Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler December 18-24: Reinforcements Have Arrived

In Theaters

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. This week we get three pretty darn terrific — and wildly diverse — new films. It’s also that time of year where the line between art and mainstream blurs to a degree we don’t see at any other time of the year. This is both pleasant and mildly distressing, since the big-box theater chains get into the picture. Regardless, we have three choice movies this week — and a couple of others.

Being awards season — when the studios are playing nice-nice with the critical populace in hopes of critic groups votes and berths on Ten Best lists — I’ve seen the three movies in question. These are David O. Russell’s American Hustle, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and, yes, John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks. This sort of thing actually creates some problems. On any normal week, I could easily have given any of these films the “Weekly Pick,” but — thanks in large part to the website’s inability to deal with multiple picks — there can only be one (catchy phrase, that). As a result — and after much tussling with myself, the pick went to American Hustle,but these are movies that simply cannot and ought not be pitted against each other. They are utterly unlike each other in every way — except quality. All of them are quality films deserving of attention.

Another problem that arises when this much product hits at one time (never mind the other two, though they’re equally to blame) is that movies that are not played out get shoved out of theaters. In this case, we lose both 12 Years a Slave and About Time — strictly because of lack of room. In fact, both films went up in box office last weekend, but come Friday, they are history. (Looking at the way critic groups are voting, don’t be surprised if 12 Years a Slave comes back at some point.) Plus, there’s this whole big-box theater chain business. All I’ll say is just remember which theaters go out on a limb to bring you quality pictures all year-round, and not just when the big ticket ones come around.

My pick of American Hustle should in no way dissuade anyone from seeing the other two movies. Indeed, I’d suggest you see all three if you can. Realizing that that’s not always logistically or financially possible (and don’t forget that Wolf of Wall Street hits on Christmas Day), I suggest you check out the reviews in this week’s paper. The three titles under consideration are very different and not all will appeal to every viewer. Hell, when I sat down to watch Saving Mr. Banks I was prepared to loathe it. That I came at least very close to loving it surprises me more than anyone. Some of you will undoubtedly find it too sweet and too glossed over and too sugar-coated. I understand that. But some of you are apt to find American Hustle too cynical and vulgar. Others may find Nebraska too downbeat (though it ultimately isn’t) and too much in black and white (thankfully, black and white doesn’t seem to a problem with local viewers).

Anyway, here’s the breakdown as I know it at this point — American Hustle opens at The Carolina and the Carmike 10 (probably at Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande, but those aren’t confirmed), Nebraska opens at The Carolina and the Fine Arts, and Saving Mr. Banks at The Carolina and the Carmike 10 (probably at Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande, but again those aren’t confirmed).

Now, about those other things …

I am apparently the only person in the civilized world who did not love Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and does not consider it one of The Great comedies, but then, unless Will Ferrell is playing a real character — you know, like Stranger Than Fiction or Everything Must Go — I find him pretty intolerable. My not being entranced by the first Anchorman was therefore not exactly a surprise. And now — nine years later — we have Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. To say that this holds little appeal for me is an understatement. And even if I hadn’t been of that mind already, incessantly seeing Ferrell as Burgundy hawking Dodges and sitting on various ABC “news” programs would have sealed the deal. This movie — all 119 minutes of it (well, Judd Apatow produced it) — has its audience, but I fervently hope not to be among them.

This isn’t to say that Walking with Dinosaurs is that much more enticing-looking, but there’s about 30 minutes less of it. I have no idea what to make of this. The damned thing has at least two trailers. One has a pompous pseudo-Don LaFontaine voiced narration that presents this as some sort of serious-minded exploration of the life of dinosaurs — with a hint of cuteness. The other gives us the full-blown talking and wisecraking dinosaur world, the celebrity voice cast, the uplifting premise of the 90-ton-weakling who becomes a hero and … well, you know the drill. And it’s available in both 3D and 2D flavors. Have I mentioned that there are three other excellent movies coming out this week?

I suppose I should note that I hear tell the studio made a last minute Command Decision to open Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas Eve at 4 p.m. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, but whether or not throngs of people are going to opt to interrupt Christmas Eve to spend it with a film that’s gotten largely … well, let’s say unkind reviews so far seems a fairly dubious proposition.

So in the midst of all this, what do we lose? Well, as previously noted, The Carolina is dropping 12 Years a Slave and About Time. The Fine Arts isn’t dropping either Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena, but it is splitting them — Dallas takes the evenings and Philomena the matinees. (Both films have full sets of shows at The Carolina.)

Special Screenings

The holidays are taking their toll on the special screenings this week. Of course, the Hendersonville Film Society was already on hiatus for December as usual. But this week, with Tuesday falling on Christmas Eve, there’ll be nothing from the Asheville Film Society. (It returns next week for New Year’s Eve.) However, this week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) on Friday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. (World Cinema will then take a break until Jan. 10.) More on both films in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

There’s an awful lot coming out this week, but, for me, the biggie is Gore Verbinski’s much-maligned The Lone Ranger, which I think is a very, very good film that just happened to get in the way of the anti-Johnny Depp pile-on that seems to be popular these days. (Human nature seems to love building people up with an eye toward later knocking them down.) Unfortunately, this is a movie that will lose much on the home screen, but that doesn’t mean my copy isn’t on its way to me. Also up and notable (within various limits) are Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Prisoners. Plus, there’s Elysium, which I gave a pretty good review but have completely forgotten why now. More negligible are The Family and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, while Kick-Ass 2 is positively poisonous.

Notable TV Screenings

If you don’t make it to the Asheville Film Society screening of the Alastair Sim’s A Christmas Carol (1951) tonight (Dec. 17), TCM is showing it on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 10 p.m. If you really wanted to get properly Scrooged, they also have the 1970 Albert Finney musical Scrooge at 8 p.m., the rather threadbare 1935 British Scrooge with Sir Seymour Hicks at 11:30 p.m., and the glossy but vapid 1938 MGM-ifaction of A Christmas Carol at 1 a.m. (Had Lionel Barrymore — already noted for reading the story on radio — not been finally confined to a wheelchair by arthritis just before production of the 1938 film, things might have been different. First of all, Barrymore would probably have rated a better director than journeyman Edwin L. Marin, but more, it’s just that Reginald Owen makes a singularly dull Scrooge.)  This is followed at 2:15 a.m. by the curio, A Carol for Another Christmas — a 1964 TV film helmed by no less than Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was only aired once by a shocked ABC—and what’s surprising is that it aired at all. It’s utterly pacifist and, being written by Rod Serling, very preachy with a tendency toward obviousness. That said, the post-war Hiroshima segment is still startling and the very much not comedic segment with Peter Sellers as “Imperial Me” remains very disturbing in its grim anti-Ayn Rand way.

Friday, Dec. 20 spends the day saluting Irene Dunne, which means we get James Whale’s magnificent Show Boat (1936) at 11:30 a.m., Leo McCarey’s sophisticated The Awful Truth (1937) att 1:30 p.m., and McCarey’s entrancingly romantic Love Affair (1939) (his original version of his later An Affair to Remember at 5 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 22 finds Ernst Lubitsch’s pretty wonderful The Shop Around the Corner (1940) at 8 p.m. (Skip the musical remake at 10 p.m.) And at midnight there’s Fred Niblo’s Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), which, for my money, is much better than the 1959 film.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

46 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler December 18-24: Reinforcements Have Arrived

  1. Ken Hanke

    I just (really just now) got a message from the Southeast distributor that Greenville is definite for 1/10. No other cities were mentioned, but I bet we’re still likely. They sure pushed the hell out of it to critics. We got a screening, then we got a screener, the screenplay, the soundtrack, and a promotional book.

  2. Orbit DVD

    For those keeping score, I think THE LONE RANGER might be the first movie with PG-13 cannibalism, so it has that going for it.

    • bsummers

      Whoop, sorry. Should’ve said – SPOILER ALERT!. Soylent green is people…

  3. Ken Hanke

    Fairly certain the soundtrack is the best perk out of that package.

    You mean apart from the screener?

  4. Ken Hanke

    For those keeping score, I think THE LONE RANGER might be the first movie with PG-13 cannibalism, so it has that going for it.

    For those with a memory of pre-1968 movie history — i.e., before there were ratings — cannibalism isn’t that big of a deal. And really, despite all the fuss over it, the cannibalism depicted here is hardly graphic. (If memory serves, it’s also established that this guy ate Helena Bonham Carter’s leg.)

  5. Ken Hanke

    Whoop, sorry. Should’ve said – SPOILER ALERT!. Soylent green is people.

    I would say that certainly everyone knows by now, but I once saw someone go berserk on a message board because people were discussing the identity of the killer from 1934′s The Thin Man.

    • bsummers

      Don’t spoil it for me – still planning on watching that one someday.

  6. Me

    If anyone is interested Not To Fade Away and Newlyweeds has started streaming on Netflix.

    Finally got around to This is Martin Bonner, Ken have you seen it?

  7. Ken Hanke

    Don’t spoil it for me – still planning on watching that one someday.

    You’ve had chances aplenty by this point.

    • bsummers

      I know, but they keep making new movies. Should I have missed that new crapfest The Lone Ranger just to finally watch the Thin Man? Gee.

  8. Ken Hanke

    f anyone is interested Not To Fade Away and Newlyweeds has started streaming on Netflix.

    Thanks for warning me of the presence of an Edward Burns movie. And do you by chance mean Not Fade Away? They screened that for us last awards season. Nobody could understand why.

    Finally got around to This is Martin Bonner, Ken have you seen it?

    Until this moment, I’d never heard of it.

  9. brebro

    I can’t enjoy Citizen Kane, knowing that Rosebud is actually the name of Norman’s mother.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I can’t enjoy Citizen Kane, knowing that Rosebud is actually the name of Norman’s mother.

    Well said.

  11. Edwin Arnaudin

    Thanks for warning me of the presence of an Edward Burns movie.

    This is actually its pot-centric cousin (I’d never heard of it before it showed up on InstantWatcher yesterday), though the Burns film is also streaming.

  12. swilder

    I actually cant wait to see “Anchorman2.” Perhaps its because I work in that business and these characters are all TOO real for me. I found the original to be more accurate than “Broadcast News”, “The China Syndrome”, or any other movie that depicts TV news…but I admit I may be too inside to be totally objective.

  13. Edwin Arnaudin

    Diablo Cody’s much-maligned directorial debut Paradise is also on Netflix.

  14. Jeremy Dylan

    I remember reading and enjoying (with some reservations) the screenplay about a year ago. I’d be interested to see how it was executed.

  15. Ken Hanke

    And I did. I really don’t understand the vitriol spat on it by most of the critics — not that all that many saw it. It’s a nice little movie that ultimately (and this is the real problem) doesn’t seem to know where it’s going or even where it wants to go. But it’s not awful by any means. The ending is pretty flat, but there are several choice moments along the way — and a genial sweetness of spirit. Clapton knows, there are worse movies released almost every month — and they actually get wide releases. I’m not surprised this didn’t, but it’s a minor shame.

  16. Jeremy Dylan

    I think the Cody backlash that took hold post-JUNO is still very strong.

  17. Me

    Hey Edwin, did you ever check out that radio show i mentioned to you called “The Best Show on WFMU”?

    It came to an end this week after 13 years on the air.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Its got almost a 70% on Rotten Tomates

    If you’re gonna pull out percentages as meaningful, there ought to be more than 16 reviews.

  19. Edwin Arnaudin

    Hey Edwin, did you ever check out that radio show i mentioned to you called “The Best Show on WFMU”?

    The only podcasts I listen to are the two Filmspottings and I’m frequently playing catch-up with SVU. Adding a third might break me.

  20. Edwin Arnaudin

    I may get it watched before Edwin responds…

    I’ve not seen it. I like Juno and Young Adult a great deal, so I’m interested. Haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body or any episodes of the United States of Tara.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Jennifer’s Body is not great, but it’s a lot better than its reputation.

  22. Edwin Arnaudin

    Does some of its non-greatness have to do with Amanda Seyfried, reigning queen of “meh”?

  23. Me

    “If you’re gonna pull out percentages as meaningful, there ought to be more than 16 reviews.”

    What did i tell you about my math?

  24. Ken Hanke

    If it’s as bad as that, you probably shouldn’t rely on numbers for making decisions.

  25. Me

    Massacre Mafia Style plays before Husbands also on TCM that night. Mixed Blood and Alphabet City next week on TCM too.

  26. Ken Hanke

    The only of those I’d ever watch again is Mixed Blood. Regardless, if you’re going to announce your enthusiasms, you might — oh, I don’t know — narrow it down more than “next week.”

  27. Julie Sunday

    I’m glad to learn that I’m not the only one that was not impressed with Anchorman.

  28. Ken Hanke

    I am at least temporarily disabling comments on this entry, because I’m sick of having to delete 30-50 spam messages every time I log on.

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