Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler January 21-27: Strange Mortdecai Boy Cake


In Theaters. 

Well, this week is juggernaut-free, which suits me just fine — not that I don’t understand the pull of last week’s newsmaking big winner. I just can’t join in the enthusiasm for it. Probably the most interesting thing this week is the chance to see whether or not Jennifer Aniston was “robbed” of an Oscar nomination. (I have my own theory on why she was overlooked, but I’m withholding it for the moment.) Otherwise, what you’re looking at are three mainstream releases that haven’t been screened for critics — or, to judge by the dearth of “user” reviews on the IMDb, anyone. This is rarely an encouraging sign. Of course, it doesn’t always follow that signs are a reliable barometer of quality. But, yeah, experience suggests this is rarely a good thing.




I’ve seen and reviewed Cake (opening Friday at The Carolina). The review is in this week’s Xpress, and while the truth is that it’s nothing like a great movie, I think it’s a very interesting one. In some ways, I like it because it’s kind of messy and sometimes even wrong-headed. The problem is that it no longer probably matters whether or not Jennifer Aniston is good — or even great — in her role. The lack of that once expected Oscar nomination will probably drive the interest way, way down. Funny how everyone seems to mostly agree that Oscars are meaningless, but still seem to put great stock in them as a barometer of what to see. Maybe we’d be better off seeing for ourselves.

So about the other things…




The Boy Next Door is the kind of movie that a.) crops up every January, b.) is never screened for critics, and c.) will almost certainly smell from herring. It was made by Rob Cohen, who hasn’t had a very good run since the original The Fast and the Furious in 2001. And it has the additional downside of starring Jennifer Lopez. Now, I don’t dislike Lopez as such, but goodness knows, she does show up in some amazingly crappy movies. This thriller in which she’s stalked by some beefy boy (played by someone called Ryan Guzman) certainly has all the earmarks of being on the Lopezian crapfest list. It looks like cheesy exploitation stuff that probably is neither cheesy enough, nor sufficiently exploitative to be much fun. It has, however, spawned much debate from (presumably) horny teenage boys about whether or not they’ll get to see naked J-Lo. I love intellectual discussions.




Then there’s David Koepp’s Mortdecai starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, and Olivia Munn. This is an action comedy/spy spoof sort of thing that will probably fall prey to the apparent national obsession to bash Johnny Depp for his more recent movies (whether he or they deserve it), and the inevitable bile directed at Gwyneth Paltrow for being obnoxious in real life. I will concede in this case that the trailer looks…well, not very good. However, I’ve liked most of the David Koepp films I’ve seen — notably 1999’s Stir of Echoes (so much better than the similar Sixth Sense) and the underseen Ghost Town (2008). I also genuinely like Depp and have never subscribed to this downgrading. For that matter, I can overlook Paltrow’s teeth-grating pronouncements. Am I optimistic? Not really, but I’m not writing it off yet.




Finally we get Strange Magic, which is “from the mind of George Lucas.” That appears to be the selling point for this animated fantasy. In fact, the generally solid, if hardly big box office, voice cast doesn’t rate a mention. Though “from the mind of George Lucas” it may be, newcomer feature director Gary Rydstrom is helming the thing and is one of the screenwriters. (Lucas provided the story and is executive producer.) It’s all about magical forest creatures — you know, pixies and fairies and goblins — engaged in a battle over some potion or other. And it’s decked out with pop hits “of the past 60 years” on the soundtrack (presumably including ELO’s “Strange Magic”). There is much boasting over Industrial Light & Magic effects, but no one has actually seen the film.

This week we lose Big Eyes, which was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Also notable is the fact that The Carolina is moving both Foxcatcher and Inherent Vice to split shows. This is particularly distressing in the case of Inherent Vice. The arrival of three new art titles next Friday bodes ill for it.

Special Screenings




This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show follows up last week’s film, Night Watch, with its sequel Day Watch (2006) — also from Timur Bekmambetov — at 8 p.m. on Thu., Jan. 22 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (Theorem) (1968) on Fri., Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Michael Anderson’s Operation Crossbow (1965) on Sun., Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out its January calendar with the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy Half Shot at Sunrise (1930) on Tue., Jan. 27 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.


Probably the best thing this week is The Boxtrolls, but don’t rule out the chance to finally get to see Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem. Also up is The Drop, which impressed others more than it did me. Ditto Lucy and Annabelle, neither of which I plan on ever seeing again.

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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24 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler January 21-27: Strange Mortdecai Boy Cake

  1. I’ve avoided the trailer for MORTDECAI, but on paper this movie seems like it was designed for me to enjoy it. I think Koepp is a really underrated director, so I’ll heading along to this, unless you positively loathe it.

  2. DrSerizawa

    Paltrow is a decent enough actress. But like it or not what people say publicly is important. The control the studios had over the actors during the era of the Studio System may have been a better thing for the actors themselves in this regard. That said I’m surprised that she hasn’t demanded a part in one of Apatow’s movies about the difficulties of life as a multimillionaire.

    I liked Night Watch but found Day Watch to be too incoherent. It was rather a disappointment. This not to say it didn’t have its positive aspects.

  3. Me

    Wetlands is now streaming on Netflix and Appropriate Behavior is now streaming on demand at Amazon and Itunes.

    • Ken Hanke

      I watched Wetlands. That won’t happen twice. Yes, it’s cleverly made. It’s also one of the most pointless, deeply unpleasant movies I’ve ever seen, focusing on people I’d run away from in real life.

      • Me

        I haven’t watched it yet, but I’ve seen people describe it as the dirty Amelie.

          • Me

            They might have been joking, I think I saw that in a comments section somewhere.

        • Ken Hanke

          Well, if Amelie was about an unlikable, heavy drug using, completely irresponsible, nymphomaniac — presented in the most graphic terms you can image, and utterly devoid of charm…

          • Me

            I’ve watched about half of it so far and going to finish it later, but I cant say I’m too impressed with it. How does this have 91% on Rotten Tomatoes? The first 20 minutes or so are my nightmare, I’m pretty OCD about germs.

            I’m not a big fan of Amelie either though.

          • Ken Hanke

            Color me shocked that you don’t care for Amelie. That is sarcasm. Color me truly shocked that you disagree with the guy from the Dissolve. That is not sarcasm.

          • Ken Hanke

            I didn’t realize you differentiated. Scott Tobias.

          • Me

            The only one I really follow on there is Mike Dangelo and he does reviews for various other websites not just The Dissolve.

  4. Jason W.

    It looks like the Pizza Co. is showing Blade Runner next week.

    • Ken Hanke

      At 10:15 p.m. only. It’s whatever the latest cut of the film is.

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