1. Pick of the week: “The Boxtrolls” (all week, Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — I’m willing to give anything made by Portland-based Laika a pass just because it looks like it takes forever. The animation studio uses stop-motion animation in the tradition of Aardman Studios, giving each frame a loving, handmade feel. Luckily, the movies have been good, too — “Coraline” is a modern classic, and I really liked “ParaNorman” too. “Boxtrolls” is a similarly dark and delightful tale, about bizarre creatures who raise a human boy as their own.
Pick of the week: “A Walk Among The Tombstones” (all week, Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Block’s novels since I was a teenager, especially the Matthew Scudder novels, about an unlicensed, alcoholic private investigator with a lot of baggage and a tarnished moral code. Hollywood didn’t do very well by Scudder the last time (“Eight Million Ways to Die”), but this one looks like it’s nailed it. Neeson looks every bit the part, and writer-director Scott Frank was responsible for writing two of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations, “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight.” I’ve got high hopes.
1. “The French Connection” (7 p.m. Friday, UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall) — The car chase, sure. That iconic car chase, in which Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is barrelling underneath a New York City subway train containing his prey, is one for the ages. But the rest of William Friedkin’s 1971 film (kicking off a Friedkin retrospective at the Cinematheque) is a stone-cold classic, from the driven, unlikable Doyle’s pursuit to that bravura cat-and-mouse game between Fernando Rey and the cops in midtown Manhattan. But, yes, also the car chase. FREE!
1. “Under the Skin”/”The Lego Movie” double feature (6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St.) — Oh, those crazy college kids. The UW Union South Marquee Theatre’s fall season starts this weekend, and the student programmers in charge clearly have a gleefully perverse sense of humor in their pairings. First on Friday, catch “Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer’s disturbing R-rated sci-fi film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien hunting horny Scotsmen. Then stick around for the hilarious and inventive “The Lego Movie” starring everybody’s favorite plastic blocks. On Saturday night, the order is reversed. Both films are strong Top 10 of the year contenders for me — I just never thought to pair them together like that. FREE!
“Ghostbusters” (all week, Eastgate and Star Cinema, and Wednesday at Sundance) — Even though it’s one of my favorite movies of the ’80s, and I vividly remember seeing it at a late-night screening opening night in high school, I kinda hope this 30th anniversary revival tanks. Because we don’t need another “Ghostbusters” movie (we really didn’t even need the second one), and nobody seems to want it except Dan Ackroyd. (Although an all-female version directed by Paul Feig is certainly the least bad idea out there for a reboot.) Anyway, it’s still “Ghostbusters,” and still lots of fun to watch.
Pick of the week: “Rooftop Cinema: From Puppets to Pixels” (9 p.m., Friday, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) — Late August is a rough time of year for moviegoers, especially in Madison; not only are we getting the dregs of the summer movie season, but we’re waiting impatiently for the UW-Madison on-campus film series to get rolling in early September. Thank heavens for MMOCA’s Rooftop Cinema series, which returns for one last summer night this weekend, presenting additional short films from all four of the animators featured in the June programs. It’s free for museum members, $7 for all others, and part of an evening of festivities that will include a gallery talk by artist Jason Yi about his new installation “A Fragile Permanence.”
Pick of the week: “Magic in the Moonlight” (Sundance, AMC Star Cinema) — It’s a Woody. Yes, “Magic in the Moonlight” has been getting pretty lousy reviews, and the idea (magician Colin Firth hired to debunk mystic Emma Stone) sounds like one of those bad ideas Woody had back in the “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” days. But it’s a new Woody Allen film, and we won’t be able to say that that many more times, most likely. So we show up, hoping for another “Midnight in Paris.”