It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. This week we get three pretty darn terrific — and wildly diverse — new films. It’s also that time of year where the line between art and mainstream blurs to a degree we don’t see at any other time of the year. This is both pleasant and mildly distressing, since the big-box theater chains get into the picture. Regardless, we have three choice movies this week — and a couple of others.
Being awards season — when the studios are playing nice-nice with the critical populace in hopes of critic groups votes and berths on Ten Best lists — I’ve seen the three movies in question. These are David O. Russell’s American Hustle, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and, yes, John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks. This sort of thing actually creates some problems. On any normal week, I could easily have given any of these films the “Weekly Pick,” but — thanks in large part to the website’s inability to deal with multiple picks — there can only be one (catchy phrase, that). As a result — and after much tussling with myself, the pick went to American Hustle,but these are movies that simply cannot and ought not be pitted against each other. They are utterly unlike each other in every way — except quality. All of them are quality films deserving of attention.
Another problem that arises when this much product hits at one time (never mind the other two, though they’re equally to blame) is that movies that are not played out get shoved out of theaters. In this case, we lose both 12 Years a Slave and About Time — strictly because of lack of room. In fact, both films went up in box office last weekend, but come Friday, they are history. (Looking at the way critic groups are voting, don’t be surprised if 12 Years a Slave comes back at some point.) Plus, there’s this whole big-box theater chain business. All I’ll say is just remember which theaters go out on a limb to bring you quality pictures all year-round, and not just when the big ticket ones come around.
My pick of American Hustle should in no way dissuade anyone from seeing the other two movies. Indeed, I’d suggest you see all three if you can. Realizing that that’s not always logistically or financially possible (and don’t forget that Wolf of Wall Street hits on Christmas Day), I suggest you check out the reviews in this week’s paper. The three titles under consideration are very different and not all will appeal to every viewer. Hell, when I sat down to watch Saving Mr. Banks I was prepared to loathe it. That I came at least very close to loving it surprises me more than anyone. Some of you will undoubtedly find it too sweet and too glossed over and too sugar-coated. I understand that. But some of you are apt to find American Hustle too cynical and vulgar. Others may find Nebraska too downbeat (though it ultimately isn’t) and too much in black and white (thankfully, black and white doesn’t seem to a problem with local viewers).
Anyway, here’s the breakdown as I know it at this point — American Hustle opens at The Carolina and the Carmike 10 (probably at Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande, but those aren’t confirmed), Nebraska opens at The Carolina and the Fine Arts, and Saving Mr. Banks at The Carolina and the Carmike 10 (probably at Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande, but again those aren’t confirmed).
Now, about those other things …
I am apparently the only person in the civilized world who did not love Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and does not consider it one of The Great comedies, but then, unless Will Ferrell is playing a real character — you know, like Stranger Than Fiction or Everything Must Go — I find him pretty intolerable. My not being entranced by the first Anchorman was therefore not exactly a surprise. And now — nine years later — we have Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. To say that this holds little appeal for me is an understatement. And even if I hadn’t been of that mind already, incessantly seeing Ferrell as Burgundy hawking Dodges and sitting on various ABC “news” programs would have sealed the deal. This movie — all 119 minutes of it (well, Judd Apatow produced it) — has its audience, but I fervently hope not to be among them.
This isn’t to say that Walking with Dinosaurs is that much more enticing-looking, but there’s about 30 minutes less of it. I have no idea what to make of this. The damned thing has at least two trailers. One has a pompous pseudo-Don LaFontaine voiced narration that presents this as some sort of serious-minded exploration of the life of dinosaurs — with a hint of cuteness. The other gives us the full-blown talking and wisecraking dinosaur world, the celebrity voice cast, the uplifting premise of the 90-ton-weakling who becomes a hero and … well, you know the drill. And it’s available in both 3D and 2D flavors. Have I mentioned that there are three other excellent movies coming out this week?
I suppose I should note that I hear tell the studio made a last minute Command Decision to open Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas Eve at 4 p.m. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, but whether or not throngs of people are going to opt to interrupt Christmas Eve to spend it with a film that’s gotten largely … well, let’s say unkind reviews so far seems a fairly dubious proposition.
So in the midst of all this, what do we lose? Well, as previously noted, The Carolina is dropping 12 Years a Slave and About Time. The Fine Arts isn’t dropping either Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena, but it is splitting them — Dallas takes the evenings and Philomena the matinees. (Both films have full sets of shows at The Carolina.)
The holidays are taking their toll on the special screenings this week. Of course, the Hendersonville Film Society was already on hiatus for December as usual. But this week, with Tuesday falling on Christmas Eve, there’ll be nothing from the Asheville Film Society. (It returns next week for New Year’s Eve.) However, this week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is running Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) on Friday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. (World Cinema will then take a break until Jan. 10.) More on both films in this week’s Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.
There’s an awful lot coming out this week, but, for me, the biggie is Gore Verbinski’s much-maligned The Lone Ranger, which I think is a very, very good film that just happened to get in the way of the anti-Johnny Depp pile-on that seems to be popular these days. (Human nature seems to love building people up with an eye toward later knocking them down.) Unfortunately, this is a movie that will lose much on the home screen, but that doesn’t mean my copy isn’t on its way to me. Also up and notable (within various limits) are Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Prisoners. Plus, there’s Elysium, which I gave a pretty good review but have completely forgotten why now. More negligible are The Family and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, while Kick-Ass 2 is positively poisonous.
Notable TV Screenings
If you don’t make it to the Asheville Film Society screening of the Alastair Sim’s A Christmas Carol (1951) tonight (Dec. 17), TCM is showing it on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 10 p.m. If you really wanted to get properly Scrooged, they also have the 1970 Albert Finney musical Scrooge at 8 p.m., the rather threadbare 1935 British Scrooge with Sir Seymour Hicks at 11:30 p.m., and the glossy but vapid 1938 MGM-ifaction of A Christmas Carol at 1 a.m. (Had Lionel Barrymore — already noted for reading the story on radio — not been finally confined to a wheelchair by arthritis just before production of the 1938 film, things might have been different. First of all, Barrymore would probably have rated a better director than journeyman Edwin L. Marin, but more, it’s just that Reginald Owen makes a singularly dull Scrooge.) This is followed at 2:15 a.m. by the curio, A Carol for Another Christmas — a 1964 TV film helmed by no less than Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was only aired once by a shocked ABC—and what’s surprising is that it aired at all. It’s utterly pacifist and, being written by Rod Serling, very preachy with a tendency toward obviousness. That said, the post-war Hiroshima segment is still startling and the very much not comedic segment with Peter Sellers as “Imperial Me” remains very disturbing in its grim anti-Ayn Rand way.
Friday, Dec. 20 spends the day saluting Irene Dunne, which means we get James Whale’s magnificent Show Boat (1936) at 11:30 a.m., Leo McCarey’s sophisticated The Awful Truth (1937) att 1:30 p.m., and McCarey’s entrancingly romantic Love Affair (1939) (his original version of his later An Affair to Remember at 5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 22 finds Ernst Lubitsch’s pretty wonderful The Shop Around the Corner (1940) at 8 p.m. (Skip the musical remake at 10 p.m.) And at midnight there’s Fred Niblo’s Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), which, for my money, is much better than the 1959 film.