Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
It's the actors in a film like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel that bare the brunt of indignation—not so much the voice actors (among them Amy Poehler, Christina Applegate, Justin Long, and Anna Faris, whose unnaturally sped-up anonymity buys them all a bit of a pass), but dudes like Jason Lee and David Cross, whose pained, embarrassed visages will forever be married to this misfortune. (Cross in particular is sunk to emasculating new lows—it almost feels as if the whole enterprise is just an elaborate plot by some spiteful studio exec to humiliate him). ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
James Cameron's sci-fi epic is exactly as visually arresting and technologically revolutionary as promised, but the CG and the artistry behind it are so good—the film's bizarre landscapes and inhabitants are so organic, complex, and emotive—that, remarkably, you'll forget you're watching one big special effect. And so we're left with Avatar's story—which, thanks to its too-easy morality and stilted dialogue, isn't gonna impress anyone. What will impress, though, are the moments of holy-shit spectacle. Avatar isn't perfect, but it is extraordinary. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock is a natural fit for the role of sassy, wealthy, Southern, evangelical MILF do-gooder Leigh Anne Tuohy, who took in a homeless African American teenager after scooping him off the streets of Memphis. That boy, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), went on to become one of the most sought-after young football players in the country, receiving numerous college scholarships, and now plays professionally for the Baltimore Ravens. At its heart, The Blind Side is a straight-ahead feel-good family movie—but there are aspects of it that'll make you squirm. Leigh Anne and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) are rich off the profits of some 60-odd fast food restaurants, with two sweetheart children, but it's Leigh Anne who runs the family and dominates the film: Rarely do more than five minutes elapse without her breaking in with a piece of her mind, telling everybody—from a drug dealer to a racist lady-who-lunches to a high school football coach—what's what, with a cocksure fearlessness typical of someone upon whom fortune has always smiled. (And who carries a gun in her purse.) There's no escaping the cringingly congratulatory, rich-white-folk-bail-out-helpless-black-kid dynamic, but, well, that's just kind of what happened, by all accounts (it's harder to misrepresent people who are still alive). And once you allow yourself to drop the liberal guilt and just like the Tuohys, you're left with a pretty good story. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
1947's Brighton Rock could be harmless and crackerjack if not for the immeasurable weight of Richard Attenborough's performance as teenage sociopath, Pinkie Brown, who aims to be a made man. Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's British Noir series. DAVE BOW Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Let's say Pedro Almodóvar is one of your favorite directors. Oh wait, he is? Well, what a coincidence! You'll have plenty of company in Broken Embraces' fan club, as the film's an elaborate, self-indulgent orgy of Almodóvar-age—full of self-reference, slavish homage to fantasy-noir melodrama, and arresting images of Penélope Cruz. On its own, the film is an exceptionally attractive and not unpleasantly meandering tale of sex, malice, and filmmaking—but few pains are taken to make the audience feel welcome in this clearly introspective, doubtlessly sincere work of art. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Did You Hear About
I'm running out of things to say about Did You Hear About the Morgans? I have seen this romantic comedy a million times, twice this year: Once it was called New in Town, and later, The Proposal. I can't think of anything more indicative of Hollywood's level of creative bankruptcy than the degree to which those other films are still fresh in the public's mind, even as this one rips them off. If Morgans makes any profit at all, it will prove that Americans are as dumb as the studios think we are—in which case we'll deserve every inch of this recycled roll of tape. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The Fallen Idol
Though 1948's The Fallen Idol has the fewest noir trappings of any film in the Northwest Film Center's British Noir series, its theme cuts deeper: a child's loss of innocence as he grapples to understand a world of adults that operates on deception. DAVE BOW Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox—despite the fact it's filmed via stop-motion animation—feels very much like Wes Anderson's other movies, which means if you're the sort of person who likes to scoff at Anderson, you will find plenty of justification to do so after seeing Fox. But to complain that the film is just more of the same overlooks the crucial fact that, well, that "same" is pretty extraordinary: The reason Anderson's style is so immediately recognizable and so open to criticism is because it's so original, so earnest, and so finely tuned. The funny, charming Fox isn't Anderson's best film, but it might be his most fully realized. Via stop-motion animation, the meticulous Anderson revels in a level of control that's any OCD sufferer's dream. Anderson's films have always displayed his near-psychopathic obsession with the tiniest of details, from the patterns of background wallpaper to the exacting typefaces in his credit sequences; with Fox, he's created an entire miniature world, and it's hardly surprising that his cast of witty woodland creatures wear only the finest corduroy and tweed. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The only thing that's harder for an American to understand than a South African accent is the rules of rugby. It seems to be kind of like football, only with dorkier uniforms, lateral passing instead of forward passing, and plenty of big, chummy, homoerotic scrums. In Clint Eastwood's Invictus, the 1995 Rugby World Cup is given the task of drawing together a newly desegregated South Africa—it's not quite the equivalent of Nazis and Jews sorting out their differences with a game of hopscotch, but one can't help wonder if perhaps this particular sporting match has acquired a tad more significance than it can bear. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
I'm not going to say anything snarky about Meryl Streep in this review of her new momedy, It's Complicated. Streep is perfectly charming here, totally comfortable in the everywoman mantle she dons to play Jane, a divorced mother of three. Jane is sweet but grounded, sexy in a totally natural and age-appropriate way, and so likeable that it's totally plausible when her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) decides he wants to get back together. It's Complicated isn't a great film, but it's the time of year when concessions are made: Odds are, you'll be doing some family bonding in the cineplex this month, and It's Complicated is a not-too-embarrassing movie about romance and families and finding oneself. I mean no disrespect to your mother when I assure you that she will like it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Inspired by Jon Ronson's 2004 book about the US Army's experiments with the paranormal, Goats works best in its flashbacks, which are weird and hilarious; George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, and Stephen Lang all seem to be having a blast. In the modern-day sequences, Goats loses much of its goofy, satirical edge, but director Grant Heslov never totally strays from the film's outlandish-but-weirdly-believable tone, which, at its best, recalls Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove. The Men Who Stare at Goats isn't nearly as good as either of those films, but Heslov's goals seem somewhat the same as Kubrick's: Throw all sorts of preposterous allegations at those in power, and then step back, content and happy and pleased with how many of those allegations, in context, don't seem quite as ridiculous as they did before. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Anyone with a fondness for big-budget musicals (hi, ladies and gays!) has likely been anticipating Nine, the latest musical from Chicago director Rob Marshall, with source material once again ripped straight from Broadway—in this case, 1982's multiple Tony-winner. Nine is the story of talented, tortured movie director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a celebrity of Spielbergian proportions in his native Italy (Nine is based, in fact, on Frederico Fellini's semi-autobiographical 8½). It's a story of the "women behind the man"—more precisely, of the myopia and vanity that leads one man to frame his life with himself in the foreground—but the end result is drab, overlong, and distinctly un-fabulous. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The 1960 movie that killed director Michael Powell's career, Peeping Tom has thankfully been reexamined by critics in recent years as insightful commentary on the voyeuristic nature of art. It is also unquestionably the best film ever that features a tripod leg as a penis surrogate/murder weapon. Screens as part of the Northwest Film Center's British Noir series. DAVE BOW Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, the awkwardly titled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is this year's feel-good-by-feeling-bad Oscar bait: a relentlessly sordid bit of ghetto tourism that invites audiences to wallow in unimaginable misery for 110 minutes, only to emerge from their cinematic journey more enlightened, more aware, more... human. (Thanks, Oprah!) ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The Princess and the Frog
By my estimation, Disney's animated features took a dramatic turn for the terrible with the release of Pocahontas in 1995. With a few exceptions, the 15 movies since have squandered a good deal of cultural capital—what American kid wasn't half-raised by Disney cartoons? How much would you have to pay the average American adult to watch Chicken Little? But Disney's newest, The Princess and the Frog, abruptly and unexpectedly reminded me just how good Disney movies used to be. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
"I've had enough of being an enigma," declares Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn). "I want to be known." Pippa, at 50, is an aging trophy wife; she's just moved to a retirement community with her much-older husband, where they plan to live out the rest of his life together. Until, that is, Pippa sees Keanu Reeves whispering soulfully to a wounded dog—and everything changes. It's facile to dismiss a movie out-of-hand just because it's about rich, unhappy white people—but having watched Pippa Lee, I can assure you that in this case, such a dismissal is entirely appropriate. ALISON HALLETT Cinema 21.
Arriving after delays and rumors of recuts, the long-awaited cinematic version of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 Pulitzer-winning, Oprah-approved, post-apocalyptic saga The Road comes off as a non-starter; an honorable, respectful, well-acted adaptation that feels curiously inert. All the beats are there—with the exception of a few of the most notoriously grisly bits—but the chaos seems a little too orderly. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
I don't recall anyone saying, "Wow, why doesn't someone make a new, more exciting Sherlock Holmes?" That's probably because the world isn't exactly clamoring for reboots of stories from 19th century authors (Clueless notwithstanding). And yet? Here we are with an "edgy" revival of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric detective and Jude Law as steadfast sidekick Watson. Both are fine choices, and their scenes together crackle with energy and camaraderie. But this Holmes drops in only occasional aspects of what made Doyle's stories fun, sandwiched between chase scene after fight scene after disaster after explosion. It's boring—if I wanted to switch my mind off, I'd rent Transformers. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
A Single Man
Longtime fashion designer and first-time film director Tom Ford's A Single Man, about a gay college professor in mid-'60s LA who is mourning the sudden death of his long-term partner, at times features images of rippling male physiques that hearken back to certain fragrance ads—but as a whole, his film is to be applauded for its relentless devotion to aesthetic excellence. Take, for example, the half-second glimpse of a trio of denim- and leather-clad greaser chicks in a parking lot, oozing chic with cigarettes and beehives; the camera's close inspection of insolently masterful cat-eye makeup; the careful observation of the masculine stability of a pair of leather-soled, freshly shined shoes. These are images we expect, and desire, from a man of fashion, and they are as good as anticipated, and well integrated with the mood of the film. So much so, in fact, that it takes at least half the film's runtime to realize how little meat is on its beautiful bones. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
EEEEEEEEE! It's time for The Twilight Saga: New Moon! Are you ready?! Before going into the theater, there are a few things you're going to have to shove to the back of your mind—your love of witty repartee, your knowledge of monster folklore, your hatred of CG animals, and your intelligence. New Moon goes deep, deep, deep into the uncharted forest of TEEN MELODRAMA, and if you can't handle it, you're welcome to join Team Get the Eff Outta Here. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
"Is today the day?" asks Joseph Gordon-Levitt. "I don't know," Lynn Collins replies. "Maybe." (This is what happens when you ask actors to improvise their dialogue.) Are they trying to decide if they'll spend the day in Brooklyn or Manhattan, or are the stakes much higher? A coin is flipped; the couple sprints for opposite ends of the Brooklyn Bridge. In Brooklyn, a green sedan awaits; in Manhattan, a yellow cab. And Uncertainty splits into two parallel storylines, readily identified by their color schemes. Filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel are clearly experimenting with genre, but, the two very different halves of this film have nothing to say to each other—there's no reason why either story is being told this way, and no real reason why this beautiful, boring couple deserves our attention. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
Up in the Air
Up in the Air is beautifully and cleanly shot by cinematographer Eric Steelberg. It marks, by far, the best turn yet from director Jason Reitman; sharp and clever and clear, it's a marked improvement from his previous films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno. It features two of the year's best performances—props, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick—and an impressive slew of other performances from Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, and Danny McBride. J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliott, and Zach Galifianakis show up, too, and if that's not enough, it also features a cameo by Young MC. (If that last bit doesn't push the film to the top of your must-see list, then you are not someone I'd like to know.) Thanks to all the things listed above, Up in the Air is one of the better films you'll see this year. Thanks to a script—by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, loosely based on Walter Kirn's novel—that grows progressively less engaging, it's also a film that isn't as good as it should be. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Vanished Empire
A coming-of-age drama set at a Moscow university during '70s. Featuring Yakov Smirnoff as Professor Gigglekins.Hollywood Theater.
The Young Victoria
A film that concerns exactly what its title indicates: the early years of England's Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), including her romance and subsequent marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Told almost entirely from within the gates and walls of the royal palaces of Europe, this brand of historical dramatization isn't terribly interested in providing a greater social context. Victoria's struggles here are primarily personal, regarding the rites of passages necessary to becoming a functional adult as well as a monarch: having the strength and self-trust to claim your distance from close but controlling family members, learning which men can be trusted, and so on. The prioritization of reservedly faithful representation (to the queen, if not to history) can be a bit of a letdown for fans of all-out bodice rippers—there is a notably minimal use of tears, blood, and dramatic obsessions born out of repressed desires. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.