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Russian Spies and Sex Addicts: Portland's New Movie Releases for Sept. 16-23

OPENING THIS WEEK

Grandma

 C+  Like a feminist companion piece to last year's Bill Murray feature St. Vincent, Paul Weitz's Grandma tells the tale of Elle (Lily Tomlin), who takes her neglected granddaughter (Julia Garner) under her wing when the teenager comes asking for money for an abortion. An out-of-work poet and widow who just broke up with her young girlfriend (Judy Greer), Elle sees the situation as a chance to bond with her entitled granddaughter. So she takes the girl on a journey through L.A., visiting people from her past to raise funds for the procedure. Tomlin is great as the wise but stubborn Elle, doling out f-bombs and sagelike lessons in equal measure. But given the episodic nature of Paul Weitz's film, each scene is only as good as its co-star. The vignettes are designed to give us telling portraits of Elle's life, and some scenes—particularly an encounter with ex-lover Sam Elliott—are pulsing with vitality, honesty and humor. Other times—a coffee-shop confrontation with a Christian barista or a hitchhiking debacle with a post-nuclear family—the material is too superficial for even Tomlin to shoulder. Despite flashes of genuine emotion, Grandma eventually buckles under its heavy-handedness. It would have made a great play. Instead, it's an all right movie with a fantastic central performance. R. AP KRYZA. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Hollywood, Division.


Hockney

 B  In Randall Wright's charming tribute to the British artist, David Hockney is the everyman's eccentric, recollecting his austere wartime childhood between crowdsourced musings on his ever-evolving artistic process. Wright wraps us close with an abundance of Hockney's friends and home videos, immersing the uninitiated in the artist's work through stylistic emulation.  This works best in a rare dark moment when Hockney speaks of life during the AIDS epidemic. Home video of a lone teacup morphs seamlessly into Hockney's Breakfast at Malibu, drawing out its pained inspiration.  Unfortunately, the tone is more often deceptively enigmatic, like in the closing shot that follows Hockney around his colorful estate, making you feel as if you're lost in one of his paintings. The soundtrack bounces Tati-esque, the pool glimmers idyllic, and yet Hockney eludes us.  The film is a fitting, beautiful homage perhaps, but for such an intimate look, it proves a bit too light. NR. ERIC MILLMAN. 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 17 at Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.


Home From Home: Chronicle of a Vision 

 A  Hours into this dark field trip of a film, which follows German emigrees as they flee famine in Hunsrück for South America, the protagonist chooses to rot in jail, and Edgar Reitz’s 19th-century epic steals your heart. This film can be agonizing to watch, but man, that’s some delicious agony.  Here, a fey and impassioned outcast weighs his wanderlust against grim family responsibility as thousands of other Prussians trade homeland hardship for the dream of Brazil’s “eternal summer.”  Like a character from Goethe, he broods on a hill, reading of distant tribes while two almost hallucinatory naked girls run past, trying to shake their own blues. In this desolate village, the lone hope is escape and home is only a fever dream. Politically relevant and engaging throughout, this prequel to the long-running trilogy never feels drawn out in spite of its four-hour running time. With world-class photography that conjures Ansel Adams sprinkled with symbolic color, this chronicle becomes an ode to hope. NR. ERIC MILLMAN. Friday-Sunday, Sept. 18-20 at Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.


The Man Who Saved The World

 C-  The untold tale of the Russian soldier Stanislov Petrov, whose reluctance to engage in nuclear warfare with the U.S. literally saved the world, is a story that needed to be told. I just wish someone else had told it. Though Kevin Costner’s narration can’t be faulted, filmmaker Peter Anthony’s melodramatic hybrid documentary defuses moments of real drama by following a heavy-handed Hollywood formula. Petrov himself recounts his story to a young translator who just doesn’t get his troubles, leading to a “bonding” sequence at an American gun range. There, they giggle while shooting posters of Osama bin Laden, American pop music playing ironically all the while. We’ve already got a broken hero carrying a universal message that ties into his personal flaw, but Anthony does a disservice to Petrov’s legacy by forcing sappy strings, awkward speeches by Costner and dramatic re-enactments into an already compelling story. What could have been an important documentary or a striking narrative ends up a painful exposé because it tries to be both at once. NR. ERIC MILLMAN. Clinton Street Theater.

 

Pawn Sacrifice

 B  Pawn Sacrifice chronicles legendary American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) through his rise from poor Jewish kid in Brooklyn to international chess superstar in the 1960s, culminating in his victory over Soviet Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in the 1972 World Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. Ostensibly a film about chess, the pawns in Pawn Sacrifice act more as props in a film primarily about the declining mental state of Fischer, whose meteoric rise in the world of international chess belied his mental descent into intense paranoia and anti-Semitism. Maguire is excellent as the infamously difficult Fischer, gliding between the public braggadocio of an elite athlete and the clomping, angry and detached obsessiveness of someone whose degenerating mental health was largely glossed over for fear of spoiling his skill. Fischer's erratic, room-trashing paranoia contrasts with the cool professionalism of Spassky and the Soviets, who understand constant surveillance to be part of their everyday lives. But Schreiber's Spassky has the air of a rock star resentful of his role in the totalitarian regime he represents. With all these pieces in play, director Edward Zwick plays a smooth game. PG-13. WALKER MACMURDO. Living Room Theaters.



Sleeping With Other People

 C  Remember the first person you slept with? You're still holding a torch for them, right? No? Then you aren't Jake (Jason Sudeikis). After a hot and steamy night with Lainey (Alison Brie) on the roof of a Columbia dorm, he reconnects with her 12 years later at a support group for people with sex addictions. He's now a serial cheater, while she keeps sabotaging relationships by sleeping with her gyno (Adam Scott). So they decide to use each other as a test case: Can they hang out with someone without trying to bonk them? If that sounds like the kind of thing no one has ever or would ever do, that's because it is. Though chock-full of laughs (thanks in no small part to Jason Mantzoukas as Jake's business partner) and opportunities to leer at an underdressed Brie, the movie is missing other critical elements, like a smooth narrative arc, or editing that shows characters' reactions to important events in the film. Still, Scott's John Waters-y 'stache almost makes up for it. Almost. R. JAMES HELMSWORTH. Fox Tower.


PLUS: 

Why Alex Falcone thinks Maze Runner: The Scorch Tales needs a new name.

Two men with the same name miming the crazy rock opera The Lives of Hamilton Fish.

And Johnny Depp as not-a-pirate in Black Mass