This is a really strong week — a remarkably strong week. But the odd thing about that is that its strengths all lie in the art titles. Two of those are among the best things I’ve seen this year — the sort of films that will probably be on my Ten Best list come December (hey, we’re to three now!). The mainstream titles are more problematic to say the least. I have, in fact, been told by one who has seen them that one is not very good, one is just plain not good and one is downright awful. When one of them is A Haunted House 2, it doesn’t take the gift of prophecy to guess which one was deemed “downright awful.”
Before attempting to go best two falls out of three with the mainstream titles, let’s take a look at the three art titles I’ve seen (and reviewed) — along with one non-art title I’ve also seen (and reviewed). Consider that last a bonus. The main films to consider here are Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox and Roger Michell’s Le Week-End. These are the films that will likely be on that Ten Best list at the year’s end. Both are remarkable works, both got the full five stars from me and both could easily have gotten the Weekly Pick. Any other week I’d have opted for two Weekly Picks, but with the website being in “under construction” mode, which, in turn, has affected everything, I didn’t want to muddy the waters even more than they were.
My choice of The Lunchbox for Weekly Pick was almost a coin toss. I didn’t actually toss a coin. I opted for the film that I thought had the broader appeal — and the worse title. Seriously, could anything have less immediate appeal than calling it The Lunchbox? And what a misnomer for such a thoroughly charming, delightful, moving film! Yes, a lunchbox figures prominently in the film. It, in fact, is the vehicle in which the increasingly intimate correspondence passes between the two lead characters, but as a title it conveys nothing about this warm and touching and magical film is like. You can read the review for a better idea, and you can see the film when it opens Friday at the Fine Arts.
Le Week-End has its own special magic — and a more appealing and appropriate title, since the film is about an aging British couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) trying to rekindle their faltering marriage on a weekend in Paris. The direction is assured and stylish. The performances from Broadbent and Duncan are painfully — and sometimes amusingly — real, and they’re given a boost by the appearance of Jeff Goldblum as an old and very successful friend living in Paris. But the backbone of it all that makes it work so wonderfully is Hanif Kureishi’s (My Beautiful Laundrette) screenplay. Read the review and catch the film this Friday (certainly this weekend) when it opens at The Carolina. Both it and The Lunchbox are sublime and deserve your support.
Also opening at The Carolina is the much-acclaimed art house sci-fi film Under the Skin. Frankly, I am of at least two minds on this one. I think director Jonathan Glazer (Birth) achieves exactly what he wants with this slowly paced and almost impenetrable film. That does not translate into me liking it. Let’s say, I respect it. I don’t recommend it, but I don’t not recommend it. It will so not be to everyone’s taste that I don’t know what to say. The review, which may or may not help in this regard, is this week’s paper.
And bringing up the rear is the non-art horror thriller 13 Sins, which comes to us from Daniel Stamm, who made one of the very few good “found footage” horror films, The Last Exorcism. This film, which is not “found footage,” marks Stamm’s increasing skill as a filmmaker. Frankly, I think it’s as good — in its own way — as last week’s horror hit Oculus. Unfortunately, 13 Sins is being given something of the bum’s rush. It’s booked for two shows a day (10:50 a.m. and 7 p.m.) and only for a week. Horror fans, however, should take the time to check it out. It’s worth it.
That brings us to things unseen, which starts alphabetically with Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House — the inescapable sequel to last year’s money-maker A Haunted House. Where that one took on the Paranormal Acivity movies, this one appears to be aimed more at James Wan’s Insidious films and his The Conjuring (2013). These things are, I suppose, a matter of taste. After all, somebody is buying tickets to see them. It’s just that I’ve never actually meet these people. It is perhaps just as well.
And then there’s Randall Wallace’s Heaven Is for Real, which … well, it’s Justin Souther’s turn to tackle this latest faith-based film. I suppose it can be said that this one at least is from a major distributor and has a few people you’ve actually probably paid to see in movies before. Director Randall Wallace is best known for We Were Soldiers (2002) and Secretariat (2010), neither of which make me anxious to further explore his work. The story — about a little boy who visits heaven in a near-death experience — is based on a book that recounts a supposedly true story. People are already defending the film (sight unseen mostly) because it’s “true,” which sidesteps the question of “based on” without skipping a beat. And since Sony is convinced it has a big market, it even opens on Wednesday.
Finally, we have Johnny Depp — along with Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman — in the sci-thriller Transcendence. The film has generated a lot of interest based on the fact that it’s the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, who is known for being Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. (The list of cinematographers who became great directors is fairly slim — Ronald Neame and Nicolas Roeg come to mind — but it has happened.) Here’s the press blurb: “Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can … but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.” OK, that’s interesting enough, and it looks intriguing, so I’m on board. But I can’t keep from wondering why it has no reviews yet. That’s odd for such an anticipated film.
So what’s departing town this week? The Fine Arts is dropping Stranger by the Lake and Gloria to make room for The Lunchbox (and they’re moving The Grand Budapest Hotel upstairs). The Carolina is dropping The Face of Love, both Nymphmaniac Vol. 1 and Vol. II. More surprisingly, they’re dropping The Raid 2, which, for reasons I don’t understand. crashed and burned without ever really taking off.
It’s week three of the Asheville Jewish Film Festival at the Fine Arts and this week’s film is the charming and effective little A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. The film plays on Thursday, April 17 at 8 p.m and again on Friday, April 18 at 1 p.m. Admission is $8.50.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is Frank LaLoggia’s Fear No Evil (1981) on Thursday, April 17 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema continues their Alain Resnais tribute with Muriel, or The Time of Return (1963) at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 18 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. There is no Hendersonville Film Society screening this week because of Easter. The Asheville Film Society will show Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), with special guest Lisi Russell (Ken Russell’s widow) in attendance at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22 in Theater Six at The Carolina. (Please remember that The Devils is a deliberately shocking and intense film and is likely not for some viewers.) More on all titles in this week’s Xpress with full reviews in the online edition.
Far and away the best thing coming this week is Stephen Frears’ Philomena, but don’t overlook Mike Newell’s excellent film of Great Expectations. That is not something I can say about The Nut Job, which I hope never to see again. Also up are Ride Along and Black Nativity — neither of which I’ve seen.
Notable TV Screenings
On Thursday, April 17 at 6 a.m. TCM is showing Fred Niblo’s silent classic Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), which is far superior to its better known 1959 remake. This is followed at 8:30 a.m. by George Cukor’s Dinner at Eight (1933), which in turn is followed by W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934). That evening starting at 8 p.m. is Clarence Brown’s silent Garbo film Flesh and the Devil (1926) and it’s followed by Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1932) at 10 p.m.
Saturday at 6 a.m. they’re showing Chaplin’s often overlooked A King in New York (1957), followed by Tony Richardson’s black comedy The Loved One (1965). Sunday is mostly given over the Usual Suspects of Easter fare, but come midnight they have Fritz Lang’s silent Spione (Spies) (1928), which is a great film, unfortunately marred by a very bad musical track.