I look at this week's three offerings -- two mainstream, one art house -- and the first thing that immediately occurs to me is that it has to be better than last week. Since I'd already seen the Oscar shorts, last weekend was a complete washout for me. How bad was it with those out of the mix? Well, this week is one of the few editions that carries no Weekly Pick. That's grim. That's February grim.
This doesn't mean that no one went to the movies this past weekend. On the contrary, the movies were booming. This was a startlingly good weekend, box office-wise. In any other capacity ... well, that's another matter. After concluding that of the two movies I saw, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island was at least better than The Vow, but that it still wasn't good in any reasonable sense, I held out hope that Justin Souther's duty to undertake Safe House would provide some ray of sunshine. I called it a night before I saw his review. When I did see it early this morning, I saw that he rated it even lower than I had rated the other two. You can perhaps see why I am convinced that even this slight week has to be better. I mean, really, it could hardly be worse. And, yes, I'm well aware that that is a very dangerous thing to say, but I do think the odds are astronomically in my favor here.
So what exactly is going to be out there?
Well, first up is Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Now, I know this provokes groans from an awful lot of people, and, yes, I can bash Nicolas Cage and his various hairpieces with the best of 'em. In fact, some website last year cited my review of Season of the Witch the best bad review of that particular film (and possibly of the entire year). I also count the original Ghost Rider as a guilty pleasure (even if I do call it Goat Rider) of some note -- and I like Cage's goofy performance in it. (Check out the original review here.) And, yeah, we seem to lose Peter Fonda, but we've gained Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, and Christopher Lambert. (Well, that last isn't such a big deal maybe.) But for me the most interesting addition is the Neveldine-Taylor directing team. It may put me in the minority, but I like both Crank films and I like Gamer. There. I've said it. And I'm glad I said it. I like their incredible bad taste and astonishing penchant for the absurd. The only thing that worries me is how bad their bad taste can be with a PG-13 rating. Well, we'll have to see about that. At least, I will. I don't know about anybody else.
The one classy movie opening this week is The Secret World of Arrietty. which opens this week at the Fine Arts. This is from the folks at Studio Ghibli, but it should be noted that Hayo Miyazaki only co-authored the screenplay and acted as executive producer. In other words, you probably oughtn't expect another Spirited Away here. You may also notice that the film has a 94 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it should be noted that the bulk of those reviews are from the UK and Australia where the film had different voice actors than the ones we're getting stateside. (This is because it's assumed that us Yanks don't cotton to those high-tone Brits like Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan, and will feel better hearing Will Arnett and someone named Bridget Mendler.) Still, let's face it, this animated version of Mary Norton's 1952 children's fantasy novel, The Borrowers is the most seriously interesting looking title coming our way this week.
And then there's This Means War -- which is getting an advertised Valentine's Day "sneak peak" (which isn't very sneaky if it's advertised). The only theater I know for sure that has this is The Carolina, but others may as well (except I know it's not at the Carmike). Then it goes back on the shelf till Friday like any other well-behaved movie. So what is it? Well, it's a R-rated rom-com (making it probably a raunch-rom-com) mixed with action. It comes to us from the guy who signed his movies "McG." I do not view this as a plus. It's all about two CIA agents -- played for maximum hunkability by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy -- who are the best of friends until they find they're both dating Reese Witherspoon. That's where the title comes in -- and the presumptive amusement value of these two guys double-crossing each other and whatever else in order to win La Witherspoon. Seems like a lot of trouble to me.
Now, this week we do find two art screen casualties. Both The Carolina and the Fine Arts are dropping A Dangerous Method and The Carolina is giving Shame the old heave-ho as well. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy continues to avoid the ax by performing surprisingly well even in split shows, but next week sees a small flood of releases, so I would not count on this continuing.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show this week is Mr. Vampire (1985) on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. It is preceded by Chapter One of the 1935 serial The Lost City starting at 7:30. This Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m. World Cinema is running Yasujiro Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon (1962) in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The 1944 version of Jane Eyre is up for the Hendersonville Film Society at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19. The Asheville Film Society is screening Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 21. More on all titles in this week's Xpress and in the online edition.
Unlike a lot of people, I actually liked Bruce Robinson's The Rum Diary, which comes out on DVD this week. I admit I could not bring myself to like Take Shelter as much as I apparently was supposed to, but that doesn't mean I didn't like it a lot better than Paranormal Activity 3, which in turn wasn't as vile The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence. All of this is also out this week. I note, too, that the highly regarded documentary, The Interrupters -- which I haven't seen -- is out, too. And it appears that the Jerry Lewis movie Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) -- a Lewisified remake of Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan Creek (1944) is getting the Blu-ray treatment this week. I mention this because I adored this movie when it first came out. I was four.
Notable TV Screenings
You remember last week when the "31 Days of Oscar" was on TCM? Well, it's still going on, but I will note that on Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. they have Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) with Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, Claudette Colbert and Charlie Ruggles. It's not shown very often (for years it was considered lost) and is very worth your attention. (By the way, that lobby card represents the most I ever spent on a single collectible. Don't ask.) And if you're still around at 10 p.m. when they run Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), that wouldn't be too shabby either.