Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec 21.-27: Welcome to the Week of Mass Confusion

In theaters

There’s really no way to describe the layout of this week’s movies other than calling it a total mess. We have movies. Oh, my, do we have movies. And in itself, that’s not the problem. No, the problem is that some of them arrive on Wednesday, some of them arrive on Friday and some of them arrive on Sunday. If you want to make it just that much worse, some (maybe most) theaters are opening two of them on Tuesday night. My only suggestion is that you pay attention and keep those theater movie-line numbers close at hand and hope that the theaters can keep up with updating those lines. (Having spent more than my share of time recording the “Hello and thank you for calling” phone message at a theater, I know all the possible flaws in the updating process — including everybody thinking someone else did it.) And, no, unless somebody is holding back information, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not opening locally, even though the IMDb makes it look like it is.

Broadly speaking, what we’ll have once the dust settles are a raft of mainstream titles — The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, We Bought a Zoo, The Darkest Hour and War Horse — and one lonely art title — My Week with Marilyn — which opens at both The Carolina and the Fine Arts. And it does so on Friday, making it one of the least confusing ones going.

Of all this stuff opening, I’ve seen My Week with Marilyn and The Adventures of Tintin (not so odd at this time of year). There are reviews for both in this week’s paper. One of them I liked a lot. Beyond that, I will not say. I will, however, say that Tintin opens on Wednesday.

Now, let’s try to make some sense out of all the others.

Going in order of their appearance, let’s take David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first. (This is one of the ones that opens some places on Tuesday night.) Though I see no real artistic percentage in doing this English-language automatic remake of last year’s art house hit from Sweden, I realize that a very large portion of American moviegoers are subtitle-phobic and complaining about a remake is pointless. It’s also a very old practice (see Ingrid Bergman’s U.S. debut in a remake of her Swedish film from a year or so earlier). This version, of course, has the benefit of a known star (Daniel Craig) and recognizable supporting players (Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright). And the none-too-surprising claim is that this is less a remake than a new adaptation of the novel. That remains to be seen, though it would be hard to argue that the Swedish film was anything other than a largely faithful translation of book to film. Admirers of David Fincher are jazzed, of course. I confess only to being curious.

Much interest surrounds Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (another Tuesday night opener), which was already released in IMAX last week, meaning that it has been pretty fully reviewed — and to very strong notices. Tom Cruise — who, even his fans have to admit, has not fared well of recent years — is actually getting good reviews, though there’s a sense that he’s not the reason the film is receiving all the critical love. No, the critical selling point is more the transition of animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to live-action director. Word is that he has brought new life, new energy, and a ton or two of stylishness to this otherwise rather tired franchise. We shall see. Not being a fan of the series or Mr. Cruise, I’ll probably only see this if Justin Souther tells me I need to.

Friday brings us, as noted, My Week with Mailyn, but it also brings us Cameron Crowe’s family-friendly We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. This marks Crowe’s return to directing since 2005 and the stupefying disaster known as Elizabethtown, so he has a good deal riding on this. Taking the PG-rated, fact-based, family-friendly line may been a smart move, since no one is likely to go see this thinking they’re going to get another Almost Famous (2000) and comparisons are less inevitable. So far the response from critics has been generally favorable, but several adjectives shy of being excited. Whether the film will actually find much of an audience at such a busy time of the moviegoing year is another matter altogether. “Pleasant” isn’t a strong selling point when there are options aplenty.

The peculiar mania for releasing films on Christmas Day means that we also get two films on Sunday (I’m not sure that’s ever happened before). The more important of the two is, of course, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. (Two Spielberg pictures in one week seems a little like overkill, but no matter.) The film boasts no big name stars and so the whole push comes down to Spielberg and a horse. (That Richard Curtis co-wrote the film with Billy Elliott author Lee Hall may be a plus, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that means much at the box office.) It’s based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and is a “sweeping” tale of a boy (Brit Disney Channel TV actor Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey. Set against a background of WWI makes it more “important,” I guess. Honestly, the trailer looks like everything I don’t like about Spielberg compressed into two-and-a-half minutes, which is perhaps the very reason that it’s the big Christmas Day opener.

And once again we have a taste of counterprogramming for Christmas in the guise of a sort of horror film (of the PG-13 variety) in the sci-fi mould with The Darkest Hour. starring Emile Hirsch. The film is being sold on the strength of the name Timur Bekmambetov — or more correctly on the fact that he made the Russian Night Watch movies and the U.S. quasi-hit Wanted (2008). Yes, well, it is true that he is one of the producers of The Darkest Hour, but the film was actually made by Chris Gorak, a fellow with a single, little-seen directing credit,Right at Your Door from 2006, which, it seems, got him named by Variety as one of the “ten directors to watch.” This is your chance to do just that with this tale of five young people battling an alien invasion in Moscow. Whether or not this is your idea of how to spend Christmas Day is up to you.

Now, with all these incoming movies, we’re obviously losing things this week. The question is exactly when. Anonymous is already gone from The Carolina and Melancholia will be come Friday (with the 11:45 a.m. and 7 p.m. shows already cut on Wednesday and Thursday). Take Shelter (which underperformed anyway) will be gone from the Fine Arts on Friday.

Special Screenings

This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Tod Browning’s Christmas-set The Devil-Doll (1936) starring Lionel Barrymore on Thursday, Dec. 22, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina — with, of course, the weekly chapter of Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) coming on at 7:40 p.m. The Asheville Film Society ends the year with a W.C. Fields double-feature — Edward F. Cline’s Million Dollar Legs (1932) and Francis Martin’s Tillie and Gus (1933) — at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all these films in this week’s Xpress.

On DVD

Just in time for Christmas — and it would make a pretty spiffy gift, come to think of it — is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but don’t overlook the DVD debut of Blackthorn while you’re at it. Margin Call is also certainly worth a look — Dolphin Tale, Straw Dogs and Colombiana not so much. Those waiting for the plain DVD release of Julie Taymor’s much-beleagured The Tempest will finally be rewarded this week. And, of course, there’s Glee: The Concert Movie — the film that no one went to see in theaters is now the DVD no one wants.

Notable TV screenings

It’s Christmas week. That means a lot of good (not all of it, mind), but pretty predictable and utterly safe titles.

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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."

31 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec 21.-27: Welcome to the Week of Mass Confusion

  1. Dionysis

    “The film is being sold on the strength of the name Timur Bekmambetov

    • Xanadon't

      Didn’t like Night Watch, huh? I thought it was pretty great, or at least good enough to be severely disappointed as I turned off Day Watch half way through.

      I don’t think I made it more than 20 minutes into Wanted.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I may be among a minority here

    Not with me, you’re not, though I did find Night Watch (which died at the Fine Arts after a week) interesting. I think the biggest likey draw is Wanted, which is primarily memorable to me for hearing Morgan Freeman say, “Then kill this motherf***er.”

  3. Jeremy Dylan

    This marks Crowe’s return to directing since 2005

    Return to directing narrative features maybe, but he’s directed two documentaries since, including the excellent PEARL JAM 20 film.

    No, the critical selling point is more the transition of animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to live-action director.

    An entirely justified selling point. I saw the film last week and it features one of the best staged and most suspenseful action sequences I’ve seen in years.

    The film gets extra points for cribbing a gag from HUDSON HAWK early on in the proceedings.

    which is perhaps the very reason that it’s the big Christmas Day opener.

    I know I say this every year, but you Yankees are goddamn weird. I don’t know if cinemas are even open on Christmas here. We have this peculiar tradition in Australia where people spend time with friends and family eating and sometimes exchanging gifts on Christmas Day.

  4. Jeremy Dylan

    This marks Crowe’s return to directing since 2005

    Return to directing narrative features maybe, but he’s directed two documentaries since, including the excellent PEARL JAM 20 film.

    No, the critical selling point is more the transition of animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to live-action director.

    An entirely justified selling point. I saw the film last week and it features one of the best staged and most suspenseful action sequences I’ve seen in years.

    The film gets extra points for cribbing a gag from HUDSON HAWK early on in the proceedings.

    which is perhaps the very reason that it’s the big Christmas Day opener.

    I know I say this every year, but you Yankees are goddamn weird. I don’t know if cinemas are even open on Christmas here. We have this peculiar tradition in Australia where people spend time with friends and family eating and sometimes exchanging gifts on Christmas Day.

  5. Jeremy Dylan

    This marks Crowe’s return to directing since 2005

    Return to directing narrative features maybe, but he’s directed two documentaries since, including the excellent PEARL JAM 20 film.

    No, the critical selling point is more the transition of animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to live-action director.

    An entirely justified selling point. I saw the film last week and it features one of the best staged and most suspenseful action sequences I’ve seen in years.

    The film gets extra points for cribbing a gag from HUDSON HAWK early on in the proceedings.

    which is perhaps the very reason that it’s the big Christmas Day opener.

    I know I say this every year, but you Yankees are goddamn weird. I don’t know if cinemas are even open on Christmas here. We have this peculiar tradition in Australia where people spend time with friends and family eating and sometimes exchanging gifts on Christmas Day.

  6. Xanadon't

    but the film was actually made by Chris Gorak, a fellow with a single, little-seen directing credit,Right at Your Door from 2006, which, it seems, got him named by Variety as one of the “ten directors to watch.”

    I’m one of the few who saw Right at Your Door. Not terribly shabby, actually, though not anything memorable and you’re right to poke fun at Variety.

  7. Me

    TCM is playing the rarely seen Woody Allen(not directed by the man) film The Front on Wednesday at 8pm. Ive been meaning to check it out for a while now back then it was only available as a streaming film on Netflix, for some reason now its only available as DVD but why not both i say?

  8. Me

    I hope My Week isn’t coming to Fine Arts and replacing Take Shelter.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Return to directing narrative features maybe, but he’s directed two documentaries since, including the excellent PEARL JAM 20 film.

    “The excellent PEARL JAM 20 film?” Was it silent?

    I know I say this every year, but you Yankees are goddamn weird. I don’t know if cinemas are even open on Christmas here. We have this peculiar tradition in Australia where people spend time with friends and family eating and sometimes exchanging gifts on Christmas Day.

    That’s soooo old hat. Actually, I don’t know when it became such a big deal to go to the movies. Clapton knows my family never did it. I am given to understand it was originally a Jewish thing — movie theaters being one of the few things open on Xmas Day — and the goyim picked up on it.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think I made it more than 20 minutes into Wanted.

    You civilians. If you ever think you want my job, just remember you lose that kind of right in the bargain.

    I just re-read my review of Night Watch

    http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/nightwatch.php

    Damn — makes me want to see it again, because it sounds better than I remember it!

    • Xanadon't

      It is better than you remember it. So long as we’re revisiting our notes, this was my initial response to the film, taken from an old movie journal entry:

      At once a visual feast and a compelling, engaging story that breathes new life to the classic theme of good vs. evil. This movie oozes style and confidence and the story is as fascinating as it is entertaining.

      It’s far more than your average vampire film, as it calls to mind biblical allegory and world political tensions. The kind of movie that makes me grin with excitement, even as it stumbled a bit in its direction and pacing. This is what “cool” meets “remarkable” meets “vampires” looks like.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think I ever liked it quite that much, but I’d watch it a second time — if it was easily at hand.

  12. Dionysis

    “Didn’t like Night Watch, huh? I thought it was pretty great…”

    No, I didn’t care much for it. I have a brother who talked it up a lot, and who tends to like similar films as I do, so I was psyched to watch it. While I do think it had some interesting visuals in it, I just found it to be somewhat confusing, but more significantly, it just did not hold my interest. Although I was able to watch more of it than Day Watch, for whatever that’s worth.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Paid to watch movies for a living…. tough gig.

    Well, that should read paid not all that much to watch movies and then endeavour to write a few hundred words in a hopefully entertaining and worthwhile manner on each one for a living. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it ain’t all skittles and beer — or all Scorsese and Almodovar, for that matter.

  14. Ken Hanke

    TCM is playing the rarely seen Woody Allen(not directed by the man) film The Front

    I don’t think I’d call it rarely seen, though not being by Allen, it’s not high on most people’s lists.

    I hope My Week isn’t coming to Fine Arts and replacing Take Shelter.

    It is. (I think I said as much.) Take Shelter didn’t exactly draw in the viewers.

  15. Me

    I fooled around and now Take Shelter and Meloncholia are getting replaced by a film of less quality. I guess i will have to wait until they are released on DVD.

  16. Xanadon't

    Take Shelter and Meloncholia are getting replaced by a film of less quality

    What makes My Week with Marilyn a film of less quality?

  17. Ken Hanke

    What makes My Week with Marilyn a film of less quality?

    Oh, I am sooo staying out of this, though I will say that I think it’s better than either. (Of course, its subject matter isn’t nearly so Important.)

    But waiting around to catch art titles — which by their very nature have less box office appeal — is just asking to miss them, even more so in a heavy release season.

  18. Xanadon't

    Oh, I am sooo staying out of this

    Yeah Ken, you’ve seen all three films. Clearly you have no business weighing in on the matter. Geesh.

  19. Me

    Biopics are inherently not very creative genre or boundary pushing for the most part.

    Sherlock Holmes 5 stars really, come on?

  20. Ken Hanke

    Sherlock Holmes 5 stars really, come on?

    Yes, really. No one holds a gun to your head and forces you to read me, nor to comment.

  21. Xanadon't

    Biopics are inherently not very creative genre or boundary pushing for the most part.

    Even by that assessment -which I don’t entirely agree with- there’s still plenty of room for quality. Scorsese’s directorial credits wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without the powerful biopics that make up a chunk of his output. Burton’s best film, in my mind, is a biopic. The same could be argued for Gus Van Sant. And numerous others.

  22. Ken Hanke

    My problem with sweeping statements and broad generalizations like that is that I’m left wondering just how actually familiar with the genre being dismissed out of hand the person making the statement is. There’s rather a significant difference between adopting a prevalent attitude and knowing about the genre from wide first-hand experience. Then again, I strongly suspect that “Me” and I have extremely divergent opinions of what is “very creative” and “boundary pushing.”

  23. Me

    I can enjoy a handful of them for being what they are a biopic, but can only think of one that thinks outside the box and thats Im Not There. Do you have any suggestions of which ones to check out?

  24. Ken Hanke

    It would help if I knew what ones you can enjoy for what they are.

  25. Me

    Nice pick Orbit i totally forgot about American Splendor thats a perfect example of a great biopic that goes beyond the norm, its one of my favorites.

  26. Xanadon't

    So Ken, I’m planning a movie double-header today. My Week with Marilyn is already a lock. War Horse is a definite “no” for film number two. And I think I’ve talked myself out of The Darkest Hour. But, I could be swayed…

  27. Ken Hanke

    Well, the thing is…I haven’t seen The Darkest Hour. I’d more likely recommened Sherlock Holmes if you haven’t seen it, or Hugo even though you have.

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