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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.