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 Various Theaters.
Any Day Now
See review this issue. Living Room Theaters.
If you snoozed through the Iranian hostage crisis by not being born yet, a refresher: The US and some other imperialists have historically been major assholes to Iran, so in 1979, the Iranian people were like, "Actually, no!" and they rose up and stormed the US embassy, where some 60 Americans were frantically trying to shred stuff and not be murdered. Six Americans escaped through a back door. (Nice embassy-storming, amateurs!) While the world was focused on what was happening to the dozens of hostages inside the embassy, those six were stuck at the Canadian ambassador's house—with no way to get out. Enter: Ben Affleck as a CIA hostage wrangler with an insane plan to create a fake sci-fi movie called Argo, call the six escaped hostages a film crew, and then GTFO. And you guys: This actually happened. I did a crappy job at explaining all of that, but Argo does not; Affleck's direction delivers a brilliantly simple telling of a complicated story. Detailed without ever feeling dense, the film should satisfy nearly all classes of nerds (history! Politics! Science fiction! Movies!), as well as normals who just want to watch something entertaining. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D
Goddammit. Various Theaters.
The world's first western blaxploitation revenge buddy comedy, Django Unchained is one of Quentin Tarantino's best movies—a brutal, hilarious, thrilling, messy bastard of a thing. It's the result of Tarantino gleefully making a balls-out western after years of almost doing so, and it's excellent that he did: The genre hasn't been served this well since Deadwood, No Country for Old Men, and Red Dead Redemption. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
A clumsy, preachy, feature-length infomercial for AA. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre.
The Guilt Trip
A mother-son road comedy (mom-com?) starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. Is this a Barbra Streisand movie with Seth Rogen in it? Or a Seth Rogen movie with Barbra Streisand in it? (It seems inconceivable that they could really share billing or, for that matter, a significant audience demographic.) In the interests of science, and because I am not history's greatest monster, I invited my mother to the press screening to see which one of us would like it better. And... we both liked it about the same. Well played, Hollywood! The Guilt Trip isn't a great movie, but it's not terrible. ("Just so-so" was my mom's verdict.) BEN COLEMAN Various Theaters.
The making of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 horror film Psycho is fodder for this 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 Various Theaters.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." That's how proto-nerd J.R.R. Tolkien began The Hobbit, his charming children's book that inspired The Lord of the Rings, one of the most extraordinary doorstops of English literature. Compared to the gloomy, intricate Rings, The Hobbit is a short, fast-paced, goofy adventure. Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, though, is something else: Hollow, meandering, repetitive, and tedious, it covers only the first part of Tolkien's book, yet somehow feels longer than any of Jackson's excellent Lord of the Rings films. ERIK HENRIKSEN 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 Various Theaters.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray can do no fucking wrong. His Franklin Delano Roosevelt obviously isn't the so-good-it's-scary, soul-deep possession of Daniel Day-Lewis's Abraham Lincoln. It's not like you ever forget that he's Bill Murray. But he's excellent anyway: He gets the president's playfulness, his condescending, patrician air, and his inherent inaccessibility, and he makes it his own. His performance is a masterful sketch that looks easier than it probably is. It's a shame Murray is stuck in the middle of such a pedestrian movie. PAUL CONSTANT Various Theaters.
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
Werner Herzog plays the villain in a solid, pulpy, funny, Tom Cruise-led adaptation of Lee Child's thriller One Shot. Here's something Herzog says in the movie: "I spent my first winter as a prisoner in Siberia wearing a dead man's coat. I chewed these fingers off before the frostbite could turn to gangrene." Here is something Tom Cruise says in the movie: "I'm going to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot." I liked this movie. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
Look, I like Les Misérables. If it was playing at a reputable theater company in Portland this weekend? I would go see it! But good lord, the new movie is garbage. It's like Trapped in the Closet for white people who aren't in on the joke. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
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 HALLETTVarious Theaters.
Looper is "just" an action movie the same way Brick was "just" a noir, or The Brothers Bloom was "just" a heist flick: All three were written and directed by Rian Johnson, and with each, Johnson appropriates the skeleton of a genre, then fleshes it out in astonishingly clever ways. All you need to know to enjoy Looper is that actions have consequences—and Looper is an action movie. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Not Fade Away
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
A "tale of love, food and fungi" that the Village Voice called "like Scenes from a Marriage for foodies." So that's... troubling. Living Room Theaters.
Two grandparents (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) are tasked with taking care of their grandkids. Shenanigans ensue! We did not review this film. Various Theaters.
There are a lot of good intentions muddled up in Promised Land, and a lot of talent, too—the frustrating, almost-great film is directed by Gus Van Sant, with a story by Dave Eggers and a screenplay from costars John Krasinski and Matt Damon. Promised Land is a film with an agenda disguised as a film with no agenda, and if that sort of thing doesn't make you a little bit mad, well... then you should go see it! 'Cause otherwise it's really good. Various Theaters.
Rise of the Guardians
Based on the beautifully illustrated books of William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians re-imagines the origins of childhood's greatest heroes (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy) as an Avengers-style team that—in addition to their day jobs—protects the innocence of kids around the world. Alas, three quarters of Guardians involve unnecessary, dizzying action sequences, rather than focusing on building characters, plot, and the subtext of the story. While the ending works, it does so just barely—and makes one long for the great, gorgeous, thoughtful children's film that Guardians could've been. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Various Theaters.
This Is 40
Everybody knows that couple. They're pretty, everybody likes them, and they're fun to hang out with—until they aren't, since they're always fighting. Not screaming, crying, throwing-whatever's-at-hand fighting, but that sort of passive aggression with just enough tension to make everyone slightly uncomfortable. Spending two hours with them is kind of like watching This Is 40. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Yes, We Have No Bananas: Five Films by Woody Allen
See Film, this issue. Cinema 21.