clinton street theater

FilmWatch Weekly: Our Bodies, Our Selves

Losing control of your physical self is a primal fear that's examined or exploited by more than one movie opening this week in Portland.

Several of this week’s movies deal with bodies and our control (or lack of control) over them. Some characters obsess over their appearance, and that of others, while others find themselves prisoners in their own flesh. Not sure what this says about the global zeitgeist—probably nothing—but in a time when the body politic, at home and abroad, seems to be thrashing thoughtlessly about, maybe the fear of irrational behavior becomes especially sharp.

A scene from the Polish film "Demon," playing in the Portland Jewish Film Festival.

A scene from the Polish film “Demon,” playing in the Portland Jewish Film Festival.

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FilmWatch Weekly: “Money Monster,” “High-Rise,” and more

George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, and Ewan McGregor sidle into theaters this week, but your best bets may lie elsewhere

What’s this? A Hollywood movie with big stars tackling a socially relevant issue in a summer movie? Don’t worry, “Money Monster” isn’t going to subvert the dominant seasonal paradigm that easily. And it probably won’t make much of a dent at the box office, coming in “Captain America”‘s wake. Luckily, as the mantra goes around here, there’s plenty more to choose from, including a long-awaited J.G. Ballard adaptation, a solid drama about backward Albanian gender customs (really!), and the continuation of series devoted to Czech Cinema and Native American-made films. Dive in!

 

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates in TriStar Pictures' MONEY MONSTER.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates in TriStar Pictures’ MONEY MONSTER.

ARTSWATCH REVIEWS:

 

“Money Monster”: A failed investor takes a cable TV financial guru (George Clooney) hostage on the air in this topical thriller that plays out in real time. Directed by Jodie Foster and co-starring Julia Roberts. (Living Room Theater & other locations) READ REVIEW

“The Meddler”: After her husband dies, a widow (Susan Sarandon) moves to Los Angeles to be near her daughter (Rose Byrne). But she turns out to be a bit of a meddler. That’s not a spoiler—it’s right there in the title. (Regal Fox Tower) READ REVIEW

“Sworn Virgin”: This Italian film shines a light on a bizarre Albanian custom in which women take a vow of chastity in order to be granted the simple rights that men enjoy in their society. (Clinton Street Theater) READ REVIEW

“High-Rise”: J.G. Ballard’s novel about a 50-story apartment building that’s a metaphor for the class system becomes a film from British director Ben Wheatley starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons. (Cinema 21, Kiggins Theatre) READ REVIEW

“Last Days in the Desert”: Ewan McGregor plays Jesus in this visually stunning film that takes place during the final portion of His 40-day fast in the desert. He meets a family in need and tries to resist the temptations of the devil himself (also McGregor). (Regal Fox Tower) READ REVIEW

 

ALSO OPENING:

“Being Charlie”: Rob Reiner directed this addiction drama co-written by his son Nick and based on Nick’s real-world struggles.

“The Darkness”: Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell star in a horror film that wasn’t screened for critics.

 

DAILY SCHEDULE:

 

Friday, May 13:

“Wadjda”: This inspiring drama about a girl and her bicycle was the first Saudi Arabian feature film ever directed by a woman. 5th Avenue Cinema, 7 pm & 9:30 pm; also Saturday, May 14, 7 pm & 9:30 pm, and Sunday, May 15, at 3 pm.

“The Way We Talk”: This locally made documentary explores the science and combats the stigma associated with stuttering. 5th Avenue Cinema, 7 pm; also Saturday May 14, 7 pm.

“Hump Film Festival”: The annual celebration of good-natured, homemade porn returns for another year. Cinema 21, 7:15 pm & 9:30 pm; also Saturday May 14, 6 pm & 8:15 pm.

“Crush the Skull”: In this indie horror flick, a band of burglars pick the wrong house for their latest caper—it turns out to the headquarters of a sadistic serial killer. Clinton Street Theater, 9:30 pm.

“East of Eden”: James Dean’s final film was this 1955 drama based on John Steinbeck’s novel. Laurelhurst Theater, 6:30 pm; through Thursday, May 19 with 1pm shows on Saturday & Sunday.

“Irma Vep”: Director Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film stars Hong Kong icon Maggie Cheung and is inspired by the classic silent French serial “Les Vampires.” Northwest Film Center, 5:30 pm.

“The Way Out”: A Roma family struggle to survive amid discrimination and poverty in this searing social drama screening as part of the New Czech Cinema series. Northwest Film Center, 8 pm.

“The Long Goodbye”: Robert Altman’s offbeat update of Raymond Chandler stars Elliott Gould as private eye Philip Marlowe. Academy Theater, 2:15 pm & 9:20 pm; through Thursday, May 19.

Saturday, May 14:

“Heaven Can Wait”: After his death, a lifelong playboy (Don Ameche) tries to convince the devil that he belongs in Hell in director Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful 1943 Technicolor comedy. Northwest Film Center, 4:30 pm; also Monday, May 16 at 7 pm.

“Gangster Ka”: An organized criminal who prefers to avoid violence gets pushed over the edge after a rival mobster murders his father. Part of the New Czech Cinema series. Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

Sunday, May 15:

“Naturally Native”: Three American Indian sisters try to start a cosmetics company using their family’s traditional herbal remedies in this drama screening as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 4:30 pm.

“Art and Craft”: Fascinating documentary about art forger Max Landis, who donated hundreds of faked masterworks to museums for years before being found out. Director Jennifer Grausman will conduct a post-film Q&A. Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

Monday, May 16:

“Strange and Vicious War Cartoons”: Archivist Dennis Nyback dips into his collection and comes up with 16mm classics including Windsor McCay’s 1918 “The Sinking of the Lusitania.” Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, May 17:

“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change”: Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”) travels the world looking for reasons to maintain hope in the face of looming environmental catastrophe. Cinema 21, 7 pm, through Thursday, May 19.

“T-Bird Gang”: Roger Corman financed this low-budget 1959 thriller about a teenager who goes undercover with a hot rod gang to find his father’s killer. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Wednesday, May 18:

“Trudell”: This 2005 documentary profiles Native American poet, recording artist, and activist John Trudell. Screening as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

“The Invention of Morel”: Anna Karina stars in this 1974 Italian adaptation of the acclaimed 1941 Argentine novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Church of Film at North Star Ballroom, 8 pm.

“River of Grass”: The 1995 debut feature of director Kelly Reichardt (“Old Joy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”), about a housewife who takes up a life of crime in Florida, has been digitally restored. Reichardt will conduct a post-film Q&A. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Thursday, May 19:

“Strike a Pose”: The opening night film of the 10th Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival takes us back to the 1991 Madonna concert film “Truth or Dare” and catches up with some of the featured dancers 25 years later. The festival continues through Sunday, May 22. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

“As Time Goes By in Shanghai”: You might call them the Chinese version of the Buena Vista Social Club. This documentary profiles a group of elderly jazz musicians who have been playing together for decades, through political upheaval and in a country one doesn’t normally think of as jazzy. Clinton Street Theater, 7 pm.

“Rhymes for Young Ghouls”: A strong-willed Native girl resorts to dealing weed in order to stay out of reservation school in this slickly made thriller by Quebec director Jeff Barnaby. Screens as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

 

Film Review: “Sworn Virgin” exposes repressive Albanian custom

This sensitive debut film centers on a real custom in which women take on male identities in exchange for a vow of chastity.

So, apparently this is a real thing. In some patriarchal cultures in northern Albania, a woman can take a vow of chastity, allowing her adopt a male name and appearance, and participate in activities from which women are normally forbidden. These include shooting a gun, smoking and drinking, and basically having any sort of say in anything.

As dramatized in the film “Sworn Virgin,” this does not mean these women are lesbians, or transgender, merely that this is only way they can get around the strict codes of their villages. Crazy, right?

This Italian production stars Alba Rohrwacher as Hana, who shows up on her sister Lila’s doorstep in Rome one day, dressed like a man and calling herself Mark. They haven’t seen each other since Lila fled their hometown years earlier to escape an arranged marriage. As Hana tries to assimilate into modern society, flashbacks reveal the repressive childhoods that she and Nina endured in their Albanian village.

As fascinating as it is to learn about this archaic practice, the real drama in “Sworn Virgin” comes as present-day Mark gradually tries to figure out where his or her identity lies once freed from restrictions. Director Laura Bispuri, in her first feature, sensitively handles the delicate intersection of biological gender, sexual orientation, and simple self-determination. The film never feels either exploitive or preachy.

“Sworn Virgin” was one of the more unexpected pleasures of this year’s Portland International Film Festival, and fully deserving of this return engagement.

(84 minutes, not rated, opens Friday, May 13, at the Clinton Street Theater) GRADE: B+

 

PDXFilm Daily for April 6

Romanian animation, Daniel Day-Lewis' breakthrough role, and a soccer-style "Magnificent Seven"

Just another Wednesday in the world of Portland’s independent movie houses, which means a tantalizing trifecta of titles is on tap.

Humpday is the home base for Church of Film, which sashays into a second month of its “Folk Supernatural” series with the 1965 Romanian animated feature “If I Were…the White Moor.” Director Ion Popescu-Gopo adapted the 19th-century book “Harap Alb,” which was itself inspired by traditional Romanian fairy tales, into this visually striking tale of a king’s son who travels to visit his uncle in a far-off land. Where do they find these things? “White Moor” screens at 8 pm at the North Star Ballroom.

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REVIEW: Twenty-first Century Morocco

Through the lens of an outsider, 'Exit Marrakech' explores Morocco, warts and all.

His boarding school friends get to vacation in Italy and Spain. Teenaged Ben (Samuel Schneider) is disappointed that he’s being dragged to Morocco, where his theatre director father Heinrich (Ulrich Tukur) is staging a German play.

Director Caroline Link won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film with Nowhere in Africa, about German Jewish refugees relocated to Kenya in the 1930s. Exit Marrakech is in a similar vein, transporting a privileged German boy to a world that he finds alien, alluring and dangerous. In the process, it explores the tension between old and new that colors daily Moroccan life: the city versus the country, modern versus traditional, the persistence of ethnic culture versus influences of the West.DSC_4966His father is absorbed with work, and so Ben wanders the streets alone, eventually heading to a nightclub where he meets a prostitute named Karima (Hafsia Herzi). There’s a spark of romance and they begin a ginger friendship. He follows her back to her village of origin, where he finds that she lives in a traditional Berber community. In the city she wears sequined skirts and lets her black hair tumble down her back; at home she covers up in a headscarf and layers of figure-obscuring shirts and tunics.

Ben goes native and buys a long, loose kaftan-style shirt to replace his Oxford button-up. A fellow prostitute friend of Karima’s mocks Western appetites for the clichés of North African exoticism, teasingly saying to Ben, “Your name is Muhammed Tagine, and my name is Fatima Couscous.” The film makes multiple references to the writer Paul Bowles, who was enamored of Morocco. Here he’s a symbol of how Moroccan culture is strained through the perspective of a white outsider. Heinrich reads a Bowles novel by the pool as they lounge at their opulent hotel. Later, Ben and his guide discuss local sites featured in Bertolucci’s 1990 film The Sheltering Sky, adapted from a novel by Bowles.exitmarrakech3There’s a back-and-forth between happy participation and turning its nose up at Western fetishization of the exotic Orient. At times, they loll on plush carpets strewn with brass teapots and torn chunks of bread; at other times, startling displays of human abjection jolt us out of the fantasy. Ben sees decrepit beggars cadging for food, and a mentally ill woman sequestered behind a barred window. (“Don’t stand there too long,” warns his guide. “She’ll spit.”) But it’s also modern-day Marrakech: camels share the roads with ATVs, and you can rent a snowboard to surf down the desert dunes.

That’s one half of the plot of Exit Marrakech. The other is concerned with the uneasy relationship between Ben and Heinrich. The Moroccan countryside ends up being a proving ground where the distant father and son size each other up: they verbally spar and experiment with emotional intimacy, talking about sex and learning more about one another. But the connection is volatile: they go quickly from candid chats over a shared joint to open-handed slaps across the face. It’s a bumpy road to being a happy family again.

Link’s narrative seems easily distracted, and as a result the film’s messages can feel diluted, but it’s very beautiful to watch. The appreciation for the powerful natural vistas of Morocco, and all the compelling corners of urban Marrakech, make the film feel like a picture postcard with a not-entirely-sunny message jotted on the back.

Exit Marrakech premiers Wednesday, January 14th at the Clinton Street Theater, as part of a monthly German language film series presented by Zeitgeist Northwest. All films are subtitled in English.

Taylor emcees OTO's first show, "Will Kill for Vaudeville" at Someday Lounge (2007)

In a blow to the city’s music scene, one of Portland’s artistic visionaries, Katie Taylor, has stepped down as Opera Theater Oregon’s artistic director.

“After five years on the pony – the zesty, prancing pony that is OTO — I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down. I was going to invent a sex scandal (not involving ponies) to explain my departure, but then I remembered that this is Portland, and no one would be likely to care, even if ponies were involved,” Taylor wrote on the innovative company’s website. “So…I’ll just say straight out that it’s been an amazing ride, and I feel lucky to have met and worked with so many amazing people, but it’s time for me to say goodbye.”

Taking the Tarnhelm (redubbed the Tan-helm in OTO’s Baywatch-style version of Wagner’s The Rheingold) at OTO will be the alternative opera company’s musical director, Erica Melton, and film division director Jen Wechsler.

The company will throw a farewell party for Taylor at one of OTO’s original venues, Someday Lounge, on June July 24, which will include a short film and “opera karaoke.”

During her half-decade at the helm, OTO distinguished itself as one of Portland’s most creative performing arts companies, with ambitions inversely proportional to its budgets. A bastion of the city’s burgeoning alt-classical scene, the company used humor, pop culture references, a fun, informal atmosphere, and especially beer (at venues such as Someday Lounge, Alberta Rose Theater and Clinton Street Theater) to lure enthusiastic younger audiences to modern, sometimes wacky productions of classic operas, including producing a Portland-centric version of John Gay’s play The Beggar’s Opera (also the inspiration for Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera).

Taylor directed a spooky, Twilight Zonish version of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium at Someday and co-commissioned a new score for Filmusik’s Hercules vs. Vampires. Although they winked at some of opera’s stuffy pretensions, OTO’s productions always took the music itself seriously in the quest to “make opera safe for America.”

OTO has also been celebrated for partnering with other alt-classical outfits, including Electric Opera Company, Filmusik, and Classical Revolution. Taylor and Dark Horse comic artist Dan Schaefer (Batman, Spiderman, et al.), created a “singing comic book” for this year’s production of Massenet’s Werther called Out of Eden.

Taylor’s departure comes just weeks after she shepherded the organization to a stable  home at McMenamin’s Mission Theater. That somewhat eased the sting of Taylor’s heroic, close-but-no-candy-cigar efforts to obtain downtown’s Guild Theater as a home and performance venue for several of the city’s other alternative classical organizations.

All that work apparently came at a price, however. The company is run by volunteers, and Taylor has had to pick up work to recover her finances.

“Running the organization left me with little time for the actual writing that was the most important part of the work for me,” Taylor says. “I will miss it very much, but it was definitely time to move on. I’m also excited to see where Erica and Jen take OTO.” She told OAW she’s “working on a cross-genre book of short stories whose protagonists all have psoriasis and a sci fi novel about a new weight loss gimmick with hideously complicated side effects, raising the question of how much of who we are is our bodies and how much is our minds.”

Let’s hope we’ll see more of Taylor’s prodigious talent, inclusive attitude, and artistic ambition on Portland stages soon. And let’s hope OTO thrives without her leadership.

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