The last of the must-see movies I’m a tad ambivalent about myself — The Wolf of Wall Street — roars into theaters this Christmas, where I’m sure it will break all standing records for profanity, debauchery and naked lady parts among flicks released to the general public on the day of birth for our Lord and savior. Aside from providing a rare opportunity to compare-contrast with the just-released American Hustle, Wolf also allows fans of the little devil sitting on Scorsese’s left shoulder the chance to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Additionally, there’s a slew of other new releases that are invariably unworthy of your time, including Grudge Match, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (hey, “Mitty” rhymes with…), and a second Justin Bieber hagiography for anyone who can Never Say Never Enough Bieber. Many better bets await you in limited release and retrospective screenings, especially if you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit. (Note that there are still a few showings left at the Walker’s British Arrow Awards showcase, but most if not all are sold out by now.) Here are your best bets for the forthcoming week:
Monday, Dec. 23: It’s a Wonderful Life (Riverview Theatre)
I previously called two of the films playing at the Riverview this week “the two greatest Christmas movies” ever. I was overstating the case a tad, given I blanked on Meet Me in St. Louis and Black Christmas, but the fact remains that there aren’t many movies more prominent at this time of year than It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Of the former, which only plays this evening, I said: “It’s a Wonderful Life is now the movie that seemingly can’t get any attention at all from anyone who didn’t actually grow up during the depression. Not exactly sure why. Frank Capra’s movie is not just its final five minutes. The two hours leading up to that bell ringing and that angel getting its wings constitute one of the most hard-bitten, embittered looks at the American initiative (i.e. let me get mine before I worry about yours) in Capra’s or anyone’s filmography. George Bailey’s faith is tested, and no one (not even his scatterbrained guardian angel Clarence Von Deus Ex Machina) actually tells him his real-life situation isn’t bad, or denies that he’s been ground up within the gears of small-town commerce. George learns the hard way the fact of life that a friend earned is a penny saved, that you won’t die by your community’s hand, but you also may not live without it. The finale, which looks downright saccharine out of context, seems exceptionally queasy following the purgatory that is the rest of the film.”
Monday, Dec. 23 & Tuesday, Dec. 24: A Christmas Story (Riverview Theatre)
“Bob Clark’s nostalgia-drenched A Christmas Story, the not-at-all-universal tale of a 9-year-old boy and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, set in Norman Rockwell’s 1940s middle America. Though his mother, his teacher and even Santa himself seem against his plea to get the gun ‘with a compass in the stock,’ young Ralphie persists. Clark’s movie is only lightly salted with the sardonic humor that confirms the directorial presence of the man who also made Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, and Jean Shepherd’s warm, humorous narrative interjections resonate with the retroactive respect for what our parental figures are really thinking during our formative years.” That’s what I wrote years ago. Somehow I neglected to point out that Clark was also the director of, whaddya know, Black Christmas. The man apparently knew his seasonal strengths.
Monday, Dec. 23 & Monday, Dec. 30: Escape from Tomorrow (Trylon Microcinema)
Well, three out of four ain’t bad. Following an extra strong run of new films, this month’s “Trylon Premieres” ends on its one and only dud. But, unlike the other Disney-centric movie you could be taking in at the local multiplex, at least this one’s a fascinating failure. You may have already heard about Escape from Tomorrow‘s central trick — filming guerilla style and without permits in Disneyland. Unfortunately, the publicity stunt is far more interesting than the resulting film, which uses a half-baked portrait of a middle-aged family man suffering an apparent mental breakdown while on vacation with his brood to smuggle in a bunch of crude, reactionary pot-shots at the Happiest Place on Earth, which it then squanders in favor of puerile, lo-fi sci-fi conceits. Few purported polemics this year have had a less cohesive battle plan.
Thursday, Dec. 26: White Christmas (Parkway Theater)
As I mentioned earlier this season, I think this movie is boring as all get out, but one just doesn’t argue against nostalgia, especially during the holidays. For everyone who counts this Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney-Danny Kaye-U.S. Military bon-bon among their most beloved Christmas traditions, the Parkway Theater presents a Twin Cities encore of White Christmas. As does the Riverview Theater, incidentally, but only on Monday afternoon.
Friday, Dec. 27 through Sunday, Dec. 29: Lolita (Trylon Microcinema)
In a perverse little fillip, the Trylon closes out its series of underrated Stanley Kubrick films with showings of the first film from his commonly accepted imperial phase, and just about the only film he ever did that pleased Pauline Kael. An adaptation of Vladimir Nakobov’s book that was, for better and (for some) possibly worse, decades ahead of its time, Lolita is among Kubrick’s most overtly hysterical films this side of Dr. Strangelove. Gather the whole family to take in the strange case of Humbert Humbert.