A not-screened-for-critics thriller featuring Ron Perlman, who perennially deserves better.
300: Rise of an Empire
With a sequence of events strangely encircling those of the first 300, Rise of an Empire courageously commits itself to the Speed principle of sequel-making: (1) Replace your leading man (Gerard Butler, seen here only in muted footage, presumably left over from the previous film), and (2) throw the whole thing onto a boat. Otherwise it's more or less the same deal as its obscenely successful predecessor: casting still favors abs over acting ability, it's still a homoerotic nightmare of blood and glory, and it's still pretty racist (maybe slightly less racist?). ZAC PENNINGTON
Part Daryl Hannah-voiced documentary, American Mustang is spliced with the mini-tale of a wild horse being tamed. Mustang is educational in service to activism, circling urgently around the fact that there are more wild horses in government facilities than there are on public land. Private cattle herders see them as pests, compelling the Bureau of Land Management to round them into traps using low-flying helicopters. As government property, they're basically just stored, trucked around to various facilities, and all too frequently, the film alleges, sold to slaughter for as little as 10 bucks a head. It's not really fair that horses should be held above any other animal led to slaughter, but Mustang knows they are. MARJORIE SKINNER
"Fuck, man, this is better than Disneyland!"
Approved for Adoption
Jung Henin and Laurent Boileau's 2012 film based on Jung's graphic novel that "retells his experience as a South Korean adoptee growing up in Europe." Co-director Jung in attendance.
Larisa Sheptiko's 1977 WWII flick. Just in case Come and See (also screening this week at the Fifth Avenue Cinema) isn't quite enough WWII misery for you.
In theory, Bad Words should be a lot of fun—it's a dark comedy about a spelling bee, and it follows an adult (Jason Bateman) who bends the rules in order to enter the kids' contest for his own nefarious ends. But the ratio of mean spiritedness-to-cleverness is off, and Bad Words leaves a bad taste. ALISON HALLETT
No, not those kind of bears. This is a Disney movie. For children. About bears. The other kind of bears.
The Black Sea
A crowdfunded, Oregon-shot drama in which five friends go to the coast. Sounds nice! Sure hope none of them mysteriously vanish!
Not screened in time for press. Review forthcoming at portlandmercury.com.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first Captain America movie strived to feel retro with a simplistic, deliberately hammy tone, but Winter Soldier feels old in a darker, smarter way: It owes so much to the great paranoid thrillers of the 1970s that the presence of Robert Redford, as Cap's new boss, points a neon arrow at the film's hopes of being a super-powered riff on Three Days of the Condor. But playing with real-world fears in a superhero blockbuster is a tricky balancing act—and I'm not sure Winter Soldier, for all its enthusiasm, quite pulls it off. It's still a hell of a lot of fun, though: Directors Anthony and Joe Russo put their comic skills, honed at Community and Arrested Development, to excellent use, and show off some unexpectedly impressive action chops. ERIK HENRIKSEN
After her adult son gets involved in a horrific accident, a wealthy Romanian woman begins calling in her considerable markers. A witty, more-than-a-little Oedipal drama sparked by Luminita Gheorghiu's towering performance as a woman bent on imposing her will over reality. Every time the camera lands on her, there's something new to see. ANDREW WRIGHT
A Cinema of Mutual Respect
Cinema Project presents three films by New York and Lisbon-based collaborators Daniel Schmidt, Gabriel Abrantes, and Alexander Carver, featuring: monotone voices! a dying grandmother! a particle accelator! It's video art, and they're spacey, conceptual films with a little deadpan humor. Two of the films are full-length: Palaces of Pity (screening Mon April 21) is the most accessible, with the plot involving a dying grandmother and catty teenage cousins vying for her estate. In The Unity of All Things (Wed April 23), scientists stare into space and ponder life's big questions, and say things like "Your thinking is more lateral than vertical." The one short of the collection—A History of Mutual Respect, screening with Palaces of Pity—features two bros running around in the jungle trying to have sex with a "native woman," which I think is supposed to be political commentary on globalization or something, but is so clearly written and produced by dudes that it instead feels maddeningly misogynistic. JENNA LECHNER
Come and See
Elem Klimov's 1985 tale of a young man experiencing the horrors of WWII. Bring the kids! (See also The Ascent, also screening this week at the Fifth Avenue Cinema.)
Divergent's concept reads like someone ran the SparkNotes plot summary of The Hunger Games through Google translate several times, then read it aloud in a mocking voice after six tequila shots. It's about a society that enforces conformity by dividing people into houses districts factions according to whether they are smart, brave, peaceful, giving, or honest—but there are a few special people called divergents who don't fit into any category because they're so special. (MILLENNIALS, AMIRITE.) ALISON HALLETT
I can see why Jude Law wanted the part of Dom Hemingway—he's entirely against type for the heartthrob who once played the lean, perfectly bronzed Dickie Greenleaf. Dom, on the other hand, is a burly, boozy, burnsided safecracker on the back end of a 12-year stint in the pokey. (Do they call prison "the pokey" in England? Probably not.) Dom Hemingway seems to think its titular character's a colorful, loquacious lout with anger-management issues and a propensity for oratory. But the longer you sit with him—and Law's doing his best, but he's just wrong for the part, not to mention far too young—the more you realize Dom is nothing more than a right bastard. NED LANNAMANN
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Draft Day takes place on draft day (SPOILER!); after making a risky last-minute deal to secure the number-one pick, Sonny falls under intense pressure from the team's owner and fans, who've got their sights set on a hotshot young quarterback. It's no Friday Night Lights, but as sports entertainment goes it's broadly appealing and mercifully un-macho. ALISON HALLETT
Jake Gyllenhaal's mild-mannered professor becomes obsessed with his doppelganger (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a small-time actor he spots in a rented video. Director Denis Villeneuve's claustrophobic picture is captured in jaundiced yellow, filled with heavy-handed symbolism (tell me what the spider represents, please), and moves far too slow for its first hour—but it picks up steam and intrigue when the two Jakes cross paths. The film's final shot, which I won't spoil, has got to be one of the most what-the-fuck endings of all time. In the end, it's worth the slog. NED LANNAMANN
Finding Vivian Maier
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The excellent phrase "a glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity" is used twice in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Those words could refer to 1) the Grand Budapest Hotel, a pink and white and pristine resort that, like a colossal, obnoxiously ornate gâteau, sits high in the mountains of the Republic of Zubrowka. Or they could refer to 2) M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the revered concierge of said establishment. With his sharp purple jacket, crisp black bowtie, and immaculate mustache, Gustave rules the Grand Budapest with enchanting grace and fastidious obsession, ensuring everyone is doted on—particularly the guests he takes a liking to. And there's one final thing those words might refer to: 3) Wes Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Grindhouse Film Festival
The Italians know how to make beautiful products, from shoes to cannelloni to gross-out horror movies. The Hollywood's showing two rare 35mm prints from early '80s Italo horror: The Gates of Hell (from director Lucio Fulci) and the nutzoid Burial Ground: Nights of Terror. Bring a strong stomach and a love of undead gut-munching. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Heaven Is for Real
The latest in a series of low-budget religious movies put out by Hollywood to capture the elusive "movies are too risqué for me" dollar. The movie adapts a 2010 book by Pastor Todd Burpo about the time his 4-year-old son Colton had a particularly vivid dream. About going to Heaven! The adults take Colton's dream about Heaven so seriously because "Everything he says is impossible!" and his memory of Heaven is "very specific." Equally vague are Colton's claims that "Heaven is beautiful" and "nobody wears glasses in Heaven." I'm more persuaded by the portrayal of the afterlife in All Dogs Go To Heaven, though both movies agree that there will be domesticated animals in paradise. ALEX FALCONE
1981's trippy animated sci-fi/horror/fantasy/etc. anthology, based on Heavy Metal magazine and featuring the vocal stylings of John Candy, Eugene Levy, and good ol' Rodger Bumpass.
At first, Frank Pavich's documentary seems like little more than a glorified DVD bonus feature—a "making of" doc, with the catch that the film it chronicles the making of doesn't exist. In 1984, when the big-budget faceplant of David Lynch's Dune was released, few people knew that audiences could have seen something else entirely. For years, Alejandro Jodorowsky had desperately been trying to make his version of Dune—a film he humbly thought would be "the most important picture in the history of humanity." Jodorowsky's Dune is about his still-burning passion, and it's by turns exciting and heartbreaking to hear him explain—see him show—what might have been. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Fifteen percent of the United States' population lives in poverty. That's a lot of poor people, living a lot of different kinds of lives. It's weird, then, that when poor people turn up in movies and on television, their stories always seem to feature the same few elements: 1) The South, 2) Bad teeth, and 3) Weird sex stuff. David Gordon Green's Joe hits those povertysploitation benchmarks with the businesslike efficiency of a dead-eyed, trailer-trash hooker. (Check!) ALISON HALLETT
The Missing Picture
Part documentary and part biography, Rithy Panh uses a combination of archival images and clay dioramas to recount the difficult story of his childhood as the only surviving family member under Pol Pot's regime. Illuminating and nightmarish, it's an important account that many wouldn't have the strength to tell in this level of detail. MARJORIE SKINNER
You've seen the signs, propped in lawns across the city: "Say No to Dirty Coal." Unless you're an old-time-y energy tycoon, that probably sounds like something you would get behind. But if you're foggy on which coal, exactly, you're supposed to be saying no to, a consortium of environmental conservationists have created Momenta to explain it. Produced by Jeremy Jones—professional snowboarder and founder/CEO of the climate change nonprofit Protect Our Winters—the Kickstarter-funded Momenta clocks in at an efficient 40 minutes, and spans cities from the Powder River Basin to the western ports of Washington and Oregon. Featuring quick sound bites from ecologists, activists, tribal members, and economists, this documentary has the feel of a liberal's infomercial, with plenty of idyllic shots of recreation on the banks of the Columbia while a Travel Portland-esque soundtrack plays in the background. Meanwhile, scenes of moving trains and smokestacks make for sinister contrast. Filmmakers in attendance. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Monuments Men
It'd be unfair to expect George Clooney's The Monuments Men to feel like Ocean's WWII, but what it does feel like isn't much of anything. ERIK HENRIKSEN
To watch Noah is to see Darren Aronofsky earnestly trying to flesh out a Bible story that, in the original version, doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense. Noah is a movie that posits the profound hypothesis that maybe mankind is forever cursed to defy God and nature because of our irrational love of our own progeny. That's a pretty heavy thought, and to see it come from a movie full of prehistoric hoodies, pregnancy tests performed with a leaf, a protagonist who growls "I want justice!", and CGI rock people voiced by Nick Nolte (who, let's be honest, was born to voice a rock person), is completely, righteously, gloriously fucking insane. VINCE MANCINI.
The Cannes-approved drama from 1978.
Nymphomaniac, Volume 2
A fucking marathon. Released theatrically in two volumes (with a couple weeks' recovery time in between, what with all the chafing), Lars von Trier's four-hour-long meditation on fucking, fly fishing, and the futility of love takes a kind of smug satisfaction in the severity of its indulgences—it revels in explicitness, violence, and anguish to an even greater degree than the director's already thoroughly misanthropic previous works. Even for the divisive Dane's long-suffering partisans, it's a little much—but for all its gluttony, Nymphomaniac still manages to be surprisingly thin on the director's (admittedly dubious) redemptive qualities. ZAC PENNINGTON
Oculus is much better than any flick about a murderous mirror has any right to be. COURTNEY FERGUSON
One Last Hug and a Few Smoochies & The Final Inch
Irene Taylor Brodsky's documentary about "a sleepover summer camp where grieving children of all ethnicities find comfort in one another to deal with their pain." Just imagine the shenanigans! Preceded by Brodsky's Oscar-nominated 2008 polio documentary The Final Inch; director in attendance.
The Other Woman
Penny Allen Retrospective
Portland Latin American Film Festival
The annual Portland Latin American Film Festival branches out to monthly screenings with movies from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. This month: 2012's Colosio, The Assassination. More at pdxlaff.org.
The Quiet Ones
What's this? A crappy looking horror film that wasn't screened for critics? Why, I never....
The Raid 2
Director Gareth Evans and star/fighting machine Iko Uwais' 2011 The Raid is, more or less, the platonic ideal of an action movie: a beautifully relentless, sadistically taut, 100-minute-long adrenaline rush with a minimum of plot and a maximum of action. The Raid 2 is the opposite of that. ERIK HENRIKSEN
The Railway Man
A drama starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, about a World War II veteran facing his demons.
Re-run Theater presents "TV Still Knows Best," "an insane hodgepodge of PSAs, instructional films and a very special episode of the sitcom Mr. Belvedere where life lessons are dramatized and sage advice is dispensed." RIP, Mr. Belvedere star Christopher Hewett, 1921-2001.
Hey, this should shut your kids up for a few minutes.
Silent Films from the Moving Image Collection
The Oregon Historical Society presents a program of silent films made between 1900 and 1950, including "black-and-white footage of Portland circa WWII" and shorts featuring live piano accompaniment. More at hollywoodtheatre.org.
A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
Unfortunately, A Spell To Ward Off Darkness doesn't provide any spells to ward off boredom. A film that follows a man's journey of self discovery through a Finnish hippie commune, wilderness isolation, and playing in a black metal band, A Spell also shows you just how long an hour and a half can be. If you're interested in the exploration of existential philosophy and societal structure, by all means, enjoy—but if you're looking for something with some entertainment value or if you don't understand the draw of blistering metal, you might wanna skip this one. ARIS WALES
Student Academy Awards
The best animated, narrative, and documentary films from various colleges and art schools. More at nwfilm.org.
"The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid."
A science-fiction movie that, in trying to be about the singularity, ends up just being about Johnny Depp's disembodied head. There are too many characters, too many big ideas, and too much plot for two hours; in a futile effort to keep things moving at a fast pace, every character in Transcendence makes repeated, baffling decisions, usually while spouting technobabble, until everything just kind of... stops making sense. ERIK HENRIKSEN
A Tribute to James Blue
Two half-hour-long films from Cannes-approved filmmaker James Blue—1964's The March and 1968's A Few Notes on Our Food Problem—along with "a curated gathering of visiting speakers." More at nwfilm.org.
Under the Skin
Filmmakers—male filmmakers, especially—have a tendency to exploit Scarlett Johansson as a kind of blank, beautiful object—a weird kind of emotional prop favored by long silences and longing glances. She's implemented as this beautiful, otherworldly thing—a vague, cipher-like canvas whose surface vividly reflects whatever meaning other people project upon it. It's an unseemly kind of mishandling that Jonathan Glazer upends to marvelous effect in the sensually stunning Under the Skin. ZAC PENNINGTON
The Unknown Known
If you're expecting mustache twirling or teeth gnashing in Errol Morris' interrogation of Donald Rumsfeld, don't: Rumsfeld comes across as a human being who did what he thought needed to be done. He's pragmatic, well-spoken, and occasionally funny. You may not agree with the decisions he implemented, but at least they're laid out in logical chains: If Saddam Hussein had remained in power, Rumsfeld argues, he would've shot down an American airplane. If we treated detainees like POWs, we couldn't interrogate them. It's the familiar rhetoric, though in a more measured, thoughtful format. And Rumsfeld damningly observes that many of the controversies discussed—like Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act—are still with us today, despite a partisan changing of the guard. BEN COLEMAN
Winter in the Blood
Virgil First Raise (Chaske Spencer) is a Blackfeet Indian living on a the outskirts of a tiny Montana town. He's a drunk who spends his days teetering between hangover and heartbreak; he's plagued by memories of dead relatives; he treats women terribly. But Virgil's journey through darkness is bright in the telling—Winter in the Blood is both deeply interior and cleanly, visually arresting, offering an utterly contemporary take on the vision-quest narrative. ALISON HALLETT
With Morning Hearts
David MacDougall's 2001 documentary about a group of boys' first year in Dehradun's Doon School. Director in attendance.