The French 13 Tzameti hinges on one plot device. Since the scene in question is enough of a doozy that I don't want to give it away, forgive the blurry vagueness: While repairing a neighbor's roof, young Sébastien (George Babluani) finds himself observing the house's residents, one of whom is drug-addled Godon (Philippe Passon). There's mysterious stuff going on in this house, and just as Sébastien begins to get intrigued, Godon dies, and Sébastien's left jobless. Or, rather, he would be—if he hadn't come into possession of some mysterious papers of Godon's. Sébastien eventually finds himself an unwilling participant in a terrifyi—Oh, you'd like to know what happens next, I'm sure, but that means you'll have to see the film; the most I'll tell you is that 13 Tzameti's big reveal lands somewhere between The Most Dangerous Game and Russian roulette. What that big reveal doesn't do, however, is justify the film's molasses-paced, unfocused intro, nor does it really keep things all that interesting or original from then on out. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
Agnes and His Brothers
A German family drama about—you guessed it—Agnes and his brothers! Not screened for press. Living Room Theaters.
In the life, legacy, and death of Robert F. Kennedy, actor/director/son-of-Martin-Sheen Emilio Estevez has the ultimate American story right at his fingertips. Unfortunately, that's not the film Estevez made. Instead, we're presented with Bobby, a sprawling ensemble piece, obviously attempting to emulate multi-story films like Robert Altman's Short Cuts. Estevez, though, is no Altman, and none of the individual stories carry much weight. SCOTT MOORE Academy, Laurelhurst.
Claude Chabrol has been making movies since the late '50s; he is obsessed with murder, with crime, with locating and exploring the roots of evil. The Bridesmaid is about a working-class family that's anchored by the industrious eldest son (Benoît Magimel). An incestuous something exists between him and his single mother (Aurore Clément). Something weird is also going on with the youngest daughter (Anna Mihalcea). And a third sibling, Solène Bouton, is engaged to a fireman. During the wedding, the son meets Senta (Laura Smet), a bridesmaid and cousin to the fireman. The two fall in love instantly. Senta (sensual, sexual, instinctual), however, has the same dark view of power that led Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov to murder "the hag." She is beautiful, she is Icelandic; he is handsome and enthusiastic—in the original Greek sense of that word, meaning, she possesses him like a demon. Will he kill for her? Can he break her spell? CHARLES MUDEDE Living Room Theaters.
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? Déjà Vu, like any good time-travel movie—and perhaps more than any other time-travel movie—likes its science vague and preposterous. Why waste time with the details? "Worm hole!" somebody says. "Fold space!" explains another. "Send me back!" orders Denzel. Fuck yeah! Who invited science to the movies, anyway? LINDY WEST Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18, Division Street.
Down in the Valley
Writer/director David Jacobson comes out of nowhere (his last film was a 2002 flick about Jeffrey Dahmer) with a beautifully sinister and metaphorical movie about the West, love, trust, reinvention, and menace. CHAS BOWIE Living Room Theaters.
I like Beyoncé. I like musicals, too. So naturally, I was stoked to see Dreamgirls—I was already anticipating how great it would be to see Boo-yonce let loose on the big screen with the best voice in pop music. So you can imagine my immense disappointment when I wanted to bolt for the exit not a quarter of the way through Dreamgirls—and that's coming from someone who will contentedly sit through just about anything. Of course, I didn't leave the theater, and for the good of this review, subjected myself to crushing boredom and a musical score that equates "good singing" with "screaming as loud and as often as possible." MARJORIE SKINNER Regal Cinemas, etc.
Yea, verily, the Sword and Sorcery genre doth toe the line of self-parody more than most. Subtract the passion of Peter Jackson, or the bristly machismo of John Milius (Conan the Barbarian) from the equation, and you're left with a bunch of hairy dudes rambling through the forest, talking about Kobolds. 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 (or, hell, even the goofy exuberance of The Beastmaster) to draw on, what remains is a load of generic mush perhaps best served as a piece of bitchin' '70s van art. ANDREW WRIGHT Regal Cinemas, etc.
The Good Shepherd
A tense Yalie named Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is recruited to join the fledgling CIA. 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, but thanks to flat dialogue by Eric Roth, a studiously internal performance by Damon, and a palette consisting largely of murky beige, it's impossible to get invested in the film. I'm all for learning about the birth of the modern nation, but this spurious history class will put you straight to sleep. ANNIE WAGNER Regal Cinemas, etc.
The History Boys
The History Boys—which follows eight teenagers who are studying to apply at Oxford and Cambridge—is based on Alan Bennett's play of the same name, and the film's roots in the stage are revealed in its arch, hyper-literate tone. The transition from stage to screen could've been smoother—parts of the movie feel stiff and contrived, perhaps because many of the actors used were also in the original theatrical production. For the most part, though, the cast makes it work; the film is undeniably entertaining, and deals thoughtfully with some heady, engaging ideas. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
The Holiday has good intentions of invoking the fun and quirkiness of '40s Hollywood romantic comedies—but it just goes to show that the Golden Age was long, long ago. With two disparate storylines butting heads in this film about love lost and love found, the film ends up being a half-assed, cavity-inducing mess. And while the good moments are pretty good but far between, the bad moments (almost all of which involve the fearsome, face-splitting smile of Cameron Diaz) are gag-worthy. COURTNEY FERGUSON Regal Cinemas, etc.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Thorough, harrowing, and very well done, Jonestown doesn't cut corners in its retelling of the history of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the infamous cult that tragically ended with nearly 1,000 members of its community dead after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. For the many of us who were too young to remember (or have even been alive during) the events, we often associate the reference with the punch line "don't drink the Kool-Aid" and picture brainwashed drones sucking down poison with their eyes toward heaven. But what Jonestown reveals is a scenario much more disturbing, effectively and vividly demonstrating how so many reasonable people could be drawn into what they thought was a utopia—and how things slowly went very wrong. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.
A hilarious tale of opposites uniting in friendship as only the Japanese could portray it: with decadent eye candy and wacky dark humor. Not unlike watching The Powerpuff Girls and Ghost World unite and blossom into a world of kitsch, sarcasm, pink hearts, and girls kicking ass. CHRISTINE S. BLYSTONE Camellia Lounge.
Little Children, based on Tom Perrotta's excellent 2004 novel, is one of those rare movies that probably won't piss off fans of the book: It's well cast and largely faithful to the novel's narrative, and Todd Field's direction captures the suburban landscape with as much perceptiveness and irony as Perrotta's prose—making the film an astute, well-made exploration of suburban dreams and delusions. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
"Best-selling authors, religious and spiritual leaders, outspoken advocates of civil rights, contemporary thinkers, and enlightened teachers share a world of perspectives on finding happiness in the modern world." Not screened for critics, thankfully. Bagdad Theatre & Pub.
Look Both Ways
The Australian Look Both Ways deals with matters of life and death in a thought-provoking way: The film charts a weekend in the life of a community affected by a tragic train crash, dealing with the role of artists and the media in interpreting such events, but also skewing things onto a deeper level through the eyes of one character who finds out he's dying of cancer. With this plot, the film could easily be melodramatic—but it's expertly done, so it's not. MATT DAVIS Living Room Theaters.
Night at the Museum
A naturally dubious Ben Stiller vehicle, Night at the Museum weaves the tale of Larry Daley (Stiller), a ne'er-do-well divorcé forced to take a job as a night watchman at the Natural History Museum of New York. Left alone in the building, Larry soon finds that things are not quite as they seem, and that in this museum—as the script tirelessly reminds us—history really does come to life! Recycling the old Jumanji/Indian In the Cupboard motif to reasonably flashy effect, Stiller is soon facing down the living skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Attila the Hun and his army of minions, a mastodon, and—most impressively—the animated corpse of a milky-eyed Mickey Rooney. With a script written by The State/Reno 911's Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon—the secret Glimmer Twins behind most every groan-worthy comedy released in the past three years (see: Herbie Fully Loaded, The Pacifier, Taxi, etc.)—Night at the Museum also features an entire cash-in collective of comedic talents (Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Dick Van Dyke), along with a mess of people who just think they're really funny (Robin Williams, Stiller). ZAC PENNINGTON Regal Cinemas, etc.
THE PAINTED VEIL
See review this issue. Fox Tower
The Pursuit of Happyness
Happyness is the inevitable Christmas spirit-stirring tearjerker. Based on Chris Gardner's autobiography, it's a rags-to-riches tale of a homeless man and his young son in San Francisco during the early '80s. Destitute and desperate, Gardner (Will Smith) guilelessly enters a competitive, unpaid internship at a high-powered brokerage firm—eventually landing a job as a stockbroker, thereby embodying the ever-inspiring American Dream. I'll let you provide the quips about the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air crying because he has to sleep in a BART station bathroom. MARJORIE SKINNER Regal Cinemas, etc.
If you caught last year's The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you're familiar with the case of Annelise Michel—a young German woman who believed, along with her parents and local priests, that she was possessed by demons. Michel died while undergoing a series of Roman Catholic Church-authorized exorcisms, and both priests and parents were charged with manslaughter. While Rose is primarily focused on the court trial, the German Requiem tells a seemingly less sensationalized version of the events leading up to Annelise's (here she is called Michaela) death, revealing a gradual, human, and non-judgmental depiction of an epileptic girl from a small town, raised with strict parents and a devout faith, who tries and fails to lead a normal life at a university. She falters and unravels at an increasingly rapid pace, but her story here is a drama, not the quasi-horror film that American cinema commemorated her with. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
In this inept and highly unnecessary finale, the 60-year-old Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is a small restaurant owner, still moaning over the death of his wife (ADRIAAAAAAN!). Estranged from his businessman son, he decides to teach the whippersnapper a lesson in following one's dreams... by fighting the current heavyweight champion in an exhibition match?!? Action fans will bemoan the fact that the first hour and 10 minutes are filled with a bunch of mumbling sissy-talk, and that even the big fight itself is strangely bloodless and underwhelming. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Regal Cinemas, etc.
The obvious advantage to John Cameron Mitchell's film is that many people will see it, and continue to talk about it, because of the sex. Frustrated by what he interpreted as a "lack of respect" toward sex in American cinema, Mitchell has filmed graphic, well-lit, actual sex scenes, but avoided creating pornography. But even at its warmest, Shortbus is oddly standoffish—just as its take on sex is to think about it too hard, paralyzing it from the waist down. MARJORIE SKINNER Laurelhurst.
In the tradition of Terrence Malick's Badlands, Sweet Land lovingly portrays its characters and, most importantly, its landscape with tenderness and beauty. A love story set in 1920 rural Minnesota, the film features the brilliant and beautiful Elizabeth Reaser as Inge, a woman who travels from Europe to marry a Norwegian man she has never met. Unbeknownst to Olaf she is German, and that sticks in the craw of her future husband and the narrow-minded community, who are still smarting from the end of WWI. What follows is a touching saga, filled with beautiful wheat fields and sweeping skyscapes. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Three Stooges Mini-Marathon
See My, What a Busy Week! on pg. 15. Clinton Street Theater.
A bunch of C-level actors (Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Joe Pantoliano, that poor bastard from The Passion of the Christ) wake up in an abandoned warehouse, without their memories and with a whole lot of pouting and posturing. They try and figure out who's who, where they are, etc., all while ripping off Reservoir Dogs and about a billion other, better movies; it's all about as interesting and deep as one would imagine being stuck in an actual warehouse would be. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
From his arresting use of color, to the nuanced and exuberant performances he coaxes out of actors, to his use of music, to his engrossing scripts, with their dashes of magical realism and Spanish melodrama, Pedro Almodóvar's movies possess a distinct capacity to stimulate you aesthetically and intellectually without beating you over the head with their charms. So when he makes a film as funny, smart, and, well, "Almodóvar-ish" as Volver—one of the most enjoyable and intelligent movies of the year—there's a lot to be happy about. CHAS BOWIE Cinema 21.
We Are Marshall
In 1970, when returning from a losing match against East Carolina, a charter plane carrying Marshall University's team and its coaching staff crashed; all but four of the team's players were killed. Obviously, there's a lot of material here for a truly dramatic storyline—but instead, director McG (Charlie's Angels, The O.C.) spends most of Marshall trying to trigger the audience's tear glands. PHIL BUSSE Regal Cinemas, etc.
See review this issue. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims
See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater.