Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler September 2-8: A Refueled Mistress America Walk in the Machine

In Theaters.

 Art films aside, just how bad is the current crop of movies? Well, when you consider that Jurassic World, Inside Out, Pixels, Southpaw, and Dope are all being re-released this week, you know things are grim. (No, this does not mean all of those films are opening locally. At this point, the only one I know that’s coming here is Inside Out.) That said, there’s one very bright spot in the local mix on the art front.

I may be misremembering, but I can’t recall a weekend as grim as the this past one. The only thing new that made any money was the faith-based War Room — the kind of specialty offering that brings its market with it. Otherwise, it was left to Straight Out of Compton save the day — with No Escape underperforming and We Are Your Friends nearly falling off the face of the earth. Even the art title The Diary of a Teenage Girl was nothing to write home about, despite doing nearly twice the business here than it did nationally. Hopefully, this week’s big art title will fare better.

 

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In the art title realm, we have one narrative film and two documentaries — all three of which are reviewed in this week’s Xpress. The narrative title is far and away the best — Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, which opens Friday at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. It’s not only the best of the week, it’s one of the best films of the year. The film marks the second writing collaboration with Greta Gerwig — the first being 2013’s Frances Ha — who also stars in the film (and who is Baumbach’s girlfriend). Though there’s a similar sensibility behind it (and another somewhat ironic use of a Hot Chocolate song on the soundtrack), Mistress America is almost a complete departure from Frances Ha. Mistress America is a film in the tradition of a screwball comedy — one that presents Gerwig as a modern variant on Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur. It is tight and to-the-point, running a breathless 84 minutes. And it is very funny — especially in its major set-piece of snowballing lunacy. But it should be noted that the film is more than a comedy. There’s a serious — sometimes very bitter, sometimes sad — undercurrent to the film. It is simply remarkable. Read the review — and get out there this weekend a support this movie.

 

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Then there are the documentaries. Let’s start with Meru — opening Friday at The Carolina. Like most — if not all — documentaries, your level of interest will depend a great deal on how interested you are in the subject. In the case of Meru, the subject is mountain climbing — scaling Meru Peak in the Himalayas to be exact. It’s a well-made documentary that follows — in part dictated by the events — a similar path to 2013’s Chasing Ice. Like that film there’s a lengthy dramatic section in the middle — between the first and second attempt to make it to the top — that affords the film a structure and enhances the understanding of the three climbers.

 

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Finally, we have Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine — opening Friday at The Carolina. The subject here is obvious and both it and the name of Alex Gibney — the most famous documentarian of our time — is apt to give this relatively wide appeal. (I guess it also functions as a kind of place-holder for Danny Boyle’ Steve Jobs biopic next month.) And it’s a good — if too long — basic Jobs documentary. That’s to say it hits all the beats, but whether it will really tell you anything you didn’t know is another matter. What is I think more interesting is its exploration of the cult that has grown up around the man.

 

walk

 

In the unknown area, we have Ken Kwapis’ A Walk in the Woods — opening on Wednesday (to get a jump on Labor Day weekend?) at The Carolina, Co-ed of Brevard, Epic of Hendersonville, Flatrock Cinema, Regal Biltmore Grande. As you can guess from the inclusion of the Co-ed and Flatrock, this is expected to have local appeal because of the Appalachian Trail factor. It also qualifies as Boomer-bait because of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in the roles of source book author Bill Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz (a fictionalized name) respectively. Also on board for this story of an unlikely — and mismatched — duo walking the Trail are Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. I’m good — more or less — with all of that, but then the movie was directed by Ken Kwapis, who is known for such things as He’s Just Not That Into You, License to Wed, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and my personal favorite Dunston Checks In (not everyone can lay claim to having made a movie involving Faye Dunaway and an orangutan), which is actually better than most of those. I reckon we’ll find out.

 

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Then on Friday there’s Camille Delamarre’s (Brick Mansions) The Transporter Refueled — at The Carolina, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher. What this actioner from the Luc Besson outfit hopes to prove is that you don’t need Jason Statham to make a Transporter movie. Whether or not this proves to be true remains to be seen. There are no early reviews, which is hardly surprising. The audience for this probably doesn’t care much.

This week we lose The End of the Tour (on Wed. at The Carolina, on Fri. at the Fine Arts) and Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (on Wed. and only at The Carolina). The Fine Arts drops Mr. Holmes on Friday, but The Carolina keeps it for a full set of shows. On the other hand, The Carolina is splitting The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2:40 and 7:30), so this is probably its last week. And the end has already come for Best of Enemies, which The Carolina drops on Friday.

Special Screenings

 

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Before jumping into the usual screenings, let’s pause to take note of the loss of horror meister Wes Craven, who died this week of brain cancer at the age of 76. However you feel about Craven’s films, whatever position he holds in your pantheon of horror filmmakers, there’s no denying that he was a major figure in the modern horror film. He leaves behind two great (and deeply political) films — A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The People Under the Stairs (1991) — and a body of work that even at its most uneven is invariably interesting. He will be missed. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will be showing Nightmare and People next month.

 

bliss reeler

 

The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Sept. 3 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room (2002) on Fri., Sept. 4 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 George Burns in Martin Brest’s Going in Style (1979) on Sun., Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Ray Lawrence’s 1985 art house sensation Bliss on Tue., Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all in this week’s Xpress — with complete reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

For me, the most notable new release is the sadly overlooked and underrated The D Train. Also up are Mad Max: Fury Road (which will lose a lot by not being on the big screen), I’ll See You in My Dreams (which won’t), and Good Kill, another movie that deserved more attention than it received.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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32 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler September 2-8: A Refueled Mistress America Walk in the Machine

  1. Ken Hanke

    By the way, I’m open to suggestions (not Scream) on alternate Wes Craven titles.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Having had what qualifies as a day off for the first time in what seems like a very long time, what did I do? Finally got around to watching Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, which I liked more than I didn’t. I understand why I could get neither art theater here to book it. At the same time, goodness knows it stood a better chance than some of the indies and most of the documentaries that did get booked.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I’m going to watch it tonight.

      In other words, it’s better than Hellion, Obvious Child, Night Moves and Force Majeure.

      • Ken Hanke

        I’d say yes. (I’d say it’s better than Tideland, too. And, though I’m in the minority, Fear and Loathing.)

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          Other than The Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer and Mood Indigo, I don’t think there was better production design in last year’s film offerings than what I saw in The Zero Theorem. Yes, one could call it Son of Brazil, but it’s still an original, creative film – the likes of which we see far too infrequently these days.

          • Ken Hanke

            I agree with the last part of the statement. I’d have to think about the design part. Some of it seemed constrained by budget to me. And thought not as elaborate, I think I’d rank Only Lovers Left Alive as a better looking film.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I agree that Only Lovers is better looking.

  3. T.rex

    Im sure no one is shocked but Im definitely seeing Walk in the Woods for the two “boomers”, most people from the New Hollywood era I will see without any arguements. The setting of the Trail is a plus as well as the filming of it being in my home state ( I think). Outside of art house releases this is a lousy weekend. Transporter anyone? I think not.

    RIP Wes. (Is it still ok to laugh at Deadly Friend?)

    • Ken Hanke

      Uh, Redford was born in 1936 and Nolte in 1941, so they are most definitely not “Boomers,” though the movie is most definitely Boomer-bait. It’s essentially Grumpy Old Men in the Woods with everything that implies.

      • T.rex

        Oh, thats what you meant. I need to practice whatever VooDoo Redford is into. 79?!

        • Ken Hanke

          What else could I possibly mean? To look like Redford — first become extremely lined and weather-beaten, next buy hair dye.

          • sally sefton

            Who isn’t lined and weather beaten that was born in 1936?
            The hair dye was surely a suggestion of the make up designer.

          • Ken Hanke

            Not really the point I was making, since it takes a certain outdoors lifestyle to get that craggy, weather-beaten look. And that’s the same hair color sports all the time, not just in this movie.

          • Bob Voorhees

            “Walk” is a simplistic, uninteresting movie. Redford does a “walk-through”, and Nolte (surprisingly) still seems to be able to walk (albeit, about 20 yards at a time). Some folks who have seen photos of Nolte in newspapers or magazines in the past few years may be surprised to see him walking at all, maybe even surprised to see him vertical (good on ya, Nick). But I’ve known Gabby Hayes, and, Nick, you’re no Gabby.
            The high points for me (having seen the scenery hundreds of times) were the two stars purchasing equipment and the exciting 10 foot fall off the Trail. Redford seems to like to “do books”. In Robert Pirsig’s “Lila” there is an interesting passage in which Redford tries to talk Pirsig into making “Zen and the Art”. Never happened. But at least “Zen” has a plot. Perhaps next time Redford should look for a book with a plot.

  4. Edwin Arnaudin

    Dear White People is now Netflix Streaming. I didn’t love it as much as most people – Ken included – but I highly recommend watching it.

  5. Edwin Arnaudin

    and Nolte (surprisingly) still seems to be able to walk (albeit, about 20 yards at a time). Some folks who have seen photos of Nolte in newspapers or magazines in the past few years may be surprised to see him walking at all, maybe even surprised to see him vertical (good on ya, Nick).

    Is his or James Brown’s mug shot better?

    I’m more surprised that Nolte can still utter a decipherable line of dialogue…which is debatable here.

    • Ken Hanke

      Not being able to understand some of this dialogue is not necessarily a bad thing, but much like a Scotsman, Nolte makes sure you understand every “fuck.”

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Sounds like a good premise for his next film.

          • Ken Hanke

            Well, I haven’t seen any of his films, so I can’t say.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I’m not sure how you’d respond to Dogtooth – I think you’d either love it or hate it and not be in the middle.

          • Ken Hanke

            I have the vague feeling that Marc from Orbit foisted it on me and that I made it 20 min. before having a “Life Is Too Short” moment.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I can see both of those actions occurring. It’s the one about the Greek father who keeps his three grown children trapped inside their house and makes up all sorts of bizarre stories to make them not want to leave.

          • Ken Hanke

            Oh…I actually sat through it. I thought it was twaddle.

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