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'Company Men' takes haunting look at layoffs

Ben Affleck plays a Porsche-driving businessman who must turn to his blue-collar brother for work. Also this week: "Pioneers of Television" looks at early science fiction; "Heavy" profiles the dangerously obese.
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Hollywood is a fantasyland, and the films it produces reflect that. "The Company Men" is that rare modern movie that actually takes a look at some of the hard realities of today's economy. Ben Affleck plays a Porsche-driving businessman who's suddenly laid off and must turn to his blue-collar brother (Kevin Costner) for work. Well yeah, so most of the people we know who were laid off didn't have a Porsche in the first place, but the film is earning raves. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers says "this haunting movie hits you hard and right where you live." (Opens Jan. 21.)

"The Way Back" sounds like one of those old-time war films you find on late-night cable and can't stop watching. Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Jim Sturgess star as members of a group of prisoners who break out of a Siberian gulag in 1941 and must struggle through a blizzard, over mountains, and across the Gobi Desert to make their way to freedom.  ViewLondon calls it "impressively directed, sharply written and beautifully shot." Puts our little daily worries in perspective. (Opens Jan. 21.)

Science fiction, crime dramas, local kids' TV and westerns are the focus in PBS' new "Pioneers of Television" episodes. Sci-fi is first up, and that episode will take a look at three beloved shows — the original "Star Trek," "The Twilight Zone" and kitschy "Lost in Space." (Jan. 18, 8 p.m., PBS.)

Although Andy Whitfield had to step out of Starz's Spartacus series while he fights non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the show lives on through a new miniseries, a prequel to "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." The new show, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," stars Aussie actor Dustin Clare as a champion gladiator. Whitfield is expected to make a brief cameo as Spartacus. (Jan. 21, 10 p.m., Starz.)

"Heavy" sounds a little like "The Biggest Loser" meets "Intervention." Each week, the new A&E series looks at two people who are dangerously obese. The show is an hour long, but the episodes cover six months in each person's life. If "Intervention" is any guide, not all will reach their goals. (Jan. 17, 10 p.m., A&E.)

In "An Idiot Abroad," Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant force their friend Karl Pilkington (a personality in his own right) to visit the Seven Wonders of the World. A dream for many, but sheer torture for Pilkington, who stumbles across nude beaches, crucifixion and possible cannibals. (Premieres Jan. 22, 10 p.m., Science Channel.)

"Das Boot" took place inside a submarine, Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" in a small raft after a shipwreck. The critically acclaimed "Lebanon" has its own confined setting: It takes place inside a tank during Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon. Four young soldiers in the tank must confront the realities of war and their own fears. Roger Ebert compares its immersive experience to that of Oscar-winner "The Hurt Locker," writing, "This is what it means to be in the belly of the beast." (Out on DVD Jan. 18.)

"Animal Kingdom" is a highly praised Australian film about a teenage boy caught up in that country's criminal underworld. Guy Pearce plays the detective who tries to save him, and Jacki Weaver earned raves for her role as the boy's creepy criminal grandma. Andrew O'Hehir raved in Salon, "Brilliantly acted and intensely crafted, this movie will alienate some viewers and enthrall others, but it won't soon be forgotten." (Out on DVD Jan. 18.)

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's movies editor.