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by THE INLANDER & r & & r & ALIENS VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM & r & & r & The Predators are back to kill the Aliens. AvP:R -- the second film in the franchise -- is better than the original only because it's rated R and because it doesn't take place in a futuristic pyramid in present-day Antarctica. Released on Christmas Day, AvP:R is the crappiest present of all. Twentieth Century Fox has sold out the Bedford Falls of everyone's nostalgia for the sci-fi franchises of Pottersville in a cynical, soulless cash-in. It's exactly like the commercials said: "Whoever wins... we lose." (BK) Rated R





ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS


For anyone living in the last quarter of the 20th century, this needs no introduction. The classic Ruby-Spears cartoon is live-action and computer-graphic-ized here, then fortified with Jason Lee as the chipmunks' guardian Dave, along with a healthy bit of fecal humor. (The one joke in the trailer involves Alvin eating a little raisin-shaped turd of Theodore's.) (LB) Rated PG





ATONEMENT


Director Joe Wright has made a devastatingly powerful movie with Atonement. In this story about childhood love and lost innocence set against the backdrop of WWII, Wright expertly films some of the more pivotal moments from varying angles, and we see them at different times through different character perspectives. Wright tells a tragic story that spans nearly 60 years, employing a raw intensity sometimes missing from this sort of film. Atonement is a sad romantic story that could've so easily been a rapturous one, were it not for a few childish mistakes. Its impact is a lasting one. (BG) Rated R





BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD


Director Sydney Lumet (Network) has long been able to pull beautiful performances from his actors, and here he provides guidance as two brothers (Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman) -- one strapped for cash, the other outwardly successful, both moral failures -- betray their parents. The film hangs on whether their father (Albert Finney) chooses vengeance or forgiveness. On that score, unfortunately, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead blows its d & eacute;nouement as badly as its characters have screwed up their own lives. (LB) Rated R





CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR


Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have conspired to make a campy, satirical movie about the way America funded and trained the soldiers of Osama bin Laden. Every line is delivered with a wink and a nudge. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts trade too-witty barbs as a boozing and womanizing congressman and a right-wing socialite; meanwhile, Philip Seymour Hoffman steals scenes as a loose cannon and CIA fix-it man. (CS) Rated R





CONTROL


In the late '70s, control is what lead singer Ian Curtis of the post-punk band Joy Division didn't have. Curtis (Sam Riley) couldn't control his marriage, his band or his body (he had epilepsy) -- leading to his suicide at age 23. Control is based on Touched From a Distance, a biography of Curtis by his wife; even at age 30, Samantha Morton convincingly plays the teenage Deborah. (MB) Rated R





ENCHANTED


The sweet silliness of the collective Disney animated fairy tale landscape meets the rough reality of Noo Yawk City? Why didn't someone think of this sooner? Evil queen Susan Sarandon banishes princess Amy Adams from a parody of an animated world to an idealized version of Central Park -- with prince James Marsden in florid pursuit and Patrick Dempsey lying in wait. Great for kids and grownups, Enchanted is, well, enchanting. (MJ) Rated PG





FRED CLAUS


A classic Vince Vaughn performance turns out to be not so funny. Paul Giamatti plays a Santa Claus who may be forced to abandon Christmas because of Fred's negligence. Kevin Spacey plays the villain who threatens to move Christmas to the South Pole. (AM) Rated PG





THE GOLDEN COMPASS


If it weren't for the wondrous visuals in this first film installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy, this would only merit a "wait for the DVD" rating. The story traces the adventures of young Lyra, the only person who can read the title Compass. She and her shape-shifting daemon must go up against the evils of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and get a giant ice bear (voice of Ian McKellen) on her side, as she searches for a way to travel between worlds. More is coming in two planned sequels. (ES) Rated PG-13





THE GREAT DEBATERS


African-Americans ought to idolize educators and students, not just athletes and musicians. That seems to be some of the impulse behind this true-story film produced by Oprah and directed by and starring Denzel Washington. Somehow during the Depression, a small college in East Texas managed to challenge Harvard in the national finals. As the coach, Washington faces off against Forrest Whitaker. (MB) Rated PG-13





I AM LEGEND


No invading aliens, no mushroom clouds -- yet New York City is distressingly desolate. There is only Robert Neville, alone in the urban vastness with his German shepherd, Sam. Will Smith plays Neville like a man pushing to keep himself too busy to have a breakdown. And when he stops to talk to mannequins, he'll break your heart. But if he's alone, why does he shut up his home every night like a fortress? (MJ) Rated PG-13





NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS


Treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) sets out to clear the family name (turns out an ancestor might have helped plot Lincoln's assassination) and finds himself in the middle of some plot holes and political intrigue. Expect more of what you saw in the first installment: car chases, conspiracy theories and a lot of historical jibber jabber. It's no Indiana Jones, but Cage seems back to his true form, shining brighter and cracking wiser than he has in years. (JS) Rated R





NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


When Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds the remnants of what looks like a drug deal gone bad -- heroin, money, bodies -- he decides to take the money. That puts a psychopath (Javier Bardem) on his trail. And while Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff provides some help, Llewellyn has now plunged himself into a world in which everyday things turn lethal. Joel and Ethan Coen return to the violent black comedy of Fargo. (ES) Rated R





ONCE


A spare quasi-musical about a singer and the poor immigrant in whom he finds a muse, Once is the best movie I've seen in 2008. It's probably the most beautiful film to emerge from a decade overly obsessed with cleverness. (LB) Rated R





P.S. I LOVE YOU


A passionate married couple (Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler) is dealt a terrible blow when he suddenly dies and she, despite helpful friends, feels alone in the world. The film manages to find a lot of humor and positive vibes in the situation when she starts receiving letters of instruction from him, written when he was still alive, suggesting how she can get on with her life and maybe even find love again. (ES) Rated PG-13





SWEENEY TODD


Tim Burton and Johnny Depp -- together again -- in a big splashy version of the Stephen Sondheim musical about a Victorian-era barber (Depp) who, with his sharpest razors, decides to take revenge upon the dastardly judge (Alan Rickman) who tore him apart from his family. Helena Bonham Carter plays his accomplice, who makes meat pies with very special ingredients, and Sacha Baron Cohen plays an "Italian" snake oil salesman. It's gory and violent, and the songs aren't up to Sondheim par, but Burton's vision is amazing. (ES) Rated R





WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY


Judd Apatow and John C. Reilly skewer just about every music biopic ever made -- especially Ray and Walk the Line -- in this occasionally hilarious send-up. Well-timed throughout the first half, it drags in the second (the Beatles scene gets tedious fast), but pointed use of some of the film genre's more tiresome techniques, a couple of good running gags ("You don't want no part of this shit!") and a few shocking moments of physical comedy make this a gem. Plus, Reilly plays Will Ferrell better than even Ferrell does. (JS) Rated R





THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP


A Scottish lad finds what looks like a baby dinosaur. So the family decides that the creature -- by now, it's enormous -- has to be set free to swim in a nearby lake. Which, since this is Scotland, is known as a "Loch." (MB) Rated PG

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