This week we get three new mainstream titles and two art titles — and though I’ve seen none of the mainstream ones, I’ll say that the art titles are the things to watch, because I have seen those and they are among the best films of the year. No fooling. It’s one of those weeks where Wednesday is Friday as far as the movies are concerned, since the big rush is on to get those new offerings out there in time for the postprandial Thanksgiving crowd — those folks who want to do something with the family that doesn’t actually require interacting with said family. The amount of bloodshed this has prevented is incalculable. And you can re-enact it in less than a month on Christmas.
Now about those art titles…this is one of those times where I had a hard time deciding on a “Weekly Pick.” Indeed, I tried to get both titles — Brooklyn and Trumbo — afforded that status in the print edition of the Xpress. Whether or not that actually happened, I don’t know. We shall see. But I know that it’s impossible on the website, which will only accept one “Weekly Pick.” I went with Trumbo – simply because Brooklyn would follow it alphabetically. And otherwise, Trumbo would have been buried at the bottom of the list. The solution is imperfect, but it was the best I could come up with. Both films are excellent — and are so different that comparing them was fruitless.
Let’s take John Crowley’s Brooklyn — opening Wednesday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. The film is adapted by Nick Hornby from a popular novel by Colm Toibin and stars Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters. It recounts the story of a young Irish woman (Ronan) who emigrates — with the help of her sister (Fiona Glascott) and an Irish priest (Broadbent) with a parish in Brooklyn — to the U.S. in 1952. Her move has nothing to do with politics or religion, but is simply a case of broadening her opportunities. The story is a simple one, but it’s also quite simply magical. Everything about Brooklyn is a charming delight, all the characters feel real, the period feel is right on target, and the sentiment is fully earned. In fact, it’s comparable to the works of John Ford (is it accidental that his 1952 film The Quiet Man is referenced here?). At the same time, the Coney Island scene inescapably recalls Paul Fejos’ Lonesome (1928). But in the end, Brooklyn is its own thing — and it’s absolutely wonderful. A beautiful, beautiful film.
Just as good — in a very different key — is Jay Roach’s Trumbo — opening Wednesday at The Carolina. This is, as I said, a very different proposition. Where Brooklyn might be suitable for reasonably mature family outings (it has one fairly strong PG-13 sex scene), Trumbo is not only filled with what we used to call “salty language,” it’s also very an extremely political film. In short, it’s not a film to take your conservative relatives to — unless you just delight in winding them up, which I admit has its appeal. (I should note that this comes from the safe zone of one who has no conservative relatives.) It’s not just a biopic on blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (a brilliantly prickly performance from Bryan Cranston), it manages to paint a portrait of the whole House Un-American Activities Committee era and the machinations behind it. If you know little or nothing about those times, this is a good starting point. If you know a lot, it still works as entertaining and compelling drama — with an amazing cast. Not only is there Cranston in the title role, but there are terrific contributions from John Goodman, Diane Lane. Michael Stuhlbarg (who wisely doesn’t try to sound like Edward G. Robinson), Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, and a dazzlingly bitchy turn by Helen Mirren as right-wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Unfortunately, the story is still relevant. This is also a film that I’d call a must-see.
Of the unseen titles, first up is Ryan Coogler’s Creed — starting Wednesday (with Tuesday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. Believe it or not, this is a reboot of the Rocky series — one that finds Sylvester Stallone relegated (more or less) to the status of Burgess Meredith in the original 1976 movie. Here, Rocky Balboa takes on training Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed, who, you may recall, was the guy who defeated Mr. Balboa in the original. Bizarre as it may sound, this has managed to garner 34 positive and only two negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Whether that holds up as more reviews come in remains to be seen. The thing is that while I freely admit that boxing is the most inherently cinematic of all sports, I have never made it through a single Rocky movie. And I just can’t get enthused about this. You may well feel differently.
Then there’s Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur — opening Wednesday (with Tuesday evening shows) at The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, and UA Beaucatcher. This is destined to probably land the top box office spot of the newcomers. It might even dethrone Mockingjay — Part 2. There are only a smattering of early reviews — 12 positive and two negative. The studio blurb reads: “The Good Dinosaur asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Pixar Animation Studios takes you on an epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.” Yes, this sounds like Believe in Yourself 101, and I’d be lying if I said the trailer excites me, but we shall see. (In fact, I shall see this evening.)
Finally, we have Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein — starting Wednesday (with Tuesday etc.) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and presumably Regal Biltmore Grande, though it’s not currently listed. Now, I have nothing against the idea of a new take on the Frankenstein story. I have trouble imagining it could be worse than Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994). I like the stars — James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. I’m OK with the basic concept. The trailer doesn’t look bad — though it does seem to confuse people. What really worries me here is the director. Now, I haven’t seen any of McGuigan’s TV work, but the features I’ve seen — Wicker Park (2004), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Push (2009) — do not inspire confidence. I am still willing to give it a chance.
This week we lose Heart of a Dog at the Fine Arts and Suffragette (no great loss) at both The Carolina and the Fine Arts. Spotlight, on the other hand, is going strong.
Since it’s Thanksgiving, there is no Thursday Horror Picture Show this week. World Cinema is showing Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) on Fri., Nov. 27 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 Justin Chadwick’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) on Sun., Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society starts its December calendar (of mostly seasonal fare) with Hugh Grant in Chris and Paul Weitz’s About a Boy (2002) on Tue., Dec. 1 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 Shaun the Sheep Movie — along with (Clapton save us) American Ultra and Ricki and the Flash. My major point of interest is the Blu-ray restoration Voodoo Man, which was supposed to come out today, but doesn’t seem to have happened. At least, there’s some swell stuff in actual theaters!