Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 18-24: Vampires—and other things—that may well suck

In theaters

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.

On DVD

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.”

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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."

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36 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler August 18-24: Vampires—and other things—that may well suck

  1. Another one to note on dvd. THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN is a wonderful sequel to the equally wonderful LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA. The first film was a huge hit for us when we first opened and this one will be as well. Check it out.

  2. (And how many movies boast a leaping, poisonous iguana as part of the plot?)
    I wonder if Werner Herzog saw this before making BAD LIEUTENANT?

  3. Ken Hanke

    I wonder if Werner Herzog saw this before making BAD LIEUTENANT?

    I suppose it’s possible, but this thing is like nothing on God’s earth. At least Herzog’s is inextricably what it is — hallucinatory or not.

  4. Ken Hanke

    By the bye, I find it very disheartening that no one has offered to go see Vampires Suck with me. Very.

  5. By the bye, I find it very disheartening that no one has offered to go see Vampires Suck with me. Very.
    Hey, you know I would, but the walk…

  6. Ken Hanke

    Hey, you know I would, but the walk…

    You stick to that story, son.

  7. John r

    I tried. I bought a pair of ruby red slippers (finding them in a mens size 13 was an adventure, but surprisingly there is a large market for them in Wichita), clicked my heels together 3 times and said “there’s no place like home”, and nothing happened. Does anybody know where I can find some red slippers that work properly?

  8. Ken Hanke

    Does anybody know where I can find some red slippers that work properly?

    Even if they work, they might only land you on a sepia-toned farm where three vaudevillians are posing as farmhands.

  9. Sean Williams

    I know I’m going to regret asking this question, but what happened to your five-star review for Frankenrabey Wolfs the Meatman?

  10. DrSerizawa

    Another one to note on dvd. THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN is a wonderful sequel to the equally wonderful LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA.

    Thanks Orbit. Already ordered. Is there any idea of when Trail of the Screaming Forehead is going to make it onto DVD?

    I have a lot of hope for Piranha3D. I’m still waiting for something that will outdo the outlandish badness of Frankenheimer’s The Island Of Dr Moreau. It would be refreshing to see a real trainwreck rather than another forced self-aware (and failed) attempt to make a cult movie. The cast has a lot of potential for epic scenery chewing. Dreyfuss, Shue, Lloyd.. a veritable pantheon of actors with lagging careers in need of a boost. Please G-d Jerry O’Connell gets stripped to the bare bones. That in itself would justify admission.

    The leaping poisonous iguana is now programmed into the DVR. Sounds wonderful.

  11. You stick to that story, son.
    I am thinking of taking a trip on one of those jet-powered flying machine contraptions to the United States sometime next year. When’s the best time to visit Asheville?

  12. Ken Hanke

    I know I’m going to regret asking this question, but what happened to your five-star review for Frankenrabey Wolfs the Meatman?

    You realize, of course, that neither it, nor Frank’s Amazing Hammock Adventure were ever intended for public consumption. I’m not sure how they got there, but when I got home from the Mae West movies last night, there they were. The original idea was to give guest editor Frank Rabey something to play with in the new (to him) formatting layout. Enter the idle hands and warped brains of Frank, Jeff Fobes and some damned critic. The rest is self-explanatory. I toyed with the idea of leaving them there, but realized somebody would end up asking where they were playing.

  13. Ken Hanke

    The leaping poisonous iguana is now programmed into the DVR. Sounds wonderful.

    I think I can safely say you’ve never seen anything like it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    When’s the best time to visit Asheville?

    Depends on the movie schedule.

    Seriously, it depends on what you like in terms of seasonability. I will note that this summer has been miserably hot and last winter was a monument to snow, ice and me being stuck in my house. A lot of people like to come see the leaves change color in the fall.

  15. Seriously, it depends on what you like in terms of seasonability. I will note that this summer has been miserably hot and last winter was a monument to snow, ice and me being stuck in my house. A lot of people like to come see the leaves change color in the fall.

    I haven’t seen snow since I was eleven, so maybe end of Spring/beginning of Winter would be the way to go. A bit of the white stuff, but not so much that it makes traveling impossible.

  16. Thanks Orbit. Already ordered. Is there any idea of when Trail of the Screaming Forehead is going to make it onto DVD?

    It’s from IFC unfortunately, but supposed to be coming out at some point this year.

  17. Ken Hanke

    so maybe end of Spring/beginning of Winter would be the way to go

    I know your seasons are out of kilter down there (or ours are if you prefer), but while you might get snow at the beginning of winter, getting it at the end of spring seems improbable in the extreme.

    By the way, I have now seen Vampires Suck. I am sure I will recover — in time. However, I definitely owe a reward of some kind to the poster known as Tonberry for generously — and foolishly — accompanying me.

  18. Larry Cable

    “Vampires suck”? Sounds like someone is longing for a John Waters new release.

  19. Tomislav Pijonsnodt

    Sounds like someone is longing for a John Waters new release.

    You know, you’re essentially a human cold sore: you return at inopportune moments and are a deterrent to sexual contact.

    I would continue, but verbal confrontation is clearly an inequitable mode of combat in this case. In the time it takes you to consult your Moron-to-English dictionary and compose a single ineffectual witticism, I can bury you up to your neck in insults. But that’s not all bad: my fusillade might dislodge the skeleton of Sir Edmund Hillary from its resting place between your lowest chins.

    As I said, we’re clearly mismatched in terms of articulacy. I would invite you to my house to settle this dispute in person, but I’m in Colorado and I don’t know if wheelchairs can achieve highway speeds.

    Nor am I at all certain that you could read the road signs. Are you typing yourself or dictating to your social worker? If the latter, please remind her to change the filter on her gas mask.

    At this point, the only option that remains to us is an internet duel. Shall we say — cat macros at twenty paces?

  20. Ken Hanke

    Sounds like someone is longing for a John Waters new release.

    Considering the general state of comedy, I think that would be a terrific idea. Actually, John has a movie in development. You’ll want to keep an eye out for that.

  21. Sean Williams

    Everyone, I cannot apologize enough for my failure to check the lock on Tom’s cage last night.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Maybe someone just needs a big hug…. from a Polar Bear.

    I want to clarify a couple things here. I did not clear Mr. Pijonsnodt’s post and would not have, but since someone higher than I am did, so be it. That said, I understand where Mr. Pijonsnodt’s coming from, because he’s jumping to the conclusion that the poster calling himself “Larry Cable” is the banned many times over — under a long list of names — poster primarily known as “Nam Vet,” for whom the term troll was probably invented. He was (and presumably is) a huge admirer of Larry the Cable Guy and loved nothing better than to froth at the mouth over the perverted horror of John Waters. (You could usually getting him to reveal himself — under any screen name — by mentioning John Waters.) His entire mission in life was/is to stir up shit and practice character assassination (usually directed at me). While “Larry Cable” is clearly aiming in that direction, I personally don’t believe it’s “Nam Vet,” but someone posing as a new incarnation of him.

  23. Me

    I’ve heard that Herzog is one of those creative types that isn’t concerned with the history of his art. Bad Lieutenant kind of made me doubt that though.

    Ken did you see the fall Criterion releases Drive, He Said and A Safe Place are going to finally get released on DVD?

  24. Ken Hanke

    I’ve heard that Herzog is one of those creative types that isn’t concerned with the history of his art.

    It’s always tricky just how much one should believe an artist, since they can be evasive to the point of outright lying.

    Ken did you see the fall Criterion releases Drive, He Said and A Safe Place are going to finally get released on DVD?

    Yes, I’m very curious since I’ve never seen either one. I’m even more curious to see their release of Night of the Hunter, which I’ve held off programming for the AFS because of this pending release.

  25. DrSerizawa

    poster primarily known as “Nam Vet,” for whom the term troll was probably invented.

    Lord, I hate it when people do that. Usually such people were never even in the military much less had service in the zone. Now that you mention it I remember some earlier threads where he made his “presence” known. Makes the rest of us look worse than we are.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Lord, I hate it when people do that. Usually such people were never even in the military much less had service in the zone. Now that you mention it I remember some earlier threads where he made his “presence” known. Makes the rest of us look worse than we are.

    I wouldn’t worry about it overmuch. It would never occur to me to judge a group of people based on one barking lunatic.

  27. It’s always tricky just how much one should believe an artist, since they can be evasive to the point of outright lying.
    Especially with Herzog, one of the grandest cinematic self-mythologizers since Orson Welles.

  28. Ken Hanke

    How do you do the bold letters when doing another posters quote?

    This is always tricky to explain without getting the result. You put b inside <> before the quote and /b inside <> after it. Italics works the same way, but substitute an i for the b.

  29. Dread P. Roberts

    I want to clarify a couple things here. I did not clear Mr. Pijonsnodt’s post and would not have, but since someone higher than I am did, so be it.

    Great, now the curiousity is going to bug me.

    If only all trolling was answered by Pijonsnodt rebuttal rants; then the world would be a better, more bizzarly interesting place. I wonder if he’s available to rent out (like an attack dog for hire) to use his services via other internet sites?

    While “Larry Cable” is clearly aiming in that direction, I personally don’t believe it’s “Nam Vet,” but someone posing as a new incarnation of him.

    Wow… this internet troll stuff can get exhaustingly complicated to keep up with.

    If said “Larry Cable” is truley innocent, then it’s rather dementedly amusing to picture the poor soul sitting there – looking bewilderedly at his computer screen, contemplating the lashing he’d recieved – thinking to himself, “My god, what did I say?”

  30. Ken Hanke

    If said “Larry Cable” is truley innocent, then it’s rather dementedly amusing to picture the poor soul sitting there – looking bewilderedly at his computer screen, contemplating the lashing he’d recieved – thinking to himself, “My god, what did I say?”

    I’m pretty doubtful he’s innocent. It’s too far-fetched. I just am not sold that it’s the real McNam Vet.

  31. Dread P. Roberts

    I’m pretty doubtful he’s innocent. It’s too far-fetched. I just am not sold that it’s the real McNam Vet.

    I agree – it’s just that the thought makes me chuckle. In an age when Vampires Suck takes second place for the weekend box-office gross, I need all the amusement I can get.

    Speaking of which, please send my condolences to Tonberry for his heroic act of bravery.

  32. Ken Hanke

    In an age when Vampires Suck takes second place for the weekend box-office gross, I need all the amusement I can get.

    I take solace in the fact that it will almost certainly plummet like a stone this week. That it opened that high at all is discouraging, however.

    Speaking of which, please send my condolences to Tonberry for his heroic act of bravery

    I will pass that on tomorrow night at the AFS screening.

  33. Me

    before the quote and /b inside <> after it. Italics works the same way, but substitute an i for the b.b>

    before the quote and /b inside <> after it. Italics works the same way, but substitute an i for the b.i>

  34. Ken Hanke

    before the quote and /b inside <> after it. Italics works the same way, but substitute an i for the b.i>

    See, I said it was tricky. You start your quote with < and then b and then >

    No spaces. Then when you finishing the quote you follow it with

    Again no spaces.

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