AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
The 18th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films runs until Saturday, March 1. Films weren't screened for critics; more info at africanfilmfestival.org.
A South African feature about "youth, identity, and life in the new South Africa." PCC Cascade Campus.
Put on your thinking caps: Kinshasa Palace is a "study of family displacement and the socially corrosive ramifications of the recent African diaspora." PCC Cascade Campus.
IN THE SHADOW OF HOLLYWOOD:
RACE MOVIES AND THE BIRTH
A documentary about "race films"—movies made exclusively for black audiences between 1915 and 1947. PCC Cascade Campus.
THE NARROW PATH
Tunde Kelani's film follows a young woman who must choose between suitors, with disastrous results. PCC Cascade Campus.
A film about the Nigerian River Delta, where the U.S. gets 20 percent of its oil. PCC Cascade Campus.
THIS IS NOLLYWOOD
A documentary following Nigerian filmmaker Bond Emeruwa's attempt to make an action film in nine days. PCC Cascade Campus.
UNDER THE MOONLIGHT
A drama from Burkina Faso. PCC Cascade Campus.
ZANZIBAR SOCCER QUEENS
A documentary about the Women Fighters, a group of women playing soccer the largely Muslim society of Zanzibar. PCC Cascade Campus.
Portland International Film festival
More info: nwfilm.org
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Romania)
Set in Romania in 1987, this acclaimed film (it won the Palm d'Or at Cannes) follows a woman who helps her friend get an illegal abortion. Look no further for this weekend's perfect date movie! Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Best of PIFF Shorts
The best short films from PIFF 2008. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Empties (Czech Republic)
An elderly man tries out a succession of jobs in this hit from the Czech Republic. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Now, I aint sayin' she's a gold digger... oh wait. Yes, I am. Irene (the intoxicating and magical Audrey Tautou) would tell you the same—unless you inhabit the sparkling world of caviar, couture, and getting drunk in the daytime, you're not getting a piece. In five-star hotels of the French Riviera, Irene is every busboy's dream... until one of those busboys (the likable everyman Gad Elmaleh) fools her into thinking he's a guest. What follows is a soft, light, and modern take on love and sex, and how the two can indeed be separate. Priceless is funny and cute (we won't use the term "romantic comedy," because this film is smart and genuinely engaging), and plus, there's a glimpse of Tautou's boobs, which is worth the price of admission alone. ANDREW TONRY Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Short Cuts V:
The Spaces In Between
Shorts curated by the Cinema Project. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Produced with the help of David Gordon Green, Shotgun Stories has all the markings of a first film, in all of the best ways. Director Jeff Nichols' slow Southern tragedy about two tightlipped sets of feuding half-brothers is sure to draw easy comparisons to Green's work, but this film is far more quiet, foregoing Green's artier affectations for stone-faced simplicity. The results are artfully executed, and seemingly free of the burdens of expectation—a confident first outing that feels deliberately modest in its ambitions. ZAC PENNINGTON Broadway Metroplex.
Eight years after losing his wife in the woods to a mysterious serial killer (no, not Jason Vorhees), a still-grieving pediatrician begins to receive emails hinting that the tragedy might not be as random as originally thought. Adapting a novel by US airport bookstore staple Harlen Coben, writer/director Guillaume Canet's confident, almost irritatingly taut thriller wastes no time in cranking the paranoia up to eleven. The sheer amount of red herrings can be difficult to wade through at times, but Canet's sense of style makes even the more head-scratching moments enjoyable. A gratifyingly nasty whodunit with a healthy sense of its own absurdities. ANDREW WRIGHT Broadway Metroplex.
Times and Winds (Turkey)
A "lyrical portrayal" of life in a small Turkish town and three friends who live there. Also: Rhyming! Maybe? Broadway Metroplex.
Up the Yangtze (Canada)
Yu Shui, a young Chinese girl from a rural peasant family, just finished middle school, and wants to go to high school. But her parents' own 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 and force 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. Filmmaker 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 Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a widower and college professor in Connecticut who fills his bored days by pretending to work and attempting to learn to play the piano. When he's forced to attend a conference in New York, he returns to his old apartment to find a young couple—illegal immigrants from Syria and Senegal—living there. After the awkwardness of the misunderstanding passes, a friendship develops between the three of them, and when the young man, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), is picked up and put in an immigration detention center, Walter finds meaning in the cause of helping his friend, and the film becomes an affecting look at the sinister bureaucracy of post-9/11 immigration control. MARJORIE SKINNER Broadway Metroplex.
Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Brazil)
Mauro (Michel Joelsas) is an adorable 11-year-old moppet whose parents drop him off at his grandpa's house in São Paulo so they can "go on vacation." When his grandpa turns out to be dead, Mauro is taken in by the local Jewish community, who aren't quite sure to make of the young "goy" with the absent folks. It's clear that his parents have gone into hiding for political reasons—the repressive military regime of 1970s Brazil lurks around the fringes of Mauro's days, which are spent watching World Cup soccer games and running around with neighborhood kids. Subtle and sweet, this genuinely charming little film is one of the better PIFF offerings. ALISON HALLETT Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
"This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye." Living Room Theaters.
A rage-inducing waste of Knocked Up's lovely Katherine Heigl. Ripping off nearly every moment from My Best Friend's Wedding, this crappy rom-com storms your sensibilities with a blitzkrieg of clichés. (Sing-along? Check. Annoying blonde bride? Check. Unrequited love? Check.) Designed for walking stereotypes, 27 Dresses will only bring enjoyment to treacly tweens and husband-hunting sorority girls. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
David Lee Hoffman is a California tea importer who spends most of this film searching China's visually stunning rural regions looking for the best handmade teas. Despite its esoteric subject matter, this doc rarely drags, largely because of Hoffman's uncompromising, pioneering spirit. Part Indiana Jones and part tea geek, he's become successful in life by following his true interest which, after about 10 minutes, becomes infectious. MATT DAVIS Hollywood Theatre.
An Evening with Tom DeCillo
Director Tom DeCillo will be in attendance to present two of his films, 1995's Living in Oblivion and 2007's Delirious. Living Room Theaters.
The first hour of Atonement, based on the book by Ian McEwan and set in a pre-war English country house, is faultless: a pungent stew of pleasure and dread, shrill suspicions and pouting revenge. The film's casting is brilliant, the production design impeccable, the point-of-view switchbacks beautifully turned. Sloughing off the novel's pretentious narration, the film nonetheless bows to McEwan's conceit by weaving the sounds of a typewriter into the score. And even if the second half of the film is disappointing, relative to the first, it's not entirely wrongheaded. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
Be Kind Rewind
See review. Various Theaters.
Before the Devil Knows
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead has a lot going for it: a sinfully exciting story, an all-star cast, and veteran director Sidney Lumet (Network). A crime thriller, it centers on two brothers, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke). Andy, the older of the two, concocts a scheme in which the two knock over their own parents' suburban jewelry store; needless to say, things go wrong. Devil has an underlying pulse on what hurts about middle-class American life, and its action is like a clusterfuck symphony of family gone the worst kind of wrong. It's a wild, grimy ride, but you'll be able to get off without looking back. MARJORIE SKINNER Laurelhurst, Living Room Theaters.
The Bucket List
The Bucket List? Seriously? Who fucking green-lit that title? Can you imagine actually walking up to the box office and being all, "Yes, um, I would like two tickets for The Bucket List, please"? I'm embarrassed just typing it. Surely this isn't meant to be a review of a movie title, but The Bucket List's very name is strangely indicative of the kind of awkward misfire clearly behind the boardroom gavel drop that set this mess out to spawn. "All right, so we got this sort of morbid, geriatric Odd Couple thing going, okay? So we need like one guy to convey the sage wisdom of the humble poor, but the thing is, he's got to be old, too. Hmmm... I got it! Morgan Freeman! And we'll get him to do that cool voiceover thing he always does at the beginning and the end of every movie he's in. This is shaping up nicely." Soon they've got rich asshole Jack Nicholson (who, frankly, looks like he might actually be dying) coughing blood into a handkerchief like he's one of the Brontë sisters or something, and then rattling off Nicholsonisms that lost their cool about the time that he started to look like Mickey Rooney. There is also a mind-blowingly ill-conceived skydiving scene. If you have even a marginal interest in paying to see this film, you deserve what you get. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
Named for the hot, gooey candy used to wax body and facial hair in a dingy Beirut beauty salon, the Lebanese Caramel is the story of the women who work and congregate there. In an environment where merely being alone with a man you are not wedded to is asking for trouble, the salon provides a sanctuary for them to be open about their particularly feminine travails: an affair with a married man, the terror that a soon-to-be husband will discover his bride is not a virgin, the insecurities brought on by aging, the shyness of being a lesbian in a conservative society, and the sacrifices of happiness one must sometimes make to fulfill familial responsibilities. Caramel succeeds in pointing out the universalities of being a woman, but it's also this quality that makes it less than extraordinary: You've already seen a million you'll-laugh-you'll-cry films about sisterly friendships and female bonding; this one just happens to be in a different language. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
See review. Various Theaters.
Confessions of a Bad Girl
1965's pervy-sounding film about a young model. Laurelhurst.
Ah yes, this year's obligatory Valentine's Day romantic comedy. Taking a page from The Princess Bride's format, Definitely, Maybe follows the story a father, Will (Ryan Reynolds), tells his 10-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), about the women he has dated, changing their names and letting her guess which one became her mom, with whom he is now finalizing a divorce. Yes, the premise is convoluted, and even in the first act, Maya's preternatural enthusiasm threatens to push Definitely, Maybe over the precipice, into a pit filled with thousands of awful, forgotten romcoms. Luckily, Reynolds is an eminently likeable protagonist, and the three women who inhabit his past, Emily (the college sweetheart, played by Elizabeth Banks), April (the free-spirited best friend, played by Isla Fisher), and Summer (the sophisticated, driven journalist, played by Rachel Weisz) are sufficiently divergent, interesting, and respectable as they take turns breaking Will's heart. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Movies that are "based on a true story" are usually dismal affairs—extraordinary human experiences flattened into pseudo-inspirational morality tales. An emphatic exception is Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the autobiography of the completely paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby. Diving Bell is that rare case where an amazing story and amazing filmmaking collide, a rich and beautiful film that does full justice to its source material. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Like a precisely shaped slab of processed meat, Fool's Gold is a triumphantly unedifying McMovie: Matthew McConaughey (who can hardly be faulted for figuring out how to be paid millions for being a beach bum) and Kate Hudson play Ben and Tess, an estranged couple who spent eight years together hunting treasure in the Caribbean (after the whole Pirates of the Caribbean thing, how could treasure hunting plus McConaughey's bare chest possibly go wrong?). Just as things are ending between them, a clue reignites the hunt and—can you guess?—their romance. The thing about McDonald's hamburgers and McMovies is that while you can harp all you want about their lack of nutritional value, they actually taste... kinda good. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Martin McDonagh's uneven but entertaining dark comedy follows two hit men (perfectly played by the often terrible Colin Farrell and the always excellent Brendan Gleeson) stranded in a tiny Belgian tourist town. Dealing with midgets, Euro trash, and a fair amount of blood, both men crack wise, get fucked up, and make increasingly poor decisions. Awkwardly teetering between melodrama and slapstick, In Bruges never finds its footing, and it all goes shamefully and irrevocably to shit in its final act (despite Ralph Fiennes' fantastic attempt at a last-minute save, playing Farrell and Gleeson's disgruntled boss). But up until then: Great characters, and certainly a fun enough way to kill a few hours. ERIK HENRIKSEN Cinema 21.
A Shaw Brothers kung fu superhero flick from 1975? What's not to love? Laurelhurst.
Combining the goofiest parts of The O.C., Star Wars, and any movie in which a shouting Samuel L. Jackson acts all crazy, Jumper is kind of great. I mean, not for everyone—in order to enjoy the film, you need to like at least two out of the three things above. Or you need to be a 12-year-old boy. If that applies, though, have I got a movie for you! And me! ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
There's a perfect little gem of a movie buried inside of Juno, an offbeat-yet-honest portrayal of a precocious high school girl, Juno (played by an acerbic Ellen Page), who gets pregnant, finds herself unable to go through with an abortion, and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Unfortunately, it's not enough that Juno is funny, well written, and perfectly acted; director Jason Reitman seems determined to get his piece of the saccharine twee-cinema pie, and the film has a too-precious lacquer that can distract from its best moments. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
On paper, it's nothing that we haven't seen before: A stereotypically villainous corporation hurts the little guy; our conflicted protagonist (George Clooney) has to figure out what to do. But that's where all the impressive names behind Michael Clayton—Clooney's, Steven Soderbergh's, Anthony Minghella's, Sydney Pollack's—come into play: An impressive cast, a good sense of production, and writer/director Tony Gilroy's solid direction allow Michael Clayton to take a John Grisham-y concept and amp it up. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The middle film in Tony Gatlif's "Gypsy Trilogy" is a "modern-day fairy tale" that follows a young boy who wanders around Nice. Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A film about the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China. Not screened for critics. Hollywood Theatre.
"We're not a respectable network. We're a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get." Hollywood Theatre.
Country for Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen's unforgettably stylish paean to risk, violence, and resourcefulness, based on the throbbing, violent thriller by Cormac McCarthy. No Country's conflict is as lean and primal as they come: one badass chasing another through the the unforgiving landscape of Southwest Texas. Few contemporary directors are as well suited to the task: Through meticulous editing, sound design, and cinematography, the Coens pace and manipulate the narrative tension to masterly effect. When that tension's relieved, it's through the two channels that they know best: violence and humor. They've teased out the wry, deadpan pathos from McCarthy's novel, and use it mostly to decompress the audience, only so they can begin the process again. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis II, are reimagined in an excellent animated treatment that condenses the events of the two books into a frank, poignant coming-of-age story that surpasses its source material in both visual elegance and storytelling economy. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Another crappy-looking horror flick not screened in time for press. (We know! Shocking!) Hit portlandmercury.com for our film short. Various Theaters.
Step Up 2: The Streets
Step Up 2: The Streets is all about sitting back and watching some crazy kids spin on their heads. It doesn't get much more entertaining than that—besides, the climatic splashy dance-off (yes! a dance-off!) has a troupe of rain-drenched hotties shaking their stuff. 'Nuff said. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a sexually repressed high school student who, unbeknownst to her, has vagina dentata—i.e., her red snapper has really, really sharp teeth. Combining black humor, monster-movie horror, and the best of '70s sexploitation flicks, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein's fascinating film manages to avoid the Fatal Attraction cautionary tale pitfalls and successfully aims for a message of female sexual empowerment. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
The Spiderwick Chronicles has a few things going for it that other recent kids' movies haven't: Seth Rogen as a CG hobgoblin. A lack of an overt religious agenda. Some genuinely tense moments. It doesn't sound like a lot—but hey, with cinematic pickings for the future leaders of this country (dear Christ) as slim as they are, a little goes a surprisingly long way. Some elements of Spiderwick are refreshingly grounded, while others are predictably overwrought and terrible. But hey, it could be worse! It could be Bridge to Terabithia. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Will Be Blood
"I have a competition in me. I do not wish to see anyone else succeed," confides Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a moment of rare candor. "I hate most people." This is Plainview's secret, which emerges slowly from his veneer of confident sophistication until it becomes a misanthropic force too large for any man to harness. Plainview's greed and loathing is at the heart of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's new film of astounding depth, intensity, and brutality. Based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, Blood finds Anderson with a refined vision and cinematic maturity that not even his best films could have prepared us for. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters..
Set in the midst of the peasant revolts that wracked Mexico during the 1970s, The Violin is an excellent portrayal of one man's dangerous decision: Taking advantage of his unthreatening status as an old man and violin player, he embarks on a mission to supply ammunition to the guerrilla forces that have been kicked out of their village by the government army. Filmed in black and white, the film is as beautifully shot as its story is suspenseful. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
The Dewey Cox Story
In a nutshell, Walk Hard is a parody of every ridiculously overblown music biopic produced within the last 20 years. Whether it's La Bamba, Ray, or Walk the Line, Walk Hard hilariously skewers every cliché these screenplays trot out. Perhaps most slyly, the film brings attention to how Hollywood mythologizes musicians in a manner that's almost rote: terrible childhood, early stardom, divorce, drug habit, rocky new marriage, fall from stardom, creative block, self-discovery, and finally, redemption. (Oh, and then death. I always forget death.) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Walls Without Borders Film Screening
"A series of screenings showcasing under-distributed films of all types." This week: The Nightingale Princess, Authority Party, and Sycamore Eve. The Artistery.
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
Your enjoyment of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins can be predetermined by one question: Do you think an obstacle course showdown between Martin Lawrence and Cedric the Entertainer sounds hilarious? CHAS BOWIE Division Street, Lloyd Mall 8.
"One thing I always get frustrated at is people always try to find the politics in everything—but it's just funny," Dan Whitney, AKA "Larry the Cable Guy" told the Mercury last year when promoting his film Delta Farce. "That's all it is. It's funny stuff. And it's stuff that not a lot of comedians are doing. A lot of comedians like to talk to the back of the room and be real edgy and, you know, 'I'm smarter than you,' and 'You should have laughed at that joke.' You know what I mean? We just got up and talked about shit that we thought was funny." You tell 'em, Larry! By the way, Witless Protection is Larry's latest film. Like Delta Farce, it wasn't screened for critics, and it looks fucking excruciating. Various Theaters.