Frankly to me, this week’s most notable cinematic event is ActionFest (you’ll find more about that from both Justin Souther and myself coming up), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other movies coming our way this week—four-and-a-half of them, in fact. Last week we got lucky—well, Hop to one side—but I’d be lying if I said I was expecting that kind of luck this week.
The four titles under consideration are Arthur, Hanna, Soul Surfer, and Your Highness. Oh, that half title? That’s A Matter of Size that’s playing at the Fine Arts Friday through Tuesday. I called it a half, because it already played at the Asheville Jewish Film Festival, and because it’s only showing for part of the week. Despite its title, it is, I should note, not a provocative movie, but is, in fact, about a group of overweight Israeli men coming to terms with their size by becoming Sumo wrestlers. It’s actually quite a charming little film.
As for these other movies—well, let’s consider them.
Arthur is, as you’re probably aware, a remake of the 1981 Steve Gordon comedy that was a big hit for Dudley Moore in the title role of a spoiled, good-natured alcoholic. (It also snagged a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for John Gielgud—providing some unintentional mirth over the fact that one of the greatest actors of his age should be given an award for asking, “Shall I wash your dick, sir?”) The idea here, of course, is that a remake might prove to have similar luck for Russell Brand, whose attempts at movie stardom have been a bit on the underwhelming side. Prospects? Well, Helen Mirren is always welcome (do they really make her say “wash your winky” or is that only for the trailer?), so she’s a plus. Brand? Well, that remains to be seen. Director Jason Winer comes from TV’s Modern Family, so he’s at least familiar with comedy that doesn’t involve a laugh track.
On the surface, Hanna—an action tale about a 16-year-old super assassin girl—looks like the most outrageous rubbish. You watch the first part of the trailer groaning in disbelief and then you see names like Cate Blanchett and director Joe Wright, and it starts to look a little more potentially interesting. Wright’s last film (and first American one), The Soloist (2009), was no great shakes, but Atonement (2007) and Pride & Prejudice (2005) were both notable works. Plus, the early reviews have been encouraging. It frankly looks like the most interesting thing opening this week. It certainly has more apparent potential than our next title.
From the director of the Hilary Duff abomination Raise Your Voice (2004) and the crime against Christ and humanity known as Bratz (2007) comes Soul Surfer—one of those uplifting PG-rated things about triumphing over adversity. As is often the case, it’s fact-based. In this case, it also appears to be faith-based. The adversity in this case comes when Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a surfer girl, loses her arm to a shark. The triumph comes when she overcomes this—and feeling sorry for herself (illustrated in the trailer by her pulling the arm off her Barbie doll)—to learn how to become a surfer all over again. Yes, I’m cynical. I’ve seen far too many of these things not to be. There’ll be some serious tussling over who reviews this, I assure you.
Finally, there’s David Gordon Green’s Your Highness. Apparently, the success of going more-or-less mainstream with Pineapple Express (2008) emboldened the previously indie-darling Green and his film school classmate Danny McBride to bring to fruition this long-gestating medieval stoner comedy. Seemingly, Messrs. Green and McBride cooked this up when they were in school together. It is not recorded what state of consciousness they were in at the time. In any case, James Franco, Natalie Portman, and Zooey Deschanel are also involved. Perhaps it will be a pleasant surprise. Perhaps not.
Still showing we have—well, not all that much really. Both Even the Rain (Fine Arts) and I Saw the Devil (The Carolina) did poorly and are absenting themselves after only a week—which is quite unfortunate in both cases. Of course, you still have the chance to catch them through Thursday. On the other hand, Today’s Special is still hanging on at the Fine Arts. Cedar Rapids and the PG-13-ified King’s Speech are still at The Carolina—or will be come Monday, since they’ve both been shunted to one side for ActionFest this weekend. Somewhere, however, vanishes for good after Thursday.
Well, another casualty of ActionFest is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show, but it’ll be back next week with the absolutely mind-boggling 1953 Invaders from Mars. World Cinema is showing the Japanese horror film Onibaba (1964) at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 8, in the Railroad Library of the Phil Mechanic Building. The 1965 Laurence Olivier version of Othello is this week’s showing from the Hendersonville Film Society on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is screening Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus (1932) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina. Pack Library has The Lady Eve in Lord Auditorium at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12.
In addition to this there’s a special Asheville Film Society benefit showing of the Hal Ashby cult classic Harold and Maude (1971) starring Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, and Vivian Pickles at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 8, in Theater 6 at The Carolina. Admission to the film is $5 for AFS members and $10 for non-members. Tickets are limited, so it’s suggested people get them in advance. After the film, the audience will adjourn to the Cinema Lounge for a Q&A with the film’s stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, who was also a personal friend of the late Hal Ashby. Harold and Maude probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of movie stunts, but watching it again this morning to check the copy, I was surprised by the number of things in it that actually required stunt working or stunt driving.
Of the titles up this week, the most interesting of the ones I’ve seen is easily I Love You, Phillip Morris, which actually did surprisingly well here theatrically—though not so well that its appearance on DVD is not something to note. Otherwise, I am less than whelmed. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader bored me no end in the theater. I can think of nothing likely to make me revisit it. Casino Jack died a quick death in its theatrical run. I fully understood why. Little Fockers was also a once-is-more-than-enough movie. I recall that Justin liked Tron: Legacy fairly well, though not enough that I feel compelled to check it out.
Notable TV screenings
One of the damndest things you’re ever likely to see is William Cowen’s Kongo (1932), and your chance comes at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, on TCM. Walter Huston stars in this remake of Tod Browning’s West of Zanzibar (1927). Here, for once someone has out-grotesqued Tod Browning. This very pre-code thriller makes the Browning movie seem positively tame. Unfortunately, it’s also the only out of the ordinary thing I spotted this coming week.