Romantic comedies have become so routine, so processed, so horribly unfunny, that Julie Delpy's hilarious and astute 2 Days in Paris carries a jolt of surprise. The movie follows Franco-American couple Marion (Delpy, the most unaffected of pretty French actresses) and Jack (Adam Goldberg, in a major comic performance) on a stopover in Marion's hometown. Writer/director Delpy, finding cores of truth in clichés about Ugly Americans and temperamental Frenchies, writes dialogue that's a delirious blend of bawdy French farce and Woody Allen-ish neuroses. As for she and Goldberg, they just might be the prickliest, most luscious screen couple we've had in ages. Delpy has made something rare: a romantic comedy that feels spontaneous and handcrafted, rather than shat out by a studio and a couple of stars. JON FROSCH Cinema 21.
3:10 to Yuma
Director James Mangold's last film was the Johnny Cash tribute Walk the Line, a perfectly serviceable entry into the genre of the cheesy biopic, and one that handily accomplished its twin goals of (A) tugging on heartstrings, and (B) snagging an Oscar or two. Walk the Line wasn't anything extraordinary, but it worked out just fine, I guess; likewise, Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. It just sets out to be a decent enough Western, and it pretty much succeeds. Based on Elmore Leonard's short story, 3:10 features an impressive cast (Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), some gorgeous New Mexico scenery, and a veritable checklist of Western standards/clichés: mopey and leather-faced men, dusty shootouts, a bloody holdup. And that's about it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Across the Universe
Across the Universe hits you like a ton of Fab Four bricks, as Liverpudlian Jude (my new boyfriend, Jim Sturgess) sings about "a girl you want so much it makes you sorry"—a girl named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). And what follows is a thin love story that spans the '60s. The "plot" centers on Jude traveling to America to find his father, and befriending Max (Joe Anderson) and his sister, Lucy. And as the clean-cut '60s get harrier, the trio moves to New York to enmesh themselves in the psychedelic scene. But the plot is just an end to a means—to set the stage for a full-on bombast of Beatles songs that soundtrack the decade. When Across the Universe is on—boy howdy, is it on. But the good is overwhelmed by the clichéd and the embarrassingly bad—there's the inappropriate bursting into song every two seconds, the psychedelic swirly freakout of riding on Dr. Roberts' (played by the butt-cringing Bono) prankster bus, and the reliance on cutesy in-jokes. COURTNEY FERGUSON Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Jason Bourne's been skulking around for a while—2002's The Bourne Identity and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy were okay thrillers that fancied themselves to be smarter than they really were. Long story short: Government assassin Bourne (Matt Damon, glaring intently) doesn't know jack about his past, and various political stooges don't want him to remember. And so Identity and Supremacy played out: Bourne ran around, outsmarting G-men and inhabiting two forced thrillers in which the action largely consisted of people walking around faster than usual and scowling at computer screens. Which was okay, if forgettable. But thankfully, The Bourne Ultimatum goes balls-out, confidently making itself into a solid action flick. Director Paul Greengrass (who also helmed Supremacy and United 93) cuts loose with Ultimatum's action sequences, and—from a brutal fistfight in a Moroccan apartment to a stunning Manhattan car chase—they're rough and visceral. If Greengrass' action sequences have a flaw, it's that the director insists on shaking his camera about as if he were a coked-out schizoid—but whatever his sequences lack in clarity, they make up for in sheer adrenalin. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Brave One
As a woman whose fiancé is brutally beaten and killed, Jodie Foster gamely tries to rouse the Charles Bronson lurking in her soul as she haunts New York's darkened streets killing every pervert, wife abuser, and iPod thief in sight. Ultimately, The Brave One's downfall comes from a case of bad timing: While the film gamely tries to justify its theme that killing people is okay if they're really, really bad, and if the shooter feels conflicted about it—it's no longer 1984. Perhaps the denizens of 2007 aren't feeling the same sense of urban hopelessness as Bernard Goetz and the rest of NYC experienced in the mid-'80s, or perhaps we're able to better see the moral ambiguity of villainy, rather than the one-dimensional evil of Death Wish's rapists and murderers. Or maybe Jodie Foster just isn't a very good Charles Bronson. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Reasons to see this movie: Parker Posey is excellent as a neurotic, slightly spoiled thirtysomething looking for love in the big city. Melvil Poupaud is incredibly sexy as the charming, free-wheeling Frenchman with whom she finally finds it. Reasons not to see this movie: Writer/director Zoe Cassavettes awkwardly treads the line between conventional romcom and indie arthouse, shooting for both edgy realism and a fairytale ending. In trying for the best of both worlds, she frequently misses the mark on both. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
Death at a Funeral
Imagine, if you will, a seven-year-old child who's been educated exclusively by DARE officers and otherwise confined to a tiny closet with a pit toilet and a TV on which two awful BBC sitcoms are playing on a continuous loop. Such is the stunted mind (belonging to writer Dean Craig) that conceived Death at a Funeral, a puerile, scatological farce in which the most memorable characters include (A) a man who ingests a pill that looks like Valium but causes him to pull all kinds of funny faces and crawl on the rooftop naked; and (B) a dwarf, played by Peter Dinklage, who's also a cruel, blackmailing homosexual. ANNIE WAGNER Laurelhurst, St. Johns Twin Cinema and Pub.
See review this issue. Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Through October 18, the International Documentary Association presents a "public theatrical exhibition of outstanding new documentary films" screening at the Hollywood Theatre. This week's films include The Price of Sugar, about "thousands of dispossessed Haitians" who are forced to harvest sugarcane; Protagonist, which looks at four disparate men "consumed by personal odysseys"; and A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, a look at writer Ariel Dorfman's work and experiences. Hollywood Theatre.
Imagery wise, it's hard to top the animal reaction that David Cronenberg inspires as he dismembers and twists flesh for the camera—so much so, in fact, that it's sometimes easy to forget the psychological violence he commits is what gives his images such power. And there's plenty of that latter sort of violence in Cronenberg's latest, Eastern Promises. Plot wise, it's a bit clunky: Unbelievably naïve Anna (Naomi Watts) works in a London hospital, but finds herself ass-deep in the Russian mafia, largely dealing with the sinister, fascinating Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Ostensibly, Nikolai's just the driver for a Russian mobster, but we soon discover that he's also an "undertaker"—stubbing out a lit cigarette on his tongue, Nikolai stoically advises an onlooker that he might want to leave the room, and then he begins to prepare a body to be dumped in the Thames, yanking its teeth and cutting off its fingertips. But while Steven Knight's (Dirty Pretty Things) noirish script doesn't gel quite as well as it should (especially as things head into the final reel), as a framework for its characters and Cronenberg's psychologically intense explorations, Eastern Promises' script is perfectly serviceable. While Anna's character is a bit of a letdown—she's an ill-advised woman whose chief trait is an overly simplified maternal instinct—Knight more than makes up for Anna with Nikolai. As performed by Mortensen, Nikolai's taut intensity and veiled motives make his heavily accented character a vicious, barely contained force; covered in menacing tattoos and brooding harder than a teenager waiting for his ride home from a Skinny Puppy show, Mortensen gives every scene he's in a vibrant, ominous edge. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The 44th(!) film from director Johnny To serves as a brilliant reminder of the glory days of Heroic Bloodshed, an era when Asian men in bad suits and cheap sunglasses were the coolest dudes in the entire universe. The plot follows a hit team (led by Hong Kong stalwart Anthony Wong) dispatched to Macau to take out a former ally. After getting reacquainted via a friendly little gunfight, the gang decides to accompany him on one last mission. Their sadistic boss is not amused. To, a filmmaker whose biggest successes have been with more realistic gangster dramas like the recent Triad Election, here drifts into surrealism, with glorious results. (Whenever a bullet finds its mark, the result is a gorgeous little abstract puff of red mist.) Call it a flashback, a comeback, or the end of an era; all I know is that I want to see it again. ANDREW WRIGHT Living Room Theaters.
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song
40 Frames and the Northwest Film Center present Hara Kazuo's 1974 "outrageous, personal, and masochistic" film about his relationship with his ex-wife. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Feast of Love
An enjoyable, intelligent fall romance that was filmed in Portland—but its attributes end there. MATT DAVIS Various Theaters.
The Game Plan
The Rock plays a professional football player who has to take care of a little girl! Hijinx surely ensue. We did not subject any of our critics to this film. Various Theaters.
Good Luck Chuck
In Good Luck Chuck, "comedian" Dane Cook plays Charlie, a man with a curse: Once he sleeps with a woman, the next man she meets will be The One—so she'll get married and live happily ever after, but with someone else. According to Chuck, most women are so pathetically desperate that they'll happily whore themselves out if it means finding a soul mate, which means we get a lot of footage of Charlie fucking. But inside, poor widdle Charlie is lonely: "What's sex without love?" he whines. Enter Cam (Jessica Alba), who's clumsy and loves penguins: "You just can't help but smile when you see a penguin!" she inanely giggles. So Charlie falls for her, gets scared of his curse, and turns into a creepy stalker who smothers Cam, and none of it's romantic or comedic, and we also get 80 kajillion plugs for Budweiser Select™, and also some jokes about how disgusting fat chicks are. In summation, Good Luck Chuck is fucking terrible, and Dane Cook is a dull, unfunny jerkoff. (Actually, wait: Somehow, Cook has managed to trick Hollywood into paying him millions of dollars and letting him make out with Jessica Alba—so who am I to criticize? Props to you, Dane Cook, you dull, unfunny jerkoff.) ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival
See Film, pg. 63. Hollywood Theatre.
Hannah Takes the Stairs
Hannah Takes the Stairs is being billed as the poster child for the so-called "mumblecore" movement, which includes the excellent Quiet City, Mutual Appreciation, and Funny Ha Ha. It has the ingredients right: Aimless but earnest characters hang out in their apartments and at their jobs waiting for something to happen, as painfully halted conversations and flirtations fill the time. And at times, Hannah does what this genre does best: catching those loaded moments that punctuate seemingly casual chatter. The choreography that moves Hannah from a seat on the couch next to her roommate over to a seat next to her latest crush, for example, is one of those poignant moments that these minimalist films nail. But director Joe Swanberg spoils things by trying too hard. And it doesn't help that the main actor, Greta Gerwig, plays at being awkward rather than actually being awkward. The best of these films don't try; this one makes a point of it. JOSH FEIT Living Room Theaters.
A kick-ass elderly deaf couple decides that together they will undergo surgery to restore their hearing. These types of documentaries are usually either a total snore fest or unbelievably awesome. This one falls under the latter category. I laughed. I cried. I hurled. CHRISTINE S. BLYSTONE Cinema 21.
The Heartbreak Kid
Critic Lindy West was not able to screen this film in time for our print deadline, but she predicts the experience thusly: "I prognosticate that Ben Stiller will be punched in the genitals multiple times, a dog will vomit in his mouth, and perhaps he will accidentally have sex with his own dead mother. (Party foul!)" See portlandmercury.com for our full review. Various Theaters.
In the Shadow of the Moon
In the Shadow of the Moon features interviews with surviving crewmembers from NASA's Apollo moon missions, along with remastered footage from the moon missions themselves. Yet despite the amazing photography, unprecedented access, and the fact that it's relating mankind's greatest achievement, the film occasionally struggles to stay interesting. True, when one of the astronauts talks about coming back to Earth and "giving himself to Jesus," you realize it's probably hard to be anything other than totally earnest about such a moment. But come on, guys! Make an Ewok joke or something! MATT DAVIS Cinema 21.
In the Valley of Elah
Based on his back catalog (including Crash and the scripts for Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, and the superb short-lived TV series EZ Streets), Paul Haggis comes off as a filmmaker with a genuine knack with actors, a taste for big, significant themes, and a near-to-total inability to figure out when to say when. Unfortunately, Haggis' shelf full of awards hasn't exactly inspired him to curb his more excessive tendencies. In the Valley of Elah, the writer/director's Oscar-bait follow-up to Crash, boasts an honorable, provocative premise and a towering no-bullshit performance by Tommy Lee Jones. It just doesn't know when to quit. Based on a true incident, Haggis' script follows a retired military policeman (Jones) spurred into action when his son is reported AWOL soon after his return from Iraq. The premise packs an undeniably timely gut punch, but the film's plodding, overstated style comes off as both needlessly busy—the central mystery feels drawn out, with new clues introduced at strategic intervals—and dumbed-down preachy. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
The Jane Austen Book Club
Five very different women—and one very single man!—come together to explore the works of Jane Austen. There are meetings at Starbucks. There are montages. There are life lessons learnt through literature. Ironically, the Jane Austen framework actually renders The Jane Austen Book Club far less intelligent than it would be otherwise: Hokey reading montages and a forced structure (in which each "chapter" of the film corresponds to a book) do much to distract from the fact that the writing is actually pretty engaging. It's easy enough to watch, sure, but nearly impossible to recommend. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
King of Kong:
A Fistful of Quarters
Our villain in the hilarious documentary The King of Kong is one Billy Mitchell—born in Massachusetts in 1965, he currently owns a restaurant chain and has a passion for both patriotic neckties and, one assumes, hair conditioner for his flowing, carefully coiffed locks. Mitchell has set records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Burgertime, and achieved a "perfect score"—3,333,360 points—in Pac-Man. He has been called the "Gamer of the Century," and he is an insufferably arrogant dick. Our hero, meanwhile, is Steve Wiebe, a painfully earnest Redmond, WA man who lost his job at Boeing at age 35—on the same day he and his wife had signed the papers for their new house. Wiebe, now teaching junior high school science, found solace and direction in Donkey Kong, at first playing when his children went to sleep, and then aiming at the impossible—beating Mitchell's record score of 1,000,000, which had gone unchallenged since 1982. The resulting battle is nothing short of epic. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst.
Preying on Americans' two greatest fears—Muslims with explosives and paying more than three dollars a gallon for gasoline—The Kingdom tries to be a lot of things. There are the mystery elements, the thriller elements, the police procedural elements, and the social commentary elements. By the time it all wraps up, all are overwhelmed by the film's action elements, which boil the entire Middle East situation down to Jamie Foxx firing off rounds from an assault rifle while running from rocket-propelled grenades. You can make solid, intelligent, and entertaining movies about controversial topics and current events; instead of doing so, The Kingdom mashes and twists those events into a trashy, pulpy popcorn flick. The result is questionably intentioned, messily executed, and loud and boring and ignorant. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I'm not giving The Kingdom enough credit—all those things might, in fact, make it the perfect film about America's role in the Middle East. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Let It Ride: The Craig Kelly Story
A documentary about snowboarding icon Craig Kelly. Not screened for critics. Clinton Street Theater.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
The Man Who Souled the World
A documentary about "the controversial godfather" of street skateboarding, Steve Rocco. Not screened for critics. Clinton Street Theater.
Paris has gotten more valentines than any other city in the world. The reasons are obvious: It's beautiful, and it makes people want to be in love. So the impulse behind Paris, Je T'Aime is nothing new—the results, though, are as stunning and varied as the city itself. Paris is comprised of 18 five-minute films, unrelated save that they are each set in a different Paris neighborhood. If sitting through 18 short films sounds tedious, consider the talent involved: Alfonso Cuarón, the Coen Brothers, and Alexander Payne are among the directors, and actors include Steve Buscemi, Fanny Ardant, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Juliette Binoche (and yes, Gérard Depardieu is in it). Even if there's no amour lost between you and Paris (I hear some people don't like the French?), Paris, Je T'Aime is worth seeing: The films included range from hilarious to heartbreaking, and together they capture the expansiveness and excitement of being alive and in love with a city. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst.
Reel Nordic Scandinavian
"A variety of new and vintage films from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and [the] USA." Yes, indeed—it's "two days of Scandinavian filmmaking—and films about Scandinavians." FINALLY. Norse Hall.
Resident Evil: Extinction
By my rough calculations, Resident Evil: Extinction, the third and final film in the series about supermodels killing zombies, is roughly 98 percent horrible. A lifeless (HA!) hodgepodge of Mad Max, Return of the Jedi, Alien: Resurrection, Day of the Dead (actually, Extinction swipes from all of the Romero zombie movies, especially that shitty newest one), X-Men, The Birds, Jurassic Park, and (sure, why not?) Japanese tentacle porn, there's a somewhat endearing sense of "Anything goes!" to this flat, desert-set action flick. But after about a half hour, "Anything goes!" begins to feel a lot like "Eh, what the fuck ever." While I suppose one could make the argument that you really haven't experienced all that modern cinema has to offer until you've seen zombies climbing the replica of the Eiffel Tower in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, I think one could also make the argument that if you're in the mood for stupid, stupid zombies-vs.-supermodels action, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is the film to rent. (Yes. I just recommended Resident Evil 2 over Resident Evil 3. I don't know how I feel about that, either.) ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A sweet, dark film about a stuttering high school student—but be warned: You're going to hear inevitable and angry comparisons to Election, The Squid and the Whale, and every Wes Anderson film ever made. But don't let that bother you. Director Jeffrey Blitz (who previously made the spelling bee documentary Spellbound) knows how to make a good film, and while it resonates with quirky Andersonisms, it's still immensely fresh, likeable, and genuine. COURTNEY FERGUSON Laurelhurst.
Rush Hour 3
I'm sure you know the ridiculous formula: Chris Tucker sings falsetto; Jackie Chan tries to stay awake through the final stage of his career; and the two of them close the movie by singing the song "War (What Is it Good For?)" at the base of the Eiffel Tower. But taken with just the most rudimentary level of analysis, Tucker, the movie's "loveable" star, is the embodiment of America's crass, violent arrogance. Early in the movie, we learn that he's in trouble with his police sergeant for illegally imprisoning American doctors of Iranian descent. His defense? "You know they looked like terrorists! Just because they cured cancer in a bunch of mice doesn't mean they aren't planning to blow shit up, too!" Later, when Tucker and Chan run into some surprisingly well-articulated anti-Americanism in Paris, Tucker's character puts a pistol to a Frenchman's head and makes him sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at gunpoint. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
See Film, pg. 63. Director in attendance. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
With The Seeker, Susan Cooper's excellent Dark is Rising kid lit series gets predictably violated at the hands of Hollywood, who have long since demonstrated that they respect neither children nor the aspects of children's literature which make some books into classics. Cooper's Newberry Award-winning book has been dumbed down into a brainless light vs. dark parable, relying on a visual language culled from horror films to herd its jumbled narrative from one poorly explicated plot point to the next. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The latest from director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (who previously collaborated on the mostly awesome 28 Days Later and the pretty crappy The Beach), Sunshine takes place 50 years from now, with a barren Earth frozen by a solar winter: The sun is dying, and humanity finds itself staring down a cold, dark death. Humanity has just one plan, and it is desperate and flawed: Loading a huge bomb onto a spaceship, the Icarus II, a small team of scientists will attempt to jumpstart the sun. To give away more of the plot would be a disservice; suffice to say that (A) things go wrong, and (B) Boyle and Garland use their relatively simple concept to delve into themes ranging from religion to sanity to sacrifice. But mostly, Sunshine is a tense, drawn-out thriller. Despite a strange spell in which Boyle decides to briefly turn the smart Sunshine in to a dumb slasher flick, he's patient and clever, and the film plays out with a sense of both inexorable doom and dumb hope. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst.
Over 20 years since the debut of 1984's Saturday morning cartoon/toy commercial Transformers, it makes a perverse sort of sense that executive producer Steven Spielberg chose director Michael Bay to resurrect Optimus Prime and crew. With Bad Boys, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor, Bay's spent his entire career trying to turn real-life people and places into preposterous cartoons; here, he's charged with turning a cartoon into something vaguely resembling reality, and he does so with shameless, contagious glee. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
It's a debate Oregonians are familiar with—where's the fair line dividing development and the environment? How do we accommodate growth, but not ruin the land? In Texas, as you can imagine, that conversation hasn't played out like it has in Oregon. The Unforeseen tackles one major subdivision project from the 1980s—10,000 homes near Austin—that threatened to destroy Barton Springs. Activists fought to save the aquifer, and eventually butted heads with Governor George Bush. This documentary—packed full of gorgeous nature shots and historical footage—tells that story, in a nuanced way that adds another dimension to this ongoing debate. AMY J. RUIZ Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Unknown Soldier
Director Michael Verhoeven's examination of the impact of the Wehrmacht-Exhibition—an exhibition that was shown in eleven German cities from 1999 and 2004, was seen by 500,000 people, and "challenged ordinary Germans to rethink what their fathers and grandfathers did" during WWII. Living Room Theaters.
Fourteen-year-old Vanaja, the fisherman's daughter, wants desperately to be a dancer—and it looks like she might get her wish, after sassing her way into a job at the rich landlady's house. But plans are derailed when the landlady's hot son, Shekar Babu, arrives from America, and youthful flirtation begets grown-up horrors. The sight of bendy, stompy, preternaturally graceful Kuchipudi dancing is worth the price of admission—but it's Shekar Babu's beautiful menace ("Sometimes I want to hurt you because... how should I explain? So that I can then protect you.") and Vanaja's willowy resilience that give the film its heft. LINDY WEST Fox Tower 10.
White Light/Black Rain
Screening as part of the Northwest Film Center's Human Rights on Film series, Steven Okazaki's film examines the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, using interviews with 14 survivors. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.