New Year's Weekend Movie Forecast: Um, <em>Case 39</em> Anyone?

<p>Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger returns to the horror movie genre with <em>Case 39</em>, in which she adopts "a foster child from hell" or something. It opens on New Year's Day, and the preliminary reviews are not specifically too good. <strong>"A sequence where <em>The Hangover</em>’s Bradley Cooper discovers his head is home to a live hornet’s nest wins the gold for most unintentionally hilarious demise,"</strong> writes Leigh Paatsch at <a href="">the Australian Herald Sun</a>. "But believe me, there are plenty of contenders here. <em>Case 39</em> was filmed almost 3 years ago, and it is blatantly obvious why it has stayed on the shelves for so long."</p>

<p>Michael Haneke’s <em>The White Ribbon,</em> a chronicle of German life in a Protestant, still-feudal village on the eve of World War I, won the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Will it win audiences in America? <a href="">The Village Voice's J. Hoberman</a> calls it the "best ever" from the director of <em>Funny Games.</em> "<em>The White Ribbon</em> is as cold and creepy and secretly cheesy as any of Haneke's earlier films, if not quite as lofty. Instead of sermonizing, Haneke sets himself to honest craftsmanship. </p><p></p>"Detailed yet oblique, leisurely but compelling, perfectly cast and irreproachably acted, the movie has a seductively novelistic texture complete with a less-than-omniscient narrator hinting at a weighty historical thesis: It's <em>Village of the Damned</em> as re-imagined by Thomas Mann after studying August Sander's photographs of German types while perusing Wilhelm Reich's <em>Mass Psychology of Fascism</em>."

<p>An obscure Tennessee Williams screenplay written in 1957 is the source material for <em>The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond</em>, which stars Bryce Dallas "<em>Helloooo,</em> there!" Howard an impulsive, emotionally unstable heiress recklessly defying the uptight mores of 1920s Memphis high society. <a href="">Stephen Holden at the Times</a> says Howard "ignites like a firecracker" but "within the Williams canon, the screenplay qualifies as middle-drawer. With its strained, quasi-poetic language that fitfully tries to soar, <em>The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond</em> is a significant, though less than monumental feat of reclamation."</p>

<p>The documentary <em>Old Partner</em>, which <a href="">opens at Film Forum today</a>, concerns Mr. and Mrs. Lee, elderly peasants who "eke out a living from their farm in a remote portion of South Korea, served by a 40-year-old ox who is their friend, their colleague, their lifeblood—and clearly Mrs. Lee’s (successful) competitor for her husband’s love and loyalty." <a href="">Slant Magazine gives it</a> two out of four stars, deciding that "one of [director Lee Chung-ryoul's] accomplishments is to capture the essential sadness of a man who knows only one way of life and is no longer physically able to adhere to it. </p><p></p>"In certain long-shot images of man and beast slowly making their way along the dirt roads, the director effects a measure of restrained gravity, forcing us to reflect on the 40-year relationship between owner and animal which allowed Choi to feed and raise nine children who, based on the evidence of a mid-film visit, seem to have achieved a lot more success than their parents. But even these laudable sequences are marred by the occasional intrusion of pensive piano tinkling which seems too calculated to wring pathos from the plight of the characters, as the whole project is by the nagging sense that what really interests Lee is in crafting prettified images of his central couple's suffering."

<em>The Chaser</em>, a film noir set in Seoul about a serial killer on the run, o<a href="">pens at the IFC Center</a> today. <a href="">Mike Hale at the Times says</a>, "The sweaty low-tech action and the emphasis on urban topography link the film, the feature debut of the director Na Hong-jin, to modern South Korean classics like Lee Myung-se’s propulsive cop drama <em>Nowhere to Hide,</em> and Bong Joon-ho’s river-monster thriller <em>The Host. </em><strong>Mr. Na isn’t operating at that high a level, at least not yet.</strong> But with <em>The Chaser </em>he’s trying to chart a similar course between the poles of art-house pomposity and empty style that characterize so much of Korean moviemaking."

<p>Jim Henson's 1979 classic, <em>The Muppet Movie</em>, <a href="">screens at The Sunshine</a> this weekend on three nights, starting tomorrow.</p>

<p>Martin Scorcese's 1976 film <em>Taxi Driver</em>, starring a young Robert De Niro and an even younger Jodi Foster, <a href="">screens at the IFC Center</a> this weekend at midnight. </p>