Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>Avatar</em> or <em>Crazy Heart</em>

<p>Prepare to surrender another 150 minutes of your life to J-Cam. The auteur of the cross-genre-big-budget-spectacle-film has returned to the big screen with the behemoth <em>Avatar</em>. Opening to "universal acclaim" (according to <a href="">metacritic</a>), the film tells the story of one Jake Sully, a former marine confined to a wheelchair who is hired to pilot a consciousness-driven biological "avatar" in order to infiltrate a tribe of pimped out smurfs on a distant planet so that some evil corporate consortium can continue to mine its raw materials and solve earth's energy crisis. That is until love happens.J. Hoberman from the <a href="">Village Voice</a> says "<em>Avatar</em> is a technological wonder, 15 years percolating in King Cameron's imagination and inarguably the greatest 3-D cavalry western ever made. <bold>Too bad that western is <em>Dances With Wolves</em>.</bold></p><p></p>"The rampaging Sky People are heavy-handedly associated with the Bush administration. They chortle over the failure of diplomacy, wage what is referred to as 'some sort of shock-and-awe campaign' against the Na'vis, and goad each other with Cheney one-liners like, 'We will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep they won't come within a thousand clicks of here ever again!' Worse, the viewer is encouraged to cheer when uniformed American soldiers are blown out of the sky and instead root for a bunch of naked, tree-hugging aborigines led by a renegade white man on a humongous orange polka-dot bat... At least <em>Avatar</em> won't win James Cameron a Nobel Peace Prize—but, then again, it just might."

<p>Also opening this week is <em>Crazy Heart</em> starring Jeff "el duderino" Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Robert "Boo Radley" Duvall. Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country musician in the vein of say Merle Haggard, who after years of living out a country song, seeks redemption with the help of a hot-shot young journalist, Jean (Gyllenhaal).</p><p></p>The film has been getting good reviews with every one of them praising Bridges performance (how can you not like that guy). Nathan Rabin of <a href=",36456/">The A.V. Club</a> says: "Bridges plays a bloated, depressed musician whose former sideman (Colin Farrell) has rocketed to superstardom while his own fortunes sank into an alcoholic haze of grubby honky-tonks and meaningless one-night stands.<p></p>"Bridges brings a battered, weary dignity and a suitably weathered voice to the juicy role of a survivor learning to value himself and his gifts after decades of neglect and abuse. <em>Crazy Heart</em> could use more rough edges, but while it’s a little too sentimental and tidy, Bridges’ humane, deeply empathetic lead performance makes it easy to root for one man’s redemption."

<p>The rom-com goes witness protection in the Sarah Jessica Parker / Hugh Grant vehicle <em>Did You Hear About the Morgans?</em> The movie follows the highly successful Manhattan couple (all Manhattan couples are highly successful you know) Meryl and Paul Morgan who, after witnessing a murder, must relocate to, get this, WYOMING! And all while their marriage is on the skids.</p><p></p>That cantankerous critic Roger Ebert from <a href="">The Cha-Town Sun Times</a> says: "What possible reason was there for anyone to make <em>Did You Hear About the Morgans?</em> Or should I say "remake," because this movie has been made and over and over again, and oh, so much better.<p></p>"The story: Feuding couple from Manhattan is forced to flee town, find themselves Fish Out of Water in Strange New World, meet Colorful Characters, survive Slapstick Adventures, end up Together at The End. The only part of that formula that still works is The End. In this strange new world where the men wear cowboy hats and the women wear cowboy hats and bake, will they find themselves in a rodeo? Let's put it this way. The closeup of a local rodeo poster and the matching shot of Hugh Grant squinting at it virtually guarantees that.<p></p>"Saints preserve us! Not another one of those movies where Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker end up as the front and back halves of a rodeo clown's cow suit! What's that you say? This is the first one where they've been inside the cow? Does it feel that way to you? What's that you say? You bet they'll be chased by a bear? Come on, now: surely only one of them!"

<p>Fellini goes Broadway in this twice-removed reworking of <em>8 1/2</em> called <em>Nine</em>, starring "greatest living actor" Daniel Day-Lewis, a slew of Vanity Fair cover-ready actresses, and Dame Judi Dench. <em>Nine</em>, however seems less Fellini and more of a musical exploration of writer's block, fashion, and sexiness, which actually isn't too far off if you ignore depth and execution.</p><p></p>The film has been getting ripped a new one by most of the press with A.O. Scott from <a href="">The Times</a> being especially and entertainingly bitchy: "'My husband makes movies,' sings Marion Cotillard, with upswept Audrey Hepburn hair and an air of resignation. We’ll have to take her word for it, since the husband in question — played in a whirl of smoking, shrugging and bravura suit wearing by Daniel Day-Lewis — seems to be busily doing everything but that.<p></p>"'I can’t make this movie,' he sings. Substitute “watch” for “make” and provide your own music... Straining to capture artistic frenzy, it descends into vulgar chaos, less a homage to Federico Fellini’s <em>8 ½</em> (its putative inspiration) than a travesty.

<p>Continuing the big streak of animated films this year is the Belgian <em>A Town Called Panic</em>. The film follows three plastic toys aptly named Cowboy, Indian and Horse who share a house in a rural town and go on crazy adventures filled with zany antics—how wacky! Noel Murray from <a href=",36453/">The Onion's A.V. Club</a> says that the movie "has the most in common with the old Nickelodeon series <em>Action League Now!!</em>, in that it’s a little too rough-and-tumble for young kids, but it isn’t exactly subversive or smart-ass, either. <em>A Town Called Panic</em> is more like what a preteen with an overactive imagination might come up with if left alone with a farm playset for an afternoon. It’s more clever than funny, but it’s very clever.</p><p></p>"<em>A Town Called Panic</em> is equal parts cute and frenetic, and may disappoint those expecting something more scabrous. It may also exhaust some viewers once they realize that there isn’t much more to the movie than one nutty incident after another. But those who stick with it may be surprised by how involving those nutty incidents become, and by the amount of thought put into every scale model and every surreal plot twist. Just know this: <em>A Town Called Panic</em> is the kind of movie in which you will see a horse in a Santa Claus suit, riding on a manta ray in order to dupe a race of wall-stealing fish people. Adjust expectations accordingly."<p></p>Notice: Those parties interested should know that directors Aubier and Patar will be at the Dec. 18 showing at 8 p.m. at <a href="">Film Forum</a>.

<p>Also opening this weekend is Francois Ozon's <em>Ricky</em>, which tells the tale of a working class couple who give birth to a baby...and oh yeah, its got wings! Imagine babyproofing <em>that</em> apartment.</p><p></p>Stephen Holden from <a href="">The Times</a> says: "There is no indication in the early scenes of François Ozon’s <em>Ricky</em> that the movie, which begins as a harshly realistic portrait of working-class parenthood in the gritty mode of a Dardenne brothers film, will turn into a magical-realist fable.<p></p>"Even for a filmmaker as gifted as Mr. Ozon (<em>Swimming Pool, Under the Sand</em>), the transition from one style to another a third of the way into the movie is almost impossible to carry off seamlessly. But that may be the point. Even in the happiest families, parenthood, for all its joys, brings no end of anxiety and unwelcome surprise. No child is exactly like any other. For all the rules that have been laid down, child rearing is still largely a matter of playing it by ear.<p></p>"The deeper <em>Ricky</em> plunges into allegory, the shakier its grasp of the material. Paco is eager to exploit Ricky for money and achieve a better life for the family. But having brought up the commercialization of Ricky, the movie abandons the issue. When Ricky flies away after Katie accidentally lets go of the string holding him during an outdoor television interview, the film disappears with him."

<p>It's been a good month or so since the last British royalty period film came out, but there's no need to worry, because this weekend sees the release of <em>The Young Victoria</em>. So put down that Philippa Gregory novel and head to the pictures where you'll follow a young Queen Victoria's rise to power and subsequent courtship with Prince Albert (scandalous!). </p><p></p>If this doesn't sound like your thing, Ella Taylor from <a href="">The Village Voice</a> shares the sentiment: "Man, British heritage cinema can be dull when assembly-lined for the export market. Laboring under lampshade millinery, hair that looks like cake, and more sumptuous banqueting than we should ever have to sit through, Emily Blunt is cute, sassy, and wildly improbable as the titular Majesty-in-waiting, who, in life, was a short, dumpy policy wonk and energetic social reformer.<p></p>"Sagging beneath reams of expository dialogue by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the far naughtier <em>Gosford Park</em>, <em>The Young Victoria</em> reproduces the premise of <em>The Queen</em> (she outsmarts her worldlier advisers) with none of that movie's cheek or verve. Plodding from one brocaded talkathon to the next, director Jean-Marc Vallée (<em>C.R.A.Z.Y.</em>) makes an unannounced left turn into action with a slow-mo assassination attempt that looks like a commercial for something, then proceeds, as planned, to the inevitable nuptial hour."

<p>This weekend at the <a href="">Film Forum</a> during their Madcap Manhattan showcase you can see two Barbara Stanwyck movies for the price of one! That's a lot of Stanwyck. The 1941 Hawks directed and Wilder written, <em>Ball of Fire</em> starring Garry Cooper and the 1938 <em>Mad Miss Manton</em> starring Henry Fonda. </p>

<p>If you like your talkie comedies fast then I'd say you better head down to the BAM rose cinema where they're showing Howard Hawks masterpiece <a href=""><em>His Girl Friday</em></a> starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. </p><p></p><em>If you was worth breaking my nails on I'd tear your face wide open!</em>