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FilmWatch Weekly: Vroom, vroom in ‘The Bikeriders,’ ‘Thelma,’ and John Waters’ ‘Cry-Baby,’ plus Canadian drag queen drama in ‘Solo’

Austin Butler and Tom Hardy star as members of a criminal motorcycle gang in "The Bikeriders," the latest film from director Jeff Nichols.


Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in "Thelma"
Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in “Thelma.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

There’s just something about the feel of the wind in your hair as you cruise down the open road. Or so they say. Enough to make you understand why motorcycles have been a symbol of freedom and rebellion practically since they were invented. And almost enough to make you understand why, despite the clear idiocy of the decision, so many riders chafe at wearing a helmet.

There are no helmets in sight in The Bikeriders, director Jeff Nichols’ surprisingly engaging look at the lives and crimes of the members of a Chicago-based biker gang called the Vandals during the late 1960s and early ’70s. The movie’s based on a book of photographs and interviews by Danny Lyon, who was a member of such a gang for five years. Grounding this portrait in those images and words (some apparently recited verbatim by the actors) gives The Bikeriders a verisimilitude that distinguishes it from the typically sensationalistic treatment of these outlaw road warriors.

Which isn’t to say there’s a lack of action or drama. Or hot dudes in leather jackets. Austin Butler, hot dude du jour thanks to his star-making work in Elvis and his co-starring role on Apple TV’s World War II-set Masters of the Air, tackles another “when men were men” milieu as the hotheaded young Vandal Benny. We meet Benny, and see much of the rest of the movie, through the eyes of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who falls for the bad boy after he intimidates her former boyfriend by simply sitting outside their house all day on his hog. Butler has the smirking smolder to pull that off, but there’s also a pathos behind his eyes. (Sound like any Kings of Rock and Roll you know?)

It wouldn’t be a movie about a predominantly male, ritualistic subculture without a father figure for our hero to relate to. Here that’s Johnny (Tom Hardy), the middle-class family man who founded the Vandals as a recreational riding club only to see if slowly morph into a rougher, more criminal outfit. It’s obvious that Johnny (and thus Hardy) see themselves as ten-years-on versions of Marlon Brando’s iconic biker in The Wild One even before the fact is explicitly revealed. Johnny wants Benny to take his place eventually as head Vandal; Kathy wants him to cease his lunatic antics and settle down before he gets himself killed. Benny, for whatever reason, just wants to rebel against, y’know, whatever ya got.

A few other members of the gang are sketched out enough to reveal why they left the straight world behind. The most entertaining of these, a wannabe soldier who was rejected for military service in Vietnam, is grimily played by Nichols regular Michael Shannon; another, a visiting member of a California gang who decides to stick around, is seedily embodied by Norman Reedus. Yet another, who earned the nickname Cockroach for his insect-eating propensity, prompts one of the Vandals’ bigger conflicts when he announces he wants to quit and become a motorcycle cop.

Without sentimentalizing the life paths that led these largely lost souls to seek community outside proper society, Nichols paints them as something more than mere nihilists or countercultural system-buckers. He makes the wise decision to include Lyon as a character, played by Mike Faist (Challengers), both during his years in the gang and in scenes set a few years later when he interviews Kathy. This is the first feature in eight years from the Arkansan auteur, who seems hell-bent on telling compelling American stories that avoid formulas and end up being unjustly overlooked. (If you haven’t seen his previous collaborations with Shannon, Take Shelter, Midnight Special, and Shotgun Stories, please do.)

The Bikeriders isn’t flawless. I didn’t find Comer’s Chicago accent very convincing, and I’d like Butler to mix things up both visually and vibe-wise at some point. And the story can’t help but slide into a predictable third act where everything goes to hell. But Hardy is great fun to watch, there’s authenticity and respect for the film’s characters in every scene, and, heck, some of the bike riding is pretty exciting. (Opens Thursday, June 20, at Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, Regal Fox Tower, and other locations)


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Thelma: Those young punks in The Bikeriders aren’t the only ones who take to the open road as an expression of their individuality and their belief in personal freedom (to quote Sailor Ripley). The 93-year-old title character in this endearing comedy, having stolen a motorized scooter in order to track down the scammers who took her for $5,000, does the same thing, if at slightly lower speeds. (She still doesn’t wear a helmet, though.) June Squibb, the nonagenarian actress playing Thelma, made her film debut in 1990 in Woody Allen’s Alice at the age of 61, and has hardly let up since, with IMDb listing nearly 100 credits to her name. (You may remember her as Jack Nicholson’s wife in About Schmidt or Bruce Dern’s wife in Nebraska, the latter of which earned her an Oscar nomination. She’s also the voice of Nostalgia in Inside Out 2.)

After she naively mails an envelope of cash to the creeps pretending to be her adoring grandson on the phone, Thelma’s family—daughter Gail (Parker Posey), son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg), and grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger)—tries to convince her to let it go. But Thelma won’t have it. With the help, some willing and some not, of fellow elders Ben (Richard Roundtree) and Grace (Annie O’Donnell), she sets off on an epic quest to the wild of Van Nuys to get her money back. Writer-director Josh Margolin’s first feature packs more than geriatric slapstick; both Thelma and Daniel have something to prove to themselves and their children/parents about their capacity for self-determination. And Roundtree, the onetime blacksploitation icon, simply shines in a farewell performance—he died last October. (Opens on Thursday, June 20, at the Hollywood Theatre, Regal Fox Tower, Cinema 21, and other locations)

Solo: Quebecois director Sophie Dupuis’ third feature is set in the passionate, colorful world of Montreal’s drag scene. Simon (Théodore Pellerin) is one of the star performers at a flashy club, and has a close relationship with his sister Maude (Alice Moreault), who designs most of his spectacular outfits. When Simon falls hard for newly hired costar Oliver (Félix Maritaud), however, their increasingly toxic relationship threatens that equilibrium. To complicate matters, Simon’s mother Claire (Anne-Marie Cadieux), who abandoned the family years earlier to pursue her opera career, has returned to the city for an extended engagement. The melodrama works, and doesn’t depend on the once-outré setting for its appeal , but the real highlight is the scintillating stage work from the main characters. (Opens Friday, June 21, at Living Room Theaters)


Cry-Baby: Adding to this week’s motorcycle/scooter theme, John Waters’ 1990 spoof of 1950s juvenile delinquency movies was recently released on 4K disc and Blu-ray. It’s fascinating to see Johnny Depp, in his first big-screen lead role, as a heartthrob from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for a pure-hearted good girl (Amy Locane). This was Waters’ second stab at relatively mainstream filmmaking following Hairspray, and his first with anything approaching a typical studio budget. It’s to the Pope of Trash’s credit that he smuggles a trailer’s worth of subversion into this ostensibly tame, PG-13 rated musical, including the casting of a roster of cult icons: Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Troy Donahue, Traci Lords (her first mainstream film), Joe Dallesandro, Joey Heatherton, and of course the inimitable Patricia Hearst. Cartoonish but full of heart, the only real flaw is the uncomfortable presence of a Confederate flag at the club where Depp and his fellow “Drapes” party. In some of the extensive supplementary material, Waters justifies this as being historically accurate, akin to showing his characters smoking cigarettes. That would make sense in a film that was attempting to get the details right in a depiction of 1950s Baltimore, but that’s not what Waters does, and instead it feels like an anachronism from the 1990s, when the Stars and Bars could still be used in a comedic or innocent sense.

Another amusing aspect of the interviews and commentaries on the disc is the unmitigated praise all the Waters weirdos shower on Depp, then an ingenue making his first transition from 21 Jump Street teen idol to something more substantial. He’s lauded as humble, hardworking, and kind. What a difference a few decades can make to a movie star’s image. In true John Waters fashion, Locane’s 15-minute interview was filmed in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, where she is currently finishing out an eight-year sentence for vehicular homicide. (Available from Kino Lorber Home Video.)


The Linguini Incident: Another long-lost indie film relic of the 1990s has emerged from hibernation. More than thirty years following its initial release, director Richard Shepard’s quirky crime comedy, starring David Bowie and Patricia Arquette, has been recut, restored, and re-released. The rest of the cast includes such cult-movie mainstarys as Eszter Balint, Buck Henry, and Andre Gregory. (Monday, Hollywood)

Time of the Heathen: Long thought lost and newly restored, this 1961 oddity is the only feature from director Peter Kass. It’s a parable set in the first years of the atomic age, in which a mysterious wanderer is mistakenly blamed for the murder of a Black woman and pursued by vengeful townspeople. (Tuesday, Hollywood)


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Revolutions Happen Like Refrains: The Films of Nick Deocampo: The groundbreaking work of gay Filipino documentarian and historian Deocampo includes a pair of films focusing on Oliver, a drag superstar in 1980s Manila who gets swept up in the protests against the Marcos regime. Other rare films from Deocampo will also be screened. (Wednesday, Clinton)


Friday 6/21

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] (Hollywood, on 70mm, also Saturday)
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert [1994] (Clinton)
  • But I’m a Cheerleader [2000] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Hard Target [1994] (Cinemagic, also Wednesday)
  • The Princess Bride [1987] (Cinemagic, also Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [1971] (Academy, through Thursday)

Saturday 6/22

  • The Favourite [2018] (Cinema 21)
  • Heavenly Bodies [1985] (Academy, on LASERDISC, also Wednesday & Thursday)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch [2001] (Clinton, Salem)
  • I Saw the Devil [2010] (Cinemagic, also Wednesday)
  • Lady Snowblood [1973] (Cinemagic, also Monday)
  • The Searchers [1956] (Hollywood, on 70mm, also Sunday)
  • To Die For [1995] (Cinema 21)

Sunday 6/23

  • Blue Ruin [2013] (Cinemagic, also Tuesday)
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004, subtitled] (Cinema 21, also Wednesday)
  • The Revenant [2015] (Cinemagic, also Thursday)
  • Slam [1998] (Tomorrow)
  • Spartacus [1960] (Hollywood, on 70mm)

Monday 6/24

  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004, dubbed] (Cinema 21)

Tuesday 6/25

  • Moonlight [2016] (Clinton)
  • Twilight [1998] (Salem)

Thursday 6/27


Oregon Cultural Trust

  • D.E.B.S. [2004] (Hollywood)
  • Lost in Translation [2003] (Clinton, with improvised live score)

Independent theaters included in these listings:

  • Academy Theater, Portland
  • Broadway Metro, Eugene
  • Cinema 21, Portland
  • Cinemagic, Portland
  • Clinton Street Theater, Portland
  • Darkside Cinema, Corvallis
  • Eugene Art House, Eugene
  • 5th Avenue Cinemas, Portland
  • Hollywood Theatre, Portland
  • Kiggins Theater, Vancouver WA
  • Living Room Theaters, Portland
  • Salem Cinema, Salem
  • Tomorrow Theater, Portland

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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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