Happy-Go-Lucky – The Power of Positive Thinking


Starring Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, and Alexis Zegerman
Directed by Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)
Rated R for language
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Pauline “Poppy” Cross (Hawkins) is perhaps the happiest person to walk the face of the earth.  No matter what happens to her or what people think of her, she has a natural smile, a funny anecdote, and a good attitude.  Someone steals her bicycle early in the film and her comment is “I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.”  Nothing makes her angry and she only wants to help everyone around her, whether she knows them or not.  

    What I found most interesting about Poppy is that she may be happy, nice, and pleasant, but she is far from simple.  Hollywood might have made her into a dim-wit, but British writer/director Mike Leigh made her very smart.  You can really see the wheels turning throughout.  And while her brain/mouth filter isn’t always functioning correctly, she definitely knows how to turn it on when it is needed.  I really thought I might really grow tired of her quickly, but by the end I had nothing but admiration.  

    Notice I didn’t say anything about the plot of the film yet.  That’s because there really isn’t one.  What the film lacks in story, though, is more than made up for in a fascinating character study.  The lack of a story here would usually bug me, but because of Hawkins terrific performance, I didn’t really mind.  I do think Leigh could have fit this character into an actual tale that revolves around more than just a series of driving lessons, but even without this typical movie ingredient, Happy-Go-Lucky still provides for a very entertaining film-going experience.    B-

Pride and Glory – Nothing out of the Ordinary

Pride and Glory

Starring Ed Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, and Noah Emmerich
Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle)
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, and brief drug content
Appropriate for ages 17+

When four officers are killed in New York City, a family of cops attempts to uncover the truth of the night’s event and catch the killer.  When one of the sons (Norton) discovers that his brother-in-law (Farrell) might be somehow responsible, he must make the choice between turning a blind eye or revealing the truth that might bring shame to his family and the entire police department.

If anyone thinks that the above synopsis gives away too much, just watch the trailer.  In fact, if you want to save yourself the cost of admission/concessions and two hours of wasted time, just watch the trailer.  It tells you the whole story and doesn’t put you to sleep.  I really wanted to like this film and thought that if Norton and Farrell signed on for a cop movie like this, that it must be worth watching.  Once again, I was wrong.  While it’s not as bad as some of the cop dramas of recent years (cough, cough, Street Kings), it proves itself to be nothing special rather quickly.  There is the good cop and the bad cop and the cop that allows the bad cops to be bad cops as long as they don’t cross over the line too far.  I think I’ve heard that one before.

What’s really missing in this family cop drama is the family dynamic.  Despite it’s many tries, the film fails to establish any kind of family chemistry and thus fails to make the audience care about it’s characters.

The performances here by Norton and Farrell were good but the rest of the cast seemed either far too excited or completely underwhelmed by the material.  You can probably blame these uneven performance on the director, but that wouldn’t have helped the script problems. 

Lastly, the title is incredibly generic.  It could describe police, fire, military, sports, religion, politics or any number of subjects.  I will say this though, the boring generic title does say a lot about the film.    C-  

Rachel Getting Married – Wedding Bliss

Rachel Getting Married

Starring Anne Hathaway, Rosemary DeWitt, and Debra Winger

Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)

Rated R for language and brief sexuality

Appropriate for ages 17+

When you first hear that legendary director Jonathan Demme’s latest film is a hand-held movie about an ex drug-addict one conjures the images of Cloverfield and Blair Witch, but that could not be farther from the case here in this beautiful family story.  Anne Hathaway, in what is sure to garner an Oscar nomination, is Kym, an ex junkie that manages to get out of rehab for a weekend to attend her sister’s wedding.  The low-budget, hand-held look of the film here is not used to make it’s audience nauseous, but rather to give the look of a home-made family video that we are fortunate enough to get a chance to watch.  The excitement is getting to share in the family’s joy as they watch the wonderful couple get married, and a magnificent and unique wedding weekend it is.  The pain comes in Kym’s handling of her disease, her secret past, and her constant trouble-making, whether intended or accidental.  And while the pain will make you shed a tear, it’s the happiness that will require the most hanky usage.  I would have never thought that a drama about a wedding would have me this engaged, but due to Hathaway’s electrifying performance, the brilliant directing by Demme, and the gentle yet powerful script by Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married had me engrossed from beginning to end.     A

Iron Man – New Sheriff in Town

Iron Man

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by Jon Favreau (Elf)
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and brief suggestive content
Appropriate for ages 10+ (try to tell that to a 6-year-old boy)
Available September 30, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc

For over a decade, Marvel comics has been trying to start up a franchise for one of it’s most popular heroes, Iron Man.  But with the advancement in special effects capabilities, and a visionary director, the man in gold alloy suit (sorry – no iron) was able to have a huge impact on this summer’s stellar box office.  Robert Downey Jr. stars as the wealthy arms dealer turned super hero who wants to stamp out terrorism both locally and abroad.  While the special effects were superb, it was the terrific performance by Downey Jr. that made this film as successful as it was.  As genesis stories go, this one’s pretty good, but Iron Man still lacks the solid writing of either of the last two Batman films or the first two Spidey pics.  Still, the package as a whole is worth the ride and many will want to add this DVD or Blu-ray to their collection.  The discs contain tons of added features including a making-of documentary that is as long as the film.  Honestly, I couldn’t make it all the way through that one, but I did enjoy the featurette on the history of the Iron Man comic and it’s ride to present day fabulousness.  One feature you have to check out is the mock news story by the Onion complaining about the decision to turn the Iron Man trailer into a full-length feature film.  Movie: B+    Extras: B

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Authentic Comedy

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Starring Jason Segel, Kristin Bell, Mila Kunis and Russell Brand
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+
Available September 30, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

From the Judd Apatow gang comes this terrific sleeper comedy about a man trying to put his four-year relationship with a famous TV star behind him after she leaves him for a sex-starved British rock star.  In order to move on he flees to Hawaii, only to find that his ex and her new bo are staying at the same hotel.  Jason Segel wrote and stars as the goofy hero who is all too comfortable in his own skin.  While the comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, it’s the hero’s journey that is most fascinating.  The writing is so authentic that you can really feel his pain after the break-up, the sad awkwardness in Hawaii, and the emotional growth he takes on throughout.  On top of that, there is a sweet romantic sub-plot that works very well.  The disc has tons of extras including some great deleted scenes and an unrated version of the film that proved to be too much for the MPAA.  You can also get a digital copy of the film so that you can watch on your portable device.  Movie: A    Extras: B