Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 22-28: A merry Christmas at the movies

In theaters

Well, it’s Christmas week, and, as usual, that means all the studios are vying for your holiday attention. Three films of note come to town this week: The Coen Brothers’ True Grit hits all the first-run theaters (except Carmike) on Wednesday, while The King’s Speech comes to The Carolina and the Fine Arts on Christmas Day, and I Love You, Phillip Morris opens Christmas Day at The Carolina. That’s the good news. Two other titles show up as well. I’d rather not talk about them, but I guess I have to.

I know that Christmas Day as a prime moviegoing time started long ago when Jewish families went to the movies on Christmas. I also know that it has somehow become a tradition for just about everyone—and that it’s a bit of a madhouse at theaters. I know that a lot of you know I spent 10 years in the trenches at one of the corporate theaters in town, and Christmas was a thing to be dreaded. The back parking lot that 364 days out the year was the exclusive province of people having romantic trysts and drug dealers would on Christmas Day be full. I once drove around for 20 minutes trying to find a space. I’ve nothing against it. It gives people the sense of doing something together as a family without the need of actual interaction, which I view as a public service. However, do not expect to find me there this year.

This is a tricky week for me to write about. I’ve seen the three films of note, and the reviews for all three appear in this week’s Xpress. As a result, I find myself limited in what to say about them here. I should note, however, that both The King’s Speech (which I’ve seen three times now) and True Grit ranked so high that they’re sharing this week’s “Top Pick.” That’s only happened once before. Take note of the fact. Also, let me say that the only reason The King’s Speech is rated R is for swearing (including—gasp—the “f word”). If that doesn’t bother you, there’s otherwise no reason you ought to rule it out as a family outing.

While I Love You, Phillip Morris didn’t rank as high as the other two, it came close—partly on sheer cheekiness and nerve. This fact-based gay romance—and comedy and more—isn’t going to be everyone’s dish of tea. (The homophobia I’ve seen on some message boards is horrifying.) But it does have an audience—or it ought to—and what I’m afraid is going to happen is that it’s going to be buried in Christmas/awards-season rush. I hope I’m wrong, but I remember too well what happened to the wonderful Me and Orson Welles back in 2009. Of course, that didn’t have the draw of Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. This one, by the way, is not “family friendly”—unless you’re using “family” in the gay sense.

And then we have Little Fockers, which opens on Wednesday everywhere but the Beaucatcher. The trailer looks absolutely awful. I have on occasion liked everyone in the cast. I’ve liked some Paul Weitz films. This last gasp (I hope) in the series of these things smells like a cash grab for the last possible revenue to be milked out of the Fockers. Now that reviews are finally trickling in, I’m filled with even greater dread. In the Hollwood Reporter, Todd McCarthy notes this is an “unsavory hodgepodge from a franchise that has overstayed its welcome.” On the other hand, Justin Chang in Variety says it’s “a lazy attempt to milk a few more laughs and bucks from the enormously lucrative property.” But Matt Pais from Metromix.com writes, “This series needs to focking stop.” Looking good, huh? In its very oh-so-thin and marginal favor, it doesn’t look quite as bad as the other one.

Jack Black plays a modern Lemuel Gulliver in a rehash of Gulliver’s Travels, which shows up on Christmas Day. I’ve liked Black twice—School of Rock (2003) and Be Kind Rewind (2008)—and this looks like it has zero chances of becoming the third time. I hope—for Justin Souther’s sake—that the film at least looks less cheesy than the trailer. I hope Emily Blunt’s presence helps. There are no even quasi-reliable reviews yet. The truth of the matter is that I will never know from personal experience—not unless Justin comes out of the movie and tells me it’s wonderful. The probability of that still leaves us at “I will never know,” I think. By the bye, because of the shortage of available 3-D screens, most theaters are playing this in a 2-D version.

Still hanging around is Black Swan (The Carolina and Fine Arts), 127 Hours (The Carolina) and Fair Game is at The Carolina through Friday only.

Special screenings

With the Hendersonville Film Society on its December hiatus and World Cinema deciding that there’s really no point in doing anything of Christmas or New Year’s Eve, we only have two special showings this week. First up, the Thursday Horror Picture Show is in the holiday spirit with Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 23, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. Then—in a last outburst of seasonal titles—the Asheville Film Society is showing The Thin Man (1934), a movie with both a Christmas scene and a New Year’s Eve party, at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. Reviews of both are in this week’s Xpress—and there are longer reviews in the online edition.

On DVD

Stay me with flagons! There’s actually something new on DVD this week that I’ll buy—one of the most delightful surprises of the year, Easy A, comes out. If you missed it in theaters, you missed a treat. Don’t continue to overlook this little gem. There’s also the laugh-a-minute Salt. Unfortunately, this wasn’t meant to be a comedy, but a thriller with Angelina Jolie. It works better as comedy. In addition, we have Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was massively OK once. I wouldn’t dare watch Step-Up 3, since I didn’t see the first two and fear I would be lost. Devil emptied theaters pretty effectively, but what people will slog through at home is often different.

Notable TV screenings

If you’re home on Christmas Eve and don’t have your own playlist at hand, TCM has Leo McCarey’s beautiful and remarkably sad Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) at 10 p.m. I’ve mentioned this one before. It bears repeating. I’ve also mentioned Mitchell Leisen’s Remember the Night (1940), which follows it at midnight. That, too, bears repeating. I’m happy to see it seems to be becoming standard seasonal fare.

The big news this week is TCM’s Will Rogers Marathon starting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28, with A Connecticut Yankee (1931), Doctor Bull (1933), Doubting Thomas (1935), In Old Kentucky (1935), Life Begins at 40 (1935), Too Busy to Work (1932), Down to Earth (1932). Now, I’ve only seen A Connecticut Yankee and Doctor Bull—and the reason isn’t lack of interest. I like Will Rogers, but his films were all made for Fox (pre-20th Century Fox)—and like all Fox titles, are not much shown. This is despite the fact that Fox has their own movie channel. Unfortunately, it appears to be obsessed with running Dunston Checks In (1996) and Home Alone (1990) every few hours. The truth is I’ve never had the chance to see the others. That will be rectified on Tuesday night.

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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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19 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 22-28: A merry Christmas at the movies

  1. Well, it’s Christmas week, and, as usual, that means all the studios are vying for your holiday attention.
    I should once again note that, to an Australian, the idea of a film opening on Christmas day seems utterly bizarre. I don’t know a single person in this country who has ever been to a cinema on Christmas Day. The King’s Speech and The Tourist (the Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy nominee) both open after Christmas here. I’ll probably take in the former during the Xmas to New Year work holiday.

  2. Todd McCarthy notes this is an “unsavory hodgepodge from a franchise that has overstayed its welcome.” On the other hand, Justin Chang in Variety says it’s “a lazy attempt to milk a few more laughs and bucks from the enormously lucrative property.” But Matt Pais from Metromix.com writes, “This series needs to focking stop.” Looking good, huh?
    Has anyone used FOCK UFF as a headline yet?

  3. Ken Hanke

    I should once again note that, to an Australian, the idea of a film opening on Christmas day seems utterly bizarre.

    It’s become standard here, though I’m not sure I’ve seen them open them on a Saturday before. I don’t remember that happening last time Christmas was on a Saturday, but then I couldn’t tell you want opened the last time Christmas was on a Saturday. I think I’ve only actually gone to a movie once on Christmas Day — and it wasn’t my idea. My copies of Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street and the Alastair Sim Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol) have arrived, and those are my viewing plans.

    Has anyone used FOCK UFF as a headline yet?

    It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

  4. davidf

    Didn’t Me and Orson Welles come out last winter, or am I going crazy?

    And if you ask me, the scariest thing about Gulliver’s Travels is that they appear to be focusing only on the part of the story that involves the Lilliputians, which means there’s more story to tell, which might mean they’re hoping to make sequels.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Didn’t Me and Orson Welles come out last winter, or am I going crazy?

    Now, which question do you want me to answer first? Actually, you are correct and I think I hit a wrong key and will change it. Thank you.

    And if you ask me, the scariest thing about Gulliver’s Travels is that they appear to be focusing only on the part of the story that involves the Lilliputians, which means there’s more story to tell, which might mean they’re hoping to make sequels.

    Actually, I just figure they took the story from the 1939 Max Fleischer cartoon which did the same and never looked at the book.

  6. DrSerizawa

    I’m with you on Gulliver. A little Jack Black goes a long way. He’s much better utilized in a supporting role, like in Tropic Thunder. Though it’s hard for me to resist anything with Emily Blunt in it.

    And what’s with Fock U? Do they think that casting a big bunch of stars will drive in business when the thing looks so obviously like a train wreck? Maybe. But I’ll pass. Streisand alone is enough to keep me away.

    But we’ve got tickets for Tron (yes we are geeks) and I have new full collection sets of Thin Man movies and Wooster and Jeeves waiting for the weekend. So, I’m set.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Streisand alone is enough to keep me away.

    Streisand struck me as coming off better than anyone else in the cast (I saw it this afternoon), but bear in mind I like Streisand well enough.

  8. Me

    No mention of TCM playing Alex In Wonderland or Wait Until Dark back to back!

  9. Ken Hanke

    No mention of TCM playing Alex In Wonderland or Wait Until Dark back to back!

    No, there wasn’t.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Well, I’d say offhand that most of the Asheville Xmas Day moviegoing has been snowed out. I’m definitely snowed in, but with Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, Scrooge (the Alastair Sim on), The Lemon Drop Kid, Going My Way, Road to Rio and The Boy Friend, so I’m good.

  11. Netflix “Instant watch” streaming seamlessly on this snowed in Christmas day. Just finished watching a PBS documentary on the Medici’s.

    Time to start a “best of” or highly recommended column?????

  12. DrSerizawa

    Well, I’d say offhand that most of the Asheville Xmas Day moviegoing has been snowed out.

    Weird. It’s 46 here in the Salt Lake area and not a bit of snow on the ground. I think the weather-claptons sent you our weather by mistake.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Time to start a “best of” or highly recommended column?????

    A little specificity, please. That’s to say, a “best of or highly recommended” of what source? I don’t do Netflix at all and I wouldn’t be of much use at anything other than movies anyway. This isn’t to say that the idea is without merit, but I’m not sure I’d be the one to undertake it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    I think the weather-claptons sent you our weather by mistake.

    Well, it’s not really bothering me personally at the moment, which means that there’s no place I need to go and my electricity has stayed on. Now, ask me in a day or two and I’ll undoubtedly feel somewhat less charitable.

  15. Ken Hanke

    I know, why not? Two great movies that deserve a mention.

    Okay, you’ve mentioned them.

    Once again, I’ve never claimed that these lists are authoritative or completist in nature — there’s a TCM website for that. I also tend to focus on things that are rarely shown. Plus, it’s a subjective thing. I’d call Alex in Wonderland interesting and Wait Until Dark good. Have you ever considered starting a blog?

  16. Ken, Netflix is magic! On a snowy day it’s pretty amazing to be able to stream movies either onto the computer screen or the TV set.

    Just joking about YOU starting a best of, or highly recommended, because we can go back through your archives and make note of favorites of yours and the regulars here, and search them out on Netflix.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Ken, Netflix is magic! On a snowy day it’s pretty amazing to be able to stream movies either onto the computer screen or the TV set.

    I’m sure it’s very fine and has a lot of uses — even though I have a personal preference for the idea of supporting local businesses like Orbit DVD, TV Eye and Rosebud, just I endorse going to independently owned theaters like the Fine Arts and The Carolina as opposed to the big corporaion ones. All that to one side, I almost invariably have a stack of things I still need to watch sitting near at hand, and staring at me accusingly.

    Just joking about YOU starting a best of, or highly recommended

    That’s actually a relief, since there are only so many hours in a day.

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