Festival runs February 11 through February 27. Films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, Broadway Metroplex, Cinema 21, and the Newmark Theater. More info in next week's Mercury and at nwfilm.org.
I Am Love
The extravagance of this melodrama is as overwhelming as the opulence of the upper crust Milanese family it preoccupies itself with. Starring Tilda Swinton as a wife and mother whose senses are reawakened just as her children begin to fly the nest, it will hypnotize the passions of any viewer prone to the influence of culinary mastery, Italian tailoring, and the architecture of man and nature. MARJORIE SKINNER Newmark Theater.
Runs through February 7. All films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. More info: nwfilm.org.
"World-renowned violinist Richard Tognetti... explores new boundaries in experimental surfing and surf music." Yep. Followed by Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight, 1970.
Intangible Asset Number 82
A documentary about an Australian drummer, Simon Barker, and his "creative odyssey" to find Korean musician (and shaman) Kim Seok-Chul.
Runs through March 6. Unless otherwise noted, all films screen at PCC Cascade. Free admission. More info: africanfilmfestival.org.
African Underground: Democracy in Dakar
A documentary that "explores the transformative role of hiphop on politics in Senegal." Preceded by Water First: Reaching the Millennium Development Goals.
Behind the Rainbow
A documentary about two of the African National Congress' most prominent leaders, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.
Nothing But the Truth
A drama about the "complex dynamic between polital exiles and those who remained in South African during the apartheid years." Director John Kani in attendance.
Haile Gerima's 1993 "parable of African-American enslavement and resistance."
A young Ethiopian doctor returns home to find the country ruled by a brutal regime. Director Haile Gerima in attendance. Hollywood Theatre.
A 17-year-old joins a wrestling team, while a compulsive gambler turns to street hustling.
Au Revoir les Enfants
Louis Malle's 1987 classic, featuring one of Hollyweird's wackiest twist endings! Suzette.
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 Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters, Mission Theater.
The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock is a natural fit for the role of sassy, wealthy, Southern, evangelical MILF do-gooder Leigh Anne Tuohy, who took in a homeless African American teenager after scooping him off the streets of Memphis. That boy, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), went on to become one of the most sought-after young football players in the country, receiving numerous college scholarships, and now plays professionally for the Baltimore Ravens. At its heart, The Blind Side is a straight-ahead feel-good family movie—but there are aspects of it that'll make you squirm. Leigh Anne and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) are rich off the profits of some 60-odd fast food restaurants, with two sweetheart children, but it's Leigh Anne who runs the family and dominates the film: Rarely do more than five minutes elapse without her breaking in with a piece of her mind, telling everybody—from a drug dealer to a racist lady-who-lunches to a high school football coach—what's what, with a cocksure fearlessness typical of someone upon whom fortune has always smiled. (And who carries a gun in her purse.) There's no escaping the cringingly congratulatory, rich-white-folk-bail-out-helpless-black-kid dynamic, but, well, that's just kind of what happened, by all accounts (it's harder to misrepresent people who are still alive). And once you allow yourself to drop the liberal guilt and just like the Tuohys, you're left with a pretty good story. MARJORIE SKINNER Various 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 Hollywood Theatre.
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.
See review. Various Theaters.
Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento's cult classic horror flick. Screens as part of the Late Night European Horror Series. Cinema 21.
Edge of Darkness
In the time since his last leading role—in 2002's Signs—Mel Gibson has crucified Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, made a jaguar chew off a man's face in Apocalypto, and drunkenly blamed the Jews for starting every war in the world. He's been a busy, probably-at-least-partially-insane man, but now he's getting back into the movie star business—and to do so, he's picked a pretty safe project. Edge of Darkness is a thriller directed by Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) and based on a BBC miniseries Campbell directed in 1985; it's hammy and simple and occasionally slow, but it's solid. Memories of Jesus-centric torture porn and slurred hate speech aside, Edge of Darkness is a reminder that Gibson's a reliable and watchable star, and that Campbell can make an engaging flick without relying on 007's tired formulas. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
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.
From Paris With Love
The latest action flick from Pierre Morel (Taken, District B13). Not screened in time for press; hit portlandmercury.com on Friday, February 5 for our review. Various Theaters.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
What? It's true. Bagdad Theater.
The Hurt Locker
It's easy to say The Hurt Locker is gonna be one of the best movies of this year, because... well, it is. But that doesn't convey what an intense and challenging experience it is to watch Kathryn Bigelow's thriller about a bomb squad stationed in Baghdad in 2004, led by Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). You will feel fine going in to The Hurt Locker. You will walk out feeling like you lost a fistfight. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy 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 Living Room Theaters, 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.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
See My, What a Busy Week! Laurelhurst Theater.
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.
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.
Ma Vie en Rose
A seven-year-old boy decides he wants to grow up and be a woman. Adorable! Fifth Avenue Cinema.
See review. Cinema 21.
See My, What a Busy Week! Bagdad 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 Hollywood Theatre.
John Wayne! John Ford! A stagecoach! Pix Patisserie (North).
Until the Light Takes Us
See review. Clinton Street Theater.
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
When Kristen Bell goes to Rome for her little sister's wedding, she gets drunk at the reception, falls into a spiral of despair about her romantic life, and makes a grand gesture of defiance by stealing a handful of coins from a fountain. It's a magic fountain, of course (because... you know, Europe, or whatever), and they're magic coins, and the lonely men who threw them (Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepard, the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite) are subsequently cursed (cursed!) with a passion for Kristen Bell, which they express in truly wacky fashion. But Kristen Bell loves Josh Duhamel (more like Josh Duhandsomel, right ladies?), whom she met at the wedding, and he says he loves her too, but it's probably only because of the magic coin that he threw into the fountain, and not because, oh, I don't know, Kristen Bell is totally hot and wears lots of dresses that almost show her boobs. Rome banks on the assumption that American women are defined by their insecurities. Therefore, a movie in which a man has to prove that he really loves someone—no, really, no, really really, even more than poker and hot Italian women—should go down like a crate of Costco cinnamon rolls with the self-hating females of America. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
When the Night Comes
"A film about the deadliest plague that humanity has ever known that is still, today, killing nearly one million people each year—MALARIA." Fun for the whole family! Bagdad Theater.
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, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.