In Brief: It's directed by someone you've never heard of. It stars people you've never heard of. It was promoted with "Alive ... without a body ... fed by an unspeakable horror from hell!" And it's absolutely indefensible as anything other than no-budget cheese that is wildly entertaining for all the wrong reasons. This, after all, is the story of a mad scientist whose fiancée is killed in a car wreck. He responds in the only reasonable way — keeping her head alive in what looks suspiciously like a darkroom tray in his basement lab, right next to the closet where he keeps an ill-tempered failed experiment. His plan, of course, is to find a new body for his beloved — so he goes cruising strippers to find one. A movie of great charm. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Brain That Wouldn't Die Thursday, Aug. 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: While Ingmar Bergman's Shame (1968) is an undeniably powerful work, it's also one of the director's most unrelentingly grim works — and with Bergman, that's saying a lot. In other words, approach with a bit of caution, and don't expect a lot of laughs. It's also not a wholly accessible work. Much that happens — including the source of the tension between the couple at its center — is never explained. In essence, we're watching the disintegration of two human beings caught in their own problems and a war they don't understand. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Shame Friday, Aug. 29, 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 teenage girl with a promising future is in a car wreck with her family, and her out-of-body self has to decide whether to live or not. The Lowdown: Shamelessly manipulative assault on the tear ducts that will work for the excessively sentimental and, possibly, fans of the YA novel from which it's adapted.
In Brief: Festooned with Oscars (including Best Picture), phenomenally popular 26 years ago and undeniably well-made, Barry Levinson's Rain Man (1988) is nonetheless a shamelessly manipulative work, and not one I'd want to visit too often. The story is basically an odd couple buddy road trip — except the buddies (Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise) are estranged brothers, and one of them (Hoffman) is an autistic savant. The only reason for the relationship is that Cruise (always best at playing unlikable) is hoping to get control of the $3 million his father has left in trust for his newfound brother. Your mileage with this will depend a lot on your taste for such stories. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Rain Man Sunday, Aug. 31, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: In one of his finest performances, John Barrymore is cast against type as a Jewish lawyer who has risen from poverty to the top of the legal profession in William Wyler's film of the popular Elmer Rice play, Counsellor at Law (1933). (It was the first film of which Wyler was proud.) The drama centers on Barrymore's carefully built world crashing down when a case from his past threatens to destroy his career, and his less than supportive (and plainly anti-Semitic) wife (Doris Kenyon) opts not to stand by him, but to run off with a younger, more socially acceptable man (Melvyn Douglas). By turns sarcastically funny and heart-wrenchingly tragic, it's a triumph for both star and director. The Asheville Film Society will screen Counsellor at Law Tuesday, Sept. 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.
The Story: Both a sequel and a prequel to the 2005 cult hit. The Lowdown: Not as fresh as the first film, but it's still good unwholesome fun (not for the easily offended) — and it's one terrific-looking movie in the bargain.
In Brief: Nominated for six Oscars (winning three), Roman Polanski's Tess (1979) just might be the director's best film — certainly, it's his most beautiful and lyrical. Dedicated to his late wife, Sharon Tate, the film is also possibly his most deeply personal work. Adapted — pretty faithfully — from Thomas Hardy's 1891 novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the film recounts the tragic life of Tess Durbeyfield (Nastassja Kinski), whose life is marked for all time when she is seduced (raped might be nearer the mark) by a wealthy man. It's at once a strongly romantic work and one that is critical of the way women were treated at the time. An altogether compelling and deeply moving film — and quite possibly the most gorgeously photographed movie of all time. The Asheville Film Society is showing Tess Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m. 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: The Expendables go after one of their own, a nefarious villain long thought dead. The Lowdown: A superbly uneven and overtly uninteresting journey into machismo and stuff blowing up.
In Brief: The next-to-last film in François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) series is also probably the least successful of the lot. It is certainly the slightest and most prone to rambling. The freshness of the "New Wave" was long gone by 1970 when Truffaut made Bed & Board, and the attempt to make this film emulate the off-the-cuff feel of the earlier films sometimes seems just plain unfocused. (Vignettes have been replaced by digressions that go nowhere.) But Bed & Board is not without its charms or its place in the series, even though our "hero" on occasion comes across as a self-absorbed jerk. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Bed & Board Friday, Aug. 22, 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 most famous of all Sherlock Holmes stories gets the Hammer horror treatment — not inappropriate for a tale about a hound from hell — and the results are very good indeed. In fact, this 1959 film may well be the best version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is certainly the most unnerving version and one of the only films to present Holmes (Peter Cushing) as a twitchy, arrogant drug-addict. The well-known story lends itself nicely to the spooky treatment, it looks terrific and the performances could scarcely be bettered. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Hound of the Baskervilles Sunday, Aug. 24, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: A young man in a supposedly utopian society is chosen to receive the forbidden real history of the world. The Lowdown: Imperfect, but largely well-done and much more provocative — even disturbing — than the usual YA dysfunctional society sci-fi.
The Story: An Irish priest is informed (in the confessional) by a parishioner — a victim of sexual abuse by a long dead priest — that he intends to kill the priest to make a statement about the Church. The Lowdown: Part mystery, part black comedy, part tragedy on the nature of faith and redemption, Calvary is a brilliant but deeply disturbing work that's a must-see for those who are up to it.
In Brief: If you could uncork a magnum of Mumm Cordon Rouge champagne and turn it into a movie, what you'd get would be a lot like Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932). It is the sparkling quintessence of sophisticated comedy and stylish filmmaking. It's a cheekily and cheerfully amoral tale of archthief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) — "the man who walked into the bank of Monte Carlo and walked out with the bank of Monte Carlo" — and his equally larcenous girlfriend Lily (Miriam Hopkins), who find themselves in the position of possibly fleecing a glamorous rich widow (Kay Francis). Glossy, funny and as nearly perfect as a film can be. The Asheville Film Society will screen Trouble in Paradise Tuesday, Aug. 26, 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: Yes, it has its problems — an uninspired director, the look of a typically static Hollywood silent, a botched big scene, a bewildering array of different versions — but The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is still the first large-scale American horror film and retains the power to fascinate. Much of this is due to the makeup and performance of Lon Chaney as Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, but don't sell short the sheer size of the production. For anything it doesn't get quite right, it's a film that understands spectacle. Plus, it retains the ability to be exciting — no small feat for a movie that's nearly 90 years old. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Phantom of the Opera Thursday, Aug. 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.
The Story: Two bored pals take up pretending to be cops and become entangled in taking down a crew of mobsters. The Lowdown: Meandering, joyless tedium in the form of a buddy cop comedy.
In Brief: Though shorn of what preview audiences said was its best sequence (Universal clumsily expanded it to a separate feature called Destiny), Julien Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy (1943) — a follow-up to his 1942 portmanteau film, Tales of Manhattan — still has much to recommend it. The fact that this was made at Universal means this is neither as elaborate, nor star-studded as Fox's Tales of Manhattan, but since Flesh and Fantasy has fantastic elements, it was probably a better fit for Universal. The segments are uneven — the curse of the portmanteau format — but each of the three has merit, and the central one with Edward G. Robinson is a standout. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Flesh and Fantasy Sunday, Aug. 17, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Here's a double dose of zombies in a pairing that would likely horrify the makers of I Walked with a Zombie (1943), which is arguably the greatest — and most poetic — zombie movie of all time. Not to take anything away from that film, but, like it or not, Zombies on Broadway (1945) is a wayward — very wayward — sequel, using the same setting, the same Calypso singer (Sir Lancelot) and the same zombie (Darby Jones). Of course, it adds RKO's unasked-for answer to Abbott and Costello (Brown and Carney), Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist and, for good measure, a troublesome capuchin monkey. Whether you consider those last two a bad thing is up to you, but they have little in common with the tone of original. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen I Walked with a Zombie and Zombies on Broadway Thursday, Aug. 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.
The Story: A rash of tornadoes and a team of storm chasers converge on a small town. Havoc and devastation follow. The Lowdown: Almost amazing in its ineptitude and wheezy plotting, Into the Storm offers lots of CGI destruction, five cents' worth of dialogue and a lot of dullness between the devastation.
In Brief: A minor — and rarely revived — John Ford film, Four Men and a Prayer (1938) is little more than a studio assignment picture, but it's interesting to see just how personal Ford makes aspects of it. He brings terrific artistry and craftsmanship to what is really a fairly silly globe-trotting romantic mystery that functions mostly as a Loretta Young vehicle and showcase for new Fox star Richard Greene. It's certainly no classic, but it's great fun — and a nice example of Ford's professionalism. Think of it as a kind of vacation before Ford got down to Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln and Drums Along the Mohawk the following year. The Asheville Film Society will screen Four Men and a Prayer Tuesday, Aug. 19, 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 stage magician sets out to debunk a young woman he's certain is a phony spiritualist and finds more than he imagined. The Lowdown: A sparkling champagne cocktail of a romantic comedy only Woody Allen could make. It may be lightweight — though perhaps not entirely — but it's a little slice of cinema heaven.
The Story: Four mutated turtles and a plucky journalist try to stop an evil scientist and an even eviler samurai. The Lowdown: Bargain-basement Michael Bay pastiche and a lot of sound and fury make for a noisy, not very fun action flick.