Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler February 25-March 3: The Lazarus Focus Maps to Mr. Turner

In Theaters.

 We get four new movies this week. Two of these are of the art title variety — one is pretty terrific and the other is completely terrific. Both are of the “not for everbody” school. On the other hand, there are two mainstream movies. Both of these may well be of the “not for much of anybody” school. In other words, they look to prove — as the snow festooning my yard attests — that it’s still the dead winter time.

In addition, I suppose we need to consider that a smattering of the Oscar titles are still around — though often in limted supply. The Carolina has the big winner — Birdman — though only at 1:50 and 6:50 (come on, it’s on DVD). They also have Whiplash (also on DVD) at 11:30, 4:25, and 9:30. They’ve dropped The Imitation Game (come Friday anyway), but the Fine Arts for the 1:20 show. The Carolina still has a full slate for Still Alice and the Fine Arts will be keeping it at 4:20, 7:20, and late shows Fri-Sat at 9:30. These changes are all for Friday.

 

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I’ve seen — and reviewed (see this week’s Xpress) — both. The lesser of the two — in relative terms — is David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (opening Friday at The Carolina). It is bound to be a polarizing film. It’s strange and it’s rather…well, unpleasant. It also starts out as one thing — a psychodrama satire on Hollywood and its denizens — but slowly turns into a singularly twisted thriller. It’s a film in “take no prisoners” mode, and it can sometimes verge on being a little silly. But I found it almost wholly fascinating — in a perverse manner. Compelling? Yes. A lot of fun? Probably not. However, it’s finely detailed and solidly acted. In fact, I’d put Julianne Moore’s performance here on a par with her Oscar-winning one in Still Alice — maybe even above it. It’s tragic, but not in the least symathy-inducing.

 

Mr-Turner-scene-from-film-012

 

The big title is Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (opening Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts). This very unorthodox biographical film on English painter J.M.W. Turner (brilliantly played by Timothy Spall) is as close to perfect as you’re going to get. It is beautifully photographed by Dick Pope, and the portrait of Turner created by Leigh and Spall is amazingly detailed and succeeds at something like getting into the mind of the artist. That’s no mean feat considering that Turner’s mind may well have been a mystery to him — at least as presented in the film. However, it must be said that the film offer no traditional biography and has no real storyline. It throws you into the world of Turner without any preparation and asks you to conclude what you will from the action of the film. It has little that can be called traditional dramatic moments and is in no hurry to present its portrait. Check out the review before undertaking it. But it is remarkable.

 

Focus-2015-Movie

 

In the unknown realm, we start with something called Focus (a title which, unfortunately,  reminds of an extremely politically incorrected joke that I will not repeat). This appears to be an attempt to jump-start Will Smith’s career, which has — except in the Men in Black franchise — been in pretty dire shape since Seven Pounds in 2008. So here we get him — paired with Margot Robbie — in what is being called a “crime comedy” by writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. They made I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009) and Crazy, Stupid, Love  (2011), which may or may not tell us much about this. It hasn’t been screened for critics and there aren’t even any studio shills pushing it on IMDb. The trailer is certainly glossy — maybe even stylish — but it isn’t really all that interesting.

 

The-Lazarus-Effect-2015

 

My own rule when faced with choices of either seeing something like Focus or a (probably) cheesy PG-13 horror picture of the low-rent variety — in this case The Lazarus Effect — is to go with the cheesy horror. Why? Well, of course, I like the horror genre, but there’s the probability that at worst the horror movie is going to be funnier than the bigger film, and will certainly be shorter. (In this case, it means 23 minutes of time saved on the horror movie.) Here, I’m also interested in the fact that the film was directed by David Gelb, who made Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011), one of the very few documentaries I’ve watched more than once. That the film stars Mark Duplass is kind of a plus, since I like him as long as he and his brother aren’t directing. American Horror Story alumnus Evan Peters may also be in its favor. I have no opinion of Olivia Wilde. I’m amused by the fact the film’s title has riled up a few fundamentalists. The trailer looks agreeably dumb — in the standard “it’s a bad idea to bring back the dead” manner.

Special Screenings

 

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 This week (weather permitting, of course) the Thursday Horror Picture Show will have Edward L. Cahn’s ultra-cheesy Invisible Invaders (1959) at 8 p.m. Thu., Feb. 26  in Theater Six at The Carolina. The Hendersonville Film Society is running the Cinerama feature (not in actual Cinerama, of course) Seven Wonders of the World (1956) on Sun., Mar. 1 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society starts its March calendar with Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) on Tue., Mar. 3 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

I guess the big release this week is the Oscar-winning Big Hero 6. Also up is Whiplash, which picked some Oscars of its own. Then there’s Horrible Bosses 2, which won no prizes at all. There’s also Beyond the Lights, which I hear is better than its box office would indicate.

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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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28 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler February 25-March 3: The Lazarus Focus Maps to Mr. Turner

  1. N

    Love Mike Leigh, but I have to admit I’m a bit hesitant about whether to see this one.

      • N

        All of them. Well, I guess that depends on how one defines “love.”

        I can emphatically say that I loved (in no particular order)

        Secrets and Lies
        Career Girls
        High Hopes
        Another Year
        Life is Sweet

        Mike Leigh movies I have really, really, really, liked just bunches and bunches:

        Topsy Turvy
        Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton was beyond extraordinary in this)
        All or Nothing
        Happy Go-Lucky

        Mike Leigh movie that defies a firm verdict:

        Naked (great acting, but harrowing enough that I’m not sure I have any desire to see it again — impressive but not really enjoyable, if you know what I mean.) Criterion has “Naked,” “Topsy Turvy” and “Life Is Sweet” among its collection and I long for the rest of these to join them.

        Does that help?

        • Ken Hanke

          I thought it might, but I’m not sure it does. You’ve seen a lot more than I have. I still say it’s most like Topsy Turvy — minus the music and less playful, or maybe playful in a different way. Why are you hesistant to try this? Anybody who made it through Vera Drake (I didn’t) should be pretty fearless in the Leigh realm.

          • N

            I guess I should clarify a bit.

            I made it through “Vera Drake” largely because of the magnificent Imelda Staunton. How it was that she was not given the Best Actress Oscar that year by acclamation is about as incomprehensible as how that Lady Gaga tribute to “The Sound of Music” made it past the first proposal stage. The film was often rough going to be sure given its subject matter but I didn’t want to blink every time Staunton was on screen for fear I would miss something even more extraordinary that what I had already seen.

            My hesitation as to whether or not to see “Mr. Turner” is more a dilemma if I should see it while it is here in town, of if I should wait for it on DVD. That is due to me being very unfamiliar with J.M.W. Turner, its 2 /12 hour running time, and many of the reviews I have read (even when they have been very favorable) about its rather unstructured narrative which you also allude to in the article above.

            I’m a great, great admirer of Mike Leigh so no doubt I will take the plunge. The question is as to where and when.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I’d say it’s a big screen movie for sure.

          • Ken Hanke

            I haven’t seen it on the big screen, but I would suggest running the risk, because it is such an extremely visual film that it can only enhance it. And I knew next to nothing about Turner.

          • N

            Well, it *IS* a Mike Leigh movie so I suspect I will decide to see it while it is in town if I can get my usual movie going bud to go with me.

            Thanks for the input!

  2. DrSerizawa

    I’m not sure what to think about the fact that Judd Apatow is going to helm a new PeeWee Herman movie, PeeWee’s Big Holiday.

          • Ken Hanke

            I try to know as little as possible about Judd Apatow.

          • Me

            Well it was getting all this hype, and then the trailer came out and it looked pretty awful.

          • Ken Hanke

            I missed it getting hyped. After Funny People and This is 40, I can’t imagine hyping him.

          • Me

            I think it was more because Amy Schummer was getting a major lead role in a movie.

          • Ken Hanke

            I have absolutely no idea who Amy Schummer is, which is okay by me.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I don’t know that I’d give her that much credit.

  3. W

    True to good British drama, the period settings and costumes are exquisite; his paintings are dramatic, although I had wished for more of the drama that they compel when seen up close. But it was all I could do to watch with revulsion to the end for a crotchety old man to expire with no deference or esteem except to the Royal Academy of Arts. The only redemption was that he bequeathed his work to the public museum, and that seemed anti-climatic. What the film offered in visuals it seriously lacked in verbal articulation which reduce it to banality and a vapid affront. No one should look for an inspiration here.

    • Ken Hanke

      I don’t think the film intends anyone to look for inspiration in it.

  4. W

    No inspiration intended? What about “Girl with the Pearl Earring”? “Cezanne in Provence”? “The Agony and the Ecstasy”? Films like “Amadeus”, even though auditory art, gave the moviegoer something to be awestruck about. It’s a pity that such a great subject matter as Turner’s art was neglected for the confines of his personal misery. Just a waste of technology and my time.

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