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This Week at the Movies

"Bridesmaids" is Hilarious and "City of Life and Death" is Harrowing, But "Priest" and "Skateland" Fall Flat

The year in cinema finally received a much-needed boost last weekend with two new films that vastly differed in terms of content, style and tone. One is a raunchy, riotously funny female ensemble comedy that leaves its male predecessors in the dust, while the other is a harrowing and visually stunning reenactment of a 20th century atrocity.

Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” is the female counterpart of outrageous yuk-fests like “Wedding Crashers” or “The Hangover,” but the film is significantly funnier than either of those titles and its characters are more sympathetic.

Wiig, who stars in the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo, turns the romantic wedding comedy on its ear by mixing the genre’s clichés with screamingly funny set pieces.

Among the most notable are a sequence in which Wiig attempts to gain the attention of a police officer with whom she is romantically entangled by performing all manner of illegal driving practices. In another, the comedienne mixes Scotch and sedatives on an airplane is the film’s comedic piece de resistance.

In the picture, Wiig is Annie, a former bakery owner who is unlucky in love, latching onto a smarmy sleaze ball (Jon Hamm) who refuses to allow her to sleep over. Her long-time friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), announces that she will be married and asks Annie to help plan the wedding with several family friends, including the snooty Helen (Rose Byrne) and quirky Megan (Melissa McCarthy), who steals more than a few of the film’s scenes.

“Bridesmaids” is a very funny movie that will hopefully act as a breakout for Wiig. One of its top selling points is that it is sympathetic towards its characters, rather than using them as objects of ridicule.

The best film I’ve seen so far this year is Lu Chuan’s fictionalized docudrama “City of Life and Death,” which chronicles the Rape of Nanjing in agonizing detail. The picture, shot in black and white and bearing stylistic similarities to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” is a bold cinematic experiment.

It is an action-oriented film, so much of its characterization will be found in the details of how its numerous characters react as Japanese soldiers prevent the Chinese from fleeing Nanjing.

Thrown into the mix are a Japanese soldier (Hideo Nakaizumi) who appears to be horrified at the cruelty of his commanding officers, a Chinese schoolteacher (Gao Yuanyuan) who tries to help Nanjing’s residents escape, John Rabe (John Paisley), a German Nazi who attempted to prevent the massacre, and his assistant (Fan Wei), who seeks political asylum for his family.

Some viewers may find the film too despairing to bear, but adventurous moviegoers will likely be transfixed by Yu Cao’s gorgeous photography and moved by the cast’s dedicated performances. It’s the year’s first great movie.

This weekend also saw the release of Scott Charles Stewart’s “Priest,” which is based on a graphic novel and stars Paul Bettany as a kung-fu fighting holy man whose mission is to rid the world of vampires, and Anthony Burns’ 1980s nostalgia piece “Skateland.”

“Priest” is deadly serious and pretty dull. The film, which is draped in darkness, has a solid visual style, but its story barely registers.

Burns’ film could similarly benefit from being more energetic. Those hoping for a “Dazed or Confused” or an “Adventureland” will be disappointed to find that “Skateland” ranks more alongside “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Burns’ use of 1980s nuggets by Modern English, A Flock of Seagulls and Blondie may delight, but the picture is a little short on content.

Check out This Week at the Movies next Monday for reviews of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”

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