In Brief: George Arliss — in his final Hollywood movie — takes on Cardinal Richelieu, and the results are more or less what you expect. In his version of Cardinal Richelieu (1935), the old boy is just as wily as the real one, but he's now become the wily hero of the story. In other words, this has only the slightest connection to history. Oh, it's kind of in there — like Richelieu's desire to create a united France and his chicanery in doing so — but the spin is a little skewed. It is what might best be called an historical romp of the sort Arliss was famous for. Actually, Arliss had envisioned a different film, but when everyone became enthused over him dusting off Bulwer-Lytton's hoary old melodrama, the enthusiasm won out. The results — with Richelieu dividing his time between bringing young lovers together and saving the country — are pretty specious as history, but they're certainly entertaining fun. The Asheville Film Society will screen Cardinal Richelieu Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: Some movies are leisurely paced. Some are deliberately paced. Still others are glacially paced. They all are on the slow side — in varying degrees. Depending on where you land in it, Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry (1997) covers all the bases of slowness. And yet, I have to admit that it held my interest for its entire length. In essence, the film consists of Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) driving around the arid Iranian countryside trying to find someone who will bury him after he commits suicide. That's it. But there's something almost hypnotic about it, especially as the conversations with his various prospects increase in complexity. We never learn much about Mr. Badii — including the reason for his planned suicide — but that may be part of why the film works as well as it does. I wouldn't want to see it again any time soon, and I find its appeal limited, but I'd say it's worth at least one watch — assuming you have the patience. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Taste of Cherry Friday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
The Story: The first half of the final chapter in The Hunger Games series finds the rebels preparing for an all-out war with the government. The Lowdown: More intelligent, more interesting and generally better made than its predecessors, but it's a film that would be hard to even follow for a newcomer.
The Story: A bamboo cutter and his wife find a tiny girl in a bamboo sprout and decide to raise her into a princess. The Lowdown: Visually beautiful but far too long a film for such a simple storyline.
In Brief: On the surface, the idea of a movie in which Jackie Gleason plays mute has its appeal. At least he can't bellow every line of dialogue, because ... well, he hasn't any. In practice, however, what we get in Gigot (1962) is a gooey vanity project for Gleason, who seems to think he's the heir apparent to Chaplin — an elephantine Chaplin, but Chaplin nonetheless. I was warned of this outburst of saccharine years and years ago by the critic Judith Crist in TV Guide, and I have spent those years avoiding any contact with it — until the Hendersonville Film Society opted (for whatever inexplicable reason) to show it. It is everything I thought it would be. Gleason mugs, he shambles, he pleads for our sympathy in his personal take on Chaplin's The Kid (1921) — here with the child transformed into a little girl. It is grim stuff, made all the more so by director Gene Kelly favoring his star with endless close shots. In its favor? The Parisian locations are nicely photographed. Whether that compensates for such things as Gleason punching himself in the face when he can't explain Jesus to the child is up to you. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Gigot Sunday, Nov. 30, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Biopic about Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. The Lowdown: Unabashed crowd-pleaser Oscar bait that works on that level — thanks in large part to the acting — but never really transcends the conventions of the biopic genre.
In Brief: Though it comes a week early, it can be fairly said that this is the Thursday Horror Picture Show's Thanksgiving turkey, but what an entertaining turkey it is. Saying that Bride of the Monster (1955) is the best movie Ed Wood ever made isn’t exactly showering it with praise, since that’s based on the sliding scale of relative claims. In any other context — except that of the true Lugosiphile who understands that to truly love Lugosi is to love bad Bela — this is dire stuff. This is Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff, some kind of unhinged Soviet scientist driven from his homeland and forced to take up residency in a swamp with only stock footage of an octopus and a hulking mute Tibetan named Lobo (Tor Johnson) for company. To while away the time, he continues his experiments for turning humans into “atomic supermen” — with the most economical lab you ever saw. His principle equipment — apart from a refrigerator and a stove — seems to be a photo enlarger and a stainless steel mixing bowl with spark plugs stuck in it. It hardly matters since none of his experiments ever survive the attempt. Everything you may have heard about Bride of the Monster is probably true — deliriously so. A very special classic — of a sort. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Bride of the Monster Thursday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: An up-and-coming pop star, struggling with her rise to fame, falls in love with a humble police officer. The Lowdown: A mature, realistic romance that struggles due to a lack of cinematic style and dramatic tension.
In Brief: This is a make-up showing of The Day Carl Sandburg Died, which the Hendersonville Film Society had slated to run some considerable time ago. The film is a scrupulously detailed, reasonably comprehensive and beautifully presented documentary on the great American poet Carl Sandburg from Asheville filmmaker Paul Bonesteel. Whatever you think you know about Sandburg, I suspect this movie — and the people in it — know more than you do, and it’s quite a pleasure to find out. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Day Carl Sandburg Died Sunday, Nov. 23, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Twenty years after the fact, we get the further adventures of Harry and Lloyd. The Lowdown: The “much-anticipated” (they say) sequel to Dumb and Dumber (1994) is a shapeless retread of things that supposedly worked in the first movie. One of the worst films of 2014.
In Brief: Exempting the multi-director film Stimulantia (1967), Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968) follows his equally disturbing Persona (1966) and is stylistically and tonally very similar. Why Hour of the Wolf is classified as a horror-drama and Persona as a drama is a matter for debate. Both are nightmarish. Both deal (as does a lot of Bergman) with identity and the effects of isolation. But Hour of the Wolf — which is basically about an artist (and by extension, his wife) going insane on a lonely island — is steeped in the language of the horror film, with its Gothic trappings and collection of grotesque characters, in a way that Persona is not. You can, if you choose, ignore the horror content of Persona, but Hour of the Wolf is another matter. Yes, it’s art house horror, but it’s horror all the same — and creepier than most horror pictures. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Hour of the Wolf Friday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
The Story: Activist documentary on whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The Lowdown: Clearly — and unquestioningly — in the pro-Snowden camp, this film lacks balance, which is expected in this type of movie. But it also tries to create urgency with a story where we already know the ending (such as it is). Worthy, but a good bit shy of greatness.
In Brief: Will Rogers once called John Ford’s Judge Priest the best movie he ever made. Of course, he was promoting the film when he said that. Whether or not it’s quite true, it’s easily his most controversial — and most problematic for modern viewers. The story — adapted from the writings of American humorist and occasional actor Irvin S. Cobb — takes place in a heavily romanticized 19th-century small town in Kentucky where the Civil War and the Confederacy are very much a part of everyday life. In fact, most of the characters — including Rogers’ title character — are Confederate veterans. It can be easy to take this undeniably sentimental and sympathetic approach to the Confederacy at face value — especially with Stepin Fetchit (here given special billing) as Rogers’ servant and confidante, Jeff Poindexter — and think of the movie as racist and reactionary. And to some degree it is, but this is Ford, and nothing is as easy as it seems. The film — while clearly celebrating a glamorized view of the Old South — lays bare the hypocrisy, pomposity and bigotry that lies beneath the outward gentility of this world. Judge Priest himself is a champion of the disenfranchised and the social outcasts — a man who honors the glorified past but recognizes its shortcomings and injustices. Take it in the context of its time and as a fairly major work of a major filmmaker. The Asheville Film Society will screen Judge Priest Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: Fact-based story of Iranian-born, Canada-based journalist Maziar Bahari’s imprisonment and torture by the government of Iran. The Lowdown: The hook here is that this is the writing-directing debut of Jon Stewart. The results are a mixed bag, with moments of greatness that aren’t enough to make the film itself great. It is, however, an interesting film and worth a look.
In Brief: For their final Budget Big Screen film of 2014 (the free Tuesday and Thursday showings will continue through the winter and the BBS series will return in the spring), the Asheville Film Society is running Charles Chaplin’s first talkie, The Great Dictator (1940). Chaplin held out against talking pictures longer than anyone — feeling that dialogue would kill his Little Tramp character, but this was something different. While vestiges of the Tramp were certainly evident in his Jewish Barber character, the larger thrust here was Chaplin’s satire on Adolf Hitler — here presented by Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel, the great dictator of the title. It was perhaps an act of revenge of a sort, since Hitler had co-opted Chaplin’s mustache. But there’s more here — much more. Chaplin had something to say, and he would use his newfound voice to say it. His Hynkel is an amazing caricature of Hitler — the garbled phony German speeches sound like the real thing — and represents some of Chaplin’s finest comedic moments. However there’s a deeper — frankly terrifying — aspect to this bold film, which is brazenly set in the period “between two world wars” — something that in 1940 was inevitable, but which was rarely expressed openly. It is Chaplin at his best and bravest — a genuine classic of film by one of its greatest masters at the height of his power. The Asheville Film Society is showing The Great Dictator Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina Asheville as part of the Budget Big Screen series. Admission is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public. Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther will introduce the film.
In Brief: Fritz Lang’s American films tend to be pretty hit or miss, but this adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel that he made for Paramount is definitely in the hit category. Lang and screenwriter Seton I. Miller have stripped the story of its deeper implications — like a lot of Greene’s work, the novel is drenched in Catholic guilt — and turned it into the kind of wild and woolly melodrama Lang so loved and so thrived on. Ray Milland stars as Stephen Neale, a man fresh out of a stint in an insane asylum for the mercy killing of his wife. On a whim, while waiting for his train back to London, Neale wanders into a church fete where as luck — and the dictates of this kind of story — would have it, he accidentally gives the code phrase that causes him to be given the information that allows him to win a cake that’s being raffled. Of course, this is no ordinary cake, and he soon finds himself under attack by a bogus blind man (Eustace Wyatt) — who, along with the cake, is blown up in a Nazi air raid. From this, Neale is plunged into a world of spies, seances, duplicitous “friends” — and is set up on a murder charge. The only way to clear himself is to expose these spies and find out what exactly was hidden in that cake. There’s a romantic interest in the form of Paramount contract player Marjorie Reynolds and a large portion of Hitchcockian comedy. It’s all fast and breezy — and fairly implausible — entertainment from a director in his element. The Asheville Film Society will screen Ministry of Fear Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: Joyeux Noël (2005) is a pretty good movie with something like a great one buried inside it. The trick is getting to that movie. The premise comes from an actual historical event — here, greatly enlarged and romanticized — in WWI where warring soldiers in “no man’s land” called a very unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and fraternized with the enemy. As a story, it’s a good one, and — despite its embellishments, easy message and fermenting melodrama — it plays well. It has everything needed to make an effective “feel good” antiwar picture of the crowd-pleasing variety. And I’ve no doubt that many people will find it just that. I can overlook its shameless manipulation and pushy sentiment, but I have more trouble with the first 30 or so minutes of the movie that get us to the central event. Never have I seen such a ragtag collection of WWI movie clichés. I kept thinking I wasn’t even looking at new footage, but an assemblage of clips from movies I saw 40-50 years ago. It made for pretty tough sledding to get to the much better, more interesting story the film wanted to tell. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Joyeux Noël Sunday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Fiend Without a Face (1958) is mostly known for its ambulatory — and occasionally leaping — “brain monsters” — and with good reason. This English-made — but set in Canada to make it seem more American and more exportable to the States — sci-fi horror thriller is one of the minor gems of 1950s B cinema. It clearly leans on the success of the Quatermass movies — 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment (The Creeping Unknown) and 1957’s Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space) — in both tone and approach. Though it takes a while to get to its big set-piece ending, the film boasts a consistently creepy atmosphere and unsettling mood for its entire length. The selling point, however, is pretty clearly conveyed by the film’s tag line: “New Horrors! Mad Science Spawns Evil Fiends! ... Taking form before your horrified eyes!” This is undeniable, but they don’t take visible form until the film’s climax — invisible fiends being considerably more economical, you know. But when these crawling brain monsters — complete with antennae and a kind of spinal column they use to inch along (thanks to stop frame animation) — the film becomes that rarest of things: a 1950s horror that really delivers the goods — and surprisingly graphically. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Fiend Without a Face Thursday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: A boy, his inflatable robot and his friends track down the person who stole his invention and caused the death of his brother. The Lowdown: Wonderful to look at, blessed with one terrific character and boasting a good deal of honest sentimentality, Big Hero 6 is brought down a notch by a well-worn plot and a desire to be a big superhero effort.
The Story: A teen with dreams of becoming a great jazz drummer must survive his maniacal music teacher. The Lowdown: While it’s little more than your standard coming-of-age/chase-your-dreams type of drama (with considerably more swearing and jazz), the film is elevated with a perfect, expert climax that alone is worth admission.
The Story: The only hope for a dying Earth is the discovery of an inhabitable planet that may — or may not — lie on the other side of a wormhole. The Lowdown: A deeply flawed film that tries to be something more than it can manage, but it’s still an entertaining work of considerable intelligence.