A Very Animated Christmas
Two Xmas-themed shorts: The Snowman and A Cosmic Christmas. Clinton Street Theater.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The much-anticipated revisionist western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, as evidenced by its chewily purple title, has a lot on its plate—too much, possibly. The result is a film with sustained passages of eerie, Malickian beauty (an early sequence involving a train robbery feels like one of the reasons that film was invented), mixed with increasing stretches of self-conscious artiness. Whether you should see it or not may ultimately depend on your tolerance for shots of windswept wheat and time-lapse clouds. ANDREW WRIGHT Academy Theater, Laurelhurst.
See review. Fox Tower 10.
Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba star in a psychological thriller. Mercury Movie Trivia™: Awake's original title was Horrible-Looking Psychological Thriller That the Studio Won't Screen for Critics. Various Theaters.
Danny Williams Factory Films
See review. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
It's nearly impossible to make a documentary of any import about the genocidal crisis in Darfur without creating a desperately depressing picture, while to make one that dares to have a bright side puts you at risk of coming off as offensively naïve. But by focusing on the activist efforts of everyone from Don Cheadle to a female Darfurian rebel, Darfur Now manages to present something constructive. Instead of overwhelming the audience with an all-is-lost bleakness (all too easy to do, given the subject matter), it throws us a rope. MARJORIE SKINNER Fox Tower 10.
Finishing the Game
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
For the Bible Tells Me So
Director Daniel Karslake's acclaimed documentary has an interesting enough premise: Going a step beyond homophobes' rhetoric, he assembles a slew of religious experts to examine ye olde Good Book and see if the Jesus freaks have a point about the Bible being an anti-homo screed. The answer, pretty unsurprisingly, is no, they don't: Sure, biblical literalists insist that there's only one way to interpret the Bible, but anyone with a knowledge of history or literature can attest that there's a whole slew of ways to interpret a text. But the film has another, sharper facet: In its fascinating, insightful examination of five religious families in which a son or daughter is gay (surprise!), For the Bible Tells Me So is nothing less than astonishing. Unfortunately, Karslake is better at interviewing people than he is at making documentaries. While his profiles of earnest, loving families wrestling with genuinely challenging issues hit home, his cheesy music cues don't help, and neither does an awkward, childish animated interlude. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
The Golden Compass
See review. Various Theaters.
Hear and Now
See review. Cinema 21.
How to Cook Your Life
"Zen chef" Edward Espe Brown teaches his students that cooking isn't just about working on food—it's about, like, working on your self. Throw in some non sequiturs about feeding the homeless and urban foraging—apparently it's okay to steal apples from Republicans—and you have a stunningly tedious little documentary about the boring things that unhappy rich people do to feel more fulfilled. Self-absorbed puling vies for screen time with bumper-sticker epiphanies. It's a mess. The irony of this movie is that while it purports to teach viewers the importance of living in the moment (it has to do with baking bread, and also something about a duck floating in the ocean), the actual process of watching the film makes you want to get as far away from "the Now" as possible. ALISON HALLETT Cinema 21.
I'm Not There
Six different films in at least as many styles weave through I'm Not There, and after the opening credits announce that the movie was "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan," we never hear the singer's name again (although his music is used to maximum effect throughout). Each of the film's fictionalized-Dylan characters, including those played by Cate Blanchett and 14-year-old African American actor Marcus Carl Franklin, come with their own names (including "Woody Guthrie" and "Billy the Kid"), and represent a unique strand of Dylan's creative path, career, or persona. As a whole, I'm Not There is one of the smartest, most innovative, and beautiful films of this era. CHAS BOWIE Fox Tower 10.
Margot at the Wedding
Those looking for the poignancy and humor of writer/director Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale will find little of either in his latest. While The Squid and the Whale was a brutally honest depiction of a disintegrating marriage, it also offered moments of genuine tenderness. If there's tenderness in Margot at the Wedding, it's steeped in ulterior motives and self-deception: This is not a feel-good film. While it's hard to like Margot's characters, it's impossible not to marvel at Baumbach's perceptiveness: His understanding of the tiny, petty cruelties people inflict on one another is total, and he has an uncanny ability to show us the chasm between the way his characters see themselves and the way others see them. ALISON HALLETT Fox Tower 10.
Memories of Tomorrow
In Tokyo, a hard-nosed ad exec (Ken Watanabe) discovers that, at age 49, he has developed early onset Alzheimer's. In handling such a story, it's difficult to avoid schmaltz, but Memories of Tomorrow pulls it off—at least in the first half. However, excepting a well-executed final scene, the second half (where string quartets and family members begin to wail) is, at best, uninspiring. WILL GARDNER Living Room Theaters.
On the Sunny Side
An "experimental classic" from 1933 Czechoslovakia. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Profound Desire of the Gods
Shohei Imamura's "epic portrait of the near-primitive lives of the inhabitants of one of Japan's Southern Ryukyu islands." Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
The Rape of Europa
See review. Living Room Theaters.
"A fascinating piece of Czech Communist ideology," brags the Northwest Film Center. Uh huh. Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
See review. Hollywood Theatre.
A drama about a black family's "first holiday together in four years." Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
Tonka of the Gallows
A prostitute is shunned from her brothel in this 1931 Czech classic. Oh, you Czechs and your slapstick comedies! Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
A trio of dopes go hunting in the wilds of Delaware. Some of 'em get shot. A couple other people get shot, too. Meanwhile, we're subjected to incredibly lengthy handheld shots of green leaves and bubbling streams while director Ti West tries to ratchet up the tension in this Deliverance-meets-Blair Witch washout. (Even some gory bullet-to-the-head special effects don't salvage it.) A watchable 20-minute short could've potentially been made of this supposedly fact-based material, but stretched to 80, it's excruciating. NED LANNAMANN Clinton Street Theater.
Truckstop Mental Hop
Folks in town for the holidays? Treat 'em to two vintage pornos: 1985's Sex Drive and 1981's Skintight. Clinton Street Theater.
Underskatement Film Fest
"The best short films made only by skateboarders." Get it? UnderSKATEment? Clever! Clinton Street Theater.