A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

dir. Montiel

Opens Fri Oct 20

Fox Tower

This could've so easily been crap. The "thug kid growin' up in the summertime mean streets of New York" memoir has been done to death: We all know Italians like to fight Puerto Ricans and that Catholic kids love their moms and that the proverbial everything—by 50 minutes in—falls apart. But A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints succeeds, with writer/director Dito Montiel mixing a plotline revolving around a younger version of himself (played by the kid from Holes) with an older model (Robert Downey Jr.).

The flashback scenes are scary and funny, but the real meat of the film comes in Downey's portrayal of a man burdened with the realization that he's skipped out on everyone who ever loved him. With his escape to California, teenage Montiel sealed this sad, violent, poverty-ridden tomb/time capsule of family and friends behind him, and what he experiences when he returns is an existential crusher. The night and day polarities of the past and present take you deep into Montiel's head. It's a harrowing place, but by the end of Recognizing Your Saints, you might realize it's a psychic landscape not too foreign from your own. ADAM GNADE


dir. Mayer

Opens Fri Oct 20

Various Theaters

I owned a copy of My Friend Flicka when I was a kid—sandwiched on my bookshelf between The Saddle Club box sets and Misty of Chincoteague. Like so many girls who loved horses (or who "skillfully sublimated powerful sexual urges"... whichever), I also loved books about brave young heroines and the wild horses that only they could ride. And if Flicka had stuck with this timeless formula, it might have made for a decent kids' movie. Alison Lohman plays Katy, a young girl who falls in love with a wild mustang named Flicka; when her father sells the horse to the rodeo(!), Katy decides to win Flicka back by riding her in a rodeo competition. This is a classic "horse girl" plot, and Lohman makes a great horse girl: She's sufficiently spunky, and she has the requisite long, messy brown hair. Unfortunately, country music megastar Tim McGraw plays Katy's father, which might explain why Flicka turns into country music porn partway through, leading to an orgy of belt buckles, cowboy boots, and American flags. Ultimately, Flicka's doomed by its phenomenally bad nü-country soundtrack and a gratuitous use of montages—a combination that creates some of the most unwatchable sequences in recent cinematic memory. ALISON HALLETT


dirs. Various

Thurs Oct 19-Sat Oct 21

Hollywood Theatre

I've tried and I've tried, but goddamn, I can't summon up any enthusiasm for the Portland International Short Short Film Fest—or, as it's not-so-cleverly known, "PISS Fest." This thing happens every year: one more middling film fest in a town that already suffers from entirely too many middling film fests. I don't know anyone who goes to PISS, I know even fewer people who have heard of it, and it always boasts the same thing: A shit-ton of films, all 10 minutes or less in length. That's a pretty flimsy bit of criteria for inclusion—PISS' selections vary wildly in quality—and things like "theme," "topic," and "value" appear equally unimportant to the fest's organizers.

It's not that there's not good stuff—there is a Bonnie "Prince" Billy video, an interesting-sounding mini-doc on the Rose City Rollers, and an okay film starring that fat guy with a beard who played "Al" on Home Improvement. But there's also a ton of crap, and the vast majority of PISS' films simply aren't worth wading through. (Do you really want to see Pimp My Ride parody "Pimp My Casket"? How about "Minutiae," a cloying look at "the fluctuations of courage and intimacy emblematic of a fledgling relationship"?) PISS caters to wholly undiscriminating, ADD-addled film buffs; if you're one of them, here you go. The rest of us have better things to watch. ERIK HENRIKSEN