Dec. 21, 2005

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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. 23-Sat. Dec. 24.

The Blue Butterfly If you, too, were glad to see William Hurt make small but artfully crafted contributions to Syriana and A History of Violence this year, here's a festival orphan from 2004 in which he stars as a famous entomologist who takes a dying 10-year-old boy to Costa Rica to find the gorgeous titular insect. You can probably expect some tears in the rain forest, but director Léa Pool (Set Me Free) has a way with young actors. And one never has to worry about Hurt making a character too soft or accessible. The cinematography's reportedly amazing, with lots of insect close-ups like Microcosmos; and the kid's mother also goes along to tempt Hurt's lonely lepidopterist. (PG) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 206-686-6684. $5. 7 and 9:15 p.m. Thurs. Dec. 22-Fri. Dec. 23. 4:30, 7, and 9:15 p.m. Sun. Dec. 25.

It's a Wonderful Life Welcome to Pottersville. Young George Bailey is beaten until he's bleeding from the ear. Later, played by Jimmy Stewart, he shakes his uncle by the lapels, berating the "stupid old fool" like a scene from a film noir. He despairs, "I'm at the end of my rope! I wish I'd never been born!" Long before American Beauty, Frank Capra gave us the original midlife crisis movie, with Stewart in the Kevin Spacey role. Life has passed George by, and he's trapped by career, mortgage, and marriage. Despite Capra's 1946 post-war optimism about family, community, and the bountiful promise of the suburbs, you still can't shake off George's dark vision of reality. (NR) Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 206-523-3935. $5-$7.50. Continues through Thurs. Dec. 29.

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.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill This documentary celebrates two endangered species: the 45-odd escapee parrots who flock in the trees below San Francisco's Coit Tower; and the still more flighty denizens of nearby North Beach, the last redoubt of bohemianism in a town so frighteningly gentrified it makes Seattle look affordable. Fifty-something Seattle-born Mark Bittner tends his feral flock more tenderly than the Birdman of Alcatraz. All his parrots have names and distinct behaviors; we're watching a real community in action. Director Judy Irving also gives us a similar sense of the North Beach human community. Both she and Bittner will attend this screening, timed to the DVD release, for a Q&A. (NR) TIM APPELO Seattle Art Museum, 100 University St., 206-654-3121. $6-$8 (advance tickets also from Scarecrow Video, 5030 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-524-8554). 7:30 p.m. Wed. Dec. 28.

 
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