It’s a particularly rich week on the art side — including my vote for first great film of 2015. There are three of them — and maybe four. That fourth remains to be seen. On the mainstream front…well, that’s another matter altogether.
That dubious fourth art title — Danny Collins — remains unscreened hereabouts. What this means is up in the air. It’s from a new distributor and it’s out in limited release already. This is an expansion, but no word yet on how wide that expansion will be, though it’s at least going to hit The Carolina this Friday. We’re on firmer ground with the other three — all of which have been screened and are reviewed in this week’s Xpress.
While all three are worth catching — in markedly different ways — the big winner for me is Noah Baumach’s latest While We’re Young — opening Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts Theatre. That’s the one I’m tagging as the first great film of the year. This very funny, very perceptive look at the mid-life crises of a Generation X couple — Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts — and what happens when they become involved with a pair of millennial hipsters — Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried — is Baumbach’s most complex, accomplished, and polished film to date. It is (seemingly) effortlessly stylish and startlingly deep in the issues it explores. (The fact that anyone has made a film where I actually like a Ben Stiller performance — rather than at best tolerating it — is doing something very, very right.) It is not, however, an entirely comfortable movie. You may well see too much of yourself in it. (I did, but I never felt diminished by it, nor did I sense I was being lectured.) I urge you to see this movie.
Nearly as good in a very different key is Ethan Hawke’s documentary Seymour: An Introduction — opening Friday at The Carolina. Though the title is drawn from J.D. Salinger, this is Hawke’s film about his friend, octogenarian concert pianist Seymour Bernstein, who walked away from a successful performing career at the age of 50. I expected a gimmick. There is none. I expected Hawke to make it more about himself than Bernstein. He doesn’t. It is simply a charmingly elegant film about a fascinating man Hawke loves and admires. It’s really quite beautiful — and so is Bernstein’s unassuming good humor and approach to music and life.
Finally, there’s the critic-polarizing film from Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn), Woman in Gold — opening Friday at The Carolina. It’s a fact-based story of the Oscar-bait kind and it stars Helen Mirren and a surprisingly good Ryan Reynolds. It tells the story of an elderly Jewish woman (Mirren) — a refugee now living in LA — trying to reclaim art that was stolen from her family by the Nazis and subsequently appropriated by the Austrian government. For reasons I don’t understand, it has split the critics straight down the middle. Does it simplify the story for dramatic purposes? Almost certainly. What film of this sort doesn’t? For some reason, it has annoyed an awful lot of critics, which did not prevented it from having a seriously impressive per theater take last weekend when it opened in 258 theaters. Never underestimate the power of Helen Mirren with a certain type of audience. It’s not a great movie, but I enjoyed it for what it was.
On to the unseen with first-time director Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins — opening at The Carolina (possibly elsewhere) on Friday. This takes a fact-based concept — a letter from John Lennon to a musician that was delivered 40 years later — and ties it to a wholly fictional story about Danny Collins (Al Pacino), an aging rocker with alcohol, drug, and womanizing issues. The letter prompts him to try to turn his life around. The early reviews rack up on Rotten Tomatoes as 44 positive ones vs. 17 negative ones. (How reliable or credible these are is a personal call.) To be brutally honest, Dan Fogelman has some seriously bad writing credits — Fred Claus (2007), Last Vegas (2013)…in fact, everything but Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) is pretty dire. And apart from Stand Up Guys (2013), Al Pacino’s work hasn’t been much to brag about since 2004’s The Merchant of Venice. But here we also have Annette Bening and Christopher Plummer to help out. I’m willing to give it a chance anyway.
That brings us to our annual adaptation of the seemingly unpreventable string of Nicholas Sparks novels. This one from director George Tillman, Jr. is called The Longest Ride — opening Friday at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande. And at a whopping 139 minutes it threatens to be a very long ride indeed. Frankly, it sounds interchangeable with every other Nicholas Spark movie ever made — two-pronged stories from different eras about troubled lovers. I suppose this is somehow notable for Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) in his first lead role. I also suppose there’s an audience for these things. I can only say that I’m glad that Mr. Souther has become our Nicholas Sparks expert.
This week we lose Still Alice and What We Do in the Shadows. The Fine Arts is dropping The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it’s hanging on at The Carolina. It’s worth noting, Serena and Kingsman: The Secret Service are being split at The Carolina — usually meaning a final week.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Apr. 9 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Peter Greenaway’s big art house hit The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) on Fri., Apr. 10 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Charles Dance’s Ladies in Lavender (2004) on Sun., Apr. 12 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) on Tue., Apr. 14 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s paper — with full reviews in the online edition.
This week big releases are The Immigrant and A Most Violent Year. Me, I’m waiting on the Blu-ray of Imitation of Life to show up (I’m getting it for the 1934 version, not the 1959 one).