Here’s a strange week in that it looked more crowded and potentially troublesome than it was. That doesn’t change the fact that we have four mainstream titles (one of which is a Wednesday opening, and as usual I have no idea why) and two art ones pointing directly at us and that’s certainly crowded enough. It’s definitely more than the normal person is likely to tackle.
The saving grace is that Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F is being handled strictly as a special event — its a limited engagement with limited shows and a limited audience — and blessedly falls out of my realm. When I first came here and was working at Carmike (we’re talking 2000), this was a hot topic — along with something called Vampire Hunter D — with the kids at the theater, at which time it was direct-to-video (at least in the U.S.). This didn’t get me out of watching it these things, since the kids kind of forced them on me. And believe me, that was enough Dragon Ball Z for two lifetimes. So that bullet is dodged.
I’ve seen — and reviewed — both art titles. The clear winner is Woody Allen’s Irrational Man — opening Friday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. No, it’s not absolutely first-rate Allen, but it’s not far from it — and it’s one of his better “serious” films. It has a lot of bitterly amusing observations, but no solid laughs. But it’s also not one of his more strained serious films. In terms of his non-comedic — or not strictly comedic — films on the subject of murder, it’s nowhere near Crimes and Misdemeanors, but a vast improvement on Match Point. Though it’s being called a mystery, it’s not one in the strict sense, because we know whodunit. It’s more a question of “will he get away with it” — and that’s more than enough to make it compelling, even though it’s pretty much a kind of homage to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, which could be construed as a bit of a tip-off.
The other art title, Dark Places — opening Friday at The Carolina — is on less solid ground and is on one of those split schedules (7:45 and 10:00 p.m.) that pretty much assures a single week’s run. That’s kind of too bad, because the film is a reasonably engrossing — if rather unpleasant — mystery with some excellent performances. The tone is not dissimilar to the last Gillian Flynn adaptation, Gone Girl, but without any social satire. That’s to say it’s just basically misanthropic, but the film is certainly effective at what it does.
First up in the unknown realm is Shaun the Sheep Movie — opening Wednesday at The Carolina and Regal Biltmore Grande. This latest claymation offering from Britain’s Aardman Animation has gotten high marks on Rotten Tomatoes — 47 out of 47 positive reviews. It’s also the sort of movie that leads critics to make bad puns (like “shear delight”), but the less said about that, the better. I confess to complete ignorance as concerns Shaun the Sheep, but the film appears to be a simple — and wordless — story about Shaun leading the flock into the city and being faced with the task of getting himself and the other sheep back home. I admit my curiosity is piqued by the prospect of an animated movie that reportedly boasts gags that evoke Night of the Hunter and The Silence of the Lambs.
Moving to Friday, the first thing alphabetically is the reboot or “re-imagining” of Fantastic Four — opening Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. This is expected to be the week’s big release. The film is from Josh Trank, who is best known for making Chronicle, one of the better found-footage films (it shrewdly allowed for clever camera movement by imbuing its teen characters with the ability to levitate cameras). It stars Miles Teller (who I still don’t “get” as a movie star), Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell. It is being touted as not only a “re-imagining,” but as a “contempary,” which may mean nothing — or it may be too terrifying to contemplate.
Then there’s The Gift — opening Friday (with, yes, the now almost obligatory Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. This mystery-thriller — which stars Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton — marks the feature directorial debut of Mr. Edgerton. It’s all about what happens when a suspect (and unwelcome) figure (Edgerton) from Bateman’s past reappears on the scene and threatens to bring his world crashing down with revelations of dark secrets from 20 years ago. There are only 13 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment, but 12 of them are strongly positive. Scott Foundas’ review in Variety starts out intriguingly enough — “A coolly unsettling thriller that begins as an unironic homage to late-’80s/early-’90s yuppies-in-peril dramas” — but then adds something that makes me apprehensive — “before taking a turn toward the moral and existential minefield of Michael Haneke’s Cache.” I hope that last turns into a vague overstatement.
Finally, we have Ricki and the Flash — opening Friday (with, yes, Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this musical-comedy-drama is the fact that it was directed by Jonathan Demme, whose narrative big screen work has been absent for quite a few years. What’s really interesting about this is that it’s the first time in a good while that Meryl Streep has teamed up with a strong director she can’t control — assuming that Demme still is a strong director, which may not be the case. The story appears to be boomer-bait of the Danny Collins variety with Streep playing a rock star (well…) who returns home to “make things right” with her family — including a daughter (played by Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer) and an ex-husband (Kevin Kline). Also on board is Rick Springfield as one of the Flash (Streep’s band) — and who is also in love with Ricki. The few early reviews can only be called mixed.
This week we lose The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet — a foregone conclusion, but a grave misfortune all the same — as well as A LEGO Brickumentary (no great loss) and The Stanford Prison Experiment (not a shock) at The Carolina. The Fine Arts is dropping Amy and splitting Mr. Holmes (matinees only) and Infinitely Polar Bear (evenings only).
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Dario Argento’s The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Aug. 6 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) on Fri., Aug. 7 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 Morton DaCosta’s Auntie Mame (1958) on Sun., Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto (2005) — my pick for Best Film of the Year in 2005 — on Tue., Aug. 11 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.
The big release this week is Far from the Madding Crowd — which will allow those of you who didn’t see this on the big screen to kick themselves for missing the most beautiful film of 2015 as it was meant to be seen. There’s also A Little Chaos and Child 44, but the rest of the list is much less appealing — Insurgent, True Story, and Do You Believe?.