A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING & A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE
Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film about Killing is a bone-chilling, beautifully shot (in nauseous greens) essay on murder and capital punishment, both shown in painstaking, harrowing detail. From the murderer's pre-gallows panic to his bowels emptying onto the floor as he's pronounced dead, it's a cold, rough ride. As flawlessly executed (haha) as Killing is, Kieslowski's A Short Film about Love is dreary, agonizingly slow paced, and rolls bland and bored through its tale of a love stricken peeping tom in deepest, darkest Poland. ADAM GNADE Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
When I say Apocalypto is one of the goriest films I've ever seen, I say that not to warn you away from it, but to point out that its content is an effective reflection of its central concept. A lot has been said in the press about this film's theme, but what I saw was different. Sure, I definitely understand director Mel Gibson's intended US/Mesoamerican allegory—but far more striking is the theme that progress and civilization is nothing but a vast and sweeping human-cancer on the planet. It eats as we eat, and the end result is nothing but bones and scorched earth. Set in the Mayan civilization's end times, this is the story of two very different tribes—one builds towers and sacrifices men atop them, while the other is content to live quietly in the jungle. And from the moment they meet, the bodies start stackin' up. ADAM GNADE Regal Cinemas, etc.
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 Fox Tower 10.
If Hitchcock's Vertigo collided head-on with a drag queen variety show, the brilliant wreckage would be Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education. Part of Cinema 21's "Viva Pedro!" Almodóvar film fest. RYAN DIRKS Cinema 21.
Blood Diamond—which feels as if it's roughly 18 hours and 26 minutes long—is crammed to the gills with the now-familiar horrors of non-America: Innocents get their brains blown out, brainwashed pre-teens blast both hiphop and AK-47s, blood spurts against white walls and brown earth, downtrodden refugees and vicious rebels shriek. Sure, Leonardo DiCaprio valiantly leads Djimon Hounsou through stylized explosions, and Jennifer Connelly tries to use her smoky eyes to look shocked at refugee camps' squalor, but nothing in Blood Diamond has any visceral impact whatsoever. All of these things are real, yes, and they're important, but according to director Edward Zwick, they're just hackneyed background noise. At best, the film's manipulative, sordid tourism is insulting; at worst, it's simply boring. ERIK HENRIKSEN 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 Academy, Broadway Metroplex, Laurelhurst, Mission Theatre & Pub.
See review this issue. 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 Broadway Metroplex, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Tigard-Joy Cinema.
Here you go, Dungeons & Dragons dweebs! Put down your 20-sided die and get ready for this adaptation of the god-awful children's fantasy novel, in which a young boy meets telepathic dragon and fights evil trolls. Check out our full review on portlandmercury.com on Friday, December 15. Regal Cinemas, etc.
THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE, SMALL TOWN GIRL, STATE FAIR
Have a thing for obscure 1930s actress Janet Gaynor? So does the Northwest Film Center, apparently. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Fast Food Nation
Fez from That '70s Show reminds you that Happy Meals are bad for you. CHAS BOWIE Academy, Laurelhurst, Mission Theatre & Pub.
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 Fox Tower 10.
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 1,000 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.
Hey, look! Another creepy Christian movie that wasn't screened for critics! Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Lloyd Mall 8.
The History Boys
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
The Holiday has good intentions of invoking the fun and quirkiness of '40s Hollywood romantic comedies—but it just goes to show that the Golden Age was long, long ago. With two disparate storylines butting heads in this film about love lost and love found, the film ends up being a half-assed, cavity-inducing mess. And while the good moments are pretty good but far between, the bad moments (almost all of which involve the fearsome, face-splitting smile of Cameron Diaz) are gag-worthy. COURTNEY FERGUSON Regal Cinemas, etc.
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.
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.
One of the best movies of all time, about a young, smoking hot guy's relentless obsession with a beautiful woman. Part of Cinema 21's "Viva Pedro!" Almodóvar film fest. KATIE SHIMER Cinema 21.
Matador & Law of Desire
Two of Pedro Almodóvar's less-lauded films from the '80s, Matador and Law of Desire are filled with religious and sexual confusion, jealousy, and violence. Both screen as part of Cinema 21's "Viva Pedro!" Almodóvar film fest. KATIE SHIMER Cinema 21.
Men at Work
In this funny, dialogue-heavy Iranian parable, a group of men attempt to knock a giant pillar of rock off the edge of a cliff while coming back from a ski trip. What starts as a piss stop turns into a humorous, boyish challenge of strength, before going darker as desperation sets in and the stone becomes an indomitable symbol. But what is it really about? I'm gonna go with it being a comment on masculinity and the strange power of phallic symbols. Regardless, Men at Work is worth the admission price alone just for the rugged, snowy mountain scenery. ADAM GNADE Hollywood Theatre.
The New York Times has already declared writer-director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha) the voice of his generation, and on a purely surface level he is. The conversations in his new film, Mutual Appreciation, are casually awkward, with stumbling sentences and stalling for time—ums and uhs and I means. It sounds true, like eavesdropping on boozy kitchen chatter at a house party. But dig past the natural performances and indie cred and Mutual Appreciation feels slightly smug. The story follows Boston musician Alan (Justin Rice) who, after losing his band and his girlfriend, moves to Brooklyn to regroup. Many evenings and bottles of wine later, he discovers a shared attraction with his friend's girlfriend. Bujalski shot the film in 16mm black and white, keeping the frame boxy and the edits rough. This no doubt helps fuel those Cassavetes comparisons. But Alan and his friends are so casual about their dilemma, and everything is kept so light and nonthreatening, that it starts to feel a little pointless. You want to root for Mutual Appreciation, but the characters let you down. Not because they're unlikable, but because they're so good-natured it's hard to think of them as anything beyond a pleasant distraction. Bujalski's made an entertaining, often outright funny second movie. I don't know if I'll remember a frame of it this time next year. BRADLEY STEINBACHER Fox Tower 10.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj
Kal Penn's Taj (partly for plot reasons, mostly to explain the lack of Ryan "Van Wilder" Reynolds) is now pursuing a degree at some snooty British school that looks like Hogwarts and is full of haughty Brits who say things like "Good day" and "Well, now really" and "quite a kerscuffle." Moments after Taj's arrival in this wonderland of stiff upper lips, the conceited Pipp (Daniel Percival) refuses Taj entry into his super-gay fraternity, Fox and Hounds. Taj soon realizes his true destiny: to team up with the biggest losers on campus, start a new frat called Cock and Bulls, and give Pipp and his fey cohorts what they deserve! U-S-A! U-S-A! IN-DI-A! IN-DI-A! ERIK HENRIKSEN Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Nativity Story
The most expensive yard-art tableau ever made. LINDY WEST Regal Cinemas, etc.
Our Daily Bread
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.
The Pursuit of Happyness
See review this issue. 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.
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, Laurelhurst, Mission Theatre & Pub.
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.
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell. Not being funny. COURTNEY FERGUSON Regal Cinemas, etc.
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.
A gratuitous, perfectly unremarkable family flick about some kids stuck in an airport on Christmas. ZAC PENNINGTON Regal Cinemas, etc.
Eleven-year-old David Wiseman is a young Jewish boy living in 1960s London, and darned if he doesn't love cricket more than just about anything. When a Jamaican family moves into his predominantly white neighborhood, racial tensions soon erupt, but adorable, wide-eyed David finds common ground with his new neighbors: Darned if the Jamaicans don't love cricket, too! Hollywood Theatre.