7 Chinese Brothers
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Terry Gilliam has always been a madman with a camera, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is one of the most ludicrous things he's ever made, which is really saying something. It also features one of the biggest performances of Robin Williams' career, but if you're playing the King of the Moon, you kinda have to go big. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
Jesse Eisenberg plays an amiable corner market clerk in a small West Virginia town who discovers he's an amnesiac super spy and that the CIA is trying to kill him with some other amnesiac, somewhat-less-amiable super spies. (Because at this stage in American politics, would anyone really be terribly surprised if that happened?) American Ultra's action is of the "guy hits a series of well-trained goons with ordinary household objects" school, and it's clearly shot and occasionally clever, even if nothing in the film approaches the flair of an old-school Jackie Chan sequence or the urgency of a Bourne takedown. There are really only so many household objects you can see people bludgeoned with. BEN COLEMAN Various Theaters.
From a distance, it's hard to tell how much celebrity suffering is theater. Asif Kapadia's shattering documentary Amy certainly qualifies as theater in its own right, piecing together great amounts of archival, never-before-seen video footage of late musician Amy Winehouse with dramatic effectiveness. MARJORIE SKINNER Cinema 21.
Best of the NW Animation Fest
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
The story of the Cockettes begins with a drugged-out lefty homo called "Hibiscus" (née George Harris), who was famous in '60s San Francisco for being weirder than the rest of '60s San Francisco. He believed in and preached the values of free food, free love, and, most of all, free art. In no time, Hibiscus attracted an almost equally freaky group of friends and followers who were all in outrageous drag, dropping acid and performing in the streets. David Weissman and Bill Weber's documentary is a loving window into the lives of the Cockettes—interviews with those still living, volumes of film footage, and remembrances of the fallen. The film contains over 11,000 photographs and every known scrap of Cockettes footage in existence. If you think this sounds like overkill, you're right. But it would be a screaming tragedy if this story was lost to time, and a little overkill is a small price to pay to preserve this singular moment in American pop culture history. ADRIAN RYAN Hollywood Theatre.
Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick's 1978 film, screening on 35mm as part of the NW Film Center's new "Friday Film Club" discussion series. Seeing Malick on 35mm in Portland is a rare opportunity—you should probably take it, even if you plan on bailing before the post-screening discussion. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Watching The Diary of a Teenage Girl is like being hugged by a Lisa Frank panda while floating on a sea of Hitachi Magic Wands and cotton candy. Its color palate is indica-laced rainbow sherbet. Its heart is a sentient mug of hot cocoa. Its eyes are Bel Powley's cartoonishly gigantic, wide-open baby blues. It's also about statutory rape, and that juxtaposition's caused no shortage of controversy for Marielle Heller's directorial debut. That's too bad, because at its core, Teenage Girl is about a 15-year-old coming into her own as an artist, a storyline I wish more people cared about enough to write into movies. If you love Angela Chase, or Rory Gilmore, or Tavi Gevinson, or, I don't know, HARRIET THE SPY, you will love Minnie Goetze, the film's sex-obsessed, Aline Kominsky-worshipping, budding cartoonist heroine. MEGAN BURBANK Cinema 21.
The End of the Tour
When a writer means as much to you as David Foster Wallace means to so many, you really don't need to see him impersonated on-screen by that dude whose dick you saw in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. For the rest of us, though—the more moderate fans who marvel at Wallace's essays and short stories, even as our copies of Infinite Jest remain permanently dog-eared at page 281—there's much to appreciate about The End of the Tour. This is a movie about two writers navigating the strange power dynamic that comes when one person is charged with representing another on the page—a dynamic that's further complicated when the profilee is orders of magnitude smarter and more talented than the profiler, and both of them know it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
After a creepy fucker like Gordo shows up at your front door, bearing a suspiciously wrapped gift, you might never answer the door again. The Gift's writer, director, and star Joel Edgerton is that redheaded weirdo on the doorstep, staring in like an overeager puppy at the home of Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Unlike frothy '80s stalk-porn like Fatal Attraction, The Gift is a slow-seething psychological thriller that takes its characters through unexpected layer peels as their triangle gets ever pricklier. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Hitman: Agent 47
Video game adaptation Hitman: Agent 47 fails to distinguish itself from pretty much every other B-picture featuring skinny ties, copious bullet-time, and guns in every available hand. For a movie based on a game that prides itself on offering multiple paths to an objective, it sure does rely on the tattered old John Woo playbook. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
Are you the type of barren, childless adult who feels weird going to Pixar movies by yourself? Well... maybe you should. BUT! I strongly advise you to put those feelings aside (or rent a kid from your neighbors or the Duggar family) and see Inside Out, Pixar's latest kids movie that's actually for adults. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Learning to Drive
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Love & Mercy
Although the Beach Boys became one of the most successful enterprises in popular music, their only truly significant work is confined to two records: 1966's Pet Sounds and its famously aborted (though eventually released) follow-up, Smile, which began production in late '66 and was shelved in '67. That's the period dramatized in the better parts of Love & Mercy: Paul Dano pulls off the idiosyncrasies of the young Brian Wilson perfectly. By comparison, a parallel arc with John Cusack portraying Wilson in his 40s—an overmedicated, incapacitated man-child at the mercy of despotic pseudo-psychiatrist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti)—can't help but feel dull. MORGAN TROPER Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Mad Max: Fury Road
A brutal, beautiful, two-hour action overdose injected with a welcome feminist bent. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
This remake of a TV show that isn't particularly beloved comes at a peculiar time—surrounded on all sides by superior espionage thrillers/comedies, like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, and Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation. And I can't imagine you'll need U.N.C.L.E. to tide you over until the new James Bond movie, Spectre, comes out in November. But here it is. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Mountain-climbing documentaries are straight up and down. The objectives are clear, the risks known, and the complications inevitable. Yet there's reason for the genre's cult appeal: It's the everything-yet-nothing mythology of struggle, kitted out in the very latest from the North Face. It's a simple, repeated plan—reach the top—fraught with a kaleidoscope of emotional scarring and altitude-depressed thinking. Meru shares much with its hyperbolic brethren: Its climbers are casual badasses, and their foe, the peak they wish to worship and conquer, is undefeated. The "shark's fin" of Meru is part of the Gharwal Himalayan region in Northern India, is more than 20,000 feet high, and is a route so complex that it demands expertise in every subgenre of climbing technique. MARJORIE SKINNER Cinema 21, Kiggins Theatre.
Even if Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's latest project together feels like an afterthought when compared to Greenberg and Frances Ha, it's also their most consistently amusing, cleverly self-critical film to date. KATHY FENNESSY Century Eastport 16, Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters.
As Sherlock Holmes, Ian McKellen is magnificent. It's often argued that cinematic spectacle can't be truly experienced unless it's projected onto a 50-foot screen, but I'd argue that it is also worth employing that increased scale to watch the planes of McKellen's face shift, almost imperceptibly, from mood to mood. BEN COLEMAN Kiggins Theatre, Living Room Theaters.
Probably the best thing that can be said about No Escape is that it features an amazing scene where Owen Wilson throws a little girl off a building. It really is amazing! He chucks her right off. In slow motion! Actually, okay, there's more: There are a bunch of solidly impressive action sequences in No Escape—propulsive, nerve-jangling stretches that're stressful and scary—along with a few injections of humor from Wilson and a grizzled-up Pierce Brosnan. Problem is, the story—which finds Wilson relocating his wife (Lake Bell) and their two horrid children to a conspicuously unnamed Southeast Asian country, where they're promptly chased through the streets by nameless, machete-wielding rebels—is... ah... pretty racist? (Gruff ol' Brosnan gets one speech where he tries to explain the geopolitics behind the coup, but no one's really listening.) There's probably something to be said about how the bloody, skeevy No Escape could work as an allegory of white Americans' fear of their diminishing status in a more complex and globalized world, but that'd get in the way of Owen Wilson fleeing from the screeching hordes of the Other. At least No Escape offers a useful bit of vacation advice: Always travel with a James Bond. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A noir appreciation night, with a $3 suggested donation going to the National Film Noir Foundation. Tonight, a Raymond Burr triple feature: Desperate, Raw Deal, and Abandoned. The Spare Room.
On Art and Artists
Hey, series like this one are what happens when you screen movies in the basement of an art museum. The NW Film Center presents a whole bunch of movies about... well, art and artists. This week's offering: Randal Wright's Hockney, about "one of the most charismatic, inquisitive, and exciting figures in contemporary art." More at nwfilm.org. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Perfect Guy
"A professional woman gets involved with a man who seems almost too good to be true." Perhaps... perhaps he is too good to be true. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
It is just barely the end of WWII, and survivors are washing up from the camps, living proof of everything the German people want to pretend never happened. Among these is Nelly (Nina Hoss), a woman who was shot in the face and left for dead. Reconstructive surgery leaves her beautiful but unrecognizable, and she ferrets out the husband whose betrayal led to her arrest—not out of revenge so much as a stumbling, fugue-state of shock, unable to process that the life ripped away from her is irretrievable. His inability to recognize her reflects the mass denial that surrounds them, and the film becomes a tragic allegory for a nation at wits' end, filmed with a Hitchcockian moodiness that transcends the less believable moments in the plot. MARJORIE SKINNER Cinema 21.
The basic conceit of Pixels, lifted from an enjoyable 2010 short film by Patrick Jean, is that aliens are attacking the planet using tactics learned from old-school arcade games. Enter Adam Sandler, Kevin James (as the president), Peter Dinklage, and Josh Gad—a cliché '80s kid misfit squad, now all grown up and ready to save the world. It's classic childhood wish fulfillment: Someday they're gonna be sorry. Or, even sadder: Someday the thing I loved as a kid will be important again. (Hey, when's the next Avengers movie out?) Creativity, diversity, eccentricity, passion—all the things that make actual nerd communities genuinely interesting—are missing; instead, our Nerd Squad is another gang of schlubby, entitled white dudes with strong opinions about women's bodies (sigh). ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
(Re)Discoveries: New Restorations, New Prints
A series of newly restored films. This week's selections: Kathleen Collins' Losing Ground (1982) and Mario Peixoto's Limite (1931). More at nwfilm.org. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See My, What a Busy Week! Laurelhurst Theater.
A monthly series "showing vintage and contemporary films that are obscure, neglected, and from the fringe." This month: A 35mm print of Fallguy, not to be confused with the Lee Majors TV show, but instead a low-budget noir from 1962 about a teenager who finds himself on the wrong side of both the government and the mob. Hollywood Theatre.
Ricki and the Flash
Should you find yourself in a situation where viewing Ricki and the Flash is unavoidable, prepare yourself by watching the trailer. While the trailer is the nadir of human artistic accomplishment, lo these 200,000 years, it does serve as an effective inoculation against the movie itself. Pin your eyelids open so you can't blink, and let it enter you. Fill yourself with Meryl Streep's gravelly croon. The no-she-didn't joke about her graying pubic hair. The forced sentimentality of a mother trying to reconnect with her estranged children. Your body will activate the necessary defenses, so that when you go see the movie, the cringey highlights of the trailer will fade into the background of a standard-issue family drama that thinks it's more outrageous than it is. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic book series is a fantastic epic: an earnest, heady, hilarious mashup of comics, videogames, and music, with doses of the confusion, enthusiasm, and melancholy that're embedded in the DNA of every twentysomething. The good news: The movie version, directed by Edgar Wright, lives up to expectations. The better news: Wright's film also does a few things nobody could've predicted. Thanks to Scott Pilgrim, the lines between film, comics, pop music, and videogames have been blurred—in all of the best ways. ERIK HENRIKSEN Clinton Street Theater.
The Second Mother
Anna Muylaert's Portuguese drama about a woman reconciling with her estranged daughter. Living Room Theaters.
The word "genius" gets batted around with regard to filmmakers with a numbing, reductive frequency. But if Hayao Miyazaki doesn't qualify for that title, who does? Miyazaki has blazed his own distinct trail, blending atomic-clock action timing with an awe-inspiring, hand-rendered sense of the infinite; nobody else can balance exhilarating weightlessness with moral gravity in quite the same proportions. ANDREW WRIGHT Academy Theater.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door
Ivan Dixon's cult classic from 1973, starring Lawrence Cook and with music by Herbie Hancock.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Like director Alex Gibney's last documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine tries to cram way too much history into way too short of a runtime. And like Going Clear, the results are disjointed and disappointing. This time, Gibney takes on the life and works of Steve Jobs, using everything from interviews to randos' YouTube videos to some truly unfortunate animation to tell a story that sometimes feels like a polemic and sometimes like a tabloidy hit piece. Jobs' personal history is largely, frustratingly skimmed over (both Jobs' family and Steve Wozniak are mentioned only briefly), but Gibney still casts Jobs in his now-familiar role of technological messiah and interpersonal asshole. Gibney spends a lot of time on Apple's stock options scandal, wrings his hands over tech addiction (Gibney notes that when he reaches for his iPhone in "every idle moment," his hand is "like Frodo's hand to the Ring"), and dwells on Apple's conflict with Gizmodo; only rarely does Steve Jobs focus on any one thing long enough to make a point. (One such sequence, about the brutal working conditions in Apple's Chinese factories, is more than welcome—only to be dispensed with all too quickly.) By the time Steve Jobs ends, with Gibney murmuring some goofy philosophy over an image of a powered-down iPhone, one has long since realized these two hours could've been better spent rereading Walter Isaacson's biography. ERIK HENRIKSEN Kiggins Theatre, Living Room Theaters, On Demand.
Straight Outta Compton
In one of Straight Outta Compton's most powerful shots, two men walk toward a police line. Held between them are a blue and a red bandana, knotted together, signifying unity in the face of a common enemy. It's part of a scene that recreates the chaos of the Rodney King riots, the political event that cuts closest to the heart of what N.W.A. represented, and continues to represent, as the country stumbles along a crooked path of institutionalized oppression. It's depressing how relevant "Fuck tha Police" still is, and that makes Straight Outta Compton essential viewing. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Good movies can sometimes give off a hum—a feeling that the energy and chemistry on screen can't be constrained by the edges of the frame. Tangerine fits this description and then some, creating a kinetic rush with enough spillover juice to light up LA for a year. While chock-full of innovations both welcome (a story about transgender characters, played by transgender performers) and potentially eye-strainingly worrisome (the movie was shot entirely on tricked-out, stabilized iPhones), the main takeaway is just how alive it seems. ANDREW WRIGHT Laurelhurst Theater.
Amy Schumer fans should take heart: I'm with you. As far as I'm concerned, she's a national treasure, so it's weird to see her sharp-edged humor dulled by a movie that essentially hews to a classic boy-meets-girl-plus-problem format. MEGAN BURBANK Various Theaters.
The Transporter Refueled
A not-screened-for-critics rehash of 2002's The Transporter. Jason Statham isn't involved, which means there's no fucking point in us wasting another goddamn sentence on this. Various Theaters.
"A new documentary that explores humanity's hopeful transformation from living-by-killing into living-by-loving." :/ Clinton Street Theater.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
A Walk in the Woods
This airy adaptation of the hiking memoir by Bill Bryson—Robert Redford plays Bryson, and Nick Nolte plays Bryson's pal Katz—isn't great. But as an excuse to hang out with Redford and Nolte on the Appalachian Trail, it's good enough. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters
The Winding Stream
In this inviting documentary from Vancouver, Washington, filmmaker Beth Harrington follows America's first family of music—the Carter Family—over the course of the 20th century. It's a well-constructed overview, with glimpses into the personalities of A.P., Sara, and Mother Maybelle, and the long shadow they cast over folk, country, and old-time music. It's perhaps too vast a legacy to be contained in one film, but Harrington's film is the perfect entry point into the world of the Carters, and how they brought American rural music traditions to the forefront of 20th-century culture. NED LANNAMANN Hollywood Theatre.
MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, September 11-Thursday, September 17, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.