Not all films were screened for critics, and not all films were screened in time for press. This week, screenings take place at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Audtiorium and the Broadway Metroplex. For more info, see "When Japanese Schoolgirls Attack," Movie Times, and nwfilm.org.
China’s submission for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar, Aftershock is an exhaustingly melodramatic look at the emotional devastation that followed the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. Opening with a gratuitous exercise in CGI disaster porn, the film spends its remaining two hours charting 30 years of a family’s grief and misery in the broadest, most ham-fisted manner imaginable. ZAC PENNINGTON
An unflinching look at the war in Afghanistan, documented by a camera crew tagging along with bored, relatable, and sometimes brutally violent Danish soldiers. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Barbershop Punk (US)
Comcast is the fucking devil, and in Barbershop Punk, a guy from Hillsboro proves it. After Robb Topolski found the internet provider meddling in his file sharing of long-lost barbershop records, he became a key figure in the net-neutrality debate. Despite appearances from a liberal cadre including Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins, this doc isn't sexy, but it does focus on the preeminent free-speech debate of our time. ANDREW R TONRY
A Barefoot Dream (South Korea)
"A feel-good family film that will delight anyone who loves soccer." Time for a circlejerk, Timbers Army!
Behind Blue Skies (Sweden)
A coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old Swedish kid who gets involved in illegal business opportunities. Nice work, 17-year-old Swedish kid!
Boy (New Zealand)
Left alone to take care of his family, an 11-year-old boy's irresponsible father unexpectedly comes back into his life. Humor balances the gravity of his tragedies, making Boy realistic and completely worthwhile. CHARMAINE PRITCHETT
A documentary about a Palestinian village and the everyday man who united its citizens to "peaceably fight for justice."
Certified Copy (France)
The forever-lovely Juliette Binoche waxes philosophical with William Shimell against the background of a historic Tuscan village, noodling around ideas of originality and authenticity in art and relationships. If you can overcome the film's often blowhard dialogue, Binoche and Shimell give mercurial heft to their roles, which are more concept than character. MARJORIE SKINNER
Surprisingly, life in a Mexican touring circus is grim, and not at all whimsical. Tiny children practice backbends until they cry and grumpy tigers jostle in dusty truckbeds in this compelling, slightly heartbreaking documentary about a family that makes a difficult living peddling big-top excitement across the Mexican countryside. ALISON HALLETT
Come Undone (Italy)
Anna (Alba Rohrwacher) is content in her marriage with a cuddly Peter Jackson type—until she meets Domenico (Pierfrancesco Favino), a swarthy Javier Bardem type. From there, it's illicit smooches and lies, lies, LIES. Understated and distant, Come Undone is far from groundbreaking, but can be compelling in its quieter moments. DAVE BOW
A Family (Denmark)
There's a scene near the end of A Family where a dying baker is dictating his eulogy, summing up the whole of his life. "Don't make it a big deal, just mention it." That sentiment neatly summarizes the film, a painfully honest look at the wry unfairness of death. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS
The First Beautiful Thing (Italy)
A visit with his dying mother and estranged family triggers memories of Bruno's (Valerio Mastandrea) difficult childhood. With dramatic flashbacks, stirring performances, and surprising humor, a portrait unfolds of a young mother's unsinkable spirit and efforts to protect her children. VIRGINIA THAYER
The First Grader
Based on the fascinating true story of a former Mau Mau freedom fighter who struggled for his right to an education at age 84 (a superb Oliver Litondo), The First Grader is by turns heartwarming and horrifying. VIRGINIA THAYER
Of Gods and Men (France)
A film tracing the spiritual struggle of Christian monks in Algeria. These six graying, nearly feeble French men are menaced by a corrupt military and warring Islamic fundamentalists. To stay or go? Based on a true story, Of Gods and Men is monk-like in its serene meditation on peace, piety, and despair. ANDREW R TONRY
Good Morning to the World (Japan)
A high schooler investigates the murder of a local homeless man. Somebody call Japanese Veronica Mars!
Two irony-clad hipsters—a straight woman and her gay best friend—fall for the unselfconscious charms of a hot new country boy. Insightful look at modern romantic mores, or highbrow camp? Does it matter? ALISON HALLETT
His & Hers (Ireland)
It's a neat idea: a documentary collage of Irish women, arranged in chronological order from birth to death, talking about their fathers, husbands, and sons. The effect is of a shared sisterhood, but a little variety would've added some sorely lacking depth. JAMIE S. RICH
Human Resources Manager (Israel)
An Israeli paper-pusher must ferry the body of a former employee back to her home in Romania. Pulling more heartstrings than legs, director Eran Riklis' middle-of-the-road trip has angry teenagers, backwoods sheriffs, and a corpse strapped to the top of a van. Still, it's not quite National Lampoon's Eastern European Vacation. JAMIE S. RICH
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Romania)
Handsome teenager Silviu (George Pistereanu) is carefully biding his time in the institutional nightmare of a juvenile detention center, counting days 'til his release, when a rash decision threatens his chances of freedom. Sounds depressing, but this Romanian drama balances its inherently stressful premise with an oddly exhilarating strain of fuck-you existentialism. ALISON HALLETT
This prison flick follows a Russian woman through the hellish limbo of detention and deportation after she's caught illegally living in Belgium with her teen son. There are chases, heartbreak, and literal gut punches, but it's the scenes of quiet, hysterical breakdown that make Illegal a riveting film. And it's not as depressing as it sounds, I swear! SARAH MIRK
This Canadian Oscar nominee spans several decades, two countries, and a lot of complicated politics to expose a dead mother's secrets—but one plot twist too many turns serious drama into overly earnest pap. JAMIE S. RICH
Kawasaki's Rose (Czech Republic)
A grandfather's past with the secret police is unearthed right before receiving a humanitarian award, while his daughter recovers from a sickness to find her marriage crumbling. Excellent performances and subtle storytelling make this remarkable portrait of a Czech family feel utterly true. NED LANNAMANN
Last Report on Anna (Hungary)
A drama based on the story of a minister who went into exile after the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
The Light Thief (Kyrgyzstan)
A neighborhood man attempts to thwart greedy developers in this "allegory about post-Soviet realities and the difficult path to democracy."
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Great Britain)
A documentary about German sculptor Anselm Kiefer.
Peepli Live (India)
Farmers across India are destitute—so much so that the hapless Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) vows he'll commit suicide to cash in on a loophole government subsidy. The harsh realities of Peepli Live, however, are explored as twisted farce. The charming black comedy skewers everyone from the government to the media, wryly smiling all the way. ANDREW R TONRY
La Pivellina (Austria)
When a middle-aged Roman woman takes in a mysteriously abandoned two-year-old girl, it sets the stage for a film that belies its meandering pace with cultural intrigue and genuine character meditation. Few films are able to maintain tension with such graceful humanity, and La Pivellina sticks it all the way through the finish line. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Princess of Montpensier (France)
Not to be confused with the adult film that has a very similar title.
The Robber (Austria)
Alternately: The Runner. Johann (Andreas Lust) is a dour ex-con who (A) runs marathons, and (B) robs banks. He's a dick, and he does a lot of dickish things, and then the movie ends. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Sawako Decides (Japan)
A lightly absurd movie that follows a listless, withdrawn young woman who returns home from Tokyo to save her ailing father's shellfish packing company. The film's first half is jumbled and emotionally distant, but an hour in, it gains some energy, leading to a cathartic climax that's both heartwarming and weird. DAVE BOW
Shorts I & II: International Ties
Silent Souls (Russia)
One wouldn’t expect to describe a movie about an amateur poet driving to the seaside with his boss to burn the body of the man’s dead wife as "airy," but Aleksei Fedorchenko’s Silent Souls takes a freeform approach to its eulogizing. It’s film as memory: incongruous, enriching, and oddly playful. Then, poof! It's gone. JAMIE S. RICH
Son of Babylon (Iraq)
With his homeland serving as a backdrop, Iraqi director Mohamed Al Daradji spins a tale of a boy and his grandmother on a journey to find his father and her son. The affable kid/kooky grandma combo makes for a one-two punch that humanizes the war-torn country. MIKE WILLIAMS
Steam of Life (Finland)
A Finnish sauna documentary.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s story of a dying man in Thailand takes place in a rarefied state where folk tales and ghost stories mingle with everyday life. Meditative and mysterious, full of long takes and dreamy ideas, this Cannes favorite is as unpredictable as it is enthralling. JAMIE S. RICH
The White Meadows (Iran)
An old man "collects the tears of souls in pain in a tiny pitcher—remaining all the while a nonjudgmental witness to the absurd havoc wreaked by the powers that be." Soon to be remade in English with Kevin James.
The Woodmans (US)
A quietly riveting documentary about art, family, envy, and the oft-consumptive properties therein, The Woodmans traces frigid unrest in a family of working artists—primarily through the posthumous lens of its most renowned emissary, beloved photo martyr Francesca Woodman. ZAC PENNINGTON
Young Goethe! (Germany)
Just like Young Sherlock Holmes—but with Goethe!
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are middle aged and married, happily puttering about in a bobo interpretation of marital bliss: evenings spent cooking, gardening on weekends, a glass of wine now and then. Gerri works as a counselor, and the receptionist at her hospital is the twittery, blowsy Mary (Lesley Manville), a woman prone to drink too much at dinner parties and fall asleep in Gerri's guest room. For a while, the friendship unfolds harmlessly: Mary a disorganized, well-meaning mess, Gerri gently humoring her nattering friend, to the quiet dismay of her less-sympathetic husband. But Mary's not as guileless as she initially seems. Her character is a cautionary tale of sorts, a woman clinging unflatteringly to long-gone youth, drinking too much and sobbing about relationships gone wrong, chattering endlessly, ignorant of the irritation and indifference she inspires. Manville's performance is so effective that the audience cringes along with Tom every time she appears, at once a testament to Manville's performance and to the resonance of writer/director Mike Leigh's firm implication that every individual is in charge of their own emotional well being—one can't, like Mary, count on others to provide it. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre.
There's a persistent, suffocating weight on Uxbal (Javier Bardem), on whose life Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film, Biutiful, meditates. Amid the grime of Barcelona's ghetto, Uxbal cobbles together an existence to support his two children by brokering sweatshop deals between powerless immigrants and corrupt contractors, as well as moonlighting as a medium between the recently deceased and their family members. If that weren't enough, Marambra (Maricel Álvarez), the mother of his children, is a bipolar junkie, and there's also the matter of Uxbal being on the brink of death due to some form of renal failure that causes him to piss blood. Needless to say, things are grim. Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams) asks a great deal of his audience, trudging them through a mucky tragedy with pitifully scarce relief. It might be too much were it not for Bardem's performance, which flawlessly bridges the disparate aspects of an imperfect character into a strong, relatable whole. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Rarely does a film come along that's as truly adult as Blue Valentine, a movie driven by stunning, lived-in performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young married couple. In converging timelines, Valentine tracks both their initial courtship and the 48-hour period where it falls apart. The effect is no less emotionally brutal than a film like Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, as each happy memory of the past sweetens the pair's love story—while simultaneously making their falling out all the more devastating. Over a swelling score by Grizzly Bear, director Derek Cianfrance sets about autopsying Gosling and Williams' history, examining each cutting word and each loving gesture as if they were organs from the same body. DAVE BOW Fox Tower 10.
The Company Men
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Four Lions humanizes terrorism. Don't misunderstand: This is a very different statement than "Four Lions makes terrorism understandable and sympathetic." I mean to say that Four Lions does, in fact, humanize terrorism, by reminding the audience that human beings can be incomprehensibly dumb and clumsy animals. One has to be a special sort of idiot to think dressing in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume to suicide bomb a charity fun-run is going to win you any sort of heavenly reward, but this is the humanity Four Lions concerns itself with, and those are the sorts of terrorist plots incompetently employed, and these are the confused, chucklefucked faces of terrorism. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Gnomeo and Juliet
Some kids' movie about gnomes. Various Theaters.
A restored director's cut of the 1980 western. Hollywood Theatre.
Hood to Coast
A doc about the Hood to Coast run. Living Room Theaters.
A documentary from director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty) that "poses two practical and provocative questions: What's wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better?" Director in attendance; see next week's Mercury for our review. Clinton St. Theater.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey has always struck me as a precocious but needy child, one that so desperately craves love and attention that he's been contorting himself through his entire career, overacting his way into as many hearts as can possibly stand him. This time around, Carrey's hamming his way through a fact-based homosexual love story with a streak of black humor, courtesy of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (writers of Bad Santa). But whatever promise I Love You Phillip Morris holds is squandered by the end of its running time, as—like Carrey—the movie simply wears out its welcome. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to his beloved The Triplets of Belleville, based on a script for an un-produced live-action film that was written by Jacques Tati in 1956. The Illusionist follows the titular magician—aging, weary, facing obsolescence—and his companion, a young, wide-eyed woman named Alice, who jumps at the chance to escape her provincial existence, only to find that life in the city isn't all that she had hoped. Nearly free of dialogue and full of stunningly evocative visuals, The Illusionist is whimsical and bittersweet, gorgeous and melancholy. I hesitate to say too much about it, because its many charms—countless small moments of sadness and humor—sneak up on you, patient and subtle. ERIK HENRIKSEN Cinema 21.
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
The (sorta) true story of a simple teacher with a superhero's name who becomes a legitimate superhero. Ip Man (a stoic Donnie Yen) has fled to Hong Kong in the '50s after the events of 2008's Ip Man, in which he pretty much beat up all of Japan by himself. So now he tries to open a martial arts school, but his reputation is zilch, and nobody knows about his fighting style. He gets a few students, he butts a few heads (most notably rival master Sammo Hung Kam-bo's), and the formula bubbles along nicely. Then, about 60 minutes in, a thuggish British boxer is introduced, and Ip Man 2 becomes not only a straight-up sports film, but one of the most unapologetic pieces of propaganda since Rocky IV. The fights, overseen by Sammo Hung Kam-bo, are fucking phenomenal, but it's just as entertaining to watch director Wilson Yip take the easy, jingoistic drunk of Stallone's 1985 triumph and transform it into a tall can of Four Loko-fueled whoopass. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
Just Go with It
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Kings of Pastry
A doc about the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition, in which "16 of France's top pastry chefs compete for the ultimate accolade." It's like Hell's Kitchen for snobs! Living Room Theaters.
I'm not surprised that The Mechanic, the latest attempt to make Jason Statham a bankable action star, is doughy, lifeless glop, but why does it have to link itself to Michael Winner's 1972 Charles Bronson flick of the same name? Statham ain't Bronson, and director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) ain't Michael Winner. DAVE BOW Various Theaters.
Mel Blanc Project
A "crash course on the genius of Mel Blanc," put on by the Oregon Cartoon Institute in anticipation of "The Mel Blanc Project," a lecture, exhibition, performance, and education series beginning in May. More info: thewaypost.com. The Waypost.
No Strings Attached
No Strings Attached is a difficult film to address. Not because it brings any new or complicated issues or cinematic techniques to the table, and not because it challenges presumptions, or pushes boundaries—and not even because it's so laughably horrid, unfunny, and stupid that tearing it apart counts for sport. It's far worse than any of those things: No Strings Attached is so wholly mediocre that there's barely anything worth mentioning about it other than, "Ouch, Natalie. Your timing really sucks." MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
A Irish/Dutch drama starring Lotte Verbeek and Stephen Rea. Living Room Theaters.
What's this? A crappy-looking horror flick that wasn't screened for critics? Why, I never.... Various Theaters.
The Rose City Steampunk
A 10-hour-long fest designed to "recognize and celebrate motion pictures constructed around steampunk themes and achieving aesthetic heights of neo-Victorian retrofuturism." (Phew.) Final schedule not confirmed at press time; hit steampunkfilmpdx.com for more info. Clinton Street Theater.
Long ago, in the early days of digital 3D—we're talking aught-aught-nine here, maybe aught-aught-eight—the inimitable Brendan Fraser starred in Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, a Jules Verne-inspired romp that featured the charming Mr. Fraser tumbling into a hole alongside his slightly less charming son. Landing in a fantastical world of giant mushrooms and phosphorescent CG bullshit, Mr. Fraser bonded with his son as they built a raft, jumped on floating rocks, and fought a tyrannosaur. Also, because the film was in 3D, a whole bunch of dumb crap was always flying at the camera. The 3D in Sanctum, another underground father/son bonding flick, is less garish than that—I'm guessing producer James Cameron was kind enough to tell Sanctum's director, Alister Grierson, that not every single thing onscreen needs to be lewdly thrust into viewers' faces—but in every other capacity, Mr. Fraser's dorky Journey kicks Sanctum's ass. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Somewhere's scene-by-scene similarities to Lost in Translation support the popular view that Sofia Coppola is limited by her station—a filmmaker born into Hollywood royalty, and only fit for chronicling the non-problems of the spoiled rich. But that's an unimaginative, ungenerous interpretation: With Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and now Somewhere, Coppola's demonstrated an exceptional knack for revealing the hollow side of celebrity, and within Somewhere's narrow scope, she offers an informed illustration of the adage that you can't buy happiness. Aside from its boilerplate ending, Somewhere is patient, sweet, and revealing—and a breakout role for Elle Fanning, who single-handedly counters an entire film's worth of ennui. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
Every year—or at least every couple of years—the Coen brothers put out a movie, and every year—or at least every couple of years—said movie is one of the best in recent memory. True Grit is no exception. Funny, thrilling, and moving, True Grit is the sort of genre picture that reminds us why genres exist in the first place: When all the factory-made gears and pieces are accounted for, and when all of 'em are settled into place by inspired people who know what they're doing, the end result is a thing that clicks together, smooth and precise. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
You either have a soft spot for movies like Wild Target, or you don't. (My spot is over easy—pretty soft, in other words.) Wild Target is a whimsical Britcom, the kind of movie that might've been considered a black comedy back in the '80s but is really more of a charcoal gray—it's more sweetly quaint than anything else. It's about a career hitman named Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy, redefining brittle) who's never made time for anything other than his work. He lives with his mother (Eileen Atkins), he doesn't have any real friends, he's possibly gay—and he's just been given the toughest job of his career. Who knows: maybe he'll learn... to love? NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.