In Brief: One of those thoroughly charming little films that got lost in the shuffle, The Emperor's New Clothes showed up in Asheville with no promotion from Paramount Classics (remember them?), was shunted to the upstairs theater at the Fine Arts and lasted, unsurprisingly, one week. It was in no way a reflection of the quality of this beguiling historical fantasy that offers an alternate version of what really happened to Napoleon (Ian Holm) and who really died on St. Helena. Whether or not it's believable, it makes for a beautiful tall tale that should be better known.
In Brief: SHOWING CANCELLED. Neil Jordan's beautiful, brilliant, lonely and weirdly moving rethinking of the vampire movie, Byzantium. never made it to Asheville. It was deemed lacking in audience for our town, which I dispute, but that's another matter. What it really lacked was a big name star and serious promotion from IFC. However, here's the opportunity to see Jordan's unusual film about a 200-plus-year-old pair of mother (Gemma Arterton) and daughter (Saoirse Ronan) vampires hiding out from vengeance-seeking vampire overlords in a dreary British seaside town during the off-season.
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Amanda Seyfried, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris
The Story: An inept sheep rancher becomes involved with a notorious gunslinger's wife. Predictability ensues. The Lowdown: Stupefying in its unfunniness, arrogance and outright narcissism, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a shoo-in for my Worst of the Year list come December.
In Brief: Admirers of the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing will find much of its plot is drawn from both Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel, The Glass Key, and from Stuart Heisler's 1942 film version. Conceived as a follow-up to cash in on the surprise popularity of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in This Gun for Hire (1942), Paramount had mystery writer Jonathan Latimer add a romance between their characters — something the Coens borrowed. This second film adaptation of the novel may be less stylish than the (rarely seen) 1935 version, but the romance and the slick production values make it an essential film noir mystery thriller. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Glass Key Tuesday, June 10 , 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 look into the lives of a group of aimless, upscale teens. The Lowdown: A mixed-bag debut for writer-director Gia Coppola. A lot of it is typical lifestyles of the ennui-ridden overprivileged, but there are moments of near brilliance and an ending that makes up for much.
In Brief: Possibly Luis Buñuel's most accomplished Mexican film, Nazarin is a complex work about the impracticality — even impossibility — of living a life by the strict example of Jesus Christ, as depicted in the efforts of one priest who tries to do just that, but finds himself constantly at odds with the Church and society. By turns devastating and slyly comic. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Nazarin Friday, June 6, 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.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Jono Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites
The Story: Retelling of Sleeping Beauty that presents the evil Maleficent as a scorned woman seeking revenge on the man who betrayed her. The Lowdown: Despite an amusing performance from Angelina Jolie, Maleficent is a sloppy, overly designed movie that completely disposes of the appeal of the title character.
In Brief: More than a simple remake of F.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu (1922), Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) is more of an extension of and homage to the Murnau film. Herzog, of course, was free to drop the pretense that this wasn't Dracula (copyright on the book had lapsed) and called his characters by the names from Stoker's book. But the tone is more in keeping with Murnau — and with elaborating on things (like linking Dracula to the plague) that Murnau would have lacked the budget to flesh out. It doesn't supplant Murnau's film — and it isn't better than it — but the Herzog film serves as a wonderful companion piece to it. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Nosferatu the Vampyre Thursday, June 5 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Starring: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bill Nunn, Melanie Thierry. Peter Vaughan, Clarence Williams III
In Brief: The Legend of 1900 (1998) was Giuseppe Tornatore's bid to really take the next step after the art house success of his Cinema Paradiso (1988). Nothing else had had its success, so he decided to make something similar in style and scope — and in English. The results were not what he hoped for. Many people seem to love the movie, and there's no denying that it looks terrific. But the story of a man born on an ocean liner who never sets foot on land becomes increasingly hard to buy into, and the whole thing lacks a true emotional center. But it looks swell. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Legend of 1900 Sunday, June 8, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey, Jr.
The Story: An upscale chef finds himself when he quits his job and starts his own food truck business. The Lowdown: An unfailingly pleasant little comedy that would benefit from more conflict and a sharper tone, but it's a proven crowd-pleaser that will play well to food and food-truck aficionados.
Starring: Henrietta Crosman, Heather Angel, Norman Foster, Lucille La Verne, Maurice Murphy, Marian Nixon
In Brief: John Ford's Pilgrimage (1933) is one of the director's best films — and one of his least known and revived. The reason is not hard to fathom — just look at the cast list. How many of them have you ever heard of? Exactly. You've probably seen Henrietta Crosman, but not many movies star a 72-year-old character actress. Yet she's perfect in the role of a harshly repressive backwoods woman whose actions send her son off to WWI because he wants to marry a girl (already pregnant) she disapproves of. When he's killed, she still refuses to acknowledge the girl or her grandchild. Ten years later she gets a chance at redemption on a pilgrimage to see her son's grave. An amazing and moving film.
In Brief: Hammett (1982) was supposed to be Wim Wenders' big breakthrough to English language filmmaking, but constant friction between him and producer Francis Ford Coppola deemed otherwise. In fact, some estimates place Coppola's reshoots as comprising 70 percent of the finished film. However, the movie is still an amazingly atmospheric film that works as a knowing pastiche of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled detective fiction — mostly The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man — only with Hammett himself in the lead. The more you know, the more there is to enjoy, but it's worth it if only for Roy Kinnear's Sydney Greenstreet impression and the gorgeous period design.
The Story: After shooting an intruder, a rather ordinary man finds himself plunged into a labyrinthian criminal underworld where little is what it seems. The Lowdown: A striking, startling breakthrough film for director and co-writer Jim Mickle. An always suprising, intense and completely satisfying neo-noir thriller that may remind you of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple. Essential viewing.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawremce, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
The Story: Wolverine is sent from the future to 1973 to rewrite history in order to prevent the implementation of a program that means not only the extermination of the X-Men, but a great part of the world. The Lowdown: Intelligent, witty, exciting, emotionally effective — and all those things that comic book movies almost never are.
The Story: A man risks — and may have lost — everything in order to drive through the night to be with the woman who is bearing the child he fathered. Not because he cares for her, but because he believes it is the right thing to do. The Lowdown: What seems like a limited stunt concept turns out to be one of the most intense — and cinematic — experiences of the year, anchored to a brilliant performance by Tom Hardy.
In Brief: When it debuted in 1930, L'age d'Or caused a riot. The theater showing it was vandalized by scandalized patrons, the producer was threatened with ex-communication and the film was effectively banned for 49 years. For that matter, it would be almost 20 years before Buñuel made another film — and he made that in Mexico. While it is unlikely that the film could provoke such anger today, it has certainly lost none of its power to startle the viewer with its almost nonexistent narrative, surreal flourishes, attacks on society and less than respectful views on Christianity and the Church.
In Brief: No, it has nothing whatever to do with flesh-munching zombies. Michael Curtiz's The Walking Dead (1936) is the director's return to the horror genre (and his last horror movie) after an absence of three years. It's a strange, not entirely successful mix of horror and gangsters. It's essentially a Boris Karloff vehicle made at the end of the first wave of horror. It presents Karloff as man wrongly executed for murder who is brought back from the dead by a not-really-mad doctor. The ad copy makes the film seem like he comes back get wreak vengeance on the men who framed him, but the film takes a surprising approach to that idea.
The Story: A struggling sports agent tries to take two kids from India and turn them into baseball pitchers as a last ditch effort at becoming a success. The Lowdown: A generally harmless movie with a skewed emotional center and milquetoast plotting.
In Brief: Perhaps the ultimate cult movie, Richard Elfman's (Danny's big brother) Forbidden Zone (1980) is a clear-cut, love-it-or-hate-it proposition. It is irreverent, iconoclastic, deliberately politically incorrect and utterly self-indulgent. The film was essentially a showcase for the kind of thing the Elfmans had been doing onstage with The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. It's a compendium of their obsessions and enthusiasms: Max Fleischer cartoons, Cab Calloway, old jazz, Yiddish humor and (in Danny Elfman's own words) "pissing people off." (Don't sell that last short.) There is nothing out there like it. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Forbidden Zone Thursday, May 22 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.