The 19th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films
The Cascade Festival of African Films ends March 7. All screenings are free, and all take place at the Portland Community College Cascade Campus. Films were not screened for critics. For more info, see africanfilmfestival.org.
A drama that takes place during "Algeria's blood-soaked civil war in 1990."
Iron Ladies of Liberia
A documentary about the first year in office of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, "the first freely elected female head of state in Africa."
The World Unseen
A white woman in South Africa in the 1950s begins to have... urges for a black woman. Awkward!
Battlestar Galactica: The Final Episodes
"My gods, you're just like my father!" Bagdad Theater.
Bird's Nest: Herzog and de Meuron In China
A doc about Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, designers fo the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium and an entire "new city district in Jinhua." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Black Balloon
Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is an adorable Australian high schooler with a crush on a popular, leggy blonde; his brother Charlie (Luke Ford) is severely autistic and fond of trouserless jogs around the neighborhood. If you like your trashy teen romances with a moral core, this one's for you. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Michelle Pfeiffer karate-chopped her way into the hearts of her inner city students in Dangerous Minds. Hilary Swank's enormous incisors beamed the white light of hope into her post race-riot Los Angeles classroom in Freedom Writers. So how does the white teacher François Bégaudeau win over his ethnically diverse class of urban hoodlums in the French flick The Class? He doesn't, and that's why it's the best movie about a contemporary classroom made to date. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Confessions of a Shopaholic
The film industry's been caught at an awkward moment. It's one thing that the early months of the year are a time when the studios release some of their lowest endeavors, but 2009 is slinking out some particularly sheepish flicks that were caught post-production in the wake of our little economic brouhaha. Bride Wars comes to mind as a humiliating romp through superficial entitlement, and Confessions of a Shopaholic, about a young woman (Isla Fisher) whose lust for designer labels drives her $16,000+ into credit card debt, initially appears poised to join it. But for all its silliness and throwaway entertainment value, Confessions' onward and upward message contains an unexpectedly comforting camaraderie. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Gorgeous, inventive, and melancholy—a film that's fantastic to look at, gives Pixar a run for its money in the creativity department, and reminds everyone how cool animation used to look in those prehistoric days before CG. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The first Edward Zwick movie I saw was 1989's Civil War epic Glory, which my eighth grade US history teacher showed my class on a day he was feeling lazy. Just like Glory (or The Last Samurai, or Blood Diamond, or Legends of the Fall, or any other Zwick movie, really), Defiance finds serious subject matter (the Holocaust! again!) and then buffs and shines it into pretty, disposable pop. There's drama here, but no resonance; it all feels weirdly floaty and hollow. You can tell that Zwick thinks he's making something really important here, when really, he's just the premier director of bland, vaguely informative melodramas that get shown to eighth graders. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The latest entry in the perennial teens-getting-laid genre, Fired Up follows two high school students on a trip to cheerleading camp where they attempt to get their rocks off as much as possible. The twist, though, is that unlike in other movies of this ilk—Porky's, American Pie, or Superbad—our suspiciously mature-looking protagonists (played by Nicholas D'Agosto, 28, and Eric Christian Olsen, 31) aren't dweebish losers, but rather football-playing studs who are successfully able to get just about any girl into the sack. Therefore, the movie becomes about their conquests to bag 'n' tag the two women in the entire cheerleading camp who possess enough self-respect not to sleep with them: Carly (Sarah Roemer, 24), the captain of their high school squad, and Diora (Molly Sims, 35), the married head counselor of the camp. Morally reprehensible? Yes. But also funny. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Fly Fishing Film Tour
Probably the best chance you'll get all week to do your best Robert Redford voice and talk about how a river runs through it. Bagdad Theater.
Smugness can be a trap. In Portland, it's so customary to receive accolades for our farm-friendly food culture that when a documentary like Food Fight comes along, it's easy to assume that it can't tell us anything we don't already know. And that's true—subscribers to the Michael Pollan school of thought will have their expectations met almost immediately when he appears as one of the film's primary talking heads, and the film's history of American food industry and emphasis on supporting local agriculture is a succinct blaze through familiar territory. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Friday the 13th
OMG! Counselor camp is so weak this year. Last year was so much better, with that dreamy Freddy Krueger in the arts and crafts yurt! Man, talk about a devil in the dark! This year, it's that bore Jason V. What a momma's boy. He's always pretending to drown out in Crystal Lake. He's all, "Help me, help me! I can't swim!" And one of the new girls always falls for it, swimming out to save him, only to have him grab at her boobies. What a shithead. Anyway, you're not missing anything this year. It's totally lame. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
The first feature from acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda, A Generation "contrasts official reports of wartime heroics with cruel reality." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Based on an exposé-style novel by Roberto Saviano—a writer who has reportedly been granted a permanent police escort by Italian authorities because his book pissed off so many murderous gangsters—Gomorrah takes itself very, very seriously. Which is fair, since people die all the way through it, and the film's often brutal events aren't exactly the stuff of slapstick. But it also seems a little bit too enamored with its messages, and a coda that closes the film threatens to make the whole thing feel like a "dramatic reenactment" from Italy's Most Wanted. Luckily, though, the rest of the film is so solid—in its careful, insightful, and interconnected profiles of its desperate characters—that Gomorrah manages to be just as engaging as it thinks it is, even if it's not nearly as revelatory as it would like to be. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
He's Just Not That Into You
Summarizing the plot of He's Just Not That Into You on a two-dimensional piece of paper is physically impossible. You'd need toothpicks and fun-sized marshmallows to construct an accurate representation, and even then you'd probably end up building a sort of ravenous, shrill-voiced toothpick monster that would want to corner you and talk about why none of the boy toothpick monsters want to date it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
How's Your News?
Jonas Brothers 3-D Concert Movie
The Jonas Brothers launch an all-out assault on your favorite multiplex, threatening "off-the-wall segments, a never-before-heard song ('Love Is On Its Way'), swarming fans, and a lot of JB-style humor." It's probably best to just surrender, honestly. Various Theaters.
The second film of Andrzej Wajda, Kanal follows Polish Home Army soldiers during "the last days of the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the German Nazis." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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 Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
Woody Allen's 1979 classic. The Press Club.
At first glance, Moscow, Belgium is misleading. There is the title itself, which refers not to the Russian capital, but to the name of a neighborhood in a working-class town in Belgium. Far from feeling cosmopolitan, the setting is a dour corner of Europe, and the characters we see against it are haggard and unglamorous. The film is also billed as, in part, a comedy, but its situations are serious—and too far to the wrong side of funny to be treated with what feels, at times, like an aspiration to Hollywood's characteristic triteness. Combine that direction with a cast resembling a potato puppet show, and you've got some interesting, if contradictory, angles. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Our City Dreams
Our City Dreams offers five brief profiles of female artists working in New York City, beginning with contemporary street artist Swoon and proceeding through the generations to conclude with painter Nancy Spiro, now in her 80s. For all that director Chiara Clemente's subjects share a common gender and locale, these commonalities feel incidental to their artistic pursuits. Little sense of the city itself emerges—nor is question of how their gender influences their work pursued with particular vigor. The result is a sufficiently informative introduction to five interesting artists that doesn't add up to much. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Emilio!!! Laurelhurst Theater.
Richard Serra: Thinking On Your Feet
An "elegant film portrait" of artist Richard Serra, highlighted by a look at the "installation of several immensely heavy steel plates (40 tons each) at the Bilbao Museum." (We're pretty sure that's in Hobbiton!)Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The awesome Toshirô Mifune (Yojimbo) stars in Masaki Kobayashi's story of a samurai family torn apart by their dipshit clan lord. For most of the film, Mifune slowly simmers with suppressed anger, but he goes all sorts of apeshit in the end—in other words, his sword gets pretty bloody. And in even more other words, this is one of those rare "family dramas" that's actually interesting. ERIK HENRIKSEN Clinton Street Theater.
A Filipino family running a seedy adult movie theater tries to eke out a stable living against a backdrop of blowjobs, city noise, and poverty. The film's ample sex, like the city scenery, is not glamorous. There is sweat and snot and awkward lunging, making Serbis a refreshingly realistic and nonjudgmental work—instead of forcing a trite tale of moral heroes and sexually charged villains, director Brillante Mendoza takes an evocative snapshot of the theater dwellers' daily living. SARAH MIRK Living Room Theaters.
The Legend of Chun-Li
The latest adaptation of the videogame, starring that one cute chick from Smallville and that one doofy guy from American Pie. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
Synecdoche, New York
The best of writer Charlie Kaufman's previous films (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) were helmed by Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry—both of whom succeed in translating Kaufman's cerebral scripts into films that, while intellectual exercises of a sort, were nonetheless engaging, funny, and affecting. But with Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman directs, and disappointing as it is to admit this, the product is a chore—a dour collection of inexpertly packaged ideas that simply doesn't inspire the intellectual curiosity necessary to understand it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters..
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
"You are here because the outside world rejects you. This is your family. I am your father. I want you all to become full members of the Foot. There is a new enemy: freaks of nature who interfere with our business. You are my eyes and ears—find them. Together, we will punish these creatures. These... turtles." Pix Patisserie (North).
A doc that "explores America's fast-growing bicycling culture by profiling five people whose lives are inextricably tied to bicycling and the bike-centric social groups they belong to." So kinda like Wild Hogs, but without motors! Or Tim Allen. Living Room Theaters.
Visuals: Student and Local Film Festival
PSU's student film festival featuring short films from student filmma—AND FREE PIZZA? Yes! Free pizza! THAT GETS A STAR! Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Waltz with Bashir
During the current moment being enjoyed by the animated documentary genre (Chicago 10, Persepolis), Waltz with Bashir will stand as a landmark triumph. Already the recipient of numerous awards, including six Israeli Academy Awards, and a nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, the glowing buzz that precedes director Ari Folman's dark, hallucinatory memoir of a tour of duty during the Lebanese Civil War is justifiable. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Wendy and Lucy
Wendy and Lucy is not easy to watch. The follow-up to director Kelly Reichardt's critically adored Old Joy, it also takes the Pacific Northwest as its setting—this time a dingy, unnamed Oregon town where protagonist Wendy (Michelle Williams) is waylaid on her journey from Indiana to Alaska. Supremely under-funded, all Wendy has is a crappy Honda Accord, a small pile of quickly dwindling dollar bills, and her dog, Lucy. Reichardt's film could almost be called unkind as it slowly drags the viewer through the tedious realism of Wendy's worsening situation: her car breaks down, she gets busted shoplifting, and most anxiety-producing of all, Lucy goes missing. So we shift uncomfortably in our seats as we're made privy to the harsh lights of gas station bathrooms where Wendy gives herself bum-baths, long, cold, merciless shots of lost and orphaned dogs at the pound, and the furrow of Wendy's brow as she balances pragmatism and panic in the face of mounting car expenses. MARJORIE SKINNER Laurelhurst Theater.