The 26th annual Reel Music series runs through February 1 at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. Most films were not screened for critics. For more info, hit

Bluegrass Country Soul

"The first feature documentary ever made about bluegrass music at the Camp Springs Festival in North Carolina." Holy shit!

Filmusik: The Superman Orchestra

See Up & Coming.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

See review.

Martino Unstrung

A documentary about jazz guitarist Pat Martino, and how, following brain surgery, he rose "to the peak of artistry once more."

Nerdcore Rising

Tracking the first national tour of MC Frontalot "the godfather of nerdcore," , this overlong and occasionally indulgent doc still manages to be both charming and insightful. Sure, it talks a lot about the music and it's packed with interviews with geek icons, but ultimately the film's about what it means to be an outsider–and throughout there's a sense of earnestness that's touching, funny, and awkward. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Song Sung Blue

Lightning and Thunder are a Milwaukee couple who perform as a double tribute act: Lightning does Neil Diamond, Thunder does Patsy Cline. As might be expected, they're both completely batty, and Song Sung Blue is an unflinching telling of their strange story, told largely through home video. The movie has almost nothing to do with the pair's music but more to do with their health problems: He has a number of smoking-related issues, she loses a leg in a car accident and her subsequent immobility leads to obesity. There is some intensely personal stuff in this movie, and director Greg Kohs' warts-and-all approach is effective—but when it's almost entirely warts, the results can be difficult to watch. Still, it's likely you won't forget Lightning and Thunder anytime soon. NED LANNAMANN

The Wrecking Crew

"The Wrecking Crew" was the informal name of a group of LA studio musicians who played on an unfathomable number of hits in the 1960s, including those by the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Sonny and Cher, Lee Hazlewood, the Monkees, Herb Alpert, and a ton more. Here's an alternate version of California rock 'n' roll history, told by those who actually played it. Director Denny Tedesco is the son of legendary studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who along with bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Hal Blaine, and others, were responsible for an embarrassing number of hits. A movie like this sinks or swims depending on how many of those songs they could secure the rights to. The Wrecking Crew got 'em all, and despite jumbling the chronology, it undeniably swims; hearing this fantastic music with fresh ears will blow you away. NED LANNAMANN

See My, What a Busy Week!. Saturday screening preceded by vintage trailers, music videos, and cartoons. Bagdad Theater.

Battlestar Galactica: The Final Episodes
"It's not an excuse, sir. It's a frakking fact!" Bagdad Theater.

Buffalo '66
Vincent Gallo stars as Billy Brown, an ex-con who kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci) and forces her to pretend to be his wife in front of his parents. The scene where she tap dances in the bowling alley is one of the best images from any film in recent years. ANDY SPLETZER Fifth Avenue Cinema.

When Jeff's best friend Mark dies unexpectedly in a car crash, Jeff looks through his friend's email—and comes across Mark's correspondence with Andrea, a hunky Italian who had planned to come out to Dallas for a visit. Jeff asks Andrea to come anyway. Ciao's budget is obviously small, but director Yen Tan makes the best of it. Unfortunately, the acting is stilted (think of the dialogue parts of soft-core pornos), and the writing comes off as unnecessarily awkward. SAHAR BAHARLOO Living Room Theaters.

The first Edward Zwick movie I saw was 1989's Civil War epic Glory, which my eighth grade US history teacher showed my class on a day he was feeling lazy. Just like Glory (or The Last Samurai, or Blood Diamond, or Legends of the Fall, or any other Zwick movie, really), Defiance finds serious subject matter (the Holocaust! again!) and then buffs and shines it into pretty, disposable pop. There's drama here, but no resonance; it all feels weirdly floaty and hollow. You can tell that Zwick thinks he's making something really important here, when really, he's just the premier director of bland, vaguely informative melodramas that get shown to eighth graders. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a wildly grumpy and racist widower who stubbornly clings to values picked up serving in the Korean War. His Detroit neighborhood, once the picture of Americana, is now a racial melting pot, and he spends his days drinking beer on the porch and muttering an endless stream of slurs at his Hmong neighbors. The neighbors' son Thao (Bee Vang) is coerced by the local Asian gang into stealing Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino; when Walt catches him, Thao works off his debt, and the two disparate cultures begin to achieve an uneasy understanding. Unfortunately, the Asian gang members aren't as keen to journey down the road of enlightenment, and after a disturbing act of violence, Walt is forced to go all Dirty Har... rather, Dirty Grampy on their ass. It's one thing to ignore the racist ramblings of your grandfather—he's family. But paying good money to see what amounts to a geriatric Dirty Harry fighting racism with even more racism is just a bit too much for me to wrap my head around. WM.™ STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.

Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is the kind of irrepressibly chipper person who attempts to start conversations with random strangers; when they act standoffish, she says things like, "I won't bite!" When her bicycle is stolen, she merely laments she didn't have a chance to say good-bye to it. In short, she's the kind of person who is so goddamn cheerful you'd like to smack her in the face. But something happens over the course of Happy-Go-Lucky: Poppy wins you over. Her happiness is something of a mystery; both her sisters are miserable, and her flatmate is snide and sarcastic. But Hawkins' remarkable performance doesn't hit one false note. British director Mike Leigh improvises extensively with his actors before writing a script, and the film, as with all his work, feels spontaneous and true. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

See review. Various Theaters.

"Tanqueray and Tab, and keep 'em comin'." Laurelhurst Theater.

Last Chance Harvey
Last Chance Harvey neglects one vital truism regarding the entertainment value of romantic comedies: No one wants to see old people bone. No one cares about the sex lives of the aged. In fact, in this movie even the elderly in question (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson) can barely be bothered. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

Let the Right One In
This much-ballyhooed Scandinavian film is neither scary, teen angsty, nor spooky enough—but it is lovely, filled with austere, blue-hued snow and groves of haunting birch trees in the midst of Stockholm. And while Let the Right One In is by no means a poor entry in the vampire genre, it left me nearly as cold as the frozen landscapes, meting out little satisfaction on either a horror level or a character level. To be fair, the film doesn't pretend to scare you—it truly wants to succeed in an elegant, understated way, though it doesn't completely reach its goal. COURTNEY FERGUSON Living Room Theaters.

The Money Fix
Yet another documentary featuring Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. This time around, local filmmaker Alan Rosenblith takes "a hard look behind the scenes of America's monetary system." Hollywood Theatre.

My Bloody Valentine
Wha? A crappy looking horror flick that wasn't screened for critics? Why, I never.... Cinetopia.

My Name Is Bruce
The Bruce Campbell (Bruce Campbell) of My Name Is Bruce is a hard-drinking, fan-harangued, morally suspect genre actor who lives in a trailer and stars in films like Cave Alien II. So when über-fan Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) knocks him over the head with a baseball bat and drags him to Gold Lick, Oregon, to fight an evil monster, Bruce thinks it's an elaborate birthday present from his smarmy agent (Ted Raimi). Mistaken for his character Ash from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Bruce is enlisted to help fight a demonic Chinese god—and, unaware that the monster is real, he takes on the challenge with characteristic zeal. As is usually the case, Campbell's bravado and swagger make him the best damned reason to see any film, period—take one exchange in Bruce, when a fan asks, "Did being on Ellen make you gay?" and Campbell counters with, "No, but your stupid question did." That's My Name Is Bruce—funny, self-referential, and full of Campbell verve. COURTNEY FERGUSON Clinton Street Theater.

Made with the oversight of Puff Daddy and Biggie's mother, this Notorious B.I.G. biopic is quick to deify its subject. But it doesn't answer any of the really interesting questions, though: Who shot and murdered Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas? (Not Biggie, says Notorious.) Who the hell killed Biggie Smalls? (I dunno, Notorious shrugs.) Despite the movie's bloat and sanctimony, it patiently tells its story—perhaps rightly—as if we've already forgotten all about the Notorious B.I.G. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Admit it: You kind of want to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The fat guy from The King of Queens riding around on a Segway? How much better does that sound than Mr. Benjamin Buttons aging in reverse, or some British dick-rag talking to Nixon for two hours? Look, I'll level with you. This movie's a pile of dogshit. I rolled my eyes through the entire thing. But most of the time, I was also laughing. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
You may have thought you were paying attention to world news by closely following the American invasion of Iraq during the early '00s, but even if you did take a break to peruse another violence—that of the brutal Liberian civil war—you most likely still did not hear of the massive women's movement that enabled the peace talks that exiled evil dictator Charles Taylor. Pray the Devil Back to Hell tells that story, a film that begins like another one to file under "Africa is fucked," but is actually a tremendous testament to how powerful it is when nonviolent protest is effective. I only wish the trick to that effectiveness didn't seem to be having nothing left to lose. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.

Rachel Getting Married
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed getting married, but it's her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway)—an ex-model, lifelong drug addict, and alcoholic who's been in and out of institutions since causing a family tragedy as a young teenager—who demands to be the center of attention. Jonathan Demme's latest is a difficult, sometimes tiresome film, but it's also emotionally ambitious, and it offers a modern portrait of family life that depends very little on convention. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.

For atheists accustomed to the one-way street of religious acceptance (on which I will respect your right to believe what you want to believe, and you will attempt to limit my access to birth control), there is something refreshing about Bill Maher's Religulous, in which the unflappably egomaniacal Maher travels the country interviewing people about their faith, in order to: (A) point out the errors of logic, fact, and history inherent to their worldview, and (B) make fun of them. Alas, the film suffers from two things: a lack of focus, and an abundance of Maher. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.

Revolutionary Road
Based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road is a cautionary tale against getting stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up. It's depressing, and I imagine that if you are actually stuck in the suburbs with only vague dreams to buoy you up, it might be the kind of movie that would make you go home and kill yourself. But for those of us that are lucky enough to have our whole lives ahead of us with no child or mortgage to hold us back, the film's darkness can more or less be shed like an old coat. LOGAN SACHON Various Theaters.

Slumdog Millionaire
A frantic, decade-spanning melodrama/romance/comedy, the latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) is nothing if not overwhelming. Sometimes Slumdog Millionaire feels crassly exploitative—like a guilt-inducing parade of everything terrible that impoverished children in peril have to endure—but often it's nothing short of fucking exhilarating, a pounding, pulsing, urgent rush that jumpstarts endorphins and adrenalin. There are scenes of torture and abuse and murder alongside giddy triumphs of comedy and heart (not to mention a Bollywood-inspired dance number), and as Slumdog careens along as both a harsh drama and a hammy crowd-pleaser, it's tempting to write it off as a bit of not-particularly-subtle manipulation. But ultimately, one realizes that Boyle deeply cares about these characters—and that sympathetic core is the reason why the film is consistently, utterly, beautifully gripping. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Tell No One
Eight years after losing his wife in the woods to a mysterious serial killer (no, not Jason Vorhees), a still-grieving pediatrician begins to receive emails hinting that the tragedy might not be as random as originally thought. Adapting a novel by US airport bookstore staple Harlen Coben, writer/director Guillaume Canet's confident, almost irritatingly taut thriller wastes no time in cranking the paranoia up to 11. The sheer amount of red herrings can be difficult to wade through at times, but Canet's sense of style makes even the more head-scratching moments enjoyable. A gratifyingly nasty whodunit with a healthy sense of its own absurdities. ANDREW WRIGHT Laurelhurst Theater, Living Room Theaters.

The Unborn
Wha? A crappy looking horror flick that wasn't screened for critics? Why, I never.... Various Theaters.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Once again, feral werewolves and mopey vampires face off in an epic, bloody fight for supremacy! All are welcome to behold the massive battle! Well, almost all are welcome: While werewolves fear silver and vampires fear garlic, the one thing they both fear are film critics, as members of the press were kept far, far away from any advance screenings of this second(!) sequel to 2003 Underworld.
Various Theaters.

You know, for all his flaws—that "celebrity spokesperson for a cult" thing, that creepy marriage to Katie Holmes, that weird, arrogant-but-eager-to-please look he always has during interviews—I still kinda like Tom Cruise. As a person, the dude's 50 different types of insane, but as movie stars go? He's not half bad. Likewise, I can't say I'm a huge fan of Claus von Stauffenberg, the Nazi colonel Cruise plays in the based-on-a-true-story Valkyrie. I mean, von Stauffenberg was a Nazi, for chrissakes! But as Nazis go? Not half bad! I mean, he totally tried to kill Hitler! And he had a sweet eyepatch! ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Wendy and Lucy
Wendy and Lucy is not easy to watch. The follow-up to director Kelly Reichardt's critically adored Old Joy, it also takes the Pacific Northwest as its setting—this time a dingy, unnamed Oregon town where protagonist Wendy (Michelle Williams) is waylaid on her journey from Indiana to Alaska. Supremely under-funded, all Wendy has is a crappy Honda Accord, a small pile of quickly dwindling dollar bills, and her dog, Lucy. Reichardt's film could almost be called unkind as it slowly drags the viewer through the tedious realism of Wendy's worsening situation: her car breaks down, she gets busted shoplifting, and most anxiety-producing of all, Lucy goes missing. So we shift uncomfortably in our seats as we're made privy to the harsh lights of gas station bathrooms where Wendy gives herself bum-baths, long, cold, merciless shots of lost and orphaned dogs at the pound, and the furrow of Wendy's brow as she balances pragmatism and panic in the face of mounting car expenses. MARJORIE SKINNER Hollywood Theatre.

The Wrestler
My favorite scene in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler features Mickey Rourke as washed-up wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, complete with hearing aid and chest pains, dancing to Ratt's 1984 hair metal song "Round and Round" in a dive bar. Rourke tells a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), how great the '80s were, snatches a kiss, and turns wistful. "And then that pussy Cobain came along and ruined everything," he says. Rourke's ability to evoke the exuberance of the '80s with the fragility of a man personifying that era's hung-over downsides undoubtedly accounts for the widespread acclaim he's been receiving for this role—it would have been easy for a lesser actor to ham his way through the part, but instead, Rourke plays him as a man too aware of the cost of having lived to entertain. MATT DAVIS Various Theaters.

Yonkers Joe
See review. Living Room Theaters.