All in all, we’re looking at a pretty good week — and it’s not particularly overcrowded. We have two art titles that have things to recommend them, and two mainstream offerings, one of which stands a good chance of being genuinely worth your while. The other is another matter.
Despite how (mostly) good the week might be, I’m going to start off by complaining. What I’m complaining about is that this week’s reviews — which include the two new art titles — find me hemmed in by the tyranny of the damned “Weekly Pick.” Here’s the thing — there were three titles this week that I really wanted to highly recommend: Austenland, Insidious: Chapter 2, and Thanks for Sharing. The problem is it’s only possible to have one “Weekly Pick,” especially where our … er … imperfect website is concerned. (You don’t even want to know what happens if you tell the website there’s more than one “Weekly Pick.” Let’s just say, it ain’t pretty.) So let it be known here — I recommend all three of those movies for different reasons. The truth is that these are movies that are so different from each other that working on a comparative basis isn’t really possible.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s take a glance at those art titles — Austenland and Thanks for Sharing, both of which start Friday at The Carolina. Of the two, I probably enjoyed Austenland more. But it’s a slight bit of fluff and it’s not meant to be anything other than enjoyable. I’m not selling that short, mind you. A lot of movies shoot for enjoyable and fall appallingly short of the mark. This one mostly hits that mark. It’s goofy and silly and ultimately fairly predictable, but there’s a fine line between predictable and a movie that does what you want it to. And this one is aware of that distinction.
There’s undeniably more heft to Thanks for Sharing. It’s designed — at least in part — to be somewhat comedic, but that’s not essentially what’s on its mind. This is a fairly serious look at addiction — specifically sex addiction — and the impact addiction has on those within the addict’s circle. I have to say it isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that it’s stayed with me more than quite a few films I can think of that are much less flawed. You can, of course, read the reviews on both in this week’s paper.
That brings us to the week’s mainstream releases.
The first — and almost certainly lesser — of these is something called Battle of the Year. It comes to us from someone named Benson Lee, who last made a narrative film (that I’ve never heard of) back in 1998. I’m guessing his credentials as director on a break-dancing documentary called Planet B-Boy (2007) landed him this gig, which looks for all the world like a Step Up movie. (Like we needed a rip-off of those?) The studio tells us: ” Battle of the Year is an international dance crew tournament that attracts all the best teams from around the world, but the Americans haven’t won in fifteen years. Los Angeles Hip Hop mogul Dante (Alonso) wants to put the country that started the Sport back on top. He enlists his hard-luck friend Blake (Holloway), who was a championship basketball coach, to coach his team. Armed with the theory that the right coach can make any team champions, they assemble a Dream Team of all the best dancers across the country. With only three months until Battle of the Year, Blake has to use every tactic he knows to get twelve talented individuals to come together as a team if they’re going to bring the Trophy back to America where it started.” Alonso is Laz Alonso, and Holloway is Josh Holloway. If those names mean anything to you, you’re up on me.
Far more promising is Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. If you saw his Incendies (2010), you’ll know why it’s more promising. And for the sub-title-phobic, Prisoners has the advantage of being in English. It stars Hugh Jackman as a man who decides to take things into his own hands when his daughter and her friend disappear. Taking things into his own hands turns out to be mean kidnapping and torturing a young man (Paul Dano) with less than a full complement of faculties who seems to know something, but won’t talk. Also onboard for this mystery — with supposedly more than mystery on its mind — are Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, and Melissa Leo. You certainly can’t say they skimped on the cast.
What do we lose this week? Not surprisingly Blackfish is going, also Closed Circuit. The Spectacular Now is being split with The World’s End. suggesting this will be their last week. And it’s worth noting that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints opened soft, so I’m betting this will be its last week.
Before getting down to the usual screenings, we also have the Asheville Film Society’s monthly Budget Big Screen film. This month it’s William A. Wellman’s Wings (1927). Winner of the first Oscar for Best Picture, Wings was also one of the great “event” movies of its era — a blockbuster before the term even existed. It was the movie to see — a cultural phenomenon. As art, yes, it takes a back seat to at least one other 1927 release, Sunrise (it got a special Oscar for artistic excellence), but as sheer entertainment, it’s at the head of its class even today. Not that Wings is a mindless affair — far from it. It offers an unusually realistic depiction of war and its greatness relies more on its emotional power as a human story than from its very real spectacle. Seen as it was intended on the big screen — and in a fully restored, toned and tinted print with the correct musical score and sound effects — it’s no less an event now than it was 86 years ago. It plays for one show only on Wed., Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Admission is $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public.
Also up is this month’s ActionFest screening, which is Storm Surfers 3D, winner of most outstanding achievement in a 3D documentary in 2012 at the International 3D Society annual awards will screen one night only at The Carolina on Thu., Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. According to the handout: “Co-directed by Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius, the movie is the first surf flick filmed almost entirely in three-dimensional technology. Viewers get to experience what it’s like to cascade down a 20-foot wave in the open ocean off Western Australia, or ride inside massive tubes in Tasmania. Almost all of the footage was shot during the 2011 Southern Hemisphere winter, from May to August.” All proceeds from this screening will be donated to Homeward Bound of Asheville, celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing pathways to housing for the homeless in Asheville. The suggested donation for admission is $10. Those in attendance will receive complimentary pints of beer from French Broad, plus complimentary soft drinks and popcorn donated by Carolina Cinemas.
This week the Thusday Horror Picture Show is screening William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III (1990) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Sept. 19 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Ingmar Bergman’s film of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (1975) on Fri., Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running Robert Benton’s The Human Stain (2003) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Sept. 22 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out its September screenings with Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007) on Tue., Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress with full reviews in the online edition.
Quite a few movies make their DVD bow this week, but I’m putting the little seen Disconnect at the top of the list of movies you should check out. Also up is World War Z, which is available in an unrated version as well. We also get The Bling Ring, The East, and that undisputed model of campy violence — and sweaty Mickey Rourke — Java Heat.
Notable TV Screenings
Being that Fri., Sept. 20 is his birthday, TCM has a whole day of movies from director Norman Z. McLeod — starting at 6:30 a.m. with Topper (1937) and the enjoyable My Man Godfrey knock-off Merrily We Live (1938) at 8:15 a.m. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. McLeod signed a whole lot of good movies — none of which are being shown on Friday.
Sat., Sept. 21 they have a three movie salute to screenwriter Robert Riskin (the man who perhaps had more to do with inventing Frank Capra than Capra himself), starting with the somewhat overrated It Happened One Night (1934), followed by the little seen John Ford gangster comedy The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) at 10 p.m., and Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) at midnight.
TCM wraps up its “Sundays with Hitch” series on Sun., Sept. 22 with The Skin Game (1931) at 10 a.m., Lifeboat (1944) at 11:30 a.m., The Lady Vanishes (1938) at 1:15 p.m., Topaz (1969) at 3:15 p.m., Torn Curtain (1965) at 5:45 p.m., The 39 Steps (1935) at 8 p.m., Sabotage (1936) at 9:30 p.m., and The Manxman (1929) at 12:15 a.m. My suggestion is catch The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, and Sabotage (with that one you might spot something that found its way into Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds). The rest…well…I am reasonably sure that no one was ever actually killed by sitting through Topaz, but I wouldn’t care to risk it myself.
On Monday, of course, we get the next installment of Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey. This one is “1930s — The American Movie Genres.” I haven’t seen Part III yet, but I confess to not being as taken with Part II as I was with Part I, though I put this down to Part II spending more time on Carl Theodor Dreyer than I cared for. The lead-in movie at 8 p.m. is Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932) — which has been in the top three of my favorite movies for over 40 years. After the new episode we get William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931), James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933, and Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934). Those aren’t exactly chopped liver either.