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Almost Home Slated for broadcast on the PBS Independent Lens series, this documentary looks at options for improved nursing-home care. Followed by panel discussion. (NR) Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 206-267-5380. Free. 4 p.m. Sat. Dec. 17.
Bad Santa Working from a story by the Coen brothers, director Terry Zwigoff's 2003 film is calculated to affront anyone who holds the holidays sacred. It is vile, hateful, and—for most of its 90-odd minutes—utterly soulless. That said, I can't imagine chortling so heartily, and guiltily, at a blacker black Christmas comedy. Billy Bob Thornton plays a self-loathing, foul-mouthed, alcoholic safecracker who annually dons white beard and red suit for his criminal M.O.: He and his elfin cohort (Tony Cox) loot a department store every Christmas Eve and live large for the rest of the year. Whoomp, there's your plot. Santa simply follows Thornton's misanthropic human wrecking ball through affluent Phoenix suburbia. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 206-523-3935. $5-$7.50. 11 p.m. Fri. Dec. 16-Sat. Dec. 17.
The Conformist Paramount's long-cut reissue of this new print probably signals the imminent and overdue DVD arrival of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 classic. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays an Italian aristocrat, troubled by an incident from childhood, who tries to make good with the fascists (it's 1938) by agreeing to assassinate his old professor. (One sin will erase the other, he figures.) His Paris honeymoon a pretext for the hit, he and his wife both fall in love with the academic's young wife (Dominque Sanda, with powerful bisexual appeal). Marcello's life emerges in flashbacks gorgeously shot by Vittorio Storaro: empty plazas menacingly paced by hard-soled flunkies, country estates in lavish, leafy disrepair, Marcello and his fiancée necking in a room seemingly constructed of Venetian blinds. There's a lovely scene in a dancehall where the two women lead a swarm of dancers in joyous rings around Marcello; yet he stands impassive at the center. Making amends with his past cuts him off from the living. (NR) Varsity, 4329 University Way N.E., 206-781-5755. $6-$9. Fri. Dec. 16-Thurs. Dec. 22.
Die Hard Hey, it's a holiday-themed movie, right? In the very enjoyable 1988 action flick that made Bruce Willis a legitimate movie star, he plays a cop whose wife…oh, forget it, you all know the plot. Bruce battles the baddies in a big Los Angeles office tower; bullets and glass fly all over the place; and he and terrorist Alan Rickman basically have an acting contest to see which thespian can toe over the line into hetero-camp without the audience noticing. His TV apprentice years on Moonlighting made Willis a master of the softly delivered wisecrack, and here he added muscle to his résumé. Die Hard is dumb to its core and irresistible for that reason. In the post-Schwarzenegger pantheon of action heroes, only Willis could make a line like "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" almost sound clever. (R) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Thurs. Dec. 15-Fri. Dec. 16. 3:30, 6:30, and 9:30 p.m. Sat. Dec. 17-Sun. Dec. 18.
Great Expectations You can't go wrong with David Lean's 1946 treatment of the Dickens novel. The black-and-white cinematography by Guy Green is deservedly famous, and the story's unbeatable, too. Look for Alec Guinness in his first film role, playing the friend and confidante to grown Pip (John Mills, no slouch himself). Screened on video; ticket includes discussion and snack. (NR) Movie Legends, 2319 N. 45th St., 206-632-2092. $5. 1 p.m. Sun. Dec. 18.
Independent Exposure Eighteen short films are scheduled into one program (which repeats). Subjects include imperialism, kissing dogs, and a woman with a serious stocking fetish. Best of all, you can order drinks during the shows. (NR) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9 p.m. Wed. Dec. 14.
Kung-Fu Grindhouse Triple Feature Drinking games and trivia contests attend these three screenings. First (at 6 p.m.) is the 1984 Yuletide slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Night, with the requisite appearance by Linnea Quigley. At 7:30 p.m. is the excellent through rather depressing 2000 documentary Dark Days, crewed in part by the same tunnel-dwelling homeless people it depicts. These Amtrak tunnel residents cling to the same tokens of domesticity enjoyed aboveground on New York's Upper West Side. The scant dignity afforded by the crudest approximation of a home is both moving and unexpectedly funny. When recovering crack addict Ralph takes in Dee (still on the pipe), they affectionately bicker like two figures from Beckett, improbably persevering in a wasteland. The kung-fu showdown Heroes of the East (1979) concludes things at 9 p.m. In it, Chinese fighting master Gordon Liu sets out to reclaim his Japanese wife—even if it means kicking the ass of every man in that country. That's love. (NR) Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W., 206-784-4880. Free. 6-11 p.m. Mon. Dec. 19.
Screenwriters Salon In what will apparently be a guided group discussion, aspiring screenwriters will examine what makes It's a Wonderful Life tick. Director Frank Capra was one of five writers who contributed to the 1946 holiday perennial. Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 206-322-7030. Free or $2-$5 (depending on memberships). 7:30 p.m. Wed. Dec. 14.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door Take a trip back to America's not-so-distant race wars with this 1973 historical curio, directed by Ivan Dixon (who acted on Hogan's Heroes and became a veteran TV helmer of shows like The A-Team). The problematic term "spook" has a double meaning here: An African-American hero (Lawrence Cook) gets recruited by the racist CIA to meet diversity quotas; he then turns against his employer, kind of like bin Laden, to start a guerrilla insurgency in Chicago (where the film was later allegedly banned). Based on a cult novel by Sam Greenlee, Spook earns no points for subtlety, but it's an interesting agit-prop companion to Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. (NR) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9:15 p.m. Wed. Dec. 21.
Waking Life From 2001, Richard Linklater's first animated effort has a loose, episodic structure reminiscent of his 1991 Slacker. Some of Slacker's faces pop up here, as does Dazed and Confused's Wiley Wiggins, who's Waking's tour guide—which is to say, its principal dreamer. Or is he? It's an old philosophical conundrum, this distinction between ordinary consciousness and the dream-heightened state. Linklater is essentially asking What's the difference? And should there be one? As Wiley tries to interpret his ever-shifting dreamscape, Waking is like a series of tutorials and lessons from a gallery of anonymous ranters, cranks, philosophers, and oddballs too numerous to list. Word has it he'll use some of the same cool animated technique in next year's Philip K. Dick adaptation, A Scanner Darkly. (R) Egyptian, 801 E. Pine St., 206-781-5755. $6-$9. Midnight. Fri. Dec. 16-Sat. Dec. 17.
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price Does the world need another tract on corporate malfeasance and mendacity? Probably not: Robert Greenwald's latest doesn't reveal much about the rollback retail juggernaut—union busting, underpaid workers, environmental negligence—that couldn't be gleaned from a few judicious Google searches. Yet Wal-Mart signals that one of political documentary's most inflammatory practitioners has developed a strategy to deflect criticism from the right. Greenwald works in a subtle thread of equal-opportunity victimization, showing that folks who adorn their walls with calendars of Ronald Reagan cowboyin' up are just as liable to be screwed over by the yellow smiley face as liberals. (NR) JAMES CRAWFORD UW Savery Hall, Room 239, 206-8389. $5-$10. 7:30 p.m. Fri. Dec. 16