Below are reviews and current showtimes for selected films from the 35th Portland International Film Festival; for more info, see last week's Mercury ["The Young Ones," Film, Feb 9]. Not all films were screened for critics; for updated showtimes and a complete list of films, go to nwfilm.org.
At first, this slow cooker from director/star Cristi Puiu seems like a catalogue of everyday activities—but the movie's naturalism quietly gives way to a meticulous revenge plot. Puiu maintains a chilly temperature throughout, leading to a conclusion so reserved, it's unnerving. JAMIE S. RICH Mon Feb 20, 6 pm, Lloyd Mall; Wed Feb 22, 6:30 pm, Pioneer Place
Café de Flore (Canada)
Jean-Marc Vallée's layered mystery posits that the concept of soul mates is powerful enough to transcend death and time. With a major character, Antoine (Kevin Parent), working in the music world as a successful DJ, Café is at least as wrapped up in its soundtrack as in its story, and to an extent its style is more memorable than any genius of plot twist—although Vanessa Paradis as the single mother of a mentally handicapped boy (Marin Gerrier) is, as always, an odd, scrappy bird to behold. MARJORIE SKINNER Mon Feb 20, 7:30 pm, Cinema 21
Clown: The Movie (Denmark)
Nebbish Frank (Frank Hvam) and lothario Casper (Casper Christensen) go on a sexy "Tour de Pussy" canoe trip (???) to get away from their girlfriends—but when Frank discovers his lady is pregnant, he takes along her nephew to prove his capability as a father. What ensues is a simultaneously cute and grotesquely hilarious buddy/sex comedy that out-sweets Three Men and a Baby and out-grosses The Hangover. (Seriously, after seeing what sort of stuff is permissible in this country, you'll either want to move to Denmark or vote to bomb them into oblivion.) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Sat Feb 18, 5:30 pm, Lloyd Mall; Mon Feb 20, 8 pm, Pioneer Place
Corpo Celeste (Italy)
Like going to church? Enjoy staring at piles of urban garbage, or watching preparations for a young girl’s confirmation in the Catholic Church? How do you feel about claustrophobic close-ups and Parkinson’s-like camera shots? If you’re anything like me, Corpo Celeste—an Italian film by first-time director Alice Rohrwacher—will bore you to tears while slowly exploring all these “art house” ministrations. It does have gentle and affecting moments, but it’s too much quiet angsty work to get to them, all braised over with Catholic pomp and coming-of-age tropes. COURTNEY FERGUSON Sun Feb 19, 2:30 pm, Cinemagic; Thurs Feb 23, 6:15 pm, Lloyd Mall; Sat Feb 25, 6 pm, Cinema 21
A documentary about a nearly abandoned town in Death Valley, California, with exactly 35 inhabitants. This quiet portrait offers beautiful shots, tragic background stories, and some genuinely funny moments in a town that will not exist in 50 years. CLARE GORDON Fri Feb 17, 8:45 pm, World Trade Center Theater; Sat Feb 25, 1 pm, Cinema 21
Elena is the slowest of the slow burns: Andrei Zvyagintsev shoots movies like a film splicer ran off with his girlfriend. Elena (Yelena Lyadova) is the nurse-turned-wife of aging plutocrat Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov); the plot concerns itself with increasing the tension between Vladimir, Elena and their vampy and mooching progeny. Come for the family drama, stay for the gorgeous, unhurried cinematography and Philip Glass score. BEN COLEMAN Mon Feb 20, 5:15 pm, Cinemagic; Thurs Feb 23, 6 pm, Pioneer Place
Father/son Talmudic scholars Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) have a tense relationship: Eliezer's painstaking academic research is, as Uriel's wife puts it, "autistic," while Eliezer mocks Uriel's high-speed publishing and fondness for public appearances. When Eliezer mistakenly receives a top honor he's been passed over for 20 years—and which was meant to go to his son—questions of honor and family are raised in this un-sexy but effective tale of moral tension and complexity. MARJORIE SKINNER Sat Feb 18, 8:30 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; Sun Feb 19, 5 pm, Cinema 21
The Front Line (South Korea)
Existential, apocalyptic, and frequently funny, most of The Front Line is the best meditation on war since The Thin Red Line... and then the last act takes a nosedive into Top Gun territory, a transition I'd have previously thought impossible. A counter-intelligence officer is sent to investigate a tousle-haired war hero who may be shooting the wrong people along with the right ones. Standard war movie clichés are deployed, but these devices are unobtrusive until the last half hour. It's Catch-22, then the beach volleyball shows up. BEN COLEMAN Wed Feb 22, 6 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Goodbye First Love (France)
Two teenagers fall in love. They screw around in a country cottage. They go swimming. The boy goes abroad, writes letters back home. The girl pines for him, then finds someone else. Time passes, the boy returns home, the two get back togeth—wait a minute! It's The Notebook! JENNA LECHNER Fri Feb 17, 8:45 pm, Cinema 21
Habemus Papam (Italy)
At the Vatican, the pope has just died, and the conclave elects Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) as a successor. Melville then has a nervous breakdown and runs away. Every scene of Habemus Papam walks the line between the sacred and ridiculous, with the final scene leaving you to wonder about the state of an entire religious institution and its dependent nation. JENNA LECHNER Fri Feb 17, 6 pm, Cinema 21
How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? (Great Britain)
This fawning documentary about architect Norman Foster—the man behind some of the most beautiful and impressive structures on the planet—skims over Foster's design philosophy in favor of footage of him (A) cross-country skiing and (B) proudly reflecting. Architecture junkies, though, will find it worth sitting through for the strikingly shot footage of Foster's buildings, most of which look like they belong less on Earth and more in Mass Effect. ERIK HENRIKSEN Sat Feb 18, 6 pm, World Trade Center Theater; Mon Feb 20, 3 pm, Cinema 21
The Kid with a Bike (Belgium)
An 11-year-old Belgian boy is abandoned by his Belgian father, but a sweet Belgian lady hairdresser takes him under her Belgian wing. The kid rides his Belgian bike around the Belgian village and flirts with becoming a Belgian juvenile delinquent—which is kind of like a regular American juvenile delinquent, except way less scary. But all is well; Belgian kid and Belgian lady all work it out and ride some Belgian bikes. This was a good movie. It was sweet and touching. And Belgian. NED LANNAMANN Fri Feb 17, 6:15 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; Sun Feb 19, 7:45 pm, Lloyd Mall
Man without a Cell Phone (Palestine/Israel)
Jawdat (Razi Shawahdeh) is a college-flunked kid living in a Palestinian village in Israel who spends most of his time on his cell phone and looking for ladies. When a cell phone tower goes up in their small, segregated town, his curmudgeonly father insists that it’s poisoning the town’s food and people—typical of Israelis' disregard for the Palestinian population. Soon Jawdat is arrested for a series of innocent phone calls, so he moves to assemble a petition against the tower and raise awareness over the injustice towards his segregated community. Light-hearted humor cushions the politics. JENNA LECHNER Sun Feb 26, noon, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Norwegian Wood (Japan)
Tran Anh Hung's beautifully shot adaptation of Haruki Murakami's extraordinary 1987 novel lacks Murakami's subtlety and power, but still packs a sensual punch. Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) is a college student in 1960s Tokyo, and his life is defined by radically different relationships with three women: cute Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), who flirts but has a boyfriend; Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), who'd be the love of his life if she wasn't in a rural insane asylum; and Reiko (Reika Kirishima), Naoko's fellow patient. Those looking for their maximum daily dose of Murakami Melancholy™ should just read the book, but the film still captures the soul of Murakami's story far better than it should, in part thanks to a score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. And, yes, that one Beatles song. ERIK HENRIKSEN Tues Feb 21, 7 pm, Cinemagic
Somewhere Between (US)
Linda Goldstein Knowlton—producer (Whale Rider, The Shipping News), director of Somewhere Between, and adoptive mother to a young Chinese daughter—follows four teenage Chinese American girls in this delicate documentary of cultural self-discovery and adolescence. This is a film for people who like uplifting personal documentaries or documentaries about China or documentaries about cute, precocious girls. At the end it was so cute and sweet that everyone in the audience just cried and cried. Provincial Chinese dad, you remind me of MY dad! Wahhhh! BAM! Cultural differences FLATTENED. SUZETTE SMITH Sun Feb 19, noon, World Trade Center Theater; Wed Feb 22, 6:15 pm, Cinema 21
Surviving Life (Czech Republic)
I'd watch Jan Svankmajer cut his toenails—mostly because his clippings would probably squiggle about and then transmogrify into a creepy little baby with a man's penis. The Czech filmmaker's surreal Surviving Life is a beautiful, strange, and fanciful work of art: Svankmajer uses a mixture of paper cutouts and live action to follow a middle-aged man experiencing vivid dreams about a beautiful young woman, making his real life pale in comparison. COURTNEY FERGUSON Wed Feb 22, 9 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Despite a promising premise and captivating visuals, this Russian science-fiction film stumbles around its narrative in a sulk, offering hard, fascinating truths but remaining unwilling to depict them plainly. In the near future, a group of wealthy Russians visit a fountain-of-youth-type facility; they're rejuvenated physically but also fall prey to their own immature weaknesses. With echoes of Kubrick and Tarkovsky, the two-and-a-half-hour Target should have been invigorating instead of plodding. NED LANNAMANN Fri Feb 17, 8 pm, Lloyd Mall; Sun Feb 19, 7:45 pm, Cinemagic
To Be Heard (US)
Accurately hyped as a Hoop Dreams for poets, this documentary tells the story of a trio of impoverished high school students from the Bronx who find a temporary escape from their surroundings through the Power Writers program, which helps kids find their voice through slam poetry. Inspirational without being cloying, the film fully earns its moments of triumph and heartbreak. Bring Kleenex. ANDREW WRIGHT Mon Feb 20, 2:30 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Whore's Glory (Austria)
A chilling, intimate look at the lives of prostitutes in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico. Surprisingly unguarded interviews with these women (and girls) are an education in the necessities, emotional bonds, and humor that shapes their lives. Too bad the Western soundtrack, featuring Tricky and PJ Harvey, is a distracting cultural clash. MARJORIE SKINNER Thurs Feb 23, 8:15 pm, Cinema 21
Attack of the Flix
A monthly short film competition for Portland filmmakers. More info: microflix.org. Curious Comedy Theater.
"An evening of short erotic bike films." Clinton Street Theater.
Declaration of War
See review this issue. Living Room Theaters.
New York's "monthly platform for queer experimental film and video" hosts a Portland screening of Female Trouble: A Genderfuck Program. Grand Detour.
Musical group the Strangled Darlings performs a live score for 1922's Nosferatu. Hollywood Theatre.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Do you want to see Ghost Rider pee fire? If your answer is any variation on a word that is not “yes,” then you probably shouldn’t see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Sure, there’s a bunch of other stuff: A puffy, sweaty Nicolas Cage mugging for the camera, a big piece of fiery earth-moving equipment, some prophetical nonsense about the son of Satan. But whatever. Flaming ghost urine. That’s all you really need to know. Also, Anthony Stewart Head shows up for about five minutes, collects a paycheck, and dies. Despite that, he manages to give the best performance in the whole damn show. Could someone please put Giles in a good movie? He deserves better than death and demon pee. JOE STRECKERT Various Theaters.
When it comes to action movies, there's a thin, sinewy line between awesome and ridiculous, with the deciding factor often being the filmmaker's refusal to blink. The Grey, the latest contribution to the halls of gonad cinema from director Joe Carnahan, is a brawny, often majestic survivalist saga that can't quite work up the resolve to let its images drive the story. Although the primal force of its central conflict is something to behold—when it's cooking, it's the most compelling man vs. nature movie since William Friedkin's Sorcerer—it ultimately ends up feeling rather self-conscious about its own two-fisted bleakness. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
Grindhouse Film Fest: Shaolin vs. Lama
The only known 35 mm print of 1983's kung fu classic, featuring a street fighter against an eeeevil Tibetan lama. Hollywood Theatre.
Steven Soderbergh's latest, starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, is a welcome dose of the lean, stylish, kinetic excitement that good action movies are made of. ERIK HENRIKSEN Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
For whatever reason, the Oscar nominated animated shorts are always about a million times more fun than those in the live-action category. That's certainly the case this year—the creativity and energy on display in the animated shorts is largely absent from any film that includes real people in actual locations. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Nothing surprising happens in the Ryan Reynolds/Denzel Washington vehicle Safe House; from its opening shot, every scene progresses exactly as you expect, and then it keeps going for what feels like 50 hours, and then Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" rolls over its end credits. That's a mean, churning song; in any given snippet, it contains more life than anything or anyone in Safe House. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Forget the '92 BBC miniseries The Borrowers, or John Goodman's '97 adaptation (if you haven't already) of Mary Norton's classic children's book. Studio Ghibli presents a quietly compelling anime version of the story, written by Spirited Away's Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The film masterfully demonstrates the worldview of the borrowers by rapid pullback shots, their small stature fully realized when Arrietty's mother gets trapped in a jar and is unable to escape. It's also filled with special little details—like when Arrietty uses a leaf as an umbrella and flies through the yard trying to avoid an entanglement with a grasshopper—and loud, comical, emotional outbursts by Arrietty's worrisome mother and the cunning housekeeper. Despite the inherent dangers of Arrietty's world, the landscapes look slightly like an impressionistic painting, and the wind is always whistling through the trees. AMY SCOTT Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.
Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace 3D
Hey-doo, movie peoples! Yousa lika three dees, meesa thinks! And biggo three dees coming to yousa galaxy deesa weekendo! Ooo, Star Warsie: Epideppie I—Da Phantom Menace Three Dees deesa besto Star Warsie! My best friend Annie inna de podrace! Meesa friend Padmé wearen lotso dress! Boss Nass goesen "hublblhblbh" twosen timen, heesa so funny! Almost as funny as when my step in icky-icky goo poodoo, and a spacehorse maken big fluff on my head! Star Warsie: Epideppie I wassa not screeno for criticsie, but you taka meesa word for it! JAR JAR BINKS Various Theaters.
Stuck Between Stations
"Former high school classmates reunite by chance during a chaotic party-filled evening." Starring Josh Hartnett, who is apparently still acting in things. Hollywood Theatre.
This Means War
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
A romance starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. We didn't bother sending a critic. Various Theaters.
The Woman in Black
I, for one, am excited to see Harry Potter ditch the wizard robe and get into something a little more comfortable. Er, kinda. In the horror movie The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe is stuffed into a tight little turn-of-the-century vest and suit, looking young and vulnerable as he skulks around a gloomy haunted mansion with a candle, on the hunt for things that go bump in the night that don't wear tea towels. (House-elf reference!) And because the film has some genuinely, thoroughly chilling moments, it's not even that hard to remind yourself that this isn't about the Boy Who Lived. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.