Notes from the back row 

Holiday movie season

Holiday movie season is in full swing and there are some good flicks playing. Studios know that the two hours of escapism a good film provides is even more welcome this time of year, when everything is chaos and all you really want to do is hunker down in the dark and wait it out.

Up here in winter wonderland life isn’t so bad but there are still some great movies to check out at the Village 8, starting with the latest from Judd Apatow’s camp, a parody of musical biopics called Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story.

Dewey Cox accidentally cuts his brother in half in a freak machete accident. This drives his father to hate him and Dewey, at a very young age, focuses this pain into music. The film spans his genre-jumping career from the rockin’ ’50s through the hippie ’60s and all the way into the ’80s, skewering everything along the way. John C Reilly stars and he makes the picture. Reilly is a superb actor ( Criminal, Boogie Nights) but since teaming with Will Ferrel in Talladega Nights he’s headed on a more comedic vein lately.

And Walk Hard is funny, Apatow (producer/co-writer) and director Jake Kasdan have an obvious affection for the genre they are making fun of and so some of the jokes don’t hit as hard as they perhaps could. Others, however, are fantastically funny and even though the running time is two hours (a long time to keep a comedy fresh) Reilly pulls it off and it’s pretty good. Plus, Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Swartzman cameo as the Beatles. WHAT!? That rules. So does the killer soundtrack of knee-slapping-funny songs (that are catchy as hell.) Walk Hard will have you walking away smiling.

It wouldn’t be the holidays without friggin’ Tom Hanks rearing his cheesy head in either a family drama or Oscar bait and yes, the most famous forehead in Showbiz has a flick out as well. Charlie Wilson’s War is decent, despite Hanks, who plays a freewheeling-yet-shrewd Texas politician who gets wrapped up in the Russia-Afghan war of the 1980s. (He sides with the Afghans of course, providing them with, in the end, a billion dollars of aid and guns.) Also starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts, this is certainly one of those poli-war-thinking flicks but there’s a bit of humour and one-liners mixed in with the political proceedings and time-jumping montages. It isn’t terrible but it kind of seemed more TV than Silver Screen — More Dallas than Syriana. Maybe not political enough, and I hate Tom Hanks.

Nor am I a big fan of musicals — it’s all the singing — but there’s a musical opening Friday that I’m pretty stoked about. Sweeny Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street stars Johnny Depp as a once-happy family man who’s been falsely imprisoned for 15 years so a judge could steal his woman. It’s a revenge flick, with all the ingredients of a good film — violence, gore, razors, blood, and cannibalism, to name a few, as well as lots of singing (which isn’t all bad, I guess). Depp and Helena Bonham Carter shine in the lead roles and director Tim Burton has taken a 1979 Broadway show and expanded it into a film that is dark and brooding yet sensitive and surprising at the same time. It’s the best musical since Moulin Rouge and it has people getting their heads cut off and being baked into meat pies. The perfect antidote to all this “Holiday Cheer” if you ask me. Happy Christmas.

AT VILLAGE 8 Dec. 21-27:

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