filmwatch weekly

FilmWatch Weekly: Four debuts, with frights and delights, and one long-lost relic

Oh, the horror (and more): As movie houses begin to reopen, a mini-flood of fresh new films arrives

Now that most Portland-area arthouse theaters have reopened, what was a trickle of worthwhile cinematic fare has become a veritable flood. Of course, trying to keep up with a barrage of interesting independent and foreign releases is a good problem to have. Without further ado, then, here are some of this week’s standout offerings:

As a result of this unleashed backlog, some films more suited to, say, a Halloween-themed release are only now showing up. One example of this is The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the latest sequel in Warner Brothers’ horror franchise, which was originally supposed to come out last September, but has only recently debuted in theaters and on HBO Max. For those who prefer their scares to be subtler than those Hollywood typically serves up, a couple of other films are worthy of note.

Niamh Algar in Censor

The process of filmmaking itself, with all its inherent obsessions and doublings, has inspired more than a few disturbing thrillers, from Brian De Palma’s Blow Out to Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. Like the latter of those (which you should really check out if you haven’t), director Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut feature Censor uses horror movies themselves as a backdrop for a story about the thin line between reality and madness. It’s set during the “video nasties” moral panic of the 1980s in England, when the Thatcher government cracked down on gory flicks, banning some and threatening draconian penalties for providing them to minors. Enid (Niamh Algar), the censor of the title, spends her workdays watching disturbing movies and deciding which cuts must be made before their release.


Film Watch Weekly: A Saudi surprise, plus hot and cold running French movies

Plus: Portland's Hollywood Theater gets ready to welcome live audiences, and the Church of Film resumes its live monthly screenings

But first, a couple of re-opening news items: The Hollywood Theatre has announced that it will reopen to the public on July 2, with screenings of the highly anticipated music documentary Summer of Soul. Sounds like a feel-good title to commemorate a feel-good event. And the long-running labor of love known as the Church of Film resumed its monthly screenings this week with a showing of the 1977 Spanish transition narrative Sex Change at the Clinton Street Theater. Both are welcome indicators that things continue to move in the right direction.

The Perfect Candidate is about a doctor named Maryam, who works at a run-down, underfunded rural clinic. She decides to travel abroad to a convention and interview for a position in a larger city, but a screwup by airport security threatens to ruin her plans. In the process of asking a politically connected family friend for help, Maryam accidentally ends up registering to run for a seat on her town council. She then decides to actually do it, undertaking a crash course in electoral campaigning and emerging as a scrappy underdog.

Mila Al Zahrani in The Perfect Candidate

This outline, as well as other plot details, could easily have come from an American movie about a smart, stubborn woman who refuses to let the chauvinistic world around her keep her down. But the fact that The Perfect Candidate is a Saudi Arabian film illustrates exactly how brave and determined Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is. The airport security incident is prompted by the fact that all women require the permission of their male “guardian” (usually father) to travel out of the country (Maryam is heading for Dubai). It would be wrong to say that her decision to stand up to the patriarchy is any more courageous than that made by other women in other cultures, but she certainly faces longer odds than most.


FilmWatch Weekly: Melvin Van Peebles, Angelina Jolie, and D.C. Punks!

What's the most revolutionary "new" movie in town? A Melvin Van Peebles filmed-in-France flick from 1968.

Here’s a rundown of some titles new to Portland’s screens, big and small:

Film of the Week: The Story of a Three-Day Pass.

The most revolutionary “new” movie to hit Portland this week is from 1968, of course. The debut feature of maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, who would make the even more influential Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song two years later, is a sneakily acerbic takedown of American racism, particularly its internalized effect upon the psyche of Black Americans.

Nicole Berger and Harry Baird in The Story of a Three-Day Pass

It would be an exaggeration to say this movie couldn’t have been made in the U.S., but it certainly helps that it was made in France, after Van Peebles was rejected in his initial efforts to penetrate Hollywood. On an American base near Paris, Corporal Turner (Harry Baird) receives a promotion and a weekend pass from his blustering white commanding officer. Van Peebles immediately conjures du Boisian “double consciousness” by having Turner’s reflection in a mirror accuse him of receiving these favors only because he is an obsequious Uncle Tom. Surreal elements like this permeate the movie, which clearly took inspiration from French cinema of the decade as much as from Paris itself, where Turner heads for his 72 hours of freedom.


FilmWatch Weekly: Cinematic obsessions spring onto the screen

"You Were Never Really Here," "Ismael's Ghosts," and "Yakuza Apocalypse"

Obsession can take many forms, and at least a few of them are on display in films opening this week in Portland.

An obsession with justice, if not revenge, drives Joe, the haunted, brutal character played by Joaquin Phoenix in director Lynne Ramsay’s latest film, “You Were Never Really Here.” The bearded, stocky, steel-eyed veteran works as a hired gun (or, in his case, hired hammer) tracking down and retrieving abducted underage girls. In the process, he’s also working through the intense traumas he suffered both as a child and serving in the military overseas. When one job goes bloodily awry, Joe embarks on a violent quest to save teenaged Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov).

If that synopsis sounds similar to a range of “God’s Lonely Man” movies, in which a damaged, older male figure seeks redemption through the act of saving the life and/or virtue of a younger female figure, that’s because it is. From “The Searchers” to “Taxi Driver” to more recent movies starring Denzel Washington or Liam Neeson, the movies are full of these brutal icons of patriarchal wrath. The question here is whether Phoenix or Ramsay can bring anything new to this year’s model.

The answer is, essentially, not enough. The pairing of actor and filmmaker is enough to make fans of uncompromising cinema salivate in anticipation. Phoenix is known for going all in on a role, and here he puts on weight, allows his fraying, graying mane to run wild, and goes full Brando with the mumbling and unremittingly intensity. Ramsay, the Scottish director, has exhibited a similarly uncompromising streak in film ranging from her debut feature “Ratcatcher” to the parental nightmare of 2011’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” This is Ramsay’s first feature since then, largely due to her disastrous experience on “Jane Got a Gun,” a film she walked away from because of creative differences with its producers. Now that’s uncompromising.