The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector
Phil Spector is equal parts genius and madman. Despite director Vikram Jayanti's sledgehammer editorializing, this documentary, built solely around footage of Spector's 2007 murder trial and a queasily candid interview with the famous producer, is haunting and watchable. DAVE BOW
Bill Frisell Meets
Jazz-folk guitarist Bill Frisell plays new soundtracks over silent Buster Keaton films, including a couple shorts and the feature-length Go West. Frisell's anachronistic noodling flattens out the dynamics of Keaton's comedy somewhat, but these movies would still be delightful even if accompanied by the sound of a jackhammer. NED LANNAMANN
The BQE & Burn to Shine: Portland
This bill is a double-shot of straightforward concepts. The BQE film is part of a multimedia package conjured by Sufjan Stevens, originally presented with live orchestra and hula-hooper accompaniment, which one can assume was a more powerful experience than watching the film alone. Its pensive shots of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway are slow and inactive, all the more to "transcend the mundane" as Stevens put it to NPR. Perhaps if you've any nostalgia for the area you'd find it riveting—if not, it's a hugely boring parade of structures with which you have no emotional connection accompanied by a relatively staid classical suite. The Portland edition of Burn to Shine is just what the doctor ordered for pillars of local music lore, with live performances from the Gossip, Quasi, Sleater-Kinney, the Lifesavas, the Decemberists, and even shoulda-beens The Planet The, filmed in a perfectly charming, bright house that for some reason had to be burned down after filming. Boo. MARJORIE SKINNER
Café de los Maestros
Fact: In other cultures, it is perfectly okay for heterosexual men to kiss each other on the cheek. In this documentary, we watch lots of old Argentinean men kissing each other and playing tango music, during a reunion of musicians from tango's 1930s-1950s heyday. They're not gay, they're just saying hello! NED LANNAMANN
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
Count Basie: Then As Now, Count's the King
At first Count Basie: Then As Now, Count's the King looks like a pantywaist PBS jazz documentary (COUGHKen BurnsCOUGH). It's not. It's the best and funniest goddamn listening party you've ever been invited to, with surviving Basie Orchestra members telling hilarious, bawdy tales about their days in swing. Tons of amazing music, photographs, archival footage, and a pinch of Jerry Lewis. PATRICK COLEMAN
Ed Thigpen: Master of Time, Rhythm and Taste
A doc about jazz drummer Ed Thigpen.
I Need that Record
Did you know that major record labels are evil, that big box stores are the devil, that downloading music off the internet is killing record sales, and that independent record stores across the country are going out of business? Oh, you did know that? Well, that's what this crappy documentary is about. Maybe you'd like to watch Avatar again instead? NED LANNAMANN
In Search of Beethoven
Think you're pretty swell, don't you? Well, Beethoven composed the world's greatest symphony when he was completely deaf. So suck on that, chief—this dry-to-the-point-of-dustiness bio-documentary makes abundantly clear that, compared to Beethoven, you are talentless, uncultured, and scarcely worthy of your functioning ears. NED LANNAMANN
The Jazz Baroness
A documentary about elaborately named British heiress Pannonica "Nica" Rothschild, who risked it all to help support Thelonious Monk and other African American musicians.
Soundtrack for a Revolution
A documentary about the "vital role that songs, many of them resurrected Negro spirituals, played in the struggle to end segregation."
"Oh, all right! So shoot me! I was whacking off! That's right—I was choking the bishop, chafing the carrot, you know, saying 'hi' to my monster!" Laurelhurst Theater.
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 New Orleans
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 Academy Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
Book of Eli
See review. Various 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.
The witches-in-prep-school flick from '96. Bagdad Theater.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Easily the best sci-fi/action/vampire/horror film since Blade II. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The End of Poverty?
A documentary that "asks why today 20 percent of the planet's population uses 80 percent of its resources and consumes 30 percent more than the planet can regenerate." Um, you should probably bring your calculator, I guess? Discussion after screening with Thom Hartmann. Bagdad Theater.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' immediate distinction is not that it was directed by Terry Gilliam—it's that it's the last movie to appear on Heath Ledger's IMDB page. Parnassus stars Ledger as Tony, a shady businessman who's rescued from near death by a passing traveling circus. The circus, run by one Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), boasts a magical "Imaginarium," a gateway to a world that's molded by the imaginations of all who enter. Gilliam salvaged enough of Ledger's performance that Tony's character is grounded in the real world—it's only in the world of the Imaginarium that he's replaced by actors Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell, thanks to a tweak to the plot (when you go inside the Imaginarium... your face changes! Sure, okay). Ledger's death necessitated this device, but every time Depp or Farrell's face pops up, it's an unwelcome reminder not only of Ledger's death, but that these actors are only present thanks to this fairly flimsy last-minute workaround. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The International Fest of
Cinema and Technology
Short films from international filmmakers, focusing on "animated narrative shorts and experimental animation." More info: ifct.org. Living Room Theaters.
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 completely 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.
King: A Filmed Record–From Montgomery to Memphis
Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1970 documentary collecting archival footage of Martin Luther King, Jr. Clinton Street Theater.
Amy Adams lives in Boston and has a boyfriend but is not engaged. This makes Amy Adams go crazy. But then, Amy Adams finds a loophole! Once every four years, says Amy Adams's embarrassing alcoholic dad, all the laws of the universe are upended, the rivers run black with blood and bile, and women are allowed to propose nuptials to men!!! But only in Ireland. Amy Adams goes to Ireland. Once there, she yells at a cow, encounters much folksy wisdom, trades flirtatious barbs with the absurdly attractive Matthew Goode, walks all the fuck over the place in six-inch heels, stays in "the best little B&B in Tipperary," and comes to the powerful realization that her boyfriend is a busy doctor who only cares about valuables, and that Matthew Goode is better because he hates valuables. This movie is fucking stupid. LINDY WEST Various Theaters.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
See My, What a Busy Week! Kennedy School.
The Lovely Bones
See review. Various Theaters.
The Missing Person
While a little wobbly in its intentions and homages, The Missing Person is a wonderful Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court-style film. John Roscow (the excellent Michael Shannon) is a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, lady-losing gumshoe tasked with following a mysterious man and boy. With his filthy, antiquated habits and technophobic ways, Roscow walks the walk of a hard-bitten, film-noir dick in a world that's far, far different than the one last seen in post-WWII celluloid. Seedy, beautiful, and poignantly funny. COURTNEY FERGUSON Living Room Theaters.
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
A Night of Awesomeness
Filmmaking group Quarter Orange presents "a colorful array of fantastically awesome short films of ours and our friends." More info: quarterorange.com. Radio Room.
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 Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Mall 8.
NW Filmmakers Night
Shorts from local filmmakers that the audience can vote on. More info: mcmenamins.com. Bagdad Theater.
See Film, this issue. Screens as part of the Grindhouse Film Festival's Late Night European Horror Series. Cinema 21.
The latest documentary from Robert Greenwald (Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, etc.), about the whole Afghanistan clusterfuck. Not screened for critics, and not to be confused with Rethink Afghans, 1974's surprisingly engaging how-to guide about knitting yarn blankets. 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.
The Spy Next Door
Jackie Chan's latest, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez. Not screened for critics. DEPRESSING. Various 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 distinct 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.
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.
Will Vinton: Claymation Specials
Legendary claymation animator Will Vinton presents a selection of the award-winning programs created by his Vinton Studio, including Meet the Raisins (1988) and Rip Van Winkle (1978). Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Youth in Revolt
The hero of C.D. Payne's classic young-adult novel Youth in Revolt—and the new Michael Cera-starring film of the same name—is Nick Twisp, a bright but bitter young teenager ("even John Wayne on a horse would look effeminate pronouncing that name," Payne writes). His parents are separated, hostile, and generally unfit; his best friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) is so named because his "erect member takes a sudden and dramatic turn to the east about midway up the shaft"; and Nick himself is entirely and unremittingly obsessed with sex, despite meager prospects of ever actually having any. When Nick meets the beautiful and brilliant Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), Nick creates an alter ego, Francois Dillinger, who coaxes Nick into living dangerously—stealing cars and making moves on the irresistible Sheeni. But a lot happens in Payne's plotty, 499-page novel, and screenwriter Gustin Nash is undone by his efforts to cover as much ground as the book: There's car theft, cross dressing, a road trip to a girls' school, and more. The result is more muddled than madcap. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.