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Holiday Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road</em>

<p>Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, <em>The Curious Case of Benjamin Button</em> stars Brad Pitt as a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards, growing ever younger as the film sweeps through time from the post-World War I era to the present day. Directed by David Fincher, the movie assiduously avoids the pitfall of cheap sentimentality, as Button's long love affair with a "childhood" friend (Cate Blanchett) blossoms, fractures, and disintegrates. It's a sad but ultimately affecting journey; Button's backward aging functions as a simple device to examine the bitterly transient nature of all our life's loves. Sure, the film's observations are as old as the hills, but as presented here they're still emotionally resonant, and Blanchett and Pitt deliver compelling, restrained performances. </p><p></p>David Ansen <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/id/171182">at Newsweek writes</a>, "The overall impact of 'Benjamin Button' is greater than the sum of its parts. The metaphor of a life lived backward is strangely haunting. Benjamin's saga is singular yet universal: anyone who has contemplated his own mortality will find it hard not to be moved by Fincher's evocation of the fickleness of fate.<strong> Lyrical, original, misshapen and deeply felt, this is one flawed beauty of a movie."</strong>


<p>Revolutionary Road, director Sam Mendes's screen adaptation of Richard Yates's novel, reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (<em>Titanic</em>) for a dreary tale of suburban and domestic ennui. <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-12-24/film/winslet-and-dicaprio-awake-to-yates-s-revolutionary-road/">Scott Foundas at the Village Voice</a> writes, "Here, Kate and Leo once again strive to keep their heads above water, gasping for air. Only, in <em>Revolutionary Road</em>, the sinking ship pulling them down is their own marriage...It isn't a great movie—it lacks the full, soul-crushing force of the novel—but what works in it works so well, and is so tricky to pull off, that you can't help but admire it.</p><p></p>"To fully grasp <em>Revolutionary Road</em> is to understand that two people can be at their most alone when they are together—and Mendes, whose <em>American Beauty</em> rendered a similar investigation of suburban anomie as a gallery of over-the-top comic grotesques, willingly goes there. Where the earlier movie was easy to brush off, this one gets under your skin: <strong>It is to Mendes's great credit that <em>Revolutionary Road</em> will likely lead to some tense moments between many a young couple on their drive home from the cinema."</strong>


<p>The Tom Cruise vehicle <em>Valkyrie</em> opens tomorrow after a long, troubled production, during which the German government barred the crew from filming in certain places because of the star's adherence to Scientology, which is verboten in Germany. Directed by Bryan Singer, the WWII film features Cruise as German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who joins a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The cast also includes such notables as Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard, and Terrence Stamp. But does <em>Valkyrie</em> have the reich stuff? <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/2008/12/23/2008-12-23_tom_cruises_boring_valkyrie_never_delive.html">Joe Neumaier at the Daily News</a> says nein: "If there are Nazis fighting other Nazis in a movie and it's still boring, something's gone wrong. <em>Valkyrie</em> has a coterie of problems, and represents a whole new front in Tom Cruise's public relations war, but first and foremost there's the tedium. <strong>Valkyrie is like having to watch someone build a bomb and then never getting to see it explode."</strong></p>



<p>In <em>Last Chance Harvey</em>, downsized jingle writer Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) strikes up a conversation with Kate (Emma Thompson), a bureaucrat at the Office of National Statistics, at an airport bar. Romance slowly blossoms, which sounds dreadful, but <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-12-24/film/hoffman-and-thompson-elevate-the-otherwise-unremarkable-last-chance-harvey/">Aaron Hillis at the Village Voice</a> can't bring himself to hate it: <strong>"Can a heartwarming meet-cute as unambitious and overtly sentimental as Last Chance Harvey be simply too nice to get beat up on by anyone other than the coldest of bastards?</strong>... Besides being old pros who could elevate such schmaltz in their sleep, Hoffman and Thompson—despite the 20-plus years between them, and her graceful restraint in contrast to his creepy assertiveness—have a genuinely sweet chemistry, which is the exact and only reason to seek this one out."</p>


<em>Bedtime Stories</em> stars Adam Sandler as Skeeter Bronson, a "a gum-scraping" hotel handyman whose "life is changed forever" when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true. <em>Awesome! </em><a href="http://www.nypost.com/seven/12242008/entertainment/movies/cut_off_the_tales_145686.htm">The Post's Kyle Smith explains</a>: "Those other Adam Sandler comedies? Turns out they were the grown-up efforts... You could do a lot with the format, particularly the idea of the wackiest parts of the stories coming true in unexpected ways. <strong>Instead, they come true in the most insipid, unimaginative ways</strong>...<p></p>"Skeeter's 'real life' antics involve him screeching his lines at glass-breaking pitch, throwing french fries at his waiter friend, singing 'Rock Me Amadeus' in his truck or getting his wallet stolen (by Rob Schneider, who seems to have no other employment these days besides being Sandler's cameo guy). <strong>When Sandler wails 'for freeeeee!' in an attempt to get laughs, you'll long for the relative genius of <em>Click</em>." </strong>


<p>The Cesar-winning family drama <i>The Secret of the Grain</i> from French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche opens today. The film centers on Slimaine, an aging patriarch who wants to leave his shipyard job (one he's had for 35 years) and open a restaurant, featuring his ex-wife's coucous, and his dealings with friends and family. The Times' <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/movies/24grai.html">A.O. Scott calls</a> the movie "bustling and brilliant": "<b>The camera bobs and fidgets in crowded rooms full of noisy people, so that your senses are flooded with the warmth and stickiness of Slimane and Souad’s family circle.</b> The scenes, though they feel improvised, at times almost accidentally recorded, have a syncopated authenticity for which the sturdy old word realism seems inadequate."</p>



<p>If you've wondered why you've been seeing much more Jennifer Aniston than necessary these days, here's your explanation. Based on John Grogan's bestselling book about his Labrador retriever, <em>Marley &amp; Me</em> stars Owen Wilson and Aniston star as a couple who adopts a badly behaved but much-loved dog. Awww! Take it away <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/2008/12/24/2008-12-24_marley__me_is_no_hairraising_film.html">Joe Neumaier at the Daily News</a>: "There is so little truth, not to mention plot, in "Marley &amp; Me" that it starts to feel like animal cruelty because of how much director David Frankel relies on the dog...<strong>If characters talking to dogs and dog reaction shots are some of your favorite things, add some stars to this review."</strong></p>


<p>Frank Miller, whose graphic novels <em>300</em> and <em>Sin City</em> were previously adapted for the screen by others, steps up with his directorial debut <em>The Spirit</em>. Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson are along for the ride in the story about a former rookie cop who returns from the dead as the Spirit (Gabriel Macht) to fight crime from the shadows of Central City. Jackson plays Octopus, his arch-enemy. Roger Ebert <a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081223/REVIEWS/812239987">isn't really feeling it</a>: "<em>The Spirit</em> is mannered to the point of madness. There is not a trace of human emotion in it. <strong>To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material. </strong>The movie is all style -- style without substance, style whirling in a senseless void. The film's hero is an ex-cop reincarnated as an immortal enforcer; for all the personality he exhibits, we would welcome Elmer Fudd."</p>


<p>After a critically-acclaimed run on the festival circuit, <em>Waltz with Bashir</em> gets a limited commercial release tomorrow. Ari Folman's animated film is an illustrated oral history based on interviews he conducted with fellow soldiers who were in war between Israel and Lebanon in the early eighties. <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-12-24/film/waltz-with-bashir-doc-and-animation-bubbling-with-repressed-violence/">The Village Voice's J. Hoberman</a> calls it <strong>"a grim, deeply personal phantasmagoria</strong>... The thick-lined, near-monochromatic animation is frequently bathed in an eerie yellow light. Folman has said that his documentary was always intended to be an animated feature—the first ever made in Israel... Linking the slaughter of the Palestinians to the experience of Folman's parents in Auschwitz, the filmmaker's analyst-friend points out that 'the massacre has been with you since you were six.'"</p>


<p>Oh, Meryl Streep, we'd watch you read from the phone book. But thankfully, we don't have to settle for that; today we can see you in John Walter's (<em>How to Draw a Bunny</em>) documentary <em>Theater of War</em>, which covers a Public Theater production in Central Park of Bertolt Brecht’s <em>Mother Courage and Her Children</em>, translated by Tony Kushner. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/movies/24war.html?ref=movies">Manohla Dargis at the Times</a> says the film is "tough to summarize, which is part of its appeal. Because while the movie is about a particular staging of <em>Mother Courage</em> it is also about the war in Iraq, theater (and bicycle riding) as social protest, the necessity and futility of art, and the agonizing human failing that Mother Courage gives voice to in 'The Song of the Great Capitulation.'"</p>


<p>Coinciding with Mickey Rourke's comeback performance in <em>The Wrestler</em>, <a href="http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Market/NewYork/NewYork_Frameset.htm">The Sunshine is screening</a> <em>Year of the Dragon</em> this weekend at midnight. The 1985 movie stars Rourke as New York police detective on a vendetta against the Chinese triad importing heroin into Chinatown.</p>


<p>Starting tonight, <a href="http://www.ifccenter.com/event?eventid=999852">the IFC Center</a> is screening Wes Craven's 1984 slasher classic <em>A Nightmare on Elm Street</em> at midnight, through Saturday night. You'll recall the flick features a young Johnny Depp, pictured above.</p>



<p>"Why did we have to have so many kids?" Held over through next week, <a href="http://www.ifccenter.com/film?filmid=3836">IFC Center is also screening</a> Frank Capra's 1946 film <em>It's A Wonderful Life</em>, which has taken on an added relevance this year what with the current banking crisis, as this recent <a href="www.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/movies/19wond.html?em">article in the Times notes</a>. But it's worth watching every year for the sly performances and gem of a script. Rants like this from Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter never get old: "You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas."</p>