You can’t claim a lack of choices this week. Quality, of course, is another matter. In any case, there are four movies hitting town that qualify — more or less — as mainstream. (One of them might be better viewed as being in the art realm.) Add to that, three art/indie titles and you could see a new movie every day for a week, if that’s your idea of a good time. In a couple of cases, I doubt it’d be mine, but that’s a separate issue.
I have the advantage of having seen (and reviewed) three of the titles — the art/indie ones, of course — already. Those are all worthy one way or another, but all of them combined won’t equal one day’s total gross for one of the big ‘uns. It is the way of things. I should perhaps note that this is the week Grail Moviehouse dips its toes into a mainstream title to see how that plays. It’s also the week where they have their first really great classic title with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). I admit to having looked askance at their first classic offerings (photos of me looking askance are available at reasonable rates), but I have no such qualms about this one!
First up art wise (meaning it got my Weekly Pick) is Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner — starting Friday at Fine Arts Theatre. This is perhaps the most entertaining documentary I’ve seen this year. Certainly, it’s the most compelling, and that’s against the odds, since chances are good that you already know the outcome of Anthony Weiner’s 2013 campaign for mayor of NYC — you know, the one that was supposed to redeem him after the sexting scandal that caused him to resign from congress two years earlier. But the trick here is that Kriegman and Steinberg were given almost unlimited — and ultimately downright incomprehensible — access to Weiner and his much beleagured wife Huma Abedin. The intention was obviously to capture his comeback, but it turned into something quite different — a fascinating portrait of a man apparently not only determined to self-destruct (or at least unable to stop it), but also incapable of not doing it on camera. It’s funny, it’s tragic, it’s pathetic — and you can’t look away from it.
Then we have Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits — starting Friday at Grail Moviehouse. I watched this twice, liked it, and still don’t quite know what to make of it, which I’ve decided is a good thing. I think. It’s not only the debut film of Holmer, but of her young star, Royalty Hightower. Without Hightower, the film would probably not exist. It is certainly unthinkable with any one else in the role. What is it? Well, it’s the story of a young girl about to enter adoloscence and starting to find herself — in her case through dance. But that is not really what the film is. No, it’s a strangely poetic character study that suggests much and says little. Read the review and consider the movie. I doubt you’ll find anything like it.
Finally, there’s Louise Osmond’s Dark Horse — starting Friday at Carolina Cinemark. This is another documentary, but about as different from Weiner as it would be possible to get. It recounts the story of a barmaid in a little Welsh village who opts to pursue her dream of breeding and racing a horse. It’s an impossible dream that turns out to be possible when the village joins in by buying shares in the horse. It sounds like something Frank Capra might have made or one of those gentle late ’40s Ealing comedies, and it kind of is. Except, of course, this is real. Yeah, it’s uplifting, but it never feels cloying or shamelessly manipulative. So if you’re looking for a movie that will just entertain and make you feel a little better about humanity, this might be it.
Next let’s look at Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon — opening Friday at Carolina Cinemark (possibly more venues, but this is the only confirmed one). By rights, this ought to have been screened for local critics and handled as an art title — albeit a special one of the horror movie genre (sort of at least). But it’s from Broad Green Pictures, who don’t quite seem to have a handle on how to promote their movies. Goodness know, this needs promotion. First of all Nicolas Winding Refn’s work needs all the help it can get, especially after the critically damned Only God Forgives in 2013. (Well, I liked it, but…) Whether or not you might think its reception was in reaction to how highly his previous film, Drive (2011), had been praised, there’s no denying it did his standing no favors. Following it up with a horror movie could use some assistance. At the same time, The Neon Demon has polarized the critics who have seen it. At the moment, it has 21 fresh and 21 rotten reviews of Rotten Tomatoes. The negative reviews tend to be either brutal or disappointed. The positive ones, on the other hand, mostly gush. No one, however seems to doubt its technical brilliance. The blurb is very brief, “When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.” It stars Elle Fanning and Keanu Reeves, and is frankly the film I’m most interested in.
Now, the film all spruced up for critical acclaim is Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones — starting Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. Now, I’d feel better about this critical-darling-wanna-be if it was directed by someone other than Gary Ross and if it had any early reviews — and it hasn’t. It has five negative reviews, and I have to say that the breakout quote from IndieWIRE’s David Ehrlich — “Flowing like a miniseries that’s been cleaved down to 145 minutes, and shot with the boxed-in functionality of basic cable television, it would be a misfire even if it weren’t completely tone-deaf to the current climate” — seems to bear out my own suspicions based on the soporific trailer. The blurb is, not surprisingly, more enthusuastic: “Directed by four-time Oscar nominee Gary Ross and starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Free State of Jones is an epic action-drama set during the Civil War, and tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.” Choose up sides. I think I’m sitting this one out.
Up next is Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence — opening Friday (with some Thursday night showings) at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Grail Moviehouse, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. The early, mostly British, reviews are on the underwhelmed side. But it hardly matters. You already know whether or not you are the target audience for Mr. Emmerich’s latest outburst of explosions and property damage. The studio says it all: “We always knew they were coming back. After Independence Day redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global catastrophe on an unimaginable scale.” Well, of course, they were coming back. The original grossed a fortune. The only surprise is that it took 20 years to happen.
Last and almost certainly least is Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows — starting Friday (with Thursday night yadda yadda) at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande. Honestly, I can see absolutely no reason to see this. The synopsis describes it thus: “In the taut thriller The Shallows, when Nancy (Blake Lively) is surfing on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude.” The photo says it all for me.
This week we lose Marguerite and Maggie’s Plan. The Fine Arts is dropping both Love & Friendship and The Lobster, but both are holding at Carolina Cinemark.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show shows Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth (1957) on June 23 at 7:30 p.m.at the Grail Moviehouse (45 S. French Broad Ave.). It will be preceded by Chapter Two of the Bela Lugosi serial The Phantom Creeps (1939). World Cinema is showing Marcel Carné’s Port of Shadows (1938) at 8 p.m. on Fri., June 24 at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). The Hendersonville Film Society is running the Taviani Brothers’ Wondrous Boccaccio (2015) Sunday, June 26, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is screening Alfred Hitchcock’s first international hit The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) on Tuesday June 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grail Moviehouse — note new time and new location. This is a ticketed event and is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress and in the online edition.