At long last — meaning people can stop asking me — The Artist is coming to Asheville in all its black-and-white (mostly) silent glory. Yes, you can finally go see for yourself what all the fuss is about. At this point, I know it's opening at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. (It is likely opening at some other venues as well, since the big-box theaters tend to latch on to the surefire art titles they otherwise ignore. Am I suggesting that you should support the independent theaters that bring us art titles all year long? Well, yes, I am.) I know I also promised you another art title this week, but like Bogart in Casablanca, I was misinformed. There are, however, some other things coming out this week in the mainstream realm -- Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Haywire, Red Tails and Underworld: Awakening.
Have I already seen The Artist? Yes. In fact I've seen it twice. That's how it made it onto my Ten Best list. Am I as jazzed about it as a lot of people seem to be? No, not quite. That's not to say that I don't recommend the film, since I certainly do, and if I wasn't recommending it, it's hardly like to have been on my Ten Best list. You can find out more on my take on it in this week's reviews. Similarly, I've seen Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which opens in wide release this week, and that review is also in the Xpress.
And then there are the other titles...
Remember when Steven Soderbergh was retiring from movies to go keep bees or something? Well, it seems he was only kidding about that, though I think Haywire -- his latest -- may have been a done deal when he made that announcement. It would have been his second movie of 2011, but it got shunted to a January release date. Normally, that's a bad sign, but studios have been trying to take the mickey out January releases in the past couple years -- while continuing to load the month with crap, mind you -- and this just may be one of those times. Yes, I grant you that the trailer isn't all that enticing, but the presence of Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas is at the very least interesting -- especially, since McGregor seems to be playing an unlikable character. The early reviews are surprisingly strong, even if not necessarily from the most credible of sources. The real question here -- and the real hook for action fans -- is whether or not MMA star Gina Carano is the goods as an action movie star.
What to make of first-time feature director Anthony Hemingway's Red Tails? Well, that's a hard call. If any critics have seen it, they aren't talking. There are a couple of pretty obvious studio shills waxing ecstatic over it on the IMDb. (When I see the words, "Thank you George Lucas; you did a wonderful job," my skepticism kicks into high gear. Since Lucas is only executive producer here, I also sense desperation in the hunt for a marketable name.) The presence of Cuba Gooding Jr. is certainly a warning sign. (I haven't recovered from Radio yet.) Terrence Howard, on the other hand, I like, and I have nothing against Bryan Cranston. Plus, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen doesn't sound like a bad idea. Your call.
And then there's Underworld: Awakening. Yes. OK, so after pretty much sitting out Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) -- a film notable only because, unlike its predecessor Underworld: Evolution (2006), I didn't nod off during it -- Kate Beckinsale returns to star in this one. Do I care? No, not much. I'm actually more interested -- to the degree I'm interested at all -- in the presence of Stephen Rea in the cast. In the main, I'm still tired of werewolves who are reduced to CGI effects and acrobatic vampires dressed like undead Emma Peel clones. This round it appears that the lycans (that's geek speak for werewolves) and vampires ban together to fight humans who are out to destroy them. Maybe if they fought movie critics, they'd be on to something.
I'm not 100-percent sure on what we're losing this week, thanks to the Monday holiday, but I feel safe in saying that Young Adult is going to depart this Friday. Otherwise, the Fine Arts is dropping Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for The Artist. If anything else of note is taking its leave, I'll get back to you as soon as I find out.
In addition to the usual listings, it's worth noting that the Asheville Film Society is running a day's worth of silent movies in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina on Friday, Jan. 20, starting at 11 a.m. in honor of The Artist opening. The films being shown are Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920), Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the Rocks (1922), John Gilbert in Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), Clara Bow in It (1927), Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, Dolores Costello in Old San Francisco (1927), Charlie Chaplin in The Circus (1928), and John Barrymore in Tempest (1928). Admission is free.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has a double bill of Erle C. Kenton's House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Chris Marker's A Grin Without a Cat (1977) at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988) on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society continues its month-long tribute to filmmaker Ken Russell with Tommy (1975) on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina.
The big release this week in The Idea of March, but we also get Abduction, Courageous, and, not to be forgotten, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, a movie which secured Justin Souther's choice for the worst movie of 2011 (Courageous only made the number five slot).
Notable TV Screenings
On Sunday, Jan. 22, TCM gives us a Bela Lugosi three-for starting at 8 p.m. with Robert Florey's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), followed by Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934), and Erle C. Kenton's Island of Lost Souls (1933). That's my idea of a solid Sunday line-up.
Then, on Monday, Jan. 23, they devote the whole night to the films of Max Ophuls, starting with The Reckless Moment (1949) at 8 p.m. They then go all night long with Caught (1949), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Exile (1947), La Ronde (1950), and The Earrings of Madame De... (1954). It's probably not the best of the lot, but the one that especially interests me is The Exile. Why? Because I haven't seen it since I was 14 -- and when I was 14, I thought it was pretty swell. And that means, I make no promises about it all these years later.