It’s a busy week at the movies — three mainstream titles and four art ones. Well, four that we’re calling art titles because we are charitable. Also, they definitely aren’t mainstream — art or not. With so much to weigh, we should probably get down to it.
Two of the art titles are pretty darn fine. One of them is more than that. Let’s start with that one, which is Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange (opening Friday at The Carolina and Fine Arts). The film stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an aging gay couple who lose their home and have to live with relatives or friends — none of whom can take both of them. If this sounds a little familiar, that’s probably because it’s a reworking of Leo McCarey’s 1937 classic, Make Way for Tomorrow — only with a gay couple and in modern terms. It in no way disgraces the earlier film, but it also has an identity and a tone all its own. Despite touching on many of the same specifics, I wouldn’t call it a remake in any real sense.. There’s an irony here that’s absent from the original, since Love Is Strange finds the couple’s problems beginning when the law finally — after being together nearly 40 years — allows them to get married. It’s this marriage that loses Molina his job as music teacher at a Catholic school. What follows is perhaps the most beautiful and poignant film I’ve seen all year.
Also very good — close to exceptional — is Ned Benson’s debut film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (opening Friday at The Carolina). As you may know this was originally two films — a Him and a Her look at a marriage disintegrating in the wake of a tragedy. After the film was bought by the Weisnsteins, Harvey decided that Benson needed to combine the two films into this one 122 minute feature. (The Weinsteins plan a “limited” release of the two part version in October.) Here’s the thing — I so like this combined version that I’m now a little skeptical about the two part version, but no matter. The point is that I strongly recommend this combined version. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are perfectly cast, but the supporting players — William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Ciaran Hinds, Viola Davis — and their characters might just be even better.
On Friday, you will believe a man can be turned into a walrus — at least if the man is Justin Long and he’s in a wigged-out Kevin Smith movie and at the mercy of a mad surgeon (Michael Parks). The movie is Tusk (opening Friday at The Carolina), and you can probably understand why I was reluctant to call this an “art” film. Truth is, it’s not at all bad on its own terms. It definitely delivers on its promise as loopy schlock horror with a twisted sense of humor, but it’s also longer than it needs to be — a situation not helped by indulging its special guest star more than it should. Still, if you’re a horror fan, it’s certainly worth a look. Double that if you’re a Kevin Smith admirer. If nothing else, it’s good unwholesome fun.
Bringing up the rear — in every conceivable way — is Last Weekend from co-directors Tom Dolby and Tom Williams. This also opens Friday at The Carolina, and while it may well be unwholesome, it’s not much fun. It’s a tone deaf drama about an unlikable wealthy family, whose major problem in life seems to be whether or not to sell (not for financial reasons) their second summer home. (We should all have such problems.) Oh, they have other seriously first world problems, invent others for themselves, and whine a lot, too. I honestly don’t know when I have ever seen such a clueless, out of touch film — at least not since the last Nancy Meyers rom-com-dram among the Architectural Digest set. Worse, it wastes a good cast — headed by Patricia Clarkson — and it looks nice. There’s a full review of it — and full reviews of the other three — in this week’s Xpress.
In the mainstream world, the first and supposedly biggest is The Maze Runner, the latest YA dystopian sci-fi/survival movie to come down the pike with visions of a franchise in its eyes. It’s the first feature from Wes Ball, who is best known for his graphic arts work on other people’s movies. I’ve never read the book(s), but I will say that it looks more interesting than most, and I like the fact that it doesn’t rely on a big name cast. Whether that’s going to translate into a good movie is anybody’s guess — but, hey, it’s not in 3D.
Much more dubious is Shawn Levy’s dysfunctional family comedy This Is Where I Leave You. The very fact that Levy is at the helm makes this dubious. Sure, it’s got a solid cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. And the folks at Warner Bros. do assure us that the novel it’s based on is “hilarious and poignant,” though they then spend the rest of the blurb cataloguing all the awards the stars have accumulated. The premise has family matriarch Fonda force her grown children to come stay in their family home when their father dies. Yes, it sounds pretty familiar, and Clapton knows if anyone can make the old hat that much older, Shawn Levy is that man. It is mildly interesting, however, that the film has an R rating. Mildly.
And finally it’s time for another Liam Neeson action thriller — A Walk Among the Tombstones — and unlike most such, this one went for the R rating. Considering it was adapted from a Lawrence Block novel, that may have been a given. The most interesting thing is that it’s the first film from writer-director Scott Frank since The Lookout (2007), which was a very good film indeed. This round Neeson plays an ex-cop who’s hired by a drug lord to find out who murdered his wife. There are no reviews yet to speak of, but the word is that it’s surprisingly violent, disturbing, and effective. We can but hope.
With all this coming our way, we lose a lot this week. The Fine Arts is dropping Land Ho!. The Carolina — making room for seven movies (and two prints of The Maze Runner) — loses Mood Indigo, Calvary, A Most Wanted Man, and The One I Love from its art roster. Plus, Magic in the Moonlight and The Hundred Foot Journey have been split, which likely means this will be their final week.
Before getting down to the usual stuff, let’s take a moment to remember Wednesday’s Asheville Film Society Budget Big Screen presentation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935) starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll (Hitchcock’s first ice blonde). It’s definitely one of Hitch’s best movies, a key film in the growth of his work, and one purely entertaining movie in the bargain. The film is from the best available source material, so it looks and sounds better than I’ve ever seen. It shows Wed., Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Theater 10 at The Carolina. Admission is $6 for AFS members, $8 for the general public.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Erle C. Kenton’s The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Sept. 18 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Werner Herzog’s Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) on Fri., Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society has Anthony Page’s The Lady Vanishes (1979) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Sept. 21 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society will screen Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932) on Tue., Sept. 23 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.
Looks like there are only two notable new releases this week — Godzilla and The Fault in Our Stars. But there are lots of new things at the movie this week.
Notable TV Screenings
This is one of those weeks where I’m running behind, so you’re on your own.