The 2008 Portland Underground Film Festival (PUFF) starts Thursday June 12 and runs through Sunday June 15. All screenings are at the Clinton St. Theater. Pick up next week's Mercury for more info, or hit clintonsttheater.com.
THE DOUBLE BORN
Based on a Bram Stoker short story called "The Dualitists; or, the Death Doom of the Double Born," The Double Born is a quasi-horror film that slathers its dysfunctional family plot with red and blue effects, then finishes it off with a "twist" ending that your average preschooler could've seen coming. Sophie (the very effective Sammi Davis) wants a baby real bad, especially since her first son disappeared mysteriously and now she's a grievin' mess. But Sophie's husband's sperm ain't cutting the mustard (eeeeew), and she's willing to do anything to get pregnant again. Enter two teenagers; exit a threesome. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Writer/director Tony Randel in attendance. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Nominated for an Oscar in the 2007 best foreign film category, the Israeli Beaufort follows the story of Israeli armed forces and their evacuation, in 2000, of a 12th century fort in Lebanon. Ironically, the fort—for which the film is named—was first captured from the Lebanese by Israel in 1982, during a fierce battle in which many people from both sides died. One might, therefore, ask what was the point of all those deaths in the first place—and essentially, that's the question posed by the film. Through lead actor Oshri Cohen and the rest of his cast, director Joseph Cedar does a worthy, heartrending job of convincing even the most gung-ho viewer of what a pissing contest between schoolboys wars such as this one essentially are. Why bother occupying a territory? Surely there are more worthwhile ways of spending 20 years. MATT DAVIS Living Room Theaters.
The Best of the 34th Northwest Film & Video
Work from regional filmmakers like James Longley, Vanessa Renwick, and Matthew Lessner. Visiting artists in attendance. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
"I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?" Laurelhurst.
Bleach: Memories of Nobody
The North American debut of the "epic anime hit." Otaku alert! Otaku alert! Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing.
A surfing doc narrated by Russell Crowe. Not screened for critics. Fox Tower 10.
The Chronicles of Narnia:
The dubious return to the magical land of Narnia, where lions are even more Jesus-y and those four Pevensie kids get on your last good nerve. With nearly an hour of tacked-on battles, sword fights, and over-long journeys, Prince Caspian is bloated and lacking in all sorts of magic that it purports to have. In shooting for Lord of the Rings-scale epic scope, Narnia just comes off as the Shire's unsophisticated backwoods cousin—desperate to please, and without a clue how to do so. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Diary of a Teenager
A melodrama about "a girl's private life of boys, parties, friends, and more boys." Also featuring hymen restoration! Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
If contemporary kids' movies are to be believed, children's imaginations are glib, computer-generated videogame-scapes, full of skateboarding giraffes and wisecracking sea turtles. Alongside Guillermo del Toro's recent Pan's Labyrinth, Tarsem Singh's The Fall refuses to countenance this candy-coated version of a child's brain—taking us instead to a darker and far more interesting place. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Foot Fist Way
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
A Girl's Secret
An "out-of-wedlock pregnancy sparks scandal and tragic consequences." Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See review this issue. Living Room Theaters.
I Love Cinema
A film about a young cinephile in Egypt. Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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 Kennedy School, Laurelhurst.
Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
To lapse into shameless nostalgia for a sec (which Crystal Skull does a few times, too): Crystal Skull is the first new Indiana Jones flick I've seen since I was nine, and as the opening credits rolled, I felt a type of excitement I hadn't felt since then. It stuck, and it stayed, and even when the end credits came up, I was still grinning. Above all, and despite its flaws (one scene, involving monkeys, will likely make you want to gouge your eyes out), Crystal Skull is mostly just pulpy, goofy, ludicrous fun, but it's also a reminder: Indiana Jones has been gone for entirely too long, and it's good to have him back. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Invisible Forest
The only conceivable way to enjoy this pretentiousness-fest is if you have an intense love for playwright Antonin Artaud, who acts as the muse for this miserable movie. Writer/director Antero Alli plays a writer/director who is haunted by dreams about Artaud and must scour his subconscious in search of answers. Basically, The Invisible Forest is like really low-budget David Lynch, but it makes even less sense, if that's possible. And get ready to be pounded over the head with lines that really make you think, but don't actually mean anything. DREW GEMMER Hollywood Theatre.
Jellyfish was the winner of the 2007 Caméra d'Or at Cannes, and it shows: It's a beautiful movie, filled with Tel Aviv's marvelous architecture and old world splendor. Luckily, the film's plot isn't bad either. Jellyfish is one of those movies, like Crash or 13 Conversations About One Thing, that weave disconnected stories of some sad, lonely people living sad, lonely lives into one coherent tale; in this case, the tale is about three extremely mopey women dealing with varying degrees of family estrangement until one magical day a little girl in water wings washes up on the beach, recalling happier childhood days for everyone. (I think she might be the "jellyfish," but if that's true, it's very disappointing, because I really, really wanted to see someone get stung in the foot.) Despite the fact that Jellyfish contains NO ACTUAL JELLYFISH, it's pleasant to watch anyway. KIALA KAZEBEE Living Room Theaters.
Kung Fu Panda
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
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.
Leisure Time A "docu-fiction portrait of adolescents at the crossroads of Egyptian society," screening as part of the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Is it just us, or is the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series seriously lacking in movies starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and CG monsters? Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
After saving the Allies' bacon in WWII, a strapping French superspy goes undercover in Cairo on a mission complicated by slumming Nazis, henchmen in fezzes, and ridiculously leggy dames. Oh, and an assassin who wields chickens. Bond spoofs may be old hat, but director Michel Hazanavicius generates such a rolling comedic momentum—and a few genuinely ace retro action sequences—that the thing feels like the first of its kind. The rare spoof that actually improves as it goes, due in large part to the increasingly hilarious deadpan machismo of star Jean Dujardin. Even his goddamned teeth are funny. ANDREW WRIGHT Hollywood Theatre.
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 Kennedy School.
In retrospect, Parenthood was an ominous foreshadow of Steve Martin projects to come, like Cheaper by the Dozen and whatever the hell that one was with Queen Latifah. Pix Patisserie (North).
It's an unlikely place to find a kung fu movie: Redbelt is written and directed by revered playwright/filmmaker David Mamet, shot by There Will Be Blood's Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, and features a cast so impressive that the film's opening credits feel sort of braggy: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Joe Mantegna, Emily Mortimer, David Paymer (and, uh, Tim Allen?). But all the same, the ghosts of the Shaw Brothers haunt this tale of Mike Terry (Ejiofor, awesome as usual), a painfully noble Los Angeles jiu jitsu instructor who, through a series of increasingly unlikely occurrences, gets sucked into a world of sketchy movie producers and unethical mixed martial arts fighters. Like every kung fu movie, Redbelt follows the familiar template of a fighter with honor finding/beating his way through a mass of those without it, and also like most films in that genre, Redbelt's villains are a simplistically evil lot. Those other characters are where Redbelt starts to get creaky, actually: While much of the film focuses on the troubled, earnest Mike, things fall apart when Mamet brings in a slew of less interesting characters, forcing everyone together with increasingly strained plot devices. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst.
Sex and the City
The Sex and the City movie is a whole lot of Sex and the City, an epic smorgasbord that covers every type of girl problem, a couple of friendship problems, borderline pornographic sex scenes, corny one-liners, and gratuitously sappy romantic moments. In short, and as advertised, it delivers the big-budget, steroid-enhanced, ultimate Sex and the City mind clobber. But the opulence of it all—from the fairytale New York apartments and LA condos to the $65,000 diamond rings—make it somewhat difficult to keep up with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) as they pull faces through the entire spectrum of Girl Problems, most of which are still Boy Problems. Remember when Carrie had to use her credit card to buy tomatoes because she'd spent every penny on Jimmy Choos? Let's just say that Choos are the new tomatoes, and the distance between us, along with my ability to relate to her, has grown. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Shine A Light
The best and worst thing I can say about Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film is that it perfectly sums up what the Stones have become. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst, Valley Theater.
Squid and the Whale
An insightful, affecting, and darkly funny film that's rooted in the simple recounting, with no judgments and no clichés, of a family falling apart. ERIK HENRIKSEN Broadway Metroplex.
The fantastically goofy The Strangers follows what happens when a blandly attractive couple, Kristen and James (played, with equal blandness and attractiveness, by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman), decide to spend a night at a rural summer home. Kristen and James' night is interrupted when three kids wearing (of course) creepy masks start messing with our panicked, impotent protagonists—banging on doors, rapping on windows, cutting phone lines, sneaking into the house, etc. Occasionally, it's ominous, but it's never scary—actually, it's more cute than anything else, since one suspects that these country kids just don't have anything better to do than screw around with pretty city folk. As The Strangers' supposedly scary antagonists lurk in the shadows, staying just out focus and wheezing through their cheesy masks (I think the really wheezy one might have asthma, actually, which makes him even more adorable), things get increasingly repetitive, even though the film clocks in at a mere 80 minutes. Eventually the night wears on, some knives come out, and things get predictably bloody—but even then, it's impossible to be all that scared. I mean, they are so staying out past curfew! I bet a couple of masked somebodies are going to be spending some serious time in time-out once they get home! ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
A documentary about Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, a successful doctor who decided to become a surfer—cramming his wife and his nine kids into a tiny camper, he drove them all around the country to surf. Surfwise is 90 minutes long, and for its first hour, it feels like little more than a fluffy novelty doc about one more wacky family, but towards the end, the film gets more interesting: Turns out that when you raise nine kids in a truck, force them to surf every day, and don't let them go to school, it causes them to have some pretty serious issues later on. Paskowitz's kids are, by turns, adulatory, critical, bitter, romantic, and melancholy about their shared history, and watching them deal becomes increasingly involving, interesting, and awkward. ERIK HENRIKSEN Cinema 21.
"One final thing I have to do... and then I'll be free of the past." Cinema 21.
Not as hot as its title implies, this romantic comedy screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's weekend-long Contemporary Egyptian Cinema series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Lucía Puenzo's excellent film does something really impressive: It makes a very specific and unusual circumstance into a coming-of-age story that's both accessible and universally relevant. XXY is about a hermaphrodite, sure, but it's also about a person struggling to figure out where she fits into the world—and if, or why, she must change herself to find her place. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
You Don't Mess With the Zohan
See review this issue. Various Theaters.