Across the Universe
The cheese-tastic Beatles musical made expressly for lonely people. Bagdad Theater.
Life in Jaffa—a rough, melting-pot neighborhood of Tel Aviv—can be bleak. Instability trickles down from the conflict with Palestine, and regular families are sucked into the struggles of criminals. The multi-threaded, non-linear, interwoven Ajami is as much pulp as political, and the harsh, violent tale moves along at a fine clip. ANDREW R TONRY Fox Tower 10.
A traveling collection of shorts made by for the JUMP (Juneau Underground Motion Picture) Festival. We hereby promise to not make a single Northern Exposure or Sarah Palin joke. (As ever, we reserve the right to make whatever goddamn Duck Tales jokes we please.) Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Alice in Wonderland
The fact that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland isn't a straight retelling of the Lewis Carroll books might be motivated by a desire to give the tale more narrative heft, but it also feels like a pulled punch. (In his version Alice is 19, returning to the place she thought she'd dreamed of as a child.) Following Alice (Mia Wasikowska) through Burton's Wonderland is a perfectly scenic carnival ride—punctuated with the occasional plucked eyeball and rotting severed head—but the attempts to work up the plot with simple conflicts and run-of-the-mill set-ups are little more than enablers to the next visual treat. Burton seems torn between the intimidation of a beloved classic and confidence in his own appeal, but somewhere in the middle with Burton and Alice is not a terrible place to be stuck. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The Art of the Steal
Wealthy misanthrope Dr. Albert C. Barnes spent the better part of his adult life assembling what has since become one of the most enviable (and valuable) collections of post-impressionist art in the world—all the while pledging to keep it out of the hands of all those philistines at the national museums. Satisfyingly one-sided, The Art of the Steal tells the compelling story of conspiracy, greed, and political outrage that followed Barnes' heir-less death. ZAC PENNINGTON Living Room Theaters.
The Black Waters of Echo's Pond
Wha? A crappy looking horror flick that wasn't screened for critics? Why, I never.... Various Theaters.
The Bounty Hunter
Jennifer Aniston plays Nicole, a hard-nosed reporter who's recently been arrested for assaulting a police officer (pish!). When she misses her court date, the judge finds her guilty and puts a warrant out for her arrest. (Or... something. I'm not exactly clear on how justice worked in this situation.) Enter her ex-husband Milo (Gerard Butler), a former cop now working as a bail enforcement agent, which is a less-cool way of saying "bounty hunter." Various bad guys strongarm the plot into action-flick territory (guns are fired, cars are crashed), and then Jennifer Aniston twitches her nose and transforms it back into a romcom. The Bounty Hunter's labored marriage of action and romance is clearly designed to make this date movie more palatable to dudes. Dudes, don't fall for it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
In the states, the erotic thriller genre is a child of the '90s. The most memorable entries—Poison Ivy, Basic Instinct, Crash—were released in the decade that introduced us to Monica Lewinsky, Nirvana, and the World Wide Web. Though Chloe director Atom Egoyan is Canadian, it's fitting that he should turn to the much sexier country of France for Chloe's inspiration, simply remaking 2003's Nathalie.... And yet the result takes you right back in time to the spare modern elegance of Catherine Tramell's décor aesthetic, with a young, dangerous, flaxen-haired vixen (Amanda Seyfried, valiantly substituting for Drew Barrymore), and you wind up with a very familiar-feeling car crash of a film. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
An entertaining comedy in which a prison guard who secretly wants to be an actor (Andy Garcia) learns his illegitimate and long forgotten son, Tony (Steven Strait), is in his prison. Because guilt has got his goat, the prison guard assumes responsibility for the convict, takes him into his house, and moves him into the middle of a family that's on the verge of collapsing. There is a little incest, a little betrayal, a little sexual perversity, a lot of drinking, a lot of smoking, and a lot of fighting. CHARLES MUDEDE Fox Tower 10.
Clash of the Titans
Sam Worthington—whom you may recall as being painted blue and having ponytail sex with pterodactyls in Avatar—plays Perseus, who has the daunting challenge of leading the humans' attack on a group of insecure, passive-aggressive gods led by his daddy Zeus (Liam Neeson). Little does Zeus know that his brother Hades (a watery-eyed Ralph Fiennes) is planning a coup that will not only overturn Mount Olympus, but also make Earth feel like a never-ending episode of Dancing with the Stars. Feelings are hurt, chaos ensues, and it all plays like a soap opera with giant scorpions. (But not as entertaining.) While the original Clash of the Titans was a cheesy, overwrought delight, this outing is remarkably drab. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
A great film that centers around a grizzled slab of a man, in 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.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a new movie based on the book by Jeff Kinney. The movie characters are Greg and his best friend Rowley, and Fregley, a kid with hygiene issues. I don't think the movie was quite as good as the book, partly because the characters didn't look like they did in the book, really at all. Some of the parts I remember best are when Greg goes to Fregley's house and Fregley chases Greg around with a booger on his finger. Another part I remember well was at the end of the book when some teenagers made Rowley eat "THE CHEESE" (THE CHEESE is an old moldy piece of cheese on the blacktop of Greg's school). A few of the scenes were not in the book and a few of the things that happened in the book never occurred in the movie, but all in all I thought that the acting was really good and from a scale of one to 10, I would give it a seven or an eight. MICAH CABOT, AGE NINE Various Theaters.
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a precocious high schooler in 1960s Britain, an overachiever bound for Oxford—until the day she accepts a ride home from a wealthy older man (the phrase "stranger danger" apparently hadn't been coined yet). The cultured, well-traveled David (Peter Saarsgard) seems like the perfect suitor, and before long, their whirlwind romance has entirely replaced Jenny's dreams of attending Oxford. The film is meticulous in detailing exactly what value was placed on a woman's education in the 1960s, and Jenny's decision to forgo her schooling for a more glamorous life is well-contextualized. But for all its beautiful costumes, beautiful actors, and beautiful cars, there's something dry about An Education, something sexless and preachy. Perhaps it's a concession to modern mores—guys like David are creeps, we're subtly reassured, even if no one in the '60s realized it yet. Either way, the whiff of judgmental hindsight that comes off An Education ensures that its characters, and their decisions, remain at arm's length. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.
The Ghost Writer
Fuck the Polanski apologists—if some time behind bars will prevent this man from making any more movies like The Ghost Writer, it's a win-win for everyone. Ewan McGregor plays the titular scribe, who's been handed what appears to be the gig of a lifetime: the chance to ghost the memoirs of a recently disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan). One thing, though: The ghost's predecessor just wound up swimming with the fishes under exceedingly suspicious circumstances. Within minutes, the film's mystery begins to unfold like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon as acted by a series of Tennessee Williams heroines. Suffice to say, Chinatown this is not. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
G.I. Joe Stop-Motion Film Festival
An evening of homemade shorts that take the action figures and... well, you can figure it out from there. Hollywood Theatre.
Adapting journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, screenwriter Brian Helgeland's narrative jumps between hard-hitting action sequences and less-than-hard-hitting scenes of politically loaded dialogue. It's March of 2003, and Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller's (Matt Damon) job is to track down WMDs in Baghdad. The only problem—and you'll never see this coming!—is that whenever he gets to a place where WMDs are supposed to be, there's jack shit. Green Zone works when it deals not with simplified moral quandaries, but rather when it's dominated by director Paul Greengrass' action chops: His camera feverish and eager, Greengrass' action scenes burst with momentum and catharsis. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
It's about time writer/director Noah Baumbach wrote a full-fledged character study, because his attention to the details that make up a personality is peerless. Baumbach's last movie, Margot at the Wedding, relentlessly catalogued the anxieties and quirks of two estranged sisters—but while the depiction of family dynamics was razor sharp, Margot's characters were so generally unpleasant that by the time Jennifer Jason Leigh pooped her pants in the woods, it was hard to care how all that meticulously detailed moping would be resolved. With Greenberg—in which Ben Stiller plays an unstable New York carpenter who's just relocated to LA—Baumbach tempers his lacerating insights with a humor that recalls his excellent 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Grindhouse Film Fest:
1981's old-school kung-fu flick, in which "a gang of blood-drinking kung fu villains wear wicked devil masks and kill at will." THAT GETS A STAR. Hollywood Theatre.
Hot Tub Time Machine
Oh, how transparently this movie rips off Back to the Future; oh, how badly it fails to be one one-hundredth as funny. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
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 Living Room Theaters.
How to Train Your Dragon
Essentially a "boy and his dog" story in the vein of Old Yeller, only nobody gets rabies and the dog is a fucking dragon. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a clumsy young viking who wants nothing more than to be a dragon slayer like his dad—until the day he befriends an injured dragon, and starts to wonder if training dragons might not be better than killing them. The story is charmingly told, but it's in the visuals that Dragon really distinguishes itself: Witness the creepily beautiful scene in which, as Hiccup and his dragon soar over the ocean, hundreds of dragons begin materializing out of the fog around them. This is the type of movie that I want my (hypothetical, future) children to watch, because it's imaginative and exciting and alert to the possibility of beauty in the world. It's also the type of movie that I want my (actual, present) stoner friends to see because, well... 3D dragons! ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
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 Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
Jewish Film Fest:
Saviors in the Night
Ludi Boeken's WWII drama, based on the memoir by Marga Spiegel. Saviors in the Night kicks off the 18th Portland Jewish Film Festival, which runs through April 25; see next week's Mercury or nwfilm.org for more info. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Lady and the Duke
Eric Rohmer's 2001 film involving the French Revolution. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Last Song
Like other films based on the seemingly endless parade of Nicholas Sparks novels (Dear John, The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), The Last Song is a minefield of manipulative circumstances its characters must cross before they reach their inevitable reconciliations. Sparks draws liberally from a grab bag of complications to give his stories momentum—a crippling accident here, a terminal illness there—because without them, his flat characters would have nothing to say to one another. DAVE BOW Various Theaters.
Letters to God
Some Jesus freak flick. Not screened for critics. Bridgeport Village Stadium 18, Century Eastport 16, Lloyd Mall 8.
The latest episode, hosted by Cort and Fatboy. (Psst! Here's the island's secret: The show's writers don't know what they're doing!) Bagdad Theater.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
The titular subject of The Most Dangerous Man in America isn't a serial killer or covert terrorist embedded in our midst, but Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971. Chronicling the status, strategies, and motives of the United States' involvement in Vietnam, the huge, top-secret document inspired widespread outrage and protests, and deepened the American people's distrust in the government. While edifying and inspiring on the surface, America is ultimately depressing. Perhaps even more so than the rank-and-file citizenry, it should be required viewing for anyone in public office. The filmmakers don't push the issue of history repeating itself, but it would be difficult to ignore the fact that cover-ups and deliberate misinformation continue to pervade the relationships between government and governed, perhaps most lethally in times of war. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
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 Fox Tower 10.
When 19-year-old Malik (Tahar Rahim) starts his six-year sentence in a French prison, he's illiterate and naïve. He has no friends, no family, and no one to watch his back. Immediately, a gang of Corsicans—who rule both inside the prison and outside as the mafia—sweep in to put the young Arab under their thumb, alienating him from the Muslim prisoners and causing discord among the Corsican thugs. Green and inexperienced, Malik is coerced into murdering a fellow Arab—and for the next six years he is haunted by the murdered man's ghost, seemingly his only true friend in a world of sharks. Simply put, A Prophet is a prison drama—but more than anything, it's a robust and engaging character study of Malik, who goes from being a young doormat to a confident, Machiavellian linchpin in a dark transformation full of seething ferocity and quiet ambition. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
See review. Cinema 21.
Red Riding: 1974, 1980, 1983
Dour and grim, the Red Riding trilogy is noteworthy more for its format than anything else: three films, each made by a different director, and each spanning a different time period in Northern England. Based on a series of four novels by David Peace—which, in turn, were inspired by actual events—Red Riding: 1974, Red Riding: 1980, and Red Riding: 1983 share characters and settings, themes and plot threads—yet all stand on their own as effective crime dramas. Even if the trilogy never quite reaches the emotional resonance one would hope for, and even if, by its final installment, it's reached a melodramatic pitch, it's nevertheless well worth experiencing. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
Reel Paddling Film Festival
A fest promising "the best paddling films of the year." We're gonna pretend they mean the dominatrix sort of paddling, not the yuppie sort of paddling. Bagdad Theater.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
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 Academy Theater, Avalon, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Milwaukie Cinemas, Valley Theater.
She's Out of My League
There's only one thing notable about the (ostensible) comedy She's Out of My League, and that's how blatantly it rips off the past 15 years of American comedic filmmaking. Kevin Smith's seen-it-all sarcasm. Judd Apatow's insistence that nice guys finish first. The no-they-didn't raunch of American Pie, and the buddy bonding of I Love You, Man. They're all here, distilled down to their dumbest elements—minus brains, cleverness, genuine wit, or actors charismatic enough to float a film. ALISON HALLETT Century Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas.
The sort of movie where supposedly smart characters do idiotic things; where lightning dramatically flashes to underscore plot developments; where things lunge from shadows not because it makes sense for them to do so but because... well, lunging is just what things in shadows do. Director Martin Scorsese seems eager to try out some time-honored genre clichés: The music jolts, character actors offer dire warnings, and for its first hour or so, Shutter Island is, if not scary, satisfyingly creepy. I won't spoil how it ends, but suffice to say there's a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" at the heavens, and also that the climax would be considered pretty shoddy even by M. Night Shyamalan's standards. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Sing-Along Mary Poppins
Can you sing better than Julie Andrews? No? Then shut the fuck up. Cinema 21.
Smiles of a Summer Night
INGMAR BERGMAN'S IN THE MOTHERFUCKIN' HOUSE Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A gritty, gorgeous documentation of gruff, hard-bitten shepherds driving their flocks through the treacherous mountains of Montana. Told in breathtaking, bracing images, it expertly conveys the silent strength of a callous lifestyle, kindred to earth and animals, that's sputtering into nonexistence. MARJORIE SKINNER Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A doc about the evils of bottled water. Bring your Dasani bottles to throw at the screen in disgust! Hollywood Theatre.
A small-town detective drama of uncertain tone, Terribly Happy concerns a Copenhagen cop who's reassigned to the countryside after a breakdown leaves him rattled and pill-dependent. Supposedly a very dark comedy, it's hard to find much to laugh at here, as the well-intentioned cop slowly comes around to the town's corrupt, wife-beating ways. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
They Threw Like Girls
A "short experimental film poem on girl friendship, death, and attachment." More info: elgato-negro.com. Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A Town Called Panic
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 Hollywood Theatre.
David Byrne and John Goodman, together at last. Pix Patisserie (North).
Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get
Tyler Perry's latest. We didn't see it. We didn't see the first Why Did I Get Married, either, so we'd probably be lost even if we had seen it. Various Theaters.
The 1954 Western starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Laurelhurst Theater.
The White Ribbon
A smoldering and horrifying masterpiece from Austrian director Michael Haneke (Funny Games). The methodical, even glacial, pace of the film, which lingers on mundane and momentous exchanges alike, draws the audience unwittingly into a subtly taut experience. You may not find yourself gripping the edge of your seat in the theater, but the wary sense of secret evil will dog you for days. MARJORIE SKINNER City Center 12.
A not-screened-for-critics drama "about three strangers of two generations who embark on a road trip through post-Katrina Louisiana." Hey, doesn't Treme start this week? Fox Tower 10.