Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler September 5-11: The Words Sleepwalk with Ai Weiwei

In Theaters

We’re looking at a light week—or so it appears at this moment. The Labor Day holiday means that there’s the chance (fairly slim, I think) that someone’s going to sneak something into the mix—especially if any theater finds itself stuck with The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure for a second week. As it stands, however, we’re in for two art titles and one mainstream one.

Before getting down to those, however, let’s pause to mark the milestone that is The Oogieloves. Let’s face it, it takes a certain kind of genius to fail as spectacularly as this did. We are here talking about one for the record books—the most magnificent failure of all time. This is a movie where the weekend gross at one local theater was lower than the test score that convinced me to take some course other than algebra in high school. (Believe me, that’s low.) I’m now actually kind of glad that I saw the thing—puts me in a very select group indeed. What strikes me as even more remarkable than the film’s failure is its reported $20 million price tag. How? On what? Simply astonishing. I guess it takes money to make something this bad.

Now, about this week’s art titles. We have the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and the comedy Sleepwalk with Me—both opening Friday at The Carolina. I’ve seen both and they have their merits, as you can see in the reviews in this week’s Xpress. (And I bet that both of them together cost less than $20 million.) I do suspect that Sleepwalk with Me will have greater appeal with viewers who are already fans of star Mike Birbiglia and the NPR show This American Life. As for the other—even if you don’t like documentaries, you might want to consider this one, just to meet its incredible subject, the Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

That brings us to the mainstream, which this week is more of a trickle.

The one certain title opening is something called The Words. It was made by a couple of guys named Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Messrs. Klugman and Sternthal’s only prior offenses are as two of the four people who came up with the story (not the screenplay) for TRON: Legacy. Here they’ve written and directed a story about a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) who strikes gold when he publishes an old manuscript written by someone else (Jeremy Irons) as his own. (Yes, it does sound a little bit like part of the plot of Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.)  Apart from the leads, the film also boasts Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Ben Barnes, and J.K. Simmons. (We all know that the presence of Mr. Simmons is always a plus.) The trailer isn’t all that spectacular and the early (very minimal and not particularly credible) reviews are split.The biggest obvious negative is that it’s coming for CBS Films—an outfit that’s put out only one decent movie to date.

As predicted last week, we lose both Ruby Sparks and The Queen of Versailles this week. The Fine Arts is holding steady with Robot & Frank and Celeste & Jesse Forever. The Carolina is keeping Celeste & Jesse, Killer Joe, and the apparently unstoppable The Intouchables.

Special Screenings

Before getting to the usual stuff, it’s woth noting that the Fine Arts has two showings—7 p.m., Thu., Sept. 6 and 10 a.m., Sat. Sept. 8—of the highly rated (it has no bad reviews of Rotten Tomatoes) documentary The Invisible War. This is a shocking, eye-opening film about the epidemic nature of rape in the U.S. military—and what’s not being done about it. Worth seeing.

This week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show is the cheesy 1958 horror picture Monster on the Campus at 8 p.m. on Thu., Sept. 6 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) at 8 p.m. on Fri., Sept. 7 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) is this week’s film from the Hendersonville Film Society on Sun., Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The comic styles of Mae West and W.C. Fields meet in Edwatd F. Cline’s My Little Chickadee (1940) from the Asheville Film Society on Tue., Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s paper with expanded coverage in the online edition.

On DVD

This isn’t the most exciting week ever—unless you were looking for a four disc release of Titanic or were still feeling burned over the fact that Piranha 3DD didn’t open locally. There’s also The Five-Year Engagement (which feels like at least five years) and Safe.

Notable TV Screenings

Probably the most interesting thing on TCM this week is the solid night of Mack Sennett silent comedy shorts on Thu., Sept. 6. Most of these I’ve never seen. My biggest reservation is that it’s going to be overkill. The tone of most Sennett shorts I’ve seen is rather frenetically similar—hours of it in one sitting is a little daunting. But these aren’t shown all that often, so it’s at least worth dropping in on. This goes on every Thursday for the month of September. I was hoping they might dip into Sennett’s Bing Crosby shorts, but that’s not happening.

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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."

12 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler September 5-11: The Words Sleepwalk with Ai Weiwei

  1. Orbit DVD

    Pretty much all tv this week: Parks and Rec Sea 4, The Office Sea 8, Hung Sea 3, Bored to Death Sea 3, Person of Interest Sea 1, Grey’s Anatomy Sea 7, Fringe Sea 4 and The Good Wife Sea 3.

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    We are here talking about one for the record books — the most magnificent failure of all time.

    I ran the numbers and the film grossed about 2% of its production budget on the opening weekend.

    The 56% return on my movie doesn’t seem so disappointing now.

  3. Me

    I thought the Ai Weiwei film had already made its run through the theatres good to see its getting shown.

    Ken i noticed the Carolina added a lot of upcoming films and according to the commercials and the Carolina website The Master is opening September 21 but is that wide release date?

    I know in some places they are screening it in 70mm what. Was The Fine Arts capable of showing it in that format before they recently switched to digital?

  4. Ken Hanke

    Ken i noticed the Carolina added a lot of upcoming films and according to the commercials and the Carolina website The Master is opening September 21 but is that wide release date?

    That does appear to be the wide date for The Master. I know that next week Dark Horse and Arbitrage are slated to open.

    I know in some places they are screening it in 70mm what. Was The Fine Arts capable of showing it in that format before they recently switched to digital?

    No. I doubt there was ever a 70mm set-up in Asheville. The problems with any of those large formats are pretty daunting — starting with keeping the film flat in the gate. (Film buckling was what killed the original attempt at widescreen large format movies in the early sound era.)

  5. DrSerizawa

    I’m now actually kind of glad that I saw the thing — puts me in a very select group indeed. What strikes me as even more remarkable than the film’s failure is its reported $20 million price tag. How? On what? Simply astonishing. I guess it takes money to make something this bad.

    OR – they simply spent a lot of $ on hotel rooms and cocaine and $200 per bottle champagne and folded it all into the expenses.

    From your description they actually may have spent it on LSD.

  6. Ken Hanke

    What? Are you saying there’s something odd about three brightly colored creatures planning a birthday party for a narcoleptic pillow?

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