It’s crapshoot week at the movies where the mainstream is concerned — and I kind of like it. The folks who like to tell us what a movie will make days before it opens appear to be completely flummoxed by the week’s three big — well, big-ish — offerings, which is to say they aren’t really committing to anything. There are few finer sights in this world than seeing market research fall flat on its face.
Speaking of which no one expected Mr. Holmes to do the kind of business it did this past weekend — at least locally. After being moved from a small house at The Carolina to a house twice that size house because of selling out, it finally ended up being moved to the biggest auditorium to handle the demand. This week the number of shows per day are being added to. I don’t recall that happening before with an art title.
Two new art titles open this week — both of which are worthy of consideration and both of which are reviewed in this week’s paper. At the top of the list is the Swedish dark comedy The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared — opening Friday at The Carolina. Yes, it’s in Swedish — and English and Spanish and Russian and French and German (the movie gets around) — and, yes, you have to read subtitles, though the title character’s wry narration is in English. No, it has no box office names, and its screenwriter-director Felix Herngren is largely unknown outside of Sweden. Forget all that. This is a delight — a cheeky, quirky, cheerfully amoral (often very dark) comedy about a man with a penchant for explosions who bails on an old folks’ home on the morning of his 100th birthday and finds himself on an adventure involving a suitcase full of money and gangsters. Along the way, he shares his life story — that includes fighting in the Spanish Civil War, working on the atomic bomb, drinking with Harry Truman, being imprisoned by Stalin…and a lot more. It also has an elephant, a collection of odd characters, and a high mortality rate, but somehow manages to be possessed of a very generous heart. For pure fun, I don’t think I’ve seen anything more enjoyable all year. Catch this and do it quick, because I don’t see it being around very long — it’s opening on a split schedule, but did manage to get four shows a day (11:45. 2:20, 7:30, 10:00).
In an altogether different vein is James Kent’s Testament of Youth — opening Friday at The Carolina. This is not a lot of laughs, but then it doesn’t attempt to be. It’s a finely wrought film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir of the same name. It just misses being one of the great anti-war films — mostly because it’s a little on the BBC side — but is still a persuasive statement on the senseless waste of war, and specifically WWI, which even today is hard to understand. The fact that it’s told from a point of view other than that of a soldier at the front is a fresh touch. Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina, Ex Machina) is splendid as Vera Brittain, and there are fine performances by Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Kit Harrington, Miranda Richardson, and Hayley Atwell as well. It misses greatness, but it’s very good indeed.
That brings us to the mainstream titles, beginning with Paper Towns — opening Friday (with Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. This one is something of a long shot — another YA adaptation (from the author of The Fault in Our Stars, no less) of teenage love. Its poster just reeks of teencentric goo. But it was made by Jake Schreier, who gave us the sweetly charming Robot & Frank in 2012, and it stars Nat Wolff, who was very good in Palo Alto (2013). The female lead, Cara Delevingne, had a small role in Anna Karenina (2012), but is otherwise unknown to me. The premise involves Delevingne disappearing, but leaving clues behind for Wolff and his friends to decipher, which in turn leads to a road trip to find her. The early reviews — all six of them — are surprisingly good. Who knows?
The next choice moves from the literary (loosely defined) to the high concept pop culture of Chris Columbus’ Pixels — opening Friday (with Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. This is, I suppose, for those whose definition of pop culture is ’80s videogames. Now, I’m not going to razz this because Chris Columbus made it. Honestly, I still like his Adventures in Babysitting (1987), and I think his bland efficiency was perfect for the first two Harry Potter movies. Anyway why waste time on Chris Columbus when a movies stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James? The story involves aliens — who have mistaken old videogames for a declaration of war — attacking the earth in the guise of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc. To defeat them President Kevin James (yeah, really, no foolin’) calls on old space age arcade whiz kid buddies Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage to fight them. By now, you know if this is for you.
And finally we have Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw — opening Friday (with Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. This is supposed to be the intelligent choice of the mainstream offerings. The studio tells us it’s from “acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua,” but does not tell us by whom he’s acclaimed — or whether this acclaim merely refers to the overrated Training Day from 14 years ago. Surely it can’t refer to Olympus Has Fallen (or as I think of it, A Limp Moose Has Fallen). In any case, this is some kind of boxing drama with personal redemption on its mind — you know, like Wallace Beery in The Champ (1931). It has not been wowing the (very limited) critics. (Justin Chang’s blurb for Variety is the most chilling — “The undeniable intensity of Gyllenhaal’s bulked-up, Method-mumbling performance may leave you feeling more pummeled than convinced in this heavy-handed tale of redemption.”) Worse, it appears the Weinsteins have had little luck in convincing audiences to see it. I know my ennui is in high gear.
This week the only art title we lose is I’ll See You in My Dreams, which has had a nice little run. Love & Mercy remains at the Flatrock Cinema.
Before getting to the usual entries, it’s worth noting that on Wednesday, July 22 at 8:00 p.m., the Asheville Film Society will screen Lewis Milestone’s Academy Award winning anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front at The Carolina. Though it won Oscars for Milestone as Best Picture, it was also a very popular film that was re-released several times over the years — something that created a problem. You see, what was permissible in terms of censorship when the film originally came out was increasingly not permissible as the years went by. As a result, over 30 minutes of the original film were whittled away in order to satisfy later censors, leaving a much less powerful film. The version being run — from a new DCP — is the film as it was originally released. More, it’s been beautifully restored so that it actually looks better than it did when it was new. This is a truly great film that ought to be seen.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Ian McKellen in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters (1998) at 8 p.m. on Thu., July 23 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) on Fri., July 24 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men (2003) on Sun., July 26 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) on Tue., July 28 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina — your chance to see if it really is, as is sometimes claimed, the greatest film of all time. More on all in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.
The choice releases this week are What We Do in the Shadows and Ex Machina. And then there’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 for those who enjoy slamming their fingers in car doors.