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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Winter Kills,’ ‘The Origin of Evil,’ ‘The Attachment Diaries,’ and a whole lot more

Also this week: "Radical Wolfe" pays tribute to an iconic New Journalist, and a hungry Hindu demon haunts a group of teens in "It Lives Inside."

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Jeff Bridges and John Huston in “Winter Kills”

When filmmaker William Richert died in Portland last year at the age of 79, he left behind a rich, varied, and eccentric body of work, including an acclaimed documentary about New York’s American Ballet Theatre School and an early starring role for River Phoenix. He appeared on screen with Phoenix in the Portland-shot My Own Private Idaho as the scene-stealing, Falstaffian Bob Pigeon. But he’s probably known best for his first narrative feature, the star-studded 1979 conspiracy thriller Winter Kills, which is being released in a newly restored edition.

Frankly, “star-studded” doesn’t really begin to describe it. The huge roster of Hollywood legends in the cast includes (deep breath) Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Malone, Ralph Meeker, Toshiro Mifune (!), Richard Boone, and, in a perfect, wordless cameo, Elizabeth Taylor. The plot is a riff on the purported cover-up surrounding the Kennedy assassination, as the half-brother (Bridges) of a president gunned down nearly twenty years earlier comes across a dying man who claims to be the killer.

This sends him down a series of rabbit holes, and from Philadelphia to Cleveland to New York, getting different stories from everyone he meets. And with Huston reviving his Chinatown-style villainy, it’s not clear the real truth will ever be known. Each of the featured cast members gets a chance to chew some scenery, with Hayden’s military madman (who chases Bridges’ car across an open field in a tank) a particular standout. A dark comedy about the corruption and confusion at the heart of the American myth, Winter Kills is a near-perfect example of the paranoid cynicism of the late 1970s.

Throughout his career, Richert seemed almost cursed. Films were taken from him and re-edited, his ideas were allegedly pilfered to profit others, and he became persona non grata in Hollywood after standing up to the Writer’s Guild of America over the payment of foreign levies. The making of Winter Kills was no exception. The movie was produced by drug dealers whose only previous film industry experience had been the American release of the French soft-core Emmanuelle movies. When cash ran short, some cast and crew members worked for free, which led to production being shut down by the trade unions. Filming, which began in 1976, was halted for over 18 months before resuming.

Despite those obstacles, Richert created an incisive, funny, bizarre, and unique take on the country’s shadow history. It’s truly a shame that he isn’t around to enjoy its rediscovery in glorious 35mm. (Cinema 21, Monday through Wednesday)

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK

The Origin of Evil: There are some strong Succession vibes to this twisty, dark-humored French thriller, in which working-class Stéphane (Call My Agent’s Laure Calamy) decides to reconnect with Serge, the father (Jacques Weber) who abandoned her as a baby. She swears that her decision to do so has nothing to do with the fact that he’s incredibly wealthy, but Serge’s current wife and other daughter have their suspicions.

It turns out that almost everyone, from the maid to the patriarch, has ulterior motives. And what does that woman with whom Stéphane engages in spicy conjugal visits at the local penitentiary have to do with it all? Superficial but fun, writer/director Sébastian Marnier’s third feature is confidently paced and convincingly acted. One quibble: this whole mess could have been sorted out rather easily with a simple DNA test… (Cinema 21, Metro Cinemas in Eugene, opens Friday)

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Radical Wolfe: Iconic New Journalist Tom Wolfe gets the bio-doc treatment in a movie that’s “based on the Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis.” Despite that name-dropping credit, there isn’t much of Lewis’s particular voice on display. There doesn’t need to be, really, since Wolfe’s groundbreaking career and inimitable personality are interesting enough. Director Richard Dewey leads us through the highlights, from the 1965 Esquire piece on NASCAR driver Junior Johnson that forever saved him from daily newspaper work to classics including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities.

The essay that gets the most attention, however, is the one that Wolfe himself called his favorite. Radical Chic came about when Wolfe secured an invitation to a benefit for the Black Panther Party held at the expansive apartment of conductor Leonard Bernstein and his wife. Skewering the pretensions of what would later be called ‘limousine liberals,’ Wolfe takes no prisoners and tolerates no hypocrisy. One wonders if he’ll make an appearance in Bradley Cooper’s upcoming Bernstein biopic, Maestro. (Kiggins Theatre, opens Friday.)

My Sailor, My Love: This Finnish-Irish co-production at first looks to be your typical story about a gruff, widowed curmudgeon (James Cosmo) who’s drawn out of his shell by a new woman in his life—in this case, the housekeeper (Brid Brennan) his daughter (Catherine Walker) has hired, against his wishes, to tend to the filthy little house he inhabits on the beautiful Irish coast. At first Howard wants nothing more than to be left alone to wistfully finger the buttons on his peacoat, but after driving housekeeper Annie away, he has a sudden change of heart and apologizes. Before long, senior love is in the air, and Howard bonds with Annie’s family, especially her two adorable granddaughters. This, however, isn’t what daughter Grace wanted, and her complicated emotional reaction is what elevates this otherwise simple and gauzy tale. (Bridgeport Village, Fox Tower, Salem Cinema, Liberty Theater in Camas; opens Friday.)

It Lives Inside: Getting an early jump on Halloween horror-movie season, this debut feature from director Bishal Dutta mines Hindu mythology for its scares. In a prosperous American suburb, teenaged Samidha (Megan Suri) lives with her parents, the family having moved to the U.S. from India for Dad’s job. Sami is thoroughly Americanized, which sits well with her father but not her mother, who chastises her for ignoring her cultural roots. Those warnings foreshadow the danger from a Pishacha, a soul- and flesh-devouring demon that Sami clumsily frees from the jar in which it had been trapped. In standard but well-executed fashion, the demon stalks Sami and the fellow teens she enlists to help her. There are a couple of well-staged set pieces, but the cultural novelty of It Lives Inside is its biggest attraction. And the subtle message that forgetting where you came from and assimilating too much can have deadly consequences feels more than a bit reactionary. (Multiple theaters, opens Friday)

The Attachment Diaries: Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. This twisted Argentine import is set during that country’s 1970s military dictatorship, when abortion was completely forbidden and thousands disappeared in what’s known as the Dirty War. Against this backdrop, a desperate woman named Carla (Jimena Anganuzzi) arrives on the doorstep of Irina (Lola Berthet), a doctor who provides illegal abortions. After determining that Carla’s pregnancy is too advanced for that, she offers her a deal: Carla can stay at the office until she gives birth, and can then sell the infant to a wealthy, infertile couple. What could go wrong? The stark, black-and-white cinematography and those slowly swooping camera moves surely don’t portend anything disturbing. Nothing some scalpel stabs, a vat of acid, and a lengthy, fairly explicit sex scene can’t solve, for sure. Twists aplenty (maybe one too many), plus the right straight-faced tone during all the insanity to come, make this a captivating, disturbing, and ultimately puzzling experience. (Cinema 21, Friday and Saturday)

THE REST OF THE WEEK

FRIDAY

  • 1987 slasher flick Blood Diner, with director Jackie Kong in attendance (Clinton St.)
  • Brian De Palma tweaks Michelangelo Antonioni in 1981’s Blow Out (Academy Theater, all week)
  • Wes Anderson’s debut feature, Bottle Rocket (Eugene Art House)
  • Heath Ledger earns the first comic-book-movie Oscar in The Dark Knight (Academy, all week)
  • Utterly bonkers Japanese cult classic Hausu (Hollywood, through Sunday)
  • Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Hollywood)
  • The world record holder for most abs in one film, Magic Mike XXL (Hollywood, through Sunday)
  • The early career of Nick Cage in the short-lived, beyond-intense band The Birthday Party is chronicled in the documentary Mutiny in Heaven, which features loads of amazing vintage concert footage (Hollywood, all week)
  • The best low-budget time-travel movie ever, Primer (Cinemagic, also Tuesday)
  • Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer (Cinemagic, also Sunday & Wednesday)
  • The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Clinton St., benefit screening for SMYRC)

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SATURDAY

  • Extremely dark 1983 Austrian chiller Angst goes inside the mind of a serial killer newly released from prison (Hollywood, also Sunday)
  • The best film of 2006, Children of Men (Cinemagic, also Sunday & Thursday)
  • Director Neill Blomkamp’s breakthrough District 9 (Cinemagic, also Monday)
  • Clara Bow, not Pennywise the clown, stars in the silent comedy It (Hollywood, with live pipe organ accompaniment)
  • Sam Rockwell’s great double performance in Moon (Cinemagic, also Sunday & Tuesday)
  • Possibly Marilyn Monroe’s sexiest performance in 1953’s Niagara (Cinema 21, 11 a.m.)

SUNDAY

  • Final Girls Berlin: Best of 2023 showcases short horror films written and/or directed by female or nonbinary filmmakers (Hollywood)
  • James Stewart gets terribly confused in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (Living Room, also Thursday)

MONDAY

  • Sextember comes to a sizzling close with the Wachowskis’ debut feature Bound (Hollywood, through Thursday)
  • Portland director Tara Johnson-Medinger’s My Summer as a Goth, with director in attendance (Clinton St., benefit for Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery)
  • Gore Vidal’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer pits Elizabeth Taylor against Katharine Hepburn (Hollywood)

TUESDAY

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  • Documentary Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness recalls the epic psychedelic trips of Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Alan Watts (Clinton St.)

WEDNESDAY

  • Church of Film presents the 1996 Italian gothic horror film The Arcane Sorcerer (also known as The Mysterious Enchanter) (Clinton St.)
  • The Portland Latin American Film Festival kicks off another season with Allá, cartas al corazón, in which a young man returns to his Mexican hometown only to find it populated entirely by women. (Hollywood, director Montserrat Larque in attendance)

THURSDAY

  • Documentary Common Ground explores the possibilities of the “regenerative farming” movement (Cinema 21)

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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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