Edited by Anne Marie Distefano

'The Nativity Story' (PG)

There shouldn't be any problem with controversy surrounding this version of the biblical history. It's as bland as 'The Passion of the Christ' was sadistic.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, of the tough indie hit 'Thirteen,' seems to want to bring a more modern edge to bear on the story of Christ's birth, and you might expect her to seize on Mary as the original troubled teen.

But while the syrup flows a bit less torrentially than in other films scripted by Portlander Mike Rich ('Radio,' 'Finding Forrester'), Hardwicke's approach remains cautiously stranded between the possibilities for either realism or epic poetry.

She is not helped by the surprisingly wan Keisha Castle-Hughes ('Whale Rider') as Mary, a performance as inexpressive as the drab grayish color scheme. The three wise men, offered as brief comic relief, fare best.

And with that in mind, why not just check out the recently released DVD of John Ford's spirited Western take on the Nativity, '3 Godfathers,' which has a lyricism, beauty and charm that proves considerably more inspiring.

- Pat Holmes

Cinetopia, Pioneer Place, Lloyd Mall, Evergreen Parkway, Movies on TV, Division Street, Stark Street

'F*ck' (NR)

Once you get past the epithet-as-title, there's very little that's shocking about filmmaker Steve Anderson's documentary on everybody's favorite swear word.

A herd of talking heads - including linguists, historians, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, singer Pat Boone and the usual gang of liberal suspects like Janeane Garofalo - talk about the origins of the F-word, and indulge in the never-ending argument about where concern for decency stops and censorship begins.

It's entertaining enough, offering clips of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in their prime, and organizing the discussion into segments devoted to sex, politics, etc. But Anderson is a little too in love with the film's overly cute animated bits (rather haphazardly created by Portland's own Bill Plympton) and ultimately presents nothing particularly enlightening on the subject.

Pro-free speech propaganda like this, aimed squarely at those who are guaranteed to agree with its premise, isn't as edgy as it pretends to be. 'F*ck' is a well-crafted cinematic softball - but a softball nonetheless.

- Dawn Taylor

Cinema 21

'Turistas' (R)

Several young gringos who lack the slightest hint of self-preservation or healthy paranoia get drugged and robbed while prancing around a Brazilian beach in their bathing suits.

Then they follow a guy they just met deep into the jungle and through a series of perilous underwater caves.

After an hour of this, they meet the bad guy - a peevish doctor who wants to steal all their organs. So they run away, back through the underwater caves and the jungle.

It's difficult to describe how mind-bogglingly tedious it all is, other than to note that some audience members at a recent screening were so desperate for something scary to happen that they shrieked when one of the characters encountered ants while hiding under a bush. Seriously.

Sold as a slaughterfest of the 'Hostel' variety, 'Turistas' is really about little more than people walking around, swimming and asking, 'Are we there yet?' Yawn.

- DT

Broadway, Lloyd Mall, Evergreen Parkway, Movies on TV, Division Street

The Golden Age of Portland Movie Theaters

Since the opening of the Arcade nickelodeon in 1903, Portland has been home to movie theaters both grand and modest. Portland theater historians and archivists Steve Stone and Mike Matthews present a multimedia history of the city's theaters, from the extravagant palaces of the 1920s to the drive-ins of the 1950s and more. Learn some bits of local lore, and bring along your own Portland film artifacts for show and tell.

- Anne Marie DiStefano

2 p.m. SATURDAY, Dec. 2, Whitsell Auditorium, $7

Also new this week: Palestinians and Israelis who are trying to move beyond violence are profiled in 'Encounter Point' - meanwhile, members of Mötley Crüe give voice to the crass Claymation disaster-film spoof 'Disaster!' (both at Hollywood). Before you go Christmas shopping, check out 'In Debt We Trust,' (Dec. 4-5) which posits that credit cards have created a system of 'modern serfdom.' Follow that up with a dose of animal-rights activism with 'Your Mommy Kills Animals' (Dec. 6, both at Clinton Street Theater). Experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie will be in town to screen his seminal works from the 1960s (Dec. 6-7, see for details).

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