18th PORTLAND JEWISH
Runs through Monday, April 25 at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. For more info, see nwfilm.org.
Eli & Ben
A coming-of-age drama.
Inside Hana's Suitcase
A non-fiction film about a suitcase sent to the Tokyo Holocaust Museum, in which the museum curator learns about of the suitcase's former owner—a little girl named Hana Brady.
Gerard Depardieu stars in a "romantic comedy about a middle-aged Jewish French couple."
History of Israeli Cinema
A three-and-half-hour-long academic treatment of Israeli film from the 1930s to modern day. Not for the uninitiated or the casual fan, this film assumes a working knowledge of Israeli history, and cultural criticism from prominent Israeli filmmakers, actors, and professors is spliced with a shitload of clips. The first half drags from too many desert-war flicks, heavy on heroics and low on production value. Things picks up in the late '70s, when Israeli cinema stops being "pro-Israeli, in every sense of the word," and budding avant-garde movements compare interestingly with our own. Still, A History of Israeli Cinema is a lecture on the big screen. JANE CARLEN
JACKPOT RECORDS FILM FEST
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.
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, as stated, 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.
ASIFA-Portland Animation Showcase
Fifteen recent shorts "showing off Portland's world-class animation scene." Cinema 21.
The Back-Up Plan
See review. 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.
If you're going to see one remake of a 1970s horror flick this year... no seriously, you could do so much worse than The Crazies. COURTNEY FERGUSON Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
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
In one scene in Death at a Funeral, award-winning actor Danny Glover traps Tracy Morgan's hand under his butt and poops on it. Then, when Morgan washes his hand, the water pressure is so high that the poop sprays into his mouth and all over his face. I only mention it because I just described one of the funniest scenes in this movie. DAVE BOW Various Theaters.
Dr. Reclusion's Sunday Night Phlegm Festival
A screening of the Syfy Channel's non-classic Pterodactyl (starring Coolio!) in which audience heckling isn't only encouraged, it's a contest. More info: coldhandsvideo.com/phlegmfestival.htm. Mississippi Pizza Pub & Atlantis Lounge.
An Evening with
Barbara Hammer presents some of her "groundbreaking lesbian/feminist experimental films," including her latest, 2008's A Horse is Not a Metaphor. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Eye of the Day
Leonard Retel Helmrich's documentary follows a family in a working-class section of Jakarta. Co-presented by Cinema Project. Also see short for Shape of the Moon. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A Whole Foods-sponsored screening of a food doc about those creating "a new model for modern agriculture." Hollywood Theatre.
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
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book in Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy, and a bestseller in Europe and the US. The new film adaptation centers on the unlikely relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth, a journalist and a young hacker who team up to investigate a long-unsolved mystery—and the pathological misogyny that is apparently endemic to Swedish culture. But even at 152 minutes, no insights emerge, other than that women get raped and murdered a lot. It's a shame, too—Girl is beautifully shot, and Mikael and Lisbeth are odd, sympathetic characters. I just wish their investigation didn't involve quite so many pictures of naked, mutilated dead women. ALISON HALLETT Cinema 21.
"First you gotta do the truffle shuffle." 99W Drive-In, Pix Patisserie (North).
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 Broadway Metroplex.
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.
A selection of short documentaries made by students in the NW Documentary Workshop, with all proceeds going to NW Documentary programs. More info: nwdocumentary.org. Mission Theater.
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.
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 Fifth Avenue Cinema, Living Room Theaters.
Given that the American consumer spends her days pinned in the crosshairs of ever-craftier marketers, the premise of The Joneses is an inspired bit of paranoia: A crack sales team moves into an affluent neighborhood, disguised as the enviably attractive Jones family. Under a façade of all-American friendliness, each member of the family strategically markets to their target audience, i.e., their peers—casually flaunting their cell phones, skateboards, and golf clubs, the Joneses goad their oblivious, status-conscious neighbors into a stuff-buying frenzy. What begins as an entertainingly cynical conceit, though, falls apart as soon as the film asks us to care about the Jonesesq themselves. ALISON HALLETT City Center 12, 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.
"Okay, you cunts—let's see what you can do now." That's one of the more charming lines from Kick-Ass, and it's also pretty good evidence that Kick-Ass' filmmakers selected the wrong character to be the film's protagonist. Ostensibly, Kick-Ass is about Kick-Ass, the superhero who comics-obsessed dweeb Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to become. But the real star of the flick is Mindy Macready, AKA Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), an adorable little cupcake who slices and dices more bad guys than anyone since the Bride in Kill Bill. Sometimes she looks like she's gonna sell you Girl Scout cookies, sometimes she's calling people cunts and asking what they can do now, and usually she's going all Jackson Pollock with other people's arterial sprays. She's fantastic. ERIK HENRIKSEN 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.
See review. Various Theaters.
The 1965 Western that, sadly, has nothing to do with Paul Hogan. Laurelhurst Theater.
Much like the instrument it takes as its subject, Mighty Uke is alternately cute and infuriatingly nerdy. The current crop of ukulele enthusiasts range from kitsch fetishists to serious musicians, all of whom are determined to rescue the instrument from the ghetto of novelty. They succeed, somewhat, but it's safe to say the ukulele will never be cool. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Not Dead Yet
"A dramedy about life, hot flashes, and profound reawakenings." Narrated by Duane "Dog" Chapman. Hollywood Theatre.
Disney's "Look, we love the environment too!" Earth Day release. Not screened for critics. Various 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.
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.
In the incredibly bloody and mostly great Repo Men, organs are mass-manufactured, marketed, and implanted to keep people alive—but should a recipient default on the sizable payments, a repo man will show up and forcefully repossess the organ in question. Remy (Jude Law) is one such repo man, and the film begins in a sly, blacker-than-black comic tone as he methodically guts the deadbeats who can't make their payments. But one day, Remy suffers a heart attack on the job and wakes up in the hospital with a shiny new ticker, along with the attendant, exorbitant payments. It's no surprise that Remy has a change of heart (eh? eh?) and can no longer continue in his line of work. Nor is it a surprise that his best friend and co-worker Jake (Forest Whitaker, as excellent as ever) becomes the one to try to track him down. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
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, Hollywood Theatre.
Seattle: Animation on the Edge
A collection of Seattle filmmakers' short works that blurs "the boundaries between animation, visual art, and experimental filmmaking." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Shape of the Moon
A companion documentary to The Eye of the Day, again directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich. Co-presented by Cinema Project. Also see short for The Eye of the Day. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Student Academy Awards
The best animated, narrative, and documentary films from various colleges and art schools. More info: nwfilm.org. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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.
Who Does She Think She Is?
A documentary following "five women artists as they navigate the economic, psychological, and spiritual challenges of making work outside the elite art world." Clinton Street Theater.