The Story: Giant robot Optimus Prime must stop an old nemesis and his former allies — mankind. The Lowdown: A loud, noisy, stupid and incredibly angry movie that’s far too long and only occasionally interesting thanks to its screwy worldview.
Starring: Walter Matthau, George Burns, Richard Benjamin, Lee Meredith, Carol Arthur, Rosetta Le Noire
In Brief: Mystifyingly popular film version of an equally mystifyingly popular Neil Simon play about an attempt to reunite two aging vaudevillians for a TV special. Almost as mystifying is the reason for doing this, since the one-time partners cordially detest each other, but without the attempt, there's no story. The sole point of calm in this work that constantly confuses loud for funny is George Burns, who underplays every scene and walks off with what accolades there are. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Sunshine Boys Sunday, July 6, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Documentary about cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky's incredibly ambitious, never-made film of Frank Herbert's Dune. The Lowdown: One of the most entertaining documentaries in living memory — especially for movie fans. It paints a compelling and enjoyable portrait of what may have been a milestone of 1970s filmmaking had it actually been made. That it stars the irrepressible, outrageous filmmaker himself helps make it a pure pleasure.
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper
The Story: After a drunken one-night stand, a comic finds herself pregnant, faced with a suitor she doesn't want and an impending abortion. The Lowdown: Yes, it's been critically lauded, but personally, I found this abortion-themed rom-com mostly tedious, unfunny and cursed with an unlikable main character.
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norm Rossington, John Junkin, Victor Spinetti
The Story: The Beatles perform a televised concert, have various adventures and nearly lose Ringo in the process. The Lowdown: Here we have one of the greatest — and arguably most important — films of the 1960s getting a two-day (Saturday and Sunday) re-issue in honor of its 50th anniversary. Oh, it's not like A Hard Day's Night has ever been entirely away — in fact, it had a national re-release back in 2000 — but it's always a treat to see this on a big screen with an audience. Plus, this new restoration ought to look, and sound, great.
Starring: Michael Caine, Karl Malden, Françoise Dorléac, Ed Begley, Oscar Homolka, Guy Doleman, Vladek Sheybal
In Brief: The Asheville Film Society's annual birthday salute to British filmmaker Ken Russell (1927-2011) reaches back to Russell's first shot at international fame, Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the third film in Michael Caine's Harry Palmer (the "thinking man's James Bond") series. Caine had been impressed by Russell's TV work and had him hired for the movie. The results didn't set the world on fire, but they did result in an interesting, entertaining and oh-so-very-1960s spy film — a movie that Russell made more his own than you might think, and one that paved the way to international acclaim a couple of years later.
The Story: Before taking her final vows as a nun, a novice is sent out into the world to meet her only relative and learn about her past. The Lowdown: Strong, beautifully shot character drama that seems to be being taken for more than it is because of topics it touches on. Definitely good, but not-so-definitely great.
The Story: A pair of outsiders — 13-year-old girls — decide to start a punk rock group in 1982 Sweden. That they have no clue how to play music is only part of the problem. The Lowdown: A slight but charming and winning little movie that beautifully taps into the essence of early adolescence without a hint of condescension.
The Story: Two groups of friends head to Vegas for a wedding — and bachelor and bachelorette parties. The Lowdown: A meandering, overstuffed rom-com that is innocuous at best, but force-feeds its points and is often too shrill and aimless to work.
In Brief: Jean Renoir's 1931 satirical comedy Boudu Saved from Drowning is perhaps the great filmmaker's first true masterpiece. Its story of what happens when a well-meaning bookseller rescues an indolent and ungrateful tramp, Boudu (played by the great Michel Simon), from drowning himself in the Seine is a simple one. But it leaves plenty of room for Renoir to poke fun at the bourgeois world of the French middle class and its pretensions.
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle
The Story: Standard showbiz biopic on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The Lowdown: If you're wild about the music of Frankie Valli, this probably passes muster, but it's also a sloppy, cliché-ridden mess of a movie that never breaks free of its biopic-basic approach.
In Brief: So far as I'm concerned, Dario Argento disciple Michel Soavi made the absolute best Italian horror film of all time with 1994's Cemetery Man. This story of a cemetery — presided over by Rupert Everett (who tends to leave the film off his résumé) — where the dead (at least some of them) tend to come back to life after they're buried has a little bit of everything. It has surreal evocations of René Magritte, a plot turn right out of Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), some seriously loopy ideas, a terrific visual panache — and the one thing most Italian horror lacks: a coherent plot with an actual structure. Horrific, funny and strangely haunting.
Starring: Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, James Wilby, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban
In Brief: It seems that Robert Altman and Bob Balaban got together and decided that Altman's multicharacter ensemble approach with its overlapping dialogue was just right for one of those house-party-murder mysteries — and they were right. Actually, they were more than right, since the resulting film, Gosford Park, was more than a classic mystery. It also spoofed its own genre, Hollywood, the movies — and managed to be a deconstruction of the upper classes that has more in common with Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939) than with Agatha Christie. A brilliant film.
The Story: Officers Schmidt and Jenko head undercover again, this time at college. The Lowdown: Not as fresh as the original, the movie’s more interesting as a parody of Hollywood franchises and a critique of gay panic in buddy cop flicks, but doesn’t have much going for it as a comedy.
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh, Allen Vincent, Arthur Edmund Carewe
In Brief: Michael Curtiz returned the horror genre with Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), which was only natural since the previous year's Doctor X had been the film that had put the horror genre on the map at Warner Bros. Again, Curtiz was working in two-strip Technicolor, with the same stars -- Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray -- and with the same blend of Expressionist horror with the snappy repartee of a very modern reporter. The most striking change in the formula was making the reporter a woman (Glenda Farrell). The results were, if anything, more successful -- financially -- than Doctor X.
The Story: The tale of a young immigrant woman forced into a life of prostitution as the only means to make her way in the New World and get her tubercular sister off Ellis Island. The Lowdown: Richly melodramatic and beautifully detailed fable on the myth of the American dream as experienced early in the 20th century with perhaps allegorical nods to the present. Powerfully acted, written and directed and a lot more complex than it may seem on the surface.
Starring: (Voices) Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
The Story: New adventures and new challenges for Viking boy Hiccup and his trained dragon, Toothless. The Lowdown: Not as fresh or funny as its 2010 predecessor – and with a curious lack of focus in its first half – but with a bang-up second half, much visual beauty and a surprising emotional resonance.
In Brief: Fritz Lang's 1927 science fiction masterpiece about social upheaval in a fantastic city of the future. Sure, it's melodramatic -- after all, its Lang, whose heart belonged to pulp fiction -- but it's also a visual spectacle like no other. One of the most influential films of all time -- and still one of the greatest.
The Story: In post-apocalyptic Australia, a taciturn loner goes to great lengths – including murder and mayhem – to recover a stolen car. The Lowdown: An alternately violent and tedious road movie of the post-apocalyptic variety that remains watchable thanks to some odd touches and an interesting performance from Robert Pattinson.
The Story: Four short documentaries about the perils of coal ash ponds. The Lowdown: The four short films being presented at 7 p.m. on Thu., June 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville (admission is free) are fairly straightforward activist documentaries that serve as a basic introduction to the important issue of coal ash ponds.
In Brief: As Louis Malle movies go, Atlantic City (1980) qualifies as almost action-packed. It's also one of his most accessible and one of those late-in-the-day examples of the era when the line between art movies and the mainstream was less obvious than it would soon become. It's a remarkably congenial tale – with dashes of melodrama and mayhem – about people at the ends of their ropes in the title city during the days when the city was being revitalized into its casino-driven new prosperity.