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Notes from the back row

Jingle bells, Bush smells…

With Halloween over, Hollywood shifts its attention from releasing kick-ass gory horror movies and focuses on two new avenues — pumping out vomit-inducing family Christmas movies and gently coddling their Oscar hopefuls out onto the big screens in hopes of cashing in on the holidays and winning awards at essentially the same time. And so begins the last big moneymaking push of the year.

Meanwhile I’m actually in Nicaragua right now, hunting the world’s only freshwater shark while drinking whatever it is they drink down there (rum??) And by “hunting,” I mean “hoping to get a glimpse of.” Regardless, I was told before I left what we could expect this week from the good old Village 8 so unless they pulled a switcheroo (which happens quite a bit) here we go.

Representing the crappy Christmas flicks — Fred Claus . The good news is that it rehashes what made Bad Santa good. It’s about a grouch — this time Santa’s brother Fred — who’s lived in his sibling’s shadow for a few hundred years and is fed up with Christmas and all things holiday. The other good news is the cast, starring Vince Vaughn (he rarely sucks) as well as Paul Giamatti (he often does), Kathy Bates, Ludacris, Rachel Weisz (one of this era’s best) and Elizabeth Banks (who looks pretty good in a mini skirt. I wonder if we’re related….)

Fred Claus is a family relationship drama set in a Christmas movie and while there are some cheap, cotton-candy laughs it never delves into the kind of Christmas shmaltz that a lot of them do. The story revolves around someone wanting to outsource the North Pole factory and somehow, Christmas is in danger of being cancelled. You don’t need a magic Christmas snowglobe to know that it will be grouchy Fred Claus who saves the day.

On the “we want an Oscar” front we have Lions for Lambs the latest from Robert Redford. Redford’s old-school and when he’s making a movie he can really get the job done. Watch A River Runs Through It if you don’t believe me. This time around, however, he isn’t so much making a movie as a point — that America is totally screwed up right now, and besides war and terror abroad they also have to fight cynicism, apathy and unhindered self-interest right in their own home.

As a left-wing, change invoking call for action Lions for Lambs is okay — it get’s the point across. As a movie, or entertainment it comes off a bit preachy and, sadly, boring.

Tom Cruise plays a self-serving, young Republican senator giving an interview to an experienced-yet-somewhat-discouraged TV journalist played by Meryl Streep. He’s going on about their new strategy in Afghanistan, she’s pretty sure the whole scenario reeks of a Vietnam-style screw up. To prove the point the flick shifts to a couple of soldiers actually living the new offensive, and things aren’t working out.

Meanwhile a world-weary university professor (Redford himself) must convince a brilliant-but-lazy young poli-sci student that now is not the time to be dumping classes to drink and ball chicks. Now is the time for political action and the young people to arise. You can almost feel Redford speaking directly to all the youth of America. It’s a noble attempt but watches as a lot of talking heads rather than the textured, dynamic socio-political roles of Redford’s early acting career ( The Candidate, All the President’s Men). Redford wants to get his point through to the youth, but his movie plays too much like a lecture to entice most of them in.

AT VILLAGE 8 Nov. 9-15: Fred Claus; Lions for Lambs; Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Bee Movie; American Gangster; Dan in Real Life; Into the Wild; Across the Universe; Saw 4.