Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler December 25-31: The Secret Wolf Grudge of Ronin Mandela

In Theaters

Christmas is upon us and it comes bearing Martin Scorsese, Keanu Reeves, Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Ben Stiller (as director) and Ben Stiller (as star). At least the first of those is a good thing. One of them is OK. The rest represent what we call an unknown quantity. It is also a quantity of which I am deeply skeptical. Since at least some of these are in my future, I put on my Christmas cheer face and hope for the best. (Yeah, I’m not fooling myself either.)

Before going any further, I have to tell you that this will be a special ultra-brief column. I shall explain — and I will omit all the colorful words I used in explaining this yesterday (actually, it was merely permutations of a single word).Somewhere around 4 p.m., some motorist decided to plow into an electrical pole. (I presume this was done deliberately to vex me.) This in turn caused the electricity to go off and on several times before settling on … off. Since I had already placed most of my work online, I was not unduly alarmed, but when the power was restored, it turned out that all on-and-off jiggery-pokery had been the death knell for my DSL modem. The … er, fine folks at AT&T assured me that it was — from my description — good and dead, but that my “plan” included a free replacement. There is but one catch — the thing won’t be here till Thursday.

Where does this leave me? Well, it leaves me dealing with a very old, very slow laptop (because it has a built-in modem) and a dial-up connection (remember those?). To put this in perspective, it took me 50 minutes to download a file containing four photos that Mr. Souther had acquired at my request. And to put that into perspective, this week’s paper and this column require a bare minimum of 22 pictures. What this means to you — the reader — is if anything herein required much Internet access — links to trailers, lists of this week’s DVD releases, a journey though the TCM listings — well, they won’t be here. After waiting 15 minutes for one site to load, only to find most of it couldn’t be viewed … well, you get the idea.

Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with The Wolf of Wall Street opening on Christmas Day. I saw it at an awards screening and it’s maybe not quite top-drawer Scorsese, but it’s still better than most things other filmmakers make. I can guarantee you that it’s better than the other movies opening this week — and that’s without having seen three of them (some will undoubtedly object to that statement). While it won’t take you to the giddy heights of Hugo or Shutter Island, it’s still so very much the work of a man who understands filmmaking in every respect — and who puts that understanding to work. (It is also the fastest three hours I’ve ever spent in a theater.) What it lacks in emotional resonance — and I think that’s both deliberate and inevitable with this material — it makes up for in the sheer joy of filmmaking. The only downside I can see is it’s very much not a film to take your family to on Christmas Day — unless you happen to have a family that’s OK with a hard R rating. In that case, Merry Christmas.

I didn’t review Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom — that went to Mr. Souther — but I did see it. It’s solidly made, but it’s so much your typical biopic that I simply can’t get excited about it. Having said that, I’ll leave you Justin’s review.

Then we have those unknown quantities…

Up first is 47 Ronin, which, like so much that’s opening, seems a strange Christmas release — unless, as I noted in the print upcomers, you think that nothing says Christmas like Keanu Reeves in a Japanese epic. Thing is, from what I can understand, this version of a famous Japanese story doesn’t so much star Reeves as it cashes in on the fact that he’s the only recognizable name to Western audiences. He appears to have a glorified supporting part. The publicity claims that the director is one of those “visionary” sorts — you know, like Zack Snyder. Since all the fellow has made is a short film makes the claim doubly dubious. I will also note that so far the reviews aren’t just negative, they’re viciously so. Of course, the perverse streak in me makes me more intrigued by that than put off. I am not, however, seeing it (or anything else) on Christmas Day.

And for those of you who don’t like that idea there’s Grudge Match, because nothing says Christmas like Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone duking it out in the ring. Why? I really don’t know and don’t much care. We already know that DeNiro will take just about any kind of a part these days. (Think what the scripts he turns down must be like.) And we have known for some time that Stallone is in the business of throwing anything against the wall to see if he can still pack ‘em in. The only thing I can think of in its favor is that its negative reviews aren’t quite as vocal as those for 47 Ronin.

Finally, there’s Ben Stiller in Ben Stiller’s new version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — because nothing says Christmas like … ah, to hell with it. James Thurber’s short story (a staple of 10th-grade English classes in my day) was turned into a lavish, gaudily Technicolored Danny Kaye vehicle by Sam Goldwyn back in 1947. The general run of thought is that it was better than Stiller’s bigger, louder, more effects-driven approach to the material. Well, maybe. I’ve never cared for the 1947 film — but then I’ve never cared for Danny Kaye, who is simply too manic for my taste (and too full of himself). That said, the trailers for this look … well, not good. On the bright side, it has more positive reviews than 47 Ronin or Grudge Match. That doesn’t mean the praise has been lavish or widespread.

With all this coming out, we’re surprisingly not losing anything of note. The Fine Arts is keeping its schedule. The Carolina is cutting into The Book Thief and Philomena (alternating shows) and reducing Dallas Buyers Club to one show. This will, however, possibly hold for two weeks, because it appears that nothing opens next week.

Special Screenings

Well, let’s see. The World Cinema folks are on hiatus until Jan. 10. The Hendersonville Film Society doesn’t come back till Jan. 5, so that only leaves us with the Thursday Horror Picture Show and the Asheville Film Society. This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is showing Boris Karloff in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968) on Thursday, Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. The Asheville Film Society closes out 2013 with the Marx Brothers in Sam Wood’s A Day at the Races (1937) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31, in Theater Six at The Carolina — the theory being that some of us have passed the age of New Year’s Eve revelry and that those who haven’t can still be about their New Year’s business by 10 p.m. Result? Something for everyone. More on both movies in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.

Owing to the previously announced online problems, that brings us to the conclusion of this week’s festivities herein. I apologize for the paucity of photos, links to trailers, and other absent content. Believe me, I’d far rather have done that than go best-two-falls-out-of-three with this computer and this dial-up nonsense. (How in Clapton’s name did the Internet become popular when this is what most people had? I do think it worked a little better then, but the Internet wasn’t as filled with animated advertising, endless graphics and photos back in those days.) Anyway, here I will leave you for this week — and wish you a Merry Christmas or whatever seasonable greeting suits your mood or mindset. And in the spirit of things, here we have quite the creepiest image of Christmas frivolity I’ve ever encountered (supposedly from 1930 in Central Park). I trust it brightens your holidays no end.

 

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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."

6 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler December 25-31: The Secret Wolf Grudge of Ronin Mandela

  1. Jim Donato

    The internet became popular when there was only dialup because there was no Flash, video, Ajax, or Javascript cruft to weigh it down! It’s that simple.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I knew there had to be some explanation. Believe me (he said with his DSL restored), dial-up is an eternity in hell now.

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