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. (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 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.
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. 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 afflict the lonely household. 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. Birdman serves so many heady moments it qualifies as a bona fide happening. (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. 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. (NR) R.H. SIFF Cinema Uptown
The Homesman This movie 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. 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