So here it is the week before Christmas, and here we are with five new movies coming to town. Two of them—the two really choice ones, Black Swan and The Fighter—I’ve already seen, but more about that in a minute. What that leaves us with is TRON: Legacy, How Do You Know and, for the truly masochistic among us, Yogi Bear (in 3-D no less). If nothing else, it’s hard to complain about a lack of diversity.
Now, as I write this, I find myself snowed in, which is making me more than live up to the “Cranky” label. But in the “what fresh hell is this?” department, I also find myself suddenly bereft of Internet service. Why? I have no idea. All I’m told is that there is an “outage,” which I’d figured out for myself, and the ubiquitous “they are working on it,” offering me no clue as to when said outage might reach its conclusion. I point this out to you in part because it’s in my nature to complain, but more to note that it becomes difficult to say just when this column will appear (though it’s safe to say later than usual). Not only does getting it up (so to speak) on the Xpress site require the Internet to be functional, but parts of the column require the Internet simply to complete. It’s a grim situation, you’ll agree, though perhaps less grim than the prospect of Yogi Bear.
So about those two choice offerings: Yes, you can read the actual reviews in this week’s Xpress, but let me do a little shilling for them here, since they’re worth it, especially Black Swan. Now, The Fighter is a good movie, and it’s distinguished by David O. Russell’s direction and the performances of Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams (many would add Christian Bale and Melissa Leo to that list), but Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is extraordinary. It may even be a masterpiece—time will tell that tale—and nearly as extraordinary is Natalie Portman’s performance. Both the film and the performance are already on most critic groups’ “10 Best” lists—sometimes in the top position. In any case, it hits The Carolina and the Fine Arts this Friday.
About the other movies opening, let’s take them alphabetically. First up is the romantic comedy (with apparently dramatic overtones) from James L. Brooks How Do You Know, starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson. It’s being promoted as some kind of “comeback” for Witherspoon, but I wasn’t actually aware she’d been away. I guess her last film was that Iraq war movie that tanked at the box office (which separates it not at all from every other Iraq war movie), so I guess she qualifies for “needing a hit.” Regardless of whether this is good or bad—and the trailer suggests it could go either way, with a lean toward the latter—it may well be a hit. With Love and Other Drugs underperforming and on its way out, there’s nothing else positioned to snag the Christmas romcom needs. (Nancy Meyers has not been around, I guess.)
That brings us to TRON: Legacy—in 3-D on some screens. Now, I’ve managed to never see the original. It didn’t interest me in 1982, and it doesn’t interest me now. Though it perhaps seems a little less like a gimmick than it did back when. From what I can determine, it seems that Jeff Bridges got stuck in a video game 28 years ago and is still there, but he’s drawn his son (Garrett Hedlund) to his old workshop to get his help in the matter. This, of course, requires the son to get sucked into the game as well, meaning much video-game villainy will have to be overcome before the end. You already know whether or not this foray into ‘80s cult nostalgia is your cup of Lapsang Souchong. Nothing I say can possibly matter in this regard.
And that leaves us with Yogi Bear—in 3-D on most screens. There’s something ironic about characters from one of the flattest 2-D-looking cartoons ever made being 3-D-ified, but then I view this whole undertaking with grave misgivings. I understand why it was made, since there’s obviously a world of very undemanding 5-year-olds out there bemoaning the lack of an Alvin and the Chipmunks picture this holiday season. I guess Yogi Bear (as voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his sidekick Boo Boo (as voiced by Justin Timberlake) fill that bill. Yeah, they were part of my childhood (it’s a very old cartoon series), and I actually had a stuffed Boo Boo (just leave it alone), which may still be in a closet in my mother’s house (leave that alone, too). That doesn’t mean I want to re-encounter them now, especially as CGI characters in a live-action film that wants me to believe Anna Faris is a documentary filmmaker.
The truth is I knew the Yogi cartoons—and all the rest of that Hanna-Barbera stuff—were pretty bad even as a small child. I think I figured this out with Huckleberry Hound ca. 1959. I may have been 5, but even at 5 years old I could tell the difference between this stuff and the Warner Bros., Fleischer Bros. and Disney cartoons. It doesn’t require maturity to notice that the characters keep running past the same table or window over and over again. But, yes, I watched them—and Augie Doggie and Quickdraw McGraw etc.—because, well, there were three channels to choose from. Plus, my father seemed to find them amusing. Regardless, the only bright spot in the prospect of being snowed in is that I might not get to review Yogi Bear. That would be just tragic. And none of this even takes into account that unfortunate early poster for the movie that showed Yogi standing behind a wide-eyed Boo Boo with the tagline “Great things come in bears.” No comment.
Still hanging on this week, we have 127 Hours at The Carolina and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest at the Fine Arts. Also Fair Game and Monsters are in for at least one more week at The Carolina, but I’d be surprised to find them there past this week. The same is true of Hornet’s Nest at the Fine Arts, since both Fine Arts and The Carolina will be opening The King’s Speech on Christmas Day. Come this Friday, the soccer documentary Pelada will vanish from The Carolina.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show has Rex Ingram’s The Magician (1926) on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema closes out its screening year (no movies on Christmas or New Year’s Eve) with Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) at the Courtyard Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Studios building on Friday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m. The Asheville Film Society has Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked (2009)—the original UK version of Pirate Radio—on Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More information and reviews are in this week’s Xpress, with longer reviews in the online edition.
In another realm of special screenings, I should note that Asheville Film Society members are slated for a special free members’ only showing of The King’s Speech on Mon., Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. The movie doesn’t open till Christmas Day, but AFS members get an early peek. Of course, you can always become a member (it’s $10 for a year). The seating on this is limited to 75.
As might be expected, there are a lot of new releases this week—just in time for Christmas. Probably the most enticing offering is Ben Affleck’s The Town, which I have to confess I still haven’t seen, but which co-critic Justin Souther thought very highly of. There’s also Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which he did not think highly of and which I’ve also not seen. The Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg odd-couple comedy The Other Guys, which I have seen and liked, also shows up this week, along with Despicable Me, which wasn’t bad. There are also The A-Team (I will continue to pass), Nanny McPhee Returns (pleasant enough once), Exit Through the Gift Shop (which I liked and a lot of other folks liked even more) and Cyrus (which I loathed). The options are certainly out there.
Notable TV screenings
Once again, there’s some terrific stuff, but apart from a rare screening of David Butler’s early musical Sunnyside Up (1929) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21, nothing really seems unusual. I do recommend Sunnyside Up to those interested in the early-sound era. It’s amost a compendium of the best that era had to offer and the absolute worst. The opening shot remains something of a marvel. Janet Gaynor singing “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All” and accompanying herself on the autoharp is, well, another matter altogether. But at least it’s not as grim as the antics of Swedish-dialect comic El Brendel, who was mystifyingly popular at the time.