A series of Japanese films at the Northwest Film Center's Whistell Auditorium. Other films this week include The Chef of South Polar and Sketches of Kaitan City. Series runs through Sunday, December 18. More info: Film, this issue, and nwfilm.org.
A latter-day showpiece of legendary Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai, Haru's Journey is a road movie of sorts, in which a grandfather (Nakadai) and his granddaughter Haru (Eri Tokunaga) make a pilgrimage to each of his siblings' houses to ask them to take him in after Haru's small-town job disappears. At over two hours, it's a bit dour as a reflection of aging and dependency, though it gives quite a bit of insight into Japan's traditional attitudes towards family. And noodles—Nakadai continues his tradition of ravenous characters in a side note that will have you headed straight to the nearest bowl of ramen. MARJORIE SKINNER
See review this issue.
Sapporo Shorts Program
Sapporo and Portland are sister cities, and for this year's Japanese Currents, they've edited together some of the best pieces from the Sapporo International Film Festival. It includes one or two that might underscore our sisterhood, like Dean Yamada's Bicycle, in which a down-on-his-luck young man learns self-respect while rebuilding the bicycle that "god" took from him, part by part. MARJORIE SKINNER
50/50 tells the story of Adam (played perfectly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a seemingly healthy 27-year-old who gets diagnosed with cancer. On his team: a sucky girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), an overbearing mom (Anjelica Huston), a newbie therapist (Anna Kendrick), and his stoner BFF, Kyle, who has deep supplies of both blowjob jokes and weed. (Kyle is played by Seth Rogen. Of course Kyle is played by Seth Rogen.) The trailer is calling this movie a comedy, which it technically is—but cancer can't not be heavy. You might cry, but you'll also laugh. And then you'll also probably need a big cocktail when you get home. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
Teachers have it so damn easy. Picture books, snack time, and four square all day long, right? American Teacher, produced by Dave Eggers, aims to shatter this stereotype of the laidback (or just plain lazy) teacher by weaving together profiles of hard-working, heartfelt, and heartbreaking educators. Stuck in a vicious circle of students’ demands outweighing state and school funding, these committed teachers make heavy sacrifices to keep afloat in a society that has placed their field of work at the bottom of the career food chain. Narrated by Matt Damon, this eye-opening doc hits a necessary nerve—and makes you want to write thank you notes to every teacher you ever had. ALEX ZIELINSKI Hollywood Theatre.
I am pretty Grinchy, so me saying that this too-long Christmas movie is not terrible means something. It's hardly a must see, and I'm not sure what the "message" is, but if you have kids who insist on holiday merriment, this has got to beat Happy Feet Two: Die Happier. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
A screening of 1994's First Action Hero, with special-made bingo cards so you can spot the B-movie clichés. Hollywood Theatre.
Being Elmo: A
A doc following puppeteer Kevin Clash's journey from shy Baltimore teen to Jim Henson protégé and, eventually, sole performer of Sesame Street's most popular resident. The story here is the American dream: Want something hard enough, and you can get it. But it's also a reminder that all passion comes with a cost, and for the man who plays Elmo, it is spending much of his daughter's childhood entertaining other people's children. Though the film tends to skim over the nitty-gritty details, it's these little glimpses of life behind the Henson gloss that make the doc worth a look. MELANIE "THE INTERN" JOHNSON Living Room Theaters.
British Arrow Awards
British TV ads. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Christmas in Space
A slew of nerd-tacular, nostalgic sci-fi Christmas junk: The utterly execrable Star Wars Holiday Special, Planet of the Apes and Star Trek toy commercials, Christmas-y musical performances from both the Ramones and Bing Crosby (feat. David Bowie), and more. Hollywood Theatre.
There are, perhaps, more identifiable figures in contemporary cinema than the members of an exceedingly rich family who are about to become even richer. The Descendants is about the Kings, a well-off Hawaiian family that's about to sell a huge chunk of unspoiled paradise to a developer. More specifically, it's about Matt King (George Clooney), the patriarch upon whose shoulders that decision rests—and also a man whose wife is in a potentially deadly coma, whose rebellious teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) is less than impressed with his parenting, and whose life seems to be slipping from his grasp with every moment. There is, on the surface, a lot that's great about The Descendants—beginning with Clooney and Woodley's fantastic performances—but below that surface, there isn't much. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The perennial Christmas classic, presented by podcasters Cort and Fatboy and preceded by a live Cort and Fatboy show. More info: cortandfatboy.com. Bagdad Theater.
Cinema Project presents Sharon Lockhart's "quiet, composed meditaiton on work, time, and light." More info: cinemaproject.org. Hollywood Theatre.
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Charles Eames sure does get a lot of credit for his admittedly awesome design legacy. But didya know that his wife Ray Eames had just as big of a hand in their über-hip furniture, advertising, and filmmaking studio? She was the quieter, less charismatic artist of the bunch, and the documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter aims to set the record straight about her contribution. While this too-brief doc has plenty of thoughtful interviews and good stories about both the Eameses, the film has an insidery, cursory tone that often fails to set up or follow through on interesting stories and tidbits about the couple's work and personal lives. It makes for a frustrating film, but one that design nerds should probably check out for its great archival footage. COURTNEY FERGUSON Clinton Street Theater.
Everyday Sunshine: 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. NED LANNAMANN Hollywood Theatre.
Martin Scorsese is still writing mash notes to cinema's past, but where last year's silly Shutter Island failed, Hugo is heartfelt and touching. It's a kids' movie that wistfully, almost cloyingly, ruminates about what it means to have a creative purpose, while treasuring historical artifacts—like good ol' silver nitrate film, stacks of leather books, and rusted automatons. If this sounds like the ramblings of your grampappy, you wouldn't be too off base. But that old coot's really loveable and he's got a point. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Clint Eastwood starred in two movies with an orangutan called Clyde. J. Edgar Hoover apparently spent the bulk of his life in love with a man named Clyde, who also happened to be an associate director at the FBI. I don't have a punchline for this. I just think it's a funny coincidence. Okay, maybe not that funny—but J. Edgar, Eastwood's biopic of the legendary FBI director, is so self-consciously serious that you have to take levity wherever you find it. JAMIE S. RICH Various Theaters.
A Sundance-approved dramedy based on a short story by T.C. Boyle. Living Room Theaters.
An unflinchingly honest portrayal of intense young love—and its frequent collaborator, carelessness. Ponderously shot and marked by tasteful montages and scenes of uneasily intimate pillow play, there's much to praise technically, including strong performances from Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones. Boundary-testing truthfulness is Like Crazy's best attribute, however—lacking as it is of insight or any level of intrigue sufficient to sustain sympathy for its protagonists. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
"What is wrong with you?" That's the refrain directed at Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) with increasing urgency over the course of director Sean Durkin's first feature. College-aged Martha has just run away from a cult in the Catskills after a two-year absence from her former life. Taking shelter with her concerned sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), she finds it increasingly difficult to readjust to normal life: She skinny dips in front of Ted, she plops down on the bed while he and Lucy are having sex, and she accuses them of materialism even as she freeloads off their generosity. There's a sense that this arresting, moodily beautiful film doesn't quite know what to do with itself, and the narrative calls it quits just as another chapter appears poised to unfold. At first, the finish feels too abrupt—but when it sinks in, its ambiguity feels like a perfect reflection of its central character's guiding conundrum. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
John Huston! Arthur Miller! Clark Gable! Marilyn Monroe! Your grandma is so excited! Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A joyless bastard could nitpick the hell out of The Muppets: The way Jason Segel & Co. reintroduce the Muppets—via a new Muppet, Walter, and Walter's brother (Segel) and his fiancée (Amy Adams)—is clunky. The pacing's weird. There are two bits of painful Disney product placement (Cars 2 and Selena Gomez). And there's not enough Gonzo. But then, there's never enough Gonzo, and to focus on those complaints would be to ignore all that's right here: Kermit has a couple of heartbreakingly great and melancholy songs. Fantastic one-liners zip through the air. Fozzie's jokes are magnificently stupid. Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and cameoing celebrities all have a phenomenal time. There are gleeful song-and-dance numbers. And the tone that defines the Muppets' best stuff—that blend of self-aware comedy, loveable characters, and bright-hearted optimism—is solidly in place. When it comes to the Muppets, that's what matters, and here it is. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
My Week with Marilyn
There's a scene in The Prince and the Showgirl—which is the movie that the memoir-based My Week With Marilyn concerns—in which Marilyn Monroe throws a raincoat off a balcony. It's a tiny moment, but it's just great: You could watch Marilyn Monroe throw a raincoat off a balcony all day long. Watching her act, generally badly, in the generally bad The Prince and the Showgirl is not the pinnacle of cinematic experience, but it is better than watching Michelle Williams attempt to portray her in My Week With Marilyn. No one should ever try to play Marilyn Monroe. The entire point of Marilyn Monroe is that she possessed an ineffable thing that none of the rest of us ever will (call it an F-able thing, if you want to be rude). Williams isn't even especially terrible at it, though the breathiness and the moues do get mighty tedious; she's just a failure, as she is doomed to be. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT Fox Tower 10.
Local writer and filmmaker David Walker hosts an evening of clips from little-known B-movies filmed in Portland, including Brainsmasher, Iron Heart, and Rockaday Richie and the Queen of the Hop. Hollywood Theatre.
"You know what I'm going to get you next Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices, you can climb on up and nail yourself to it." Laurelhurst Theater.
The Rum Diary
Based on the trailers, one could scarcely be blamed for thinking The Rum Diary was going to be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas all over again. There stands Johnny Depp, after all, starring as another shade of Hunter S. Thompson in a trashed hotel room with bloodshot eyes. But Diary—based on the early novel Thompson abandoned until its eventual publication in the '90s—is only somewhat autobiographical, and its dedication to its characters' extremes of alcohol consumption is given stiff competition from the story's real meat—that of a writer finding his guiding light. For all its roughhouse antics, Diary's an earnest, somewhat naïve transmission of the reckless young reporter Thompson once was. MARJORIE SKINNER Academy Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
Seducing Charlie Barker
A not-screened-for-critics comedy. Living Room Theaters.
The Skin I Live In
With his provocative new film, Pedro Almodóvar runs with the idea that Frankenstein's monster would be much more disturbing if sex were involved. This notion proves very, very correct. It'd be a laughable understatement to describe The Skin I Live In as "not for everyone"—it's strange, disturbing, and utterly unflinching in its literal deconstruction of gender and selfhood. But Almodóvar also baits this trap seductively—every surface is elegant and crisp, every shot so artfully composed that even the most grotesque medical footage has an undeniable beauty, and it's all leavened with a lurid smear of melodrama that plays with the line between horror and camp. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part I
I had some high hopes for Breaking Dawn, as author Stephenie Meyer's "literary" ode to not giving it up finally loses its case of blue balls in this final book of the series. Bella (Kristen Stewart, human, wet rag) and Edward (Robert Pattinson, red-eyed, sparkly vampire, slightly crusty) finally get to home base. Which should be way more exciting than this terrible schmaltzy emo crap film makes it—in the book, Edward rams it home so hard the bed shatters and Bella ends up black and blue. That also happens here in Oscar Award-winning director Bill Condon's film (who's reached an unfathomable low since 1998's great Gods and Monsters), but it's more like Edward gently tucks it in, delicately breaks off a bedpost, then mopes about Bella's bruises for a couple weeks, opting for silent games of chess instead of hot sex on their tropical honeymoon. Glad you two kids waited 'til marriage. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.