Local & Repertory
Couch Fest This is a cute idea for adventurous filmgoers who’d prefer to avoid the holiday shopping throngs downtown and at the malls. In over a dozen private homes ranging from the U District to Columbia City, 45 short films will be screened with a built-in discussion period for viewers to get to know one another (and their kind hosts). The locally spawned festival has now jumped to many other cities (including Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Kathmandu!), providing a strongly social experience instead of the usual solitary trip to the multiplex. (NR)
Various locations (see couchfestfilms.com for map), $10. 1-6 p.m. Sat.
EXquisite Corpse Cinema This is a 90-minute exercise by 13 filmmakers from several cities (Seattle is well represented) following the old Surrealist game of story prompts and word or image suggestions. Local collaborators include Salise Hughes and Andy Spletzer; some may attend the screening. (NR)
Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 523-3935, grandillusioncinema.org. $5-$9. 7 p.m. Tues.
The Found Footage Festival Curated by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, now in its 10th year, this traveling compendium from the broadcast and VHS era again returns to Seattle. The oddities are generally quite amusing, excerpted from old advertising, industrial and educational movies, cooking shows, and exercise videos and product ads. The latter seemed to be in infinite supply during the ’80s. (NR) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 686-6684, central-cinema.com. $12-$14. 8 p.m. Thurs.
In the Land of the Head Hunters This screening marks the centennial of Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis’ 1914 ethnography film. It’s not a true documentary in the modern sense, but a fascinating artifact of the Salish Indian culture that still survived near Vancouver Island where Curtis filmed. The hour-long silent film, newly restored, presents a romantic yet respectful view of indigenous Americans, consonant with Curtis’ great unfinished project, The North American Indian, described in the recent book by Timothy Egan, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. (NR)
Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 267-5380, nwfilmforum.org. $6-$11. 7 p.m. Sun.
Keep On Keepin’ On Unfortunately not seen by us, this jazz documentary earned the Golden Space Needle Award during SIFF this year. It profiles the veteran trumpet player Clark Terry, who performed with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Quincy Jones. In the film, refusing to put down the horn, he also plays with a new millennial generation of musicians. (NR)
SIFF Cinema Egyptian, 801 E. Pine St., 324-9996, siff.net. $7-$12. Opens Fri.
Love Actually The 2003 directorial debut of screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is a very, very bad movie. Bad, but well packaged and cast. The plot is a nightmare, with just some of these actors in overlapping roles: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Curtis conspires to link them all in a countdown-to-Christmas plot in which some relationships will be sealed and others sundered. It’s all about love, duh, set to carols, contrivance, and corn. A writer by trade, Curtis inexplicably surrenders the entire movie to a jukebox. Why bother writing a scene when you can simply cue up the Beatles, Joni Mitchell…and Kelly Clarkson? (R) BRIAN MILLER Central Cinema, $7-$9. 9:30 p.m. Sat.-Tues.
The Muppet Christmas Carol If the kids are out of school, this 1992 family tale will make for a Yuletide outing. Here the Charles Dickens story is enacted by Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang. With Michael Caine as Scrooge. (G)
Central Cinema, $7-$9. 7 p.m. Sat.-Tues. & 3 p.m. Sat.
Saving My Tomorrow Bound for HBO, this is a kid-oriented eco doc that teaches environmental lessons, with the voices of Alan Cumming, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Susan Sarandon, and others. Additionally, local children Aji and Adonis Piper, who appear in the film, will perform music after the show. (NR)
SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., 324-9996. Free, but RSVP via siff.net. 6:30 p.m. Weds.
The Starfish Throwers Hunger and food deserts are among the subjects in this new documentary by Jesse Roesler. The film ranges from needy villages in India to school cafeterias in Minneapolis. (NR)
SIFF Film Center (Seattle Center), 324-9996, siff.net. $7-$12. 7 p.m. Fri. 4:45 p.m. Sat. & Sun.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? From Japanese director Sion Sono (Cold Fish), this is apparently a violent and stylish salute both to old yakuza movies and the endangered medium of 35 mm film itself. (NR)
Grand Illusion, $5-$9. 9:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
Will for the Woods Get ready to plan your death, with discussion following this doc about the so-called “green burials” movement, with representatives from the nonprofit Peoples Memorial Association. (NR)
Keystone Church, 5019 Keystone Pl. N., 632-6021, meaningfulmovies.org. Free. 7 p.m. Fri.
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. (R) ROBERT HORTON Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Lincoln Square, Kirkland, Bainbridge, Cinebarre, 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. (NR) R.H. SIFF Cinema Uptown
Force Majeure On a ski vacation in the French Alps, Tomas, Ebba, and their two young kids are a sleek, modern Swedish family seemingly stepped out of an iPhone 6 ad. At lunch on a sunny balcony, the family and fellow diners are suddenly hit by a seeming avalanche. The frame goes white as we hear sounds of chaos and confusion; then everyone realizes that only a light dusting of snow has fallen on their fettuccine alfredo. After those few seconds of panic, there’s laughter all around. Thank God we’ve survived; now let’s not talk about it. Ruben Ostlund’s sly, unsettling study of marital dissolution is what happens when people talk about it. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) can’t let go of the fact that Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) grabbed his phone and abandoned the family in the face of possible doom. Copping to his cowardice only makes him seem more pathetic to Ebba, who begins re-evaluating the whole basis of their marriage. If not for the sake of their kids (played by actual siblings), what’s the point in staying together? This isn’t a fraught drama of the old Bergmanesque variety; it’s more a dark comedy of shame. Men reveal themselves to be posturing fools here, while women sensibly wonder if they’re the only ones keeping our species alive. (R) B.R.M. Seven Gables, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Gone Girl What’s exceptional about Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her 2012 novel, directed with acid fidelity by David Fincher, is that Gone Girl doesn’t like most of its characters. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) soon falls under suspicion of murdering his missing wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). The small-town Missouri police investigation (led by Kim Dickens) goes entirely against Nick for the first hour. He behaves like an oaf and does most everything to make himself the prime suspect, despite wise counsel from his sister (Carrie Coon) and lawyer (a surprisingly effective, enjoyable Tyler Perry). Second hour, still no body, but flashbacks turn us against the absent Amy. As we slowly investigate the Dunnes’ very flawed marriage, funny little kernels of bile begin to explode underfoot. How the hell did these two end up together? Flynn’s foundational joke answers that question with a satire of marriage. The movie poster and tabloid-TV plot suggest a standard I-didn’t-kill-my-wife tale, but matrimony is what’s being murdered here. Amid the media circus, Nick becomes the scorned sap because of his untruths; but what really damns him in the movie’s intricate plot is his credulity—he believed in Amy too much. Gone Girl is all about manipulation—Fincher’s stock in trade, really, which helps make the film such cynical, mean-spirited fun. (R) B.R.M. Sundance, 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 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). 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—that’s three hours long. (PG-13) B.R.M. Pacific Science Center IMAX, SIFF Cinema Uptown, Thornton Place, Varsity, Majestic Bay, 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, Pacific Place, Cinebarre, others
Pelican Dreams From Bay Area director Judy Irving (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill), this is more of a personal film with a smaller flock. She describes her childhood identification with the gawky pelican, so clumsy on shore but so graceful in flight. Irving follows one sickly pelican rescued on the Golden Gate Bridge, which she dubs Gigi, and a few other stories of pelicans-on-the-mend. It’s no surprise that she finds a small community of avid pelican-philes (one even tattooed with the bird); as with Wild Parrots, she’s intent on the bond between a charismatic species and us earthbound admirers. Not an ornithologist, Irving does tend toward airy sentiment and anthropomorphism (“What does it feel like to fly?”). Still, she clearly loves the birds and their devoted protectors. (NR) B.R.M. SIFF Film Center
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, Meridian, Lincoln Square, Oak Tree, others
St. Vincent Bill Murray is pretty much the sole draw for the movie, and given his unique screen presence, it’s something. St. Vincent is all about the Murray persona: a deeply sarcastic man struggling to find his way to sincerity. That struggle is why Murray looks so melancholy in so much of his work. But it’s not a good movie. Murray’s slovenly Brooklyn misanthrope is Vincent, who reluctantly agrees to babysit the 12-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) of his new next-door neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). This will take time away from drinking, gambling at the racetrack, or visiting his Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts). We are also cued to the reasons Vincent is curmudgeonly, none of which will come as much of a surprise. Writer/director Theodore Melfi tries hard to convince us that Vincent is capable of great nastiness, but even these efforts seem rigged. As much pleasure as I took from watching Murray stretch out, I didn’t believe a minute of it. But do stick around for the end credits, when Murray sings along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.” It’s the movie’s one great sequence. (PG-13) R.H. Guild 45th, Meridian, Oak Tree, Cinebarre, 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, Sundance, Lincoln Square, Lynwood (Bainbridge
), Pacific Place, Thornton Place, others