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Now Playing in Portland and Portland

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | September 11, 2010 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | September 11, 2010 |


get-low-movie-1009-lg.jpg

Reviews for independent films are often posted during the week they are released in NYC and LA. By the time the movies arrive in the mid- and small-markets, the notices are forgotten. This weekly feature will feature previously published blurbs from indie flicks playing in Portland, Oregon (mid-market) and Portland, Maine (small-market), representing what's also likely playing in similar cities, so that indie fans in smaller markets know what's worth visiting.

* represents Pajiba recommended indie films

Now Playing in Portland, Oregon

  • *The Tillman Story: In the era of 24-hour news and pundit privateering, The Tillman Story offers up a wonderful yanking of the curtain to expose the machinery behind the spin. The U.S. government and the U.S. military sought to use the corpse of Pat Tillman as a soapbox to tout honor and sacrifice, figuring that the family would stand meekly by, dabbing eyes with tissues and waving tiny American flags. Little did they realize, they were fucking with the wrong family. Dannie and Pat, Sr., Tillman's parents, would undergo what was tantamount to a fierce crusade to find out the truth behind the death of their eldest son. They would be lied to -- repeatedly -- by the soldiers who fought beside him that night in April of 2004, by the military he made a promise to fight for, and by the government he swore to protect. But they doggedly pursued their case. The government dropped over 3000 pages of partially redacted reports on them, which Dannie pored over and managed to un-redact through patience and research. They took the fight as far as it could go through the ranks of the military until they were able to get a hearing before Congress. Dannie Tillman explained to the congressmen, "Throughout this ordeal, we've been asked what would appease us. We'll never get Pat back. We just want the truth." And to this day, they still haven't gotten satisfactory answers. -- Brian Prisco

  • *Animal Kingdom: Patience is a virtue, so if you can't appreciate taut drama that spools out sparingly, enjoy Transformers 3: Electric Black Stereotypaloos. If you're willing to savor your cinema, the carefully-constructed plot ponderously offers up some seemingly innocuous moments of pure cellulite cruelty fraught with tension. It's not the kind of film that repeatedly goes off like a string of Chinese firecrackers every 10 seconds, but rather offers up astonishingly crisp subtext that will have you chomping through your knuckles.... To call Michod's film a gangster flick or a crime drama takes away the potency of the family. To call it a coming-of-age story limits the rest of the family contributions. Animal Kingdom is packed with so much dense subtext and material, it's almost overwhelming. The sheer weight of the film causes it to drag in parts, but this density is what sets off dynamite in the story. There are so many phenomenal scenes where we watch characters eat breakfast or sit on a couch watching television where every word is loaded like an elephant gun. But Animal Kingdom isn't a sudden onslaught, but rather a slow, steady bleeding where everyone is doomed. -- Brian Prisco

  • Flipped: If at least one Rob Reiner directed film isn't on your list of favorites, you're not trying hard enough. This is the man who directed The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, A Few Good Men, and Misery. When Harry Met Sally twisted the conventions of the Rom-Com. Whether you love or hate it, its effect on relationships has been palpable. Wry sarcasm tempering bittersweet sentimentality are the mark of Reiner's adaptations. The motherfucker made a good Stephen King film. TWICE. But he's lost it. Over the last decade, he's been dropping a steady stream of clunky, misshapen, atrocious romantic-comedies on the market, each more clotting and progressively greasier, like the inside of his own arteries. Paired with his Castle Rock production partner Andrew Scheinman, Reiner decided to try to recapture the magic by trying a little old fashioned romance with the kids by adapting Wendelin Van Draanen's Flipped. It's a blisteringly melodramatic, completely plastic, artificial tale of two young neighbors who grow up and fall in and out love with each other during their childhood. It's tailor made quilting-bee porn for the bingo blue-hair crowd. I guarantee before this Christmas, there will be a grandmother who finds a copy at her local Cracker Barrel and buys it for her grandchildren, who will start visiting less based on that gift. -- Brian Prisco

  • *Get Low: Some stories take their time in the telling. Aaron Schneider, a cinematographer turned director, who won an Academy Award for his short film, decided that for his feature film debut, he'd pack a Southern gothic tale with more stars than there are sky. The end result is Get Low, a powerful folktale about a lonely hermit who decides to throw himself a funeral party so he can hear all the stories people are telling about him while he's still alive. It's a pretty simple story, but it's packed with so much pure acting, it's going to suck you in and never let go. Pound for pound, I have yet this year to see performances that can match up with the sheer volume and assuredness of the four leads in this film. Like a skilled gourmet, Schneider knows that when your ingredients are of this quality, you don't need to do too much cooking to make a fine meal. And that's what Get Low feels like: a sumptuous down-home spread that will satisfy. -- Brian Prisco

  • The Girl Who Played with Fire: The second movie in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is a step down from the first -- a significant one -- but both the lead characters, and the actors who portray them, manage to make watching the film a worthwhile experience, even once the story itself -- bogged down in too many coincidences -- begins to lack. -- Dustin Rowles

  • *Winter's Bone: Winter's Bone is a savage journey quest, one girl's descent through the bowels of a rust-belt backwoods Hell to find her father or a corpse she can drag home. It's Alice in Wonderland if she were crawling through a river of shit. When her father, in jail for his third conviction for manufacture of crystal meth, skips out on his bail after putting the house up for collateral, his eldest daughter and caretaker of the family has to track him down. A stark and bleak drama winding through the rural poor regions of the Ozarks, Winter's Bone shows the horrid underbelly of the beastial illegal drug cookery and so-called hillbilly mafia while paying true homage to the South. These aren't some redneck hicks with a Git R' Done sticker on their pickup. These are the motherfuckers with the thousand yard stare who train their kids to blast you between the eyes with a squirrel hunting rifle and feed what's left of you to the hogs. Debra Granik, fresh from the success of Down to the Bone which brought Vera Farmiga to our attention, gives an unflinching frankness to this spectacular and haunting hymn built on the shoulders of her outstanding young lead actress. Like a chill winter wind scattering the last clinging leaves of autumn, Winter's Bone will get under your skin and deep into your bones. -- Brian Prisco

  • Centurion: Centurion is a chase film, which means that the entire sum of the film can be reduced to run, fight, rest, run, fight, rest, run, fight, run, fight. And because most of the characters are scruffy white guys with shields and swords, it'll take at least half an hour to separate out who belongs to what army. I'll grant this, however: The fights were bloody fantastic, visceral and deliciously gratuitous; that is, if you're a fan of an ax to the face (who isn't?). Clearly, Marshall loves a good dismemberment, and the kills are chock full of mindless B-movie goodness. Unfortunately, the script is just as mindless as the kills are. Indeed, if Marshall had strung all the fight scenes together, it would've made for an enjoyable short film, and it would've been no less pointless than the end result of Centurion. -- Dustin Rowles

  • Mesrine: Killer Instinct: If Jacques Mesrine didn't really exist, some screenwriter would have invented him. Like Tom Hardy's Bronson, Mesrine was a charming bastard, a stylish fiend, a bank robber with a silver tongue and a psychotic disposition. Mesrine spent most of the 1960s and 1970s bounding from bank heist to prison cell and breaking back out again all over France. Like a Capone or Dillinger, he became a notorious folk legend -- the honest bandit. But what's perhaps most interesting is that while he sat in prison, Mesrine became disgusted with the blasphemous coverage in the papers, so he published his own account of his exploits: murders, mayhem, and making of the love. Which is primarily where director Jean-Francois Richet and screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri take their story from. Plenty of movies have been made about Mesrine, but this one is adapted directly from the man himself. Which means you have to take it with a grain of salt. The man was a known dissembler and exaggerator, and when confronted by his attorney with a copy of Killer Instinct, Mesrine gives a Gallic shrug and claims perhaps it was puffed up as a way of throwing off the jury. Who's going to believe that a man would openly confess to the crimes he was accused of? So the result is kind of a highlight reel of every European heist film and every gangster legend ever told. It's all vignettes, smoked through like Gauloises, moments of Mesrine's life as filtered through some of the best French actors working today. With all that talent and having to split the four hour film into two parts, it somehow doesn't give the filmmakers time to actually give anyone a character, which unfortunately includes Mesrine himself. So the end result is about forty really interesting tall tales about a French criminal Mastermind. Would have made a killer fucking miniseries, but not so much a film. -- Brian Prisco

  • *Cyrus: Cyrus is the perfect indie execution of a studio high-concept. I was troubled by that concept initially; the Duplasses find the honesty in the relationship triangle, but I had some difficulties with the honesty of the setup: What were the Duplass Brothers trying to say about the over-affection between mothers and their sons? Does a dynamic like the one between Molly and Cyrus really exist in the world, outside of hillbilly trailer homes or that episode of "The X-Files"? But that's not the dynamic the Duplasses were really trying to explore, it's just the studio hook. The more honest dynamic is one that so many of us have faced: step-fathers honing in on the existing bond between a single-mother and her children. In that context, Cyrus feels genuine. His behavior is typical of those relationships; it's just that the son is usually 11 instead of 22. But it is a delicate situation for any new partner, who has to win the affection of the mom without alienating the son, an alienation that could ultimately doom the relationship. In the end, that premise backs the Duplass Brothers into a corner I never thought they could extract themselves from, but they eventually drive it toward the most honest ending for which you could possibly hope. -- Dustin Rowles

  • Middle Men: Do you read Maxim magazine? Because I used to. Once in a while, I'll flip through, and remind myself what it is about the rag that I don't find appealing anymore. The articles are occasionally pretty good, and there are moments where you just kind of laugh and enjoy. But everything else just reminds you it's a PG-13 Playboy. It's as if a teenager told his clever mother he only reads the skin mag for the articles, so she goes through with a whiteout brush and draws modest one-piece bathing suits on the spreads and then lets him read it. It's a disappointment. Such is the case with Middle Men, which chronicles the development of 24/7 Billing, which acted as the fingercuffs between the online porn distributors and the horny husbands who wanted to whack it to Lusty Busty Asians in the comfort of their own dens. With the doors locked. And the lights off. What ruins it is what ruins most films of this ilk: Based on A True Story. Unsatisfied with ruining the genre of action-comedy, writer-director George Gallo gives us this limp-dicked, half-assed retelling of the innovation of online porn billing. The sad part is that, like the porn movies it portrays, there are many moments that are simply glorious, particularly when fresh meat in the way of cameos are brought in to play. But for the most part, the film simply goes flatly through the motions, and you wish it would get it over with. And to please get its elbows off your hair. -- Brian Prisco

    Now Playing in Portland, Maine

  • *The Kids Are All Right: The joy of The Kids Are All Right is that it bucks convention in the most unexpected ways. For example, director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg) absolutely refuses to let her movie about love and humor become a formulaic romantic comedy. Characters in lower-grade fare have emotion thrust upon them and act out only because the script says they should, e.g., when a vapid teen pines for her pale and possibly sparkly boyfriend only to randomly reject his advances. But the relationship at the center of Kids is packed with honest, warm moments of real humanity in which one partner reaches out to the other, not in fear or anger or mere lust but because they honestly want to. There's a sense not just of togetherness but absolute necessity, and it comes from the dialogue and direction and wonderful performances by the two leads, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Which is where the film's other strength makes itself known: Bening and Moore play a married lesbian couple with two teenage kids conceived through a sperm donor, and the circumstances of their life are treated as blessedly normal. Their gayness isn't a shouting distraction, nor is it played down for some attempt at universality that critics hung like a ghostly weight around Brokeback Mountain. This is simply the way things are, and it's refreshing for a gay relationship to be treated with the honesty and normalcy of a straight one in film. Cholodenko's film isn't without some fits and starts, but when she winds her way back to the couple at its core, she always manages to create something wonderful. -- Daniel Carlson

  • The Girl Who Played with Fire: The second movie in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is a step down from the first -- a significant one -- but both the lead characters, and the actors who portray them, manage to make watching the film a worthwhile experience, even once the story itself -- bogged down in too many coincidences -- begins to lack. -- Dustin Rowles

  • *Get Low: Some stories take their time in the telling. Aaron Schneider, a cinematographer turned director, who won an Academy Award for his short film, decided that for his feature film debut, he'd pack a Southern gothic tale with more stars than there are sky. The end result is Get Low, a powerful folktale about a lonely hermit who decides to throw himself a funeral party so he can hear all the stories people are telling about him while he's still alive. It's a pretty simple story, but it's packed with so much pure acting, it's going to suck you in and never let go. Pound for pound, I have yet this year to see performances that can match up with the sheer volume and assuredness of the four leads in this film. Like a skilled gourmet, Schneider knows that when your ingredients are of this quality, you don't need to do too much cooking to make a fine meal. And that's what Get Low feels like: a sumptuous down-home spread that will satisfy. -- Brian Prisco (I saw this here last night, and it was fucking splendid. -- DR)

  • *Restrepo: I watched Restrepo and thought, "these soldiers are just stupid kids -- Xbox-playing assholes who look through a viewfinder and double-tap 'ragheads' because they couldn't pass a college entrance exam and this was better than working at Pep Boys." But I will never forget that they are the only ones willing to stand on the front lines and take bullets to protect what this country means to them, and that will always earn my respect. More now than ever, I wish the war was over. Because I have seen what it does to the people who fight it. It's easy to talk about war as an abstract concept, but when you see bullets flying, when you hear the explosions, when you watch these boys try to put words to the warfare, it's an unbelievable experience. -- Brian Prisco

  • Life During Wartime: We haven't reviewed this here, but I saw it a few months ago at a film festival and I was so tortuously indifferent to this Todd Solondz sequel to Happiness (with different actors playing the same characters), that I couldn't muster a review. It's Solondz being Solondz. Take that for what's it's worth. -- DR


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