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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘The Girl and the Spider,’ ‘Emergency,’ ‘A Taste of Whale’

As theaters gear up for big-budget Summer Movie Season, several intriguing small films slip into town. Plus: some big, loud flicks that AREN'T "Top Gun: Maverick."

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Liliane Amuat and Henriette Confurius in “The Girl and the Spider.”

Once upon a time, Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of the Summer Movie Season. These days, studio tentpoles and franchise installments explode onto the calendar all year long, but with the film industry still trying to mount a comeback, it remains a relevant benchmark. That, in addition to its blatant militarism, is why Top Gun: Maverick will be monopolizing multiplex screens all across the land.

It seems as if even independent theaters aren’t daring to compete with Tom Cruise and his amazing jet fighter, since there are only a couple of new titles opening at them this weekend. One of them is Montana Story, a sensitive, well-acted family drama from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, whom I had the pleasure to interview.  

The other is a beguiling little oddity called The Girl and the Spider. It’s the second film by twin brothers and co-directors Ramon and Silvan Zürcher, and it takes place over a single weekend as a young woman named Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is in the process of moving out of the apartment she has been sharing with Mara (Henriette Confurius). Mara, sporting a significant cold sore, is helping Lisa move into her new place, as is Lisa’s enigmatic mother, Astrid (Ursina Lardi).

As this trio, joined by various friends, neighbors, and movers, negotiate spaces new and old, they orbit and collide with one another in a variety of combinations. The Zürchers manage to imbue the quotidian events depicted with a wry, wispily cosmic significance. By the same token, strange happenings–the mysterious appearance of a naked woman in a motorcycle helmet, the discursive story of an old woman who steals a neighbor cat—feel drawn from reality.

There’s an arrhythmic, gently jarring quality to the editing in The Girl and the Spider that contributes to these feelings, and that makes you sit up and pay attention. Which is good, because it’s easy to lose track of the various interactions and power dynamics between these folks. If all this makes it sound like a difficult film, it’s not, as long as you’re willing to surrender to its peculiar charms. (Opens Friday, May 27, at Cinema 21)

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IF YOU’RE IN THE MOOD for big, loud entertainment, but not in the mood to Cruise, the Hollywood Theatre will be cranking up the volume with screenings of some classic blockbusters: Starship Troopers, Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, and Point Break. Relive the glory of the summer movies of yesteryear, and if you’re me, cross that last title off the list of film’s you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen. (Check www.hollywoodtheatre.org for showtimes)

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Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

Also this week:

The Devil Queen: In this 1974 Brazilian cult classic, a queer, black drug kingpin in Rio de Janeiro tries to find a scapegoat to take the place of his prison-bound lover. But those plans go violently awry in a tale that soaked in blood and camp. (Sunday, May 29, Church of Film at the Red Fox)

Bronco Bullfrog: Director Barney Platts-Mills’ 1971 debut feature was a low-budget, black-and-white youth drama starring teenagers with no previous acting experience. It was praised in its day, and played at the Cannes Film Festival, but, like Platts-Mills’ career in general, was largely forgotten for decades. This newly restored edition recently had its American premiere at Film Forum in New York. (Wednesday, June 1, Hollywood Theatre)

Streaming Picks:

A Taste of Whale: Putting a human face on a global issue, Vincent Kelner’s documentary focuses on the annual slaughter of hundreds of pilot whales in the Faeroe Islands. It’s been a cultural tradition for centuries, say the islanders, and it’s no different than the killing of other animals for food. The crew of the Sea Shepherd, who arrive to protest “the Grind,” strongly disagree. Both sides get their say, which may be frustrating to some viewers, but which keeps the film from merely preaching to one choir or the other. (Friday, May 27, via Amazon and Apple TV)

RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon, and Donald Elise Watkins in “Emergency.”

Emergency: College party hijinks have a different feel in the Black Lives Matter era, exemplified by the setup of this funny, ambitious, and outraged film. Two Black best pals, one a hedonistic stoner and the other a Princeton-bound achiever, embark on an evening of revelry only to discover a passed-out white woman on the floor of the rental they share with a hermitic gamer. Fearing, not unreasonably, that calling 911 would put them at significant risk, they decide to try to get her to a hospital, a bad idea that only gets worse when they’re followed by her concerned friends. Zany antics are the sugar that helps the medicine of being Black in America go down. (Friday, May 27, on Amazon Prime)     

The Devil Strikes at Night: German director Robert Siodmak fled Nazism in 1933, and ended up becoming one of the leading figures of film noir, thanks to movies such as Phantom Lady, The Killers, and Criss Cross. He returned to Germany after the war, and this excellent 1957 effort is his bracing, genre-appropriate response to the madness that overtook his homeland. In 1944, an SS officer is accused of the murder of a prostitute, and an ex-soldier now working as a police detective is called in. He determines that, in fact, the killing was the work of a prolific serial killer. But when it becomes clear that the culprit isn’t a Jew or some other undesirable, but instead a strong, remorseless Aryan, the powers that be step in to prevent the administration of true justice. Based on a true story, and unflinching in its depiction of the hypocrisy of Nazi rule. (Available to stream for free [with ads] at Kinocult.com)

… and more

In addition to talking with the directors of Montana Story (which opens Friday at several theaters) I had a conversation with Alex Cox, unrepentant iconoclast director of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, who now lives on the Oregon coast. He held forth on everything from indie movies (including his own Walker, which has a new Criterion Collection re-release on Blu-ray) to American imperialism and the pleasures of a good beer and a good dog.

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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 Vérité Law Company 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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