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|December 11-17, 2008
A Christmas Tale
This lovely, vinegary holiday film from French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin is a simple picture about complicated people, the members of the extended Vuillard family. Taking place over a few days around Christmastime, the film’s narrative may be more conventional than Desplechin’s earlier work (Kings and Queen, My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument), but it’s as juicy and tonally unpredictable as anything he has made. Catherine Deneuve heads a fine cast. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for language and sexual themes). Not rated. At Starz. — Michael Phillips
En route to love, and to save his ranch from the clutches of a rival, a cattleman known as “The Drover” (Hugh Jackman) guides a prim Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman), a crew of mixed-race outcasts and 1,500 head of cattle across thousands of miles of Australia during World War II. The second half of director Baz Luhrmann’s first project since Moulin Rouge! develops some momentum. But you have to pass through the first half to get to the second, by which time you may find yourself drowning in high-fructose Aussie corn syrup. Rated PG-13 (a scene of sensuality, brief strong language and some violence). At Flatiron, Century and Twin Peaks. — Michael Phillips
Voiced by John Travolta, the chief asset in a bland ensemble struggling with its material, Bolt is a canine who headlines a TV show co-starring his longtime owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus). Bolt has never been told that his life-or-death adventures are fake, so he’s the star of his own depressing version of The Truman Show. Complications separate Bolt from Penny, sending him to New York City, where his superpowers, which he believes to be real, are useless. This animated Disney feature is stingy on wit, charm, jokes and narrative satisfactions. Rated PG (some mild action and peril). At Flatiron, Century, Twin Peaks and Colony Square. — Michael Phillips
Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Set during the horrors of WWII, Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a film presented through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy whose father is an SS officer at a concentration camp. He maintains a secret relationship with a Jewish boy inside the camp, with unexpected consequences. Rated PG-13. At Colony Square, Century and Chez Artiste.
See full screen review on page 34. Rated R. At Century.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remake of the classic 1951 sci-fi thriller about an alien who comes to Earth with his robot friend. Rated PG-13. At Flatiron, Century, Colony Square and Twin Peaks.
In a mythical divided land, a young man must rally his friends and enemies to save the world from itself. Rated PG. At Flatiron and Colony Square.
Christmas itself will survive this acrid, wince-worthy holiday film, but barely. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn (who both need new agents) play a carefree couple who routinely lie to their respective divorced parents about being unable to visit around the holidays. But bad weather ruins their trip to Fiji and strands them in an airport, they’re interviewed on TV, and their families see it, so to save face they speed-visit all four sets of caricatures. The cast, which also includes Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall, is far better than its material. Rated PG-13 (some sexual humor and language). At Flatiron, Century, Colony Square and Twin Peaks. — Michael Phillips
How About You
How About You tells the story of Ellie (Hayley Atwell), a footloose and fearless young woman who is left in charge of a residential home owned and run by her older sister Kate (Orla Brady) over the Christmas period. Her youth and inexperience bring her into bitter conflict with the four grumpy old residents known as the “hardcore”: retired screen beauty Georgia (Vanessa Redgrave), spinster sisters Hazel (Imelda Staunton) and Heather (Brenda Fricker), and a reformed alcoholic judge, Donald (Joss Ackland). The film deals with the hilarious antics of these uncivilized seniors, the gradual solidarity that develops between the residents and Ellie, and an unlikely romance. Not rated. At Starz. — Denver Film Society
I’ve Loved You So Long
Kristin Scott Thomas may be a more subtle and expressive performer in French than in English, and in this absorbing if schematic French-language drama, she’s superb as a doctor recently released from a 15-year prison sentence. The particulars of her crime, and her uneasy adjustment to a new life, form the basis of writer-director Philippe Claudet’s debut feature. Expect an Oscar nomination for Thomas. Rated PG-13 (thematic material and smoking). At Chez Artiste. — Michael Phillips
This unusual vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme is an unexpectedly droll game of three-card monte disguised as an action film that turns into a (fake) reality-TV-style documentary and then into a hostage thriller. The star’s star has waned, and he has child-custody battles to wage, as well as a drug-and-philandering rep to cloud his recent past. When Van Damme finds himself embroiled in a heist and then a hostage situation, he must draw upon his inner Van Damme to resolve it. The film is more a novelty item than a fully formed work, but it’s very entertaining. Rated R (language and some violence). At Mayan. — Michael Phillips
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine is a cinematic journey inside the life and imagination of an icon of modern art. As a screen presence, Louise Bourgeois is magnetic, mercurial and emotionally raw. There is no separation between her life as an artist and the memories and emotions that affect her every day. Her process is on full display in this extraordinary documentary. As an artist, Louise Bourgeois has for six decades been at the forefront of successive new developments, but always on her own powerfully inventive and disquieting terms. In 1982, at the age of 71, she became the first woman to be honored with a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In the decades since, she has created her most powerful and persuasive work that has been exhibited, studied and lectured on worldwide. Filmed with unparalleled access between 1993 and 2007, Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine is a comprehensive and dramatic documentary of creativity and revelation. It is an intimate, human and educational engagement with an artist’s world. Not rated. At Starz. — Denver Film Society
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
The animated Madagascar (2005) made a mint, but this sequel is a better film — less manic, more easygoing. Marooned on Madagascar, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) yearn for home in the Central Park Zoo. The penguins rig up an old, busted plane and zing the quartet (plus stowaways) not to Manhattan, but to Africa. Rated PG (some mild crude humor). At Flatiron, Century and Colony Square. — Michael Phillips
The story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy, but not since Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High has Sean Penn played such a serenely happy individual. Penn is superb as the martyred San Francisco city supervisor, America’s first widely acknowledged openly gay elected official. He was killed by Milk’s former colleague, Dan White (Josh Brolin, also excellent), minutes after White’s fatal shooting of Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Rated R (language, some sexual content and brief violence). At Mayan and Chez Artiste. — Michael Phillips
This documentary follows 15 young adults as they embark on the voyage of a lifetime: the rigorous 2,300-mile TRANSPAC sailing competition. Rated PG. At Esquire.
Nothing Like the Holidays
A Puerto Rican family living in Chicago spends what may be their last holiday season together. Rated PG-13. At Flatiron, Century and Colony Square.
Patti Smith Dream of Life
Dream of Life is a plunge into the philosophy and artistry of cult rocker Patti Smith. This portrait of the legendary singer, artist and poet explores themes of spirituality, history and self expression. Known as the godmother of punk, she emerged in the 1970s, galvanizing the music scene with her unique style of poetic rage, music and trademark swagger. We follow this multitalented and private artist over 11 years of international travel, through her spoken words, performances, lyrics, interviews, paintings and photographs. Dream of Life reveals a complicated, charismatic personality. Patti Smith who narrates the film, wrestles with life’s many paradoxes. She defines the human experience as an overwhelming contradiction. She pulls the strings of her guitar and simply makes music. Not rated. At Boulder Theater. — Denver Film Society
Punisher: War Zone
See full screen review on page 34. Rated R. At Flatiron, Century, Colony Square and Twin Peaks.
Quantum of Solace
Chilly-eyed Daniel Craig is the right man for the James Bond franchise, and his second outing confirms it. The trouble is, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) demonstrates that not every director is well-suited to Bondland. There’s plenty of action, but half the time it’s visually incoherent. The tale picks up minutes after the end of 2006’s Casino Royale. Bond is after the shadowy Quantum organization for killing his lady friend. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content). At Flatiron, Century, Colony Square and Twin Peaks. — Michael Phillips
Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott mentor a medieval-fantasy-prone teenager (the invaluable Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played “McLovin” in Superbad) and a trash-talking preteen (Bobb’e J. Thompson) in this sloppy but diverting comedy. The last 20 minutes, climaxing with a Dungeons & Dragons-type battle re-enactment, redeems much of what comes before. Rated R (pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity). At Flatiron and Century. — Michael Phillips
Slumdog Millionaire is a ruthlessly effective paean to destiny, leaving nothing to chance. It also has a good shot at winning this year’s Academy Award for best picture, if the pundits have anything to say about it. Every arrow plucked from director Danny Boyle’s quiver takes aim at the same objective: to leave you exhausted but wowed. An 18-year-old (Dev Patel) in the former Bombay, India, is suspected of cheating his way to national fame on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Rated R (some violence, disturbing images and some language). At Esquire and Century. — Michael Phillips
Syndedoche, New York
This fascinating brain-bender comes from writer-director Charlie Kaufman, whose earlier scripts (such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) don’t prepare you for the conundrums here. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theater director who dedicates his fraught life to an autobiographical performance piece he never seems to finish. Is it a dream? A death wish? It’s a movie worth seeing, even though a solid percentage of any audience will hate it. Rated R (language and some sexual content/nudity). At Century. — Michael Phillips
Overnight-delivery specialist Frank Martin (Jason Statham) must once again move dangerous cargo. His wrist is strapped with a bracelet that explodes if he strays 75 feet from his car, which holds the package. The best sequences involve Frank’s inventive ability to stay close to his vehicle, but otherwise, it’s Frank’s charismatic, unruffled dexterity in the face of impossible odds that rivets. Rated PG-13 (sequences of intense action and violence, some sexual content and drug material). At Flatiron, Century and Twin Peaks. — Michael Phillips
This highly anticipated, surprisingly low-key vampire movie is a film of intelligent strengths and avoidable weaknesses, a modest adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s publishing phenomenon. It’s faithful to its source material, and it’s better written than Meyer’s frothy book. Teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) relocates from Arizona to Washington, where she falls for tortured, sensitive vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Director Catherine Hardwicke was right to concentrate on getting the smoldering down between her stars, but her film lacks visual magic. Rated PG-13 (some violence, and a scene of sensuality). At Flatiron, Century, Colony Square and Twin Peaks. — Michael Phillips
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Just as New York City was the backdrop in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, the stunning city of Barcelona is the setting for the writer/director’s look at the romantic adventures of Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson). These two young American women spend a summer in Spain, where they meet a flamboyant artist (Javier Bardem, Academy Award winner for No Country for Old Men) and his beautiful but insane ex-wife (Penélope Cruz). Vicky is straight-laced and about to be married. Cristina is a sexually adventurous free spirit. When they all become amorously entangled, the results can only be described as chaotic. Co-starring Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn and Chris Messina. Rated R. At Starz. — Denver Film Society
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