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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Story: A retired cop and unlicensed detective gets hired to track down a group of sadistic kidnappers who target drug dealers. The Lowdown: A stylish noir detective story that’s both welcomely self-aware and intelligent.
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.