Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 7-13: A Thousand Silent House John Carters with Kids

In Theaters

The fact that the American public forked over $70 million this past weekend to see Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and another $21 million to watch Project X is fairly compelling evidence that the reason Hollywood continues to traffic in the mediocre is that the public actually likes it. At the very least, the public keeps on encouraging them to deliver the not so good goods. Just bear that in mind when you complain about how bad movies are. And we get four new ones to choose from this week—three of the mainstream variety, and one that’s at least sort of art house.

Now, last week there were two quality choices at hand—Pariah and A Separation—and while they didn’t exactly go wanting at the local box office, neither would I say they set the world on fire, though they’re at least still holding their ground this week. And they’re joined (at The Carolina) by Jennifer Westfeldt’s indie-flavored romantic comedy Friends with Kids, which I’ve already seen and which turned out to be a refreshingly honest, funny and touching take on the romantic comedy, but perhaps not quite the genre-redefining breakthrough that the filmmakers claim. But, hey, it’s the business of filmmakers and studios to paint the sunniest picture possible. And in this case, there’s some reason for their view.

On the other hand, the three titles that remain … well, who exactly knows at this point?

The first up—and the biggest deal—is John Carter, which refers to the “John Carter of Mars” of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ imagining. The story is that the qualifying “of Mars,” which might seem like a selling point, was dropped because “Mars” is something of which we no longer speak, thanks to the disaster known as Mars Needs Moms. Whatever. The synopsis makes it sound like it’s essentially an adaptation of Burroughs’ 1917 novel A Princess of Mars (no, Mr. Carter is not the princess). It all deals with Civil War veteran (and Virginia gentleman) John Carter somehow transported to Mars (or Barsoom) where he becomes involved in a “conflict of epic proportions” (that’s what it says) and lots of CGI (that, it doesn’t say). The trailers are loud and busy and strongly hint that Martians are big on Led Zeppelin. (Well, nothing says Edgar Rice Burroughs like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.) It could be agreeable pulpy nonsense, but that 132 minute running time alarms me.

And then there’s Silent House, a horror picture from husband-and-wife team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, whom we haven’t seen since their egregious and mystifyingly praised Open Water—or The Blair Shark Project—back in 2004. Well, here they are again with yet another gimmick thriller. This one is supposedly told in real time in one unbroken take—like Russian Ark or Hitchcock’s Rope, but in an old dark house, rather than the Hermitage or a soundstage-created apartment as in the earlier named titles. Actually, it’s apparently a copy of a movie from Uruguay that pulls the same stunt. Right now, it’s enjoying the boost of having Elizabeth Olsen (the more talented Olsen who isn’t a twin) it, since Martha Marcy May Marlene has made her the poster child for mentally unstable heroines in peril. The early reviews are largely positive, but none are from the most credible of sources. I do like Jordan Hoffman claiming, “By minute 75 of this 86 minute film I actually muttered, ‘that’s it’ and put my hands over my eyes.” Really? (I mean I felt something like that during Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, but that’ll be dealt with next week.) It is, however, the sort of thing that might get you on a DVD case, I guess.

And bringing up the rear—in every sense of the word—is A Thousand Words. This is an Eddie Murphy movie that’s been growing mold in the vaults for four years and is only now being allowed out. It was directed by Brian Robbins, the man who made Meet Dave and Norbit. Now, if that’s not enough to make you realize that seeing this movie where Murphy lies to a guru and is paid back with a Bodhi tree that drops leaves whenever he speaks, leading to his demise when the last leaf falls, then let me remind you of the last Eddie Murphy movie that sat around for years. That was The Adventures of Pluto Nash in case you’ve forgotten—and it only sat around for two years. Does that mean that this will be twice as bad? No, but it’s possible.

The only thing of note that’s leaving this week is that single showing of The Secret World of Arrietty is taking its leave from the Fine Arts to be replaced with another slot for The Artist. And, oh yes, Hugo appears to finally have vanished from its remaining screen at the Carmike. Well, it did come out on DVD last week.

Special Screenings

Alex de la Iglesia’s mind-blowing The Last Circus (2011) is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show, screening at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. John Cassavete’s debut feature Shadows (1959) is being screened by World Cinema at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 9, in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is showing Herbert Ross’ The Seven-Per-cent Solution (1976) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 11, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. This week’s Asheville Film Society movie is William Wyler’s The Good Fairy (1935) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress with expanded information and criticism in the online edition.

On DVD

The biggie to me is Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but we also get Like Crazy, Senna and Footloose. Oh, yes, there’s also Immortals and, for the exceedingly masochistic, Jack and Jill has oozed into release.

Notable TV Screenings

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, TCM is running John Boorman’s Having a Wild Weekend or Catch Us If You Can (1965)—Boorman’s first movie, and one that was meant to do for the Dave Clark Five what A Hard Day’s Night (1964) had done for the Beatles. It didn’t, but it’s one strange and somewhat depressing ride. Otherwise, I’m very much afraid that TCM is pretty much ploughing the same old fields.

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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."

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