What started off as a simple week of two art titles and two mainstream ones permitted itself the luxury of becoming more complicated. The truth, however, is that the complication of three additional films isn't likely to make much impact on very many moviegoing plans. I will explain.
First of all, there are two art titles opening this week — and they're both pretty choice. And believe me, no one is more surprised than I am. If you told me that I would have any interest in seeing a movie about people working in a foster care facility for displaced children, I wouldn't believe you. Indeed, I groaned when I read about it. Similarly, the idea that I'd have any interest whatever in a film that recreated the JFK assassination and its immediate aftermath was ludicrous to me. Well, I was wrong about both, but I realize you are just as likely to be as skeptical as I was — and will probably continue to be.
The films in question are Short Term 12 (opening at the Fine Arts) and Parkland (opening at The Carolina) — and they're both a lot better than you probably think. Of course, if you put much stake in review aggregations, you're more likely to believe in the 99 percent approval rating on Short Term 12 (that actually made me more skeptical). As an emotionally gripping story, it's probably the better of the two. As filmmaking, I lean more to Parkland. But the truth is that I highly recommend both — and really the films are so different that weighing them against each other is absolutely fruitless, pointless, and kind of dumb.
That settles the art titles — or at least the art titles I've seen and reviewed. Fact is, of course, that Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is going to draw both art and mainstream audiences, so it's in both camps. Plus, there's this curious double dose of French movies headed our way — as a last minute addition — from those sons of fun, the Weinstein Brothers. Beyond that, there's a movie coming our way that is neither for the art or the mainstream crowd.
Taking these alphabetically, the first up is that last mentioned. This is Grace Unplugged — a faith-based drama aimed at a specific niche audience. It stars someone named AJ Michalka as Grace, but whether it is she or her faith or both that is unplugged remains to be seen. Michalka has been in movies I've seen — Super 8, Secretariat, The Lovely Bones — but she made no impression on me. (The IMDb assures me that AJ likes "dance, cooking, horseback riding, mountain biking, reading and hanging out with her dogs and family," which comforts me no end.) Anyway, the movie is all about her character walking away from her church roots to seek a career in (gasp) Hollywood. The synopsis poses the question, "Will the experience cause her to reject her faith, or rediscover it?" Sight unseen, I'm betting I can answer that. I'm also betting that you know — sight unseen — whether this is your dish of tea or not.
Then there's Gravity. What is there to say about this one? It's Alfonso Cuaron's first film since the unreservedly brilliant Children of Man back in 2006. That's not only a long time between movies, but it's a tough act to follow — maybe an impossible one. The early reviews on Gravity are mostly glowing. This science fiction opus with only two stars — Sandra Bullock and George Clooney — where one of them (Clooney) is apparently offscreen for much of the time is, we're told, a full-on breathtaking experience that legitimizes (once again) 3D. OK, truth is, I'm jazzed and I'm hopeful — and I'm wary. And, no, it has nothing to do with Bullock's presence. It's all about my basic question of just how the premise of a woman floating in space can work for a feature — even for 90 minutes. I reckon I'll find out Friday morning — unless I get antsy and opt for that 10 p.m. Thursday show.
That brings us to the Weinsteins' double dose of French cinema. Normally — and rationally — these would in the art film realm and would have been screened to open with reviews. But we're dealing with the Weinsteins, so rational has bugger-all to do with it. My guess is that these two movies — Christian Vincent's Haute Cuisine and Regis Roinsard's Populaire — were owed some unspecified kind of theatrical release and this is it. Neither film seems likely to have enough immediate interest — box office wise — to be much of a draw. Indeed, these may be in that category of movies that are only "art" titles because they're in French. Haute Cuisine stars Catherine Frot as the woman who became the personal cook for French President Francois Mitterand (Jean d'Ormesson). As you may guess, it's based on a true story.
Populaire is the more promising of the two — a period (1958) piece comedy about an incompetent secretary (Deborah Francois), who also happens to be a brilliant typist. She is in fact so remarkable that her boss (Romain Duris, Heartbreaker) decides to turn her into the fastest typist in the world. (It seems there is typing competition — or was. Who knew?) I really have nothing against either film, because I don't really know anything about them. But here they are — and probably only for a week — and The Carolina has them split into alternating shows, so you can see both of them for one price, if you so choose. It's a pretty good value at that.
Bringing up the rear is Runner Runner from director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) and starring Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton and Ben Affleck in an unusual role as the bad guy. It's all about a Princetion student (Timberlake) who's putting himself through college by playing online poker (yes, well...). Then he loses all his money in a game, finds out he was cheated, and heads for Costa Rica for a showdown with the guy who took him (Ben Affleck). As things turn out, he ends up working for him instead. It has not gotten much in the way of good reviews. I am being kind.
So what do we lose this week? Well, the Fine Arts is dropping In a World to make way for Short Term 12. The Carolina is dropping Thanks for Sharing, Austenland, Still Mine, and Salinger. (Austenland is being picked up the Flat Rock Cinema.)
There is no Thursday Horror Picture Show this week, but it will be back next week. In the meantime, the other usual suspects are around. World Cinema is showing Good Bye, Lenin! (2004) on Fri., Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Oct 6 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society has the first of two movies starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in its October calendar — Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things (2003) on Tue., Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress, with full reviews in the online edition.
I guess the big DVD release this week is The Croods, though there are those with a higher (like any) Danny McBride tolerance than I who will plop for This Is the End, which, for the record, I haven't seen. And, of course, there's the latest special edition of The Wizard of Oz.
Notable TV Screenings
On Fri., Oct. 4, TCM has a solid double feature of Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935) starting at 11:15 p.m. On Sat., Oct. 5, there's Woody Allen's little revived and underrated Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) at 2 p.m. That evening at 10 p.m. there's Frank Capra's imitation Sternberg picture, The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932), which is at least worth seeing once. And for those with a taste for such there's a double feature (just like we saw them at theater) of William Beaudine's final films, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (both 1966) starting at 2 a.m.
Monday, of course, is part six of Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: 1953-1957 — The Swollen Story: World Cinema Bursting at the Seams. It starts at 10:15 p.m.