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Anti-depressant cinema

The screen offers relief from a world of woe
By PETER KEOUGH  |  December 31, 2008

VIDEO: The trailer for Watchmen

Once the serious Oscar wannabes such as Che, Waltz With Bashir, The Class, and Defiance get out of their system, the studios resume what they do best in times of national economic collapse — churn out frivolous escapist fantasies. Though they haven't revived the musical genre that regaled the nation during the last such crisis back in the '30s, they are hitting hard on that decade's other mainstay, the romantic comedy. Suffice to say two movies with "I Love You" in the title will be opening in the next few months.

Also expect the usual thrillers, remakes, raunchy teen comedies, and video game adaptations. A handful of highly anticipated releases, however should brighten these dark days. Don't give up hope until you have seen Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, Miguel Artega's Youth in Revolt, Zack Snyder's the Watchmen, or Greg Mottola's Adventureland, to name a few.

VIDEO: The trailer for Waltz With Bashir

Sure, getting laid off just before the holidays was no fun, but how about battling for your soul with an entity dating back to the Nazi era? And what if your only help was a rabbi played by Gary Oldman? That's the plight of the young heroine in David S. Boyer's THE UNBORN (January 9), starring Odette Yustman.

So times are tough. But we still have family, which as we have been assured in countless other movies, is NOT EASILY BROKEN (January 9). Bill Duke directs Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson in this melodrama about the havoc an accident wreaks on a man's marriage. Based on the T. D. Jakes's novel.

Almost as stressful as having a marriage end is trying to start one up. But it can be fun, too! As in Gary Winick's locally shot BRIDE WARS (January 9), in which friends have a falling out when they schedule their wedding for the same day. Anne Hathaway, Candice Bergen, and Kate Hudson star.

And if you think putting a wedding together can be a headache, try organizing a revolution. CHE (January 16), a/k/a Castro's right-hand man Ernesto Guevara, got it right the first time in Cuba but pushed his luck in Bolivia. Stephen Soderbergh's four-and-a-half hour biopic features a powerful Benicio Del Toro performance in the title role.

Also pushing his luck is NOTORIOUS (January 16), as in "B.I.G.," the New York rapper who ended up a casualty of the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud. George Tillman Jr. directs and Jamal ("Gravy") Woolard plays the title role.

A different kind of feud claims the life of the title Falangist leader in Ari Folman's animated WALTZ WITH BASHIR (January 16), resulting in the massacre of hundreds in the refugee camps of Shatila and Sabra during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Folman was a teenaged IDF soldier during the campaign, and his hallucinatory, black comic account is a postmodern Catch-22 shot through a graphic-novel lens.

When the going gets really tough, the tough show DEFIANCE (January 16), as in Edward Zwick's true story of four Jewish brothers who battle the Nazis in Russia. Liev Schreiber, Daniel Craig, and Jamie Bell star. And when the teacher gets tough, THE CLASS [ENTRE LES MURS] (January 16) shows defiance as in Laurent Cantet's dramatization of François Bûgaudeau's memoir about teaching in a tough Parisian school.

Too bad the beleaguered pedant in The Class didn't share the talent of the bookbinder in Iain Softley's INKHEART (January 23), who could summon up the characters in the stories he reads to his daughter. Not all of them, though, are very nice.

The dad in Pierre Morel's TAKEN (January 23) also has special skills. He's an ex-spy and his training comes in handy when his daughter is kidnapped by slave traders. Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace star. But poor LAST CHANCE HARVEY (January 23): all he knows how to do is write jingles. Will it be enough to woo the lonely woman he meets at an airport bar en route to his daughter's wedding? Joel Hopkins directs; Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson star.

Well, at least Harvey can afford drinks. No such luck for WENDY AND LUCY (January 23), a young woman and her dog caught up in the downward spiral of homelessness that is becoming all too common a fate. Kelly Reichardt directs Michelle Williams in this minimalist heartbreaker.

But maybe even Wendy might think she's got a better deal than the heroine in Charles and Thomas Guard's THE UNINVITED (January 30); she returns home from a mental hospital only to be tormented by her stepmother, her father, and a ghost. Elizabeth Banks stars.

VIDEO: The trailer for Coraline

Taking up the theme of otherworldly menaces from The Unborn and The Uninvited, CORALINE (February 6) is about a young girl who opens a secret door into an alternative version of her life. Henry Selick adapts the Neil Gaiman novel in this animation featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Ian McShane. But whatever Coraline finds probably pales before GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST (February 6), in which a Scrooge-like Lothario suffers the title haunting on the eve of his brother's wedding. With Matthew McConaughey and Emma Stone.

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