Every once in a while, movie publicists, rather than publicizing a movie, will instead pretend that movie doesn't exist—they omit the movie from their release calendars, they don't invite critics to advance screenings, and they quietly hope the film will just kind of sneak its way into theaters, tiptoeing right past any and all bad reviews. Such is the case with 12 Strong, a "USA! USA! USA!" war movie starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña, about a Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan following 9/11. While we can't tell you how it is, we can tell you that despite being billed as "The declassified true story of the horse soldiers," it appears to contain zero soldiers who also happen to be horses, which seems like a missed opportunity. Various Theaters.
While there are still slightly grotesque, strangely alluring creatures at the heart of Laika’s The Boxtrolls, this time they’re the heroes, unlike the undead of ParaNorman or the Other Parents of Coraline. While the elaborate set pieces get bigger and bigger as the film moves along (including a dazzling, dizzying dance sequence), the story gets muddled. Laika animators in attendance. ROBERT HAM NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
★ CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
There aren’t many films that can paint a picture of the extravagant turmoil of young romance without lapsing into clunky cliché. But Call Me by Your Name is such a film—and it succeeds by seamlessly juxtaposing the lush Italian countryside with the burgeoning desires and tumultuous emotions of a lovesick teen, creating a sumptuous world of dreams and romantic loss. WM.™ STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
DEN OF THIEVES
Christian Gudegast, writer of A Man Apart and London Has Fallen, makes his directorial debut with Den of Thieves, and it's everything he's been building toward as a creator of generic, testosterone-driven crime dramas. Gerard Butler stars as hungover L.A. cop Nick Flanagan, whose crew finds a ring of bank robbers, headed by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who may be responsible for a string of unsolved "highly sophisticated, well-executed heists." They lean on Merrimen's associate, ex-con bartender Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), to infiltrate the group before they hit their next target: the L.A branch of the Federal Reserve. This is fine material for a heist movie, and Den of Thieves eventually becomes a reasonably entertaining one. But it's weighed down by delusions of gravity, spending too much time on Nick's personal life (his wife is leaving him, of course) and camaraderie among the crooks (who also include 50 Cent). When we get to the day of the heist, the movie's been on for 70 minutes ... and it's only half-over. ERIC D. SNIDER Various Theaters.
★ THE EAGLE HUNTRESS
The Eagle Huntress looks amazing. The documentary’s images—featuring a grinning 13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv as she holds a splendid eagle half her size—are the stuff of myths. I went in pumped up to see a girl-power/girl-falconer documentary with plenty of big, cool-looking birds, and I was not disappointed. First-time director Otto Bell accomplishes a level of visual beauty we associate with BBC nature specials or, IDK, Lord of the Rings? It’s breathtaking. SUZETTE SMITH NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
FOREVER MY GIRL
A mediocre, wholesome, vaguely Christian romantic drama with a country soundtrack—you know the type. Written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf from Heidi McLaughlin's novel, it's about a young country superstar, Liam (Alex Roe), who returns to his Louisiana hometown eight years after ditching his fiancée, Josie (Jessica Rothe), and finds he has a daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) who might be able to help him make amends with Josie, his pastor father (John Benjamin Hickey), and the others he hurt. There's little conflict beyond Liam's internal "What if I don't deserve forgiveness?" struggle, so we're just waiting for him and Josie to patch things up. Agreeably bland. ERIC D. SNIDER. Various Theaters.
The character of Hellboy was created by Mike Mignola for Dark Horse Comics. He’s a taciturn beast with a giant stone fist and a big gun, summoned to earth by Nazi occultists in World War II, intercepted by the Americans, and raised as a normal, pancake-loving boy who grows up to travel the world fighting supernatural bullshit with all the excitement and awe of a janitor unclogging a urinal. The Hellboy that Guillermo del Toro (director) and Ron Perlman (star) brought to life in 2004 is... superficially the same character. But Hellboy works as a film for reasons that have almost nothing to do with Mignola’s comics, and everything to do with del Toro’s bemused-yet-melancholic sense of whimsy and romance. It seems like a bit of a walk to get from here to The Shape of Water, but if you look closely, that path becomes a lot clearer and closer than it might otherwise seem. BOBBY ROBERTS Clinton Street Theater.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
This movie wasn’t made for me. I’m an adult, and this movie is for children. I’m also not a huge fan of Kevin Hart or the Rock, but a lot of people are—they’re very popular! Many humans whose blood runs as red as mine could find a lot to enjoy in this movie. Did this movie need to be made? No, but does any movie need to be made? Or like, hey, maybe call this something other than Jumanji, since it’s OBVIOUSLY something different (Jumanji was a board game, and now it’s a video game, and there’s barely even any animals in this thing). And doesn’t this all seem like a cynical exploitation of our nostalgia for ’80s books and ’90s movies? Sure! But if they’d called it something different, they’d have to use a different font for the posters, and it’s a good font, so why not? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle harms no one. ELINOR JONES .
★ KUNG FU THEATER: SHOGUN ASSASSIN
This month’s installment in Dan Halsted’s ongoing celebration of all things whoop-ass is a rare 35mm print of Shogun Assassin, a cinematic mixtape of the Lone Wolf and Cub series’ greatest hits, cut to minimize early ’80s art-house vibes and maximize English-dubbed blood ’n’ guts mayhem that viscerally impacted impressionable minds such as RZA and the GZA, who used the film as a loose framework to build the all-time classic Liquid Swords around. So even if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve heard this movie. Bear witness as the ruckus gets brought on a long, bloody road to hell. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
★ LADY BIRD
Watching Lady Bird is kind of like reopening your high school yearbook for the first time in years, wincing and smiling in equal measure. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is sweet, tragic, and sentimental, which is exactly how a coming-of-age movie should be. CIARA DOLAN Hollywood Theatre.
Perhaps the most quintessentially Altman-esque film that the director left behind, Nashville is a tremendously ambitious (and successful) film about normal people in America. The country music capital serves as an opportunity-filled stage for the two dozen or so main characters, all of whom are connected in some form to both the sequined and sentimental music scene and the political convention taking place at the Nashville Parthenon. Typical of Altman’s ensemble films, the characters frequently know each other, or at least hang out at the same spots, even if those connections don’t directly serve the narrative. This was part of Altman’s genius; much like his overlapping dialogue technique, he strove to approximate reality more closely by allowing us to see familiar faces in the background of shots, or to simply let more than one person speak at the same time. His “the more the merrier” approach to directing was the perfect vehicle for his deeply humane and humorous outlook on life, which, like country songs and campaign speeches alike, feels both hopeful and phony at once. CHAS BOWIE Hollywood Theatre.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s this little kid, and he can see dead people. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This kid, he’s probably well adjusted and super popular with his peers, am I right? A hit with all the ladies?” No! Believe it or not, he’s kind of an outcast! A social pariah, even! Okay, now I don’t want to spoil anything, but the twist? This social handicap of his might turn out to save the day. Sounds crazy, right? I know, but it’s true! VINCE MANCINI Academy Theater.
★ PHANTOM THREAD
A phenomenally fucked-up romantic comedy, Phantom Thread manages to be pitch-black funny and profoundly disconcerting, sometimes within the same scene. Novelistic, mean, and funny, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is unlike anything else out there, and it’s great. At least, I thought so? As the end credits rolled, a distressed lady in front of me huffed out, declaring, “Well, that’s not the kind of love I like.” Fair enough, lady! But there’s more truth in Phantom Thread’s love—a kind of love that’s as unavoidable as it is frightening and co-dependent—than in most feel-good films’ soulless romances. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters .
★ THE POST
We’ve seen a lot of iterations of Steven Spielberg, from Sci-Fi Spielberg (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) to Prestige Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Lincoln) to Middlebrow Schmaltz Spielberg (The Terminal, War Horse). The Post reveals yet another Spielberg: Message Spielberg. The Post is Spielberg’s clear and passionate ode to the adversarial press, and not only is it a refreshing departure from his past work, it also turns out to be a good fit for his slick storytelling style. VINCE MANCINI Various Theaters.
★ PRICED OUT
Cornelius Swart’s Priced Out assembles a wealth of information about the history of gentrification in the Black neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland. This film is a follow-up to NorthEast Passage, a documentary Swart, a longtime reporter, co-produced in 2002; that film’s central figure, Nikki Williams, spoke in favor of gentrification. Priced Out juxtaposes Williams’ current perspective with the recent developments that have turned several Portland neighborhoods into playgrounds for white newcomers. It’s as fascinating to watch as it is devastating to comprehend. SUZETTE SMITH PCC Cascade Campus.
The NW Film Center’s Reel Music Festival returns for its 35th installment in a much humbler fashion than before: There are a mere 17 films screening this time around, a far cry from the 30 documentaries and concert films offered last year. With that shrinkage comes a narrowing of focus: Aside from a few notable films, the selections this year represent middle-of-the-road fare made to appeal to artists’ existing fanbases. ROBERT HAM NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
★ THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo del Toro’s latest is strange, sweet, and wonderful, and easily the greatest film ever made about a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with an amphibious fish man. Also see “Guillermo del Toro Discusses the Tragedy and Delight of The Shape of Water,” Film, Dec 13. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
★ STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Nostalgia can only get you so far, even when wookiees are involved. While 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens succeeded in rescuing the franchise from the doldrums of its prequels, it also practiced a frustrating form of risk aversion, putting the next generation of characters through some very familiar paces. Thankfully, The Force Awakens’ thunderously hyped sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, takes a much more proactive tack, fully honoring the touchstones of the series while zigging and zagging in satisfying, provocative ways. If the previous entry presented a respectably staid melding of old and new, this one wires everything up, cranks the juice, and lets her rip. It’s escapism on a grand scale—the kind of experience that reminds you why you fell in love with movies in the first place. Believe the hype, and then some. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
Meet the cop... that can’t be stopped! Laurelhurst Theater.
TROUBLE EVERY DAY
Claire Denis’ 2001 French-language horror film stars Vincent Gallo as a morally questionable sleaze (there’s a shocker) who engages in something called “bloodthirsty eroticism.” NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
★ MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, Jan 19-Thursday, Jan 25, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.