Ashes of American Flags
Capturing Wilco on their 2008 tour, Ashes of American Flags has such crisp sound and such tasteful photography that it's easy to overlook its lack of substance. Concert porn in every sense, it's the kind of movie that keeps intercutting obvious shots of the highway in between songs. Also, do we really need that many close-ups of Jeff Tweedy? Dude is kind of hard to look at. NED LANNAMANN
Beyond Ipanema: Brazilian Waves in Global Music
A documentary examining Brazilian music and the factors that have contributed to making it nearly as popular as Brazilian waxing.
As a documentary, Cool is a complete mess: a muddled hodgepodge of '50s imagery and music that only flirts with explaining its subject, the "cool jazz" movement. Thankfully, the performances it includes by luminaries like the Modern Jazz Quartet and Dave Brubeck make it a not-unpleasant mess. DAVE BOW
In Search of Mozart
A brainy, stuffy documentary on the Austrian composer, but one that wisely chooses to tell the story of Mozart's life through music, with plenty of concert footage and interviews with musicians and historians. While not exactly gripping, it's only dull intermittently and provides a clear overview of the composer's remarkably brief life. NED LANNAMANN
Much like the instrument it takes as its subject, Mighty Uke is alternately cute and infuriatingly nerdy. The current crop of ukulele enthusiasts range from kitsch fetishists to serious musicians, all of whom are determined to rescue the instrument from the ghetto of novelty. They succeed, somewhat, but it's safe to say the ukulele will never be cool. Followed by a performance by the Portland Ukulele Association, which is not to be confused with the newly hatched Portland Ukulele Project. NED LANNAMANN
Neil Young Trunk Show
See Film, this issue.
Trimpin: The Sound of Invention
"An amusing journey through the sonic world of... artist/inventor/engineer/composer Trimpin." Trimpin, you crazy, crazy bastard.
Alvin and the Chipmunks:
It's the actors in a film like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel that bare the brunt of indignation—not so much the voice actors (among them Amy Poehler, Christina Applegate, Justin Long, and Anna Faris, whose unnaturally sped-up anonymity buys them all a bit of a pass), but dudes like Jason Lee and David Cross, whose pained, embarrassed visages will forever be married to this misfortune. (Cross in particular is sunk to emasculating new lows—it almost feels as if the whole enterprise is just an elaborate plot by some spiteful studio exec to humiliate him.) ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
James Cameron's sci-fi epic is exactly as visually arresting and technologically revolutionary as promised, but the CG and the artistry behind it are so good—the film's bizarre landscapes and inhabitants are so organic, complex, and emotive—that, remarkably, you'll forget you're watching one big special effect. And so we're left with Avatar's story—which, thanks to its too-easy morality and stilted dialogue, isn't gonna impress anyone. What will impress, though, are the moments of holy-shit spectacle. Avatar isn't perfect, but it is extraordinary. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call
Except for a few uncomfortably long stares at reptiles (iguanas, alligators), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is only secretly a Werner Herzog movie. It feels, instead, like a screwball crime comedy for people who like their humor on the gallows side. (Which, I guess you could argue, is kinky enough to qualify as Herzogian.) Nicolas Cage plays a both schlubby and maniacal cop with a rug of hair, a crazy crackhead cackle, and a big damn revolver stuck sloppily into the front of his wrinkled pants. His true loves are his dad (a drunk living out in a big, paint-chipped Louisiana house-on-sticks that you will covet until your dying day), his prostitute girlfriend ("the pross," the characters keep calling her), gambling on football, and snorting heroin. He'll take cocaine and crack when it comes his way, but he loves the horse. That love drives the entire film. The 1992 Bad Lieutenant, directed by Abel Ferrara, was a darker story about a New York cop (Harvey Keitel) coming to redemption. The 2009 Bad Lieutenant doesn't really care if anybody gets redeemed. BRENDAN KILEY Kennedy School, Living Room Theaters.
Let's say Pedro Almodóvar is one of your favorite directors. Oh wait, he is? Well, what a coincidence! You'll have plenty of company in Broken Embraces' fan club, as the film's an elaborate, self-indulgent orgy of Almodóvar-age—full of self-reference, slavish homage to fantasy-noir melodrama, and arresting images of Penélope Cruz. On its own, the film is an exceptionally attractive and not unpleasantly meandering tale of sex, malice, and filmmaking—but few pains are taken to make the audience feel welcome in this clearly introspective, doubtlessly sincere work of art. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Brutal Beauty: Tales of the
Rose City Rollers
Reminiscent of Blood on the Flat Track—2007's documentary about Seattle's roller derby culture—Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers brings the lights, cameras, and action to our very own Rose City Rollers. Even if you've already seen Blood on the Flat Track, there's still a thrill to seeing Portland's scenery and people as director Chip Mabry follows the rollergirls through last year's season. While the heart, soul, and picking of derby names now seem slightly stale—especially in the wake of Ellen Page skating down this very path—the Rose City Rollers still make for fun hometown documentary fodder. Premiere followed by afterparty at Bossanova (722 E Burnside). COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Certifiably Yours: Films from the School of Film
Work from students at the Northwest Film Center, including Patty Salmon, Hart Noecker, and more. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Cinema Queso Showcase
Local filmmakers Cinema Queso show off their wares. Radio Room.
A vampire flick set in 2019, when vampires have TAKEN OVER THE PLANET!!! Not screened for critics; see portlandmercury.com on Friday, January 8 for our review. Various Theaters.
Dream Weavers: Beijing 2008
This officially sanctioned doc follows China's preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It's light and uplifting and unrelentingly propaganda-y, but it's probably good to see the pained, determined faces of China's adorable wannabe gymnasts and the Commando-style training of Beijing's SWAT team so you know what to expect when China inevitably invades North America in 2017. ERIK HENRIKSEN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Fifth Element
"Leeloo Dallas mul-tee-pass!" Fifth Avenue Cinema.
See My, What a Busy Week! Pix Patisserie (North).
The Imaginarium of
See review. Various Theaters.
The only thing that's harder for an American to understand than a South African accent is the rules of rugby. It seems to be kind of like football, only with dorkier uniforms, lateral passing instead of forward passing, and plenty of big, chummy, homoerotic scrums. In Clint Eastwood's Invictus, the 1995 Rugby World Cup is given the task of drawing together a newly desegregated South Africa—it's not quite the equivalent of Nazis and Jews sorting out their differences with a game of hopscotch, but one can't help wonder if perhaps this particular sporting match has acquired a tad more significance than it can bear. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
The Iron Giant
See My, What a Busy Week!. Bagdad Theater.
I'm not going to say anything snarky about Meryl Streep in this review of her new momedy, It's Complicated. Streep is perfectly charming here, totally comfortable in the everywoman mantle she dons to play Jane, a divorced mother of three. Jane is sweet but grounded, sexy in a totally natural and age-appropriate way, and so likeable that it's plausible when her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) decides he wants to get back together. It's Complicated isn't a great film, but it's the time of year when concessions are made: Odds are, you'll be doing some family bonding in the cineplex this month, and It's Complicated is a not-too-embarrassing movie about romance and families and finding oneself. I mean no disrespect to your mother when I assure you that she will like it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Kung Fu Hustle
See My, What a Busy Week! Bagdad Theater.
A romcom starring the delightful Amy Adams. See portlandmercury.com on Friday, January 8 for our review. Various Theaters.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
See review. Fox Tower 10.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Inspired by Jon Ronson's 2004 book about the US Army's experiments with the paranormal, Goats works best in its flashbacks, which are weird and hilarious; George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, and Stephen Lang all seem to be having a blast. In the modern-day sequences, Goats loses much of its goofy, satirical edge, but director Grant Heslov never totally strays from the film's outlandish-but-weirdly-believable tone, which, at its best, recalls Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove. The Men Who Stare at Goats isn't nearly as good as either of those films, but Heslov's goals seem somewhat the same as Kubrick's: Throw all sorts of preposterous allegations at those in power, and then step back, content and happy and pleased with how many of those allegations, in context, don't seem quite as ridiculous as they did before. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday
A 35mm restoration of Jacques Tati's 1953 comedy. Hollywood Theatre.
Anyone with a fondness for big-budget musicals (hi, ladies and gays!) has likely been anticipating Nine, the latest musical from Chicago director Rob Marshall, with source material once again ripped straight from Broadway—in this case, 1982's multiple Tony-winner. Nine is the story of talented, tortured movie director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a celebrity of Spielbergian proportions in his native Italy (Nine is based, in fact, on Frederico Fellini's semi-autobiographical 8½). It's a story of the "women behind the man"—more precisely, of the myopia and vanity that leads one man to frame his life with himself in the foreground—but the end result is drab, overlong, and distinctly un-fabulous. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, the awkwardly titled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is this year's feel-good-by-feeling-bad Oscar bait: a relentlessly sordid bit of ghetto tourism that invites audiences to wallow in unimaginable misery for 110 minutes, only to emerge from their cinematic journey more enlightened, more aware, more... human. (Thanks, Oprah!) ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Emilio!!! Clinton Street Theater.
Arriving after delays and rumors of recuts, the long-awaited cinematic version of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 Pulitzer-winning, Oprah-approved, post-apocalyptic saga The Road comes off as a non-starter; an honorable, respectful, well-acted adaptation that feels curiously inert. All the beats are there—with the exception of a few of the most notoriously grisly bits—but the chaos seems a little too orderly. ANDREW WRIGHT Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre.
I don't recall anyone saying, "Wow, why doesn't someone make a new, more exciting Sherlock Holmes?" That's probably because the world isn't exactly clamoring for reboots of stories from 19th century authors (Clueless notwithstanding). And yet? Here we are with an "edgy" revival of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric detective and Jude Law as steadfast sidekick Watson. Both are fine choices, and their scenes together crackle with energy and camaraderie. But this Holmes drops in only occasional aspects of what made Doyle's stories fun, sandwiched between chase scene after fight scene after disaster after explosion. It's boring—if I wanted to switch my mind off, I'd rent Transformers. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
A Single Man
Longtime fashion designer and first-time film director Tom Ford's A Single Man—about a gay college professor in mid-'60s LA who is mourning the sudden death of his long-term partner—at times features images of rippling male physiques that hearken back to certain fragrance ads, but as a whole, his film is to be applauded for its relentless devotion to aesthetic excellence. Take, for example, the half-second glimpse of a trio of denim- and leather-clad greaser chicks in a parking lot, oozing chic with cigarettes and beehives; the camera's close inspection of insolently masterful cat-eye makeup; the careful observation of the masculine stability of a pair of leather-soled, freshly shined shoes. These are images we expect, and desire, from a man of fashion, and they are as good as anticipated, and well integrated with the mood of the film. So much so, in fact, that it takes at least half the film's runtime to realize how little meat is on its beautiful bones. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
A 2006 drama in which the crew of a Scottish ship illegally smuggles Chinese immigrants. Guaranteed to have the most comic culture clashes since Mr. Baseball! Living Room Theaters.
Up in the Air
Up in the Air is beautifully and cleanly shot by cinematographer Eric Steelberg. It marks, by far, the best turn yet from director Jason Reitman; sharp and clever and clear, it's a marked improvement from his previous films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno. It features two of the year's best performances—props, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick—and an impressive slew of other performances from Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, and Danny McBride. J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliott, and Zach Galifianakis show up, too, and if that's not enough, it also features a cameo by Young MC. (If that last bit doesn't push the film to the top of your must-see list, then you are not someone I'd like to know.) Thanks to all the things listed above, Up in the Air is one of the better films you'll see this year. Thanks to a script—by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, loosely based on Walter Kirn's novel—that grows progressively less engaging, it's also a film that isn't as good as it should be. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
We Live in Public
Touted as a cautionary tale about privacy in the internet age, We Live in Public functions better as a biopic of Josh Harris, an early internet pioneer with a lonely childhood behind him, a questionable relationship to reality, and a stubborn determination to follow his obsessions to their logical and destructive extremes. This manifested in "Quiet," a Y2K-era art project/sinister experiment in which 100 people lived under constant surveillance in an underground bunker full of free booze and guns. After that was busted by FEMA, Harris turned the camera on his girlfriend and himself with We Live in Public, in which their entire apartment was rigged with web-cams, the inside of the toilet and the cat's litter box included. The destruction this wrought on the relationship and Harris' psyche pretty much wiped out his last opportunity to have a normal, healthy life. Does all of this mean Facebook is going to destroy us? Hardly. But this is nonetheless a fascinating, sick documentary worth seeing despite its hysterical alarmism. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
Painter Deborah DeWit and filmmaker Carl Vandervoort's film about the wetland near DeWit's studio and "her ideas about art, life and the natural world." PATCHOULI ALERT. PATCHOULI ALERT. Hollywood Theatre.
The Young Victoria
A film that concerns exactly what its title indicates: the early years of England's Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), including her romance and subsequent marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Victoria's struggles here are primarily personal, regarding the rites of passages necessary to becoming a functional adult as well as a monarch: having the strength and self-trust to claim your distance from close but controlling family members, learning which men can be trusted, and so on. The prioritization of reservedly faithful representation (to the queen, if not to history) can be a bit of a letdown for fans of all-out bodice rippers—there is a notably minimal use of tears, blood, and dramatic obsessions born out of repressed desires. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Youth in Revolt
See review. Various Theaters.