Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Portland's Grindhouse Film Festival rises once again for yet another monthly dip into the waters of b-movie exhibition.  This month's offering is the 1982 British, sci-fi horror flick Xtro from director Harry Bromley Davenport (Mockingbird Don't Sing).  What's it about?  Well, it all begins when young Tony sees his dad get hijacked by alien visitors.  Several years later, his pop reappears and then things truly begin to shift towards the unthinkable.

It all goes down tonight at the Hollywood Theatre at 7:30p.m.  Here's what the good folks at Grindhouse central have to say about tonight's feature:

On Tuesday November 27th at 7:30pm, the Grindhouse Film Festival presents the only known 35mm print of the batshit-crazy 80′s sci-fi/horror film Xtro! 

Xtro (1983) How to describe Xtro? A young boy witnesses his father being abducted by a light in the sky. Three years later, that light returns and plants a seed in the ground. That seed grows into a horrible creature. That creature impregnates a woman. That woman gives birth to a fully-formed version of the father, just as we last saw him. The father returns home and gives his son telekinetic powers. The son uses his telekinetic powers to make his toys come to life and do his bidding. And then things start to get WEIRD!


Xtro plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, November 27th at 7:30pm.  More info available here.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012


Switching things up a bit this month, Cinema Project hosts All Divided Selves, the new feature-length, experimental documentary on infamous psychiatrist R.D. Laing, blending his life and impressions concerning mental illness into a simultaneously riveting and sometimes alienating piece that at teeters towards evoking the psychosis on which the film's subject was a self-proclaimed expert.

Watching director Luke Fowler's work on Laing doesn't so much invite one into a easily digestible knowledge of the man and his work as much as it conveys the reeling sensation of entering into a position located somewhere between Laing's ideas and the basis for his theories.  All Selves Divided is a fascinating and uniquely discombobulating piece.  By refusing to go the easy route of relaying Laing's story simply, Fowler has arrived at far more impressionistic, intoxicating, and, quite often, more troubling result.

Here's what Cinema Project has to say about the film:

All Divided Selves is a sensorially rich and intellectually engaging visual biography of the charismatic and controversial Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, and his contemporaries. Luke Fowler's feature-length experimental documentary is constructed from countless hours of historical film and video recordings of interviews, television appearances, and instructional documentation. The video loosely follows a historical arc that details Laing’s media-captured transition from popular professional practitioner into something like a cult hero. Scene after scene features Laing explaining the experiential dimension of psychosis in language that is mesmerizing and lucid. The low fidelity archival film footage also provides a gritty, dusty, and anarchic rendering of Laing’s post-war Glasgow punctuated by Fowler’s original and highly personal visual refrains depicting colorful, textured abstract landscapes and poetic, subtle imagery. Fowler further galvanizes the visual dimensions of his high-definition video work with a surround-sound score that features original field recordings and music by Éric La Casa, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Alasdair Roberts. The result is a psycho-phenomenological viewing and listening experience that will emotionally envelop, transport and haunt viewers.

Cinema Project presents All Divided Selves on Tuesday, November 27th and Wednesday, November 28th at 7:30pm.  More info on the program available here.

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Friday, November 23, 2012


Probably the most iconic American actor of all time, Humphrey Bogart was at his hard-boiled best in the early-to-mid 40s, something that the good folks at Cinema 21 seem bent on calling attention to with their latest 35mm revival series, You'll Take It and Like It!: 3 Bogart Classics in 35mm.  Over the course of seven days, the theater will be running a non-stop tour through three of Bogey's best-loved films, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca (directed, respectively, by the none too shabby trio of Howard Hawks, John Huston, and Michael Curtiz).

Humphrey may be the main man across this triptych of silver screen classics, but his supporting cast members, including outstanding, career-defining performances by Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, and (one of my favorites character actors of the golden age) Peter Lorre (who's in 2 of the 3 films!), shine just as brightly as their leading man.

Is it too greedy to hope that, like their recent Hitchcock fest, Cinema 21 will make the Bogey series an annual (or even quarterly) event?  'Cause I'd sure love to see Key Largo (my personal favorite), The Petrified Forest, To Have and Have Not, In a Lonely Place, High Sierra, They Drive By Night, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre all roll through town in subsequent installments.  But, for now, the three on offer will absolutely do!

Cinema 21's mini-Bogart fest, "You'll Take It and Like It!" begins on Friday, November 30th and runs through Thursday, December 6th.  More info available here.

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Karl Lind's In the Can Productions and Grand Detour have joined together to present Cine Spree at the Clinton Street Theater, a full day of screenings, discussions, and low-key mingling surrounding the topic of experimental film.  Kicking off on Sunday at 1p.m., the day's business begins with a Salon-style conversation on the state of experimental filmmaking and exhibition in PDX; I'll be around to help out with this part of the event, which is free to the public, so be sure to stop in, participate, and, above all, say "howdy."

After 3p.m., the complimentary portion of the day concludes, but that's when the booze, food, and films begin flowing.  $15 gets you a slice of it all, but note that there are also options available for foregoing the refreshments and just enjoying the films, including the Oregon premiere of Pip Choderov's documentary Free Radicals.

Keep in mind, the Portland 2012 Cine Spree is being billed as day one of The Clinton Street's Experimental Mini Fest.  Day two goes down on Monday, November, 26th.

Cine Spree happens at the Clinton Street Theater on Sunday, November 25th.  Full details available here.

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Have you heard the one about the rock band made up of martial artists who fight ninjas when they're not rocking out in the club?  Yeah, neither had I until seeing Miami Connection, a b-grade bomb from 1987 that's been plucked from obscurity by Drafthouse Films in an attempt to reconnect this forgotten relic with audiences amped up on a "so-bad-they're-good" kick.  The big surprise is that, despite highlighting some of the most inept filmmaking this side of Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau, the revival campaign is absolutely a well-placed bet; as far as terrible films go, this one's a hoot, offering up more than enough unintentionally comedic moments to recommend it to any and all lovers of absurdly poor cinema.

What little plot there is centers around the band Dragon Sound, a group of friends (how do we know they're friends?  Because they proclaim it loudly in their song "Friends"at the beginning of the film) who play together and steadfastly fight "Against the Ninja" (yes, that's their other song) whenever they're not busy attending the University of Central Florida (an obvious point of pride made apparent by the sheer amount and variety of UCF t-shirts worn by them).

If it sounds like I'm discussing the characters in an overly generalized way, it's because there's really not a lot of nuance to how they're drawn in the film.  Director/actor Y.K. Kim might be billed as the lead, but there's such an evenhanded diplomacy employed here that there's really no hierarchy in place here.  When the plot turns to the conflict between Jane (Kathy Collier) and her evil, ninja-affiliated brother, she's the lead.  When things inexplicably shift to Jim (Maurice Smith) locating his father via snail mail, the members of Dragon Sounds (sans shirts) earnestly lift him on their shoulders, suggesting that Jim is the lead.  A masterpiece of clarity in screenwriting this is not, though it is frequently hilarious in just how clumsily its story is stitched together.

Did I mention that the ninjas are coke-dealers?  Or that a film named Miami Connection is actually set in Orlando, Florida?  Or that the ninjas are also a motorcycle gang; yes, much like Dragon Sound's musician/student/martial artist membership, these ninjas can multitask, too.  Between the poorly choreographed fight scenes, club audiences who couldn't clap on beat to save their lives, a scene devoted almost entirely to leering at girls on the beach, and the endless parade of stilted performances, it'd be easy to assume that Miami Connection is deserving of its status as an overlooked film of the 80s.  Quite the contrary, it's arguably a severely flawed diamond in the rough, absolutely worth celebrating for the convoluted contours of its ineptitude. 

Take a look at the trailer and try to tell me you're not intrigued:

Miami Connection plays two-nights-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, November 23rd at 9:30pm and Saturday, November 24th at 7:30 & 9:30pm.  More info available here.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


With Tales of the Night, director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) returns once again to his trademark silhouette animation style to tell a series of stories drawn from the building blocks of folk tales from around the world.  Rather than just adapt these tales unaltered, Ocelot uses aspects of the stories, changing them as he feels fit, to fashion something entirely familiar yet charmingly different.  As a framing device, he offers a up crew of theater players, scheming ways and means of telling the fables in new and exciting ways, leaping into the narratives shortly after devising their dramaturgical strategies.

Visually, Ocelot's characters offer a surprising amount of expressiveness, despite being conceived in a shadow puppet-style.  Facial expressions and character movements pop against the vividly colored, near psychedelic backgrounds and one never runs the chance of confusing one character for another, thanks to the quite distinctively drawn designs, which change fancifully from story to story.  Even though it's the same "actors" inhabiting the major roles in each tale, Ocelot's allows them a miraculous bit of technology (is it a 3D printer?) that radically transforms hairstyles, garbs, etc.  And it's no end of fun to see the short bits where the actors pore through various documents drawn from art, history, and literature to decide what form to take on in order to best spin the next yarn.

The stories themselves are the main attraction, though.  Ranging from plots built around a magic tom-tom to a Caribbean excursion through the Land of the Dead to the lamentable tale of a man tricked into sacrificing his best friend for love, each of these six vignettes is captivating, admittedly some more so than others (I was less into the Aztec tale then, say, the one involving a werewolf, but that's mere quibbling, really, in light of how entertaining the film is as a whole).

Best of all, this is a kid-friendly feature; all but the smallest of children should do just fine with the level of excitement and (very mild) sense of danger presented over the course of the film.  It's the rare animated film that works for all ages, though parents might want to seek out dubbed screenings of the film if their kids aren't ready for English subtitles yet.

Tales of the Night screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, November 23rd at 7 & 8:45pm, Saturday, November 24th at 4:30, 6:30, & 8:30pm, Sunday, November 25th at 2, 4, & 7pm, and Monday, November 26th at 7pm.  All screenings before 5pm are dubbed in English for younger audiences.  All screenings after 5pm are in French w/ English subtitles.  More info available here.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012


Over the coming days, Cinema Project welcomes experimental filmmaker Saul Levine to town for a two-night presentation of his unique, mostly analog-based film work.  Dubbed The Super-8 Dreams of Saul Levine, the program's title is rather apt, as the pieces I've been fortunate enough to view have the feel of subconscious narratives arrived at during slumber; Levine's editing style operates in an additive mode, exposing and/or building connections instead of being purposed primarily toward erecting rhythms.  Levine points to his exposure to Maya Deren and Viking Eggling's work as a freeing moment, one that helped him stop "making editing decisions based on story and start making them based on shape, memory, and association."

No matter how he reached the underlying principles that inform those editing choices, he's created an impressive body of mysteriously associative work in his decades long dedication to experimental form.  At this week's event, Levine and Cinema Project will be highlighting over twenty works (each night is an entirely different set of films) and that doesn't even begin to cover his full output.  I've embedded three of Levine's works below, none of which are a part of The Super-8 Dreams of Saul Levine.  Why not check those out for a small inkling of what to expect at Monday and Tuesday's retrospective.

And what might the organizers of Cinema Project have to say about their booking?  Let's see:

Saul Levine has been making films for over 35 years, most of them in the small-guage formats of 8mm and Super8mm. His films record the extraordinary in the ordinary, making timeless images from daily events. His parents become your parents, a couple walking on the beach could be any couple, from any time. The intensive editing process provides a rhythm that gives even the silent films a sense of sound, while the sound films become masterpieces of noise and light. In Notes of an Early Fall, a melted record skips on the turntable providing the beat for a jumble of shots that in the end finds unity. Splice tape is a texture on the film landscape, lengthening and defining the time between shots, many of which are single frames. 

The Notes series celebrates the breathtaking beauty of daily life: children playing in the snow, romance in the afternoon light, a joke told in Hebrew, smoke curling in front of an open window. Note to Colleen cuts so quickly between the faces of people having their portraits drawn on the street and the portrait being drawn that the two become indistinguishable. His Light Licks series is a more formal tampering with the film frame and the relationship between space and image, light and darkness. Over two nights, Cinema Project shows a broad sweep of Levine’s work, from the 1960s to current films, to highlight his important and ongoing contributions to the American avant-garde.

Cinema Project presents The Super-8 Dreams of Saul Levine on Monday, November 12th and Tuesday, November 13th at 7:30pm.  More info on the program available here.

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Yet another solid Shaw Brothers Studio flick comes to the Hollywood Theatre courtesy of this month's installment of Dan Halsted's ongoing Kung Fu Theater series.  For November, Dan's chosen Lo Lieh's 1980 kinetic classic Fist of the White Lotus (aka Clan of the White Lotus) to entertain the Kung Fu crowd.  It's Gordon Liu vs. Lo Lieh (as the evil, white haired Pai Mei) in a no-holds barred battle to the death.  You wanna see a dude kick ass while getting dressed after a bath?  Need to bone up on your tiger style?  This is your movie, people!

Here's what the folks at the Hollywood have to say about Tuesday night's presentation:

Kung Fu Theater presents the only known 35mm print of the martial arts masterpiece Fist of the White Lotus! One of the top five kung fu movies of all time! 

Fist of the White Lotus (1980) Gordon Liu is out to avenge the destruction of the Shaolin Temple! But he’s up against an incarnation of the greatest villain in martial arts movie history: the unstoppable white eyebrowed Pai Mei (Gordon Liu played another incarnation of Pai Mei in Kill Bill Vol. 2). Lo Lieh plays the villain here, and he’s at his trash-talking, beard-stroking, kung fu annihilating best. He’ll even fight while he’s naked. But watch out for his kung fu crotch! The opening credit sequence alone is worth the price of admission, and the fight scenes are choreographed by kung fu master Lau Kar Leung (director of 36th Chamber of Shaolin). Don’t miss this, it’s a crowd-pleasing masterpiece. 

35mm kung fu trailers before the movie.

Fist of the White Lotus plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, November 13th at 7:30pm.  More info available here.

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Friday, November 9, 2012


As the 39th Northwest Filmmakers' Festival gets underway this evening at the NW Film Center, it's worth noting the marked difference between it and the MANY film fests hosted within the city limits each year (seriously, Portland, do ya like film much?).  Whereas POWFest, PIFF, QDoc, and all the other acronym heavy festivals populate their schedules with submissions around the globe, the NW Filmmakers' Fest places the emphasis on the makers, themes, and film community that's risen out of the NW region.

Call it a flavor, if you will, but one can't help but detect something different percolating below the surface of films made here in the Northwest.  Maybe it comes from being surrounded by more trees than buildings or perhaps it's the rain (or the coffee), but the political, social, and narrative concerns broached by so many of our region's filmmakers tend to shy away from the formulaic patterns thrown down by the big H-Wood (that's Hollywood, for those weary of made up slang).

Chel White's Bird of Flames

Given the small amount of time that I have to blog today, I'm just going to cut straight to the chase here.  I've only been able to view a small slice of the films screening at the fest, so there's bound to be gads of fine films programmed into the schedule that have yet to pass before my eyes.  With that in mind, I can definitely recommend a large handful of titles to catch over the next week and a half.

Lewis Bennett's The Sandwich Nazi

Let's start with the shorts:

Tonight's Shorts I presentation, which repeats again next Friday, contains several must-see short form works, including Lewis Bennett's The Sandwich Nazi, a beautiful and profane portrait of a deli shop proprietor with an endless series of outrageous stories to tell.  It's definitely not for the kiddies (unless your kids love hearing about some aging dude's sex life), but adults will be cackling throughout.  I'm also fond of Orland Nutt's bizarrely engaging Dear Peter, Wood Chips, an open letter to a friend that has the effect of transforming the mundane into something far more epic.  Nathaniel Akin's animated short A Tax on Bunny Rabbits, winner of the judge's award for best animated work at the fest, bounces around the screen for two minutes in a most pleasing and silly way.  I haven't seen Joanna Priestley's Dear Pluto yet, but I have viewed enough of her past work to know to seek out anything she makes.

Nathaniel Akin's A Tax on Bunny Rabbits

The compilation of works that make up the Shorts II program (scheduled for Sat. the 10th & Thurs. the 15th) includes the stunningly surreal Chrysta Bell music video Bird of Flames, directed by Chel White, likely the best (and weirdest) short at the fest that I've seen; of course, one would absolutely expect strange imagery matched to a song produced by and featuring David Lynch.  Also worth getting excited about: Kimberly Warner's CPR, which I raved about when it played POWFest earlier in the year, and Bahar Noorizadeh's Lingo.

Kimberly Warner's CPR

Shorts III has Tess Martin's beautifully animated piece The Whale Story, based on the Radiolab segment "Animal Minds."  I also really enjoyed Melissa Gregory Rue's Century Farm, Jarratt Taylor's The New Debutantes, and Rob Tyler's The Way We Melt (full disclosure: I'm friends with those last three filmmakers, but, y'know, if I didn't like the work, I would just neglect to mention it).  Shorts III plays on Sun. the 11th and Sat. the 17th.

Rob Tyler's The Way We Melt

As for the feature-length films on the schedule, the easy picks are Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister and James Westby's Rid of Me, both of which received high profile releases and favorable press.  Just as worthy of recognition is Tom Olsen's The Crime of the D'autremont Brothers, a non-fiction piece exploring the forgotten history of a 1923 train robbery in Ashland, Oregon.  Matt McCormick's The Great Northwest returns to the Film Center for the fest (see my earlier review for it here).  And Jon Garcia's much talked about locally-produced film The Falls gets another local go-round.  I'm personally hoping to see Steve Doughton's Buoy over the next few days (it plays at the fest on Sat. the 17th), so keep an eye on the blog, since I expect to review it before the screening.

Tom Olsen's The Crime of the D'autremont Brothers

Anyone in the mood for some trailers?
Here, now, are the coming attractions (some of which I didn't mention, chiefly because I haven't seen the films):

The 39th Northwest Filmmakers' Festival begins on Friday, November 9th.  The festival website can be accessed here.

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Friday, November 2, 2012


Beauty is Embarrassing relays the weird, wonderful, and true story of Wayne White, a multidisciplinary artist whose chief goal is to inject strong doses of humor into the art scene.  Exuberant and profane, White is best known for his puppet designs (and puppetry) for Pee Wee's Playhouse, as well as the music videos he made for Peter Gabriel ("Big Time") and Smashing Pumpkins ("Tonight, Tonight").  But the documentary also chronicles White's return to the world of painting, where he's become a bit of an overnight success with his word paintings, campy thrift store paintings re-contextualized by the bold and absurd statements ("Eastern Fuckit" and "Here Comes Mr. Know-It-All," for instance) that White paints on top of the original image.

Displaying a naked vulnerability for the cameras, White is certainly willing to perform, quite entertainingly at times, for director Neil Berkeley (The Cool School), but there are also plenty of unguarded moments as the artist discusses his upbringing, success, and the eventual burnout/breakdown that set in during his tenure in Hollywood.  Ol' Pee Wee himself (Paul Reubens), Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh (who composed the music for Pee Wee's Playhouse), Matt Groening and a series of art critics show up to discuss White's work, but it's Wayne's wife, Mimi Pond (a cartoonist and writer--she wrote early episodes of The Simpsons), his parents, and his old friends who best convey the true beauty and restless energy that characterize both the man and his unbridled creative output.

This is a blindingly brilliant film, one that feels like it's tapped directly into the source of White's boundless forward drive.  Berkeley has orchestrated an intimate and engaging portrait of a courageous soul who creates because he has no choice and knows no other way to exist.  Beauty is Embarrassing thrills as much as it inspires, even those who are prolific in their chosen fields will walk away feeling like they could up their game after seeing Wayne White in action.  Like the man it portrays, this film kicks serious ass.

Highly recommended.

Beauty is Embarrassing screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, November 2nd at 7:30pm, Saturday, November 3rd at 7pm & 9pm, Sunday, November 4th at 4:45 & 7pm, and Monday, November 5th at 7:30pm.  Wayne White will be in attendance for the Friday night show.  More info available here.

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