Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler October 30-November 5: Ender’s Last Free Birds Fight

In Theaters

While civilization attempts to recover from the embarrassing fact that Bad Grandpa is the number one movie in the country, we find ourselves faced with something of a slight week as concerns new movies hitting town (next week is slated to be a very different proposition, I assure you). This week we get three mainstream titles, one art title and a sort-of-art title.

The only thing coming at us on Friday that I’ve seen is the “sort of” art title — Ip Man: The Final Fight. This ran a couple of weeks ago as The Carolina’s monthly ActionFest screening. It’s an odd film in that it straddles the realms of action movie and arty biopic. In so doing, I’m not sure it’s likely to completely satisfy either group. I liked it — without loving it — but I admit to knowing next to nothing about the legendary martial arts master Ip Man, so the accuracy of the story of the man who trained the equally legendary Bruce Lee is something I can’t address. (The character of Bruce Lee shows up late in the film, and is not treated very warmly to say the least.)

Whatever it is or isn’t, it’s certainly a very good-looking movie. The art direction and the cinematography alone are worth a look, as is the central performance of Anthony Wong as Ip Man. All in all, I think it might fare better with the art crowd, though it does contain several elaborate martial arts sequences. My review is in this week’s paper. The film opens Friday at The Carolina.

Otherwise, we’re looking at a week I’m as much in the dark about as anybody, but I can’t claim to be anticipating anything with much excitement. Anyway, let’s take a look at what there is.

First up is Gavin Hood’s film based on the Orson Scott Card sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room here, since the promised boycott of the film over Orson Scott Card’s personal — and very outspoken — anti-gay stance has been as highly publicized as the film, but I’m not getting into that particular can of worms here, merely noting it. (It is bound to get thrashed out elsewhere before this is over.) The film itself is yet another attempt to find a successor to the Harry Potter or Twilight franchises — something that has yet to bear fruit. Bringing in Gavin Hood to adapt the book and direct seems risky, since Hood is best known for Rendition (2007) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), neither of which set the world on fire (in any positive sense at least). Asa Butterfield (the Hugo star, here looking disturbingly like a young Paul Ryan) plays the Ender character, and it can’t be denied that he’s been surrounded with a strong cast — Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld. Production values look solid, and it’s clearly poised as the week’s big movie.

Next, we have Jimmy Hayward’s animated film, Free Birds. Hayward is best known for Horton Hears a Who!, and would probably like us to forget his stab at a live-action film with Jonah Hex (2010). This would seem to be more his line of country. The story concerns two turkeys (the real kind or their animated approximations) who put aside their differences (who knew turkeys had differences?) to travel back in time in an effort to change history to remove turkey from the standard holiday repast. In the realm of the animated film, that’s not perhaps an unworkable premise. The voice cast boasts some bigger names without being exactly stellar — Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei. The trailer is on the so-so side, but the film could do well, since its only real competition is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which is sliding into the played-out realm.

Also on tap is Jon Turteltaub’s Last Vegas, which the studio describes this way: “Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been best friends since childhood. So when Billy, the group’s sworn bachelor, finally proposes to his thirty-something (of course) girlfriend, the four head to Las Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days. However, upon arriving, the four quickly realize that the decades have transformed Sin City and tested their friendship in ways they never imagined.” Yes, it does sound pretty grim — one of those high-concept affairs that almost never works. The stars are impressive, but they’ve all done purely work-for-hire stuff before, and that’s what this looks like. Throw in the fact that Jon Turteltaub is best known for the National Treasure movies and screenwriter Dan Fogelman has things like Cars (2006), Fred Claus (2007) and The Guilt Trip (2012) on his rap sheet and the prospects aren’t too bright, but surprises do happen.

Finally, we have Wadjda, which the Fine Arts is opening on a split bill (it’s taking the matinee shows from Inequality for All). It’s obviously a stop-gap booking, intended to play a single week. This is the sort of film beloved by critics (it has 70 positive reviews and one negative — from Slant, of course — on Rotten Tomatoes), but lacks broad audience appeal. The film is from Saudi Arabia — their first feature film, which isn’t too surprising in a country with no cinemas. More surprising is that writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour is a woman. The plot involves a young girl (Waad Mohammed) who is determined to save up money to buy a bicycle (an item deemed unsuitable for women). It is supposed to be very good, so if you’re interested, make haste. Chances are you won’t have much time to catch it.

What are we losing? The art-house horrors of We Are What We Are, unfortunately (but predictably) tanked and will be gone from The Carolina by Friday. The music documentaries that made up Music Madness were never meant to stay more than a week, but one of them, Muscle Shoals, did so well that it’s hanging around with a full set of shows for another week at The Carolina.

Special Screenings

Before getting into this week’s — somewhat abbreviated — usual listings, let’s take note of the Fine Arts special showing of Defiant Requiem as a fundraiser for LEAF Community Arts, and their Schools and Streets program that empowers and educates children. The film (which played at the Jewish Film Festival) is screening on Thu., Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. People purchasing a patron ticket ($50) also get to attend a reception at Blue Spiral 1 at 6 p.m. General admission for the film-only is $20, $10 for students.

Oddly enough, there is no Thursday Horror Picture Show on Halloween this Thursday because the Cinema Lounge has been booked for another event. Horror fans in need of a fix should come to tonight’s (Tue., Oct. 29) 8 p.m. showing of the Asheville Film Society’s Halloween movie, The Old Dark House (1932). The normal schedule will resume next Thursday. Also missing in action this week is the World Cinema movie — they appear to be taking off for the Day of the Dead. That, too, will return to its usual schedule next week. However, the Hendersonville Film Society will be showing George Abbott’s Tallulah Bankhead movie, The Cheat (1931), at 2 p.m. on Sun., Nov. 3 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society starts its November schedule with Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in Frank Tuttle’s film noir classic This Gun for Hire (1942) on Tue., Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on both titles in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

Though it didn’t play here, Neil Jordan’s new take on the vampire myth, Byzantium, is (at this point anyway) on my 2013 Ten Best list — and it comes to DVD this week. I highly recommend this stylish and unusual horror movie. Also up, we have Monsters University and R.I.P.D., neither of which I’ve seen.

Notable TV Screenings

On Wed., Oct. 30, TCM brings us David Butler’s old, dark house musical comedy You’ll Find Out (1940) starring band leader Kay Kyser — along with horror movie guest stars Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It shows at 10:15 a.m. and is a lot of fun. Their guest programmer that evening is, of all people, Gilbert Gottfried, who has come up with an interesting selection of movies starting with Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men (1939) at 8 p.m. It’s followed by Frank Perry’s very odd The Swimmer (1968) at 10 p.m., Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) at midnight, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) at 1:15 a.m., and Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), if you haven’t had enough of it by now.

Thursday, for Halloween, we have 24 hours of horror pictures. The day is taken up with movies featuring Christopher Lee (and sometimes Peter Cushing), while the evening hours are given over to Vincent Price (no surprise, since he’s the star of the month). This wouldn’t be my choice for Halloween fare, but it’s defensible.

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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."

25 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler October 30-November 5: Ender’s Last Free Birds Fight

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    Wonder if Kevin Kline’s Last Vegas character wishes he went by Sammy or Sammie.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    As bad a year as he’s had, De Niro’s not done with us yet. We still have his boxing movie with Stallone set for Christmas.

  3. Xanadon't

    This better be a throw-away comedy and not a serious-minded and seriously misguided attempt to put Jake Lamotta and Rocky Balboa in the same ring.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Even as as throw-away comedy, it’s probably seriously misguided.

  5. Steven

    Here I thought we’d be getting [i]12 Years a Slave[/i] this weekend. Darn.

  6. Edwin Arnaudin

    This better be a throw-away comedy and not a serious-minded and seriously misguided attempt to put Jake Lamotta and Rocky Balboa in the same ring.

    It’s a comedy, but that doesn’t make it OK.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Here I thought we’d be getting 12 Years a Slave this weekend. Darn.

    Next weekend. It’s a pretty big slate next weekend and much may get lost in the rush. 12 Years will almost certainly not be lost, though.

  8. Jeremy Dylan

    I should hope not. Not when I just learned how to properly pronounce Chiwetel Ejiofor.

  9. Ken Hanke

    You should have done that 10 years ago when Dirty Pretty Things came out.

  10. Ken Hanke

    As things stand now, 12 Years, All Is Lost, How I Live Now, and Diana are all down to open next Friday. (The first two at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. The latter two at The Carolina.) That’s a crowded “art” line up. My guess is that 12 Years is going to murder All Is Lost, and that combo is going to leave the two other movies all but ignored. (Word has it that Diana deserves it, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say. How I Live Now isn’t wholly successful, but it certainly deserves a look.)

  11. Jeremy Dylan

    You should have done that 10 years ago when Dirty Pretty Things came out.

    That was back when I thought you said it “Chewetel Edge-a-for”.

  12. Jeremy Dylan

    Word has it that Diana deserves it, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say

    Between that and BAD GRANDPA, Justin’s having quite a fortnight.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps I should have said I hadn’t seen it yet, because I am reviewing Diana. In fact, I have seen it now and…maybe you have to be British or Australian (the source of most of the reviews) to get your knickers in a twist about its “awfulness,” because I thought it was perfectly fine within its aims as a glossy romantic biopic.

  14. 1jckinnick

    Free Radicals: A History Of Experimental Film is on TCM Saturday night.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Yes and it was painful.

    Chris, I don’t know what you did, but somehow this was showing your e-mail address when it posted. Since I doubted that was your intention, I edited it so your e-mail didn’t show up.

  16. Ken Hanke

    No problem. I didn’t think it was what you intended to do.

  17. Steven

    Interested to hear your thoughts on [i]12 Years[/i], Ken. I caught it when I was out of town and I have to admit I strangely feel out of the loop. I mean, I liked it, but I can’t say it has stuck with me and I found a deal of it to be problematic. I’ll refrain from a discussion for now, but if there is any critic that isn’t afraid to be out of the loop, it’s you.

  18. Ken Hanke

    All I will say now is that I suspect I liked it more than you did, since it has stuck with me and I only find one aspect of it troublesome (and, no, it’s not the violence, nor is it the lack of sympathetic southerners — it’s something more…ephemeral).

  19. Ken Hanke

    You really expected anything else from the Voice and, especially, Slant? Cole Smithey gave it a negative review, too.

  20. Me

    How does Rotten Tomatoes determine reviews that don’t use stars?

  21. Ken Hanke

    If you mean how do they tell that you don’t use stars, it’s by you not putting them in when you add the review.

    If you mean how they determine whether a review is fresh or rotten, there’s pull-down menu when you submit your review. The individual critic — or whoever is inputting their reviews — makes the call.

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