There are two things Terry Gilliam is legitimately great at: Making provocative films, and provoking the people who give him the money to make them. In 1985, Gilliam’s masterpiece on both fronts, Brazil was (barely) released—a delirious fever dream of dystopian sci-fi that blends the best of Fritz Lang and Steven Spielberg into a funny, sad, and scary satire. The only thing more audacious than the film is the story of Gilliam dragging Universal Pictures into a very public street fight to save his film from the scissor-happy hands of the studio—and winning. Savor Gilliam’s victory on the big screen while you can. BOBBY ROBERTS Clinton Street Theater.
The phrase “ahead of its time” is frequently misused as a means for people who like shitty things to excuse their enjoyment of said shit by suggesting people who don’t freely ingest shit were simply too dumb to appreciate it properly. This phrase is rarely applied accurately, but in the case of the 1985 board game adaptation (!) Clue, it fits like a butler’s white leather glove. The combination of source material and its gimmicky “come back each week and get a different ending!” theatrical hook turned audiences off, but as kids (primarily theater kids) rediscovered it on home video, its whip-smart-and-lightning-fast dialog delivered by a troupe of amazing comic actors (Madeleine Kahn! Michael McKean! Tim fucking Curry!) providing quality characterization in service of a legitimately good mystery finally earned Clue the due it deserved in the first place. BOBBY ROBERTS Academy Theater.
THE DISASTER ARTIST
James Franco directs James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, director of what many consider to be the single worst film ever made, The Room. This film is intentionally funny, as opposed to The Room, which is incomprehensible trash in every respect. Co-starring an old pug and Dave Franco. Cinema 21.
★ FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl story was the film that caused everyone to simultaneously realize all his previous films were quirky stop-motion shoebox diorama comedies. It’s just that he was limiting himself by making them with actual people. Remove the limitation, and you wind up with the most charming, warm, and funny entry in his filmography. BOBBY ROBERTS NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
★ THE FORCE
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Peter Nicks followed the Oakland Police Department around for two years—two chaotic and particularly scandal-plagued years. In The Force, Nicks takes the role of a dispassionate observer, capturing meetings of high-level officials dealing with police shootings and misconduct, training sessions for incoming cops (including one guy you just KNOW will be a problem), meetings with outraged community members, and the day-to-day policing of a beat cop. My only knock on The Force is a complimentary one: I wish I could see wayyyyyyy more than what was squeezed into 93 minutes. Nicks’ footage would thrive in, say, a miniseries on Netflix or HBO; I’d watch 10 hours of it, easy. Danielle Outlaw, Portland’s new police chief who worked at the OPD during the course of the movie, doesn’t make final cut, but it’s still a good doc to watch if you’re paying attention to issues here. Read our full review in next week’s Mercury. DOUG BROWN NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
GRINDHOUSE FILM FESTIVAL: ALLIGATOR
Before screenwriter John Sayles was known as the lyrical, incisive, and insightful scribe behind some of the most human films of the ‘80s and ‘90s (Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, Lone Star, The Secret of Roan Inish) he was something of a grindhouse wunderkind, churning out quick ‘n’ dirty schlock scripts that—despite being intended as low-budget genre ripoffs—managed to maintain a grasp on something resembling art. His first film was the mean-spirited Jaws riff Piranha, and he followed that up two years later with... a bigger, more ambitious Jaws riff, starring Robert Forster as a cop who descends into the Chicago sewers to face a giant man-eating mutant alligator. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
Based on recovered footage of iconic primatologist Jane Goodall during her groundbreaking chimpanzee research in 1960s Tanzania, Jane unfolds in a traditional National Geographic documentary format: beautiful nature footage paired with reserved British voiceover (provided by Goodall herself). Anyone with a passing interest in Goodall’s writings about the social relationships of chimpanzees will be delighted by the dramatic film clips of chimps stealing bananas from her camp set to an energetic score by Philip Glass. Mixed-in moments of Goodall’s perfectly-lit beauty seem out of place with her professional reflections until the film reveals this recovered footage was shot by Hugo van Lawick, a gifted wildlife photographer and, in time, Goodall’s first husband. The authentic relatability to both these love stories—van Lawick falling for Goodall and Goodall discovering her life’s work—pushes Jane beyond the confines of a nature film into the territory of being a pretty ideal date movie. SUZETTE SMITH Cinema 21.
Before I can give Justice League a fair critical assessment, one thing must be said: For the first third of the movie, Aquaman swims in JEANS. That alone is an abomination that can never be forgiven—because I can accept an Aquaman that doesn’t have gills, or even fins... but if you expect me to accept an Aquaman that swims in jeans, you are eternally fucked in the head. Thanks for that aside. Now, despite the previously mentioned abomination, Justice League is not all bad. However, it is mostly not good. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ morality play uses the myth of Iphigenia—who was sacrificed by her father to appease the gods—as a springboard, but it’s the mythology of cinema that Lanthimos is intent on exploding as he uses sterile, slow, almost Kubrickian imagery to interrogate the story. The surreal hilarity of Lanthimos’ last film, The Lobster, is totally absent here; Sacred Deer is, in the moment, an unpleasant experience. But as the director is careful to announce early on, this is not a film about what you see—it’s about what you realize hours, maybe days, after you’ve left the theater. Lanthimos gets under your skin and stays there. NED LANNAMANN Cinema 21.
★ LADY BIRD
Watching Lady Bird is kind of like reopening your high school yearbook for the first time in years, wincing and smiling in equal measure. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is sweet, tragic, and sentimental, which is exactly how a coming-of-age movie should be. CIARA DOLAN Hollywood Theatre.
★ LAST FLAG FLYING
What is the value of a comforting lie? That’s the question at the heart of Last Flag Flying, Richard Linklater’s sort-of sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail, in which three Vietnam vets reunite after decades apart to bury a casualty of the Iraq War. None of them can quite agree on how much truth can be humanely dispensed in the wake of a tragedy. Fuck if I know either, and fuck if Linklater knows, but he sure is willing to puzzle it out. Like a lot of Linklater movies, Last Flag Flying is better at asking questions than responding to them, and there are no easy answers here. So Linklater does what he does best: He establishes characters who feel like real people, then set them against problems that are hard to solve. If they haven’t solved them by the time the credits roll, well, that’s how it goes sometimes. BEN COLEMAN Living Room Theaters.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS
“Invented” is a rather melodramatic overstatement, but The Man Who Invented Christmas is still an affable, gentle holiday biopic that covers the two months in 1843 in which Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. As presented in Susan Coyne’s mostly accurate screenplay, the kind-hearted but financially struggling Dickens (Dan Stevens) is on a tight deadline, and he’s having trouble with the story. He interacts with his imagined characters (including a fine Christopher Plummer as Scrooge) in a manner that’s thankfully less precious than it could have been, though director Bharat Nalluri does delight in showing Dickens stumbling across details that will make their way into the book (e.g., a ghostly waiter named Marley). The charismatic Stevens finds depth in Dickens’ flaws—notably his disdain for his embarrassing father (Jonathan Pryce)—and carries us through the author’s own Scrooge-like mini-redemption. It’s a warm, hearty yuletide tale, perfect for visiting relatives. ERIC D. SNIDER Living Room Theaters.
Celebrate the post-Thanksgiving consumerist frenzy in the best way possible: with this 1987 Pygmalion riff about a tortured artist (‘80s whiteboy go-to Andrew McCarthy) who accidentally creates a vessel for Egyptian royalty (the super-Egyptian looking/sounding Kim Cattrall) to embody. This vessel, a mall display mannequin, comes to life, does his job better than he can, and in return he teaches it how to be a real girl so he can fuck it a lot as the producers spam Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now in the background. Co-starring Sophia from The Golden Girls, Anthony from Designing Women, and James Spader before he became a sleepy-eyed sack of sneers in a shitty fedora for NBC. BOBBY ROBERTS Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Set in the midst of the Catholic Church’s 1964 “Vatican II” reforms, Novitiate begins with 17-year-old Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) entering a convent and telling us, “Under everything else, we were women in love.” She means with God; the point of writer/director Margaret Betts’ sensitive spiritual drama is that sometimes that relationship feels one-sided. Cathleen, raised by an agnostic mother (Julianne Nicholson), found her own way to the sisterhood and has an earnest connection with the Lord that doesn’t preclude having doubts. Meanwhile, the strictly old-school Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who’s been a nun for 40 years and is 100 percent certain of everything, finds herself struggling with the Vatican II rebranding. Qualley is a soulful lead, but the emotional center is Leo’s heartbreakingly relatable performance as a woman whose world is changing. ERIC D. SNIDER Cinema 21.
PIPE ORGAN PICTURES: THE IRON HORSE
One of legendary director John Ford’s earliest films, a silent movie about the construction of the first trans-continental railroad. Enjoy this (probably not all that historically accurate) look back at America’s past, with live organ accompaniment by Dean Lemire. Hollywood Theatre.
Of all the things this Hitchcock classic is often championed for—its score, its cinematography, its fucking perfect sense of pacing—maybe the most notable achievement is how completely it manipulates an audience’s empathy. Steven Spielberg is often considered one of cinema’s master magicians, but even he wouldn’t be so bold as to hinge an entire movie’s success on his ability to not only put you in a matricidal, murdering peeper’s shoes, but convince you to put those shoes on yourself without even thinking twice about it. Hitchcock has made better films, but never any as sneaky as Psycho. BOBBY ROBERTS NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.
Remember Jake Gyllenhaal’s bulging eyes in Dan Gilroy’s excellent thriller Nightcrawler. They were the eyes of a man who almost entirely lived in his head. The main character in Gilroy’s latest, Roman J. Israel, Esq., also lives deep inside of his head, but we see his extreme-mindedness not in his eyes but his walk. Played by the great Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel is a lawyer who has a monstrous memory. He can recall with no effort all of the details of dead and forgotten cases; he lives in his dreams of a better and more just American society; he walks like his mind has no idea that it has a body. The film is not Washington’s best, but it, and that walk, will not disappoint Washington’s fans. CHARLES MUDEDE Various Theaters.
THE SECRET OF NIMH
Were it not for NIMH, the world of feature film animation might not still exist. In 1982, Disney was a clumsy, confused beast that couldn’t score a hit to save its life, despite its near-monopoly on children’s entertainment. Enter filmmaker Don Bluth—or rather, exit Bluth, in a frustrated huff, from Disney, along with a whole squad of talented animators sick of the rut they were stuck in. They grabbed a weird, gently moody little sci-fi/fantasy story for kids and let their ambitions run wild all over it—and kicked Disney’s ass with a beautifully animated adventure about a brave mom trying to take care of her kids. Not only did this success allow for new voices in animation to be heard, it forced Disney to fight for its crown. The animation renaissance of the ‘90s? You can thank Mrs. Brisby for that. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
Through the eyes of a satirist, the world of contemporary art museums is what one might call a “target-rich environment.” Pretense, hypocrisy, decadence—they’re all there, just waiting to be mocked. And the mercilessly acerbic Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, whose Force Majeure was one of the sharpest critiques of matrimony and masculinity in recent memory, would seem to be just the person to do it. And he does so in smart and entertaining fashion, at least until a drawn-out final act turns The Square from a sharp-tongued takedown into an example of the kind of high-minded narcissism it decries. MARC MOHAN Cinema 21.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK
DID YOU KNOW: The guy who directed Mad Max: Fury Road and Babe: Pig in the City also directed an adaptation of John Updike’s supernatural feminist fantasy about a trio of Rhode Island witches (Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer) who are seduced and manipulated by—and seek delicious revenge upon—Jack Nicholson, whose character is named Daryl but who is basically just Jack Nicholson: a lustful, piggish, disgusting (and disgustingly charming) demon of a man. BOBBY ROBERTS Laurelhurst Theater.
It’s easy to live a snarky life. I see a lot of movies that are god-awful, and the world around us is also pretty god-awful, and without wanting to, I seem to have “This is stupid” on the tip of my tongue more often than not. So when a movie comes along that is good—legitimately, sincerely good, like flowers or soup or dogs—I find myself grasping at a way to describe it. Wonder, directed by The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky, is that good movie. It’s about a little boy, Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), and his mom (Julia Roberts), his dad (Owen Wilson), and his older sister (Izabela Vidovic). Auggie was born with a condition that makes him look different, so that’s what Wonder focuses on—but it’s not really what this movie is. This is a portrait of a group of humans—grown-ups and kids, but mostly kids—who are whole, complicated people, who have opportunities to be selfish and opportunities to be kind. Wonder defaults to kindness in a manner that feels both totally inspiring and completely organic. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
Todd Haynes has been in the zone for quite some time now, creating a remarkable streak of films that establish glorious illusions, and then burrow deeper for the real, messy deal. Wonderstruck, the director’s first movie for a younger audience, feels like an anomaly in other, less intriguing ways—including an atypically slack narrative and an occasional case of the cutes. But then the third act kicks in, and everything gets terrific. ANDREW WRIGHT Laurelhurst Theater, Academy Theater.
★ MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, November 24-Thursday, November 30, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.