The flood of human-perpetrated violence in this disconcertingly quiet Thai thriller--made in the wake of the Asian economic collapse of the 1990s--might seem a little coarse in the context of the more recent South Asian catastrophe. But then again, maybe the tsunami can only heighten our sympathy for absurd behavior in the face of fate. 6ixtynin9 tells the story of a young woman named Tum (Lalita Panyopas) who loses her job in "financial services" to a genuinely fearsome lay-off ritual. When she returns to her apartment (number 9) she finds a huge box of cash meant for the occupant of number 6 (hence the unintentionally suggestive title). The gangsters come back to correct their error, and Tum naturally wants to protect the booty. Bodies accumulate, a sadistic downstairs neighbor pokes her head in, and it wouldn't be surprising to find out that Tarantino was lurking just off-camera. 6ixtynin9 is by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, but don't go looking for the crushing beauty of his newer film Last Life in the Universe--Christopher Doyle wasn't the cinematographer here. This one still has its charms, though, not least of which is Panyopas, who manages to look mildly surprised every time she kills someone. (ANNIE WAGNER) Grand Illusion, Weekdays 6:30, 8:45 pm, Sat-Sun 4:15, 6:30, 8:45 pm.
The Edge of the World
This little-seen 1937 gem by pre-Godhead Michael Powell offers yet more evidence of Powell's untarnished righteousness as a chronicler of all things Brit; it's a moral folktale of the depopulation of the Scottish Isles, and one in particular. As progress and civilization encroach on the old ways and the population declines steadily, two hotheaded young men (one of whom advocates abandoning the dying island and petitioning the government for land grants, while the other says things like "you've gone over to the other side, Robbie Manson") decide that the best way to settle the debate is a climbing race, up the steepest cliff on the island without ropes. Someone falls and nothing is ever the same. Naturally, a girl is involved, the black-and-white cinematography is astounding, and everyone speaks in those charming Scots accents. But in much the same way John Ford allowed the rich humanity of his simple characters provide the real meat of his pictures, Powell knew that the historical and human gravity under the melodrama were what would really make the movie go. (SEAN NELSON) Seattle Art Museum, Thurs Jan 6 at 7:30 pm.
The Sound of Music
There's nothing on this earth that warms the cockles like those zany Nazis. Sing-A-Long Sound of Music is in town for the holidays at 5th Avenue Theatre, Sun Jan 2 at 1:30 pm.
A Werner Herzog film about a former mental patient who travels to Wisconsin from Berlin. Movie Legends, Sun Jan 2 at 1 pm.
It may be impossible to fully know Howard Hughes, but DiCaprio and Scorsese can only offer the broadest of paint strokes here. Scorsese attempts to cover up the lack of depth in The Aviator by focusing heavily on both Hughes' love life with the likes of Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett, over-indulging in Hepburn's famous tenacity) as well as his daring in the skies, but no matter how many romantic entanglements and spectacular crashes we see, the film itself remains superficial. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Bad Education finds Almodòvar expanding his experiments with multi-layered melodrama, this time with a mystery in triplicate, spanning three time periods from three perspectives. At the center of the story are three characters: former childhood schoolmates/lovers Ignacio and Enrique, and former schoolmaster/betrayer Father Manolo, each of whose path leads unerringly back to the others. As with Talk to Her's dueling women in comas, Bad Education announces itself with a rich melodramatic subject--Catholic clergy sex abuse--only to reject all predictable conflict for an emotional and thematic territory all its own. It's a brilliant maneuver, sending audiences traipsing down an initially recognizable path that soon splinters in directions they never could've dreamed. (DAVID SCHMADER)
Beyond the Sea
See review this issue.
The first movie in the Blade series is by far the best; the last is certainly the worst. But Blade: Trinity, which is directed by the writer of all three films, David S. Goyer, is not horrible--in fact it has the strongest dialogue in the series. What makes Trinity generally inferior is this: It's really two films instead of one--two films that are not at all complementary. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
Viewed scene by scene, the unfettered, constant venom on display in this film is bracing, thrilling, and almost as much fun to watch as it must have been to perform. Taken as a whole, however, it proves to be a bit too much of a bad thing. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
A horror film filmed in Spain and starring Anna Paquin.
See Mushmouth's review this issue.
Marc Forster's third film, Monster's Ball, was complete and utter nonsense. His fourth film, Finding Neverland, is ordinary and dry nonsense. Monster's Ball miserably failed to address the problem of racism; Finding Neverland simply fails to address the problem of death. Clearly, Forster is a director of the middling order. (CHARLES MUDEDE)
The Flight of the Phoenix
An update of the 1965 film about plane-crash survivors who attempt to reconstruct a new plane from the wreckage.
House of Flying Daggers
House of Flying Daggers, director Yimou Zhang's much-anticipated follow-up to Hero, is an exceptional period martial arts movie, filled to the brim with equal doses of kicks to the head and pathos, which suffers by comparison only to its older, more ambitious, brother. While second-to-none on kinetic dazzle, it never fully escapes a faintly musty retro vibe. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
The Incredibles is done in true and beautiful Pixar style, but the action sequences are far more exhilarating than anything seen in Finding Nemo or Toy Story. Plus, the humans aren't annoyingly unattractive, and it's pretty damn funny to boot. (MEGAN SELING)
The first half of Kinsey is exciting on a micro scale the way Kinsey's work was exciting on a grand one: It demonstrates that reason can prevail over mythology. Unfortunately, because it's a movie, the second half allows mythology--the mythology of narrative--to re-intrude, and the picture grows musty. (SEAN NELSON)
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
My boyfriend and I rate movies we see with our kid on the "HH" scale, which stands for "how high?"--as in, "How high does an adult have to be in order to enjoy this?" A film is awarded a number between 1 and 10, with 1 meaning "completely sober," and 10 meaning "higher than all the dirty hippies at Hempfest rolled into a big, dirty ball." I'm happy to report that Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events earned a rare HH 1 after a Saturday morning screening. The movie is faithful to the books, mining the first three for settings, characters, and unfortunate events. Jim Carrey is perfectly cast as the evil Count Olaf, and the pair of roundups cast as the elder orphans, Jennifer Coolidge and Liam Aiken, more than hold their own against Carrey. (DAN SAVAGE)
The Life Aquatic
Unlike Wes Anderson's harshest critics, I've always been more than willing to accept both his otherworldly concoctions and his heavy lifting from Hal Ashby; this time, however, he delivers little else. Long stretches of The Life Aquatic feel malnourished, as if Anderson spent so much energy creating the film's distinct reality that he forgot to provide reasons for that reality to exist; the characters don't so much inhabit the film, they pose in front of it, often searching for a reason to be. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Meet the Fockers
Watching Meet the Fockers started out grating and ended up grinding my flesh off the bone. Ben Stiller returns as Gaylord Focker (if you think they're done milking that name for cheap jokes, you've missed the title of this trash), and he and so-earnest-it-kills fiancée Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) are pulling their families together for a weekend meet-up before the big wedding. The Fockers (the only noncloying actor in this whole film, Dustin Hoffman, and the overbearing Barbra Streisand as an overbearing senior citizen sex therapist) are "honk for Hillary" Jewish liberals, a stark contrast to ultra-conservative CIA agent Jack and wife Dina (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner). Put them together and calamity ensues! (JENNIFER MAERZ)
The Motorcycle Diaries
This is a film that should be taken for what it is: a beautifully constructed road movie with a dash of conscience on the side. There is much to despise about Che Guevara later in his life; these early adventures help us understand where the eventual fanatic was born. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Why was so much money, energy, and talent spent realizing what is evidently a dull and dumb script? (CHARLES MUDEDE)
The story is a mess, the scam is a fraud, and the performances are lazy and smug, but Ocean's 12 has one major plus: the return of Steven Soderbergh's creative pulse. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The Phantom of the Opera
Even putting aside the unspeakably horrendous set design, this movie does everything wrong. Instead of exploiting the cheesy, populist songcraft of the 1986 musical, Joel Schumacher casts actors who wouldn't know melodrama if it smacked them in the face. Emmy Rossum, in the role of Christine, pads around looking pretty and defenseless. As for the angel himself, Gerard Butler as the Phantom couldn't alarm a deer. His wussy makeup job compounds the problem--how are we supposed to be revolted by a few ridges of pinkish "scar tissue"? Worst of all is Patrick Wilson as Raoul, who (when he's not mangling French proper nouns) prances about like a eunuch. (ANNIE WAGNER)
The Polar Express
Here and there, Polar Express hits on an image or mood worthy of the season, particularly during the early scenes of the magical title vehicle, but the thundering need to make a state-of-the-art prefab classic steamrolls over most of the cheer. On Donner, on Blitzen, on Tron. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
Despite a tendency to bathe in the molasses of sentimentality, Ray is a rich exponent of the biopic genre. It'd be crazy not to attribute the film's success to the brilliance of its subject, the inestimably great American composer Ray Charles, and the constant presence on the soundtrack of his songs, but the choices made by the filmmakers certainly don't hurt. Chief among them, the casting of Jamie Foxx, up to now a cloying black comic, and hereafter a dazzling performer capable of inhabiting one of the most recognizable faces of the 20th century in a mesmerizing feat of impersonation. (SEAN NELSON)
While Sideways is a road movie, it's a lazy one; the distance traveled, both physically and emotionally, is short. Blessed with pitch-perfect performances, especially by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church (who really is an actor on the downslope of his career), Sideways is a slight film, to be sure, but it's also one of Alexander Payne's least snide efforts; known for rolling his eyes at his characters as much as he rolls cameras on them, the director keeps himself mostly in check here. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
Spanglish is absolutely the worst film of the year, and much of the blame for the film's failure falls on the shoulders of poor Téa Leoni, whose performance is so grating, so irritating, that you cringe whenever she's on screen. This isn't merely a bad performance; it will soon be a legendary one, sure to be referenced in future reviews--a cautionary tale that every actress would be wise to pay attention to, lest they find themselves stumbling toward a similar fate. (BRADLEY STEINBACHER)
The title character, played with impossible pathos and naiveté by Imelda Staunton, is a housekeeper, mother, visitor of shut-ins, and part-time abortionist. She is paid for polishing fireplace grates in rich people's homes, but the latter three functions--feeding and clothing her family of four, putting the kettle on in the cramped flats of various invalids, and pumping the uteruses of troubled women full of a noxious solution of carbolic soap--she performs gratis. The narrative is clearly engaged in modern political struggles, but at the same time it's a bruising, classical tragedy about a woman whose passionate altruism brings pain and suffering upon herself and the people whom she loves. (ANNIE WAGNER)
A Very Long Engagement
I'm not saying it isn't corny. What I'm saying is that it's a fantastic movie, and unless you're the stated enemy of life and all that makes it worth living, you'll probably fall for it. This is down to two elements: The first is Jeunet's incredible visual flair. As in all his prior works, the canvas for the film is a hybrid of surrealism, magical realism, and purest fantasy. The second element, obviously, is Audrey Tautou, who proves once again that she is the reason God invented sight. As in Amélie (though curiously not in any of the films she's appeared in since), Tautou's wide-open face and massive chocolate eyes are the heart, soul, and entire point of the film, elevating it from an elaborate fable into another life- affirming adventure. (SEAN NELSON)