Once again the floodgates have opened and we are deluged with movies — three mainstream and two art titles, to be exact. Of course, one of those mainstreamers is one of the year’s biggest Next Big Things. I refer to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2. This is one those movies that you “have” to see or suffer a violent loss of pop culture social status. I’m less concerned about that than the simple fact that I didn’t sit through three of the damned things just to miss the Big Finish.
This is also the week where the art titles get down to the serious business of starting to bring out the Oscar contenders — or what the studios hope will be the Oscar contenders. There’s one almost certain bet this week and another next week, and so it will probably go till the end of the year.
That almost certain Oscar contender is Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight — opening Friday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. This was screened for local critics this past Saturday at The Carolina — and at the unfriendly hour of 9 a.m. (as these screenings are wont to be). That means, yes, the review is in this week’s Xpress, but I’ll go ahead and say that this film is something of a marvel — albeit one without a very good title. “Spotlight” refers to the small team of reporters at the Boston Globe who spend weeks or months — and sometimes longer — investigating a story. (That such a thing could exist in the 24-hour-a-day “breaking news” cycle of our instant gratification, media-overload world is in itself a marvel.) The story in question here is the pedophilia scandal in the Boston diocese of the Catholic Church. That may sound heavy and like old news (the story broke in 2002), but the film makes it fresh and compelling from first to last. Could this — as is being suggested — nab the Best Picture Oscar? I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question, or that it would be undeserving.
Also up is Lenny Abrahamson’s Room — opening Friday at The Carolina. This was screened a few weeks ago, but the opening date kept being shifted. Room — not the confused with The Room or (saints preserve us) War Room — has nearly as much critical acclaim as Spotlight, though I confess to being less impressed than I’m supposed to be. (I had the same reaction to Abrahamson’s Frank last year, though I liked it more.) It’s the story of a young woman (Brie Larson) who has been held captive in the room of the title for years — long enough that she’s had a child (Jacob Tremblay) who is celebrating his fifth birthday when the film opens. Having previously led the child to believe that the room they inhabit is the world, she now decides that he’s old enough to learn the truth — and to help them escape. It’s not a “spoiler” to say they do, since the story of them adapting to being in the world makes up the second half of the film. My review is in this week’s paper, but bear in mind my less than whelmed stance is very much a minority one.
On the unseen mainstream side, we start off with Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 — opening Friday (and Thursday evening) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Co-ed of Brevard, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. What is there to say about this? It’s a pre-sold juggernaut of a movie — yet it’s one that early reviews (mostly positive) tend to remark on how grim it is. (This may not be news to readers of the books.) That’s kind of unusual for blockbuster material. And it’s kind of interesting, too.
We get more Yuletide antics this week with Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before — opening Friday (and Thursday evening) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. Unlike the indigestible goo of last week’s assault on the season — Love the Coopers — this is an R rated comedy. That, of course, does not preclude the possibility of life and meaning-of-the-season lessons. The plot synopsis is dreadful — “Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been friends since childhood, and for a decade, their yearly Christmas Eve reunion has been an annual night of debauchery and hilarity. Now that they’re entering adulthood, the tradition is coming to an end, and to make it as memorable as possible, they set out to find the Nutcracka Ball — the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.” Now, before you run screaming into the night, it’s worth remembering that Levine did make 50/50 and Warm Bodies, two very agreeable movies. So maybe…
Finally there’s Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes — opening Friday (and Thursday evening) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. I have mixed feelings about this — and not because I am necessarily opposed to remakes. In fact, I’m not. Anyone with any sense of film history knows they are not some modern expression of Hollywood being “out of ideas.” They’re merely a fact of life — always have been. (Hell, Cecil B. DeMille remade his own first film, The Squaw Man, not once but twice.) What’s changed is that now we have the internet so people can rant and rave about how this or that movie has been “ruined” by being remade (as if the new version actually did a damn thing to the original). That’s not my problem with this remake of the 2010 Best Foreign Language Oscar winner from Argentina. The original Secret in Their Eyes was and is a great movie, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything inherently wrong with an English language remake — except maybe it’s superfluous. What bothers me is that it’s a PG-13-ification of an R rated film, and the fact that Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) isn’t an exciting director and has a tendency to take himself way too seriously. But it’s a strong story with a solid mystery and the film has a great cast — Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina. Of course, they had me at Ejiofor. I’m giving it a chance.
This week we lose Truth and Miss You Already. The Fine Arts is splitting Heart of a Dog (4:20 and Fri-Sat late shows) with Suffragette (1:20 and 7:20). The Carolina is holding a full set of Suffragette, but it’s worth bearing in mind on these marginal titles that we’re only talking through Tuesday, since next week’s movies start on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Nov. 19 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves (1948) on Fri., Nov. 20 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 Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) on Sun., Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in Frank Borzage’s Desire (1936) on Tue., Nov. 24 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.
This week we get The Man from U.N.C.L.E and We Are Your Friends. Plus, it might be worth checking out Stephen Daldry’s Trash, which didn’t play locally — or much of anywhere.