Living Room Theaters

Streamers: Recapping the pandemic, reimagining Jack London

No, we are not stuck inside the bars of various online platforms. (Did someone say "bars"?)

Portland’s independent theaters continue to provide virtual programming, as the shutdown of in-person cinema-going enters its 437th month. (Some, however, are allowing members of the public in under certain circumstances—see below.) Here are some of the recent local “openings” (how long till those scare quotes disappear?) worth your digi-cash and quaran-time:

Martin Eden

Luca Marinelli and Jessica Cressy in a scene from Martin Eden, photo by Francesca Errichiello, courtesy Kino Lorber

This Italian drama, based on a 1909 Jack London novel, was initially scheduled to screen during March’s Portland International Film Festival. Now, it’s being offered as a streaming option online, with a share of proceeds going to the Northwest Film Center.

The story follows the evolution of the titular proletarian worker (Luca Marinelli) from traveling laborer to literary sensation, as he first ingratiates himself with a bourgeois family in 20th-century Italy and goes on to become a politically active iconoclast and disaffected celebrity. In the process, his romance with the daughter of said bourgeois family (Jessica Cressy) waxes and wanes, as does his proximity to the socialist ideals promulgated by his aging, radical mentor (Carlo Cecchi).

Director Pietro Marcello has made a handsome film, with a handsome lead actor—“Martin Eden” often feels like a more polished version of a John Sayles or Ken Loach production. And its overall depiction of the cradle-to-grave arc of an artistic life has moments of both swelling promise and bracing pathos. But there’s a frustrating lack of specificity to much of the action: you’ll notice I mentioned above that it’s set in “20th-century” Italy, because frankly it’s hard to tell exactly when things are taking place. References to Italy’s fascist history come sparingly and late, and references to any other historical specificity are essentially nil. (Marcello will occasionally insert purportedly authentic, sepia-toned silent footage of things like shipwrecks, but it’s not clear what they are supposed to represent.)

In addition, the lead character’s politics are hard to figure. Soon after being bitten by the autodidactic bug, Martin happens upon the work of Herbert Spencer. Spencer, little-known today, was an influence on Charles Darwin and the originator of the phrase “survival of the fittest.” In other words, he was closer to a eugenicist than a socialist. Despite publicly chastising a leftist rally, Martin is tarred as a socialist, a misunderstanding that haunts him in the latter part of the film. But we’re not (or at least I wasn’t) ever really clear on what his political philosophy exactly is. Before watching “Martin Eden,” I was aware that the film had been effusively praised by the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who saw it as a cautionary tale centered on an empty enigma, and reviled by The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, for whom it was the film itself, rather than its protagonist, that was “slick and hollow.” This division of opinion clearly depends on how knowingly the film indulges in its conceits. I come down, with reservations, on the side that Marcello intended to craft an indictment of the various ways society exploits and deadens its creative voices. I just wish he’d done a somewhat more coherent job of it. Northwest Film Center (Silver Screen members only). Trailer.

Totally Under Control

Dr. Rick Bright, one of the heroes of Alex Gibney’s documentary “Totally Under Control.”

Alex Gibney is the undisputed king of the 21st-century, ripped-from-the-headlines documentary genre. But he may have outdone himself in timeliness with this two-hour investigation of the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic and the American government’s disastrously ostrich-like reaction to it. There aren’t any bombshell revelations here, just a recapitulation of the “lost month” that most experts say is the primary reason that we are still engaged in the pendulum swings of infectious outbreaks instead of dealing with the aftermath of a horrific but temporary episode.

So much has transpired, and so much scientific theory has been bandied about, over the last six months, that it’s actually quite useful to take, as Gibney’s film does, a tentative step back to those days in January and February when COVID-19 first started to creep into headlines. The stars of “Totally Under Control” are figures like mathematician Eva Lee, whose predictive models augured early on for widespread calamity, and Rick Bright, a government immunologist who demonstrated the patience of Job before finally breaking with the administration and blowing the whistle on its incompetent response.

For me, the biggest takeaway was the emphasis on the flawed testing kits sent out by the CDC in February. “Totally Under Control” (which, of course, takes its title from one of Trump’s many cocksure, dismissive quotes about the virus) focuses on the applied science behind this disastrous mishap in a way I hadn’t seen or read previously. Another revelation (again, to me, at least) came from the testimony of a disconcertingly young volunteer member of the Jared Kushner-“led” task force dedicated to obtaining more N-95 respiratory masks. The level of institutional idiocy he relates is, amazingly enough, still shocking in an environment where the bar for governmental competency is at an all-time low.

It might seem like just so much more doomscrolling to take in a film like this at a time like this. But, by prosecuting a level-headed, science-based indictment of the government’s response, and refusing to indulge in partisan outrage, “Totally Under Control” remains just that, and is all the more powerful for it. Northwest Film Center. Trailer.

Major Arcana

A scene from “Major Arcana.” Courtesy Good Deed Entertainment.

No, it’s not a military drama about an officer with magic powers. Check your Disney+ subscription for stuff like that. (Not that it doesn’t sound cool.) Writer-director Josh Melrod’s debut feature is a small-scale, classic American indie about a damaged man trying to rebuild his life and reconnect with his past. Despite that “Garden State”-sounding premise, it’s an intimately powerful piece of work.

Ujon Tokarski, convincingly grizzled and wounded, plays Dink, a wandering soul who returns to his rural Vermont hometown after his father’s death. Newly sober, he undertakes to build a cabin with his own bare hands on the property he has inherited. In the meantime, he tentatively re-establishes a relationship with Sierra (Tara Summers), a woman from his past and fends off his dysfunctional mother’s efforts to claim his inheritance.

The film is an understated but extended metaphor about the challenges of transcending past sins, addictions, and inadequacies, while maintaining a connection to one’s heritage and home. Melrod never pushes too hard to make these points, and Tokarski inhabits the character of Dink seamlessly. The latter might have something to do with the fact that Tokarski is in fact a carpenter who Melrod met when he was working on the director’s house, and that an actual cabin was actually built during the production of the film. “Major Arcana” (yes, there are Tarot readings) is exactly the kind of film that would likely get irredeemably lost in the shuffle during a normal cinematic economy, but can serve as an unexpected treat in the current wasteland.  Cinema 21.

The Antenna

Gül Arici and Ihsan Önal in Orçun Behram’s THE ANTENNA. (Photo Credit – Dark Star Pictures)

This one isn’t screening in conjunction with any local theaters, but it’s too odd not to mention. In a nondescript apartment complex in Turkey, the building manager, Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) arrives to work one day to find a large new antenna being installed on the roof. Within minutes, the installer has plummeted to his death, and that’s just the beginning of Mehmet’s bad day. It turns out that these antennas are being installed all across the nation, with the specific purpose of broadcasting a midnight message which all citizens are expected to receive. Over the course of the day, as we meet the various residents of the drab dwelling, a black, tarry substance begins to ooze into bathrooms and bubble up from storm drains. Pursuing the source of this disgusting substance, the hapless Mehmet discovers (duh) that it’s emanating from this new technological intrusion.

Turkey, under the authoritarian rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has ample recent experience with mass-media propaganda and creeping repression. In fact, it’s a little surprising that the making of this film was tolerated, until you realize that authoritarianism and free speech don’t have much trouble co-existing in our neck of the woods either. Anyway, things get progressive more bizarre and disturbing as the anticipated broadcast approaches and arrives, and director Orçun Behram maintains a creepy, darkly deadpan tone that wouldn’t be out of place in an early David Cronenberg film. Unintentionally adding to the vague political overtones is the fact that leading actor Önal looks like no one so much as Pete Buttigieg after a three-day bender. Available to stream through various services.

In-person screenings? In-person screenings!

Living Room Theaters: Private screenings for up to 10 people are available, featuring first-run films such as Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire” and Brandon Cronenberg’s “Possessor.” Check website for details.

Cinema 21: Theater rentals for $250 includes admission for 10 people (with an additional $10/person above that) and includes $100 in concession credits. Titles available include those mentioned above and more.

FilmWatch Weekly: Isabelle Huppert is “Mrs. Hyde,” plus “Custody” and “Generation Wealth”

A pair of French films and a documentary about American plutocracy hit Portland theaters this week

There’s nothing absolutely earth-shattering splashing onto Portland’s arthouse screens this week (hey, it must be August), but that doesn’t mean there’s not an array of interesting titles worth keeping in mind. In fact, there is exactly that, including the latest from the always noteworthy Isabelle Huppert, a shattering French drama about marital discord, and a documentary look at the real price of being rich.

“Mrs. Hyde”: French director Serge Bozon worked with the iconic Huppert on his last feature, 2013’s “Tip Top,” a quirky, dark farce that was barely seen in this country. Their new collaboration, “Mrs. Hyde,” may face the same fate, but doesn’t deserve it. In an obvious nod to the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Huppert plays Madame Géquil, a meek science teacher in a suburban Parisian high school whose id gets freed after a freak laboratory accident. Huppert is almost too perfectly cast as the initially meek, eventually dangerous protagonist, who finds herself supernaturally empowered to deal with her disrespectful, multiracial students as well as her supercilious principal.

However, she never really gets to dig into the implications and contradictions of this divided character, at least not as much as she has in such films as “The Piano Teacher” or “Elle.” “Mrs. Hyde” feels, at times, as if it can’t decide if it wants to be a commentary on the French educational system, a feminist parable, or an arty genre piece. It ends up being a less that totally satisfying mix of the three, with at least the unforced mastery of Huppert on its side. (playing at the Northwest Film Center, Aug. 3-5)

“Custody”: The ultimate child custody battle movie of all time remains, no doubt, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but this directorial debut from French actor Xavier Legrand gives that one a run for its money. (Insert alimony joke here?)

The film opens with a fifteen-minute court hearing between estranged couple Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet), their lawyers, and a family court judge. It’s probably less notable in France that it would be in America that Antoine is the only male in the room. It’s a gripping encounter, filmed and acted with a restraint that ratchets up the emotional tension instantly, and you may wonder if the entire film will unfold as a series of legal encounters. It doesn’t, as Antoine is granted weekend visits with his young son Julien despite some indications of past violent behavior. (The couple also have an older teenage daughter, whom Antoine doesn’t seem to care much about.)

From there, “Custody” proceeds like a slightly slicker version of the kitchen-sink dramas made by the Belgian filmmaking brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“The Son,” “The Kid with the Bike”), until it succumbs to suspense-movie tropes in its final scenes. Ménochet in particular recalls the meaty, morally ambiguous male characters of several Dardenne films, and Thomas Gioria, who plays Julien, is reminiscent of the powerful juvenile performances in the brothers’ work.

Legrand, though, doesn’t quite yet have the easy mastery of form and emotional realism needed to make “Custody” a true standout. This is his first feature, a continuation and expansion of the story he told (using Drucker and Ménochet) in his Oscar-winning live-action short from 2013, “Just Before Losing Everything.” The acting is first-rate, as is the filmmaking craft, and once this director figures out how to infuse his work with a little more soul, he could be capable of great things. (currently playing at Living Room Theaters)

“Generation Wealth”: Photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield has been chronicling the lives of the super-rich for over twenty years, most notably in 2012’s “The Queen of Versailles,” which followed the quixotic efforts of Jacqueline and David Siegel to build the largest private residence in the United States. The Siegels (at least Jacqueline) pop up again in Greenfield’s new movie, which serves as a summation and revisiting of her life’s work. Some of the most fascinating scenes contrast footage Greenfield shot of students at an exclusive Los Angeles private school in the early 1990s with their now middle-aged selves. Some have moved beyond the shallow hedonism of their privileged teen years, others demonstrably have not.

Other subjects include the Oregon-raised porn star who gained infamy as one of Charlie Sheen’s paramours, a woman who travels to Brazil to undergo extreme plastic surgery, and a female Wall Street banker whose obsession with her income level is only matched by her obsession with her appearance. As those examples attest, “Generation Wealth” takes a long, fascinating, and disturbing detour into the ways in which hyper-capitalism has turned sexual appeal into just another marketable commodity.

Greenfield also turns the camera, both metaphorically and literally, on herself and her own family, in a way that seems unintentionally ironic considering the movie’s otherwise heartfelt condemnation of narcissism. Despite feeling at times like a promotional tool on behalf of Greenfield’s similarly-themed gallery show and coffee table book, and despite lacking the compelling singular focus of “The Queen of Versailles,” “Generation Wealth” still offers a degree of insight (often in the form of cynical commentary from writer Chris Hedges) on the societal sickness that contributed to the emergence of the Trump Era. (currently playing at Regal Fox Tower)

 

Repertory happenings of note, August 3-9:

“Polyester”: The Hollywood Theatre screens John Waters’ 1981 ode to bad taste, complete with scratch-and-sniff Odorama cards, as a tribute to the late Tab Hunter, the Hollywood Golden Age golden boy who reinvented his career with this campy role. (Friday, Aug 3)

“The Planet of the Apes”: The Hollywood also kicks off its “Marathon of the Planet of the Apes” series, which will include every film from both the original 1970s series as well as the more recent cycle of simian cinema (but not the terrible Tim Burton remake or, to my knowledge, the animated TV series). (Saturday, Aug. 4, followed by “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” on Sunday, “Escape from the POTA” on Monday, “Conquest of the POTA” on Thursday, and more in coming weeks…)

“3 Women”: The last great film Robert Altman made before the long creative and commercial drought that ended with 1991’s “The Player” was this enigmatic 1977 masterpiece starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek as co-workers at a health spa for the elderly in a small California desert town and Janice Rule as their landlord’s wife. It was inspired by a dream Altman had and owes a certain debt to Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” and if that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t know what will. (Northwest Film Center, Monday, Aug. 6)

“Night of the Hunter”: The best film ever made by someone who never directed another film. Robert Mitchum, Lilian Gish, Shelley Winters. (Hollywood Theatre, Saturday & Sunday, Aug. 4 & 5)

FilmWatch Weekly: Kubrick, Basquiat, Clouzot bring culture to summer

The beginning of summer movie season offers more than mere spectacle

Memorial Day Weekend was, until fairly recently, considered the start of the summer movie season. More refined fare would give way to popcorn entertainment for the masses. These days, the summer movie season feels like it runs from March through January, but fortunately it’s still possible to find movies that aspire, however imperfectly, to something more than blunt sensory spectacle and finely-honed witticisms. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) Playing this week in Portland are a pair of documentaries about the artistic process, a couple of British films set about 150 miles apart, and two gripping early efforts form the director known as “the French Hitchcock.”

Sometimes it feels, among the community of hardcore cinephiles, like there’s a competition to see who can live a life most consumed by movies. Bleary-eyed participants undertake film-fest endurance tests, watching four, five, even six movies in a day. (I know, I’ve been one.) Blogs and social media posts testify to the central, even borderline unhealthy, role the seventh art plays in the lives of its most dedicated cultists. But in terms of devotion to the art, and in particular to its most obsessive practitioner, no one can top Tony Vitali and his single-minded service to the vision of Stanley Kubrick, as chronicled in the compelling documentary “Filmworker.”

Continues…

“Lean on Pete”: Horses and heartbreak in film version of Willy Vlautin’s novel

British filmmaker Andrew Haigh keeps true to the spirit of Vlautin's story about a horse and his boy

Willy Vlautin is a Portland institution, the author of five novels and the lead singer and primary songwriter for the band Richmond Fontaine.  Andrew Haigh is a rapidly rising figure in international cinema, having made a splash with his debut feature “Weekend,” in 2001, and steered Charlotte Rampling to an Oscar nomination in 2015’s “45 Years.”

For his third feature, Haigh has adapted Vlautin’s third novel, “Lean on Pete,” which centers on Charley Thompson, a teenager living in Portland with his less-than-perfect dad. Charley gets a part-time job at the Portland Meadows horse track, helping out a grizzled, ethically suspect trainer (Steve Buscemi) and befriending a jockey (Chloe Sevigny). When his home life grows intolerable, Charley takes off with Pete, a played-out old horse he’s taken a shine to, on a trip across the American West in search of family and stability.

Charlie Plummer in “Lean on Pete”

“Lean on Pete,” the book, is, like much of Vlautin’s writing, spare, heartbreaking, and utterly human, sparing neither its characters nor its audience from the cruel realities of life. It’s this stringent unsentimentality, though, that makes their hard-earned, potentially trivial triumphs so emotionally potent. Charley Thompson is played by Charlie Plummer, the young actor who also recently starred in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” and the relatively inexperienced Plummer handles a difficult role with astonishing skill. “Lean on Pete,” the movie, which is currently playing at Portland’s Living Room Theaters, captures the clear-eyed empathy that makes the book so impactful.

Haigh and Vlautin sat down recently for a wide-ranging discussion about the making of “Lean on Pete,” the experience of shooting in Oregon, and why there won’t be a sequel.

Andrew, you recently did a list of your top ten films from The Criterion Collection, and there were a couple titles that seemed particularly appropriate or influential in relation to “Lean On Pete.” One was Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher” and the other was Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces.”
Andrew Haigh: “Ratcatcher” is one of my inspirations for wanting to make films to start with. It’s pretty grim and depressing, but really lyrical and tender, sweetly emotional without being sentimental. And I think Bob Rafelson is an oddly underrated director. I suppose there’s something about both of those films and their unsentimental depiction of the world, especially “Five Easy Pieces.” It’s set in the American landscape—I think some of it was even filmed in Oregon—but it’s about a person’s struggle to make their way through that landscape and understand themselves within that landscape without being overpowered by that landscape.

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Isabelle Huppert: World’s greatest actor

The French star vaults to the top ranks with recent performances in "Elle" and "Things to Come."

May as well just say it: Isabelle Huppert is the best screen actor working in the world today.

To support this somewhat bold contention, I present two pieces of compelling evidence, both showing in Portland theaters right now.

One, “Things to Come,” is, in outline, a fairly ordinary middlebrow drama. It centers on a French high school philosophy teacher (yes, they have those in France) whose orderly life is upended on numerous fronts. The health of her elderly mother (played by screen icon Edith Scob) is failing; she discovers that her husband her been unfaithful to her; and her career momentum stalls. We’ve seen this sort of midlife-crisis, “I Am Woman” story in the past–remember all those Jill Clayburgh movies?–but what elevates “Things to Come” is Huppert’s smooth, lived-in performance, which manages to communicate a controlled facade and a rich interior life without resorting to anything resembling acting (at least as we’re used to seeing it in Hollywood dramas).

Isabelle Huppert (Nathalie) and Roman Kolinka (Fabien) in Mia Hansen-Løve’s THINGS TO COME

The director of “Things to Come” is Mia Hansen Love, who based the main character on her own mother. Hansen Love, making her fifth feature, is part of a new generation of French female filmmakers who are demonstrating the wide range of stories women can contribute when allowed to infiltrate the typically male-dominated industry. And Huppert’s appearance in her movie is something of a stamp of approval, placing her in the ranks of other greats the actress has graced with her inimitable talents.

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The best Halloween film fright: the Iranian-set chiller “Under the Shadow”

A supernatural menace loose in war-torn 1980s Tehran might be the scariest thing on theater screens this weekend

When they’re good, horror movies can be, pardon the phrase, scary good. The problem is sorting out the wheat from the chaff. They’re easy to make—just set a gaggle of hapless, horny teens loose in a spooky forest or abandoned house and you’re pretty much set. But they’re extremely hard to make well, and, to be honest, horror audiences sometimes aren’t the most discriminating of fans.

That’s why it’s helpful each year when Halloween comes around and cinema screens are awash in bloody (or just merely creepy) revivals. These titles are time-tested and fright-fan approved, and almost always more fun when seen with an appreciative crowd. Before we get to those, though, I want to spotlight what might be the best horror movie of 2016 (and, no, it’s not “Oujia: Origin of Evil,” although to be honest I haven’t seen “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and can’t imagine I will, so who knows…)

Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi in "Under the Shadow"

Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi in “Under the Shadow”

It’s called “Under the Shadow,” which, granted, is a pretty generic horror movie title. But nothing else about director Babak Anvari’s debut feature, which opens Friday at the Living Room Theaters, conforms to expectations. The movie is set in Tehran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. In an early scene, a woman named Shideh (Narges Rashidi) learns that, because of left-wing political activity during the Iranian Revolution, she will never be allowed to finish medical school. Back home, a frustrated Shideh spars with her husband and demonstrates impatience with her young daughter Dorsa.

When Shideh’s husband, a doctor, is called up for military service, he orders her to take Dorsa and flee the city, which is under frequent Iraqi missile attack. Fed up with being told what to do by men, she stays in their apartment, which is soon struck by a rocket and damaged.

That’s when things get interesting. Dorsa’s beloved doll goes missing, as does Shideh’s samizdat Jane Fonda workout videotape. The child blames invisible creatures she calls ‘djinn,’ and from here on out the movie shares some DNA with the 2014 Australian film “The Babadook.” Mom tries to figure out whether the kid is making stuff up, hallucinating, or actually engaging with some sort of supernatural badness. Things get creepier and more claustrophobic—the stultifying apartment block and perpetually cracked ceiling recall Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.”

By combining horror movie tropes with an explicit criticism of the repressive regime, Anvari makes you wonder exactly what the titular shadow is that Shideh must live under. (The film is actually a British-led multinational co-production, and was filmed in Jordan, since there’s no way the Iranian government would allow it to be shot in Tehran.) Anvari also makes excellent use of minimal special effects, imbuing duct tape and even a seemingly ordinary bed sheet with auras of real menace.

But back to those revivals. Tops on the list would be “Eraserhead,” David Lynch’s nightmarish ode to impending fatherhood and radiators. One wonders what his daughter Jennifer thinks of it. It’s screening in 35mm at the Northwest Film Center on Friday, October 28th. If one wanted to make a full weekend of frightful flicks, one might then return to the Whitsell Auditorium the following night for the classic 1962 ghost story “The Innocents,” which stars Deborah Kerr in an adaptation of Henry James’ “The Turning of the Screw.” On Sunday (and Saturday, in fact), the Hollywood Theatre has “Rosemary’s Baby” in 35mm, which makes a nice parental-anxiety bookend with “Eraserhead” if you think about it.

The most intriguing Halloween booking, though, comes on the night itself, as the Hollywood shows the 1981 Canadian B-movie “The Pit.” Having only seen the trailer for this one, I can say that it’s about a 12-year-old boy whose teddy bear commands him commit murders by tossing innocent people (including an old lady) into a monster-filled hole in the middle of the forest. It’s been accurately described as being shot like an after-school special, and appears to allow its juvenile protagonist to indulge in some pretty distasteful behavior, like trying to seduce his attractive babysitter.

If those choices aren’t sufficient, there’s always John Carpenter’s “Halloween” at the Academy Theater, the Swedish kid-vampire classic “Let the Right One In” at the Laurelhurst Theater, the 1982 version of “Cat People” with Malcolm McDowell and Natassja Kinski at PSU’s 5th Avenue Cinema, or the silent Lon Chaney version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” with live organ accompaniment, on Saturday afternoon at the Hollywood.

And if all that isn’t enough to send chills up your spine, next week is the election!

FilmWatch Weekly: From “Certain Women” to “Computer Chess” and beyond

Movies playing this week can take you to from a back alley in 1980s L.A. to the slopes of a Guatemalan volcano

If you go by Hollywood rules, the only movies coming out this week are The New Tom Cruise Movie, The New Tyler Perry Movie, and The Latest Horror Prequel Based on a Board Game.

But we don’t play that way. We know there are so many cinematic options here in Portland it can make your head spin. (And not in a Classic Demonic Possession Movie kind of way.) What follows, then, is a daily guide to film consumption for the week of October 21-27:

Kristen Stewart in "Certain Women"

Kristen Stewart in “Certain Women”

Friday 10/21: “They Live”: John Carpenter’s sci-fi political allegory was released in 1988, a.k.a. the tail-end of the Reagan Era. It’s about a regular guy (played by the late, great, locally-sourced pro wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who discovers that alien overlords have been brainwashing humanity with subliminal messages designed to encourage consumerism and submission. Only with a special pair of sunglasses can he see the billboards, and the bad guys, for what they are. This is an almost perfect blend of Carpenter’s patented B-movie genius with a darkly satirical message that’s still relevant—and probably always will be. Also, it features the single best (and longest) back-alley fistfight in film history. (5th Avenue Cinemas, 9:15 pm, also screens Saturday & Sunday)

Saturday 10/22: “Computer Chess”: The year is 1980-something. The setting is a competition among some of the earliest (and nerdiest) programming enthusiasts to see who can create the best computer chess program. The weirdness level is rising fast. Director Andrew Bujalski had been known for his so-called “mumblecore” movies (“Beeswax” screens at the 5th Avenue Cinemas Friday and Sunday), but this 2013 effort takes that bare-bones aesthetic and dips it in mescaline. Shot in black-and-white on primitive video equipment, it follows an eccentric cast of characters through a weekend that eventually spirals into sublime surreality. Bujalski will be in attendance for this showing, held as part of Portland State University’s “Portland State of Mind” festival. (PSU, Lincoln Hall Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave., 7 pm)

Sunday 10/23: “Certain Women”: The latest film from Portland-based director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”) adapts three short stories by Montana-based author Maile Meloy, each one focusing on a, you guessed it, certain woman. Laura Dern is a lawyer dealing with a chauvinistic, unstable client in the first; Michelle Williams is an affluent, conflicted wife and mother in the second; and Kristen Stewart is a night school teacher in the third, and strongest, segment. The film’s discovery is Lily Gladstone, playing a lonely, shy ranch hand who develops an enigmatic infatuation for Stewart’s character. Their delicate rapport is captivating, and “Certain Women” is another landmark in the career of one of America’s foremost independent filmmakers. (Cinema 21, opens Friday and continues through the week, multiple showtimes)

Monday 10/24: “The Idealist”: Several of the films in the Northwest Film Center’s annual survey of New Scandinavian Cinema are fairly routine examples of standard genres: family drama, romantic comedy, culture-clash sports movie, etc. “The Idealist,” while it doesn’t break any new ground cinematically, is an absorbing political thriller about a crusading journalist on a quest to exposes decades-old lies and secrets. In 1968, an American B-52 crashed near Thule Air Base in Danish-controlled Greenland with four hydrogen bombs on board. Twenty years later, a Danish reporter investigates a rash of illnesses plaguing workers from the base, and the story leads him to Washington, D.C., Texas, and the top ranks of his country’s government. The movie deftly weaves archival footage into its fact-based story for a nice documentary feel. (Whitsell Auditorium, 7 pm)

Tuesday, 10/25: “Here is Harold”: Why not make it a Scandinavian twofer and check out this dark Norwegian comedy about a put-upon furniture store owner whose business collapses after a giant IKEA store opens nearby. With his life in shambles, Harold decides to kidnap the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad (who does not, unfortunately, play himself). Despite his ineptness, he manages to track down Kamprad, who turns out to be anything but a reluctant abductee. This isn’t the only film in the Scandinavian series to feature comical scenes of attempted suicide, but it’s the one that feels most in tune with the region’s particular brand of fatalism. (Whitsell Auditorium, 6:30 pm)

Wednesday, 10/26: “The Lost Arcade”: Portlanders eager for that retro gaming experience have places like Ground Kontrol and Quarterworld, but nothing can truly recapture the grimy camaraderie of New York City’s classic arcades. At least this affectionate documentary makes it seem that way. Focusing on a place called Chinatown Fair, which was preparing to close in 2011 after thirty years in business, it commemorates a subculture and an urban milieu that simply can’t compete in the era of Xbox and PlayStation. (Hollywood Theatre, 9:30 pm)

Thursday, 10/27: “Ixcanul”: The Internet Movie DataBase lists only sixteen films that were shot in the Mayan language, and two of them were made by Mel Gibson (“Apocalypto”) and Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”). This one is set among the indigenous Kaqchikel people of Guatemala, and tells a surprisingly involving story about a 17-year-old girl sentenced to an arranged marriage by her parents. When she finds herself pregnant, and not by her fiancé, prayers to the local volcano may not be enough the resolve the situation. Entrancing cinematography and convincing performances from a non-professional cast make this a promising first feature for director Jayro Bustamante, and a film worth seeking out. (Living Room Theaters, opens Friday, Oct. 21, and continues through the week)