Monday, December 31, 2012


What better way to soothe your post-New Year's Eve noggin' than with a round of exploitation, grindhouse, and kung fu shot straight into your visual cortex via the Hollywood Theatre's 35mm projector?  Co-presented by the Grindhouse Film Festival and Kung Fu Theatre (both the creation of Hollywood head programmer Dan Halsted), there's a mysterious trio of cinematic treats awaiting all who assemble within the Hollywood's large downstairs auditorium--the New Year's Day Grindhouse Secret Movie Marathon!  3 films, 6 hours, a ton of old trailers, and there's absolutely no word in advance of what will be screening tomorrow.  But the mystery is all part of the fun.  Trust me, local movie nerds will be talking about this for months.

Here's what up, according to the folks behind the event:

The Grindhouse Film Festival and Kung Fu Theater present the New Year’s Day Grindhouse Secret Movie Marathon! Come spend your hangover with a triple feature of mind-blowing 70's cinema! We’re not telling anyone what’s playing, but it will all be from extremely rare 35mm prints. 

We’ll give a couple of clues: First up will be a movie with giant monsters battling and tearing the planet apart! The second movie is a gritty crime film that is one of the most underrated movies of the 1970's. The last movie will be an extremely rare kung fu film. 

Plenty of 35mm exploitation trailers before each movie too (blaxploitation trailers, horror trailers, kung fu trailers and more). There will also be a giveaway for one free pass to all Grindhouse Film Festival and Kung Fu Theater screenings in 2013! In order to win, you must watch all three movies. Tickets are only $10 for all three movies. The movies start at 3:00, 5:00 and 7:15.

The six-hour long Grindhouse Secret Movie Marathon happens on New Year's Day at the Hollywood Theatre beginning at 3pm.  More info available here.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012


Now, Forager doesn't go a lot of new places.  Yes, as the title hints, it's about a couple who forages for wild mushrooms as a means of meager support, and I can't recall seeing any films about mushroom hunters in the past (no, I did not see Shrooms, but I get the impression it's about something else entirely).  But, much like the characters in their film, directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin seem intent on returning to familiar patches of fertile ground; in the case of the filmmakers, it's earth that's been well plowed by similarly contemplative indie directors like Kelly Reichardt, Carlos Reygadas, Pedro González-Rubio, and others working within what A.O. Scott has termed the neo-neo realism movement. 

Lucien (Cortlund) and Regina (Tiffany Esteb) are moving in different directions in their marriage.  She's begun to tire of the small rewards that mushroom hunting brings them and is considering taking on a regular job in a small restaurant.  Meanwhile, Lucien stubbornly deflects Regina's dissatisfaction, hatching plans to risk what little stability they enjoy on a road trip to forage in unknown territories.  Cortlund and Halperin avoid hinging the film on the drama between the characters, choosing instead to display the couple's incompatibility through slow observation rather than with outward displays of their anger over it.  Now, Forager allows us to see these characters together and alone, offering up access to both private and shared moments.

The long periods of time spent solely with Lucien or Regina yield a sense that the problems they have together are present in their individual struggles outside the relationship.  Lucien, it seems, just doesn't play well with others,  while Regina's flexibility only goes so far when working an out-of-state cooking gig.  In both cases, these divergences from what appears to be the main story thread--the slow dissolution of their relationship--enrich our understanding of what's not expressed through words.  For a film with only a few small degrees of plot development, it's surprisingly effective at wielding those micro-shifts in the dynamic between the characters, their environment, and each other.

In many ways, Now, Forager unfolds as a paint-by-numbers, quiet indie meditation on the reasons why some relationships just don't pan out.  As it borrows liberally from a wealth of contemporary, low budget influences, many viewers won't be able to shake the feeling that they've seen multiple versions of this film before, but an overfamiliarity with the patterns and modes at play here won't spoil the best parts of an earnest little film that steers clear of being overwhelmed by the indie cliches it so wholeheartedly embraces.  It's a worthy, if not entirely original, view.

Now, Forager begins its run at Living Room Theaters on Friday, December 28th.  More info available here.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012


With his latest film, Judd Apatow veers away from bromance-informed genre that he helped create with films like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but no one is going to mistake This is 40 for the work of anyone else.  The identifiable touchstones of Apatow's oeuvre, including the way the actors all seem to be ad-libbing their way through much of this loosely structured film, are all in place, as is his usual ensemble cast of friends and family.  Surprisingly, even though This is 40 may be the least focused film that Apatow has directed, it's rarely boring.  On the contrary, it's downright funny and, if the success of a comedy is measured in laughs (which, obviously, it should be), Apatow is still capable of churning out a guffaw-inducing winner.

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles as Pete and Debbie from Knocked Up.  The handful of people who didn't see that earlier feature won't be left out in the cold; This is 40 operates as a stand-alone piece and absolutely no prior knowledge of the characters is necessary to follow the action.  As the film opens, Debbie's turning 40.  No one in her family (or at her ob/gyn's office, for that matter) is allowed to acknowledge this rite of passage.  As far as she's concerned, she's turning 38.  At the same time, Pete's stubbornly holding on to a dream from his youth, running a music label, which, unfortunately for him, means running it into the ground.  All of this leads to some serious friction in the couple's relationship, each one denying their own part in the mess that their marriage has become.

Like in most relationship comedies, the bad is exacerbated by lying (about money, parenting, etc.) and unreasonable expectations while the good drifts further out of sight.  For a film laid out in comedic dressing, there's quite a lot of serious adult issues being bandied about here.  Peter Pan syndrome, the loss of sexual spark, and issues of abandonment and resentment all get an airing and there are several times when things are more "real" than straight up funny.  What keeps it all afloat is the palpable suggestion that, despite their problems, Pete and Debbie have more together than just shared history and a couple of kids.  Rudd and Mann are fascinating to watch together, even when the material and the running time feels a little stretched.  They're supported by winning performances from Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segal, and, especially, Chris O'Dowd.

The film ends up being less about how to resuscitate your life from what it's become and more about gaining perspective on what you might have been taking for granted.  There aren't a lot of raunchy comedies being made in Hollywood about entering middle age, but This is 40 suggests that there's more than enough material worth mining there.  Neither overly romantic, nor completely flighty in its aims, Apatow smuggles in the serious with the vulgar, producing a mixture that's characteristically juvenile while forwarding a more mature model of what he's previously made.  It's not perfect, but This is 40 is far from nonessential, proving worthy of a look, especially where his fans are concerned.

This is 40 opens at the Portland area theaters on Friday, December 21st.  More info available here.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012


In the past, I've shared a couple of old pieces that pre-date the blog.  There was this essay on one of my favorite films, Days of Heaven, that I'd completed as a student.  I also posted a rumination on Drugstore Cowboy that was cobbled together for a purpose outside of the blog.  Since the Hollywood Theatre is about to embark on a four day run of It's a Wonderful Life,  I've decided to go ahead and offer up an analysis of that film, written while in my final year at Marylhurst.  

Like the Days of Heaven piece, this one's definitely not a review, more of an examination of identifiable themes running below the surface of the film.  Reexamining the piece, I still like a lot of things about it and agree with most of what I had to say at the time, but it's definitely written in a voice that I rarely use anymore and it's hard to imagine that, if I were to write about the film again, I would employ the same strategy. 

Oh, and if you're one of the 3 or 4 people who have never seen the film, don't read this post until you've had a chance to watch it this holiday season, as there are MANY SPOILERS throughout it. 

In Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, the character of George Bailey serves as an all-American “everyman” whose existential quest for home and community provides viewers with programmatic strategies for living in American society.  Essentially, the tension facing George down throughout the film is the choice between living out his dreams of world exploration or settling into a role as a reliable cornerstone of his community and family in sleepy Bedford Falls.  In the contrast between George’s objective reality in Bedford Falls and the dystopian reality of Pottersville, we, along with George, are given the opportunity to examine the difference between, on the one hand, living in a community based in connection and, on the other, the isolating effects of a money-driven world where everyone is out for themselves.  Below the surface of this simple fable of a man losing and rediscovering purpose, there courses an instructive rumination on the friction between the competing strains of individualism and collectivism under capitalism that lie at the base of the American mythology.  It’s a Wonderful Life, in its particular consideration of this strain, offers viewers an alternative and utopian reading of the possibilities present for enriching the experience of the individual through participation and action in the interests of the social collective.

Throughout the film, George is depicted as Bedford Falls’ only buffer against the exploitation of Mr. Potter.  Potter, in his relentless move to buy up all valuable interests in the town, is the living incarnation of capitalism.  He consistently verbally disparages the working class citizens of Bedford Falls, all while making his fortune off of their misery.  The bust of Napoleon in his office hints at both his status as the town’s principal landowner/grabber and his many attempts to destroy the building and loan. During the scene where George begs Potter for mercy, the statue even casts a shadow not unlike the shape of a buzzard, strongly hinting at Potter’s treatment of the working class as mere carrion for his unquenchable appetite for wealth and power.  Beyond just signifying the imperialistic tendencies of industry and capital, Potter functions as the force that keeps class divisions in Bedford Falls from melting away, as his business practices are focused primarily on keeping the poor from ever rising above their lowly social position.  This is what makes Mr. Potter the perfect foil for George. Everything that is good, decent, and charitable about George’s character is countered in the miserly, “twisted,” and self-obsessed caricature that is Potter.

After Potter is able to unethically secure the upper hand in the struggle, sending George spiraling into a crisis of faith, we are given the opportunity to view Potter’s unchecked capitalist ambition in the form of Pottersville, an alternate version of Bedford Falls where the socially progressive advocacy of George and the Building and Loan never came into existence.  Without the class solidarity that George brought to the working class citizens of the town, Pottersville resembles nothing less than the real world in its depiction of cold, neon-lit spaces of consumption and depressed urban dwelling spaces.

It is in the disparity between Pottersville and Bedford Falls that the political didactic of the film is forwarded.  On the surface level of the plot, we are asked to identify with George’s personal struggle as he is given the opportunity to see the value of his life in relation to the lives of his family, friends, and community.  However, if we are willing to dig a bit deeper, it is not difficult to acknowledge that the interconnectivity that we witness between George and the other citizens of Bedford Falls makes life in Pottersville appear drab, miserable, and meaningless.  The latter version of the town speaks to the alienating and competitive byproducts of capitalism while the former suggests that a more equitable distribution of wealth might lend itself to an increasingly vibrant, proud, and socially rich climate.  This simple message could be dismissed as unsubstantial and tangential if it were not for the fact that the film was produced less than a decade after the Great Depression.  With residual social anxiety and animosity focused upon financial institutions and the Potters of the world, it is not difficult to regard this pressure within the film as a polemic against the exploitation and abandonment of the working classes to the terrors of listless poverty.  As such, Pottersville is an uncaring landscape littered with the deeply bruised ambitions of its agitated and morally bankrupt citizenry.  Because there are no connections between the people, there are no options available to them outside the dismal status quo.

Which is why the outpouring of community support surrounding George, after his reinstatement in the “real” world of Bedford Falls, speaks so loudly to the need for opposition against the more dehumanizing aspects of the capitalist economic model, the endorsement of the community illustrates the integration of the individual into a symbiotic relationship with the larger social body.  In this utopian display at the close of the film, the effect of a single member is validated, reflected, and reinforced by the supportive safety net of the people of Bedford Falls. George’s Building and Loan, continually recognized throughout the film as being focused towards building the community versus the profit building model upon which Potter’s bank is firmly established, becomes the paragon upon which sustainable strategies of community can be devised.  The film optimistically hints that those who are willing to fight for their ideals in Bedford Falls will keep this best idea at hand.

It's a Wonderful Life plays for four days at the Hollywood Theatre beginning on Friday, December 21st.  More info available here.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012


Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson suffers from being a single film that operates as if it were three separate stories built around a single historical event.  Or rather, the audience is made to slog through having their affinities for the characters in Michell's movie abused as the narrative unpredictably flits from one character's perspective to another and then back again in a messy and incoherent fashion, abandoning Daisy (Laura Linney), the film's established protagonist, for so long that it's easy to forget that it's her story that's being relayed.  Daisy's modeled after Margaret Suckley, a distant relation of President Franklin Roosevelt, who had a love affair with FDR that went undiscovered until after her death.

The historical event in question is the 1939 private summit between King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (the always great Olivia Colman) with FDR (Bill Murray) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) at President Roosevelt's mother's (Elizabeth Wilson) estate in Hyde Park, New York.  The royals are there to ask for Roosevelt's support against the axis powers in war effort.  Each side knows the purpose of their assembly and, yet, the dictates of etiquette force a calculated dance around the issue.  The meeting presents many interesting possibilities and, on its own, may have made for a fine enough film; the obvious, but accentuated differences between American and English cultural mores constitute most of the better observations that the film has to offer.

Were this the only ambition of Hyde Park on Hudson, to move back and forth between each parties ruffled sensibilities as each endures the other for a higher purpose, it just might have worked as a picture.  Instead, the filmmakers seem to think that they can have its cake and eat it, too, attempting to have the film filtered through Daisy's recollections before jumping into sections that not only don't involve her, but also depict events that she couldn't possibly have witnessed.  The effect of these departures is that, when the story does finally slam back to acknowledging Daisy as its teller, the viewer no longer identifies enough with her to care about the major conflict that develops when she learns an uneasy truth about her president/lover.

Hyde Park on Hudson is an undeniably weirdly structured film.  Everything about it suggests that Bill Murray as FDR is meant to be the focal point of the story, but there's little access to that character, even when the script forces the film to embrace what feels like Roosevelt's objective viewpoint.  It operates as a love story, but with little apparent spark between Murray and Linney, not that it's their fault; the problems are all present in the script, not the performances. Beyond that, the pacing is unhurried to the degree that, although it's barely over 90 minutes, it's a movie that ends up feeling like it has an overly padded running time.  Even though there are several sequences that do work (the interactions between King George and Queen Elizabeth, in particular), it's hard to imagine anyone becoming too enthusiastic over this clumsily told, flat, and unromantic film.

Hyde Park on Hudson opens at the Regal Fox Tower on Friday, December 14th.  More info available here.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Cinema 21's still in the midst of A Bit of the Old Ultra-Kubrick, their four film Stanley Kubrick series, which comes to a close on Thursday.  I was thrilled to see last night's DCP screening of the digitally restored Dr. Strangelove last night and still hope to make it a 35mm showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey after catching an advance screening of Hyde Park on Hudson tomorrow night.  And while news of their upcoming bookings of the 4K digital restoration of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia as well as Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti-western classic Django (nicely timed to take advantage of the holiday release of Q.T.'s Nero-indebted latest film, Django Unchained) are bound to thrill film fanatics, it's pretty likely that a whole bunch more excitement is going to be generated when folks hear that there's a Wes Anderson series a comin' to Cinema 21 this holiday season.

The announcement certainly comes at an interesting moment in Anderson's career.  His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, has done much to illustrate a critical and popular divide between those who revile his style and the fans who lap it up.  Personally, I liked Moonrise Kingdom quite a bit and really don't agree with the all-too-often cited issue that some have with Anderson's work--the notion that he's just making the same film over and over again.  Still, I'm not as enamored with some of his films (The Life Aquatic, though it has its fervent defenders, felt pretty flat to me) as I am with what I feel are the true highlights of his career.

The upcoming holiday series at Cinema 21 nicely sidesteps this debate, which mostly seems centered on his post-Tenenbaums work, by programming Anderson's initial three releases.  Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums are, in my opinion, truly solid films that even the most miserly of film goers would have to concede as having sprung from the imagination of a creative and talented original.  There might be plenty of films out there approximating Wes Anderson's moves (Thumbsucker, Rocket Science, Boy, Submarine, etc.), but few sport the authenticity suggested by his considerable influence.

Here's what Cinema 21 owner Tom Ranieri has to say about the Anderson triple feature:

He is the origin of several parodies and even more copy-cats.  He is an oeuvre unto himself.  He is, according to Martin Scorsese, "the Next Martin Scorsese." 

Cinema 21 is exceedingly proud to announce: 

A VERY WES ANDERSON CHRISTMAS His first three feature films on vibrant 35mm prints. 
-Bottle Rocket (1996, 91 mins.) 
-Rushmore (1998, 93 mins.) 
-The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, 110 mins.) 

Starting Christmas Day! Don't take this for granted! In a very dark room, on a big, bright screen. The colors, the music, the charm, the humor, the nostalgia, the dysfunction, the obsession, the outright joy! It will bowl you over. This is the perfect opportunity to re-discover the birth of the most unique voice in American cinema over the last two decades. 

-$6 for one film, $9 for two, or $12 for a triple feature! 
Celebrate the holidays watching relationships even more dysfunctional than your own.

Now on to the trailers:

As a bonus, here's the original 1994 Bottle Rocket short that Anderson made prior to his feature debut:

And here's Anderson in conversation with director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) on the subject of how Bottle Rocket was seen as a failure on its initial release:

A Very Wes Anderson Christmas begins on Tuesday, December 25th and runs through Sunday, December 30th.  Keep an eye on the Cinema 21 webpage for soon to be announced showtimes (TBA) and more.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012


Cinema Project closes out their Fall 2012 season on Tuesday and Wednesday night with Sound, Sound, Sound, Sound, Screen!, a selection of short films focusing on the relationship that sound has to image.  Curated by Andrew Ritchey, the program incorporates new works by Sarah RaRa and Robert Todd alongside films reaching as far back as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray's 1926 collaborative experiment Anémíc Cinéma.

Here's what Cinema Project has to say about their final screening at Yale Union until Spring 2013:

Sound, Sound, Sound, Screen! Curated by Andrew Ritchey Cinema Project at Yale Union (YU) At the cinema, sound is all part of the screen. Or is it? What happens between the sounds and screen? It takes time to work it out. From sound to screen, you'll see and hear all of what there is. But what is it? Do you think you know what you're seeing? Is this the cinema as you see it? Sometimes the sound sounds something before you, and you haven't even heard it. And then the screen screens something from you. Do you see it? Is this cinema? In every case it's cinema, because the cinema is all there is. It's all the sounds on screen! When you make sense of it you'll see and hear all of what we were all just pretending to be missing. 

ARSENIC gives you words before images. Do these words make sense? I don't think so. KINO DA! is a bit of Marxist propaganda. Is the poet just an epiphenomenon of film's material base? I guess so! Then, FOUR SHADOWS, each shadow cast from sound and image: a text by Wordsworth, a diagram after Cézanne, a family of Gibbon apes... like constellations wheeling round, a double chain of sight and sound in sixteen permutations. (That's what Larry Gottheim said, anyway.) 

You've seen ANÉMIC CINÉMA, I guess. Some say it goes well with the music of Ravel, played very, very softly, with all the captions translated. That's how we'll do it, and the wheeling words un-Ravel! (Some puns better left unsaid.) Then, THIS IS IT, which is really, really it. A child plays Adam in Eden's suburban housing developments. What could be more this than this? Perhaps A RAY ARRAY, which is all delay, from its beginning before the word. Is this it? All sixteen video chapters, waiting for you. How much time will it take to see it? Is this really, really it?  

Join us for this final event of the season – a program on two nights, curated by Andrew Ritchey. Featuring recent work by Robert Todd and Sarah RaRa (lucky dragons, Sumi Ink Club); and the belated Portland premiere of Larry Gottheim's masterwork of image-sound analysis, Four Shadows (1978), part three in the four-part "Elective Affinities" series.

Cinema Project presents Sound, Sound, Sound, Sound, Screen! on Tuesday, December 11th and Wednesday, December 12th at 7:30pm.  More info on the program available here.

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It's only been a few months since the nearly 50-year-old Jet Li shot his way through The Expendables 2, a series so improbably successful that a third installment is already a foregone conclusion.  Does anybody else remember when Li's martial arts prowess was the only weapon he needed?  If not, Kung Fu Theater is ready to refresh your memory with a rare 35mm screening of Martial Arts of Shaolin (aka Shaolin Temple 3), starring a young, fresh faced kid who doesn't need any firearms to make his way through this world. 

Directed by Lau Kar Leung (The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter aka Invincible Pole Fighter), the 1986 Shaw Brothers film plays Tuesday night at the Hollywood Theatre.  Here's what the folks behind Kung Fu Theater have to say about the event:

Kung Fu Theater presents an extremely rare 35mm print of the kung fu classic Martial Arts of Shaolin! 

Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986) A young Jet Li stars as a monk from the Northern Shaolin Temple who sets out on a quest of vengeance against the man who killed his parents. When his initial attempt fails, he finds himself on the run from a powerful Lord and his army, and must team up with students from the Southern Shaolin Temple to stay alive. Featuring a wide array of fighting styles, martial arts weaponry, and non-stop jaw-dropping fight choreography. No other film has ever shown off Jet Li’s incredible kung fu ability like this. Directed by master Lau Kar Leung (36th Chamber of Shaolin). Don’t miss this!

Martial Arts of Shaolin plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, December 11th at 7:30pm.  More info available here.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012


What happens when one of the most compelling figures in film history receives the ol' biopic treatment?  Well, there's no hard and fast rules guiding the results, but in the case of Hitchcock, the outcome is a decidedly toothless affair, something that no one bothered to tell director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) and his cast, who seem to believe that they're pulling back the veil on a Hollywood master when, in fact, the plodding and all-too cautious plotting of Hitchcock undermines any chance of viewers being hooked into what little scandal (seriously, Hitch ate and drank too much and he liked blondes, is that all you got?) the film offers up.

Anchoring the more gossipy aspects of the narrative, we're given a supposedly inside look into Hitch's (Anthony Hopkins) marriage to his wife Alma (Helen Mirren).  The film proposes that she inhabited a sizable role in sculpting his art, picking up at a moment when Alma is beginning to feel neglected leading to private strain within their relationship.  At the same time, Hitch is struggling to get Psycho made, bristling against studio execs and censors who won't finance or clear the production for release.

The problem is that neither of these plot arcs are particularly well orchestrated.  The romantic angle falls flat, as the characterization of Hitch and Alma's relationship is far too sketched out, and there's never a sense of danger in Alma's flirtations with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).  As for the making of Psycho, the weight of history; the glaring fact being that Psycho was completed and became a massive success, significantly reduces the pressure within Hitch's situation, since it's impossible to simply forget or set aside knowledge of the film's eventual triumph and sustained influence.

Hitchcock ends up being less a disappointment than an unnecessary bit of nonsense.  It's entertaining enough, all of the actors (with the glaring exception of the poorly cast Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh) offering up serviceable performances.  Hopkins disappears the most into his role, although I found myself being hopelessly distracted at times by trying to figure out where the prosthetic chins ended and the real Anthony Hopkins began.  And maybe that's the best way to characterize the film, it works as a reasonable distraction while falling considerably short as a worthy substitute for the genuine article. 

Hitchcock opens at the Regal Fox Tower on Friday, December 7th.  More info available here.

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