All Tomorrow's Parties
A doc that "dives headlong into the transatlantic music festival of the same name." Featuring Sonic Youth, GZA, the Gossip, Animal Collective, and more.
Bill Frisell Meets Buster Keaton
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: Seattle
The BQE 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. MARJORIE SKINNER Screens with: The Seattle edition of Burn to Shine, which has 14 Seattle bands playing a gorgeous Craftsman house in 2007, right before the house is hoisted up and moved to a new location. I think the Portland Burn to Shine was better, but whatevs. This was pretty good, too. Highlights: the Long Winters, Harvey Danger, Tiny Vipers. Low point: Eddie Vedder strumming a ukulele. NED LANNAMANN
How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin
Please read the title carefully and don't make the same mistake I made: I thought this movie was entitled How the Beatles Rocked the Gremlins. There isn't one stupid mogwai in this thing. Instead, prepare yourself for another unwanted batch of excessive Beatles-bation, this time from the other side of the Iron Curtain. The documentary explains how John/Paul/George/Ringo supposedly single-handedly destroyed communism, and is about as entertaining as staring at Lenin's body. EZRA ACE CARAEFF
Portland Mojo: How Stumptown Got the Blues
See My, What a Busy Week!
Photographer Robert Knight shot Stevie Ray Vaughn's last concert right before his death, and since then, Knight's been looking for the new Stevie Ray Vaughn. This leads him down the path of some very terrible blues-guitar wankery, and this pointless documentary follows Knight's harrowing lack of interest in anything new or creative. NED LANNAMANN
They Came to Play
A look at some of the competitors of the Van Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition, and their ups and downs over the course of the contest. This is a familiar setup for a documentary—or a reality show, for that matter—but these people are supremely quirky, and the documentary is sweet and engaging. NED LANNAMANN
The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee "Scratch" Perry
A doc about dub, reggae, and reggae pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Decades before grunge put Seattle on the musical map, the Emerald City had a thriving soul scene in the '60s and '70s. That music was nearly forgotten, but this charming, fascinating documentary interviews dozens of musicians from the era to provide a rich history of some overlooked, truly dope sounds. NED LANNAMANN
See review. Clinton Street 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
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, Bagdad Theater, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
The Book of Eli
The Book of Eli isn't Black Mad Max Gon' Cut Yo' Ass Up: The Movie. That's what the trailers are selling, and sure, it is set in a post-nuclear wasteland—but what's onscreen is a bona fide western. And not a post-western western like Unforgiven that's concerned with deconstructing the form, but a middle-of-the-road, mid-'60s western content to amble through the dust, with occasional bursts of violence punctuating long scenes of stoic wincing. Eli is somber, silly, and mostly empty, and its heavy-handed message about faith's importance is undercut by lazy performances and uninspiring dialogue. To damn The Book of Eli with faint praise: At least it's not The Postman. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Various Theaters.
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. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Rob Marshall's big-screen musical, preceded by performances from William Batty, the Wanderlust Circus, and more. So... what's on TV tonight? Bagdad Theater.
A great film that centers around a grizzled slab of a man, on the waning sunset years of life, battling addiction and years of neglect to once again regain his faded glory. At his side, an inspiring young woman hides scars of her own even as she acts as the muse that triggers his valiant comeback. If all this sounds familiar, it is. It's impossible to ignore the fact that no matter how excellent Crazy Heart is, the screenwriter should pay royalties to Robert Siegel, writer of The Wrestler. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Various Theaters.
Easily the best sci-fi/action/vampire/horror film since Blade II. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See Film. Various Theaters.
House of Numbers
See review. Fox Tower 10.
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 Cinema 21.
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.
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 St. Johns Twin Cinema and Pub.
It's a movie about angels fighting demons and Biblical-type plagues and monsters and shockingly it was not screened for critics! See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.
The Long Day Closes
Terence Davies' 1992 drama. Living Room Theaters.
The Lovely Bones
Be it on the macro scale of The Lord of the Rings or the micro scale of Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson has an incredible ability to convey both spectacle and intimacy. True, sometimes he misfires, but up until now, it's been impossible to find a film of his that feels as if he isn't in control. But at no point in The Lovely Bones—a film that can accurately be described as a tonal, narrative, and visual clusterfuck—does it feel like Jackson has even the slightest idea what he's doing. ERIK HENRIKSEN 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.
Focusing on the madcap shenanigans of a trio of emotionally stunted 18-year-olds, Mystery Team acts as proof that there just might be life beyond YouTube. The collaborative work of NYU sketch comedy troupe Derrick Comedy (like Keyboard Cat, they're big on the internet), Mystery Team makes up for its complete lack of budget and structure with a seemingly endless stream of dumb jokes. With a low-budget production and a cast that mirrors the entire NBC Thursday night lineup—there are cameos from various players from The Office, Community, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation—Mystery Team could have felt like a comedy sketch that's been forced to go on far past its expiration date. Thankfully, Mystery Team's ensemble cast is genuinely funny and enjoyable. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Hollywood Theatre.
The Princess and the Frog
By my estimation, Disney's animated features took a dramatic turn for the terrible with the release of Pocahontas in 1995. With a few exceptions, the 15 movies since have squandered a good deal of cultural capital—what American kid wasn't half-raised by Disney cartoons? How much would you have to pay the average American adult to watch Chicken Little? But Disney's newest, The Princess and the Frog, abruptly and unexpectedly reminded me just how good Disney movies used to be. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
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 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.
Though much more subdued than his other collaborations with Klaus Kinski, Stroszek is a compelling departure for Werner Herzog. Stroszek depicts a cast of miscreants banding together and leaving Germany to find a better life in Wisconsin. This new life, once full of promise, eventually disintegrates—leaving an impression of American decay, and one depicted through a uniquely Herzogian point of view. LANCE CHESS Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Suck My Flick Film Night
A night of homemade short films. More info: portlandfilm.org. Alberta Street Public House.
To Save a Life
A Christian teen drama involving suicide and reaching out to "help new friends." ("To Save a Life doesn't shy away from tough topics," the film's website notes, explaining its PG-13 rating.) We weren't alerted of the film's existence in time to review it, but the publicist lady who let us know about it was super nice, so we aren't going to say anything snotty. Various Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! Cinema 21.
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.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola's first feature. Dunst before she was terrible. Various Theaters.