Alvin and the Chipmunks
dir. Tim Hill
Opens Fri Dec 14
Yes, Alvin and the Chipmunks is as soulless and slimy as you no doubt already expect—and probably in exactly all of the ways that you imagine. Yes, it's a lazy, predictably crass attempt to capitalize on the minor nostalgia still presumably felt for an enterprise whose cultural legitimacy was largely questionable to begin with (a description which, along with Underdog, characterizes exactly 100 percent of Jason Lee's big screen output this year, for those keeping score). Yes, they've recast the familiar trio as size-accurate, meticulously CGI-ed sass-machines, modernized in every conceivably distracting way—from the all-too-contemporary musical choices (Daniel Powter, Pussycat Dolls, etc.) to the grating, pseudo-Idol vocal affectations. Yes, there is at least one non sequitur-fueled montage. And yes, David Cross is the villain. And yet, in spite of all of this (and perhaps my better judgment), I have to admit that those CGI proles got at least one thing right: The Chipmunks are actually pretty cute. That is to say, until they open their shit-eating little mouth pixels. Still, each and every one of them delivers a more nuanced, humane performance than Jason Lee manages to muster. ZAC PENNINGTON
The Last Winter
dir. Larry Fessenden
Opens Fri Dec 14
Global warming is scary. In fact, in the extremely capable hands of writer/director Larry Fessenden, it's scary enough to make for a thoroughly engaging B-movie that would make both John Carpenter and Al Gore proud.
The tense, smart The Last Winter begins with an oil company venturing into the frozen tundra of Alaska's wildlife reserve. Led by the always awesome Ron Perlman, the group of oil workers and ecologists make some startling discoveries as 10,000 years' worth of ice melts around them, unleashing a Lovecraftian vindictive spirit, presumably set loose by global warming.
From there, things get all Alien as the crew grows more and more desperate to escape the camp, fighting among themselves and against nature while the sweeping camera circles around the likeable characters, making for a dreamy, otherworldly monster movie. Even non-genre fans should check out The Last Winter, as the film provides some beautiful icescape footage that's disappearing at an exponential rate. See it while you can. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Romance & Cigarettes
dir. John Turturro
Opens Fri Dec 14
There's a pop song for everything, right? Like sometimes, when you're really bummed out and lonely, and "How Soon Is Now?" comes on the radio and it's just, like, perfect? And let's not forget all the songs that correlate to love, infidelity, jealousy, lust; with Romance & Cigarettes, John Turturro has compiled a selection for us (from "A Man Without Love" to "Piece of My Heart"), arranged them in such a way that a plot can be strung from one hook to the next, and invited a bafflingly A-list cast to sing along. The result is an unjustifiable mess of a film that neither entertains nor offers much in the way of insight about human relationships.
Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) is cheating on his wife, Kitty (Susan Sarandon) with the sexually forthright (that's a post-feminist euphemism for "crazy slutty") Tula (the excellent Kate Winslet). As the character names suggest, the whole mess is steeped in a stylized East Coast sleaze, a bawdy, vulgar sensibility that's so frank it borders on puerile. The musical numbers, meanwhile, are downright painful, and whatever obscene charm the film has in its first half is traded for an unbearable sentimentality in the second. For a lesser cast, Romance would be a career ender. For the likes of Winslet, Gandolfini, Sarandon, and Turturro, it's just embarrassing. ALISON HALLETT