This week at the movies, two actors known for their intensity on (and off) screen have new flicks coming out. The Oscar-winning over-reactor Russell Crowe goes the romantic comedy route with A Good Year about an English businessman softened by life in Provence. With a script by Peter Mayle, a novelist well versed in the French countryside, and direction by Ridley Scott, Crowe as Max Skinner actually comes across as incredibly charming. He's sure to send many loins a fluttering as he woos French hottie, Marion Cotillard on his newly inherited chateau and vineyard. Albert Finney, as his beloved uncle, and Freddie Highmore, as the young Max, also have some very cute exchanges together. All of these elements make for a light but well-made movie, that surprisingly entertaining.

Christian Bale is also renowned for giving his all on screen, and he really delivers in his newest, Harsh Times. As an ex-Army Ranger trying to return to civilian life in down-and-out Los Angeles, Bale's character Jim Davis can be a tender boyfriend one minute, and a slang-spouting, tough homeboy another. Directed by David Ayer, the creator of Training Day, this movie can be as abrasive as its title and twice as violent, but its certainly affective. Sarah Michelle Gellar also returns to the silver screen this weekend in another supernatural horror film, this one about a woman avenging her own death, in The Return.

In addition, two little odd indies are hitting theaters this weekend. Joey Lauren Adams saw a drop off in good roles after her turn in Chasing Amy, so she decided to go behind the lens. For her first movie which stars Ashley Judd, Come Early Morning, Judd plays a Southern woman who wants to make big changes in her haphazard life. There's been a lot of buzz about Judd's performance, believe it or not. After directing Maggie Gyllenhaal to a big time breakout in Secretary, director Steven Shainberg returns to the world of kink with Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Nicole Kidman plays the photographer Arbus as a '50s housewife who wants to deny her freaky nature, until she meets a real life freak in the hairy man upstairs (Robert Downey Jr.). While Shainberg makes a movie that's lovely to look at, his characters' motivations and his depiction of '50s life, let alone the fictionalizing of such a famous artist as Arbus, is perplexing at best. Fans of Arbus would be better served staying home and flipping through their monographs.

Even if you watch and read the news religiously about the war, it's difficult to get a real feel for what it must be like to live in Iraq right now. This is why the new documentary, Iraq In Fragments, which began a two week run at Film Forum yesterday, is such essential viewing. A winner of numerous documentary prizes including at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Fragments tells three stories of Iraqi lives from around the country -- a young boy struggles to get an education in Baghdad, a zealous follower of Moqtada Sadr in Naseriyah and Najaf tries to arrange local elections, and a farmer's son in Arbil longs to become a doctor. Not only are these stories fascinating in themselves, but the way director James Longley beautifully captures them with his camera is stunning. Please don't miss this film, it's wonderfully done.

Some might argue that if silent star Louise Brooks hadn't been so alluring, and Cinémathèque Française archivist Henri Langlois hadn't been so obsessed with screening her long forgotten films in '50s Paris, we never would've known the French New Wave. In honor of that iconic star's centenary, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will be screening her classic film, Diary of a Lost Girl next Wednesday at 6:30 pm. Film historian Peter Cowie, whose recently published book Lulu Forever examines Brooks' career, will be on hand to introduce the film and sign books afterwards.

Gothamist Pick: Stranger Than Fiction
2006_11_arts_ferrell.jpgWill Ferrell is seriously talented and seriously amusing, though it's not often that we get to see his actual serious side what with all the striping to his tighty whiteys and running around race tracks. In his newest movie, Stranger Than Fiction, which comes out this weekend, Ferrell's character Harold Crick discovers his humdrum life has taken a serious turn, as a novelist (Emma Thompson) with a habit of killing off her main characters is narrating his existence in real time. Nice chemisty between Ferrell and love interest Maggie Gyllenhaal and a delightful exchange with Dustin Hoffman have had critics praising Marc Forester's film, so put it on your To Do list.