Though it lacks anything that qualifies the new Next Big Thing, this is a pretty rich week — at least artwise. There are only two mainstream entries — Maleficent and A Million Ways to Die in the West — but there are three art ones. Of those, two are truly remarkable, but the third is the one that has “crowd pleaser” written all over it.
Yes, I’ve seen and reviewed the three art titles. For me, the least of them is Jon Favreau’s Chef, which is also destined to be the most popular. I don’t begrudge that. It’s a pleasant little movie, but I have to say I found it unremarkable. However, it’s worth noting that its slender charms seem to be wowing the art house crowds, and I suspect that a likable comedy about food — and food trucks — will find a ready audience in Asheville when it opens on Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts Theatre. That it is likely to bulldoze the other two films is an unfortunate side effect.
Truth to tell, I spent most of Sunday wrestling with whether to give the Weekly Pick to Jim Mickle’s Cold in July or Steven Knight’s Locke — both opening Friday at The Carolina. They’re about even, and either of them could have been chosen. My ultimate choice of Cold in July was, I admit, partly pragmatic — because I think I can do it more good than I can Locke. I like both films a lot and would strongly suggest they both should be seen, but Cold in July is more accessible. After all, a darkly comic thriller that is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ first film, Blood Simple (1984), has more immediate appeal than a movie that consists of Tom Hardy driving from Birmingham, England to London. That description does nothing to convey how richly compelling Locke is, but it’s also inescapably the bare bones of the film — a man driving at night while trying to hold his unraveling life together on his cellphone. And I can’t blame anyone for not believing that it’s a terrific film. I didn’t believe it, though I’d heard nothing but good things about it, and only saw it because I had to. However, even at a 9 a.m. press screening, I was hooked into its drama within a very few minutes. That, I think, is worth remembering.
At the same time, Cold in July is equally terrific in its own eights. It also marks a major step for director and co-writer Jim Mickle. If you know the name at all, it means you are probably a horror movie fan. He’s best known for the unorthox vampire picture, Stake Land (2010), which did not play here, and for his rethinking of the backwoods cannibal genre with We Are What We Are (2013), which did play here and almost no one went to see. I’m a horror fan, and I hate to ghetto-ize the genre, but by moving into the realm of the neo-noir thriller, he’s stepped into a potentially much larger audience. I’m definitely in his corner, too, because — genre conventions aside — this is easily his best film to date, and the performances by Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson are very fine. The way the film keeps making sharp turns that undermine the viewer’s expectations is brilliant.
OK, let’s now move on to the mainstream with Maleficent. Here’s the central issue — I saw Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty (1959) when I was four years old. Actually, saying I saw it is a little shy of the mark, because the animated Maleficent (and those brambles) scared me so much that I spent a good deal of the movie under my seat. (And those were the days of continuous shows, meaning the theater floor was one nasty place that go cleaned once a day.) Now, even admitting that I’m only a few months away from 60, I have to say that I see nothing remotely terrifying about Angelina Jolie’s live action incarnation of the character. Oh, she looks creepy alright, but not the right way. Worse, I understand that she’s been given — Clapton, save us — a backstory that will explain why she’s so evil. We needed this? And then, the fact that they brought in a neophyte director, Robert Stromberg, whose entire history is as a matte painter and visual effects artist makes me suspect that this will be a CGI-athon. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so, because Justin Souther will be in Texas this weekend (don’t ask), and I am definitely down for this.
I am also down for Seth MacFarlane’s attempt at revitalizing the western parody, A Million Ways to Die in the West. Since this is also a follow-up to his Ted (which I avoided), it’s also in R-rated raunchy-com range. Well, the last time that worked was 40 years ago with Blazing Saddles. Yes, that one worked. It also had the good sense to be 93 minutes long. MacFarlane has dragged his out to 116 minites. That’s not a good sign. Nor is it a good sign that the reviews are not trickling in. (Neither, for that matter, are the ones for Maleficent.) Whether this is because it hasn’t been screened or because the studio has put an embargo on the reviews, it’s not very encouraging. I reckon we’ll find out on Friday.
This week we lose Only Lovers Left Alive — no matter what it says in the paper (there was a mix-up in booking). Also, the Fine Arts is dropping The Railway Man, but it’s holding at The Carolina. Otherwise, everything is still with us, though The Grand Budapest Hotel is starting to slow down. If you want to see it or see it one more time, this week would probably be a good time to do it.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Boris Karloff in Michael Curtiz’s The Walking Dead (1936) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 29 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Luis Buñuel’s notorious L’age d’Or (1930) on Friday, May 30 ar 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Wim Wender’s Hammett (1982) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 1 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society kicks off its June Calendar with John Ford’s beautiful — and rarely seen — Pilgrimage (1933) on Tuesday, June 3 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.
The only mainstream release I see for this week is Endless Love, which I didn’t see in the theater and am leaving it that way.
Notable TV Screenings
While I breathe a sigh of relief that June Allyson month is over on TCM with the change of the month, things are not looking all that exciting. However, on Monday — under the heading of “British Invasion” — they do have Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964) at 8 p.m. and John Boorman’s very strange Dave Clark Five movie Having a Wild Weekend (1965) at 11:15 p.m. (Following these with a couple of Herman’s Hermits movies does not really do the British Invasion justice.)