The best thing in theaters this week is almost certainly The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which starts Friday at the Fine Arts, followed by North Face, which opens Friday at the Carolina. The big news on the mainstream front, however, is the return of Freddy Kruger to the screen with the remake—excuse me, reboot—of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and North Face are reviewed in this week’s Xpress, so I won’t go into detail about them here. I will say, however, that both are good and Dragon Tattoo may in fact be great. It’s certainly in that ballpark.
It’s difficult to say whether or not Samuel Bayer’s redo of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is worth getting excited about. Almost no one seems to have seen it. The one person I know who has used the words “unnecessary, unscary and miscast” to describe it. So far, reviews have not cropped up. The fact that all of Michael Bay’s horror film rehashes have been pretty awful doesn’t bode well, since he’s once again the producer. The director comes from music videos (that could go either way). The cast, apart from Jackie Earle Haley, all have that peculiarly vapid twentysomethings-from-TV look.
And then there’s the trailer … . Is there anything in it that isn’t just a tarted-up copy of something from the original film? Does no one get it that the original was scary and that it was scary because it took you places other horror movies hadn’t? And do they similarly not get that just duplicating scenes with a bigger budget and “better” special effects isn’t going to make it scary? If the trailer is any indication, the answer is no. (I don’t even want to guess what’s become of Craven’s anti-vigilantism subtext here.) Yes, I’ll go see it. I’d even go if I weren’t reviewing it, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
I doubt you could raise the hopes of even the most uncritical person on the face of the earth for Furry Vengeance—the latest Brendan Fraser debacle on the block. Everything about the trailer looks bad. The premise of animals rebelling against a real-estate developer feels stale, and you just know that you’re in for tons of lame CGI and endless shots of Fraser mugging for dear life. Oh, for the days of Gods and Monsters. I’d even settle for Inkheart by the looks of this.
There’s also something called City Island (I only got word of it this morning), which will be opening at the Biltmore Grande (exclusively, I think). It stars Andy Garcia (not known for being a box-office draw) and comes from Anchor Bay Films (not known for distributing movies in theaters that people go to see). And it’s apparently a dysfunctional family comedy/drama. Right now, there’s some back-and-forth between Mr. Souther and I as to who gets this vs. who gets Furry Vengeance.
And since there’s almost certainly someone out there who will find the information useful, the Carolina has the concert film Phish 3-D—in 3-D, no less—booked for one week and one show a day (9:30 p.m.). Go phor it iph it’s your thing.
Still playing and still worth a look are Mother (Carolina), Greenberg (Fine Arts), The Ghost Writer (Carolina) and The Runaways (Carolina). Since The Runaways has dropped to two shows a day, this is likely your last week to catch it. And Alice in Wonderland (3-D) is still hanging on at the Beaucatcher.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug the fact Justin Souther and I will be running Alan Parker’s Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro at the Carolina for this week’s “Thursday Horror Picture Show” at 8 p.m.—and it’s free.
There are two major releases on DVD this week—one of them worth celebrating. That one is Terry Gilliam’s marvelous The Imaginarium of Dr. Paranassus, a film I cannot wait to reacquaint myself with. If you missed it in the theater, see it now. If you saw it in the theater, see it again. The non-celebratory one is Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated. I confess I haven’t seen this. But having seen Meyers’ other movies, I have no desire to change that status.
Notable TV screenings
Things are a little brighter on the TV front this week—mostly due to Turner Classic Movies offering a one-night tribute to filmmaker Mitchell Leisen.
Mitchell Leisen Tribute Wednesday, April 28, starting at 8 p.m., TCM
Director Mitchell Leisen is probably the most underappreciated filmmaker from the Hollywood-studio era—and TCM seems to want to rectify this. I can’t say they’ve necessarily chosen the titles I would have (where are Death Takes a Holiday (1934), Murder at the Vanities (1934), Four Hours to Kill! (1935),Easy Living (1937)?), but three of their choices are certainly good ones and should explain why I call him underrated. Why is he underrated? My best guess is that while seemingly effortless sophistication and wit are admirable qualities, they don’t necessarily translate into an easily definable style, and there’s no way of really describing his style. It doesn’t help that both Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder tended to downgrade his films of their screenplays—not always fairly. Yes, Sturges could have done better with the slapstick portions of Easy Living, but it’s doubtful he could have done as well with the dramatic portions of Remember the Night (1940). And if Leisen’s direction did indeed drive Sturges and Wilder to direct their own movies, so much the better for film.
The first up is Midnight (8 p.m.). This is Leisen’s 1939 film from a Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett screenplay starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore and Mary Astor. Though very highly regarded, it’s not a film I’ve ever warmed to as much as I feel I should. It’s a basic sophisticated romantic comedy of its era that finds Colbert penniless in Paris, but with dashing taxi driver Don Ameche in pursuit, and hired by John Barrymore to break up his wife’s (Mary Astor) romance with a younger man (Francis Lederer). It’s good. It’s bright. It’s funny. It’s got John Barrymore speaking baby talk. What more can you ask for? I don’t know, but it never seems to be quite as good as it should to me.
I’m really happier with the less highly regarded Arise, My Love (10 p.m.), which Leisen made the following year, also starring Colbert (this time with Ray Milland) and from a Wilder-Brackett script. The film is rather an odd mix of comedy and pretty strong drama. The mix sometimes throws viewers. Even though the movie opens with news reporter Colbert posing as Milland’s wife in order to get a story and get him out of a Spanish prison (for being on the anti-Franco side of the civil war), the film quickly turns into a romantic comedy before becoming serious again, with Hitler and the specter of the oncoming war. This tone is held for the last part of the movie. One doesn’t really expect one of the comedic characters in a film like this from this era to get killed, but that happens. Leisen is perhaps the only filmmaker I can think of who could have navigated the screenplay’s tonal shifts—and I include Wilder himself in that assessment.
Leisen’s own personal favorite, To Each His Own (1:30 a.m.), shows up late night. This 1946 opus—perhaps the last really good movie Leisen made—is pretty much a soap, but it’s very high-quality soap. It’s a mother-love drama with Olivia De Havilland as the mother in question in her best screen performance. Story-wise, it’s one of those things where an unwed mother (her fiancé dies in WWI) gives up her baby and then tries to stay in the child’s life. The surprising thing about the film is that it isn’t soft-edged or gooey. Leisen even got permission from the Breen Office to use the word “bastard” in the film, but it so freaked out his star that he had to cut it himself. More remarkable is the fact that De Havilland’s character isn’t especially likable a good deal of the time—though, of course, she ultimately is. Soapy? Well, yes, but sit through the final scene unmoved—I dare you to try it.
The Great Lie 6 p.m. Mon. May 3, TCM
Now, Edmund Goulding’s The Great Lie (1941) is 100 percent soap, but of that glossy kind that only a Warner Bros. Bette Davis picture can be. For a change, Bette gets to be the non-neurotic character—the simple (conspicuously wealthy) Maryland farm girl whose boyfriend (George Brent) marries the very neurotic and temperamental concert pianist Mary Astor one drunken night. Of course, the marriage is a mistake—and turns out has been illegally performed anyway. So when Astor can’t fit the make-up marriage into his schedule, he flies back to Maryland and marries Davis. Then he disappears on a flight over some South American jungle or other. But wait! It turns out that Astor is pregnant, so Davis sends her off to the desert to have the baby in secrecy, whereupon she’ll claim it as her own. Fair enough. But what’s this? Ages later who should turn up but George Brent. Problems of the glossiest and most entertaining kind ensue. One word of warning—afterwards, you won’t want to hear Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto for some considerable time.