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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.