Prediction: Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is going to be the Speed Racer of literary adaptations—defended by nerds, derided by other nerds, and baffling to the public at large. It's an audacious interpretation of Leo Tolstoy that's overstuffed and overflowing with style. I can't be sure that it's a good movie—but I was so overwhelmed by its boldness that I can't deny I kind of loved it. JAMIE S. RICH Century Clackamas Town Center, Fox Tower 10.
The Big Picture
A Parisian man murders the dude who was sleeping with his wife, then assumes his identity and flees to Yugoslavia. Like you do. Living Room Theaters.
Cell Count has a few patchy bits—all you haters will be grumbling about the ending—but it's nicely shot, staged, acted (it features local favorites John Breen and Sean McGrath), and the practical effects are great. With little money and a lot of atmosphere, Cell Count stages its body horror in a sterile, fluorescent-soaked medical clinic where sufferers of a mysterious disease are given experimental treatments, "the Cure." But the six patients (and two inmates) soon discover the cure is worse than the disease. With echoes of your favorite John Carpenter and Ridley Scott joints, Cell Count's got enough viscera and production values to make it a bloody winner. See review of The Weather Outside, this page. COURTNEY FERGUSON Mission Theater.
The Central Park Five
A new documentary—co-directed by Ken Burns—about five teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989. Living Room Theaters.
A Christmas Story
It's the holiday classic that just won't go away. Laurelhurst Theater.
A must-see for anyone with an interest in the history of either the Trail Blazers or Portland itself, Fast Break comprises footage shot during the Blazers' legendary 1977 championship season. Much of the documentary is devoted to chronicling how Bill Walton spent his time off the court—which, because the man was a giant (literally) hippie, involved a lot of bike riding down the 101 and clambering through the woods picking blackberries. There's also a ton of great archival footage of the absolute frenzy that surrounded the team during that period, filtered of course through Portland's own hippie sensibility—a scene of a huge crowd singing a "Rip City" ballad as a folksinger strums on an acoustic guitar is particularly classic. ALISON HALLETT Hollywood Theatre.
A clumsy, preachy, feature-length infomercial for AA. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Happy 200, Charles Dickens
See Film, this issue. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditrium.
The making of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 horror film Psycho is fodder for Hitchcock, the new by-the-numbers biopic. Making a movie about one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time is a dangerous game, and while Hitchcock is competent—and occasionally even breezily entertaining—it mostly plays like a TV movie. NED LANNAMANN Century Clackamas Town Center, City Center 12, Fox Tower 10.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) traverses Paris in the back of a massive white limousine. With faithful driver Céline (Edith Scob) at the wheel, and with the limo's cabin packed with a makeup table and more rubbery prosthetics than Cloud Atlas, Oscar goes to a number of "appointments"—and at each, he drastically changes his face, his hair, his clothes, his mannerisms, his cohorts. First he appears as a privileged businessman, then a filthy, deranged, fucked-up leprechaun; sometimes he's a decrepit, panhandling old woman, later he's a father, an assassin, a guy wearing a motion-capture unitard who goes down on a woman wearing a motion-capture unitard. Holy Motors might very well be brilliant, and it also might very well be 2012's version of the emperor's new clothes. ERIK HENRIKSEN Fox Tower 10.
Short documentaries made by students in the NW Documentary Workshop—PLUS. "A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE FROM NATIONAL YODELING CHAMPION LARRY WILDER." More info: nwdocumentary.org. Mission Theater.
Hyde Park on Hudson
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.
The NW Film Center's annual series of contemporary Japanese films. This week's films include Nuclear Nation, Monsters Club, and Rent-a-Cat. More info: nwfilm.org. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
Jason Becker was meant for greatness. A master guitar player, Becker was discovered by Shrapnel Records and eventually took over Steve Vai's slot playing with David Lee Roth—all before he graduated from high school. Then he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and given three-to-five years to live. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet documents Becker's life leading up to his crippling diagnosis and into the present, where he still composes music and speaks with an eye sign language designed by his father. The film conveys his amazing story well with old footage, pictures, and interviews with friends and family, but somehow falls just short of emotionally pulling you in. Still, it's inspiring and worth a watch. ARIS WALES Clinton Street Theater.
Killing Them Softly
The story of Killing Them Softly is timeless: Here are a bunch of guys struggling to get by, fighting back despair, and screwing each other over for money. While it's based on George V. Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade, Killing Them Softly feels utterly contemporary—largely because writer/director Andrew Dominik has picked up Higgins' story and plopped it down a few decades later. Now it plays out in the gray ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans, with a soundtrack of news stories about the 2008 financial crisis leaking from every TV and car radio. Suddenly, that bunch of guys struggling to get by, fighting back despair, and screwing each other over for money is part of a bigger story. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A Late Quartet
At the start of A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken's character explains to a group of his cello students that Beethoven's late quartet, Opus 131, is not the standard four movements but instead has seven parts and that you have to play them straight through with no breaks, which causes your instruments to go all out of tune with one another. "It's a mess," he says. It's also a metaphor about how basic entropy affects togetherness. The togetherness, say, of a musical group that's been playing together for 25 years when the oldest member finds he has Parkinson's and can't go on. Walken plays that character. Has he ever been the emotional center of a film before? It's magical. For much of A Late Quartet, the camera follows the storm of the other characters' drama—often, melodrama—until it finds a resting place once again on Walken's alien face, quietly registering the effects of old age. JEN GRAVES Laurelhurst Theater.
Lawrence of Arabia
A digital resoration. Cinema 21.
Life of Pi
Ang's Lee's overblown but nonetheless quite beautiful adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name. Like the novel, it's a parable disguised as an adventure story; like the novel, some people will think it contains profound truths, and some will find it unbearably overwrought. Others—me!—will appreciate some of the best 3D we've seen to date, and enjoy the adventure despite its self-seriousness. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Oscar bait doesn't get much more baiting than this: Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis with a Tony Kushner script about the final months of America's most beloved, tragic president. By and large, Lincoln wanders many of the same paths Spielberg's other Oscar bait-y films have taken—this one feels particularly like Amistad, though there's some War Horse in here too. Lincoln is a generally well-made film, but it's also one stitched together from Day-Lewis' dramatic monologues and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's reverential sepia tones: Even when it tries to humanize Lincoln, it's mostly just here to reaffirm what a Great Man he was and how he made some Very Important History. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
North Sea Texas
A Belgian (and gay!) coming-of-age flick. Clinton Street Theater.
Playing for Keeps
The most interesting thing about Playing for Keeps is trying to figure out who the movie is for. Is it for lonely housewives itching to nail Gerard Butler? Soccer fans desperate for validation that their little game of "futball" is actually a real sport? Moviegoers hoping for a glimpse of Uma Thurman with her top off? (Trick question, that's everybody.) The only satisfactory answer is that this movie is for adult children of broken homes who kind of blame their mothers. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
See My, What a Busy Week! Bagdad Theater.
Searching for Sugar Man
Detroit singer/songwriter Rodriguez released two obscure albums of introspective, Dylanesque agitprop-lite in 1970 and 1971, then promptly vanished. Documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul picks up his thread in South Africa, where Rodriguez's music has amassed a huge following over the decades—and where nobody knows a thing about the mysterious man behind the records. If this is the first you've heard of Rodriguez, you might choose to stop reading here, because the twist that Searching for Sugar Man reveals—while not a surprise to anyone who's picked up the recent reissues of his albums on the Seattle-based Light in the Attic label—is handled brilliantly in the film. Even if you do know what happened next, Sugar Man is still one of the most intriguing and satisfying music documentaries in a good while. NED LANNAMANN Laurelhurst Theater.
Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, who's been hired to indoctrinate paralyzed writer Mark (John Hawkes) in the ways of S-E-X. Mark contracted polio as a kid, and the iron lung has seriously hindered his game—so after realizing that other disabled people still manage to have sex lives, he contacts Cheryl to figure out just what kind of experiences his paralyzed body is capable of having. The Sessions is bound to be over praised, but Hunt and Hawkes are so damn good, and the scenes between the two of them so rich in awkward, funny, premature ejaculate-y tenderness, that the strengths of this odd little true story far outweigh its imperfections. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10, Hollywood Theatre, Liberty Theatre.
Martin McDonagh's feverish story about a drunk screenwriter, Marty (Colin Farrell). And the probably insane Billy (Sam Rockwell). And a charming, doddering dog thief (charming, doddering Christopher Walken), and an Amish sociopath (Harry Dean Stanton), and an exceedingly troubled man with a bunny (Tom Waits), and a trigger-happy crime boss (Woody Harrelson). Things get a bit meta, and they get impressively bloody, and there might be one or two women in it? Briefly? There is definitely a dog in it. This isn't a movie for everybody, but it's well aware of that fact, and it's a hell of a good time. ERIK HENRIKSEN Academy Theater, Bagdad Theater, Edgefield, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater, St. Johns Theater and Pub, Valley Theater, Vancouver Plaza 10.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
It's no Black Christmas, but 1984's inevitable Santa-turns-slasher bloodbath Silent Night, Deadly Night has a few likeable qualities nonetheless: You've got your sex with nuns, you've got a multitude of arbitrary victims introduced and subsequently murdered in roughly one half of one scene, not to mention a smattering of increasingly ludicrous Christmas songs that all seem to be composed specifically for the movie. On the downside, you've got the needlessly expository first two-thirds of the movie, plus perhaps the least convincing horror villain of all time: a dashing, doe-eyed WASP-y dude in a Santa suit whose creepy one liners alternate between the equally un-scary "Puuunish!" and "Naaaw-tee!"—delivered in a nearly unintelligible monotone. ZAC PENNINGTON Hollywood Theatre.
Silver Linings Playbook
As someone who's skeptical of silver linings being an actual thing, so too was I skeptical of Silver Linings Playbook, the would-be feel-good holiday release from I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell. Midway through the trailer, I half expected a voiceover to proclaim it was "from the producers of The Blind Side of the Help." But while the path of this thing seems obvious, the film's romance sneaks up on you: Russell disguises his love story by shooting Silver Linings Playbook with the same visceral immediacy he brought to The Fighter, cloaking the courtship in the manic energy of mental disorders. JAMIE S. RICH Century Clackamas Town Center, Fox Tower 10.
Sing-Along Wizard of Oz
"Costumes and fancy dress are encouraged and all dressed-up guests can join Glinda, Dorothy, and the Wicked Witch of the West for a costume parade before the film." In related news, there is no god. Clinton Street Theater.
The Weather Outside
This holiday-soaked local flick is a noirish upending of It's a Wonderful Life, with distinct echoes of Lynch's Lost Highway. Sad-sack Max (Michael J. Prosser) is a drunk who's lost his wife and kids on Christmas Eve. A year later, he's still a drunk and working at a thrift store, where he befriends an angelic homeless woman (Erin McGarry) in a scheme to reconnect with his ex. But twists abound, and it becomes clear that Max's time is running out. Atmospheric, well acted, and full of Portland haunts, The Weather Outside has the three hallmarks of a great holiday haze: booze, smoking, and deals with the devil. Together, Jason and Todd E. Freeman, the writer/director/producer/brother duo who made The Weather Outside and the pretty great horror film Cell Count, are proving to be a team to watch for. See review of Cell Count, this page. COURTNEY FERGUSON Bagdad Theater.