Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Amy Ryan

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Story: A washed-up actor known for having played a superhero tries to reinvent and validate himself by writing, producing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. The Lowdown: Full-blown filmmaking written in all capital letters. Birdman is both a stylistic and dramatic tour de force — the kind of nonstop brilliant movie you hope for and almost never get. Here you do get it — and then some.
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Clémence Poésy, Joseph Mawle, Eddie Marsan, Timothy Spall, Nikita Mistry, Luke Treadway


In Brief: Like Ridley’s best-known film (he’s only made three) The Reflecting Skin (1990), this is very clearly a horror movie — some of it is quite graphic — but it’s more of a very perverse fairy tale than a traditional horror movie. Put briefly, it’s the story of a young man (Sturgess) with a large, disfiguring, heart-shaped birthmark on his face, who — after discovering that lizard-like demons are terrorizing East London — loses everything, but is offered a deal with the devil (Joseph Mawle) — or a close approximation — to have the life he wants, i.e., a life without his birthmark. Naturally — since the Prince of Darkness is not known as a square shooter — there’s a catch. And it’s not only more of a catch than was bargained for, but the rules keep changing — always in the devil’s favor. Weird and unashamedly mystical, it’s a must-see for serious horror fans — and for anyone who likes something out of the ordinary. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Heartless Thursday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six  at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Hédi Temessy, Enka Bodnár, Miklós Székely, Pál Hétenyi, János Derzsi

Almanac of Fall

In Brief: I am quite certain that after watching The Turin Horse (2011) I swore I would never get suckered into sitting through another film by the Hungarian master of molasses-slow miserablism, Béla Tarr. Well, somehow I went back on that — partly out of curiosity to see what Mr. Tarr would do with color in his only non-black-and-white movie Almanac of Fall (1984). I will say that the film’s use of color is interesting and creative, though I doubt if Tarr’s use of colored gels actually means anything. It is, however, undeniably sinister. Technically, the film is well made and the direction is solid, but whether you’d actually enjoy the results or merely be relieved when the movie stops is another matter. For fans only. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Almanac of Fall Friday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,
Starring: Myrna Loy, Robert Mitchum, Peter Miles, Louis Calhern, Shepperd Strudwick

The Red Pony

In Brief: How you feel about The Red Pony (1949) is going to depend a great deal on how you feel about the John Steinbeck story and the Aaron Copland music. Not being a fan of either — and just having a basic aversion to “life lesson” stories that deal with the death of a beloved pet — it’s a movie I tend to avoid whenever possible. Although it’s obviously a low-budget attempt to duplicate the success of Clarence Brown’s The Yearling (1946), I can’t really fault the film as a solid version of the story. Oh, the animated birds are pretty bad, and the idea of literalizing the boy’s daydreams should have been drowned at birth, but it’s certainly not a bad movie. Director Lewis Milestone was past his glory days of the 1930s, but he crafts a handsome movie — even if it lacks the bravura touches that mark Milestone’s great films. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Red Pony Sunday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Isabel Jeans, Caroline Blakiston, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee

The Magic Christian

In Brief: Generally reviled at the time of its release, Joseph McGrath’s The Magic Christian (1969) has seen its appreciation skyrocket in recent years — deservedly so. What was once dismissed as tasteless and messy (never mind that these were deliberate) has now come to be seen as a brilliantly anarchic satire and perhaps the apotheosis of 1960s British Invasion filmmaking. Its tale of the world’s richest eccentric, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), and his adopted son Youngman (Ringo Starr) setting out to prove that everyone can be bought if the price is high enough left few, if any, sacred cows standing. Subversive, very funny and wildly inventive, The Magic Christian is a gem of 1960s film. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Magic Christian Tuesday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin


The Story: A 28-year-old woman puts her increasingly unbearable life on hold for a week to go hang out with some new high-school-age friends. The Lowdown: A thoroughly charming — even quite lovely — romantic comedy that addresses the topic of arrested development from a female perspective. Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell — along with sensitive direction — make this a special experience.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton


The Story: A cheap sociopathic criminal finds his calling providing dubiously legal “news” footage to LA TV stations. The Lowdown: Reasonably compelling — if unwholesome — portrait of a sociopath that falters in its attempt to be a satirical statement on modern media.
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P. Bell, Dennis Haysbert

Dear White People

The Story: An ensemble look at race relations — in primarily comedic terms — at a largely white Ivy League college. The Lowdown: Fresh, witty, moving, edgy film that overcomes most of its first-time-filmmaker problems by the force of its characters and the drive of the film.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Heather Graham, David Morse


The Story: A man suspected of murdering his girlfriend awakes to find that he’s sprouted Satanic-looking horns that give him strange powers. The Lowdown: Wildly inventive, genre-spanning film that is by turns horrific, satirical and deeply tragic. It’s easily the best Halloween offering out there, but be prepared for something different.
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye


The Story: Playing around with a Ouija board unleashes tepid horror. The Lowdown: In its favor, Ouija is pretty professional looking. Everything else, however, is on the dull side.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones

The Elephant Man

In Brief: David Lynch’s first foray into the world of — more or less — mainstream film, The Elephant Man (1980), is still his most accessible work and probably his most all-around popular. At the same time, its relative normalcy only goes so far. Oh, sure, it garnered a whopping eight Oscar nominations, but you’ll notice it took home exactly zero awards. (This was the year that Robert Redford’s ultra-white-bread Ordinary People was the big winner.) Its story may have been appealing and sentimental enough (some say it’s too sentimental), but it lost points for deliberately not being an adaptation of the then-popular play. But more, it had too much Eraserhead (1977) clinging to it with its nightmarish imagery of Industrial Revolution London. Worse, it puts the audience in the same boat as the freakshow gawkers in the film by keeping the title character from being clearly seen, building our curiosity to get a good look at him. In the text of the film, we’re really no better than the Victorians. The film was a bid for mainstream acceptance without pandering. A bold, brilliant move for a movie that can be fairly called “uplifting,” but one that perhaps cost it its awards — and left Lynch something of an outsider. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Elephant Man Tuesday, Nov. 4, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall, Alan Dinehart

Dante’s Inferno

In Brief: This is a makeup screening for one that was scheduled in July and had to be canceled due to technical problems. What follows is a reprint of that review. Harry Lachman’s Dante’s Inferno (1935) may be more of a curio than anything else, but what a curio it is. It was an expensive production, with most of the money being spent on an elaborate vision of the title Inferno (based on Gustave Doré’s engravings) — and the film would be worth seeing for this sequence alone. The story itself is still pretty solid, with Spencer Tracy (just before his move to MGM) as an unscrupulous carnival barker turned promoter, whose view of the Inferno attraction is to “put hell on a paying basis.” He also has a tendency to cut corners and ignore safety standards — and thereby hangs much of the drama. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dante’s Inferno Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Tamara Shanath, Margarita Isabel


In Brief: This marks the fifth time I’ve been called on to write about this film, and fan that I am, I’m pretty much out of things to add, so I’m mostly going with a review from 2007. I will, however, say that watching the film again, I was struck by how much better Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language films are than his Hollywood endeavors. Cronos marks his first feature film — and is one of the more audacious debut works you’re likely to find. It’s a rethinking of the vampire film — and unlike most rethinkings, this one really brings something new to the table. The film boasts all the horror tropes — and adds some new ones — but it’s also bitterly funny and finally quite touching. There’s really nothing out there quite like it. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Cronos Friday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,
Starring: Eduard Franz, Valerie French, Grant Richards, Henry Daniell, Lumsden Hare

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake

In Brief: Though he started out pretty respectably at Universal in 1931, director Edward L. Cahn quickly gravitated to the land of the B-picture and by the 1950s was firmly entrenched in making exploitation trash, westerns and horror movies. These are what his reputation — such as it is — rests on. Some of it is actually pretty good and nearly all of it is entertaining. Near the top of the list is The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), a thoroughly absurd story about a vengeful — and 200-plus-year-old — specialist in the occult (and headshrinking) who is out to get every descendant of the Drake line. Why? Well, that’s never entirely clear — and the last minute revelation of the origins of this literal headshrinker doesn’t really clear matters up. Maybe it’s the mere fact that he’s played with world-class ennui by the inimitably supercilious Henry Daniell. Giving away his identity is no big deal, since the film quickly makes it apparent who’s behind the grisly business. It’s efficiently done — though it does look more like a TV show than a movie — but its main claim to fame, apart from Daniell’s villainy, is that it’s genuinely creepy and surprisingly gruesome for a 1950s horror film. It’s not great, but it’s good and a staple of the genre of its time. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake Thursday, Oct. 30, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau, Laurent Poitrenaux, Serge Bozon

The Blue Room

The Story: A man under investigation for a crime we aren’t apprised of for a long time gives his version of the events. The Lowdown: As an exercise in formal filmmaking, The Blue Room is hard to criticize, but the story, the film’s detached attitude, the overriding ambiguity and the lack of tension are another matter.

Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler October 29-November 4: Horns Saw Carrie Before Dear Nightcrawler

In Theaters. It’s Halloween week, and while the supposed big offering is last week’s dismal Ouija, there are still a couple of treats to be found among tricks — along with one dubious idea, two art/indie titles, and a pair of unknown mainstreamers.     Since it is a seasonal week, let’s look at the […]

1976 Carrie Stepehen King
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, William Katt, Amy Irving, John Travolta


In Brief: The Asheville Film Society is having a special Halloween Budget Big Screen Showing of Brian De Palma's horror classic Carrie (1976) on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Actually, the AFS attempted to do this last year, but there was a moratorium on the film so that it couldn't compete with that lousy remake that was then in theaters. This, however, is the real thing — the ground-breaking, Oscar-nominated original being presented in all its glory from a new DCP remastered print. It is that rarest of things — a great horror movie that so transcends its genre that it's simply a great film. But it is unmistakably a horror film with everything that implies — and it's one that redefined much about the genre by presenting things in a manner no other film had. If you've never seen Carrie, it's high time you did. If you've never seen it in a theater with an audience, that's as good a reason, because it's a completely different experience. The Asheville Film Society is showing Carrie Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. in at The Carolina Asheville as part of the Budget Big Screen series. Admission is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public. Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther will introduce the film.
Bill Nighly, Andrew Scott, Paddy Considine
Starring: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Ben Schnetzer, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott, George MacKay


The Story: A group of gay activists in Great Britain set out to help striking coal miners during the 1984 strike — whether the miners like it or not. The Lowdown: An absolutely pitch-perfect comedy-drama with a remarkable ensemble cast, a witty, literate script and a strong cinematic approach. There is absolutely no excuse for missing this one.
wolf manc
Starring: Claude Rains, Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya

The Wolf Man

In Brief: Note carefully that this week's film shows at 8:45 p.m., not 8 p.m. It matters very little that George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941) is perhaps most notable for assembling one of the greatest casts of any horror movie and then giving them nothing much to do. It’s still the movie that has become ingrained in pop culture as the essential werewolf movie. Lon Chaney Jr.’s turn as Larry Talbot — the lycanthrope of the title — became the role that would always be the centerpiece of Chaney’s career. Jack Pierce’s werewolf makeup became the standard look for a werewolf. Atmospheric photography by Joseph A. Valentine, a great musical score (from Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner) and a brisk pace sealed the deal. The fact that most kids discover horror pictures around the age of puberty has kept the torch burning, because The Wolf Man is the perfect horror film for that age group. Nostalgia has done the rest, but the film is certainly not without merit. It’s a horror essential. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Wolf Man Thursday, Oct. 23, at 8:45 p.m. in Theater Six  at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard

St. Vincent

The Story: Misanthropic drunk plays babysitter and mentor to a young boy. The Lowdown: Yes, it's almost alarmingly unmysterious — a feel-good crowd-pleaser tailored to the talents of star Bill Murray. You know where it's going from the onset, but the trip is still very enjoyable.