The latest from Takashi Miike is the definition of a slow burn: Front loaded with portent and exposition, 13 Assassins takes entirely too long to get moving, but once it does, Miike doesn't hold back. He might be trying to make a serious samurai epic, but what it seems like Miike really wants to do is assemble an epic—and epically badass—action flick that just so happens to feature a bunch of pissed-off samurais. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst Theater.
Bad Teacher's humor, while amusing, rarely executes anything more clever than simplistic immaturity, wherein any teacher who says "fuck" is inherently hilarious, and sexy ladies can effortlessly trick men while taking on fatties as abused sidekicks, because that's just how the world of cinema works. Throughout is the sense that a more clever—or at least a grimier—version of this film exists somewhere on a cutting-room floor, but Bad Teacher doesn't do much to inspire a search. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is approaching middle age, has no idea how to maintain a romantic relationship, and is reeling from the recent death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet only four years before dying of cancer at age 74. Writer/director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) based the insightful, funny, and moving Beginners on his experiences with his own father, and a personal sense of discovery pervades the film. Mills refrains from drawing any direct cause-and-effect correlations between Oliver's girl troubles and his parents' troubled relationship—there's no blame or judgment, only an honest search for understanding. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
A Better Life
When was the last time you saw a movie featuring virtually no white people? In A Better Life, the few Caucasians who make it onscreen at all are wearing either suits or uniforms. The film (which, oddly enough, is directed by Chris Weitz, best known for American Pie and Twilight: New Moon) is exclusively immersed in the Latino culture of Los Angeles, from high-school gangs to family-friendly rodeos to the undocumented workers who staff gardening crews and dish pits. In a nutshell, A Better Life is a movie about a Mexican immigrant, in the US illegally, who is the sole supporter of his teenaged son. The title is ironic. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Hollywood has traditionally done a terrible job representing female friendships, so much so that in the lexicon of cinematic relationships, "bromance" almost seems the most fitting term to describe the rapport between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). They make lewd jokes, get drunk together, and seem to actually enjoy one another's company—but when Lillian gets engaged, unstable Annie proves ill equipped to handle her maid-of-honor duties. She's soon locked in a jealous power struggle with gorgeous alpha-bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), and a love triangle of sorts emerges as Annie and Helen bitterly vie for Lillian's affection. But Bridesmaids is too smart to let girl-on-girl hostility win the day. In fact, the very concept of a "mean girl" is among the chick-flick tropes that Bridesmaids gives a good hard shake. Not every joke lands, but enough do, and the always-likeable Wiig—herself something of a perennial bridesmaid—proves fully capable of carrying a film. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Buck is Buck Brannaman, the real-life horse trainer who inspired Robert Redford's film The Horse Whisperer back in the late '90s. Director Cindy Meehl met him at one of the clinics he teaches, crisscrossing horse country to impart his philosophy. It's a touching transcendence of a childhood marred by physical abuse, and the result is an admiring portrait that should be required viewing for anyone working with horses. MARJORIE SKINNER Century Eastport 16, Hollywood Theatre.
Bullet Ballet: John Woo Hong Kong Action Double Feature
Two John Woo action classics starring Chow Yun-fat: 1989's The Killer, preceded by 1992's Hard Boiled. This is about as good as action cinema gets. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
The First Avenger
Plot points and storyline are secondary here (oh, don't act so shocked) as Captain America is just another entry in the great pantheon of moderately enjoyable comic book adaptations that can't hold a star-spangled shield to The Dark Knight, but it sure beats watching Ben Affleck in Daredevil. Now that would be un-American. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Various Theaters.
A messy mélange of spy flicks, Herbie the Love Bug race movies, and racing videogame bombast, Cars 2 plops a greasy little oil stain on Pixar's previously shiny name. This from a fan of 2006's Cars, a rather maligned and sweet little picture that never got the love it deserved. Pixar's newest is officially the redheaded stepchild in a family with impeccable breeding. Cars 2 is a product of the worst kind of group-think—a chop-shop jalopy vrooming all over the track with Larry the Cable Guy steering. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D
There's a scene in Werner Herzog's 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams when his guide through the Chauvet Caves instructs the touring party to stand still, be silent, and listen to the pure sound of life deep beneath the Earth. The silence is supposed to be so profound, a man can hear his own heartbeat. The moment ends up being profound for the viewer, as well. Check yourself. I bet you're holding your breath. Until their discovery in 1994, the Chauvet Caves had been buried for tens of thousands of years, their contents preserved as an important historical record of a time long past. Only a handful of scientists are allowed inside, and even they must stay on a walkway barely two feet wide. Herzog being allowed to film inside these caves is a tremendous thing; that he has done so in three dimensions means the rest of us get a virtual tour of this wondrous setting. JAMIE S. RICH Living Room Theaters.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Angry, hurt, self-critical, and exhausted—but still crazy smart and still crazy funny—the Conan O'Brien captured by director Rodman Flender's fly-on-the-wall camera is markedly different from the one we've gotten to know on TV. "I might be a fucking genius, or I might be the biggest dick ever. Or I might be both," O'Brien says, and evidence for all three options is presented: Here's Conan, excitedly, nervously pouring his talent and dedication into a stage show; here's Conan, being a total asshole to a surprised, confused Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock; here's Conan, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, seconds before they all go onstage, happily making up one of the show's comedy routines on the spot. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
An Evening with Todd Haynes
and Christine Vachon
Director Todd Haynes (Mildred Pierce, I'm Not There, Far from Heaven, Velvet Goldmine, and, lest we forget, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) and producer Christine Vachon discuss their partnership and film production. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Everything Must Go
Writer/director Dan Rush's debut feature—based on a sliver of a short story by Raymond Carver called "Why Don't You Dance?", which is so minimal it could almost be considered flash fiction—is clear, concrete evidence of Will Ferrell's remarkable ability as an actor when he doesn't have a silly costume or bushy mustache to hide behind. NED LANNAMANN Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater.
Documentarian Kristin Canty admits her bias up front: She became interested in farm issues after raw milk cured her young son's allergies. This accounts for Farmageddon's somewhat unexpected focus on the politics of milk. Mainly, Canty provides a podium for some small farmers who have foul of the USDA's convoluted regulations. Farmageddon isn't the most artful or hard hitting of the food docs out there—but to its considerable credit, it is one of the most humanizing, highlighting some of the institutional obstacles faced by small farmers in the uphill battle to provide clean, sustainable food sources. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
This outrageously dated comedy from 1933 stars Ruth Chatterton as a head of a large corporation who seduces lovers and then instantly tosses them aside—in other words, she's JUST LIKE A MAN. She merrily plows along until she meets a fellow who's able to resist her charms. Of course, she subsequently falls to pieces before determining the only way to win him over is by becoming a docile, subservient woman. The last 10 minutes are among the most cheerfully offensive ever committed to film. NED LANNAMANN Hotel Deluxe.
Filmusik: The Grand Duel
The '72 spaghetti Western starring Lee motherfuckin' Van Cleef. Live score provided by Federale. Hollywood Theatre.
The First Beautiful Thing
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 Living Room Theaters.
Friends with Benefits
riends with Benefits sure makes a big deal about avoiding the stereotypes of your average rom-com. But for all it doth protest, Benefits follows the familiar arc of the genre, to a serviceable but middling effect. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are two friends who decide to sleep together without any of the emotional drama, which leads to a fallout, which leads to them overcoming their longstanding emotional hang-ups, which leads to a happily-ever-after lovey-dovey conclusionit's hardly groundbreaking stuff. Kunis and Timberlake are likeably goofy, but the script is just too unremarkable, and most of the humor feels forced and random. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Green Lantern has looked pretty goddamned dumb in every trailer and TV ad. That was no misrepresentation; no confused, bumbling media machine improperly selling their sci-fi epic. Green Lantern is exactly the giant-size lump of glowing green stupid it's always appeared to be. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Academy Theater, Bagdad Theater, Century Eastport 16, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows: Part II
The Deathly Hallows: Part I was a slow-burner that focused on feelings and character development over action. It's a great movie in its own right, and it solidly grounds what we've all been waiting for in Part II: The Battle of Hogwarts, the final showdown of Harry and his friends against the assembled forces of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It's the climax the whole series has been leading up to, and it's just as thrilling, imaginative, and emotionally gripping as it should be. Just as important, though, is that amid all the wand-fights and Giant battles, there are moments of sweetness, humor, and genuine tragedy—and, of course, the long-awaited make-out scene between Hermione and Ron. FINALLY. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Spencer Susser's film provides a rare, real look at what it's like to live in a boring town with crappy public schools, indifferent teachers, and bullies rampaging unchecked through the halls. TJ (Devin Brochu) is a sad, scrappy kid; his mom recently died, and his dad (a bearded Rainn Wilson) is still mourning, consoling himself with an aggressive pill habit. Enter Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the school fuck-up and a note-perfect representation of those scarily reckless small-town kids with nothing better to do than get wasted and break things. Hesher takes up uninvited residence in TJ's house and introduces an element of callow, reckless fun to the still-grieving household. But while Hesher-the-character refuses to play by the rules, Hesher-the-movie is dutiful in its adherence to a predictably redemptive indie storyline. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.
Three men (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) concoct a plot to off their bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Ferrell, and Jennifer Aniston). R-rated comedy and bumbling criminal hijinks ensue. Am I compelled by feminism to note that there's not a single appealing female character in the thing? Yes, I am. Could I extend that critique to apply to Day's complaints about how Aniston is a "raper"? Yes, I suppose I could, if I hadn't been laughing at them. These guys are terrified of women, black people, and—based on the frequency of prison rape jokes—gays, but the thing is: They kinda should be. The days of the white man's unchallenged cultural supremacy are over, and if that anxiety underlies the film, it also provides a reasonable context for many of its jokes—jokes delivered with offbeat intelligence and charm by Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
I Am Secretly An Important Man
By the time Steven "Jesse" Bernstein arrived in Seattle in 1967, he'd survived childhood polio, been in and out of mental institutions, run away from home, caught a ride on Ken Kesey's magic bus to San Francisco, appeared in porno films, and started doing heroin. Poetry was the next obvious move. A stripper published Bernstein's first chapbook in 1978; he recorded a poem for the scene-cementing Sub Pop 200 compilation in 1988; by 1991, he was dead by his own hand. Here, director Peter Sillen cuts seamlessly from archival material—color-saturated footage of Bernstein ambling down his fire escape—to grayer, present-day Seattle, as Bernstein recites poetry over Steve Fisk's jazz loops or those who knew the poet speak about him in voice-over. Interviews with contemporaries such as Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop, Slim Moon of Kill Rock Stars, as well as Bernstein's family and friends, range from the requisite mythmaking (he was the "godfather of grunge," "a real outsider") to stranger moments: an ex talking about the seizures he suffered says the doctors thought Bernstein's brain was too big for his skull, his two grown sons playing a marimba together. But the film is at its best when Bernstein is on-screen or at least audible, his snarling, nasal monotone and acerbic verse as naggingly charismatic as it must have been then. ERIC GRANDY Clinton Street Theater.
If a Tree Falls: A Story of
the Earth Liberation Front
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a surprisingly even-toned documentary that charts the brief, brilliant flash of one of the organization's lonely cell. Denis C Therault. Cinema 21.
Tom Hanks co-wrote, directed, and stars as Larry Crowne, a recently divorced Navy vet who gets canned from his megastore job because he lacks the education to rise in the company. Determined to never be left in the wind again, Larry goes to community college. He takes classes in economics and public speaking and develops a crush on the cynical speech teacher, Mercedes (Julia Roberts). With a new style and his natural charm, there ain't no stoppin' Larry! The smiles are brief and schmaltzy, sure, but there are still plenty of them. JAMIE S. RICH Bridgeport Village Stadium 18, Hilltop 9, Tigard 11 Cinemas.
The Light Thief
A neighborhood man attempts to thwart greedy developers in this "allegory about post-Soviet realities and the difficult path to democracy." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A Little Help
The good things in A Little Help don't outweigh the bad, although it's not due to The Office's Jenna Fischer, who turns in a performance that wrings a believable, fleshed-out character from writer/director Michael J. Weithorn's squishy script. But everything else in the movie is such a caricature of a caricature that A Little Help starts to feel like you're trapped in the middle of the worst kind of family argument—less a movie than 100 minutes of people screeching at each other as Jakob Dylan croons sensitively on the soundtrack. NED LANNAMANN Fox Tower 10.
Given pioneers' near-mythological status, it's easy to forget that it would've sucked to be one of 'em. Sure, adorable li'l Laura Ingalls Wilder might have bonded with her loving family as they built a little house on the prairie, but also... y'know... DONNER PARTY. That frontier life of unrelenting suckitude is excruciatingly well rendered in Meek's Cutoff, the latest from director Kelly Reichardt and writer Jon Raymond, the duo responsible for two other Oregon-set dramas, 2006's excellent Old Joy and 2008's mope-tacular Wendy and Lucy. Here, Reichardt and Raymond tell the harrowing tale of several pioneers—including Solomon and Emily Tetherow (Will Patton and a great Michelle Williams)—who're lost on the unforgiving Oregon Trail. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater.
Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris is a lightweight fantasy, sure, but it's nothing less than a shocking return to form for Woody Allen, who's pulled himself out of his recent slump of truly awful movies by revisiting the magical whimsy that worked so well in The Purple Rose of Cairo. (That's the one where Jeff Daniels climbs off the movie screen to romance Mia Farrow.) Allen's back in control here, stirring fantasy and reality into something that—despite the film's muddled logic and complete disregard for historical fact—is both comic and winningly romantic. While far from flawless, this is one of the most purely enjoyable films Allen's ever made. NED LANNAMANN Bridgeport Village Stadium 18, Forest Theatre, Fox Tower 10.
Todd Haynes' HBO miniseries, presented in one night with one intermission. Mercury Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey calls it "Not unlikeable!" Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
There's little doubt that the Wales-born, Oxford-educated Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans)—who, after a brief stint as a teacher, went full-on into drug smuggling, eventually controlling mind-boggling amounts of hashish—is a pretty great subject for a biopic. If Mr. Nice has a problem, it's that of most biopics: Real lives don't have narrative arcs, and largely play out as a series of repetitive incidents, some of which go places and some of which don't. There are ups, and downs, and more ups and downs, until it all peters out in a blur of smoke and cash and sex and panic. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
The Odessa File
The 1974 thriller starring Jon "Gone Batshit" Voight. Laurelhurst Theater.
Passione: A Musical Adventure
John Turturro's documentary is basically a series of music videos broken up with loose narration, taking its audience through the long musical tradition of Naples, Italy. The music is very Italian (dramatic, lusty), and it's a bit much if that's not your bag, but the scenery (dancing girls included) will make you want to catch the next plane there. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
A documentary about Nim Chimpsky (ba-dum-bum-ching), a chimpanzee who was raised by scientists and taught sign language. Makes for an excellent double feature with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes; not screened for critics. Fox Tower 10.
The Northwest Film Center and the Pacific Northwest College of Art present work from "artists who push animation beyond traditional conventions and into the intersection with visual art experimentation." Like Family Guy! Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Portland chapter of the Association International du Film d'Animation presents "new and recent works" from Jim Blashfield, Marilyn Zornado, and Joan Gratz. Cinema 21.
Like most J.J. Abrams stuff, Super 8 works better the less you know, but here: A charming gang of nerdy kids—on summer vacation, filming an 8mm zombie movie—witnesses, at jarringly close range, a massive train crash. Onboard? Top-secret Air Force cargo. Soon, microwaves and dogs are going missing, something's making weird noises in the woods, and the kids' steel mill town is taken over by armed airmen. For Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney)—who's already dealing with the death of his mother, a gruff dad (Kyle Chandler), and a crush on a classmate (Elle Fanning)—the mystery's too much to resist. It's hard not to point out Super 8's gears and pulleys: It's like if The Sandlot met E.T., or Freaks and Geeks met Close Encounters. But what's remarkable isn't just how well Abrams pulls off those honest Spielbergian touches—tense families, cluttered dining rooms, kids not just riding bikes but riding bikes with purpose—but how effective those decades-old details still are. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Super Skate Summer
Three days' worth of skateboard porn, including 1997's Fucktards and special guests presenting their favorite clips from skate videos. More info: hollywoodtheatre.org. Hollywood Theatre.
It's like my dear old mum used to say: "Hollywood knows videogames like a monkey knows how to use a camcorder." EARNEST "NEX" CAVALLI Various Theaters.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a mess. He's overweight. He's unpopular. He wears pajamas to school. He's constantly late to class, meaning that he's sent to the vice principal's office so frequently that the vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), schedules the kid for weekly meetings. This all sounds like fodder for your standard Hallmark-y teacher-student flick, but Terri is a little too strange a movie, and a little too intensely personal, to fit into a formula. If at times it plays like a quirky comedy without any actual laughs, it's also grounded in an unvarnished honesty about human nature that many movies don't dare examine. Yes, it's about feelings and loneliness and all that crap, but Terri's never a bummer and, more importantly, it's never sentimental. NED LANNAMANN Fox Tower 10.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
In addition to robots punching each other—and jesus christ, there are so many robots punching each other—Michael Bay's latest Transformers contains a great many things: a computer-generated JFK. John Malkovich saying stuff like "WTF to that!" Gremlin robots. Pepto-Bismol product placement. Mt. Kilimanjaro. A gremlin robot riding a dog. Helpful subtitles that let you know where the action is taking place, e.g., "The Middle East: Illegal Nuclear Site." Dr. McDreamy. Community's Ken Jeong as a Deep Throat-like informant, "Deep Wang." A Tommy Boy reference. Spurts and splashes of robot blood. (Is it made of oil? Antifreeze? Fanboy tears?) A soulful montage set to Linkin Park. John Turturro informing Frances McDormand that her "booty looks excellenté." Doddering American hero Buzz Aldrin—the real Buzz Aldrin—looking vaguely confused as he addresses the alien robo-warrior Optimus Prime. "From a fellow space traveler, it's a true honor," Aldrin says. "The honor," Optimus replies with gravelly gravitas, "is mine." ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Tree of Life
With The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's created a film that embodies the best and worst of his tendencies. I'd tell you what it's about, but it's kind of about everything: Cosmic and daring and intimate and insightful, it straddles, dodders, and occasionally trips along the thin black line between glorious success and well-intentioned failure. It ranges from dourly introspective familial drama to life-and-death struggles between dinosaurs, spanning eons and species and the tiny distances between people. Sometimes it works, beautifully and boldly and with Old Testament-style grandeur; sometimes it feels like a deleted scene from Jurassic Park. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
In 2005'S Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played fictionalized versions of themselves. They're reunited, along with director Michael Winterbottom, for The Trip, a six-episode BBC series that's been edited into a two-hour feature for American audiences. It's an odd duck of a movie, and an episodic and generally plotless one, with heavy reliance on improvised scenes between Coogan and Brydon. It helps that the two are both scaldingly hilarious, but one wonders why Winterbottom, always a fearless and provocative director, made the concession to cobble the TV series into a feature—especially during the DVD age, when American audiences are able to appreciate British programs (programmes?) like The Office and Doctor Who in full. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
It's easy to make comparisons of the Norwegian fake-documentary horror-thriller Trollhunter to other fake-documentary horror-thrillers like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. A more apt comparison, though, would be the recent Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, in which Santa Claus was revealed to be a menacing ogre. That movie balanced the comedic and creepy elements of familiar children's stories; Trollhunter similarly plunders a well-worn mythology—trolls are even more common in Scandinavian folktales than they are in our own—and the result is an action-packed monster movie that's entirely silly and wholly suspenseful. NED LANNAMANN Hollywood Theatre.
"Benjamin is nobody's friend. If Benjamin were an ice cream flavor, he'd be pralines and dick." Academy Theater.
High-school wrestling might be the un-prettiest sport yet devised by humans, a competition in which pasty adolescent boys, bedecked in unflattering singlets, grapple one another while rolling around a gymnasium floor. Win Win doesn't shy away from this distinctly ugly truth. Director Thomas McCarthy's (The Station Agent) film depicts high-school wrestling in all its painful, gangly, bepimpled awkwardness, and the surprising result is one of the best sports movies in recent years. Of course, Win Win isn't exclusively a "sports movie": There's a bunch of family drama centered around the team's star wrestler, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), but it's one of the film's many strengths that it neatly avoids the sulking and brooding of your typical adolescent-in-trouble flicks. NED LANNAMANN Laurelhurst Theater.
Winnie the Pooh
The cartoon equivalent of a rock reunion tour: The old band is back together, and they seem familiar, but it's the kind of hollow cash-in that pleases the merchandisers while fans wonder what dimmed the spark of what they once held so dear. JAMIE S. RICH Various Theaters.
!Women Art Revolution
A doc focusing on the history of the feminist art movement, which began in the 1960s as a response to a white male-dominated art world, and continues today... in response to a white male-dominated art world. Filmmaker Lynn Hershman-Leeson (herself an artist who was involved in the movement) covers a lot of artists over a lot of years—in fact, so many women are interviewed here, at various points during their careers, that it's nearly impossible to keep track of who's who. But the interviews themselves are fascinating, and the archival images and footage Hershman-Leeson showcases remain vibrant, provocative, and challenging. It's a surface-level exploration of an enormous subject; here's hoping it inspires future filmmakers to take a deeper look. ALISON HALLETT Fifth Avenue Cinema.