Here’s a week with one terrific art title, one good art title, one unknown quantity indie title, and three really shaky looking mainstream ones. It may not be all skittles and beer, but there’s a certain diversity to it. I guess.
Let’s start with the cream of the crop — yes, I will say that without having seen four of the other titles. The chances of the others being better than Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur are frankly non-existent. This is the kind of movie you dream about — stylish, witty, perceptive, personal, often very funny, and occasionally a little terrifying. It’s also another shoo-in for the top half of my 2014 Best of list. (For a year that didn’t start out so hot, things are looking up.) It’s a great work by a great filmmaker proving that he’s still got it at 80. It only has two characters — Emmanuelle Seigner (Mrs. Polanski) and Mathieu Amalric — and it only has one setting, but you’ll quickly forget these things as the film sweeps you up in its wicked — and wickedly clever — story. Few movies will get you this high — and do it with such seeming ease. I’ve seen it four times. You can see it for yourself starting Friday at The Carolina.
Even if it wasn’t up against Venus in Fur, I’d still find Anton Corbijn’s film of John le Carré’s novel A Most Wanted Man to be a good movie that’s trying a little too hard to be a great one. The movie is an attempt to place espionage in our post-9/11 world in terms of a Cold War thriller — and it’s very good at that. For that matter — and despite some half-hearted German accents — its three stars — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, and Willem Dafoe — give strong performances. (Hoffman truly owns the film.) It also manages to be consistently interesting, and by the end it’s even generated a degree of suspense. But don’t go expecting another Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, because it isn’t one. It also starts Friday at The Carolina.
Now, under normal circumstances, I’d have seen Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here, but this is one of those movies that the distributor opted to send our way too late in the week to get a print here for a press screening. (Just as well from my perspective, since — with special screenings — I was already tussling with 11 movies this past weekend.) As you probably know, this is Braff’s follow-up (of a sort) to his 2004 indie hit Garden State — and it became something of an issue because of its Kickstarter campaign. I have no issue with that. And I have no issue with Braff in general. I liked Garden State, but I’m not morbid about it, nor am I sold on a similar film focused on a 30-something variation on its themes. I’m not particularly swayed either way by its mixed-leaning-negative reviews. I am, however, terrified of the fact that it co-stars Kate Hudson, who I am convinced only continues to make movies because she hates us and is punishing us for something. This also opens at The Carolina on Friday.
I guess that Rob Reiner’s And So it Goes is mainstream. Reiner at least used to be a mainstream name — though I’ve never quite understood why — and stars Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton are mostly mainstream. But this is coming to us from the same little releasing company that brought us Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. Considering Reiner’s more recent fare, this may be the best he could manage. Frankly, this aimed-at-the-older-generation rom-com looks for all the world like that Nancy Meyers’ thing, Something’s Gotta Give, that teamed Keaton with Jack Nicholson back in 2003. (Whether it will also look like an Architectural Digest photo spread a la Nancy Meyers remains to be seen.) I’m supposed to be the demographic for this, since it’s about people more or less my age, but I have serious doubts — and they’re being exacerbated by the early reviews.
The big hope box office-wise this week is, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in and as Hercules — a Brett Ratner film. While the Ratner factor is alarming on its own, I’m still trying to process the IMDb’s claim that Johnson is “the closest thing Hollywood has to a male movie star.” Just roll that around in your head for a while and see if it doesn’t make you despair for the fate of humanity and movies. The film will undoubtedly do well and be better than January’s The Legend of Hercules, though I’d say that replacing director Renny Harlin with Brett Ratner is, at best, a wash. The presence of Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, and Joseph Fiennes will either help, or merely be embarrassing. All the same, my wife wants to see this, so I’ll be the lucky one reviewing it.
Finally, we have Luc Besson’s Lucy — the latest bout of nonsense from the French action director-producer of intensely dumb movies. (Think of him as the French Roland Emmerich.) This one is so dumb that it hinges on that long-refuted nonsense that we only use ten percent of our brains. (Frankly, I know people I’m sure use less than that.) Whether that’s enough to keep folks from wanting to see Scarlett Johansson as a super intelligent, bad ass action star in a movie that dares to go for the full R rating is another matter. I hold out no hope for it being good — despite the presence of Morgan Freeman to make it appear serious — but it could be junky fun. I’m betting it moves faster than Johansson’s Under the Skin, too.
This week we lose Third Person (no shock there) and both Chef and Life Itself are going to split shows, which probably means they’re on the way out. The Carolina is dropping Begin Again, though it’s holding steady at the Fine Arts, while the surprise hit, Snowpiercer, is holding nicely at both theaters.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture show celebrates director James Whale’s 125th birthday (Mr. Whale will not be attending) with Bride of Frankenstein (1935) at 8 p.m. on Thu., July 24 in Theater Six at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) on Fri., July 25 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. Wedge Brewery is showing local-musician-turned filmmaker Hank Bones’ musical satire The Quitters starting at 15 minutes after sundown on Sat., July 26. The Hendersonville Film Society is running John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) at 2 p.m. on Sun., July 27 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out its July calendar of Tue. screenings with William Powell and Jean Arthur in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936). More on all titles in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.
Forget the fact that it tanked here — mostly for being shown without a review before it opened — Dom Hemingway is the film to seek out on DVD this week. Also up are Blue Ruin, Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club, and Heaven is for Real. Yep, Dom Hemingway is the way to go.
Notable TV Screenings
You’re on your own again this week.