25TH REEL MUSIC FESTIVAL
All screenings take place at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
FABRICATING TOM ZÉ
Tom Zé was the oddball in the Brazilian Tropicália movement of the late '60s. Creating artful, bizarre music from disparate sources (including traditional favela folksongs and musique concrète), he fell into obscurity while peers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil became titans of the Brazilian musical establishment. David Byrne championed Zé's music many years later, and here, we see Zé and band on a recent European tour. The film contains little backstory and virtually no examination of what makes his music so unique, other than his claim that, lacking any conventional musical talent, he was compelled to rely on creativity to be noticed. Zé's freakout at a Montreux Jazz Festival sound check notwithstanding, it's a mostly dull tour documentary, and a missed opportunity to study a remarkable and unconventional artist. NED LANNAMANN
LES PAUL: CHASING THE SOUND
A documentary on the fellow who made that damn rock 'n' roll music that the kids like so damn much so damn loud.
A LIFE IN THE DEAH OF JOE MEEK
There's a terrific movie in the story of crazed British record producer Joe Meek. This documentary isn't it. Meek was homosexual at a time when it was illegal in England, had a paranoid fascination with the occult, and shot himself and his landlady in 1967, leaving behind a legacy of broken promises and some very weird music. The film gives us a bunch of Brits incomprehensibly jabbering at the camera who reveal more about themselves and their own prejudices than they do about Meek's life and work. We never gain a real understanding of this strange, tormented individual. Perhaps that's the point. NED LANNAMANN
MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER
Listen to "Zion Hill" again, and be reminded that avant-garde jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler is one of the greats. Here's a documentary about his life, from his first album (1962's Something Different!!!!!) to his mysterious death at age 34.
RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
This four-hour, Peter Bogdanovich-directed documentary is most interesting during the early, hungry years, but there are plenty of full-length live performance clips throughout Petty & Co.'s three decades in the business. Record company trouble, band squabbles, divorces, drug overdoses, arson, Stevie Nicks—it's all here, and so are some pretty damn great songs. The thing's far too long to watch in the theater, but if you're a Heartbreakers fan, you'll probably want to get the DVD. NED LANNAMANN
SOUL DEEP: THE STORY OF BLACK POPULAR MUSIC
This six-hour, BBC-produced primer on the roots and manifestations of American soul music does an admirable job of trying to get its arms around this massive subject. Beginning with Louis "Let the Good Times Roll" Jordan and whimpering out with J. Lo (evidently the producers weren't ready to tackle the divided psyche of the 21st century African American male as reflected in the Kanye/Fiddy feud), Soul Deep succeeds as a basic "this begat that" story of R&B. Unfortunately, American history is presented at remedial levels for the intended British audience, and cheesy reenactments litter the whole show. Highpoints include tons of archival footage and a few good anecdotes here and there, but they should have called this one Soul Music for Dummies: We'll Explicate Sexual Innuendo for You. CHAS BOWIE
THE TALENTED MR. RABINOWITZ
Composer, conductor, and Portlander Harry Rabinowitz presents clips and selections from some of his "favorite film projects," from Remains of the Day (yay!) to Cold Mountain (boo!).
YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME
I'd never heard of Roky Erickson or his band—the 13th Floor Elevators, pioneers of '60s psychedelic music—before watching You're Gonna Miss Me, and that's a damn dirty shame. This wonderful documentary about Roky's adult-onset schizophrenia, drug use, and imprisonment in a high-security mental hospital after pleading insanity to a trumped-up marijuana charge is a film of quiet beauty. Under the skillful direction of Keven McAlester, it doesn't matter if you've ever heard of the Elevators or Roky, because this compassionate, layered story evokes rather than shows the recluse's past and present, giving the audience time to feel and appreciate the musician's life and family. You're Gonna Miss Me brilliantly crafts the tale of a forgotten musical genius and the dysfunctional family that helped him get lost in personal darkness. COURTNEY FERGUSON
See review. Various Theaters.
See review. Clinton Street Theater.
The first hour of Atonement, based on the book by Ian McEwan and set in a pre-war English country house, is faultless: a pungent stew of pleasure and dread, shrill suspicions and pouting revenge. The film's casting is brilliant, the production design impeccable, the point-of-view switchbacks beautifully turned. Sloughing off the novel's pretentious narration, the film nonetheless bows to his conceit by weaving the sounds of a typewriter into the score. And even if the second half of the film is disappointing, relative to the first, it's not entirely wrongheaded. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
Autism: The Musical
This excellent documentary follows five kids with autism as they join the Miracle Project, a musical theater production designed to give these kids an environment where they can be themselves—as opposed to their everyday lives, which are constantly under the strain of being manipulated to conform them into the status quo as best they can. But this film is, naturally, more about the kids and their parents than the production itself. With alarmingly high rates of autism, it's bittersweet to see how these children cope with their condition. More harrowing are the emotional journeys of the parents, who see marriages ripped apart, struggle with depression, and suffer from constant anxiety over how to maintain their children's dignity and safety in a world that undervalues their very existence. MARJORIE SKINNER Clinton Street Theater.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead has a lot going for it: a sinfully exciting story, an all-star cast, and veteran director Sidney Lumet (Network). A crime thriller, it centers on two brothers, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke). Andy, the older of the two, concocts a scheme in which the two knock over their own parents' suburban jewelry store; needless to say, things go wrong. Devil has an underlying pulse on what hurts about middle-class American life, and its action is like a clusterfuck symphony of family gone the worst kind of wrong. It's a wild, grimy ride, but you'll be able to get off without looking back. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
The Bucket List
The Bucket List? Seriously? Who fucking green-lit that title? Can you imagine actually walking up to the box office and being all, "Yes, um, I would like two tickets for The Bucket List, please"? I'm embarrassed just typing it. Surely this isn't meant to be a review of a movie title, but The Bucket List's very name is strangely indicative of the kind of awkward misfire clearly behind the boardroom gavel drop that set this mess out to spawn. "All right, so we got this sort of morbid, geriatric Odd Couple thing going, okay? So we need like one guy to convey the sage wisdom of the humble poor, but the thing is, he's got to be old, too. Hmmm... I got it! Morgan Freeman! And we'll get him to do that cool voiceover thing he always does at the beginning and the end of every movie he's in. This is shaping up nicely." Soon they've got rich asshole Jack Nicholson (who, frankly, looks like he might actually be dying) coughing blood into a handkerchief like he's one of the Brontë sisters or something, and then rattling off Nicholsonisms that lost their cool about the time that he started to look like Mickey Rooney. There is also a mind-blowingly ill-conceived skydiving scene. If you have even a marginal interest in paying to see this film, you deserve what you get. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
A Clockwork Orange
A bit of the old ultra-violence. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
See review. Various Theaters.
Daughters of Wisdom
A documentary about Kala Rongo, a rare Buddhist monastery in Tibet that allows women, as nuns, the opportunity to experience the same spiritual rigors that men do. For many of the women who live at Kala Rongo, this offers an option besides the life of hard labor that is the status quo in Tibet's remote countryside. Daughters, while itself a rather placid film, is something of a reality check—it's easy to forget that on the other side of the world, becoming a nun is the cutting edge of women's liberation. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Movies that are "based on a true story" are usually dismal affairs—extraordinary human experiences flattened into pseudo-inspirational morality tales. An emphatic new exception is Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the autobiography of the completely paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean-Do to his friends). Diving Bell is that rare case where an amazing story and amazing filmmaking collide, a rich and beautiful film that does full justice to its source material. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Divorce, Italian Style
Pietro Germi's 1961 Italian sex comedy. (Just FYI, Pietro—changing your last name would have done wonders for the sexy factor in your sex comedies.) Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
There's no justification for this level of dumb: Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) are junior criminals on the fast track to doing some hard time. After a bungled theft leaves them in debt to some fearsome Jamaican gangsters (yes, really), they decide to rob their local church. But instead of cash, they end up with something way more valuable: redemption. For example! In what's probably the most uncomfortable moment ever captured on film, Sister Doris (played by Loretta Devine, from Boston Public—and actually, now that I think about it, everyone from Boston Public is in this, for some reason. Except for Seven of Nine. She's not in it. Big mistake, Hollywood!) sings a hymnal-y happy birthday song to a tearful LeeJohn. Squirmy. KIALA KAZEBEE Various Theaters.
I'm Not There
Six different films in at least as many styles weave through I'm Not There, and after the opening credits announce that the movie was "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan," we never hear the singer's name again (although his music is used to maximum effect throughout). Each of the film's fictionalized-Dylan characters, including those played by Cate Blanchett and 14-year-old African American actor Marcus Carl Franklin, come with their own names (including "Woody Guthrie" and "Billy the Kid"), and represent a unique strand of Dylan's creative path, career, or persona. As a whole, I'm Not There is one of the smartest, most innovative, and beautiful films of this era. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Uwe Boll's latest film is a magnum dopus so utterly inept that it somehow comes off as perversely admirable. The other two people at Friday's matinee seemed to enjoy it, too. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
It Is Fine, Everything Is Fine, & What Is It?
A selection of new films and a feature from Crispin Glover. The evening also includes a slide show, a Q & A with Glover, and a book and poster signing. Feel free to shout out "You were the bomb in Beowulf, yo!" But whatever you do, don't bring up Back to the Future. It's a sore, sore subject with Mr. Glover. Trust us. Clinton Street Theater.
King: A Filmed Record From Montgomery to Memphis
It's a day ON, not a day OFF, people! Archival newsreel footage of Martin Luther King, Jr. in action. Clinton Street Theater.
See review. Various Theaters.
One Missed Call
I'm sorry, but voicemail is not scary. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
There is nothing new in the horror flick The Orphanage. There is a haunted house. There are ghosts. There are deformed kids, there are masks, there are unsettling old/young people, there are flickering video screens filled with grainy night vision, and there are—totally unironically—things that go bump in the night. In short, screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona are content to dig up and exploit every worn-out horror cliché they can think of—which'd be a problem if The Orphanage wasn't so goddamn scary. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Power of Song
Hey wait, where's the Silver Bullet Band? Just kidding. Pete Seeger's life is given the proper legend treatment with director Jim Brown's fantastic documentary The Power of Song. Seeger was a rare visionary who placed art before commerce and went out of his way to personalize his music, establish a legacy, and school future generations in the ways of American folk music. For this, he was hounded by the FBI, nearly jailed for his comments at the House on Un-American Activities, and suffered greatly to bring the music to the masses. But in the end, he prevailed, launching numerous folk revivals the world over, and establishing himself as one of the few untouchable icons in musical history. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Hollywood Theatre.
Siblings Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are quietly unhappy adults whose dysfunctionality is traceable to their disturbed childhood, thanks to an absent mother and abusive father (Philip Bosco). As their father's health declines, Wendy and Jon—despite years of estrangement from the volatile old man—relocate him to a nursing home near Jon's house. The Savages is bleak, but it will likely resonate strongly with the boomer crowd, who are starting to deal with these issues themselves. The film's impact is somewhat diminished by a tacked-on, redemptive ending (which will also probably resonate strongly with the boomer crowd), but there are enough small, powerful insights here to forgive a little happily-ever-after. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
A must-see documentary for anyone with even a passing interest in American politics, Street Fight follows the 2002 mayoral elections in Newark, New Jersey, in which the young reformer Cory Booker ran against beloved incumbent Sharpe James. The film is a compelling, frustrating look at city politics and the increasingly complicated role of race in government. Screens as a benefit for City Council candidate John Branma. ALISON HALLETT Mississippi Studios.
There Will Be Blood
"I have a competition in me. I do not wish to see anyone else succeed," confides Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a moment of rare candor. "I hate most people." This is Plainview's secret, which emerges slowly from his veneer of confident sophistication until it becomes a misanthropic force too large for any man to harness. Plainview's greed and loathing is at the heart of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's new film of astounding depth, intensity, and brutality. Based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, Blood finds Anderson with a refined vision and cinematic maturity that not even his best films could have prepared us for. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.