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Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>Che, Gran Torino, Doubt</em>

<em>Che</em>, Stephen Soderberg's epic biopic about legendary T-shirt entrepreneur Che Guevara, opens in New York tonight for a one-week run at the indispensable Ziegfeld theater, in order to qualify for an Academy Award nomination. <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-12-10/film/soderbergh-s-the-argentine-and-guerrilla/2">J. Hoberman at the Village Voice</a> writes, "Throughout <em>Che</em>, the emphasis is on process—indeed, Soderbergh acted as his own director of photography, under the name Peter Andrews. Moreover, the movie presents its subject almost entirely in the context of three events—the Cuban Revolution, the Bolivian debacle, and a 1964 trip to the United Nations. "There were some at Cannes who accused Soderbergh and screenwriter Peter Buchman of evading the facts: Where was Che's bureaucratic bungling and his persecution of political enemies? What about his love affairs? His adventures in the Congo? Why, others wanted to know, did Soderbergh withhold the ecstatic entrance into Havana? Everything must be deduced from Che's behavior under actual or rhetorical fire—he is defined in terms of his desire and capacity to make history.<p></p>"After Soderbergh normalized <em>Che</em> (mainly by tweaking the first half to soften its strangeness), his movie seemed disappointingly less formally rigorous—but even more scrupulous in its pursuit of an objective narrative.<strong> The filmmaker wanted to make history as well."</strong>


<p>In Clint Eastwood's <em>Gran Torino</em>, Clint plays a former auto worker in Detroit who gets caught up in some nastiness with Hmong immigrants in his downwardly mobile neighborhood. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/movies/12tori.html">Manohla Dargis at the Times</a> is on board: "Twice in the last decade, just as the holiday movie season has begun to sag under the weight of its own bloat, full of noise and nonsense signifying nothing, Clint Eastwood has slipped another film into theaters and shown everyone how it’s done. <strong>This year’s model is <em>Gran Torino</em>, a sleek, muscle car of a movie Made in the U.S.A., in that industrial graveyard called Detroit.</strong> I’m not sure how he does it, but I don’t want him to stop. Not because every film is great — though, damn, many are — but because even the misfires show an urgent engagement with the tougher, messier, bigger questions of American life."</p>


<p>John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play <em>Doubt</em>, about a priest accused of abusing an altar boy at Bronx Catholic school, has been adapted for the screen, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sounds prestigious, but <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2008/12/15/081215crci_cinema_lane?currentPage=2">Anthony Lane at the New Yorker</a> is bored to tears: "Collectors of large narrative signposts will spend a happy couple of hours at Shanley’s movie, enjoying the window-rattling thunderstorms that he uses to indicate spiritual crisis, and the grimness with which Sister Aloysius, narrowing her red-rimmed eyes, delivers the line 'So, it’s happened.'</p><p></p>"I didn’t know you could hiss, groan, and murmur at the same time, but Streep can do anything. She is, of course, wasted on this elephantine fable;<strong> if only <em>Doubt</em> had been made in 1964, shot by Roger Corman over a long weekend, and retitled <em>Spawn of the Devil Witch</em> or <em>Blood Wimple</em>, all would have been forgiven."</strong>



<p>Reviewing <em><a href="http://www.thedaytheearthstoodstillmovie.com/">The Day the Earth Stood Still</a></em>, a remake of the 1951 sci-fi alien flick, <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/movies/12stil.html?ref=movies">the Times's A.O. Scott</a>, clearly in a generous mood, decides <strong>"it could be worse." </strong>But <a href="http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2008/12/alien_spew_1.php">Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere</a> says, <strong>"Forget it.</strong> The failure of this film has been compressed and condensed into the suffering eyes of Kathy Bates, clearly in hell as she tries to play a steely-blustery Secretary of Defense determined to militarily repel the invasion of planet earth by Klatuu and Gort, who arrive in a big nonsensical space ship shaped like a huge Jupiter-like (i.e., gas-enshrouded) sphere. <strong>It's awful, so awful to watch poor Bates says the lines in Scarpia's script, dying inside a little bit more with each utterance.</strong></p>"I can't write about this. I really can't. All right, I'll give it another shot. Because I agree with what the film is saying (i.e., stop with the greenhouse gases or else). <strong>But I can feel the acid building in my stomach...Kill this movie, stop this review, put an end to the pain, I can't stand it."</strong>


<em>Wendy and Lucy</em>, directed by Kelly Reichardt (<em>Old Joy</em>), stars Michelle Williams as a desperate young woman attempting a perilous journey from Indiana to Alaska in search of employment, accompanied only by her dog. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/movies/10wend.html?ref=movies">The Times's A.O. Scott</a> writes, "At first glance<em> Wendy and Lucy</em> looks so modest and prosaic that it seems like little more than an extended anecdote...But underneath this plain narrative surface — or rather, resting on it the way a smooth stone rests in your palm — is <strong>a lucid and melancholy inquiry into the current state of American society.</strong><p></p>"Much as <em>Old Joy</em> turned a simple encounter between two longtime friends into a meditation on manhood and responsibility at a time of war and political confusion, so does “Wendy and Lucy” find, in one woman’s partly self-created hard luck, an intimation of more widespread hard times ahead." Earlier this week, we spoke with <a href="http://gothamist.com/2008/12/08/filmmaker_kelly_reichardt_wendy_and.php">director Kelly Reichardt</a> about the film.


<p>Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke star in <em>What Doesn't Kill You</em>, a straightforward crime drama about two Boston tough guys dissatisfied with their careers as errand boys for the local crime boss. <a href="http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117938350.html?categoryid=31&amp;cs=1">Variety writes</a>: "A fine example of traditional American storytelling lined with full-bodied performances, [<em>What Doesn't Kill You</em>] is especially notable for giving Mark Ruffalo the kind of complete role this subtle, instinctive actor has long deserved yet too seldom gets." And <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/movies/12kill.html?ref=movies">Manohla Dargis at the Times</a> calls it like it is: <strong>"Mr. Ruffalo is one of the greatest actors working in movies right now, and each performance is a gift."</strong></p>



<p>Director Stephen Daldry's (<em>The Hours</em>) new film, <em>The Reader</em>, starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, concerns a love affair between two Germans reunited after WWII ends, when one of them is on trial for war crimes. Armond White <a href="http://www.nypress.com/article-19137-the-reader.html">at the New York Press</a> trashes it with signature contempt: "Harvey Weinstein and the ghosts of producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella are hoping everyone this holiday season will want to see<em> The Reader’s</em> love story about former S.S. guard Hannah Shmitz (Kate Winslet) and the teenage boy she sexually initiates in the late 1950s and the cloud of remorse it casts over his adult life (the adult being played by Ralph Fiennes). It should have been a comedy like Paul Verhoeven’s <em>Black Book</em>, shaking up the calcified presumptions of quasi-Holocaust dramas. <strong>But it’s also Oscar season and historically based, award-baiting mawkishness is no laughing matter."</strong></p>


<p>At midnight tonight and Saturday, <a href="http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Films/films_frameset.asp?id=2773">the Sunshine screens</a> <em>My Neighbor Totoro</em>, an early-career animated film from writer/director Hayao Miyazaki, director of <em>Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away</em> and <em>Howl's Moving Castle</em>. In this one, Satsuki, an eight-year-old girl, and Mei, her baby sister, "move with their father to a rickety farmhouse to be closer to their mother, who is recuperating from a serious illness in a nearby hospital. One day Mei falls down a hole and meets Totoro, a huge furry creature the size of a house, who can only be seen by the children who love him. Mei, Satsuki and Totoro become fast friends, and Totoro takes the girls flying with him."</p>


<p>At midnight tonight and Saturday, the <a href="http://www.ifccenter.com/event?eventid=999852">IFC Center continues</a> its late night series "The Scariest Decade, Horror Films of the '80s" with <em>Poltergeist.</em></p>