Friday, November 07, 2008

Movies opening this week

(No podcast this week, due to circumstances beyond my control - i.e., guest flakiness.)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, dir. Mike Leigh)
After a serious drought of good movies in 2008 (I struggled to come up with a top-five-so-far list for a local publication a couple of weeks ago), two of the best I've seen all year are coming to Vegas this week. This is one of them, an absolutely stellar character study with the kind of deep, resonant acting that Leigh is known for fostering. Some have dismissed this movie as a trifle, perhaps because it's not as outwardly somber as most of Leigh's films (which can be horribly depressing). But I think there's a deceptive seriousness to the story, and Leigh engages in a really incisive look at what it takes not only to be happy but also to maintain happiness in the face of others' negativity. Poppy is not a superficial character, and Hawkins does a great job of giving her a genuine humanity without having to resort to portraying some "darkness" beneath her chipper demeanor. You watch the whole movie expecting some other shoe to drop, some tragedy to come along and puncture the happiness, but the fact that it doesn't is one of the things that makes this such a great movie. Sometimes life is tragic and depressing, but for many people life is pleasant even through the struggles, and very few filmmakers can portray that with such honesty and directness. Opened limited October 10; in Las Vegas this week

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, dir. Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Zzzzzzz...pointless animated sequel...zzzzzzzz.... Wide release

Rachel Getting Married (Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, dir. Jonathan Demme)
Here's this week's other great movie, another joyous character study (albeit tempered with much more sadness) featuring great acting. Plot-wise, this film could have easily tipped into Lifetime-movie territory, what with the drug addict upstaging her sister at her own wedding, the dark family secret that gets shockingly revealed, the interfamily squabbles. But all of that is handled so naturally and subtly that it comes off as moving and real rather than contrived, and the performances are perfectly well-rounded and intimate. The scene where Hathaway's Kym reveals said dark secret is truly moving and cathartic, and then only a little while later there's this raucous, fun wedding that Demme shoots like an actual wedding video. That's a compliment to the movie - I really felt like I had spent time with these people after seeing the movie, and ended up loving them despite all their flaws, just like how they feel about each other. Opened limited October 3; in Las Vegas this week

Repo! The Genetic Opera (Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)
Objectively, I know that this isn't a very good movie, but it definitely appealed to my 14-year-old Hot Topic shopper within. It's trying too hard to be some new camp classic, and the music isn't as memorable as it ought to be, but there are some very creative and entertaining moments, and I think Bousman (veteran of three Saw movies) has the right aesthetic for this sort of thing. Moreover, if any sort of musical renaissance is going to take place, we need more than new movie versions of musty Brodway shows, musical takes on non-musical movies, and jukebox musicals. What we need are new, original productions, and in that sense this falls in the same category as High School Musical 3: It's deeply flawed and in many ways a poor imitation of acknowledged genre milestones (in this case, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sweeney Todd), but it's embracing the musical as a vibrant form and trying to do something current with it, and I respect that. Despite its goth familiarity and heavy-metal-lite soundtrack, this really isn't like anything else at the movies, and fans of horror, camp, rock operas and Paris Hilton's face melting off will probably find at least something to like. Limited release

Role Models (Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christoper Mintz-Plasse, Bobb'e J. Thompson, dir. David Wain)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This movie has gotten a surprising number of positive reviews; maybe critics are just inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to Wain and Rudd. I am, too, actually, but there's not enough benefit here to outweigh the transparently by-the-numbers story and repetitive jokes. I suppose everyone has to pay the bills, so I don't begrudge Rudd and Wain (or any of the State folks) the occasional mainstream gig. I just wish they could have done something slightly more original with it. Wide release

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