The 11th Hour
We're all royally screwed. It's going to take an environmental disaster of biblical proportions to change our wasteful ways. And by then? It'll be too late. I suppose that's not the message I was supposed to take away from The 11th Hour, Leonardo DiCaprio's foray into Important Documentary Filmmaking. As producer and narrator, DiCaprio—along with a great cast of experts—attempts to fill viewers with the hope that, if we all just work together, we can stop global warming, keep poisonous chemicals out of the oceans, etc. But The 11th Hour's insistence that daring scientists and emerging technologies will solve our environmental problems could have a very negative effect: It takes the responsibility for change away from us everyday schmoes, the very people to blame for the planet's problems. SCOTT MOORE Fox Tower 10.
2 Days in Paris
Romantic comedies have become so routine, so processed, so horribly unfunny, that Julie Delpy's hilarious and astute 2 Days in Paris carries a jolt of surprise. The movie follows Franco-American couple Marion (Delpy, the most unaffected of pretty French actresses) and Jack (Adam Goldberg, in a major comic performance) on a stopover in Marion's hometown. Writer/director Delpy, finding cores of truth in clichés about Ugly Americans and temperamental Frenchies, writes dialogue that's a delirious blend of bawdy French farce and Woody Allen-ish neuroses. As for she and Goldberg, they just might be the prickliest, most luscious screen couple we've had in ages. Delpy has made something rare: a romantic comedy that feels spontaneous and handcrafted, rather than shat out by a studio and a couple of stars. JON FROSCH Fox Tower 10.
3:10 to Yuma
Director James Mangold's last film was the Johnny Cash tribute Walk the Line, a perfectly serviceable entry into the genre of the cheesy biopic, and one that handily accomplished its twin goals of (A) tugging on heartstrings, and (B) snagging an Oscar or two. Walk the Line wasn't anything extraordinary, but it worked out just fine, I guess; likewise, Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. It just sets out to be a decent enough Western, and it pretty much succeeds. Based on Elmore Leonard's short story, 3:10 features an impressive cast (Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), some gorgeous New Mexico scenery, and a veritable checklist of Western standards/clichés: mopey and leather-faced men, dusty shootouts, a bloody holdup. And that's about it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Balls of Fury
A ping-pong comedy with a genital pun for a title? A no-name protagonist (Dan Fogler) who manages to be both unlikable and heroically unfunny? A squandered Christopher Walken guest-spot? There's got to be something nice to say about this movie, hasn't there? But as much as I would like to be charitable, the only thing Balls of Fury's 90 laugh-less minutes really has going for it is its merciful brevity. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
Based on the early life of Jane Austen, this charming, inoffensive little movie stars a surprisingly likeable Anne Hathaway as the headstrong young Austen. The film's highlight, though, is hottie James McAvoy, who is perfectly cast as Tom Lefroy (Austen's love interest and the inspiration for everyone's favorite literary crush, Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy). ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The Brave One
See review. Various Theaters.
The Brothers Solomon
So yeah, The Brothers Solomon is pretty much Knocked Up for dumb people. The plot's more or less the same (a smart, cute lady gets impregnated by a doofus—or, in this case, doofi, played by SNL's Will Forte and Arrested Development's hilarious Will Arnett), but the cast is less likeable and the filmmaking is sloppier. Make no mistake: If you're wondering if buying a ticket for The Brothers Solomon could be classified as "a good way to spend eight dollars," the answer is "no," or possibly "No!" and I urge you to consider what else you could do with that sweet, sweet cash: Patronize your local liquor store! Buy a peck on the cheek from an affable hooker! Purchase an incredibly small amount of cocaine! Or just light a five and three ones on fire and pretend, for a few brief but joyous seconds, that you're a devil-may-care billionaire who can burn money whenever you goddamn well feel like it! However! If you can use your ninja skillz to outwit the bored, acne-pickin' teenagers who're currently staffing your local Regal Cinemas, go on ahead and sneak into The Brothers Solomon after you see something that is worth eight bucks—because while it's hardly as good as eight dollars' worth of cocaine, the movie's occasionally funny enough to make it worth sitting through. As long as it's for free. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
Dance Party, USA
According to the press materials included with director Aaron Katz's Dance Party, USA, there is a movement called "mumblecore" that's sweeping the indie film world. An article in Filmmaker Magazine claims these films (which also include last year's The Puffy Chair) "revolve around the crisis of self-definition," and are "severely naturalistic portraits of the life and loves of artistic twentysomethings." Perhaps the ugly, shaky camera work, insufferably slow pacing, and terrible audio quality in Dance Party (and to a lesser extent, The Puffy Chair) is part of a planned, "naturalistic" aesthetic... or perhaps it's a handy excuse for lazy filmmaking. Either way, Dance Party shows flickers of potential, in Katz's ear for subtle dialogue and in the unhurried conversational rhythm of its leads, Anna Kavan and Cole Pennsinger. But its overlong, self-important tale of kids doing stupid shit while drunk then talking about it also looks, sounds, and feels like the final project in a high school film class. Alas it is not, else some teacher might have been there to say, "Good start, kids. Now go make something worth showing to people." See film short for Quiet City. JUSTIN SANDERS Hollywood Theatre.
Death at a Funeral
Imagine, if you will, a seven-year-old child who's been educated exclusively by DARE officers and otherwise confined to a tiny closet with a pit toilet and a TV on which two awful BBC sitcoms are playing on a continuous loop. Such is the stunted mind (belonging to writer Dean Craig) that conceived Death at a Funeral, a puerile, scatological farce in which the most memorable characters include (a) a man who ingests a pill that looks like Valium but causes him to pull all kinds of funny faces and crawl on the rooftop naked; and (b) a dwarf, played by Peter Dinklage, who's also a cruel, blackmailing homosexual. ANNIE WAGNER Various Theaters.
See review. Cinema 21.
Rosario Dawson's latest is an NC-17 rated thriller in which "A college co-ed is brutally raped and struggles alone to rebuild her life." Not screened for press. Fox Tower 10.
Dial M for Murder
Hitchcock's 1954 thriller with Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. Laurelhurst.
Not screened for critics, Dragon Wars is a South Korean film (though it stars American actors) about... ah, dragons. Having a war. In Los Angeles. Yes, it sounds awesome! But keep in mind that if it was actually awesome, the studio would probably want to show it to critics, rather than trying to hide their movie like they were ashamed little babies. Various Theaters.
The Draughtsman's Contract
Peter Greenaway's 1982 drama. Not screened for critics. Living Room Theaters.
A blend of John Waters' original 1988 film and the 2002 Broadway musical. Shiny, colorful, and cheerful, the new version is all about the energy and good times—even the segregation issues at the story's heart are treated as little more than a pesky buzzkill. Still, its enthusiasm is infectious, and the campy satire is in full swing. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
To his credit, Rob Zombie's remake of the greatest slasher film of all time is clearly a labor of love—it winks, nods, and bludgeons its way through the source material in a surprisingly satisfying fashion, giving fans of the original film more than enough hyper-stylized meat to sink their teeth into. Realizing that the arguably feminist fable of the original could scarcely be outdone, Zombie wisely explores a storyline typically reserved for prequel fare—laying out the recipe for Michael Myers' "perfect storm," as well as fleshing out his relationship with Dr. Loomis (played awesomely by Malcolm McDowell). The move isn't entirely successful, to be sure: Senseless slaughter is less effective when there's some convoluted sense in it, and by the time the film catches up to the original's familiar narrative, there's little room for the patient suspense that film depended on—and Zombie's left to clean house in a more economical way. Still, there's a surprising lack of sacrilege throughout—a pleasant treat considering the legacy marring some other recent horror "reimaginings." ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
The Hottest State
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis
A documentary about the ultra-intense, legendary underground filmmaker Jack Smith, whose psycho-sexual, hallucinatory films influenced everyone from Warhol to Fellini to Lynch. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See review. Clinton Street Theater.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Our villain in the hilarious documentary The King of Kong is one Billy Mitchell—born in Massachusetts in 1965, he currently owns a restaurant chain and has a passion for both patriotic neckties and, one assumes, hair conditioner, for his flowing, carefully coiffed locks. Mitchell has set records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Burgertime, and achieved a "perfect score"—3,333,360 points—in Pac-Man. He has been called the "Gamer of the Century," and he is an insufferably arrogant dick. Our hero, meanwhile, is Steve Wiebe, a painfully earnest Redmond, WA man who lost his job at Boeing at age 35—on the same day he and his wife had signed the papers for their new house. Wiebe, now teaching junior high school science, found solace and direction in Donkey Kong, at first playing when his children went to sleep, and then aiming at the impossible—beating Mitchell's record score of 1,000,000, which had gone unchallenged since 1982. The resulting battle is nothing short of epic. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
See review. Various Theaters.
The Nanny Diaries
The Nanny Diaries is essentially 2007's answer to The Devil Wears Prada, both being film adaptations of popular "guilty pleasure" chick-lit. Comparing the two is a no-brainer—Prada is better, with better wardrobes, a bitchier matriarch, sharper satire, and more charming supporting characters. But if you're hungry for a chick-lit-to-flick fix, Diaries will tide you over long enough for Prada to arrive via Netflix. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
No End in Sight
You're forgiven for being fatigued by the unrelenting incompetence of the Bush war machine, and especially fatigued by the redundant reiterations of that incompetence by ever-multiplying documentarians. Given the obviousness, ubiquitousness, and hopelessness of the situation, does the world really need another Iraq War documentary? As it turns out, it may have only needed one. No End in Sight hardly unveils any information that hasn't been covered in countless documentaries, and feels largely like a solid primer on the invasion. But it is the first that has relied extensively, almost exclusively, on intelligence officials, military commanders, and former members of the Bush administration. Not long into the film, one gets the sense that these people are speaking to director Charles Ferguson as a way to atone for their participation in the bungled mess that has turned a nation into a sea of chaos. SCOTT MOORE Fox Tower 10.
Paris, Je T'Aime
Paris has gotten more valentines than any other city in the world. The reasons are obvious: It's beautiful, and it makes people want to be in love. So the impulse behind Paris, Je T'Aime is nothing new—the results, though, are as stunning and varied as the city itself. Paris is comprised of 18 five-minute films, unrelated save that they are each set in a different Paris neighborhood. If sitting through 18 short films sounds tedious, consider the talent involved: Alfonso Cuarón, the Coen Brothers, and Alexander Payne are among the directors, and actors include Steve Buscemi, Fanny Ardant, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Juliette Binoche (and yes, Gérard Depardieu is in it). Even if there's no amour lost between you and Paris (I hear some people don't like the French?), Paris, Je T'Aime is worth seeing: The films included range from hilarious to heartbreaking, and together they capture the expansiveness and excitement of being alive and in love with a city. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst.
Portland Latin American Film Festival:
The first Portland Latin American Film Festival kicks off with Antonia, a drama/musical set in Sao Paulo and following four young women who "fight to fulfill their dream of making a living off their music." Pick up next week's Mercury for more info about the festival, which runs from September 20-23. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Aaron Katz's film follows Jamie (Erin Fisher), a cute young gal from Atlanta, who's supposed to meet her flaky friend when she gets into Brooklyn. But her friend's cell phone is dead, and Jamie's stranded—luckily, she runs into an equally attractive young man (Cris Lankenau) on the subway platform, and spends the next 24 hours hanging out with him and wandering the city, conversing. In other words, this is the hipsters-in-Brooklyn version of Before Sunrise, with less articulate conversation and more text messaging. See film short for Dance Party, USA. AMY J. RUIZ Hollywood Theatre.
For its first third, there's little to separate Werner Herzog's latest from the plethora of "based on a true story" flicks about noble American servicemen surviving under dire circumstances, from the Buckheimer-approved bombast of Black Hawk Down to the rah-rah patriotism of Behind Enemy Lines. But this is Herzog, so give it the benefit of the doubt: Dieter Dengler (Bale) is a pilot who gets shot down over Laos. Quickly captured and stuck in a POW camp, Dengler meets a bunch of disheartened captives—including the batshit crazy Gene deBruin (Jeremy Davies) and the psychologically fragile but loveable Duane Martin (Zahn). Taking a dangerous risk, Dengler plots a breakout. It's here, in Rescue Dawn's characters, that Herzog really gets going. What unfolds is a sometimes funny, sometimes tense, sometimes moving story about men attempting to survive their captors, allies, and selves. ERIK HENRIKSEN Laurelhurst.
Resident Evil: Extinction
Milla Jovovich returns to kill even more zombies. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
A sweet, dark film about a stuttering high school student—but be warned: You're going to hear inevitable and angry comparisons to Election, The Squid and the Whale, and every Wes Anderson film ever made. But don't let that bother you. Director Jeffrey Blitz (who previously made the spelling bee documentary Spellbound) knows how to make a good film, and while it resonates with quirky Andersonisms, it's still immensely likeable and genuine. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
Akira Kurosawa's classic from 1950. Camellia Lounge.
Rush Hour 3
I'm sure you know the ridiculous formula: Chris Tucker sings falsetto; Jackie Chan tries to stay awake through the final stage of his career; and the two of them close the movie by singing the song "War (What Is it Good For?)" at the base of the Eiffel Tower. But taken with just the most rudimentary level of analysis, Tucker, the movie's "loveable" star, is the embodiment of America's crass, violent arrogance. Early in the movie, we learn that he's in trouble with his police sergeant for illegally imprisoning American doctors of Iranian descent. His defense? "You know they looked like terrorists! Just because they cured cancer in a bunch of mice doesn't mean they aren't planning to blow shit up, too!" (Big audience laugh here). Later, when Tucker and Chan run into some surprisingly well-articulated anti-Americanism in Paris, Tucker's character puts a pistol to a Frenchman's head and makes him sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at gunpoint. CHAS BOWIE Various Theaters.
Shoot 'Em Up
A quick list of what goes down in Shoot 'Em Up's first minutes: Clive Owen ravenously chomps down on a carrot; a pregnant woman frantically seeks a place to give birth; one car slams into another with jaw-clenching intensity; Paul Giamatti cheerfully recites a sinister limerick; the aforementioned baby is delivered (with the help of Owen's handgun); maybe a thousand bullets shatter glass, concrete, and bone; and all of it's blasted out to the relentless drums and squealing guitars of Nirvana's "Breed." The point is this: Shoot 'Em Up is a blast, funny and clever and loud and fast. On its own, the film's opening sequence would be amazing enough; as an introduction to the gleefully violent Shoot 'Em Up as a whole, it heralds one of the craziest, funniest, and most badass action movies in recent memory. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
If I tell you that this is a documentary about four Broadway musicals, you'll know exactly what to expect: a peek at four productions from all angles, from the producers to the cast, and from all ends, from pre-production to opening night, and through the Tony awards show. Show Business completely and simply delivers on your expectations, drawing back the curtain to dish the dirt on 2004 productions Avenue Q, Wicked, Caroline or Change, and Taboo. AMY J. RUIZ Living Room Theaters.
There's no question that Sicko is a brilliant documentary. Michael Moore outdoes himself—largely by stepping aside, keeping his usual "gotcha!" pranks to a minimum, and personalizing a complex issue. The question, however, is how effective Moore's public shaming of the US health care industry will be. He's recast the debate in terms we can all understand—explaining the problem as "[here is] what the greatest country ever in the history of the universe does to its own people, simply because they have the misfortune of getting sick." But will Americans listen? And if they do, will they join Moore in demanding a solution? AMY J. RUIZ Various Theaters.
Steal a Pencil for Me
Holocaust documentaries are nothing new. That's not to say the world doesn't need as many as can be produced; given humanity's proven inability to learn from our colossal mistakes, we need to be reminded of our own monstrosities frequently, especially in light of continuing ethnic battles being waged around the globe. Steal a Pencil for Me, however, does bring an interesting angle to this packed genre. Jack Polak ended up in a Dutch concentration camp, Westerbork, living in a barracks with his wife and his girlfriend. There's a certain nutty European libertinism overlaying the tragic elements of the story, and it's a testament to filmmaker Michèle Ohayon's abilities that the elements work together in an organic way without being a celebration of infidelity. SCOTT MOORE Hollywood Theatre.
Steel Toes is among the most awkward, clumsy, dramatically overwrought films I've seen in just about forever. Based on David Gow's play Cherry Docs, it follows the interactions between violent neo-nazi skinhead Mike (Andrew W. Walker)—on trial for murder—and his "super liberal" Jewish attorney Danny Dunkelman (David Strathairn). Throw in some unbelievable grandstanding, massive stereotyping, hysterically overdone montages, etc., and you've gotta pretty terrible movie. The worst part: There are actually some great moments and glimmers of brilliance by both actors, but they're buried under stunningly bad direction. Go rent American History X instead. SCOTT MOORE Bagdad Theater.
The latest from director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (who previously collaborated on the mostly awesome 28 Days Later and the pretty crappy The Beach), Sunshine takes place 50 years from now, with a barren Earth frozen by a solar winter: The sun is dying, and humanity finds itself staring down a cold, dark death. Humanity has just one plan, and it is desperate and flawed: Loading a huge bomb onto a spaceship, the Icarus II, a small team of scientists will attempt to jumpstart the sun. To give away more of the plot would be a disservice; suffice to say that (A) things go wrong, and (B) Boyle and Garland use their relatively simple concept to delve into themes ranging from religion to sanity to sacrifice. But mostly, Sunshine is a tense, drawn-out thriller. Despite a strange spell in which Boyle decides to briefly turn the smart Sunshine in to a dumb slasher flick, he's patient and clever, and the film plays out with a sense of both inexorable doom and dumb hope. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Like Freaks and Geeks, Superbad smartly manages to capture all the excitable, desperate awkwardness of adolescence; like Arrested Development, it handily makes trivial events and throwaway dialogue into sidesplitting jokes. (Both accomplishments are helped by the awesome performances of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.) But maybe most impressively, Superbad just feels a lot like high school. Except (barely) less awkward, and way, way funnier. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Talk to Me
Talk to Me opens in 1966, when Greene (Don Cheadle) is the "drive time" DJ at Lorton Reformatory, where the inmates have made a hero out of Greene, thanks to his sly humor and sharp tongue on the prison's PA system. Straight from the penal system, Greene hustles and cajoles his way into the morning slot at DC's top R&B station, WOL, where he captures the hearts and minds of black Washington by "keeping it real" with straight talk about his own life, politics, and the intensifying climate on the streets. This first half is fantastic: Cheadle brings a gleeful relish to the role, the dialogue is fast and filthy, and the entire production is swollen with a smart liveliness and grin-inducing charm. But after the film's emotional climax—when Greene matures behind the mic and eases the city through the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination—director Kasi Lemmons starts painting in enormously broad strokes, and the movie veers into standard (and overlong) Behind the Music territory. CHAS BOWIE Academy Theater, St. Johns Theater & Pub.
This is England
Set in the English summer of 1983 that followed the Falklands War, This Is England is a quiet, warm, and surprisingly authentic coming of age tale about Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a preteen tough who falls in with a group of amiable, apolitical, and racially mixed skinheads. The film's poignantly glacial pace (aided in part by writer/director Shane Meadows' penchant for the decidedly British "cool-guys-walking-down-the-street-in-slow-mo" shot) picks up dramatically as the carcinogenic specter of the racist National Front party begins to seep into Shaun's small group of friends—at which point the narrative begins to achingly simmer to its inevitable boil. Strong performances from the entire cast, as well as Meadows' admirable refusal to entirely villainize even his most irredeemable characters, shore up the bulk of the film's occasionally melodramatic pratfalls for a largely rewarding product. ZAC PENNINGTON Living Room Theaters.
Vortex 1: A Biodegradeable Festival of Life
A documentary about the rock festival staged just outside of Estacada in 1970 by Governor Tom McCall. The crafty McCall was trying to distract Oregon's hippies from an upcoming visit by Richard Nixon, and it largely worked. It was just good thinking on McCall's part: Hippies are easily distracted by both rock 'n' roll and shiny objects (such as tinfoil, or your jingling keys). Clinton Street Theater.
Action fans are not a demanding bunch—aside from the rare Kill Bill or The Matrix or Hero or (old school) Die Hard, we've largely resigned ourselves to watching crappy movies, hoping there'll be a few flashes of coolness buried somewhere within. That's not the case with War, which sucks all the way through. It stings a bit, too: As action movies go, War's concept—full of double-crosses, secret agents, creepy assassins, and angsty grumpiness—is a step above most, but director Philip G. Atwell renders it all with such sloppy ambivalence and crummily-shot action that none of it matters. On the acting side, Jet Li gets to do hardly any martial arts (huh?), Jason Statham just shouts a whole lot, Luis Guzmán cashes a paycheck for what amounts to a cameo, and almost every plasticine woman in the film is Botoxed within an inch of her life. Action fans don't ask for much, but we deserve better than this. ERIK HENRIKSEN Century Eastport 16.
A Zed & Two Naughts
Living Room Theaters continues its Peter Greenaway series with his 1985 drama. Living Room Theaters.