It's a treat to go to movies in the last weeks of August. Most of us slow down our brains; we try to prolong those last precious hours of summer, so even terrible movies feel like larks. Speaking of which ...
My must-avoid list is topped by "September Dawn," about a wagon train of Christians massacred by fanatical Mormons. It happened in 1857, on September 11, and the movie makes the larger case that people who commit murder because they say God told them to are dangerous lunatics. You know what? I couldn't agree more. But the mix of rotten dialogue and kids getting shot down in close-up sent me packing.
"The Nanny Diaries" has sort of the same problem. It's based on a novel by two ex-Manhattan nannies — and we all know nannies have the juiciest stories. The film is set in a world of absent horndog dads and smartly turned-out wives so self-absorbed they have little time for their kids. It's great to see an American comedy focus on class and privilege, but the movie is too shallow and unsurprising to be good social criticism, and too grim to be a good satirical chick flick.
So what should you see? Don't be put off because "Superbad" is a filthy teen sex comedy with enough four-letter words to shock David Mamet. This is one of the smartest and most generous filthy teen sex comedies ever made. It's not amoral escapism. A long day's journey into puke and self-loathing, it carries the message that booze and sex and drugs can't buy happiness. But it's all so exhilarating that some kids may be tempted to learn the lesson firsthand.
"Death at a Funeral" is an English dark farce whose makers know their craft. They wind the jack-in-the-boxes in full view of the audience and arrange them to pop up, with trigonometric precision, at the most embarrassing moments; and they choose a venue in which the embarrassment is exponential: A proper English memorial service. The jack-in-the-boxes include mishandled corpses, mislabeled hallucinogens, scandalous gay sex photos, and expulsive bowels. The disaster goes like clockwork. Great late summer comedy: The august meets the spirit of August.
Now, two terrific documentaries. The more momentous is "No End in Sight," which tells the story of the first year of the Iraq occupation. See it and weep. "The King of Kong" is about a man's struggle to set a record in the classic arcade game Donkey Kong. It doesn't seem a pressing issue — until you meet his rivals, who'll pull any dirty trick to stop him.
That should hold you until September 7th, when we get "3:10 to Yuma," a grand old-style Western with buckets of blood and one of the wittiest bits of underplaying I've ever seen. Russell Crowe is a gunslinging psychopath, and what an amazing actor — but please, please don't take a job as his nanny.