(Spoilers abound! Read at your own risk! And not just because it's poorly written!)
Happy-Go-Lucky has a simple premise: it's a character study about a happy person. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a bubbly, outgoing school teacher who could not be more satisfied with her life. She shares a flat with her best friend, she enjoys her job, she starts up a new romance with a nice chap who looks like the love child of Richard E. Grant and Stephen Fry. For Poppy, it's all rainbows and sunshine.
I wish I had been there to see the look on Mike Leigh's face when he thought up this idea for a film. Talk about a deceptively simple concept. Just think about it for yourself --- how many movies can you name where the main character is just straight-up happy throughout? There is no conflict, no hidden pathos, no hiding a dark side under a veneer of cheer for Poppy. She's not even a Mary Poppins-esque bringer of joy into a bleak world. Nope, Poppy's overall network of friends and compatriots is pretty pleased about things as well.
There are, of course, a few exceptions. Poppy's pregnant sister, who has the marriage and the house and is wondering why her sis just can't be a grown-up like she is. A homeless man wandering the streets, talking to himself and seeming barely aware of Poppy trying to help or at least comfort him in some way. And, Poppy's driving instructor, played by Eddie Marsan as what seems at first to be a stuffy Ricky Gervais pastiche (Gervais is born to play a driving instructor at some point in his career), but eventually reveals a number of disturbing layers.
It's perhaps a bit of a commentary on human nature that so many reviews praise Hawkins specifically for 'managing to make someone so happy not be annoying.' Have we become so used to troubled behaviour that someone showing contentment is automatically seen as irritating? That said, well....yeah, it is quite impressive that Hawkins manages to go the entire film without taking her character over the top or being just a bit too precious for words. Hawkins will hopefully pick up an Oscar nomination for her work, as the Academy has recognized Leigh's actors before (Imelda Staunton, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent) and she's going to pick up her share of minor critics' awards. Such recognition is well-deserved. It's just a good thing that Leigh didn't sabotage his film's chances at credibility by going with his original Seinfeld reference of a title, "Happy, Poppy?"
Do you know who's not happy-go-lucky? Frank Castle. Punisher: War Zone isn't going to be mistaken for Dark Knight or Iron Man anytime soon, but it may hold a treasured place as the funniest of all Marvel comic book movies. C'mon, it's the Punisher. You can either go grim (i.e. the Tom Jane Punisher from four years ago, but even that one featured John Travolta being tied to a car and driven into an exploding parking lot, which never fails to be hilarious) or stick the tongue in the cheek. The casting alone is hilarious. Wayne "Hello, Newman" Knight as Punisher's techie sidekick? Julie "Darla from Buffy/Rita from Dexter" Benz as the FBI widow and making the really, really bad acting choice to attempt a Noo Yawk accent? Dominic West giving a career-ending performance as Jigsaw. (This one merits special attention; West goes from being the most stereotypical Italian gangster in the world to being a homeless man's version of the Joker. Specifically, the Jack Nicholson Joker. Jigsaw is deformed by falling into a vat of dangerous stuff, has a 'hand me the mirror' scene with an underworld plastic surgeon, likes walking around in garish clothing...all he needed was a 15-foot long pistol and it would've been a perfect match.) One intentional joke that I did enjoy was the running gag that everyone on the NYPD tacitly endorses and abets the Punisher's vigilanteism. But really, hey, it's the Punisher. All you need to know is that it's a terrible movie, but one with a lot of wacky killing and violence. And, oh my god, the deaths just get funnier and funnier. Punisher's confrontation with the Irish parkour murderers is worth the price of admission alone. If P: WZ is remembered for anything, it should be that it probably holds the all-time record for most shots of smoldering, half-missing skulls.
Quantum of Solace had some good action sequences, one very clever sequence (the villains meeting at the opera and communicating by bluetooths) and was an overall entertaining film that I have no interest in ever seeing again. After two Daniel Craig Bond movies, it's probably already time for a different approach to the material. This isn't to say that Craig should be replaced; it's just that Bond-as-Jason Bourne is already old. The idea of getting someone like Marc Forster to direct was good in theory, if not entirely in execution, so the Bond producers should keep thinking outside the box in terms of new directors.
You know what's interesting? The original Quantum of Solace short story by Ian Fleming. It has nothing at all to do with the plot of the movie, which is a shame, because the short story is very unique and a department from the usual Bond tale. I wish that the basic idea of the short story had been included as an end scene in the movie, perhaps M telling a short version of the tale to Bond, in order to give the film a bit more denouement. It would've also been a good chance to let Dench actually act in one of these things.
Kevin Smith and Guy Ritchie are pretty dissimilar filmmakers on the surface, but are actually quite alike in a lot of ways. You know what you're getting when you go see one of their pictures --- Smith brings the Generation X comedy about lower middle-class folks in New Jersey, and Ritchie brings the cleverly complicated and semi-overshot British gangster flick.*
The problem is that since Smith has made more movies than Ritchie has, Smith's bag of tricks is getting pretty empty, while Ritchie still has a few arrows left in the ol' quiver. Zack And Miri Make A Porno is predictable to a fault, and the comedy leading up to the obvious denouement isn't funny enough to stop you from checking your watch. Seriously, a Star Wars porno? That's supposed to be funny here in 2008, when Star Wars has been officially dead for years? The joke of doing a porn-ified version of a film is stale enough, but dude, at least pick a movie that's been made in the last five years. You're telling me that Smith couldn't have anticipated Dark Knight and had Zack & Miri make a porno about that? C'mon, the Joker becomes the Poker, Two-Face becomes Two-Shaft, these awful puns write themselves.
Ritchie's Rocknrolla, on the other hand, is also obvious in the sense that by now, Ritchie's formula of having a circular ending to his plots is somewhat expected, but the journey takes a hundred twists and turns along the way. The only interesting side voyage in Zack & Miri is Craig Robinson stealing every scene he's in, and also seeing Jason Mewes attempt to actually play a character rather than just be Jay. Neither of those high points were as funny, it should be noted, as watching Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton's dance routine in Rocknrolla. Ritchie's film also has the advantage of featuring far less of Jason Mewes' cock.
What it comes right down to is that I'm going to be excited to see Ritchie's next project, whereas with Kevin Smith's next movie, I'm going to be repeating my see-it-for-as-cheaply-as-possible routine (thank you Tuesday matinee at the Rainbow) or just skipping it altogether. Now, this isn't a totally fair comparison since Ritchie's next project won't be his usual gangster movie, but rather an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes that looks bad-ass as hell. Robert Downey as Holmes?! Jude Law as Watson?! Eddie "That Guy In Happy-Go-Lucky Who I Mentioned Earlier" as Inspector Lestrade?! My imaginary girlfriend Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler?! I am sold! The only way a future Smith project could get me as comparably excited would be if he has more stories about Jon Peters and Prince.
Or, hey, to take a page from my Bond suggestion earlier, Kevin Smith should direct the next Bond movie! That's just what the Bond franchise needs, a scene where 007 and M discuss the merits of going ass-to-mouth. Actually, hell, even the concept of a James Bond porn is fresher than Star Wars porn. Bond movies are basically porn anyways; James usually sleeps with women within five minutes of meeting them, the numerals '007' look somewhat like two breasts and a penis**, they're usually set in exotic foreign locales, a man provides gadgets, Judi Dench is there. Forget Smith, maybe Jack Horner should direct the next Bond movie.
* = Ritchie's one exception is Swept Away, which we all agree never happened. It is very likely that Ritchie sat forlornly in his chair in the editing bay, watching the rushes of his (now ex-) wife struggle to act through scene after horrible scene, and he whispered softly to himself, 'This used to be my playground.'
** = Okay, a particularly curved penis. This reminds me of how I once mentioned to my friends that the internet was a treasure trove of odd Hollywood rumours that sounded just believable enough to be true. This was how "Ray Liotta's hammer-shaped penis" become a running joke amongst my group of friends to this day. We're a weird bunch.