Captain America: The Winter Soldier crashes, bursts and bludgeons his way into theaters this Friday (or Thursday night for the Truly Dedicated), and no mere mortal mainstream movies dare to challenge his might. Locally, however, no less than four art titles are willing to stand up to the onslaught. They won’t defeat him, of course, but they’re willing to give his tights a tug.
At one point, there were five contenders in the art house realm this week, but one of them was dropped — or perhaps chickened out — which I could only wish had happened before I’d sat through it and reviewed it. (Don’t look for it — it got dropped from the paper, too.) The problem with four art titles — aside from affording me a weekend of hell — is that they crowd a relatively small market, and one or more is certain to be lost in the shuffle. That’s an even better bet with The Grand Budapest Hotel still holding strong.
So what are these daring titles? Well, two of them truly are on the daring side, which is to say they’re sufficiently sexually explicit that they come to us without MPAA ratings. These sexy beasts are the French gay erotic thriller Stranger by the Lake (opening the Fine Arts) and Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 (opening at The Carolina). Apart from being too steamy for MPAA consideration, the two have very little in common. In fact, I think Stranger by the Lake is the only one that can fairly be called erotic — and even if is more of a neo-noir tale of obsession. Whatever Mr. von Trier is up to with Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 (we get Vol. 2 on April 18), I don’t think it has much to do with erotica.
Of the two — and despite its very explicit gay content — I think Stranger by the Lake has the most immediate appeal. It’s straightforward — in fact, very formal — filmmaking and boasts an interesting plot and some appealing characters. But before you tackle it and come after me (and 77 out of 79 other critics) for recommending “pornography,” read up a bit (the review is in this week’s Xpress) and see what you’re getting into.
Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 has a title that’s both perfectly accurate and more provocative than the film itself. It’s also a weirdly idiosyncratic (hey, it’s Lars von Trier) affair that is just as apt to alienate viewers by its sheer oddness as by its heavy doses of graphic sex and nudity. There is no shortage of any of this, but its structure, its playfulness, its dark humor, its strangely touching moments and its creativity are what has stayed with me more than anything. It’s also reviewed in this week’s paper. (And, no, I haven’t seen Vol. 2 yet, so don’t bother asking me about it.)
Also on tap, and also reviewed, are two far safer titles — The Face of Love and Tim’s Vermeer (both opening at The Carolina). They are also, for me, less interesting than the than their racier companions. Both have their merits, though. The Face of Love — despite it’s improbable and pretty soapy premise — looks terrific, and it’s a must for fans of Annette Bening and Ed Harris, who elevate the material. Tim’s Vermeer is an intriguing documentary from Penn and Teller (who are mostly offscreen) about a man’s obsession with cracking just how Johannes Vermeer painted his nearly photorealistic works. Whether it comes across as a worthwhile exercise or an ill-considered attempt to reduce art to mechanics is another matter.
OK, about this Captain America sequel that ushers in the summer movie season (Hollywood has curious notions about seasons) and is expected to rake in about $80 million on its opening weekend and wash Noah out to sea … well, what is there to say? It’s already pulled down $75 million from the rest of the world. (Yes, there is perhaps something subtly ironic about a movie called Captain America opening overseas first.) Besides my basic burnout on comic-book movies, there’s the simple fact that Captain America is pretty much a stiff. I’ll sit through just about any crappy serial you throw at me, but even I gave up on the 1944 Captain America one. I didn’t see the first film in this new incarnation, but I was underwhelmed by the character’s presence in The Avengers (2012). The prospect of spending an entire movie with him fills me with an inertia that verges on the supernatural. However, I concede that the trailers look pretty good and the presence of Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson makes it more appealing. The fact that the only notable theatrical directing credit of helmers Anthony and Joe Russo is the absolutely awful You, Me and Dupree (2006) is not. Your call. Oh, yeah, it’s in your choice of flavors, too — 3D and plain.
So what do we lose this week? Well, let’s see — Gloria leaves the Fine Arts (in fact, I think its last show is Thursday afternoon). The underperforming Enemy is departing The Carolina after a single week — regrettable, but not exactly surprising.
Besides the usual suspects, this Thursday marks the start of the Asheville Jewish Film Festival at the Fine Arts. The Festival runs four Thursdays in April (with matinees on following Fridays). (Complete festival listing is available at www.ashevillejewishfilmfestival.com ) The opening night film is the charming documentary Dancing in Jaffa on Thursday, April 3, at 6 p.m. (reception at 6 p.m. at Blue Spiral1). Admission is $22 for both the film and the reception (there are no film only tickets). The film only shows again on Friday, April 4, at 1 p.m. and is $8.50.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has its make-up showing (the first one was snowed out) of Jack Hill’s Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 3, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. (Plus, chapter one, “The Arms of the God,” of the 1936 Bela Lugosi serial Shadow of Chinatown plays at 7:30 p.m.) World Cinema starts a month-long tribute to the late filmmaker Alain Resnais with Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) on Friday, April 4 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is showing Bennett Miller’s Capote (2005) on Sunday, April 6 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is screening Josef von Sternberg’s Marlene Dietrich film Shanghai Express (1932) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.
A light week in every sense of the word. The big title (and I use the term loosely) is Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (if you get Blu-ray, you also get the R-rated edition that people stayed away from in droves). Then there’s 47 Ronin. Did I mention there are four art titles playing the theaters this week?
Notable TV Screenings
April’s “Star of the Month” on TCM is Doris Day, which will save me a lot of time, However, there are some interesting doings Friday, April 4, starting with William Dietrle’s delightfully Pre-code Scarlet Dawn (1932) at 6 a.m. It’s followed by Joan Blondell in Lloyd Bacon’s engaging mystery Miss Pinkerton (1932) at 7 a.m. You might want to then skip ahead to 10:45 for William Keighley’s Babbitt (1934). It’s pretty much a travesty of Sinclair Lewis’s novel, but it’s agreeable on its own terms — and it stars Aline MacMahon and Guy Kibbee, which makes it all right.