This was to be a somewhat more interesting week than it turned out to be (I shall explain). As it finally shakes out we have two mainstream titles, two art titles and one…well, specialty title.
You see, we were also supposed to get another art title — or maybe art/specialty title would be nearer the mark. This was the surprisingly terrific horror film It Follows — which had been relegated to the Weinsteins’ specialty (read: lower rung) branch, Radius. The plan was to open it in limited — very limited — release this past weekend and then expand and go VOD with it this week. But a funny thing happened — it pulled down $40,000 per theater on its opening. So the film’s VOD plans were scrapped (at least for now) and its expansion moved to March 27 — presumably to better publicize and expand on the expansion. As someone who believes movies belong in theaters, I’m four-square in accord with the VOD scrapping. However, I’m more skeptical of expanding the expansion, which is apt to cut the pie up too small. While It Follows has a broader than usual appeal, it is still a specialty item for select audiences. We shall see, but we’ll have to wait for next week to see.
I’ve seen both art titles (for that matter, I’ve seen It Follows — twice) that we’re getting, and they both certainly have their merits. I have a preference for Yann Demange’s ’71 (opening Friday at the Fine Arts), which is a remarkably assured debut feature for Demange. It stars the rising star Jack O’Connell (Starred Up, Unbroken) as a young British soldier who is left behind on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971 when a supposedly routine mission goes wrong, plunging him into a nightmarish journey where it’s an effort just to stay alive. Though it uses “The Troubles” as a backdrop and as the force behind the plot, this is not really a political film. It has no agenda and takes no sides — both sides are equally duplicitous here. This is a man-on-the-run thriller — and a very good one.
We also get the Oscar-nominated Russian film, Leviathan from director and co-writer Andrey Zvyagintsev (opening Friday at The Carolina). It’s definitely a good movie and a powerful one, but it’s also very Russian, very bleak, and on the long side. For me, the most arresting thing about the film is the way that its basic “little guy fights city hall” story could work with very little alteration in an American setting. It would be harder to buy into the level of corruption presented in the film in American terms (though that may just be wishful thinking on our part), and there’s no way we could ever match the Russian air of bleakness. However, the characters and many of the situations should be familiar to most Americans. It is not a lot of fun, but it doesn’t intend to be — and not all movies should have to be.
Moving into the realm of the unseen, we first come upon the specialty title Do You Believe?. For a specialty title, this is being trotted out wide locally — The Carolina, the Epic, the Regal Biltmore Grande, the UA Beaucatcher are all getting it. Why? Because it’s from the writers — Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon — and producers — Pure Flix Entertainment — that gave us last year’s God’s Not Dead. Big bucks are expected — and it’s not because of its roster of faded stars: Mira Sorvino, Lee Majors, Sean Astin, Alexa Vega, and Cybill Shepherd. No, it’s because of the money generated by God’s Not Dead. It appears to be the faith-based version Crash (the Paul Haggis one, not the Cronenberg) with diverse characters crossing paths “in ways only God could orchestrate.” I know I’ve sworn off the fool’s errand of reviewing this sort of film, but a grim curiosity is drawing me to see what Konzelman and Solomon have come up with this time.
Then we have Pierre Morel’s The Gunman (also opening at The Carolina, the Epic, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher). The name Pierre Morel will probably be unfamiliar, but he’s the guy who made the original Taken (2008). The concept appears to be similar — turn a reasonably respected actor into a somewhat long-in-the-tooth action figure. This time it’s Sean Penn’s turn in the Liam Neeson barrel. Also along for the fun are Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, and Ray Winstone. Foolishly, they let some critics see this. Of the 15 reviews to date, 12 are negative and only three are positive — and only one of the three is more than grudgingly positive. Take that as you will.
Finally the big box office hope is Insurgent (opening at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic, Regal Biltmore Grande), the sequel to Divergent. It, too, is faring rather poorly in early reviews, but reviews matter very little with this kind of pre-sold YA material. Never having seen the first film (I remember that Mr. Souther was underwhelmed), so I’m sure I would be quite lost watching this one. We all know what this means in terms of Mr. Souther’s weekend.
This week we lose A Girl Walks Home Alone (I am disappointed, but not much surprised) and Mr. Turner. The Fine Arts is also dropping Still Alice, but The Carolina is keeping it for everything except the last show (meaning its latest show is 7:15 p.m.).
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) — the original (and budget) version of Alien — at 8 p.m. on Thu., Mar. 19 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Persepolis (2008) on Fri., Mar. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening the infamous (more because of who made it than anything actually in the movie) German propaganda movie Kolberg (1945) on Sun., Mar. 22 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Paul Bogart’s film of Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning Torch Song Trilogy (1988) on Tue., Mar. 24 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in the Xpress — with extended reviews in the online edition.
This week Annie (better than was said), Exodus: Gods and Kings (even worse than was said), Top Five (which made Justin’s Top 10 list), and Song of the Sea all come to DVD.