Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 4-10: What We Do in the Second Unfinished Chappie Shadows

In Theaters.

 Four new movies come wafting into town this week. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing mostly remains to be seen. While two of the titles qualify as art/indie, I’ve only seen one of them — and I recommend it. I shall explain.

Under normal circumstances, just about anything from Fox Searchlight gets a press screening. The idea — not unreasonably — is that people who go to art titles are the same people who read reviews (and I don’t mean just count the number of stars).  Occasionally, they just throw a movie away — like Dom Hemingway last year — and don’t bother. This, however, is different. They’re most certainly not throwing The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel away. In fact, they’re pushing it so hard that it’s already jumped the art theaters and making its way into the Big Box theaters, which only take the safest of art titles. As for a screening…well, FSL insisted on having security guards (seriously?), yet they wouldn’t pay for them. So it didn’t get a screening.

 

What-We-Do-in-the-Shadows-A-Vampire-Comedy

 

Now, I have seen — twice in fact — Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows. That I’ve seen it twice probably tells you that I liked it — a lot. And, boy, was that against the odds. Horror comedies are tricky. Vampire comedies are trickier still. In fact, the only really successful one I can think of is Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Even harder to pull off — at least for me — is the mockumentary format, which is normally just an easy way of not bothering with production values or plot. This is different. It has production values and a story! Moreover, it’s actually funny — and it remembers to be a horror movie. Oh, it’s an offbeat one, and a mostly goofy one with oddly charming characters, but it contains some moments of real horror. And, yeah, it’s also kind of bloody. OK, it’s a good bit bloody, but mostly in the splatstick vein. It is definitely worth your time. See the review in this week’s paper.

 

Chappie-2015

 

And then, there are the unseen — starting with Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie. I have no earthly idea what to make of this. I was an early supporter of Blomkamp. I thought his District 9 (2009) was very good, though I admit I haven’t revisited it. Elysium (2013) wasn’t bad. The concept was terrific. The execution was uneven and the ending unwieldy, though. The very fact that it — like District 9 — was actually about something was a plus. Interestingly, to judge by the comments (from people who haven’t seen the movie) on the IMDb, the fact that it is suspected that Chappie is “about something” makes it look “pretentious.” (Some people need dictionaries.) My problem — potential problem, since I haven’t seen it either — stems from the fact that it looks for all the world like a serious-minded — and R rated — version of the 1986 family-friendly sci-fi comedy Short Circuit. (My first thought on seeing the trailer was, “Number Five is alive.”) I’m also troubled by the fact that such a high-profile movie has not been screened for…well, anybody. (That will likely change over the next couple of days.) The best I can say at this point is, I’m curious.

 

marigold-hotel

 

That brings us back to John Madden’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Here we have a movie where the very title seems to suggest sequel fatigue in that it’s already “second best.” Of course, there’s no surprise to be had with this kind of sequel. You have the same director and the same writer and most of the same cast (Tom Wilkinson’s character is absent for obvious reasons) — with the addition of David Strathairn and Richard Gere. I’m guessing they’re for Yank value. For some of us — possibly including me — the mere presence of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, and Dev Patel (who’s also in Chappie) will be enough. The original was certainly a pleasurable, well-crafted, generous movie. Let’s hope this will be, too.

 

unfinished

 

I am not in the least curious about Ken Scott’s Unfinished Business. The trailer looks ghastly — stock R rated raunchy-com. I imagine it helps if you think Vince Vaughn is funny and still (if he ever really did) qualifies as a star. Both ideas mystify me. I suppose this is Tom Wilkinson’s punishment for dying in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Bad move on his part, if this was the option. I do not plan on seeing this if it can be at all avoided.

This week we lose Maps to the Stars — a great pity, but not entirely unexpected. It did OK at The Carolina, but not OK enough. The Fine Arts is dropping The Imitation Game and splitting Mr. Turner and Still Alice.

Special Screenings

 

poster-design-for-living_08

 

Well, things appear to have thawed, which should be a boon to these. I’ll certainly be glad to get out to this week’s AFS and THPS films. This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has James Whale’s original Frankenstein (1931) — you know, the one that made Boris Karloff a star — at 8 p.m. on Thu., Mar. 5 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema returns this week with Ken Russell’s Song of Summer (1968) on Fri., Mar. 6 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Joe Wright’s The Soloist (2009) on Sun., Mar. 8 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointed Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Ernst Lubitsch’s classic comedy Design for Living (1933) with Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins on Tue., Mar. 10 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

 Near as I can tell, the only thing of note coming out this week is Foxcatcher. Steve Carell’s fake nose didn’t do it for Oscar voters, but may for you.

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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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37 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 4-10: What We Do in the Second Unfinished Chappie Shadows

  1. Dionysis

    I just returned from the dentist; while there, I watched (I had no choice in the matter) an interview with Sigourney Weaver about the film ‘Chappie’ Based upon that interview and a scene from the movie, I’d say you are right that “it looks for all the world like a serious-minded — and R rated — version of the 1986 family-friendly sci-fi comedy Short Circuit. “

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        I’ll be revisiting District 9 and Elysium this week, but I get the sense that I’m one of the few viewers who remain enthralled with Blomkamp’s work. The sample size is small, but I think he’s improved with each film and am still impressed with the photorealism of his works’ special effects. Chappie‘s CGI look even more streamlined, but we’ll see if the storytelling and pace are as impressive as its predecessors.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Joe Wright’s The Soloist (2009)

    That explains why Scott wound up with a copy of it last Tuesday. It just kind of showed up.

    • Ken Hanke

      Well, now it needs to show up again, so I can give it back to Chip.

  3. I am not in the least curious about Ken Scott’s Unfinished Business

    You expected better from the man who produced ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS?

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’ll be revisiting District 9 and Elysium this week, but I get the sense that I’m one of the few viewers who remain enthralled with Blomkamp’s work. The sample size is small, but I think he’s improved with each film and am still impressed with the photorealism of his works’ special effects. Chappie‘s CGI look even more streamlined, but we’ll see if the storytelling and pace are as impressive as its predecessors.

    “One of the few” seems a pretty fair assessment. You lost me with the idea that Elysium improves on District 9. Is it slicker? Yeah, it had more money thrown at it and better actors. I don’t think it’s an improvement, though. Then, his special effects…how much of that really has to do with him? Plus, Chappie just looks bad to me. I hope I’m wrong. I’d really rather not spend 2 hours with a bad movie, but I do not have a good feeling about this.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I think a lot of the anti-Blomkamp set are actually anti-Sharlto Copley-ists, which is another sentiment I don’t understand. I haven’t disliked any of his performances, even his much-maligned Oldboy work.

      Pretty much the only thing I don’t like about Elysium is Jodie Foster’s performance.

      As for the special effects in Blomkamp’s films, he does have a background as a 3D animator but it looks like his first two features were done by Weta and Image Engine, the latter of whom is taking the lead on Chappie.

      • Ken Hanke

        Oh, I think there is a lot wrong with Elysium. I don’t know about Copley. I have no real views on him. But in this — with that googly baby talk — he looks pretty darn intolerable. Unless all that “I am Chappie, hear me roar” guff that’s in the trailer isn’t the tone of the film, this is gonna be grim so far as I can see.

  5. Me

    All these titles are now streaming to rent on Itunes and Amazon

    Faults
    Wild Canaries
    Buzzard
    Actress
    Hits
    My Life Directed By Nichols Winding Refn

    Ive heard good things about Faults.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I got about 20 minutes into an awards screener of Actress before moving on to something else.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I believe God Help the Girl was the only movie (outside of Netflix and Hulu subscriptions) that I paid to rent last year. Those outlets and the occasional free Redbox rental cover most of what I’m interested in seeing.

          • Ken Hanke

            Plus, some of these — like Canaries — are in theatrical release which is reason enough to hold off to me.

          • Me

            Well that’s good to hear about Canaries, do you know when Mommy is getting a release I see its on The Fine Arts coming soon page? Have you heard anything on Ex Machina its set to open at the first of April?

          • Ken Hanke

            I don’t know that any of these are definitely down for Asheville. I just know that they’re in theatrical release.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Plus, some of these — like Canaries — are in theatrical release which is reason enough to hold off to me.

            We certainly have that advantage.

            Mostly I find that waiting to see something works out in the end. If it doesn’t get a theatrical run, chances are good that it will hit Netflix, Redbox or the library or head our way via awards season screeners.

          • Ken Hanke

            All in all in between The Carolina and the Fine Arts, Asheville gets an agreeably high number of art titles.

          • Ken Hanke

            And since I would like to see that remain true, I’d much rather these movies get seen at the theaters than on VOD. You cannot have it both ways. If you want art titles in the theaters, you have to support them in the theaters.

        • Me

          Buzzard was great, probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year, I love anything that can balance high art and trash so well. A lot of the quotes I’ve been reading online are “Between Warhol and Beavis and Butthead, Leo Carax mixed with Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew.”

          • Ken Hanke

            I read a lot of quotes telling me how hysterically funny Forced Manure was, too. I see it was distributed by Oscilloscope. Then definitely let me know when it hits Netflix.

          • Me

            Oscilloscope is the film company started by Adam Yauch, they put out quality stuff.

          • Ken Hanke

            Let us just say that opinions vary on that point.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            They put out some quality stuff. Their packaging is always nice, though.

          • Ken Hanke

            They have put out over 100 movies, most of which I didn’t like, none of which I’ve purchased, one of which I saw twice (through circumstances, not choice). When the awards screeners come, their stack gets the least attention. This year, they didn’t send a stack. That was okay with me.

  6. DrSerizawa

    I’ll give Shadows a try if I can. Even though they use the dreaded allusion to Spinal Tap in the promo. Usually the comparison presages a real dog. Anther promo term that bodes no good, “Pythonesque.” Or “from the Producers of”.

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