Limited Run

recommended30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle
A prize-winning doc by local filmmaker Russ Thompson on the WTO protests of 1999. Central Cinema, Sat Dec 16 at 3 pm.

Bring Your Own Projector
A weekly free-for-all that will provide a wall onto which you project your Super-8 or 16mm film or slides or filmstrip or digital video or whatever, along with many other simultaneous projections. (You may also bring DVD shorts and still slides to show using the complimentary in-house equipment.) Mad visual cacophony ensues. Alibi Room (downstairs), Mon Dec 18 at 6 pm.

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recommendedDanielson: A Family Movie
See review. Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.

recommendedEating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds
Last seen (or ogled—there's full frontal) at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, the sequel to the wan gay comedy Eating Out is, incredibly, a much better film. Tilting wildly along the slippery axis between disgust (anything involving the female anatomy) and arousal (anything involving the male anatomy), the rubbery-faced cast mugs its way through the story of a gay guy who pretends to turn ex-gay in order to score with a sexually confused nude model. ("Stop the spread of faggotry!" should be the pick-up line of the season.) Don't get me wrong: The plot is idiotic, the performances are awful, and the direction is stilted—but it's ten times funnier than the original. Even its misogyny is inventive: The mobile toilet at the finale sets the stage for an exchange between mother and son that makes Borat look tame. (ANNIE WAGNER) Varsity, Daily 3:10, 7:20 pm.

recommendedThe Ground Truth
The Ground Truth is emphatically a grunt's-eye-view of the war—you get no sense of the geography of the combat zone, no foreign policy (save one man's sad observation that every soldier he met seemed to blame Iraq for 9/11), and no military strategy (assuming that such a thing exists in the prosecution of this war). It's essentially an anti-recruitment video, and a plea for more protective armor and better psychological services for returning veterans. On all counts, it's bitter and effective. (ANNIE WAGNER) Wyckoff Auditorium (Seattle University campus), Fri Dec 15 at 7:30 pm.

recommendedIt's a Wonderful Life
Shortly after It's a Wonderful Life's 1946 release, James Agee, the most astute and eloquent American film critic of all time, noted the film's grueling aspect. "Often," he wrote, "in its pile-driving emotional exuberance, it outrages, insults, or at least accosts without introduction, the cooler and more responsible parts of the mind." These aesthetic cautions are followed, however, by a telling addendum: "It is nevertheless recommended," Agee allowed, "and will be reviewed at length as soon as the paralyzing joys of the season permit." Paralyzing joys are the very heart of George Bailey's dilemma; they are, to borrow words from George's father, "deep in the race." The sacrifices George makes for being "the richest man in town" resonate bitterly even as they lead to the finale's effusive payoff. Those sacrifices are what make It's a Wonderful Life, in all its "Capraesque" glory, endure. (SEAN NELSON) Grand Illusion, Fri 6, 8:30 pm, Sat-Sun 3:30, 6, 8:30 pm, Tues-Thurs 6:30, 8:30 pm.

Keep on Walking: The Jewish Gospel Singer
A documentary about a African-American Jew from Newark who is both a Hebrew teacher and a gospel singer. Central Cinema, Thurs Dec 21 at 7 pm.

Kung-Fu Grindhouse
This month's edition of Kung Fu Grindhouse concentrates on seasonal slasher flicks. All films screen at Sunset Tavern, Mon Dec 18th. Jack Frost (1996) at 6 pm, The Octagon (1980) at 7:30 pm, Missing in Action (1984) at 9 pm, and Silent Night, Deadly Night at 11 pm. (21+.)

The Leader: Video Quarterly #15
A compilation of short agitdocs, including films about Lt. Ehren Watada, plastic bags, low-power radio, and more. See www.peppersprayproductions.org for more information. Central Cinema, Wed Dec 20 at 7, 9:30 pm. (Late show 21+.)

Meet John Doe
Frank Capra's 1941 story of an imaginary social crusader whose creators inadvertently launch a political movement. Keystone Church, Fri Dec 15 at 7 pm.

The Road Warrior
The sequel to Mad Max finds mad Mel rampaging across the outback in search of gasoline and petrol-guzzling car chases. Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Look closely and you might spot a young Pia Zadora as one of the kiddie Martians sitting on Santa's creepy lap. Central Cinema, Thurs 7, 9:15 pm, Sat 7 pm, Sun 7, 9:15 pm.

Santa Smokes
A German-U.S. coproduction by Seattle native Till Schauder (with Chris Valentien), Santa Smokes is an unfocused comedy about a starving New York actor (Schauder) who dons a Santa suit out of financial desperation. Quickly, he learns it's easier to score angelic chicks if you've got a bulbous pot belly and a cigarette protruding from between your snowy whiskers. The unlikable lead plays a bad actor, but Kristy Jean Hulslander, in the role of his love interest Angel, actually is one, and her clipped retro diction gets even more annoying when her character gets sloshed. (ANNIE WAGNER) Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 11 pm.

The Second Coming
A locally produced 16mm film about a cloned Messiah. Rendezvous, Wed Dec 20 at 8 pm. (21+.)

Two Front Teeth
Seattle True Independent Film Festival presents a work-in-progress screening of a holiday horror-comedy from Jamie Nash, the writer behind Eduardo (The Blair Witch Project) Sánchez's new project Altered. Central Cinema, Thurs Dec 21 at 9:30 pm. (21+, show continues through Dec 23.)

Venus
An advance screening to raise money for SIFF's year-round programming. Harvard Exit, Thurs Dec 14 at 7:30 pm. (See www.seattlefilm.org for tickets.)

VJ Night
A monthly social/showcase, this edition featuring the work of trippy image-mixer Foxfire F/X. 911 Media Arts, Thurs Dec 21 at 7:30 pm.

recommendedWerckmeister Harmonies
Long ignored by the marketplace, which has no use for austerity in film, the Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr has fermented in obscurity long enough that he's been transformed from a filmmaker into a personal fetish object for cinephiles. The story of a feral naif named János (Lars Rudolph) and an uprising sparked by an unseen demagogue Prince who comes to town as part of a traveling circus, Werckmeister Harmonies is a strange and wonderful fake allegory. The best scene is at the beginning, a scene so obsessive in its detail and yet so tenderly antichoreographed that it makes Tarr's subsequent rigorous tracking shots look limp in comparison. János goes to a bar and begins an impromptu lesson on the solar system, forcing the drunks to stand and twirl around one another like the planets. It's tentative and all wrong and incredibly beautiful. (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Fri-Sun 6:30, 9:30 pm.

Now Playing

recommendedApocalypto
Mel Gibson, by all appearances, is an arrogant, hateful man—wouldn't want him as a neighbor, wouldn't want him as a friend. But for all his lunacy, the crazed Catholic makes spectacular movies: Passion and Apocalypto are the intellectual equivalent of snuff films. Gibson takes an idea (in Passion, the suffering of Christ; in Apocalypto, the end of civilization), pushes it off a cliff, and documents, in loving detail, its long fall onto the rocks below. Then, for good measure, he pans slowly across the splattered remains. In Apocalypto, Gibson has grafted his eschatological fantasies onto the Mayans, giving him license to imagine the fall of the corrupt secular West without having to wrestle with the political implications. Whatever its spiritual symbolism, Apocalypto is fun to watch and vividly gross in that special Mel Gibson way—there are spurting head wounds, oozing sores, blood sports, decapitations, face chewing, and battle scenes featuring the finest in 15th-century bludgeon technology. It's spectacular like his last movie, except with more trees and fewer Jews to hate on—and the name Jaguar Paw is so much awesomer than Jesus Christ. (BRENDAN KILEY)

recommendedBabel
Babel is a huge, messy, sensuous film, its 142 minutes stretched over such riches as an embarrassingly intimate scene in which Cate Blanchett struggles to steady herself over a bedpan, a startlingly cheerful moment in which suburban American children are subjected to the slaughter of a chicken, and a lovely, turbulent sequence in which a deaf Japanese schoolgirl (the fascinating Rinko Kikuchi) takes Ecstasy and goes out dancing. (ANNIE WAGNER)

recommendedBlood Diamond
Normally, we should be afraid, very, of the Hollywood paradigm wherein a white movie star becomes the locus for sympathy in a topical film about calamities in the Third World. But Edward Zwick's robust, nerve-wracking voyage through West Africa is potent stuff, wary of implicit racism, craftily conceived as a post-Conradian narrative, and visually hellacious. Leonardo DiCaprio seems suspicious, but he's no goody two-shoes—his Danny Archer is an amoral smuggler, a white Rhodesian with fond memories of apartheid, and an ex-mercenary nearly as conscienceless as the bloodthirsty rebel militiamen that rampage through the tiny nation (circa 1999) massacring civilians by the thousands. The film recognizes that politics boil down to money, and the struggle—between the RUF, the Guinea-based military, white guns-for-hire Executive Outcomes (given an alias), the monstrous Euro-corporation in control of the world's diamond market (De Beers, but code-named Van Der Kaap), and lone wolves like Archer—revolves entirely around diamonds. The film can be gruesomely graphic, and sometimes bizarrely so. But it's a riveting push in the bush, passionate and grueling (so many butchered children; caveat emptor), with DiCaprio finally legitimizing his stardom with a commanding portrait of a full-on, three-dimensional adult male, riddled with bad experience, rotten self-justification, and homicidal skill. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)

Bobby
After winning California's 1968 presidential primary, Robert F. Kennedy left the ballroom stage with the famous words, "Now, it's on to Chicago." He then cut through the kitchen of L.A.'s regal Ambassador Hotel, greeting the working-class kitchen staff on his way, and was gunned down at point-blank range by assassin Sirhan Sirhan. This infamous moment in American history (there's no way Nixon would have beaten him) was preserved in a black-and-white still of Kennedy elegantly sprawled on the kitchen floor as an equally elegant kitchen staffer (an angelic Hispanic teenager in formal kitchen whites) crouched down to comfort him. Rewind 20 hours. Writer-director Emilio Estevez (seriously!) imagines the life of this teenage kitchen worker (he had tickets to the Dodgers game, but had to work a double shift that day) and conjures 20 or so other commonplace dramas that, Robert Altman—style, revolve around the Ambassador Hotel on that fateful June 4. A few of the storylines—like those involving the racial dynamics of the kitchen staff and the one about the aging doorman—are engaging. But most are lackluster. (JOSH FEIT)

recommendedBorat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
It's hairy, balls-out humor—but behind the seemingly random spray of political incorrectness, it's very carefully calibrated. Borat is a Kazakh television personality from a backwater where, supposedly, retarded brothers are stored in cages, where sisters are prostitutes and wives are enormously ugly, where pretty much everybody is related to the town rapist. On a scale of dangerous humor, riffs about a place few Americans have ever heard of, except perhaps in news reports about its self-aggrandizing dictator, are probably pretty safe. Humor about humorless feminists: relatively safe. Humor about idiot frat boys ingesting unidentifiable substances: very safe. Almost not-humor about red-state bigots: Uh, wait, aren't they most of the moviegoing public? Humor about Jews (even delivered by a Cohen): safe as Palestinian houses. There's also a reason it isn't being initially released in much of middle America. It comes down on homophobes hard, and proves, without a doubt, that Jews eat sandwiches too. (ANNIE WAGNER)

recommendedCasino Royale
It gives me great relief to say that Casino Royale is good. Really, really good. Maybe, in fact, the best entry since 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. What's more, this may be the first installment—courtesy of a smashing lead performance by Daniel Craig—to capture the rock-hearted, alligator-blooded nature of Ian Fleming's literary character. No offense to St. Connery is intended, but, man, Craig has it down cold. And, just like that, drinking and shooting and driving fast and screwing are cool all over again. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

The Cave of the Yellow Dog
Ostensibly a feature film, Yellow Dog is more a moving-picture postcard. The plot (girl finds puppy) is simple and unimportant. The main attractions are the long, slow shots of the Mongolian countryside and its residents as they make cheese, herd animals, dismantle a yurt, etc. It also contains the following mother-daughter exchange: "Could you collect some dung for curing the meat?" "But I've never collected dung before!" "Well, you can try." (BRENDAN KILEY)

Deck the Halls
This offensive piece of smoldering crap is good for nothing except a litmus test for potential friends. Does your would-be buddy think gay panic is fucking hilarious? Find out when a naked Danny DeVito snuggles into a sleeping bag with a frozen Matthew Broderick! Does this person think it's really chuckle-worthy when two fathers inadvertently catcall their teenage daughters? How about when a bully sheriff bends over to reveal his ladies' thong underwear? How about when Kristin Chenoweth debases herself in the role of yet another shrill, aging, busty ditz? Unless you're a bad person, Deck the Halls will make you want to strangle yourself with a string of Christmas lights and gouge out your own eyes with the hook end of a candy cane. (ANNIE WAGNER)

Déjà Vu
Hey, tough guy! Think nothing could possibly make Denzel Washington more awesome (besides astronaut training and laser eyes)? Well, how about the ability to TRAVEL through TIME? And how about the ability to travel through time while engaging in witty patter with hilarious Hebrew Adam Goldberg? And how about if he also has a HEART OF GOLD? Did I just kick your mind in the junk, or what? It's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and a party ferry—loaded with crisp, white American sailors, with brides and babies in tow—blows up, to the tune of 543 casualties. With the help of a secret government "surveillance" team, Denzel tracks down the culprit: a McVeigh-style superpatriot who believes that "sometimes a little human collateral is the cost of freedom." Freedom from what? Doesn't matter! Denzel's 'boutsta travel through TIIIIIIIIIIME! It seems the U.S. government has managed to invent a time machine (though, as some brief but gut-churning Ninth Ward footage shows, it's still unable to build a fix-a-black-person's-house machine). (LINDY WEST)

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recommendedThe Departed
Returning at last from the gold statuette wilderness, Martin Scorsese has assembled The Departed with an absolute precision that's been lacking in his work since Goodfellas. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Driving Lessons
In this sublimated Harold and Maude, Rupert Grint (better known as Harry Potter's redheaded chum) plays Ben, a shrinking-violet vicar's son who falls into the benevolent clutches of retired actress Evie (Julie Walters). Oppressed by a life spent trotting meekly after his mother (Laura Linney, terrifying) as she pursues her weekly regimen of good works, Bible study, and boinking the stud playing Jesus in the church pageant, Ben jumps at the opportunity to work as the personal assistant to a fallen lush. Evie introduces Ben to wine and tent camping and 16th-century poetry. Life, in all its rouged glory, blooms before his beady eyes. Sadly, Driving Lessons grinds to a near stop when Evie convinces Ben to chauffeur her to a distant literary festival. The drinking, the age-appropriate seduction, the sudden bout of stage fright—all these developments are distractions from the main conflict: the contest of wills between Laura Linney and Julie Walters, with poor, shaggy Rupert Grint caught in between. (ANNIE WAGNER)

For Your Consideration
The mockumentary formula that Christopher Guest helped invent is getting very tired. So the shiny new innovation in For Your Consideration is... there's no "umentary"! Now it's all mock. All the usual suspects do their usual shticks, but only Fred Willard (as the host of an Access Hollywood clone) lands on the sweet spot between earnest and deliriously off-kilter. Everybody else looks like they'd rather be somewhere—anywhere—else. (ANNIE WAGNER)

The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky's ambitious, confounding take on the Fountain of Youth is the damnedest thing: an intimate, eon-spanning love story (starring an extremely game Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz) where profound and profoundly silly are never separated by more than a subliminal thread. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

recommendedHappy Feet
So anyway, Happy Feet is about a penguin named Mumble. He's fucking adorable. No thanks to a clumsy dad who dropped him before he hatched from his egg, though, Mumble's a little different from all the other penguins. See, all the other penguins can sing, and they rely on their talent to attract them a mate. But poor little dropped Mumble screeches like nails on a chalkboard as soon as he opens his mouth. It's so not sexy and it's so not going to find him a lady penguin to get down with. But what Mumble can do, is dance. And boy can that motherfucker's feet fly! He's like Fred Astaire on ice! With uh... feathers! And a beak! (MEGAN SELING)

The Holiday
Wait, I'm confused. Is Cameron Diaz supposed to be good at acting? Am I supposed to enjoy looking at her and listening to the words that come out of her stupid squishface? Hmm, that's weird, because homegirl is basically unwatchable in The Holiday, the latest seasonal life-waster from Nancy Meyers. Each scene in The Holiday is more annoying than the last. Another soliloquy about how love is complicated? Obnoxious. Cameron Diaz lip-synching to the Killers? I have an ulcer now. The best part is one minuscule aside, when Jack Black, singing a little song, says "froodely," as in, "froodely-doo," and then says it again. It's cute. (LINDY WEST)

The Illusionist
Edward Norton plays Eisenheim, a cabinet-maker's apprentice turned master of illusions and sloshy consonants. In front of adoring Viennese audiences, he makes an orange seedling sprout instantaneously into a gnarly little tree. You must forgive yourself for not being equally astounded—you're in a movie theater, where your l'œil is tromped with some regularity. (ANNIE WAGNER)

recommendedLittle Children
The children in Little Children are like aliens. They may be in this world, but they are not of it. With their tiny heads and big eyes, they stare and jut their imperceptible hips and fixate passionately on such objects as plush jester's hats and light-addled moths. One of the wonderful things about the film, which is full of more ordinary virtues, is that it recognizes that children create their own worlds, and that in a story about their parents, they're just strange little visitors—adorable, perhaps, but unreachable and opaque. The kids in question belong to Sarah (a rumpled, lovely Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson), two stay-at-home parents who chance to meet at a suburban playground. Against the backdrop of their quickly feverish, sun-dappled affair, a pedophile named Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) moves back into his mother's house in town. Ronnie is pitiable, and his mother still loves him, and those paltry scraps contain all the makings of tragedy. (ANNIE WAGNER)

Little Miss Sunshine
A dysfunctional family road trip comedy built upon a mountain of character quirks. Call it Indie Filmmaking 101. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

Marie Antoinette
Inadvertently, Sofia Coppola has painted a pathetic portrait of a spoiled kitten not unlike herself, born into unlimited resources and without a thought in her pretty head, before she lost it entirely. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)

The Nativity Story
Mary is your typical Nazarene teen: gossiping with the girls by the donkey-powered mill, whipping up blocks of soggy sheep cheese, picking hay off her tunic, and avoiding the rapey gaze of King Herod's cavalry. Nazareth is kind of a shithole, but it's home. Soon after her nuptials, while wandering for no reason through a grove, Mary is visited by one glowing, tall-and-a-half angel named Gabriel, with an important announcement: "Come, you will conceive in your womb. And bear a son. And call his name Jesus." It's not just any baby, though, and not just any baby-daddy—instead, Gabriel explains, one of these nights, the old Holy Spirit's gonna sneak up her Suez Canal and plant a Messiah in there! Hot! Long story short, The Nativity Story is nothing you didn't already know. (LINDY WEST)

recommendedThe Queen
The central conflict in The Queen is, literally, whether Her Majesty Schoolmarm will deign to mention the unseemly death of an ex-princess—but no one in the whole supposedly accurate movie even notices that Mother Teresa has gone tits up. Nevertheless, The Queen's myopia is so complete, the performances so meticulous, that you can't help but start to care about, or pine for, or want to overthrow the British monarchy. (ANNIE WAGNER)

recommendedShut Up & Sing
The most gripping elements of the film are not the obvious dramatic moments—such as Dallas police discussing death threats with the women prior to their return to Texas—but the confused way the Dixie Chicks, America's country sweethearts, react to the wave of conservative criticism. (HANNAH LEVIN)

Stranger Than Fiction
If you were left cold by the self-loathing machinations of Adaptation, then Stranger Than Fiction should prove to be a tamer, and less complicated, antidote. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)

recommendedTuristas
For all the critical grousing about the rising popularity of torture porn, it's hard to dismiss the seamy voyeuristic buzz generated when done right/wrong. John Stockwell's Turistas, in which a bunch of foxy American vacationers get their innards removed in Brazil, can't match the over-the-top grue of Hostel or the Saw series, but its unwinking, relentless mojo handily trumps the other contenders in the genre. It also helps that Stockwell, a former actor, actually seems to like his cast of sacrificial twentysomethings, which makes the constant threat of spleen removal feel unusually tense. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

Unaccompanied Minors
It's Home Alone! In an airport! Only the parents in this movie didn't forget their kids on accident, they fucking got rid of the little brats on purpose! See, when parents divorce, kids are often caught in the middle—bouncing back and forth like ping-pong balls. And that's what this movie is about—ditched kids, who've already suffered enough thanks to selfish and lame parents, who are now forced to suffer even more by flying alone during the holidays in order to get from one dumb mom or dad to another dumb mom or dad. Enter snowstorm! Now the gang of abandoned tweenagers is stranded in a holiday-hating airport run by a staff of scrooges and dipshits. They get lost in the luggage sorting room (betcha didn't see that coming), they break into "lost luggage" storage and play with all the abandoned shit, they hook up in an innocent PG way, and then, of course, they SAVE CHRISTMAS! (MEGAN SELING)

recommendedVolver
Somewhere between Alfred Hitchcock and Clare Boothe Luce, but with a campy, peppery nativity all his own, Almodóvar has emerged as the world's premier post-feminist yarn-spinner, a wizened gay devotee of all things Sirkian, candy-colored, tear-jerking, and hormonal. That said, are we running in place in San Pedro? Audiences who have attended to this year's "Viva Pedro!" traveling retro-series may well be wearying of Almodóvar's similar plot structures and tame psychosexual playfulness. You can't be blamed for being ambivalent about Volver, even though it might be the wittiest and most emotionally coherent film he's made in years. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)

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