Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler February 12-18: About the Past RoboCop Endless Tale

In Theaters

If nothing else, there’s at least one excellent art title — of the must-see variety — this week. The mainstream offerings — four of them — would seem to be a much dicier proposition. At the moment, it’s an even dicier proposition as to whether we thaw out enough (assuming the weather prognosticators are correct) to actually get to them.

Right now there’s a fair layer of snow on my yard and a reasonable coating of ice on my roadway. The folks who predict these things say this is but the overture to the wintery opera to come, so exactly how much good I’m likely to get out of the five movies opening this week is open to question. Now, I realize my particular potential plight is not apt to be everyone’s (anyone who has ever tried to get to my house in icy conditions knows it’s a bad idea), but I doubt I am alone in this. Also, I have grave doubts that anyone who should meet a sticky end while trying to make it to see a remake of RoboCop will ever live down the embarrassment.

Whatever happens, I have at least seen Asghar Farhadi’s The Past — and I doubt seriously that anything else on the week’s horizon will be nearly so good. You may recall Farhadi’s Oscar-winning Iranian A Separation (2011). Well, The Past isn’t up for an Oscar — which probably has more to do with the peculiar rules governing foreign language films than anything — but I think it is an even better film. Working in France — but with a story that includes Iranian characters — the tone hasn’t much changed, though Farhadi has definitely upped the mystery angle this time, which serves to make the film more compelling. At bottom, it’s still a domestic drama, but it’s not presented in traditional terms. Actually, it kind of sneaked up on me. At first glance, I thought it was good, but not great. The longer I lived with it, the more I came to realize that it indeed is a great film. You can see for yourself — and you should — on Friday when it opens at the Fine Arts. And you can read the review in this week’s paper.

Now, about these mainstream things…

First up we have Steve Pink’s About Last Night. I admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 1986 version referred to as a classic, but, as near as I can tell, these days it seems that anything that’s old is afforded classic status, rendering the term effectively meaningless. Both films are based on David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The generic About Last Night title got slapped on the original when the MPAA decided that a film could not be called Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Whether that’s the reason for applying it to this new take, I have no idea. The film has been reconfigured as a vehicle for Kevin Hart and also stars Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Joy Bryant. Director Steve Pink is the gent responsible for Hot Tub Time Machine (2011) and Accepted (2006). Make of that information what you will. At this point the film has one review. The trailer looks … well, pretty much like you’d expect it to look.

Then there’s Endless Love (which also has one review). It may or may not be a remake of Franco Zeffirelli’s much-maligned 1981 Brooke Shields movie. (Depends on what you read. If I were the filmmaker, I’d downplay the connection, too.) It was made by Shana Feste, who gave us Country Strong (2010). (I do not consider that a plus.) Alex Pettfer — still hell-bent on finding that role that will make him a movie star — as a young man who falls in love with a rich girl (Gabiella Wilde, Carrie). Her parents (Bruce Greenwood and Joely Richardson) object. But you know how young love in the movies is. And if you don’t, this will probably seem more interesting to you than it does to me.

I suppose Brazilian action film director Jose Padilha’s remake (notice a pattern this week?) of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop, which has been predictably toned down to a teen-friendly PG-13, is considered the week’s big thing. It’s even being given the presumptive edge on the week by being given a Wednesday opening. (Presumably, this allows those of you who don’t consider prime Valentine’s Day material to get it in early.) I have no clear idea of who star Joel Kinnaman is (though I’ve seen him in a couple movies, which says much), but the supporting cast includes Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Abbie Cornish. That might be in the film’s favor, but let’s be honest — they’ve all been in some pretty dubious movies. That said, I hold no great reverence for the original, and I’m not immediately against a remake. This one’s been out already in the UK and Australia, where it has divided the critics pretty evenly.

Bringing up the rear is the directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard’s tame adapter of books into Ron Howard movies, which is to say he specializes in making things safe and accessible to even the dimmest bulb in the audience. Goldsman appears to be a compulsive popularizer — and that’s what has the world at large looking askance at the prospect of him turning Mark Helprin’s magical realism novel Winter’s Tale into a movie. OK, I’m not as down on Goldsman as most people seem to be, but I remain slightly skeptical here. The cast is fine — Colin Farrell, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint —and the trailer is intriguing, if on the overproduced side. At the moment, it has two reviews — one positive, one negative, neither by persons I put much stock in. Frankly, it’s the mainstream film that intrigues me the most out of this lot. That may not be saying much.

Now, this week we lose Inside Llewyn Davis. And that’s about it for movies of note.

Special Screenings

This week (weather permitting) the Thursday Horror Picture Show is showing Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told (1968) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Feb. 13 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977) on Fri., Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society will screen Cleopatra Part One (1963) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 16 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957) on Tue., Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all film in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

Well, there’s a lot of stuff this week, but none of it is very exciting — and some of it is much worse than that. Oh, How I Live Now is pretty good, and both Austenland and All Is Lost have their merits (both also try too hard in different ways). And there’s the not unappealing insanity of The Counselor, and the much-maligned Diana (which died before it hit town, but not before I’d reviewed it) is really not that bad. On the other hand, we have Ender’s Game and Grace Unplugged. Brrr.

Notable TV Screenings

TCM is still in the throes of “31 Days of Oscar,” which means you are on your own till the Oscar orgy is over.

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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 February 12-18: About the Past RoboCop Endless Tale

  1. DrSerizawa

    This may be the only time in history that it’s colder in North Carolina than it is in Salt Lake City. So I’m going to gloat a bit. Gloat gloat.

    Sad to say the Salt Lake Film Society is not screening the The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014. Drat. Where’s a February doldrums release like Shutter Island or even Drive Angry when you need it?

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