When deciding which movie to go see in theaters, some weekends it’s best to just pull a name out of a hat. According to members of our Criticwire Network, you have plenty of solid options this week. The upcoming quintet of new releases hitting theaters in the days to come all have averages of a B- or higher. But, although one of the five has garnered an unbelievable amount of attention for its advance notices — that would be a scrawny little movie called “The Dark Knight Rises” — it’s another film about a troubled billionaire that has earned our overall top spot: With a B+ average, the Sundance documentary “The Queen of Versailles” is our Criticwire Pick of the week.
Photographer Lauren Greenfield’s film chronicles the last few years in the lives of Jackie Siegel and her husband David, the owner and CEO of the largest timeshare country on the planet. Originally intended to track the construction of the largest house in the country, the film becomes a portrait of a family forced to change its way of life after the financial crisis of late 2008. Eric Kohn writes in his Indiewire review that “Greenfield’s documentary never breaks its generally upbeat tone to dig deeper, but it benefits greatly from a tight structure and bountiful footage…The second, darker half owes much of its appeal to the stark juxtaposition it has with the scenes preceding it.”
One element of the film that seems to be the pivot point for many critics’ opinion of it is Greenfield’s attitude toward the Siegel family — that is, whether the director is making a statement about or openly parodying her subjects. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir explains, “I never felt that Greenfield was mocking Jackie, who comes across as a likable, commonsensical middle-aged mom (albeit one with considerable, um, cosmetic enhancements) and is in many respects the heroine of the movie. She really is an ordinary person who has led a life that goes beyond the unlikely or the bizarre to the flat-out impossible.”
Another Sundance-acclaimed documentary opens this week, one that also deals with its central figure having to bid adieu to a certain way of life. “Shut Up and Play the Hits” follows James Murphy, the man behind the electronic rock group LCD Soundsystem, as he prepares for the group’s farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. The Playlist’s William Goss warns that the film is not a comprehensive look at the band’s history or success, but instead an attempt to capture the essence of Murphy’s attitude toward LCD Soundsystem’s departure. “‘Shut Up’ could be about anyone, any band, any artist coming to terms with their success and finding themselves on the verge of willful retirement – a miraculous sort of agony if ever there was one,” Goss writes. Once the actual concert begins, Goss describes that “the contrast of loud-quiet-loud moments is used often and effectively (sometimes frustratingly, depending on the song) by [directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern] to reinforce the calm before and after the storm and the thrilling vibrancy of the show itself.”
As for that microbudget bat movie opening Friday in every theater everywhere, you can check out our roundup of initial critical response here.
Completing our roundup of this week’s releases is “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” the directorial debut from actor Daniel Auteuil, which The Atlantic’s Jon Frosch describes as “a story of love, class, and forgiveness that is as timeless and accessible as they come, a stately pace, classically composed (though not particularly graceful) shots, and a velvety score by Alexandre Desplat, this could easily be mistaken for a rather polished TV movie.” Finally, there’s “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai,” the latest from director Takashi Miike.