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Fatwah / November 3, 2008
By Eileen Jones

Here’s a friendly warning for you: don’t count on the movies to get you through the holidays, any more than they got you through the Wall Street seizures or this gut-wrencher of an election. As bad as the movies have been recently, that’s how bad they’re going to be right through to 2009. Maybe even a tad worse, if that’s possible. Just to give you an idea, the title of one of them, a big fat one with stars and a major budget and everything, is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Just chew on that a minute while I check the polls. (Oh jeez, it’s tightening up, Obama’s only up by 5.4 nationally, 7 in Pennsylvania, 4 in Virginia. I swear, if we lose this one…!)

You know what movie I’m looking forward to? The Quantum of Solace. The Quantum of Fucking Solace! How’s that for a title, while we’re title-mocking? But that’s the bottom of the barrel we’re scraping these days. I just want to see something that passes for a movie, i.e., something that contains THE ILLUSION OF MOVEMENT. If it happens to be the ten-thousandth James Bond film, I can live with that, as long as things in front of the camera move, and the camera itself moves, and the editor has fulfilled his or her basic function.

Anyway, here’s a sample of what’s coming at you. Be prepared to duck.

Role Models (11/7)
Comedy with Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott about two arrested development types who get forced to Big Brother some wayward kids. As they say in Hollywood, “the script writes itself.” If you really want to see kid-cursing and unlikely-adult-mentoring done right, just Netflix The Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau instead. You’ll thank me.

Quantum of Solace (11/14)
Admittedly, this will probably deflate like an old tire upon viewing. The preview is full of scowly dark pauses and everybody taking things awfully seriously for a movie that’s going to be all blammo, kazow, trying out gadgets, and showcasing Daniel Craig’s considerable hotitude. Not that we want the campy quips back—no, no, a thousand times, no—but there’s such a thing as overdoing the manly gloom, y’know. The director is Marc Forster, a guy who plainly revels in pretentious gunk like Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland. Can he really be trusted to pull this off? No, but alas, we’ll be there opening day anyway.

Australia (11/26)
Is it possible to laugh for two hours at Nicole Kidman’s plastic surgery and Botox fiasco? If so, this is a must-see. Personally, I don’t think I could chuckle for more than half an hour at her frozen mug. Of course, the rest of the movie looks pretty funny too, everybody striding around nobly, standing tall against the outback, with the big phony music swelling behind them. They don’t make movies like this anymore, and there’s a reason for that. Note to Baz Luhrmann: David Lean says you sicken him.

Milk (11/26)
Oscar-bait film with Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay politican of 1970s San Francisco who was assassinated. Penn’s a great actor, no two ways about it, but what a pretentious git. Everything he touches stinks of messages. Can director Gus Van Sant de-message this thing, or will it be one long, dreary, Pennified lefty-lecture?

Frost/Nixon (12/5)
This is a movie based on a play about a TV interview. Excited yet? Plus, Ron Howard’s directing it. Now your pulses are pounding! Yeah, it’s come to this. They’re making anti-movies in Hollywood. Maybe there should be a new term for these media productions—the Stillies? The Inerties? Anyway, if you care, interviewer David Frost sat down with Richard Nixon in 1977 and got him on tape saying all sort of looney things hour after nutball hour, and you’ll get to see it re-enacted by Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in all its sitting-there-talking glory.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (12/12)
It’s a very bad idea remaking this film, of course, and we can all confidently expect it to tank. Still, there’s something sort of charming about the preview shots of Keanu Reeves playing Klaatu, standing around looking stupefied, as usual. What the hell else is Keanu going to play if not space aliens who come in peace?

Doubt (12/12)
The stage hit by John Patrick Shanley about the nun versus the priest. Did he molest a kid or is she a repressed neurotic, or both? ACK-ting with a capital A, if you like that sort of thing. Meryl Streep goes toe-to-toe with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Personally, I’d rather re-watch him play Brant in The Big Lebowski, and re-watch her play the mean fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada. But that’s just me.

Gran Torino (12/17)
Clint Eastwood directs himself in a role reflecting his actual age, which is old. It’s something about him overcoming his crusty tough-codger prejudices after a Korean neighbor kid steals his vintage car. Will he and the kid bond, or will he shoot the kid after telling him to go ahead and make his day? The suspense is overwhelming.

The Wrestler (12/17)
Oh, this is going to be terrible. Just the stills from it are mortifying, and that’s clearly the point. People are going to sit there gaping at the abject ruin that is now Mickey Rourke, and then give him an Oscar nomination for Greatest Self-abasement. He’s throwing himself into it, of course, practically mopping the floor with his own tears in interviews. God, I wish it were over.

Seven Pounds (12/19)
This has Will Smith in it, but nobody seems to know what it’s about, or what it is that weighs seven pounds. It’s a secret. So, do you want to trade what you’ve already got—two hours of your life that you’re not getting back—for what’s behind Door #3?

Yes Man (12/19)
Weirdly outdated-looking comedy with Jim Carrey playing exactly those kind of high concept yukster roles he used to do years ago, like The Mask or Liar Liar, only now he’s looking older and meaner and much more desperate. If no one wants me as a serious leading man, Carrey seems to be saying, I’ll crush you with a return to comedies like Yes Man. This’ll teach you not to go see The Majestic or Number 23, you little pricks!!

Che (12/22)
I like movies about Che Guevera because he still seems to have the power to make film critics nervous, which is odd. Stalin doesn’t make critics nervous. Nobody feels they need to have some sort of strident opinion about Trotsky or Chairman Mao or even Castro, pro or con. But when Che comes up, in movies like Motorcycle Diaries, all of a sudden the old guard like Roger Ebert and j. hoberman and the New York Times crowd, they all have to weigh in on where they stand on the Che question: inspiring revolutionary leader or corrupt despotic butcher? Recognizing this split, apparently, Steven Soderbergh has divided his movie into two parts, “The Agentine” and “Guerilla,” so you can admire him in Part I and despise him in Part II. The divinely attractive Benicio del Toro stars.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (12/25)
Apparently this title is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fault; it’s the name of his short story about a man who starts old and ages backwards toward youth. Brad Pitt plays the guy, and Cate Blanchett is his inamorata named Daisy—it’s always Daisy for some damn reason—and I’m nearly asleep already, just describing it. But David Fincher’s directing, and he did Seven and Fight Club, so people are interested. I’ll ask them how it turns out.

Marley & Me (12/25)
This one is based on the book in which they kill the dog so the humans can congratulate themselves on all the life-affirming lessons they’ve learned over the dog’s dead body. Same sort of unforgivable thing goes on in My Dog Skip, Old Yeller, and The Yearling (oh, wait, it was a fawn they killed in that one). This one’s far crueler than those, however, because it’s pitched as a wacky comedy, so you might not be expecting the dog to kick off at the end. Get set for it. You’d think Owen Wilson, with his suicidal tendencies, would know enough to stay away from material like this.

The Spirit (12/25)
How long have they been advertising this project, Frank Miller Directs Will Eisner’s The Spirit? I’ve seen the preview eight times. It’s not getting better with repetition. I’m all for stylization, but this black-and-white-and-red-all-over thing is corny as hell, and all the actors seem stiff and uncomfortable in their roles. Lead stiff is this newcomer Gabriel Macht as the undead vigilante anti-hero, and rivaling him in arch awkwardness are Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johannsson, and Eva Longoria. It’s the kind of movie in which each actor strikes a pose and pauses before enunciating a painfully stupid line, such as Longoria’s robotic, “Do-I-look-like-a-good-girl?” A pitiful spectacle!

Valkyrie (12/26)
Tom Cruise plays a WWII German officer based on the historical figure named Something Von Something who plotted to assassinate Hitler. Cruise wears an eye-patch and jodpurs and looks like such a complete ass I’m not sure they’ll ever have the nerve to release this thing. They keep threatening to, then pushing the date back. No wonder the Germans wanted Cruise out. It wasn’t the Scientology issue at all, I’ll bet, it was just the sight of him in that uniform. Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least there was a cool uniform to go with it, and Cruise even manages to make that look ridiculous.

Revolutionary Road (12/26)
This is one of those movies any sane person would run a mile in tight shoes to avoid, which means it’ll get Oscar nominations. Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio reunite after their nauseating triumph in Titanic for this feel-bad drama about a couple of idealistic kids who get married in the ‘50s thinking they’ll have some great adventurous bohemian life and then they, uh, don’t. They have kids instead, and a house in the affluent suburbs, and lots to drink. The preview alone spends about four hours charting their disastrous relationship, so imagine how long the movie will be. Four and a half hours, at least. It’s from Sam Mendes, the director who gave us the portraits of suffocating marriages in American Beauty, which makes you wonder how Mendes’ marriage to Kate Winslet is going.

Defiance (12/31)
Three hot Jewish brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Shreiber, Jamie Bell) set up a community hideout in to the woods and prepare to make a stand against the Nazis. Ed Zwick directs this the way he seems to direct everything, ponderously, with lots of funereal, desaturated color and big bug-eyed stares between actors to convey how serious the situation is. Very solemn and high-minded, no doubt, but the point is there must be three hot Jewish women there among the group, and it’s only a matter of time, out in the woods and all, before they get down to it. Probably a long wait, though.

And that brings us to the New Year. Here’s to better luck in 2009, both cinematically and presidentially.

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