HOLY CRAP! WHAT A WEEK OF FILM! Mar. 19th – 26th

19 03 2009

This is such a great week of cinema for Portland and I am insanely excited so let’s get crackin’!


Tomorrow night (THURSDAY) is your last chance to see on the big screen a 35mm film print of Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE (Gary Nelson, U.S., 1979) starring Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine and the voices of Roddy McDowall (who plays robot V.I.N.CENT, which stands for Vital Information Necessary CENTralized) and Slim Pickins (who plays robot Bob).  THE BLACK HOLE was the most expensive Disney film made at the time at $20 million for production and $6 million for advertising and though not well received by critics, the film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.  This was also the first PG film produced by Disney (all prior films were rated G) due to the film’s mild language and scenes of murder (Perkins gets eviscerated by the evil robot, Maximilian) as Disney was experimenting with more adult-oriented films.  I think it is also the only Disney film made where everyone in the film dies at the end.

Actually, I’d like to emphasize that what this film is interested in exploring is death.  This is a Disney science fiction film that explores the ideas of death, hell, purgatory and heaven.  John Barry’s score is heavy like a requiem mass, the predominant colors in the film are black and blood red, and the film not only shows a brutal murder, but a cold and calculated space funeral.  The film is scary not because of the violence, but because it’s not only unafraid of death, but it also welcomes it.  Fascinating.

Trailer for THE BLACK HOLE

THE BLACK HOLE plays Thursday night only at The Bagdad.


Also Thursday night ONLY is Martin Scorsese’s personal masterpiece, MEAN STREETS (M.S., U.S., 1973) starring Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel.  Based in part on his own experiences in the darker corners of New York’s Little Italy, MEAN STREETS is Martin Scorsese’s parable of a man attempting to reconcile his violent lifestyle with an irresolute Catholic faith. Harvey Keitel portrays Charlie, a well-meaning, small-time hood whose conflicted nature is slowly beginning to jeopardize both his work and his private life. Robert De Niro turns in a startling performance as Johnny Boy, Charlie’s arguably psychopathic friend, whose quick temper and unpaid debts quickly become menacing liabilities. A powerful character-driven film, Scorsese’s Italian-American rock-infused classic is one of the definitive films of the decade.

For me the reason this film is great is because it is full of passion; passion for the Italian American experience, the passion (and theatrics) of Catholicism, and more than anything, the passion for cinema.  CINEMA.  

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes, “The movie’s blazing energy is still astounding; the vérité street-scenes are terrific and Scorsese’s pioneering use of popular music is genuinely thrilling.”

David Kehr of Chicago Reader writes, “The acting and editing have such an original, tumultuous force that the picture is completely gripping.”

An original 1973 review in Variety wrote, “Scorsese is exceptionally good at guiding his largely unknown cast (!) to near-flawless recreations of types. Outstanding in this regard is De Niro.”

BBC writes, “The Godfather made the mob glamorous. Mean Streets made it real. Martin Scorsese’s ferocious, grimy 1973 classic is just as good as Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, but it shows us criminal life lower down the food chain.”

Vincent Canby of New York Times writes, “No matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heartbreaking the narrative, some films are so thoroughly, beautifully realized they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter.”

Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times writes, “Its greatness lies in its leanness, with nary a word, a move, a gesture that’s nonessential.”

And lastly, Roger Ebert writes, “In countless ways, right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows, Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies.”

little marty scorsese signs his name

Aside from his student film project, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, this was Scorsese’s first feature film of his own design. Director John Cassavetes famously told Scorsese after he completed an exploitation film for Roger Corman to make films he wanted to make, about things he knew. MEAN STREETS was based on actual events Scorsese saw almost regularly while growing up in Little Italy.

The screenplay for the movie initially began as a continuation of the characters in Who’s That Knocking. Scorsese changed the title from Season of the Witch to MEAN STREETS a reference to Raymond Chandler’s essay, The Simple Art of Murder where he writes, “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”  Scorsese sent the script to Corman, who agreed to back the film if all the characters were black. Scorsese was anxious to make the film so he considered this option, but actress Verna Bloom arranged a meeting with potential financial backer, Jonathan Taplin, who was the road manager for the musical group, The Band (Scorsese later went on to direct the documentary about The Band’s last show, The Last Waltz).  Taplin liked the script and was willing to raise the $300,000 budget that Scorsese wanted if Corman promised, in writing, to distribute the film. According to Scorsese, the first draft focused on the religious conflict within Charlie and how it affected his worldview. Along with fellow writer Mardik Martin, Scorsese wrote the whole script while driving around Little Italy in Scorsese’s car. They would find a spot in the neighborhood to park and begin writing, all the while immersed in the sights, and sounds of what would eventually appear on-screen.

Once the financing was in place, Scorsese began to recruit his cast. De Niro had met the director in 1972 and liked what he had seen in his first film.  De Niro was impressed with how the film had so accurately captured life in Little Italy, De Niro had grown up in a similar area, Hell’s Kitchen. Scorsese offered the actor four different roles, but he could not decide which one he wanted to portray. After another actor dropped out of the project, Scorsese cast Keitel in the pivotal role of Charlie. Keitel was also responsible for convincing De Niro to play Johnny Boy.  

The film was very well received by the critics in general. Some even hailing it as one of the best original American films of all time. Pauline Kael being the most enthusiastic of them all calling it “a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking” and “dizzyingly sensual”.  Other critics like Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said “the acting and editing have such original, tumultuous force that the picture is completely gripping”.

Given his bad experience directing The Godfather, and after seeing MEAN STREETS, Coppolla chose Scorsese to direct the sequel. The opposition of film executives convinced Coppola to direct the film himself.  

Because of the honesty, violence and low budget nature of MEAN STREETS, it did not receive the attention of the Academy, but this film lives on as one of the greatest films about the Italian American experience ever made.

Trailer for MEAN STREETS

YOU HAVE ONLY ONE NIGHT TO SEE MEAN STREETS.  And that night is TOMORROW, THURSDAY, MARCH 19TH at 7PM at The Whitsell Auditorium.  Don’t be a mook and miss out!  What’s a mook?


On Saturday night ONLY at The Whitsell Auditorium is the prescient and still contemporary NETWORK (Sidney Lumet, U.S., 1976) starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty.  NETWORK follows the story of jaded news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who, upon learning that he’s to be fired after years in the business, takes advantage of a live broadcast to announce his own on-air suicide. When the ratings unexpectedly soar and Beale is transformed into a modern-day prophet, the network bosses that once sought the end of his otherwise unremarkable career now find themselves urging him into the glare of the media spotlight. Working from Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay, Lumet crafts an unrelenting satire of a media and public that symbiotically feed off spectacle. 

NETWORK won four Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Acress and Best Screenplay.  Actor Peter Finch was the only actor to have ever won in the Best Actor category posthumously before Heath Ledger’s recent win for playing a cartoon character in a comic book movie.  NETWORK was nominated for ten Oscars in total and the ONLY film to have been nominated in all four acting categories.

Trailer for NETWORK

If you have never seen NETWORK, FUCKING SEE IT.  It plays Saturday ONLY at The Whitsell Auditorium at 7pm.  GO!

Andrzej Wajda Retrospective

Oh fuck Andrzej Wajda.  He has no sense of humor and he’s STILL making films about World War II. Get over it.  The truth is The Polish Library Building Association in Portland, which is sponsoring this retrospective, is offering cash prizes to people who attend these films.  Wanna know why?  Because they’re fuckin’ tedious!  


I rarely ever promote video projected stuff, especially when there’s a cover charge, but this is a guilty pleasure so bear with me.  FRANK ZAPPA AND THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION play live for Swedish TV in 1973 followed by the original MOI playing in 1968.  Show is at The Clinton St. Theater FRIDAY NIGHT ONLY at 9:45pm.  

Here’s a preview…just imagine this on a big screen.

FZ and MOI play Montana in Stockholm, Sweden

This rare screening is this FRIDAY ONLY at 9:45pm at The Clinton Street.

BTW, the Clinton Street (AND The Mission Theater & Pub) will be showing pulp fiction which wasn’t that great to begin with and is terribly dated by now, so ignore it.


(UPDATE) This double feature will be 35mm film prints!

Have you ever seen THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper, U.S., 1974)?  No?  Well, now is the time to break your cherry.  The film was made on a budget of $140,000 and made nearly $31 million in the U.S., but banned in the U.K. and Australia.  TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, despite its reputation as a scary movie, was made tongue-in-cheek.  In fact director, Tobe Hooper, had hoped that the MPAA would give the film a PG rating as the film barely has any on screen violence.  It is mostly suggested through atmosphere and the ear shattering sound of that dreaded chainsaw.

As a kid, I remember driving by the local drive-ins and seeing scenes of this film floating on a firmament of stars like a distant nightmare.  It was beautiful.  

Trailer for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)


Now how about the truly bizarre TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II (Tobe Hooper, U.S., 1986) starring Dennis Hopper!?!  The sequel is over the top and highly stylized and features effects from makeup maestro, Tom Savini!  This film was made to be a black comedy because Hooper was disappointed that audiences didn’t fully understand the humor of the first film.  Because the film is so outrageous, the MPAA gave it an X rating, prompting the filmmakers to release it as unrated.  The film was banned in three countries.

The screenplay for the sequel was written by L.M. Kit Carson who also wrote the breakthrough Cinéma vérité masterpiece, David Holzman’s Diary and the Wim Wenders’ classic, Paris, Texas.


The truth is this is a double feature made in heaven.  You really could not ask for a better late night double feature.  Seriously.  As long as The Bagdad is playing 35mm film prints for both, we shall all be having one of the best times ever this weekend.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE I & II play this Saturday, March 21st starting at 10pm and Sunday at 9pm at The Bagdad.  This is gonna be great!


Alright, so maybe for some of you, Texas Chainsaw is simply a bit much but you’re still in the mood for a bit of tongue-in-cheek B-movie fun.  Well, what if there was a film that combined the charm of Valley Girl with the zombies of Night of the Living Dead?  NIGHT OF THE COMET (Thom Eberhardt, U.S., 1984) is the perfect hybrid of Eighties teen and monster movies!

When a comet hits Earth, nearly everyone is outside to witness the spectacle and celebrate its arrival. Unfortunately, the comet possesses deadly rays that turn all the onlookers to dust. However, teenager Regina and her valley girl sister Samantha survive, having been indoors when the comet struck. But the world has become a dangerous place, populated by monstrous zombies, created by the comet’s rays. The girls try to escape the creatures and find safety. They seek refuge at a radio station, having been lured there by a (taped) radio transmission. There they meet Hector, another survivor. Meanwhile, scientists from an underground compound find they’ve been affected by the comet, and need the blood of healthy humans to create a vaccine. They kidnap Samantha to use her for their cure, forcing Regina and Hector to set out and save her — for the sisters are Earth’s only hope for re-populating the planet…

Vincent Canby of The New York Times writes, “A good-natured, end-of- the-world B-movie, written and directed by  a new filmmaker whose sense of humor augments rather than upstages the mechanics of the melodrama.”

Variety writes, “A successful pastiche of numerous science fiction films, executed with an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek flair.”

Just watch the trailer.  It’s so adorable (That ESPECIALLY means you, SKYE!!!)


NIGHT OF THE COMET starts Friday for one week at Laurelhurst Theater.  Showtimes at 9:45pm daily.


Good God, will the fun NEVER END!?!

Tuesday, March 24th at The Hollywood Theatre for ONE NIGHT ONLY, the martial arts classic, SNAKE IN EAGLE’S SHADOW (Woo-ping Yuen, Hong Kong, 1978) starring Jackie Chan!!!  Listen, there is a good reason why Jackie Chan became a superstar and this film demonstrates why.  He is charming, hilarious and is beautiful to see in action, as much as Bruce Lee.  Director Woo-ping himself has gained international stardom as the action choreographer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix and Kill Bill, so if you liked any of these other crappy movies, this film KICKS ASS!!!


SNAKE IN EAGLE’S SHADOW plays one night only, Tuesday March 24th at 7:45pm.  Preceeded by vintage trailers!!!

Also…Soderbergh’s film CHE is moving from Cinema 21 to The Hollywood Theatre starting Friday.  If you haven’t seen it, be sure to take advantage of it while you can.  It is in limited run and totally worth seeing, despite the fact that it’s four and a half hours!


Next Thursday, March 26th at 7pm at The Whitsell Auditorium is KLUTE (Alan J. Pakula, U.S., 1971) starring Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda.  Featuring harsh, gritty cinematography by Gordon Willis (THE GODFATHER), KLUTE adopts the structure of a 1940s film noir to tell the tale of John Klute (Donald Sutherland), a small-town detective who finds himself in the Big Apple to investigate the murder of a close friend. Upon his arrival, his only tangible lead is working girl and aspiring actress Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), whose gentlemen callers enable her to maintain her independence and free will. But as Klute’s investigation progresses and he inadvertently puts her life in danger, emotion defies the logic of life’s choices.

KLUTE was nominated for two Academy Awards and won one for Fonda’s snot dripping performance.

Trailer for KLUTE

KLUTE plays next Thursday at 7pm at The Whitsell Auditorium.  


You may remember from previous PDXFilm entries that I wrote a rather impassioned appreciation for Portland’s microcinema, Cinema Project.  Their Spring season of programming begins next week and it’s incredible.  THIS SECTION IS FOR THE TRUE CINEPHILE.

March 25th and 26th, Cinema Project presents British filmmaker and programmer Ben Rivers for two nights of screenings of his much acclaimed 16mm films.  In 1996, Ben co-founded and since co-managed/programmed Brighton Cinematheque, renowned for screening a unique program of film from its earliest days through to the latest artist’s film and video.  A young and highly prolific filmmaker, Rivers films are beautifully shot and hand-processed documents.  An intimacy and appreciation for his subjects is protected by limited revelations and sparse soundtracks.  The films are landscapes, current, common histories odes to the freedom fighters that would have, in the past, come in ballad form.  A sense of freedom runs throughout his films, suggesting any rural setting where safety does not trump the joy of smashing around.  

Ben Rivers


All films presented in 16mm film prints. Please check out his website HERE.


Lastly, in first run theaters opening Friday, writer Tony Gilroy gives us his second directorial effort (his first being Michael Clayton), DUPLICITY (Tony Gilroy, U.S./Germany) starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti.  Other films penned by Gilroy have been Dolores Clairborne, Extreme Measures, The Devil’s Advocate, Proof of Life, the Bourne trilogy and of course, Michael Clayton.  

Trailer for DUPLICITY

My instinct tells me this would be a perfect double feature with NETWORK which plays Saturday.  So maybe think about it.


So that’s all the new and repertory cinema this week!!!  But don’t forget there’s also GOMORRAH and CHE at The Hollywood Theatre, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, MILK, SYNECDOCHE, NY, WENDY & LUCY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN at The Laurelhurst Theater and in first run theaters, WALTZ WITH BASHIR, THE CLASS, (and now I’m going to promote two films at a theater I always try to never mention) and two great indie films shot on video, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY and FROZEN RIVER playing at The Living Room Theatres, which does NOT show film prints, only DVDs.  However, since the films were shot on video to begin with, it doesn’t really make a difference if you watch them from a DVD.  If you’re unfamiliar with these titles, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY (Barry Jenkins, U.S.) was nominated for the Someone to Watch Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards and FROZEN RIVER (Courtney Hunt, U.S.) was nominated for seven Independent Spirit Awards and nominated for two Oscars.

Phew.  I’m pooped.  Hope I see you at one of these screenings this week. 

NEXT WEEK: Paris, Blues starring Paul Newman, films by Bob Fosse, Terrence Malick, Bob Rafelson and JOHN CASSAVETES (Keep next Saturday open for that one)!!!


















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