Movie Reviews

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Starring: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr., George Macready

The Alligator People

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In Brief: Yes, it's got a ridiculous title — and boasts an even more ridiculous, yet utterly charming, monster — but Roy Del Ruth's The Alligator People is actually one of the better horror movies of the 1950s. The script by Orville H. Hampton is tightly constructed and reasonably literate (within the limits of the concept), and the acting is good. The real selling point, however, is Hollywood veteran Del Ruth's utterly professional handling of the material. He and the cast keep admirably straight faces in a tale of a young woman (Beverly Garland) discovering that her new husband (Richard Crane) is mutating into ... well, an alligator thanks to a misguided medical experiment by a refreshingly not mad scientist (George Macready). Plus, there's a booze-soaked performance from Lon Chaney Jr., a kind of backwoods Captain Hook, who is obsessed with shooting alligators (not that he ever hits one) in revenge for one of the critters inhospitably eating his hand. A lot of fun and better than it should be. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Alligator People Thursday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six  at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
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Starring: Nicolas Cage, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray, Lea Thompson, Nicky Whelan

Left Behind

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The Story: After people disappear due to the rapture, those left behind must deal with the chaos and aftermath. The Lowdown: A goofy, cheap, idiotic thriller with a disappointingly restrained Nicolas Cage performance at its center.
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kôji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza

Babel

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In Brief: Alejandro González Iñárritu and his writing partner Guillermo Arriaga made their bid to move into the mainstream with Babel (2006), a film that was nothing if not ambitious. Taking their standard approach of multiple stories that ultimately connect to create a larger picture, they moved a step further by making the stories global — the U.S., Mexico, Morocco and Japan. They also attempted to become grander in terms of theme, trying to create a movie that examines the difficulty humans have in communicating with each other. And in the main, they succeed. But at what? They made a film that’s more to be admired than liked, more to be thought about than felt. It’s a good film — maybe close to a great one — but one that I have no desire to revisit. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Babel Friday, Oct. 10, 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
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Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens

Gone Girl

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The Story: When a man's wife goes missing, the attention shifts from sympathetic to suspicion that he murdered her. The Lowdown: Deeply cynical, darkly funny, sometimes brutal, very powerful filmmaking that may make you a little queasy, but will almost certainly entertain you to no end.
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Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O'Malley

Annabelle

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The Story: A young couple are menaced by a creepy doll that's possessed by a demon. The Lowdown: Fairly perfunctory horror that purports to be the origin story of the doll seen early on in last year's The Conjuring. There are a few good shocks, but a lack of atmosphere and a truly awful script pretty much negate them.
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Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, Reginald Denny / Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Dennis Hoey

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror / Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

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In Brief: These are the first two movies in Universal's famous Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The studio opted to bring the duo back by streamlining and updating the concept. Instead of costly period pieces, they would make Holmes and Watson contemporary and build a series of classy B-pictures around them. So the debut entry, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, found Holmes tackling fifth columnists working against England through a broadcaster calling himself the Voice of Terror. Slick, quick moving and shamelessly propagandistic, it caught on with the public, paving the way for the superior Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, where the series hit its stride. After all, if Holmes fighting the Nazis was good, Holmes fighting Professor Moriarty (Lionel Atwill oozing malevolence) and the Nazis was even better. It was less of a propaganda piece, had a better sense of the characters and benefited from director Roy William Neill, who would helm the remaining ten films in the series. Neill brought a strong sense of atmosphere to the series that made the films look more expensive than they were. His approach defined the series and made Rathbone and Bruce the defining Holmes and Watson for a generation. The Asheville Film Society will screen Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.  
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Starring: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon

My Old Lady

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The Story: A down-on-his-luck failed writer inherits a Parisian apartment from his late father, only to find it inhabited by a mother and daughter, who — due to a quirk in French law — he must also take care of until the mother’s death. The Lowdown: A surprisingly dark look at the effects our parents — and their choices — have on children, but one that’s tonally uneven and a bit of a mess.
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Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer

Hector and the Search for Happiness

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The Story: A disgruntled psychiatrist goes on a journey — literal and spiritual — to try to understand what makes people happy. The Lowdown: It's too long, takes too long finding its footing and doesn't offer any new answers, but Hector and the Search for Happiness is a pleasant little movie that wears its heart on its sleeve and isn't afraid to be a little corny, making for a pleasing, likable trip to the movies.
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Starring: Robert Powell, David Warner, Eric Porter, Karen Dotrice, John Mills, Ronald Pickup

The Thirty-Nine Steps

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In Brief: Often touted as being a faithful adaptation of John Buchan's novel, Don Sharp's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978) — the only version of the story where 39 is spelled out — might better be called "more faithful than the earlier versions." As a film, it's not in the same universe as Hitchcock's 1935 version, but it's slick fun that seems more inclined to want to cash in on the popularity of the Agatha Christie films than anything else – but with a lot less budget. Robert Powell makes a good lead — though he lacks the humor of Robert Donat in the Hitchcock film — and the rest of the cast certainly help. The most distinctive aspect of this version may be the decision to play it like a thrill comedy, especially in its climax with Powell dangling from the face of Big Ben. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Thirty-Nine Steps Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
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Starring: Jeremy Renner, Robert Patrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Sheen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia

Kill the Messenger

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The Story: Fact-based story of reporter Gary Webb, who linked the CIA to using the drug trade to fund Nicaraguan militias. The Lowdown: Slick, glossy crusading reporter movie with a strong lead performance, but also lacking in being anything other than a basic example of its genre.
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Starring: (Voices) Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade

The Boxtrolls

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The Story: A status-seeking villain demonizes and plans on destroying a peaceful community of harmless trolls to achieve his goals. The Lowdown: Not quite up to the two previous films from the Laika studios, but with more than enough twisted creativity to make it very worthwhile.
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Starring: Paul Henreid, Lizabeth Scott, André Morell, Mary Mackenzie, John Wood

Stolen Face

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In Brief: Undeniably entertaining, but laughably preposterous lightweight film noir from the pre-horror days of Hammer Films, Stolen Face (1952) is fairly typical of its period. Like many British films of the 1950s, it trades on the presence of a Hollywood star who could longer afford to be too choosy, but whose name still had enough selling power at the box office to make the film exportable to the U.S. With Stolen Face, Hammer had two such stars — Paul Henreid and Lizabeth Scott — to dress up the silly story of a plastic surgeon who transforms a scarred notorious criminal into a dead ringer for the woman he loved and lost. This works about as well as you might suppose and becomes even more complicated when his lost love comes back. Yes, it really is as unlikely as it sounds. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Stolen Face Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
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Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye

Dracula

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In Brief: The Thursday Horror Picture Show opens October — the month of Halloween — with Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), the movie from which the first wave of the horror film stems. To call it the horror picture that started it all would not be overstating the case. It set the tone and style for what was to come. Yes, later films smoothed out some of its more awkward moments, and better horror movies would come after it, but that takes nothing away from Dracula's accomplishments, nor does it alter the fact that it's the movie that gave the world Bela Lugosi as Dracula in a performance that is just as strange and compelling today as it ever was. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Dracula Thursday, Oct. 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.
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Starring: Sidney Toler, Sheila Ryan, Sen Yung, Ethel Griffies / Sidney Toler, Douglas Dumbrille, Sen Yung, Ethel Griffies

Dead Men Tell / Castle in the Desert

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In Brief: It's a double feature of Charlie Chan mysteries from the final days of the series at 20th Century Fox, and unlike most last films in a series, the Fox Chans went out on a high note — thanks in no small part to the stylishly atmospheric direction of former painter Harry Lachman. (Lachman himself was only a few movies away from retiring.) Both films star Sidney Toler, who had succeeded Warner Oland as the famous detective in 1938 upon Oland's death, and both find him helped or hindered by Sen Yung as "No. 2 son" Jimmy Chan. The first, Dead Men Tell (1941), is the more atmospheric of the two, but the second — and final film in the series — Castle in the Desert (1942) is probably the better mystery. Both are compact — running a minute or two over an hour — fast paced, slickly made fun. Perfect examples of the artistry of the studio system. The Asheville Film Society will screen Dead Men Tell and Castle in the Desert Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
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Starring: (Voices) Doudou Gueye Thiaw, Maimouna N'Diaye, Awa Sene Sarr

Kirikou and the Sorceress

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In Brief: There are modest pleasures to be found in French animator Michel Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), but viewers who are not especially interested in French animation or African folklore (as filtered through the filmmaker's vision) may find its pleasures a little too modest. The film recounts the story of Kirikou, who is born — actually, he demands to be born — with something like adult mental faculties. He's more than precocious and in infancy sets himself against an evil sorceress who is terrorizing his village.  Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Kirikou and the Sorceress Friday, Oct. 3, 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
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Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis

The Equalizer

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The Story: A home improvement store employee with a mysterious past takes on the Russian mob. The Lowdown: An incredibly uneven movie that oscillates between goofy, vaguely competent and out-and-out dumb, while managing to at least be a mildly entertaining distraction.
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Starring: Juliette Lewis, Jonny Weston, Josh Hopkins, Cybill Shepherd, Lucy Owen

Kelly & Cal

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The Story: A 30-something housewife becomes involved with a boy half her age. The Lowdown: From a technical standpoint, this is very well crafted — especially for an indie — and its leads are outstanding from start to finish. Unfortunately, it is otherwise populated with nothing but caricatures, who bring it all down a notch.
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Starring: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Joanna Gleason

The Skeleton Twins

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The Story: Following a failed suicide attempt, a gay man goes to stay with his equally damaged sister in their old hometown. The Lowdown: This is how comedy-drama is done. There are a couple of false steps, but overall this is a splendid film with terrific star turns from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
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Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Delphine Seyrig, Claude Jade, Michel Lonsdale

Stolen Kisses

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In Brief: The third film in François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series, Stolen Kisses (1968) is probably the best after the original, which none of the sequels topped or even equaled. It's lightweight (a curiously insubstantial affair considering the political and cultural turmoil surrounding its making) and somewhat rambling, but very appealing and still embracing something of the New Wave style that the original film, The 400 Blows (1959), helped define. Essentially, it just follows the adventures of Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) when he's discharged from the army — adventures mostly concerning a variety of odd jobs and his romantic affairs, which, as usual, are very disordered. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Stolen Kisses Friday, Sept. 26, 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
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Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson

The Maze Runner

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The Story: YA sci-fi about a group of boys trapped at the center of a maze. The Lowdown: Better than average for its type, but not without problems of its own, The Maze Runner still manages to create a world of disturbing menace with better than expected characters.