Weekend Movie Forecast: Harry Potter Vs. Paul Haggis

So we've never seen any of the Harry Potter movies or read any of the books. (We're adults, and condescending.) For that reason, it was with a great degree of apathy that we attended a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I earlier this week. But by Bellatrix were we entertained! If you're somebody whose knowledge of Harry Potter doesn't extend beyond this Onion parody, this may be just the right time to jump in. We didn't know a Horcrux from a Muggle—all we've seen is an annoying clip from a previous film showing tweens riding around on broomsticks throwing matches at each other—but the basic narrative is hardly esoteric. And we were doubly relieved that this installment doesn't have any scenes whatsoever set at the wizard school. It's all about Harry and his two friends on the run around the world from some really wicked bad asses, and trying to find a magic sword to kill some evil magic charms before they enslave mankind or whatever. It may sound derivative, but it works! One of the most engrossing scenes takes place inside The Ministry of Magic, an Orwellian bureaucracy building where fascists take all the fun out of wizardry. Harry Potter is a wanted "man," but the kids have to sneak into the belly of the beast to steal one of those unlucky charms. They barely escape with their wands—like the rest of the film, it's tremendously suspenseful, but what really puts it over the top is the slick art direction, which renders the gleaming, steampunk interior like a Matthew Barney installation with a magic budget. Deftly directed by David Yates, the film is expertly paced, with well-timed plateaus of moody character development balanced between the gripping suspense scenes, and the CGI is stunning. For starters, the animated hairless elf creatures make Gollum from Lord of the Rings look almost amateurish, and the action sequences are just mesmerizing. Other scenes are grab-your-neighbor's-knee scary. (There was more than one terrified shout of, "OH SHIT!" during the screening we caught.) No spoiler here, but the best surprise comes at the end, when this penultimate film in the series eschews a cheap cliffhanger ending for a denouement of such arresting emotional impact that a buddy of ours even got a little misty-eyed. He claims he just had a cold, but we know the truth: He's a grown man who had to fight back tears during Harry Potter. We're totally buying him one of those big striped scarves for Christmas.

John Del Signore

<p>Paul Haggis, the brilliant mind behind the classic American masterpiece <em>Walker, Texas Ranger</em> and possibly the worst best picture winner in Oscar history (<em>Crash</em>) unleashes upon the unsuspecting masses his newest creation: <em>The Next Three Days</em>. The film is concerned with a certain fella named John Brennan who attempts to break his (supposedly) innocent wife out of the pokey after she gets arrested for a gruesome crime. The gentlemen in question will be played by the lovably gruff and belligerent Russell Crowe, who stars opposite Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson. We're not sure how many hip, young, urbanites would see this in theaters but you may get a call this week from your dad telling you how good it was.</p><p></p>Reviews have been almost all two-star jobs, with A.O. Scott from <a href="">The New York Times</a> saying: "In his quiet, brooding roles (of which this is surely one), Mr. Crowe carries the possibility of violence coiled within him, and one of the problems with <em>The Next Three Days</em> is that John’s menace and desperation are visible from the start, so that the occasional displays of uncertainty and anxiety are not quite convincing. Nor, when you stop to think about it, is most of the rest of the movie, which remakes a 2008 French movie called <em>Pour Elle</em>.<p></p>"An intellectual with a closet full of corduroy jackets and a Prius is transformed by Kafkaesque circumstances into an outlaw — there is all kinds of potential here, but Mr. Haggis lacks the Hitchcockian sense of mischief to make it blossom."

<p>The only good thing to come out of gender, racial or sexual inequality were the movements that tried to end them. Looking back at the Civil Rights Movement there is something very liberating, something that actually affirms the good in humanity when you hear the stories of the marginalized taking on the powers that be. Things are far from perfect but it doesn't look like there are going to be any movements like it for some time (probably not till people realize the deepening socio-economic division and growing poverty isn't stopping anytime soon and start a revolution!). So until then, we have movies like <em>Made in Dagenham</em> to vicariously live through and feel for at least 90 minutes that we actually can make a difference, before being hurled back into reality and disillusionment. <em>Dagenham</em> follows the working-class women in London who, while juggling factory jobs and families, led the movement for equal rights and pay.</p><p></p>Reviews have been very mixed and it seems to be how each critic viscerally responds to movies that are billed as "uplifting" or "crowd-pleasing," with Keith Phipps from <a href=",47938/">The A.V. Club</a> saying: "Hawkins plays a composite of several real women, and her character is drawn with an Everywoman blandness that, happily, Hawkins seems incapable of delivering. She’s alive in every scene, particularly the ones opposite Bob Hoskins as a veteran union organizer who takes a growing interest in seeing that the women get the pay they deserve. Their moments together show how great actors can elevate mediocre material.<p></p>"But make no mistake. In spite of its worthy subject matter and good intentions, <em>Made In Dagenham</em> remains mediocre to the core. The film piles pat subplots atop pat subplots while trafficking in cardboard heroes and villains and easy laughs."

<p>One of the stranger sub-genres of documentary films are the confessional diary docs that have been fairly popular in recent years. More imposing and vivid then memoirs, these films, like 2003's <em>Tarnation</em>, have a strange voyeuristic quality to them that sometimes make them uncomfortable to watch. Today the doc diary <em>Family Affair</em> comes out and it sounds like watching a car wreck. At the age of ten, director Chico Colvard shot his older sister in the leg. The incident shattered his family and started a chain of silent secrecy that he attempts to shatter with this doc 30 years later by visiting all of his relatives and filming it. Sounds like the next best thing to being there!</p><p></p>Reviews have been fairly positive, with Andrew Schenker at <a href="">The Village Voice</a> saying: "The latest entry in the increasingly popular 'meet my fucked-up relatives' documentary subgenre, Chico Colvard’s Family Affair spotlights a clan whose dysfunction makes Precious Jones’s household look like <em>The Brady Bunch</em>.<p></p>"Still, <em>Family Affair</em> delves with fascination, if insufficient depth, into the psychology of victimhood, probing the tendency of the abused (represented by the director’s sisters) to rationalize for their abusers. But while Colvard’s film is always queasily watchable, as with other voyeuristic entertainments that insist on making the private public, there’s the sense that such matters may be better dealt with in-house—or in a courtroom—than writ large on a movie screen."

<p>For all aspiring poets, writers, literati, and counter-culture aficionados in the NYC area, the documentary <em>William S. Burroughs: A Man Within</em> comes out today and we shouldn't need to tell you why you'd want to see it. The doc features never-before-seen archival footage of Burroughs, as well as exclusive interviews with colleagues and confidants including John Waters, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Sonic Youth, Laurie Anderson, Amiri Baraka, Jello Biafra, and David Cronenberg, as well as a score by Sonic Youth and Patti Smith. Anybody who's interested in this fascinating writer and person won't want to miss it.</p><p></p>Reviews have been positive except for the one written by David Fear for <a href="">Time Out New York</a> who said: "Even by the standards of the jive-talking hustlers and jazz-loving hipsters—code name: the Beats—with whom he’d alter the landscape of American letters, this gaunt, gravel-voiced junkie took rebellion to a new level. Outspoken about his sexuality long before queer chic, Burroughs didn’t toe a gay-lib party line. Punks considered him their patron saint, yet he never claimed affinity for them either. He ran in many circles, and pledged allegiance to none of them.<p></p>"There are precious few examples of the writing that made him an icon, and despite testimonies from former boyfriends and fellow mavericks, the Burroughs we see here is mostly a gun nut who poses for photos with everyone from Jean Genet to Kurt Cobain. Reducing an influential genius to a bohemian Zelig with a firearm fetish misses the forest for the flaming metal trees; in Leyser’s biographical interzone, the superficial trumps the truly subversive."

<p>Those of you into Drama, Thriller, Fantasy, Horror films ("Drillfantor" films for short) might be interested in seeing Phillip Ridley's <em>Heartless</em>, which opens today. The movie follows Jamie Morgan, a young man who was born with a disfiguring birthmark across his face, who wanders around abandoned East London taking pictures and getting picked on. One day during his angst walks he encounters a group of fellas who end up being something other than humans. He then obviously makes a Faustian pact with the gentlemen and becomes a part of their band of supernatural degenerates, much to the chagrin of his friends and family.</p><p></p>Reviews have been a steady stream of apathy from underwhelmed critics, with Nathan Rabin from <a href=",47936/">The A.V. Club</a> saying: "In <em>Heartless</em>’ first half, Ridley cultivates an aura of dread and paranoia that can’t hide the film’s plodding pace, portentous tone, or underdeveloped characters. The London of Heartless is dark, sordid, and unknowable, a shadowy realm of secrets and lies, but it doesn’t come alive until the great Eddie Marsan (<em>Happy Go Lucky</em>) surfaces for a game-changing supporting performance.<p></p>"Ridley is a master of atmosphere and mood, but his fantastical conceits require a strong protagonist who isn’t defined first by his birthmark, then by its absence."

<p>In what is surely to be one of the best film showcases of the year, <a href="">The Film Society of Lincoln Center</a> (in possibly their ballsiest gamble in years) is presenting <em>The Cannon Films Canon! </em> Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus started this production and distribution company and throughout the '80s flooded American Cinema with some of the greatest schlock and exploitation films since Roger Corman (whom Golan actually worked with). Films such as the wonderful cult classics <em>Masters of the Universe</em>, <em>Over the Top</em>, and <em>Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2</em> were all produced and distributed by Cannon. Roger Ebert once said: “No other production organization in the world today has taken more chances with serious, marginal films.” Despite some of the previously mentioned flops, the company also attempted to make legitimate "auteur films" with the likes of Godard, Norman Mailer, Ruiz, Roeg, Frankenheimer and Cassavetes. Recommended films (if you really have to choose) are: the Jazzercise musical <em>The Apple</em>, the best Bukowski on film, <em>Barfly</em>, and Godard's absolutely bizarre reimagining of <em>King Lear</em> with Woody Allen, Norman Mailer, and Molly Ringwald (seriously). </p>

<p>Now it's possible that there was a slight use of hyperbole when we referred to the Cannon Films Canon showcase as possibly being one of the best this year, because as good as it can be it cannot possibly compete with the absolutely astounding retrospective about to go down at <a href="">The MoMA</a>: <em>Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares</em>. This unprecedented exhibition is going to be a black hole in the schedules of every cinema lover in NYC for the next four months. Organized in association with the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden and in cooperation with the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, this exhibition—the most extensive ever mounted in the United States of German films made between the world wars—includes seventy-five feature-length films and six shorts, along with a gallery exhibition of Weimar-era film posters and stills. For those of you a bit rusty on the history of cinema, the output of German films during this time are regarded as some of the best films in the history of cinema. The Germans basically took the grammar of silent film, arguably invented by Griffith's <em>The Birth of a Nation</em>, and perfected it over and over again. From the dark expressionism of <em>The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary</em> and <em>Nosforatu</em> to the absolute perfection of <em>Sunrise</em>, there are countless must-see movies being shown. We can't think of a better way to get through the winter.</p><p></p>J. Hoberman from <a href="">The Voice</a> waxes rhapsodic, saying: "A few times each decade, the Museum of Modern Art mounts a film retrospective so focused, inclusive, and downright eye-opening, that it begs to become a daily fix. 'Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares' is one such retro. Knock off work in time for the 4:30 shows—you can use this column as your doctor’s note—or rush through your dinner to make the 7:30 ones, and don’t forget weekends. MOMA’s 75-feature survey of Germany’s groundbreaking silent and fertile early-sound cinema invites total, obsessive immersion. For the next four months, there won’t be a better, richer, more compelling course in film history available anywhere in town."

<p>Also opening today is the New York based Tandoori comedy <em>Today's Special</em>. Samir is an aspiring cook who hopes to become a great French Chef when he finds himself forced to abandon that dream in order to run his father's Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights. There we're sure he sucks it up, learns to love it, possibly finds love, potentially turns it into a NYC hot spot and finds out that sometimes happiness is in your own backyard. Because it is based in Jackson Heights though it might be fun just to point out familiar restaurants and complain how the geography isn't accurate.</p><p></p>Reviews have been alright, with Nathan Rabin from <a href=",47935/">The A.V. Club</a> saying: "Yet Mandvi’s comic chops and unique background haven’t kept him from co-writing and starring in an agonizingly mediocre independent comedy-drama. Adapted from Mandvi’s Obie-winning play <em>Sakina’s Restaurant</em>, <em>Today’s Special</em> is so relentlessly generic and familiar, it might as well be called <em>Crowd-Pleasing Ethnic-Food-Based Coming-Of-Age Comedy-Drama</em>.<p></p>"<em>Today’s Special</em> delivers its populist clichés lukewarm and straight-up when it would be better off subverting or twisting them into funky new forms."

<p>Playing this weekend at the delightful reBar spin-off, <a href="">reRun Gastropub Theater</a>, is the Bob Ray double feature of <em>Total Badass/Hell on Wheels</em>. Both documentaries are SXSW favorites, with <em>Total Badass</em> following notorious Austin man-about-town Chad Holt, as he deals drugs, smokes outside his probation officer's house, fronts punk bands, and generally self-destructs. <em>Hell on Wheels</em> documents the rise of woman's Roller Derby and the colorful characters who make it up. Both films are very much grounded in the Texan way of life which makes reRun the perfect venue, because it's the closest NYC has to an Alamo Drafthouse. </p>

<p>What will probably prove to be one of the more challenging films opening this weekend, and hopefully more rewarding, is Claire Denis' <em>White Material</em>. The absolutely brilliant Isabelle Huppert stars as Maria, a French settler and proprietress of a family-run coffee plantation in an unnamed West African state at an unspecified time. The army is preparing to comb through the country to reestablish order and eliminate rebel officers and child soldiers. All of the expatriates have returned to their home country except for second-generation coffee planter Maria, when things begin to change rapidly. Denis' is heralded by some and has the ability to totally alienate others, so this pairing of director and actress should be very interesting.</p><p></p>Reviews have been mostly positive with J. Hoberman from <a href="">The Voice</a> saying: "<em>White Material</em>, which was shot in Cameroon, has an urgent lyricism predicated on fluid jump cuts, jittery camera moves, and extreme close-ups. This composition in continuous crisis and continual dread, written with Prix Goncourt–winning novelist Marie N’Diaye, is at once pre- and post-apocalyptic.<p></p>"But the movie’s refusal to tether its action to a particular time or place gives <em>White Material</em> a disturbing, ahistorical universality. It’s as if Denis were reimagining Conrad’s <em>Heart of Darkness</em> as a chaotic, postcolonial race war in which the river reverses course: The continent’s lush, fecund savagery floods 'civilization' to reclaim its own, including, in the end, Maria’s mind."

<p>In the film <em>Nothing Personal</em>, the Holland born Anne removes her ring from her finger, and puts all of her earthly belongings on her front lawn. She then hightails it to Ireland where she wants to begin a life of solitude. Like most movies where people decide to live lives of solitude, she eventually meets another person with the same agenda. They make an agreement where she'll work for him for food but they both agree there can be no personal contact between them. Let's see how long <em>that</em> lasts.</p><p></p>Reviews have been positive with Ernest Hardy from <a href="">The Voice</a> saying: "What follows, of course, is a slow chipping away of her armor as the two circle each other, tentatively connect, withdraw, and then repeat the process.<p></p>"The whole thing is a pleasure to watch, though, because Verbeek and Rea telegraph volumes of subtext beneath the dialogue they’re given, speaking to the human need for emotional and physical contact—and the fear of the responsibilities and costs that come with it."

<p>There are some phrases used in billing a movie that attract a certain type of person. Phrases such as "Adults Only" and "Banned in England and Germany" really peak an interest in some of us where we need to see the movie. (There was a reason why the Criterion <em>Salo</em> was at one time the most expensive DVD available.) Well, if you're <em>one of us</em> then you might want to head to <a href="">Landmark Theater</a> this weekend, where Sunshine at Midnight presents one of the most relentlessly depraved films ever made, <em>Maniac</em>! Joe Spinell stars at Jack, a psychotic killer in New York City who stalks and slaughters young women. He soon begins a relationship with a woman but realizes he can't control his desire to kill! With landmark gore effects by Tom Savini and directed by William Lustig, don't miss out on seeing a movie that's still banned from being shown across the pond. </p>

<em>You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother's picture. </em><p></p>This weekend at midnight at <a href="">IFC Center</a> is Alejandro Jodorowsky's masterpiece <em>El Topo</em>. If you haven't seen this, do yourself a favor and go watch it on the big screen. There's a reason that it's still being talked about to this day.