Crafting a follow-up to Being John Malkovich, 1999's head-tripping deconstruction of identity, desire, and fame, would be a difficult job for anyone. For Charlie Kaufman—writer of Malkovich, co-writer and lead character of Adaptation—it's a virtual impossibility. Thankfully, Kaufman and Spike Jonze have created a rich entertainment out of this impossibility, stuffing it with enough meta-plot twists to fuel half a dozen lesser movies. DAVID SCHMADER Pix Patisserie (North)
Babel tells not one but four stories, across three continents, with each hinged precipitously on each other, and each collapsing under the weight of language. There's the story of Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), an American couple vacationing in Morocco, trying to reassemble their shattered marriage; there's the San Diego nanny (Adriana Barraza) who decides to bring her blonde-haired charges to a south-of-the-border wedding with her nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal); in Japan, a deaf-mute teenager wrestles with her sexuality and the wreckage of her mother's suicide; and in a tiny Moroccan village, two young brothers are given a rifle to protect their flock of sheep, in what quickly escalates into a tense, international conflict. These stories swirl into one another in ways both expected and surprising, each one picking up intensity until they collide in emotionally violent climax. But while each strand of Babel's complex structure is uncommonly tense and gorgeous, director Alejandro González Iñárritu ultimately fits each one into a too-tidy conclusion. CHAS BOWIE Regal Cinemas, etc.
In the life, legacy, and death of Robert F. Kennedy, actor/director/son-of-Martin-Sheen Emilio Estevez has the ultimate American story right at his fingertips. Unfortunately, that's not the film Estevez made. Instead, we're presented with Bobby, a sprawling ensemble piece, obviously attempting to emulate multi-story films like Robert Altman's Short Cuts. Estevez, though, is no Altman, and none of the individual stories carry much weight. SCOTT MOORE Regal Cinemas, etc.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Probably one of the funniest movies you're going to see—this month, this year, maybe ever. The premise (for the two of you who've somehow avoided the omnipresent Borat appearances on MTV, SNL, Good Morning America, HBO, CNN, MySpace, and YouTube), is that Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), an intrepid and ignorant reporter from Kazakhstan, ventures to America. Ostensibly assembling an educational film to send back home, Borat drives across the country, along the way encountering creepy Christian fundamentalists, haughty Southern bluebloods, red-state cowboys, friendly prostitutes, and terrifying Jews. It's hilarious, but it's also a pretty damning critique of everything that's wrong with contemporary America. With, you know, jokes about how Borat shits in a plastic bag instead of a toilet. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
Cannes International Advertising Film Festival
A collection of winners from "the world's most prestigious competition for television commercial and public service announcements." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
There are very few certain things in this world. One of them is this: James Bond is awesome. Part caricature of male power fantasies and part... well, okay, that sums up James Bond pretty completely. But while clichéd, outdated chauvinism and manlier-than-thou bullshit doesn't quite work anymore for anyone else (witness Arnold Schwarzenegger's gradual neutering, or the flailing, desperate attempts by The Rock to revive the über-male hero template), it has always worked, and will likely continue to work, for James Bond. Casino Royale might be the whopping 21st Bond flick, but it's also, unexpectedly, one of the best. Rebooting Bond (Daniel Craig), the film updates and tweaks, but it nails the one thing that's important: what a badass James Bond is. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
Deck the Halls
This offensive piece of smoldering crap is good for nothing except a litmus test for potential friends. Does your would-be buddy think gay panic is fucking hilarious? Find out when a naked Danny DeVito snuggles into a sleeping bag with a frozen Matthew Broderick! Does this person think it's really chuckle-worthy when two fathers inadvertently catcall their teenage daughters? How about when a bully sheriff bends over to reveal his ladies' thong underwear? How about when Kristin Chenowith debases herself in the role of yet another shrill, aging, busty ditz? Unless you're a bad person, Deck the Halls will make you want to strangle yourself with a string of Christmas lights and gouge out your own eyes with the hook end of a candy cane. ANNIE WAGNER Regal Cinemas, etc.
Hey, tough guy! Think nothing could possibly make Denzel Washington more awesome? Well, how about the ability to TRAVEL through TIME? And how about the ability to travel through time while engaging in witty patter with hilarious Hebrew Adam Goldberg? And how about if he also has a HEART OF GOLD? Did I just kick your mind in the junk, or what? Déjà Vu, like any good time-travel movie—and perhaps more than any other time-travel movie—likes its science vague and preposterous. Why waste time with the details? "Worm hole!" somebody says. "Fold space!" explains another. "Send me back!" orders Denzel. Fuck yeah! Who invited science to the movies, anyway? LINDY WEST Regal Cinemas, etc.
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 Regal Cinemas, etc.
A claymation spoof of disaster films. Featuring a "flatulent French astronaut" and "an angry space monkey." Hollywood Theatre.
A documentary that follows "an Israeli settler, a convicted Palestinian fighter, a bereaved Israeli mother, and a wounded Palestinian ex-prisoner who sacrifice their safety, public standing, communities, and homes in order to press for a grassroots movement for nonviolence and peace." Narrated by Sinbad. Hollywood Theatre.
Fast Food Nation
Fez from That '70s Show reminds you that Happy Meals are bad for you. CHAS BOWIE Fox Tower 10.
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. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Regal Cinemas, etc.
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 Regal Cinemas, etc.
For Your Consideration
Christopher Guest making a mockumentary about Hollywood is kind of like if I were to make a comedy about the restaurant I used to work at: Waitresses across America would love it, and everyone else would be hard pressed to give a shit. ALISON HALLETT Regal Cinemas, etc.
Like Aronofsky's exceptional films Pi and Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain is astounding, strange, jarringly imaginative, and people will either love it or hate it. There's a loose story that ranges from 16th century Spain to an abstract, sci-fi future, one that follows variations on two characters (played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz) through a thousand years. But here, themes and emotions are more important than plot: Obsession, love, and death are all paired with Aronofsky's abstract creepiness and his stunning, bizarre, and lush visuals. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Fur bills itself not as a factual biopic of legendary photographer Diane Arbus, but as a "tribute" to her piercing vision. And it's funny, because I could think of a million ways to salute Arbus, and none of them include Nicole Kidman jacking off a Wookiee with shaving cream. CHAS BOWIE Cinema 21.
Happy Feet is about a fucking adorable penguin named Mumble. Mumble's a little different from all the other penguins. See, all the other penguins can sing—but poor little dropped Mumble screeches like nails on a chalkboard as soon as he opens his mouth. But what Mumble can do, is dance. And boy can that motherfucker's feet fly! He's like Fred Astaire on ice! With uh... feathers! And a beak! The penguin elders don't like it when things are different, though, so they shun Mumble and his happy feet. Parents just don't understand. They also blame him and his constant dancing for the lack of fish. "You're scaring away our food, Mumble!" they cry at him. But it's not Mumble's fault, it's the selfish humans that are doing it! So now Mumble has to go and prove to everyone that blah blah blah. Who cares what happens—have you seen the penguins in this movie!? EEEEEeeeeeeee! They're so cute! MEGAN SELING Regal Cinemas, etc.
A sneak preview of the romantic comedy juggernaut starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Jude Law. Watch for our review next week. Century Eastport 16.
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 Regal Cinemas, etc.
The latest in PSU's preposterously named "The George Sand-Rosa Luxemborg Progressive Winter Film Fest." Feh. Hippies. Laughing Horse Books.
In Debt We Trust
According to the press release, this is a film about "how the mall replaced the factory as America's dominant economic engine" and how, thanks to consumer debt, Americans owe "billions to Communist China." (Whoa. Really? Some people still call China "Communist China"?) Narrated by Scrooge McDuck. Clinton Street Theater.
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 St. Johns Theater & Pub.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Thorough, harrowing, and very well done, Jonestown doesn't cut corners in its retelling of the history of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the infamous cult that tragically ended with nearly 1,000 members of its community dead after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. For the many of us who were too young to remember (or have even been alive during) the events, we often associate the reference with the punch line "don't drink the Kool-Aid" and picture brainwashed drones sucking down poison with their eyes toward heaven. But what Jonestown reveals is a scenario much more disturbing, effectively and vividly demonstrating how so many reasonable people could be drawn into what they thought was a utopia—and how things slowly went very wrong. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Le Petit Lieutenant
A hard-nosed French crime drama that follows a young police officer and his recovering alcoholic boss as they sleuth out Russian gangsters in Paris. While the crime-fighting gives the film its narrative arc, a number of well-drawn subplots weave what could be another boring crime flick into a surprisingly sensitive, heart-wrenching film, and one of the best French movies I've seen in some time. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Let's Go to Prison
I really can't tell if I'm laughing with this preview, or at this preview, in which Will Arnett (Gob from Arrested Development goes to the slammer. (It would probably help if they screened the movie for critics, but no go.) On one hand, it looks like every painfully unfunny "comedy" of the past five years, but on the other hand, it was directed by Bob Odenkirk and written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (Dangle and Travis from Reno 911!). So why doesn't it look funnier? CHAS BOWIE Regal Cinemas, etc.
Little Children, based on Tom Perrotta's excellent 2004 novel, is one of those rare movies that probably won't piss off fans of the book: It's well cast and largely faithful to the novel's narrative, and Todd Field's direction captures the suburban landscape with as much perceptiveness and irony as Perrotta's prose—making the film an astute, well-made exploration of suburban dreams and delusions. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Little Miss Sunshine
No, Little Miss Sunshine—a dark comedy about a family road tripping from New Mexico to California in a busted-up Volkswagen van, and a film that got a lot of people talking at Sundance—isn't quite deserving of all its ecstatic buzz. But yes, still: Once you get past all that impossible hype, Sunshine is still pretty great, with clever humor, a tone of whimsical melancholy, and great performances, especially from Steve Carell and Alan Arkin. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
Sofia Coppola's rose-tinted Marie Antoinette is a story of teenage euphoria, a study of naiveté, and a tragedy of manners and history. And whether or not it's accurate, it has beauty, verve, and spirit. Too bad the second act is boring as hell, and too bad that talentless hag Kirsten Dunst is in it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Broadway Metroplex. Hollywood Theatre.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of the Taj
That Indian kid from Harold & Kumar FINALLY gets his own movie! Not screened in time for press; hit portlandmercury.com on Friday for our review. Century Eastport 16, Sandy Cinema.
The Nativity Story
See review this issue. Regal Cinemas, etc.
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 Regal Cinemas, etc.
Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, who, along with Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) aims to become the top illusionist in Victorian London. Christopher Nolan's film gets clunky at times, and it's overlong, 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 Regal Cinemas, etc.
In this exploration of the queen's apparently heartless reaction during the week following Princess Diana's death in 1997, Mirren plays Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth II, with just enough respect without fawning the role to pieces. And she's surprisingly sexy. God save the queen! MATT DAVIS Regal Cinemas, etc.
Quixote, Quick Billy
Have a hankerin' for the work of experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie? Look no further. Filmmaker in attendance. More info: nwfc.org. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Jesus goddamn Christ, it's another Tim Allen shitfest. And as if Tim Allen wasn't not bad enough, here he co-stars with that goddamn Martin Short. Here's how eagerly we're anticipating SC3: I would rather eat my own legs than watch those fucking coke-snuffles pie-wits in The Santa Clause 3. Adam Gnade I would rather throw my puppy into a wood chipper than watch those washed-up old fucks in The Santa Clause 3. Amy Jenniges I would rather punch myself in the vagina than see those dipshits suck each other off in The Santa Clause 3. Christine S. Blystone I would rather have sex with Salma Hayek than watch the new Tim Allen movie. CHAS BOWIE Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Science of Sleep
Unlike most of fall's big films, Michel Gondry's Science isn't one of Hollywood's prefabricated darlings. It's an excellent film, but on its own terms—it's clever, fresh, funny, rambling, and heartfelt. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst, Mission Theatre & Pub, Valley Theater.
Seventh Heaven (1927)
Hey, you look like a fan of obscure 1930s actress Janet Gaynor! (Who isn't?!) Well, get your Gaynor-lovin' ass down to the Whitsell, where they're showing this film—it has Janet Gaynor in it!!! Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The obvious advantage to John Cameron Mitchell's 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 has filmed graphic, well-lit, actual sex scenes, but avoided creating pornography. 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 Laurelhurst.
Shut Up & Sing
When Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines took the stage in London and told an audibly sympathetic audience that she was ashamed that Dubya was from the band's home state of Texas, even the most pessimistic liberal couldn't have anticipated the fallout. While directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck weren't there from the beginning of the controversy, they thoroughly document the aftermath, weaving their footage with existing film taken by the band's own camera crew. The most gripping elements of the film are not the obvious dramatic moments—such as Dallas police discussing death threats with the women prior to their return to Texas—but the confused way America's country sweethearts react to the wave of conservative criticism. Initially apologetic and bewildered, the Chicks' journey from meek-voiced penitents to defiant and articulate free-speech advocates is nothing short of inspiring. HANNAH LEVIN Fox Tower 10.
Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell. Not being funny. COURTNEY FERGUSON Regal Cinemas, etc.
Street Angel (1928)
See film short for 7th Heaven. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
See film short for 7th Heaven. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Considering that Anchorman is probaby 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 Fifth Avenue Cinemas, Mt. Hood Theatre.
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny
You can figure out who people are based on what music they like: If I say, "Oh, he likes AC/DC," you'd know exactly the type of dude I was talking about. Same deal with Garth Brooks, "Weird Al" Yankovic, They Might Be Giants, and Barry Manilow. And just like no one's going to argue with me if I posit "Only douchebags like Insane Clown Posse," it's also totally legit to say that by this point, we all know exactly the type of dude who loves Tenacious D, the mock-rock duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass. I'm one of them, for better or worse, and so was each drunk/high/dumb 14-year-old that I watched Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny with, and of course they loved it, and I loved it too. ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Golden Age of Portland Movie Theaters
Portland movie theater historians Steve Stone and Mike Matthews examine the past century of Portland's theaters. And since this is a Northwest Film Center event, expect a few words to be said in memory of the Guild, downtown's final single-screen theater—and one that is, as of now, as dead as a Robert Altman. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Tourists in Brazil get hacked up by angry locals! Not screened in time for press; see portlandmercury.com on Friday for our review. Regal Cinemas, etc.
Uncovering the Things We Have Concealed
A selection of works from Lebanese video artist Akram Zaatari. Artist in attendance. Cinema Project @ New American Art Union.
What Is It? An Evening with Crispin Glover
See Film on pg. 50. Clinton Street Theater.
Your Mommy Kills Animals
Food Fight! and the Herbivore Store present this film that "documents the current animal rights movement and the government's oppression of it." Director in attendance. Free chicken fingers after the screening! Clinton Street Theater.