No battle of the titans in the mainstream this week, only a minor tussle between less high-call titles, but there’s also one good art title and one spectacularly good one, making the week more interesting than it might have been.
We’re back on a more even keel this week, which is to say that both art titles have been seen and reviewed — unlike last week where that Welcome to Me came out of nowhere. (And judging by what I’ve been told, it should probably have stayed there. Indeed, the responses I’ve encountered — see Scott Douglas’ review in this week’s paper — have been so dire that I’m tempted to see for myself, but I think this may be best left to Netflix Streaming. Probably safer that way.)
First and definitely foremost is Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd — opening Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts Theatre. This is without question one of the best films of 2015 to date — maybe the best, but I’m not quite committing to that just yet. In any case, it stands a very good chance of still being the most visually stunning film of 2015 at the year’s end. (If you want a comparison, think of Roman Polanski’s Tess.) This is no stuffy, self-important literary adaptation trying to impress us the fact that it’s bringing the Thomas Hardy novel to the screen. Vinterberg’s film is fully alive. It breathes. It feels inhabited. The principal characters are all well-defined and are played with great nuance by Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenarts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge. Read the review. See the film. You won’t find anything better currently playing.
Though it has its share of problems, you oughtn’t overlook Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill –opening Friday at The Carolina. This drama about drone warfare starring Ethan Hawke bites off more than it can chew, and it sometimes becomes altogether too preachy. But it also has a good deal of power — especially in its visuals that draw uncomfortable parallels between “us” and “them” in the very way it’s filmed. Some things about it definitely work better than others, but when it does work, it really works. The very fact that it tries to do too much is on the admirable side, even if it leads to some facile plotting and answers.
In the unknown realm, we have Gil Kenan’s remake of Poltergeist — opening Friday at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher — with Thursday evening shows. I am apparently supposed to be up in arms over this remake of the 1982 “classic,” but, frankly, I’ve never bought into its classic status. To me, the original mostly marked the “Spielbergification” of horror director Tobe Hooper. I see little of Hooper and a lot of the things I don’t like about Spielberg (precocious kids, suburbia humor, over-production) in the movie. In fact, it was widely rumored at the time that Spielberg was the real director (rumors Spielberg did nothing to quell). So don’t look to me to be especially against the remake. I also think this cast is an improvement and I’m one of the few people who liked Kenan’s City of Ember (2008). Now, having said that, the trailer — perhaps intentionally — makes this look like…well, the same movie all over again with some updated tweaks, making the prospects pretty ho-hum. And for those of you fuming over this transgression — it’s just a movie. Its existence will not destroy your childhood. It will not change the original, nor is it likely to supplant it.
And finally, there’s Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland — opening Friday for sure at The Carolina and Regal Biltmore Grande with the likelihood of Thursday shows being very slim, since Disney isn’t allowing them before midnight. It is so far not listed for Carmike 10, Epic, or UA Beaucatcher. (With the Beaucatcher having been sold, its future is up in the air.) Frankly, I just don’t know what to make of this. Nothing I’ve read really sells me on it and the fact that Tomorrowland sounds for all the world like Galt’s Gulch out of Atlas Shrugged is not appealing to me. (This would not be the first time Bird has been linked to Ayn Rand’s “philosophy.”) I can’t say the plot intrigues me, and the fact that one of its supporters (Matt Zoller Seitz) suggests it needs to be viewed as an “immense cinematic theme park” doesn’t really help matters — that gets too close to “just switch your brain off” for my comfort. We’ll see.
This week The Carolina drops Clouds of Sils Maria (a great pity, but a month isn’t a disgrace) and the Fine Arts is losing Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.
On Wednesday, May 20 at 8:00 p.m., the Asheville Film Society will honor the 100th birthday of Orson Welles — and celebrate the AFS’ 5th anniversary with Welles’ film noir thriller The Lady from Shanghai at The Carolina. Presented from a brand new 4K digital restoration here’s a chance to see Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai — looking as good as –or better than — it did on its release in 1947. Welles’ visually amazing, brain-teasing dark thriller is a film experience that needs the best print possible and the biggest screen available to work its decidedly strange magic. It’s every inch an Orson Welles picture — it couldn’t be the work of anyone else, ever — and it’s also unique to Welles’ filmography. He never made anything quite like it, but then neither did anyone else. Come with one of film’s most playful magicians as he takes us from carriage ride in New York City to a strange voyage that ends in a deserted amusement park in San Francisco! Tickets are $6 for AFS members and $8 general admission.
This week the Asheville Jewish Film Festival continues with Once in a Lifetime at 7 p.m. on Thu., May 21 and at 1 p.m. on Fri. May 22 at the Fine Arts Theatre. (This was not reviewed because the distributor would not provide a screener.) The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) at 8 p.m. on Thu., May 21 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Patrice Chereau’s Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (1998) on Fri., May 22 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 Bette Davis in Irving Rapper’s Now, Voyager (1942) on Sun., May 24 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out its May calendar with Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) on Tue., May 26 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s paper — with full reviews in the online edition.
This week seems to consist primarily of American Sniper and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 — one I have no desire to see again and one I have no desire to ever see. However, this week also bring us Zombeavers. I recommend this sight unseen just because of the title. What more can you want?