If it wasn’t for a couple of art titles, I’d frankly suggest you skip the movies altogether this week. There’s only one full-blown mainstream title (which looks pretty chancey) and two not-quite-wide releases (both of which look worse than chancey). Well, let’s go among them anyway.
It is increasingly apparent that August is trying its darndest to wrestle January to the floor and take away its status as the worst month for movies. If January constitutes the movies’ annual “white sale,” August probably qualifies as the month of “choicest floor sweepings” (except they’re not that choice). Right now, I’d say they’re pretty evenly matched. At least August nudges us toward award season.
First off, we do have those two art titles (thank goodness), both of which have been seen and reviewed and both of which are worthwhile — almost certainly more so than the unseen titles. Of the two — and they’re hardly comparable — I give the edge to Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl — starting Friday at The Carolina. Before we go any further in talking about this coming-of-age story set in 1976 San Francisco, I want to make it clear that this movie is high on the “Not for Everybody” list. The film is almost brutally frank — and maybe more honest than is comfortable — and detailing the story of a 15-year-old girl becoming sexually (and emotionally) involved with her mother’s 34-year-old boyfriend. And it doesn’t paint the girl as a victim, nor the man so much as a predator, but as a weak-willed opportunist. It’s the sort of film that a recommendation from me would generate letters and probably get me banned from Hendersonville…all over again. In other words, know what you’re getting into here. If it’s not for you, go see something else. I think Diary is a good, but not quite great movie. It thinks it’s rather more transgressive and important than it really is, but it’s certainly worth seeing.
The other — and less volatile — film is the documentary Best of Enemies — starting Friday at The Carolina. This is about the televised debates — catfights really — between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. that took place at both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1968. The appeal is probably going to be stronger to viewers who are already familiar with the liberal Vidal and the conservative Buckley — simply because the duo are from a time when talking like a supercilious, highly-educated elitist was not an immediate turn-off. (Yes, there was a time when people were OK with hearing from people who were intellectuals — or at least presented themselves as such. There was, in fact, entertainment value in their snobbishness.) Historically, the film is interesting not just as a document of those times, but as the start of the TV political pundit. It’s also pretty entertaining. Even the filmmakers have their own joke — by voice casting the liberal John Lithgow and the conservative Kesley Grammer to read — restively — from Vidal’s and Buckley’s writings. Oh, and that R rating — it’s because of clips from Myra Breckinridge and Caligula, two movies Vidal worked on.
And now…opening on Wednesday (with the obligatory Tuesday evening shows) for no good reason is John Erick Dowdle’s No Escape — playing at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. If the director’s name is unfamiliar to you, congratulations. That means you’ve missed things like Quarantine, Devil, and As Above, So Below. This is, I believe, the first film to cast Owen Wilson in a serious role since the pretty dire Behind Enemy Lines in 2001. This also stars Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan — and apparently scads of scary Asians menacing them. Even the film’s good reviews — at least those by critics not classified as “quote whores” — admit to the movie’s xenophobia.
On Friday we get Alex Kendrick’s War Room — opening (yes, with Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. Kendrick, you may recall, is the fellow from the Sherwood Baptist Church, who parlayed faith-based movies like Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous into a pretty lucrative career. The best I can do here is give you the publicity blurb — “Tony and Elizabeth Jordan have it all-great jobs, a beautiful daughter, and their dream house. But appearances can be deceiving. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan’s world is actually crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. While Tony basks in his professional success and flirts with temptation, Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing bitterness. But their lives take an unexpected turn when Elizabeth meets her newest client, Miss Clara, and is challenged to establish a ‘war room’ and a battle plan of prayer for her family. As Elizabeth tries to fight for her family, Tony’s hidden struggles come to light. Tony must decide if he will make amends to his family and prove Miss Clara’s wisdom that victories don’t come by accident.” I assume that tells you if you’re in the target demographic.
Finally, there’s first-time feature director Max Joseph’s We Are Your Friends — opening Friday (with requisite Thursday evening shows) at Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. This stirring drama about record DJs stars Zac Efron and Wes Bentley (neither of whom I have anything against). However…check out this one’s blurb: “Set in the world of electronic music and Hollywood nightlife, an aspiring 23-year-old DJ named Cole spends his days scheming with his childhood friends and his nights working on the one track that will set the world on fire. All of this changes when he meets a charismatic but damaged older DJ named James, who takes him under his wing. Things get complicated, however, when Cole starts falling for James’ much younger girlfriend, Sophie. With Cole’s forbidden relationship intensifying and his friendships unraveling, he must choose between love, loyalty, and the future he is destined for.” I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything that sounded so full of dumb cliches.
This week we lose Irrational Man at the Fine Arts. Both the Fine Arts and The Carolina, however are splitting The End of the Tour. And The Carolina is splitting Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet).
Before getting to the usual entries, it’s worth noting that on Wednesday, August 26 at 8:00 p.m., the Asheville Film Society will screen Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude at The Carolina in Theater Nine. It’s hard to say just exactly where or when the idea of cult movies started. We know, for example, that El Topo (1970) pretty much started the midnight movie craze — thanks in no small part to the endorsement of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But it really seems that the cult movie — the kind where a film that flopped on its original release and then found a large following in revival — starts with Harold and Maude. And it didn’t take long. It opened at the end of 1971 and quickly vanished — only to almost at once find a ready home on the college film circuit. (The impact of college film screenings in that era was profound.) It thrived there — and in rep houses — from late ’72 till both venues were all but killed by home video in the early 1980s. But it never really went away, which was both a blessing and a curse, because of the wear and tear popularity can have on the physical elements of a movie. Four years ago, Paramount had only a few prints of the film — prints that were in such bad shape that studio was suggesting that it was wiser to project the film from DVD than to use these prints. Now, it’s back in a new 4K DCP restoration that returns the film to what it looked like in 1971 — and here’s your chance to see on the big screen as it was meant to be seen. Member admission price is $6, non-members are $8. Ticket are on sale now.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Fredric March in his Oscar-winning performance in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Aug. 27 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Alec Guinness in Charles Crichton’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) on Fri., Aug. 28 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 Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953) on Sun., Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society kicks off its September calendar with Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon (1976) on Tue., Sept. 1 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.
This week we have Two Days, One Night and Citizenfour. And for those curious to see if Aloha is really as bad as was claimed, here’s the chance.