The latest attempt at action stardom from the WWE's John Cena. John Cena is no The Rock, just in case you were wondering. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
A thematic descendent of Black Cat, White Cat and Amelie, Absurdistan combines the hilarity(?) of mocking Eastern European hicks with romance and magical realism. The title refers to an imaginary, remote village in the mountains, with a long history of problems piping water in to its population of lazy, randy men and hardworking women. When the pipes burst yet again, a young virgin leads a protest in which the women of the town refuse sex until the menfolk can work out the water sitch. At turns ridiculous and sweet, this is the kind of film can also get really annoying. Its best consistency is its visual beauty, with colors and scenes that are rich and gorgeous, upstaging the silly story just a smidge. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Director Andrew Neel—artist Alice Neel's grandson—pieces together his grandmother's life using "archival video and intimate one-on-one interviews with Neel's surviving family members." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
This is one more damning documentary about how the nation failed New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina, but it steers clear of the impassioned, personal stories that frame Trouble the Water and When the Levees Broke. Instead, the dry but informative America Betrayed shows how the nation's failure to invest in critical infrastructure led to many terrible, man-made "natural" disasters. SARAH MIRK Hollywood Theatre.
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. NED LANNAMANN Pix Patisserie (North).
The bladder-stretching (but excellent!) Che is intense and fascinating, despite its epic (four-and-a-half hours!) runtime. Steven Soderbergh's direction and cinematography is, as always, impressive, and Benicio Del Toro's performance as Guevara is fantastic. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
Rudi and Trudi are an aging German couple; when Trudi dies, Rudi travels to Tokyo, where Trudi had always wanted to go. This vivid, strange film couldn't be more opposite to America's youth obsession, and its engrossment in the interior lives of people circling the drain is either something you'll take comfort in or not. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
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.
George A. Romero's 1982 horror/comedy flick. Saturday screening preceded by old trailers and music videos. Bagdad Theater.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher movies are worth getting excited about. Sure, he's had his misfires—Panic Room, that Alien 3 business—but c'mon: Seven. Zodiac. Fight Club. Scrupulous, poised, and with a masterful control of tone, you'd think he'd be the perfect director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the titular character ages in reverse, starting life as a blind, deaf troll and gradually growing into the charming, handsome Brad Pitt. It's equal parts fantasy and drama, and at points, you can see Fincher's hand with moments that are surreal, strange, and heart-stoppingly sad. But the rest of the film... well, the rest of the film feels a lot like Forrest Gump, complete with goofy plot devices and banal clichés. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Doubt is not subtle. Despite the fact the film—which features a Catholic priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who (surprise!) may or may not have a boner for altar boys—is about deeds that go unsaid and beliefs that go unproven, it insists on holding your hand, guiding your eye, and, occasionally, smacking you over the head. This is strange, because playwright John Patrick Shanley's play, on which the film is based, favors the opposite tactic: Unsettling and ominous, Shanley's script leaves plenty of room for uncomfortable interpretation. But the film—which Shanley directs with all the nuance of a vaudeville act—seems built mostly for the purpose of begging for Oscars. It also earnestly attempts to reintroduce the oft-parodied gimmick—last seen in the Hammer horror films of the '50s and '60s—of thunder dramatically crashing whenever there's a Very Important Line of Dialogue. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
For a director obsessed with unexpected plot twists, Tony Gilroy's latest project feels awfully familiar. Duplicity is his latest plunge into the world of corporate espionage, and while 2007's Michael Clayton came off well, this time around, Gilroy shepherds Julia Roberts and Clive Owen through a much lighter-hearted romcom version of the game, with tepid results. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
There are elements of sci-fi fan culture that deserve to be celebrated on film. Many fanboys and fangirls are imaginative, good-hearted people who are also often very sexually liberated. Instead, this film embraces every awful, homophobic, sexist, small-minded fan stereotype there is. The sad part is, fan culture is so desperate for popular-culture representation that this film has a good chance of being embraced by the very people it mocks. PAUL CONSTANT Living Room Theaters.
Fast & Furious
The Faux Film Festival
The Faux Film Festival returns for its fifth(!) year, with its usual shtick of "faux commercials, faux trailers, spoofs, satires, parodies, and mockumentaries." More info: fauxfilm.com. Hollywood Theatre.
Five Easy Pieces & Badlands
A great double feature. When we first see Bobby (Jack Nicholson, never better) in Five Easy Pieces, he appears to be the salt of the earth, working on an oil rig and bickering with his ditzy waitress girlfriend (Karen Black). But there's more to Bobby–and to 1970's Five Easy Pieces–than meets the eye, and Bobby's crisis of identity is still remarkably relevant. No American movie has captured existential dread as well, and the final shot is still one of the most powerful ever. Meanwhile, control-freak Terrence Malick makes Stanley Kubrick look downright spontaneous, with only four painfully deliberate movies under his belt since 1973. Badlands, his first, is his most conventional, with Sissy Spacek playing a high school girl who numbly watches her older boyfriend (an excellent Martin Sheen) murder several people, including her own father. Malick juxtaposes the horror of the story against the calm beauty of the isolated American plains. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The 1995 comedy Friday, screening on a Friday? HEAD EXPLODING! (Mercury Fun Fact™: Friday was written by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh!) Bagdad Theater.
The Great Buck Howard
A coming-of-age film starring Colin Hanks and John Malkovich, and one that is only intermittently entertaining during its string of celebrity cameos, including Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, Tom Arnold, a weirdly moving Steve Zahn as a limo driver, and a flat-out bizarre appearance by George Takei, who wanders onto the set of a talk show to sing "What the World Needs Now Is Love." NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
The Haunting in Connecticut
Slimer's ectoplasm is way cooler. While highly flammable, the psychic goo in The Haunting in Connecticut just looks silky and way too easy to clean up, not like Slimer's viscous green mucus. In a total yawner of a horror flick, it's sad that crappy ectoplasm is the Haunting's one sorry excuse for a hook. Unless you count the fact that the film is based on a "true" story of a family that was haunted by ghosts in their rental home. Boooooring. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
I Love You, Man
The affable, goodhearted I Love You, Man is very much a post-Judd Apatow comedy: It can't compete with Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin on a laughs-per-scene basis, but its characters are similarly likeable. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
International Documentary Challenge
A showcase of films submitted to the International Documentary Challenge, an event in which "122 filmmakers from 16 countries set off to make a documentary in five days." Hollywood Theatre..
This is the sort of bad movie that just fucking goes for it. Sometime in the third act, there's a moment I can only describe as "transcendent"—one that just kicks the whole thing into a whole other zone of bad. It is amazing to behold—for the audience, sure, but also for star Nicolas Cage, who literally falls to his knees in shock. That's how bad/amazing Knowing is: I never want to see it again, and I kind of love it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Man Who Wasn't There
A Coen Brothers film that's often lost in the shuffle of Blood Simple and Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men, which is a shame: Gorgeous and devastating, at times darkly comic and at times just dark, The Man Who Wasn't There is fucking fantastic, a sad, sharp, twisting film that sticks with you for days afterward. ERIK HENRIKSEN The Press Club.
Monsters vs. Aliens
Based on the number of celebs that lend their voices to this animated kids flick—including Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jeffrey Tambor, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, Rainn Wilson, and Kiefer Sutherland—it would be easy to assume that this must be the BEST MOVIE EVER. But don't fall for it! Monsters vs. Aliens is all mediocrity, all the time, but still, the film does what it's supposed to do: delight kids while keeping adults from wanting to die a painful death. LOGAN SACHON Various Theaters.
Race to Witch Mountain
If you've ever contemplated Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's parenting skills, insofar as they relate to the remote but not inconceivable possibility of your egg ever coming into contact with his sperm, let me put your mind at ease: The Rock would make a great baby daddy. The Rock is brave and loyal, and he will protect your love-children, even if they turn out to be telekinetic alien mind-readers who can nonverbally communicate with dogs. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road is a cautionary tale against getting stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up. It's depressing, and I imagine that if you are actually stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up, it might be the kind of movie that would make you go home and kill yourself. But for those of us that are lucky enough to have our whole lives ahead of us with no child or mortgage to hold us back, the film's darkness can more or less be shed like an old coat. LOGAN SACHON Edgefield, Fox Tower 10, Laurelhurst Theater.
Salt and Silicone
The premiere of local filmmaker Warren Pereira's "episodic dark comedy that explores conflicting perspectives on breast augmentation." Hollywood Theatre.
New rule: No more buzzed-about Sundance films that include "sunshine" in the title. Please? Discovering that Sunshine Cleaning shares producers with Little Miss Sunshine is like finding out something lame that you kind of suspected might be true about the person you're interested in, but that you were willing to overlook out of optimistic desperation. It makes you feel gullible for being attracted to it. Still, one could hardly be blamed for finding comfort in the offbeat premise of a single mom, Rose (Amy Adams!), and her grungy, grumpy sister Norah (Emily Blunt!!!) going into business together as biohazard removers and crime scene cleaners, scraping up the decomposing remains of the victims of suicide, murder, and various other messy deaths. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
To Live and Die in L.A.
William Friedkin's 1985 thriller. Laurelhurst Theater.
See review. Cinema 21.
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 Laurelhurst Theater.
In an ill-advised attempt to translate rather than adapt the 1985 comic book classic, director Zack Snyder has boiled down the story to its cheesiest, most melodramatic moments: The images have been made glossy, the violence has been amped up, the storyline has been simplified. This is, technically, Watchmen, but only a shadow of it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
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.
My favorite scene in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler features Mickey Rourke as washed-up wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, complete with hearing aid and chest pains, dancing to Ratt's 1984 hair metal song "Round and Round" in a dive bar. Rourke tells a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), how great the '80s were, snatches a kiss, and turns wistful. "And then that pussy Cobain came along and ruined everything," he says. Rourke's ability to evoke the exuberance of the '80s with the fragility of a man personifying that era's hung-over downsides undoubtedly accounts for the widespread acclaim he's been receiving for this role—it would have been easy for a lesser actor to ham his way through the part, but instead, Rourke plays him as a man too aware of the cost of having lived to entertain. MATT DAVIS Various Theaters.