Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 19-25: Ultra Sinister Phoenix Prophet 47

In Theaters.

 This week consists of two art titles (that have been reviewed) and three mainstream titles that no one appears to have been allowed to see yet. (Or if they have been, they’ve been told to sit on the reviews.) This, as the savvy moviegoer knows, is rarely a good sign.

The surprising thing about this is that one of the great unseen is a horror movie — and those may be kept from the general realm of reviewers and critics, but usually get a jump on things via the horror specialty sites, which are often all too ready to enthuse over just about anything in the genre. (The idea that supporting a horror picture as supporting the cause of the genre is more foolish than helpful.)

 

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Now, let’s look at the reviewed art titles. Far and away the better of the two is Christian Petzold’s Phoenix — opening Friday at the Fine Arts. This is a remarkably complex — both thematically and emotionally — film set in post-WWII Berlin and done in a neo-noir style. The story is a little on the improbable side, but it works. Nina Hoss plays a Jewish singer who was shot in the face by the Nazis and left for dead. However, she wasn’t dead and her face is reconstructed by a plastic surgeon to an approximation of her old self. It’s an approximation that doesn’t satisfy her needs — and one that leaves her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) unaware of her identity when she finds him working in a night club in the American sector of Berlin. But he does think she bears enough resemblance to his late (he thinks) wife that, with work, he can pass her off and claim her substantial inheritance — a plan she goes along with. The film has been called Hitchcockian, but that mostly works if by “Hitchcockian” you really mean Vertigo — and even that only goes so far. Richly detailed, atmospheric, and emotionally compelling, it’s a film to add to the potential Best of 2015 list. The review is in this week’s Xpress.

 

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The other art title is the multi-director animated film Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet — opening Friday at The Carolina. The idea here is to present eight segments (each with a different director) taken from Gibran’s book wrapped in an overtly political framing story. Being only marginally familiar with the source — and not inclined to that sort of thing — I am just not the target audience. My suspicion is that the film will work better if you’re an admirer of the book. Check out the review, but bear in mind it’s from a non-fan’s perspective.

 

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And that brings to the first unseen title, Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra — opening Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. If you had to look up the director, so did I. It seems that his previous credit is Project X (2012) — an R rated raunch-com that Justin Souther called a “Found-Footage Teen Party Comedy” and awarded a half-star rating. I never felt the need to find out for myself. If nothing else, this one doesn’t appear to be “found-footage.” Judging by the trailer it’s high concept stoner comedy action picture where our stoner hero (Jesse Eisenberg) turns out to be a highly-skilled sleeper agent. The trailer actually looks more goofy than obnoxious, but that could be deceptive. Still, I will say that it looks like another more pleasant turn from Kristen Stewart.

 

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Then we have first-time director Aleksander Bach’s Hitman: Agent 47 — opening Friday (and Thursday evening, yes) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande. This is, I guess, a reboot of the 2007 Hitman, which I don’t recall being a hit, so the logic here is either fuzzy, or this is really more aimed at the foreign market. Whatever it is, it’s based on the same video game as the 2007 version. It stars Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Kretschman, and Ciarán Hinds. And that’s about all I know apart from the studio blurb, which says it “centers on an elite assassin who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his neck. He is the culmination of decades of research — and forty-six earlier Agent clones — endowing him with unprecedented strength, speed, stamina and intelligence. His latest target is a mega-corporation that plans to unlock the secret of Agent 47’s past to create an army of killers whose powers surpass even his own. Teaming up with a young woman who may hold the secret to overcoming their powerful and clandestine enemies, 47 confronts stunning revelations about his own origins and squares off in an epic battle with his deadliest foe.” Yes, well…I’m certainly champing at the bit.

 

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Finally we come to Ciarán Foy’s Sinister 2, the inevitable sequel to 2012’s Sinister — opening Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. The original — which I found so-so and wildly overpraised — didn’t cost much to make (hey, it’s from producer Jason Blum) and turned a handsome profit, so you knew we’d be seeing more of the evil Mr. Boogie (I still say he looks like a horror movie version of post-nosejob Michael Jackson). The folks at Focus say, “In the aftermath of the shocking events in Sinister, a protective mother (Shannyn Sossamon of Wayward Pines) and her 9-year-old twin sons (real-life twins Robert and Dartanian Sloan) find themselves in a rural house marked for death.”

This week The Carolina loses Cop Car and Irrational Man. The Fine Arts drops Mr. Holmes and cuts Irrational Man to one show (1:20). That also means they’ve cut that show from The End of the Tour. I’ll also note The Carolina is moving The End of the Tour to their smallest house come Friday. In other words, this is probably not going to be around very much longer.

Special Screenings

 

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The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Johnny Depp in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate (1999) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Aug. 20 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) on Fri., Aug. 21 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 Clara Bow in Clarence Badger’s It (1927) on Sun., Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Eddie Cantor in Leo McCarey’s The Kid from Spain (1932) on Tue., Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

If you missed it in the theater, now’s your chance to catch The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The same is true of the estimable documentary Lambert & Stamp. Also out is Little Boy, but I wouldn’t advise it.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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29 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 19-25: Ultra Sinister Phoenix Prophet 47

  1. T.rex

    Ouside of the art house releases it looks like a lousy weekend. How did Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart get leading roles? Remember when stars had charm and charisma? I saw a preview for Hitman following a preview for the upcoming Transporter sequel and my reaction was “Did they play the same preview twice?” Garbage like this makes me want to call the Movie Police.

    • Ken Hanke

      Don’t sell Eisenberg and (especially) Stewart short. They’ve both done good work in good movies. Eisenberg just now with End of the Tour and Stewart with Clouds of Sils Maria and Still Alice. One of the more useful things about being a critic is that it’s a lot harder to nurse old prejudices when you see more of a person’s work. And weren’t you just praising Mission: Impossible. Now, from my perspective few people have less charm and charisma than Tom Cruise.

      • T.rex

        Cruise is not Olivier but he’s great in certain parts. He’s got the action hero down (yes, over did it with MI 2) and some of his early stuff was great. Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July. He just needs great directors. Stewart has one emotion, the Heroin Chic look and Eisenberg is Michael Cera 2.0

          • T.rex

            Fair enough. Things can change, I used to think Affleck was just awful but he improved. He is better when he directs.

        • Big Al

          “Stewart has one emotion, the Heroin Chic look…”

          I would have agreed until “Clouds of Sils Maria” and I heard she did very well in “Snow White and the Huntsman”. Maybe when you stop sleeping with vampires and werewolves…

      • Lisa Watters

        I thought Eisenberg was great in End of the Tour and in Night Moves. Both movies have changed my opinion of him though I enjoyed him in Zombieland as well.

          • Ken Hanke

            Yeah, Lisa, you kinda lost me with Night Moves.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I like Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy, but not that one.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Your views on the matter are well established.

          • Ken Hanke

            Meek’s Cutoff was okay once. Twice was once too much. Wendy and Lucy…bleah.

          • Lisa Watters

            Night Moves really haunted me afterwards (a quality I look for in films) – the way it showed how something that was done theoretically for a good cause in practice turned into such a terrible thing, and how someone (the character played by Jesse Eisenberg) who thought of himself as a high-minded environmental activist could become a murderer in order to stay out of prison. The film made it feel very real (I thought!)

          • Ken Hanke

            If it works for you, it works for you. It didn’t work for me.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    American Ultra is “high concept” and Eisenberg plays a “highly-skilled sleeper agent,” eh?

  3. Me

    Since Alverson’s first “bigger” film didn’t make it to Asheville a couple of years ago, I doubt his upcoming one will right? Its the first real fall release I’m excited to see. It almost looks like a Neil Hamburger biopic crossed with the Crumb and Bukowski comic There’s No Business. Tye Sheridan looks unrecognizable in the trailer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laCKBx6dmW8

        • Ken Hanke

          I cannot imagine wanting to see that or knowing who the Safdie Brothers are. Plus. Mr. Debussy should return from the grave and sue.

          • Ken Hanke

            Considering that I found The Color Wheel unwatchable and didn’t care for Listen Up, Philip, this doesn’t do much to entice me. It’s IFC and that Safdie Bros. thing is TWC Radius, so VOD is almost a given. That does not automatically destroy the possibility of a theatrical release. A lot of the Radius stuff has some kind of contractual theatrical run, which usually means two or three shows a day for one week — often on a four-wall basis.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            IFC sent me a link for Queen of Earth. I’m under a coverage embargo until Tuesday, but if I forget and people are interested, someone remind me and I’ll share my thoughts on it here.

  4. luluthebeast

    Everyone involved with AMERICAN ULTRA must have been smoking dope to come up with that plot. The first HITMAN only cost 24 million and grossed about 100 million before videos and such so they probably figured they could make a quick few bucks on it. I couldn’t make it thru Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet way back when, so I’m certainly not going to try the movie. They should have stuck THE HITMAN in it and taken care of everyone.

    • Ken Hanke

      The lion’s share of that $100 million came from overseas, so they’re obviously more concerned with that market than the US on this Hitman reboot/remake.

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