July 16th, 2010 5:33 pm | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Seven Movies You Should See Before Inception

Sometimes when dreaming, I will come to the sudden realization that everything that has been happening to me in my slumbering reveries is in fact a film that I am watching (for some reason, it is always showing outdoors, at dusk). I don't know whether this recurring epiphany is some act of self-protection by my unconscious or merely an inevitable result of working as a movie critic, but it does have a distancing effect: Suddenly, I don't care quite so much about what's happening—or not happening, as the case may be.

That hall-of-mirrors business should feel familiar to anybody who's read about Inception this week—which means everybody, since no topic for at least a year has dominated film-buff conversations quite like talking about Inception, and talking about talking about Inception, and talking about talking about talking about Inception. Which is only fitting: The movie folds in upon itself, and so of course it builds crusts of navel-gazing around it, like an onion made of boredom.

As it happens, I liked Inception as much as you can like a movie about dreams that doesn't manage to include anything illogical or inexplicable. It has innovative use of slow motion, and a fortress in the snow, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt levitating. So that's fun, but it doesn't seem quite worth all the fuss. The most useful thing that has been written about the picture is this guide to when you should get up and pee.

Meanwhile, the obligatory hype and denunciation runs the risk of swallowing up one of the best cinematic weekends in Portland that I can remember. So I'm blatantly ripping off a conceit from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and telling you that there are at least seven movies you should watch before you even think about bothering with Inception. Most of these smaller openings will only be here for three days or less, and if this city is the nest of cineastes it likes to flatter itself as being, these shows will be as packed as any turn-up-the-volume Inception show at the Roseway.


1. All the Real Girls

My favorite picture of the last decade, so wise about the horrible things that happen to you when you're young, and how everybody tells you that you'll get over them, but you won't, because they're actually the best things that will ever happen to you. It stars Zooey Deschanel and Paul Schneider and Danny McBride before anybody knew who they were, and was directed by David Gordon Green, who when he wasn't priming improvisation must have been stepping off set and pinching himself, knowing he was making something perfect and fragile and uniquely lovely. He knew, right? He had to know. Anyway, it's showing on 35 mm five times this weekend at 5th Avenue Cinema. The only thing it won't have is this deleted scene, which I first discovered thanks to former WW reviewer and current laudable pain-in-the-ass Andy Davis:


2. Gone with the Pope

A delightful case of obsession repeating itself: First this lounge lizard Duke Mitchell decides he needs to make a movie about kidnapping the pope (a strangely neglected topic in cinema), then Sam Raimi's longtime editor Bob Murawski tracks down the print and spends the next 15 years editing it together. I interviewed Murawski in this week's paper, and, really, the conversation could have taken up the whole section. Here's just one thing I had to cut for space:
"Even though they didn't actually shoot in Rome--it was mostly shot around L.A. and Palm Springs and places like that--through stock footage and really kind of innovative or creative filmmaking, they go to Rome. But it's actually them at Italian restaurants around L.A. intercut with footage of looking at the real pope at St. Peter's through a binocular, that kind of thing. There's some great scenes where it starts with a shot of the Colosseum, and rack-focuses to Duke Mitchell in the foreground, but it's clearly a poster of the Colosseum, with Duke standing in front so you think that you're in Rome. There's other great shots of St. Peter's Basilica reflected in sunglasses as it rack-focuses to him, but it's clearly a postcard of St. Peter's."

All in all, it sounds like the sort of thing one ought not to miss, though it might be helpful to first read this Harper's piece by Portland's own Tom Bissell on "the post-camp cult film." (It's subscription-only, I'm afraid, but it includes scenes from Cinema 21 showings of The Room, which is once again happening this weekend, but not something I would necessarily suggest seeing before Inception.) Gone with the Pope shows one night only at the Hollywood Theatre: It's at 7:30 pm tomorrow night.

3. Alamar

Something I did not think to mention while praising this crocodile-infested picture of paradisaical childhood: It's set at the southernmost tip of Mexico, very close to the Gulf, and though oil does not yet appear to have infected these cerulean waters and coral reefs, watching the movie (which contains no environmental commentary) made me feel a whole lot worse about owning a car than any awareness-raising efforts have managed. I do not like having my awareness raised. I'd prefer to raise it myself, thank you. Anyway, just the thought of this place smothered by ooze is enough to make me Go By Streetcar--or walk, which is probably the more effective option. Showing four more times at the NW Film Center.

4. Filmusik: Gulliver's Travels

Galen Huckens has once again gathered up a posse of musicians and voice artists to provide a live soundtrack to an old movie; this time it's the 1940 cartoon Gulliver's Travels, which Paramount Pictures commissioned as a riposte to Walt Disney hitting the jackpot with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Nothing, in short, has changed in the history of studio animation--in 70 years, somebody will be doing a live dub of Despicable Me, assuming future generations haven't burned all prints of 3-D movies to appease the angry, howling ghost of Roger Ebert. (I kid, of course: Roger Ebert is going to be a friendly, avuncular ghost.) Hollywood Theatre, tonight and Sunday.

5. Aguirre, the Wrath of God

The Clinton Street Theater got its mitts on a restored 35 mm print of one of the early Werner Herzog movies, one that I associate with decapitation, mostly because it has an unforgettable scene of a conquistador's head that continues to talk even after it has been removed from a nearby set of shoulders (one of those images that bothered me so much that I immediately hit "rewind" to watch it again, hoping that would break the spell; it didn't), and also because of the following line in Chris Stamm's review: "Klaus Kinski, who, if he were still alive, would decapitate your grandmother if he had any reason to suspect she hid spare change in her neck."

6. The Father of My Children

Here was a particularly tricky review to write, because (and here you should STOP READING if your enjoyment of a film is compromised by knowing what it's about), halfway through the movie, the hero kills himself with a bullet to the brainpan, and the picture does something remarkable: It turns on a dime, and instead of using the remainder of the running time as an extended funeral, it actually makes a movie about surviving someone. The supporting characters become lead characters, and their continuing lives become tributes to (and rebuttals of) the previously central figure. The Father of My Children even ends with a beautiful sequence in which the family does not have time to visit the father's grave, and the strains of Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera" play over shots of Paris traffic, and we see that visiting graves is something we should not have too much time for, and if your family spends too much time around yours, you will have failed in some crucial way.

It's at Living Room Theaters, and that means its luminosity will be somewhat dulled by digital projection, a complaint that has been making its way across my desk more forcefully of late, but this is the only format in which you can see a film that deserves better than to be ignored due to matters of conveyance, and, as Christopher Moltisanti once said, we gotta live in the world. Which is also the point of the movie, come to think of it.

7. Bill Plympton's Party at Dante's

Speaking of things shown on DVD, this is happening Monday, June 19 from 6 pm to 10 pm (not the weekend, but let's not be so literal-minded, shall we?), and it sounds like a great time: Bill Plympton is releasing two films from his catalog, Guns on the Clackamas and Hair High, and he invited the cast of Guns on the Clackamas to join him for a reunion. And it is all too easy to forget that this city is home to a brilliant animator, one so unassuming that he's happy to draw a personal sketch for you as a way of saying thanks for buying a copy of his work.

So that's seven, and I haven't even mentioned The Kids Are All Right (probably the best-reviewed picture of the year so far, even if I wasn't wholly sold on it) or Cropsey, which Andy Kryza says is spectacular. This should give you something new to talk about. Why should all our dreams be the same?
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