Runs through April 25. All films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. More info: nwfilm.org.
Subtlety is nowhere to be found in María Victoria Menis' Camera Obscura. The Argentinian film set in the late 1800s looks like an ugly duckling story—the protagonist Gertrudis (Mirta Bogdasarian) wears glasses and black clothes. It quacks like an ugly duckling story: No one wanted to dance with Gertrudis when she was young and now she contents herself with cloud-gazing from a loveless marriage. Until along comes along an itinerant French photographer who can see through his lens to her true beauty! It is an ugly duckling story, and despite picturesque shots of Argentinan countryside, it will bore you right to sleep. JANE CARLEN
Hey Hey It's Esther Bluburger
A nerdy Jewish girl "goes undercover and pretends to be a Swedish exchange student."
Man-Ray: Prophet of
A documentary about the revered pioneer of hyphen usage.
Mary and Max
The titular characters in the Australian claymation film Mary & Max share two things in common: They're both fans of a fictional TV show called Noblets, and they're both crushingly lonely. Otherwise, they're worlds apart—quite literally. Mary is an eight-year-old girl growing up in Australia trying to overlook the problems life has dealt her: Her mother is an alcoholic and the kids at school tease her about the brown birthmark on her forehead. Mary finds solace in little things, like tins of sweetened condensed milk and her pet rooster, Ethel. One day, Mary picks Max's name at random out of a New York phone book and writes him a letter. Adam Elliot, best known for the Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet, delivers a marvelous feature-length debut. NED LANNAMANN
A Matter of Size
Hertzl (Itzik Cohen) is so fat he got kicked out of Israeli Weight Watchers. (Oh!) He's so fat, even his Jewish mother wants him to stop eating. (Oh!) He's so fat, waiters at the Japanese restaurant where he washes dishes thought he was a Sumo wrestler. (Oh snap!) Inadvertently inspired, Hertzl leads his three schlubby friends to take up sumo, an outlet from the problems that have compounded their fatness (dead-end jobs, closeted gayness, cheating wives). While it's nice that these characters aren't one-dimensional—this is no Big Momma's House—their woes make this mildly amusing film slower and heavier than it should be. JANE CARLEN
A coming-of-age story set in the 1980s.
"The first Isreli film directed by an Israeli Ethiopian." FINALLY.
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 Sundance-approved flick in which a man (played by director Linas Phillips) drives a '76 Volkswagen van across the country. We're guessing some life lessons are learned. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt
A beautifully complex portrait of Townes Van Zandt, who wrote some of the most heartbreak-y flower child/alt-cowboy songs ever recorded. Van Zandt expedited his self-destruction with an addiction to bottles and needles, but Be Here to Love Me paints a three-dimensional profile of the artist, digging not only into his songs, but into his late-adolescent shock treatments, his needlessly run-down life, and his wonderfully metaphoric mind. Includes tons of rare performances, as well as interviews with ex-wives, family members, and musicians such as Guy Clark, Joe Ely, and Willie Nelson. CHAS BOWIE Fifth Avenue Cinema.
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.
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.
Why, Hello Tina Fey of TV's 30 Rock! It's great to see you! You are likeable and charming and hilarious! And who's that with you? Why, it's Steve Carell, of TV's The Office! You, sir, are also likeable and charming and hilarious! You aren't as pretty as Tina Fey, but then, no one is. And who is this? Oh. It's... Shawn Levy. The director of Cheaper by the Dozen. And The Pink Panther remake. And Night at the Museum. And the second Night at the Museum. [CHIRPING SOUND OF CRICKETS CHIRPING] ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Death at a Funeral
See review. Various Theaters.
Filmed by Bike
See Film, this issue. Clinton St. 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.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
See review. Cinema 21.
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:
Mystery of Chess Boxing
See My, What a Busy Week!, pg. 17. 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.
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.
Jackpot Records Film & Music Festival: The T.A.M.I. Show: Teenage Awards Music International
The first film in this year's Jackpot Film & Music Festival (which begins in earnest on April 26) is "one of the rarest and most sought-after performance films of all time." Featuring 1964 performances from the Stones, the Beach Boys, James Brown, and more. More info: jackpotrecords.com/blog/. Hollywood Theatre.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D
I would like it to be on the record that it is against my wishes that this fine publication be soiled by even mentioning this film. The decision to print showtimes for this 3D salute to sleeveless shirts will no doubt earn the Mercury a black mark of journalistic shame overshadowing the Great Moon Hoax and Jayson Blair combined. JANUARY "THE INTERN" VAWTER Various Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
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. Century Eastport 16, Division Street, Lloyd Mall 8.
The Little Traitor
Alfred Molina stars in a drama originally titled We Aren't Gonna Show This to Critics. Fox Tower 10.
The Long Riders
Walter Hill's 1980 Western starring David Carradine AND Keith Carradine! Laurelhurst Theater.
See review. Living Room Theaters.
Disney's "Look, we love the environment too!" Earth Day release. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
An American documentary about a typically atypical family wracked by everything from the Vietnam War to child abuse, teen pregnancy, poverty, and Wiccaphobia. Rendered in visually beautiful and emotionally aware strokes, it would be a stretch to say this film offers a tremendous amount of hope—but it is a singularly compassionate portrayal of the quirky characters that make our dysfunctional little world go 'round. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
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.
1985's Ran is often (correctly) described as Kurosawa's riff on Shakespeare's King Lear, but I've always thought it had more in common with Hitchcock's Vertigo. Not in subject matter or style, but in the way it exposes Kurosawa's psyche so clearly. Ran is the story of an old ruler, guilty of terrible crimes and nearing the end of his life; in a moment of foolish optimism, he divides his kingdom among his three sons. The chaos that ensues drives him insane as his whole world falls to beautiful, soul-destroying ruin all around him, burnt and salted by the same pride that fueled his rise. By blending Shakespearean tragedy with old Japanese legend, and applying every technique he ever learned or invented, Kurosawa creates an epic that comes as close as anything to realizing the concept of filmed poetry. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
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.
It's no secret that the Runaways were a band that got a startling amount of mileage out of just a handful of songs, along with a manufactured jailbait mystique. While music biopics are often aimed at the heavy hitters on the Billboard charts—Ray, The Doors, Dylan six times over in I'm Not There—a film dedicated to a short-lived, all-girl act that was equal parts inspiration and novelty seems like little more than an excuse for creepy film executives to perv out on Dakota Fanning in a tube top. But if you can overlook more than a few heavy-handed clichés, you'll discover The Runaways to be a fine coming-of-age film that offers a welcomingly realistic look at the brief spark and fade of five teenage girls and their short-run at fame. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Fox Tower 10.
Screaming City: West Berlin 1980s
Cinema Project presents a two-night program of films from West Berlin, made "in the decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall... [when] the Super-8 medium facilitated the production of low cost and truly independent films." Curator Stefanie Schulte-Strathaus in attendance. More info: cinemaproject.org. Clinton Street Theater.
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.
Surfin' for the Ugly Broads
The premiere of a BMX flick. More info: bonedeth.blogspot.com. Clinton Street Theater.
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.
Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau
A documentary about Thoreau and his final days before leaving Walden pond. Suck it, Ralph Waldo Emerson! Clinton Street 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 Lake Twin Cinema, Laurelhurst Theater.