Unless you have a penchant for nature documentaries, this would be a pretty uninteresting week from the looks of things—that is, if it weren’t for a couple of smaller releases, Greenberg and Mother, coming to the Fine Arts and the Carolina respectively. The mainstream offerings are a high-concept romcom with Jennifer Lopez and a low-profile actioner—neither of which appear to be poised to set the moviegoing public ablaze with anticipation.
The review for Bong Joon-ho’s Mother appears in this week’s Xpress, so I won’t go into it in detail here. I will, however, say that you’re cheating yourself out of one hell of a movie if you let the fact that it’s Korean and has subtitles keep you from seeing it. Look, I’m not generally that keen on Asian cinema, and I thought Bong’s giant monster movie The Host was only OK, but this is another matter altogether.
Greenberg I’ve neither seen, nor reviewed yet, but the film looks like a good bet for Noah Baumbach to get back to the level of The Squid and the Whale (2005) after the dreary Margot at the Wedding (2007). The film apparently does challenge the viewer by having its title character—played by Ben Stiller—be less than lovable, or even likable. And that has indeed proved a problem for some reviewers. Heavy-hitters like Roger Ebert, Mick LaSalle, Ty Burr, Steven Rea and A.O. Scott, however, are on the plus-side, and find much to praise here. I’m certainly curious at the very least.
I have nothing against Jennifer Lopez. No, really. OK, so I trashed Enough (2002), Gigli (2003) and Jersey Girl (2004), though in the last named I noted that her scenes at that film’s beginning were “actually the best in the movie.” But I liked Maid in Manhattan (2002) well enough, Shall We Dance (2004) rather a lot, and even Monster-in-Law (2005) tolerably well (though mostly for the interplay of Jane Fonda and Wanda Sykes). I’m not predisposed to dislike her latest, The Back-up Plan. The problem is that the trailer makes the film look like a one-joke bit of romcommery, with Lopez falling in love with Alex O’Loughlin (August Rush) on the same day that she has herself artificially inseminated. Darn the luck! Or more to the point, darn that zany screenwriter. We shall see. Well, I will. You can make your own call.
Then there’s The Losers. I like some of the cast. I’m not sold on the director, Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard???). The writers seem little better suited, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and James Vanderbilt (Zodiac). I don’t know the comics, but they appear to be highly regarded. And the trailer looks spectacularly OK. That PG-13 rating on material that’s apparently meant to be very violent doesn’t help matters. So I can’t say I’m exactly jazzed, but I sure wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised.
As for Oceans, I’m sure it’s a most excellent wildlife documentary. The footage in the trailer certainly looks striking. Problem for me is that my interest in such things wanes at about the 30-minute mark in all but the most unusual films. As a result, this one is falling to Justin Souther.
The Ghost Writer is still around (matinees only at the Fine Arts, full schedule at the Carolina), as is The Runaways (evenings only at Fine Arts, full schedule at Carolina). Alice in Wonderland (3-D only) is hanging on at the Beaucatcher. And Avatar makes its way to Asheville Pizza and Brewing.
This week gives you the chance to buy your very own copy of what’s being trumpeted at “the most popular movie of all time,” Avatar. (Never mind that once you factor in inflation—not to mention that 3-D surcharge—it’s not even close to “the most popular movie of all time.”) Here’s your chance to see that whatever value Avatar had had more to do with the big screen and the 3-D than with any intrinsic merit. At best, it will offer a nice souvenir for those who really liked it.
Also up is Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, which might actually play better in your living room than it did in theaters. It has its points, but all in all, it’s nothing I see myself watching again. Crazy Heart is a much better movie, and it also comes out this week. So does The Young Victoria, which I think is probably the best thing hitting DVD in mainstream titles this week. Having seen a screener of this one, I know, too, that it’s a film that retains its stunning visuals on a TV screen (depending to some degree on the TV screen, of course).
The classics this week are pretty slim pickings—discounting the usual run of Blu-ray upgrades, if you’re in the market. The most tantalizing is probably Bert I. Gordon’s 1957 giant-insect fear film (grasshoppers, in this case) with Peter Graves. Yeah, it’s really pretty awful, but that’s the charm of it. Do not be fooled by the somewhat optimistic poster art reproduced on the box. This is Gordon at his Gordon-est, which means that we’re treated to “giant” grasshoppers clambering up 8×10 Hollywood glossies of buildings as they ravage their way through Chicago (if memory serves). Probably the most amazing thing about all this is how adult human beings ever managed to get through the acting portions of the film without bursting out laughing or expiring from embarrassment. I guess this is what is meant by professionalism. (Or in the immortal words of Carole Kane in Valentino (1977), “Believe me, lookin’ sincere in this town is a lot of hard work.”)
Also up is a troubling-looking thing called Orlok the Vampire 3-D, which purports to offer the 3-D-ification of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). It also claims to be from a newly discovered print that’s more complete than the others. (I am skeptical of this and expect to be offered prime Florida swampland at any second.) There’s also the “75th anniversary” release of Reefer Madness. First of all, this wore out its marginal amusement value for me in about 1974. But more, I am unclear how a film that wasn’t made till 1936 and didn’t acquire its current title till 1937 is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2010.
And since we were talking about Ken Russell’s Valentino—at least in passing—I wanted to note that I ran the risk and ordered the MGM burn-on-demand DVD copy last week. I got it yesterday and, yes, it is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TVs. It’s also a gorgeous print that makes me think—yet again—that while it’s far from the best film Russell ever made, it may well be the most beautiful. Somewhat surprisingly, the DVD retains the original 1977 United Artists/Transamerica logo (usually these are replaced) and it’s a joy to have. Very much a no-frills affair—no extras, only chapter stops, and the movie starts up as soon as you put it in (it’ll replay itself, too, if you don’t stop it). I would love to see this get a proper release with the footage they made Russell take out—mostly involving the corpse of Valentino on display in the funeral home being a wax dummy—to help insure those four shows a day. Still, I’m not complaining to have at least this.
Notable TV screenings
Well, you’re on your own here. It’s a week of some pretty solid offerings, but absolutely nothing leaps out at me. There are some things on the horizon, but not this week, alas.