The Asphalt Jungle
Sterling Hayden stars as a hooligan trying to go straight, and Sam Jaffe stars as a criminal mastermind whose German accent makes him probably the most conspicuous crook ever. But the heart of John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, oddly, lies with Louis Calhern as the grandfatherly old man who funds the entire criminal enterprise but hatches a plot to screw everybody over. It's a great, tangled web of intrigue that's fully engrossing, even as the drama is stilted. Watch for a young Marilyn Monroe in a small role. Screening as part of Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" series. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Living Room Theaters.
Azur & Asmar
The clunkily animated Azur & Asmar has been dubbed in English over the original French—although much of it remains in unadulterated Arabic—but framed in such a way that you get the gist without translation. The film focuses on two boys raised by the same woman, Jenane (Hiam Abbass), who's the natural mother of Asmar (Karim M'Riba) and the nanny of Azur (Cyril Mourali), the blond and blue-eyed son of a nobleman who employs her. When he is of age, Azur is separated from his de facto mother and brother and sent off to school, and Jenane and Asmar are kicked out. Years later, as a young man, Azur—still obsessed by a story Jenane told them as boys, of the Djinn-fairy waiting to be rescued by a prince—travels to their homeland to find them and complete the quest. Full of legends and superstitions, fairies, and other magical creatures, Azur can be bewildering at times (the ending is a muddled, muffled climax), but its richness in story and culture make it compelling to an adult audience, while the unsubtle social applications should sink effortlessly into the minds of the young. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
It's the one holiday movie that won't put you to sleep or make you puke! Clinton Street Theater.
"Make love? But no one's done that for hundreds of centuries!" Pix Patisserie (North).
Blast of Silence
Written and directed by cartoonist Allen Baron, Blast of Silence is perhaps cinema's sole example of beatnik film noir. With staccato hits of violence punctuating more languid, tranquil phrases, it follows the improvisatory rhythms of bebop, but even more than that, the film evokes the panels of a comic book—there's almost nonstop narration, and Baron's shots use unconventional framing, cutting, and sequencing. There wouldn't be a movie that felt this much like a comic book again until Sin City. Plot-wise, it's all par for the course for film noir, but Baron's unorthodox technique and the film's jazzy rhythms make it an unusual and rewarding experience. Screening as part of the Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" series. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
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 City Center 12, Hollywood Theatre, Movies on TV, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
Forget Beyoncé. She can only sing. Even when she is acting, she is singing. In Cadillac Records, she appears late in the 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.
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 Story
It's the holiday classic that just won't go away. Laurelhurst 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.
Classic Concerts: Pink Floyd
A 1970 concert originally filmed for PBS. There will, sadly, be no lasers. Clinton Street Theater.
The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button
Brad Pitt ages in reverse in David Fincher's latest. Creeeeeeepy. See next week's Mercury for our review! Various Theaters.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951's original The Day the Earth Stood Still was a cynical, hardnosed tale: A friendly space hippie, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his robot buddy, Gort, warned humanity that if we didn't stop killing each other, the civilized races of the galaxy were gonna eliminate us in self-defense. In 2008, Klaatu (an appropriately blank Keanu Reeves) and Gort... well, don't do much of anything, really. Here, humanity's destruction is already more or less a sure thing, but for different reasons: In 1951, America's fears were atomic bombs and pinko commie bastards; now, the environment is in shitty enough shape that Klaatu's become a sort of extraterrestrial Captain Planet, angry enough at our treatment of Earth that he's willing to scrub us off of it. It's not a bad idea for an update, and the first hour or so is solid—weird, silly, smart, and only occasionally nonsensical—but then the CG goes kinda overboard, and things get kinda boring. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
"This is Tom Hagen, calling for Vito Corleone, at his request. Now, you owe your don a service. He has no doubt that you will repay him. In one hour, he will be at your funeral parlor to ask for your help. Be there to greet him." Hollywood Theatre.
The Godfather Part II
"I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies." Hollywood Theatre.
Poppy is the kind of irrepressibly chipper person who attempts to start conversations with random strangers; when they act standoffish, she says things like, "I won't bite!" When her bicycle is stolen, she merely laments she didn't have a chance to say good-bye to it. In short, she's the kind of person who is so goddamn cheerful you'd like to smack her in the face. But something happens over the course of Happy-Go-Lucky: Poppy wins you over. Poppy's happiness is something of a mystery; both her sisters are miserable, and her flatmate is snide and sarcastic. But Sally Hawkins' remarkable performance doesn't hit one false note. British director Mike Leigh improvises extensively with his actors before writing a script, and the film, as with all his work, feels spontaneous and true. NED LANNAMANN Fox Tower 10.
I Can't Think Straight
In case the title and its easy punnage hasn't tipped you off, I Can't Think Straight is a bad movie about gay love. Feisty and beautiful Tala (Lisa Ray) is from a wealthy Jordanian family and is in the midst of planning her wedding to her fourth fiancé when she meets the equally lovely Leyla (Sheetal Sheth), an Indian Brit. The pair coyly spar over religion and politics and are soon making out in a hotel room, and while there's some post-coital pillow talk about how wrong and unacceptable this all is given their respective cultural backgrounds, their worrying seems to be more of an aphrodisiac than a source of heartache. I was mostly annoyed while watching I Can't Think Straight—cinema relying purely on the sentiment "oh-no-I'm-gay" seems so 10 years ago. While this movie had an opportunity to take it a bit further than that—being gay while being Muslim or Middle Eastern does still have a stigma ripe for exploration—it fails to do so. For all of Tala's talk of "This is not okay," it pretty much always feels... well, okay. LOGAN SACHON 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 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), all the while flipping the tired genre of action films on its ear. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Living Room Theaters.
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 Living Room Theaters.
Marley & Me
Horsey-faced Jennifer Aniston stars with post-suicidal Owen Wilson in a movie about an adorable puppy! Your girlfriend will make you see this, and it will be fucking awful. Read our review in next week's Mercury! Various Theaters.
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 Eastport 16, City Center 12, Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
My Name Is Bruce
The Bruce Campbell (Bruce Campbell) of My Name Is Bruce is a hard-drinking, fan-harangued, morally suspect genre actor, one who lives in a trailer and stars in films like Cave Alien II. So when über-fan Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) knocks him over the head with a baseball bat and drags him to Gold Lick, Oregon, to fight an evil monster, Bruce thinks it's an elaborate birthday present from his smarmy agent (Ted Raimi). Mistaken for his character Ash from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Bruce is enlisted to help fight a demonic Chinese god—and, unaware that the monster is real, he takes on the challenge with characteristic zeal. As is usually the case, Campbell's bravado and swagger make him the best damned reason to see any film, period—take one exchange in Bruce, when a fan asks, "Did being on Ellen make you gay?" and Campbell counters with, "No, but that question did." That's My Name Is Bruce—funny, self-referential, and full of Campbell verve. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
Nanook of the North
A screening of the 1922 silent documentary, with a new musical score composed by Portlanders Kyle Williams and Adam Fuderer performed live in the theater. Clinton Street Theater.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Hot Topic thanks you for your continued patronage, Tim Burton fans. The Press Club.
Nothing Like the Holidays
A not-screened-for critics Christmas flick starring John Leguizamo? SIGN US UP! Century Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, City Center 12, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway 13.
Quantum of Solace
The latest James Bond film makes about as much sense as its baffling title, but even as plotlines unravel and stack up like corpses, the movie is entirely awesome. Better than Casino Royale? Well, no. Quantum's story is incredibly confusing, the action scenes are shot so close that it's difficult to tell what's happening, and the beady-eyed supervillain (Mathieu Amalric) looks like a shorter Roman Polanski and is about as intimidating as a gerbil. Still, the level of sheer spectacle is tremendous. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
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.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
It's no Black Christmas, but 1984's inevitable Santa-turns-slasher bloodbath Silent Night, Deadly Night has a few likeable qualities nonetheless: You've got your sex with nuns, you've got a multitude of arbitrary victims introduced and subsequently murdered in roughly one half of one scene, not to mention a smattering of increasingly ludicrous Christmas songs that all seem to be composed specifically for the movie. On the downside, you've got the needlessly expository first two-thirds of the movie, plus perhaps the least convincing horror villain of all time: A dashing, doe-eyed WASP-y dude in a Santa suit whose creepy one liners alternate between the equally un-scary "Puuunish!" and "Naaaw-tee!"—delivered in a nearly unintelligible monotone. ZAC PENNINGTON Hollywood Theatre.
A frantic, decade-spanning melodrama/romance/comedy, the latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) is nothing if not overwhelming. Sometimes Slumdog Millionaire feels crassly exploitative—like a guilt-inducing parade of everything terrible that impoverished children in peril have to endure—but often it's nothing short of fucking exhilarating, a pounding, pulsing, urgent rush that jumpstarts endorphins and adrenalin. There are scenes of torture and abuse and murder alongside giddy triumphs of comedy and heart (not to mention a Bollywood-inspired dance number), and as Slumdog careens along as both a harsh drama and a hammy crowd-pleaser, it's tempting to write it off as a bit of not-particularly-subtle manipulation. But ultimately, one realizes that Boyle deeply cares about these characters—and that sympathetic core is the reason why the film is consistently, utterly, beautifully gripping. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
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. Thirty-six 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.
Frank Miller adapts Will Eisner's classic comic book, making it look exactly like Sin City in the process. Ugh. See our review in next week's Mercury. Various Theaters
Strangers on a Train
Remember in Throw Momma from the Train, when Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal switch murders, and DeVito kills Crystal's ex-wife, forcing Crystal to murder the mean old woman from Goonies? Remember how DeVito got the idea from an old black and white Hitchcock movie, in which two strangers meet on a train and decide to "criss cross" each other's murders? That's this movie! Screens as part of Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" noir series. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Sunset Boulevard deserves to go head-to-head with Citizen Kane and The Godfather for the title of the best American movie ever made. It's showing as part of the Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" film noir series, but Sunset Boulevard isn't film noir at all: It's a rich, deeply hilarious satire on the greed of Hollywood, as well as a truly creepy tragedy about the fading of youth. William Holden stars as a screenwriter who becomes the kept man of Norma Desmond, an aging, forgotten silent film star played by Gloria Swanson. Director Billy Wilder deftly balances comedy, suspense, and drama for a movie that works on every single level. If you've never seen it, give yourself an early Christmas present and head down to the Whitsell. A reception and magazine release party by Bitch magazine follows the screening. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The 1983 crime classic, preceded by standup comedy, retro trailers, vintage rock performances, and animation. Bagdad Theater.
Synecdoche, New York
The best of writer Charlie Kaufman's previous films (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) were helmed by Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry—both of whom succeed in translating Kaufman's cerebral scripts into films that, while intellectual exercises of a sort, were nonetheless engaging, funny, and affecting. But with Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman directs, and disappointing as it is to admit this, the product is a chore—a dour collection of inexpertly packaged ideas that simply doesn't inspire the intellectual curiosity necessary to understand it. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
The Tale of Despereaux
I was turned away from the early morning screening of The Tale of Despereaux; it was at capacity, I was told, filled the brim with excited kiddos. So since I can't review the movie, I'll review the trailer: The Tale of Despereaux is yet another movie about a rodent who changes the world. The computer graphics are good, the voice cast is impressive (Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, and on and on), and this time, a beloved children's book stands behind the movie. But the plot of this trailer is all over the place! A kingdom is covered in darkness after the king bans all rats, which makes no sense. But out of the darkness comes a hero named Desperaux, a Dumbo-eared mouse who swings around a lot and declares himself a gentleman whenever possible (which seems pretty suave), and then he befriends the princess and saves her and I think all of these things together make him the heart of the film. And it is named after him, apparently. The trailer's narrator rhymes, which bugs, but it's for the kiddos, so I get it, and there doesn't appear to be any singing, which is definitely a plus. If you have kids, you'll probably end up seeing this 20 times. And if you don't, you probably will see it never. Like me. LOGAN SACHON Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Cinema 21.
"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 Division Street, Forest Theatre, >Movies on TV.
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 Various Theaters.
The Wrong Man
Part of Northwest Film Center's "Black Christmas" film noir series, The Wrong Man is perhaps more dramatic and less showy than anything else Alfred Hitchcock made, with a sober, affecting Henry Fonda as a man wrongly accused of a holdup. The film is disturbing in that there are no villains (save for the actual stick-up man), and Fonda's performance is excellently subdued, showing the utter helplessness of a very bad situation. By claustrophobically exploring the terror of imprisonment, Hitchcock manages to disquiet the audience on a deeper level than sensationalist fare like Psycho or The Birds. NED LANNAMANN Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.