The Story: When a man's wife goes missing, the attention shifts from sympathetic to suspicion that he murdered her. The Lowdown: Deeply cynical, darkly funny, sometimes brutal, very powerful filmmaking that may make you a little queasy, but will almost certainly entertain you to no end.
The Story: A young couple are menaced by a creepy doll that's possessed by a demon. The Lowdown: Fairly perfunctory horror that purports to be the origin story of the doll seen early on in last year's The Conjuring. There are a few good shocks, but a lack of atmosphere and a truly awful script pretty much negate them.
In Brief: These are the first two movies in Universal's famous Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The studio opted to bring the duo back by streamlining and updating the concept. Instead of costly period pieces, they would make Holmes and Watson contemporary and build a series of classy B-pictures around them. So the debut entry, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, found Holmes tackling fifth columnists working against England through a broadcaster calling himself the Voice of Terror. Slick, quick moving and shamelessly propagandistic, it caught on with the public, paving the way for the superior Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, where the series hit its stride. After all, if Holmes fighting the Nazis was good, Holmes fighting Professor Moriarty (Lionel Atwill oozing malevolence) and the Nazis was even better. It was less of a propaganda piece, had a better sense of the characters and benefited from director Roy William Neill, who would helm the remaining ten films in the series. Neill brought a strong sense of atmosphere to the series that made the films look more expensive than they were. His approach defined the series and made Rathbone and Bruce the defining Holmes and Watson for a generation. The Asheville Film Society will screen Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon Tuesday, Oct. 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 down-on-his-luck failed writer inherits a Parisian apartment from his late father, only to find it inhabited by a mother and daughter, who — due to a quirk in French law — he must also take care of until the mother’s death. The Lowdown: A surprisingly dark look at the effects our parents — and their choices — have on children, but one that’s tonally uneven and a bit of a mess.
The Story: A disgruntled psychiatrist goes on a journey — literal and spiritual — to try to understand what makes people happy. The Lowdown: It's too long, takes too long finding its footing and doesn't offer any new answers, but Hector and the Search for Happiness is a pleasant little movie that wears its heart on its sleeve and isn't afraid to be a little corny, making for a pleasing, likable trip to the movies.
In Brief: Often touted as being a faithful adaptation of John Buchan's novel, Don Sharp's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978) — the only version of the story where 39 is spelled out — might better be called "more faithful than the earlier versions." As a film, it's not in the same universe as Hitchcock's 1935 version, but it's slick fun that seems more inclined to want to cash in on the popularity of the Agatha Christie films than anything else – but with a lot less budget. Robert Powell makes a good lead — though he lacks the humor of Robert Donat in the Hitchcock film — and the rest of the cast certainly help. The most distinctive aspect of this version may be the decision to play it like a thrill comedy, especially in its climax with Powell dangling from the face of Big Ben. The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Thirty-Nine Steps Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Fact-based story of reporter Gary Webb, who linked the CIA to using the drug trade to fund Nicaraguan militias. The Lowdown: Slick, glossy crusading reporter movie with a strong lead performance, but also lacking in being anything other than a basic example of its genre.
The Story: A status-seeking villain demonizes and plans on destroying a peaceful community of harmless trolls to achieve his goals. The Lowdown: Not quite up to the two previous films from the Laika studios, but with more than enough twisted creativity to make it very worthwhile.
In Brief: Undeniably entertaining, but laughably preposterous lightweight film noir from the pre-horror days of Hammer Films, Stolen Face (1952) is fairly typical of its period. Like many British films of the 1950s, it trades on the presence of a Hollywood star who could longer afford to be too choosy, but whose name still had enough selling power at the box office to make the film exportable to the U.S. With Stolen Face, Hammer had two such stars — Paul Henreid and Lizabeth Scott — to dress up the silly story of a plastic surgeon who transforms a scarred notorious criminal into a dead ringer for the woman he loved and lost. This works about as well as you might suppose and becomes even more complicated when his lost love comes back. Yes, it really is as unlikely as it sounds. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Stolen Face Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: The Thursday Horror Picture Show opens October — the month of Halloween — with Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), the movie from which the first wave of the horror film stems. To call it the horror picture that started it all would not be overstating the case. It set the tone and style for what was to come. Yes, later films smoothed out some of its more awkward moments, and better horror movies would come after it, but that takes nothing away from Dracula's accomplishments, nor does it alter the fact that it's the movie that gave the world Bela Lugosi as Dracula in a performance that is just as strange and compelling today as it ever was. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Dracula Thursday, Oct. 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.
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.