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 RogerEbert.com — “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.
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.