The Story: A group of gay activists in Great Britain set out to help striking coal miners during the 1984 strike — whether the miners like it or not. The Lowdown: An absolutely pitch-perfect comedy-drama with a remarkable ensemble cast, a witty, literate script and a strong cinematic approach. There is absolutely no excuse for missing this one.
In Brief: Note carefully that this week's film shows at 8:45 p.m., not 8 p.m. It matters very little that George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941) is perhaps most notable for assembling one of the greatest casts of any horror movie and then giving them nothing much to do. It’s still the movie that has become ingrained in pop culture as the essential werewolf movie. Lon Chaney Jr.’s turn as Larry Talbot — the lycanthrope of the title — became the role that would always be the centerpiece of Chaney’s career. Jack Pierce’s werewolf makeup became the standard look for a werewolf. Atmospheric photography by Joseph A. Valentine, a great musical score (from Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner) and a brisk pace sealed the deal. The fact that most kids discover horror pictures around the age of puberty has kept the torch burning, because The Wolf Man is the perfect horror film for that age group. Nostalgia has done the rest, but the film is certainly not without merit. It’s a horror essential. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Wolf Man Thursday, Oct. 23, at 8:45 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: Misanthropic drunk plays babysitter and mentor to a young boy. The Lowdown: Yes, it's almost alarmingly unmysterious — a feel-good crowd-pleaser tailored to the talents of star Bill Murray. You know where it's going from the onset, but the trip is still very enjoyable.
In Brief: Somewhere on the border between Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1929), David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) and David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) lies Darren Aronofsky's debut film, Pi (1998). It clearly draws its surrealism from the first, its tone from the second and its "body horror" from the third. Yet this extremely strange, sometimes maddening film is somehow its very own beast — one that announced the arrival of a filmmaker to reckon with, and one that pointed the way to the Aronofsky films that followed. This story of a theoretical mathematician driving himself insane — possibly with the help of some very strange outsiders who may or may not exist — by trying to explain everything in terms of mathematic sequences is undeniably cruder — and more deliberately impenetrable — than Aronofsky's later films. Still, it's also the work of the same sensibility. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Pi Friday, Oct. 24, 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
In Brief: This is the 1939 Bob Hope version of the venerable old dark-house mystery The Cat and the Canary, and while it’s not as stylistically impressive as the 1927 Paul Leni silent, it’s probably an all-around more successful film. Strangely, considering it’s a Bob Hope movie (the one that made him a star, in fact), the comedy element is less intrusive here than the broad slapstick of the silent. The film follows its 1920s source play pretty closely: the will reading at midnight in an isolated creepy mansion, an escaped homicidal maniac called “The Cat,” an heiress being driven insane by the next relative in line for the estate. It all revolves around lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) assembling the possible heirs to the Norman estate at the house at midnight 10 years after the death of Cyrus Norman as per the instructions of the old boy. Naturally, the will contains one of those clauses providing for an alternative heir that places the leading lady in mortal peril — or at least her sanity, since insanity also disqualifies her. Toss in a maniac on the loose — “He has sharp teeth and long fingers and fingernails like claws and when he’s violent he crawls around on all fours like a cat” — and a missing necklace, and you have the recipe for a solid 72 minutes of entertainment. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Cat and the Canary Tuesday, Oct. 28, 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: Though pretty obviously inspired by Julien Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy (1943) — the recurring dream business is a little too much to take as coincidence — the multidirector British horror anthology Dead of Night (1945) is the go-to movie as the source for all subsequent horror anthologies. Of course, since it's a portmanteau film — and one made by four directors — it follows that some stories work better than others. It also now feels just a little overrated in general, but it's still good — at least when it's on its game — and it has a creepiness that is not easily dismissed. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dead of Night Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Animated fantasy grounded in the concept of the Day of the Dead. The Lowdown: Its actual plot may be fairly standard love triangle stuff, but The Book of Life's nonstop array of stunning images and invention — not to mention the freshness of its cultural identity — more than transcends its basic plot.
In Brief: A curious, occasionally fascinating, but unfortunately uneven look at the life and work of musician Nick Cave, as seen through the eyes — or more accurately, the memory — of Cave himself. Like so many documentaries, 20,000 Days on Earth depends mostly on your interest in Cave, his music and his thoughts on life, art and himself. Occasional striking images and an interesting — but eventually too thin — motif of documenting one's life make for an original angle at which to tackle the documentary form, but this is ultimately a movie for fans, who should be easily satisfied. The film plays for one show on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Fine Arts Theatre.
The Story: A post-D-Day war story about a tank crew making their way through Germany. The Lowdown: Violent, bloody, straightforward old-school war movie that overcomes its shortcomings in its battle scenes — with help from three of its five lead actors.
In Brief: The Asheville Film Society is having a special Halloween Budget Big Screen Showing of Brian De Palma's horror classic Carrie (1976) on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Actually, the AFS attempted to do this last year, but there was a moratorium on the film so that it couldn't compete with that lousy remake that was then in theaters. This, however, is the real thing — the ground-breaking, Oscar-nominated original being presented in all its glory from a new DCP remastered print. It is that rarest of things — a great horror movie that so transcends its genre that it's simply a great film. But it is unmistakably a horror film with everything that implies — and it's one that redefined much about the genre by presenting things in a manner no other film had. If you've never seen Carrie, it's high time you did. If you've never seen it in a theater with an audience, that's as good a reason, because it's a completely different experience. The Asheville Film Society is showing Carrie Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. in 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.
The Story: Old high school sweethearts reunited after the death of their mentor must look back on — and finally face — their past. The Lowdown: Run-of-the-mill goopy, melodramatic romance from the master of the form, novelist Nicholas Sparks.
The Story: A hotshot defense attorney is forced into defending his estranged dad’s murder charge. The Lowdown: A gooey mess of shameless Oscar bait clichés that’s watchable and little else.
The Story: The story of how Dracula got the way he is. The Lowdown: Slapdash, but slick, horror done in comic book terms. Too little horror, too much CGI — and yet another attempt to make a great villain sympathetic with an origin story. Phooey.
In Brief: According to the credits, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich were the stars of Billy Wilder's excellent film version of Agatha Christie's hit play Witness for the Prosecution. But let's face it, the movie belongs to Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfrid Robards, the ailing but wily barrister defending Power on a murder charge. The premise finds Sir Wilfrid — with bossy nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester) in tow — fresh out of the hospital after a heart attack. In theory, he is only to handle quiet, easy civil cases, but this quickly proves to be purely a theory when — mostly because he's after a forbidden cigar — he hears the case of Leonard Vole (Power), an American war hero charged with murdering a 56-year-old widow for her money. His only slender hope is the testimony of his wife (Dietrich), who, as things turn out, is not his wife (owing to a previous marriage) and ends up being the title witness for the prosecution. It's a clever, twisty tale with a surprise ending that the producers were very protective of (the film ends with a voice-over asking viewers not to reveal the ending). Dietrich is excellent, and so is the supporting cast. The only weak link is Power, who looks too old and frankly sick for the part. But the real draw here is Laughton. The Asheville Film Society will screen Witness for the Prosecution Tuesday, Oct. 21, 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: Erle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls (1932) is without a doubt the grimmest and most completely horrific of all “golden age” horror films. That’s a statement that few are going to argue with. (It was banned — much to the delight of H.G. Wells, who hated what the filmmakers had done with his source novel — in the UK until 1958.) Its horrors are more straightforward and more in-your-face than anything else of the time. It's a nasty bit of goods, but it’s a magnificent nasty bit of goods. This ultrastylish tale of the sadistic Dr. Moreau and his island full of half-human horrors (led by Bela Lugosi) he’s made from animals — not to mention his plans to breed one of them with a shipwreck victim (Richard Arlen) — is just as slick as it is “sick,” and one of the absolute essentials of the first wave of horror movies. Kathleen Burke (billed as The Panther Woman) got her role as the sexy half-human Lota by winning Paramount's "Panther Woman of America" contest. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Island of Lost Souls Thursday, Oct. 16, 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 put-upon young boy gets his wish that his family finds out what a bad day is like when they're on the receiving end. The Lowdown: A very long 80 minutes of obvious slapstick and loud performances pitched to the family-friendly crowd, which should demand better.
The Story: Documentary about a very peculiar art forger — one who makes gifts of his forgeries to altogether-too-credulous museums. The Lowdown: Immensely likable little documentary about a singularly strange man with a penchant for gifting museums with his forgeries of the works of famous artists. It's pretty indifferent as filmmaking, but its subject and the questions it raises carry it.
In Brief: This debut feature from Iranian director Maryam Shahriar is a specialized film for specialized tastes. Those with a keen interest in Iranian cinema should probably add at least a half-star to my rating. Others might approach this slow-moving, unrelentingly grim movie about a young rural Iranian woman (Altinay Ghelich Taghani), forced into having her head shaved and farmed out to a nearby rugmaker to supervise the weaving of Persian rugs, with caution. In essence, she's been stripped of her sexual identity and sold into slavery (or maybe it's weavery). Basically, it's 90 minutes of hard luck and quiet desperation with a main character who rarely talks. I can't say it isn't well made — though I suspect the Facets DVD does it no favors — but neither can I say it appeals to me. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Daughters of the Sun Friday, Oct. 17, 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: Eight intercut — sometimes connected — stories of life in the age of omnipresent social media. The Lowdown: It's a worthy idea and there are some moments of grace, but this takedown of society losing actual human connection through its online and text messaging simulation of interaction is too unfocused and overstuffed to be the movie it wants to be.
In Brief: Ken Russell's last large-scale theatrical work, The Rainbow (1989) was the most elaborate of the three films he made for producer Dan Ireland at Vestron Pictures. In many ways, it was an attempt to recapture the quality of Women in Love from 20 years earlier. After all, D.H. Lawrence's novel was the book that led to Women in Love. So surrounding himself with a cast he mostly knew and trusted, Russell set out to make a masterpiece. While he didn't quite do that — thanks to a central casting error — he came pretty close and made a beautiful, deeply sensual film, his most ambitious work of the 1980s. What he hadn't reckoned on was the restructuring of Vestron and the closing of their theatrical arm, leaving him with a very good — sometimes great — movie that almost no one got the chance to see. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Rainbow Sunday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Lisi Russell (Mrs. Ken Russell) joins the Asheville Film Society to introduce this special Budget Big Screen showing of Ken Russell's Lisztomania (1975), a movie she was slated to costar in — that is until her mother found out about it. It is hands down the most unrestrained film ever made by the filmmaker — a man not exactly known for restraint. It's a big, outrageous comic strip take on the lives of Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey) and Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas) — with a guest appearance by Ringo Starr as the pope. In other words, it's 19th century musical giants, the rock stars of their day. It has vampires, Adolph Hitler (as the Frankenstein Monster), Nazis, Thor, a mad scientist, Charlie Chaplin, a flame-throwing piano, a rocket ship — everything you could hope for in a musical biopic and more. It is unlike anything you've ever seen. That's a promise. The Asheville Film Society is showing Lisztomania Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in at The Carolina Asheville as part of the Budget Big Screen series. Admission is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public. Special guest Lisi Russell (Ken Russell's widow) will introduce the film with Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.