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 Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater, St. Johns Theater and Pub.
All-Night Horror Marathon
See My, What a Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.
American Landscape & 13 Lakes
Cinema Project presents two nights of experimental films focusing on "the American landscape through its multiple meanings and purposes: changed and unchanging, used, misused, archived, created, protected, and enjoyed." More info: cinemaproject.org. 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 Puppeteer's Journey
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.
What Psycho did for showers? What Jaws did for the ocean? Contagion does that for EVERY SINGLE THING YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE. Do you talk to people? Do you touch things? Do you go places, like "rooms" or "outside"? Do you eat or breathe? Because Contagion will ruin all of these things. It will turn you into one of those sad, lonely freaks who carries a little thing of Purell with them wherever they go, and whenever you touch or smell anything, or come within 20 feet of anyone, you will see your own corpse: your dull, dark eyes; your pale, rubbery skin; your cold lips, crusty with snotty, dried-up froth. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst Theater.
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.
"Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho." Kiggins Theatre.
The Economics of Happiness
A documentary about globalization and localization, introduced by Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen. Screens as part of Multnomah County's ongoing Sustainable Film Series. Bagdad Theater.
Is this supposed to be a holiday classic now? Laurelhurst Theater.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
A must-see for anyone with an interest in the history of either the Trail Blazers or Portland itself, Fast Break comprises footage shot during the Blazers' legendary 1977 championship season. Much of the documentary is devoted to chronicling how Bill Walton spent his time off the court—which, because the man was a giant (literally) hippie, involved a lot of bike riding down the 101 and clambering through the woods picking blackberries. There's also a ton of great archival footage of the absolute frenzy that surrounded the team during that period, filtered of course through Portland's own hippie sensibility—a scene of a huge crowd singing a "Rip City" ballad as a folksinger strums on an acoustic guitar is particularly classic. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Musical group the Subterranean Howl perform an original live score for 1927's The Unknown, starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford. More info: filmusik.com. Hollywood Theatre.
I loved, loved, LOVED Footloose in 1984. I made my parents listen to the soundtrack on road trips 'til my mom threatened to throw Loggins & Co. out the car window somewhere near Canada. It was all about that awesome end scene in the mill when the kids took turns showboating down the dance line, with improbable amounts of confetti spraying everywhere like some '80s Lisa Frank dream! Well, I'm here to say that director Craig Brewer did not ruin my pubescent wankfest with his remake of Footloose. Dare I say... this new one's fun. Brewer (director of dirty South flicks Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan) takes the premise of the original—city boy moves to backward town where they don't allow dancing—and adds layers of context and backstory while stripping away the goofy dated bits. COURTNEY FERGUSON Kennedy School, Liberty Theatre.
One part The Royal Tenenbaums, one part Babette's Feast, and with enough pint-sized ennui to choke a goldfish, The Hedgehog follows Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic), a bright little girl (and possibly Camus reborn) set on killing herself on her 12th birthday rather than going on to live the absurd life of wealth and malaise she sees before her—but, whaddya know, first she has to get through a Gruff Character and a Wise Character with some Truths to impart. Whimsical and lovingly shot, The Hedgehog pulls from a lot of playbooks, but it works, probably better than it should. Leave it to the French to make the feel-good movie of the year about suicidal children. MELANIE "THE INTERN" JOHNSON Living Room Theaters.
The maladroit love child of Remember the Titans and Eat, Pray, Love, conceived during a drunken and misguided romp behind the bushes at a child's birthday party. Would-be journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelas (Emma Stone) comes home from college wanting to change the world, but instead finds herself writing a cleaning column in the local daily, playing endless rounds of bridge, and hunting for a husband. After hearing one of her friends insist that black servants use separate bathrooms from their white employers, an incensed Skeeter decides to collect and publish the accounts of the help to shove the intolerance of the white richesse right back in their faces. The film wants to be a portrait of racism, bigotry, and child neglect in civil rights-era Mississippi. Instead, it is just boring. KATHERINE LONG Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Ru-fi-o! Ru-fi-o! Ru-fi-OOOOOOOOOOOOO! Academy Theater.
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.
The Ides of March
Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a staffer working on the presidential campaign for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). With strategist Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) leading the campaign, they're gearing up for the Democratic primary in Ohio. At the start of Ides, Stephen's a young-buck idealist who's entirely enamored with Governor Morris, a character loosely based on pre-"yaaargh" Howard Dean—in other words, a liberal's wet dream. Paul Giamatti plays the head of the opposing campaign, and while he seems to be an unscrupulous trickster, Stephen soon discovers that there isn't really room for absolute idealism when a presidency is at stake. There's almost no bloat to The Ides of March—it's a lean, clean thriller that steadily ramps to a sharp climax. NED LANNAMANN Fox Tower 10.
In which Greek gods fight in slow-motion. A lot. Various Theaters.
1977's kung fu flick, featuring fight choreography by the usually awesome Yuen Woo-Ping. Hollywood Theatre.
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.
Jack and Jill
In which Adam Sandler plays his own sister. Various Theaters.
The Northwest Film Center's series of contemporary Japanese films. This week's films include Satoko Yokohama's Bare Essence of Life, Sion Sono's Cold Fish, Koji Wakamatsu's Caterpillar, and more. For more info, see last week's Mercury ["Body of Work," December 1, 2011] and nwfilm.org. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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.
Set at a Goldman Sachs-like investment firm just before the financial collapse, Margin Call features an old boy's club of showy, competent actors (Stanley Tucci, as always, is perfect, and Jeremy Irons plays the CEO with his menacing rolled r's and weary grace). In the beginning, attractive guys in expensive suits say "Fuck me!" in exasperated tones while staring at computers. Then comes the exposition, with characters telling each other to dumb it down for them. And in the end, everyone rationalizes their part in the whole mess. Margin Call really shines in the last bit, where a feral Paul Bettany explains that traders are the heroes who make the excesses of the western world possible until they suddenly become the villains. The movie couldn't be better-timed, but anyone looking for usable information should watch Inside Job instead. As far as heartfelt quests for the soul of a salesman go, this is a well-put-together but ultimately unexceptional entry. PAUL CONSTANT Academy Theater, Living Room Theaters.
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.
On the surface, Lars von Trier's latest documents the end of the world: Earth collides with another, larger planet in a massive, fiery explosion. But unlike most films with a similar premise, there is neither panic in the streets, nor is there any heroism: There are just the slow-motion reactions of a select few on the grounds of an enormous castle estate. Far from a literal apocalypse film, Melancholia is a metaphorical portrait of a hallmark of depression: that its sufferers tend to handle catastrophe better than those who feel they have something to lose. MARJORIE SKINNER Cinema 21.
As the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is dealt a permanent losing hand: running an undesirable team in an undesirable small market that can't afford to re-sign its elite players. Frustrated by the futility of modern baseball, Beane teams with Peter Brand (a composite of Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, and played by Jonah Hill, in his very first role without a single dick joke), a Yale graduate and numbers geek who reexamines the very foundation of the game based upon Bill James' sabermetrics philosophy. Masterfully directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball visually bolsters the absorbing tale told in Michael Lewis' bestseller of the same name without utilizing any winded sports clichés. In a sense, Moneyball is the anti-baseball baseball film: It stays off the playing field and focuses firmly on a central concept that values math and percentages over actual physical performance. Gently paced and well written (thanks, Aaron Sorkin!), Moneyball captures Beane's noble attempt to achieve perfection in an imperfect sport. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Living Room Theaters.
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.
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.
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.
New Year's Eve
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
The Princess Bride
R.O.U.S. ALERT. Bagdad Theater.
Puss in Boots
Shrek's loveable kitty pal gets his own movie! Everything about Western culture is fucking awful. Various Theaters.
Reel Nordic Film Night
"A film from or about Scandinavia." That's how the Norse Hall rolls, yo. Norse Hall.
Rid of Me
The latest from Portland director James Westby exudes the same raunch and camp that made 2008's The Auteur quirkily fun, but here the story takes on an emotional earnestness that both deepens the film and makes it even stranger. Katy O'Grady stars as Meris, a young wife who moves to her husband's small Oregon hometown only to be hamstrung by social awkwardness in the face of his crew of bland, yuppie friends. When Storm Large shows up as his old flame, it sets off a downward spiral of heavy drinking and dated punk rock antics that are amusing, if embarrassing and bewildering. (I completely lost the sense of how old Meris is supposed to be. Thirty? Fourteen?) From its overall look to its bad fake blood, there is something staunchly, perversely amateur about this film, but like its studded wasteoid good guys, I think that's how they want it. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
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.
See review this issue. Various 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.
Street Stories Film Fest
See News, this issue. Cinema 21.
For a film that stars some very funny people—Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, and Eddie Murphy—Tower Heist is surprisingly... not so funny. In fact, the first quarter is an exposition-filled snore fest until Murphy thankfully joins the mix. This is when lift-off finally occurs, and the scenes and its players zing with electric comic timing and chemistry... until we have to return to the plot, at which point, Tower Heist once again wilts on the vine. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Up the Yangtze
In this documentary from 2007, Yu Shui, a young Chinese girl from a rural peasant family, has just finished middle school and wants to go to high school. But her parents' future is uncertain, and they can't pay for her education, thanks to a massive government project—the construction of the Three Gorges Dam—that will soon flood their home on the Yangtze River, forcing them (and two million others) to relocate. So Shui finds a job, on a luxury ship that takes Westerners on voyeuristic "Farewell Cruises" to check out parts of the country that will soon be under hundreds of feet of water. Director Yung Chang's cameras deftly capture one family's struggle amid rapid and dramatic change, while simultaneously offering a peek at a contemporary China rarely seen on screen. AMY J. RUIZ Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
Look, I'm not going to convince you that AVH&KXMas3D is must-see comedy, nor would I try to, but it does a decent job balancing half-assed vulgar wordplay with a gleefully outlandish plot. It's probably best enjoyed in 25-minute chunks on cable, but if you're stoned with nothing to do and looking for a giggle, you'll find it. Plus, it's got Patton Oswalt and Brett Gelman and Danny Trejo in a Christmas sweater, and I would argue any of those three things are added value to any movie. And that's to say nothing of "Wafflebot," the finest stoner-comedy sidekick since the robot falcon in Your Highness. What can I say, I'm a sucker for robot sidekicks. VINCE MANCINI Century Eastport 16.