Ann Arbor Film Festival
Selections from "the longest-running experimental film festival in the country," made up of "new work by established and emerging talents."
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are convincingly badass as a couple of hired guns who come to the aid of a small town in New Mexico territory that's threatened by a corrupt, murderous rancher. Jeremy Irons oozes menace as the bad guy, and the hatchet-faced Renée Zellweger isn't completely awful as the default love interest, the only woman in this tiny shit-town who isn't a whore. (...Or is she?) Adapted from one of Robert B. Parker's eleventy-thousand novels, Appaloosa contains enough guns, horses, and billowing clouds of dust to populate every western for the next 10 years. You've seen this movie before, but it's a really good one. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Milwaukie Cinemas.
There's a scene in Baz Luhrmann's Australia that pretty much sums up the hilarious giddiness of this big-budget epic. In it, beefy Hugh Jackman heroically appears in a cloud of dust, driving a herd of wild horses, with his slow motion, deep-throated "Yaa!"s and Marlboro Man-style head tosses lifted straight from the cover of a pulpy paperback novel. For an film aiming at Gone with the Wind proportions, there's way too little space here to address every deep, dated flaw and moment of cinematic abandon that Australia earnestly embodies. At different times, Luhrmann's epic unintentionally cracked me up, authentically caught me up in suspense, and probably made me ovulate—not a bad time, all in all. MARJORIE SKINNER Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinemagic, Cinetopia, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Lake Twin Cinema, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, St. Johns Twin Cinema and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
The titular auteur is Arturo Domingo (Melik Malkasian), a porn director of the highest order who makes films with the same attention to craft as the most highly regarded filmmakers outside of the porn world. But Domingo's career is on the wane: He hasn't made a decent porno in years, ever since he dissolved his partnership with Frank (John Breen), the star of all his greatest films. The Auteur opens as Domingo comes to Portland for a retrospective of his work being held at the Clinton Street Theater, his heart heavy with the possibility of reconnecting with the love of his life, Fiona (Katherine Flynn); what follows is a sweet movie with a lewd sense of humor and a lighthearted attitude toward the sex industry. MARJORIE SKINNER Clinton Street Theater.
In 1995's Toy Story, Tim Allen voiced Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure who thought he was an actual astronaut; in 2008's Bolt, John Travolta voices Bolt, a dog who plays a superpowered canine on a TV show and thinks he's an actual superpowered canine. When Bolt abruptly finds himself in the real world—sans super bark and heat vision—he sets off on a road trip to find his owner, cantankerous alley cat and a dumbass hamster in tow. Sure, Bolt lifts a fair amount from Toy Story (Pixar's John Lasseter is credited as an executive producer), as well as Homeward Bound, but it's still cute and likeable and funny and light enough to be fun. Oh, and plus! You get to see Bolt as a puppy! And not to sound like a five-year-old girl or anything, but he is sooooo cute! I wish I had a dog. I also wish that my dog would have superpowers! But that is neither here nor there, I suppose. ERIK HENRIKSEN Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Lake Twin Cinema, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
When his Nazi father is re-stationed to a post in the German countryside, eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) finds it difficult to adjust. There aren't any other kids to play with, and there's this weird "farm" nearby where everyone looks pale and wears striped pajamas. (Since the movie is set during World War II, I don't think I need to say "spoiler alert" to inform you that it's not really a "farm" and the pale people inside aren't really wearing "pajamas.") Bruno's parents forbid the kid to play anywhere off the property, but plucky little Bruno finds his way to the "farm" anyway—where, through electrified barbed wire, he makes friends with another little boy his age. I don't want to give too much away, but seriously: It's a story about a Nazi boy befriending a boy in a concentration camp. Let's put it this way: If The Diary of Anne Frank left you hungry for more, this is the movie for you. NED LANNAMANN Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, City Center 12.
Burn After Reading
Like a Jason Bourne flick filtered through Dr. Strangelove, the Coen Brothers' great Burn After Reading more or less serves as an excuse for the Coens to play around with the clichés and charms of the espionage genre, while also having fun with the same sort of sad, aimless, and fantastically funny characters that usually populate their films. Also, the plot involves a self-powered dildo machine. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Bagdad Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Milwaukie Cinemas, Mission Theater.
Forget Beyoncé. She can only sing. Even when she is acting, she is singing. In Cadillac Records, she appears late in film as Etta James, but nothing like Etta James comes out of her performance: All we see is Beyoncé singing something about having a mean white father, a mother who was a prostitute, a heart that's been broken by so many men. When Adrien Brody—who plays Leonard Chess, the founder of Chess Records, the label that helped launch the rock and roll moment in pop music—when Brody holds Beyoncé in his arms, he is not holding a person but a piece of music. The thing that does not know how to stop singing—this is Beyoncé. A being that talks like a tune, walks like tune, looks like tune. Pop is her blood. So, when you watch this film, forget Beyoncé and focus instead on four great performances: Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, and Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf. CHARLES MUDEDE Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Cheap Trick: Live at Budokan
1978's Cheap Trick concert from Japan.
By day, sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) slaps on a goofy wig and works at a town that recreates what life was like for 18th century colonists; by night, he goes to restaurants, intentionally chokes on food, and takes financial advantage of whatever good Samaritan/sucker Heimlichs him. While Choke is fun, and while it thankfully retains Chuck Palahniuk's cynical, self-deprecating, hyper-testosteroned tone (this is, after all, the sort of film where heart-to-heart conversations are had over illicit handjobs), it also comes across as a bit self-satisfied, a bit too straightforward, and a bit overly neat. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
A Christmas Tale
It's fitting that the country that gave the world existentialism and Gauloises should turn out a holiday family drama almost completely bereft of good cheer. Set in the days immediately preceding Christmas, A Christmas Tale takes a close look at a family that isn't so much dysfunctional, as they function by a set of rules entirely their own. The film can be confusing, and few of its various plotlines resolve in any traditional sense, but as a clear-eyed picture of a contemporary family, it's an engaging, surprisingly funny success. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
City of Ember
At a moment when the world's financial and cultural systems seem precariously close to apocalypse, it feels appropriate that two of the best films so far this year, Wall-E and City of Ember, are post-apocalyptic adventure flicks. (And ones that are rated G and PG, respectively—even kids can get in on the fun that the end of the world offers!) But Ember, based on the young adult novel by Jeanne DuPrau, and directed by Monster House's Gil Kenan, is less concerned with commentary—its intention is to provide a smart, entertaining film, in which case it totally succeeds. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Milwaukie Cinemas, Vancouver Plaza 10.
Classic Concerts: Grateful Dead
Deeble-dee-doop-doop-dweet! Uncle John's Band! Doop-dweedle-dee! Clinton Street Theater.
Columbia River Stories
Screening in conjunction with the Portland Art Museum's "Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge" exhibition, here are three films documenting the history of the Gorge: 1939's promotional film Hydro: The Story of Columbia River Power; 2007's doc about Celilo Falls, Celilo Falls and the Remaking of the Columbia; and 1995's Roll On Columbia: Woodie Guthrie and the Bonneville Power Administration, about how in 1941, Guthrie wrote 26 songs in 30 days for the U.S. Department of the Interior to help promote the building of dams on the Columbia. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
See review. Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinetopia, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Roseway Theater, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, St. Johns Twin Cinema and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
A benefit for Oregon Trout, Drift features "most stunning flyfishing cinematography you've ever seen." Shit yes it does! Cinema 21.
If Christmas is about tradition, then director Seth Gordon's (The King of Kong) first non-documentary feature is certainly seasonally appropriate. The romantic comedy genre is an unexpected new direction for Gordon, and with the reasonably likeable Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in tow, how poorly could things really go? Well, the Writers Guild could go on strike, for starters, as it did during the making of this film—a circumstance that at least partially explains why the script, while performed aptly enough by a talented cast, is so damn lazy. MARJORIE SKINNER Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinetopia, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Cameo Theatre, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
How About You
A "footloose and fearless young woman" is left in charge of a retirement home over Christmas. Shenanigans ensue! Hollywood Theatre.
JCVD is as wildly entertaining and daring as cinema comes, and that's something you don't necessarily associate with the train-wrecked career of the weathered action star. The premise: Jean-Claude Van Damme (played, appropriately enough, by Jean-Claude Van Damme) stumbles into a robbery and accidentally becomes the most famous hostage ever, kicking off a surreal journey into the wounded psyche of its namesake. JCVD is best when it joyfully dissects the global celebrity obsession and the awkward downfall of Van Damme's career (a running plot point involves him losing acting roles to Steven Seagal—who is now, apparently, willing to cut off his ponytail in order to steal his rival's parts), and all the while, JCVD flips the tired genre of action films on its ear. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Living Room Theaters.
The King of Comedy
Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis, together at last. The Press Club.
Let the Right One In
This much ballyhooed Scandinavian film is neither scary, teen angsty, nor spooky enough—but it is lovely, filled with austere, blue-hued snow and groves of haunting birch trees in the midst of Stockholm. And while Let the Right One In is by no means a poor entry in the vampire genre, it left me nearly as cold as the frozen landscapes, meting out little satisfaction on either a horror level or a character level. To be fair, the film doesn't pretend to scare you—it truly wants to succeed in an elegant, understated way, though it doesn't completely reach its goal. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Apparently, there was a first Madagascar, this is the sequel 2 it. Take the kids B4 it is 2 L8 and... aw, fuck it. 99W Twin Indoor Cinema, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
For a generation of gay and straight people who equate pride parades with binge drinking, whose gay heroes include Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper (he's gay, right?), and whose gay rights movement has just started, Gus Van Sant's fleshing out the story of gay politician and activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in such a moving and humane way is as invaluable as the words Milk would bark through bullhorns. Sure, Van Sant can't resist putting in some treacly, melodramatic scenes that unfortunately stick out, but for the most part, Milk's story is simply real, which makes it that much more powerful and relevant. AMY J. RUIZ Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, City Center 12, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Short experimental films from Pacific Northwest College of Art students. Gallery Homeland.
This documentary by Godfrey Cheshire—wherein he revisits his family's plantation home in North Carolina and discovers some things—is a bit all over the place. It's part meditation on the plantation South, part discovery of not-so-shocking family secrets, part Mr. Rogers episode where you learn how to move a house, and part reflection on urban sprawl. It's all mostly interesting, but ultimately you come away wanting more—the film feels a bit more like something you'd be forced to sit through in school, and less like something you'd choose to sit through on purpose. LOGAN SACHON Hollywood Theatre.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
"When Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!" Pix Patisserie (North).
Nothing Like the Holidays
A not-screened-for critics Christmas flick starring John Leguizamo? SIGN US UP! Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, City Center 12, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13.
In the '50s and '60s, Grove Press Publisher Barney Rossett launched First Amendment defenses of Lady Chatterly's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch—chipping away at laws that saw booksellers and publishers jailed for distributing "obscene" materials. He published titles like Waiting for Godot, Malcom X's autobiography, and the counterculture journal Evergreen Review; he also distributed the popular Swedish art-porn porn I Am Curious (Yellow), and printed a line of "Victorian spanking stories." Obscene takes an affectionate look Rossett's life and career, splicing historical footage, interviews with aged bohemians, and celebrity testimonials with incongruously graphic excerpts from the films and books Rossett championed. Meandering and digressive, Obscene is nonetheless informative and endearingly weird: It's a rare documentary that features WWII footage, Gore Vidal griping about how illiterate Americans are, and graphic fellatio scenes. ALISON HALLETT Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
PDX Filmmakers Showcase
A collection of shorts from local filmmakers. Kelly's Olympian.
Punisher: War Zone
Like last summer's The Incredible Hulk, Punisher: War Zone is yet another reboot of a movie that didn't work too well the last time (2004's forgotten The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta) or, in this case, the time before that (remember, if you can, 1989's That Crappy Old Punisher Movie that Starred Dolph Lundgren). Apparently, someone who makes terrible decisions is hoping War Zone will prove that the third time is the charm. I'm assuming the same dude is behind the decision to cram War Zone with as much gruesome violence as possible, and the decision to light the film with cheesy neon right out of an '80s music video, and also the decision to include dialogue like, "That's no way to punish the Punisher!" and "Let me put you out of my misery!" It's all pretty hilarious, but I can't figure out if that's intentional. ERIK HENRIKSEN Broadway Metroplex, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinetopia, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
On the plus side, RocknRolla isn't as bad as Guy Ritchie's previous movie. But then, 2005's Revolver was completely incoherent Kabbalah-quoting nonsense, whereas RocknRolla returns to Ritchie's safer formula: A well-dressed, big gangster (Tom Wilkinson) threatens a well-dressed group of lovable loser gangsters against a backdrop of contemporary "London," with everybody talking in gruff voices and occasionally, shooting at each other. MATT DAVIS Bagdad Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Stranded: I've Come From A Plane That Crashed on the Mountains
This troubling documentary features interviews with the surviving members of the Uruguayan rugby team on whom the 1993 movie Alive was based. That's right: The ones who ate their dead friends to survive after a plane crash in the Andes. 36 years after the incident, director Gonzalo Arijon gets the original victims to revisit the site and recount what they learned there—and as a childhood friend of most of them, Arijon's access is unrivaled. But one can't help wondering whether he may have traded it for a promise not to ask some of the more difficult questions about the crash. Such as ones focused on guilt, and whether eating your buddies is ever really worth it. Nonetheless, this is compelling footage, well stitched-together for your benefit. MATT DAVIS Cinema 21.
Supertrash: Stop Making Sense
Jonathan Demme's classic Talking Heads concert film from 1984. On Saturday, screening preceded by stand-up comedy, retro trailers, animation, and vintage rock performances. Bagdad Theater.
Tell No One
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 11. 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 Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.
"Directed by Olivier Megaton" is not a phrase one often reads in a film's opening credits, but when that line comes up at the start of Transporter 3, it feels totally, utterly appropriate. ERIK HENRIKSEN Broadway Metroplex, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
Twilight introduces the floridly named high schooler Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart), who has just moved to a small town in Washington. The local boys are all over this hottie newcomer, but Bella finds herself drawn to the mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, he of the Heathcliff glower and untamed eyebrows). At first Bella thinks Edward hates her, but it turns out he's only feigning indifference because he's a vampire, and wants to drink her. Edward is so drawn to the smell of Bella's blood that he can hardly control himself, but he also loooves her, so he knows he should keep his distance. Throw in some evil vampires who want to kill Bella, and it's all very romantic and tragic. (Alternately, it's an insidious parable about the dangers of premarital sex—but that's only my, er, humorless feminist interpretation.) For all the silliness of the storyline, Twilight makes a far better movie than book it's based on: Largely freed from author Stephenie Meyer's ponderous prose, the movie is surprisingly campy and fun, with a cheerful sense of humor about its own ridiculousness. ALISON HALLETT 99W Twin Indoor Cinema, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinetopia, City Center 12, Cornelius Stadium Cinemas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13, Hilltop 9, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinema, Sherwood 10, Star Cinema, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Town Center 9.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen's three previous movies took place in London, and it seems he's finally left Manhattan behind altogether. Vicky Cristina Barcelona functions well as a fluffy bit of tourism, but even more so than as a Spanish travelogue, the movie works—as with much of Allen's work—as escapism into the world of mysteriously wealthy people. As for the much-ballyhooed kiss between Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz, it's pretty tame. The real fire comes from Cruz's performance; she's riveting and hilarious as a passionate, possibly insane firebrand, and whenever she shares the screen with Johansson, it's easy to forget that Johansson has all the charisma of a wet paper bag. NED LANNAMANN Laurelhurst Theater.
Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
Matt Wolf's touching and gorgeously shot documentary about avant-garde singer/songwriter and producer Russell. Russell's evocative, captivating work was obscure when he recorded it in the '70s and '80s, but recent compilation albums have raised his profile significantly; Wild Combination ties together archival footage of Russell's life and music, insights from his collaborators (like Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass), and interviews with everyone from Jens Lekman to Russell's charming parents. ("We never did understand his music too well," his mother says, and his father follows, "I call it music you can't really tap your foot to.") ERIK HENRIKSEN Clinton Street Theater.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
In Kevin Smith's latest, the perpetually broke Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are roommates and lifelong best friends, with zero romantic tension. ("You don't fuck someone you met in the first grade," Zack wisely notes when he's asked why he and Miri have never hooked up.) After their water and power get shut off, Zack devises a plan to get their lives on track: Make a porno. "Porn has gone mainstream now!" he insists. "Like Coke or Pepsi. With dicks in it." So with a handheld camcorder, and some eager co-stars (Jason Mewes and Katie Morgan), Zack and Miri decide to have sex with each other on camera—taking careful steps to make sure things don't get weird between them. Things get weird. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater, St. Johns Theater & Pub, Vancouver Plaza 10.