23RD ANNUAL REEL MUSIC FEST
The Northwest Film Center's Reel Music Fest wraps up this week, with various music-related films at the Guild and Whitsell. For more info, check out nwfilm.org.
THE BEST OF MIRRORBALL
The best of the Edinburgh Film Festival's "Mirrorball" music video programs—featuring works from Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Shynola, Edgar Wright, and others!
Essentially a concert film pieced together from various recording gigs, Coltrane Legacy is liberally scattered with glowing reminiscences from musicians who played with and knew legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. It's all kind of standard in that regard, but when the interviews cut back and make room for long, extended scenes of Coltrane and crew just playing, it's pretty damn amazing.
A short doc about the massive worldwide effect that jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt has had. Django's fans are interesting, but it's too bad that self-indulgent director Jaime Kastner focuses more on his own travels than Django's fascinating history and brilliant music. Still, worth seeing—if only for those brief glimpses into Django's life. (Erik Henriksen)
LOMAX THE SONGHUNTER
A portrait of Alan Lomax, documentarian of blues, jazz, bluegrass, Cajun, and Appalachian music.
MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER
Not screened for press, this documentary about jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler examines his killer avant-garde music and his brief life—he was dead by age 34.
WHEN STUMPTOWN WAS JUMPTOWN
A film about "the golden years of Portland jazz, 1942-1957," when an influx of African-American shipyard workers "created a hungry audience for jazz and blues."
PINE FILM FEST
Those filthy hippies wrap up their hemp-lovin', patchouli-reekin' Portland International Nature and Environmental Film Festival this weekend at the Hollywood Theatre, the Guild, and the Fifth Ave. Cinemas. More info: pinefilm.org.
16TH ANNUAL CASCADE FESTIVAL OF AFRICAN FILMS
The 16th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films kicks off with screenings at the Kennedy School and the PCC Cascade Campus. All films are free and open to the public. Interested? Hit africanfilmfestival.org.
My favorite thing about Annapolis is the soundtrack. The film is split in two parts—there are the slow-mo shots of bitchy wannabe Naval officer/amateur boxer Jake Huard (James Franco) being all sad and wanting to be a Naval officer, and then there are the approximately 14,000 montages that show Huard working his ass off to become a Naval officer. (For some weird reason, it looks like becoming a Naval officer mostly entails boxing.) But where was I? Oh, right: composer Brian Tyler's score. Hilariously heart-tuggy and clichéd in quiet moments, it swerves into fast-riffin' electric guitars and drums for Huard's supposedly inspirational training montages. It's like Tyler smashed up music from Touched by an Angel and a Mountain Dew commercial, and it sums up Annapolis pretty perfectly. (Erik Henriksen) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Big Momma's House 2
I bet you're all like, "Oh ho ho, the Mercury's loving Big Momma's House 2 because nobody else will, and they're being ironic." WRONG! I'm loving Big Momma's House 2 because that shit is funny to the bone! (Chas Bowie) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Breakfast on Pluto
As Patrick "Kitten" Brady, Cillian Murphy cross-dresses as the disarmingly beautiful and magnetic transvestite protagonist. Though it clocks in at almost two and a half hours, Kitten's style and wit could have propelled it for another hour with nary a complaint from me. (Marjorie Skinner) Laurelhurst
Itinerant cowboys Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger), after too much whiskey and solitude, engage in a bout of rough but passionate sex, each of them insisting afterward that they're not "queer." What follows is a lifetime of secret excursions and double lives. Much has been written about Ledger's performance here, and none of it does justice to the complexities of his portrayal of a lonely, self-loathing man who grows old, denying himself the only thing that he wants in life. It's to director Ang Lee's highest credit that even a performance as strong as Ledger's can neither steal nor dominate this nearly perfect film. (Chas Bowie) Regal Cinemas, etc.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10
Cinema Queso: Back to the Front
Because they have a propensity for silliness, it's easy to overlook Cinema Queso as just another silly Portland film group being silly. Don't do it; in its own off-kilter way, the 13-member collective features some of the most sophisticated local filmmaking being done outside of a Van Sant-ian budget. Queso's new DVD, Back to the Front, flexes an impressive array of stylistic homages, from a bizarre Seventh Seal-esque silent film, to the hilarious track and field music video "Win This Race," to the through-line of military training videos that ties everything together (which includes a demo of a combat vest made entirely from crying babies—because who's going to shoot a baby, even in the heat of a battle?). Queso handles each of its genre forays with meticulously detailed aplomb, aided by an incredible gift for composing original music in all different genres, and plenty of technical gimmickry like flash animation. This is fun, diverse, and even inspiring stuff. Don't miss it. (Justin Sanders) Clinton Street Theater
The titular garçon stupide is Loïc, an ignorant (he looks up "Hitler" in an encyclopedia) Swiss dude of 20 who works in a literal chocolate factory by day and, by night, a figurative chocolate factory, as a hustler. Despite the talents of Natacha Koutchoumov (in the thankless role of a young gay man's best girl friend) and a promising subplot involving Loïc's obsession with a hot-ass Portuguese soccer player, the film seems little more than masturbation material (there's lotsa dick) for director Lionel Baier. And while the film stops short of being ridiculous, it also strays from being insightful. It is, in fact, nothing more than—here it comes—a film stupide. (Will Gardner) Hollywood Theatre
A Good Woman
Despite the fiery pangs she elicits from deep within my loins, it's becoming more apparent with every performance that, acting-wise, Scarlett Johansson is a weird-voiced, one-trick pony. In Mike Barker's A Good Woman (based on Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan), she is the same as always, and seems too modern somehow to play a clueless 1930s American, Meg, who's engaged to an upscale Brit, Robert (Mark Umbers), and is living the high life on the Italian Coast. But she's downright Oscar-worthy next to the befuddingly-cast Helen Hunt, who tries to stuff her bland, cloying persona into the manipulative, sassy girdle of Mrs. Erlynne, an allegedly sexy older woman who arrives in town from NYC looking for all kinds of upper-class trouble. Wilde's story involves Erlynne using her wrinkly ass to seduce Robert and bilk him for lots of cash, and is an astute, witty take on the tenuous relationship between love and truth. Barker's film adaptation is beautifully shot and seems sharp enough, script-wise, but can't get past the middling work of its two female leads, though stellar peripheral performances from actors like Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Campbell Moore help it come close. (Justin Sanders) Fox Tower 10
A semi-successful story about a crazy asshole and a corporate pussy, The Matador is sometimes a blast, but also has a tendency to veer into forced, heart-tugging sappiness. (Christine S. Blystone) Regal Cinemas, etc.
In his first straight-ahead drama in quite some time (and arguably his best), Match Point finds Allen traversing the previously uncharted waters of modern Britain. He's also dropped most of his patented, Bergman-esque pretenses in favor of an admirable stab at Hitchcock—and a healthy, if unexpected, dollop of Dostoyevsky. (Zac Pennington) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Playing the same crotchety old dame she's been playing for decades, Judi Dench is Laura Henderson, a widowed British uppity-up who purchases a run-down theater in 1930s London to give herself something to do. She convinces hardnosed local entertainment guru Vivian Van Damm to manage the operation, and together they set about turning the show biz world upside down. Bob Hoskins' Van Damm is a well-dressed, coifed little man who commands attention; his presence both infuriates Mrs. Henderson and attracts her romantically, despite the fact she's decades his senior. This is an interesting core dilemma, but having introduced it, veteran director Stephen Frears seems to forget about it. Henderson and Van Damm bicker, then make up, then bicker again, but the weird tension hinted at in the film's beginning quickly dissipates as if it never was there to begin with. What remains is a slew of lush period details and elaborate theater set pieces that all add up to absolutely nothing of consequence. (Justin Sanders) Fox Tower 10
The New World
For all its shimmering beauty and wearying length, The New World really has little light to shed on this depressing tale, and the viewer is left with one, lingering notion: Life sucks and then you die. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Osama is not directly about bin Laden. The film is about a little girl forced to disguise herself as a boy to prevent her jobless mother and grandmother from starving under the oppressive Taliban regime—subtle. It's a fantastic film, with invaluable historic significance, but a devastatingly joyless experience. (Marjorie Skinner) Guild
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
The last in his line, "Farmer John" Peterson works the Illinois land that's been family-owned since the Depression. But he's not your average farmer: After his father died in the '60s, Farmer John came back from college with his hippie friends and turned the place into a commune. Now middle-aged, he's a real-deal, hardworking farmer, but still a freak, doing whatever the fuck he wants. Of course, his intolerant neighbors in the farm community want him GONE. And The Real Dirt on Farmer John details this epic struggle, and the fight when his business tanked in the '80s, but it also tells the story of American farming's slow death, and of determination, and how old values can actually jibe well with weirdness. Beautifully shot. Heartbreakingly sad. Funny as shit. A+. Screened as part of the PINE Film Fest, which formally starts January 27. (Adam Gnade) Cinema 21
A sweet and tender love story that eschews irony and sarcasm as well as treacly Hollywood sentimentality. (Chas Bowie) Laurelhurst
See review this issue. Century Eastport 16
Wading deep into the muck of the worldwide oil industry—from the dark complexions manning the fields to the pasty and smug faces reaping the profits—Syriana raises a number of troubling questions—then refuses to answer them, leaving the audience tasked with sorting solutions out for themselves. (Bradley Steinbacher) Regal Cinemas, etc.
This is a film everyone should see before they hit puberty. Endlessly helpful in dealing with the trials of life, Robert DeNiro walks the viewer through feelings such as love, anger, patriotism, menstruation, and blowing the fucking head off your enemies. Imperative in understanding the social sciences, it will teach youth about the "street smarts" they need to get through life in this day and age. As a bonus, Jodie Foster presents a special program on grooming and a seminar designed especially for young women entitled, "Sexual Intercourse: How Soon is too Soon?" (Julianne Shepherd) Mission Theater
See Destination Fun on pg. 15. Clinton St Theater
Transamerica—despite the buzz surrounding it—isn't so much a "transsexual movie" as it is something far less innovative: a totally conventional road movie. (Will Gardner) Fox Tower 10
While the first Underworld was largely content at throwing latex, werewolves, and vampires in a blender and seeing what poured out, Evolution tries to pull a five-course meal out of its extremely limited ingredients. In other words: It's boring. (Erik Henriksen) Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
This documentary, about the infamous 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till—a black boy from Chicago who was killed for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi—is more remarkable for what it has accomplished than what is presented on the screen. Filled with archival photos and footage, and recent interviews with Till's friends and relatives (most notably, Till's mother, who describes her son's tortured body in graphic detail), the film fleshes out a horrific incident—one that helped spark the civil rights movement after Till's killers were found not guilty. Unfortunately, it does so in a slow-paced, chronological, tepid fashion. However, the film did prompt the FBI to reopen the Till file and exhume his body last year: A report of the Feds' findings, and possible indictments against those involved (at least, those who are still alive) are expected soon, according to recent news reports. (Amy Jenniges) Hollywood Theatre
What the Fuck: Down the Rabbit Hole
Blessedly, I never had to sit through the New Age circle-jerk that was the first What the Fuck Do We Know?. According to the producers of its half-assed "director's cut," What the Fuck: Down the Rabbit Hole, this is the same movie—but with fancier animations and expanded interviews. Notoriously, both films feature interviews from quantum physicists as well as members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment cult based here in the Pacific Northwest. Even more notoriously, the filmmakers don't reveal who's who until the end of the films. So—if you decide you must sit through this intellectual hemorrhoid of a documentary—I suggest keeping yourself awake by trying to determine who are the scientists and who are the Kool-Aid sipping hippies. Here's a hint: Anyone who says something like "When we projected the feeling of love and peace on the water, it made the most beautiful crystal!" is not a real scientist. Not even close. God, what a fucking waste of my time. (Scott Moore) Bagdad Theater
When a Stranger Calls
This remake of the '79 horror film is a riff on the lone babysitter/"the call's coming from inside the house!" urban legend. But what looks like another entry in the recycled, teeny bopper, pop horror revival trend actually comes through—packing patiently-paced thrills and a delicately restrained gore factor. Plus, it pays homage to its predecessor by preserving the focus on the psychological elements of being stalked (that is, until the very end), but adds new twists by playing with concepts of modern technology—and I'm not just talking about GPS tracking. (Jenna Roadman)
The White Countess
The last of the Merchant Ivory collaborations (producer Ismail Merchant passed away in May), while beautiful, is a rather hollow bookend to their legacy. Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes), a former US diplomat, dreams of opening the perfect nightclub—and when he meets Countess Sofia Belinsky (Natasha Richardson), he appoints her as the club's centerpiece, naming it The White Countess. As a piece of historical fiction, Countess is impressive, offering a rich portrait of time and place that is very rarely seen in western cinema. But as a romance, it lacks ferocity. (Marjorie Skinner) Fox Tower 10
The World's Fastest Indian
See review this issue. Cinetopia
An odd take on the zombie genre, Zombie Honeymoon is a half-attempt at a zombie romance, painting the sad story of a pair of newlyweds who barely begin their honeymoon when a zombie comes staggering out of the ocean and barfs in the groom's mouth... which is funny, and brings us to the other half of the film's attempt, to be a comedy. As the bride refuses to leave her rapidly decomposing, ever-more carnivorous mate, there's a real element of sadness, but the ridiculousness of using zombification to illustrate the sorrow of grappling with loss is boyishly dumb, making it a weird but relatively enjoyable curiosity within the zombie catalog. (Marjorie Skinner) Clinton Street Theater