It’s the July 4th weekend, which I guess means people are expected to go to the movies. I don’t know. I can’t keep track of these things anymore. So maybe. Actually, there are only two mainstream movies locked in a death match (the third is on a wholly different level). So that means that half the movies opening this week are art/indie things that are likely unaffected by holiday weekends. (I don’t really see packing the family in the car between the cookout and the fireworks to go see a documentary on Brian De Palma. Guess it depends on the family.)
The real question this weekend in whether the movies will actually be any good. Granted, I only saw the art titles (mostly the week before — with one for this week). I was once again under the weather and I’m getting pretty tired of it, I can tell you. But from the sound of things, I missed very little. The only one that even tempted me was The Neon Demon and if Justin Souther is right, it was probably the worst of the lot. In any case, audiences spurned it big time.
The one film I’ve seen and reviewed this week is Susanna White’s movie version of John le Carré’s espionage thriller Our Kind of Traitor — starting Friday at Carolina Cinemark and Fine Arts Theatre. The problem with modern le Carré is that he’s essentially a Cold War writer and there is no more Cold War. So instead he’s dealing with money-laundering, the Russian mafia, corrupt British financiers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty if the price is right, and a young British couple —Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris — who become mixed up in it all. It may lack the density of the Cold War yarns and it certainly lacks the post-Cold War satirical bite of The Tailor of Panama, but it’s a compelling film with no shortage of moral weight as concerns the topic of trust. It’s also nice to McGregor and Harris get something worth doing for a change. And while they’re both good and appealing, Stellan Skarsgård as a wild-man Russian seeking asylum in Great Britain and Damian Lewis as a quirky MI6 operative threaten to steal every scene they’re in. If you want a movie made for adults, this is it.
Then there’s Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s highly-acclaimed documentary De Palma — starting Friday at Grail Moviehouse. As you might guess, the film is about the unwaveringly controversial filmmaker Brian De Palma — a filmmaker I’ve been following since the double-whammy of Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Carrie (1976), which I confess remain my most treasured of this films. This isn’t to say I haven’t liked a lot of the others, but those are my De Palma gold standard. The more mainstream he gets, the less fascinating I find him. The approach here is apparently to have Baumbach and Paltrow lead De Palma through his filmography and just let him rip. Will it win over the naysayers who like to dismiss De Palma as a Hitchcock imitator? Probably not, but who cares? If it gets the less familiar to start going through his movies, it has succeeded. Regardless, I can’t wait.
An attempt was made to get a press screening of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (collectively know as “The Daniels”) Swiss Army Man — starting Friday at Carolina Cinemark and Fine Arts Theatre — but it didn’t happen. So it’s opening cold locally. My guess is it doesn’t matter much. You probably already have a pretty fair idea when Paul Dano becomes best friends with the flatulent corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) — one that proves to have as many uses as a, yes, Swiss Army Knife — that washes up on the island he’s stranded on. It’s s sort of buddy comedy, but with a pretty big difference that seems to make it fall somewhere in between tasteless knockabout and a surprisingly warm (albeit peculiar) friendship. One thing I think we may agree on is that you won’t see anything like it — maybe ever again.
Now we move over to the unseen mainstream and Steven Spielberg’s film of Roald Dahl’s The BFG — doing that Friday/Thursday evening thing at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. I am apparently supposed to know what this is — the children’s book — but I don’t. I see it came out in 1982 before Internet acronyms would have made the title a debatable choice. I know it means “Big Friendly Giant,” but “friendly” is not the word that immediately occurs to my heathen mind. Frankly, nothing about this really appeals to me. It looks too slick, too processed, too phony. I grant you Mark Rylance’s BFG looks better than those dead-eyed, latex mask-looking things in The Polar Express (2004), but that can’t have been hard, especially after 12 years of improved technology. Of course, no, I’m not the world’s biggest Spielberg fan to start with — especially when he’s in fantasy mode. I suspect we can say this wasn’t really aimed at me. It is expected to be the Next Big Thing, but the critical response to it has been on the tepid side.
Whether or not I’m any more the audience for David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan — opening Friday with Thursday evening shows at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande — is another matter. I grew up on those Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies that seemed to always be on TV and I’m mostly content to leave it at that, even though I know those movies don’t in any way reflect the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. At the same time, I’m interested to see what David Yates does here. After all, he made some of the best Harry Potter movies, including Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), which may be the best. I am at best ambivalent about Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan, but the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, and Jim Broadbent is enticing. Downside: it hasn’t been screened for critics, and those CGI apes in the trailer make me long for the days of Charlie Gemorra and his ape suit.
Of course, no one expects a movie like James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Election Year — doing that Thursday/Friday thing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher — to be screened for critics. And it hasn’t. OK, so the second one was a little better than the first. Did we really deserve a third one? This time, it seems to have gotten more overtly political (they already were pretty political) to play on the election year. Overall, though, you know what you’re getting here.
This week we lose The Lobster and Weiner. The Fine Arts is dropping Genius, but Carolina Cinemark is holding it. Carolina Cinemark is also dropping Dark Horse, but Flat Rock Cinema is picking it up.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show shows Jean Yarbrough’s King of the Zombies (1941) on June 30 at 7:30 p.m.at the Grail Moviehouse (45 S. French Broad Ave.). It will be preceded by Chapter Three of the Bela Lugosi serial The Phantom Creeps (1939). World Cinema is showing David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) at 8 p.m. on Fri., July 1 at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). The Hendersonville Film Society is running the Fritz Lang’s House by the River (1950) Sunday, July 3, 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 Ken Russell’s Salome’s Last Dance (1988) on Tuesday July 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grail Moviehouse — note new time and new location. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress and in the online edition.