Local & Repertory
Live by Night
The Big Combo, Joseph Lewis’ 1955 tale of mob scandal, stars Jean Wallace as a former femme fatale seeking redemption. With Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte. (NR)
Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., 654-3121, seattleartmuseum.org. $63–$68 series. $8 individual. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 18.
Night of the Comet Two Valley Girls are put to the zombie test in this unlikely apocalypse movie from 1984, starring Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney. Why hasn’t there been a remake? (PG-13) Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 686-6684, central-cinema.com. $6-$8. 9:30 p.m. Fri.-Weds.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles The late John Candy memorably co-starred with Steve Martin in this fondly remembered holiday comedy from 1987, written and directed by that master of suburban sarcasm (and sentiment), John Hughes. (R)
Central Cinema, $6-$8. 7 p.m. Fri.-Weds. & 3 p.m. Sat.
Seattle Turkish Film Festival A dozen films are screened in this weekend mini-fest, beginning with the sister rivalry rock musical Whisper, if I Forget. (NR)
SIFF Film Center, SIFF Cinema Uptown, and Pacific Place. See stff.org for full schedule and ticket info. Thurs.-Sun.
Event Yadda. (NR)
Event Yadda. (NR)
Event Yadda. (NR)
Event Yadda. (NR)
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) ROBERT HORTON Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Lincoln Square, Kirkland, Lynwood (Bainbridge), 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) ROBERT HORTON SIFF Cinema Uptown
Dear White People Justin Simien’s smart new college satire forthrightly addresses race, and it feels like a follow-up—though not a rebuttal—to Spike Lee’s School Daze, made a generation ago. Like Lee, though with a lighter comic touch, Simien is interested in the stereotypes that black and mixed-race kids apply to themselves. The movie’s title comes from the provocative campus radio show hosted by Sam (Tessa Thompson), who calls out all races for their shallow assumptions. In her orbit are a seemingly perfect high achiever, a savvy, sexy social-media queen, and the nappy-haired freshman nerd Lionel (Tyler James Williams, from Everybody Hates Chris) who’s trying to navigate his way among cliques and not-so-coded expectations of What It Means to Be Black. Nobody is who they seem to be here; none of the labels fit. In his debut feature, Simien stuffs the plot with rather more stock elements than needed (a venal dean, racist frats, even a reality TV show come to mint/exploit new stars). But as with his characters, everything typical here gets comically upended. Dear White People reminds you how lazy most American comedies are. (R) BRIAN MILLER Sundance, Ark Lodge, others
Fury In David Ayer’s proudly old-fashioned WWII drama, Sgt. Don Collier (Pitt) gives no indication of his life before the war. Nor is there any depth to his typical crew—Shia LaBeouf the pious Bible-thumper, Michael Pena the steadfast Mexican-American, Jon Bernthal the volatile hick—and their regional accents. Because every WWII movie demands one, the greenhorn here is Ellison (Logan Lerman), a typist recruited to man the machine gun where his predecessor perished in a bloody puddle. Fury covers 24 hours in April 1945, as Allied forces roll through Germany in the war’s endgame. Collier’s most lethal enemies are the few remaining Tiger tanks, much better armored than our flimsy Shermans. Though victory is, to us, preordained, the mood here is all mud and exhaustion. Collier and crew have been fighting for years, from North Africa to Europe, to the point where he says of his tank, “This is my home.” (German troops say the same thing during the finale—not that it saves them; Nazis die by the score.) Ayer creates a strange, overlong interlude at Fury’s midpoint, as two German women host Collier and Ellison, though this is hardly a date movie. In an otherwise predictable, patriotic flick, here Collier seems to yearn for a calm, cultured oasis amid the chaos of war. (R) BRIAN MILLER Sundance, Pacific Place, Cinebarre, Thornton Place, Lincoln Square, others
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) BRIAN MILLER Sundance, Majestic Bay, Big Picture, others
The Hundred-Foot Journey In the South of France, the zaniness begins when the Kadam family, newly arrived in France from India, fetch up with car trouble in a small town. Restaurateurs by trade, they seize the opportunity to open an Indian place—in a spot across the street from a celebrated bastion of French haute cuisine, Le Saule Pleureur. This Michelin-starred legend is run by frosty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), whose demeanor is the direct opposite of the earthy Kadam patriarch (Om Puri, a crafty old pro). It’s culinary and cultural war, but will the cooking genius of Papa’s 20-something son Hassan (Manish Dayal) be denied? Madame Mallory can recognize a chef’s innate talent by asking a prospect to cook an omelet in her presence. You can already hear the eggs breaking in Hassan’s future—the movie’s like that. Daval is a good-looking and likable leading man, so it’s too bad he’s given an unpersuasive love story with Madame Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite—Charlotte Le Bon, a pretty actress who doesn’t look convinced by the love story, either; her facial expression perpetually conveys the silent question, “Are you sure this is in the script?” Mirren hits her marks, and the food is of course drooled over. Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, etc.) knows how to keep things tidy, and Journey is pleasant product, even if it seems as premeditated as a Marvel Comics blockbuster. (PG) R.H. Crest
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) BRIAN MILLER Pacific Science Center IMAX, SIFF Cinema Uptown, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, Thornton Place, Majestic Bay, Ark Lodge, Varsity, Admiral, others
Lucy Insofar as playing transcendent thinking/killing machines, Scarlett Johansson is definitely on a roll. Last year she was the omniscient OS Samantha in Her. This spring she was the alien huntress in Under the Skin. Now, in Luc Besson’s enjoyably silly sci-fi shoot-em-up, she’s a young woman whose brain achieves 100 percent of potential, owing to a forced drug-mule errand gone wrong. The bogus conceit that humans only use 10 percent of our cerebellum takes way too long for Besson to advance, with Morgan Freeman’s tedious scientist and nature documentary footage used to amplify his dubious theory. No matter: Lucy is soon learning Mandarin, electrical engineering, mad handgun skills, and Formula One-level driving on the fly. (Telekinesis soon follows, of course.) Her goal, which takes her from Taiwan to Paris, is to track down the other couriers with bags of IQ-growth hormone sewn in their guts and mainline those purple crystals—all for the good of humanity, which she hopes to enlighten before her apotheosis. (Pursuing her is the vengeful drug lord Jang, played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik, who wants his stash back.) Beneath the gunfire and philosophical malarky, there is—as in Besson’s best action efforts—a sound sentimental foundation to Lucy. This slacker turned godhead-assassin interrupts her mission to call her mom. “I feel everything. I remember everything,” she says tearfully, describing memories back to infancy. For anyone who’s ever forgotten where they put the car keys, Lucy makes 11 percent seem awfully tempting. (R) B.R.M. Crest
Magic in the Moonlight Set during the interwar period in the South of France, Magic in the Moonlight isn’t Woody Allen’s worst picture (my vote: The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), but it’s close. Colin Firth plays a cynical magician, who keeps repeating Allen’s dull ideas over and over and fucking over again. Emma Stone, in her first career misstep (Allen’s fault, not hers), plays a shyster mentalist seeking to dupe a rich family out of its fortune (chiefly by marrying its gullible, ukulele-playing son, Hamish Linklater). The recreations of this posh ’20s milieu seem curiously literal, like magazine spreads, so soon after seeing Wes Anderson’s smartly inflected period detail in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which both revered and ridiculed the past. Magic feels like Allen’s re-rendering of a thin prewar British stage comedy he saw at a matinee during his youth, now peppered with references to Nietzsche and atheism. It’s dated, then updated, which only seems to date it the more. Period aside, no one wants to see Firth, 53, and Stone, 25, as a couple. The math doesn’t work. It’s icky. (PG-13) B.R.M. Admiral
My Old Lady Set mostly in a fabulous Paris apartment, tis film is based on a play by Israel Horovitz, and no wonder Horovitz (making his feature-film directing debut—at age 75) chose not to open up the stage work; that’s one great pad. A failed-at-everything 57-year-old blowhard named Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) has arrived in Paris to claim the place, but there’s just one problem. It was purchased by his father, some 40 years earlier, in the French contract called viager, which means the seller gets to live in it until she dies, as the buyer pays a monthly stipend in the interim. And she—in this case 92-year-old Madame Girard (Maggie Smith)—is still very alertly alive. So is her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), and so are various ghosts from the past, many of which come staggering to life as Mathias moves into an empty room and schemes a way to undercut these entrenched ladies. The pace is rocky here, and everybody speaks as though they’re in a play. This is partially mitigated by the fact that if you’re going to have people running off at the mouth, you could do worse than this hyper-eloquent trio. (PG-13) ROBERT HORTON Kirkland
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) BRIAN MILLER Sundance, Bainbridge, Thornton Place, Lincoln Square, Pacific Place, Cinebarre, 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) ROBERT HORTON Sundance, TK others
The Skeleton Twins Maggie and Milo are fraternal twins who are estranged (for 10 years), living on opposite coasts, and seriously depressed for reasons that seem dissimilar but boil down to past family trauma. That Maggie and Milo are played by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader will get this mediocre dramedy more attention than it deserves. That their performances are good oughtn’t be surprising (the two SNL pros have plenty of experience with the comedy of awkwardness). That their script is so tonally sad-happy yet familiar, one has to attribute to the inexperienced writers (Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson; the latter is a Bellingham native and UW grad who directed the film). Maggie and Milo are catty, sardonic misanthropes, angry at the world because they haven’t lived up to their youthful potential. A failed actor, Milo returns home to New Jersey, where Maggie’s a dental hygienist married to a doofus (Luke Wilson) whom she treats with gentle contempt. There’s also a sex scandal lurking in the past, but the snark bogs down in melodrama, and no amount of ’80s pop montages can really change the film’s predictable trajectory. (R) BRIAN MILLER Crest
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 to ultimately show the soft, gooey center of both character and movie. 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) ROBERT HORTON Kirkland, Bainbridge, 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) ROBERT HORTON Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square, TK others
This Is Where I Leave You The fractious Altman clan gathers for an awkward and altogether irreverent weeklong mourning period (sitting shiva) for its deceased patriarch, at the command of an imperious new widow (Jane Fonda) who wears her conspicuous boob job with blithe pride. All of which greatly discomfits her four grown children. Among them, Corey Stoll is the son who stayed to run the family business; Adam Driver is the ne’er-do-well youngest son who fled to the West Coast; Tina Fey is the unhappily married wife and mother, also visiting; and Jason Bateman is the New York radio producer whose marriage just imploded (not that he’s telling anyone, not just now, not on this trip, no way). There’s a lot of ground to cover in this cluttered adaptation of Jonathan Tropper’s 2009 novel (he did the adaptation), directed with no great subtlety by Shawn Levy, who helmed all those wildly popular, family-friendly Night at the Museum movies. There are moments that work well here. Fey shows tender lost love for her old boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant), a guy who never left town owing to an accident; how culpable she was, the script is reluctant to spell out. Driver, of Girls, brings a welcome jolt of energy to a feckless, underwritten character. On the whole, however, Levy is fatally wed to a formula of tears, outbursts, wise counsel, and reconciliation—repeated often. (R) BRIAN MILLER Crest
Tracks The place is the Australian desert, where in 1975 a young woman named Robyn Davidson determined she would walk the 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. In writing a National Geographic article and subsequent best-selling book about the trek, Davidson offered little explanation for her impulse, and the movie is blunt about acknowledging that no coherent justification can be made on that score. She just needed to do it. Mia Wasikowska’s skeptical gaze and stony delivery are ideal for this tough character, and the actress never makes a bid for likability. Once on the path, she endures/exploits the expectations of National Geographic photographer Rick (Adam Driver, from Girls—a necessary warm presence in this severe portrait), as he periodically meets her along the long miles of desert scrub. Director John Curran (The Painted Veil) imagines this journey in an admirably terse way. We do hear Davidson’s words on the soundtrack, but for the most part the movie simply forges ahead; the romance-of-the-desert familiar from Lawrence of Arabia is kept at bay. This isn’t about conquering the land, but it’s not a reassuring journey of self-discovery, either. (PG-13) ROBERT HORTON Bainbridge
Whiplash Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is an unbridled asshole for art’s sake, a petty Stalin figure inside the Juilliard-like music academy that greets the innocent Andrew (Miles Teller). Andrew has fled Long Island and his kindly, weak mensch of a father (Paul Reiser) to be the best drummer in the best studio band at the best school in the country. That means pleasing the imperious, bullying Fletcher, a man who seems endlessly displeased with the world’s lax standards. (The Oscar-worthy Simmons, who originated this role in writer/director Damien Chazelle’s prior short, doesn’t oversell the villainy or froth at the mouth.) How Andrew responds to such abuse—quite calculated, as we shall learn—is the heart of this thrillingly propulsive drama, an intense, brutal, and often comical tale of mentorship gone amok. Chazelle, a genuine new talent, has compared his Sundance prizewinner to a war movie or a gangster picture; yet it’s a battle where the two antagonists share the same musical goals. At some moments, Whiplash pushes past realism into the fugue state of practice and performance. (Black Swan comes to mind.) Apotheosis or psychosis—what’s the difference? For Andrew, there may be none. (R) BRIAN MILLER TK any…?