It’s a busy and possibly—in some cases at least—worthwhile weekend at the movies. We have two mainstream titles—Scream 4 and Rio—three art titles—Certified Copy (Carolina), The Conspirator (Carolina), and Win Win (Fine Arts)—one hard-to-classify title—Atlas Shrugged. If nothing else it’s diverse.
I was supposed to have seen Certified Copy already, but the fates—and maybe Fed-Ex—were against me. As a result, the only of the titles you’ll find reviewed in this week’s paper is Robert Redford’s historical drama The Conspirator and you can read about that later today—or now if you’re coming to this late. So let’s take a peek at how the rest of it might appear to stack up.
Alphabetically, the first is obviously Atlas Shrugged. More properly, it’s part one of Atlas Shrugged, since Ayn Rand’s controversial shelf-groaner of a book has been theoretically broken down into three movies. I say “theoretically” because only the one entry has been made. The next two films (Atlas Shrugged Again? Atlas Keep on Shruggin’?) are only likely to be made if this one bears box office fruit. I’ll pause here to say two things—yes, I have read the book (and The Fountainhead come to that) and, no, I am not in sympathy with Ms. Rand’s philosophy. I’ll also say that I don’t honestly believe that she’d be very pleased with her book being given the bargain-basement treatment of no stars and a no-name director (who also plays John Galt), especially since the whole thing was thrown together by the producer so the movie would go into production before he lost the rights to the book. What staunch atheist Rand would make of it being handled by a distributor best known for the pro-creationism film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008), I shudder to think.
Certified Copy has all the earmarks of being a very worthwhile film. It marks the first film made by Abbas Kiarostami outside of his native Iran. The only of Kiarostami’s films I’ve seen is the excellent Close Up but it’s certainly enough to make me want to see this new one. Then again, anything with Juliette Binoche is probably worth a single viewing at the very least. Here she’s paired with opera star William Shimell, who plays a British writer on the authenticity of art. He’s on a book tour in Tuscany where he meets Binoche, who offers to show him around the countryside. When the duo are mistaken for husband and wife at an inn, they decide to play along. But as things progress it becomes increasingly unclear as to whether they might actually be a married couple. In other words, it appears to be surprisingly playful, lightweight work from the generally serious filmmaker—which might be a relief to him.
While the early reviews—largely from Australia and the UK where the film is already out—for Rio are generally positive, I have to say I find the trailer grating in the extreme. But then I’ve never cared for the Ice Age movies, which are by the same people who made this animated kid flick, so that may have something to do with it. (I’ve never reviewed one, nor have I made it all the way through any of the Ice Age pictures.) Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of these positive reviews are positive mostly in the “children should like it” sense. Anyway, it’s about a macaw named Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), who turns out to be only one of two of his kind known to exist, so he’s parceled off to Rio for parrot conjugality with the other, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway). Of course, he’s a nerd of a bird, who can’t even fly. And naturally that becomes more than a personal embarrassment when he and Jewel are stolen and have to escape. Justin Souther can tell you how it is later.
Wes Craven is very hit or miss with me—and mostly miss, I fear—though his A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is an indisputable classic and The People Under the Stairs (1991) is criminally undervalued. For that matter, I found last year’s My Soul to Take too loopy to dislike. His Scream films, on the other hand, have tended to leave me very cold. When he revealed in an audio commentary on the original that one of the murders happened solely because it had been awhile since there’d been any carnage, it merely strengthened my feeling that the series was the height of cynicism. What will Scream 4 be? Well, I’m curious to find out—even if I can’t get the cameo from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) out of my head (“Jesus, Wes, you aren’t even trying anymore!”). In fact, I might be disappointed when “Ghostface” doesn’t turn out to be an orangutan in Scream 4.
On a more serious note, there’s also Tom McCarthy’s Win Win with a solid cast including Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Canavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Margo Martindale, and newcomer Alex Shaffer. You may recall that McCarthy brought us the exceptional The Station Agent (2003) and the only slightly less great The Visitor (2007). His newest film is a quirky comedy about a not too scrupulous lawyer and high school wrestling coach (Giamatti), whose scruples are even less scrupulous when he finds himself up against the wall financially. He sees an out by appointing himself caretaker for a client (Burt Young), putting him in a nursing home and pocketing the man’s money, and this solution works fine until unexpected relatives of his client start showing up. The film has the most laudatory reviews of any film released so far this year. Need I say more?
Quite a few things are making their final bows this week. The bright idea of a PG-13 version of The King’s Speech has folded its tent (tee hee hee). Less fortunately, we see the departure of Cedar Rapids (still at The Carolina through Thursday). Paul never found the audience it ought to have and is gone, but Rango gets a little resuscitation by finding a home at the Beaucatcher come Friday. Of considerably greater note for cineastes everywhere is the release of two Ken Russell films—The Boy Friend (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972)—from Warner Bros. Archive. The latter affords you the opportunity to see what the British press in their typically tasteful way trumpeted with “Reveals Miss Helen Mirren full-frontal in a scene longer than the normal glimpse.” So there.
William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars (1953) is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is screening Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) on Friday, April 15, at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library of the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running Bo Widerberg’s Elvira Madigan (1967) on Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Preston Strurges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) is showing in the Lord Auditorium at Pack Library on Tuesday, April 19, at 6 p.m. And the Asheville Film Society has Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) on Tuesday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina.
This week sees the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, giving you plenty of time to reacquaint yourselves with Part 1 before Part 2 comes out this summer. Otherwise, there’s Country Strong, a movie I managed to avoid in theaters, and which is now a DVD I will also avoid. Of considerably greater interest to cineastes everywhere is the first DVD release of two Ken Russell classics—The Boy Friend (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972)—from Warner Bros. archive. The latter will allow viewers to see for themselves what the typically tasteful British press announced with “Reveals Miss Helen Mirren full-frontal in a scene longer than the normal glimpse!” I do not deny the veracity of that statement, mind you.
Notable TV screenings
It’s a slack week on TCM. By that I mean there are only so many times I can exhort you to watch Love Me Tonight (1932), which has gotten a lot of play recently. However, there’s The Glass Key (1942) at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 14, which isn’t run very often and which offers excellent performances from Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake. If the movie seems familiar, that’s probably because it has pretty much the same plot as the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990). This is actually the second version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel (be nice if TCM would run the 1935 one). It’s followed by The Guardsman (1931) at 9:45 p.m., a movie of no minor charm and of great historical import—at least in theater terms. This marks the only film appearance of husband-and-wife acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (for whom the Broadway theater is named), and it’s enough to make their immense theatrical reputation understandable. It’s also—judging from the performances—fuel for the fire of the ongoing debate as to the sexual orientation of its stars.