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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

my week at the movies: ‘The Walker,’ ‘The Perfect Holiday,’ ‘The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,’ ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,’ ‘The Great Debaters,’ ‘Nanking’

Woody Harrelson is a male escort for society ladies in Washington DC. Oh, and he’s gay. Oh, and he’s accused of murder. I might laugh at the premise, except The Walker [opens limited December 7] is from Paul Schrader, who made the powerful Auto Focus and Affliction, and long ago he wrote a little movie called Taxi Driver. So, you know, maybe this one will be okay. It also stars Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Willem Dafoe, and that can’t be a bad thing, either.

The Perfect Holiday [opens December 12] has Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut teaming up again for what looks to be more contrived romance (they were in the awful Breakin’ All the Rules, among other monstrosities). I like to think of them as the anti-Tracy and Hepburn, but who knows: maybe this movie will be the one that works for them. She’s an overworked single mom, he’s a mall Santa, and her daughter fixes them up for Christmas. All together now: awwwwww, *gaggg.*

A kid finds a baby Loch Ness Monster and decides to keep it in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep [opens December 25]. And to think of the trouble I had convincing my mom to let us keep the kitten I found when I was eight. Director Jay Rusell gave us some of the best family movies ever in My Dog Skip and Tuck Everlasting, so here’s hoping he goes three for three. As a bonus, Emily Watson and David Morrissey star alongside the cuddly monster.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story [opens December 21] is currently the movie I’m officially Dreading, but I might not have been so hasty to brand it so if I’d known it was from filmmaker Jake Kasdan, whose Zero Effect is one of my favorite off-kilter comedies. (I also liked his The TV Set from earlier this year.) Then again, he wrote this one with with Judd Apatow, who was my official Enemy for a while this summer for Knocked Up, so I’m still not entirely sure what to expect. Maybe it’ll be another Talladega Nights, which I had Dreaded but which turned out to be brilliantly clever.

Denzel Washington’s second movie as a director (his first was 2002’s Antwone Fisher) is The Great Debaters [opens December 25]. It’s just like one of those underdog-sports-teams-makes-good except these guys are a debate team from an obscure school in Texas in 1935 that ends up taking on Harvard. I’m guessing that win or lose, they win.

Nanking [opens limited December 12] is a documentary from Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, Oscar winners for their 2003 short doc “Twin Towers,” about the rape of Nanking, when invading Japanese soldiers in 1937 China murdered hundreds of thousands of people and raped tens of thousands. Cheery.

I didn’t catch Awake this past weekend, like I thought I might — we’ll see if I can squeeze it in this week. And I’m still waiting to hear about screenings of I Am Legend, which I’d hoped would be this week. But all I’m hearing are crickets at the moment…

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