looks like shit. Bland and blurry and gray and drab and dirty, actual existence is the exact opposite of the world that the Wachowski Brothers have created in their latest film—a place that's so hyperkinetic, hyperactive, and hypercolored that once you see it, it's impossible not to get caught up in it, and captivated by it, and turned into a drooling, blank-eyed idiot. Speed Racer might not be much more than a visually mind-blowing sugar rush, but goddamn, I kind of love it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The fantastically goofy The Strangers follows what happens when a blandly attractive couple, Kristen and James (played, with equal blandness and attractiveness, by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman), decide to spend a night at a rural summer home. Kristen and James' night is interrupted when three kids wearing (of course) creepy masks start messing with our panicked, impotent protagonists—banging on doors, rapping on windows, cutting phone lines, sneaking into the house, etc. Occasionally, it's ominous, but it's never scary—actually, it's more cute than anything else, since one suspects that these country kids just don't have anything better to do than screw around with pretty city folk. As The Strangers' supposedly scary antagonists lurk in the shadows, staying just out focus and wheezing through their cheesy masks (I think the really wheezy one might have asthma, actually, which makes him even more adorable), things get increasingly repetitive, even though the film clocks in at a mere 80 minutes. Eventually the night wears on, some knives come out, and things get predictably bloody—but even then, it's impossible to be all that scared. I mean, they are so staying out past curfew! I bet a couple of masked somebodies are going to be spending some serious time in time-out once they get home! ERIK HENRIKSEN Century Eastport 16.
Lucía Puenzo's excellent film does something really impressive: It makes a very specific and unusual circumstance into a coming-of-age story that's both accessible and universally relevant. XXY is about a hermaphrodite, sure, but it's also about a person struggling to figure out where she fits into the world—and if, or why, she must change herself to find her place. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
You Don't Mess With the Zohan
Adam Sandler's newest film is a think piece that will make all these years of Middle Eastern strife melt away with two very easy and humane answers to all the rock throwing, bombings, and death: hummus and dick jokes. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.