Grindhouse Film Festival
Sat Nov 17-Sun Nov 18
Maybe 11, 12 years ago, it was literally coated in dust when I found it in one of Salt Lake City's Hollywood Videos. A good omen, perhaps. My first viewing of 1974's Black Belt Jones—an epic combination of blaxploitation and kung fu, starring Jim "Dragon" Kelly, who was out to "kick the mob where it hurts"—was something of a revelation. The unintentionally hilarious Black Belt was, and is, as perfect of a pulp movie as I've ever seen.
Black Belt should be a big draw at this year's Grindhouse Film Festival, which once again assembles a smorgasbord of underappreciated pulp. There's a double feature of Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) and Dario Argento's Demons (1985); a welcome visit from a pre-Rush Hour Jackie Chan (1978's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow); the 1978 chop-socky classic Crippled Avengers (AKA Return of the Five Deadly Venoms); 1972's rollergirl flick Unholy Rollers (produced by Roger Corman, edited by Martin Scorsese); and Fight for Your Life (1977), a "nonstop barrage of degrading acts and ruthless violence." So there's all that, and yeah, there's the fact that Portland's lucky to have a fun fest like Grindhouse, but hopefully you'll forgive my selfishness here: I'm mostly just stoked that I get to see Black Belt Jones on the big screen, and finally give my battered, well-worn tape a rest. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
dir. Sidney Lumet
Opens Fri Nov 16
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead has a lot going for it: a sinfully exciting story, an all-star cast, and veteran director Sidney Lumet (Network). A crime thriller, it centers on two brothers, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke). Andy, the older of the two, concocts a scheme in which the two knock over their own parents' suburban jewelry store; needless to say, things go wrong.
Spliced into nonlinear chapters that skip around perspectives, Lumet's technique is subtler than when wielded by, say, Quentin Tarantino. But while it works, there's an overall lack of suspense—an odd situation, considering the subject and genre, and not aided by the fact that all of Devil's characters are wholly unlikeable. Watching the bloody mess that follows one ridiculously bad decision after the other is entertaining stuff, but it lacks the seat-gripping investment you might have were there a hero among the parade of dumb assholes that populate this film. Devil has an underlying pulse on what hurts about middle-class American life, and its action is like a clusterfuck symphony of family gone the worst kind of wrong. It's a wild, grimy ride, but you'll be able to get off without looking back. MARJORIE SKINNER
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
dir. Zach Helm
Opens Fri Nov 16
Before we tear this work to pieces, let's have a look at what the media has recently said about its director, Zach Helm: Variety magazine called him one of 10 writers to watch and Esquire magazine called him one of the "Best & Brightest." Helm is the man of the moment. The Hollywood machine believes in him, and wants the public to believe in his genius. He wrote Stranger Than Fiction, and if that ain't a smart movie, what is?
This is how Hollywood thinks. It looks for a man who will do something new and yet not change the order of studio production. Helm is such a man, and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is his directorial debut. Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman are his stars. The stage is set. What can go wrong?
Everything is wrong with this film. In it, zero is new; dead tired are its plot, imagery, themes, and acting. The movie wants to look and feel fresh, but it instead presents us with a series of heavy corpses: the corpse of the music, the corpse of the set design, the corpse of the dialogue. The story is so bad I refuse to recount it. I will, however, say this: If Natalie Portman were not beautiful, there's no way I could have endured the screening of this film. CHARLES MUDEDE