It’s juggernaut week at the movies. We have two destined to be huge mainstream movies, one already on its way to huge (in relative terms) art house title — plus, one really worthwhile little art/indie movie that is sadly destined to be crushed by this onslaught of the titans.
Of course, the biggie in art house terms — and doubtless going to be co-opted by the mainstream — is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a film for which I braved the perils of snow and ice to see at a press screening this past Saturday morning. (OK, so only my driveway was much of an issue, since the wintry blast didn’t really stick to the roads, but I didn’t know that setting out.) If any film of recent vintage was worth risking life and limb to see, Birdman is it. And bear in mind this comes from someone who cannot be called a fan of Iñárritu’s work. This is very unlike his previous bouts of often drearily depressing movies. It’s a richly rewarding work — as serious as anything else he’s made, but with a sense of humor and humanity that is refreshing. Birdman is as remarkable as you may have heard — maybe more so. It is the very definition of “must-see.” As I noted at the onset it is big enough that the mainstream theaters are sure to be out for a piece of the pie. I’ll only say what I’ve said before — the Fine Arts and The Carolina (both opening the film on Friday) bring us this kind of quality film 52 weeks of the year. Consider that when choosing where to spend your money to see it. The review, of course, is in this week’s paper — and, yes, it’s the weekly pick.
At the same time, if you can squeeze it in (remember, right or wrong, opening weekend determines a movie’s fate), give some consideration for Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, which is also opening on Friday at The Carolina. I’m very much afaid that this excellent little movie is on a suicide run that can only be blamed on the distributor who insisted on sticking to this week as the expansion date. Of course, Laggies isn’t in the same league as Birdman, but it was never intended to be. It’s a different proposition altogether — a small scale indie romantic comedy of great charm. It’s the best — most accomplished — film Shelton has made, and it boasts terrific performances from Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, and, yes, Chloe Grace Moretz. Plus, it has a tortoise that may or may not be anorexic. This movie deserves so much more than it’s likely to get.
And in the really mainstream realm…
First up is Disney’s Big Hero 6, which is based on a Marvel comic book I confess complete ignorance of. Though the comic seems to be wholly a U.S. creation, it features Japanese (or at least anime-style Japanese) characters and is set in an appropriately East-West mash-up city called San Fransokyo. Unless you’ve been living in a cave where movie trailers don’t exist, you can scarcely have escaped knowledge of this film about a group of early teen crimefighters out to revenge themselves on evildoers responsible for the death of the hero’s brother. Their secret weapon in this battle is the oversized balloon-like creation of the late brother — a robotic contrivance called Baymax (and looks like something out of a Miyazaki film). Expect this to be the biggest animated movie of the year.
And there’s Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Casey Affleck. It’s set in a future where the earth has been reduced to a dustbowl and the only hope for mankind is to find another habitable planet. It’s big. It’s effects-heavy. And it’s nearly three hours long. It’s worth noting that it has also garnered to lowest ranking in terms of positive vs. negative reviews since Nolan’s The Prestige (2006) — that doesn’t bother me, since The Prestige is my favorite Nolan movie. I’m also nursing a suspicion that the negativity — and bear in mind, we’re still talking a film with (currently) 47 positive reviews against 16 negative ones — is part of the inevitable backlash that is the fate of any filmmaker as high-profile as Nolan. At the same time, I have to note that many of the problems some reviewers are having with Interstellar are exactly the ones I have always had with his films. I intend, however, to find out for myself.
This week we lose Horns (a pity) and The Blue Room (a shrug) at The Carolina, but hey there are three screens of Interstellar, two screens of Birdman, and two screens of Big Hero 6. That’s half the screens given over to three movies. Something had to give. The Fine Arts, on the other hand is splitting Pride and Dear White People to make room for Birdman without actually losing anything.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is screening Philip Ridley’s Heartless (2009) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Nov. 6 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Béla Tarr’s Almanac of Autumn (1984) on Fri. Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society has Lewis Milestone’s The Red Pony (1949) on Sun., Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Joseph McGrath’s The Magic Christian (1969) on Tue., Nov. 11 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 the big releases aren’t all that big, but here they are: A Most Wanted Man, The One I Love, Hercules, and last and least Planes: Fire & Rescue, which should have gone straight to DVD in the first place.