Alice in Wonderland
The fact that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland isn't a straight retelling of the Lewis Carroll books might be motivated, as stated, by a desire to give the tale more narrative heft, but it also feels like a pulled punch. (In his version Alice is 19, returning to the place she thought she'd dreamed of as a child.) Following Alice (Mia Wasikowska) through Burton's Wonderland is a perfectly scenic carnival ride—punctuated with the occasional plucked eyeball and rotting severed head—but the attempts to work up the plot with simple conflicts and run-of-the-mill set-ups are little more than enablers to the next visual treat. Burton seems torn between the intimidation of a beloved classic and confidence in his own appeal, but somewhere in the middle with Burton and Alice is not a terrible place to be stuck. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The Art of the Steal
Wealthy misanthrope Dr. Albert C. Barnes spent the better part of his adult life assembling what has since become one of the most enviable (and valuable) collections of post-impressionist art in the world—all the while pledging to keep it out of the hands of all those philistines at the national museums. Satisfyingly one-sided, The Art of the Steal tells the compelling story of conspiracy, greed, and political outrage that followed Barnes' heir-less death. ZAC PENNINGTON Living Room Theaters.
Blood Into Wine
There is only one person in the world more pretentious than a pompous, windbaggy wine snob, and that person is Maynard James Keenan. In Blood Into Wine, we get to watch the Tool/Perfect Circle frontman wandering around his Arizona estate (which he's named Merkin Vineyards—ew?) and basically admitting that he's bored with music. This is in essence a 90-minute commercial for Keenan's new winery (which he's named Caduceus Cellars—huh?), and the movie's best part comes when Patton Oswalt calls the wine "Ca-douche-eus" to Maynard's face. NED LANNAMANN Cinema 21.
The Bounty Hunter
Jennifer Aniston plays Nicole, a hard-nosed reporter who's recently been arrested for assaulting a police officer (pish!). When she misses her court date, the judge finds her guilty and puts a warrant out for her arrest. (Or... something. I'm not exactly clear on how justice worked in this situation.) Enter her ex-husband Milo (Gerard Butler), a former cop now working as a bail enforcement agent, which is a less-cool way of saying "bounty hunter." Various bad guys strongarm the plot into action-flick territory (guns are fired, cars are crashed), and then Jennifer Aniston twitches her nose and transforms it back into a romcom. The Bounty Hunter's labored marriage of action and romance is clearly designed to make this date movie more palatable to dudes. Dudes, don't fall for it. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
MTV vet Antoine Fuqua was staking out a career as a dependable B-movie director until 2001's cred-boosting Training Day, a fairly routine crime thriller elevated by Denzel Washington's ferocious jet stream. Brooklyn's Finest, Fuqua's heralded return to the genre, lands firmly in Clichéville: a place where an Italian cop has sons named Vinnie and Vito; an undercover detective enters a bar as "The Great Pretender" plays on the jukebox; and an aged, world-weary veteran does drugs to the strains of "White Rabbit." (Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" presumably got lost under a car seat on its way to the mixing studio.) Throw in some ridiculous bursts of overdone violence and the most embarrassing sex scene that Richard Gere's name has ever been associated with, and you've got a movie that bears a distinct resemblance to an episode of The Simpsons starring McBain. ANDREW WRIGHT Academy Theater.
Tales of the Rose City Rollers
Reminiscent of Blood on the Flat Track—2007's documentary about Seattle's roller derby culture—Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers brings the lights, cameras, and action to our very own Rose City Rollers. Even if you've already seen Blood on the Flat Track, there's still a thrill to seeing Portland's scenery and people as director Chip Mabry follows the rollergirls through last year's season. While the heart, soul, and picking of derby names now seem slightly stale—especially in the wake of Ellen Page skating down this very path—the Rose City Rollers still make for fun hometown documentary fodder. COURTNEY FERGUSON Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
In the states, the erotic thriller genre is a child of the '90s. The most memorable entries—Poison Ivy, Basic Instinct, Crash—were released in the decade that introduced us to Monica Lewinsky, Nirvana, and the World Wide Web. Though Chloe director Atom Egoyan is Canadian, it's fitting that he should turn to the much-sexier country of France for Chloe's inspiration, simply remaking 2003's Nathalie.... And yet the result takes you right back in time to the spare modern elegance of Catherine Tramell's décor aesthetic, with a young, dangerous, flaxen-haired vixen (Amanda Seyfried, valiantly substituting for Drew Barrymore), and you wind up with a very familiar-feeling car crash of a film. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The City of Lost Children
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's creepy, beautiful fantasy film is one of the best films of the '90s. Fifth Avenue Cinema.
A great film that centers around a grizzled slab of a man, in the waning sunset years of life, battling addiction and years of neglect to once again regain his faded glory. At his side, an inspiring young woman hides scars of her own even as she acts as the muse that triggers his valiant comeback. If all this sounds familiar, it is. It's impossible to ignore the fact that no matter how excellent Crazy Heart is, the screenwriter should pay royalties to Robert Siegel, writer of The Wrestler. EZRA ACE CARAEFF Various Theaters.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a new movie based on the book by Jeff Kinney. The movie characters are Greg and his best friend Rowley, and Fregley, a kid with hygiene issues. I don't think the movie was quite as good as the book, partly because the characters didn't look like they did in the book, really at all. Some of the parts I remember best are when Greg goes to Fregley's house and Fregley chases Greg around with a booger on his finger. Another part I remember well was at the end of the book when some teenagers made Rowley eat "THE CHEESE" (THE CHEESE is an old moldy piece of cheese on the blacktop of Greg's school). A few of the scenes were not in the book and a few of the things that happened in the book never occurred in the movie, but all in all I thought that the acting was really good and from a scale of one to 10, I would give it a seven or an eight. MICAH CABOT, AGE NINE Various Theaters.
The Faux Film Festival
The Faux Film Festival returns for its fifth(!) year, with its usual shtick of "faux commercials, faux trailers, spoofs, satires, parodies, and mockumentaries." More info: fauxfilm.com. Hollywood Theatre.
The Ghost Writer
Fuck the Polanski apologists—if some time behind bars will prevent this man from making any more movies like The Ghost Writer, it's a win-win for everyone. Ewan McGregor plays the titular scribe, who's been handed what appears to be the gig of a lifetime: the chance to ghost the memoirs of a recently disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan). One thing, though: The ghost's predecessor just wound up swimming with the fishes under exceedingly suspicious circumstances. Within minutes, the film's mystery begins to unfold like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon as acted by a series of Tennessee Williams heroines. Suffice to say, Chinatown this is not. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
Adapting journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, screenwriter Brian Helgeland's narrative jumps between hard-hitting action sequences and less-than-hard-hitting scenes of politically loaded dialogue. It's March of 2003, and Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller's (Matt Damon) job is to track down WMDs in Baghdad. The only problem—and you'll never see this coming!—is that whenever he gets to a place where WMDs are supposed to be, there's jack shit. Green Zone works when it deals not with simplified moral quandaries, but rather when it's dominated by director Paul Greengrass' action chops: His camera feverish and eager, Greengrass' action scenes burst with momentum and catharsis. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
It's about time writer/director Noah Baumbach wrote a full-fledged character study, because his attention to the details that make up a personality is peerless. Baumbach's last movie, Margot at the Wedding, relentlessly catalogued the anxieties and quirks of two estranged sisters—but while the depiction of family dynamics was razor sharp, Margot's characters were so generally unpleasant that by the time Jennifer Jason Leigh pooped her pants in the woods, it was hard to care how all that meticulously detailed moping would be resolved. With Greenberg—in which Ben Stiller plays an unstable New York carpenter who's just relocated to LA—Baumbach tempers his lacerating insights with a humor that recalls his excellent 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Grindhouse Film Fest:
See My, What a Busy Week!
Hot Tub Time Machine
Oh, how transparently this movie rips off Back to the Future; oh, how badly it fails to be one one-hundredth as funny. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Seven Japanese schoolgirls visit a haunted house in Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 head-trip, which is quite simply one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. The effects are incredibly cheesy and the movie refuses to settle on a consistent tone, but Obayashi's visual style creates a wispy, sugary dream world that gushes with blood. NED LANNAMANN Living Room Theaters.
How to Train Your Dragon
Essentially a "boy and his dog" story in the vein of Old Yeller, only nobody gets rabies and the dog is a fucking dragon. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a clumsy young viking who wants nothing more than to be a dragon slayer like his dad—until the day he befriends an injured dragon, and starts to wonder if training dragons might not be better than killing them. The story is charmingly told, but it's in the visuals that Dragon really distinguishes itself: Witness the creepily beautiful scene in which, as Hiccup and his dragon soar over the ocean, hundreds of dragons begin materializing out of the fog around them. This is the type of movie that I want my (hypothetical, future) children to watch, because it's imaginative and exciting and alert to the possibility of beauty in the world. It's also the type of movie that I want my (actual, present) stoner friends to see because, well... 3D dragons! ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The Last Station
While the expression "behind every great man is a great woman" has rightfully fallen into disuse, The Last Station is based on just such a historical formulation: the turbulent relationship between Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and his wife, Sofya (fiercely portrayed by Helen Mirren). This, though, is no tale of stoic devotion, of wifey tending the fires while her husband is out sowing his genius. Sofya Tolstoy is indeed devoted to her husband—they've been married for 50 years, during which time she's served as his supporter and secretary, famously copying multiple drafts of War and Peace by hand. She is also utterly determined to see his legacy preserved, in a manner that befits both of their labors. Leo and Sofya's grand, crumbling passion is depicted with unerring emotional precision by Plummer and Mirren. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Pauline at the Beach
Eric Rohmer's 1982 French beachside farce. Part of NW Film's Remembering Rohmer series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
When 19-year-old Malik (Tahar Rahim) starts his six-year sentence in a French prison, he's illiterate and naïve. He has no friends, no family, and no one to watch his back. Immediately, a gang of Corsicans—who rule both inside the prison and outside as the mafia—sweep in to put the young Arab under their thumb, alienating him from the Muslim prisoners and causing discord among the Corsican thugs. Green and inexperienced, Malik is coerced into murdering a fellow Arab—and for the next six years he is haunted by the murdered man's ghost, seemingly his only true friend in a world of sharks. Simply put, A Prophet is a prison drama—but more than anything, it's a robust and engaging character study of Malik, who goes from being a young doormat to a confident, Machiavellian linchpin in a dark transformation full of seething ferocity and quiet ambition. COURTNEY FERGUSON Fox Tower 10.
Red Riding: 1974 & 1980
Dour and grim, the Red Riding trilogy is noteworthy more for its format than anything else: three films, each made by a different director, and each spanning a different time period in Northern England. Based on a series of four novels by David Peace—which, in turn, were inspired by actual events—Red Riding: 1974, Red Riding: 1980, and Red Riding: 1983 share characters and settings, themes and plot threads—yet all stand on their own as effective crime dramas. Even if the trilogy never quite reaches the emotional resonance one would hope for, and even if, by its final installment, it's reached a melodramatic pitch, it's nevertheless well worth experiencing. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.
In the incredibly bloody and mostly great Repo Men, organs are mass-manufactured, marketed, and implanted to keep people alive—but should a recipient default on the sizable payments, a repo man will show up and forcefully repossess the organ in question. Remy (Jude Law) is one such repo man, and the film begins in a sly, blacker-than-black comic tone as he methodically guts the deadbeats who can't make their payments. But one day, Remy suffers a heart attack on the job and wakes up in the hospital with a shiny new ticker, along with the attendant, exorbitant payments. It's no surprise that Remy has a change of heart (eh? eh?) and can no longer continue in his line of work. Nor is it a surprise that his best friend and co-worker Jake (Forest Whitaker, as excellent as ever) becomes the one to try to track him down. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
She's Out of My League
There's only one thing notable about the (ostensible) comedy She's Out of My League, and that's how blatantly it rips off the past 15 years of American comedic filmmaking. Kevin Smith's seen-it-all sarcasm. Judd Apatow's insistence that nice guys finish first. The no-they-didn't raunch of American Pie, and the buddy bonding of I Love You, Man. They're all here, distilled down to their dumbest elements—minus brains, cleverness, genuine wit, or actors charismatic enough to float a film. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
The sort of movie where supposedly smart characters do idiotic things; where lightning dramatically flashes to underscore plot developments; where things lunge from shadows not because it makes sense for them to do so but because... well, lunging is just what things in shadows do. Director Martin Scorsese seems eager to try out some time-honored genre clichés: The music jolts, character actors offer dire warnings, and for its first hour or so, Shutter Island is, if not scary, satisfyingly creepy. I won't spoil how it ends, but suffice to say there's a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" at the heavens, and also that the climax would be considered pretty shoddy even by M. Night Shyamalan's standards. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Sing-Along Mary Poppins
Can you sing better than Julie Andrews? No? Then shut the fuck up. Cinema 21.
A Tale of Autumn
Eric Rohmer's very French-sounding 1998 film studies two women, lifelong friends. Part of NW Film's Remembering Rohmer series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A Tale of Springtime
A French teenager plays both the piano and with her father's romantic life. Part of NW Film's Remembering Rohmer series. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A small-town detective drama of uncertain tone, Terribly Happy concerns a Copenhagen cop who's reassigned to the countryside after a breakdown leaves him rattled and pill-dependent. Supposedly a very dark comedy, it's hard to find much to laugh at here, as the well-intentioned cop slowly comes around to the town's corrupt, wife-beating ways. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
"So run, you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me, you hear!" Laurelhurst Theater.
A Town Called Panic
Good luck getting the kids to settle down for a movie with subtitles. Adults won't fare much better with this spastic, meandering stop-motion adventure that boasts pretty designs but rinky-dink animation. ANDREW R TONRY Hollywood Theatre.
Tyler Perry's Why Did I
Get Married Too
Tyler Perry's latest. We didn't see it. We didn't see the first Why Did I Get Married, either, so we'd probably be lost even if we had seen it. Various Theaters.
The White Ribbon
A smoldering and horrifying masterpiece from Austrian director Michael Haneke (Funny Games). The methodical, even glacial, pace of the film, which lingers on mundane and momentous exchanges alike, draws the audience unwittingly into a subtly taut experience. You may not find yourself gripping the edge of your seat in the theater, but the wary sense of secret evil will dog you for days. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.