All Classical Radio James Depreist

FilmWatch Weekly: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ and ‘Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,’ plus Amy Winehouse ‘Back to Black,’ Oregon teens in ‘Gasoline Rainbow’ and more

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine star in writer-director Jane Schoenbrun's surreal and nostalgic second feature.

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Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in “I Saw the TV Glow”

It’s not news at this point that movie theaters are ailing, with the disappointing box office take of the seemingly lab-designed hit The Fall Guy the latest symptom. But, not to belabor a dead horse, that doesn’t in any way mean that cinema itself is on its last legs. Two new films this week, from radically different filmmakers and parts of the globe, demonstrate that (re)invention, visual flair, and a willingness to earnestly embrace the absurd can still lead to unique filmgoing experiences.

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has deservedly become the flavor of the month, if not the entire season, for their second feature, I Saw the TV Glow. With a highly visible release from A24, and a soundtrack album chockablock with Gen-Z headliners, it’s a wonder that Schoenbrun found the time to swing into Portland last week for a Q&A following a preview screening at PAM CUT’s Tomorrow Theater. (It surely didn’t hurt that interviewer and PAM CUT director Amy Dotson worked with them years ago in New York.)

In what could have been a simplistic, nostalgic ode to 1990s pop culture and the bonding power of fandom, TV Glow focuses on two teens, eighth-grader Owen (Justice Smith) and the older Maddy (Brigitte Lundy-Paine), who introduces Owen to an addictive TV series titled The Pink Opaque. It’s about two girls who discover they have a psychic bond and use their powers to combat the machinations of a man-in-the-moon type called Mr. Melancholy. (Somehow, he’s even creepier than the misbegotten McDonald’s moon man mascot from the 80s.)

A lot goes on, but suffice it to say that later, Maddy, having gone missing for several years, returns to Owen’s world claiming that The Pink Opaque, which was abruptly cancelled after a cliffhanger series finale, leaving its fans bereft of closure, is real. Is this a case of a superfan who’s lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from truth? Or is there something deeper, and far less literal, going on? (Spoiler: it’s probably B.)

From staging the cheesy-but horrific moments of low-budget genre TV, to employing a suitably eerie color scheme, to serving up cameos that maybe only true nerds will get, Schoenbrun makes a quantum leap from their quarantine-shot, two-character debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair to this ambitious, intricately staged fable. (If any of the details about The Pink Opaque remind you of a certain undead-battling cheerleader from Sunnyvale, California, you’re not alone.)

In the film’s press materials, as well as during last week’s Q&A, they stress how central their trans identity, and their particular realization of that fact, as central to the film’s construction and vibe. That is undoubtedly true, and yet the feeling of difference, the sensation that one is merely observing oneself in the world rather than fully inhabiting it, the loneliness that comes from the fear that kindred souls don’t exist, all of these are relatable to a broad swathe of misfits and square pegs.

Still, TV Glow clearly represents another step toward LGBTQ, and particularly trans, representation both on and off screen. The main cast is devoid of cishet representation, with the notable exceptions of Limp Bizkit front man (and noted stuff-breaker) Fred Durst as Owen’s tyrannical dad and the abrasive standup and YouTube comedian Conner O’Malley as his manager at work. (The highlight of Schoenbrun’s Q&A was their story about attending a Limp Bizkit concert as, I guess, research before casting Durst.)

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Poetic, surreal, and emotionally honest without being uncritically nostalgic or in any way didactic, I Saw the TV Glow points the way toward an inclusive, progressive, and, crucially, entertaining 21st century cinema. (Opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters, Regal Fox Tower, and other locations.)

Far from suburban American basements lie the urban landscapes of Romania, where much of Radu Jude’s masterful Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World plays out. Its grainy black-and-white in stark contrast to the rainbow aura of a cathode ray tube, the film follows a very long day (and a half) in the life of Angela, who works as a production assistant for a company in Bucharest that has been hired to make a worker safety video for an Austrian furniture company. Angela is a typically overeducated (Proust on her bedside table in the first scene, Muriel Spark seen later), exhausted, cheerily nihilistic millennial. Director Rade Jude seems to have a thing for nudity in his opening shots, as we first meet Angela as she groggily, nakedly, dresses for work after her 5:50 a.m. alarm.

Perhaps to retain her sanity, Angela has an alter ego that she manifests by using a TikTok filter to appear as a bald, unibrowed chauvinist who posts vulgar screeds to the app. (“I satirize through over-exaggeration,” she explains at one point.) Most of Angela’s “real” life is in black-and-white, while Bobito’s videos are in vivid color. Also in color is the 1981 Romanian film, “Angela Moves On,” snippets of which Jude has dropped into his film to create what the end credits refer to as a “conversation.” This earlier Angela is a taxi driver who deals with sexist passengers during the Ceaușescu era, but who also eventually makes an appearance in the main storyline.

That primary story has our Angela making her way through the crush of traffic to interview four candidates to star in the aforementioned workplace safety video. Each is a worker who was injured on the job, and they’re auditioning for a paying gig in which they present themselves as cautionary tales and urge other workers to use proper safety equipment and follow protocols. But each incident described makes it clear that the company’s negligence was at least as much to blame as, say, the lack of a hard hat.

The great Nina Hoss, frequent star of Christian Petzold’s films, appears as an executive who eventually flies in to supervise the film shoot. This takes up the final twenty or so minutes of the film, all in one static single shot that fully unspools the hypocrisy and inhumanity of late-stage capitalism.

Angela is an engaging character, whether she’s flipping off rival drivers or coming up with one of her dark Slavic jokes. (My favorite, meant to demonstrate how people want bad fortune for others more than good fortune for themselves: “God appears to a peasant and says he will grant him one favor, but that his neighbor will receive it in double. The peasant thinks, then says ‘Take one of my eyes.’”) That crack is emblematic of the film’s tone: angry, but never strident, infused with well-earned Eastern European fatalism, but still resisting outright despair.

Jude is, for my money, one of the most inventive, angry filmmakers working. His Bad Luck Banging, or Loony Porn was one of the best films of 2022, and while this one doesn’t quite reach the same heights of absurd genius, it still has creativity and chutzpah to spare. (Saturday & Sunday, Hollywood Theatre; also streaming on MUBI)

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ALSO OPENING

Hollywood 90028: In 1973 Los Angeles, at the height of porno chic, a cameraman with Tinseltown dreams has been relegated to shooting skin flicks. His alienation and resentment grow, leading to acts of violence that recall Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and foreshadow Travis Bickle. An astonishing example of the gold that can be found by panning through the polluted waters of exploitation cinema, this is the only feature ever directed by one Christina Hornisher, about whom very little can be gleaned from the Internet. She passed away in Los Angeles in 2003 at the age of 60, but seems to have completely fallen off the industry map after this film. It should go without saying that male directors who cut their teeth making smart (or even dumb) versions of grindhouse fare went on to be folks like Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, and Martin Scorsese. At least we have Hollywood 90028. (Saturday & Sunday, Hollywood)

Gasoline Rainbow: It wasn’t until I started to watch this rambling, poetic teen road movie that I realized it’s entirely Oregon-filmed. Directors Bill and Turner Ross hover over the line between documentary and fiction by following a group of five teens, apparently playing versions of themselves, as they embark on a 513-mile quest from their (fictional) eastern Oregon hamlet of Wiley to what they expect will be a notorious rager at the Pacific Coast. By van, train, foot, and watercraft, they make their way to a very recognizable Portland, smoking weed and making friends all along the way. The looselimbedness of both the protagonists and the narrative, and the inherent optimism of bedraggled, wayward youth are reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, but that film didn’t have scenes set at the Burnside Skate Park or at the wreck of the Peter Iredale in Warrenton. (Opens Friday at Living Room Theaters, with the directors and some cast members in attendance for a post-film Q&A after the 7:30 p.m. screening on Saturday.)

Back to Black: The most prominent musician to become part of the ill-fated “27 Club” in recent years has also joined the club of singers whose cinematic biographies feature performances that punch above their films’ weight. In addition to Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles, Rami Malek’s Freddy Mercury, and, yes, Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison, we now have Marisa Abela’s Amy Winehouse. Abela, largely unknown prior to this breakout role, reportedly does all her own singing, in Winehouse’s trademark style, which is on its own an amazing accomplishment. The film around her, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, is less of a jaw-dropper. There’s only so much, frankly, one can do with yet another story about a working-class dreamer who achieves global stardom, only to succumb to the temptations and pressures of it all. I’ll leave it to fans and historians to opine on the necessarily compressed storyline, but Winehouse’s bad-boy husband Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) does not come off well. (Opens Friday at multiple locations)

Power: A primer of sorts on the origins and excesses of law enforcement in the United States, director Yance Ford’s effective documentary accurately renders how today’s thin blue line traces its history back to antebellum slave patrols. Institutional racism and the primacy of private property are thus infused into the DNA of modern police forces, and the influx of militaristic tactics and technology have only metastasized the oppositional mindset of so-called peace officers and, inevitably, those over whom they exercise the titular power, that of sanctioned state violence. For further insight, check out 2016’s Do Not Resist and, of course, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th. (Netflix)

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever: Thirty years ago, two years before Jamie Lannister even appeared on the page, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starred in Danish director Ole Bornedal’s 1994 cult classic Nightwatch (originally Nattevagten). He played a law student who takes a job as a night watchman at a Copenhagen morgue and ends up becoming the prime suspect in a series of murders. Now that his schedule has freed up post-Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau reprised that role in this effective sequel, wherein his daughter (Fanny Leander Bornedal, the daughter of the director) gets hired on for her now unemployed, disturbed dad’s old job. When it becomes clear that the killer from the original film did not, in fact, die at its conclusion, the murders start to pile up again. (Streaming, as is the original, on Shudder.)

IF: It stands for Imaginary Friends, the fuzzy digital critters that kids can see until they grow up but then become invisible. John Krasinski cashes in his A Quiet Place chips in making this family-friendly fantasy about a little girl with a sick dad (Krasinski) who tries to connect various Ifs with their erstwhile juvenile charges. The cast includes Ryan Reynolds and the voices of Awkwafina, Steve Carell, Matt Damon and more. Early reviews have ranged from awful to so-so. (Opens Friday at multiple locations)

The Strangers: Chapter 1: Another new film set in Oregon (but filmed in Slovakia), this horror prequel is about a couple who are terrorized by a trio of masked sadists while staying at an isolated Airbnb. Director Renny Harlin (remember him?) also helmed two companion films shot simultaneously and slated for release later this year and next. So there definitely is a thing called the Strangerverse, which should be good news to fans of the franchise.

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LIMITED RUNS

Three Promises: Palestinian director Yousef Srouji edits hours of home movies taken by his mother during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s into a document that captures the reality of daily life during that time. (Saturday, Clinton St.)

Finding the Money: If you thought it was impossible to make a gripping documentary about monetary policy, think again! This is a fascinating and smartly rendered look at the controversial school of thought behind Modern Monetary Theory, the most visible proponent of which is economist Stephanie Kelton. She and her intellectual allies argue that national debt, rather than being something to be avoided, is a measure of a government’s investment in its citizens’ economic well-being. I caught this at last year’s Bend Film Festival, and it was something of a revelation. (Monday, Clinton St.)

Kim’s Video: This years-in-the-making documentary follows one man’s quest to find out what happened to the inventory of New York City’s most beloved video store after it went out of business. Director David Redmon’s journey takes him to Sicily and Seoul, and deep into the worlds of both Italian politics and incurable cinephilia, and is peppered with a knowing array of deep-cut film references. This is a must-see for any physical media maven, and should prove entertaining even for those who’ve never even held a laserdisc in their hands. (Monday & Tuesday, Hollywood)

REVIVALS

Friday

  • Blade Runner 2049 [2017] (Cinemagic, also Monday)
  • Eyes of Fire [1983] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Ghost in the Shell [1996] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Keoma [1976] (Hollywood)
  • My Heart Is That Eternal Rose [1989] (Clinton St.)
  • Rebels of the Neon God [1992] (Hollywood)
  • Things to Come [2016] (5th Avenue, through Sunday)
  • Twister [1996] (Academy, through Thursday)

Saturday

  • Black Narcissus [1947] (Cinema 21)
  • Enemy [2013] (Cinemagic, Q&A with screenwriter Javier Gullón)
  • Neptune Frost [2021] (Hollywood, Portland EcoFilm Festival)
  • Prisoners [2013] (Cinemagic, also Tuesday)
  • Raging Bull [1980] (Hollywood, on 35mm)
  • Transformers: The Movie [1984] (multiple locations, also Sunday)
  • The Wicker Man [1973] (Clinton St.)
  • Young Frankenstein [1974] (Tomorrow)

Sunday

  • Arrival [2016] (Cinemagic, also Wednesday)
  • International Youth Silent Film Festival 2024 (Hollywood)
  • Malcolm X [1991] (Tomorrow)
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind [1984] (multiple locations, also Tuesday)
  • North by Northwest [1959] (multiple locations, also Wednesday)
  • Sicario [2015] (Cinemagic)
  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders [1970] (Clinton St.)
  • The Way to Happiness [2021] (Eugene Art House, also Wednesday)
  • Welcome to the Dollhouse [1995] (Hollywood, benefit for Stumptown Strays Dog Rescue)

Monday

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  • Castle in the Sky [1986] (multiple locations, also Wednesday)
  • Rebecca [1940] (Hollywood)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming [2017] (multiple locations)

Tuesday

  • The Body Beneath [1970] (Hollywood, on 35mm)
  • The Doomsday Machine [1972] (Darkside Cinema)
  • Psychotronic Afterschool Special: Teen Scare Films (Clinton St.)

Wednesday

  • Nuit Rouges [1974] (Clinton St., Church of Film)
  • Uncut Gems [2019] (multiple locations, in IMAX)
  • V: The Final Battle Parts 1 & 2 [1984] (Hollywood)
  • Who Is Stan Smith? [2022] (Darkside Cinema)

Thursday

  • The Blair Witch Project [1999] (Clinton St., Q&A with producer Gregg Hale)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Nine Muses Law and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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