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Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>The Cove</em> or <em>Funny People</em>

Everyone's talking about Judd Apatow's "mature" dramedy Funny People, but what we're really anticipating this weekend is The Cove. The documentary follows Louie Psihoyos, leader of the Ocean Preservation Society, and Richard O'Barry, a dolphin trainer and activist best known for his work on the 1960's TV show Flipper, as they infiltrate a small seaside Japanese village where tens of thousands of dolphins are secretly slaughtered every year. The critical reaction has been stellar, and Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere calls it "easily one of the best films I've seen this year, and without question my choice for the best documentary of 2009 so far. It's this year's Man on Wire—almost certain to keep playing and gathering steam all through the year and into Oscar season."No one should get the idea that The Cove is primarily a classroom-lecture piece and an eco-activist movie, although it is obviously those things in a political undertow sense. Because it's first and foremost a very well-made, thoroughly watchable murder-mystery—a gripping and entertaining sit by any standard. (Unless you happen to be, you know, an idiot.) That's right—murder. As in seawater turning pink and then blood red." Here's the trailer:


<p>As you surely know by now, Judd Apatow's <em>Funny People</em> stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a comedian whose brush with near-fatal illness teaches him a lot about life, love, and laughter. Manohla Dargis <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/movies/31funny.html?partner=Rotten%20Tomatoes&amp;ei=5083">at the Times writes</a>, "George reaches out to an old lover, the laughs give way to tears and this promising comedy bloats, sags and dies... There’s something irritatingly self-satisfied about <em>Funny People</em>, which explains why, though it glances on the perils of fame, it mostly affirms its pleasures... Mr. Apatow seems to have become uncomfortable with or perhaps immune to the messiness of life. This, he seems to be saying, is as good as it gets, and man, is it ever good. He’s sentimentalized himself. That’s nice, I suppose, but nice can be murder on comedy and drama alike."</p><p></p>The New Yorker's David Denby, on the other hand, <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2009/08/03/090803crci_cinema_denby">calls it</a> "Apatow’s richest, most complicated movie yet—a summing up of his feelings about comedy and its relation to the rest of existence. The movie has passages of uneasy brilliance and many incidental pleasures."


<p>Rom-com <em>Adam</em> concerns a Manhattan engineer who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism). When Beth, a cute newcomer moves into his building, their unlikely relationship takes him beyond his well-ordered boundaries. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/movies/29adam.html?ref=movies">Jeannette Catsoulis at the Times writes</a>, "Considering the story’s twee details — Adam’s passion is the heavens, Beth’s is teaching tiny children — and a tonally disruptive subplot concerning Beth’s parents (Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving), <em>Adam </em>is <strong>more involving than you might expect.</strong> The humor is delicate, and the performances sweet and sure; the script is not entirely predictable, and the Manhattan locations have a starry-eyed glaze. What, you mean New York City isn’t a tranquil, leafy haven?"</p>



<p>Previously known as <em>Winged Creatures</em>, the renamed movie <em>Fragments</em> stars Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Forest Whitaker, and Josh Hutcherson as people whose lives change dramatically after they survive a shooting spree in a LA diner. <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-07-28/film/urine-is-a-plot-clincher-in-fragments/">The Village Voice's Ed Gonzalez</a> brings the hammer down: "Such is the level of nuance and texture on display here that Kate Beckinsale's peroxide blonde is meant to be understood as trash because she chews gum like a cow in heat, but at least the title of Rowan Woods's misshapen and overreaching melodrama is apt, cobbled as it is from anxiously undigested allusions to war and birds and grief. Hard to say what is more inexplicable—why Guy Pearce's hot doc poisons his wife or how urine became a plot clincher. <strong>But this much is clear: The hell that Paul Haggis hath wrought grows exponentially by the day."</strong></p>


<p>Inspired by true events, the Danish film <em>Flame &amp; Citron</em> is set in World War II-era Copenhagen, where two resistance fighters gunning for the Nazis can only trust each other. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/movies/31flame.html?ref=movies">Manohla Dargis at the Times</a> says director Ole Christian Madsen "fixes on the down-and-dirty logistics of the missions, some of which are bungled to good dramatic effect, and to the burden increasingly borne by Flame and Citron as a consequence of their bloody work. Though he tries to complicate the story with the fighters’ moral unease — there’s a startling, pointedly unromantic moment when Flame covers one victim’s eyes before he shoots — the elaborate story, with its double agents and competing Resistance groups, doesn’t allow him to tunnel into the characters and their existential questions."</p>


<a href="http://www.filmforum.org/films/you.html">Film Forum is screening</a> the U.S. premiere of <em>You the Living</em>, Swedish director Roy Andersson’s dreamlike series of vignettes about appalling urban life in dank Northern Europe. <a href="http://www.nypost.com/seven/07292009/entertainment/movies/nothing_funnier_than_you_181881.htm">The Post's V.A. Musetto</a> calls it <strong>"the funniest movie of 2009 (so far)</strong>... The most outlandish episode involves a man in overalls who is sentenced to the electric chair for failing miserably at the old tablecloth trick. As a result, a 200-year-old set of china was destroyed—and no punishment less than execution is to be tolerated... Andersson has a one-of-a-kind style that not all viewers will appreciate. His humor is not at all like Hollywood's. His is leisurely and cerebral—two words never heard in La La Land."



<em>Lorna's Silence</em>, the latest from Belgian art house auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, concerns a young Albanian woman in Belgium who goes through hell just to open a snack bar with her boyfriend. The Village Voice's <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-07-28/film/the-dardennes-do-what-they-do-in-lorna-s-silence/">Nick Pinkerton writes</a>, "The convoluted criminal plot is barely credible—likewise the onset of divine madness; a fairy-tale cabin (or is it a manger?) is an unsatisfying end... In a sense, the Dardennes make economic horror movies, starring the dregs of the working class—their visceral approach is more <em>Texas Chainsaw</em> than standby-comparison Bresson. <p></p>"Claims for something higher don't read; the Dardennes challenge their beleaguered subjects, not themselves and not their audience. When Lorna and her ilk confront the moral conundrums of bare-subsistence life, no alternative answer seems viable. This leaves the viewer (impatient, in this case) to wait for the constipated soul to arrive at inevitable relief."


<p>Set in both a suburb of Taipei and an Asian community in Hamburg, <em>Ghosted</em> interweaves two separate timelines roughly six months apart, as a feminist German filmmaker coping with the murder of her Taiwanese lover begins to fall for a mysterious journalist. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/movies/31ghosted.html?ref=movies">Nathan Lee at the Times</a> calls it <strong>"an elegant but unsatisfying drama of cross-cultural lesbian love triangles</strong>... The movie generates an aura of thoughtful storytelling without actually possessing any notable thoughts. <em>Ghosted</em> offers a refreshingly matter-of-fact view of lesbian relationships — although ones marked by schematic tragedy and intimations of the supernatural — and depicts its cross-cultural milieu with maturity and tact. Yet the film doesn’t do much with its novel setting, and resolves on a note of exotic Asian mysticism that undermines its ambition to sidestep cliché."</p>


<em>Thirst</em>, the new film from Korean director Park Chan-wook (<em>Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance</em>), is about a priest who turns into a vampire after a bad blood transfusion. <a href="http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/btm/feature/2009/07/31/thirst/index.html">Salon's Andrew O'Hehir</a> deems it "a brilliant and gruesome work of cinematic invention as well as a passionate and painful human love story. Park is so often celebrated as a stylist—some of the credit should go to his cinematographer, Chung Chung-hoon—that people don't notice how wonderfully he works with actors... I'd qualify that glowing endorsement by saying that Park's risk-taking doesn't always pay off. <strong><em>Thirst</em> goes on too long, drags in places, and can't always manage its unstable balance of horror, romance and comedy.</strong> When the result is a daring crazy-quilt of a movie that's not quite like anything you've ever seen before, I'll take it."


<p>Mark Hartley’s documentary <em>Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story Of OZploitation! </em>offers an historical overview of the Australian film industry in the ’70s and ’80s, when directors unleashed a storm of exploitative "free-wheelin’ sex romps, bloodsoaked terror tales, and high-octane action extravaganzas." <a href="http://www.avclub.com/articles/not-quite-hollywood-the-wild-untold-story-of-ozplo,31089/">Noel Murray at the Onion</a> says it "offers plenty of evidence about what made these movies special, from the bad puns and nudity to the buckets of gore. And with all their dull bits excised, a lot of these movies look like neglected pulp masterpieces, ripe for rediscovery on DVD. <strong>Think of <em>Not Quite Hollywood</em> as a vividly illustrated catalogue of astonishing smut."</strong></p>


<p>Documentary <em>Gotta Dance</em> concerns the New Jersey Netsationals, 12 women and one man, all in their sixties, who are chosen at open auditions to perform at home games. <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/movies/31gotta.html?ref=movies">Neil Genzlinger at the Times</a> writes, "It would be easy enough to build an argument that <em>Gotta Dance</em>, Dori Berinstein’s documentary about the 60-and-older hip-hop dance team that performs at New Jersey Nets basketball games, is actually furthering the ageism it condemns. </p><p></p>"Making a big deal out of the not-very-rigorous wiggling and jiggling of some older folks — several of them younger than Paul McCartney, who is currently rocking arenas across the country — only reinforces the stereotype that 60 is when the vast majority of people cease to be interesting. <strong>Yeah, it would be easy enough to make that argument. But <em>Gotta Dance</em> is so enjoyable that you don’t want to bother."</strong>


<a href="http://www.ifccenter.com/films/raising-arizona/">The IFC Center continues</a> its Coen Brothers kick with midnight screenings of <em>Raising Arizona</em> this weekend.



<p>At midnight this weekend <a href="http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Films/films_frameset.asp?id=2864">the Sunshine screens</a> Tony Scott's fun 1993 film <em>True Romance</em>, featuring a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino about a Detroit comic-book store clerk and his wife on the run with a suitcase full of mob cocaine. The stellar cast includes (deep breath) Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel Jackson. </p>


<p>Starting tomorrow, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is showing a <a href="http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/anglee.html">complete retrospective of director Ang Lee's work</a>. From his first breakthrough feature, the gay farce <em>The Wedding Banquet</em>, to box office sensation riff on wu xia films, <em>Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon</em>, from the English countryside of <em>Sense &amp; Sensibility</em> to the heartbreaking sheepherding cowboys in <em>Brokeback Mountain</em>, Lee has explored genres, time periods and the confines of societal expectations. <br/><br/>Lee and his frequent collaborator James Schamus will be on hand to discuss Lee's work after a <a href="http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/anglee/ridewiththedevil.html">Monday, August 10 screening</a> of the underrated <em>Ride With the Devil</em>, his Civil War foray. For another of his underrated films, we highly recommend <em>Lust, Caution</em> (<a href="http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/anglee/lustcaution.html">showing next Friday and Saturday</a>); the explicit sex scenes earned a lot of attention, but it is beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. <br/><br/><em>(Still from </em>Eat Drink Man Woman<em>, <a href="http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/anglee/eatdrinkmanwoman.html">screening this Saturday, Sunday and Monday</a>)— Jen Chung</em></p>