12 Years a Slave
Solomon (the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man, living in the North, who is abducted into slavery in 1841. Twelve years later, he's released. During those 12 years, he is a slave, and something of a stand-in for the modern viewer: He's intelligent, he's educated, and most crucially, he's attuned to the horror and injustice that surrounds him. Our attempts to comprehend life under slavery parallel his own: We share his terror when he wakes up in chains after a night of heavy drinking with two friendly-seeming white men. We understand his urge to fight back against those who have separated him from his family. We chafe to find him at the mercy of men who are his physical and intellectual inferior. And, through his eyes, the utterly schizophrenic nature of slavery is revealed. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
A preview screening of David O. Russell's apology for the last half of Silver Linings Playbook. Hollywood Theatre.
Bettie Page Reveals All
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
Written by the poet Langston Hughes and first performed in 1961, Black Nativity is a retelling of the classic Christmas story featuring gospel music and an all-black cast. In the Hollywood film adaptation, things are powered by original Raphael Saadiq compositions—performed in classic musical style, with characters bursting out in song during regular life—and interstitial rapping by Nas. But the primary draw of the film is its A-list talent (Saadiq and Nas included). Nothing can enliven a big, broad, familiar story like great actors, ones who see clichés as challenges, and who can fill the spindliest outline of a character with vibrant life. The result is essentially a full-length Christmas music video about the power of love and forgiveness. DAVID SCHMADER Various Theaters.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
An excellent movie. It's three hours long, and it feels half that; it's a fantastically realistic and well-drawn love story between two women that ranks among the best I've ever seen. (Sorry, Better Than Chocolate.) Blue is about a high schooler, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who falls for blue-haired college student Emma (Léa Seydoux) the first time she sees her. Adèle is needy and aimless, hungry for sexual attention, and the two enter into a beautifully adolescent relationship, all hungry sexuality and deep, pseudo-intellectual conversations. As the years pass and the women age, beautiful, vague Adèle slowly begins to come into focus, but it's not until she screws things up with Emma that she—and we—understand how much the relationship really means to her. ALISON HALLETT Cinema 21.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Like a Belgian, bluegrass version of Blue Valentine, The Broken Circle Breakdown creates a couple of likeable characters, subjects them to unimaginable grief, and doesn't let the audience off the hook for a moment. The sob story gets a little over the top in the third act, as the tragic love affair between a hot singer and a hot tattoo artist gets extra tragic, but incredible performances and a great soundtrack offset some of the more maudlin moments. If for some reason you're looking for a film that's guaranteed to turn you into a sad little puddle, look no further. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Cormac McCarthy wrote The Counselor as a straight-up screenplay and teamed up with director Ridley Scott, which makes it hard to figure out why The Counselor doesn't work nearly as well as it should: McCarthy offers a reliable serving of dour philosophy and new and exciting ways to kill people, and Scott reigns in the aloof goofiness that plagued Prometheus. The Counselor's plot is vague but propulsive; the performances, aside from a few iffy moments from Michael Fassbender and a whole lot of iffy moments from Cameron Diaz, are solid; the visuals, as one would expect from any Scott production, are very pretty. But by the time it ends, The Counselor feels like a series of sequences that never make a coherent movie. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Edgefield, Jubitz Cinema, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, St. Johns Theater and Pub, Valley Theater.
Dallas Buyers Club
In addition to being an electrician and a part-time rodeo bull rider, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was also a career partier—a thorough user of drugs and a prolific fucker of women. When he contracted AIDS in 1986, the disease was still, in the public's eye, very much limited to the realm of gay men. Woodroof overcame not only his deeply ingrained homophobia but, for many years, the disease itself: He smuggled in non-approved medications from Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere, selling them to HIV-positive patients while the FDA remained in Big Pharma's thrall. The movie sputters at the end, as it attempts to draw tears from the audience while remaining true to the facts. It doesn't do either of those things very well, but for the first hour and a half, McConaughey's exceptional performance is riveting enough. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Hey, remember when Tim Burton made movies you liked? Ah, those were days. The distant, long-ago days. Hollywood Theatre.
As a director, Nicole Holofcener's body of work makes a good case for the argument that creativity thrives on limits. All of her films are built from the same building blocks: From her 1996 debut Walking and Talking through Lovely and Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give, each of Holofcener's movies are about white women. They're about self-deception and unhappiness and relationships and how to be a good person. Catherine Keener is always in them. But from this toolbox of feelings and Catherine Keeners, Holofcener consistently constructs perceptive, emotionally acute films that are clear-eyed about human frailty. And while it doesn't let any of the characters off the hook for their bullshit—it wouldn't be a Holofcener joint if it did—Enough Said is her warmest movie to date, thanks to the insanely likeable Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a great turn from James Gandolfini. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater, Liberty Theatre.
A must-see for anyone with an interest in the history of either the Trail Blazers or Portland itself, Fast Break comprises footage shot during the Blazers' legendary 1977 championship season. Much of the documentary is devoted to chronicling how Bill Walton spent his time off the court—which, because the man was a giant (literally) hippie, involved a lot of bike riding down the 101 and clambering through the woods picking blackberries. There's also a ton of great archival footage of the absolute frenzy that surrounded the team during that period, filtered of course through Portland's own hippie sensibility—a scene of a huge crowd singing a "Rip City" ballad as a folksinger strums on an acoustic guitar is particularly classic. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
It's been, like, 20 years—give or take a few—since I last gave a shit about one of Disney's bread-and-butter animated musicals. Maybe it's because I grew up? But that's too pat. More likely, it's because most of Disney's musicals since the early 1990s have been utterly forgettable, if not terrible. I mention it because this is what landed in my brain midway through Frozen, the studio's latest song-and-dance number—and the first one, in a long time, that I can remember making me grin, laugh, and tear up, all while stunning my eyes with some of the most magical computer animation I've ever seen. Frozen is a bright adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and while it's true this is one more "princess" story—Elsa (Kristen Bell), attainted with seemingly uncontrollable frost magic, is forced by bubbly younger sister Anna (Idina Menzel) to thaw the fear choking her heart—it also nicely defies the obvious tropes. Princes and woodsmen are important, we find out. But they're hardly the only embodiment of fairy-tale love. DENIS C. THERIAULT Various Theaters.
Hecklevision: Jingle All the Way
The holiday un-classic starring Arnold and Sinbad—now with text-message audience heckling! Hollywood Theatre.
Watch the trailer for Homefront, and you won't quite be able to tell if it's a parody or not. You've got Jason Statham starring, of course, as a tough guy with a history and a young daughter; they cross paths with a smarmy meth cook named Gator who's played by... here's where the parody part really kicks in... James Franco. Is this one of Franco's famous art-school projects, a shrugging pastiche made up of the most clichéd plot elements imaginable? And what if I told you Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay? What would you say then? But Homefront is surprisingly watchable, especially when compared with the generic action-movie product Statham's been pumping out lately. PAUL CONSTANT Various Theaters.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Disappointingly competent, 2012's The Hunger Games... well, at least it got the basics right. It was a fine adaptation—totally, forgettably, blandly fine. So it's a pretty excellent surprise that its sequel is an order of magnitude better: Catching Fire will please whatever it is that Hunger Games fans call themselves (Hangries? Katnips? Peetaphiles?), but also stands as something fun and intense and thrilling. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Ian Berry Spring Collection
Shorts from local filmmaker Ian Berry, including Divine Pig, "about a competition in Taiwan in which farmers raise and sacrifice monstrous, incomprehensible pigs to receive blessings from the gods" and I Don't Care, "a brief exploration into a penis park in South Korea, and everyone's complete indifference to it." Hollywood Theatre.
See Film, this issue. Whitsell Auditorium.
Kill Your Darlings
While seeing Harry Potter lose his butt virginity does offer a certain fascination, there's little else to recommend about Kill Your Darlings, a generally terrible film that describes a pivotal event in the formation of the Beat movement. ALISON HALLETT Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Kung Fu Theater
A 35mm print of 1979's Kid with the Golden Arm. Hollywood Theatre.
Madoka Magica's "long-awaited third installment," Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie—Rebellion. Oh, you poor little anime nerds. Hollywood Theatre.
What Alexander Payne explores, to great effect, is the bizarrely resilient nature of family, and how it doesn't necessarily follow the rules of logic. Those who complain that Payne cruelly makes fun of the characters in his films won't find their opinions swayed by Nebraska, but it's worth mentioning that wizened, absent-minded Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is never on the receiving end of Payne's skewer. There are some scenes in Nebraska that are as funny as anything I've seen. And other scenes are remarkably touching in their simplicity. Like any family's story, the Grants' is complicated and messy, and Payne tells it with economy, elegance, and an absolutely necessary sense of humor. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
Making a film as transcendently terrible, as breathtakingly tone deaf and ill advised as Lee's Oldboy is an achievement. A truly bad film is as rare as a great one, and watching one is a compelling experience in its own right. The stars have to align just right for things to go as wrong as this: Terrible ideas have to be suggested, seconded, and dutifully produced, and then multiplied by spontaneous misses and happy accidents of badness. The result isn't a "train wreck," because train wrecks don't have blueprints and construction workers. No, Oldboy is more like a Winchester Mystery House of filmmaking, where stairways lead to walls and hallways empty into thin air. You wouldn't want to live there, sure, but it does inspire you to wonder how it could've happened. VINCE MANCINI Various Theaters.
Out of the Furnace
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Philomena is a quirky movie about an adorable old Irish lady—played by none other than Dame Judi Dench—and its release is timed to coincide with prime holiday family-movie viewing season. You're right to be skeptical. All signs point to schlock. But Philomena is excellent, thanks to the brilliant odd-couple pairing of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan—and to a script that balances heart, humor, and a fierce sense of moral outrage. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
"I really don't care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn't fucking there. And I really didn't care to fucking walk down a fucking highway and across a fucking runway to get back here to have you smile in my fucking face." Laurelhurst Theater.
The Punk Singer
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
With its interminable sex scenes and abandoned plot threads, some could say The Room is a "bad" movie, but this raises the question of what makes a movie "good." Is it a comprehensible script? Believable acting? Sets that don't look like they're going to topple over at any second? The Room contains none of these elements, yet that hardly detracts from its remarkably high entertainment value. In fact, The Room may have you questioning the reasons you've ever enjoyed anything in your life—as well as serving as incontrovertible proof that making a movie is very, very difficult. Producer-writer-director-star-distributor Tommy Wisseau in attendance. NED LANNAMANN Cinema 21.
Vintage VHS Christmas clips compiled by Seattle's Scarecrow Video. Hollywood Theatre.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola's first feature. Kirsten Dunst before she turned awful. Fifth Avenue Cinema.
What the Water Said
Cinema Project presents a "two-night program of 16mm films about artists' interactions with the ocean." And it's on a boat! More info: cinemaproject.org. 12128.