It’s Merry Christmas at the movies week and to prove it we are on the receiving end of no less than seven new movies — five mainstream and two art titles. Six of them open on Friday, and one on Wednesday. Move over Star Wars. Owing to the time of year, I’ve also seen and a reviewed an inordinate number of these films.
But before we turn our attention to that, I’m going to take a moment to note that it was 15 years ago this month that I started as head movie reviewer for the Xpress. I wish I could remember what the first thing was that I reviewed in this capacity. It might have the re-issue of A Hard Day’s Night at the Fine Arts. (That’s certainly around the right time.) Unfortunately, this was way before anyone thought much about the Xpress as an online entity and somewhere along the way in various website updates, everything from the first two or three years of my tenure is lumped together as having been entered on Jan. 1, 2000. (Pretty sure the first movie I reviewed as a stringer was the dismal horror picture Lost Souls, which I saw at the Hollywood — which is now The Carolina.) Anyway, that was some time ago, and somehow or other I am still here.
For whatever reason (I guess to escape the rush on Friday), Adam McKay’s The Big Short opens Wednesday (or Tuesday night really) at Carmike 10, The Carolina and Regal Biltmore Grande. The review for this is in this week’s paper, but I’ll go ahead and tell you it’s a dark — very, very dark — comedy about a few outsiders who saw that the housing bubble couldn’t possibly last and bet against it doing so with all the big banks and brokers. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling (all with bad haircuts), and Brad Pitt as those outsiders. It is very funny, very infuriating, and franky pretty scary in its playful deconstruction of the housing market collapse of 2008. Catch it early. It needs to be seen — and is certainly worth seeing — but it probably isn’t the wisest choice for Christmas Day.
On to Friday where for me the big news is Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth — opening at The Carolina and Fine Arts Theatre. This is not only my “Weekly Pick,” but my choice as Best Film of 2015. (OK, I have yet to see The Hateful Eight, but I doubt very much that that is going to change things.) This is the movie I was waiting for all year, though I didn’t know it. I did know that while I had liked — even loved — a lot of what I was seeing over the course, I had not encountered that one special movie that truly had that “Wow!” factor. And here it was — and I say that after three viewings, so this isn’t momentary enthusiasm. Youth is a grand banquet of a movie. It’s like a tremendous musical composition. It’s thrilling filmmaking on every level. (No, it’s not going to be to every taste — thank Clapton.) If you saw Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty (which played here in January of 2014), you should have some idea of Youth — except it’s in English with bigger name stars like Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, and Jane Fonda. Sorrentino strikes me as sort of the heir apparent to Fellini and Ken Russell, but one whose work has its own special vibe. Read the review. See the film. It is amazing.
Also on the art front is Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl — opening Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts Theatre. I’ll be blunt — well, the review will be out soon — and admit that this movie just doesn’t do it for me. And I tried to like it. I watched it twice. I saw that it was well-made and certainly great looking, but it’s just too genteel and proper for its own good. (And I’m not even going to get into the way the facts of the real story have been massaged into a Hollywood formula picture.) And I’m the only person who thinks Eddie Redmayne in this film looks like Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs?
It’s back to the mainstream with Will Smith in Peter Landesman’s Concussion — starting Friday at The Carolina and Epic of Hendersonville (other theaters are not yet confirmed). Since this “based on a true story” story was deemed by Columbia as awards-worthy, they went out of their way to make sure that as many critics as possible saw it — both on the big screen and via screeners (they sent me two, in fact). What can I say? It’s not bad — at least for about 90 of its 120 minutes. It works as agitprop of the crusading filmmaker school, and Will Smith — complete with Nigerian accent — is surprisingly good. But awards-worthy? Probably not.
Let’s take the unseen titles alphabetically, starting with Sean Anders’ Daddy’s Home — starting Friday at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. This is a sort of family — PG-13 style — comedy that is all about Will Ferrell’s world being threatened when his wife’s much flashier and cooler ex-husband (Mark Wahlberg) shows up and tries get back into the wife (Linda Cardellini) through their children. If that sounds good to you, have at it. I wouldn’t touch it with a stick.
Best bet among the unseen is David O. Russell’s Joy — starting Friday at The Carolina and Epic of Hendersonville (other theaters as yet unannounced). This fact-based comedy about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop stars Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper is being treated much more roughly than Russell’s last two films — let’s call its critical reception mixed, and note that it is apparently not on par with Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle. Still, when the options (at least among the unseen/unreviewed titles) and Daddy’s Home and our seventh and final title…
Last and probably least if Ericson Core’s (who?) remake of Point Break — starting Friday at Carmike 10, The Carolina, and Epic of Hendersonville (probably Regal Biltmore Grande, too, but they haven’t admitted to it yet). Did you know that you wanted to see a remake of 1991’s Kathryn Bigelow movie that starred Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves? Only with a less well-known cast and director? Well, apparently you do. I know they’re not talking to me, since I’ve managed to avoid the original and plan on doing the same here.
As expected, there are art title losses this week. Spotlight disappears from both The Carolina and Fine Arts. Brooklyn departs the Fine Arts, but hangs on by a thread at The Carolina with two shows (2:15 and 7:40). Janis: Little Girl Blue departs the Fine Arts, which was the plan all along, and Trumbo leaves The Carolina.
The holidays have whittled this group down to one film this week — The Asheville Film Society’s screening of Richard Curtis’ About Time (2013) at 8 p.m. on Tue., Dec. 29 in Theater Six at The Carolina. Expect a return to form (well, mostly) next week