Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: In Need of Another Look—or not

The other week, I had occasion to sift through just about everything I’ve written for the Xpress since 2000. This wasn’t something I undertook lightly since there are over 3000 reviews and what not to sift through, but to provide a friend with some information, there really was no other way. In the process, I kept bumping into titles that I’ve long had it in mind to revisit—some (many) to the degree that I bought the DVDs. I have, however, not actually rewatched a single one of these.

Now I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years—predating 2000. In fact, I’ve probably seen more movies than anyone I know, which neither impresses me, nor bothers me. It just is. (I once remarked to someone that I didn’t think he was as “eaten up” with movies as I am. He told me, “I don’t think anyone is.”) I generally find that they fall into one of several categories, ranging from “that’s quite enough of that” to “let’s watch that again—now.” The best of them—and even some a good bit removed from the best—become a part of the fabric of your life. You know them intimately. You’ve seen them often. They’re somehow inextricable from who you are—like an old friend who’s always welcome. I own copies of between 3000 and 4000 films. Maybe 300 are in that realm, with another 200 on the fringe of that. Others are harder to place.

The ones I’ve collected here are all from what we may call my “Xpress Period.” They’re all recent—or relatively recent—movies that impressed me or at least stayed with me enough that I’ve wanted to get back to them. That I haven’t reflects more on my lack of organization and spare time than on the movies themselves—at least in most cases. And if I’m entirely honest, TCM and my easily distracted nature is also to blame. I can forego watching something I’ve seen many, many times—let’s say The Thin Man (1934) or any of the “Road” pictures with Bing and Bob—unless I actually bump into it. Then I’ll watch the whole thing for the 30th or 40th time.

Since there are, it turns out quite a few titles, I’m splitting this into two parts.

Thir13en Ghosts (2001). Dir: Steve Beck. Pl: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham.

What I said then: “This is a shlocky reworking of an even shlockier 1960 William Castle picture of the same name—something that a lot of critics seem to be overlooking in their headlong rush to tell everyone how very bad the new 13 Ghosts is. While no one is—blessedly—trying to claim that the original was anything but a classic bit of Castle huskstering, very few seem to bother recalling that the original was neither very scary, nor very good.”

I was impressed with the visuals—and the R-rated approach—when I first saw this second film from Dark Castle Entertainment. I was perhaps more impressed by the fact that it was at least kind of scary and had some style, while the original is just lame and looks like a TV show. I became more impressed when I picked up the production company’s first film—William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill (1999)—in a dump bin, was impressed, and thought this might be worth another look. So I picked it up. It’s still in the shrink-wrap. But I still think it deserves another look.

Akeelah and the Bee (2006). Dir: Doug Atchison. Pl: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong.

What I said then: “By all rights, Akeelah and the Bee ought to be easily written off as simplistic, derivative, manipulative, feel-good pap—a cheesy lesson in self-empowerment of the After School Special variety. The problem is, you see, that the movie itself gets in the way of this kind of dismissal. There’s just too much charm, too much heart, too much obvious sincerity and too much genuine quality to allow the film to be blown off. “

Normally, I wouldn’t touch this kind of uplifting movie—this is crane-shot and swelling-music stuff—with a stick. But this seemed somehow different—and I thought it was very much too bad that it was drawing close to no audience. I’m still curious as to how it’d look to me a second time, and whether I was just having an off day in the cynicism department.

Anything Else (2003). Dir: Woody Allen. Pl: Woody Allen, Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Stockard Channing, Danny Devito.

What I said then: “The fact that I can walk into a multiplex in 2003 and see a movie with plain white-on-black titles backed by Billie Holiday’s recording of Cole Porter’s ‘Easy to Love’ is heartening. That such a film should include exchanges about preferring to listen to Holiday on vinyl because CDs sound ‘too sterile,’ and boasts casual references to Sartre and Dostoyevsky, and its director didn’t stop to worry whether any of this tested well with (or was even comprehensible to) the largest possible target audience is encouraging. For that matter, the mere fact that Woody Allen is still making movies about the subjects that appeal to him, and still doing them in much the same manner he has for 30 years, is nearly enough to make Anything Else a cause for celebration.”

OK, the presence of Christina Ricci is questionable and the presence of Jason Biggs is considerably worse than that. Even for a later-period Allen film, audiences spurned this as they might have spurned a Uwe Boll picture. Yet I liked it and appreciated it as the first movie in which Allen addressed his age. And I’ve got it. It came a set of Allen movies, but it hasn’t gotten that second viewing I think it warrants.

Bandits (2001). Dir: Barry Levinson. Pl: Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, Troy Garity.

What I said then: “It’s as clever as they come. It has a script that manages to ultimately link together nearly every little throwaway oddity in the film in a unique and satisfying manner. It boasts the least tiresomely fussy direction of Barry Levinson’s career. It features three stars/personalities in the leads, who have never been more likable, and strong support from Troy Garity. It may be stretching its one-joke premise at 123 minutes, but it’s sufficiently engaging and off-the-beaten-path enough to be constantly entertaining while it’s onscreen.”

In all honesty, I remember very little about this film—apart from Billy Bob Thornton’s fear of antique furniture—but I remember the circumstances of seeing it with my then editor, who liked it much more than I did. This spawned a huge argument about me being a “movie snob.” I believe the word “pompous” was involved and questions of my being suited to the job were raised. As a result, I’m mildly curious as to whether I actually missed the boat here. The fact that the film has all but evaporated from my mind suggests otherwise.

Barbershop (2002). Dir: Tim Story. Pl: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity.

What I said then: “Here’s a pleasant surprise—the first such of the fall movie season. Warm, funny, and with a kind of street-smart Frank Capra ‘message,’ Barbershop is a movie that is probably not going to do the kind of business it ought to do because of misconceptions as to what kind of movie it is. If you’re expecting the raunchy humor and dope jokes that festoon such ‘masterpieces’ as The Wash (also starring a rapper turned actor), then you’re in for a surprise. There’s not a single weed reference in Barbershop and its humor—while hardly free of innuendo (check out the discussion of J-Lo’s backside)—tends to be gentle and human.”

This I actually did see more than once, but it’s definitely slipped through the cracks on my mind. Maybe the director’s subsequent movies or the devolution of Ice Cube over the years has made me doubt my judgment, but I do feel I need to reappraise this—at some point.

Big Trouble (2002). Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld. Pl: Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Tom Sizemore, Johnny Knoxville, Jason Lee.

What I said then: “If anyone had told me that I’d actually like a Tim Allen movie, I would have raised some pertinent questions as to whether or not said person should be allowed to walk around unsupervised … but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed this one. Maybe it has something to do with being an ex-Floridian and the fact that it makes good use of its Miami setting. Or maybe it’s the array of jokes based on owning a yellow Geo Storm, since such has also been my lot in life. However I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s not a Tim Allen vehicle per se, but a film with Tim Allen as part of a great ensemble cast. Plus, it’s hard to dislike any movie that boasts Stanley Tucci hallucinating that a dog with Martha Stewart’s head is trying to steal his soul.”

If anyone remembers this movie today, it’s probably because it suffered a postponed release when it was deemed that a story about terrorists wasn’t a good idea post-9/11. When it did finally show up several months later, it had no push whatever—almost as if the folks at Disney were hoping no one would notice. Well, almost no one did. I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t been reviewing it. I found amusing and agreeably odd. No idea what a second look might do.

Birth (2004). Dir: Jonathan Glazer. Pl: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall.

What I said then: “Jonathan Glazer could not possibly have chosen a more different film—or a more different approach—for a follow-up to his debut feature, Sexy Beast, than Birth. Where Sexy Beast was an aggressively loud film, Birth is an understated one that seems to have been made while the filmmaker was channeling Stanley Kubrick. Spielberg may have been the one to bring Kubrick’s final project, A.I., to fruition, but Glazer has created a work that seems more fully in Kubrick’s style.”

I liked this. There was no question on that. I even have two copies of it. The studio sent me a screener and, later, Justin Souther called me to rattle off titles he’d found in a remainder bin, it was there and I had him buy it. So why haven’t I watched it? For that matter, why hasn’t Jonathan Glazer made another movie.

Black Snake Moan (2006). Dir: Craig Brewer. Pl: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epathan Merkerson, John Cothran.

What I said then: “Craig Brewer may not have taken the world by storm with his breakthrough feature Hustle & Flow (2005), but he certainly managed to make people sit up and take notice. Now, he’s back with Black Snake Moan, a pulpy morality tale that plays like a fever-dream mix of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Erskine Caldwell—with a dash of William Inge for good measure. … Though the film is undeniably an overheated oddity on any number of levels (one of those “who did they make this for?” affairs), it’s also an undeniable huge step forward for Brewer as a filmmaker. His control of the film medium is much more assured here—and much more daring. Whether or not it elevates Brewer to the status of cinematic poet laureate of the lower depths of the South is a matter of individual taste, though I doubt there are many Southerners who will not recognize at least vestiges of reality within the film’s outrageously overstated plot. After all, isn’t the whole ‘Southern Gothic’ business a central product of Southern culture?”

There’s really no excuse for my not having watched this again. It’s on a shelf right over there (gestures to hallway). I thought it was extremely good in 2006 and haven’t chaged my mind. It also has the greatest poster in…well, maybe ever. It came home with me, too. Maybe if I put that on a wall, I’d be moved to watch the movie.

Bobby (2006). Dir: Emilio Estevez. Pl: Harry Belafonte, Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Anthoy Hopkins.

What I said then: “If Emilio Estevez had made this film under the name Fred Smith, I suspect it would be receiving a much fairer shake at the hands of a lot of critics than it is. But because Estevez was a member of the ‘Brat Pack,’ starred in some dubious movies (one he made himself), and is the son of Martin Sheen, neither he nor his film Bobby is getting the attention they deserve. Oh, he’s getting attention all right—being chided for his efforts to make a movie in the style of Robert Altman (no one in Hollywood has ever emulated another filmmaker, of course) and mocked for being able to recruit an all-star cast from his friends and friends of his father (such a thing is unheard of in the motion picture business). It’s just not the attention he should be getting for the film he made.”

It’s got everyone from Harry Belafonte to Lindsay Lohan in it. It got generally slammed by the critics. The public stayed away (possibly due to the batshit crazy antics of its distributors—which should tell you who the distributors were). I still think it got a raw deal. It sits on a shelf.

Bright Young Things (2004). Dir: Stephen Fry. Pl: Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Micheal Sheen, Stockard Channing, Peter O’Toole.

What I said then: “Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 source novel for Bright Young Things, is a work I’ve read at least three times in the past 25 years, so I came to the movie with high hopes. My expectations were perhaps born of too much familiarity, making me hyper-critical of what writer/director Fry would and would not include. And while Fry didn’t satisfy me on every point, he came so close that I’ll list his film among the best literary adaptations I’ve seen.”

This one’s simple: I’m afraid I won’t like it as much a second time. There’s usually a reason for that, but I ought to find out for sure.

Casanova (2005). Dir: Lasse Halstrom. Pl: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin.

What I said then: “That Sienna Miller’s character name, Francesca Bruni, is taken from the Bob Hope comedy Casanova’s Big Night (a film in which Casanova was played by Vincent Price—someone had a vivid imagination!) ought to clue critics in on the basic idea that Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova is not intended as a biopic or an historical study of the world’s most famous lover. Judging by the number of reviews that dismiss the film as frivolous and frothy—the very things it sets out to be—it seems to me that the point is being missed.”

I have no excuse for not watching this a second time.

Constantine (2005). Dir: Francis Lawrence. Pl: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Tilda Swinton.

What I said then: “If you’re a comic-book geek, as a lot of my friends are, then this apparent travesty of the DC/Vertigo comic will probably annoy you. I say apparent travesty because I haven’t read a comic book since they cost 12 cents. Then again, even if I was familiar with the comic, I doubt I’d be bothered by how the Constantine character fares in the film adaptation. I refuse on principle to get worked up about a literary form that, regardless of its level of pretense, recognizes “argh” as a word. However, if you’re not too concerned about burning issues like how many Batmen can dance on the head of a pin, and if you don’t hate Keanu Reeves simply because he’s Keanu Reeves, then you just might enjoy Keanustantine … er, Constantine.”

What can I say? I saw this the same weekend I saw Son of the Mask. I was out of town and so had to pay to see them. I much less objected to breaking loose with a few bucks to see Constantine than I did Son of the Mask. This may be a factor, but I did find myself entertained. This is a movie with Tilda Swinton as a foul-mouthed Archangel Gabriel fer Chrissakes! What’s not to like? It’s on a shelf in the bedroom. One day I will find out.

Crush (2002). Dir: John McKay. Pl: Andie MacDowell, Imelda Staunton, Anna Chancellor, Kenny Doughty.

What I wrote then: “Into this dismal movie year comes the charming and more-deep-than-it-appears film from first time writer-director John McKay, Crush. It’s the first 2002 release that captivated me from start to finish—the first to achieve the badge of honor for any title in the modern era: the knowledge that I will buy the DVD of Crush the day it hits the stores. Unfortunately, Crush is a film no one seems to much know or care about. There were four (presumably) paying customers at the 9:25 p.m. show on a Friday night. It doesn’t help that the movie’s gotten virtually no publicity. And its title (which doesn’t do the film justice or really describe it) is doing it no favors (its working title was much better, but would never have gotten past the MPAA and I can’t commit it to print here). However, it’s improbable that Crush by any other name is ever going to be a crowd-pleaser. True, it has something of the aura of Four Weddings and a Funeral about it, mixed in with a bit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but the movie’s just too different, too risky for huge popularity.”

This one I remember very well. I also remember the upshot of my review: I annoyed the manager of the then-Hollywood 14 a bit, because people who’d read my review kept calling wanting to know why it wasn’t listed. The reason was simply that it only played one week. It never should have been booked at that theater as it was then, but this was during the era when Regal had designs on the art house market, but did nothing to promote it. It would have fared better at the Fine Arts and would be a natural for the Hollywood in its new incarnation as The Carolina. I made good my promise and bought the film as soon as the DVD appeared, but I hadn’t gotten around to it when a friend opted to borrow it. It was the first thing he’d gotten from me that he “didn’t really like,” which I suspected was nice way of saying he really didn’t like it. The response has made me a little gunshy, because I so liked it the one time.

The Dancer Upstairs (2003). Dir: John Malkovich. Pl: Javier Bardem, Juan Diego Botto, Laura Morante, Elvira Minguez.

What I said then: “I’m always a little leery of movies made by actors-turned-director. Occasionally, the results can be stunning—George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. At other times, they show the strain of someone trying too hard to be ‘important’—Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. John Malkovich’s directorial debut lands somewhere between those two extremes: The Dancer Upstairs is not quite stunning, but neither does it strive for a loftiness out of its reach. Better yet, it’s not stamped with the inverted snobbery of much independent cinema. Where so many indie filmmakers bend over backwards to be different from their Hollywood counterparts (Fields is a perfect example), Malkovich uses every weapon in his cinematic arsenal to make his film as polished, accomplished and effective as he can. And in the main, he succeeds brilliantly.”

John Malkovich’s directorial debut (and seemingly his swan song as well) pleased me pretty well when it came out. Yet I remember almost nothing about it. I’d like to find out why.

The Deep End (2001). Dir: Scott McGehee, David Siegel. Pl: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Josh Lucas.

What I said then: “Yes, The Deep End is almost as stylish as it’s been built up to be, and it does have an unreservedly brilliant central performance from Tilda Swinton (Edward II), but rather than being a truly great film, it’s instead just a very good one. It’s easily the best neo-noir since Memento, but I wouldn’t put in quite the same league as Memento or such other modern-day examples of the genre as the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. When The Deep End is at its absolute best—a late scene with Swinton and Goran Visnjic (Committed) involving a car crash is as fine as anything from the heyday of 1940s noir—the film is just plain brilliant. At other times, The Deep End suffers from perhaps wanting to be a little too ‘artistic.’”

I have a hunch I’d like this better now. I really ought to find out.

Doomsday (2008). Dir: Neil Marshall. Pl: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, David O’Hara, Alecander Siddig, Malcolm McDowell.

What I said then: “I’ve never quite understood the fuss over Neil Marshall. I fell asleep in Dog Soldiers (2002) and only found The Descent (2005) intermittently successful. And maybe that’s why I liked Doomsday a good bit—I wasn’t expecting much. Then again, it’s possible that I just can’t help but admire a silly postapocalyptic thriller with the chutzpah to throw in a re-creation of the final shot from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) part way through. Mostly, however, I think it has to do with the fact that this is perhaps the smartest dumb movie ever made.”

The problem with really enjoyable trash is that it very often should only be seen once—and that might be the case here. So maybe I should leave well enough alone.

Duplex (2003). Dir: Danny DeVito. Pl: Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essel, Harvey Fierstein.

What I said then: “Duplex is a Danny DeVito picture, so that means certain things are a given. The film will be, for instance, immaculately designed. The color scheme will lean toward dark, deep shades (Duplex‘s 19th-century Brooklyn house lends itself to this perfectly), and the entire movie will have a rich, heavily saturated look. The performances will be, at the very least, good, and at the very best, verging on brilliant. And finally, the movie will likely be a black comedy that will certainly turn out to have a heart of purest mush. These things have been with us since DeVito’s 1987 feature-film directorial debut, Throw Momma From the Train, which was marketed as a black comedy (every gag that qualified on this level was crammed into the trailer), but was actually a rather sweet one. (The scene where DeVito, who also stars in Momma, shows Billy Crystal his coin collection is one of the most touching little moments I can recall in any film.) Even DeVito’s most hard-edged comedy, The War of the Roses (1989), backs down when it comes to the bit where Kathleen Turner has supposedly cooked and fed Michael Douglas’ dog to him; DeVito inserts (possibly during some post-production cop-out) a shot of Bowser afterwards to show that they’re only fooling. DeVito’s last effort, Death to Smoochy (2002), ran along blithely, being as mean and viciously funny as it could for five reels, only to drop in an improbable happy ending in the sixth.”

My feeling is that this is either going to be better than I remember, or it’s going to be ever so much worse.

The Emperor’s New Clothes (2001). Dir: Alan Taylor. Pl: Ian Holm, Iben Hjejle, Tom McInnerny, Nigel Terry, Hugh Bonneville, Murray Melvin.

What I said then: “Sure, it’s not much more than a souffle of a movie, but what a grand, graceful, gorgeous souffle it is. It’s a classic historical romp of the sort that briefly flourished in the early 1930s with movies like The Affairs of Cellini and Madame DuBarry and has occasionally been visited since, mostly in British films from the 1960s and ‘70s—but these later incarnations usually had a harsher edge, were more epic in scope, and tended to be serious in their revisionism. The Emperor’s New Clothes differs in that it has no real agenda—just an amusing, albeit sweet, conceit built around the strong central performances of Ian Holm (he plays two characters), who has twice before played Napoleon (most notably in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits). Even though surrounded by a perfect cast, Holm gives the film its weight and its center. Unfortunately, while viewed as a solid all-around character actor, Holm is probably not enough of a box-office name to get people into the theaters, especially for a period film. And that’s a great pity, since this little film is nothing short of a delight.”

I have little doubt that this is just as good as I remember. I wish someone could explain to me then, why the copy I paid too much for sits on a shelf unwatched.

Harrison’s Flowers (2001). Dir: Elie Chouraqui. Pl: Andie MacDowell, Elias Koteas, Brendan Gleeson, Adrien Brody, David Strathairn.

What I said then: “Harrison’s Flowers (regardless of its lackluster title, which refers to the David Strathairn character’s greenhouse flowers—and by symbolic extension, his wife and children) is a very good film that just misses being a great one due to a weak last act. In some quarters, the movie has been criticized on the grounds that the plot that houses the film’s broader themes is ‘unbelievable.’ There may be some justification for this objection, though calling it melodramatic would be nearer the mark—and I’m not altogether sure that the movie’s melodramatics weren’t the best way to make Harrison’s Flowers work in a broader sense. The film’s intent is very obviously to drag the viewer into the reality of the horror of a situation like the war in Bosnia—to pull us out of network-news mode and expose us to that which the media often dulls by keeping it distant and safe. What better way to do this than by utilizing a simple melodramatic story line?”

What I mostly remember at this point was that the film was pretty darn grim, exceptionally well made and acted, and that almost no one went to see it. That last was a great pity. The DVD appears to be OOP in the U.S., though it’s available from the UK.

Head in the Clouds (2005) Dir: John Duigan. Players: Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, Thomas Krestchman.

What I said then: “Despite the film’s terribly generic title, it would be possible to give John Duigan’s “Head in the Clouds a free pass based on eye-candy alone. Any movie populated by the glamorous movie-star looks of Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend, Penelope Cruz (1930s clothes benefit her to no end) and Thomas Kretschmann is certain to be easy on the eyes. Add to that Duigan’s penchant for rich and attractive imagery, and in Head in the Clouds, he challenges the to-die-for beauty of Sirens. This is a gorgeous movie on every possible visual level. It’s also a damned peculiar one on nearly every other level, which may well have been Duigan’s intention. If he indeed set out to make the most preposterous, over-the-top and sweeping epic he could cobble together, then he succeeded with a vengeance.”

Anyone remember the Skyland Arts Cinema in Hendersonville? They sometimes had movies that didn’t make it to the Fine Arts, and this was one of those titles. It was a pleasant little theater, though the parking left much to be desired. That—and, for those of us in Asheville, the trip to Hendersonville—likely played a part in why this movie was little seen hereabouts.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Alan Rickman.

What I said then: “I have a kind of love-hate relationship with this film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and no, my feelings about it aren’t grounded in any special fondness for the source material, since I only heard a couple episodes of the radio series and saw a few minutes of the BBC-TV film, and never read the books. My problem is based more on my desire to like a film that dares to be outside the realm of mainstream Hollywood product, which this one clearly does. Yet the movie tends to get in the way of that desire, or at least I think it does. When I first saw it last Thursday night, my reaction was that it was mildly amusing. Seeing bits and pieces of it again—and getting further away from it—I’m inclined to think it’s better than just mildly amusing, but that the film still misses being really successful.”

This is fairly high on my list of titles I’d like to check out again. I have a feeling I’d like it better now,

Infamous (2006). Dir: Douglas McGrath. Players: Toby Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow.

What I said then: “Douglas McGrath’s infamously ill-timed Infamous is at least a minor tragedy of cinema. Not only is the film better than the overpraised (including by me) Capote (2005), it’s about a hundred times better than its famous predecessor—and Toby Jones’ doesn’t so much portray Truman Capote as he inhabits him in a way that might make you ask, ‘Philip Seymour who?’ Unfortunately, the inferior Capote came first and was a huge critical success. It snagged Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar. And it left little room for another film about Capote and the story surrounding the creation of his ‘nonfiction novel’ In Cold Blood. After all, who is likely to want to see the same story all over again, especially when it stars a virtually unknown British character actor. Looking over Toby Jones’ credits, I find I’ve seen in him in several recent movies—Ladies in Lavender (2004), Finding Neverland (2004) and Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)—but I honestly only remember him as the voice of Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). Perhaps that’s part of the reason he’s so perfect for the role of Capote—there’s nothing of a pre-existing screen presence to show through.”

Last I had looked, the asking price of the DVD was ludicrously high. Having looked just now, I saw it had dropped to under six bucks, so I immediately ordered it. Whether this will get me to rewatch it remains to be seen, but I suspect I will.

The Jacket (2005). Dir: John Maybury. Pl: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Lee, Kris Kristofferson.

What I said then: “I’ve been tussling with this movie ever since I saw it two nights ago. I still can’t decide if The Jacket gets close to something like greatness, or if it’s just a (sometimes accidentally) funny mess. At this point, I lean toward the former assessment, but can’t quite overlook the latter. This is a difficult film. Noting that it has similarities to the director’s cut of The Butterfly Effect, with nods to Jacob’s Ladder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and even Altered States, isn’t all that helpful.”

This resides in a stack of movies in the bedroom (soon I’ll be piling them up in the kitchen and bathroom, too). There’s no excuse for not having given this another try. No, even a deep-seated fear of Kris Kristofferon doesn’t excuse it.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007). Dir: Robin Swicord. Pl: Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Hugh Dancy.

What I said then: Coming as soon as it does after Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Book Club suffers from an identification problem. I keep thinking it’s called Becoming the Jane Austen Book Club. By next week I’ll probably think it’s called Becoming the Jane Fonda Workout Video. In all seriousness, however, this is a perfectly cast, beautifully scripted, smartly directed little movie that won’t get the attention it deserves because it’ll be dismissed as a ‘chick flick’ by a large portion of the viewing world and shied away from by another portion for being about reading. That’s too bad—especially for those who prejudice themselves against seeing the film.”

One of these days…well, maybe.

Lady in the Water (2006). Dir: M. Night Shyamalan. Pl: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright.

What I said then: “Having been burned in 2002 by the smoke and mirrors of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs—a film I gave a high rating, then thought about for a week and wondered if I could plead temporary insanity—I am very reluctant to lavish praise on his Lady in the Water. Will I hate myself in the morning? Possibly, but I don’t think so. It’s not that I think I’m suddenly beyond being momentarily dazzled by a shiny object, but after Shyamalan’s The Village (2004), my approach to anything bearing his imprint is bound to be cautious, pessimistic and drenched in gloomy foreboding. So I went in expecting the worst. I kept thinking the film would soon start to bore or annoy me … and it never did. It had moments that left me vaguely troubled, and it had things that didn’t work, but even when Lady in the Water faltered, I never found it less than fascinating. Even its flaws and missteps carried their own fascination.”

Yeah, I know. I’ve got this one on a shelf—which is more than I can say for any of the director’s other films—but I’m actually afraid that I’ll feel like a fool for having said positive things about it on that single viewing. That someone whose opinion I tend to respect did see it a second time and told me not to is also a factor.

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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36 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: In Need of Another Look—or not

  1. Mary

    A “deep-seated fear of Kris Kristofferson”? Ah, Ken, I thought I knew ye…..

  2. luluthebeast

    Sometimes you need to heed the words of Thomas Wolfe.

    That being said, I haven’t seen all of the movies you’ve listed, but I did really enjoy BARBERSHOP, BLACK SNAKE MOAN and DOOMSDAY, all being more than I expected going in. I almost hate to say it, but I liked LADY IN THE WATER as well, which surprised me as I had grown to dispise Mr.M. Night Shyamalan’s works with a passion. I did not enjoy BIG TROUBLE, probably because I had read the book, am a big fan of his writing style and did not feel that it translated well onto the screen. If I had seen the movie without reading the book, I probably would have enjoyed it more.
    I will have to catch some of the others.

  3. Ken Hanke

    A “deep-seated fear of Kris Kristofferson”? Ah, Ken, I thought I knew ye…..

    Does this suggest some kind of inordinate fondness on your part?

  4. Mary

    It’s true. Though I would argue my affection is not “inordinate.”

  5. Ken Hanke

    Sometimes you need to heed the words of Thomas Wolfe

    Go west, young man? No, that was somebody else.

    I did not enjoy BIG TROUBLE, probably because I had read the book, am a big fan of his writing style and did not feel that it translated well onto the screen. If I had seen the movie without reading the book, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

    Well, I hadn’t and haven’t read the book, but you don’t live where I did and not know Barry’s writing — whether you want to or not.

    I will have to catch some of the others.

    I must confess that I watched Thir13en Ghosts this morning. There’s nothing like being supposed to do something to get you to do something else. The verdict? It’s still better than the old Wm. Castle movie, and it’s good looking. It has its moments and I didn’t in the least mind it, but there’s a stretch where the film is merely tedious and noisy when it’s trying to be scary. I wouldn’t rule it out for the THPS screenings, but I’d think twice.

  6. My dirty little secret is that I rarely watch a film more than once. There’s just too many out there for me to see.

  7. Ken Hanke

    It’s true. Though I would argue my affection is not “inordinate.”

    Well, I’d argue that.

  8. Ken Hanke

    My dirty little secret is that I rarely watch a film more than once. There’s just too many out there for me to see.

    That I find unfortunate, because I’ve yet to see the good movie that wasn’t better the second time — and often beyond. I’ve held this view for about 40 years — and 40 years ago it was a lot more controversial, the idea being that there was no point in watching if you knew the ending. Of course, the argument stopper then as now is, “You don’t listen to an album only once, do you?” (And, “Well, that’s different,” is no answer.)

    However, it’s been brought home forcefully in the last year. I’d seen every film run at the Asheville Film Society members only screenings — I Am Love, Ondine, The Extra Man, Tamara Drewe, Another Year, Of Gods and Men, Meek’s Cutoff — before those screenings (often just a few days before) and not a one of them wasn’t enhanced by seeing it again.

  9. luluthebeast

    There are some movies I’ve seen so many times I can give you the line before the actor does, even with my shorted out memory. It’s the same with many songs, I like them enough to listen to them over and over.

  10. Ken Hanke

    There are some movies I’ve seen so many times I can give you the line before the actor does

    I admit that some have reached the saturation point. I noticed I knew every line in The Philadelphia Story the other day when it was on TCM. The same is almost certainly true of, say, Casablanca. Neither are films I feel the need to own (I did have a bootleg 16mm of Casablanca) anymore because of this. Other films, however, retain the full appeal despite this — Shanghai Express comes to mind. I have often offered to recite the 1934 Black Cat from beginning to end, but no one will take me up on it. I can’t think why.

  11. I definitely have my favorites, recent ones as well, but I think a lot of perceptions of people is that I know every minute detail of every film.

  12. arlene

    < <<>>

    I can, too. Want to stage a reading? I can also recite The Bride or Frankenstein and probably still go frame for frame with Dracula
    Dracula. (And if anyone needs to ask which Dracula, stop reading now.)

  13. Tonberry

    (And if anyone needs to ask which Dracula, stop reading now.)

    Crap! And these things only get better past comment 12!

    Anyway, I suppose I should give “The Spirit” another look…

    (Dear God did that movie annoy me)

  14. Ken Hanke

    I definitely have my favorites, recent ones as well, but I think a lot of perceptions of people is that I know every minute detail of every film.

    I’m sure you can quote pages of dialogue from Deadly Prey and Troll 2!

    Actually, I think the quoting business is possibly generational and stems from the olden days when there was no such thing as video, so we’d record the soundtracks ands listen to them endlessly. Chip could weigh in on this and I suspect Arlene can. I know Rufus should be able to remember driving around with home-made 8 track tapes of The Magic Christian, My Man Godfrey, Libeled Lady, One Hour with You, and the “Fall-Out” episode of The Prisoner. Whether he can quote from them is another matter. He may be out of practice, but he might at least ask me to “look like an owl.”

  15. Ken Hanke

    I can also recite The Bride or Frankenstein and probably still go frame for frame with Dracula
    Dracula. (And if anyone needs to ask which Dracula, stop reading now.)

    I remember being at Fanex in 1998 and a bunch of people were trying to figure out what the first lines in Dracula were. In unison, Chris Pustorino and I said, “Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass can be found crumbling castles of a bygone age.”

  16. Ken Hanke

    Anyway, I suppose I should give “The Spirit” another look…

    (Dear God did that movie annoy me)

    Bear in mind, I’m not planning on reconsidering anything I actively disliked. Of course, I didn’t dislike The Spirit — and I’ve seen it more than once. I think that to really like The Spirit, you have to have the mindset that taking comic book movies seriously is at least a little absurd.

  17. lisi russell

    Very helpful! I missed most of these except Constantine and Black Snake Moan due to relying on the library for films in the depths of cinema-less Thomas Hardy country. He was a bleaker sort even than Thomas Wolfe, with good reason. And you can go home again. Movies are better second time around.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Movies are better second time around.

    I’d qualify that if I were you. I kind of doubt that Meet the Spartans improves on repeated viewings.

  19. I’d qualify that if I were you. I kind of doubt that Meet the Spartans improves on repeated viewings.

    Actually I’ve been thinking about a viewing party of some of your half-star reviews. Would you like to see them again?

  20. Ken Hanke

    Actually I’ve been thinking about a viewing party of some of your half-star reviews. Would you like to see them again?

    After being bamboozled — and later apologized to — into watching Pootie Tang again, I’m hesitant to commit to any such undertaking. At least not without a list of titles.

  21. DrSerizawa

    Lady In The Water was not bad, though somewhat pointless. Repeat viewing? Maybe when snowed in on Sunday.

    Infamous. You are absolutely right about Toby Jones’ riveting performance. Well worth another view.

    Hitchhiker’s Guide... This one was doomed to dissatisfy just about everyone IMHO. A better version is the 6 part BBC mini-series. I just don’t think you can do justice to the story in 109 minutes. Second view? Not for me.

    I can say though that 13 Assassins will make it into my library for repeat viewings.

    …you have to have the mindset that taking comic book movies seriously is at least a little absurd.

    I qualify for that. I haven’t read the things since I was 13. Listening to comics fans whine about the movie adaptations is sort of like listening to Trekkies arguing about the technology of the ST movies. Guys, these things don’t exist in reality.

    As far as my own repeat viewing goes all I have to say is, “Mars is almost as big as Texas, maybe it has monsters. “

  22. Ken Hanke

    Hitchhiker’s Guide… This one was doomed to dissatisfy just about everyone IMHO. A better version is the 6 part BBC mini-series. I just don’t think you can do justice to the story in 109 minutes. Second view? Not for me.

    I frankly think almost any story can be told in two hours. It may be the order in which you see these. I at least kind of liked the movie. I tried the BBC series afterwards and found it such a threadbare production that I couldn’t make it through the whole thing.

  23. lisi russell

    INFAMOUS was absolutely wonderful. I insist on hearing the choral recitation of DRACULA (I recite the play) or BLACK CAT. I can recite ROSEMARY’S BABY (working at the theatre and getting free passes), for what it’s worth; and did as a stand-up act in NYC once. No one laughed. Don’t try this in public. I brought it in under 30 minutes (why bore anyone?) At least I didn’t mime the sucker. I never want to see HITCHHIKER again (or, you got it, MEET THE SPARTANS), though I liked the movie all right and in the underproduced TV show liked Alan Rickman’s robot voice. Beeblebrox was not as unforgettable a two-headed man as Ray Milland and Rosie Grier, though. BTW, there are definitely monsters on Mars, in Texas and in inland Florida and that is an movie unmade as yet, I assume. (I’ll settle for GODS AND MONSTERS, which I could see many times and have, thank to a certain impulsively generous Mr Hanke.)

  24. Ken Hanke

    I insist on hearing the choral recitation of DRACULA (I recite the play) or BLACK CAT.

    Assuming you mean the 1927 play, I might could recite it, too, since I was once bamboozled into playing Van Helsing. (His first line, I think, is: “Were it only a patient of yours rather than your daughter, I would have come. You once rendered me a service.” I always thought that sounded a little murky.)

    I’ll settle for GODS AND MONSTERS, which I could see many times and have, thank to a certain impulsively generous Mr Hanke.

    Obviously, I’m spoiling you. By the way, I am still awaiting an e-mail from you. (Taps foot.)

    It appears I am in for rewatching all the ones at hand — or at least my wife has gathered them all up and put them in one place.

  25. lisi russell

    Van Helsing! Ha! Perfect! The restrained formality of “service-rendering!” Need a movie version with you now. I can still hear the actor at Thomas Wolfe Playhouse saying his line backwards for fun, “Up the bat like a chimney!” Your wife fits the definition of domestic goddess – stacks of DVDs in one place. Have fun watching. (Will address that foot-tapping anon.)

  26. Ken Hanke

    Need a movie version with you now. I can still hear the actor at Thomas Wolfe Playhouse saying his line backwards for fun, “Up the bat like a chimney!”

    It was taped with a single camera. I do not have a copy. I am hoping the oxide fell off the one the theater had. I never blew a line (so to speak), but I did accidentally add dialogue from the film one night, somewhat to the confusion of the unfortunately southern-accented (Dracula, y’all) actor playing the count.

    Your wife fits the definition of domestic goddess – stacks of DVDs in one place.

    Yes, well, she also insists on running 13 Ghosts again, since she didn’t see it the other morning.

    (Will address that foot-tapping anon.)

    Otherwise, you will leave me here like Sonic the Hedgehog waiting for someone to resume play.

  27. Chip Kaufmann

    “I’d qualify that if I were you. I kind of doubt that MEET THE SPARTANS improves on repeated viewings.”

    Speaking of Spartans, how about sitting through 300 again?

  28. Ken Hanke

    Speaking of Spartans, how about sitting through 300 again?

    Seeing as I’m still marginally in my right mind, no.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I’ve already started amassing letters M thru Z for the next installment. This gets me no nearer fixing the situation itself, of course.

  30. Rufus

    I know Rufus should be able to remember driving around with home-made 8 track tapes of The Magic Christian, My Man Godfrey, Libeled Lady, One Hour with You, and the “Fall-Out” episode of The Prisoner. Whether he can quote from them is another matter.

    “Youngman.” “Father.”
    “Do words corrupt? I don’t know… Agnes, n_____.”
    “I say…hot doggie…”
    “I can’t change a fiver! I can’t change a bloody fiver!”

    I could quote a limerick also.

  31. Ken Hanke

    Good to see all my youthful influence hasn’t drifted away.

  32. Shawn

    You’re re-reviewing your old articles? I thought that was against the movie-critics code-book? Article #421: Forge ahead at all costs!

    That’s some serious dedication and it adds to my appreciation of your reviews. Keep it up!

  33. Ken Hanke

    That’s some serious dedication and it adds to my appreciation of your reviews. Keep it up!

    It’s not absolutely unique to me. I’ve seen Andrew Sarris do it. Personally, I don’t see how you can’t do it. Clapton knows, were these reviews ever collected — I can’t think why that would happen — I’d want to rewrite or ammend them (the latter would be more honest). Now, that said, I see no actual percentage in reassessing The Country Bears or Terminator 2, for that matter.

    And thank you for appreciating the effort.

  34. Vince Lugo

    I would say that Constantine is worth revisiting. I’ve gone back to it myself several times and it’s just as good now as the first time I saw it. I’m a big fan of the comic book movie genre, and I think Constantine one of the more underrated ones out there. I’m just glad that there were no sequel hooks, because aside from Batman and Superman, DC Comics films don’t get sequels. I hope that Green Lantern will change this, but we’ll have to wait and see.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s in the first stack of titles to watch, so it stands a good chance.

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