Pop culture's usually villainized as a cheap diversion—disposable art that's enjoyed by those who can't or won't appreciate life's finer things. But occasionally (and more often than one might expect) pop cinema can also be smart, sly, and meaningful.
Proof comes this week by way of the Northwest Film Center's Eco-Sicko program, which features a slew of popular films with something to say. There's an environmental theme to these diverse films (sometimes it's sneakily allegorical, usually it's pretty damn obvious). By and large, they take place in poisonous worlds: Kicking off with Todd Haynes' Safe (1995), the series includes John Huston's Moby Dick (1956) and John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) before delving into even pulpier fare, exemplified with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), Carrie (1976), and The Road Warrior (1981).
Sure, if it makes you feel better, you can pretty it up: According to the Northwest Film Center, The Road Warrior is filled with "Byronic poetry," while Sissy Spacek's Carrie is "the environment, a Raggedy-Ann uroboros, personally devouring us (and all our problems) in a telekinetic scourge." Or you could just say The Road Warrior is awesome, and of course it's a lot smarter than most people give it credit for, and then you can make sure your thinking cap's on, and pass the popcorn. More info: nwfilm.org. ERIK HENRIKSEN
dir. Justin Theroux
Opens Fri Oct 5
Lloyd Center 10 Cinema
Henry (Billy Crudup) is a nihilistic children's book author with an anxiety disorder so acute that sometimes the only thing that calms him is lying on the ground with heavy objects stacked on his chest. Mandy Moore is Lucy, a cute, normal illustrator whose one claim to eccentricity is that back in graduate school, she dated her thesis advisor. Despite the fact that Henry is one of the most unlikeable romantic leads ever written and that the two have nothing in common, Lucy is inexplicably charmed (it's unclear whether Henry's appeal lies in the fact that he won't ride in a car without first putting on a helmet, or in the insulting tirade he directed at Lucy during their first meeting).
The heavy-handed irony of a foulmouthed dickbag writing children's books is about the cleverest conceit Dedication has to offer. There's zero chemistry between Crudup and Moore, Justin Theroux's direction is precious and uninspired (a dilettantish imitation of an "indie" aesthetic), and Henry's anxiety/depression issues are so overwrought as to be comical. This film takes the Troubled Young Man stereotype to its logical, and ridiculous, extreme—and it's about time audiences stopped indulging these preposterously angst-ridden characters. Maybe then they'll get some counseling. ALISON HALLETT
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival
Fri Oct 5-Sun Oct 7
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival can be really fun, as it has been in years past. Or, as it was last year, it can be excruciating. My experiences at the fest have helped me come up with some ground rules. And if you're smart, you'll heed my advice.
(1) If it's foreign, check it out. Especially if it's Japanese. All the Japanese films I've seen at previous Lovecraft Film Festivals were pretty rad. (Sadly, there are no Japanese horror films playing this year; the foreign selections are the UK's "savage fairytale" Wishbaby and Canada's "film noir nightmare" Nobody.)
(2) Shorts are a mixed bag. Is it worth it to sit through a ton of crappy short films for the possibility of seeing a few good ones? No.
(3) Madness > Monsters. Films about madness and insanity are always better than movies with monsters. Insanity is way scarier, and nothing ruins a horror movie faster than cheap special effects.
(4) Stuart Gordon for the win. When in doubt, choose a film by Stuart Gordon. His adaptations of Dagon and Dreams in the Witch-House (which both played at the festival in years past) are both stellar. Unfortunately for you, there are no films by Gordon in this year's festival. So good luck with that. More info: hplfilmfestival.com. CHRISTINE S. BLYSTONE