Here we have an uncommonly busy movie week with four mainstream titles and an equal number of art/indie titles. Stranger still, not a single one involves giant monsters or guys in tights, which is perhaps a good thing.
Fortunately for those of us who have to see all of this, the four art/indie titles have all been taken care of. You will find reviews for Only God Forgives, Girl Most Likely, Dirty Wars (all opening at The Carolina) and Fill the Void (opening at the Fine Arts) in this week's paper. I will note that not a single one of these titles is anything like the others — an already controversial hard-R revenge thriller, a PG-13 quirky comedy, an unrated documentary and a PG romantic drama.
You'll see that Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives snagged this week's "Weekly Pick" in the paper, but I would not suggest taking that as an unqualified recommendation. This is not a film that's likely to appeal to everyone. In fact, it's a film that is going to offend a great many people and baffle others. Some will call it distasteful in its violence. Others will find its slow pace boring. And, frankly, I can't argue with either assessment. I'd call it a fascinating neon-bathed nightmare of something like the David Lynch school of disturbing filmmaking. Those who approach expecting an action thriller are probably going to be disappointed, even though there is action — very violent action — but that's not what it's about. If you hate it, don't say you weren't warned.
I haven't seen Dirty Wars — that one fell to Mr. Souther — but I should note that it's only being given evening showings. (Documentaries so rarely generate much interest.) In other words, I wouldn't bet on it being here for more than the one week.
I did see Girl Most Likely and Fill the Void. The former is an engagingly quirky film that is only a little disappointing when place in context with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's other works like American Splendor and The Extra Man. Fill the Void is quite good — a Hebrew-language drama that offers unusual look at life among Tel Aviv's orthodox Hassidic community. The film's milieu gives it a freshness we don't often see. It's truly a look into another world — but one that is accessible in its human story.
Now, about these other things...
I'll go ahead and deal with the animated film, Turbo, since it's opening on Wednesday for absolutely no discernible reason. It has a pretty high-power voice cast — Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson — but does it really have anything else? It's a story about a snail wanting to win the Indy 500, which isn't all that enticing. The trailers are uninteresting. The production looks cheap. It boasts no connection to anything established as popular. And, worse, it's opening in a market with two popular animated films still going strong, especially Despicable Me 2. Could it be a pleasant surprise? Or just another undistinguished animated kiddie flick?
Much more promising is James Wan's The Conjuring. For a fellow mostly associated with the Saw series, Mr. Wan has proved himself to be a very stylish horror director with Dead Silence (2007) and, even more, Insidious (2010). He's gone from shrug-worthy to a guy whose movies actually generate anticipation. This year, he's got two on the agenda — this one and Insidious: Chapter 2 coming in September. Both look good, though this one might have the edge. I'll even overlook the fact that this haunted house tale is supposedly "fact-based," since it has every appearance of being pretty free and loose with those "facts." The trailers have all looked stylish and are sufficiently different to suggest a singularly ambitious work. It's also gotten extremely strong early reviews — though I'm exceedingly wary of horror movie reviews. Still, I have a good feeling about this.
My feelings about Red 2 are less hopeful. It doesn't help that I only found the original film moderately entertaining. This looks like more of the same — minus Morgan Freeman (sometimes movie cancer sticks) and plus one Anthony Hopkins. The original director, Robert Schwentke, is gone, but that's not a big deal here, even though his replacement, TV director Dean Parisot, is not that inspiring. The original writers — Jon and Erich Hoeber — are back, but leave us remember these boys also wrote Whiteout and Battleship. Still, the movie has a built-in audience of people who just like seeing Helen Mirren in casually murderous mode. I admit that has an appeal.
And then there's R.I.P.D — from the director of the original Red. This is a high concept thing that finds dead cops (Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds) as members of Rest In Peace Department, whose job is to make destructive spirits move on to "the other side." It was written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, whose rap sheet includes The Tuxedo, Aeon Flux and Clash of the Titans. No, that's not very encouraging, is it? About as encouraging is the fact that no critic has been allowed to see it. Stranger still, we aren't even besieged with studio shill reviews on the IMDb. Looks pretty dicey to me.
Now, this week we lose In the House (if you haven't seen it, do so), Before Midnight and Love Is All You Need. This is what happens when eight new movies open.
Before getting to the usual showings, let's take note of the Asheville Film Society Budget Big Screen presentation of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on Wed., July 17 at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Tickets are $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public — and are available at the box office. Since there has been unusually high interest in this title, it is strongly suggested that tickets be bought in advance to avoid disappointment. Of all the many movies in the world that demand to be seen on the big screen, 2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps at the very top of the list.
This week's Thursday Horror Picture Show is Ray Kellogg's The Giant Gila Monster (1959) on Thu., July 18 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Loung at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma (1962) at 8 p.m. on Fri., July 19 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is showing Sidney Lumet's thriller Deathtrap (1982) at 2 p.m. on Sun., July 21 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society continues its month of musicals with Walter Lang's film of Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam (1953) on Tue., July 23 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.
This week there are only two major titles — 42 (which I haven't seen) and Evil Dead (which I didn't like very much). Considering the flood of new movies in the theaters, it is perhaps as well.
Notable TV Screenings
On Thu., July 18 TCM has a string of Preston Sturges films — starting at 1:30 p.m. with the insufficiently appreciated Christmas in July (1940) and concluding at 8 p.m. with possibly his funniest film, The Palm Beach Story (1942). If you stick around, you get John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962) at 9:45 p.m., followed by Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game (1939) at midnight and Richard Lester's Petulia (1968) at 2 a.m. It doesn't get a lot better than this.
Friday night has another run of Francois Truffaut films, starting with The Soft Skin (1964) at 8 p.m. and immediately followed by one of his best movies, Jules et Jim (1962).
Saturday at 10 p.m. there's Frank Borzage's quite wonderful History Is Made at Night (1937), a film that isn't shown nearly enough.
Sunday offers a solid night of comedy — and Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle (1958) at 8 p.m., Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) at 10 p.m. Richard Jones' Mickey (1918) at midnight, Rene Clair's A Nous La Liberte (1931) at 2 a.m., followed by his Le Million (1930) at 3:45 a.m. All in all, this a solid week.