Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 20-26: Far from the Madding Tomorrowland Poltergeist Kill

In Theaters.

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.)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Special Screenings

 

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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.

 

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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.

On DVD

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?

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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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76 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 20-26: Far from the Madding Tomorrowland Poltergeist Kill

  1. mtndancer

    I guess I was to young when I saw the original Poltergeist that I didn’t actually pay attention to who directed it. I always assumed it was Speilberg. It had all of his annoying traits which you mentioned. Forensic filmologists would see his fingerprints, DNA and trace evidence and make a pretty convincing case.

    • Ken Hanke

      I remember writing in a magazine ca. 1985, “The heavy hand of Spielberg lies on every frame.’

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    *puts on tinfoil hat*

    The bad buzz surrounding Tomorrowland is part of the ongoing film critic conspiracy – one that began with the unfairly maligned John Carter – to steer Pixar directors away from live-action films and back to animation.

    *removes tinfoil hat*

    • Ken Hanke

      While I actually liked John Carter, this is just too bizarre.

    • Steven

      This conspiracy holds little weight seeing how Bird’s post-Pixar work has been received generally well from critics.

      • Ken Hanke

        But what about the connection between Bird and Objectivism? Does that hold any weight?

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            He’s trying something new. Give him time.

          • Steven

            He’s going back to Pixar after this anyways for The Incredibles 2.

            Not the biggest Pixar fan, but I caught the first one and would say it’s Bird’s best film that isn’t named The Iron Giant.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            The conspiracy worked!

            The Incredibles is my favorite of his films, The Iron Giant included.

          • Ken Hanke

            So does this mean you’re more interested in Tomorrowland than Poltergeist?

          • Ken Hanke

            My level of indifference is pretty evenly balanced on these.

          • Steven

            I’d be more interested in Tomorrowland if Lindelof didn’t write the damn thing.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            For me, Lindelof’s involvement means it will be entertaining, a little too ambitious and probably won’t stick the landing.

          • Steven

            Well, that last part is almost guaranteed. I just hope it doesn’t contain the poorly placed exposition and blunt themes Lindelof is known for.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Now hear this: Mad Max: Fury Road is now the 23rd Greatest Movie Ever according to IMDb users…

    • NFB

      “Now hear this: Mad Max: Fury Road is now the 23rd Greatest Movie Ever according to IMDb users…”

      Sigh. I don’t know why I let things like this irk me so much.

      Of course the IMDB top 250 lost any credibility it might have had (big question there, of course) several years ago when fanboys managed to get the movie “300” on it BEFORE it even opened.

      • Ken Hanke

        It’s hard not to be annoyed by this sort of thing, I think. I mean envision a list of the Great Movies that runs:

        CITIZEN KANE
        BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
        LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
        MAD MAX: FURY ROAD…

        • Mike

          I don’t know anyone who takes the IMDb top 250 seriously. It’s voted on by users, most of whom have no real understanding of cinema history. You’re better off referencing something like the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They top 1000 or the Sight and Sound list. While they tend to display the “older is better” bias they’re far better researched than a list which is by and large the product of fanaticism.

          • Ken Hanke

            To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to aggregated lists of any kind. I’d rather see an individual’s list, i.e., I’d rather see your top 50 or 100 than Sight and Sound‘s.

        • NFB

          Or:

          REAR WINDOW
          THE THIRD MAN
          LA STRADA
          THE SEVENTH SEAL
          TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY

          • Ken Hanke

            This all started — as I recall it — when people started calling Spider-Man 2 a “truly great film.”

          • NFB

            Well, if it’s any consolation, Mad Max has dropped to #25.

            Yeah, I know, but I’ll take what I can get.

        • Xanadont

          How many movies do Nolan and Fincher combine for on IMDB Top 250 these days, I wonder.

  4. donathan_white

    1.Straight Time
    2.Midnight Cowboy
    3.Taxi Driver
    4.Inside Llewyn Davis
    5.Kramer Vs. Kramer
    6.The Big Chill
    7.Forrest Gump
    8.Trees Lounge
    9.O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    10.What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
    11.The Big Lebowski
    12.Ghost World
    13.Drive
    14.Being There
    15.East of Eden
    16.Edward Scissorhands
    17.Play it Again, Sam
    18.Amelie
    19.Rain Man
    20.Slacker
    21.Welcome to the Dollhouse
    22.One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    23.Fargo
    24.The Last Days of Disco
    25.Jackie Brown
    26.The Departed
    27.The Master
    28.Bottle Rocket
    29.All the President’s Men
    30.The Apartment
    31.Being John Malkavich
    32.Election
    33.The House of Yes
    34.Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    35.The Squid and the Whale
    36.Boogie Nights
    37.City of God
    38.Sunset Boulevard
    39.Metropolitan
    40.The Accused
    41.Dog Tooth
    42.Juno
    43.Zelig
    44.The Elephant Man
    45.Zodiac
    46.Jacob’s Ladder
    47.Blue Valentine
    48.Norma Rae
    49.All About Eve
    50.Spanglish

    • Ken Hanke

      Now, see, even though that is about as far from my theoretical list as is possible, it’s more interesting to me than the results of a critics’ poll and certainly more interesting than the random, ballot-stuffed “consensus” of some web site. It has — among other things — the advantage of being, I assume, honest. I admit I’m troubled by the complete absence of any pre-1950 titles, but that’s me.

      • donathan_white

        What’s your top 50? I haven’t seen any from that time except maybe Wizard of Oz, which was pretty decent but not a favorite. Do you have a top 5 old movies list?

        • Ken Hanke

          I’d have to get back to you on a top 50 list. I’ve done a few. Even a top 100 (for a critics’ poll, no less). But I find that after the first 5 or 10, it becomes pretty fluid, especially as concerns the order. Since at least half of my 50 list would be pre-1950, it might be tricky to pick a top 5 old movies list. If I tried I guess it would be:

          1. Love Me Tonight (1932, Rouben Mamoulian)
          2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, F. W. Murnau)
          3. Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
          4. Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch)
          5, Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)

          But that seems woefully inadequate and overlooks a lot of thing that might be called “standards.”

          A question: Are you local?

          • donathan_white

            I am local.

            I’ll see if I can find those movies you listed and give them a try.

          • Ken Hanke

            You might want to consider coming to the Asheville Film Society screenings on Tuesday nights and the Thursday Horror Picture Show ones on Thursdays. They’re at The Carolina in Theater Six. Both are at 8 p.m. and both are free. Once a month (in the non-snow season) there’s a ticketed movie — $6 for members (memberships are $10 a year, but aren’t required for the free movies) and $8 for non-members. Tonight, in fact, is one of those — Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947). (Next month on June 17 is Hitchcock’s Rope [1948].)

            Looking over next month’s Tue-Thu listings, I see Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934), George Arliss’ The Man Who Played God (1932), Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944), Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), and Ford Beebe’s Night Monster (1942) in the pre-1950 column.

            We (I’m involved with these screenings) might show Sunrise in July. Everything on my list of 5 is generally available. Orbit probably has all of them except maybe Shanghai Express.

          • Xanadont

            Quite the year for cinema, 1932. And there’s still The Old Dark House, The Mummy, Grand Hotel, and Vampyre to contend with. Among others I’m sure. I think Fritz Lang took the year off though.

          • Ken Hanke

            I think Lang was busy making his Mabuse movie.

            I could expand on that 1932 list, by the way.

        • luluthebeast

          And what about Chinese and Japanese films? Ken would probably start lobbing gallon jars of Dukes at me if I put up a list because of all the Japanese films I would include. And I think that one reason the older, classic films should be both watched and included is that they had the chance to include new experiments in cinema.

      • Ken Hanke

        I admit I’ve never seen it, and nothing about it entices me.

        • donathan_white

          If I promise to watch all 5 of the movies you suggested, will you watch Straight Time? And then review it?

          • Ken Hanke

            Well, you needn’t promise and I’d rather you watched them because they’d expand your frame of reference. By the way, we are slated to run Sunrise at the AFS on July 28. You might find it more impressive on a movie screen with an audience.

            My problem with promising to watch Straight Time is that I don’t have it and it’s not a Netflix streaming (or steaming, depending on how uncharitable I’m feeling). My mobility is rather limited these days, so I usually only agree to viewing things on the basis of — if you’ll bring it to me at the theater, I’ll take it home and watch it.

        • Me

          A 70’s film with Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton and M. Emmet Walsh plus it was based on Edward Bunker’s real life experience, it was pretty enticing to me.

          • Ken Hanke

            I’m not sure why any of that is exactly a selling point.

  5. Edwin Arnaudin

    Girlhood is now streaming on Netflix. I have not seen it, but I hear good things.

  6. Edwin Arnaudin

    On the DVD front, now you may also find out for yourself if Strange Magic is as godawful as advertised.

  7. Xanadont

    Zombeavers was 80 or so well spent minutes, by the way. Should it concern me that I enjoyed that and Fury Road more or less equally?

        • Ken Hanke

          The Mrs. and I watched it. What can I say? Zombeavers delivers on the promise of its title!

          • Ken Hanke

            Actually, it delivers more than the promise of its title but I can say no more.

  8. Me

    TCM is finishing up their month long Orson Welles Friday night marathon tomorrow night.

  9. donathan_white

    I can mail you the DVD if you promise to mail it back when you’re finished. My mobility is limited because I don’t have a car to drive to the theater.

    • Ken Hanke

      Let me see if there’s another way I can get it. I’d rather not get involved in mailing something if I can avoid it. I guess your car-free situation means we won’t be seeing you at any of the screenings. Pity, that. Do you never go to the movies?

      • donathan_white

        I frequent the nearby Brew ‘n’ View! : D

        Keep my offer in mind anyway; I’d be more than happy to mail it to you or the Xpress office.

        Also no, I won’t be attending since the screenings are too inconvenient at the moment. : (

        • Ken Hanke

          I will keep the offer in mind. I hope your transportation situation improves. I think you’d enjoy the screenings.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I am impressed by the fact that Far from the Madding Crowd did close to twice the national average this weekend at The Carolina.

      • Ken Hanke

        Maybe. Of course, these things can be deceptive, since theaters in other areas going into a second or third week are apt to bring the averages down. Still…it is encouraging on many levels,

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