Notes from the back row 

A ray of sunshine at the end of summer

Well, that’s it, the end of summer. Not a very good one for movie fans but at least now there won’t be so many yappy kids in the weekday matinees. With fall looming the Village 8 is hoping to give us one last ray of sunshine with Little Miss Sunshine, the runaway Sundance hit comedy, opening this Friday.

Poured from the mould of National Lampoons Family Vacation this dysfunctional family road trip is actually not too bad. First-time directors Johnathon Dayton and Valerie Faris have concocted a movie that’s not too flashy and simply lets its characters steal the show. Which they do.

The Hoover family is full of nutso characters with unique quirks. Dad (Greg Kinnear) is an unsuccessful motivational speaker, so mom (Toni Collette) has to hold the family together. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a foul-mouthed shit disturber, brother (Paul Dano) hates the world and has taken a vow of silence, and uncle (Steve Carell, who’s so hot right now) is a gay suicidal university scholar. Unable to be left alone each member of the family must pile into a VW van in order to escort the youngest daughter (Abigail Breslin) to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, a JonBenet-esque freak show for young girls. On the road, shit happens, and the mishaps are handled humorously and cleverly and by the end we’ve seen and laughed a bit at our weird selves or our own weird family members, as well as taken in a not-so-subtle critique on Americana culminating in a nice, creepy, funny beauty pageant scene where little girls dress and act like whores in hopes of being number 1.

The strength of this picture is the cast, who all shine in their roles like, well, rays of sunshine. It’s a cute, funny movie that’s worth checking out. It’s a date movie through and through.

If this summer’s action fare was a bit too tame and PG for you, or if you’re a video-game obsessed teenage boy with the attention span of a cocker spaniel on Viagra, check out Crank, the fast and frantic b-grade action flick starring Jason Statham ( The Transporter) as a hitman who has been poisoned and must keep his adrenaline levels high in order to survive. To do this he goes on a hell-bent-for-leather, revenge-seeking rampage of shitkicking, shooting and chopping off hands interspersed with near-rape sex scenes with his hot-ass girlfriend Amy Smart ( Starsky and Hutch) and cell-phone calls from his doctor played by Dwight Yoakum. Crank is ultra-gore and violence with little plot, characterization or thematic resonance. It’s beatdowns, shootouts and car chases and I dig it.

Also, Crank is supposed to showcase an entire scene from upcoming Saw 3 before it starts. I was unable to contact the good old Village 8 to confirm this but horror fans take note, it’s not a trailer, it’s an entire scene. Best to call up the theatre and see if they have this version or not.

There’s also an interesting old-school style movie playing at the Village 8 that’s weird and different and worth checking out, especially if you’re into camera and colour palette work. The Illusionist is a magical, mystery, love story set in the early 1900s about a magician (Ed Norton) his lost lover (Jessica Biel) and the cop who wants to bring him down (Paul Giamatti). It’s a weird and wild period piece about magic that will undoubtedly turn off a lot of people, but director Neil Burger (check his awesome mock-umentary, Interview with the Assassin) has constructed a moody, lyrical film that occasionally moves too slowly and suffers slightly from happy-ending syndrome yet is still so different from what we usually see that I think it’s totally… lovely. Like sunshine on your shoulders.

AT VILLAGE 8 Sept. 1-7: Little Miss Sunshine; Crank; Wicker Man; The Illusionist; Invincible; Accepted; Beerfest; Talladega Nights; Snakes on a Plane; How to Eat Fried Worms.

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