Blackjack aficionados have already thrilled to Ben Mezrich's book Bringing Down the House, a true story about a group of MIT students/blackjack card counters who shake down Vegas for millions of dollars. Unfortunately, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) takes this inherently interesting tale and crams it through the Hollywood Script-o-Matic 2000™ to bring us 21—featuring the hottest math nerds you'll ever meet and a superfluous and stupid "cross, double-cross, quadruple-cross" ending. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Al Pacino takes his very enjoyable Ricky Roma character from Glengarry Glen Ross and plops it into this labored story of a Seattle forensic psychiatrist (Pacino) who's supposedly being stalked by a nutbag serial killer! Since Al is also a college professor, he enlists the help of a couple of his more comely students, who are inexplicably smitten with him, even though his face now looks like a leather Ziploc bag full of marbles. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
The best—actually, the only—word I can think of to describe Baby Mama is "cute," which is kind of good and kind of bad. Let's focus on the good first: Baby Mama is the sort of "cute" that's perfectly enjoyable, comfortingly predictable, and fairly entertaining. But Baby Mama is also the sort of "cute" that's totally disposable and largely forgettable and doomed to inevitably start rerunning on the Oxygen channel in a year or two, and its stars, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, deserve to be in far better movies than ones like this. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Be Kind Rewind
The man who gave the world the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directs Be Kind Rewind. The story is about a video store in Passaic, New Jersey. The store only rents VHS tapes. Mos Def works in the store; Jack Black hangs around the store. Believably, the old building is about to get knocked down for a new condo. Believably, Jack is electrocuted while trying to sabotage a power plant. Unbelievably, Jack becomes magnetized. Unbelievably, his magnetized body erases all the VHS tapes in the video store. To stay in business, Mos Def decides to make homemade versions of the films that were erased by Jack Black's magnetized body. No, a human cannot be magnetized. Yes, Jack's electrocution would have killed a normal human being. No, we can never imagine Mos Def and Jack Black as best friends. None of this makes sense, none of it is bad, and none of it is as impressive as Eternal Sunshine. CHARLES MUDEDE Various Theaters.
This sounds like a straight-to-DVD erotic thriller. Says the IMDB: "An accountant is introduced to a mysterious sex club known as The List by his lawyer friend. But in this new world, he soon becomes the prime suspect in a woman's disappearance and a multi-million dollar heist." Unexpectedly, this film stars Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman; expectedly, it wasn't screened for critics. Poor Obi-Wan. Poor Wolverine. Various Theaters.
Classic Disney cartoons—enjoyable or racist? You decide! Pix Patisserie (North).
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
Encounters at the End of the World
See review. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Lady in the Radiator. The baby. Jack Nance. His awesome hair. The spookiest sounds ever committed to celluloid. Eraserhead! Over 30 years of cult-y goodness and a new 35mm print makes this David Lynch screening the best movie bet this week. It makes me feel like squishing oozy sperm things and singing, "In heaven/everything is fine/You've got your good things/and I've got mine." COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Intellectual bankruptcy is the defining characteristic of the intelligent design propaganda film Expelled. Former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein flits around the country collecting risibly anecdotal evidence of a conspiracy to choke academic freedom (apparently, tenure-track professors have an inalienable right to spend their time writing intelligent design textbooks instead of peer-reviewed journal articles), but he never bothers to define his terms. You won't learn the definition of intelligent design from this movie, much less anything about the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Instead, you'll be told that scientists are all vehement atheists—not a single agnostic or religious person who accepts the theory of natural selection appears in the film. Meanwhile, clumsy montages of archival film clips will try to convince you that the science departments of research universities are like the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Communist China all rolled up in one ivory tower. And, most memorably, you'll be warned that accepting Darwin's theory of natural selection is a slippery slope that will soon have you espousing eugenics, embracing racial purity and genocide, and sieg-heiling Hitler himself. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
Werner Herzog's 1982 film follows a crazy motherfucker (Klaus Kinski) who braves the Peruvian jungle in an ill-advised attempt to pull a boat over a mountain. Sadly, Fitzcarraldo doesn't really get moving until about halfway through, but holy shit, once it does, this thing's astounding—funny and scary and sad, not to mention amazing to look at. ERIK HENRIKSEN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Michael Caine could play an estate planner who did nothing but read books about estate planning in a beige chair in a beige room for 90 minutes and I would still pay 10 dollars to see it. Demi Moore, on the other hand, could play somebody interesting doing interesting things, while naked, with other naked people, and I—well, okay, I'd probably go see that too. Luckily for me, at least 50 percent of the above things happen in Flawless, Michael Radford's entertaining diamond-heist flick. KIALA KAZEBEE Living Room Theaters.
The Forbidden Kingdom
At the risk of sharing too much personal information, the pairing of Jet Li and Jackie Chan is pretty much a wet dream for kung fu fans. Granted, Chan hasn't made a good movie in like a decade, and Li's attempts at American stardom have been super depressing. But still: Jet Li and Jackie Chan, man! Together. How cool is that? To answer my own rhetorical question: The Forbidden Kingdom is pretty cool, even if, as a silly, family-friendly comedy/adventure, it isn't nearly as great as it could be. (For that, we'd have to go back to a time when Chan did all of his own stunts, before Li thought Lethal Weapon 4 was a good idea, and when it was inconceivable that Rob Minkoff, the auteur behind Stuart Little 2 and The Haunted Mansion, could helm a kung fu flick.) But times change, and The Forbidden Kingdom is what we've got, and I'm just gonna roll with it, because there's at least one awesome fight sequence where Li and Chan kick the crap out of each other. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Even if the Judd Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall leans too heavily on what's rapidly becoming an Apatow formula (loveable-but-goofy everyman hooks up, then grows up), there's still enough charm in the process for it to work. Between its killer one-liners ("When life gives you lemons, just say, 'Fuck the lemons!' and bail!") and likeable characters, Sarah Marshall's a worthy addition to the Apatow canon. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A 2006 comedy in which a videogame developer has to move in with some old ladies; hilarity ensues. Screens as a benefit for 15-year-old Amber Gentry, a performer at the Clinton St.'s Rocky Horror cabaret who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Clinton Street Theater.
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner & Lessons of Darkness
Werner Herzog's eye glides effortlessly over unearthly alien landscapes, periodically revealing the distorted presence of mankind. At once horrific and stunningly beautiful, Lessons of Darkness was filmed before and after the Kuwaiti oil fields were set ablaze in the early '90s. (They still burn today!) Herzog does the impossible by making a film that at once conveys the profound physical beauty of destruction while also allowing the viewer to succumb to philosophical repulsion. Screens with The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Herzog's 1974 short about champion ski-flier Walter Steiner. LANCE CHESS Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
The laudable raison d'être of this Harold & Kumar, as was the case with 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, is to offer up plenty of jokes about getting high, getting laid, and farting—but while White Castle hung those jokes on the ramshackle framework of college hijinks (a trip to a burger joint goes awry), Guantanamo Bay hangs them on what might as well be a synopsis of an episode of MacNeil/Lehrer. Guantanamo Bay is certainly funny, and the fact it's also pretty clever shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who saw the first film. But what is kind of surprising—and more than welcome—is that Guantanamo Bay seems to be doing two things: On one hand, it's a dumb slapstick comedy, gleefully satisfied with exploiting the lowest common denominator, but on the other—and I realize how ridiculous this sounds—the film's fully willing to mine Americans' current political and social disenfranchisement for laughs, happily riffing on the hypocrisy of elected officials, America's stellar record of human rights, the racist incompetence of Homeland Security, and, perhaps most damningly, the befuddled complacency of the American people. When this sort of angry, ridiculous stuff has seeped into even our stoner comedies (the laughs at the screening I attended were equally enthusiastic for jokes about both airplane security and blumpkins), there's something kind of amazing going on. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
International Documentary Challenge
A showcase of films submitted to the International Documentary Challenge, an event in which "122 filmmakers from 16 countries set off to make a documentary in 5 days." Hollywood Theatre.
See review. Various Theaters.
Kiss the Bride
See review. Living Room Theaters.
Knowing All of You Like I Do
Ivy C. Lin's short documentary on the final days of Music Millennium NW, Knowing All Of You Like I Do can be a little painful to watch at times. I suppose it all has to do with your previous relationship with the store: If you loved the place, the footage of its gradual dismantling during the final hours are a bit like watching the autopsy of a family member. But if you are eager to eat at the new overpriced tapas place that will most likely take the famed locale's spot on NW 23rd, then the final shots of the gutted store will make you salivate, you gentrifying bastard. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Cinema 21.
A throwback in every sense of the word, Leatherheads aims to capture the sharp, earnest spirit of Howard Hawks classics like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby. Instead of Hepburn and Grant, though, we get Clooney and Renée Zellweger, as well as Jim Halpert from The Office and the goofy, bumbling music of Randy Newman. It's a hodgepodge, unsurprising crowd-pleaser, but it works. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Life Before Her Eyes
See review. Fox Tower 10.
The Little Prince
This cutesy, surreal, allegorical (or is it?) film based on the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is exactly the sort of thing that grown-ups who have no idea what kids actually like mistakenly think that kids like. (Other things in this category: Toys made out of wood, apple slices, and poems by Shel Silverstein.) I had this film crammed down my throat repeatedly as a child, when all I wanted to do was play The Hunt for Red October on my friend's Nintendo. If you insist on seeing this, by all means leave the kids at home. They will not like it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Made of Honor
See review. Various Theaters.
Murder on the Orient Express
Sidney Lumet, Agatha Christie, AND Albert Finney? It's a match made in heaven! The Press Club.
My Blueberry Nights
The prospect of an English language film from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love) is an exciting one, and it's made more intriguing by his decision to cast Norah Jones, in her first acting role, as the lead. And while it's interesting to see the director's distinctive visual style turned to the US, the roundabout, unrewarding My Blueberry Nights nonetheless falls far short of expectations. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
My Brother Is an Only Child
Like most brothers, Accio (Elio Germano) and Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) spent their entire childhoods fighting each other. Their struggle continues through adolescence, when Accio falls in with fascist revivalists while Manrico becomes a Communist rabble-rouser. My Brother is an Only Child is a largely effective look at the two brothers as they navigate their way through the political turmoil of Italy in the 1960s. The intricate evolution of Accio's character is handled remarkably well, but Manrico becomes increasingly nebulous—to his brother and the audience—as single-minded ideologies fade and humanity takes over. Despite a rushed ending and a baffling final shot, the film navigates a variety of emotions with grace and humor. NED LANNAMANN Fox Tower 10.
The little fat girl from Little Miss Sunshine went on a diet, and now they're trying to cram her once more into to the hearts of Americans. I saw Nim's Island so you don't have to. Close your heart and keep it closed. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Let's just get this out of the way: Portland audiences will love Paranoid Park simply for its beautiful and unaffected depictions of the city. Opening with a gorgeous shot of the St. Johns Bridge, the film works its way through the Burnside skate park, Lloyd Center, Half & Half, the Pearl, and more, accompanied by a soundtrack that includes Ethan Rose, Cool Nutz, and Menomena. In this sense, Paranoid Park might be the quintessential Portland movie of the decade. That alone does not a great movie make, however. Taken on its own merits, Gus Van Sant's latest is as evocative and elusive as his recent films, Elephant and Last Days, although Paranoid Park is not so glacially paced. It's the story of a local teen skater who drifts through middle-class high school life before a murder by the Burnside skate park turns his world upside down. Audiences expecting a fast-paced, straightforward skate/murder movie will be stumped by Van Sant's elliptical storytelling, but those who wanted to like Gerry, only to crumble under the film's never-ending action-less sequences, should be happy that Van Sant has struck a great balance between art and intrigue. CHAS BOWIE Clinton Street Theater.
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.
A documentary on "the 30-year movement to free Soviet Jewry between the early 1960s and the fall of the Iron Curtain." Not screened for critics. Fox Tower 10.
A young straight surfer bound for art school has trouble coming to terms with coming out. Visually impressive surfing sequences help make this otherwise been-there film more tolerable. WILL GARDNER Living Room Theaters.
Singin' in the Rain
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in a movie your grandmother loves. Living Room Theaters.
Smart People's cast is solid and understated, with strong turns from Dennis Quaid, Thomas Hayden Church, and Ellen Page; in painting a portrait of an unhappy, literate, and too-clever family in suburban Pittsburgh, writer/director Noam Murro hits several choice moments of sweet and melancholy humor. The problems kick in during the third act, though: As Murro guides his subjects, one by one, toward happiness, he loses sight of their acerbic and believable characterizations, softening up their wry, weary dialogue and patching over their witty discontent with too-easy solutions. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time The New Yorker has served as a deus ex machina.) ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Some Like It Hot
The Marilyn Monroe classic from 1959. Laurelhurst.
Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival is like eating too many delicacies in one sitting—caviar, brains, truffles, chocolates... it's a bit intense. But it's not the "sick" or the "twisted" that's too much—96 minutes just isn't enough time to digest all the animation shorts that get thrown your way. (Granted, we're talking about ruminating about masturbating pandas, but still.) Spike and Mike's has had a loyal following of gross-out fans since 1990, and this year's 26 new films follow the fest's tried-and-true formula, with a couple of old favorites thrown in. COURTNEY FERGUSON Cinema 21.
A brutal, gorgeous sprawl of paved-over desert, David Ayer's Los Angeles is a place of grime and blood. Flickering with neon and burnt by deep-orange sunsets, the stylized neo-noir tales that Ayer has either written or directed—Training Day, Harsh Times, and now Street Kings—offer a strong cinematic punch, a reminder that no matter how many times Hollywood tries to portray itself as an idyllic oasis of glittery movie stars and palm-lined boulevards, LA has always been an American city like any other, with crime and anger roiling beneath the surface. Ayer's LA is an intoxicating setting, and it'd be all the more so if his movies weren't so awful. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Super High Me
It began as a joke: If Morgan Spurlock could make Super Size Me, a film about eating McDonald's for 30 days, can't comedian Doug Benson try the same experiment with weed? The documentary that results is severely scattered, but frequently hilarious... quite like an aimless afternoon with a bag of weed, actually. MARJORIE SKINNER Clinton Street Theater.
Don't get excited—this has nothing to do with 2 Live Crew. Instead, it's the latest selection in the preposterously named "The Sergei Eisenstein-Akira Kurosawa Progressive Spring Film Fest." Laughing Horse Books.
An agit-doc about "how American voters were cheated during the 2004 and 2006 elections—and why it will likely happen in 2008." Cinema 21.
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 Fox Tower 10.
The story of Friedrich Johann Franz Woyzeck, a low-ranking army misfit, and his journey toward insanity. With equal intensity as his other famous roles for Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski vibrates forth from the screen with paranoiac delusion and sweat-soaked dismay. Perhaps because the story is based on a play by Georg Büchner, this film is a departure from the Herzog/Kinski exploration of messianic mania—instead, it conveys feelings of palpable hopelessness, psychological inadequacy, and, yes, bloodthirsty psychosis. LANCE CHESS Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Audiotrium.
The Young at Heart chorus in North Hampton, Massachusetts is comprised of a boisterous bunch of elderly folks who perform rock-n-roll hits for fun, including performances all over the United States, and even Europe. No matter how you slice it, senior citizens rocking out to the Ramones, Sonic Youth, and the Talking Heads are more adorable than a basketful of kittens, and yet so badass. By "badass," I don't mean that these folks are crude rock-n-rollers that can slay an audience with guitar solos—quite the opposite is true. What I mean is that this group of people is committed to having fun, learning new things, having open minds, and enjoying life, despite their aging minds and bodies. Young@Heart documents a seven-week span of the chorus learning new songs for the opening night of their new show, and though the average age of the choir members is 80 years, it soon becomes apparent that they've been playful and active their whole lives—they're living proof that just because you're old doesn't mean you have to become a square. CHRISTINE S. BLYSTONE Fox Tower 10.