Festival runs through February 7. All films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. More info: nwfilm.org.
Bob Marley: Exodus
A screening that marks probably the only time in history in which the smell of marijuana will, at some point, permeate the hallowed walls of the Whitsell Auditorium.
Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles
Edward James Olmos narrates this overview of Mexican American rock music from LA over the past half century, including performers like Lalo Guerrero, Ritchie Valens, Tierra, the Brat, and Los Lobos. A great topic, to be sure, but this hour-long PBS doc feels slight and unfocused. Screens with Till the Last Drop... My Heart, "a valentine to Mexico and the women who gave their voices and essence to its cultural roots." NED LANNAMANN
The Heart is a Drum Machine
This new-agey documentary interviews a bunch of musicians about what music means to them, but none are able to fully articulate music's appeal or its connection to human emotion. We do learn, however, that Maynard James Keenan is the most pretentious d-bag on the planet. Screens with Say My Name, a doc about the "unstoppable female lyricists" of hiphop. NED LANNAMANN
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense
"A lively and insightful snapshot of today's jazz scene." Narrated by John Stockton.
Johnny Mercer: The Dream's
Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to tons of schmaltzy songs ("Moon River") and founded Capitol Records, but this Clint Eastwood-produced bio-documentary holds Mercer at arm's length, failing to make the case for the sappy songwriter's relevance. NED LANNAMANN
Scoring the Classics
Several silent films from 1929 (Un Chien Andalou and Regen), along with selected scenes from 1922's Nanook of the North screened with live musical accompaniment from the film-scoring group Retake Productions.
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, 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.
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, Hollywood Theatre.
This 1981 Italian zombie flick is pretty dopey and totally hilarious, especially the parts with the character of young Michael, a 10-year-old boy who was actually played by a grown-up little person. It eventually becomes apparent why they cast an adult in a child's role (mostly to do with his Oedipal feelings toward his mother). Plus, lots of bloody zombie munchings. Yeah, this movie's pretty incredible. Screens as part of the Grindhouse Film Festival's Late Night European Horror Series. NED LANNAMANN Cinema 21.
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 Fox Tower 10.
Easily the best sci-fi/action/vampire/horror film since Blade II. ERIK HENRIKSEN Century Clackamas Town Center, Lloyd Mall 8.
Edge of Darkness
See review. Various Theaters.
An Evening with George Kuchar
Underground filmmaker George Kuchar presents several of his recent works: Hairy Horror, Burrito Bay, Portrait of Genie, and X Mass. More info: nwfilm.org. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
You can knock The Mummy all you want, but I would pay good money (good money being roughly nine dollars) to see Brendan Fraser team up with Harrison Ford for a silly, swashbuckling, archeology-themed adventure. Fraser would make a waaay better Indy Jr. than Shia LaBeouf, am I right? Well, Fraser and Ford did make a movie together. Remember? They shot it in Portland last year. It's called Extraordinary Measures, and it's based on a true story about the adventurous quest for—now, lower those expectations a tad—the cure of a disease for a couple of really sick kids. There's nary a tablet or tomb or catacomb or ancient curse in sight, unless you can call Pompe Disease an ancient curse. (You can't. It would be in terrible taste.) Extraordinary Measures is a little bit better than your standard disease-of-the-week movie, although there's still plenty of gooey sentiment and wheezing, runny-eyed children looking at Fraser's character and saying stuff like, "Am I gonna die, Daddy?" (Spoiler: They don't. Not on his watch. Yay!) NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Full Metal Jacket
If Stanley Kubrick is one of film's greatest directors (he is), and if Full Metal Jacket is one of his best films (it is), then this movie is required watching. Sure, at times it can be awkwardly heavy-handed, but overall, Kubrick balances stunning action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, a killer soundtrack, amazing dialogue and characters, and hard-hitting emotional resonance in a way that pretty much no one else can. This 1987 story of a few poor fucks stuck in Vietnam is as entertaining as it's ever been, and now, perhaps, even more relevant than ever. Go. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
I Am Virgin
See review. Clinton Street Theater.
The Imaginarium of
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, Lloyd Mall 8.
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.
After so many years of putting up with the human race, God has learned to hate us. Then again, considering our penchant for war, sin, and Kardashians, who can blame Him? In Legion, the big dude upstairs sends down an angel with stubble, six-pack abs, and a strange, vaguely Eastern European accent to finish off humanity. But Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) decides to disobey God and instead save the unborn child that will eventually save the human race (John Connor?). Legion is awful to the point that it can barely be parodied, with painful dialogue, a confusing plot, and not enough action and gore to justify such stupidity. After suffering through this, I'm with God. We suck. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! Bagdad Theater.
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 Man Who Shot
John Ford. John Wayne. Jimmy Stewart. Lee Marvin. You know the drill. Pix Patisserie (North).
A not-screened-for-critics Christian flick. Lloyd Mall 8.
As anyone who's seen a Hayao Miyazaki film will attest, the story you follow is secondary to the sights you behold. The craggy reality of his twisting tree trunks capped with windblown tufts of leaves; the weighty presence of the rocks, whether rough or slicked smooth by water; the breathtaking vividness of light when the clouds part; the crouched expectancy of animals at rest—all of these are rendered as gorgeously as any animation I've ever seen, and in fact make a better plea for ecological sanity than the sometimes heavy-handed script. BRUCE REID Laurelhurst Theater.
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, Hollywood Theatre, Lake Twin Cinema.
The Spy Next Door
Jackie Chan's latest, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez. Not screened for critics. DEPRESSING. Various Theaters.
Cliché isn't a strong enough word to describe Tooth Fairy's predictable plot, in which several half-assed clichés mutate into a strain of super-cliché. (Don't ever give up + do it your own way + ya gotta believe = "You can't score if you don't take a shot!") Dwayne "Stop Calling Me the Rock" Johnson plays a washed-up hockey player nicknamed "the Tooth Fairy"—when he's not living out the twilight of his disappointing career, he's trying to get his girlfriend's (Ashley Judd) son (Chase Ellison) to like him. Plus, because his dreams have been dashed, he gets sick pleasure out of spoiling the dreams of small children—he tells one young fan that he'll never be a professional hockey player, and almost tells another that there's no tooth fairy. If only that were true, because then the Rock receives a summons from the "Department of Dissemination of Disbelief" for "first degree murder of fantasy," and then he becomes a tooth fairy. Somehow Billy Crystal and Julie Andrews are involved. Then the Rock wears a tutu. JANE CARLEN 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.
When in Rome
An awful-looking romcom starring the delightful Kristen Bell. Not screened in time for press; hit portlandmercury.com on Friday, January 29 for our review. Various Theaters.
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 Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.