by JACOB H. FRIES, LUKE BAUMGARTEN, TAMMY MARSHALL, TED S. McGREGOR JR., MICHAEL BOWEN, NICK DESHAIS, DANIEL WALTERS, ANN COLFORD and JOEL SMITH & r & & r & Slumdog Millionaire & r & & r & Dec. 5 & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & n early Oscar favorite, the Slumdog buzz has been building since September when it won the coveted People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (putting it in league with past winners American Beauty, Whale Rider and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The story's heartwarming -- read, good date movie or one you wouldn't mind seeing with Mom -- and is set in the frenetic Indian city of Mumbai.
Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later), the film follows a resourceful orphan named Jamal who finds his way from the street to the set of the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Jamal wins big, becoming a national hero, only to be accused of cheating. But in the end, Jamal's journey is less about money than reconnecting with his lost love. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) adapted the story from Vika Swarup's bestselling novel, Q and A. The cast contains a lot of actors unfamiliar to American audiences.
Cinematically, the film is receiving praise for quick-paced, artfully shot scenes as well as a good soundtrack, which includes a new song by M.I.A. But oddly, it's the end credits -- with a Bollywood-style dance sequence involving the entire cast -- that has critics swooning. Judging from the look of the trailer, Slumdog Millionaire successfully juxtaposes the grittiness of Mumbai's streets and those classic movie staples of redemption and love. (Rated R)
-- JACOB H. FRIES
QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Nov. 14 (dates indicate our Spokane-arrival best guess)
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen the history of the Bond franchise is written, the biggest controversy won't be the selection of tow-headed Daniel Craig as the super-spy, but the choice of Marc Forster to direct Quantum of Solace. But it's not that this bard of quiet whimsy (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) and pathos (Monster's Ball, The Kite Runner, Stay) made Bond too contemplative. Quite the opposite.
Quantum begins minutes after Casino Royale, and Bond's just lost the only Bond girl (nay, Bond woman) he's ever really loved. It isn't the biggest stretch that such a thing could send the emotionally delayed super-spy into a robotic killing spree. Good choice or not, we plan to witness the carnage. (Rated PG-13)
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & isney's latest computer-animated film features a German Shepherd who thinks he's a superhero. With his signature lighting bolt-shaped patch of fur, he fends off danger, leaps over helicopters and rescues his owner Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus) from kidnappers. But Bolt (John Travolta) actually has spent his entire life on a TV set shooting a popular action series. When Penny gets "kidnapped," he heads out into the real world, not knowing that all of his special powers are merely special effects. Maybe his sidekicks -- Mittens the cat and Rhino the hamster -- will save him. (Rated PG)
-- TAMMY MARSHALL
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & elieve it or not, this is Baz Luhrmann's first film since 2001's Moulin Rouge. This time, he's back in his homeland. Australia follows the adventures of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who, on the eve of World War II, leaves the cushy life of an English aristocrat to follow her husband to his cattle ranch Down Under. Plans change, and a hunky local cowboy (Hugh Jackman) has to help her out of fix after fix, African Queen-style. Expect lots of pretty landscapes and an epic cattle drive. (Not Yet Rated)
-- TED S. McGREGOR JR.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ean Penn in a gay movie? It's like "Hillary Clinton for President": The very idea makes some folks go away angry. And in our don't-ask-don't-tell, anti-gay-marriage national mood, a biopic about a gay martyr may seem intended to rouse activists. Moreover, in depicting the final seven years in the life of California's first out-of-the-closet elected official, director Gus van Sant (Good Will Hunting) has apparently played up the joshing, inspirational side of Harvey Milk's personality. Given the parallels (noted by WNYC's Nathan Lee) between Milk and one of today's prominent politicians, that's fitting: both charismatic community organizers, both members of a minority group who gained political office on the power of inspiring oratory.
In the '70s, even in San Francisco, gay people needed to hear about change they could believe in. But the challenge for Van Sant and Penn, in portraying Harvey Milk's 1977 ascent to San Francisco's board of supervisors, will be to avoid Obama-style heroism and create a rounded portrayal: Milk could be brash, impractical, antagonistic and manipulative.
In addition to Penn's star wattage, Milk features Victor Garber as George Moscone, the mayor who supported Milk; Josh Brolin as Dan White, the homophobe ex-cop who opposed him, with disastrous consequences; and Denis O'Hare as John Briggs, the state assemblyman whose Proposition 6 urged Californians to legalize the firing of any schoolteacher who was so much as suspected of being gay.
Thirty years ago, that's where today's biggest blue state seemed to be headed. Even today, California's Proposition 8 advocates a ban on gay marriage. Harvey Milk's job still needs doing. (Rated R)
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hy is it audiences never tire of Holocaust films? Is it as a reminder of humanity's most horrible deeds, an effort to prevent similar atrocities? Or are we drawn to the basest of scenes, such as when we drive by an accident and slow to look for the broken glass and stretcher? Whatever the reason, this season's contribution is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a story about the son of a Nazi commander befriending a child in a concentration camp. The boys, Bruno and Shmuel, act like children, unaware that their friendship is forbidden. We'll watch, unable to avert our gaze, hoping for an ending different than the one we expect. (PG-13)
-- NICK DESHAIS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ryan Greenberg (One Tree Hill) is toiling over his doctoral thesis. The complication: His father -- the ever-acidic Alan Rickman (Harry Potter), landing on the haughty side of the haughty-evil Alan Rickman Continuum -- has just won a Nobel Prize, and casts a shadow with a nasty habit of looming. Greenburg's Oedipal resentment only intensifies when he's kidnapped and Daddy won't pay his ransom. After Greenburg decides that, hey, if his kidnappers want to stick it to his dad, then he wants to help, the plot takes a turn toward twisty, and the humor takes a turn toward twisted. (Rated R)
-- DANIEL WALTERS
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he film version of the 2004 Newberry Medal-winning fantasy book by Kate DiCamillo stars Matthew Broderick as Despereaux Tilling, a mouse born with strange ears, open eyes and a penchant for not following the order of the mouse.
Despereaux meets and falls in love with a beautiful human princess named Princess Pea (Emma Watson). Then, after refusing to live a life of weakness and fear, Despereaux embarks on a journey. He joins forces with Roscuro the rat, who refused to live underground with his fellow rats. The ending is, you guessed it, upbeat and heartwarming. (Not Yet Rated)
-- TAMMY MARSHALL
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & id the priest sexually abuse the schoolboy or not? Given the title he chose for his stage play, director/screenwriter John Patrick Shanley needs to create genuine ambiguity in the struggle of wills between Philip Seymour Hoffman's smooth Father Flynn and Meryl Streep's stern Mother Superior. But the film's trailer seemingly makes Flynn too likable and Sister Aloysius too much of a witch to keep the debate balanced. Early reviewers have praised Amy Adams as the innocent novice and Viola Davis as the boy's mother; Adams' wide-eyed nun in particular, as the audience's surrogate, needs to throw her sympathies both ways to maintain an atmosphere of Doubt. (Rated PG-13)
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & ot all Nazis heiled Hitler; in fact, the German resistance even plotted to kill him and end the war. We all know how that ended, but the story behind the story will now be told, with Bryan Singer (X-Men) directing and Tom Cruise starring as the would-be assassin. The rest of the cast is impressive, too -- Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Carice van Houten. Cruise won back some fans with his hilarious cameo in Tropic Thunder, but Valkyrie will say a lot about how bankable a star he still is. (Rated PG-13)
-- TAMMY MARSHALL
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Reader is getting lots of buzz, though mostly due to behind-the-scenes tussles over the release date. Still, with a talented cast (Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes) and director (Stephen Daldry of The Hours), and a story based on an Oprah-endorsed novel (by Bernhard Schlink), the drama may yet end well. The plot unfolds as Michael (Fiennes) recalls his sexual awakening with an older woman (Winslet) in 1950s Germany, when he was only 15 years old. (David Kross plays the young Michael.) Years later, the woman is on trial for a wartime crime, but Michael believes she's hiding more than her crime. (Not Yet Rated)
-- ANN COLFORD
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s long ago as 1990, Brad Pitt and David Fincher were no-names. Pitt had played a recurring character on Dallas and Fincher had directed all of Paula Abdul's videos from her first album, Forever Your Girl (yes, even the one with the cat). And that's about it. Now, however, they've teamed up for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film that seems likely to storm the Academy for Oscar treasure, skewering its contenders. Using an adaptation by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Ali, The Good Shepherd) of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, Pitt and Fincher aim to re-create the collaborative genius they achieved with two of the 1990s' best movies, Se7en and Fight Club. The little story of Benjamin Button is time-traveling, heartwarming proto-science fiction about a man who's born elderly before aging the wrong way. Will there be a head in a box, you ask, or perhaps some soap made from the leavings of liposuction? Doubtful, but who knows. Despite generating so much buzz (it could be a hornets' nest of honey-sucking sots), the word on the film is nil. This much is true, however: They look to turn Fitzgerald's fortune around. The down-on-his-luck author went to Hollywood looking for work in the 1930s and didn't really make a splash. And remember the big screen versions of his books The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon or Tender Is the Night? Yeah, neither do we. But it looks like we'll remember this one. (Rated PG-13)
-- NICK DESHAIS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & ichard Nixon abused the powers of the Presidency and never went on trial for it. When the opportunity came to grill him in a series of TV interviews, it fell into the lap of a lightweight party-hearty playboy, David Frost. (Think Dick Cheney being interviewed by Ryan Seacrest.)
Except that Frost -- just as ambitious as Nixon had been, just as much on the edge of personal defeat -- went all-in with his money and his reputation, just for a chance to catch Nixon on camera in an admission of guilt. Screenwriter Peter Morgan has demonstrated his flair for dramatizing real-life events in The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, and his script puts actors like Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in choral roles as advisors in the opposing Nixon and Frost camps.
Talky plays can seem static on the big screen, but Morgan has reshaped some events, concentrating in the film's middle on all the posturing and negotiating over the four two-hour interviews while leaving the best parts of the interviews themselves for the finale. Even better, director Ron Howard has wisely stuck with the actors who insinuated themselves into these roles over months of stage performances in London and on Broadway: Frank Langella, throaty and hump-shouldered as Nixon, and Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen), nervous but insistent as Frost. The glare of television outshone all the president's men. (Rated R)
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ickey Rourke stars as a washed-up wrestler who comes out of a 20-year retirement to stage a rematch with his former arch-nemesis, the Ayatollah. Not a comedy (though his moves are a little rusty) or an action film per se, the film looks to center on his emotional recovery and a reckoning with his girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) and daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Oscar buzz abounds for Rourke. (Not Yet Rated)
-- JOEL SMITH
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ost Holocaust flicks are content to show Jews mostly as victims -- brave, articulate, noble victims, but victims nonetheless. Not Defiance, the upcoming film based on Nechama Tec's nonfiction book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Daniel Craig ditches the bow tie and martinis for a choppy Polish accent and unwieldy name --Tuvia Bielski, one of three Jewish brothers who gun down Nazi patrols, join the Russian resistance and strive to create a safe haven for the Jews remaining in Poland. Expect Defiance to be chock-full of grit, grim and gray, weighty moral decisions and, yeah, Oscar nominations. (Rated R)
-- DANIEL WALTERS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & C & lt;/span & lint Eastwood's one busy 78-year-old dude. He directed the just-released Changeling with Angelina Jolie, and here he's both behind the camera and in front of it in this story of a Korean War vet whose adult children want him to move out of his changing urban neighborhood and into safe (aka boring) senior housing. But Walt (Eastwood) ain't going quietly into that good night of retirement, especially when an Asian gang threatens his Hmong neighbors and the violence spills over. He'll be facing down long-held prejudices, of course, and watch for some cross-generational bonding -- but Walt shares more than a few traits with Dirty Harry. (Not Yet Rated)
-- ANN COLFORD
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & great leading couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) and a routinely brilliant director (Sam Mendes) come together for this fable of the unraveling of the American Dream in 1950s America. Based on Richard Yates' 1962 novel, it chronicles the couple's relationship -- from the joyous passion of courtship to the suburban drudgery of marriage. The novel was an indictment of what Yates called at the time "a general lust for conformity all over this country ... a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price," and Mendes and company seem to be striking exactly that tone. (Rated R)
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he expression "boots on the ground" has little to do with boots and much to do with the soldiers who fill those boots. That's a synecdoche -- a figure of speech in which the part stands for the whole. Luckily for newbie director Charlie Kauffman (writer of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich), it also rhymes with Schenectady, the hometown of his protagonist, a neurotic theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who builds a miniature New York City within a vast warehouse in an attempt to grasp a tiny fragment of the universal whole. Dreamlike and baffling, the film's forecast (as for so many Hoffman films) calls for heavy clouds with occasional sunshine. (Rated R)
-- JOEL SMITH
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THE BEST OF THE REST
NOVEMBER 7 * The adorable lost zoo animals are still lost in Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa. Bernie Mac's last movie, Soul Men, has him teaming up with Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of estranged Motown singers * NOVEMBER 21 * Judging by the sheer number of women gushing over its sexy, romantic vampire love interest, Twilight is going to smash vampire romance sales numbers * NOVEMBER 26 * Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon pretend to like their four ex-in-laws in Four Christmases. Jason Statham does more ridiculous(ly rad) Audi driving and stunt-fighting in Transporter 3 * DECEMBER 5 * Judging from how bad the first installment was, Punisher: War Zone will punish both the hero's enemies and its audiences. In Local Color, a painter looks back on the relationships that formed him * DECEMBER 12 * Keanu Reeves plays an alien (in typical Reeves fashion) while Jennifer Connolly looks on, horrified that she ever took a role in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Cartoony fairy folk come of age in Delgo. There's Nothing Like the Holidays, especially when it comes to making trite family ensemble comedies * DECEMBER 19 * Will Smith reunites with Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) for Seven Pounds, another weepie. Jim Carrey learns the redemptive joy of never saying no in Yes Man * DECEMBER 25 * In a Disney fantasy, Adam Sandler tells Bedtime Stories that come true (with the help of CGI). Against all odds, coach Forrest Whitaker assembles a championship basketball team a year after Katrina in Hurricane Season. So some dude writes a memoir about his dog called Marley and Me, then Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston play in it. Frank Miller, the comic inspiration for the visual excess of 300 and Sin City, makes his directorial debut with the comically opulent The Spirit * LATER SOMETIME * In How About You, a free spirit rebels against her stodgy family. The Beautiful Truth is a documentary in search of the links among health, diet and environment.