If there's something Portland doesn't need, it's another film festival—much less one with a name so similar to the city's biggest cinematic celebration, the Portland International Film Festival. But into the fray comes the Portland Film Festival, which began Aug. 27 and continues through Sept. 1. Festival director Josh Leake has grand ambitions, imagining PFF as Portland's answer to Sundance: a showcase of independent film that brings together those who make movies and those who love them. The fest snagged Chuck Palahniuk, who'll do a Q-and-A after a screening of Romance, and the man behind the Honey Badger YouTube videos.
Critic's Grade: B More and more, people treat pets like family. âTheyâre my children,â one woman says. But most people probably wouldnât freeze-dry their dead child and place the preserved corpse in a stroller for nightly walks. But in Amy Finkelâs documentary, that is precisely what one couple does with their dearly departed beagle. Viewing pet loss through the eyes of grieving owners and the businesspeople who help preserve the dead animals (taxidermists, coffin salesmen, members of an Egyptian-inspired religion that specializes in costly mummification), Finkel doesnât judge or poke fun. Itâs a slightly disturbing and, ultimately, very sad look at the impact our four-legged friends have on our livesâand some peopleâs inability to let them rest. AP KRYZA. Bagdad, 6:30 pm Wednesday, Aug. 28.
Critic's Grade: B- Quirk alert: A capricious struggling actress and an adorkable boy take a hastily planned road trip, during which they decide to get married and buy matching vintage trucker caps. Wordy banter and free-spirited hijinks ensue. This road-trip rom-com does an admirable job with a small budget, keeping its scope small and employing strong and likeable leads who pull off what is essentially two hours of talking without ever making us feel like weâre watching an episode of Gilmore Girls. But Forev is one long drive without enough fuel in the tank; as with a real car trip, you eventually get sick of everyone on board and just want it to be over. RUTH BROWN. Living Room Theaters, noon Thursday, Aug. 29. The Fields Park, dusk Saturday, Aug. 31.
Critic's Grade: B Local director Andy Mingoâs perverse 26-minute film, adapted from a Chuck Palahniuk story, hews closely not just to the spirit but to the actual language of the original text. For the first minutes, the film is essentially a multimedia reading, offering images and real, honest-to-god people to flesh out the narratorâs musings. This works surprisingly wellâthe voice-over doesnât blunt the pacing, and the natural ironies between audio and visual are brought to full effect. The film loses none of the original comedy but amps up the discomfort as we learn that something may be going terribly wrong with a schlubby Northwesternerâs perfect romance with the hottest stoner ever. The twist in the film is gentle, howeverâmuch more so than in the original story. By the end, you think: Whatâs the harm? MATTHEW KORFHAGE. Bagdad, 6:30 pm Thursday, Aug. 29.
Critic's Grade: B+ Dan Leal wants to find a nice girl, settle down and get married. Thereâs just one thing holding him backâLeal is a prolific producer and star of amateur porn films, and, according to his friends, a sex addict. Alexandra Bergerâs documentary spends three years following Leal, better known by his very creative screen name, Porno Dan, as he balances his desire for true love with his desire to ram his dick into anything moist and circular. If that last sentence made you cringe, Danland may not be for you. Graphic footage of very unattractive naked people having gangbangs in cheap motel rooms features prominently. But the most candid scenes are simply those of Lealâs everyday life. This is a guy used to letting it all hang out on camera (and you will see all of Leal, an anti-James Deen who spends most of his life in, or out, of sweats), and he lets us into his heartbreak, failed relationships and troubled childhood. Heâs an everyman to root for, even though we know heâll just keep screwing it upâliterally and figuratively. RUTH BROWN. Bagdad, 10:45 pm Thursday, Aug. 29. Cinema 21, 10:45 pm Friday, Aug. 30.
Critic's Grade: B- A cross-country tour of urban farms, rooftop gardens and backyard beekeeping, Growing Cities is the feature-length debut of two 20-somethings, Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette. These childhood friends from Omaha bring to their endeavor an aw-shucks Nebraskan earnestness thatâs alternately appealing and eye roll-inducing. The documentary introduces us to beekeepers in Los Angeles, ex-cons in Chicago, and even kids at Portlandâs Zenger Farms. But in trying to cover so much ground, some interviewees get short shrift, namely activist Malik Yakini in Detroit, who asks fascinating and thought-provoking questions about race and economic viability. With Susman and Monbouquette so eager to ham for the cameraâat one point, they dance goofily below road signsâtheir film proves well-meaning but not particularly enlightening. REBECCA JACOBSON. Living Room Theaters, 11:15 am Friday, Aug. 30. The Fields Park, dusk Sunday, Sept. 1.
C+ The slackers-go-dark genre mashup has been a staple of indie cinema for decades, but few films have taken such sadistic glee in the apathetic violence doled out by half-wits as Mon Ami. Canadian director Rob Grant tells the tale of two dopes whose plot to hold their bossâs daughter for ransom goes horribly awry. With a budget of $10,000, Grant has created an impressive visual spectacle thatâs prodded along by some guffaw-worthy moments. Alas, as with most jet-black comedies, the film loses control of its tone just as its protagonists lose control of the situation. What begins as an almost Coen-brotherly look at doofuses in a kidnapping scheme soon wallows a little too gleefully in its own filth, misogyny and amorality. AP KRYZA. The Fields Park. Dusk Friday, Aug. 30.
SEE IT: The Portland Film Festival screens at multiple venues through Sunday, Sept. 1. For full schedule and ticket info, see portlandfilmfestival.com.