* Brewster McGee
Part of the Northwest Film Forum's "New Cult Cinema" series, Brewster McGee is a black comedy about what happens when little minds hatch big ideas. The director will be in attendance. Little Theatre, Sun Dec 28 at 8 pm.

* Gory, Gory, Hallelujah
Four prospective deities on the hunt for their corner of the holy trinity decide to hit the road for a cross-country motorcycle trip to the Big Apple. Who will emerge as the true, um, Son of God: female Jesus, Jewish Jesus, black Jesus, or "rock & roll bisexual" Jesus? Gory, Gory kicks off the Northwest Film Forum's "New Cult Cinema" series, with filmmakers in attendance for all three movies. Little Theatre, Fri Dec 26 at 8 pm.

Mistletoe & Hollywood
MOHAI's festival of holiday matinees is being mounted with out-of-town visitors in mind: Christmas in Connecticut, One Magic Christmas, Babes in Toyland, Meet Me in St. Louis, Miracle in the Sand, and Pocketful of Miracles. MOHAI, Fri-Wed. See Movie Times for individual show times.

* The Nightmare Before Christmas
Beautiful and twisted, The Nightmare Before Christmas remains one of the greatest holiday flicks ever created. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Tim Burton and Henry Selick's splendid creation will be bowing for six days at the Varsity, and you should definitely take the opportunity to see it in its proper glory. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER) Varsity, Thurs Dec 25 at 9:45 pm.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
John Hughes' 1987 story of carpooling and personality clash, starring Steve Martin, John Candy, and a vibrating bed. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.

* Polterchrist + Benny, Marty, and Jerkbeast
A cult-classic in the making, Polterchrist, by Brady Hall and Calvin Reeder, combines blasphemous humor, raunchy bathroom scenes, and low-grade special effects to make for one excellently creepy "horrordy" film. (JENNIFER MAERZ) Screens as part of the "New Cult Cinema" series with Benny, Marty, and Jerkbeast (also by Hall and Reeder). Directors will be in attendance. Little Theatre, Sat Dec 27 at 8 pm.

The Sound of Music
There's nothing on this earth that brings a song to my heart like those zany Nazis. Sing-A-Long Sound of Music is in town for the holidays at 5th Avenue Theatre, Fri 7 pm, Sat-Sun 1 pm.

F.W. Murnau's 1927 film Sunrise is a story of a cheater with murder in his heart. Also, it routinely lands on the top of best-of-the-20th-century lists, and this is a brand-new print, so now's the time to see it. Grand Illusion, Fri 7, 9 pm, Sat-Sun 3, 5, 7, 9 pm, Tues-Thurs 7, 9 pm.


* 21 Grams
Though fragmented and seemingly random, 21 Grams is musical; it feels, moves, and concludes like a massive musical composition. 21 Grams is not a perfect work of art--it gets to be a bit long toward the end--but as with all great music, it manages to leave, once all of its parts come together, a strong impression on the senses. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

* Bad Santa
Thank the Lord someone has finally helped take the piss out of Christmas with a pure, spitefully cynical spirit. And that person, surprisingly, is Billy Bob Thornton. The usually despicable actor is the pants-wetting, booze-swilling Man in Red crowning the sour Christmas tree that is Bad Santa. Allowing me to review this movie was one of the best Christmas gifts I could receive this year; it's the antithesis of a feel-good film--actually, it's a feel-shitty film that, if you love brutal humor, will warm you like spiked eggnog. (JENNIFER MAERZ)

The Barbarian Invasions
See review this issue. Harvard Exit

Big Fish
See review this issue. Guild 45th, Meridian 16

* Calendar Girls
Based on a true story, the film centers around a fusty English village women's group whose few rogue members decide to reinvent the group's prim yearly calendar so that the proceeds--until then nominal--could provide resources for the local hospital's cancer ward. I'll be honest here: At the end of Calendar Girls I walked out of the theater knowing the film wasn't quite as good as the condition of Helen Mirren's naked breasts made me want to believe it was--for all its lovely scenery and romantically sexual botanical metaphor, the movie's pace jerks abruptly between breezy and boring. (KATHLEEN WILSON)

The Cat In the Hat
Not as terrible as everyone is saying, but still not good. (Dakota Fanning, however, is superb.) Now, with both The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat being thus "tainted," let's just hope Hollywood stays far, far away from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. (MEGAN SELING)

* Cold Mountain
See review this issue. Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Metro, Meridian 16, Woodinville 12

The Cooler
The Cooler is a small, unremarkable film that has been getting a decent amount of attention due to one simple thing: sex. In the film, director Wayne Kramer has managed to give audiences something all too rare in films these days, and that something is a sexy scene that not only causes the audience to flush, but makes sense to them as well. But the film itself feels cluttered and unfocused, especially as it limps toward a ridiculous climax that not only doesn't work, but nearly undermines the entire picture. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

No matter how tanked you get before you hit the theater, nothing will change the fact that Elf is a kids' movie. Written and directed by a softened John Favreau (Swingers), Elf is the vehicle that finally puts Will Ferrell on the Jim Carrey path from adult comedian to sensitive family-movie guy. Not that there's anything really wrong with that, but for my comedic dollar, I'd stick with Ferrell's Old School way of doing things. (JENNIFER MAERZ)

After the murder of her husband, a criminal psychologist (Halle Berry) wakes up on the other side of the plexiglass under the watchful eye of a host of other fucked-up tabloid celebrities (Robert Downey Jr. and Penelope Cruz).

Haunted Mansion
Disney's third film in two years to mine theme-park attractions in place of recognizable plot structure (see Pirates of the Caribbean and The Country Bears--I'm still waiting to see how they're gonna pull a narrative out of those damned spinny teacups), The Haunted Mansion is an exotic thrill ride of humor and excitement and... oh, wait, I'm sorry--I was thinking of something else altogether. No, The Haunted Mansion is pretty much the same ol' live-action shitfest you've come to expect from our good friends from the Magic Kingdom--chock-full of bighearted parents, wisecracking kids, fancy special effects, and a convoluted moral about love or togetherness or something. (ZAC PENNINGTON)

The Human Stain
Director Robert Benton spends most of the film focusing on the relationship between a professor (Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman playing a Jew who is actually an African American) and the last love of his life, a janitor played by a terribly thin Nicole Kidman. The janitor is attracted to the professor's prestige; the professor is attracted to the janitor's youth. They have hot sex and eventually fall in love, and it is the quality of this fall into love, its problems, its complexities, the scandal it generates, that the film revolves around. The conclusion of the affair is the substance of The Human Stain. Nevertheless, the film manages to be lyrical, and the love affair ends, as all love affairs end, tragically. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

In America
Director Jim Sheridan always turns up the emotion in his films, but at least his earlier movies took place in faraway Ireland. When all this emotion is suddenly close to home, and out of its usual cultural environment, it's rather obnoxious and exasperating. Like a truck whose brakes have been tampered with, the emotion in this movie rolls uncontrollably down a steep road, swerving from side to side, until it finally hits a big tree. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Intolerable Cruelty
To malign Intolerable Cruelty as the worst Coen brothers film to date is really only a testament to their decades of consistency--a legacy of quirk and pop vision that seems to only improve with age. And despite its relative visual artlessness, Cruelty boasts quality (if not altogether brilliant) performances, a decent amount of humor, and some of the Coens' lyrical delivery. Even the worst Coen brothers movie is still a Coen brothers movie. But with its slapdash directions--and their names deeply buried among the screen credits--the whole debacle comes off with the sense that they owed somebody a favor. (ZAC PENNINGTON)

* Kill Bill Vol. 1
The first half of Quentin Tarantino's opus has very little character development, only the thinnest of stories, and more severed limbs than you can count. It beautiful, brutal, and brilliant. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Last Samurai
We have all seen The Last Samurai before when it was called Gladiator, or Lawrence of Arabia, or Dances with Wolves, and because of this, all the film can offer is the sight of Tom Cruise wielding a lengthy sword--a thought sure to excite fans of childish metaphor, but they may be the only ones. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

* Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
After greeting the first two films with slack-jawed reverence, I found myself viewing the third with a kind of grumpy anticipation. What I soon discovered, however, was that the begrudging-ness of my affection for the film was no match for Peter Jackson's swashbuckling craft. If this is just a fantasy, Jackson seems to say, it's going to deliver on every level available. And it does. Unburdened from the need to be relevant, the director reveals a far deeper mission: to make these absurd surroundings not only cinematically credible, but emotionally resonant. (SEAN NELSON)

* Lost In Translation
Lost in Translation is a tiny movie, as light as helium and draped upon the thinnest of plots. There is very little conflict, and even fewer twists and turns. It is as close to a miracle as you're likely to get this year. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Love Actually
"Trite" doesn't begin to describe Love Actually, a movie that America will probably gobble up like grease in a bucket of gravy because it's about love and Christmas, and who doesn't like love at Christmas? And really, who doesn't love Hugh Grant? (JENNIFER MAERZ)

Love Don't Cost a Thing
But it cost loads of dough to remake the perfectly serviceable Can't Buy Me Love.

* Master and Commander
If Master and Commander sounds soundly square, that's because square is exactly what the film is; massive and solidly made, Peter Weir's picture is a throwback, of sorts, to the works of David Lean, delivering the sort of rousing, smart, and earnest adventure rarely delivered nowadays. It has been far too long since I'd felt the joy and excitement such spectacular entertainment as Master and Commander provides. This is not to say the film is equal to Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but that it reminds one of that film's greatness. Big and loud, thrilling and expensive, it is the type of film that only major Hollywood studios can produce. It is also, perhaps, the best work a major Hollywood studio will produce all year. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Matrix Revolutions
And so the bloated series ends, bringing about a resolution (of sorts) to the toil and tomfoolery of Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, et al. What is the Matrix? Who is the Oracle? Are the Machines defeated? For those who still care, each of these questions is answered, in a way, by the conclusion of the trilogy, which means that geeks obsessed with the Wachowski brothers' tangled vision will surely depart the multiplex happy--or, if not happy, at least fully armed with plenty to argue about. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Mona Lisa Smile
There is an extraordinary scene in Mike Newell's Mona Lisa Smile, an emotionally brutal few moments in which the perilously cracked veneer blocking the anger within Kirsten Dunst's privileged and viperous Wellesley girl splinters away, releasing a storm of cruel, outward criticism in footage that aches with the character's underlying self-hatred. Rather than strike back, however, the girl's classmate (Maggie Gyllenhaal) wordlessly wraps her arms around the shaking, still screaming student, and by sheer force of empathy directs the torrent to cease. This scene is in the tradition of Newell's Enchanted April, and it helps demonstrate the director's canny awareness of the secret language spoken silently among women. (KATHLEEN WILSON)

* Mystic River
For all the "inexorability" and "meditation" of its violence, Mystic River feels desperately contrived. Whether director Clint Eastwood has some deep understanding of the nature of violence remains unclear. What is certain is that he knows how to make a movie, even a dumb one, well worth watching. I only wish someone would send him some better books. (SEAN NELSON)

John Woo takes on the classic cinematic themes of amnesia and bags of money. Factoria, Meridian 16, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center, Varsity, Woodinville 12

* School Of Rock
Like Kindergarten Cop, the concept behind Rock is one of those near-hokey ones where "kids teach us more than we teach them," and where, in the end, everybody wins in some way because everybody loosens up a bit. What makes this movie different though is that it tackles the parts of rock culture where people take themselves way too seriously, a subject that could use a little unwinding of its panties. (JENNIFER MAERZ)

* Shattered Glass
Stephen Glass scandalized the journalism world in 1998 when it was unearthed that an article he penned for his employer, the New Republic, not only distorted facts but was an outright fabrication: Creating fictional characters, businesses, and events, Glass spun an entertaining tale about a teenage hacker that was eventually exposed as complete fiction by another journalist. Shattered Glass (which, yes, is a terrible title), directed by first-time helmer Billy Ray, chronicles Glass' exposure and tumble, offering as its lead Hayden Christensen, previously seen as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Don't let this bit of casting deter you from seeing the film, however, for if Shattered Glass proves anything it's that George Lucas is supremely untalented when it comes to directing actors. Christensen burrows himself beneath Stephen Glass' tics and charms, and the result is a smart, noteworthy performance; creating a character both endearing and repellent at the same time, he manages to shed the blunder that was his previous performance and emerges, somehow, as a talented actor. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Something's Gotta Give
Here is a movie so filled with unappealing, uninteresting people, inane, pandering dialogue, and contemptuous pop psychologizing that it is humiliating to watch. I spent most of the film doodling on my notebook, in the dark. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton spoof their on-screen personas--his cad, her compulsive nervous wreck--so thoroughly that they may very well erase years of good work in the process (and never mind that in this token bone tossed to the elderly among us who are apparently longing for a romantic comedy of their own, the lady is still a good 10 years younger than the gent). And do you really want to see Nicholson's bare ass? (EMILY HALL)

* The Station Agent
Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a train aficionado who inherits an abandoned depot. The remote location suits him fine because he's not the most social of people. That doesn't stop the nearby Cuban hot dog vendor (Bobby Cannavale) from talking to him, nor does it stop the woman who almost runs him over (Patricia Clarkson) from stopping by for an apologetic drink or several. They befriend him despite his better efforts to brush them off. Dinklage is positively magnetic here: What director Tom McCarthy has captured in his debut feature is a sense of happy loneliness--those times when it feels right to go for a walk and just look around and not talk to anyone. (ANDY SPLETZER)

Stuck on You
Stuck on You, like Me, Myself & Irene and Shallow Hal, is a failure--far too long and built upon the ricketiest of premises, the picture unfolds before you in a painfully bland fashion, trudging along for 120 minutes until it reaches its predictable conclusion. Will Bob and Walt succeed in Hollywood? Will Bob get his girl? Will the twins decide to be separated? You already know the answers to these questions, which means all Stuck on You can offer is hilarity. And hilarity, alas, is in very short supply. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

* To Be and To Have
In this really very lovely documentary--without voice over and with very little obvious agenda--we follow Georges Lopez and about twelve students, from very little kids to unpredictable pre-teens, over the course of a half-year in a one-room schoolhouse, as he gently but firmly guides them toward reading, counting, and something higher and better and more ineffable: being good, thoughtful, communicative people. (EMILY HALL)

Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Captures the Martians
If there were ever a plot that didn't need to be messed with, it would begin like this: "The children of Mars covet earthly toys, and so they plot to kidnap Santa." But this 1964 gem is in the hands of Jet City Improv, and mess with it they will.

Under The Tuscan Sun
Under the Tuscan Sun is based on Frances Mayes' nonfiction bestseller and stars Diane Lane, who manages to save the film from utter formula. And it is formula--the sex talk can't disguise the fact that this film is designed to make your mother feel good. Lane is the plucky divorced heroine, who impulsively buys a crumbling villa in Tuscany and discovers that "family" need not conform to the customary model but can be anything one makes of it (this last bit is Hollywood's favorite beaten horse). There are cute Italian people, cute Polish laborers, beautiful wildflower-filled vistas, and the obligatory gay best friend--a stock role salvaged by the splendid Sandra Oh. The movie is pleasant anyway. (CLAUDE ROC)

Young Black Stallion
See review this issue. Pacific Science Center IMAX