Before going any further, it should be understood that Labor Day weekend is considered to be a movie dumping ground—one of those weekends where movies that studios view with grave misgivings and gloomy foreboding get sent out into the world. The idea is that very few people will notice them and that everyone will be spared as much embarassment as possible. The exception this year is the release of The Debt, which is aimed at an older, less picnic-happy audience—and, of course, art and indie fare like Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place (opening at The Carolina) and Another Earth (opening at the Fine Arts) don’t count. Things like Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D, on the other hand, fit the profile perfectly. And then there’s self-releasing Seven Days in Utopia, which fits the four-waller profile more than anything else.
The only thing I’ve already seen this week is Magic Trip—reviewed in this week’s paper—a documentary that’s as fascinating as it is flawed and as flawed as it is fascinating. Actually, this is a movie that’s what a “found footage” film would be if it really was “found footage,” since it’s an assemblage of footage shot in 1964 by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on their legendary drive across America. Funny thing is that this real “found footage”—actually shot by amateurs—is considerably steadier and in better focus than the manufactured kind. How do you account for that?
So that brings us to the week’s unknown quantities—and it has the appearance of a very mixed bag.
Since it opens on Wednesday for whatever reason (mostly, I think, to make doing the movie listings difficult), let’s take a crystal gaze at The Debt—a film that appears to be designed to return some of the luster to John Madden’s directorial career. The encyclopedic-minded may recall that Madden was briefly hot in 1998 with Shakespeare in Love, but then in 2001 gave us Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (aka: Nicolas Cage Does Chico Marx). Proof (2005) was an improvement, but it tanked, while Killshot (2007) was barely even released. If anyone ever needed a hit, Madden is that man. And if anyone can pull in an older—and in some cases younger—audience, Helen Mirren can do it.
The film is an action-suspense thriller adapted from a 2007 Israeli film that I’m willing guess very few people have seen or heard of. (Collectors of esoterica will now descend upon me to tell me I’m wrong. You know who you are.) And in common with the original, it takes place in two time periods—1965 and 1997—that address the difference between the official version of what happened concerning a Mossad agents tracking down a Nazi war criminal and what really happened. The 1997 players are Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds, while Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas and Sam Worthington are their 1960s counterparts. Well, it’s no Shark Night 3D, but then what is?
We’ll now return to our usual alphabetical approach with Mike Cahill’s Another Earth. If he’s known at all, Cahill is known for the 2004 documentary Boxers and Ballerinas (which I’ve never seen and only just now heard of). His film stars the equally unknown Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cahill. The biggest name is probably William Mapother and he’s perhaps better know for being Tom Cruise’s cousin than anything else. So what we have is a very indie movie that’s being sold on its sci-fi drama premise, which appears to be more drama than sci-fi, though the discovery of an alternate Earth is central to the story—it’s certainly the image being used to hook viewers. But the film seems to have more to do with the unlikely relationship between the young woman (Marling) who crashed into the man’s (Mapother) car, killing everyone but him. (Yes, it’s a variation on a story we’ve seen before.) Reviews are on the mixed side, but the bigger names have tended to like it.
Apollo 18, which seems to have been coming out forever, is one of those “found footage” things with no cast listed—presumably in the belief that this will make the viewer accept it all as real. Well, since I’ve actually heard people talking about the “real news footage” at the begining of the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I suppose the filmmakers may not be entirely wrong (and that H.L. Mencken was right). The footage is supposedly from the Apollo 18 moon mission (the one they never talk about) and it reveals the real reason we stopped going to moon. (Insert spooky noises here.) Frankly, the most interesting thing about it to me is that it was edited by Patrick Lussier, the director who proved that, yes, it is possible to make 3D work in My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Drive Angry 3D (2011). Someone of dubious authenticity on the IMDb has announced that he’s putting this on his ten best movies of all time list.
If you’ve never heard of Seven Days in Utopia you needn’t be ashamed. Yes, the film does have some names in it—Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Lucas Black—but when you’ve got names like that and still can’t get a distributor for your movie, it’s more than a little suspicious. And that’s the case with this G-rated inspirational golfing movie. It’s being handled by a handful of theaters and here it’s the Carmike 10. (The history of Carmike Cinemas booking the worst of film-festival losers is a long one, adding even more red flags.) It’s all about some young golfer (Black) finding himself stranded in Utopia, Texas, after a disastrous appearance on the professional circuit. There, it seems, he will learn not just the game of golf, but the meaning of life—thanks to crotchety old Robert Duvall. There’s the distinct air of “faith-based” drama hovering about the edges.
And then there’s Shark Night 3D, which appears to be low-gore (it’s PG-13) sharks munching on a low-rent cast—in 3D. That is, except when it’s not in 3D, since as is becoming more and more the norm, the shows are staggered to allow viewers a choice. (With any luck, this is the death rattle of 3D mania.) The gimmick here—apart from the maybe-yes-maybe-no extra dimension—is that these sharks are somehow in a fresh-water lake with our meat-on-the-hoof overaged teens trapped on an island. It also appears that the sharks are trained or genetically-engineered or operating with the help of some human agency. It’s not exactly clear from the press notes and, of course, critics haven’t been let near this thing (for which a lot of critics may well be grateful). My major qualm—besides a general lack of interest in killer shark movies—is the point of a PG-13 piece of schlock like this.
Leaving our shores this week are The Future (Fine Arts) and A Better Life (Carolina). I’m surprised by neither, even though A Better Life did more than twice the national average here (that should tell you something about the national average). Tabloid is hanging on in split shows with Midnight in Paris (the movie that won’t die) at the Fine Arts. Midnight in Paris stays on for a full set of shows at The Carolina.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show for Thursday, Sept. 1, is Erle C. Kenton’s The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)—the fourth in the Universal Frankenstein series—at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Yasujiro Ozu’s Early Summer (1951) at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is giving over September to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War, which, in this case, means two very long movies, both of which will be split into two parts at their intermissions. First up is D.W. Griffith’s controversal The Birth of a Nation (1915), part one of which screens on Sunday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Library at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) kicks off the September Asheville Film Society screenings on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all four in this week’s Xpress.
This looks pretty slack. The biggest titles seem to be Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, Prom and Rio, which is ever so slightly depressing. Oh, there’s also If a Tree Falls, which few went to see in the theater, but might fare better on DVD. Everything else seems to be movies that never opened, TV series and Blu-rays of already released titles.
Notable TV screenings
Well, TCM gets to the end of its “Summer Under the Stars” on Wednesday, Aug. 31—and after subjecting us to Peter Lawford, Anne Francis and Howard Keel, they’re ending on a high note with Marlene Dietrich. Starting at 6:30 p.m on Aug. 31 there’s a triple bill of Dietrich movies by Josef von Sternberg—Shanghai Express (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). That’s more like it.
On Thursday evening—starting at 8 p.m., they have an interesting group of rarely seen early films from James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, including a double bill of Shakespeare-Wallah (1966) and Bombay Talkie (1970) at 10 p.m.