2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick's classic meditation on time, space, and evolution. Central Cinema, Thurs-Sat 7 pm.
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony
The documentary, whose title means "power," is constructed conventionally, with newsreel footage and talking-head interviews with South African musicians and activists (many of whom suffered exile, arrest, and torture for their efforts against institutionalized oppression). The experience of viewing Amandla! consists of a complicated series of jolts to the consciousness. It's astonishing to see so much history encapsulated so effectively, to hear so many eloquent accounts of such inhuman misery, to be exposed to so much stirring music. But the biggest jolt is generated by a simple fact: For nearly half of the 20th century, the governing principle of a predominantly black nation was that black people were not entitled to the same social, legal, and human rights as a tiny minority of white people. (SEAN NELSON) Keystone Church, Fri Dec 29 at 7 pm.
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; 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) Grand Illusion, Fri-Sat 11 pm.
Adapted from exceedingly French source material (the incest and jealousy-ridden debut novel by 18-year-old Françoise Sagan), this 1957 Otto Preminger film loses a lot in the erratically globalized translation. Englishy Frenchman David Niven takes his mistress (ditzy Frenchie Mylène Demongeot) to the Riviera, with his physically demonstrative fille Cécile (corn-fed American Jean Seberg) in tow. A new wife (Deborah Kerr) displaces the mistress, and the young Cécile plots revenge. Seberg is hopeless in her second leading role post-Saint Joan. Button-cute and lacking an ounce of sensuality, she seems alternately way too old (she was only 20) and way too young for a role that should have, in theory, invited such ambiguity. Still, the Riviera sparkles in flashback Technicolor, and a morose mood seems to muddy the black-and-white present (shot on color stock). Graced with a dolorous cameo from Saint-Germain-des-Prés chanteuse Juliette Gréco, Bonjour Tristesse is very watchable, despite its tonal flaws. (ANNIE WAGNER) Northwest Film Forum, Daily 7, 9 pm.
"He likes his women bad, Lenora, not cheap." Central Cinema, Wed-Thurs 7, 9:30 pm. (Late shows 21+, continues through Jan 7.)
Free Kids' Movie Series
DVD screenings of kids' movies at the ungodly hour of 10 am. All movies screen at Columbia City Cinema. Howl's Moving Castle, Thurs Dec 28 at 10 am. Shrek 2, Fri Dec 29 at 10 am. Nanny McPhee, Sat Dec 30 at 10 am.
Linda Linda Linda
Oh no! The guitarist broke her finger, the singer quit, and now the cute Japanese pop band can't play the important show that could very well make them the most famous band in the world (or so they seem to think). The remaining girls try to salvage the band by searching for new members. One way to choose a new singer is to ask the next girl who walks down the street. Problem is, the new girl has never been in a band before and she hardly speaks Japanese. (MEGAN SELING) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 6:30, 8:45 pm, Sat-Sun 4, 6:30, 8:45 pm.
One Shot Film Challenge
Seattle filmmakers try their hand at short films composed of a single long take. Northwest Film Forum, Thurs Jan 4 at 8 pm.
Speaking as someone who never quite managed to keep up with the TV show Firefly, I'll admit Joss Whedon may very well be a genius—albeit one possibly taken best in small doses. Whedon's concepts and riot grrrl tendencies are killer, but his hyperliterate, pop-slangy style wears thin after a while. The film's scenario makes only the barest effort to include those not already up on the characters: building on plot threads developed through the series, Whedon's script catches up mid-quest with a ragtag bunch of outlaws searching for the origin of their youngest crewmember. This six-gun space oddity comes recommended, but you may want to brush up on the series before venturing into the theater. For God's sake, don't let the hardcore fans smell virgin blood. (ANDREW WRIGHT) Egyptian, Fri-Sat midnight.
Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus
Jet City Improv likes to apply their refurbished voiceover skills to B-movies from the B-movie heyday, so this holiday season they have selected the 1959 Mexican production Santa Claus, not the treasured 1925 chestnut. Evangelicals, be warned: Santa teams up with pagan magician Merlin to defeat the Devil. May induce cognitive dissonance. Historic University Theater, Thurs-Sat 8 pm.
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: The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto are extravagant cris de cœur by a mad genius. (BRENDAN KILEY)
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)
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. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Incredibly hilarious. There's also a reason it wasn't 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)
Speaking as a James Bond diehard, 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. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
As children's entertainment goes, the hybrid live-action/computer-generated Charlotte's Web is basically faultless. There's a serene lesson about death and another about the contribution of spiders to the ecosystem; it makes learning new words seem fun and, dare I say, sophisticated; it's free from those horrible jokes designed to keep the kids twirling their cowlicks while their cynical guardians snicker (except for the cut to the plate of crackling bacon, which is taken from the book). But it's also insensitive to the things that make a movie burrow into your heart. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Curse of the Golden Flower
Director Zhang Yimou, who brought American audiences such wirework bonanzas as Hero and House of Flying Daggers, has attempted his most baroque story yet. Two corrupt royals pad around their gilded rainbow palace, attended by hordes of courtiers. Gong Li plays the buxom empress, who, when she's not pawing her stepson or quaffing strange elixirs, is prone to sudden tremors and sweats. Chow Yun-Fat, as the emperor, spends his time mourning his dead first wife and bossing around the imperial pharmacist. Turns out something's fishy—or technically, fungal—about the empress's medicine. Subplots involving the royal heirs follow. It's a relief when the mannered marital strife gets channeled into outright battle, but there's something disappointing about the fight scenes too. Ninja assassins swooping around are cool at first, but there's no ballet in the rectangular clash of color-coded armies seen from above. At root, this is a film about one color vanquishing another. You could watch a sunset for that. (ANNIE WAGNER)
Hey, tough guy! Think nothing could possibly make Denzel Washington more awesome? 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? (LINDY WEST)
Martin Scorsese has assembled The Departed with an absolute precision that's been lacking in his work since Goodfellas. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Eragon, the first in a projected trilogy of kid-friendly fantasy epics, can barely muster enough energy to work on a cheese level. Debuting director/effects vet Stefen Fangmeier manages to pull off a few decent visual coups, particularly with a nicely animated blue-eyed dragon, but without the rich conceptual texture of the LOTR series to draw on, what remains is a load of generic mush perhaps best served as a piece of bitchin' '70s van art. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
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 lands on the sweet spot between earnest and deliriously off-kilter. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The Good German
It does feel a little strange to reach for amusement when the subject is the fall of the Nazis and the fracturing of Berlin, and surely Steven Soderbergh didn't initially conceive of the project as unfettered entertainment. But then he decided to film the 1940s story with 1940s technology, and the result is sweetly absurd. George Clooney plays Jacob Geismer, a sexy correspondent for the New Republic, who returns to Berlin to find a cascade of picturesque black-and-white rubble—the atmosphere rushes in like cold air. And that's before we meet our femme fatale (Cate Blanchett, purring her best Marlene Dietrich), the wife of a former SS officer. The cinematography is full of low angles, silky blacks, and brilliant whites—sometimes so eager to paint a dramatic picture that it clumsily veils or washes out the faces and actions in the frame. The story is almost beside the point. Who wants to pay attention to a plot about the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. vying for the same evil scientists when you can admire the shadows cast by wrought iron? (ANNIE WAGNER)
The Good Shepherd
In The Good Shepherd, a tense Yalie named Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is tapped to join Skull and Bones on the basis of his WASP bona fides. Then, recruited to join the fledgling CIA, Edward soon gets molested by a heaving girl named Clover (Angelina Jolie, so intent on being sexy that she has no chance to act). Inevitably, Clover gets knocked up and he is forced to marry her. As imagined by director Robert De Niro, Edward's covert CIA activities consist of a series of passwords and trapdoors and secret underground intelligence lairs, interspersed with flash-forwards in which he stalks the crucial leak that spoiled his pet project, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. But thanks to flat dialogue by Eric Roth, a studiously internal performance by Matt Damon, and a palette consisting largely of murky beige, it's impossible to get invested in the film. (ANNIE WAGNER)
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 History Boys
The eight titular boys are lower-middle-class students at a school in northern England preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge exams with their teachers, Hector (the balloon-shaped, ruddy-faced, and unerringly brilliant Richard Griffiths) and Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore). Hector is an old teacher who puts his faith in truth and beauty. Irwin is a young hotshot brought in to teach the boys rhetoric and academic panache. If Hector is a lumbering Grecian, Irwin is a flashy, hollow postmodernist. That tension—and the fact that they're both closet cases—drives the story of the boys' exploration of the pleasures of mind and body. There is one woman in the film, the deadpan teacher Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour), who has her moment at the center: "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket." But mostly the movie is about the boys ("How do I define history? It's just one fucking thing after another") and the men. We are, of course, partisans for the poetic and romantic Hector—as are his pupils (even though he furtively gropes them from time to time)—because he's a great teacher, and his classroom exchanges with the boys are one of the movie's thousand tiny pleasures. (BRENDAN KILEY)
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 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)
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
The film is a boring, historically vague, cowardly regurgitation of the tale that rerouted the course of mankind—so straightforward that it seems to have sprung fully formed from the Pope's armpit. (LINDY WEST)
Night at the Museum
Robin Williams stars in this film about historical figures coming to life and running amok.
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. Basically, The Queen is The West Wing populated by stuck-up twits, and in addition to the studiously wooden figurehead (a metaphor that's never seemed so apt), there are a whole crew of politicians and staffers conducting surreptitiously from backstage. Michael Sheen, as Tony Blair, is excellent as the sort of squishy leader celebrity-era democracy is prone to. And the minutiae of public relations have never seemed so stupid—or so fascinating. (ANNIE WAGNER)
As a franchise, the Rocky saga has seen both improbable highs (IV's goofy triumph over Communism) and wincible lows (III's breakdancing robot), but the basic underdog formula feels untarnished by time and/or repetition. Functioning as a partial apology/do-over for 1990's lame Rocky V, Stallone's script finds the former champ on the decline, shambling through the streets of Philly mourning the loss of his wife. Fortunately, before things get too mawkish, a shot at redemption comes—a gimmicky Vegas exhibition fight. Cue the familiar montages of raw eggs, stair running, and meat punching. Stallone the actor proves to be Stallone the filmmaker's best weapon, constantly undercutting the thud of his scripted dialogue with mumbled asides, dopey jokes, and a general air of hangdog vulnerability that proves impossible to resist. As far as swan songs go, this is an improbably charming ride into the sunset. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Shut Up & Sing
The most gripping elements of the film are not the obvious dramatic moments, 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)
There's plenty of ambition and heart laid on the line in Sweet Land, particularly compared to most American indies—it's a period film spending serious amounts of time with the Lutheran farm folk of 1920 Minnesota, for one thing. It's also a parable about ethnocentrism, and a magnificently crafted piece of landscape portraiture. If that weren't enough, writer/director Ali Selim, in his first feature after decades as one of the country's most successful commercial directors, ruefully frames the story with contemporary action. Sweet Land almost never stops eulogizing its characters and their agrarian society. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
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, and 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, break into "lost luggage" storage, hook up in an innocent PG way, and then, of course, SAVE CHRISTMAS! (MEGAN SELING)
Audiences who have attended to this year's "Viva Pedro!" traveling retro-series, and who still carry All About My Mother, Talk to Her, and Bad Education in their back-brains, 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. A sweet, huggable confection composed mostly of murder, guilt, and ghosts, the movie closely follows Penelope Cruz's Raimunda, a struggling mom with a worthless husband, three service-industry jobs, and a tangle of mother, aunt, sister, and daughter issues that requires the entire movie's copious dialogue to unknot. (MICHAEL ATKINSON)
We Are Marshall
On November 14, 1970, 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, along with its coaching staff and a number of fans, boarded chartered Southern Airlines flight 932. The plane went down in West Virginia, killing all 75 people onboard. After the requisite grief montage, Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) shows up to resurrect the team and teach Huntington how to believe in something again. Something like America. Or football. Or two hours of totally inappropriate flat-out comedy, bookended by meaningless sentimentality. There's something creepy about the way movies make you take sides. We root for Matthew Fox (as Assistant Coach Red Dawson) because he is handsome, because we are obsessed with Lost, but his character in We Are Marshall is a real person. He's probably still alive. He's probably not as handsome as Matthew Fox. We're relieved that that anonymous fat assistant coach took Matthew Fox's spot on the flight, but that assistant coach really existed. He is an actual dead person. (LINDY WEST)