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Fractured fairy tales

Fantasy and reality compete for the box office in 2007
By PETER KEOUGH  |  December 28, 2006

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ZODIAC: Finally, 2007’s first serial-killer film.

Times are tough when the Dream Factory has a better grip on what’s going on than the people in Washington. Now that three and half years of futile war and repudiation at the polls have punctured most of the administration’s neo-con fantasies, Hollywood feels safe enough to deal with realities the government and media have been spinning fairy tales about for so long. Irwin Winkler’s Home of the Brave and Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter take on the psychological aftermath of damaged veterans. Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima and Zack Snyder’s 300 confront the horrors of war, though from the safe remove of World War II and Greek antiquity. Mostly, though, it’s business as usual, with 2007’s films couching the horrors of everyday life in fantasies that sometimes rival in savagery the original.

JANUARY
The year starts with the grim realism of LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (January 5), as Clint Eastwood’s Japanese counterpart to his Flags of Our Fathers depicts the struggle for the stark island from the point of view of the doomed occupiers. Not many of those Japanese soldiers made it back from the battle, and if they did, they might have faced some of the same problems the Iraq War vets do in HOME OF THE BRAVE (just moved from January 5 to “the first quarter of 2007”). Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, 50 Cent, and Christina Ricci star. Whatever they saw in Iraq probably wasn’t any worse than the stuff dreamed up in HOSTEL 2 (January 5), Eli Roth’s second installment in the slasher franchise that shows why it’s always best to travel first-class.

From tragic “fact” we pass to make-believe in Paul J. Bolger’s animated HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER (January 5), as Sigourney Weaver provides the voice of a witch leading an alliance of evil to take over Fairy Tale Land in what sounds like a thinly disguised allegory of the lead-up to the Iraq War. Sarah Michelle Gellar also pipes in. And proving that the writers of fairy tales don’t necessarily live happily ever after, Renée Zellweger stars as the creator of Peter Rabbit in MISS POTTER (January 5). Ewan McGregor (no relation to Farmer McGregor) helps out; Chris Noonan (Babe) directs.

Remember how often we’ve been warned not to drink the Kool-Aid? Here’s why: Stanley Nelson’s documentary JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE PEOPLE’S TEMPLE (January 12) shows what happens when people believe a crazy politician. You might say those Jonestown folks had a problem distinguishing fact from fiction, a topic that Guillermo del Toro explores in his visionary EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO|PAN’S LABYRINTH (January 12), which is about a young girl’s nightmarish fantasy life in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war.

A useful corrective to wishful thinking is the annual return of the HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, January 17-22 at the Museum of Fine Arts. There’s also Christopher Dillon Quinn & Tommy Walker’s acclaimed, harrowing documentary GOD GREW TIRED OF US (January 19), the chronicle of three Sudanese “lost boys” who made it to America. Nicole Kidman narrates.

Some, though, prefer their anxieties translated into the conventions of a genre film. As when reality confronts illusion in the mob movie SMOKIN’ ACES (January 26), where the feds protect a disreputable Vegas magician from getting whacked after he rats out his Mafia buddies. Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, and Jeremy Piven star; Joe Carnahan (Narc) directs. Or in the horror movie BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (January 26), where a teenage werewolf is torn between species loyalty and her love for a mortal. Agnes Bruckner, Hugh Dancy, and Olivier Martinez star; German filmmaker Katja von Garnier (Bandits) directs. Just like Romeo and Juliet, and so is Anthony Minghella’s BREAKING AND ENTERING (January 26), a love story between an upper-class Londoner and a Balkan refugee. Jude Law and Juliette Binoche star.

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BLACK SNAKE MOAN: Samuel L. Jackson plays the blues.
FEBRUARY
When you come down to it, we can thank the subject of Henriette Mantel & Steve Skrovan’s documentary AN UNREASONABLE MAN (February 2) for the past eight years: Ralph Nader. But who’s to blame for the evil that descends on the Solomon family’s North Dakota sunflower farm in THE MESSENGERS (February 2)? I’m betting Vincent van Gogh. Oxide and Danny Pang (The Eye) direct their first American movie; Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller star.

Now that we’re on the subject of causes, what was it that made that nice Dr. Lecter so odd? In HANNIBAL RISING (February 9), Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) shows us the tough, formative early years of the cannibal (Gaspard Ulliel), who survives World War II by living in a château with Gong Li. Could she have told him I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN (February 9)? In any case, that’s the romantic comedy in which Tracey Ullman’s Mother Nature meddles in the love lives of Michelle Pfeiffer and her daughter. Amy Heckerling (Clueless) directs. More love woes are played for laughs in NORBIT (February 9) as Eddie Murphy is raised as an orphan by the owner of a Chinese restaurant and forced into a loveless marriage to a gluttonous woman — played by Eddie Murphy. Thandie Newton helps out; Brian Robbins (The Shaggy Dog) directs.

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