Movie Reviews

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Starring: (Voices of) Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, Hal Holbrook

Planes: Fire & Rescue

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The Story: A racing champion crop duster goes to fire and rescue school. The Lowdown: Even by the none-too-exacting standards of kiddie fare these days, this is just dire. It isn't funny. It isn't exciting. It ought to have gone straight-to-DVD — assuming it had to go anywhere.
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Starring: Peter Millis, Tracey Johnston-Crum, Art Booth, Russ Wilson, Sam Jillian, Sonia D'Andrea, Joseph Barcia

The Quitters

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In Brief: When local musician Hank Bones couldn't get a stage production of his musical The Quitters, he decided to make a film of it. Cheerfully admitting that he had no experience with film, he dived straight into the project — on a $9,000 budget — and with the help of friends and local actors managed to come up with the film at hand. Interestingly, rather than just present it as a photographed play, Bones shot it more like a movie. As filmmaking it's not exactly remarkable, but it does nicely convey the sense of the show, showcasing the play's clever songs and its gentle satire and is certainly fun. Wedge Brewery will show The Quitters on Saturday, July 26. Films start 15 minutes after sundown.
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Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric

Venus in Fur

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The Story: A seemingly completely inappropriate actress goes out of her way to convince a writer-director that she should star in his new play. The Lowdown: Brilliant, bold filmmaking from a great filmmaker, who proves that at 80, he can still be at the top of his game. It's funny and perceptive and maybe a little terrifying — and just a great, great movie.
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Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe

Sex Tape

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The Story: A married couple accidentally lets their raunchy sex tape escape into the outside world. The Lowdown: A flatly directed, wholly unfunny R-rated comedy that’s devoid of edge, laughs or even titillation.
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Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, James Corden

Begin Again

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The Story:  A jilted singer-songwriter and a washed-up record producer team up to produce an album on their own. The Lowdown: A mostly pleasant but deeply flawed little film that gets by on its stars and a sense of generosity.
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Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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The Story: With humanity nearly wiped out by disease and supersmart apes living in the wilderness, human survivors and their intelligent simian counterparts attempt to build an uneasy alliance. The Lowdown: Deceptively goofy and far too self-important, the attempt to be a thoughtful, intelligent spectacle isn’t enough to give a free pass to what amounts to little less than the usual special effects-heavy summer blockbuster.
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Starring: Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry, Jacques Aubuchon, Jim Mitchum, Keely Smith, Sandra Knight

Thunder Road

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In Brief: Wedge Brewery holds their annual showing of Asheville's own Thunder Road, the 1958 moonshine-running and fast-cars classic — well, a classic of this kind of backwoods-action melodrama. Wedge Brewery will show Thunder Road on Saturday, July 19. Films start 15 minutes after sundown.
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Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko, Katsumasa, Goro Mutsumi

Terror of Mechagodzilla

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In Brief: This is the last of the original series of Godzilla movies — starting with Gojira (Godzilla) in 1954 and ending in 1975 with this — and it's one that does much to right the mistakes of the 1970s entries. Bringing back the director who started it all, Ishiro Honda, and composer Akira Ifukube was a masterstroke. Bear in mind, we are talking about men in rubber suits playing giant monsters causing havoc and having smackdowns. This is not weighty stuff, but for the type of movie it is, this is what you're looking for. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Terror of Mechagodzilla Thursday, July 17 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: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Howard Vernon

Alphaville

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In Brief: Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965) is simply one of the damndest things you're ever likely to see. Godard took a popular noir-ish, pulp fiction  detective, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) and plopped him into a nightmarish sci-fi movie that seems to be part serious, part satire — or possibly one huge practical joke. Is Godard serious or not? Good luck reaching a conclusion on that, but it's kind of fun to try. And that may well be the point. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Alphaville Friday, July 18, 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: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven

The Clearing

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In Brief: The Clearing was partly shot in Asheville, giving it a certain local interest — though I fear that Asheville watchers may be disappointed that there’s nothing very specifically Ashevillian about it. Not that that’s so surprising, since the movie is supposed to be taking place in Pennsylvania, and most of the North Carolina footage appears to be the wooded scenes. The house in the film may also be local, but it isn’t presented in a manner by which you could really tell. I think the first scenes of Willem Dafoe in a parking garage are on the top floor of the one on Wall Street — though subsequent garage shots are curiously not on a top floor. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Clearing Sunday, July 20, 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: Liam Neeson, Maria Bello, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, Moran Atias, James Franco, Kim Basinger

Third Person

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The Story:  Three stories set in three different countries are intercut with each other. The Lowdown: A fascinating, flawed and occasionally maddening film with a terrific cast giving solid performances. It's wildly ambitious — probably too much so — overstuffed, overlong and yet compelling in ways that better films often aren't.
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Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Marlene Siskel

Life Itself

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The Story:  Documentary on movie critic Roger Ebert. The Lowdown: Something of a mixed bag — and one that dodges the hard questions and comes across more like a celebration of its subject than an actual portrait. It nonetheless does a good job of capturing much of the essence of a man who loved the movies.
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Starring: Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke, Derrick Branche, Shirley Anne Field

My Beautiful Laundrette

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In Brief: Since Stephen Frears had a movie up for a Best Picture Oscar — Philomena — last year, it's apt  that his first big hit, My Beautiful Laundrette, should be getting another look. This multicultural, multisexuality comedy-drama-romance kicked off Daniel Day-Lewis' career and made the first mark for a production company called Working Title. It was also a major breakthrough in how gay characters were treated onscreen. And best of all, it's funny, touching and entertaining, too.  The Asheville Film Society will screen My Beautiful Laundrette Tuesday, July 22 , 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: The Four Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont, Lillian Roth, Louis Sorin, Hal Thompson

Animal Crackers

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In Brief: No one and nothing is quite safe at Mrs. Rittenhouse's (Margaret Dumont) swanky Long Island house party when the Marx Brothers show up. Worse, one of them, Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho), is her guest of honor. Zeppo is his secretary and, as usual, mostly fades into the background, while Signor Emmanuel Ravelli (Chico) and his accomplice, The Professor (Harpo), have been hired as musicians. What's bad news for Mrs. Rittenhouse is a lot of fun for the rest of us. There's a sort of a plot about a stolen painting and a mostly unobtrusive romance, but the film is primarily there to showcase the Marxes and some of their most famous routines. It's on the stagebound side, but it hardly matters.  
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Starring: Andrew Lawrence, Gary Busey, C. Thomas Howell, Jillian Rose Reed, Andrew Caldwell

Confessions of a Womanizer

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In Brief: This year's feature winner at the Twin Rivers Media Festival is an extremely likable — mostly due to its energetic cast — sex comedy that benefits to some degree by name performers, Gary Busey and C. Thomas Howell, in key supporting roles. The fact that it's mostly gorgeous looking in bright, pop art colors is another plus. It's a fairly basic romantic comedy about a young man (Andrew Lawrence) who doesn't think he wants a relationship but actually does — if only he was a little better at them. It would probably help if he didn't gravitate toward obvious head-cases. Apart from the presence of a transgendered hooker (Kelly Mantle), there's little here that's surprising, but it's well done and pleasant.  
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Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates, Gary Cole

Tammy

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The Story: After discovering her husband’s infidelity, a down-on-her-luck former fast-food employee and her alcoholic grandmother set off on a road trip. The Lowdown: An ugly, unfunny comedy of the supposedly raunchy R-rated variety that’s little more than noisy and grating.
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Starring: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Dalton Sutton, Camron Owens, Dylan Cole

Hellion

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The Story: Story of a dysfunctional, motherless family in Texas, focused on the older, delinquent son. The Lowdown: An indie-basic tale of disaffected youth and their alcoholic dad in rural Texas. Some aspects are pleasing, but you've seen it all before.
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Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe

The Gorgon

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In Brief: Back in their day, the Hammer horror films were considered to be quite graphic and bloody. Today, they seem positively restrained, but don’t sell the studio at its best short — and Terence Fisher’s The Gorgon (1964) is definitely Hammer at its best. Premise-wise you mightn’t think so, but somehow transporting a monster from Greek mythology to Germany circa 1900 actually works. Of course, realism isn’t exactly a staple of horror, nor is it a staple of Hammer, with its theatricality, its fairy-tale aura and its use of color that evokes the pre-Raphaelite painters. These latter elements, however, can create a potent mix of sinister creepiness, as they do here, especially with the presence of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  
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Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams

Blood Simple

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In Brief: As good as it is on its own merits, Blood Simple worked as the Coens Brothers' announcement of themselves to the moviegoing world — showing off, to the best of their ability on a low budget, exactly what they had to offer the movies. So much of what they indeed proved they did (and do) have to offer is in — even if only in sketchbook form — this one very savvy show-off movie. It constantly draws attention to itself and the filmmakers, showing over and over again how clever and original it is. I can only think of two other films that have been so effectively used a debut in this manner — Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave (1995) and the Wachowski Brothers’ Bound (1996). Here we are 30 years after it first appeared, and it hasn't dated at all. If anything, it's even better than it seemed in 1984.  
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Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ko Ah-sung

Snowpiercer

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The Story: The last remnants of humanity, broken into class structures, are all aboard a super train that endlessly circles the otherwise frozen world — until revolt breaks out. The Lowdown: Brilliant, creative, exciting, suspenseful — and with much more on its mind than the usual blockbuster, Snowpiercer is a front-runner for one of the year's best films.
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Starring: Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm, Ella Wahlestedt

Earth to Echo

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The Story: On their final night living together, three best friends find an extraterrestrial that shadowy government agents are after. The Lowdown: While it has its heart in the right place, this tween adventure flick is far too derivative and far too distracting within the confines of its found footage artifice to be more than passable entertainment.