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 documentary about black middle class life, followed by a community dialogue. More at hollywoodtheatre.org. Hollywood Theatre.
The Armstrong Lie
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
Austin Vince: Mondo Sahara
A film by "scrappy English adventure-motorcyclist" Austin Vince, presented by Sang-Froid Riding Club. Director in attendance. Clinton Street Theater.
Bettie Page Reveals All
Interest levels vary, but every red-blooded American knows a thing or two about Bettie Page. The '50s-era pin-up star's influence can be found in everything from Beyoncé videos to the blunt-cut bangs of women all over the world. Director Mark Mori's Bettie Page Reveals All stands out among other biographical treatments primarily because of the fact that Page herself narrates it, by way of audio interviews he conducted with her about a decade before her death. While much has been made of Page—her mysterious and troubled private life, her arguable status as a catalyst for the sexual revolution—it's reassuring to hear her verify her own, rather guileless, intentions. Though an exercise in adoration, Reveals All does an impressive job of covering both the facts of her life and others' reflections on it. MARJORIE SKINNER Cinema 21.
The Big Lebowski
"It's like what Lenin said... you look for the person who will benefit, and... uh...." Clinton Street Theater.
The Hollywood's Broad Spectrum screening series presents the 1976 Christmas-themed slasher flick starring Margot Kidder. Hollywood Theatre.
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, Liberty Theatre.
The Book Thief
I don't know about you, but I prefer to keep the giggles to a minimum during World War II movies. It just was not a charming time. The Book Thief opts for a Life Is Beautiful-esque approach to the war: What if we focus on the happy stuff? I'll tell you what happens: It makes the audience super uncomfortable. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Century Clackamas Town Center, Hollywood Theatre.
The quality control folks in the Hollywood schlock factory are a meticulous bunch: They know their craft, they execute it with pragmatism, and for all that they lack in ambition, they make up in consistency. Every now and again, though, the schlock factory's well-oiled mechanisms pump out the occasional defect—a film that, though decked out in the same sentimental blister pack as the rest of the celluloid bathos, is actually an ill-conceived, morally rudderless wolf in sheep's clothing. A film that, in all of its architecture, purports to be an innocuous collection of sentimental tropes and platitudes, but whose content is so wrongheaded that it verges on the uncanny. Delivery Man is such an aberration. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! Laurelhurst Theater.
I'll concede that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has earned the right to direct a modest, low-stakes indie flick, and that's precisely what Don Jon is: the story of a simple, porn-addicted Jersey guido (JG-L), who thinks he's found love in the club with a calculating, narcissistic guidette (Scarlett Johansson). As writer, director, and star of Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt's auteur ambitions here are evident—and while the film isn't a total disaster (the acting and direction are both serviceable), it's clear that his hollow, cavernous eyes are significantly bigger than his stomach. ZAC PENNINGTON Academy Theater, Edgefield, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Valley Theater.
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 Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater.
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 (Idina Menzel), attainted with seemingly uncontrollable frost magic, is forced by bubbly younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) 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.
The Desolation of Smaug
See review this issue. 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.
Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?
See review this issue. Living Room Theaters.
Japanese culture, with its reputation for fastidiousness, is rarely uninteresting. Even if its end products don't always translate in America, there's a fairly consistent thread of effort. As such, the NW Film Center's annual Japanese Currents festival—just one among an annual calendar that highlights contemporary contributions from cultures throughout the world—is of particular intrigue, at once preoccupied with tradition and at the very vanguard of technique. For more info, see "Japan, Currently" (Mercury, Wed Dec 4) and nwfilm.org. MARJORIE SKINNER 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 Laurelhurst Theater.
Late for My Mother's Funeral
Penny Allen's "blend of documentary and fiction" about a French-Algerian-Moroccan family in Algeria. Director in attendance. Whitsell Auditorium.
In an exploitation flick, you must believe the unbelievable. Abel Ferrara's 1981 "feminist" take on a vengeful, vigilante murder spree has been restored and released for 2013. Can a modern audience survive the rape scene(s) of Thana (doe-eyed actress Zoë Lund), or all the wailing saxophone music? Will they try to believe she's such a killer shot with a .45 caliber handgun? Or will they simply be satiated with her much-deserved vengeance (and/or how sexy she looks in a nun's habit)? KELLY O Hollywood Theatre.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine plays Scrooge, the Muppets play everybody else. Maybe Christmas isn't terrible after all. Just kidding, it's still terrible! But this movie makes it a little bit less so. 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 Cinemagic, Living Room Theaters.
Out of the Furnace
Out of the Furnace is mostly set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, but deals so heavily with hillbillies—they're casually referred to as "inbreds," and they lie around in drug stupors when they aren't hollering at bare-knuckled fights—that it might as well share geography with Deliverance. Russell (Christian Bale) works at Braddock's doomed steel mill and tries to keep his little brother, troubled Iraq vet Rodney (Casey Affleck), out of trouble. So when Rodney heads to Appalachia to try his hand in the brutal backwoods fights rigged by Harlan DeGroat—an immaculately named hillbilly drug lord played by Woody Harrelson—it isn't long until Russell heads into the woods too. Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper takes his time telling Russell's dour, angry story, and the result is a slow burn that lights up with moments of bloody violence and jarring intensity. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Persistence of Vision
A documentary about animator Richard Williams and his "ill-fated magnum opus," The Thief and the Cobbler. Hollywood Theatre.
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.
The Punk Singer
It's weird and awesome to see a polished, talking-head-style documentary about the girl who once snarled "suck my left one" while wearing a ponytail and a mini-dress—and it feels very much in keeping with Kathleen Hanna's career-long mission of supporting other women that Sini Anderson's enjoyable new documentary is, in return, a love letter to Hanna. The Punk Singer is packed with amazing old Bikini Kill concert footage and interviews with Hanna's peers, including extensive interviews with Hanna herself; it's also slickly edited and one-sided, content to shore up Hanna's legacy as a punk rock hero. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre, Kiggins Theatre, Liberty Theatre.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
See My, What A Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.
What the Water Said
Cinema Project presents a "two-night program of 16mm films about artists' interactions with the ocean." And it's screening on a boat! More info: cinemaproject.org. 12128.