New Movies:

Assassin's Creed

Critic's Rating: B   The best line in this lurid, noisy video game adaptation comes from Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender): "What the fuck is going on?" It's a fair question. Assassin's Creed, based on the long-running Ubisoft game series, is a brazenly bizarre package of hallucinatory freak-outs, fights and flights during the Spanish Inquisition and so many flattering shots of Marion Cotillard's luscious tresses that you can't help wondering why Pantene hasn't bought the rights to the movie. Even stranger is the fact that the film's mismatched parts cohere into a peculiarly enjoyable whole, especially when the grinning and murderous Callum is kidnapped by Sofia (Cotillard), a glamorous scientist and pacifist. Their relationship is an abusive one—Sofia routinely straps Callum into a clawed machine called "the Animus," which forces him to relive the blood-drenched, dirt-smeared memories of his ancestor, the assassin Aguilar. This stuff is all nonsense, and the best way to enjoy it is to revel in the movie's weirdness, especially during surreal scenes like the dreamy encounter between Callum and his father (Brendan Gleeson), which takes place in a psychiatric ward filled with bird silhouettes. That scene, like much of the film, offers a testament to the talents of the film's director, Justin Kurzel, who collaborated with Fassbender and Cotillard on last year's Macbeth. Rather than wrangle the frantic battles and hazy conspiracies of Assassin's Creed into a coherent epic, Kurzel has merged them into a solemn stream of psychedelia, and the result is at once ludicrous and entrancing. Now if only there were an end-credits scene revealing where Sofia buys her hair gel. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Tigard, Vancouver.

Elle

Critic's Rating: A-   The new film by Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall) makes a strong case that "whatever" may be a legitimate yet sardonic answer to the question of how we are supposed to live our lives in the face of life-changing trauma. Elle opens with the home invasion and violent rape of its protagonist, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), by a masked intruder. We then watch her treat her vicious assault with the seriousness one would reserve for a badly stubbed toe: She cleans up the house, goes to the doctor and carries on her life as the successful co-owner of a video game production studio with her best friend, Anna (Anne Consigny), while quietly trying to deduce the identity of her assailant, who continues to harass her with text messages. Elle is steeped in the sardonic, existentialist humor that has defined Verhoeven's career. Michèle's stoicism after her assault is masterfully portrayed by Huppert, whose quiet, outward composure is sharply contrasted with the banal squabbles that dominate the lives of her friends and family. This is a rare film that elicits laughs without treating its subject matter with callousness or condescension. By stripping away both the kid-gloves and exploitative approaches to sexual violence, Verhoeven and Huppert have crafted a grimly humorous but life-affirming portrait of strength and survivorship. R. WALKER MACMURDO. Cinema 21.

Fences

Critic's Rating: A-   Based on the August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, Fences stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis as the center of a struggling African-American blue-collar family in 1950s Pittsburgh. As Troy Maxson, Washington—who also directed—is a former Negro League baseball player-turned-garbage man who casts a huge shadow on his family and friends, a man who approaches life with no hope and a fear of failure. Davis, as his wife, Rose, is the emotional center of the family, soldiering on quietly at Troy's side. As Troy struggles with his developmentally disabled brother, an adult son by a previous woman, and a high school-aged son with his own athletic aspirations (Jovan Adepo), he builds emotional fences around himself and the family that keep them both in and out. His overwhelming expectations and burdens become both inspiring and crushing to others and, ultimately, himself. Fences is a family story with a local scope, but like Troy, it swings for the fences and carries a crushing weight that casts a long shadow. PG-13. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH. Clackamas, Eastport, Vancouver.    

Jackie

Critic's Rating: A   As soon as Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta, Black Swan) opens her mouth, she's nailed it. The wisp and tall-vowel accent of Jackie Kennedy's voice was as iconic as her pink Chanel suit—and both would be remembered only as pretty if they didn't now represent America's first televised presidency and first televised presidential funeral. This ambitious drama from Pablo Larraín (No, The Club) explores Jackie Kennedy's intersections of identity in the traumatic days following her husband's assassination. John F. Kennedy's death was the symbolic end of an American Camelot, but for his loved ones, it was personal; similarly, Jackie Kennedy was a first lady, but in an instant became little more than a partnerless mother and jobless, unmarried woman. In tautly scripted conversations with her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), her priest Father McSurley (John Hurt) and journalist Theodore White (Billy Crudup), Jackie's tone ranges from suffocated poise to desperation and bitterness. Aided by Mica Levi's ghostly string score, Larrain's peppering in of archival news footage from the time, and Portman's most spectacular performance yet, this film is less an isolated Jackie Kennedy biopic than a dark and conceptual statement on how the American people classifies, experiences and remembers historic tragedies. R. ISABEL ZACHARIAS. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Fox Tower, Tigard, Vancouver.

La La Land

Critic's Rating: A   There are plenty of ways to describe this sparkly fantasy from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)—you could call it a musical, a romance or a dream. Yet those words are too frail to do justice to La La Land, which offers not a story, but a rush of wonderment fueled by a romance between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Mia's career as an actress is shriveling, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, is stuck playing Christmas jingles in a Los Angeles supper club. Yet the two lovers transcend their artistic angst during swoon-worthy songs and dances, including a gravity-defying interlude in the Griffith Observatory and Mia's performance of "Here's to the Fools," one of several fantastic songs written for the movie. The ebullience of those scenes doesn't fill every part of La La Land—the movie unfolds over five seasons packed with professional and romantic heartbreak. Yet every moment of La La Land is worth living through because of Stone and Gosling—whose chemistry is as snazzy as it was in Crazy, Stupid, Love—and Chazelle, whose direction is alive to the thrill of duets, first kisses and getting on with the show, even when you just want to cry backstage. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Clackamas, Fox Tower, Vancouver.   

Lion

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays an adopted orphan who ventures from Australia to India to try to track down his family, from whom he was separated in a train station as a child. R. Clackamas.

Passengers

Critic's Rating: C   Like a gleaming amusement park that spares no expense on decor yet somehow forgets to include any rides, Passengers so proudly boasts star power and visual panache that it takes a while to notice the limp romantic subplot that serves as featured in-flight entertainment. Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) too clearly shoots his imaginative load with bravura opening footage of interstellar cruise ship Avalon passing through an asteroid field on its 90-year voyage to the galactic hinterlands, and the sheer ickiness of the film's eventual setup sours whatever sparks fly between two endlessly likable leads. Playing a none too intuitive mechanic accidentally lulled from hibernation into luxe isolation as all others aboard sleep through their journey, Chris Pratt must dampen his natural charisma in a vain effort to retain audience sympathy after committing an indefensible act—manufacturing companionship via the forced malfunction of an attractive shipmate's pod. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence leans hard into spoiled ditziness and blinkered self-regard as the best explanation for her supposed journalist's failure to even slightly suspect the creeper next door, which, Houston, seems problematic. In space, no one can see you stalk, but shouldn't a deep dive on the perils of arrested slumber be a little more woke? PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver.   

Why Him?

Critic's Rating: C+   Straight-laced parents Ned and Barb Fleming (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally) visit their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) in her Stanford dorm for Christmas, and find she's moved in with her billionaire tech brofriend, Laird (James Franco). About two minutes deep into the family's introduction to Sanuk-shod Laird and his impossibly modern smart house (voiced by Kaley Cuoco), it's clear how badly Laird wants to impress the Flemings, and how heavily this film will rely on prop jokes in the technologically advanced mansion. What isn't clear is how this wholly uneventful film is written and directed by John Hamburg, who co-wrote Zoolander and wrote and directed I Love You Man. We're shown a montage of the young couple's sunrise yoga session to help us understand this romance between a motivated Stanford undergrad and a vulgar video game tycoon 10 years her senior. Mullally and Cranston save the laughless stretches, blundering through the world of millennial CEOs as out-of-touch owners of a paper printing company, making jabs at Evite and confusing "bukkake" with "feeling overwhelmed." Franco might as well be a grinning, swearing dashboard ornament, but at least former Malcolm in the Middle fans can look forward to a very Hal reaction while on the sensorily precise Japanese bidet. R. LAUREN TERRY. Clackamas, Eastport, Vancouver.

Film Events:

From Coraline to Kubo: A History of Laika's Films

The award-winning animated flicks that Hillsboro's Laika has produced over the years—Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, to name two—were made by hand, a ludicrously labor-intensive process in the age of computers that produces seconds of footage out of hours of work. Laika's Mark Shapiro explains how the studio brings all its creations to life, with a whole mess of the studio's puppets plus other goodies in tow. This event was rescheduled from Dec. 15. Cerimon House. 7 pm Tuesday, Dec. 27.

Old Movies

An American in Paris (1951)

Gene Kelly, a WWII veteran and painter trying to make it in the big city, and Leslie Caron, a young shop assistant at a parfumerie, dance through the streets of Paris for what seems like 45 minutes straight and then won what appeared to be 45 Academy Awards for the effort. Kiggins Theatre. Dec. 25-29.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Not every Christmas classic is about warmth, joy and presents. In one of the most fallen-asleep-to movies in history, George Bailey (James Stewart) is filled with despair and on the brink of suicide when his guardian angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) shows up and reveals to him how he's shaped the lives of people in the small community of Bedford Falls. Kiggins, Dec. 22-24; Laurelhurst, Dec. 21-22; Mission, Dec. 23-24, 26.

The Lost Letter (1972)

Some of Portland's repertory programs are taking a day or two off from running Ukrainian cinema because of the holidays. Not the Church of Film and Clinton Street Theater, which will present Boris Ivchenko's story about a Cossack traveling across the Ukrainian and Russian wilderness to deliver a petition for help to the Russian Empress Elizabeth. The Lost Letter was banned by Soviet censors upon release, but has since been reappraised as a classic of Ukrainian cinema. Clinton St. Theater. 8 pm Wednesday, Dec. 21.

The Red Shoes (1948)

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's story within a story about ballet dancer Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) joining a company to put on a ballet also called The Red Shoes, is one of the most influential films shot in Technicolor, and reportedly one of both Martin Scorsese's and Brian De Palma's favorite movies. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Tuesday and Friday, Dec. 27 and 30.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Send out the late, great Gene Wilder with Mel Stuart's terrifying, hallucinatory trip into a nightmarish world of short, singing orange men, bloated children and a family so fucking poor that both sets of grandparents have to sleep in the same bed. Academy Theater. Dec 23-29.

Also Playing:

Hollywood Theatre: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) and A Black Adder Christmas Carol (1988), 7:30 pm Wednesday, Dec. 21. Kiggins Theatre: White Christmas (1954), Dec. 22-24. Mission Theater: Elf (2003), Dec. 21, 23-24; National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), 8 pm Wednesday, Dec. 21; Die Hard (1988), Dec. 26-29. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium: L'Argent (1983), 7 pm Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 21-23.