Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler April 21-27: Thank God for indies

In theaters

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.

On DVD

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.

SHARE
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."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

26 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler April 21-27: Thank God for indies

  1. Good to hear about MOTHER and the transfer of VALENTINO. I need to get that one and a few more from the MGM library.

  2. Dionysis

    Regarding the release of Bert I. Gordon’s ‘Beginning of the End’, this is actually a re-release. The film came out on DVD a couple of years ago, and went out-of-print within a few months. The title was going for $50 and up on the aftermarket. It is a surprise that such a movie is actually being released again. I mean, we’re not talking about ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

  3. Jim Donato

    The much larger surprise is that anyone would pay $50 for a Bert I. Gordon film at all… with the exception of “Village of The Giants,” of course! Bearing in mind that I first saw the latter at an impressionable age… 20!

  4. Ken Hanke

    I mean, we’re not talking about ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

    Lawrence of Arabia might benefit from some giant grasshopper action.

  5. Ken Hanke

    The much larger surprise is that anyone would pay $50 for a Bert I. Gordon film at all

    That may be more than the film cost to make.

    I first saw the latter at an impressionable age… 20

    20’s fairly impressionable.

  6. Dionysis

    “The much larger surprise is that anyone would pay $50 for a Bert I. Gordon film at all…”

    Yes, I know. I can’t actually prove that anyone did buy a copy at that price (or higher, if it was unopened), only that resellers were asking high prices. Heck, as far as that goes, an out-of-print copy of Day of the Triffids (with Howard Keel), with a crummy pan-and-scan image, is going for nearly $300 unopened from some venders. It’s nuts alright.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Day of the Triffids (with Howard Keel), with a crummy pan-and-scan image

    I’m trying to decide which is the bigger drawback — pan-and-scan or Howard Keel.

  8. Dionysis

    “I’m trying to decide which is the bigger drawback—pan-and-scan or Howard Keel.”

    I vote for Howard Keel. As I recall, he was in that wretched ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ that nearly permanently ruined musicals for me.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I vote for Howard Keel. As I recall, he was in that wretched ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ that nearly permanently ruined musicals for me.

    It’s funny, you know. Stanley Donen directed that and I loathe it. He also directed Funny Face about four years later and it’s one of my favorite musicals. Howard Keel isn’t in Funny Face. Is there a connection?

  10. Me

    Ken you mentioned Squid and the Whale, have you seen Kicking and Screaming? Its right up there with the Squid and the Whale i might even go as far as to say i think its one of the best comedies of the 90’s. Baumbach can right really great biting satirical material i wouldn’t mind him getting back to that a little bit maybe this is the film where he does that.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Ken you mentioned Squid and the Whale, have you seen Kicking and Screaming?

    No, I’ve never bumped into it. And Baumbach hasn’t impressed me quite enough yet where I’ve felt compelled to go check out his earlier work. Perhaps Greenberg will change that.

  12. DrSerizawa

    I already have the Beginning of the End. On VHS too! Way ahead of ’em here. God, I loved that movie when I was a kid.

    Do any of the listed movies feature a stampede of baboons? He asked hopefully.

  13. DrSerizawa

    I already have the Beginning of the End. On VHS too! Way ahead of ’em here. God, I loved that movie when I was a kid.

    Do any of the listed movies feature a stampede of baboons? He asked hopefully.

  14. Just browsed through the reviews at the Onion’s AV Club… now salivating to see if “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is going to get a run here. Hope, hope, hope…

  15. Ken Hanke

    Do any of the listed movies feature a stampede of baboons? He asked hopefully

    I wish.

  16. Ken Hanke

    salivating to see if “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is going to get a run here. Hope, hope, hope…

    Well, it was only in 8 theaters last week, so it’s hard to tell, but it did only respectable business, which does not bode well. The fact that at least one theater (where this is not usually a problem) got tagged during the run may make others hesitant to book it, too. In any case, I’ve heard no indication of it playing locally yet. The next non-mainstream thing I know of with any certainty is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Update on Exit Through the Gift Shop

    Well, it looks likely that Exit Through the Gift Shop will play here after all from what I just heard, though the specifics are not specific yet. Watch this space for developments as they permit themselves the luxury of occurring.

  18. Well, it looks likely that Exit Through the Gift Shop will play here after all from what I just heard, though the specifics are not specific

    Thanks for making my afternoon!

  19. Ken Hanke

    Ken, did you see Greenberg? What did you think?

    Yes, but I can’t say much since the review comes out on Wednesday. I’ll go this far, though — I liked it better than Margot at the Wedding. I did not like it so well that I’m running out to see Baumbach’s pre-Squid work.

  20. Ken Hanke

    By the bye, when were you there? I was there Friday at 7, which is pretty standard for me. I won’t be next week, because I had a screener for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but usually that’s when I’m there.

  21. Me

    I went Saturday night 9:20. I was hoping you would do a review of it. I liked it, i was glad this film was written more comedically. I did find Stillers character as mean as everyone says but he was just as funny. “Spoiler Alert” I liked how the ending was really a couple scenes before the actually ending. You really should see Kicking and Screaming its a great comedy in the same vein as this one, i think i heard one review that said Greenberg was the characters of Kicking and Screaming in their forties. Looking forward to your review.

  22. Ken Hanke

    “Spoiler Alert” I liked how the ending was really a couple scenes before the actually ending

    You refer, I’m guessing, to the last scene with Rhys Ifans?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.