Regardless of how you feel about it, last week's Oz gave the box office a much needed jab in the lassitude. While this week does have one really choice — and really specialized — title that won't have any bearing on national figures, it looks like Oz will probably top the box office again. But we'll see.
The choice title is the "art" title, John Dies at the End, which opens Friday at The Carolina — and I'm using the word "art" very loosely. The film probably doesn't qualify as an art title, but it's very much not mainstream. It's more indie/cult than anything. It's from Don Coscarelli — the man who gave the world the Phantasm movies and Bubba Ho-Tep — and I think it's fair to say that it's largely in keeping with those movies, though it's definitely a little more thought-provoking. (Don't worry. That does not mean it lacks for cheesy monsters, nudity, absurdity and fairly rampant gore of the more jokey variety.) My review for it is in this week's Xpress. But let's say that I've seen it twice and will see it again. It is, however, exactly the kind of movie that my more genteel readers regard as a head-shaking quirk on my part and move along. And that's fine.
John Dies at the End is also the kind of movie that a lot of you complain "never comes to Asheville." Well, here one of those movies is — and if you want to see more films like it make it it town, the way to make that happen is to, you know, actually make the effort to go see it. Theaters only book films if there's an obvious market for them. It's up to you.
Now, about those more mainstream unknown quantities...
First up, we have something called The Call, which stars Halle Berry as a 911 operator who becomes enmeshed in mystery thriller shenanigans (I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time) when she realizes that a call she receives is a matter of life and death involving "a killer from her past." I have no idea what that means — other than the fact that it will send Berry into obviously perilous detective hero mode (see photo for sleuthing proof), and will probably allow for ample flashbacks to her earlier ordeal. Abigail Breslin plays the imperiled caller. Morris Chestnut appears to play a policeman. The picture was directed by Brad Anderson, who is highly regarded in some quarters, mostly for his atmospheric Session 9 from 2001. The biggest danger signal here is that it hasn't been screened for critics and there aren't even the usual run of "user reviews" from people who saw "a special screening."
What few reviews there are for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone are split almost evenly at this point. The film came from TV sitcom director Don Scardino, which may mean very little, since the discipline is very different (series TV belongs more to the series creator, the writers, and the producer than the director), especially if we're talking three camera TV. (I'm not familiar enough with his resume to know.) However, most comedies are not particularly known for stylish direction — and since this is very much a star comic movie with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey, so much of the film is going to be dictated by the stars (especially, two of them). In other words, the director probably isn't really all that in charge — though hopefully he had the power to say "no" on occasion. (Carrey in particular needs that sometimes.) The premise here is that Carell and Buscemi are professional magicians, whose act has gotten stale and their personal relation has gone sour. When their thunder is stolen by a street magician (Carrey), they have to try to mend their differences and come up with a stunning trick. Also around are Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini, and Alan Arkin. This could go either way, but I can't say the trailer enthuses me.
It looks like the only notable casualty this week is Amour, so if you haven't caught it and want to, be quick about it.
Before getting down to the usual business, let me remind readers that they have the rare chance to see Grand Hotel (1932) on the big screen at The Carolina on Wed., March 13 at 7:30 p.m. The film stars Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, and Jean Hersholt — and it's probably the best justification for MGM claiming it had "more stars than there are in heaven." Certainly, it's the most impressive all-star film of its era. (It was also the first such movie.) The film is being shown in a gorgeous new remastering as part of the Asheville Film Society's Budget Big Screen series. Tickets are $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public.
Another difference this week is the inclusion of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude (1971) being shown at 6:30 p.m. on Sat., Mar. 16 at the Laughing Heart Cinema in Hot Springs. I am not yet sure how often there will be showings at this venue.
This week's Thursday Horror Picture Show is Don Coscarelli's Phantasm (1979) on Thu., Mar. 14 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing the third — and final — part of Carlos (2010) on Fri., Mar. 15 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running Michael Winner's The Mechanic (1972) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Mar. 17 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is screening Rouben Mamoulian's film of Cole Porter's Silk Stockings (1957) with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse on Tue., Mar. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all films in this week's paper — with expanded coverage in the online edition.
Of note this week we have the largely underrated Hitchcock. the equally underrated Rise of the Guardians. the barely seen Smashed, and Life of Pi. All in all, not a bad week.
Notable TV Screenings
TCM has a pair choice items on TCM early in the morning on Sat., Mar. 16. William Dieterle's sophisticated comedy Jewel Robbery (1932) is on at the very unsophisticated hour of 6 a.m., and it's followed at 7:30 a.m. by John Barrymore in Harry D'Abaddie D'Arrast's Topaze (1933). That this is followed by Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) is one of life's mysteries.