This is an odd week. We get one — count it — bona fide mainstream title, one title that may be pretending to be one, and no less than three art titles, two of which are documentaries — with the third (and best) being pretty much drowned at birth by the way it’s scheduled. (Bear in mind, these decisions are made by people with much higher pay-grades than mine.)
I should also note that this is the week that The Walk goes wide. (Not at all sure how this IMAX and faux IMAX roll-outs are working out for them, but my impression is that it isn’t.) At this moment, all I know for sure is that The Carolina is getting it, and I assume Epic is. Whether Carmike or Beaucatcher is on the receiving end, I do not know.
The best of the art titles is Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Mississippi Grind — which opens Friday on a split schedule (4:25 and 9:05) at The Carolina. I am guessing that its lackluster box office prompted this decision, but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the best of 2015’s releases. I suppose we should be grateful that it’s playing here at all (though with that schedule, it will only last a week). This is a very nearly great film that feels like it might be from the 1970s (this is clearly intentional) — one that deftly combines a character study with the road movie concept. It stars Ben Mendelssohn and Ryan Reynolds as gamblers teaming up to go to a big game in New Orleans on a trip that makes several stops along the way — with each stop revealing more and more about the two men. Yes, it’s about gambling addiction — and other addictions — and it can get pretty bleak, but it plays out in such a way that it’s not a downer. You really should catch this while you can.
I’d peg the runner up as Finders Keepers — a very unusual documentary opening on Friday at the Fine Arts with an almost full schedule (1:00, 7:00, Late show Fri.-Sat. at 9:30). Chances are you will not see a more entertaining documentary any time soon. The premise is beyond screwy — a battle over the ownership of an amputated foot that was inadvertently sold (along with the barbecue smoker that contained it) when the contents of a storage locker were auctioned off for non-payment. The foot’s original owner wants it back, but the new owner wants it for a tourist attraction. Yes, that’s the set-up — and it only gets stranger from there. But it’s actually more than just a strange comedy. It becomes something of a tragedy, a tale of self-realization — with a suggestion of redemption. The Fine Arts is offering a special preview showing — Thu., Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. — with one of the producers and John Wood (the foot’s original owner) appearing for a Q&A after the screening. (The attendance of the foot has not been announced.)Tickets for this event are $12.
Finally, there’s Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala — open Friday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. Yes, it’s very well-intentioned. Yes, Malala Yousafzai is a brave young woman and her story is a compelling one. Plus, she has undeniable charisma. But the documentary is very slight and offers little new. Worthwhile as a basic introduction to Malala’s story and for the time spent with her and her father, but it’s all pretty tepid and even at 87 minutes, it feels padded.
The first of the unseen titles is from North Carolina’s own Ramin Bahrani, 99 Homes — opening Friday at The Carolina (no word on other locations). This is the kind of film that usually doesn’t open here without a press screening, but it’s being handled by Broad Green Pictures (A Walk in the Woods, Learning to Drive), who seem unclear on how important that can be — and sometimes seem to think they’ve got something bigger than they do. That might be the case here. The film marks Bahrani’s second movie with name actors. (His first, At Any Price, didn’t play here.) In this case, that means Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern — name actors, but not box office draws. The film is being categorized as a drama (which seems reasonable) on the IMDb, but is called “mystery and suspense” on Rotten Tomatoes. The publicity blurb reads: “Set amidst the backdrop of the 2008 housing market catastrophe, Dennis Nash, a hard-working and honest man, can’t save his family home despite his best efforts. Thrown to the streets with alarming precision by real estate shark Mike Carver, Dennis, out of work and luck, is given a unique opportunity — to join Carver’s crew and put others through the harrowing ordeal done to him in order to earn back what’s his. Delicately training his eye on the rigorous details, the reliably astute Ramin Bahrani imbues his characters with icy complexity to achieve his compassionate portrait of a man whose integrity has become ensnared within an all-too-relevant American crisis. With precision and care, Bahrani’s provocative character study applies all the cinematic tools at his disposal to explore the ethical dilemma at the heart of man’s struggle to reach higher — by whatever means necessary.” (Garfield is Nash and Michael Shannon is Carver.) That sounds like drama to me. Early reviews are strongly positive, but I can’t say it sounds like a crowd pleaser.
And then there’s Joe Wright’s Pan — opening Friday (with the usual Thursday evening shows) at Carmike 10, The Carolina, Epic of Hendersonville, and Regal Biltmore Grande. Now, here’s the thing — Joe Wright is perhaps our greatest living cinematic stylist (with the possible exception of Wes Anderson), and for that reason I will be there on Friday. Right now, this Peter Pan origins story is being mostly roughly treated by critics, though I will note none of the reviews — pro or con — are from critics I pay much attention to. I will also admit that the trailer is, for me, at best so-so. That said, I walked into P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan 12 years ago, unsold by the trailer and with the gloomiest of expectations — and it ended up on the top half of my Ten Best list. It goes to show that you just never know.
UPDATE. For those who can’t get enough of Philippe Petit walking on a tight-wire between the World Trade Towers, The Carolina is bringing back James Marsh’s Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire — starting Friday with shows at 11, 4:30, and 9:35 p.m. This can be taken as a complement to The Walk (which also opens there on Friday), or, I suppose, as an alternative to the fictionalized new film that offers the illusion of the event. When Man on Wire appeared in 2008 I wrote (in part): “calling Man on Wire a documentary is a misnomer — or at least it tells only part of the story. Marsh — who has made narrative films as well as documentaries — has gone far beyond the usual assemblage of interviews, still photos and archival footage. He’s added dramatic recreations, with characters playing the real-life people he’s interviewing as they would have been 30-plus years ago. And these aren’t the cheesy portrayals you encounter with non-actors badly dressed up in ancient Roman drag on the History Channel. No, these are cleverly and carefully made little dramas that actually enhance the film, well-made pieces of cinema in themselves. I haven’t attempted to break down the percentage of dramatic recreations to interviews and archive material, but there’s a substantial amount of it — some of it playful, some of it atmospheric, all of it good. Marsh doesn’t stop there, however. He has another trick up his filmmaker’s sleeve. He’s structured the preposterous tale of Philippe Petit in the manner of a heist or caper film to chronicle the French tight-wire artist who illegally walked (eight times, no less) on a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center towers on Aug. 7, 1974. Everything is put in place — even the talking heads—to build up to the act itself and its aftermath. And what is so surprising — and such a testament to Marsh’s artistry — is the amount of suspense he manages to generate surrounding an event where we know what the payoff will be. You may think you don’t really care all that much about some guy doing something as crazy as this stunt — I certainly felt that way — but chances are that Marsh’s film will pull you into the drama of it in ways you’ve never imagined.”
This week we lose Sleeping with Others at The Carolina, though it hangs on at the Beaucatcher (where it did even worse). Plus, both The Carolina and the Fine Arts drop Pawn Sacrifice (another movie that should have done better). The Fine Arts also cuts Grandma to one show (4:00) and The Carolina cuts it to three shows (12:45, 2:40, 10:20), so it’s likely only around for one more week.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has the second of their two film tribute to the late Wes Craven with The People Under the Stairs (1991) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Oct. 8 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) on Fri., Oct. 9 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 William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) on Sun., Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Paul Fejos’ silent masterpiece Lonesome (1928) on Tue., Oct. 13 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 brings us Insidious: Chapter 3, Magic Mike XXL, the underperforming and underrated Dark Places, and (God knows why?) Particle Fever.