Here we have a week of some note — with a certain urgency attached to it. Now, I’ve not seen the two mainstream films that hit town this week, but I have seen the two art titles that are opening at The Carolina and they are choice. However, take a look at when they’re opening. That’s right — just before the flood of Christmas offerings. Realistically, that means they are almost certainly going to be short-lived. My suggestion is to go on opening weekend if at all possible — and a strong opening weekend will increase their chances of sticking around.
The two art titles — though very different in most ways — are pretty evenly matched, but I went with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook for my Weekly Pick. It wins with me by a very slim edge — and perhaps because it is so rare to encounter an original, fresh, intelligent horror film. It’s also encouraging beyond words to encounter a new voice in filmmaking — and even more so when the filmmaker is a woman. Now, before you reject The Babadook outright just because it’s a horror film, let me encourage you to think that over. Oh, it most certainly is a horror movie and a very effective one, but it isn’t gory and it’s made in a very formal classical style. In other words, this isn’t some shaky-cam exercise, but a serious piece of filmmaking. Will it scare you? Well, it supposedly scared William Friedkin and he’s the guy who made The Exorcist. So chances are that it might. But it’s much more than a horror film. Read the review. Check out my interview with Jennifer Kent.
Then there’s Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman — a rich and strange revisionist western that stars Jones and Hilary Swank. Jones plays a thoroughly disreputable claim-jumper, who is saved by Swank from a lynching — and then forced by her to help transport three mentally unstable women back east. It is marvelously well-made and compelling with fine performances all around (yes, I’m saying that about a Hilary Swank performance). It’s not an entirely comfortable movie, and it takes some pretty dark turns, but it’s one hell of a movie. It’s also reviewed in this week’s paper.
And now into the realm of the unknown…
First, we have Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which attempts to unDeMille the old Ten Commandments story — told from a more secular — or at least skeptical — perspective. (Though I haven’t seen it, I understand that Moses’ encounters with God — portrayed as a British schoolboy — can be read as delusional.) Instead of Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner as Moses and Ramses, we’re given Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton — something that’s raised objections of the white casting. That may or may not contribute to the fact that the film has not wowed critics. (As it stands at this moment, it’s on the bad side of a 50 percent approval rating, for what that’s worth.) In any case, no one seems to deny that the spectacle aspect of the thing is…well, pretty spectacular. But with today’s effects, isn’t that to be expected?
Also up — though I’m not sure of the theaters — is Chris Rock’s new film Top Five, which is being treated much more kindly by the critics, who are mostly praising Rock’s film. Apparently, Rock has finally found a way to blend his stand-up with a viable comedy-drama. According to the folks at Paramount (with whom Rock is ouspokenly annoyed for giving the film a wide release) the film “digs under the surface of show business, politics, rap, and the exigencies of being black and famous today-holding it all up to the light in the way only Chris Rock can. Mingling echoes of Woody Allen and Dick Gregory with the energy of Kanye West and Jay Z, Top Five is an original and radically new kind of American movie. Written, directed by, and starring Chris Rock, Top Five tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist (Rosario Dawson) forces him to confront the comedy career-and the past-that he’s left behind. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric The Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Anders Holm, Romany Malco, Leslie Jones, Michael Che, and Jay Pharoah.” Am I the only one who finds it strange that they don’t mention Adam Sandler, Gabrielle Union, and Whoopi Goldberg in that cast? They are listed in the credits.
This week we lose only Force Majeure (not a huge surprise), but it’s worth noting that St. Vincent has been split with the re-issue of Nightcrawler. I do not expect these to last another week.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running Kurt Neumann’s often overlooked Universal horror (really more of a mystery) Secret of the Blue Room (1933) with Lionel Atwill at 8 p.m. on Thu., Dec. 11 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Michelangelo Antonioni’s final neo-realist film Il Grido (1957) on Fri., Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Asheville Film Society moves further into the Christmas realm with Bob Hope in Sidney Lanfield’s The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) — the movie that introduced the song “Silver Bells” — on Tue., Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.
This week the big news is Guardians of the Galaxy, but don’t overlook Calvary. For that matter Frank (which didn’t play locally) is worth your attention. I never saw When the Game Stands Tall or Dolphin Tale 2. I think I’ll keep it that way.