Local & Repertory
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. Bad Santa simply follows Thornton’s misanthropic human wrecking ball through affluent Phoenix suburbia. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI Ark Lodge, 816 Rainier Ave. S., 721-3156, arklodgecinemas.com. $7-$11. 8 p.m. Thurs.
The Best of VHSXMAS Those naughty curators from Scarecrow Video bring out all the most groan-tastic Yuletide video fodder from the shameless ’80s. Wear your ugly Christmas sweaters in tribute if you like. (NR)
Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 523-3935, grandillusioncinema.org. $5-$9. 9 p.m. Sat.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut Ridley Scott’s vanguard science-fiction epic from 1982 has been digitally tweaked in hundreds of ways, most of which will be noticed only by the most pious of fanboys. Mainly, the rerelease is a good excuse to indulge once more in Scott’s iconic and highly influential vision of a future Los Angeles choked by rain, neon, and cheap pleasure palaces, where Harrison Ford’s bounty hunter trolls the godforsaken urban landscape for those renegade “replicants.” Of course, there comes a steely-eyed brunette (Sean Young), who may be a replicant herself. It has always been difficult to discuss Blade Runner—one of the few genuine masterpieces of the forlorn 1980s—without focusing on its style, and yet it is a movie where style becomes content and vice versa, as the romantic fatalism of ’40s film noir freely intermingles with the visionary imagination of Philip K. Dick. (R) BRIAN MILLER SIFF Cinema Egyptian, 801 E. Pine St., 324-9996, siff.net. $7-$12. Midnight Fri. Noon Sat. & Sun.
Elf In the surprise 2003 Christmas hit, directed by Jon Favreau, Will Ferrell embraces the cutesy confection of its plot. As Santa Claus doles out presents at an orphanage, a wee human crawls into his sack of toys, winds up at the North Pole, and is subsequently raised as an elf. Eight zillion sight gags constitute the first act, in which a giant-sized Ferrell bangs his head into low ceilings, squats on miniature crappers, and botches even the most remedial toy-making duties. Ferrell finally discovers he’s the bastard son of James Caan, now a distant, terse Manhattan publishing-house exec. Innocent, syrup-swilling Ferrell then goes to big, bad NYC, meets Zooey Deschanel, and hilarity often ensues. So frantic, off-the-cuff, and self-aware in his ad-libs, Ferrell owns the movie the way Santa owns Christmas. (PG) A.B. Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 686-6684, central-cinema.com. $7-$9. 7 & 9:30 p.m. Sat.-Tues. Also 3 p.m. Sat. & Sun. matinees.
It’s A Wonderful Life Times are tough in Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday classic. Banks are failing. People are losing their homes. Veterans are returning from a bloody war abroad. Families are falling apart. And all these stresses converge during the holidays, when there may not even be enough money in the household to buy any presents. Sound familiar? In the GI’s 44th-annual screening of this seasonal classic, the distressed town of Bedford Falls could today be Anytown, USA. And beleaguered banker James Stewart could be any small businessman struggling to remain solvent amid our current financial crisis. If It’s a Wonderful Life is arguably the best Christmas movie ever made, that’s because it’s certainly one of the most depressing Christmas movies ever made. Our suicidal hero is given a future vision—courtesy of an angel (Henry Travers)—of bankruptcy, death, poverty, and evil, unfettered capitalism (hello, Lionel Barrymore). Even his wife (Donna Reed) ends up a spinster in the alternative universe of Pottersville. Before the inevitable tear-swelling plot reversal, the movie is 100 percent grim. Yet amazingly, 68 years later, it preserves the power to inspire hope for better days ahead. (NR) B.R.M. Grand Illusion, 523-3935. $5-$9. See grandillusioncinema.org for showtimes. Runs Fri., Dec. 12-Thurs., Jan. 1.
The Princess Bride/Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Two family favorites are running on a complicated weekend schedule through New Year’s Day. The 1987 Bride is being screened as a quote-along presentation (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” etc.) while the 1971 Wonka features “Smell-O-Vision,” so be warned if you’re fragrance-intolerent. (NR)
SIFF Film Center (Seattle Center), 324-9996, $7-$12. See siff.net for showtimes. Continues through Thurs., Jan. 1.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show The 1975 cult film makes a Cap Hill return for its loyal cadre of fans, some of whom can be expected to dress in character. (R)
SIFF Cinema Egyptian, $7-$12. Midnight Sat.
Event Yadda. (NR)
Event Yadda. (NR)
The Babadook How did this children’s book get into the house? Nobody seems to know. This one—it shares its title with the movie we are watching—is called The Babadook, almost an anagram for “bad book,” and that’s the effect it has on Amelia (Essie Davis) and her 6-year-old son Sam (Noah Wiseman). They’re especially vulnerable to its dark magic. Among other issues, the death of Sam’s father some years earlier is very much in the background of the scary little tale that unfolds. The Babadook himself is dark-suited and creepy-fingered, and he wears a cape and a Victorian hat, like a creature from an earlier era of horror—suggesting that what’s scary never really goes out of style. After a great deal of slow-burning buildup, the Babadook becomes real, and mother and son must wage battle (but then they have been all along). This is the debut feature of writer/director Jennifer Kent, who skillfully keeps us locked into the moment-by-moment thrills of a monster movie, but also insists that this Babadook is clearly a stand-in for the other problems that inflict the lonely household: grief, guilt, depression, an unwillingness to live life. The Babadook may be a monster, but he’s the monster Amelia and Sam needed. (NR) ROBERT HORTON Sundance, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Birdman A movie star in a career skid since he stopped playing a masked superhero named Birdman back in the ’90s, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is preparing his big comeback in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver stories, funded and directed by himself. Obstacles abound: Riggan’s co-star (Andrea Riseborough) announces she’s pregnant with his child; his grown daughter (Emma Stone) is his assistant, and not his biggest fan; a critic plans to destroy the play. And, in the movie’s funniest headache, Riggan must endure a popular but insufferable stage actor (Edward Norton, doing a wonderful self-parody) who’s involved with the play’s other actress (Naomi Watts). This is all going on while Riggan maintains a tenuous hold on his own sanity—he hears Birdman’s voice in his head, for one thing. To create Riggan’s world, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki present the film as a continuous unbroken shot (disguised with artful digital seams). Birdman serves so many heady moments it qualifies as a bona fide happening. It has a few stumbles, but the result is truly fun to watch. And Keaton—the former Batman, of course—is a splendidly weathered, human presence. Ironically or not, he keeps the film grounded. (R) R.H. Seven Gables, SIFF Cinema Uptown, Pacific Place, others
Citizenfour Fugitive leaker Edward Snowden has invited documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (The Oath) and The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald into his Hong Kong hotel room. In this absorbing character study, they debate how and when to spill the information he took from his job at the National Security Agency. Clicking the SEND button carries as much weight as Bob Woodward meeting Deep Throat in All the President’s Men. This straightforward documentary may be smaller-scaled than a political thriller, but it has similar suspense: Everybody in the room realizes the stakes—and the dangers—of exposing a whistleblower to public scrutiny. One man’s whistleblower is another man’s traitor, a debate that Poitras doesn’t pause to consider, so confident is she of Snowden’s cause. Having this access to Snowden in the exact hours he went from being a nonentity with top-secret clearance to a hero/pariah is a rare chance to see a now-historical character in the moment of truth. By the end of the film, we get a scene that suggests that Snowden is not alone in his whistleblowing status—a tantalizing hint (scribbled by Greenwald on pieces of paper) of another story to come. (NR) R.H. SIFF Cinema Uptown
Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott has surely been waiting all his life to get a crack at the florid yarn-spinning of the Old Testament. Christian Bale creates a somber Moses, adopted brother of Egyptian king Ramses (Joel Edgerton, from The Great Gatsby). You know the story: When an enslaved Hebrew elder (Ben Kingsley) informs Moses of his actual Jewish heritage, our hero goes through a spiritual crisis, is banished, and returns to help his people wait out the plagues. The storytelling has been surefire stuff for a millennium and a half, and it still plays. Scott creates the big computer-generated vistas of pyramids and palaces, but the digital flatness diminishes the impact after a while. Both Bale and Edgerton seem on the way to interesting character detail, but there’s so much to cover they can’t complete the task. And forget about developing the roles played by Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Hiam Abbass, and other good actors; they barely register in the spectacle. Only Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) gets anything memorable going, and he’s playing a caricature of pagan depravity. Exodus violates the 11th commandment of Hollywood: Thou shalt not bore the audience. (PG-13) ROBERT HORTON Majestic Bay, Sundance, Kirkland, Ark Lodge, Meridian, Lincoln Square, Oak Tree, Cinebarre, others
The Homesman Though ailing at the movies, the myth of the West is alive and well in American politics, currently full of gun-totin’, hog-castratin’ candidates. Yet The Homesman is so good it makes you wish director and co-star Tommy Lee Jones could somehow make a Western a year, just to keep exploring the pockets of American frontier experience that still need filling in. This one offers a series of new wrinkles, beginning with its route: The story goes from west to east, the opposite of most Westerns. During the 1850s, Nebraska “spinster” Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank, a fine and precise performance) volunteers to transport three women back to Iowa. They’ve been driven mad by the prairie and their men, or at least they have become no longer socially acceptable. Claim-jumper and full-time scalawag George Briggs (Jones) will accompany Mary on her grim, weekslong job. Their episodic adventures bring them into contact with a variety of frontier types along the way (played by Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Corbin, and no less than Meryl Streep). The setup suggests the potential for showing the West from the female characters’ perspective, which isn’t entirely the case, although the story does depict the unfairness of frontier life for women. The real subject is the West itself—the brutality of it and the price paid for settling it. (R) R.H. Sundance, Pacific Place, others
Interstellar Reaching about 90 years forward from its start in a near-future dystopia, Christopher Nolan’s solemn space epic commits itself both to a father/daughter reunion and the salvation of mankind. Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper is sent on a mission to plunge into a wormhole near Saturn because Michael Caine tells him to. And no one in a Chris Nolan movie can say no to Michael Caine, here playing a professor named Brand who also sends along his scientist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) with Cooper and two others. Before leaving, Cooper tells his daughter—played by three actresses at different ages—that maybe they’ll be the same age when he returns home, because of Einstein and other stuff we slept through in AP physics. The two ceremoniously synchronize their watches, sure to figure later—two hours for us, rather more for them—in the story. Cooper and company must investigate possible planets for colonization (scouted in advance by other astronauts). One is water, the other ice, and both prove quite lethal. There’s some action (though none so elegant as in the much superior Gravity), but what Nolan really wants Cooper’s team to do is discuss relativity, gravity, the fifth dimension, and quantum data (the latter requiring a visit to a black hole). There’s talk of ghosts and a cosmic “they” who chose Cooper for his long mission. But with the frequent recitations of Dylan Thomas poetry and the grown Murph (Jessica Chastain) stabbing chalky equations on a blackboard, the movie feels like an undergraduate seminar in space—one that’s three hours long. (PG-13) B.R.M. Pacific Science Center IMAX, Varsity, Lincoln Square, Thornton Place, Bainbridge, Kirkland, Admiral, Cinebarre, others
Nightcrawler Titled and released as if it were a Halloween horror flick, Dan Gilroy’s dark media fable has more in common with Network than Nosferatu. Lou (the politely creepy Jake Gyllenhaal) is identified as an earnest, calculating criminal in the opening minutes; he’s never less than transparent about his motives, most of which appear to have been gleaned from self-help books and inspirational Internet sites. He’s an amoral American hustler, a type descended from Dale Carnegie and Sammy Glick. A career in stolen scrap metal soon gives way to freelance videography at L.A. car wrecks and crime scenes, and Lou’s basest impulses are naturally encouraged by a ratings-starved TV station. (Rene Russo is amusingly aroused as the station’s “vampire shift” manager—a venal Mrs. Robinson who mentors eager Lou.) Nightcrawler is more a parable of unfettered capitalism—there’s your horror—than realistic media satire. Lou’s swift progress in TMZ-land brings him a rival (Bill Paxton) and a naive protegee (English actor Riz Ahmed), but no one here has—or needs—much depth. Lou has no history, no family, only his hollow aphorisms of success. Nightcrawler never quite settles on a satisfactory tone between squeamish laughter and a smarter, Chayefskian disgust, but Lou you remember—a creature for these craven times, prospering from our need to see the worst. (R) B.R.M. Sundance, others
Rosewater Making his debut behind the camera, Jon Stewart’s life-inspired movie is about the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal). In 2009 Bahari was arrested by Iranian authorities while covering the disputed elections in Tehran; included in the “evidence” against him was a Daily Show segment. We see Bahari’s home life in Toronto and his journalistic work for Newsweek in Tehran, where his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) still lives. Once in prison, his main tormentor (Kim Bodnia) obsesses over whether Bahari’s arthouse DVDs are actually pornography and the question of just how many Jews are running the world. Stewart relishes these absurdities, as you would expect. Rosewater too frequently has a dutiful quality, careful always to balance the negatives of the Iranian authorities with the positives of Iranian culture. The movie doesn’t announce the arrival of a born filmmaker, but it’s much better than a dilettante project—Stewart keeps a difficult storytelling subject moving right along. And there are sequences, like Garcia Bernal’s exhilarating solo dance at a crucial point in his imprisonment, that convey a real appreciation for the human element that survives amid political horror. (R) R.H. Sundance, others
The Theory of Everything The Stephen Hawking biopic opens with our hero (Les Miz star Eddie Redmayne) as a young nerd at university, where his geeky manner doesn’t entirely derail his ability to woo future wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Hawking is diagnosed with motor neuron disease at age 21 and given a two-year prognosis for survival—one of the film’s sharpest ideas is to allow time to pass, and pass, without pointing out that Hawking is demolishing the expectations for someone with his condition. James Marsh’s movie is officially adapted from (now ex-wife) Jane Hawking’s memoir, so the love story has its share of ups and downs. This is where Theory manages to distinguish itself from the usual Oscar bait. Whether dealing with Jane’s closeness to a widowed choirmaster) who becomes part of the Hawking family, or Stephen’s chemistry with his speech therapist, the film catches a frank, worldly view of the way things happen sometimes. No special villains here—you might say it’s just the way the universe unfolds. Redmayne’s performance is a fine piece of physical acting, and does suggest some of the playfulness in Hawking’s personality. From now until Oscar night, you will not be able to get away from it. (PG-13) R.H. Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square, Lynwood (Bainbridge), Sundance, Kirkland, Thornton Place, others
Top Five If Chris Rock’s movies were as good as his interviews, he’d be racking up year-end critics’ awards right about now. The story unfolds over the course of a long day in New York, as a once-popular comedian named Andre Allen (Rock) desperately promotes his new movie. He’s talking to a New York Times writer (Rosario Dawson) throughout the day, a device that’s less about illuminating his character and more about highlighting their growing rapport. (Although one long slapstick recollection about a lost weekend in Houston keeps the movie 2014-level raunchy.) Rock has gathered a batch of colleagues to contribute smallish roles, including Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, and Cedric the Entertainer. As for Rock’s performance, even playing opposite the lively Dawson doesn’t make him a more fluid actor. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of mixing comedy and Woody Allenesque introspection—I guess the comparison here is with Allen’s Stardust Memories, but that movie wasn’t especially strong, either. The “problems” that come with wealth and celebrity are a wobbly basis for comedy, despite the laughs scattered through Top Five. (R) ROBERT HORTON SIFF Cinema Egyptian, Sundance, Ark Lodge, Pacific Place, Lincoln Square, Thornton Place, others
Wild Though I have reservations about the fulsome emotional blasts of director Jean-Marc Vallee (like his Dallas Buyers Club), and though the adaptation by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education) leans rather too hard on the death of bestselling memoirist Cheryl Strayed’s mother (played by Laura Dern), this is a movie that—like its solitary hiker heroine—cannot be stopped. Reese Witherspoon’s ironclad casting makes matters even more inevitable. Here is a woman who bottoms out—with men, drugs, and grief—then straightens out while hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon, even without disavowing all her past actions. Wild is essentially a memory trip, presented non-sequentially, as Cheryl plods north. Various men figure in her past (including a brother), but none memorably. In the movie’s second half, more maudlin than its smart start, Wild is all about mommy. Yet don’t mistake Wild for an easy, conventional healing narrative (though healing does of course come at the end). Rather, it’s more a coming-to-terms account. Or as our heroine puts it, “Problems don’t stay problems. They turn into something else”—in this case a book and surefire hit movie. (R) B.R.M. Guild 45th, SIFF Cinema Uptown, Big Picture, Kirkland, Meridian, Lincoln Square, others
Zero Motivation The comedy in Zero Motivation, sometimes dark, springs not from combat but from tedium on an IDF base somewhere in the desert. There are no car bombs or terrorists, only the daily monotony of typing reports, making tea, and shredding documents in what used to be called the secretarial pool. Zero Motivation is based on the IDF experiences of writer/director Talya Lavie, who has little use for heroics or nostalgia. She filters her distaff story through three different women facing the same oppressive sexism of the military. Slackers Zohar and Daffi are besties who at first appear to be cut from the same cloth. They’re bored and resentful upon returning to base after a short leave, but Zohar (Dana Ivgy) seems more resigned to the situation. Meanwhile the slightly more chipper Daffi (Nelly Tagar) is determined to transfer back to Tel Aviv. To do this, she must impress her boss Rama (Shani Klein), one of the few female officers on base. Lavie’s characters are clockwatchers whose response to the absurdities of military life is mostly deadpan. They’re women engaged in everyday resistance to bureaucracy, one reason the film often feels like a sitcom-during-wartime. Still, 34 years after Private Benjamin, Zero Motivation is a welcome film long overdue. (NR) B.R.M. Harvard Exit