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Posts under ‘film reviews’

Review: “Inherent Vice”

Review: “Zero Dark Thirty”

Review: “Hitchcock”

Review: “Lincoln”

Review: “Wreck-It Ralph”

Review: “Cloud Atlas”

My review of “Argo” and “Seven Psychopaths” from KGW-TV

My review of “Frankenweenie” from KGW TV

‘The Master’ review: a gorgeous, vexing and one-of-a-kind tale of psychology and power

Paul Thomas Anderson’s tale of a man drawn into a quasi-religious cult is puzzling and provoking, with remarkable performances at its heart.

The Master.jpegJoaquin Phoenix in “The Master”
“The Master” is cool and puzzling and almost feels more like a novel than a movie.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson came onto the scene as a brilliantly gifted scamp of a storyteller, with the portraits of underground culture “Hard Eight” and “Boogie Nights” and the web-of-life epic “Magnolia.”  But since then he has moved away from familiar narrative forms, first in “Punch Drunk Love,” then in “There Will Be Blood,” the last of which, in light of this new film, seems the dawn of a new phase in its maker’s art.
Like “Blood,” “The Master” concerns a strong, charismatic man determined to reshape the world no matter the personal costs.  Like “Blood,” it is a film in which big ideas are chewed over but not necessarily digested, in which the world is slightly distorted to accommodate large and even grotesque characters, in which the accumulation of episodes weighs more heavily than the ‘through line’ of a ‘plot.’  It vexes and dares, it frustrates and goads, but it is powerful and singular and doesn’t leave your mind easily.  It’s not as appealing, at least on the surface, as Anderson’s early films, nor does it wallop you like “Blood.”  But it is something, you must admit that.
Joaquin Phoenix, back from his bizarre decision to shut down his career, plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic, emotionally troubled seaman who finishes his service in World War II and finds himself unable to reintegrate himself into society.  Adrift, he winds up aboard a yacht commanded by Lancaster Dodd (Anderson staple Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man of mysterious authority who is engaged in rethinking ideas of human psychology, history, and self-empowerment.  Quell, who, in fact, needs quelling badly, is drawn into Dodd’s world, seeking to silence the demons in his head and striving to gain status among the writer’s traveling cohort of family members and apostles.  But Freddie’s troubles may be too profound for any cure to avail, and Dodd’s work might not be able to offer him, or anyone else, credible answers.
Dodd is, plainly, a version of L. Ron Hubbard, author of “Dianetics” and founder of the Church of Scientology.  But “The Master” isn’t a critique or expose.  Yes, there are passages in which it seems that Dodd’s work is a sham, but there are also moments in which true believers profess their faith, and nothing that we see distorts the actual legal and doctrinal struggles faced by Hubbard and his followers during the period the film depicts.  There will (probably) not be lawsuits.
Besides, the focus isn’t on the spiritual movement so much as the relationship between off-kilter Freddie and grandiloquent Dodd, the itchy, gaunt acolyte and his robust and Olympian master.  Phoenix is almost perversely out of sync — gangly and twitchy, speaking out of one side of his mouth, hands on hips inside-out, arms akimbo like a scarecrow.  The forces inside him have gnarled and twisted his form.  Just seeing him on screen makes you shift back in your seat.
Hoffman, on the other hand, brings a grand Falstaffian quality to Dodd, a fondness for food and flesh and thrills and ideas, an outsized confidence camouflaging a sometimes thunderous temper, a blend of certainty and doubt, a need to control all of those around him while giving them the impression that they command themselves.  Orson Welles would’ve loved the guy.
These two herculean performances more or less wipe everyone else off the screen, and Anderson knows it.  He’s got Amy Adams as Dodd’s missus, and Laura Dern as a significant devotee, both small roles, really, and there are very few other faces you might recognize.  That lack of familiar faces makes it easy for him to immerse us in the post-war era of skirts and suits and big cars and no-tech living.  Like the blasted-out landscape of “Blood,” the sparsity of “The Master” allows the two lead actors and the various competing ideas to play out against a relatively clean backdrop.
In speaking of the novelistic quality of the film, I specifically refer to the sense that, like Tolstoy or Dreiser or Bellow, Anderson is deploying characters and events in an effort to give shape to ideas.  There’s nothing prosaic about the filmmaking, however, which is conceived in sequences of motion and light that sometimes recall the abstraction of Terrence Malick rather than the hopped-up energies of Martin Scorsese or the jazzy flow of Robert Altman, to name two of Anderson’s chief influences.  Gorgeously shot by Mihai Malimare Jr. (who has photographed Francis Coppola’s last few films), with a spooky and compelling score by Jonny Greenwood, it’s exquisitely made.  Anderson may be thinking like a writer, but his movies are movies.
But they are not always warm movies, and the aridity of “The Master” is, finally, its most lingering impression.  It’s a film you admire, with two powerhouse performances, but it’s aloof and self-involved and eccentric.  “Blood” was a head-scratcher, yes, but it galvanized, if only through the strength of Daniel Day-Lewis at its heart.  “The Master” doesn’t have the same magnetic power, but it does excite you at the prospect of Anderson’s future.  Once upon a time people talked quite seriously about the “Great American Novel,” a chimerical blend of intelligence, entertainment and import that would forever change and define literature.  Anderson, god love him, seems determined to make the “Great American Film.”  “The Master” isn’t it, but you come away from it with the sense that may be on the right path. 
(137 min., R, TBD) Grade: B-plus

‘Compliance’ review: a prank call turns into a real horror show

A based-on-truth tale about people manipulated into criminal acts by stranger on the phone.

Compliance.jpgAnn Dowd in “Compliance”
“Compliance” is a slice-of-life film that sneaks up on you nauseatingly, and not just because it’s set in a fast food restaurant.  
Writer-director Craig Zobel’s movie is based on the true story of a predator who phoned various businesses pretending to be a policeman and asking to speak to the manager.  When he hooked an unwitting victim, coerced the person on the other end of the line into performing degrading and even criminal acts on a subordinate: confinement, strip searches and worse.  
Zobel, whose previous film was the little-seen but worthy con man story “Great World of Sound,” is adept at finding actors who make the unimaginable seem completely real.  The restaurant manager (Ann Dowd, painfully believable) is harried and over her head; the target of her ministrations (Dreama Walker, also utterly credible) is frightened and confused; nobody in the film feels like an actor, which is a point of praise.
There’s a skin-crawling effect to watching it all unfold, and a sense of slowly falling into a hole without a bottom.  In large part that’s Zobel is less interested in the perverse motive behind the crime than the slow descent of the victims into its twisted logic.  We watch these dupes make choices, some of which we might have made ourselves, and then we’re sickened to see the consequences of those choices played out.  
Zobel isn’t a sadist about all of this as, say, Roman Polanski or David Lynch or Todd Solondz might have been.  There’s a humanity here, even for the restaurant manager.  But that still doesn’t make “Compliance” easy to ingest.
(90 min., R, Cinema 21) Grade: B

‘Hello, I Must Be Going’ review: fine performances can’t lift a wan film

Melanie Lynskey and Blythe Danner are fine in this small family comedy, but it’s a

Hello I Must Be Going.jpgMelanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott in “Hello, I Must Be Going”
You want to root for “Hello, I Must Be Going,” a soft and heartfelt little film built on the backs of two all-in performances, but the film’s lack of credibility and flabby craft keep defeating your goodwill.  
Todd Louiso, the sometime actor who previously directed “Love, Liza,” is empathetic enough with his actors to draw good work from them.  But the screenplay by newcomer Sarah Koskoff is wan and sometimes even silly, and Louiso never finds a tone to sell it.  
The fault isn’t with his stars.  Melanie Lynskey is quite good as Amy, a newly divorced thirtysomething forced to move in with her parents in her childhood suburban home.  Listless, lifeless and self-pitying, she only emerges through the most unlikely of avenues: an affair with Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the 19-year-old son of her dad’s business acquaintance.  As she navigates the various passages of life, she must endure the scorn of her mother (Blythe Danner), who dreams of a life that hasn’t quite come to her.
Danner is, in fact, the best thing in the picture:  brittle and frank and cool toward a daughter who has flat-out disappointed her.  She’s terrific.  And you can’t help but feel at least some sympathy toward Amy, at least at the start, particularly as embodied by the winning Lynskey.  But the script’s contrivances and the director’s lax handling aren’t enough to hold you.

Gere faces ‘Arbitrage,’ the ‘Desires’ of film noir and more

Reviews of this week’s new releases in Portland-area theaters.

Arbitrage 2.jpgSusan Sarandon and Richard Gere in “Arbitrage”

A slow movie weekend, with only a couple of reviews:  the Wall St-fatcat-in-trouble drama “Arbitrage,” with Richard Gere, and “Dangerous Desires,” a selection of film noir treats at the Northwest Film Center.  We’ve also got “Also Opening,” “Indie/Arthouse,” “Levy’s High Five” and “Retro-a-Gogo” to flesh out the week.

Levy’s High Five, September 14 – September 20

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I’d soonest see again.

Beasts of the Southern wild boat.jpg“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

1) “Beasts of the Southern Wild” A
dreamy and joyous film about life, death, hope, dreams and wonder on an
island in the Mississippi Delta. The miraculous young Quevezhané Wallis
stars as Hushpuppy, a wee girl who experiences life in the feral
community known as the Bathtub as a stream of wonder and delight, even
though her dad (Dwight Henry) is gruff, her mom is absent and a killer
storm is bearing down on her home. Writer-director Behn Zeitlin, in his
feature debut, combines poetry and audacity in ways that recall Terrence
Malick, but with a light and spry touch. Still, all his great work
pales in comparison to the stupendous little Wallis, whom you’ll never
forget. Hollywood, Living Room, Moreland, Tigard

2) “Moonrise Kingdom” Wes
Anderson films are such a specific taste that I’m a bit hesitant to
suggest that this might be his most approachable (but surely not
crowd-pleasing) work. In the wake of the delightful “The Fantastic Mr.
Fox,” Anderson returns to live-action and his familiar tics and habits
in a tale of young (as in ‘pre-teen’) lovers on the run. Newcomers Jared
Gilman and Kara Hayward fill the lead roles delightfully, and
Anderson’s muses Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined ably by
Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand, among others. It’s a
light and breezy film with a very sweet heart and old-fashioned
sturdiness. Even if you were left puzzled by the likes of “Rushmore” or
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (still his best non-animated films, for me), this
is likely to win you over. Cine Magic, Fox Tower, Hollywood, St Johns

3) “The Bourne Legacy” A dense, slick and thrilling spy movie that’s got as much brain power as brawn. Writer-director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) turns the trilogy of films about Jason Bourne into the story of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner),
another souped-up intelligence operative on the run from the secretive
organizations which built him. The film cleverly integrates the story of
the previous three, but stands alone as a gripping story about a man
trying to extend the only life that he has come to know and depending on
a geneticist (Rachel Weisz) and his own abilities to stay alive. From the complex narrative to the thrilling final half-hour, it’s top shelf stuff. multiple locations

4) “Searching for Sugar Man” A truly remarkable documentary that demonstrates how big and how small this world of ours can be.  Rodriguez was
a Detroit singer-songwriter whose poetic and soulful music deserved a
much bigger career than the little blip it experienced in the early
’70s.  But, in fact, that bigger career did  exist: in South Africa,
where Rodriguez was a huge star and didn’t know it.  So obscure was
Rodriguez in his homeland, in fact, that his overseas fans long believed
he had killed himself in an baroque onstage apocalypse.  The Swedish
filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul tracks this amazing history and then
witnesses a third act that you simply have to see to believe.
 Mind-blowing, heartwarming and true. Fox Tower 

5) “Robot & Frank” Frank Langella is
a delight in a film about a curmudgeonly retiree whose children foist a
robot on him to monitor his diet, activities and housework.  The grumpy
old fella hates the little electronic buddy (whose voice is provided
by Peter Sarsgaard), then he realizes he has a use for it:  he
devises a means to use it to get back into his life’s work, which
happens to be burglary.  Debuting director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford nicely balance the mild sci-fi with human comedy, and a sharp supporting cast, which includes Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler, give the great Langella all the room he needs to be wonderful. Fox Tower

Shining a light on the shadowy world of noir

A series of little-known film noir titles crackles with energy and a sense of discovery.

Little festivals of film noir — ‘40s and ‘50s crime dramas starring Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Ryan and their ilk — have been pretty commonplace over the past few decades.  

But “Dangerous Desires: Film Noir Classics,” a series beginning tonight and running through the end of September at the Northwest Film Center, stands out.  Curated by the Film Noir Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage of these dark little nuggets of post-war American angst, it’s filled with discoveries, including some films that aren’t available for home viewing in any form.

Only two of the dozen titles in the film — “The Glass Key” and “The Blue Dahlia,” both starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake — can be said to be familiar, and those play on a single night, almost as if being dealt with as an obligation.

The rest of the series peers more intently into the unknown corners of noir.  Tonight’s opening film, presented, by film noir scholar Eddie Muller, is a perfect example.  “The Prowler” is a 1951 Joseph Losey thriller starring Van Heflin as a cop obsessed with a lonely housewife (classic noir girl Evelyn Keyes). Like many of the films in “Dangerous Desires,” it deals with issues of men uprooted after the war, the threat of rupture to the traditional model of the family, and the fatal lures of sex and money.

Another of the opening weekend’s offerings, “The Hunted” (1948), about a woman seeking revenge, is among those in the series that can’t be readily seen elsewhere.  Also in that category is the remarkable “The Window” (1949), which plays on September 23.  Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, it’s a story about a boy (the gifted and tragic Bobby Driscoll) who witnesses a murder but who can’t get anyone to believe him because of his long habit of telling tall tales.  Shot on location in New York by director Ted Tetzlaff, it’s tense and fresh and, at 73 minutes, remarkably taut.

“High Wall” (1948) is another treat, a very rare MGM film noir with Robert Taylor quite good as a man who admits that he strangled his wife and then comes to believe he may not have done so at that.   And in “Pitfall,” the lustful insurance adjuster in the middle (Dick Powell) is outshined by Lizbeth Scott as the object of his adulterous affections and Raymond Burr as the creepy crooked detective who wants the girl and won’t be told no.

Through the series we get exactly what we want from noir:  dark shadows, flawed heroes, mean little schemes, psychological dysfunction, fallen women, and a pervading sense of claustrophobic, paranoid fear.  The world of noir often looks normal, but the characters have just survived a horrific war and they know how easily ‘normal’ can vanish.  Their urges, longings, and fears drive them to places they never would have imagined visiting in their halcyon days — and their journeys make for deeply exciting viewing.
 
The Northwest Film Center presents “Dangerous Desires: Film Noir Classics” through September 30 at the Whitsell Auditorium of the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave. Tickets are $9 general; $8 for PAM members, students, and seniors; $6 for NFC Silver Screen members and children.


SCHEDULE

“The Prowler” Friday, September 14, 7 p.m.
“The Hunted” Saturday, September 15, 9 p.m.
“Nobody Lives Forever” Sunday, September 16, 7 p.m.
“Pitfall” Thursday, September 20, 7 p.m.
“The Glass Key” Saturday, September 22, 7 p.m.
“The Blue Dahlia” Saturday, September 22, 9 p.m.
“The Window” Sunday, September 23, 7 p.m.
“Caught”
Friday, September 28, 7 p.m.
“High Wall” Saturday, September 29, 7 p.m.
“99 River Street” Saturday, September 29, 9 p.m.
“Loophole” Sunday, September 30, 5 p.m.
“The Naked Alibi” Sunday, September 30, 7 p.m. 

‘Abitrage’ review: with Gere in a familiar gear, a drama finds a spark of life

The silver fox plays another charming heel in a film about a financial kingpin in money and legal trouble.

Richard Gere in “Arbitrage”

The moral failings of Wall St. and its fa…

‘Samsara’ and ‘The Ambassador’ roam, the ‘Words’ and ‘Summer’ crash, and more

Reviews of this week’s new releases in Portland-area theaters.

samsara 2.jpgfrom “Samsara”

Not a lot of new stuff this weekend, as movie distributors try not to get their opening weekends blitzed by the dawn of a new NFL seasons.  We have a handful of reviews:  a comparison of two fascinating documentaries, “Samsara” and “The Ambassador”; a look at Spike Lee’s back-to-the-old-neighborhood picture “Red Hook Summer”; and a slam of the inane literary drama “The Words.”  And, eternally, “Also Opening,” “Indie/ArtHouse,” “Levy’s High Five” and (under the old name that it once again sports) “Retro-a-Gogo.”

Levy’s High Five, September 6 – September 13

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I’d soonest see again.

Searching for Sugar Man 2.jpgRodriguez in “Searching for Sugar Man”

1) “Beasts of the Southern Wild” A dreamy and joyous film about life, death, hope, dreams and wonder on an island in the Mississippi Delta. The miraculous young Quevezhané Wallis stars as Hushpuppy, a wee girl who experiences life in the feral community known as the Bathtub as a stream of wonder and delight, even though her dad (Dwight Henry) is gruff, her mom is absent and a killer storm is bearing down on her home. Writer-director Behn Zeitlin, in his feature debut, combines poetry and audacity in ways that recall Terrence Malick, but with a light and spry touch. Still, all his great work pales in comparison to the stupendous little Wallis, whom you’ll never forget. Hollywood, Living Room

2) “Moonrise Kingdom” Wes Anderson films are such a specific taste that I’m a bit hesitant to suggest that this might be his most approachable (but surely not crowd-pleasing) work. In the wake of the delightful “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson returns to live-action and his familiar tics and habits in a tale of young (as in ‘pre-teen’) lovers on the run. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward fill the lead roles delightfully, and Anderson’s muses Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined ably by Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand, among others. It’s a light and breezy film with a very sweet heart and old-fashioned sturdiness. Even if you were left puzzled by the likes of “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums” (still his best non-animated films, for me), this is likely to win you over. Cine Magic, Fox Tower, St Johns

3) “The Bourne Legacy” A dense, slick and thrilling spy movie that’s got as much brain power as brawn. Writer-director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) turns the trilogy of films about Jason Bourne into the story of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another souped-up intelligence operative on the run from the secretive organizations which built him. The film cleverly integrates the story of the previous three, but stands alone as a gripping story about a man trying to extend the only life that he has come to know and depending on a geneticist (Rachel Weisz) and his own abilities to stay alive. From the complex narrative to the thrilling final half-hour, it’s top shelf stuff. multiple locations

4) “Searching for Sugar Man” A truly remarkable documentary that demonstrates how big and how small this world of ours can be.  Rodriguez was a Detroit singer-songwriter whose poetic and soulful music deserved a much bigger career than the little blip it experienced in the early ’70s.  But, in fact, that bigger career did  exist: in South Africa, where Rodriguez was a huge star and didn’t know it.  So obscure was Rodriguez in his homeland, in fact, that his overseas fans long believed he had killed himself in an baroque onstage apocalypse.  The Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul tracks this amazing history and then witnesses a third act that you simply have to see to believe.  Mind-blowing, heartwarming and true. Fox Tower 

5) “Robot & Frank” Frank Langella is a delight in a film about a curmudgeonly retiree whose children foist a robot on him to monitor his diet, activities and housework.  The grumpy old fella hates the little electronic buddy (whose voice is provided by Peter Sarsgaard), then he realizes he has a use for it:  he devises a means to use it to get back into his life’s work, which happens to be burglary.  Debuting director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford nicely balance the mild sci-fi with human comedy, and a sharp supporting cast, which includes Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler, give the great Langella all the room he needs to be wonderful. Fox Tower

‘Samsara’ and ‘The Ambassador’ reviews: filmmakers with the world in focus — and in the crosshairs

Two documentaries of diverse style and aims show what can happen when first-world filmmakers take a look at other cultures.

Samsara.jpgfrom “Samsara”
Two films new to town open some fascinating questions about the nature of non-fiction filmmaking and the ways in which First World artists and journalists confront the Third World.
“Samsara” is a sumptuous film by Ron Fricke, who directed “Baraka” and was cinematographer of “Koyaanisqatsi.”  Like those films, “Samsara” is a non-narrative vision of the panoply of the world — people, animals, geological and meteorological phenomena, buildings, wastelands, metropolises — edited together to a musical accompaniment.  
The word ‘samsara’ means ‘continuous flow of life’ in Tibetan, and Fricke and company surely experienced that sensation in making the film, which took them to 25 countries in a span of five years.  They have put together a thoughtful and profoundly gorgeous film in which the works of humanity are celebrated and questioned, the colossal scale of nature is revealed, the cruelties and grotesqueries of life are laid bare.  It was shot in 70mm, and it’s one of the most immersive things the screen has shown us in years.
There’s a lot of immersion in “The Ambassador,” a documentary which ‘stars’ its director, Mads Brugger, a Danish journalist who, in an undercover expose of corruption in Africa, dives into the world of false diplomatic credentials, crooked governments and blood diamonds.  Buying, outright, the title of consul from the Liberian government, Brugger sets himself up in the Central African Republic as a businessman-slash-diplomat, pretending to be interesting in building a match factory but actually forming liaisons with diamond miners and using his diplomatic passport to remove the gems from the country illegally.
The Ambassador.jpgMads Brugger in “The Ambassador”
Brugger isn’t like Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, puckishly tweaking a perceived ill in the world at the service of an agenda.  He’s more like a Graham Greene character or a sober (-ish) Hunter S. Thompson, diving into the darkness and taking an active role in it so as to shed light on it.  (With his cigarette holder, riding boots and combat glasses, he strongly evokes Thompson’s Raoul Duke persona.)  There’s a touch of whimsy to his misadventures, but the malfeasance he uncovers — often using hidden cameras and microphones — is anything but a joke.
The superficial differences between the films are stark.  Fricke and company set out to create a work of art and have an emblem for their efforts in a gorgeous mandala created by Himalayan monks.  Billions of grains of colored sand are used to ‘paint’ an extraordinarily complex image which, eventually, is wiped away into nothingness, a perfect metaphor for human life.  Brugger, on the other hand, provokes (albeit without much effort) specific acts of criminality and his subjects tumble into holes they themselves have dug.  In his wake, there’s something of a mess:  a lot of money changes hands, some illegal diamonds are in circulation, and no one is arrested or put out of business; the ugly little world he has detailed carries on.
It would be easy to point a finger at Brugger as a provocateur and hold up Fricke as a pure chronicler, but it’s not as simple as that.  Fricke has a point, too, and the way “Samsara” juxtaposes, say, overfed folks shopping at Costco with people picking the stuff of life out of a garbage dump in South America makes a case as damning as anything in “The Ambassador.”  Every edit in cinema has the potential to carry a moral argument, establishing equivalences or disparities between the subjects of two shots, and “Samsara,” for all its holism, isn’t free from the sort of specific contingencies and perspectives that “The Ambassador” explicitly embraces.
In a sense, too, both films present us with portraits of the world as seen from a vantage of privilege.  Brugger, as a white man in sub-Saharan Africa with bags of money and a diplomatic passport, is able to get people to say and do things as shockingly and disturbingly raw as anything Sacha Baron Cohen has ever managed.  He isn’t exactly preying on innocents, but he’s certainly engaging in subterfuge to make bad folks behave badly: a fairly obvious point.  And you strongly suspect that he’d have a far less easy time pulling off his elaborate hoax in a culture more familiar with his brand of journalistic stunts.
Fricke’s intent is, for the most part, nobler — a vision of the world as unified by the works and forces of humanity and nature — but he, too, puts people in a frame of his own devising.  The visions of “Samsara” can be breathtaking — a field of temples in ancient Myanmar, the sand-sculpted canyon walls of Utah, the neurological web of nighttime traffic in Los Angeles, the stupefying power of Iguazu Falls.  But when he focuses on people, the mask of aesthetic indifference drops and you sense yourself being pushed toward a point of view about sex, food, guns, labor, what have you.   Maybe you agree with him, maybe you don’t, but an argument is being made under the guise of objective revelation.  The extraordinary beauty of the work doesn’t change the fact that there’s some preaching going on behind the screen.
“Samsara” (102 min., PG-13, Fox Tower) Grade: B-plus

‘The Words’ review: there are words for this mishmash, just not nice ones

A story about a novel about a novel should have been erased from the word processor, not made into a film.

Jeremy Irons in “The Words”Several words are suggested by “The Wo…

‘Red Hook Summer’ review: a confused homecoming for Spike Lee

A film meant to evoke "Do the Right Thing" is more muddled than powerful.

Clarke Peters in “Red Hook Summer”In the 23 (!) years since the fiery summer’s day of “Do the

A ‘Killer’ diller, a wily ‘Robot,’ some ‘Lawless’ brothers and more

Reviews of this week's new releases in Portland-area theaters.

Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe”A nicely varied selection of films for this holiday weekend.  We’ve g…

Levy’s High Five, August 31 – September 6

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”1) “Beasts of the Southern Wil…

‘Killer Joe’ review: a harrowing vision of greed and lust in a trailer park

Matthew McConaughey astounds and disturbs as a hit man preying on a wicked family.

Thomas Haden Church (l.) and Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe”The NC-17 designation was devis…

‘Robot & Frank’ review: a curmudgeon warms up to his mechanical pal

Frank Langella is exquisitely dry and crusty as a retiree who devises a unique use for his robotic househelp

Frank Langella and chum in “Robot & Frank”There’s a terrifi…

‘Oslo, August 31’ review: a painful, precise day in the life

A rehabbed drug addict traverses his home town in search of a new start in a compellingly quiet film.

Anders Danielsen Lie in “Oslo, August 31″The generic quality of the title &#…

A sleek ‘Cosmopolis,’ a speedy ‘Rush,’ an unreal ‘Imposter’ and more

Reviews of this week's new releases in Portland-area theaters.

Robert Pattinson in “Cosmopolis”A truly hectic week, as evidenced by the number of films to do with cars, bik…

Levy’s High Five, August 24 – 30

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

Jeremy Renner in “The Bourne Legacy”1) “Beasts of the Southern Wild” A dreamy and joyo…

‘Cosmopolis’ review: a sleek and airless limo ride with a cipher

David Cronenberg's adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel is an exquisitely built torture machine — for its protagonist and, perhaps, for its viewers.

Paul Giamatti (l.) and Rob…

‘The Imposter’ review: a story of personal identity too crazy not to be true

A man poses as a missing boy, even though he's nothing like him, and pulls off the hoax with the boy's family.

Frederic Bourdin in “The Imposter”From the very start of …

‘2 Days in New York’ review: so I married a French woman

Visiting relations turn a Manhattan couple's life into utter chaos, comically.

Chris Rock (l.) and Albert Delpy in “2 Days in New York”Slight but winning, “2 Days in N…

‘Premium Rush’ review: heck on wheels

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is riding against the clock and a dirty cop in an energetic, if ordinary, thriller.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Premium Rush”“Premium Rush” is a ra…

‘Hit and Run’ review: a raucous, crude and funny chase film

Dax Shepard writes, directs and stars, with real-life girlfriend Kristen Bell, as a man with a past on the run.

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard in “Hit and Run”Spirited and saucy, &…

An animated ‘ParaNorman,’ a lost ‘Sugar Man’ and a wee bit more

Reviews of this week's new releases in Portland-area theaters.

“ParaNorman”The widest national release this torrid weekend is “ParaNorman,” which is, of course, of special …

Levy’s High Five, August 17 – 23

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

“Searching for Sugar Man”1) “Beasts of the Southern Wild” A dreamy and joyous film abo…

‘ParaNorman’: the reviews start to roll in, and they’re good ‘uns

The second feature by Portland's Laika Entertainment garners kudos. And now we wait for the boxoffice results….

“ParaNorman”So I’ve already weighed in on “ParaNorman,” th…

‘ParaNorman’ review: brilliant craft and impish wit make for a charming horror tale

The second feature from Portland's Laika Entertainment is a grand romp for tweens — and for those who appreciate fabulous filmmaking.

“ParaNorman”For its second feature fil…

‘Bourne’ reborn, a scorched-earth ‘Campaign,’ a slow ‘Hara-Kiri’ and more

Reviews of this week's new releases in Portland-area theaters.

Jeremy Renner in “The Bourne Legacy”A nicely varied selection for this getting-near-the-end-of-summer-movie-s…

Levy’s High Five, August 10 – 16

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”1) “Beasts of the
Southern Wild” A dreamy and joyous film about lif…

‘The Bourne Legacy’ review: a spy — and a movie franchise — finds thrilling new life

A new star and a new plot line are grafted onto the hit film series, and the result is exhilarating.

Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner in “The Bourne Legacy”“The Bourne Legacy…

‘The Campaign’ review: political animal planet

A crude comedy takes aim at the fallen state of American politics with scattershot results.

Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell in “The Campaign”A fitfully funny mishmash of polit…

‘Hara-Kiri’ review: tale of samurai honor played as a slow burn

Takashi Miike's 3-D samurai movie is darker and slower than you might hope.

Ebizo Ichikawa in “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” Peacetime in feudal Japan means little work for…

A ‘Recall’ reboot, a clueless ‘Queen,’ an ‘Ai Weiwei’ portrait and much more

Reviews of this week's new releases in Portland-area theaters.

Colin Farrell in “Total Recall”Last week, the opening of the Olympics seemed to scare new films out of opening…

Levy’s High Five, August 3 – 9

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman (and Jason Schwartzman’s head) in “Moonrise Kingdom”1) “Beasts of …

‘Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry’ review: a portrait of the artist as moving target, in nearly-real time

A documentary about the Chinese artist and dissident has a breaking-news immediacy.

Ai WeiWei in “Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry”Few movies can claim to be ripped from the headlines in t…

‘The Queen of Versailles’ review: you know, maybe there IS such a thing as being too rich….

A portrait of a family building a 90,000-square foot house gives life to the cliche "filthy rich."

View full sizeJackie and David Siegel in “The Queen of Versailles”Wat…

‘Ruby Sparks’ review: a writer’s dream girl turns into a nightmare

A lonely man dreams up the perfect sweetie, then wishes he hadn't.

Paul Dano in “Ruby Sparks”“Ruby Sparks” is a fantasy romcom that’s chiefly notable for i…

‘Klown’ review: boy-men will be boy-men

A gross-out comedy from Denmark has laughs but little heft.

One-and-a-half men: “Klown”In “Klown,” Danish TV comedians Casper Christensen and Frank
Hvam join the ranks of Sacha…

‘Red Lights’ review: a film about psychic-debunkers is a sham and a shame

A strong cast and a nifty begining quickly unravel into incoherence.

Robert De Niro in “Red Lights”“Red Lights” presents a strong cast with a promising premise and ea…

‘The Story of Film’ review: an opinionated 15-hour portrait of a century-plus of cinema

An epic film informs — and sometimes rile — but never bores: a feat in itself!

View full sizeMark Cousins, director and narrator of “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”If nothing e…

Levy’s High Five, July 27 – August 2

The five films playing in Portland-area theaters that I'd soonest see again.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black in “Bernie”1) “Beasts of the
Southern Wild” A dreamy and joyous …