Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide to This Week’s Movies: Kidman’s Face Is Perfect for Sci-Fi!

thirdstringer golden2h Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide to This Week’s Movies: Kidman’s Face Is Perfect for Sci Fi!Last weekend, family fun ruled the box office as Enchanted, that Amy Adams-Patrick Dempsey Disney fairy-tale romp, was again No. 1, bringing in another $17 million, totalling more than $70 million overall (that’s a lot of Mcdollars). This might be good news for New Line, ready to unveil its big hitter for the season, the ambitious The Golden Compass. The epic film is based on the popular trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and if this movie does as well as the studio is hoping (New Line was also responsible for The Lord of the Rings franchise) get ready for years of this stuff. And by stuff we’re talking about whole other fantastical worlds and rules to learn, including that of our heroine’s, 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), where everyone gets a talking spirit animal, or daemon, to travel beside them. (Which would really be kind of awesome … depending on what your animal is. Most people seem to get really cool, ones like snow leopards, but you know someone’s stuck with a squirrel.)

In the books, apparently, there’s a whole anti-religion bent (which has prompted some obligatory Catholic League squeaking), but the film steers clear of controversy. We think. Quite honestly, while we know the film is geared for folks two decades younger (cough), we had a hard time keeping up. Take all the stuff about “dust.” Dust is a huge deal in this film. (The production notes helpfully define it as “mystical particles in highest concentration in the Arctic Circle.” Okay?!) What we did grasp: the big stars involved—Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman (whose lovely suspiciously-unlined face looks great in this genre), Sam Elliott (his daemon is a bunny, voiced by Kathy Bates—ha!), the voice of Ian McKellen (is there a franchise this guy isn’t involved in?), and Eva Green (well cast as a flying, flitting, witch). Oh, and armored bears are huge. Look for the giant-bear-fight scene to be the one most buzzed over.

The Golden Compass opens Friday at AMC Loews Kips Bay, 34th Street, Empire 25, Lincoln Center and other theaters.

MOST EVERYONE WE know has been rooting for John Cusack to make a good movie, and he’s finally done it with Grace Is Gone, last year’s Sundance sensation. The film is about a man tasked with telling his young daughters that their mother, a soldier overseas, has been killed. Happily, the film resists getting all preachy and concentrates instead on character. The normally quippy Mr. Cusack is transformed into a shoulder-slumped man, coming apart but trying to keep it together for the sake of his kids. There’s lots of Oscar buzz around his performance, but the men’s race sure is crowded this year (Viggo, Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis!). Bring tissues.

Grace Is Gone opens Friday at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

MEANWHILE, MADSEN IS back! Michael Madsen that is, one of those actors that we can’t help but love. Maybe it’s because we’re fans of his poetry (he has six books out, including Beer, Blood, and Ashes, Eat the Worm and Burning in Paradise), or maybe it’s just that he shows up in movies like Strength and Honour (tag line: Wounds Heal, Scars Fade, Glory Is Forever), which is about a man in Ireland who accidentally kills his friend in the ring (whoops) and promises his wife he’ll never fight again. Cut to seven years later, when his wife has died and his son is dying from the same hereditary heart disorder, and the son needs—you guessed it!—a pricey operation to live. Cue up “Eye of the Tiger”! The film’s notes claim that Mr. Madsen is supposed to be an Irish-American (we think they meant American-Irish), but it sounded like Mr. Madsen is speaking in an Irish accent (or trying to) the whole time. Listen, we’re on his side, but aren’t there tons of talented Irish actors out there? Ditto Richard Chamberlin (yes, that Richard Chamberlin), who plays the wisecrackin’ coach. Completing the trifecta is Sleeping With the Enemy’s Patrick Bergin and his mustache, who leads up the ragtag crew of “Travelers” that run the bare-knuckle (to the death!) fight that Michael Madsen finds himself competing in. We’ll leave it to you to guess who wins.

Strength and Honour opens Friday at the Quad.