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Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>The Company Men</em> Vs. <em>Narnia</em>

<p>During a recession, it's easy to demonize anyone who goes to work in a suit. After the recent economic collapse there was a major backlash towards the financial system's image and the people who are a part of it. It got to the point where people began picketing outside of big wig bankers' estates in Westchester. As much as this hatred may or may not be warranted, its probably healthy that we have shows like <em>Mad Men</em> and the just released film <em>The Company Men</em> to remind us that these people have problems too. </p><p></p><em>Company Men</em> follows Company Man Bobby Walker (played by the recently legitimized Ben Affleck) who loses his job at his Company and now is just a Man (whatever that means). He soon finds himself working for his brother (1980s' Kevin Costner) constructing houses and discovers what it truly means to be the aforementioned "man." So basically it sounds like one of those fallen-rich-man-finds-true-happiness-in-manual-labor movies meant to keep the proletariat in check.<p></p>Reviews have been good, with Karina Longworth from <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-12-08/film/the-company-men-takes-pity-on-the-emasculated-exec/">The Village Voice</a> saying: "The surprise then was how well the gambit worked: With uniformly excellent performances (Affleck—an actor well familiar with rising fast, falling hard, and having no choice but to work his way back into the winners’ circle one calculated decision at a time—is particularly satisfying) and a script that parceled out sentiment judiciously and left a fair amount unsaid, <em>The Company Men</em> put movie-star faces on some of the least sympathetic victims of the financial crisis and still felt like a more mature reckoning with the moment than Jason Reitman’s Oscar nominee.<p></p>"Not exactly dude-friendly (the pyrotechnics are all actorly, and emasculation is as pervasive as the defense-mechanism body humor in a bromance), <em>The Company Men</em> is maybe best understood as a chick flick about dicks: Before its too-easy conclusion, the movie offers a multifaceted glimpse at what can happen when the connective tissue between a man and his source of income is cut, and rarely suggests that it could be anything less than excruciating to stop the bleeding."


<p>And for those of you who like your Christian morality tales via children's fantasy films with lions in them, you are in luck, because today there's a new Narnia film! <em>The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader</em> follows our gang of allegorical stand-ins as they make their way across some enchanted sea, on an episodic quest inspired by Irish folk tales, facing off against villains that could destroy Narnia itself! A little more fluffy then reading your kids Leviticus at bedtime, it's the best pseudo-Christian allegory we have until Disney releases the animated <em>Pilgrim's Progress</em> sometime next year.</p><p></p>Reviews have been okay for a children's fantasy movie, with Tasha Robinson from <a href="http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-chronicles-of-narnia-the-voyage-of-the-dawn-tr,48783/">The A.V. Club</a> saying: "In <em>The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader</em>, the characters have to find seven lost magical swords and place them on a magical table to save the world from the generically evil threat of Dark Island. The plot additions give the story some stakes and a heaping helping of extra conflict, but they’re poorly planned, described, and detailed. They essentially replace the book’s blank spaces with gaping plot holes and laughable clichés.<p></p>"It’s apparently enough that there’s a clearly defined goal, some brave people pointed toward it, some CGI monsters to spice things up, and some inessential-but-serviceable 3-D for immersion’s sake. But that approach feels depressingly lazy. The story is based in Lewis’ fervent Christian beliefs, but this adaptation feels mighty soulless."


<p>Julie Taymor must be the greatest grant writer who ever lived. How else could she manage to continually pump out absolutely epic flops of grandiose spectacle while riding on, basically, the huge success of a single play? The woman has vision, you've got to give her that, but vision isn't necessarily marketable (<em>ahem</em> Gilliam), you still need to convince someone to fund the monstrosity and well... she's done it again. Coinciding with the preview performances of her Broadway play <em><a href="http://gothamist.com/2010/12/03/spider-man_great_show_for_understud.php">Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Turn On the Shitshow</a></em> comes her re-imagining of Shakespeare's <em>The Tempest</em>. In Taymor's version Prospero is Helen Mirren's Prospera, which seems to be the biggest deviation from the original play, and if you're not familiar with it, you should probably brush up on your Shakespeare. We're not sure what Taymor's relationship status is, but she needs to marry James Cameron so they can co-direct the most expensive, awesomely epic movie ever! Hell is empty indeed!</p><p></p>Reviews have been mostly mediocre, with a particularly harsh one coming from Joshua Rothkopf at <a href="http://newyork.timeout.com/arts-culture/film/632863/the-tempest">Time Out New York</a> who says: "<em>The Tempest</em> feels as lost as Taymor’s lush <em>Titus</em> (1999) was inspired; the chintzy visual effects are a swirl of bargain-basement gloss, and the verbiage gets buried beneath them. Even if you’re the type who can compartmentalize into a childlike state of wonder, you’ll still be infuriated by a misunderstood text.<p></p>"Heavy-handed 'stuff as dreams are made on' only begins to describe the worst of this production—such as a bescarved, bumbling Russell Brand wandering into frame as if mistakenly on the wrong set. Between him, Alfred Molina’s overly intense Stephano and a nearly incomprehensible Djimon Hounsou as the animalistic Caliban, Taymor comes off as less a steward of performances than an absentminded kindergarten teacher, indulgent of all the colors of the rainbow. A tiresome mess that’s completely bereft of a quiet moment in speech or manner, The Tempest aches for the wisdom of discipline."



<p>Who would have thought that that guy in the Calvin Klein underwear ads who had that one hit song with the Funky Bunch would still be relevant almost twenty years later? Well, Mark Wahlberg has done a hell of a job keeping himself around, has made some great career choices and seems to have his hands in everything these days. The local-boy-made-good's latest pet project is the film <em>The Fighter</em> which finally sees distribution today after a long journey through various directors and actors. (Ultimately, it's now David O. Russell joint, making this the third collaboration between Wahlberg and the controversial director.)</p><p></p> Wahlberg plays fellow Massachusian "Irish" Micky Ward who grew up in a similar working class, inner-city upbringing as himself and who fought his way to the top of the boxing world. Christian Bale plays Ward's older half-brother Dickie Eklund, a former fighter and current crack fiend, who trains ward on how to box. Wahlberg went all out in making this movie, training for 4 years with the likes of Freddie Roach and Pacquiao, building a gym in his house, living with Ward for a time, and refusing to use any stunt doubles or tricks and instead taking all the punches himself during filming.<p></p>Things paid off for Wahlberg and reviews have been fairly solid, with A.O. Scott from <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/movies/10fighter.html?ref=movies">The Times</a> saying: "With solid bodywork, clever feints and tremendous heart, it scores at least a TKO, by which I mean both that it falls just short of overpowering greatness — I can’t quite exclaim, 'It’s a knockout!' — and that the most impressive thing about it is technique.<p></p>"But the brilliance of Mr. Wahlberg’s quiet performance is that it so effectively mirrors the deep logic of the story, which is finally about the paradox of a man in a violent profession who is fundamentally passive and who must learn how to find some distance from the people who love and need him the most without abandoning them or betraying himself."


<p>Fifteen years after its initial release the don't-call-it-a-documentary documentary <em>Shoah</em> is being shown in two four-and-a-half installments at <a href="http://www.lincolnplazacinema.com/">Lincoln Plaza Cinemas</a>. Twelve years in the making, <em>Shoah</em> is Claude Lanzmann’s monumental epic on the Holocaust, featuring interviews with survivors, bystanders and perpetrators in 14 countries. The film is notoriously long and was famously described as "a long moan" by Pauline Kael, who saw it as the product of an anti-Gentilian paranoid. Since it was first released however the film has become reassessed as a masterpiece and this re-release is looking to clear up some of the mythology behind this little seen epic. Although consisting of interviews, Lanzmann decided to not use any historical footage, choosing instead to recreate shots in the locations where the Holocaust actually took place, forcing audience members to imagine the unimaginable.</p><p></p>Eric Hynes from <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-12-08/film/what-is-shoah/">The Voice</a> says: "But to talk of <em>Shoah</em> only in terms of moral compulsion or epic length is to miss the multitude of Lanzmann’s decisions, his shot-by-shot brilliance—from revelatory tracks and pans to dramatically self-contained long takes—and dauntless commitment to crafting history as a totalizing work of cinema. Inside a major narrative are minor movements, poetic repetitions, and an allegorical frame that begins with a vision of the mythical river Styx and ends with a Lumière-like train advancing, freighting the unthinkable.<p></p>"For nine and a half hours, <em>Shoah</em> is a record of what’s missing. From the overgrown fields and rocky monuments at Treblinka and the snowcapped piles of rubble of Birkenau to the outlines of Warsaw Ghetto flats long leveled, the camera stares at a vacancy. The Nazis succeeded in cleansing these regions of Jews, and Lanzmann won’t let us turn from this truth. Film can record what’s apparent, but he shows how the medium can also document what isn’t. Told what was, what really happened, we’re encouraged to fill in the blanks. It’s all still there, no less haunting, devastating or essential than it ever was."


<p>Playing at <a href="http://www.filmforum.org/films/rabbit.html">Film Forum</a> till December 21st is the short experimental documentary <em>Rabbit a la Berlin</em>. What a lot of people forget, or never knew to begin with, was that the Berlin Wall was actually two walls, with a small strip in between them lovingly referred to as the "death zone." For rabbits, however, this strip of land was paradise. East German guards weren't allowed to shoot at these trapped rabbits, and all of their predators were outside of the wall. So for almost a quarter of a century these floppy eared hedonists were able to eat as much grass and mate as much as they could handle. The film takes the form of a conventional nature documentary, but told from the rabbits’ point of view, using them as a metaphor for the circumscribed lives of postwar East Germans.</p><p></p>Nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Documentary, the film was called by Michael Atkinson at <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-12-08/film/rabbit-a-la-berlin-european-history-from-the-bunnies-pov/">The Voice</a> as being like: "If Werner Herzog remade <em>Watership Down</em>. A wry bunny-p.o.v. parable of paradise found. A lovely modern mini-myth, sarcastic and Beatrix Potter-y in turn."



<p>The general rule of thumb when adapting a book into a movie is to pick a novel that is more about plot and content then its form. There's a very good reason that <em>Finnegans Wake</em> hasn't been made into a movie. Novels that fit nicely into the "tale is in the telling" mantra shouldn't be made into movies. And yet, here we are, staring down the barrel of yet another Hemingway adaptation, and this time it's the obscure, posthumously published, only-really-read-by-academics-looking-to-write-dissertations-on-Hemingway's-sexuality-and-gender-idenity-crisis novel <em>The Garden of Eden</em>. The novel itself was interesting mostly because of its flaws, it took Hemingway 15 years to write it, and he was never happy enough with it to even publish it. Why they chose to make this one into a film is beyond us. Other than <em>To Have and Have Not</em> (which was drastically rewritten for the screen by, among others, William Faulkner), and the first 15 minutes of Robert Siodmak's version of <em>The Killers</em> (perhaps the only true Hemingway adaptation), all adaptations fail. Bottom line: Keep Papa off the screen.</p><p></p>Reviews have been abysmal, with Stephen Holden from <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/movies/10hemingway.html?ref=movies">The New York Times</a> saying: "For all the cinematic crimes against him, there has been no book-to-screen translation of his work quite as atrocious as <em>Hemingway’s Garden of Eden</em>, directed by John Irvin from a screenplay by James Scott Linville. An adaptation of Hemingway’s problematic erotic novel, 'The Garden of Eden,' posthumously published in 1986, it stars Mena Suvari as the meanest mean girl (pun intended) to spit venom in any film since I don’t know when.<p></p>"Of the many howlers in a film that has a sickly bleached palette and a soupy soundtrack, my favorite is Catherine’s haughty warning: 'You must be careful about absinthe. It tastes exactly like remorse, and yet it takes it away.'"


<p>Also playing this weekend at <a href="http://www.ifccenter.com/films/saint-misbehavin-the-wavy-gravy-movie/">The IFC Center</a> is the doc <em>Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Story</em>. The namesake of the Ben &amp; Jerry's flavor and the MC at Woodstock, Wavy Gravy is definitely one of the more colorful characters to come out of the hippie movement. Unlike many of his peers who ended up "sellin' out to the man," Wavy Gravy has kept his optimistic promise to make the world a better place, and you have to hand it to someone in this mindset not to get disheartened. Call it naivety, stupidity or ignorance, it's good to have people like Wavy Gravy around. If you're feeling down about the state of things today maybe head to West 4th and get a nice dose of unadulterated optimism. </p>


<em>Every time Catherine revved up the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour or so.</em><p></p>In a weird sort of backwards way, it seems appropriate that Randy Quaid is on the lam. For many people, he's best known as Cousin Eddie, the lovable degenerate from the National Lampoon Vacation movies, so to think of him driving around the country in an R.V. it seems all too appropriate. And as luck would have it this weekend <a href="http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Market/NewYork/NewYork_frameset.htm">Landmark Theater's</a> Sunshine at Midnight proudly presents <em>National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation</em>. Written by John Hughes, set to a quirky synth score by Angelo Badalamenti, and starring a great comedic ensemble cast, the movie is easily one of the funniest Christmas movies ever made. If you're not feeling the Christmas spirit (and maybe would like to), then head on down to the theater, because nothing says Christmas like Cousin Eddie emptying out his septic tank down a storm drain in his bathrobe shouting "Merry Christmas...Shitter's full!"


<p>Monday, December 13th at 7 p.m. at <a href="http://www.bam.org/view.aspx?pid=2816">BAM Rose Cinema</a>, BAMcinematek proudly presents a film version of Rupert Goold's theatrical production of <em>Macbeth</em>. There will be only one screening, but it will be introduced by the one and only Patrick Stewart, master thespian and star of the film. If you're looking for an interesting but more controlled version of Shakespeare then Julie Taymor's folly, this might be perfect for you. The Times says: "Rupert Goold’s good and nasty interpretation of Macbeth has enough flash, blood and mutilated bodies to satisfy a Wes Craven fan… Must-see."</p><p></p>And Ben Brantley, reviewing the production, wrote, "There have been many fascist-themed versions of <em>Macbeth</em> over the years. What makes this one a must-see is Mr. Stewart’s thrilling recognition that his character is as close kin to the fatally introspective Hamlet as he is to power-wielding men of ill will like Richard III. His performance is the first I have seen to realize completely what the scholar Harold Bloom means when he calls this play 'a tragedy of the imagination."