PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Below are reviews and current showtimes for selected films from the 35th Portland International Film Festival, which runs through Saturday, February 25; for more info, see "The Young Ones" [Film, Feb 9]. Not all films were screened for critics; for updated showtimes and a complete list of films, go to nwfilm.org.
Corpo Celeste (Italy)
Like going to church? Enjoy staring at piles of garbage, or watching preparations for a young girl's confirmation in the Catholic Church? How do you feel about claustrophobic close-ups and shaky camera shots? If you're anything like me, Corpo Celeste—an Italian film by first-time director Alice Rohrwacher—will bore you to tears while slowly exploring all these "arthouse" affectations. It does have gentle moments, but it's too much angsty work to get to them, all glazed over with Catholic pomp and coming-of-age tropes. COURTNEY FERGUSON Sat Feb 25, 6 pm, Cinema 21
A documentary about a nearly abandoned town in Death Valley, California, with exactly 35 inhabitants. This quiet portrait offers beautiful shots, tragic background stories, and some genuinely funny moments in a town that won't exist in 50 years. CLARE GORDON Sat Feb 25, 1 pm, Cinema 21
Unlikable pair Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) traverse the awkward introductions of a blacked-out one-night stand. Oh wait: There's a flying saucer hanging above Madrid! Oh shit! Julia's boyfriend is home! Director Nacho Vigalondo may already be known to you from his debut Time Crimes; here, he delivers a clever romantic comedy, but be warned it's 100 percent romcom and zero percent alien flick. SUZETTE SMITH Fri Feb 24, 8:45 pm, Sat Feb 25, 6 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Invasion of the Alien Bikini (South Korea)
Too bad Invasion of the Alien Bikini is nowhere near as fun as its title. Sure, it's a goofy little picture, full of martial arts fights, feather dusters up bumholes, and the longest trying-like-hell-to-be-erotic game of Jenga ever. But a hot chick in her underwear does not fun make. [VEHEMENT DISAGREEMENT.—Erik Henriksen, Mercury Senior Editor] A dorky dude plays vigilante crime fighter, rescuing a young woman from attackers, only to have her try to seduce him for his sperm. (She's an ovulating alien, see.) But the chaste dude really, really doesn't want to give it up, until he eventually beats her to a bloody pulp and corpse rapes her. Ah, romance. COURTNEY FERGUSON Sat Feb 25, 11:30 pm, Cinema 21
Kill List (Great Britain)
A shell-shocked hitman accepts a lucrative trio of contracts, only to learn that he really should have checked the fine print first. (Most reputable businessmen don't require a signature in blood, even in this day and age.) Writer/director Ben Wheatley overcomes a pokey start to deliver a genuinely unnerving genre mash-up, combining some showily grody splatter scenes with an unnerving supernatural miasma. While the director's influences may be easy to spot, the unsettling way he mixes them together definitely marks him as someone to watch. If the mind-F ending means what I think it does, bump it up another 10 points. ANDREW WRIGHT Fri Feb 24, 11:30 pm, Cinema 21
Justin Kurzel's nightmare-inducing dramatization of the real-life Snowtown murders carried out during the 1990s in South Australia. It's told from the point of view of 16-year-old sad-case Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway), who was unlucky enough to be born into a family plagued by poverty and abuse, and unluckier still to eventually find a father figure in charismatic, hate-filled psychopath John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), whose acts of murder and torture earned him a reputation as Australia's worst serial killer. Too desperately horrible to recommend without caveat, Snowtown is beautifully and relatively tastefully executed: If you've the stomach and inclination for grisly true crime featuring Saw-worthy acts of violence and a Drive-y soundtrack of ominous pulses, have at. It's an exquisitely grotesque gut punch. MARJORIE SKINNER Fri Feb 24, 6:30 pm, Lloyd Mall; Sat Feb 25, 8:30 pm, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Toll Booth (Turkey)
Another film about a serious man slowly disintegrating. Clever camera work and a pitch-perfect soundtrack help make up for what's otherwise an extremely minimalist story. Essentially the Turkish version of Drive, but instead of a nice car, our ostensible hero, Kenan (Serkan Ercan) spends his time in a tollbooth. And instead of doing crimes he... works in a tollbooth. There's a similar flat affect, though, and some nihilistic undertones, and Ercan even kinda looks like a middle-aged, mustachioed Ryan Gosling. There's also a pair of beautiful women in orbit trying to sort this guy out, but don't hold your breath on that. BEN COLEMAN Sat Feb 25, 3:30 pm, Lloyd Mall
Act of Valor
The Mercury wasn't invited to this press screening. Which was kind of okay with us because it just looks like war porn. Various Theaters.
The African Queen
"One thing in the world I hate: leeches. Filthy little devils." Laurelhurst Theater.
Michel Hazanavicius likes trying on different eras for size. Known primarily for OSS 117, his cheeky parody of 1960s spy movies, the French director's gotten more serious, and consequently more charming, with his latest. The Artist is the story of a silent film actor in decline, told as an actual silent film. It sounds gimmicky, and sort of is, but the sincerity of the delivery and the attention to detail make for a winning re-creation of a bygone age. JAMIE S. RICH Various Theaters.
Arguably one of the finest motion pictures ever made, Battle Royale tells the story of an adorable group of Japanese ninth-graders who are sent to an island and forced to kill each other. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
The line between "kids being kids" and "kids being reprehensible little monsters" provides the ostensible source of conflict in Roman Polanski's dark ensemble comedy Carnage, but the real issues at stake go much deeper: What happens when agreed-upon social boundaries are transgressed? How about when we realize we never agreed on any boundaries in the first place? Carnage's conversation between four adults begins politely enough, and ends with drunkenness, shouting, vomit, and accusations of hamstercide. None of these characters come out unscathed, and determining which among them is the most despicable is something of an audience Rorschach test. ALISON HALLETT Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
The 1958 Elizabeth Taylor film, screened on what would have been the actress' 80th birthday and hosted by her granddaughter. Proceeds to to the Cascade AIDS Project and da Vinci Arts Middle School. Hollywood Theatre.
The X-Men are great and all, but let's not fool ourselves: If real teenagers had superpowers, they'd be pretty goddamn insufferable. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters would be a crappy public high school, everyone would have iPhones and video cameras instead of X-Jets and Cerebros, and the superkids themselves would be super annoying. This is what Chronicle is about, and it's about as shrug inducing as it sounds. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Clerks & Clerks II
"What kind of convenience store do you run here?" Swift Lounge.
Declaration of War
A film that flirts, at moments, with the idea of becoming a musical in its overly melodramatic but ultimately triumphant portrait of an attractive, hip young couple's fight against their baby's life-threatening illness. Directed by Frenchwoman Valérie Donzelli, it cuts close to the skin with dashes of wit, heartbreak, resolve, and cathartic destruction. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
There are, perhaps, more identifiable figures in contemporary cinema than the members of an exceedingly rich family who are about to become even richer. The Descendants is about the Kings, a well-off Hawaiian family that's about to sell a huge chunk of unspoiled paradise to a developer. More specifically, it's about Matt King (George Clooney), the patriarch upon whose shoulders that decision rests—and also a man whose wife is in a potentially deadly coma, whose rebellious teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) is less than impressed with his parenting, and whose life seems to be slipping from his grasp with every moment. There is, on the surface, a lot that's great about The Descendants—beginning with Clooney and Woodley's fantastic performances—but below that surface, there isn't much. ERIK HENRIKSEN Century Clackamas Town Center, Forest Theatre.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Do you want to see Ghost Rider pee fire? If your answer is any variation on a word that is not "yes," then you probably shouldn't see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Sure, there's a bunch of other stuff: A puffy, sweaty Nicolas Cage mugging for the camera, a big piece of fiery earth-moving equipment, some prophetical nonsense about the son of Satan. But whatever. Flaming ghost urine. That's all you really need to know. Also, Anthony Stewart Head shows up for about five minutes, collects a paycheck, and dies. Despite that, he manages to give the best performance in the whole damn show. Could someone please put Giles in a good movie? He deserves better than death and demon pee. JOE STRECKERT Various Theaters.
A not-screened-for-critics thriller starring Amanda Seyfried. Various Theaters.
Tyler Perry's latest, which, according to long-held Tyler Perry tradition, was not shown to critics. Various Theaters.
When it comes to action movies, there's a thin, sinewy line between awesome and ridiculous, with the deciding factor often being the filmmaker's refusal to blink. The Grey, the latest contribution to the halls of gonad cinema from director Joe Carnahan, is a brawny, often majestic survivalist saga that can't quite work up the resolve to let its images drive the story. Although the primal force of its central conflict is something to behold—when it's cooking, it's the most compelling man vs. nature movie since William Friedkin's Sorcerer—it ultimately ends up feeling rather self-conscious about its own two-fisted bleakness. ANDREW WRIGHT City Center 12, Regal Division Street, Forest Theatre.
Have You Ever Had a Beard
A documentary featuring singer/songwriter Calvin Johnson and writer Chris Estey Directors in attendance; film followed by performance from Johnson. Hollywood Theatre.
See My, What a Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.
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 Pix Patisserie (North).
In the Mirror of Maya Deren
Martina Kudlacek's documentary about avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren. Fifth Avenue Cinema.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
The Rock takes over for Brendan Fraser and explores... a mysterious island! Alas, the 11-year-old who was assigned to review this for us double booked with his soccer game :( Various Theaters.
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's film is named for the French coastal town in which it's set—a place where huge metal containers pass through on their way to somewhere else. One such container is full of African refugees, and when the door is cracked, a young boy (Blondin Miguel) makes a run for it. Stranded, he ends up hiding with Marcel (André Wilms), a harmless scoundrel known for his love of the vino. It's blandly enjoyable, but Le Havre is just old-school Hollywood cheese filtered through a semi-ironic lens. JAMIE S. RICH Living Room Theaters.
On the Ice
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
For whatever reason, the Oscar nominated animated shorts are always about a million times more fun than those in the live-action category. That's certainly the case this year—the creativity and energy on display in the animated shorts is largely absent from any film that includes real people in actual locations. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
An early scene in Pina 3D depicts a pack of men and women in sheer negligees, confined to a square plot of soil in a blackened studio. They're performing one of the most notorious pieces in dance history, Le Sacre du Printemps. Sacre's premiere, in 1913 Paris, caused riots; the work's "primitive" dance, sacrificial theme, and Stravinsky's dissonant score came as a shock to classical aesthetics. This reference point of astonishment and innovation is threaded throughout Pina 3D, a hypnotizing, impactful, and pioneering meditation—and the culmination of a longstanding friendship between director Wim Wenders and prominent dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. JENNA LECHNER Living Room Theaters.
A documentary about the history of musical genres, featuring "five of the most influential electronic producers/DJ's in music today." Cinema 21.
Nothing surprising happens in the Ryan Reynolds/Denzel Washington vehicle Safe House; from its opening shot, every scene progresses exactly as you expect, and then it keeps going for what feels like 50 hours, and then Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" rolls over its end credits. That's a mean, churning song; in any given snippet, it contains more life than anything or anyone in Safe House. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Forget the '92 BBC miniseries The Borrowers, or John Goodman's '97 adaptation (if you haven't already) of Mary Norton's classic children's book. Studio Ghibli presents a quietly compelling anime version of the story, written by Spirited Away's Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The film masterfully demonstrates the worldview of the borrowers by rapid pullback shots, their small stature fully realized when Arrietty's mother gets trapped in a jar and is unable to escape. It's also filled with special little details—like when Arrietty uses a leaf as an umbrella and flies through the yard trying to avoid an entanglement with a grasshopper—and loud, comical, emotional outbursts by Arrietty's worrisome mother and the cunning housekeeper. Despite the inherent dangers of Arrietty's world, the landscapes look slightly like an impressionistic painting, and the wind is always whistling through the trees. AMY SCOTT Various Theaters.
It's awkward, being a sex addict. There's the possibility that your boss might discover all the porn you've got on your hard drive, or your sister might walk in on you while you're masturbating, or someone might casually open your laptop only to be propositioned by a topless girl on a webcam. In Shame, sex junkie Brandon (Michael Fassbender) runs into all of these difficulties, in between meaningless trysts with women he meets at bars and women he pays for. There's not much pleasure in watching Brandon hit rock bottom, but it's to the credit of both Fassbender and director Steve McQueen that Brandon is a complex and almost wholly sympathetic character even when behaving reprehensibly. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.
In the apparently inexhaustible supply of niche documentary subjects—the spelling bee dweebs of Spellbound, the drag queen sci-fi folk singer of Trekkies—the Papua New Guinean surfers of Splinters might be the niche-iest of them all. Sometime in the 1980s, the story goes, a visiting white pilot left a surfboard in Vanimo, one of the remote villages in the already-remote country of Papua New Guinea. Ever since, surfing's been a growing part of life in Vanimo; as Splinters begins, the village is preparing to host Papua New Guinea's inaugural national surfing competition. While it's too scattered to examine any one of its elements in depth—sometimes the film feels like a documentary about Papua New Guinean life that's interrupted by hippie surfing montages, at others it feels like a surf video interspersed with jarring glimpses of day-to-day life in Papua New Guinea—Splinters captures enough of these disparate but related elements that it's continually interesting. ERIK HENRIKSEN Clinton Street Theater.
Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace 3D
Hey-doo, movie peoples! Yousa lika three dees, meesa thinks! And biggo three dees coming to yousa galaxy deesa weekendo! Ooo, Star Warsie: Epideppie I—Da Phantom Menace Three Dees deesa besto Star Warsie! My best friend Annie inna de podrace! Meesa friend Padmé wearen lotso dress! Boss Nass goesen "hublblhblbh" twosen timen, heesa so funny! Almost as funny as when my step in icky-icky goo poodoo, and a spacehorse maken big fluff on my head! Star Warsie: Epideppie I wassa not screeno for criticsie, but yousa taka meesa word for it! JAR JAR BINKS Various Theaters.
This Means War
Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are super-spy best friends whose super-spy job involves suitcases full of money, helicopters, and shooting men with sinister accents. They both fall in love with the single most fuckable woman in all of Los Angeles: Reese Witherspoon! (Go ahead, take a minute to suspend as much belief as you need to in order to imagine Reese Witherspoon in that capacity. I'll wait.) The role of Reese Witherspoon is played by a blonde wig and a set of chattering wind-up teeth. The role of Chris Pine is played by an anatomically correct Ken doll (batkatcreations.com/maledolls.html). The role of Tom Hardy is played by a corporeal manifestation of the combined masturbatory fantasies of closeted British rugby fans and middle-aged American women who secretly worry they've never had a really good orgasm. The role of Reese's salty best friend, Chelsea Handler, is played by the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Spying is, by definition, a tight-lipped profession. This partially accounts for the surprising restraint of director Tomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a new adaptation of John le Carré's classic Cold War espionage novel. But credit must be given to Alfredson, too, and the film's writing team, for trusting their audience's willingness to sit still and pay attention. Despite its innately thrilling subject matter (Globetrotting spies! Soviet moles!), Tinker is an assured, thoughtfully paced movie, slow to reveal its secrets. Of course, secrets become even more irresistible in the presence of actors like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch—and a perfectly cast Gary Oldman as the mild-mannered George Smiley, le Carré's most enduring hero. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
See My, What a Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.
A comedy starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. We didn't bother sending a critic. Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have made a film that's difficult to classify: It's either a comedy with no laughs, a drama with no character movement, or a social critique with no insight. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.