FilmWatch Weekly: From “Certain Women” to “Computer Chess” and beyond

Movies playing this week can take you to from a back alley in 1980s L.A. to the slopes of a Guatemalan volcano

If you go by Hollywood rules, the only movies coming out this week are The New Tom Cruise Movie, The New Tyler Perry Movie, and The Latest Horror Prequel Based on a Board Game.

But we don’t play that way. We know there are so many cinematic options here in Portland it can make your head spin. (And not in a Classic Demonic Possession Movie kind of way.) What follows, then, is a daily guide to film consumption for the week of October 21-27:

Kristen Stewart in "Certain Women"

Kristen Stewart in “Certain Women”

Friday 10/21: “They Live”: John Carpenter’s sci-fi political allegory was released in 1988, a.k.a. the tail-end of the Reagan Era. It’s about a regular guy (played by the late, great, locally-sourced pro wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who discovers that alien overlords have been brainwashing humanity with subliminal messages designed to encourage consumerism and submission. Only with a special pair of sunglasses can he see the billboards, and the bad guys, for what they are. This is an almost perfect blend of Carpenter’s patented B-movie genius with a darkly satirical message that’s still relevant—and probably always will be. Also, it features the single best (and longest) back-alley fistfight in film history. (5th Avenue Cinemas, 9:15 pm, also screens Saturday & Sunday)

Saturday 10/22: “Computer Chess”: The year is 1980-something. The setting is a competition among some of the earliest (and nerdiest) programming enthusiasts to see who can create the best computer chess program. The weirdness level is rising fast. Director Andrew Bujalski had been known for his so-called “mumblecore” movies (“Beeswax” screens at the 5th Avenue Cinemas Friday and Sunday), but this 2013 effort takes that bare-bones aesthetic and dips it in mescaline. Shot in black-and-white on primitive video equipment, it follows an eccentric cast of characters through a weekend that eventually spirals into sublime surreality. Bujalski will be in attendance for this showing, held as part of Portland State University’s “Portland State of Mind” festival. (PSU, Lincoln Hall Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave., 7 pm)

Sunday 10/23: “Certain Women”: The latest film from Portland-based director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”) adapts three short stories by Montana-based author Maile Meloy, each one focusing on a, you guessed it, certain woman. Laura Dern is a lawyer dealing with a chauvinistic, unstable client in the first; Michelle Williams is an affluent, conflicted wife and mother in the second; and Kristen Stewart is a night school teacher in the third, and strongest, segment. The film’s discovery is Lily Gladstone, playing a lonely, shy ranch hand who develops an enigmatic infatuation for Stewart’s character. Their delicate rapport is captivating, and “Certain Women” is another landmark in the career of one of America’s foremost independent filmmakers. (Cinema 21, opens Friday and continues through the week, multiple showtimes)

Monday 10/24: “The Idealist”: Several of the films in the Northwest Film Center’s annual survey of New Scandinavian Cinema are fairly routine examples of standard genres: family drama, romantic comedy, culture-clash sports movie, etc. “The Idealist,” while it doesn’t break any new ground cinematically, is an absorbing political thriller about a crusading journalist on a quest to exposes decades-old lies and secrets. In 1968, an American B-52 crashed near Thule Air Base in Danish-controlled Greenland with four hydrogen bombs on board. Twenty years later, a Danish reporter investigates a rash of illnesses plaguing workers from the base, and the story leads him to Washington, D.C., Texas, and the top ranks of his country’s government. The movie deftly weaves archival footage into its fact-based story for a nice documentary feel. (Whitsell Auditorium, 7 pm)

Tuesday, 10/25: “Here is Harold”: Why not make it a Scandinavian twofer and check out this dark Norwegian comedy about a put-upon furniture store owner whose business collapses after a giant IKEA store opens nearby. With his life in shambles, Harold decides to kidnap the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad (who does not, unfortunately, play himself). Despite his ineptness, he manages to track down Kamprad, who turns out to be anything but a reluctant abductee. This isn’t the only film in the Scandinavian series to feature comical scenes of attempted suicide, but it’s the one that feels most in tune with the region’s particular brand of fatalism. (Whitsell Auditorium, 6:30 pm)

Wednesday, 10/26: “The Lost Arcade”: Portlanders eager for that retro gaming experience have places like Ground Kontrol and Quarterworld, but nothing can truly recapture the grimy camaraderie of New York City’s classic arcades. At least this affectionate documentary makes it seem that way. Focusing on a place called Chinatown Fair, which was preparing to close in 2011 after thirty years in business, it commemorates a subculture and an urban milieu that simply can’t compete in the era of Xbox and PlayStation. (Hollywood Theatre, 9:30 pm)

Thursday, 10/27: “Ixcanul”: The Internet Movie DataBase lists only sixteen films that were shot in the Mayan language, and two of them were made by Mel Gibson (“Apocalypto”) and Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”). This one is set among the indigenous Kaqchikel people of Guatemala, and tells a surprisingly involving story about a 17-year-old girl sentenced to an arranged marriage by her parents. When she finds herself pregnant, and not by her fiancé, prayers to the local volcano may not be enough the resolve the situation. Entrancing cinematography and convincing performances from a non-professional cast make this a promising first feature for director Jayro Bustamante, and a film worth seeking out. (Living Room Theaters, opens Friday, Oct. 21, and continues through the week)

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