Five mainstream (more or less) titles open this week and I can’t say I’m exactly overwhelmed with excitement. In fact, I’m not even whelmed, though the prospect of the latest assault from Messrs. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, Vampires Suck, tends to make me want to hide under the bed. The others — Nanny McPhee Returns, The Switch, Lottery Ticket, Piranha 3D — are less alarming, but not the sort of thing designed to get my pulse racing or warm my cockles.
Let’s get the vampire suckage out of the way first—after all, it mystifyingly rates a Wednesday opening. If there was any justice, this movie would probably also rate a Thursday closing. Am I judging a film I haven’t seen? Oh, no, not at all, but I can imagine being happier to see a plague of locusts than a new movie from the makers of Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007), Meet the Spartans (2008) and Disaster Movie (2008). I’ll concede that nothing needs skewering more than the Twilight movies, but what can they possibly say that hasn’t already been said? I suppose there’s some educational value in seeing whether or not it’s possible to make something even dumber than the movies they’re making fun of. I’m guessing that it’s impossible to set a bar so low that these guys can’t get under it. I’ll let you know.
Now, I liked Nanny McPhee (2005). I like the cast here, don’t know the director, and am interested to see that Nanny McPhee Returns scored well with the British and Australian reviewers (the U.S. reviewers who’ve chimed in involve critics I don’t consider). At the same time, is Nanny McPhee Returns a movie to get excited about? I can’t quite. Maybe if you have young children, you can. I’m viewing it mostly as a movie I don’t dread sitting through—and one I’m mildly hopeful of being positively surprised by. Let us leave it at this: I will proceed to this one with a degree of alacrity.
The Switch is something I liked better when it was being called The Baster—a much more to the point title for an artificial insemination rom-com. It disturbs me somehow that this threatens to become some weird sub-genre. If this flops, it might put an end to that notion. Or not. Hollywood’s pretty tenacious about flogging expired equines. Here we have Jason Bateman having swapped his own sperm for the donor sperm that was to have fathered Jennifer Aniston’s child. What some guys won’t do for a laugh. Well, this can’t be worse than Aniston’s last opus, The Bounty Hunter, can it? What a foolish thing to say! Of course, it can. But what a lugubrious wingwang of a movie it will have to be to attain that. Then again, the ads are trying to sell it as being from the makers of Juno (2007). What does that mean? Well, it means that one of the 10 credited producers on Juno was one of the 10 credited producers on this.
Lottery Ticket looks fairly innocuous by comparison. This one’s all about Bow Wow having a lottery ticket worth $370 million. Naturally, all sort of folks would like to get it away from him, or at least get a piece of it. The trailer looks—well, more frenzied than funny. But it does have some sometimes funny people—Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine—in the cast. That generates some hope or at least the prospect of hope. Then again, this is the kind of week where I’m grasping at straws and even straining at gnats and I know it.
OK, I liked Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors (2008), but Piranha 3D is another matter. Theoretically, this is not a remake of Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), which I guess means it’s a re-imagining. Considering it’s about piranha making folks into dinner, I’d say there’s at least some connection. (And at one point, Dante was down for a cameo.) It might be all right in terms of the kind of gimmicky laughs 3D is so well suited for. The problem I’m having lies in the fact that there’s been nothing to date that suggests Aja has even the slightest hint of a trace of a whisper of a soupcon of a sense of humor—except perhaps of the unintended variety. We shall see.
Still hanging on this week are Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Fine Arts), The Kids Are All Right (Carolina and Fine Arts), Winter’s Bone (Carolina), I Am Love (Carolina) and Ondine (Carolina). Note, however, that the latter two are being combined on a split schedule, which is a strong sign that this coming week will be their last. The Killer Inside Me will be gone from The Carolina on Friday, so if you want to see it, time’s a-wasting. Now, while The Girl Who Played with Fire is leaving the Flat Rock Cinema on Friday, it will emerge on the 27th at the Fine Arts.
Special screenings this week include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) from the Thursday Horror Picture Show on Thursday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is being shown on Friday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. by World Cinema at the Courtyard Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening the original 1927 silent version of Chicago at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 22 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Billy Wilder’s 1961 Cold War/Coca-Cola comedy One, Two, Three is the Asheville Film Society’s offering on Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina Asheville. More on these titles in this week’s Xpress and its online edition.
Oh, boy, Furry Vengeance comes out this week. This could keep people out of video stores from fear of contamination—and I’m not sure The Last Song is much better. However, a couple of good titles—The City of Your Final Destination and The Good, the Bad, the Weird—that died here theatrically are also out, and they would make the trip worthwhile. If you missed them in theaters—and that seems more than likely—give them a shot on DVD.
Notable TV screenings
It takes getting all the way to next Tuesday, but on Tuesday, Aug. 24 TCM has turned the day over to John Gilbert—one of the most interesting and unfortunate stars of the silent era. Gilbert is the stuff of legend. And the legend in this case is that Gilbert—lover of Greta Garbo and one of the biggest of MGM’s stars—was one of those unfortunates who couldn’t survive the transition to sound. In fact, Gilbert is the classic example of great screen lover whose voice caused him to be laughed off the screen. Well, it’s not that simple. Yes, his first talkie—His Glorious Night (1929)—was a disaster. How bad it is is hard to say, because it’s now owned by Paramount, a studio with little interest in such matters. That’s why it never shows up on TCM.
The real question, though, isn’t whether His Glorious Night is that bad, but whether or not his career was deliberately wrecked by Louis B. Mayer. It’s no secret that Mayer hated Gilbert—mostly for being involved with Garbo, it seems—and it’s no secret that Mayer wasn’t above such things. Two things are obvious, however. There’s nothing really wrong with Gilbert’s voice and he was certainly shoved into some pretty crummy movies. This unfortunate shoving, however, was not unusual for early MGM talkies.
What TCM is offering is an interesting mix of Gilbert’s silent films and talkies. The first starring film is Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow (1925) at 8:30 a.m., followed at 11 a.m. by Tod Browning’s The Show (1927) with one of Gilbert’s best performances. (And how many movies boast a leaping, poisonous iguana as part of the plot?). Desert Nights (1929), which I’ve never seen, is on at 12:30 p.m. At 1:45 p.m. we have the first talkie of the day, the enjoyably raunchy Way for a Sailor (1930). It’s not good, but it has points of pre-code interest. Better is the 1931 gangster drama Gentleman’s Fate at 3:15 p.m. and better still is the mystery thriller The Phantom of Paris (1931) at 5 p.m. The afternoon closes out with Downstairs (1932) at 6:30 p.m.—regarded by many as Gilbert’s best talkie.
The evening returns to silents with one of Gilbert’s best known films, King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) at 8 p.m., followed by Vidor’s Bardleys the Magnificent (1926) at 10:15 p.m. The famous Gilbert-Garbo film Flesh and the Devil (1926) rolls around at midnight. Two more talkies—Rouben Mamoulian’s Queen Christina (1933) and Lewis Milestone’s The Captain Hates the Sea (1934)—crop up at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. respectively. The first is the best known of Gilbert’s talkies, famous for its pre-code sexuality and for Garbo insisting Gilbert be in the film. It was his last great moment. The Captain Hates the Sea would be his last film, and it’s a pretty sorry farewell—not helped by the cast’s apparent tendency to be drunk throughout the shoot. Indeed, legend has it that when Columbia head Harry Cohn sent Milestone a telegram, complaining about the expense of location shooting, saying “the cost is staggering,” Milestone sent a telegram back, telling Cohn, “So is the cast.”