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May 12, 2016

Those of us who have been complaining that the stakes in superhero movies have gotten ridiculously high, that it’s always the end of the world, will be relieved that Captain America: Civil War brings things back down to Earth. There are no aliens, no artificial intelligences, no angry gods or malignant outside forces.

The villains here are just men.

May 5, 2016

Jason Bateman was that kid in high school everybody pretty much liked  — the vice president of the student body who ran track and dated not the prettiest but easily the coolest cheerleader, and who was on friendly terms with jocks and stoners alike (although secretly preferring stoners). 

And yet, something about the guy strains against his better angels, as though being nice just isn’t cutting it. His mean streak is only a centimeter wide, but when he finds it, it’s like coming home.

April 28, 2016

Still very much with us, the 105-year-old Chinese-born painter Tyrus Wong is quite possibly the most influential American artist you’ve never heard of — until now, that is.

As the sole inspiration for the expressionistic animated style of Disney’s Bambi (more on that in a moment), Wong’s elegant and economical style, a melding of traditional Asiatic ink-and-brush painting and Western modernist influences, has literally suffused American culture, from dishware and Hollywood to Hallmark cards and museums everywhere.

April 21, 2016

Although critically lauded as a talented and versatile actor, Don Cheadle has been flitting on the periphery of mainstream movies for the past two decades. Most casual moviegoers don’t recognize his name, though they may recognize Cheadle’s face from Iron Man 2, Showtime’s House of Lies or Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, one of several films (including the 1998 political satire Bulworth) for which he deserved but never received an Oscar nod (he was nominated for his role in Hotel Rwanda).

April 14, 2016

It is a peculiarity of art that its failures are often more moving, more profoundly beautiful, than its successes, especially when the artist failing is a great one. Perfection has a monolithic aspect, airtight and intimidating; it can leave us cold. Better, sometimes, the flaw, the frayed end, which reveals the Icarus burn of lofty ambitions. Humanity, you might say, is never more humane than when it strives and crashes.

April 7, 2016

Jonathan Gold is the first and only food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Let that marinate for a moment. 

Then disabuse yourself of any notions of what a food critic of that caliber might be like — perhaps an uptight gourmand enamored with his own palette or some self-important foodie. 

Gold is none of that, so it’s no wonder filmmaker Laura Gabbert chose to wrap a film around the writer and the myriad flavors of his beloved hometown Los Angeles.

He has a penchant for suspenders, wrinkled shirts and his green pickup.

March 31, 2016

It is a truth universally acknowledged that superhero movies must feature massive amounts of property damage. Rather hilariously, we are all spending a lot of time talking about this, not about cool fight scenes (harder and harder to come by) or daring ways our heroes have saved the day.

March 24, 2016

Shot in lavish black-and-white, Embrace of the Serpent drops you immediately into the humid nightmare of colonial devastation. A lone shaman, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), squats silently on the banks of the Amazon River in the Colombian jungle. A canoe approaches, carrying a Colombian guide, Manduca (Yauenkü Miguee), and Theo (Jan Bijvoet), a German anthropologist dying of an unspecified disease.

March 17, 2016

Mustang opens on the last day of school. A young student cries, hugging her teacher, who gives the girl her address. The girl, Lale (Günes Sensoy), is swept up by four other girls who can only be her sisters; they have endless manes of brown hair, and they show intense comfort with each other as they tumble out of the schoolyard and onto the beach, where they splash into the water, fully clothed. It’s like the beginning of so many school-aged summers: open, beautiful, full of possibility.

March 3, 2016

If this were a movie, it might be a complicated and acrimonious courtroom drama called A Tale of Two Theaters, in which a pair of once-united independent movie houses splits over irreconcilable differences, becoming two separate cinemas run by different ownership.

February 25, 2016

After more than a decade of writing about movies, the Oscars, somehow, still raise a fire in me. I know I will be disappointed. I know there will be one or two wins that seem perfect, one or two speeches that surprise, just like I know that most of the lauded films will be about white men enduring something.

I know the Oscars matter, on a business and cultural level, no matter what the Coen brothers — who’ve conveniently already earned a few — say. Winning is power and power is money, and money lets people decide which stories get told.

February 25, 2016

Lush, brooding and contagiously creepy, The Witch is just the sort of spooky gem that fans of horror clamor for but rarely get. The film neither shocks nor bludgeons you. It does not beg indulgence, nor does it paint its grotesqueries in broad strokes.

February 18, 2016

The old adage that “laughter is the best medicine” has been put to the test by a pair of Eugene filmmakers. Produced and directed by James Blame and Ryan Shoop of Magbas Entertainment, Coping with Comedy is a 30-minute documentary that takes a look at the way local comedians use stand-up as a way of dealing with the trauma of various mental health issues.

February 18, 2016

The long-awaited Deadpool movie is a lot of excellent things: Lively! Violent! Cleverish! Ribald! (If you don’t enjoy the occasional — OK, frequent — dick joke, this is probably not the movie for you.) As the title character, Ryan Reynolds is in his element, and he embraces the challenge of being a likable, violent smartass whose face we often can’t even see (it’s a physical role on more than one level).

February 11, 2016

First impressions can be deceptive. Take, for instance, Joel and Ethan Coen, whose movies seem distinctly built to not be watched but re-watched. Usually, for me, the initial pass through a Coen brothers film proves a strangely tepid affair — The Big Lebowski and Brother, Where Art Thou? felt flat and disjointed the first time around — and it’s not until I return for a second and third look that things start to resonate and deepen.

February 4, 2016

From a documentary on the emerging queer hip-hop movement to the avant-garde Blue, the 1993 experimental film from Derek Jarman released just months before his death from AIDS complications, the 24th annual Eugene Queer Film Festival offers an array of films expressing the dynamic and diverse queer experience. 

The fest, which runs Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 4-6, will screen international submissions, art films and queer classics.

February 4, 2016

My press email about this year’s crop of Oscar shorts notes that all the animated shorts are rated approximately PG, except “Prologue,” which is described as “not suitable for children.” I would go a step further and say it’s not suitable to be a nominee; it’s more of a five-minute demo reel for someone who clearly has talent but little to say.

January 28, 2016

The screenwriter and occasional director Charlie Kaufman has been delightfully gas-lighting moviegoers since 1999’s Being John Malkovich, a film that takes place, quite literally, inside the head of John Malkovich. Like Rod Serling before him, Kaufman loves to knock everything just slightly off kilter, creating an existential free fall that is at once exhilarating and upsetting. Using wry humor to offset his philosophical heebie-jeebies, Kaufman’s what-if movies pry open absurd cracks in accepted reality until a plausible explanation of our human condition emerges.

January 21, 2016

Windows. Lenses. Curtains. More windows. There are layers between the actors and the audience in Todd Haynes’ Carol, some of them narrative, some literal. Haynes loves to show the gently blurred image of Rooney Mara, elfin and pensive, shot through glass. Mara, though the various award nominations (and the title) might suggest otherwise, is the star of Carol. As Therese, an early-1950s young woman with a department store job, a well-intentioned beau and a lovely little apartment, she floats through the film with wide eyes and the occasional sharp glance.

January 14, 2016

Mexico-born director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is custom-built for Hollywood. Like Hollywood, Iñárritu is neither as deep nor as heavy as he believes himself to be, and he regularly mistakes size and scale for epic seriousness.

January 7, 2016

Although the party line these days is that one must have a stridently absolute, carefully outlined position about being pro or con Quentin Tarantino, it is in fact possible to have thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant and also to find The Hateful Eight a tiresome, incoherent, overlong slog.

December 31, 2015

Cinema is losing its love for the elemental force of the human face. Amid the empurpled pomp and droidy digitization of endlessly retooled blockbusters, that which is purely and quietly us — our complexity, our contradictions, our neocortical slumps and secret struggles — is being phased out, replaced on screen by the endless crowding of martial abstractions that speed headlong for the fiscal orgasm of consumer approval.

December 24, 2015

December 17, 2015

Macbeth might not be Shakespeare’s most sophisticated play — it is nasty, brutish and short — and yet, among the tragedies, it remains my personal favorite, if only because it contains the most blunt and chilling expression of nihilism yet registered in the English language.