The two movies couldn’t be more different. Gibney’s documentary is dry and stuffed full of facts, figures and interviews. George Hickenlooper, who directed Casino Jack and died prior to its release—it opens Wednesday, Dec. 29—created something of a comic thriller that generates a bit of sympathy for Abramoff, portraying him as a large cog in an enormous machine whose wheels constantly need greasing.
What’s amazing, though, is that the two films tell the same story. In Gibney’s, however, Abramoff is the subject; in Hickenlooper’s, he’s the protagonist. Spacey enjoyably chews scenery as the infamous lobbyist, attempting to find the contradictions between his devout faith and his searing greed. The two should be seen back-to-back. That way, you discover just how different a real-life event can seem, depending on who’s holding the camera.
In any case, the real difference between the two films is this: In Casino Jack, it’s Jack Abramoff who eventually takes the fall. In Casino Jack and the United States of Money, it’s you, the taxpayer, who goes down.
Brotherhood: A skinhead finally finds a community of like-minded individuals by joining a neo-Nazi outfit. That is, until he falls for another guy in the group.
Dogtooth: Freaktastic Greek film about a family that keeps its kids isolated from the world, teaching them strange languages and values that are antithetical to what passes for normal these days. But it’s all relative, since they don’t know anything different.
Red Hill: A young cop moves his family to an isolated Australian town and finds he might not be able to survive the locals on his very first day.
Valhalla: A brutal little Viking movie starring Mads Mikkelsen as One Eye, a slave who kills his captors, commandeers a vessel and takes a crew of motley Vikings to the new world.
White Material: Claire Denis always makes intriguing films, and her new one stars Isabelle Hubert and Christopher Lambert—who was a respectable actor until he made all those Highlander movies—as a white couple in Africa trying to save their coffee plantation when their very existence is outlawed.
ONE TIME ONLY
The Black Candle: Maya Angelou narrates this documentary about Kwanzaa, which also includes an appearance by rapper Chuck D. Filmmaker M.K. Asante Jr. will be on hand, as well, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29, at the WorldBeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park.
Wall Street: Greed, it turns out, is not good for most of us. Still, this seems like an appropriate holiday movie for this particular year. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Shakespeare in Love: Lovely film about Will Shakespeare’s attempt to write Romeo and Juliet. It earned Oscars for Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench and beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. Screens at 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 30, at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. Free with museum admission.
The Discoverers: An IMAX movie about scientists recreating many of histories greatest discoveries. Screens at 2 pm, Monday, Jan. 3, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Bringing Up Baby: Cary Grant is a zoologist who desperately needs a bone for his museum. Katharine hepburn is the heiress who keeps getting in his way. And Baby? She’s a leopard. Screens at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, at the Encinitas Library. Free.
Butterfly Tongues: In this drama from 2000, fascists try to take over in Spain in the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of a young boy named Moncho. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Spaceballs: Set phasers on stun. Wait, wrong parody. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Carlos: Édgar Ramírez is so good as nefarious terrorist Carlos the Jackal in this five-and-a-half hour biopic that you may forget the subject was one of the world’s most feared terrorists for decades.
Ahead of Time: Documentary about 99-year-old Ruth Gruber, who was the youngest person to earn a Ph.D. at 20, who escorted a thousand Holocaust survivors from Naples to New York in 1944 and who was the first journalist to enter the Soviet Arctic. Why isn’t she president?
Gulliver’s Travels: Jack Black continues his shark-jumping. So does 3-D.
Little Fockers: Another one? Fock!
Made in Dagenham: Sally Hawkins is the fictional Rita O’Grady, who led women workers in England to strike against Ford in the late ‘60s. Neither she nor her comrades are served by the film’s limp screenplay, however.
Rabbit Hole: Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are a couple struggling with the death of their young son, eight months later. He’s all about celebrating the boy’s life while she just wants it to disappear.
True Grit: The Coen brothers adapt Clinton Portis’ novel, with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, the part that earned John Wayne his only Oscar.
The Fighter: For some, the acting of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in David O. Russell’s working-class boxing movie is authentic and real. For others, it’s scenery-chewing.
How Do You Know?: Reese Witherspoon can’t decide between corporate Paul Rudd and jock Owen Wilson. It’s a James L. Brooks movie, so you know Jack Nicholson figures into it somehow.
The King’s Speech: Though he should have taken a walk to the podium this year, Colin Firth will probably win an Oscar for playing King George VI, the monarch who led his people into WWII despite his almost-crippling stammer. Geoffrey Rush is great as his speech therapist.
I Love You Phillip Morris: Jim Carrey is as rubber-faced as ever, playing a gay conman who meets the love of his life, Ewan McGregor, in prison.
Tron: Legacy: Disney’s big-budget, 28-years-later follow-up is far more style than substance, as Sam (Garrett Hedlund), the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), enters the grid to rage against the machine. The light cycles are cooler than ever, but the story gets more and more ridiculous as the film progresses.
Yogi Bear: Going 3-D in today’s world just proves that Yogi is, in fact, smarter than the average bear. He’s voiced by Dan Aykroyd, while Boo-Boo gets Justin Timberlake’s pipes.
Black Swan: Natalie Portman has to find both sides of herself as a ballerina obsessed with playing the lead in Swan Lake in the new one from Darren Aronofsky. Well-directed, beautifully shot, completely bonkers.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The franchise is reborn after Disney stopped making the films. There’s something quasi-religious about that, right?
The Tourist: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp team up to kill a bunch of bad guys and rake in piles of money at the box office.
Four Lions: Like its protagonists, this satire about bumbling British jihadists doesn’t always hit its target. But when it does, it’s really funny.
Burlesque: Can Cher help smalltown girl Christina Aguilera become the best burlesque dancer in L.A.? Yes.
Love and Other Drugs: Anne Hathaway falls for pharmaceutical salesman Jake Gyllenhaal and has an endless supply of Viagra.
Tangled: Disney’s take on Rapunzel is surprisingly terrific. Mandy Moore is the singing princess, Zachary Levi the dashing thief, and they’re both upstaged by an animated horse. And for once, the 3-D contributes to the movie.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The first half of the two-part final installment assumes viewers know exactly what’s going on as the film opens. It’s as slow as the first half of the epic book it’s based upon, but fans of the Potter franchise won’t want it to end—because when it does, they have to wait until July 2011 to watch the final battle between Harry and Voldemort.
Galapagos: An IMAX look at the islands and the animals that made Charles Darwin famous. We’re most fond of the blue-footed boobie. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Unstoppable: Should be called “Denzel Washington and Captain Kirk versus the Death Train.”
Due Date: Road-trip comedy stars Robert Downey Jr. as a guy desperate to get across the country, but the only way he can do it is by catching a ride with insane Zach Galifianakis. Directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips.
Fair Game: Naomi Watts is Valerie Plame and Sean Penn is Joe Wilson in this look at how CIA agent Plame’s identity was leaked to the press after husband Wilson authored a controversial op-ed in The New York Times. The acting’s good, but this should have come out years ago.
Megamind: A new 3-D animated flick with Will Ferrell as the misunderstood bad guy, Brad Pitt as the hero and Tina Fey as the funniest person in the room.
Inside Job: Matt Damon narrates Charles Ferguson’s exhaustive documentary about which people, exactly, were responsible for the recent global finance crisis.
Red: Action-comedy starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and, best of all, Helen Mirren, as retired spies some young whippersnappers are trying to kill.
The Social Network: David Fincher’s new film about the early days of Facebook is more entertaining than 99.9 percent of status updates.
The Town: Ben Affleck directs himself (not a euphemism). He’s a Boston thug torn between bad-guy buddy Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, a bank manager he once stuck up (also not a euphemism). Oh, and FBI man Jon Hamm is hot on his trail (still no euphemism).
Winter’s Bone: Debra Granik’s noir thriller, set in a closed meth-cooking community in the Ozarks, is as intense and grim as its name. It’s well-written and well-made and features an amazing performance from Jennifer Lawrence, a 17-year-old who has to find her deadbeat father or she and her young brother and sister will lose their home.
The Ultimate Wave Tahiti: The latest IMAX entry at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park follows super surfer Kelly Slater as he does his thing on some massive waves.
Hubble: Leonardo DiCaprio lends his pipes to this IMAX film, which uses CGI and real footage to take a close look at saturn’s rings. Just stay away from Uranus. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.