Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler July 29-August 4: Mission Infinitely Polar Vacation Lego Experiment — and More

In Theaters.

It started out as a simple week — two mainstream titles (including one potential juggernaut) and three art titles. Then one of the titles (the less likely) decided it needed a Wednesday opening for reasons that are anybody’s guess, since neither the date, nor the movie is special. Oh, but it didn’t end there. Two more art titles got added to the mix at the last minute (so late, they didn’t make the “upcomers” in the print edition) — one of which is being so given the bum’s rush that it seems pointless. In any case, we now have two mainstream films and five art titles.

Before getting to the main events, let me explain what the deal is on these late additions. Put bluntly — and rightly or wrongly — they’re being thrown away by their distributors, shunted into any position possible to get them in theaters. There is no expectation for them and if they last more than a week, it’ll be a miracle. Of course, that’s what was said about The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and it astonished every one by doing so well that it garnered a second week. I would not expect that here.




Now, four of these impending art titles I’ve seen, but I’ve only reviewed three of them. This gets tricky, because that unreviewed title would have gotten the Weekly Pick, but… well, let’s start with what did get the pick, Maya Forbes’ Infinitely Polar Bear — opening Friday at the Fine Arts. This is a surprisingly assured directorial debut from Ms. Forbes — from her own autobiographical screenplay about growing up with a bi-polar (and otherwise very eccentric) father. What could have been either a treacly mess or one of those things where mental illness is treated as cute turns out to be a reasonably balanced comedy-drama that’s deservedly and genuinely moving. The fact that Mark Ruffalo plays the father helps, but the rest of the cast should not be overlooked. Definitely worth your attention.





OK, here we’ll move to the film without a review, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet — starting Friday at The Carolina on a split schedule (12:00, 4:40, 10:00). You may or may not remember that this title showed up on my Best of 2014 list. At that time, I wrote: “As a major admirer of Jean-Piere Jeunet (I even like Alien Resurrection), I finally got fed up with waiting for Weinsteins to do … well, anything with his The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (they sat on it for over a year), so I ordered it from Amazon UK. I would probably have found a spot for this on my ‘best’ list, but that seems unfair, since it hasn’t played in the U.S. at all. I understand that it’s a hard-sell. Apart from Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, and Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon, it’s notably shy of recognizable names. But, hey, it’s in English to soothe the subtitle-phobic. It’s also every bit a Jeunet film — clever, quirky, cinematically playful — and it’s a special delight. However — and this is not a criticism — it is also one of the most pervasively sad movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, it has a happy ending and all that, but nothing dispels its deep undercurrent of melancholy. I pretty much loved it and wish the Weinsteins would do something with it.” Well, they finally did something with it, but this throwaway “release” is not what I had in mind. Owing to the quality of the film, it is my intention to have a review up online this week (assuming the DVD can be found, which is looking iffy at the moment) — followed by one in the paper. (It is not, by the way, being shown in 3D, despite the UK poster’s claim.)




Next up is Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment — starting Friday at The Carolina. This is a movie I respect without actually liking it very much. As filmmaking, I found it rather rudimentary, but the questions it raises are certainly worthy of consideration — and are more than a little disturbing. To say that this recreation — and implicit critique — of the notorious 1971 actual experiment is not a lot of fun is an understatement. Then again, that’s not the point. Check out the review to see if it’s for you.




Finally, there’s A LEGO Brickumentary — starting Friday on a split schedule (2:25, 7:00) at The Carolina. Yeah, I saw it. I reviewed it. You can read that review. I’m sure it’s a very interesting movie — it’s certainly well made — if you grew up with and are a fan of Legos. Therein lies the problem. I didn’t grow up with them and I’m not a fan. If I’d spent hours lying in the floor playing with these interlocking bricks, I’d probably feel differently. But from my perspective the film would have been better as a 30 minute short. You may well find it more interesting.




And on to the unknown items. First up alphabetically is Aloft — barely starting Friday at The Carolina for one show a day (9:10 p.m.). The film opened in limited release back in May to generally awful reviews (43 negative vs. 7 positive) and very bad box office. It stars Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy. All I know is what the studio blurb says: “As we follow a mother (Jennifer Connelly) and her son (Cillian Murphy), we delve into a past marred by an accident that tears them apart. She will become a renowned artist and healer, and he will grow into his own as a peculiar falconer who bears the marks of a double absence. In the present, a young journalist (Mélanie Laurent) will bring about an encounter between the two that puts the very meaning of life and art into question, so that we may contemplate the possibility of living life to its fullest, despite the uncertainties littering our paths.” If that intrigues you, you’d better waste no time seeing it.




The Next Big Thing this week (there wasn’t one last week) is Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation — starting Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Co-ed of Brevard, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. This round Tom Cruise has brought along Christopher McQuarrie, who directed his Jack Reacher and co-wrote Edge of Tomorrow. This round McQuarrie does both. I watched the TV show when I was a kid, but somehow or other, I’ve missed all the theatrical films. I have a hunch that a.) it’s time to finally catch one and b.) it won’t matter much that I haven’t seen the first four in the series. So far, the movie has 35 reviews — 33 of which are positive, mostly gushingly so. We shall see.




Part of the reason that it’s time for me to catch a Mission: Impossible film lies with the week’s final offering, Vacation — starting Wednesday (with Tuesday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. This, if you don’t know, is a sort of sequel to and remake of National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) — and to prove its legitimacy it’s even brought in Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. This round it’s all grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) heading out to Walley World. The why of it all puzzles me. (Everyone is overlooking the fact that the last two films in the series were not exactly world-beaters.) Is there an audience? Presumably, but it’s (so far) not the critics, and I await the outcries of how this movie ruined someone’s childhood. Perhaps the strongest warning comes from Glenn Kenny at — “minute to minute, one of the most repellent, mean-spirited gross-out comedies it’s ever been my squirmy displeasure to sit through.”

This week we lose Testament of Youth, which, frankly, deserved better. The Carolina is dropping Amy, though the Fine Arts is holding for late shows on Friday and Saturday only. Flat Rock Cinema is dropping Love & Mercy.

Special Screenings




The Thursday Horror Picture Show Alex de La Iglesia’s Las Brujas de Zugaramurdi (Witching & Bitching) (2013) at 8 p.m. on Thu., July 30 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) on Fri., July 31 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 John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) on Sun., Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society starts its August calendar with Preston Sturges’ comedy classic The Palm Beach Story (1942) on Tue., Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.


Only two new major titles this week — and neither of them, Home or The Water Diviner is exciting.

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 July 29-August 4: Mission Infinitely Polar Vacation Lego Experiment — and More

  1. Ken Hanke

    Scroll down to the movies to see the promised review of The Young and Prodigous T.S. Spivet — easily the best film opening this week.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    The pretty darn good The Skeleton Twins is now Streaming via the service we call Netflix.

    • Ken Hanke

      I have less than zero motivation to see Zero Motivation, but I do plan on catching the latter. And where have you been? I was beginning to think some evil had befallen you.

        • Ken Hanke

          I was impressed by how well made Wild Canaries was…but it’s such a shameless copy of Manhattan Murder Mystery — only less funny and with less likable people — that it’s way beyond the realm of derivative, verging on plagiaristic.

  3. I have a hunch that a.) it’s time to finally catch one and b.) it won’t matter much that I haven’t seen the first four in the series.

    I’d say you’re right on both counts. It’s quite a bit of fun, a refreshing counterpoint to the more ponderous and grim action thrillers of recent years.

  4. Xanadon't

    I agree with Jeremy except that the John Woo directed second installment is mostly awful. This most recent is on par with the rest of the series, which is to say it’s fun, often funny, and the action sequences are almost uniformly first rate.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I don’t think Rogue Nation is as funny as many people claim. Most of the action sequences are well done, but the final act drags and drags.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I found it more unintentionally amusing than intentional. McQuarrie’s self-serious dialogue and Tom Cruise jumping around like a primate will do that.

          • Ken Hanke

            I had no problem with the dialogue — which is to say I found it no worse than I expected in this kind of movie — but, yes, spring-loaded Cruise is pretty damn funny.

  5. pat todd

    did I miss something……I asked all around about the film “Testament of Youth”
    and heard nothing about it coming. did I miss it?

    • Ken Hanke

      Unfortunately, you did. It played at The Carolina for only a week in July. It didn’t do very well.

      • patricia todd

        regarding the film ” Testament of Youth” starring Kit Harrington which ran one week at the Carolina

        what is “didn’t do very well”? people rather see “Antman”? LOL ! I don’t know much
        about the film, since it flew in under radar, however the book of the same title by Vera Brittain
        is a WWI primary historical classic. Go figure America loves ‘mission imp 00 sible four’. (top $$$)

        We must remember only 34 percent of Americans have a four year degree or more.
        And holywood can spray any great source material to a Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger.
        (one of my all time recent favorites, I walked out on.) And that’s meaningful if you know I have
        only walked out on two other films in my life! (I am 65 years old, and I guess one reason I might
        have liked “Testament of YOUth” lol

        Carolina is my fav local theater, so I give them four stars for the try. Maybe folks would have liked
        T of Y had they known it starred Kit Harrington (John Snow) from GAME OF THRONES! He is so cute! And why
        I watch Thrones.

        thanks Hanky
        ps I watched David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter for a revisit for $2.99 guess the Carolina
        saved me money.
        Did question the Fine Arts in June about “Testament of Youth” and they
        said “we’ll pass on it”.

        • Ken Hanke

          Well, of course, by and large and in terms of mainstream movies, yes, more people will go to see Ant-Man, but that’s a given and it’s not the major factor, since there’s a different audience for this sort of movie. Testament of Youth opened here the week after the phenomenally popular art title Mr. Holmes, which was still riding high the second week. (The weekend Mr. Holmes opened, it actually was the biggest money-maker at The Carolina — outdoing the mainstream titles.) Plus, it opened against another art title, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which took in more than twice as much as Testament of Youth did.

          That’s the playing field a movie like Testament is on. It had the bad luck to open against two more popular art titles — or specialty titles, if you prefer. The audience for films like these is generally much smaller. They’re handled by smaller distributors and don’t have the promotion the big movies do. When there are too many of them at one time, something is bound to slip through the cracks.

          I’m not surprised that the Fine Arts passed on it. Testament had been underperforming in the larger markets. Plus, FA only has two screens. With 14 screens, The Carolina can afford the risk.

          The upside to this is that most art/specialty/indie films know that they are much more dependent on reviews. As a result, 95% of the time they make sure the local reviewers get to see these films the week before they open, so the reviews appear before the movies open. Now, whether the reviews interest you or not, if you check the Mountain Xpress on Wednesdays, you’ll know when movies like this are opening. Testament of Youth was reviewed and in print two days before it opened.

          • patricia todd

            thank you , Ken
            Your comments were well put, intelligent and educational to boot.
            I will review via Mt Express in future, now coming to me online.
            Look for me to comment occasionally.

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