The titular auteur is Arturo Domingo (Melik Malkasian), a porn director of the highest order who makes films with the same attention to craft as the most highly regarded filmmakers outside of the porn world. But Domingo's career is on the wane: He hasn't made a decent porno in years, ever since he dissolved his partnership with Frank (John Breen), the star of all his greatest films. The Auteur opens as Domingo comes to Portland for a retrospective of his work being held at the Clinton Street Theater, his heart heavy with the possibility of reconnecting with the love of his life, Fiona (Katherine Flynn); what follows is a sweet movie with a lewd sense of humor and a lighthearted attitude toward the sex industry. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
Beauty in Trouble
Marcela (Anna Geislerová) lives with her family in an apartment attached to the autoshop where her husband Jarda (Roman Luknár) works, supporting Marcela and their two children by dismantling and selling stolen cars. The couple fights and fucks with equal intensity; after a particularly bad argument, Marcela leaves her husband and takes the kids to live with her mother and stepfather. The five live in cramped misery until the arrival of Prince Charming: A wealthy, doting older man swoops in and offers Marcela and her children a place to live, a trip to Italy, and all the comfort and security that her husband failed to provide. The only thing standing between Marcela and a new life is the powerful physical connection she shares with her ex-husband. A fairy tale ending is proffered in the Czech film Beauty in Trouble, but human nature gets in the way: The film is clear-eyed in its insistence that people are too complex for happily ever after. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
The Big Sleep
Humphrey Bogart spars with Lauren Bacall in Howard Hawks' 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's book. There's murder, blackmail, intrigue, and innuendo, and despite the convoluted plot (not even Chandler could figure out who killed the chauffeur), Bogie, as Philip Marlowe, does a great job of keeping pace with the audience, tugging on his earlobe in nervous confusion. This is prototypical noir, and a fantastic detective movie; what's more, Marlowe's success with the ladies is obvious inspiration for another famous film dick—you might know him as Bond. Screening as part of Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" film noir series. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
By day, sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) slaps on a goofy wig and works at a town that recreates what life was like for 18th century colonists; by night, he goes to restaurants, intentionally chokes on food, and takes financial advantage of whatever good Samaritan/sucker Heimlichs him. While Choke is fun, and while it thankfully retains Chuck Palahniuk's cynical, self-deprecating, hyper-testosteroned tone (this is, after all, the sort of film where heart-to-heart conversations are had over illicit handjobs), it also comes across as a bit self-satisfied, a bit too straightforward, and a bit overly neat. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
A Christmas Story
It's the holiday classic that just won't go away. The Press Club.
A Christmas Tale
It's fitting that France, the country that gave the world existentialism and Gauloises, should turn out a holiday family drama almost completely bereft of good cheer. Set in the days immediately preceding Christmas, A Christmas Tale takes a close look at a family that isn't so much dysfunctional, as it functions by a set of rules entirely it's own. The film can be confusing, and few of its various plotlines resolve in any traditional sense, but as a clear-eyed picture of a contemporary family, it's an engaging, surprisingly funny success. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Charlie Chaplin hijinx, circa 1931. Preceded by the locally made short film 'Tis the Season. Cinema 21.
Part of Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" film noir series. Visit nwfilm.org for more info. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
See review. Various Theaters.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951's original The Day the Earth Stood Still was a cynical, hardnosed tale: A friendly space hippie, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his robot buddy, Gort, warned humanity that if we didn't stop killing each other, the civilized races of the galaxy were gonna eliminate us out of self-defense. In 2008, Klaatu (an appropriately blank Keanu Reeves) and Gort... well, don't do much of anything, really. Here, humanity's destruction is already more or less a sure thing, but for different reasons: In 1951, America's fears were atomic bombs and pinko commie bastards; now, the environment is in shitty enough shape that Klaatu's become a sort of extraterrestrial Captain Planet, angry enough at our treatment of Earth that he's willing to scrub us off of it. It's not a bad idea for an update, and the first hour or so is solid—weird, silly, smart, and only occasionally nonsensical—but then the CG goes kinda overboard, and things get kinda boring. ERIK HENRIKSEN .
If Christmas is about tradition, then director Seth Gordon's (The King of Kong) first non-documentary feature is certainly seasonally appropriate. The romantic comedy genre is an unexpected new direction for Gordon, and with the reasonably likeable Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in tow, how poorly could things really go? Well, the Writers Guild could go on strike, for starters, as it did during the making of this film—a circumstance that at least partially explains why the script, while performed aptly enough by a talented cast, is so damn lazy. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Poppy is the kind of irrepressibly chipper person who attempts to start conversations with random strangers; when they act standoffish, she says things like, "I won't bite!" When her bicycle is stolen, she merely laments she didn't have a chance to say good-bye to it. In short, she's the kind of person who is so goddamn cheerful you'd like to smack her in the face. But something happens over the course of Happy-Go-Lucky: Poppy wins you over. Poppy's happiness is something of a mystery; both her sisters are miserable, and her flatmate is snide and sarcastic. But Sally Hawkins' remarkable performance doesn't hit one false note. British director Mike Leigh improvises extensively with his actors before writing a script, and the film, as with all his work, feels spontaneous and true. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
When Ben Byer is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he grabs a friend and a camcorder to document the process of understanding, treating, and ultimately accepting his disease. There is something inarguably powerful about seeing a man confront his mortality head-on, but Byer's slow decline is excruciating to watch, and I can't in good conscience recommend to just anyone. If you think you're emotionally equipped for watching someone slowly die, though, it's a beautifully shot and wrenching film. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre,.
IT (Independent Tuesday)
Homemade film and video! Someday Lounge.
I've Loved You So Long
Kristin Scott Thomas gives the performance of the year as a woman just released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for killing her own son. Upon her release, the watchful, withdrawn (and murderous?) Juliette moves in with her sister, a virtual stranger, and the two develop a tentative friendship. The ending is a letdown, but that's a small complaint in an otherwise sensitive and moving film. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
JCVD is as wildly entertaining and daring as cinema comes, and that's something you don't necessarily associate with the train-wrecked career of the weathered action star. The premise: Jean-Claude Van Damme (played, appropriately enough, by Jean-Claude Van Damme) stumbles into a robbery and accidentally becomes the most famous hostage ever, kicking off a surreal journey into the wounded psyche of its namesake. JCVD joyfully dissects the global celebrity obsession and the awkward downfall of Van Damme's career (a running plot point involves him losing acting roles to Steven Seagal—who is now, apparently, willing to cut off his ponytail in order to steal his rival's parts), all the while flipping the tired genre of action films on its ear. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Living Room Theaters.
Let the Right One In
This much-ballyhooed Scandinavian film is neither scary, teen angsty, nor spooky enough—but it is lovely, filled with austere, blue-hued snow and groves of haunting birch trees in the midst of Stockholm. And while Let the Right One In is by no means a poor entry in the vampire genre, it left me nearly as cold as the frozen landscapes, meting out little satisfaction on either a horror level or a character level. To be fair, the film doesn't pretend to scare you—it truly wants to succeed in an elegant, understated way, though it doesn't completely reach its goal. COURTNEY FERGUSON Living Room Theaters.
Marley & Me
See review. Various Theaters.
For a generation of gay and straight people who equate pride parades with binge drinking, whose gay heroes include Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper (he's gay, right?), and whose gay rights movement has just started, Gus Van Sant's fleshing out the story of gay politician and activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in such a moving and humane way is as invaluable as the words Milk would bark through bullhorns. Sure, Van Sant can't resist putting in some treacly, melodramatic scenes that unfortunately stick out, but for the most part, Milk's story is simply real, which makes it that much more powerful and relevant. AMY J. RUIZ City Center 12, Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Mall 8, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
The Night of the Hunter
Although it's part of Northwest Film Center's film noir program, this 1955 movie doesn't really fit in the genre. In fact, it doesn't fit into any genre—it's a weird, weird movie that's part gothic horror, part religious drama, part plucky children's adventure story, and part musical (boy, do these characters sing a lot). Robert Mitchum commands the screen as a crazy preacher chasing after two kids who are holding a stack of stolen money, chasing them through surreal, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari sets with harsh, spare, angular lighting. This was actor Charles Laughton's only foray into directing; he figured that artifice would be creepier than realism, and the gamble pays off. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Quantum of Solace
The latest James Bond film makes about as much sense as its baffling title, but even as plotlines unravel and stack up like corpses, the movie is entirely awesome. Better than Casino Royale? Well, no. Quantum's story is incredibly confusing, the action scenes are shot so close that it's difficult to tell what's happening, and the beady-eyed supervillain (Mathieu Amalric) looks like a shorter Roman Polanski and is about as intimidating as a gerbil. Still, the level of sheer spectacle is tremendous. NED LANNAMANN Broadway Metroplex, Lloyd Mall 8, Movies on TV.
Rachel Getting Married
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed getting married, but it's her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway)—an ex-model, lifelong drug addict, and alcoholic who's been in and out of institutions since causing a family tragedy as a young teenager—who demands to be the center of attention. Jonathan Demme's latest is a difficult, sometimes tiresome film, but it's also emotionally ambitious, and it offers a modern portrait of family life that depends very little on convention. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
The latest joint venture between director Gabriele Muccino and actor Will Smith, who also collaborated on The Pursuit of Happyness. As expected, Seven Pounds is another grand morality play in which Smith—here as a man named Ben Thomas—perseveres through great challenges with fortitude and strength of character. The problem is that while some may have been annoyed by the melodrama of Happyness, it was pretty unassailable on the morality front. Pounds' moral preaching, on the other hand, is kinda twisted, yet it's delivered up on the same kind of redemptive platter—swelling music, tears, and all. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Singin' in the Rain
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in a movie your grandmother loves. Cinema 21.
A frantic, decade-spanning melodrama/romance/comedy, the latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) is nothing if not overwhelming. Sometimes Slumdog Millionaire feels crassly exploitative—like a guilt-inducing parade of everything terrible that impoverished children in peril have to endure—but often it's nothing short of fucking exhilarating, a pounding, pulsing, urgent rush that jumpstarts endorphins and adrenalin. There are scenes of torture and abuse and murder alongside giddy triumphs of comedy and heart (not to mention a Bollywood-inspired dance number), and as Slumdog careens along as both a harsh drama and a hammy crowd-pleaser, it's tempting to write it off as a bit of not-particularly-subtle manipulation. But ultimately, one realizes that Boyle deeply cares about these characters—and that sympathetic core is the reason why the film is consistently, utterly, beautifully gripping. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters
Sukiyaki Western Django
Supertrash: The Shining
"Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you're breaking my concentration. You're distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?" Saturday screening preceded by animation, trailers, and standup comedy. Bagdad Theater.
Tell No One
Eight years after losing his wife in the woods to a mysterious serial killer (no, not Jason Vorhees), a still-grieving pediatrician begins to receive emails hinting that the tragedy might not be as random as originally thought. Adapting a novel by US airport bookstore staple Harlen Coben, writer/director Guillaume Canet's confident, almost irritatingly taut thriller wastes no time in cranking the paranoia up to 11. The sheer amount of red herrings can be difficult to wade through at times, but Canet's sense of style makes even the more head-scratching moments enjoyable. A gratifyingly nasty whodunit with a healthy sense of its own absurdities. ANDREW WRIGHT Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
John Carpenter's crazy 1988 horror flick starring "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and a pair of magical sunglasses. Clinton Street Theater.
Three Stooges Mini-Marathon
Twilight introduces the floridly named high schooler Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart), who has just moved to a small town in Washington. The local boys are all over this hottie newcomer, but Bella finds herself drawn to the mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, he of the Heathcliff glower and untamed eyebrows). At first Bella thinks Edward hates her, but it turns out he's only feigning indifference because he's a vampire, and wants to drink her. Edward is so drawn to the smell of Bella's blood that he can hardly control himself, but he also loooves her, so he knows he should keep his distance. Throw in some evil vampires who want to kill Bella, and it's all very romantic and tragic. (Alternately, it's an insidious parable about the dangers of premarital sex—but that's only my, er, humorless feminist interpretation.) For all the silliness of the storyline, Twilight makes a far better movie than book: Largely freed from author Stephenie Meyer's ponderous prose, the movie is surprisingly campy and fun, with a cheerful sense of humor about its own ridiculousness. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Two Lives... Plus One
Exactly the type of grownup movie about grownups doing grownup things that Europe churns out with regularity but rarely see the light of day in the US, the French Two Lives... Plus One is about a schoolteacher who decides to pursue her dream of being a writer. As she finds small success (and a flirtation with her publisher), her relationships with her husband and daughter are tested. The relationships and interactions here are true-to-life and relatable, and lead Emmanuelle Devos is utterly credible as a woman who has decided to do what she wants to do, and make no apologies. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Wendy and Lucy
See review. Cinema 21.
Yes Man isn't good, per se, but it's also not nearly as terrible as you'd think. It also offers a couple of interesting questions for discussion: When, exactly, did Jim Carrey get that weird, haunted look about him—the one that's both vaguely desperate and smarmy? Is this movie promoting some sort of cult? And why does Zooey Deschanel have such a terrible agent? Oh, and another one: Remember that episode of Seinfeld where George does the exact opposite of what his instincts tell him? Good, because that's Yes Man's plot, but with Jim Carrey playing George. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.