Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 15-21: Ruby Sparks Expendable Odd ParaNorman Sparkle

In Theaters

Another week, another Wednesday opening. The ways of the marketing folks remain mysterious—as does the material they’re choosing for this not-so-special treatment. It’s merely one of a total of four mainstream titles and a single art title coming to town this week for our amusement and amazement.

The theory is that people who go to more “artistic” fare are the moviegoers most likely to pay attention to reviews—and that may well be true. It’s with that in mind that the Fox Searchlight people called upon those of us who write about the movies to drag ourselves out of bed last Saturday morning to gather at The Carolina (where it opens this Friday) at 9 a.m. to witness the new film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris—you probably know them better as the team who brought us Little Miss Sunshine almost exacrly six years ago. Well, a ragtag assembly…excuse me, a goodly assortment of caffeinated members of the critical populace showed up bright and early to see Ruby Sparks with Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan—as well as a supporting cast that included Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, and Elliott Gould,  which is pretty good company. It was certainly good enough to make everyone there seem to forget the unseemly hour. How much did I like it? You can find that out in this week’s paper, but I’d call it a strong addition to a year that’s been full of pretty impressive art titles..

We’re getting to that point in the year where things are dying down. The summer is ending and awards season is still a little way off. (Well, those unpredictable Weinsteins are trying to change the game again by positioning Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master for a mid-September release. At least, that’s what they’re planning at this point.) In other words, enjoy the unusually strong art film scene while you can.

The mainstream fare looks…well, like late summer stuff.

The Wednesday opener is Paul Hedges’ The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a fantasy coming from the Disney company. A certain amount of the push on this is coming from the fact that the story is by Frank Zappa’s son, Ahmet. That’s fine, but Hedges—who last gave us the lackluster Dan in Real Life (2007)—and that’s of somewhat less interesting. (Then again, I’m not sure what Ahmet Zappa really brings to the table other than the Zappa name.) Anyway, the idea here is that Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton (who is not known for this kind of movie at all) play a couple who are unable to have a child, so they put all the things they’d like in a son down on pieces of paper, put them in a box, and bury it in the garden. This results in the appearance of the Timothy Green (CJ Adams, Dan in Real Life) of the title—fresh from the garden. Based on the trailer, we may conclude that Timothy is a most unusual child (surprised?) and he seems to suffer from outbreaks of ivy on his lower extremities. (I guess if he’s a washout as a kid, he can always be used as a hedge.) The real question is where this premise can go and how gooey it can get.

Moving on to Friday we find ourselves faced with The Expendables 2. Now, I know I saw the first one, but damned if I remember anything about it—except that lots of things blew up (with the assistance of a lot of obvious CGI). The hook this time isn’t merely that Der Arnold is on hand for more than a cameo, but that the cast is comprised of every 1980s action star still standing—or able to be propped up. (Steven Seagal seems to be missing.) The rundown is Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, and someone named Randy Couture—you know, the usual intellectuals. The whole thing is clearly geared to fans of what is called “old school” action pictures. I wasn’t a fan when this stuff wasn’t old, so it’s not really aimed at me. At the same time, I have nothing against glorious overkill for its own sake.

Then there’s ParaNorman—the year’s first of a run of supernatural family-friendly animated films (to be followed by Hotel Transylvania and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie). This is one of those movies being sold on the fact that it’s from the same production company as another film. In this case, the other film is Coraline (2009)—and, as often happens, it’s a film in which none of the main talent carries over to this film. The whole idea is that the main character is a misfit (naturally) who has the disconcerting ability to talk with the dead. This apparently undesirable trait comes in handy when his town is beset with an infestation of zombies. Workable enough, I suppose, and I like the fact that it boasts a solid cast of voice actors, but isn’t being sold on them. I also like what’s being said about it by some of the critical world.

No one is saying anything about Sparkle, which is mostly being touted as Whitney Houston’s final film, and is being scrupulously kept from critics. (There’s not even any “user review” activity on the IMDb.) It’s a remake of a 1976 film of the same name—one that I’m told has a solid fanbase. (In all honesty, I have no memory of this earlier movie.) What we have here appears to be a standard showbiz picture about a young woman’s (Jordin Sparks) climb to and tussle with fame as she takes herself and her sisters (Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) to the top. Houston plays her mother. It’s the sort of movie that will likely rise or fall more on the strength of its musical scenes than anything else (especially since the else looks like pure cliched melodrama). I guess Friday will tell.

The only thing we lose this week is Take This Waltz, which fared poorly at the box office. The Fine Arts is holding steady with Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild. The Carolina is keeping both of those, along with Safety Not Guaranteed, To Rome with Love, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It should be noted, however, that the last two are being split, which probably bodes ill for their continued presence next week. Similarly, I suspect this could well be the final week for Safety Not Guaranteed. You are warned.

Special Screenings

Don’t forget that Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) starring William Powell and Carole Lombard is showing tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. It’s part of the Asheville Film Society’s Budget Big Screen Classics series. Admission is $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public. It’s a chance to see select classic films on the big screen in a theater—an experience a lot of people have never had. You might be surprised how much difference that makes to your perception of old movies. And since this one is a comedy, that’s even better. Comedies were never meant to be watched in the privacy of your own home. They work far better as they were meant to be seen—with the biggest audience possible.

This week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show is Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X (1932) on Thu., Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. Also, a new serial is starting that evening—at 7:40 p.m.—Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). World Cinema is showing Valley of the Bees (1968) at 8 p.m. on Fri., Aug. 17 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle (1981) is this week’s film from the Hendersonville Film Society on Sun., Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Richard Lester’s “Swinging London” classic comedy The Knack…and How to Get It (1965) at 8 p.m. on Tue., Aug. 21 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all films in the Xpress with expanded coverage in the online edition.

On DVD

From a certain perspective, the deal this week is going to be the appearance of The Hunger Games on DVD. Personally, I’d call The Raid: Redemption far and away the better title, though the audience for it is somewhat different.

Notable TV Screenings

D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) at 8 p.m. on Wed., Aug. 15, followed by Victor Seastrom’s The Wind (1928) and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955). That’s a triple feature to conjure with.

All day Elvis movies on Thu., Aug. 16. It is sobering to realize that I actually saw most of these things in theaters when they were new. I do not feel that I was harmed by seeing them (others may disagree) at an impressionable age—except that that does mean I know all the lyrics to far too many of the generally rubbishy songs. This is, however, another example of just how elastic the term “classic” is these days.

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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."

14 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 15-21: Ruby Sparks Expendable Odd ParaNorman Sparkle

  1. Ken Hanke

    It’s opening in NY and LA is my understanding. I have seen no indication of when it’s going wider. I’d expect a platform release that will be determined by what it does in limited. So far neither the Fine Arts, nor The Carolina have made any reference to booking it.

  2. luluthebeast

    I liked David’s comments”

    THE EXPENDABLES 2 is here! You’ll be amazed at the Shavian wit of the script’s more stichomythic exchanges:

    Stallone: Yee-ooooh….
    Schwarzenegger: Ayeeeeerp…..
    Norris: Duuuuh….
    …Van Damme: Eerrr?
    Lundgren: Braaaaaaap!
    Willis: Yaaarp!!!!

  3. luluthebeast

    And see MY MAN GODFREY! Next to Garbo’s NINOTCHKA, this is one of my favorite comedies. And DOCTOR X? Geez, you guys are lucky!

  4. Ken Hanke

    And see MY MAN GODFREY! Next to Garbo’s NINOTCHKA, this is one of my favorite comedies. And DOCTOR X? Geez, you guys are lucky!

    In one sense, you could say we made our own luck, but in a much broader sense, it was luck made by the generosity of Bill Banowsky, who owns The Carolina and supports our undertaking. And more, it is because of the people who turn out for these shows. To Bill and to those people, Justin and I are incredibly grateful.

    For myself, part of the joy of this — quite apart from the opportunity to share these films with the public — comes from the very experience of seeing the films as they were meant to be seen: with an audience. I love that. I love hearing an audience respond to a comedy or to get that sense of rapt attention at other films. I love hearing the comments afterwards. I have become fully as fascinated by the audience — which is utterly unpredictable — as I am by the films themselves.

  5. luluthebeast

    “In one sense, you could say we made our own luck”

    At least you have people in the area that will show up for these. A few have tried Art Houses in our area, but they’ve all failed. People just won’t come out to see something they can order from Netflix or watch on cable at home on their little screen. They just don’t get it and I find it very sad.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Well, let’s face it — even with the free screenings and the low price ones, it’s not like we’re drawing a huge crowd (which is just as well logistically). It is, however, large enough to be gratifying. I’m always surprised, though, when someone shows up — it happened again last night — and has no idea we were doing this. Andie MacDowell used to call it “Asheville’s best kept secret.” Maybe she was right, but it wasn’t intentional.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I understand their website is done by someone who isn’t here and apparently isn’t much good at updating it. Granted, it’s not easy listing art titles more than a week before — they change so much on so little notice.

  8. Big Al

    “…and someone named Randy Couture…”

    C’mon, Ken, get with the pop culture. He is a former cage-fighter turned actor, like Gina Carano, only not as pretty (but don’t tell her I called her pretty, she’d kick my a#$).

  9. Ken Hanke

    C’mon, Ken, get with the pop culture.

    There are areas of pop culture I have no intention of getting within 200 feet of.

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