The movies are often accused of a lack of originality — thriving on remakes and sequels. I suppose it is an endorsement of this when you consider that last week’s Big Thing was a sequel, and this week’s Next Big Thing is also a sequel. But it doesn’t end there. A disturbing pattern emerges when you consider that this week’s art titles are also sequels. OK, in all fairness, one of them was originally a very long movie that was cut into two parts, but the concept isn’t all that different. Oh, well, what can you do?
I suppose I should pause here to address the…uh…pachyderm on the premises — the new new website (as opposed to the old new website). At the moment, I can’t argue with the assertions that it ain’t pretty. Also, it’s utterly useless as concerns — you know, finding anything. Plus, it seems to have the alphabetical acumen of a gang of backward baboons. And this, my friends, is only what you can see from here. You are — so far — untroubled by the fact that the ability resize photos vanished somewhere between 5 and 6 p.m. yesterday. (This may become very apparent to you when you see the photos in this week’s reviews.) For that matter, my ability to even post the Weekly Reeler has gone south at this time (it was there on Friday, I think). However, I remain hopeful that these are but teething troubles that will soon be settled. Yes, I can be as credulous as the next fellow. Update: I now know how post the Reeler and the picture editor got better. Now, how effectively I can do this is another matter.
Anyway — and working in the bright and certain belief that somehow or other this can, in fact, be posted to the site — let’s take a quick squint at the art title sequels heading our way. Both of them — Nymphomaniac Vol. II and The Raid 2 — are opening on Friday at The Carolina. Yes, I know I said that Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 was opening on April 18, but people who get paid far more than I do — and, therefore, must know better — moved it to this week. In any event, I’ve seen both and both are reviewed in this week’s Xpress. I’ll briefly note that Nymphomaniac Vol. II is considerably darker and more unsettling than the first part. That’s neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, merely an observation. I liked it about as well as Vol. I, but not for the same reasons.
Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2 seems destined to delight anyone who liked The Raid. It has more of everything — including running time, being nearly an hour longer than its predecessor. That extra running time may not be entirely in its favor. Two-and-a-half hours of bloody martial arts violence can feel like…well, a little much. But if you like your action straight-up and unflinching, this is your movie. If not, you should have enough sense to stay away from it. Interestingly, though The Raid 2 does qualify as a sequel (it starts right where The Raid ends), it was actually written first. When Evans couldn’t get this film financed, he cooked up the simpler (cheaper) The Raid. Its success made this one possible.
Now, let’s take a look at the mainstream offerings, starting with Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day. This was supposedly made to cash in on a Kevin Costner renaissance, which I was unaware was happening. Oh, well, maybe I wasn’t paying attention. It definitely is intended to evoke memories of Costner’s earlier sports-oriented movies, but in a more age-appropriate manner by making him the manager of a football team. It also seems to have echoes of Moneyball — placing Costner’s character in one of those positions where he has to opt to go with his instincts or cave in to the pressures from others. Should we expect swelling music and sweeping crane shots? That’s kind of hard to tell, since the distributor is keeping a lid on this one — no reviews so far and not even the usual “user reviews” on the IMDb. (There are some posts from people who went to one of those “special screenings.”) Make of all this what you will. Personally, I’m (at best) ambivalent about Mr. Costner and kind of allergic to sports movies, but this complete lack of reviews is usually not a good sign.
Much more interesting to me is the R rated horror film Oculus, which comes to us from a fellow named Mike Flanagan, who seems to have been toiling in the horror genre for quite a few years, but is only now getting a breakthrough from the festival and direct-to-DVD realm to a wide release. For what it’s worth, Blumhouse Productions is listen as a producer. (I suspect they merely picked up the film.) While their batting average is not high, it’s worth consider the possibility that they’re looking for the “next” James Wan (assuming Wan has actually left the genre), and that might be reflected here. (That is only a guess.) The film has not stars to speak of and its premise appears to be a new twist on the old haunted mirror shtick. Neither of those are inherently bad things. And I will say that the trailer is pretty creepy. But more intriguing still is the fact that the film has ten reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and all of them are positive. That’s not a large cross section, no, but they’re not all — or even mostly — from horror fan sites. That piques my interest. In any case, I plan on being there bright and early on Friday to find out just what Mr. Flanagan has to offer.
For whatever reason — and it has nothing to do with most of their movies being set in the Ice Age — I have never warmed to the Blue Sky animation product. Their latest — Rio 2 — is set not in the frozen tundra of another era, but in the steaming jungles of the Amazon. Yes, it appears that most of this sequel doesn’t take place in Rio, but since the first film made a ton of money, they’re sticking with the Rio brand name. Who can blame them? Quite honestly, I have been unable to discern what Rio 2 is actually about. Neither the studio synposis, nor the trailer offer much in the way of help. All I’m betting on are colorful settings, songs with a South American beat, and knockabout hijinks. (I remain unconvinced that the in-joke reference to 1983′s Flashdance is…well, timely.) The fact is, I have no dog — or hyacinth macaw — in this fight. Instead, I’ll merely note that Mark Adams of Screen International says, “As a delightfully bright and breezy bit of 3D animated entertainment Rio 2 hits the sweet spot, and will no doubt be a box office hit with its blend of good-natured jungle adventure, songs and gags.” On the other hand, Variety‘s Justin Chang takes a somewhat dimmer view — “Finally proves more exhausting than exhilarating as it lectures you about respecting Mother Nature one minute, knocks you over with a Gloria Gaynor cover the next, and squeezes in a lot of questionable comic relief in between.” Choose up sides.
So what do we lose this week? Well, the only outright fatality is Tim’s Vermeer, which is being given the heave-ho at The Carolina come Friday. However, just about everything is suffering some pruning. The Fine Arts is cutting Stranger by the Lake to evening shows, and bringing back Gloria for the matinees. At The Carolina, The Face of Love is down to two shows a day, while Nymphomaniac has only one. (That one, interestingly, follows the daytime shows of Muppets Most Wanted. The possibility of disaster here is great.) Even The Grand Budapest Hotel has had its wings clipped — if seven shows a day can be called much of a clipping.
In addition to the usual offerings, we have week two of the Asheville Jewish Film Festival at the Fine Arts. This week’s film, Sukkah City, plays Thu., Apr. 10 at 7 p.m. with an encore show on Fri., Apr. 11 at 1 p.m. Admission is $8.50.
This week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show is Stuart Walker’s Werewolf of London (1935) — the very first werewolf movie — at 8 p.m. on Thu., Apr. 10 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. (Chapter Two of the 1936 Bela Lugosi serial Shadow of Chinatown, “The Crushing Walls” starts at 7:40.) World Cinema continues their Alain Resnais tribute with Last Year at Marienbad (1961) on Fri., Apr. 11 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Fred Zinneman’s iconic western High Noon (1952) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Apr, 13 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Ernst Lubitsch’s musical-comedy Monte Carlo (1930) on Tue., Apr. 15 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress with complete reviews in the online edition.
Not exactly a strong week for new DVDs. The big one is The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I suppose, though I’d lean more toward August: Osage County myself, even with its shortcomings. Also up are Grudge Match, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, and the disaster that was Justin Bieber’s Believe.
Notable TV Screenings
Considering the trouble I anticipate in getting this posted, you’re on your own this week.