Count your blessings for movies that are still playing, movies that are being brought back, and Charlie Kaufman. Otherwise, this looks like a week that might challenge last week for sheer dreadfulness and maximum awfulness — and utter suckage. Last week could indeed go down in history. And not in a good way. This week…well, we’ll see.
Stepping away from the January moose fellation party for a moment, I suppose it is time to say something about the Oscar nominations. Even without getting into the lily-white nature of the nominations, I have to say this is one dispiriting list. I kind of expected there’d be a backlash to last year’s nearly all “art film” nominations. Let’s face it, the fact that there was no blockbuster to play to the crowd was seen as the reason for the lacklustre Oscar TV ratings. Well, that won’t happen this year — or at least that excuse won’t work for low ratings. That just means it’ll be time to blame the host, who ironically — considering the boycott over the lack of black nominees — is Chris Rock (unless he bails). I’m not entirely convinced that just because lots of people went to see The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road it follows that those same people will watch the show. As for the extreme whiteness of it all…considering Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in The Hateful Eight, Will Smith’s (an actor I normally don’t like) performance in the not very good Concussion, the performances of Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the little seen Tangerine (which hasn’t played here), RJ Cyler in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Shameik Moore in Dope — well, it seems pretty sketchy, yes. (I can’t say anything about Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq because I haven’t seen it.)
First up this week is Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa — opening Friday at the Fine Arts. It is the only film opening that I have seen, and Justin Souther’s review for it is in this week’s Xpress. It is, I think, safe to say that it’s the best thing opening this week — even if I haven’t see the other three. The Oscar-nominated (Best Animated Feature) Anomalisa is apt to slightly disappoint fans of his Synecdoche, New York, but may sit better with those who found that expansive (even sprawling) first film too impenetrable to like. The animated Anomalisa — while fully as existential and quite possibly even more disturbing — is much more straightforward in terms of plot. It basically deals with a public speaker, Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), on a lecture tour, who — following a disastrous encounter with an old flame in the hotel bar — meets one of his biggest fans, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s different from everyone — or so he believes. She’s so different, he thinks her an anomaly, hence the name Anomalisa. The thing that makes this damaged, shy, young woman immediately different for the viewer is that she and Michael are the only characters in the film who aren’t voiced by Tom Noonan. Everyone else — including Michael’s wife, his son, his ex-flame, etc. — is seen as a kind of gigantic, endlessly interchangeable other. Not surprisingly, these two individuals enter into an affair, but…well, there’s where the film’s point lies and to say more about it would be a disservice. Mostly, it might be said that the film is about our perception of other people and the difficulty (impossibility?) of true connectedness. It’s not a lot of fun, but it is undoubtedly a powerful — somewhat depressing — work that should be seen. And, no, despite being animated it is not for children. The themes are too dark, would likely bore children, and then there’s stop-motion sex…
The unknown realm starts with J Blakeson’s The 5th Wave — starting Friday (with the mostly obligatory Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. So who is J Blakeson (other than someone too cool to need a first name)? Well, he made something called The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009), which indeed disappeared before making it to the provinces. Sony describes it this way: “16-year-old Cassie Sullivan tries to survive in a world devastated by the waves of an alien invasion that has already decimated the population and knocked mankind back to the Stone Age.” Cassie is Chloë Grace Moretz. This appears to be based on some best-selling YA trilogy by someone named Rick Yancey. I’d say it looks like yet another YA trip to dystopia and the sub-genre that Mr. Souther has dubbed “Sad Teens.” Oh, my.
Then there’s William Brent Brown’s The Boy — starting Friday (without Thursday evening shows) at The Carolina. (My guess is opens elsewhere, too, but no one else has admitted this yet.) What is it? Well, the studio insists it’s “a frightening thrill ride directed by William Brent Bell starring Lauren Cohan (TV’s The Walking Dead). Greta (Cohan) is a young American woman who takes a job as a nanny in a remote English village, only to discover that the family’s 8-year-old is a life-sized doll that the parents care for just like a real boy, as a way to cope with the death of their actual son 20 years prior. After violating a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring Greta’s worst nightmare to life, leading her to believe that the doll is actually alive.” Fine. That sounds at least interesting. However, this is PG-13 horror in January. Bad sign. Then there’s the director. Setting aside my basic skepticism of people with three-barrled names (Paul Thomas Anderson to one side), Mr. Brown gave us the dismal The Devil Inside four Januaries ago. In his favor — sort of — I admit to having enjoyed the silly Stay Alive (2006), but I lay that as much at the feet of a rowdy Friday night teenage audience, who took it in the right spirit. This looks more serious-minded and probably less fun — and I’ll likely see it Friday morning without benefit of teenage audience.
Last up is Dan Mazer’s Dirty Grandpa — starting Friday (with Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. This needs little description. It’s an R-rated raunchy-com with Robert (Just sign the check) De Niro as the title character — behaving badly and age-inappropriately to delight the easily delighted and to make life hell for grandson Zac Efron. Maybe it will be better than I think. I may never know. This has Justin’s name all over it.
Now, this week we lose Youth, which is a misfortune of considerable note. We also lose The Danish Girl, which is not. The Fine Arts is splitting Trumbo (4:20, Late show Fri-Sat 9:50) and Carol (1:20, 7:20). The Carolina is holding a full set of Carol, and bringing back Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Room (Oscar has much to answer for), and Spotlight — all on split-shows that I don’t have times for yet. Also worth noting is that they’re cutting The Hateful Eight to one show a day, which is very unfortunate indeed.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show running Brian De Palma’s Sisters (1973) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Jan. 21 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is returns with Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) at 8 p.m. on Fri., Jan. 22 at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts (2006) on Sun., Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper. and Charles Laughton in Marion Gering’s Devil and the Deep (1932) on Tue., Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress and in the online edition.