Bill Frisell: A Portrait
Can a movie qualify as a portrait if it reveals next to nothing about the family, personality and psyche of the man it portrays? Hardly, but director Emma Franz (Intangible Asset No. 82) gives it a shot with this introduction to Frisell, a revered guitarist known for collaborating with Paul Simon and contributing to the soundtrack of Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester. Leading an army of worshipers, Franz styles the film as a hymn of praise for its soft-spoken subject, who we get to see playing low-key tunes and enjoying some intimate moments, like when he flashes a joyous smile after playing one of his more outré guitars. He seems like a nice guy, but how has his success impacted his wife? How did playing the guitar come to mean so much to him? Those crucial questions are impossible to answer because the film declines to delve too deeply into Frisell's offstage life and provides only a superficial dissection of his work—fans will likely scoff when Simon stops by to sum up the appeal of Frisell's music with vague allusions to "color" and "Americana." The upside for those same fans, of course, is that spending an entire film in Frisell's world may be a pleasure in its own right. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Tigard, Vancouver.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Giddy satire gives way to lazy bombast in this animated adaptation of Dav Pilkey's children's book series, which has too much of its titular under-dressed superhero and too little of its prankster protagonists, two elementary schoolers (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) at war with the tyrannical Principal Krupp (Ed Helms). Krupp is the sort of administrator who schedules a Saturday-morning science fair, for which he gets more than his just desserts when Hart's character hypnotizes him to strip down to his spotless briefs, don a scarlet cape and blunder about as the moronic, Superman-like crusader Captain Underpants. It's a funny idea, but director David Soren (Turbo) suffocates the movie under a hectic deluge of deeply unfunny gags, including a battle involving truck-size rolls of toilet paper and a tiresome evildoer named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), who has a vaguely offensive German accent. If only the entire film were as sharply subversive as its first act, which shows students schlepping through school while a gloomy rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" plods on the soundtrack—an uproarious bit of over-dramatization that, unlike much of the movie, won't give you a headache. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars. Beaverton, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Tigard, Vancouver.
Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters—including an anchorwoman, a homeless man and a factory worker— each "manifesting" different art movements across the 20th century in different vignettes in Julian Rosefeldt's new feature. R. Cinema 21, Kiggins.
Sofia Boutella, Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe star in this reboot of the Brendan Frasier classic about an evil mummy princess (Boutella) who gets up to no good. Review to come next week. PG-13. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver.
Paris Can Wait
Would a lighter version of Eat, Pray, Love even be a film at all? Wouldn't Nibble, Ponder, Enjoy simply float away? Paris Can Wait is a 90-minute vacation slide show of an American woman's road trip from Cannes to Paris. It contains no fewer than seven scenes in which expensive wine is poured. Chauffeuring Anne (Diane Lane) about the countryside is her movie producer husband's business partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard). They stop frequently for culinary delights and to bandy stereotypes about. "You Americans are so…" uptight, fretful, fill-in-the-blank. Meanwhile, don't think the trip is so innocent; Anne's husband (Alec Baldwin) warns her that Jacques is a Frenchman, after all. There is no conflict to speak of, just the lightest of flirting and sunny vistas easing the ennui of the wealthy and middle-aged. The fact that Paris Can Wait is the first-ever feature from Eleanor Coppola, the 81-year-old spouse of Francis Ford, is more interesting to consider than anything on screen. Her filmography comprises mostly making-of documentaries about Francis' work, and she is quite adept at framing visuals that are already beautiful. The final product is too frivolous to really dislike; it'd be like getting upset at an Air France in-flight magazine. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Critic's Rating: 1/4 stars. Cinema 21.
Portland Horror Film Festival
Portland sure has a lot of horror film festivals. Here's another. The second iteration of this three-day offering from the folks who brought you the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival hosts over 40 features and shorts from around the world, including Aaron Immediato's Dickeaters, about vampires who—you guessed it—eat dicks. Hollywood Theatre, See portlandhorrorfilmfestival.com for tickets and schedule.
Portland Jewish Film Festival
The Portland Jewish Film Festival returns to the Northwest Film Center for the 25th year, showcasing films exploring Jewish perspectives that aren't commonly seen in mainstream American film. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, June 11-25. See nwfilm.org/calendar for full schedule.
With a more expressive star and a more experienced director, this Iraq War tale of a U.S. Marine and her German shepherd could have been more than what it is: a glossy, facile and TV-ready tribute to a heroic woman who deserves a much better movie. That woman is Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), who we watch crawl out of a cocoon of grief and become a handler for a bomb-sniffing canine named Rex. Yet, while the scenes where Rex literally sticks his nose into danger are harrowing enough to give dog owners anxiety attacks, Megan spends too much of the third act corralling the support she needs to adopt Rex—but as altruistic as her quest is, trying to collect signatures for a petition and bugging Chuck Schumer doesn't equal compelling cinema. That said, the slack storytelling of director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) gets a lift from the scary yet noble Rex, who is played in most of his scenes by a dog named Varco. His "acting" puts the glumly wooden Mara to shame, which means anyone remaking Megan Leavey would do well to follow some simple instructions: Recast Megan, but keep the pooch. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Tigard.
My Cousin Rachel
*** Spooky, sexy and gleefully menacing, this fresh rendition of Daphne du Maurier's novel is a jolt of Halloween in June. It's also a terrific showcase for its stars. Sam Claflin is Philip Ashley, a dunderhead lord of a coastal estate in Victorian-era England who seeks vengeance against the cousin of title. Philip is convinced that she slaughtered the man who raised him, but his hunger for retribution evaporates when Rachel appears in the body of Rachel Weisz—dainty yet tall, pale yet powerful, she beguiles him into sacrificing both money and sanity, kicking off a sinister saga that is as much about Rachel's sadism and Philip's masochism as it is about a murder mystery. It's also grand entertainment, thanks to well-measured suspense from director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and the film's greatest and most beautiful horror: Weisz's performance. Mixing anguish and toughness, she effortlessly embodies a fearsome woman with a knack for seeming frail when it suits her—she's terrifying when she rages at Philip for offering her money, only to humbly apologize for her outburst and pocket the dough anyway. And while a muddled conclusion robs Rachel of her potency, Michell and Weisz make the journey there, too, delightfully nasty to resist. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Critic's Rating: 3/4 stars. Bridgeport.
Sunday Night Salad
Hosted by Portland filmmaker, Oregon State University football enthusiast and sports radio producer Alex Crawford, Sunday Night Salad is a goofy talk show web series, now back for its third season. Episode one of the new season features an interview with and performance by Portland rock band Snow Rollers, plus a visit to an Oregon Coast ghost town and a guide to strip club etiquette. You may or may not see me in one of this season's episodes. Stream Sunday Night Salad on makingnewenemies.com or YouTube.
For every fan hoping the third chapter of DC's Extended Universe might leap beyond the dour brutalism infecting prior installments (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman), early news that Wonder Woman would be set around the killing fields of WWI couldn't have felt encouraging. Sure, there's a playful spark to opening scenes of our clay-born demi-goddess' wonder years upon Paradise Island, where the grass is green, the girls are pretty Amazon warriors, and there's an undeniable thrill to her subsequent meet-cute with man's world when Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) prevents a German patrol from pursuing downed pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) across the enchanted beachhead. By the time we reach the Western Front with Trevor's rag-tag secret agent squad, Patty Jenkins (Monster) has so deftly juggled period rom-com and epic fantasy elements that even trench warfare barely dampens the momentum. And, as Wonder Woman throws off her coat to reveal Hellenic-armor-meets-Savile Row costuming to rush the machine-gun nest aglow in joyous bloodlust, the action feels breathtaking and ballsy and genuinely new. Flashing coquettish and imperious beneath a hyper-focused swagger, Gadot binds a star athlete's restless confidence alongside the studied worldliness teased by a very clever child. Lest we forget, Wonder Woman was dreamt up as a children's tale generations ago, and the character retains childlike qualities. Her film, blessedly, does not. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Critic's Rating: 4/4 stars. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic Theatre, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Moreland, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Roseway, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Tigard, Vancouver.