In Brief: Riding on the artistic success of his 400-plus minute War and Peace (1966), Soviet director Sergey Bondarchuk was handed this English-language multinational production of more tractable length but equal spectacle. It was a huge flop when it appeared in 1970 — perhaps because spectacle was its only real selling point. And on that basis, it is impressive. Otherwise, well, we get Rod Steiger as a very sweaty, very Method-acting Napoleon — and while that's a spectacle in itself, it's not of the desirable kind. Christopher Plummer's coolly detached Duke of Wellington fares better, but the film's basically a plodding affair of doubtful practical value — apart from its sheer size. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Waterloo Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: After the death of their father, four siblings return home to deal with his death and their own pasts. The Lowdown: A flimsy, dull look at modern life, through the lens of vaguely sad middle-class Americans that says nothing new.
In Brief: Though largely denigrated at the time of its release in 1965 as inferior to A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Richard Lester’s second film built around The Beatles, Help! has been pretty completely vindicated by time. It has also been championed by no less a figure on the film scene than Martin Scorsese, who has compared the film to the works of Truffaut, Antonioni, Godard and Fellini, calling it “just as exciting.” Taken with A Hard Day’s Night, Help! was a cheerful and cheeky death knell for traditional standards of well-crafted filmmaking from the previous decade. It was a youth film — a rock ‘n’ roll film — that actually spoke to youth on their own terms, putting forth a cry for freedom — both artistic and personal — in fun terms that no one had ever seen before. The Asheville Film Society will screen Help! Tuesday, Sept. 30, 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: Reptilicus (1961) is probably the best film Sidney Pink ever made. And if you've seen it, you will realize the enormity of that statement. It's also the best giant monster movie ever to come out of Denmark. It's also the only one, so that doesn't keep it from being easily the most laughably bad giant monster movie ever made, which is its major charm. The title horror is so poorly conceived that even Toho technicians — nay, even the guys who created The Giant Claw (1957) — must have laughed. That it spits green radioactive slime is a plus. It must be seen to believed. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Reptilicus Thursday, Sept. 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: A podcast host falls into the clutches of a surgically-inclined madman who proceeds to transform him into a walrus. The Lowdown: Every bit as screwy as it sounds, Tusk gets high marks for novelty and chutzpah, but wears out its welcome with excessive footage. However, it's certainly worth a look for genre fans and Kevin Smith admirers.
The Story: A look at a young couple's marriage as they struggle to find themselves in the wake of a tragedy. The Lowdown: A beautifully cast, literate, perceptive film that recognizes the power of suggestion and ambiguity. Definitely a must-see drama for discerning viewers.
The Story: An escaped convict terrorizes a woman home alone. The Lowdown: For such a sleazy concept, the outcome is especially tedious, something that doesn’t do much for the general dunderheaded character of the script.
In Brief: Minor Werner Herzog, but make no mistake, Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) is still Herzog, and any movie by cinema's most idiosyncratic — sometimes just short of lunatic — filmmaker is worth at least one look. It's a kind of shaggy tale of the crimes against the Aborigines by the Australian government — in this case, involving the destruction of one of their sacred grounds by a mining company. Of course, since this is Herzog, the entire mythology of the green ants is palpable nonsense made up by the filmmaker. The whole thing is rather slight, but some moments transcend the thin and somewhat hackneyed premise. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Where the Green Ants Dream Friday, Sept. 19, 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: The fourth — and last really good — entry in Universal's long-running Frankenstein series is also the first one without Boris Karloff as The Monster. In his stead we have Universal's new all-purpose horror star Lon Chaney, Jr. (who would eventually have a go at nearly all of the studio's monsters). While he's no Karloff, he doesn't try to be and presents the character in new terms. A slick, compact script (this is 30 minutes shorter than its cumbersome predecessor) helps, but it's really Bela Lugosi reprising his Ygor role — along with the Hans J. Salter score and solid production values — that sells the movie. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Ghost of Frankenstein Thursday, Sept. 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.
The Story: An aging gay couple lose their apartment and are forced to live apart. The Lowdown: An absolutely beautiful, quietly intense, moving love story about love and marriage that is nothing short of a small masterpiece. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are sublime, and so is this poignant, tender film. A pure must-see.
In Brief: Reasonably efficient — but pretty unnecessary — remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 classic, the 1979 The Lady Vanishes boasts a good performance from Cybill Shepherd, some nice supporting turns and extremely good process work to give the illusion of being on a moving train. On the other hand, Elliott Gould has no business being in a period piece, and the almost exact duplication of the Hitchcock film's screenplay makes it all pretty superfluous. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Lady Vanishes Sunday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: An over-privileged family has a bad Labor Day weekend when the whole gang gets together. The Lowdown: Tone-deaf, tin-eared drama about largely unlikable people with lots of money and a lot of self-indulgent problems.
In Brief: With apologies to Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight (1932) is far and away the best of all Maurice Chevalier-Jeanette MacDonald musical comedies — and one of my top three films of all time. The combination of Mamoulian's nonstop inventiveness, a barrage of terrific Rodgers and Hart songs (four of which became standards), wonderful supporting players (including Myrna Loy as an overt nymphomaniac) and its two stars giving career-best performances make it one of the most exhilarating entertainments ever made. The sly and witty — and very pre-code — screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, George Marion, Jr., and Waldemar Young — doesn't hurt, and neither does that luminous 1930s Paramount sophistication. The Asheville Film Society will screen Love Me Tonight Tuesday, Sept. 23, 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 marine hospital struggles to find a partner for a tailless dolphin after her surrogate mother passes away. The Lowdown: Innocuous, dull familycentric drama that’s the kind of pap better suited for basic cable.
In Brief: It's the picture where Alfred Hitchcock introduced the concept of an innocent man on the run from both the police and the bad guys while trying to prove his innocence. It's also the movie with the very first of Hitchcock's ice-blonde leading ladies. And The 39 Steps (1935) can still hold its own with the director's later variations on these elements. In fact, The 39 Steps ranks up there with the greatest thrillers of all time. It was easily Hitchcock's most accomplished film at the time — the movie where everything came together. There's not a lazy composition, a wasted shot or an awkward cut in its entire 87-minute running time. The story is basic — Robert Donat trying to clear himself of a murder by exposing a network of spies — but the execution and the screenplay are anything but basic. The screenplay is one of the first to present the romantic leads in terms of screwball comedy, and the chemistry of stars Donat and Madeleine Carroll could scarcely be better. It's fast, fun and thrilling — as a suspense yarn and as filmmaking. The Asheville Film Society is showing The 39 Steps Wednesday, Sept. 17, 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.
The Story: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go on another tour of upscale restaurants — this time in Italy. The Lowdown: Similar in most respects to the original The Trip, this sequel fills all its expected requirements, but has a much more pronounced undercurrent of sadness that makes for a richer experience.
In Brief: Sometimes referred to as "the red brick Hamlet," Tony Richardson's Hamlet (1969) is unusual in that it manages to turn Shakespeare's play into a quirky personal work. It's not only radical in that Richardson cuts the play to a brisk 117 minutes, but because it's a Hamlet very much of its time, with its flower child Ophelia and its theater troupe who seem to have wandered over from a performance of Marat/Sade. On the other hand, the decision to shoot the whole thing in the Round House made it necessary to present the entire film in close-ups and medium shots, giving it a claustrophobic air that's somewhat reminiscent of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). The Hendersonville Film Society will show Hamlet Sunday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Complex crime yarn about a Chechen-owned bar used as a money drop slated to be robbed on Super Bowl night. The Lowdown: Wonderfully well-cast with a pleasingly involved story, The Drop is certainly a good film, but not the great one its writing, directing and acting pedigree suggests it could have been.
In Brief: It's a double dose of vampires (well, sort of) at the Thursday Horror Picture Show with Frank R. Strayer's The Vampire Bat (1933) and Sam Newfield's Dead Men Walk (1943). The Vampire Bat is an atmospheric cheapie that takes full advantage of its better-than-average cast and its rented Universal Pictures sets. It creaks a little, and the solution to the film's vampire murders is something of a letdown, but it's one of the best 1930s indie horrors. Sam Newfield's Dead Men Walk is pure 1940s trash horror, but it's rather special in that it gives you two George Zuccos — a good one and a bad one — for the price of one, and it provides the great Zucco with some choice lines in the bargain. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Vampire Bat and Dead Men Walk Thursday, Sept. 11, 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: If you can overlook the feeling that the Lina Wertmüller of the 1970s would likely have sneered in contempt at her own 1992 film Ciao, Professore! it's possible to enjoy the film on its own slight terms. It's really nothing more than an Italian-flavored To Sir, with Love (1967) with third-graders rather than high school students. The problems are different because of the ages of the kids, the tone-dictating setting, and the lack of a Lulu theme song, but the films are much the same. It's entertaining, and it gets points for a mildly unexpected ending, but don't expect classic Lina Wertmüller. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Ciao, Professore! Friday, Sept. 12, 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: The unexpected success of Barcelona (1994) helped secure the making of Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco (1998), Stillman's most expensive and elaborate film. This time his film is set in the early 1980s — right when disco is breathing its last and the club that all the characters flock to is on the verge of being closed for illegal activities. You don't have to like disco to love the movie, however, because it taps into the inherent sadness of the end of an era and the passing of youth. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Last Days of Disco Tuesday, Sept. 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.