Cinema 21 Program Notes June-August 2008

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Program Notes June-August 2008


Held Over, Ends June 19

Surfwise

Premiere (2007, 93 Minutes)
Directed by Doug Pray (Hype!)

The 1960s were a way different time. Back then, straight, uptight people sometimes saw the light and dropped out of society. One of the most interesting and "successful" dropouts was Dorian Paskowitz, a classic '50s MD who ended up the paterfamilias of nine surfing children, whom he raised in a series of cramped motor homes and campers. This latest documentary from Doug Pray (Hype!) is "by no means 'just another surfing doc,' it offers an in-depth look at alternative parenting," according to Edward Douglas of ComingSoon.net. "You have to see this unusual story to believe it," enthuses Cole Smithey of ColeSmithey.com about this true tale of counter-cultural living and religious faith. "Surfwise has a bohemian vibe and a cool sheen," writes Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, while Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide's Movie Guide notes that "few documentaries parse the complexities of family dynamics so effectively."

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One Week: June 13 - 19

To The Limit

Premiere (2007, 95 Minutes)
Starring Alexander and Thomas Huber   Directed by Pepe Danquart

Faster, higher, scarier. That's the philosophy of speed rock climbers, as portrayed in Pepe Danquart's riveting documentary. The film charts the adventures of brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber, who made a record-breaking attempt to climb the sheer face of the El Capitan peak in California's Yosemite National Park. The 3,000-foot ascent takes most climbers three days to complete. The Hubers tried to do it in just over two hours. "Visually breathtaking," writes Richard Kuipers of Variety, adding that To the Limit takes "audiences where its title promises".

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Two Weeks: June 20 - July 3

Mongol

Premiere (2007, 120 Minutes)
Starring Asano Tadanobu as Genghis Khan   Directed by Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountain)

An oversized and often misunderstood figure, Genghis Khan gets the full big screen biographical treatment in this epical film by Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains). Mongol traces the formative years of legendary warrior Genghis Khan, born with the name Temudgin, spanning his life from age nine in 1172 through 1206, when the feuding nomadic clans united under his leadership (director Bodrov has suggested that this is the first part of a trilogy covering the warrior's life). The multi-ethnic cast includes Japanese indie idol Tadanobu Asano as the adult Temudgin, charismatic Chinese thespian Honglei Sun as his closest ally, and Mongolian amateur Khulan Chuluun as the love of his life. Mongol "boasts breathtaking landscapes, dazzling cinematography, bloody battles and unique traditions," writes Alissa Simon of Variety. Emanuel Levy finds it "sumptuously mounted, beautifully acted, and illuminating in historical yet accessible terms," while Lewis Beale of Film Journal International simply asserts, "Adventure story, love story, history lesson: What's not to like?"

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One Week: July 4-10

Gonzo: The Life & Works of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Premiere (2008, 118 Minutes)
Starring George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Buffet, Jimmy Carter, Ralph Steadman, Jann Werner, and Johnny Depp   Directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room)

"Hunter S. Thompson gets the definitive documentary treatment in Gonzo, announces Dennis Harvey of Variety. Sports writer turned counter-cultural hero (and near-permanent cast member of Doonesbury), Thompson was typical of '60s heroes in his unpredictability. Part gun nut, part functioning alcoholic, and an essential writer for Rolling Stone, where he helped invent a form of confessional, half-made-up form of journalism he called gonzo and which others more demurely labeled the New Journalism. Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) takes the viewer on a thorough tour of Thompson's life, from Kentucky youth to fame with his first book on the Hell's Angels, through his political coverage of '70s politics, to his portrayal in the movies by two different actors (Bill Murray, Johnny Depp), then his eventual decline, disillusionment, and suicide. "Biographical documentary doesn't get any better than this," sings Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter, while Eric Melin at Scene-Stealers.com writes that Gonzo is at once a celebration of a genre-busting writer/rabble-rouser, and an elegy for a time period when a freak like Thompson could get access to political leaders and actually affect some kind of radical change."

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One Week: July 11 - 17

Savage Grace

Premiere (2007, 97 Minutes)
Starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne   Directed by Tom Kalin (Swoon)

Director Tom Kalin made his controversial debut as a filmmaker with Swoon (1992), a dramatization of the Leopold - Loeb case that seemed to take the side of the two young intellectual thrill killers as rebels against a repressive society. Now, in Savage Grace, he takes on another famous true crime. It's a dramatization of the London's shocking Barbara Daly Baekeland murder case, which occurred on Friday, November 17th, 1972. The shocking crime created a stir on both sides of the Atlantic, as it occurred among the heirs of the Bakelite plastics fortune. The film explores the deepening decadence of jet setter Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore) and her gay son Tony (Eddie Redmayne), which becomes even more complicated and dangerous with the arrival of "walker" Sam Green (Hugh Dancy). Emanuel Levy writes, "given that the story concerns murder, incest and insanity, Kalin deserves credit for refusing to sensationalize." For Bernard Besserglik of the Hollywood Reporter, "the characters remain recognizably human despite their flaws and monstrous weaknesses." Rich Cline of Shadows on the Wall praises the film for its "strong performances and provocative themes." Savage Grace is "blessed with a fine script, solid cast, smashing production design, and a message that drives home the notion that money isn't everything," concludes Doris Toumarkine of Film Journal International.

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Ends July 31

The Wackness

Premiere (2008, 95 Minutes)
Starring Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man   Directed by Jonathan Levine

In Jonathan Levine's autobiographical comedy, it's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York City are pulsing with hip-hop. Set against this backdrop, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) spends his last summer before college selling dope throughout New York City, trading it with his shrink (Ben Kingsley) for therapy, while tentatively pursuing the psychiatrist's step-daughter (Olivia Thirlby). Dennis Harvey of Variety finds The Wackness a film made with "assurance and distinction." "A great script and one of the more innovative indie comedies in recent memory," writes Edward Douglas of ComingSoon. And The Hollywood Reporter�s verdict: A rollicking performance by Ben Kingsley as a pothead psychiatrist would steal the show in lesser films, but The Wackness is not overpowered: it rips in all aspects!�

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Held Over, Ends August 14

Tell No One

Premiere (2006, 125 Minutes)
Starring Francois Cluzet, Marie-Joses Croze, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Marina Hands, Andre Dussollier   Directed by Guillaume Canet

This French film based on a novel by Harlan Coben comes with high praise: "enthralling from start to finish," Johnny Vaughan, Sun Online; "brilliant action set pieces," Laura Bushell, BBC; "a gripping thriller," Anna Smith, Empire; "a sharp, efficient package,� Lisa Nesselson, Variety; and, "shot-through with emotional intensity," Stuart McGurk, Thelondonpaper. Director Guillaume Canet has gathered a terrific cast for this mysterious tale of a widowed pediatrician who is suspected of murder: Kristin Scott Thomas, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, and Marina Hands, just to name a few. Tell No One "retains all the slick dynamism and tension of a classic Hollywood thriller without ever seeming anything but French," observes Anton Bitel of Channel 4 Film. "In short, Tell No One is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller with a cracking plot, superb performances and exciting action sequences," concludes Matthew Turner of ViewLondon.

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One Week: August 15 - 22

Encounters at the End of the World

Premiere (2007, 99 Minutes)
Directed by Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man)

Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) confirms his standing as poet laureate of men in extreme situations with Encounters at the End of the World, a visually stunning exploration of the Antarctic community of McMurdo Station, headquarters of the National Science Foundation and home to 1100 people during the austral summer (October to February). Over the course of his journey, Herzog examines human nature and Mother Nature, juxtaposing breathtaking locations with the profound, surreal, and sometimes-absurd experiences of the marine biologists, physicists, plumbers, and truck drivers who choose to form a society as far away from the real world as one can get. Scott Foundas of Variety says that Encounters "offers one arresting visual marvel after another," while David Nusair of Reelfilm online writes that Herzog "has effectively peppered the proceedings with a number of genuinely compelling moments and encounters."

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One Week: August 22 - August 28

Up the Yangtze

Premiere (2007, 93 Minutes)
Directed by Yung Chang

You never step into the same river twice, advised Confucius, and that, too, seems to be the philosophy of filmmaker Yung Chang, who in this dramatic documentary examines the state of the Yangtze River on the brink of many changes, including the completion of the Three Gorges hydroelectric dam, the largest in history. Chang shows among other things a luxury cruise trailing up the river filled with tourists who have come to see the area before it disappears forever, and the effects of the dam on the lives of two young people who live along the river. Nick Schager of Slant finds that "Chang gracefully juxtaposes the country and the metropolitan to express the knotted-up mixture of anguish, anger, hope, and trepidation of those in the dammed river's wake." Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail finds the film an "always illuminating, often heart-rending, documentary." John Anderson of Variety deems it a "gloriously cinematic doc of epic, poetic sadness." And Scott Foundas of the L.A. Weekly finds that by "by journey�s end, Chang has found, in the Yangtze, a brilliant natural metaphor for upward mobility in modern China."

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One Week: August 29 - September 4

The Last Mistress

Premiere (2008, 96 Minutes)
Starring Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou, Roxanne Mesquida   Directed by Catherine Breillat (Sex is Comedy, The Fat Girl)

Asia Argento and Catherine Breillat: the brazen siren of European film, along with the controversial French director of sexually explicit art house fare. Shake them together and you've got an explosive cocktail of lubriciousness and intellectual ambition. The two pair up for this tale of the secrets, rumors and betrayals that surround the planned marriage between a libertine (Fu'ad Ait Aatou) and a virtuous aristocrat (Roxane Mesquida) in 19th century France, when the young man attempts to forsake his mistress of some 10 years (Argento). In a long flashback, he explains to the bride's grandmother the nature of his passion for the mistress. Though the victim of a stroke in 2004, Breillat has nonetheless plunged full force into this robust costume tale, based on a novel by Jules-Am�d�e Barbey d'Aurevilly. The Last Mistress also stars Claude Sarraute and Michel Lonsdale in a film that Lisa Nesselson of Variety rates as a "splendidly cast tale." Internet reviewer Emanuel Levy asserts that "Breillat continues to explore gender and sexual politics in a bold yet entertaining way, resulting in her most accessible work to date." Jason Alexander of Eye Weekly warns that "an Asia Argento scorned is a truly dangerous thing."

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One Week: September 5 - 11

The Edge of Heaven

Premiere (2007, 122 Minutes)
Starring Baki Davrak, Nurgul Yesilcay and Hanna Schygulla   Directed by Fatih Akin (Head-on)

A hit of the most recent Portland International Film Festival, The Edge of Heaven has everything: massive coincidences, political turmoil, riots, exile, and forbidden love. An international tale, director Fatih Akin's film follows the intersecting lives of six people (four Turks and two Germans, including Hanna Schygulla) and is divided into three large individually titled parts, which follow the affairs of a teacher, his father, a prostitute, her daughter, the daughter's lover, and the lover's mother. The Edge of Heaven is "a thoroughly moving experience," according to Lewis Beale of Film Journal International, while Derek Elley of Variety finds it "utterly assured, profoundly moving.� According to Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, "Akin's movies, like the works of a major novelist, tend to seek out those thorny, intractable areas of private experience where politics is never going to gain more than a crumbling foothold." D. K. Holm of The Vancouver Voice calls Edge of Heaven "a complex, gripping drama that unreels at a brisk pace," and asserts that it was "one of the best films in the festival."

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One Week: September 12 - 18

Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired

Premiere (2008, 99 Minutes)
Directed by Marina Zenovich

An elfin playboy, a grim-visaged absurdist, one of the last of the great Eastern European film directors from the Cold War era, and an occasional master of popular entertainment, Roman Polanski is as diverse a figure as his legend and legacy is complex. Director Marina Zenovich attempts to elucidate Polanski in this documentary that explores his life and films, with a special focus on the 1977 statutory rape case, which keeps Polanski an exile in France, unable to return to the United States. Internet reviewer Emanuel Levy praises this "lucid, still relevant documentary, which probes the legal and socio-cultural circumstances � including media circus � under which Polanski's trial took place that the moral issue of a mature celeb sleeping with a minor becomes secondary." Manohla Dargis of the New York Times finds Polanski to be a "subtly intelligent and sharply argued documentary." Justin Chang of Variety concludes that Polanski is a "mesmerizing portrait of the director."

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One Week: September 12 - 18

CSNY: Deja Vu

Premiere (2008, 96 Minutes)
Starring David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young   Directed by Neil Young

The war in Iraq forms the backdrop for David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young (who also directed this film under his pseudonym, Bernard Shakey) as they engage in the band's 2006 "Freedom of Speech Tour," which crisscrosses North America. Young's documentary-cum-concert-film opens with facts about the war and the group's involvement in raising awareness. With a visual playfulness that nods to Young's earlier Greendale, the film also uses traditional talking head interviews, concert footage, and man-on-the-street sound bites to explore its political landscape. John Anderson of Variety suggests that CSNY is an "audience friendly, activist musical that seems sure to raise both political ire and major bucks." Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter finds CSNY to be a "melodious howl of protest against the Iraq War from one of rock's greatest bands."

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One Week: September 12 - 18

Beautiful Losers

Directed by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard

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Nine Days: September 19 - 27

Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2008

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