The Reel Music Festival runs through Tuesday January 18. Not all films were screened for critics. Unless otherwise noted, films screen at the Northwest Film Center's Whistell Auditorium. For more info, see nwfilm.org.
Evening's Civil Twilight in Empires of Tin
A "documentary musical hallucination" (oh, goddammit) that documents a performance piece inspired by Joseph Roth's 1932 novel The Radersky March.
The Story of Fishbone
This outstanding documentary serves as a direct, complete, and emotionally powerful history of Fishbone, the LA group of black junior-high-school friends who grew into one of the tightest bands in the world, turning the funk (black) and punk (white) music scenes on their ear. Still, Fishbone never managed to get their due, and this stunning film shows why: Fishbone's history is rife with fractious friendships and ego trips, not to mention a guitarist lost to brainwashing by his cult-leader father. There are dozens of incredible stories here, making Everyday Sunshine not just one of the best films of this festival, but one of the best music documentaries, period. NED LANNAMANN
Stan Warnow, the son of musician Harry Warnow (better known as Raymond Scott), delves into his father's life and legacy.
El Salvador's New Wave
A doc about Salvadorian cover bands of the '60s and '70s.
In My Mind
Loose, accomplished, studied, seemingly effortless: These words describe both the documentary In My Mind and its subjects, Thelonious Monk and Jason Moran. Monk was one of jazz's greatest pianist-composers, while Moran is a piano-playing up-and-comer with chops and creativity. In My Mind documents Moran's 50-year-anniversary tribute to Monk's legendary 1959 Town Hall concert with a breezy, unambitious pace. DAVE BOW
John Cohen: Appalachia Songs the High Lonesome Sound
A half-hour-long film documenting "the songs of churchgoers, miners, and farmers" in eastern Kentucky. Followed by The End of an Old Song, Sarah and Maybelle: The Carter Family, and Roscoe Holcomb from Daisy, Kentucky.
An amateur Congolese orchestra and choir rehearses and performs Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Kinshasa Symphony is compelling not so much because of its musical content (the musicians visibly struggle with the piece throughout the film) but because of its backdrop and characters. The filmmakers interweave the narrative with shots of individual musicians performing out on the dense, crowded, dirty Kinshasa streets, and the juxtaposition is superb. NED LANNAMANN
Lance Bangs: Immortal Volume Music Films
A selection of music videos, documentary excerpts, shorts, and experimental films from local filmmaker Lance Bangs.
NY Export: Opus Jazz
I love dance movies, but I hate the tired plots that usually accompany them. Meet my new favorite dance flick: NY Export: Opus Jazz, starring a bunch of hot dancers from the New York City Ballet shaking their toned booties on a sultry summer day as they reinterpret famed choreographer Jerome Robbins' 1958 ballet New York Export: Opus Jazz. Basically it's 40-plus minutes of "Cool," the finger-snapping dance from Robbins' West Side Story, set in beautiful abandoned locations around NYC. The ballet is followed by 15 minutes of history about the original tour of Robbins' production. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Portland Music Videos
See My, What a Busy Week! Mississippi Studios.
Sounds and Silence Switzerland
A doc about Manfred Eicher's ECM Records, featuring performances and "aspects of the music-making process at ECM."
Ray Charles America
Narrated, for some reason, by David Duchovny, Ray Charles America is the sort of movie that should feel pretty familiar to fans of pop music cinema—more a stretched-out award show lifetime achievement video than an actual documentary. Slightly less aggrandizing than that Jamie Foxx biopic (very slightly), it does features some worthwhile early footage of Charles' rise to stardom, and, at the very least, it doesn't try quite as hard to gloss his life into a tale of absolute redemption. Downside: way too much talking head from Ben Harper. ZAC PENNINGTON
Rejoice and Shout
A documentary about "the 200-year musical history of African-American Christianity."
The Road to Carnegie Hall
In late December 2008, YouTube partnered with the London Symphony Orchestra to create the "YouTube Symphony Orchestra": a 96-piece orchestra comprised of amateur musicians selected from thousands of online video auditions. The Road to Carnegie Hall documents that this did indeed happen... and not much more. At a lean 60 minutes, Road has time for a few thumbnail sketches of the musicians involved, some quick shots of everyone ogling New York City landmarks, and about five minutes of the Orchestra's performance. DAVE BOW
Roll Out, Cowboy
A documentary about Chris "Sandman" Sand, "a rappin' cowboy from Dunn Center, North Dakota." How zany!
"Lesson: Don't buy the cheap, made-in-China multi-tool," Aron Ralston (James Franco) says to himself in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. It's a solid observation—as he says it, Ralston's in the bottom of a remote Utah canyon, where a falling boulder has pinned his right arm against a rock wall. Trapped at the bottom of a crack in the desert—with few things nearby aside from his video camera, the occasional ant, a big goddamn rock, and a smear of blood, skin, and bone—Ralston slowly begins to realize how overwhelmingly fucked he is. He didn't tell anyone where he was going. He thought he'd only be gone for a few hours, so he has hardly any food or water. And since his only knife is the one inside his cheap, made-in-China multi-tool, he's having a hell of a time figuring out how he's going to hack off his arm. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
7th Planet Picture Show
Local blogger/KJ Will Radik hosts a film screening during which he and others heckle the shit out of crappy movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style.
All Good Things
The beautiful young medical student Kathleen McCormack disappeared from her New York home in 1982—and because wealth + beauty = everybody's business, her real-estate heir husband Robert Durst has long made an irresistible prime suspect in the nation's popular imagination. Durst was never tried for McCormack's disappearance, but "until proven guilty" doesn't factor into All Good Things' lurid, irresponsible dramatization, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst as the infamous couple. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters.
Black Dog Trilogy & Old Town Diary
A screening of Portlander Scott Ray Becker's Black Dog Trilogy, a three-part "cinematic essay" examining Becker's recovery from depression. Screens with local filmmaker Brian Lindstrom's short Old Town Diary. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Those expecting Black Swan to be one of the best pictures of 2010 might want to adjust their expectations. While Darren Aronofsky's eagerly anticipated film is a lot of things—beautiful, weird, sexy, daring—it's a bunch of other things, too: inconsistent, goofy, unintentionally funny. On the surface, it's a labyrinthine, complex, surreal story about tricky, slippery stuff: self-image, reality, sex, art, aging, death, failure. Deeper down, it's something simpler: a movie about a ballerina (Natalie Portman, in a performance as good as everyone's saying it is) going batshit crazy. If it goes too far—if Aronofsky ventures too deep into Nina's slowly shattering brain, or if he overestimates his audience's patience for plot twists and surrealism—it's not for lack of ambition or confidence. Maybe Black Swan will creep you out, or maybe it'll crack you up; if you're like me, maybe it'll do both. That certainly makes it one of 2010's most interesting films, if not one of its best. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Blue Angel
Josef von Sternber's 1930 film, billed as "the crowning achievement of the Weimar cinema." Fifth Avenue Cinema.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Director George Hickenlooper's largest self-imposed hurdles are his insistence that this film be a comedy, as well as in asking the audience to sympathize with Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey). The humor in such scenes as where Abramoff and ultra-douche crony Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) gripe about money while practicing their golf swings on a tarmac next to a private jet get parched quickly, and Abramoff's sense of moral superiority is as ineffective on the audience as it is compelling to himself—because in Hickenlooper and Spacey's hands, he isn't funny, relatable, or charming. He's just an asshole who's getting way too much attention. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Along with mega-celebrity status come new challenges as a middling, late-career actor, however: that of somehow transcending your pop omnipresence enough to trick an audience into believing you are an actual human being. The further away from your celebrity image you cast, the more implausible the suspension of disbelieve becomes—and the more hilarious the results. We believe it when Tom Cruise plays a megalomaniacal dickhead. We believe it when Angelina Jolie plays a soul-hungry sex monster. But please, Gwyneth Paltrow, have the decency not to ask me to believe a perpetual-stick-up-her-ass, such as yourself, is a fast-and-loose, down-and-out, alcoholic mess of a cuuun-try saaaanger. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show
See I'm Going Out. Cinema 21.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
While we may not need to be reminded that the most recent Bush administration was built on lies, it never hurts to recall a few particulars. In 2003, Washington Post reporter Robert Novak wrote a column outing and effectively ending the career of Valerie Plame—a CIA operative who had been gathering intelligence on Iraq's supposed "weapons of mass destruction" program. When Plame's husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of manipulating this intelligence to "exaggerate the Iraqi threat," a plot of revenge was hatched, and Plame's identity was leaked to the press. In Fair Game—partially based on Plame's biography of the same name—Naomi Watts and Sean Penn recreate the couple's professional, marital, and internal struggles during this time... to varying degrees of illumination and annoyance. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Academy Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater.
Boxing is as much a test of inner strength and determination as it is a punching contest. That makes the sport a near perfect metaphor for the get-knocked-down-and-pull-yourself-off-the-canvas mentality that Americans love to believe in—and that Hollywood loves to exploit. And sometimes they exploit it brilliantly: Raging Bull, Rocky, The Great White Hope, The Set-Up—all films whose climactic fight scenes reflect the battle raging within the soul of the fighter. Director David O. Russell's The Fighter falls somewhat short of that list—but not embarrassingly so. It's a prequel of sorts, documenting the early years of junior welterweight "Irish" Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who eventually went on to wage some truly legendary and bloody battles against Arturo Gatti in the early 2000s. What hobbles the film is, surprisingly, its own characters. Mickey's brother—played by an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale—is the true magnet of this film, often making Wahlberg disappear into the scenery. Likewise, Melissa Leo's desperate portrayal of Mickey's mother, and Amy Adams' equally desperate (in a different way) girlfriend make Mickey himself a little... well, superfluous. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Four Lions humanizes terrorism. Don't misunderstand: This is a very different statement than "Four Lions makes terrorism understandable and sympathetic." I mean to say that Four Lions does, in fact, humanize terrorism, by reminding the audience that human beings can be incomprehensibly dumb and clumsy animals. One has to be a special sort of idiot to think dressing in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume to suicide bomb a charity fun-run is going to win you any sort of heavenly reward, but this is the humanity Four Lions concerns itself with, and those are the sorts of terrorist plots incompetently employed, and these are the confused, chucklefucked faces of terrorism. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Academy Theater, Lake Twin Cinema, Laurelhurst Theater.
The Green Hornet
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Previous Harry Potter films have suffered from their attempts to cram hundreds of pages of elaborate plotting into a single feature-length film. That Deathly Hallows is something different—and better—is obvious from its opening scenes: Hermione (Emma Watson) looks heartbroken as she wanders through her family's home, erasing her face from one family photo after another, and her memory from her parents' minds. And as the Dursleys pack up and abandon Number 4 Privet Drive, even Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) seems a little wistful as he bids farewell to the stairwell where he spent the worst part of his childhood. That we're treated to these small, private snapshots of Harry and Hermione is only the first indication that part one of Deathly Hallows has something its predecessors didn't: time. Time to explore its characters, time to allow J.K. Rowling's plot to fully unfold, and time to chart the darkness that, by book seven, has seeped into every corner of the Potterverse. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey has always struck me as a precocious but needy child, one that so desperately craves love and attention that he's been contorting himself through his entire career, overacting his way into as many hearts as can possibly stand him. This time around, Carrey's hamming his way through a fact-based homosexual love story with a streak of black humor, courtesy of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (writers of Bad Santa). But whatever promise I Love You Phillip Morris holds is squandered by the end of its running time, as—like Carrey—the movie simply wears out its welcome. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
It's Kind of a Funny Story
Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) is depressed and wants to end his life. Sort of. Before hurling himself into the East River, the 16-year-old Brooklynite resigns himself to a hospital visit, which results in his temporary institutionalization in an adult psychiatric ward. Settled in for a five-day stay sans belt and shoelaces, Craig is quickly taken under the watchful guise of a bearded Randle P. McMurphy type named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, great as always). It's Kind of a Funny Story is a significant departure for co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar); here they deal with a story far more earnest and light, despite its heavy subject matter. If you can look past the film's trivial dismissal of serious mental health issues (schizophrenics yell wacky things, let's laugh at them!), and a certain "Ferris Bueller in the loony bin" narration style, It's Kind of a Funny Story works extremely well. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Laurelhurst Theater.
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
King: A Filmed Record--From Montgomery to Memphis
Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1970 documentary, collecting archival footage of Martin Luther King, Jr. See My, What a Busy Week! Clinton Street Theater.
Kings of Pastry
A doc about the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition, in which "sixteen of France's top pastry chefs compete for the ultimate accolade." It's like Hell's Kitchen for snobs! Living Room Theaters.
The King's Speech
Combining cinema's most overdone (British monarchy melodrama) and least done (speech therapy) elements, screenwriter David Seidler drew from his own struggles with stammering to re-imagine the details of the true circumstances behind King George VI's (Colin Firth) speaking handicap. George—nicknamed "Bertie"—never expected or hoped to inherit his father's throne, but after his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates, he's faced with the crown, as well as the increasingly threatening advance of a Germany led by Adolf Hitler, whose fiery speeches inspire the sinister unification of his people. It may be a predictable triumph-of-the-human-spirit vehicle, but sometimes experimental isn't on the table. MARJORIE SKINNER Century Clackamas Town Center, Evergreen Parkway 13, Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.
The comedic dream team of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro are at it again—dealin' out all your favorite laugh-'em-ups, bodily functions, and all the other highbrow shit you've come to expect from this storied cinematic collaboration. Except this time, it's ostensibly about children? Except not really? Like, at all? I don't really know... I mean, there were children in this movie, but their presence seemed as inconsequential to the plot as virtually anything else outside of Ben Stiller's wide-eyed comedic impotence and Robert De Niro's tragedy mask face. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Kennedy School's annual celebration of J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday returns, featuring all three theatrical versions of Peter Jackson's films. If you go, don't let that smelly dude in the Thorin Oakenshield costume start talking to you about the mighty treasure buried deep in the caverns of Erebor. Trust me. That dude is a fucking freak. ERIK HENRIKSEN Kennedy School.
Love and Other Drugs
The little blue pill known as Viagra changed the sexual potential of baby boomers everywhere, and it also changed Jamie Reidy's life. With Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, Reidy exposed many of the pharmaceutical industry's insider secrets—secrets that director Edward Zwick has set out to further publicize with Love and Other Drugs, casting Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie. Not content to tell the story of one man's maturation in a politically relevant industry, Hollywood added a love interest in Maggie (Anne Hathaway), and because this movie is about medicine, she had to be sick. If you're looking for any poignant criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry, you might want to adjust your expectations in favor of relationship montages and two or three cycles of break up/make up. MARJORIE SKINNER Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
The Grindhouse Film Festival presents a new 35 mm print of William Lustig's sleazy 1980 horror flick. Hollywood Theatre.
As far as he can recall through the haze of a severely damaged brain, Mark Hogancamp was an unlikable alcoholic. But after the rural New Yorker was savagely beaten outside a bar, he fled the cruelties of reality for Marwencol, a city of dolls that he assembled in his backyard. The fascinating world of Marwencol—where the good dolls (representing Hogancamp and his friends) battle Nazis (representing his real-life attackers) in a handmade WWII gulag—leads Hogancamp to an unlikely artistic turnaround, and results in an excellent documentary that examines both the pain of real life and the wonders of escapism. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Living Room Theaters.
The Muppets Take Manhattan
"Maybe you expected me to go hog-wild? Perhaps you could bring home the bacon!" Laurelhurst Theater.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
Season of the Witch
Oh, Season of the Witch is awful. It really is. The Dominic Sena-directed horror fantasy is a clunky, overwrought piece of trash set against the Crusades and the Black Plague. Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman (who, sadly, turns in some of his shittiest work in his relatively unimpeachable career) play characters named Behmen and Felson, respectively. When you put those names together, it sounds like a hokey comedy duo from the 1930s, but actually, Behmen and Felson are a couple knights—and BFFs!—during the Crusades, as demonstrated by the film's interminable opening sequence, in which we watch them dive into battle again, and again, and again, and again. (It looks like they just reused the same footage and simply changed the green-screen backdrop. Look, now they're fighting in snow! Now they're in the desert! Now they're fighting on the forest moon of Endor!) NED LANNAMANN Broadway Metroplex, Century Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Evergreen Parkway 13, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
Sing-Along Little Shop of Horrors
Well, this is unfortunate. Bagdad Theater.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
Like a particularly emo WarGames, the anime Summer Wars follows Kenji, a naïve young math nerd with two semi-interesting problems. First, he finds himself on an intense vacation with the extended family of Natsuki, the girl he's got a huge crush on; second, somebody's framed him as the hacker who's attacking "Oz," an all-encompassing, all-important social network. Part YA romance, part family drama, and part sci-fi techno-mystery, it's occasionally gorgeous to look at—at times Summer Wars' visuals recall the surreal, vivid fun of Takashi Murakami, at others the detailed, confident grace of Hayao Miyazaki. But looks aside (and despite a runtime of nearly two hours), director Mamoru Hosada fails to nail down even a single engaging plot thread or character. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
First, her name wasn't "Tangled." That's confusing. It was Rapunzel! She started out as a baby—then turned 16! But before that she was a baby princess. And a mean bad mommy witch stole her from Queen Mommy and King Daddy and put her in a tower! Because her hair was MAAAAGIC! And when mean bad mommy witch touched it, she turned young. And pretty! But still mean. So Rapunzel's hair got very, very, very, very, very, VERY lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng. So a thief came along, and Rapunzel took a frying pan... BANG! Hit him in the face. That was funny. But the thief's name was Eugene and he didn't want to be a thief—he wanted to be a prince! Just like Aladdin! Can we watch Aladdin? Pleeeeaasee?? Eugene tried to help Rapunzel escape, but they were chased by two brainy-eyed guys and a funny horse who acted like a dog. And there was a little old man... and he wore a DIAPER! OH. So so so so FUNNY! The mean bad mommy witch chased them too... and... and... I forget what happened next. But the movie ended. MAXINE DALEY, AGE FIVE Various Theaters.
Director Lena Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate who's returned to New York City after four years in Ohio. Stuck in a pretty typical post-grad funk, Aura moves back in with her mother and younger sister, finds a crappy job, and starts looking for boys to fuck, all while struggling to figure out what she really wants to do with her life, now that the relationships and activities of the previous four years have abruptly ceased to matter. The film's depiction of post-Oberlin malaise is going to irritate some people—with an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, a rich girl's inability to find creative fulfillment through YouTube art offers a certain "Let them eat cake" provocation. But Dunham is smart enough to know that, and navigates a delicate line with Aura: She's a little ridiculous, and she makes terrible decisions, and her problems are rich-kid problems, but she's also wry and funny and well-intentioned—even when I didn't relate to her (and I often did), I rooted for her. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie's much-derided latest, directed by The Lives of Others' awesomely named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Various Theaters.
The only thing of interest regarding the incredibly boring and asinine Tron: Legacy is that it features "Quorra," a saucy little minx played by the scrumptious and nubile Olivia Wilde. Seductively stealing every scene she's in, Ms. Wilde wears an exquisitely skintight latex bodystocking throughout; in this critic's humble opinion, Ms. Wilde should receive several Academy Awards for her explosively arousing performance. (She certainly caused this critic to "gush"!) If you enjoy this film for any of its attributes that are not, in fact, entirely those of the delightful Ms. Wilde, then you are a fucking imbecile. FRANK CASSANO Century Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Sandy Cinema, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
Every year—or at least every couple of years—the Coen brothers put out a movie, and every year—or at least every couple of years—said movie is one of the best in recent memory. True Grit is no exception. Funny, thrilling, and moving, True Grit is the sort of genre picture that reminds us why genres exist in the first place: When all the factory-made gears and pieces are accounted for, and when all of 'em are settled into place by inspired people who know what they're doing, the end result is a thing that clicks together, smooth and precise. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.