Films in PDX: Feb. 27 – Mar. 5

27 02 2009

What an exceptional week of cinema this is going to be!  There’s a handful of quality, first run foreign films, obscure repertory  programming and even some cheep thrills with a grindhouse film!  What’s more, most of these films you can see for less than SIX BUCKS!

Entre les murs

At last year’s Cannes, for the first time in 21 years, a French film won the top honor Palm d’Or, THE CLASS (Laurent Cantet, France), which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars and won Best Foreign Film at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards.  THE CLASS is based on the 2006 French novel, Entre lues murs, and is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s experiences as a literature teacher in an inner city middle school in Paris.  Part of what makes the film a miracle is that it’s practically impossible to discern whether it’s fiction or documentary because Cantet cast real teenagers with no acting experience for the students.


Andrew Sarris of New York Observer writes, “Place THE CLASS on your must-see list and keep it there until you do.”  

David Edelstein of New York Magazine writes, “THE CLASS is a true movie miracle: fragile yet indelible.”  

Kirk Honeycutt of Hollywood Reporter writes, “A highly dramatic and candid look at the challenges facing a nation that prides itself on its egalitarianism yet is now being confronted with a multi-ethnic citizenry that does not always embrace its hallowed traditions.”

My favorite comparison comes from Jennie Yabroff of Newsweek, “THE CLASS isn’t a documentary, but the scenes have the loose, slow-cooked feel of a director turning on a camera and waiting to see what happens — think Mike Leigh meets Frederick Wiseman.”

THE CLASS opens Friday at Regal Fox Tower.


Trailer for THE CLASS

Waltz With Bashir

I’m rather surprised that I haven’t heard more people talking about WALTZ WITH BASHIR (Ari Folman, Israel), which opened in Portland a few weeks ago.  The animated documentary won Best Foreign Film at this year’s Golden Globes and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, which was the first time an animated film had been nominated for that category.  It has won countless international film awards and made many critics’ top ten list for the films of 2008.  Also, this is the first Israeli animated film that received an international release, except of course in most Arab countries where the film is banned.  In Lebanon, the Lebanese Inner Circle and nearly one thousand other cinephiles in Lebanon banned together against their government to have the film screened.  In January of 2009, it was privately screened at last.  


WALTZ WITH BASHIR documents the attempts of the director, a 1982 Lebanon War veteran, to recover his lost memories of the events revolving around the Sabra and Shatila massacre when the Israeli Defense Forces allowed Christian Phalangists to enter two Palestinian refugee camps and kill upwards of 3,500 civilians.  That’s 500 more deaths than September 11th.


WALTZ WITH BASHIR is electrifying, visceral, hallucinatory and emotionally devastating.  WALTZ WITH BASHIR has moved from the crummy Fox Tower to the larger screens at The Broadway Metroplex, where most of the Portland International Film Festival took place.  I realize that a first run screening means paying about ten bucks, but this film is best experienced with the best sound system on a big screen.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  SEE IT THIS WEEK.


One of the best films of 2008 (which is at last making its way to Portland this week) was neglected by this year’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.  In fact, it’s been so neglected in the United States that little Marty Scorsese has decided to help it out by giving it his formal baptism on the movie poster.  GOMORRAH (Matteo Garrone, Italy) is a sprawling tapestry based on the book by Roberto Saviano about the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples and Caserta, Italy (the author now lives under constant police surveillance for his protection).  GOMORRAH won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes.



GOMORRAH stands out from all the other Mafia genre pictures which play with stereotypes, flamboyancy and mythology.  Graced with truth, ferocity and an elaborate structure, GOMORRAH pulls no punches about the invincibility and tragedy of the Camorra empire.  Also, the film features the best use of Scarlett Johansson I’ve seen in years.  

Trailer for GOMORRAH

GOMORRAH opens Friday at Cinema 21.  Saturday and Sunday matinees only SIX BUCKS.

At The Laurelhurst Theater

Right now, The Laurelhurst Theater (2735 E. Burnside, 15 bus) is jam packed with great films, all for THREE BUCKS!  All of these films have been playing in Portland for months, but if you’ve been avoiding the high prices and indifference of Regal Cinemas (and who can blame you for that, really?), then this week is the time to camp out at the always friendly, attentive and cheap Laurelhurst.  By the way, some of these films are also playing at The Living Room Theaters.  I’ve said it before and I’m going to keep saying it until it closes down; The Living Room Theaters shows DVDs, not film prints, there is no one supervising the screenings because it’s operated by a PC computer in the kiosk where you buy your overpriced ticket.  DO NOT SUPPORT THE LIVING ROOM THEATERS.  IT IS BAD FOR YOUR EYES AND YOUR SOUL.  And if you’re going because you wanna drink beer and wine, you can do that at The Laurelhurst as well!

I’ve mentioned in the last few weeks that one of the best foreign films of the year finally began playing at The Laurelhurst, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Thomas Alfredson, Sweden), an elegant, quiet, gorgeous, phantasmagorical and at times very sweet coming of age, vampire movie from Sweden.  If you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re skeptical about the horror genre, trust that the film isn’t out to scare you or make you barf from gore but rather tell you a touching tale of two children who need each other’s companionship.  



Then after you see LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, you can sneak into see (well, actually don’t do that…support your local cinema, but do that if you’re at a Regal Theater) TWILIGHT (Some director who directed that awful tween screamer, Thirteen, and who refuses to direct the TWILIGHT sequel, U.S.), which was shot right here in Portland.  It’s silly and homogenizes the vampire genre, but it might be fun to compare it to LET THE RIGHT ONE IN…if you realllllly had nothing better to do.  I mean, even the poster for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is better.  Ah well.



I admit to the entire world, I am head over heels smitten with Anne Hathaway.  She is dorky, funny and gorgeous in all the right ways, especially when she doesn’t pluck her eyebrows and straighten her hair.  Regardless of that bias, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (Jonathan Demme, U.S.) was one of the best American films of last year and she was worthy of her Oscar nod for Best Actress.  Yes, she clearly makes bad choices like that millionaire/con-artist she started dating when she twenty-one (live and learn, kiddo!) and that Bride Wars fiasco produced by her co-star, Kate Hudson (okay, THAT one you shoulda known better!), but RACHEL GETTING MARRIED isn’t just Hathaway’s show but rather a compelling ensemble piece.  Jenny Lumet’s screenplay (the late director, Sidney Lumet’s daughter) emotionally creeps up on you and before you know it, you’ll be reaching for a sleeve or a tissue.  Cathartic and worth repeat viewings.


Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin & Rosemarie DeWitt on the set of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

AND NOW, the film I think I’ve seen about fifteen times, HAPPY GO LUCKY (Mike Leigh, U.K.)!  If you haven’t seen this playful, funny and yet complex character study featuring a Golden Globe winning performance by the hilarious Sally Hawkins as Poppy, and you need a little bit of relief from the recent rain and overall pessimistic outlook on the world, do yourself a favor and grab a bottle of wine and see HAPPY GO LUCKY.  I am totally in love with Poppy’s flirtatious nature, adventurousness, her attraction to the darker parts of humanity because of her unyielding curiosity and love of people.  I just adore this film so much!



Lastly, The Laurelhurst Theater presents DEAD MAN (Jim Jarmusch, U.S., 1996) starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, Crispin Glover, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Iggy Pop, Robert Mitchum, Gabriel Byrne, Jared Harris, Billy Bob Thorton and Alfred Molina with music by Neil Young.  Plays for ONE WEEK ONLY, starting Friday.


Trailer for DEAD MAN


So that’s four really great films at The Laurelhurst Theater!  Oh, wait there’s a fifth!  SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Charlie Kaufman, U.S.) which won the Golden Palm at Cannes Last year and won Best First Feature at the Spirit Awards!  Um, if you DO see SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, you may find that HAPPY GO LUCKY is the perfect antidote afterwards…


The Virgin Spring

Playing for this weekend only at Portland State University’s 5th Ave. Cinema is THE VIRGIN SPRING (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1960), which was Bergman’s first Oscar winning film and was also Bergman’s first full collaboration with cinematographer, Sven Nykvist.  THE VIRGIN SPRING is based on a medieval sonnet about vengeance and forgiveness and represents the primary nexus between Bergman’s austere but accessibly obscure works of the 1950s and his more disciplined cinema of the Sixties.  If you’ve seen The Seventh Seal and Through A Glass Darkly, THE VIRGIN SPRING is the sinew that connects these works together.  


THE VIRGIN SPRING plays Friday and Saturday at 7pm and 9:30pm and Sunday at 3pm.  PSU students get in for free and the rest of us only pay THREE BUCKS!  And always a 35mm film print!

Madame X (UPDATED MARCH 3rd)


In a very obscure turn, The Bagdad will be playing a 1966 remake of MADAME X (David Lowell Rich, U.S., 1966) starring Lana Turner, John Forsythe, Burgess Meredith, and  Ricardo Montalban.  This is the eighth remake of this tearjerker which was originally made in 1910.  It’s soap opera melodrama which may or may not move you to bolt for your handkerchief depending upon how cynical you are.  In fact, it’s hard to say whether this is being programmed out of irony or true appreciation of the film.  My gut tells me it’s the former, unfortunately.  

BE WARNED that over the last year, The Bagdad has become notorious for playing DVDs instead of film prints so CALL AND ASK FIRST.  The proprietors don’t see much difference between the two formats, and quite frankly, most people who frequent The Bagdad go to drink beer first and see a film second.  So tread with care.

Trailer for MADAME X

MADAME X plays weekly at The Bagdad starting Saturday at 11pm, Sunday at 10:30pm and the rest of the week at 8:30pm.

Grindhouse:  The Toolbox Murders

Already this year, the programmers of the Grindhouse Film Festival provided one of the impossible to beat best evenings of cinema for 2009.  A few weeks ago, they played a double feature of I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale, aka Torso (Sergio Martino, Italy, 1973) and Mil gritos tiene la noche, aka One Thousand Cries Has the Night, aka Pieces (Juan Piquer Simón, U.S.A./Spain) with glorious, strange and hilarious trailers in between.  There were film critics in the audience (there because of their love for cinema) which was enthusiastic and energetic.  It’s the one genre that plays a movie house like a rock concert.  The screenings are less about the film itself and more about the communal experience of watching with an audience.  

That said, I’m skeptical of this Saturday’s screening at The Hollywood Theatre, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (Dennis Donnelly, U.S.A., 1978).  


Part of the attraction of the grindhouse genre is how creatively awful the making of the films can be and usually a good portion of the films are truly inspired and creative.  But when a film is clearly misogynistic, it’s hard to have a good time appreciating what is happening in the filmmaking.  As you could imagine, the first part of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS starts with a series of deaths by various tools from a toolbox and the victims are all young women.  Now I’m not condoning the programmers in any way for programming this film because the film had been banned upon its release in the U.K. and was remade by Tobe Hooper in the Eighties, so it has a place in the pantheon of the genre.  Still, I’m skeptical.  I’ll still go because it’s a film I always wanted to see as a kid, along side Microwave Massacre.  Actually, it would have been better had this been a double feature.  I think as a rule the folks running The Grindhouse Fest should only play double features, but never mind.

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS plays Saturday only at The Hollywood Theatre at 7:45pm (That’s awful early for grindhouse, i’n’t?)


Anyway, if you’re not into grindhouse, The Hollywood Theatre is also showing a rom com which premiered this month at The Portland International Film Festival, MOSCOW, BELGIUM (Christophe Van Rompaey, Belgium).  MOSCOW, BELGIUM won three awards at last year’s Cannes including Best Screenplay and it starts this Friday. 



PHEW!  That’s a lot of great cinema!  Enjoy!  There’s more playing around town, of course, but these are the films I recommend.  You really can’t miss with any of these.  But if you’re totally broke, there is a terrific online opportunity…


In a partnership with IFC Films and The Criterion Collection, gatekeepers to the Janus Films catalog, the website for is featuring SIX FREE foreign films which all won Best Foreign Film upon their release.  


The films are LA STRADA (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1954), one of my personal favorites CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (Jiri Menzel, Cz., 1966), BLACK ORPHEUS (Marcel Camus, Brazil, 1959), the hilarious film MON ONCLE (Jacques Tati, France, 1958), THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos, Cz., 1965) and well…you can see the following this weekend at the Fifth Avenue Cinema so I’m hesitant to mention the last one, THE VIRGIN SPRING.

To watch these films FOR FREE, click here!




A Review of The 32nd Portland Int’l Film Festival

22 02 2009

It’s Finally Over

The 32nd Portland International Film Festival ran an exhausting eighty films playing over a period of eighteen days, or longer if you count the press screenings open to all NW Film Center Silver Screen members.  By design, PIFF is very much a by rote film festival which lacks imagination in its programming and doesn’t attract international premieres.  The festival plays on the heels of The Academy Awards and subsequently casts a broad net over all international films submitted to the Academy with the hope that the films programmed will be nominated.  Of the eighty films programmed this year, twenty-eight were submitted to the Oscars.  Although this is less than half, this approach is somewhat pedestrian and yields a fairly conventional program.  The remaining films have already had lives on the festival circuit or are due for domestic release by major distributors.  A common theme among the films programmed is aging (O’Horten, Beaches of Agnes, The Window, Cherry Blossoms, Of Time and the City, Captain Abu Raed, Modern Life) or period pieces (Dean Spanley, The Necessities of Life, Seraphine, Nightwatching, Katyn, The Rest is Silence, Blind Sunflowers, Everlasting Moments), which draw in the aged retirees with disposable income and nothing but time.  Consequently, PIFF has never been much of a life force, despite the fact that when films for a young audience are programmed (Mermaid, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Eldorado, The Chaser), the films always sell out.  PIFF could and should be programmed for a broader demographic, except that The Northwest Film Center uses the festival the same way public television programs during their pledge drive, with the hope of attracting people able to spend $250 on an annual membership, and that’s rarely college students.  The reason for this could be that students, or at least those attending Portland State University, can attend films at the NW Film Center for free all year round provided that they have a valid student ID.  Unfortunately, this is a benefit about which the Film Center isn’t very vocal and so goes ignored.

My main complaint with this kind of festival programming has less to do with the quality of the films, as many I mentioned listed above were quite good, but that the elderly audience is consistently mannerless, entitled and ill-spirited making the festival atmosphere stressful and  joyless.  Last year, I had seats taken from me by retirees without an ounce of remorse.  This year, on the second day of the festival, an older man sat next to me and tried to muscle the armrest from me, and when I refused to budge, he moved to another seat.  The next day, I was checking my bag at The Whitsell Auditorium, which took about five seconds, and two older gentlemen cut in front of me so they could get to the seat they wanted.  In fact, they started to race to the front row and when I beat them to it, complained that they’d have to sit four seats down.  Later that week, another retiree, who didn’t have the privileges of being a Silver Screen member, snuck in with her ticket and camped out in the third row.  She saved a seat next to her which she had no intention of sharing and when the place was packed, she refused to give up her empty seat.  At another screening, I was third in line and they announced that we could start heading into the theater and so I started walking NEXT TO the other two people ahead of me.  The very large old woman snipped loudly, “Could you PLEASE WAIT YOUR TURN!?”  I said, “Well, go!”  Her husband said back, “There’s no need to be rude…you FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE!”  And then yesterday, at The Beaches of Agnes, a man was saving two seats by standing in front of them and an older woman ran up to him and bullied him out of both seats even though she only needed one and argued that they had both arrived at the seats at the same time.  The man conceded despite the other people in the audience telling her to let him have the seats for him and his wife.

Who can stand this sort of stress?  Why does the Baby Boomer generation act so selfishly about their space?  Anyone under 45 who attends the festival is there to have fun in a communal way and try to accommodate the others around them. I ended up seeing about half of the films I had intended to see because I just didn’t have the energy to fight old people every two hours every day for eighteen days.   Sadly, I know that none of the octogenarians will ever learn about my experience because most of them are not internet savvy enough to read about this.  I don’t mean to chastise a whole generation, but really…LIGHTEN UP.

The Films

After all the conflicts and stress, looking back on the festival it was one of the best in terms of volume of quality films.  Previous years have had maybe three films that pack an emotional or formal wallop, and though this year had no films that were particularly cathartic, it reigned with formal acumen.  Here were the best of the lot (and a lot of  ’em!), so be sure you keep this list handy over the next year because you won’t want to miss them when they play in Portland:


Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK)

Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)

Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda, France)

Mermaid (Anna Melikyan, Russia)

Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim, South Korea)

The Chaser (Hong-jin Na, South Korea)

Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway, UK)

Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, Germany)

Seraphine (Martin Provost, France)

Of Time and the City (Terrence Davies, UK)

Lorna’s Silence (Dardenne Bros, Belgium)





6 02 2009

The 32nd Portland International Film Festival started tonight, and what an incredibly strong festival this year!!  First off, I know how overwhelming it is to try to pick out which films you want to see based on film descriptions.  PDXFilm has taken some of the guess work out of your decision making process by providing trailers for almost every single film in this year’s festival!  See link below.

By all means, let your film fest friends know about this site so they can take advantage of this valuable resource!!! Email each other about!



Tonight started very strongly with GOMORRAH (Matteo Garrone, Italy), which plays again MONDAY, 6PM at The Whitsell Auditorium.  GOMORRAH is a rich tapestry realistically drawing on the current state of the organized crime empire of the Camorra in Naples.  GOMORRAH won the Grand Prix at Cannes and nominated for Best Foreign Film for this year’s Academy Awards.  Additionally, Scorsese has decided to help the film get attention by stamping it with his seal of approval.  The reason this is relevant is because despite Scorsese’s desire to be part of the Hollywood system, he is also a great cinema scholar, particularly when it comes to the Neorealism movement which came out of Italy after World War II.  GOMORRAH borrows as much from the Neorealism tradition as it does from Scorsese unpredictable eruptions of violence.  If you don’t get a chance to see GOMORRAH at this year’s festival, it’s coming to Cinema 21 in the next few months.



A total surprise was MERMAID (Anna Melikyan, Russia), which not only played to a full house, but also thoroughly charmed with its imagination, its ability to cultivate magic in simple and realistic ways, its attention to detail, its playfulness and more than anything, its absurdist sense of humor.  Most every scene had moments of invention and never once did it toe the line of being cloying, unlike our ex-local twee filmmaker, Miranda (July) Grossinger.  In fact, she could take a lesson from Ms. Melikyan’s writing and learn that sometimes salt (in this case, salt water)  is more important than sweet.  And if you see MERMAID, imagine how much better July’s film had been if July had met the same fate as MERMAID’s lovable, fire starting heroine!  Also, don’t believe the unjustifed  comparisons to Amelie; MERMAID is fortifying cake to Amelie’s tubful of lard based blue frosting with mercury sprinkles.

MERMAID is bound to be a festival favorite and its already been given an additional screening.  MERMAID plays twice TUESDAY at 6PM and 8:45PM at The Broadway Metroplex.  I may ditch a film from my schedule to see this one again!


I suspected that  THE CHASER (Hong-jin Na, S. Korea) was going to be strong, but I didn’t think it would have as much depth as it did.  On the surface, it’s a cat and mouse detective thriller, but part of what makes the narrative exceptional is that the antagonist confesses his crime and is in custody of the police within the first thirty minutes of the film, and yet there’s still the threat that he hasn’t really been contained.  Thematically, the film is about male incompetency and impotency and does not tie up nicely in a  happy little bow by the end.  Tense, perfectly structured, great sense of humor and it always amazes me how much of a beating South Koreans take in their cinema before they finally give up.  

THE CHASER plays one more time (!) SATURDAY at 1:15PM at The Broadway Metroplex.

Saturday’s line up is even stronger than the festival’s opening night.  DO NOT MISS REVANCHE (Götz Spielmann, Austria), HUNGER (Steve McQueen, U.K.), and if you’re into docs, you can’t miss with THE ENGLISH SURGEON (Geoffrey Smith, U.K.).  



Other films I’d recommend are as follows, and if you want to learn more, again you can watch the PIFF trailers by clicking HERE.

IL DIVO Paolo Sorrentino, Italy
24 CITY Jia Zhang-ke, China
TULPAN Sergey Dvortsevoy, Kazakhstan
OF TIME AND THE CITY Terence Davies, U.K.
SUGAR Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, U.S.
TOKYO SONATA Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan
LORNA’S SILENCE Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France
TREELESS MOUNTAIN So Yong Kim, U.S./South Korea
GOODBYE SOLO Ramin Bahrani, U.S.


One of the best films of 2008 is finally playing at The Laurelhurst Theater.  It stayed in first run for many months, and now for those of you on a budget (or must drink beer or wine when watching a movie), your time has come to see LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden).

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a coming-of-age vampire film that is stylishly cool, emotionally warm and quietly violent.  If you just can’t afford a 9$ PIFF ticket, but your still want to see some great international cinema, this is one of the best.  

Plays nightly at The Laurelhurst Theater at 9:40pm…And don’t go to the fuckin’ Living Room Theater and pay between $5-$9 to watch a projected DVD.  Go see it ON FILM.

…and HAPPY GO LUCKY continues it’s run at Laurelhurst for yet another week!  “Now that’s what I call a BARGAIN!”