33rd Portland International Film Festival
Festival runs through February 27. Not all films were screened for critics. Films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, Broadway Metroplex, and Cinema 21. More info: "Scour the Earth: The Vision and Obstacles of the Portland International Film Festival," Movie Times, and nwfilm.org.
Bad Day to Go Fishing (Uruguay)
The schemes of a weary conman and his partner come head to head with the idealistic desires of a young woman. The characters are one-dimensional and the pacing is too slow, but the charm and prettiness of the film make it work. PATRICK ALAN COLEMAN
A visually and emotionally sparse interpretation of an 18th century French fairy tale. RAQUEL NASSER
A conman falls in love with his mark.
City of Life and Death (China)
Emphasis on death. A beautifully done dramatization of the unbelievably repellent acts committed by the Japanese Army during the Rape of Nanking. Temper your suspicions of Chinese propaganda with the knowledge that in its home country, this film was criticized for portraying the Japanese as too sympathetic. MARJORIE SKINNER
Cooking History (Czech Republic)
"Portraits of various military cooks from all over Europe who have witnessed the European wars of the 20th century."
Dawson Isla 10 (Chile)
After Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup deposed Chile's socialist government, former cabinet members were sent to an island concentration camp. The muted Dawson Isla 10 is tethered tightly to history, focusing on daily struggles and politics rather than a sensational arc. These were bureaucrats, not warriors, and their victories were humble. ANDREW R TONRY
Down Terrace (Great Britain)
"A family of dysfunctional crooks tries to keep their criminal enterprise from falling apart."
Everyone Else (Germany)
A relationship drama in which a couple attempts to change their roles. (Somebody better put on a Princess Leia outfit....)
Garbage Dreams (Egypt)
A documentary about a group of teenage boys in Cairo "whose livelihoods wholly depend on trash."
Gigante deals with the fine line between stalking and lonely obsession. Fantastic performances and the director's flair for subtlety build to a killer conclusion. MATT DAVIS
Fish Tank (Great Britain)
A girl's coming-of-age story set in a bleak British housing estate. Though Fish Tank's struggle for uncompromising authenticity is an admirable one, it's also the film's greatest flaw: Fish Tank is repetitive and predictable, there's an unrelenting sense of dread, a constantly looming threat of physical violence, and worst of all, it's overly long. You know, a lot like life. ZAC PENNINGTON
Forever Enthralled (China)
A period drama (ewww!) about opera singer Mei Lanfang.
An Afghan refugee and a 17-year-old Iranian fall in love and flee to Tehran. Featuring lots of rhyming.
The Inheritors (Mexico)
This beautifully shot documentary studies groups of worker children in Mexico. We watch very tiny children do very hard labor without complaint; with no narration, no narrative, and almost no dialogue, we're meant to draw our own conclusion. (That conclusion being: child labor is wrong.) At 90 minutes, it's a bit of a chore to sit through—but that's probably the point. NED LANNAMANN
John Rabe (Germany)
John Rabe was a German industrialist who saved thousands of Chinese citizens from genocide in 1937. This is a very serious movie, made with a distinctly German combination of detachment and apology: This Nazi was a good guy, ja? NED LANNAMANN
Learning from Light:
The Vision of I.M. Pei (US)
A straightforward but edifying documentary on the architect I.M. Pei. Specifically it centers on what's most likely his last venture (dude's 92): the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, and his development of the project based on the movement of the sun and a quest to capture the essence of Islamic art. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Letter for the King (Netherlands)
"One of the most popular young-adult books in Dutch history" is brought to life. FINALLY.
Letters to Father Jacob (Finland)
A convicted killer gets a job helping a blind priest answer letters. There's a pretty good chance she'll learn something about herself by the end, we'll wager.
Like You Know it All
A film director "propels himself from one embarrassing situation to another." Just like McG!
Moomin and Midsummer Madness (Finland)
An animated film based on Tove Jansson's Moomin books. Drugs recommended.
Mother (South Korea)
Korean director Bong Joon-ho made a lot of noise with The Host, a monster blockbuster in which the dynamics of a small family threaten to upstage its monster. Similarly, his newest, Mother, is best described as a mystery: When a woman's son is accused of murder she sets out to discover what really happened. But the whodunnit runs aground on competing threads of absurdist humor and a meditation on how people justify revenge. The result is languid, tangential, and thoroughly uncomfortable. DAVE BOW
Nobody to Watch over Me (Japan)
A teenager is accused of murdering two children, and a cop is assigned to look after the suspect's 15-year-old sister.
Nora's Will (Mexico)
This charming film circles around the best-laid plans of a Jewish Mexican grandmother who plots her own death to coincide with Passover. SARAH MIRK
Passenger Side (Canada)
A "quirky, comic road movie" about two brothers, an actor, and a failed novelist.
Rembrandt's J'accuse (Netherlands)
A two-year-old documentary companion piece to his 2007 film Nightwatching, Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'accuse lies somewhere between a glossy History Channel special and a long DVD extra. An in-depth exploration of Rembrandt's most famous work wrapped in a weird Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy theory, J'accuse also doubles as a smug indictment of our "image illiterate" contemporary culture—the same culture that just so happens to have stopped paying much attention to Greenaway's work circa 1990. ZAC PENNINGTON
Reporter follows New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to the Congo, where he interviews a warlord and illuminates the world's deepest suffering. Kristof and his subjects are incredibly compelling; they rise above Reporter's overwrought filmmaking. ANDREW R TONRY
The Reverse (Poland)
A noir-hued glimpse into Poland and its politics during Stalinism, drenched in comedy as dark as its color scheme. RAQUEL NASSER
A struggling ex-con gets an offer for one last smuggling job. Ain't that always the way?
Room and a Half (Russia)
A look at the life of former US Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky, a Russian Jew who was exiled to the United States in 1972. The strange and stunning A Room and a Half incorporates animation, historical footage, and the filmmaker's own brilliantly edited interpretation of Brodsky's early years. A three-line movie review can't begin to do justice to this film's beauty, imagination, and emotional power. ALISON HALLETT
The Shock Doctrine
See My, What a Busy Week!.
Short Cuts III: Made in Portland
Short films! Made in Portland!
Short Cuts IV: International Ties
Short films! Not made in Portland!
Short Cuts V:
Short films! Co-presented by Cinema Project and consisting of "experimental film and video work from Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan."
Sons of Cuba (Great Britain)
Boxing is to Cuba what gymnastics are to China—competitors are groomed from childhood. This film poignantly humanizes three contenders in training, and you'll leave wracked by the conflict they face: That success means beating the shit out of another 11-year-old. JANE CARLEN
Strongman follows the plight of Stanley "Stanless Steel" Pleskun, a struggling weightlifter on the losing end of his career. The strongman business ain't what it used to be—there are so many ways one can bend a quarter—and Pleskun, along with his all-too-loyal girlfriend, Barbara, struggle through the hardships of lower-class Jersey living. The documentary flirts with exploitation, but ultimately it's a fascinating peek at a real-life person who you feel guilty for chuckling at. EZRA ACE CARAEFF
A Town Called Panic (Belgium)
Good luck getting the kids to settle down for a movie with subtitles. Adults won't fare much better with this spastic, meandering stop-motion adventure that boasts pretty designs but rinky-dink animation. ANDREW R TONRY
The cast is colorful and compelling: a controversial billionaire media mogul turned Italian prime minister, a Mussolini-sympathizing television agent with close ties to the PM, and a paparazzi extortionist turned national cult hero. The setup for Videocracy seems all-too perfect—unfortunate, then, that the filmmakers can't seem to find it within their tangled mess of a documentary. ZAC PENNINGTON
Before his rise to power, Mussolini supposedly met, impregnated, and married a hapless woman named Ida Dalser, and Vincere tells her story—how Mussolini denied both her and their son, and had her sent to an asylum. It's a garish, melodramatic movie with a jarring reliance on stock footage. We're supposed to feel Dalser's wounds as she pines away for the dictator, but she just seems crazy. NED LANNAMANN
Waking Sleeping Beauty (US)
The story of Disney's unlikely animation upswing from the early '80s to early '90s as told from the point of view of the company's fantastically uninteresting animators—in the least engaging way imaginable. Watching Michael Eisner update his Netflix queue would probably be more riveting. ZAC PENNINGTON
Ward No. 6 (Russia)
A doctor becomes a patient in this adaptation of a Chekhov tale. Splicing together storytelling techniques that include a faux documentary, home movies, and interviews with actual mental patients, Ward No. 6 is shoddy looking and dreary, but it makes its point. ALISON HALLETT
The Wedding Song (Tunisia)
It's 1942, and two teenagers are trying to remain friends despite mitigating forces. Myriam is an educated Jew being forced to marry a much older man; Nour is a stay-at-home Muslim whose intended husband is an anti-Semite. Be ready to squirm during a scene where Myriam gets her pubic hair ripped off; the rest of the film is striking and lovely in shades of blue and white. LOGAN SACHON
The story of a young Iraqi refugee stuck in France, trying to get to his girlfriend in London by any means necessary. A little predictable and a little divisive, Welcome deals with familiar tropes wrapped around an exotic conceit. MARJORIE SKINNER
Wild Grass (France)
It’s no surprise that director Alain Resnais’ new film is on the inscrutable side--Resnais, whose credits include Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, has never been particularly concerned with conventional narrative structure. Wild Grass is about the chance circumstances that bring together an aging couple—its characters’ motivations are generally baffling, but an offbeat sense of humor and sly visual gags give the audience something to cling to when everything else has stopped making sense. ALISON HALLETT
The Wild Hunt (Canada)
The Lord of the Rings meets Lord of the Flies in this awesomely gruesome look at live-action roleplaying. Emo-kid Erik suspects his girlfriend might be cheating on him with her LARPing buddies, so he heads to the woods to track her down—only to find her dressed as a Viking princess, sharing a sweat lodge with a sexy shaman. When he tries to win her back, the comic premise takes a convincingly nightmarish turn... let's just say, heads are bashed. ALISON HALLETT
The Wind Journeys (Colombia)
A tight-lipped minstrel, Ignacio, is saddled with the devil's accordion and an envious boy; their quest to return the cursed instrument is a crisp, colorful odyssey across a land of magic realism. ANDREW R TONRY
Woman without Piano (Spain)
A middle-aged woman stuck in the routine of daily life decides to leave her sleeping husband in the middle of the night and spends the next eight hours wandering the streets in this slow-paced Spanish film. And yes, she is largely without piano. ALI REINGOLD
Yang Yang (Taiwan)
A coming-of-age story about a Eurasian model.
20th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films
Runs through March 6. Unless otherwise noted, films screen at PCC Cascade. Free admission. More info: africanfilmfestival.org.
Four Ugandan musicians' friendships are tested.
The Fighting Spirit
A documentary about three Ghanaian boxers. Director George Amponsah in attendance.
A film about the friendship between two families, one Muslim and one Jewish.
Princess of the Sun
A cartoon about a 14-year-old girl's journey to become King Tut's child bride. (Creepy.) Followed by Obara & the Merchants. Kennedy School.
Sex, Okra, and Salted Butter
A satire from Chad about African ex-patriots living in France.
The Yacoubian Building
The most expensive Egyptian film ever made! Directed by the Egyptian James Cameron. Hollywood Theatre.
BAM: Beer & Movie Fest
Adventures in Babysitting
A documentary about the beer industry.
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
All you ever wanted to know about Republican strategist Lee Atwater!
Bring Me the Head of
Sam Peckinpah's 1974 classic.
1976's campy horror flick.
A slight but fascinating glimpse of David Bowie in 1974, just as he's shaking off the ghost of Ziggy Stardust and cultivating a massive cocaine addiction. NED LANNAMANN
The Deadly Spawn
Trashy horror from 1983.
The Final Terror
More trashy horror.
Seven Japanese schoolgirls visit a haunted house in Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 head-trip, which is quite simply one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. The effects are incredibly cheesy and the movie refuses to settle on a consistent tone, but Obayashi's visual style creates a wispy, sugary dream world that gushes with blood. NED LANNAMANN
The Human Centipede
The Human Centipede joins the legions of gross-out movies that are way more fun to describe than watch. So, there's a brilliant surgeon who lives alone in the woods and specializes in separating conjoined twins. But he's German so, I guess, naturally he's also a pervo who dreams of connecting three people end to end, butt to mouth, like some sort of human... I dunno, worm or something. Gross, right?! Just don't accuse it of being uneducational, because viewers will learn how to train and care for their own human centipedes. DAVE BOW
In a Lonely Place
Humphrey Bogart is accused of murder and falls for the dame next door in this 1950 picture that begins as a hard-boiled noir but turns into a vapid love story. NED LANNAMANN
Chuck Norris—he used to be (slightly) more than a meme!
Michael Mann's take on Hannibal Lecter.
A Night in Heaven
1983's dance flick.
1932's drama with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
Two writers for Vice are playing hard and loose with the facts in this biopic of Jesco White, a West Virginia hillbilly who loves to sniff lighter fluid. White becomes a tap dancer and falls in love with an older woman (Carrie Fisher, whoa) and basically goes shithouse crazy. The movie, told in washed out tones, is both off-putting and mesmerizing in its unflinching look at White's messed up life, but when the facts go out the window, the movie becomes worthless. NED LANNAMANN
How the Sonics were stolen by an Oklahoma tycoon, and how Seattle let it happen. You can view this exhaustively detailed documentary online, but it's a heartbreaking tale—you'll never take the Blazers for granted again. NED LANNAMANN
Rutger Hauer vs. a monster.
Trick or Treat
1986's goofy cult horror flick.
Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard star in this 1933 drama.
The Wild Bunch
Another Peckinpah classic, this one from '69.
2010 Oscar Nominated
The animated short films are the fun-size candies of the Oscar nominations—they're invariably delightful, short bursts of sweetness. It goes without saying that the Wallace and Gromit short A Matter of Loaf and Death is brilliant, with the prudent dog desperately trying to keep Wallace out of an unwise relationship with a mysterious blonde spokesmodel. Logorama is a heavy-handed, yet outrageously innovative and entertaining French film about a hard-boiled city constructed entirely of company logos, wherein the cops (all Michelin Men) hunt down a sociopathic fugitive on the run (trash-talkin' Ronald McDonald). Let's just say Adbusters found their new favorite film. It's a great group of films—not a stinker in the bunch. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
2010 Oscar Nominated
Live Action Shorts
There's one thing you can pretty much count on with the majority of the live-action short-film nominations for Academy Awards—incredibly earnest Important Topic Films. Modern-day slavery in India. The fun riot that is Chernobyl. A sniper run amok in an elementary school. Good times. But it's the comedic films that are the true standouts in this year's batch: The New Tenants, with Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan, about a gay couple who moves into a messed-up apartment building. And don't miss the Swedish short Instead of Abracadabra, a very funny, (non-annoying, I swear) Napoleon Dynamite-esque riff on a loveable loser who yearns for the "gothic mystery and mayhem" of being a magician. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Four Seasons Lodge
A documentary about a colony in the Catskills where, every year, a group of elderly Holocaust survivors convene to spend the summer together—the closest thing many of them have to a family. They talk about the war, and the camps; they talk about their friends, and their jobs, and about how the lights in their cabin aren't working right; they talk about how to go on with life after seeing what they've seen. Plus, there's old-person dancing, which is about the cutest damn thing on the planet. Go see it, but good luck not crying your face off. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
From Paris With Love
If John Travolta stars in a movie set in France, there are really only two ways the movie can go: Either he doesn't make the "Royale with cheese" joke, or he does. You'll be relieved to learn that in From Paris with Love, the new action flick from Pierre Morel (Taken, District B13), Travolta does make the "Royale with cheese" joke—not once, but twice. It's totally awkward and unfitting for the movie, too, busting down an already shaky fourth wall with a cheap laugh that'll only remind you how far Travolta has plummeted in the decade-and-a-half since his career resurgence with Pulp Fiction. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
The Last Station
While the expression "behind every great man is a great woman" has rightfully fallen into disuse, The Last Station is based on just such a historical formulation: the turbulent relationship between Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sofya. This, though, is no tale of stoic devotion, of wifey tending the fires while her husband is out sowing his genius. Sofya Tolstoy (fiercely portrayed by Helen Mirren), is indeed devoted to her husband—they've been married for 50 years, during which time she's served as his supporter and secretary, famously copying multiple drafts of War and Peace by hand. She is also utterly determined to see his legacy preserved, in a manner that befits both of their labors. Leo and Sofya's grand, crumbling passion is depicted with unerring emotional precision by Plummer and Mirren. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
A film fest that aims to "promote women filmmakers, raise awareness for women's issues, and support worthy women's nonprofit organizations." Sponsored by "LUNA, the Whole Nutrition Bar for Women"! Clinton Street Theater.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
At its goofy best, Percy Jackson feels like a fun episode of Hercules or Xena, and is about as well made. This is the sort of movie where, when the heroic teen protagonists board a Greyhound bus to begin their journey to Hades, AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" plays over the soundtrack; later, in a casino owned by the mythical lotus eaters, a satyr does a choreographed dance routine with a bunch of skanky Vegas showgirls to "Poker Face." Percy Jackson, you might have started out as a soulless and calculated Harry Potter knockoff, but apparently, you know me well: Give me a cool fight against a hydra and a stoned-out-of-his-mind satyr dancing to Lady Gaga, and you've won me over. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Rivers and Tides
There are dozens of good documentaries about the artistic process, but few are as insightful as Rivers and Tides. Director Thomas Riedelsheimer followed artist Andy Goldsworthy for a year as he constructed outdoor installations with natural objects. Essential viewing for greenies and arties alike. DAVE BOW Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye
"A glimpse deep into the mountain peaks of the Indian Himalayas, where meditation is changing a school and a community." Clinton Street Theater.
Serj Tankian: Elect the Dead
At their best, System of a Down distinguished themselves during metal's dire early '00s with a sense of anarchic fun and refusal to navel-gaze. But even at their best they were still, you know... nu-metal. And the harder SOAD individually stretch themselves the more they show their limitations. This no-frills concert film of singer Serj Tankian's one-off symphonic show performing his ho-hum solo debut, Elect the Dead, does more for detractors than apologists. DAVE BOW Hollywood Theatre.
See review. Various Theaters.