Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year with Andre Williams
Andre Williams likely isn't anyone's idea of a hero, and this documentary shows the R&B sleaze-meister growing old disgracefully. Watch him get kicked out of both the Motown Museum and his old folks' home. Watch him go through withdrawal on a European tour. Watch him morosely languish on a hospital bed. Williams had some big hits in the 1950s, and was rediscovered after years of being a crackhead; at times kind, and at others rangy and nasty, he's about as interesting a documentary subject as there is. Mostly because you want to keep him at arm's length. NED LANNAMANN
Don Ellis: Electric Heart
A documentary about jazz composer and trumpeter Don Ellis.
On the Rumba River
Always wanted to know more about "beloved Congolese musician Wendo Kolosoy"? YOUR WAIT IS OVER!
Once Upon a Time in the West
Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Charles Bronson. Music by Ennio Morricone. Like you need to know more. ERIK HENRIKSEN
One Man in the Band
A doc about bands that consist of one person playing multiple instruments—but more than that, a doc about bands that consist of one pretty nutty person playing multiple instruments to create a grating, old-school electronic sound that pretty much makes me want to jump out a window. One Man in the Band is more a subculture doc than a music doc, and this is one subculture I think you'll be happy not to know. LOGAN SACHON
Miles Davis in Copenhagen
At his best, Miles Davis could be sublime, and at his worst—mostly in the latter part of his career—he slipped toward the ridiculous. (Have you ever heard his 1985 cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature"?) Thankfully, this 1969 footage is sublime enough to keep your attention, but it does mark the beginning of Davis' electric phase, and I could have done with a few more standards and a little less of Chick Corea's experimental keyboards. Davis still looks reasonably with it, though, and he's consistently a charismatic, ghostly presence. Plays with 1974's concert film Jazz Rarities: Jazz in the Piazza. MATT DAVIS
Battlestar Galactica: The Final Episodes
"Oh, gee, I don't know. From president of the colonies to this. King of fools. Probably best to be hated by everyone than loved by this lot. Doomed to live out the rest of my life in this loony bin. I don't know, that might have something to do with my rather savage mood swings." Bagdad Theater.
Forget Beyoncé. She can only sing. Even when she is acting, she is singing. In Cadillac Records, she appears late in the film as Etta James, but nothing like Etta James comes out of her performance: All we see is Beyoncé singing something about having a mean white father, a mother who was a prostitute, a heart that's been broken by so many men. When Adrien Brody—who plays Leonard Chess, the founder of Chess Records, the label that helped launch the rock and roll moment in pop music—when Brody holds Beyoncé in his arms, he is not holding a person but a piece of music. The thing that does not know how to stop singing—this is Beyoncé. A being that talks like a tune, walks like tune, looks like tune. Pop is her blood. So, when you watch this film, forget Beyoncé and focus instead on four great performances: Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, and Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf. CHARLES MUDEDE Various Theaters.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher movies are worth getting excited about. Sure, he's had his misfires—Panic Room, that Alien 3 business—but c'mon: Seven. Zodiac. Fight Club. Scrupulous, poised, and with a masterful control of tone, you'd think he'd be the perfect director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the titular character ages in reverse, starting life as a blind, deaf troll and gradually growing into the charming, handsome Brad Pitt. It's equal parts fantasy and drama, and at points, you can see Fincher's hand with moments that are surreal, strange, and heart-stoppingly sad. But the rest of the film... well, the rest of the film feels a lot like Forrest Gump, complete with goofy plot devices and banal cliches. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951's original The Day the Earth Stood Still was a cynical, hardnosed tale: A friendly space hippie, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his robot buddy, Gort, warned humanity that if we didn't stop killing each other, the civilized races of the galaxy were gonna eliminate us out of self-defense. In 2008, Klaatu (an appropriately blank Keanu Reeves) and Gort... well, don't do much of anything, really. Here, humanity's destruction is already more or less a sure thing, but for different reasons: In 1951, America's fears were atomic bombs and pinko commie bastards; now, the environment is in shitty enough shape that Klaatu's become a sort of extraterrestrial Captain Planet, angry enough at our treatment of Earth that he's willing to scrub us off of it. It's not a bad idea for an update, and the first hour or so is solid—weird, silly, smart, and only occasionally nonsensical—but then the CG goes kinda overboard, and things get kinda boring. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The first Edward Zwick movie I saw was 1989's Civil War epic Glory, which my eighth grade US history teacher showed my class on a day he was feeling lazy. Just like Glory (or The Last Samurai, or Blood Diamond, or Legends of the Fall, or any other Zwick movie, really), Defiance finds serious subject matter (the Holocaust! again!) and then buffs and shines it into pretty, disposable pop. There's drama here, but no resonance; it all feels weirdly floaty and hollow. You can tell that Zwick thinks he's making something really important here, when really, he's just the premier director of bland, vaguely informative melodramas that get shown to eighth graders. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Doubt is not subtle. Despite the fact the film—which features a Catholic priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who (surprise!) may or may not have a boner for altar boys—is about deeds that go unsaid and beliefs that go unproven, it insists on holding your hand, guiding your eye, and, occasionally, smacking you over the head. This is strange, because playwright John Patrick Shanley's play, on which the film is based, favors the opposite tactic: Unsettling and ominous, Shanley's script leaves plenty of room for uncomfortable interpretation. But the film—which Shanley directs with all the nuance of a vaudeville act—seems built mostly for the purpose of begging for Oscars. It also earnestly attempts to reintroduce the oft-parodied gimmick—last seen in the Hammer horror films of the '50s and '60s—of thunder dramatically crashing whenever there's a Very Important Line of Dialogue. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre.
As with many dramatizations of events whose outcome is known, Frost/Nixon's version of the 1977 televised interviews between Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and David Frost (Michael Sheen) is interesting more for its window on a bygone era than for any inherent dramatic conflict. The film's most successful in its humanization of Nixon, fleshing out the "I am not a crook" caricature that, for many of us, is our only understanding of our 37th president. It's important, though, not to mistake fiction for fact: Playwright Morgan has stated that he took liberties with the historical record in order to create a compelling narrative. As a historical fiction, then, Frost/Nixon contributes much to an empathetic understanding of history, if not to a factual one. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a wildly grumpy and racist widower who stubbornly clings to values picked up serving in the Korean War. His Detroit neighborhood, once the picture of Americana, is now a racial melting pot, and he spends his days drinking beer on the porch and muttering an endless stream of slurs at his Hmong neighbors. The neighbors' son Thao (Bee Vang) is coerced by the local Asian gang into stealing Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino; when Walt catches him, Thao works off his debt, and the two disparate cultures begin to achieve an uneasy understanding. Unfortunately, the Asian gang members aren't as keen to journey down the road of enlightenment, and after a disturbing act of violence, Walt is forced to go all Dirty Har... rather, Dirty Grampy on their ass. It's one thing to ignore the racist ramblings of your grandfather—he's family. But paying good money to see what amounts to a geriatric Dirty Harry fighting racism with even more racism is just a bit too much for me to wrap my head around. WM.™ STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Grindhouse Double Feature: Torso and Pieces
Of the two films on this weekend's Grindhouse double docket, 1982's Pieces is by far the bloodier, while Sergio Martino's horror/slasher film Torso (1973) would be the more likely candidate for lofty cinematic accolades. But they each have wonderful merits. Torso: spaced-out topless hippies dancing in dilapidated European ruins, kitschy lesbian sex scenes; mini-mini-dresses, '70s-era Italian men sporting ludicrous scarves, and possibly the best/worst fall from a cliff that I've ever seen. Pieces: Wow! I mean really! Unintentionally hilarious, with bizarre non sequiturs thrown into imaginative, gory death scenes, this is one you'll really have to see to believe, from its badly dubbed beginning to its amazing crotch-cringing ending. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is the kind of irrepressibly chipper person who attempts to start conversations with random strangers; when they act standoffish, she says things like, "I won't bite!" When her bicycle is stolen, she merely laments she didn't have a chance to say good-bye to it. In short, she's the kind of person who is so goddamn cheerful you'd like to smack her in the face. But something happens over the course of Happy-Go-Lucky: Poppy wins you over. Her happiness is something of a mystery; both her sisters are miserable, and her flatmate is snide and sarcastic. But Sally Hawkins' remarkable performance doesn't hit one false note. British director Mike Leigh improvises extensively with his actors before writing a script, and the film, as with all his work, feels spontaneous and true. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
House of the Sleeping Beauties
A "sexy and mysterious" German drama based on a story by Yasunari Kawabata and starring Maximilian Schell. Not screened in time for press. Hollywood Theatre.
Maybe it's because of technological advancements in special effects, or maybe it's the boggling success of Harry Potter, but today's youth are spoiled for choice when it comes to movies filled with magic and swords—The Lord of the Rings, Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia. When I was growing up, we had to content ourselves with the likes of Krull and Willow. Not that I'm bitter, really. Because today's kids also have to suffer through dreck like Inkheart. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
JCVD is as wildly entertaining and daring as cinema comes, and that's something you don't necessarily associate with the train-wrecked career of the weathered action star. The premise: Jean-Claude Van Damme (played, appropriately enough, by Jean-Claude Van Damme) stumbles into a robbery and accidentally becomes the most famous hostage ever, kicking off a surreal journey into the wounded psyche of its namesake. JCVD joyfully dissects the global celebrity obsession and the awkward downfall of Van Damme's career (a running plot point involves him losing acting roles to Steven Seagal—who is now, apparently, willing to cut off his ponytail in order to steal his rival's parts), all the while flipping the tired genre of action films on its ear. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Laurelhurst Theater.
Let the Right One In
This much-ballyhooed Scandinavian film is neither scary, teen angsty, nor spooky enough—but it is lovely, filled with austere, blue-hued snow and groves of haunting birch trees in the midst of Stockholm. And while Let the Right One In is by no means a poor entry in the vampire genre, it left me nearly as cold as the frozen landscapes, meting out little satisfaction on either a horror level or a character level. To be fair, the film doesn't pretend to scare you—it truly wants to succeed in an elegant, understated way, though it doesn't completely reach its goal. COURTNEY FERGUSON Living Room Theaters.
Life Is Sweet
Mike Leigh's 1991 comedy-drama revels in the day-to-day drabness of a London family. The twin daughters are annoying, but Timothy Spall's performance is particularly funny and Leigh's script is, as always, emotionally potent. Living Room Theaters.
"I found you, you fuck." The Press Club.
For a generation of gay and straight people who equate pride parades with binge drinking, whose gay heroes include Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper (he's gay, right?), and whose gay rights movement has just started, Gus Van Sant's fleshing out the story of gay politician and activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in such a moving and humane way is as invaluable as the words Milk would bark through bullhorns. Sure, Van Sant can't resist putting in some treacly, melodramatic scenes that unfortunately stick out, but for the most part, Milk's story is simply real, which makes it that much more powerful and relevant. AMY J. RUIZ Fox Tower 10, St. Johns Twin Cinema and Pub.
My Best Fiend
My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine is as blunt as its serial killer's pickaxe, which is used to kill more small town yokels than I'd ever dreamed possible. Welcome to the 3D future! Gone is the boring titillation of watching a nubile teenager run from a bloodthirsty murderer in just a flimsy white nightie—that, my friends, is the way of boring old 2D! With 3D, you get one, two, three dimensions of a stark naked coed as she jiggles and jogs for a good five minutes from a gas mask-wearing psycho. Gone are the heady plot devices used to give emotional motivation for a person to kill, kill, kill... yep, that, too, is the old-school 2D way. This is the future, and the future is bloody. With body parts, pickaxes, and disembodied eyeballs popping out at you, nothing's subtle about Various Theaters.
New in Town
A Not Too Distant Past: Film & Video From Underground Chicago
Portlander Marc Moscato's ode to revolution in Chicago contains six experimental and low-budget films by various artists, each highlighting some aspect of Chicago's radicalness. The most clever (Jean Genet in Chicago) has the filmmakers donning screenprinted masks to recreate French writer Jean Genet's take on the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots. The others are fine also, but mostly, the film seems to be something you'd watch in a history class. (Or an art class.) (Or an art history class.) Basically, don't go on purpose, but if a cute boy asks you to see this, you should probably go. But if, afterward, he isn't willing to admit that it was all a bit much? Send that boy on his way. LOGAN SACHONThe Waypost
Made with the oversight of Puff Daddy and Biggie's mother, this Notorious B.I.G. biopic is quick to deify its subject. But it doesn't answer any of the really interesting questions, though: Who shot and murdered Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas? (Not Biggie, says Notorious.) Who the hell killed Biggie Smalls? (I dunno, Notorious shrugs.) Despite the movie's bloat and sanctimony, it patiently tells its story—perhaps rightly—as if we've already forgotten all about the Notorious B.I.G. NED LANNAMANN Lloyd Center 10 Cinema.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Admit it: You kind of want to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The fat guy from The King of Queens riding around on a Segway? How much better does that sound than Mr. Benjamin Buttons aging in reverse, or some British dick-rag talking to Nixon for two hours? Look, I'll level with you. This movie's a pile of dogshit. I rolled my eyes through the entire thing. But most of the time, I was also laughing. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Portland International Film Festival: Coraline
A fancy-pants red carpet premiere of Laika's new animated film Coraline, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, kicks off the 32nd Annual Portland International Film Festival. Filmmakers will be in attendance at a party following the screening. For info on tickets to this event and the film festival, see nwfilm.org; also see next week's Mercury for a story on the festival and our review of Coraline.Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Rachel Getting Married
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed getting married, but it's her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway)—an ex-model, lifelong drug addict, and alcoholic who's been in and out of institutions since causing a family tragedy as a young teenager—who demands to be the center of attention. Jonathan Demme's latest is a difficult, sometimes tiresome film, but it's also emotionally ambitious, and it offers a modern portrait of family life that depends very little on convention. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre.
Kate Winslet is so dead set on winning an Oscar this year that she stacked the odds in her favor by virtue of sheer quantity. If Revolutionary Road doesn't do the trick, The Reader acts as a kind of B-string backup during this season of Extremely Weighty Filmmaking. But for all of its signifiers of substance (Hello again, Holocaust!), arty credibility (What up, Ralph Fiennes?), and Winslet's renunciation of Hollywood glamour in allowing herself to appear old and ugly, The Reader is at an odd, distant remove from its audience—failing to spark the emotional investment necessary to succeed. MARJORIE SKINNER Various theaters.
For atheists accustomed to the one-way street of religious acceptance (on which I will respect your right to believe what you want to believe, and you will attempt to limit my access to birth control), there is something refreshing about Bill Maher's Religulous, in which the unflappably egomaniacal Maher travels the country interviewing people about their faith, in order to: (A) point out the errors of logic, fact, and history inherent to their worldview, and (B) make fun of them. Alas, the film suffers from two things: a lack of focus, and an abundance of Maher. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.
Based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road is a cautionary tale against getting stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up. It's depressing, and I imagine that if you are actually stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up, it might be the kind of movie that would make you go home and kill yourself. But for those of us that are lucky enough to have our whole lives ahead of us with no child or mortgage to hold us back, the film's darkness can more or less be shed like an old coat. LOGAN SACHON Various Theaters.
A frantic, decade-spanning melodrama/romance/comedy, the latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) is nothing if not overwhelming. Sometimes Slumdog Millionaire feels crassly exploitative—like a guilt-inducing parade of everything terrible that impoverished children in peril have to endure—but often it's nothing short of fucking exhilarating, a pounding, pulsing, urgent rush that jumpstarts endorphins and adrenalin. There are scenes of torture and abuse and murder alongside giddy triumphs of comedy and heart (not to mention a Bollywood-inspired dance number), and as Slumdog careens along as both a harsh drama and a hammy crowd-pleaser, it's tempting to write it off as a bit of not-particularly-subtle manipulation. But ultimately, one realizes that Boyle deeply cares about these characters—and that sympathetic core is the reason why the film is consistently, utterly, beautifully gripping. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Switch: A Community in Transition
A locally produced documentary that examines "the impact of a gender transition not on the individual going through transition but on the surrounding community of family, friends, coworkers, and others."Hollywood Theater
Sword of the Stranger
The U.S. debut of "a rousing samurai anime epic." Otaku alert!Various Theaters
"Bring in the logic probe!" Bagdad Theater.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Once again, feral werewolves and mopey vampires face off in an epic, bloody fight for supremacy! All are welcome to behold the massive battle! Well, almost all are welcome: While werewolves fear silver and vampires fear garlic, the one thing they both fear are film critics, as members of the press were kept far, far away from any advance screenings of this second(!) sequel to 2003 Underworld. Various Theaters.
You know, for all his flaws—that "celebrity spokesperson for a cult" thing, his creepy marriage to Katie Holmes, that weird, arrogant-but-eager-to-please look he always has during interviews—I still kinda like Tom Cruise. As a person, the dude's 50 different types of insane, but as movie stars go? He's not half bad. Likewise, I can't say I'm a huge fan of Claus von Stauffenberg, the Nazi colonel Cruise plays in the based-on-a-true-story Valkyrie. I mean, von Stauffenberg was a Nazi, for chrissakes! But as Nazis go? Not half bad! I mean, he totally tried to kill Hitler! And he had a sweet eyepatch! ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Waltz with Bashir
My favorite scene in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler features Mickey Rourke as washed-up wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, complete with hearing aid and chest pains, dancing to Ratt's 1984 hair metal song "Round and Round" in a dive bar. Rourke tells a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), how great the '80s were, snatches a kiss, and turns wistful. "And then that pussy Cobain came along and ruined everything," he says. Rourke's ability to evoke the exuberance of the '80s with the fragility of a man personifying that era's hung-over downsides undoubtedly accounts for the widespread acclaim he's been receiving for this role—it would have been easy for a lesser actor to ham his way through the part, but instead, Rourke plays him as a man too aware of the cost of having lived to entertain. MATT DAVIS Various Theaters.