Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

FilmWatch Weekly: Turkish masterpiece ‘About Dry Grasses,’ plus spring horror in ‘Late Night with the Devil’ and ‘Immaculate’

Also this week: a trio of Tarantino double features, OMSI's 2024 Sci-Fi Film Fest, and a Middle Earth marathon at the Hollywood Theatre.

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Deniz Celiloglu, Musab Ekici, and Merve Dizdar in “About Dry Grasses.”

They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. About Dry Grasses, the latest intimate epic from Turkish master filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan feels like a relic from an era when cinema took itself, and the world, seriously, telling stories of novelistic sweep and intimate human truth. At well over three hours, and almost entirely constructed of dialogue-heavy scenes, you’d think it would grow tedious. You’d be wrong.

The setting, like that in most of Ceylan’s films, is the eastern region of Anatolia, in this case an isolated rural village where Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) works as a fifth-grade art teacher. He’s about to reach four years of service, which will allow him to request a transfer to Istanbul, where he used to live, and say goodbye to an environment he clearly views with disdain.

These plans are threatened when Samet and his best friend, fellow teacher, and housemate Kenan (Musab Ekici) are anonymously, and falsely, accused of inappropriate behavior with students. Nothing comes of the charges, but when Samet learns that one of the complaining students was Sevim (Ece Bagci), a girl he had taken under this wing as a protégé, he reacts with fury and contempt.

Meanwhile, Samet and Kenan befriend an attractive teacher at another nearby school. Nuray (Merve Dizdar, who won the Best Actress prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival) is more politically engaged and less cynical than either of the men, and Samet’s disgruntlement only grows when it becomes clear that she and Kenan are developing a close bond.

Every member of this cast brings a naturalistic perfection to the screen, which is a huge asset in keeping Ceylan’s typically long, conversational takes as riveting as they are. Every flinch, every subtle shift in gaze, bears meaning—even if it weren’t subtitled, this is a talky film you have to keep your eyes on. About Dry Grasses was Turkey’s submission for the 2024 Best International Film Oscar, but somehow didn’t even make the 15-film short list. Maybe voters were cowed by the running time, but that’s no excuse. This is artistic filmmaking of the highest order, cementing Ceylan’s position as a deserving heir of Andrei Tarkovsky, Béla Tarr, and other practitioners of patient cinema. (Living Room Theaters)

Spring has sprung, the days are getting longer, the sun has proved its continued existence, and Easter is just around the corner. What better time for a pair of gleefully nasty horror flicks to saunter onto screens, right? Fortunately, they’re both clever, well-crafted items, each an original twist on a longstanding trope.

In the wake of The Exorcist, pop culture went on a demonic possession kick that still hasn’t fully ebbed, one aspect of which was the prevalence of “live” exorcisms on television TV, the most famous of which was an episode of 20/20 in 1991. Running with that concept, directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes came up with Late Night with the Devil. It’s October 31, 1977, and late-night host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is desperate for ratings. Desperate enough, in fact, that he has booked teenaged, supposedly possessed Lily (Ingrid Torelli) as his main guest. Her therapist and handler June (Laura Gordon) is also there, as is resident James Randi-esque skeptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss).

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

Presented as previously lost footage of the episode, the film builds its tension nicely and benefits from Dastmalchian’s oily but sympathetic performance. (Delroy’s wife and frequent co-host, we learn, died from cancer last year, and neither he nor the show have been the same since.) Unconstrained by scientific reality, the Cairnes push things in the final act to a delightfully excessive degree, although I could have done without the final, overly expository coda. (Laurelhurst Theater, Regal Fox Tower, and other locations)

In the last three months, Sydney Sweeney has starred in a raunchy rom-com, a superhero movie, and now a straight-up nunsploitation flick. You can’t say she’s not at least trying to expand her range. In Immaculate, she’s Sister Cecilia, an American novitiate from Detroit who arrives at a convent dedicated to the care of aging or disabled nuns in the Italian countryside. She hasn’t had time to learn more than a sprig of the language, which adds to her sense of disorientation (and makes Sweeney’s job a little easier).

The place, with its subterranean catacombs and vibe of decrepitude, is creepy enough as is. But when Cecilia is discovered to be pregnant, in the manner the title implies, things get intense for the poor girl real fast. Other characters begin to treat her as little more than a brood mare for the messiah, and both the film’s Roman Catholic backdrop and its release in a post-Roe v. Wade world heighten our sense of Cecilia’s plight. Sweeney’s perfectly serviceable, and director Michael Mohan (no relation that I know of) conjures the appropriate level of Suspiria vibes on the way to the gory horrors that await in the film’s second half. The last shot is a keeper. (various locations)

ALSO OPENING

Ghost Busters: Frozen Empire: The sequel to the reboot of the franchise brings together ‘busters old (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson) and new (Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, et al.) to face a supernatural force that threatens to cover the world in ice. Sounds like they could use a Targaryen or two. (various locations)

They Shot the Piano Player: In this animated pseudo-documentary, Jeff Goldblum voices a reporter who’s investigating the disappearance (and presumed murder by authoritarian forces) of Brazilian pianist Francisco Tenorio Junior in 1976. (Regal Fox Tower, opens Mar. 29 at Salem Cinema)

You Can Call Me Bill: William Shatner, whose acting career spans Captain Kirk to Boston Legal, sits down for what’s billed as a revealing and humanizing interview-based portrait of an unexpectedly complicated man. (Fox Tower, Bridgeport Village)

ALSO THIS WEEK

War Movie: This five-part series takes a thoughtful look at the history of cinematic depictions of war, from the silent era and The Birth of a Nation through the patriotic era of World War II, the disillusionment of Vietnam, and present-day depictions such as The Hurt Locker. The first two episodes will screen at the Tillamook Air Base with director Steven Summers in attendance. (Saturday & Sunday, Tillamook Air Base)

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Tarantino and Inspirations: Celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Pulp Fiction (yes, you’re that old) with this triptych of double features pairing a Quentin Tarantino original with a classic film that inspired it. Pulp’s pop-culture pastiche (and Uma Thurman’s hair) owe a debt to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande á Part (aka Band of Outsiders), while Inglourious Basterds is a revisionist take on The Dirty Dozen, and QT’s debut, Reservoir Dogs, incorporated his love of Hong Kong crime films such as City on Fire. (Cinemagic Theater, Friday through Thursday; check website for details.)

OMSI’s 2024 Sci-Fi Film Fest: For the next two months, OMSI’s Empirical Theater will host a wide-ranging selection of science fiction classics old and new. Iconic staples such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are on the menu, but so are more offbeat, rarely screened titles including Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville and recent hits from Nope to Everything Everywhere All at Once. The closing night feature in May is the brand-new Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

25 Years of Mission Hill: Portland’s own fast-food guru Bill Oakley and his partner in crime Josh Weinstein will be on hand to celebrate the passage of a quarter of a century since their acclaimed animated series first aired. (Friday, Clinton St.)

The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Marathon: One day, three movies, ten-plus hours of Middle Earth shenanigans. What more do you need to know? (Sunday, Hollywood)

Leila & the Wolves: This rarely screened 1984 Lebanese film, the second by pioneering female director Heiny Srour, follows its protagonist as she travels through time and space to explore the role of women in Lebanese and Palestinian history and society. (Wednesday, Church of Film at Clinton St.)

Sue Bird: In the Clutch: Director Sara Dowland’s documentary, which had its world premiere at January’s Sundance Film Festival, revisits the career of WNBA star Sue Bird and follows her during the final season of her 21-year pro career. (Wednesday, Cinema 21)

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REVIVALS

Thursday

Friday

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1920] (Hollywood, with live original score from Portland dungeon synth artist Cold Sanctum)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004] (Kiggins, through Monday)

Saturday

  • 7th Heaven [1927] (Hollywood, with live organ score)
  • The Breakfast Club [1984] (Clinton St.)
  • Bring It On [2000] (Hollywood)
  • The Dungeonmaster [1984] (Hollywood)
  • Tank Girl [1995] (Clinton St.)
  • Trouble in Paradise [1932] (Cinema 21)
  • Valley Girl [1983] (Tomorrow Theater)

Sunday

  • Heathers [1988] (Tomorrow Theater

Monday

  • Under the Skin [2013] (Hollywood)

Tuesday

  • Coffy [1973] (Clinton St.)
  • The Deadly Spawn [1983] (Hollywood, on 35mm)
  • First Blood [1982] (Cinemagic)

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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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