★ BLACK PANTHER
Marvel movies get a bad rap for their cheesy dialogue, disjointed plots, and CGI-crowded battle scenes. But you never know when they’ll drop a gem. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is one huuuge gem, and comes closer to achieving truth and realness in its story than any Marvel film has before. Fully embracing its Blackness, the film smartly toes the line between history and fantasy. JENNI MOORE Various Theaters.
★ THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975
The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 bears the pros and cons of its titular format: It never dwells overlong on any one subject, but it also sacrifices depth and cohesion. This mishmash of vintage footage of speeches, interviews, rallies, and rioting culled from various Swedish news organizations and recent interviews with black musicians like Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson chronologically—and sympathetically—examines the movement’s triumphs, defeats, and tenets. Director/writer Göran Olsson admits his film isn’t comprehensive, but his outsider’s perspective lends a piquant slant unavailable to American filmmakers. He devotes almost as much time to ordinary black citizens dealing with injustice, drugs, and poverty as he does to leaders like Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, and Eldridge Cleaver, making us realize that Black people’s grievances resonate as urgently today as they did 40 years ago. DAVE SEGAL Hollywood Theatre.
In the early 1960s, 20th Century Fox tried to jumpstart the blockbuster era about 10 years too early with Cleopatra, a 248-minute-long (!) historical action/adventure epic starring a whole bunch of ostentatious white people (including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, and Hume Cronyn) fucking and fighting in some of the most ridiculous costumes ever sewn, on some of the most lavish sets ever created. Cleopatra was basically the Waterworld of its time, down to the part where it’s beautiful to look at and somewhat entertaining despite its wholly unjustified runtime. BOBBY ROBERTS .
A FANTASTIC WOMAN
Daniela Vegas’ amazing face—even her most muted expressions communicate visible thoughts—carries most of the weight of A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio’s endurance piece of a movie. Even in nominally progressive media like Transparent, cisgender men are often cast as transwomen, so it’s somewhat revolutionary to see Vegas, who is transgender, play transgender singer Marina, whose mourning for her dead partner, Orlando, is disrupted by brutal treatment from Orlando’s bigoted family and the police and hospital workers handling his body. There’s a lot of rhetorical and physical violence in A Fantastic Woman, and all of it is hard to watch (and almost enough to make you wonder at what point depicting abuse leveled at a marginalized character becomes more exploitative than instructive). But a strain of emotionally startling fancy pushes A Fantastic Woman away from gratuitous pain and into the surreal, with moments that are visually striking and frame Marina’s inner life and reserves with the respect they deserve. MEGAN BURBANK Cinema 21.
FIFTY SHADES FREED
Thinking about how Fifty Shades Freed is just boring, latter-season Gossip Girl with nipples got me all hung up on how good Gossip Girl used to be. I’d rather re-watch that than see rich people play with butt plugs any day of the week. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
In 2006, 20th Century Fox looked at Mike Judge’s follow-up to Office Space and decided whatever Idiocracy was, it wasn’t good enough for theatrical distribution. They abandoned it in a couple theaters for a week, stuck it on DVD, and called it good. But the film not only found an audience on home video, that audience spent the next decade proselytizing on its behalf. Idiocracy was no longer a sloppy-yet-satisfying satire of our culture’s inability to handle progress—it was a prophetic vision of how access to all the information in the world doesn’t matter if the people accessing it don’t give a fuck about reading. Except now, on the other side of the shit-smeared, Trumpian looking glass, Idiocracy seems quaint more than anything. A lot of the jokes still land, yeah. But the belly-laughs are a little more sour and sad than you might remember. BOBBY ROBERTS Academy Theater.
MO’ BETTER BLUES
After Do the Right Thing set Hollywood ablaze in 1989, writer/director Spike Lee decided to cool things out the following summer with Mo’ Better Blues, a low-key drama set in Brooklyn’s late ‘60s jazz scene. Lee meant for the stellar performances (Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Cynda Williams) to anchor the film’s frequent shifts in tempo and tone, like a finely tuned jazz quartet navigating an evening-long improv jam. But the actors are instead stuck in a meandering melodrama that doesn’t quite become more than the sum of its individual parts. Luckily the score, by the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring Terence Blanchard on trumpet almost makes the whole thing worthwhile all by itself. BOBBY ROBERTS Laurelhurst Theater.
The question is this: “Do I want to see Beatrix Potter’s beloved creation, given voice by James Corden, using lettuce like stripper singles to make it rain on woodland creatures?” The answer is maybe not so simple. It probably depends on whether (A) you have children and (B) you give a single solitary fuck about what you pour into their eyeballs. Various Theaters.
★ PHANTOM THREAD
A phenomenally fucked-up romantic comedy, Phantom Thread manages to be pitch-black funny and profoundly disconcerting, sometimes within the same scene. Novelistic, mean, and funny, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is unlike anything else out there, and it’s great. At least, I thought so? As the end credits rolled, a distressed lady in front of me huffed out, declaring, “Well, that’s not the kind of love I like.” Fair enough, lady! But there’s more truth in Phantom Thread’s love—a kind of love that’s as unavoidable as it is frightening and co-dependent—than in most feel-good films’ soulless romances. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
★ PORTLAND BLACK FILM FESTIVAL
For years, the Hollywood Theatre’s Portland Black Film Festival has brought some fantastic films to town—films from African American filmmakers, films that focus on Black lives and experiences, and films that are worth a look from everybody. The 2018 edition, curated by local comics writer, filmmaker, and educator David Walker, is no different, filling February with a wide-ranging selection of movies... and the great Joe Morton, the festival’s guest of honor. Perhaps best known from his role on Scandal and for causing the robot apocalypse in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (THANKS, JOE), Morton will be in attendance for a 35mm screening of his 1984 comedy classic Brother From Another Planet, in which “The Brother” (Morton) lands on Earth and gets an apartment in Harlem (screens Sat Feb 24). There’s a bunch of other must-see stuff too, including a showcase of shorts made by local Black filmmakers (Sun Feb 25) a special Re-Run Theater focused on hip-hop videos (Wed Feb 28), and more. Complete schedule at hollywoodtheatre.org. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
As the robber barons in charge of America attempt to isolate our country from the rest of the world, the Portland International Film Festival makes its annual cinematic case for humankind’s inherent interconnectedness. The 88 feature films and 48 shorts that the NW Film Center has collected will pack Portland theaters, bringing a can’t-eat-it-all smorgasbord of movies from every corner of the globe. While the diversity of this year’s lineup outlines how privilege, race, and geography can divide us, the films themselves successfully argue that many of our struggles and ambitions are universal. See “The Best Movies to See at the 2018 Portland International Film Festival” [Film, Feb 14]; for complete schedule, see nwfilm.org. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE
Co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, the awkwardly titled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is a relentlessly sordid bit of ghetto tourism that invites audiences to wallow in unimaginable misery for 110 minutes, only to emerge from their cinematic journey more enlightened, more aware, more... human. (Thanks, Oprah!) ALISON HALLETT Fifth Avenue Cinema.
★ RE-RUN THEATER: RAP CITY 2
This month’s tribute to classic television honors the golden ages of both hip-hop and music videos—when Yo! MTV Raps! and BET’s Rap City battled for the eyes and ears of young heads in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s via longer, louder, ever-more-elaborate promotional clips that came to resemble big-budget blockbusters based on bonafide headbangers (think Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” or Biggie’s “Hypnotize”) rather than the sort of camcordered one-take-jakes that music videos used to be. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
★ STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
In one of Straight Outta Compton’s most powerful shots, two men walk toward a police line. Held between them are a blue and a red bandana, knotted together, signifying unity in the face of a common enemy. It’s part of a scene that recreates the chaos of the Rodney King riots, the political event that cuts closest to the heart of what N.W.A. represented, and continues to represent, as the country stumbles along a crooked path of institutionalized oppression. It’s depressing how relevant “Fuck tha Police” still is, and that makes Straight Outta Compton essential viewing. MARJORIE SKINNER Clinton Street Theater.
STREETS OF FIRE (70MM)
After 48 Hrs. struck box-office gold and made Eddie Murphy a full-blown superstar, director Walter Hill was given a blank check by Universal Pictures and allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted with their money. Apparently what he wanted was to make a noir/comedy/musical/thriller/fantasy about a soldier of fortune who has to rescue his ex-girlfriend, the lead singer of a popular band, from a biker gang run by a young (so much as that word can apply to someone as agelessly weird as) Willem Dafoe. It sounds kinda like the plot to an NES game, doesn’t it? Well that’s pretty much exactly what it is. But in 70mm. And starring Rick Moranis, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, and Ed Begley Jr., because why the fuck not. Hollywood Theatre.
★ MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, February 23-Thursday, March 1, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.