So this week we have no less than six new movies opening. That sounds like an embarassment of riches, doesn't it? Well, at least two of them qualify as riches. Some of the others have all the earmarks of more likely just being embarassments -- an impression not helped by the fact that not a single one of them has been screened for critics. It's going to be pretty much what we call in technical parlance, a crap shoot.
The two films that qualify as riches are not surprisingly the art titles. Also not suprisingly, these are the two that I've already seen. Both movies are Oscar nominees, both are opening at The Carolina, and both are pretty remarkable. I refer to Bullhead and Pina -- and two movies more unlike each other would be hard to find. The reviews for them are in this week's Xpress, of course, but I'll at least say that first time writer-director Michael R. Roskam's Bullhead -- up for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar -- is a powerful movie, and one of the few films I've seen that were touted as "disturbing" that actually did disturb me. At the same time, Wim Wenders' Pina -- up for Best Feature Documentary -- is one of the most striking documentaries I've seen in a while, and it might just be the single best use of the 3D process I've ever seen.
Sight unseen, I think it very unlikely that any of the week's other contenders are going to be in the same league as either of those titles, but let's take a look at what they promise -- or threaten, as the case may be.
Alphabetically speaking first up is the rather peculiar looking Act of Valor, a movie that stars "real Navy SEALS," and, from the acting in the trailer, this claim seems perfectly plausible. The publicity handout uses every known action picture ballyhood cliche known to man -- "real-life heroism," "a film like no other," "gripping story," "adrenaline-fueled," "edge-of-their-seat," "stunning combat sequences," "heart-pumping emotion," "ultimate action adventure film." Why, it practically reviews itself, doesn't it? The real question is whether it's a movie in the normal sense, or if it's actually a very expensive recruiting film. According to Jordan Zakarin at The Huffington Post, the film "was born not in Hollywood, but in the Pentagon. It was commissioned by the Navy's Special Warfare Command and its success will be measured not in box-office receipts, but in the number of new recruits it attracts to the Navy SEALs." Make of that what you will.
Then we have something called Gone, which looks only marginally less preposterous than I Know Who Killed Me (2007). The trailer for this one manages to pack more genre tropes into a few minutes than I would have thought possible. This yarn that finds Amanda Seyfried going all thriler on us and taking the law into her own hands. She plays someone who once got away ("I'm the only one who escaped") from a serial killer, who, it seems, is out to rectify this. Ah, but, you see, Amanda was working the night shift and her kidnapper put the bag on her sister instead. Of course, the police don't believe her story. It follows as the night the day that she's going to become pistol-packin' Seyfried and go on what the studio assures us will be "a heart-pounding chase to find the killer." I never doubted it for a moment.
And now it's time for Tyler Perry's Good Deeds. By this point in my relationship with Mr. Perry's movies, I haven't quite gotten to the level that Justin Souther claims of "not even bothered by them anymore," but I approach them in the sense that Victorian mothers used to advise their daughters to approach their wedding nights, "Just close your eyes and think of England." With his latest, I will have seen and reviewed an even dozen outbursts of Perryana. I approach this one with the attitude of "you can't scare me." I almost view the man as some kind of old friend I've learned to indulge. This time he plays wealthy businessman Wesley Deeds, but his Mr. Deeds doesn't go to town. Instead, he's going to learn how the other 99 percent live when he meets down-on-her-luck single mom Lindsey (Thandie Newton), who quickly proves that he's out of touch with reality because he doesn't know how much a gallon of milk costs (by the logic of The Iron Lady this would make him ill-equipped to be Margaret Thatcher, too). Despite being engaged to Gabrielle Union, he takes an interest in this unlikely companion, who just might teach him who he really is. Yes, well.
Bringing up the alphabetical rear is Wanderlust from director and co-writer David Wain, who has some kind of cult following based on whatever causes cult followers to cluster. His 2008 Role Models was at least pleasant enough, even if it strained by be ersatz Judd Apatow. The star of that film, Paul Rudd, is here teamed with Jennifer Aniston, who is trying to create another image for herself. To this end, she will do all sorts of un-Aniston things, we're told. In the course of this tale of suddenly out of work New Yorkers who may or may not have found themselves by moving into a sort of free love hippie community, she takes hallucingens, may flirt with lesbianism, and takes off her shirt -- though it is said that she demanded the offending scene of her toplessness be removed from the final film, so do not count on seeing Annistonian breasts unleashed. Personally, I think the most shocking career move she could make would be to be in a good movie.
Now with an influx of this many movies, yes, some things are taking their leave. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Oscar Nominated Short Films are departing from The Carolina, and Albert Nobbs is maybe leaving, but because of the Monday holiday, I won't know that for sure until later. I'll get back to you on that. The Fine Arts, on the other hand, is holding steady.
Before getting down to the standard offerings, I should make note of two unusual films this week.
The Asheville Film Society has a free, members-only screening of Bullhead at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at The Carolina. If you're not a member, you can fix that by being an AFS membership for $10. That will not only get you into this, but any future such screenings, as well as other perks, like a dollar off any movie at The Carolina, among other things.
Also up is a screening of local filmmaker Aimie Burns documentary Peace Through Education: Stealing Light at the Fine Arts Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at the theater box office.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show this week is Joe May's The Invisible Man Returns (1940) on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m. On Friday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. World Cinema will show Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee (1970) in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersoville Film Society is showing the Merchant-Ivory film The Wild Party (1975) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society screens Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York (1928) on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Louge at The Carolina. More on all these in the Xpress and the online edition.
It wasn't perfect and a lot of people seem to have not liked it, but I liked Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar more than most of Eastwood's movies, and it's out on DVD this week. On the other hand, a good many people (OK, mostly critics) liked Martha Marcy May Marlene and I pretty much hated it. I didn't hate The Way, but I didn't think it was anything special. Puss in Boots was massively OK, even if it was years late in getting made. I haven't seen Tower Heist and I'm keeping it that way. I also note with some delight that Nicolas Roeg's magnificently demented Track 29 (1988) has finally made it to DVD, though there are rumors that the transfer isn't so hot. I'll risk it.
Notable TV Screenings
TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" continues. I'm ready for it to stop.