At last, the new Woody Allen film hits town — with all its awards buzz and strong, national box office intact. Plus, we get a new Edgar Wright comedy, the next Harry Potter wannabe, and (yet again) the "reinvention of horror." It could be worse. It has been worse. It will be worse again.
I caught Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine — opening Friday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts — on Saturday at one of those 9 a.m. press screenings. Even as a diehard Allen fan, I had some trepidation — especially since the film was being likened to his Match Point (2005), which is the only Allen film I've seen that I actively disliked. Apart from the fact that Blue Jasmine is essentially a drama (albeit with some very bitter comedy), it's nothing at all like Match Point (which still strikes me as Crimes and Misdemeanors minus the laughs). It's something that hasn't quite happened before — a serious Woody Allen picture that still feels — and sounds — like a Woody Allen picture.
I have a few minor problems with Blue Jasmine — and, no, I don't fall into the "his best film in years" camp — but, all in all, this is The Goods. The mix of bitter comedy and drama is close to perfection. The picture is brilliantly made. And everything you've heard about Cate Blanchett's performance is true. This is a movie that manages to make Andrew Dice Clay somewhat sympathetic. My review is in this week's paper. The movie will be coming to town on Friday.
While Blue Jasmine is almost certainly the week's high point, at least some of the other offerings are not without interest — possibly a lot of interest.
First up (and opening on Wednesday for whatever reason) is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which is based on a series of (apparently) popular novels by Cassandra Clare. I confess to having never heard of these books, but it's not the sort of thing I'm likely to bump into. I can't quite figure out if Sony (who is releasing the film under its generally lower-echelon Screen Gems name) thinks this is going to be the new Harry Potter or the new Twilight, but they'd be glad of either, I'm sure. What I do know is that the garden is already littered with the remains of movies — some of them even good — that were supposed to spawn cash cow franchises and didn't. Whether this will join them remains to be seen. Since the movie opens tomorrow and hasn't been reviewed, my money's on another failed attempt. (A second film, however, is already in the works.) A certain fuss is being made over having secured Harald Zwart as director, since his remake of The Karate Kid was a hit. It's worth remembering that he also made The Pink Panther 2. Anyway, this stars Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower. Collins plays a young woman who finds she's descended from warriors who keep the world safe from demons and joins with others to continue said fight.
More immediately interesting is Edgar Wright's The World's End — the third and theoretically final comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This time the comedic duo are part of a group of friends trying to recreate a pub crawl — set to conclude at a pub called The World's End — from 20 years ago, only to find themselves embroiled in fighting off what appears to be an alien invasion. Now, this comes to us with absolutely great reviews. It also comes with the incredible pedigree of its predecessors — Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). But I have to be honest, I'm a little wary of the alien invasion aspect. I'm hoping there's more than that or that that almost doesn't matter. In any case, I'm officially cautiously jazzed and will be there on Friday to find out.
Bringing up the rear is a highly-touted horror picture of the "home invasion" variety — You're Next — but with, we are promised, a twist. This is another of those movies that is being said to "reinvent the horror film." I've heard that before and it hasn't been true yet. I'm betting it's not true here either. This is a little indie from Adam Wingard, who's been around the festival circuit for a while. He's apparently a bit like Ti West (who plays a role in this). Lionsgate picked the film up (it was apparently made a couple of years ago). Positive reviews on horror movies don't always — or often — mean much, but how can any self-respecting genre fan not respond to JohnDeFore (in The Hollywood Reporter) calling it, "A nasty little slasher film that starts poorly but gets better once most of the cast has been butchered"? My friend Luke Y. Thompson (with whom I don't always agree by any means) makes a pretty good case for the film. I'm checking it out.
What do we lose art-wise this week? Well, nothing. The Fine Arts is splitting 20 Feet from Stardom and The Way, Way Back, but that's it.
First of all, there's this month's Asheville Film Society Budget Big Screen offering of Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), which plays on Wed., Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Polanski turned 80 on Sunday (which terrifies me, since I can remember when he was an up-and-coming filmmaker) and few things could better mark the event than showing what is easily his most popular film — and the one that many consider to be his best. Is it? I'm not about to commit to that, but it's certainly his most iconic. It's also iconic for Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, who have rarely been better than they are here — and to see it on the big screen with its gorgeous period detail as it was intended is even better. (Admission is $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public.)
This week's Thursday Horror Picture Show is the magnificent Brit horror star Tod Slaughter in Crimes at the Dark House (1940) on Thu., Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema brings us the Oscar-nominated Austrian crime drama Revanche (2008) on Fri., Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running That's Entertainment, Part II (1976) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Aug. 25 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out its August screenings with William Powell and Kay Francis in William Dieterle's Jewel Robbery (1932) at 8 p.m. on Tue., Aug. 27 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress with full reviews in the online edition.
I suppose the big news is Amour, though it's a film that left me absolutely cold. Still it's more interesting than the indifferent Epic, and both are certainly less grim than Scary Movie V.
Notable TV Screenings
We're still in the midst of TCM's "Summer Under the Stars," meaning if you're not keen on a certain star, you've got 24 hours of said star to avoid or wallow in. Mostly, this is of the "usual suspect" variety, but sometimes they throw in a ringer. On Sat., Aug. 24, for example, the day is given over to character actor Charles Coburn. That means some pretty darn good movies. Check out Charles Vidor's underappreciated romantic comedy Together Again (1944) at 1 p.m. Then there's Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (1943) — where Coburn quite steals the show — at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m. we get Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941) where Coburn plays Barbara Stanwyck's card-sharp father. That's followed by George Stevens' The More the Merrier (1943), for which Coburn won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Clark Gable shows up on Sunday, but along with the usual fare, we find Frank Borzage's very strange allegorical drama Strange Cargo (1940) — as weird a mix of sex, love and religion as you're apt to find.