The good news is that Fantastic Mr. Fox (review in this week’s Xpress), Pirate Radio, A Serious Man and An Education are all still in town. In fact, while Fantastic Mr. Fox underperformed most places, it did considerably above the national average locally – a pattern I expect to hold if it has the Asheville appeal of Wes Anderson’s last two films. The fact that I’ve yet to hear anyone who’s seen the film who didn’t use the word “love” in their assessment of Mr. Fox also bodes well for it hanging around. Pirate Radio held about steady at one theater and actually increased at another. Both A Serious Man and An Education continue to hold pretty strongly, though at least one of them will have to make way for Precious on Dec. 18.
There are four new films arriving on the scene – well, three that can be called films and one straight-to-video affair that got detoured to a few theaters. Taking them alphabetically, we have Nimród Antal’s Armored up first. Antal – as you likely don’t remember – made the low-budget, low-wattage horror picture Vacancy (2007), which isn’t exactly a recommendation. For that matter, the film has one of those trailers that gives you the impression you’ve pretty much seen the whole movie in two-and-a-half minutes. The cast of Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and Jean Reno is solid enough without being particularly exciting, and the PG-13 rating is almost certainly not in its favor. The worst of it, though, is probably the strange choice of a release date for the type of film – like it’s little more than a placeholder for the actual Christmas releases.
Jim Sheridan’s (In America) Brothers – a remake of a Danish film – holds the most promise with its drama about a presumed dead soldier (Tobey Maguire) who returns home to find that his brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) has taken his place in his wife’s (Natalie Portman) affections. Possible downside is that Maguire isn’t the weightiest of actors (the five people who actually saw The Good German know what I’m talking about), but he’s obviously giving the role his Oscar-hopeful best to judge by the trailer. Whether that holds up for the whole movie is another matter. A great deal of the early word is grounded in how the movie isn’t as good as the Danish original. That may or may not be true, but is it really that relevant? How many people have actually seen the original?
Then there’s Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine, which is also a remake – this time of an Italian film. OK, I admit to being one of the people who genuinely liked Jones’ Nanny McPhee (2005), but I’m not sure that has much bearing on this type of movie. Despite the fact that Robert De Niro hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory in his recent films, he’s still something of a draw – and the inclusion of Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale won’t hurt. The big selling point – for good or ill – is the fact that it’s a Christmas-themed movie. It may be sap – and it kind of looks like it – but it’s that time of year.
The chances that the last one up, Transylmania, will make the others look like the finest cinema has to offer are very good. This movie wasn’t made as Transylmania. It was made as Dorm Daze 3. If you’ve never heard of the first two Dorm Daze movies, don’t feel left out. These were both straight-to-video offerings that were made under the long-tarnished aegis of National Lampoon. In short, these are movies of somewhat less quality than those Jason Friedberg-Aaron Seltzer abominations like Date Movie (2006) and Epic Movie (2007) and Meet the Spartains (2008). What happened here is that Dorm Daze 3 happened to be a raunchy horror spoof that includes vampires. Vampires, huh? Well, Twilight madness makes vampires the happening thing – at least in the mind of some marketing genius. Never mind that these appear to be the kind of vampire you see in an old Hammer horror and I don’t think Transylvania is ever mentioned once in anything related to Twilight. Look, I have to see this – it’s my turn – but you have a choice in the matter. At least I have a screener of The Damned United – opens on Dec. 11 at the Carolina – to look forward to. I may need it – and more.
The big titles being released this week are Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Terminator Salvation and Paper Heart. Of the three, I think I hated Paper Heart the most, but it’s a very near thing, and I have no intention of ever seeing any of them again.
As for other releases, there’s not much excitement there either. Hold out for next week when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Julie and Julia show up. The nice folks at Warner Bros. already sent me the former – and it’s possibly even better than I had originally thought.
Notable TV screenings
Turner Classic Movies’ big things for December are a 60-plus film tribute to Humphrey Bogart and a run of movies by Frank Capra – along with the usual Christmas fare. While neither may be unusual choices, the titles chosen are not without interest, since several not-so-common choices are among them.
A whole day of Bogie starting at 6 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, TCM
There’s a lot of standard Bogie fare to be found in this 24-hour Bogart-a-thon, though it’s mostly from his earlier and lesser known era. The day kicks off with Love Affair (1932), which just may be the only film in the set I’ve never seen. Those of us who watched a lot of old movies on TV in the 1960s and ‘70s are apt to have seen such B-picture esoterica as Isle of Fury (1936), which runs at 3:15 p.m. and One Fatal Hour (1936), which plays at 5 a.m. the following morning. However, these are titles that haven’t shown up in recent years and it’ll be nice to see them again. I seem to vaguely remember that Bogie tangles with an octopus in Isle of Fury, but that may be wishful thinking. I know, however, that he sports a preposterous mustache in the film. That’s probably enough right there. I know that they’re promising us Swing Your Lady (1938) some time this month. Since Bogart always claimed this as the worst movie he ever made (it’s not exactly good), I’m not sure he’d appreciate the gesture.
The Talk of the Town 10:15 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 5, TCM
George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (1942) is being shown as part of a Ronald Colman tribute, but this socially conscious romantic comedy starring Colman, Cary Grant and Jean Arthur is always welcome – and since it’s not one of TCM’s holdings, it’s worth catching when they do run it. It’s the film that should have won the Oscar in 1942, but it lost out to the timely WWII propaganda of William Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver. Time has been far kinder to the Stevens picture. It’s story of a wrongly accused political activist (Grant) being railroaded to a guilty verdict for arson is still timely, as is the political awakening of the law professor (Colman) in whose rented (from Jean Arthur) cottage he’s hiding. There are a couple of points where the film tries too hard to play for big laughs – something Stevens was often guilty of – but overall, this is a film of great power and more than a little charm and wit.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 10 p.m., Monday, Dec. 7, TCM
The Frank Capra tribute kicks off with what might be called the standard titles, and there’s no denying that Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) is one of those, but it’s still a terrific movie. It’s also something of the template for much of the Capra movies that follow. It draws heavily – even to duplicating one sequence – from Capra’s Platinum Blonde (1931), but it’s the first of his big odes to “the common man,” and it’s probably the best of the lot. The casting of Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur and Lionel Stander is a big plus, but the film’s almost limitless charm – the scene where Cooper and Arthur “perform” a rendition of “Swanee River” is magical – and its literally glowing cinematography are both strong factors. If you ever had the misfortune of seeing the Adam Sandler remake Mr. Deeds (2002), check this out and see how the same material should be done.