Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 29-Jan 4: OK, wanna try Christmas week again?

In theaters

It’s quite possible that there’s an unexpected benefit to the fact that nothing new opens this week. You know that white Christmas that Bing Crosby enthused over from a soundstage in sunny Hollywood 68 years ago? Well, as you might have noticed, we got it with a vengeance hereabouts. I admit it was picturesque, but it played havoc with Christmas moviegoing, causing early closings, power losses and something other than exciting attendance. Since it’s supposed to warm up and theoretically melt all this stuff (I’m ready—I’ve been in my house since Friday), this weekend offers a chance to catch up with The King’s Speech, True Grit, I Love You, Phillip Morris and Black Swan. Of course, Little Fockers and Gulliver’sTravels are out there, too, but wasn’t being snowed in bad enough?

There’s not a lot more to say about the week. The reviews for the good stuff have been available for a while now, and the reviews for those other titles will be in this week’s Xpress. I will pause to note that even with the meteorological messiness factored in, it’s safe to say that I Love You, Phillip Morris is indeed on the fast track to suffering the same fate as last year’s Me and Orson Welles, and that’s too bad. OK, so the poster is downright awful, but the movie isn’t. And while the gay aspect is apt to be off-putting to some, and the presence of Jim Carrey off-putting to others, I know there’s a market out there for this film. Get out there and see these movies. After all, you want to be ready for Nicolas Cage in medieval drag in Season of the Witch next week, don’t you?

The still-showing of note has pretty well been covered above, but don’t forget that Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is still alive and kicking at The Carolina. In any case, it’s not like there’s a shortage of things to see for the New Year. Now, as to what will follow, well, we’ll see about that.

Special screenings

It’s still just the Asheville Film Society and the Thursday Horror Picture Show this week. Both World Cinema and the Hendersonville Film Society will be back with us next week. But till then, the Thursday Horror Picture Show has the classic horror of The Wolf Man (1941)—the picture that made Lon Chaney Jr. a horror star—on Thursday, Dec. 30, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Asheville Film Society kicks off their 2011 season with Pedro Almodóvar’s Oscar-winning All About My Mother (1999) at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. It might be worth getting there on the early side, since the last time the AFS ran an Almodóvar film, all the seats, the chairs, the barstools and even some of the floor were filled. More about both titles in this week’s Xpress.

On DVD

The very interesting—if a bit shy of greatness—The American comes out this week, as does the not very interesting and a bit shy of mediocrity Resident Evil: Afterlife. Everything else that’s vaguely mainstream this week are titles that received little or no theatrical release. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean all that much, but there’s usually a reason for it. Approach with care.

Notable TV screenings

Before they settle in for the general blandness of their annual “31 Days of Oscar” in February, Turner Classic Movies closes out 2010 with some panache and starts 2011 with an unusually intriguing selection of titles.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 29, they trot out a little all-night salute to Britain’s Ealing Studios with The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Ladykillers (1955), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and the rarely shown The Bells Go Down (1943). New Year’s Eve brings us the Marx Brothers—starting at 8 p.m.—with six of their seven best movies: Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937). And then they end on the pretty grim note of Go West (1940). I advise watching the first scene and then calling it a night—or an early morning.

Sunday, Jan. 2, brings us the magnificent James Whale version of Show Boat (1936) at the unseemly hour of 6:15 a.m. But since this is still not available on DVD, it’s worth getting up for. It should be noted that the film suffers from the exact same problem that the stage version does—namely, all the best songs come at the beginning. “Make Believe,” “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” all take place in the first 25 minutes. There are certainly compensations later on, but it’s fired its big guns at the first and then quickly follows them with the story’s biggest dramatic moment. Wrong-headed? Well, yes, but it goes with the material.

Better situated is a whole night of Josef von Sternberg starting at 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 3, with Sternberg’s masterpiece Shanghai Express (1932)—perhaps the most gloriously movie movie ever made. This is followed by Morocco (1930), and then by a collection of Sternberg’s post-Paramount (and lesser) career. This starts with the infrequently shown Crime and Punishment (1935) and is followed by The Shanghai Gesture, Macao (1952) and the almost never shown The King Steps Out (1936). It’s worth noting that this last film is the only of Sternberg’s films that the director himself requested never be included in any retrospective. But here it is. I’ve only even seen a bad VHS copy that could charitably be called barely watchable, which means it’s unfair to judge it. I will say it was a little discouraging.

Starting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 4, TCM begins its month-long tribute to Hal Roach with a selection of 24 Little Rascals shorts—largely from the richest early-sound era. Some of the slicker and lesser post-1935 titles do creep in, but then it moves into the pretty darn rare silent titles that run all through the day on Wednesday before coming back to a couple of very early talkies. The Roach Little Rascals sound films (there’s no point in even discussing the rubbish churned out by MGM after he sold the rights to them in the late 1930s) are all available in a nice box set, but the silents are harder to see. Regardless, this is a nice overall sampling of the long-running series.

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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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6 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 29-Jan 4: OK, wanna try Christmas week again?

  1. Ken Hanke

    Please note that tonight’s Asheville Film Society screening of The Thin Man has been postponed till tomorrow night — Wed., Dec. 29 — at 8 p.m. because of the weather. Sorry for any inconvenience.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Okay, The Thin Man is definitely on for tonight, though it looks like I will not be joining you, since my driveway and the road leading to the street are still about a solid 7-8 inches of snow and ice that my rear-wheel drive truck will not traverse. Mr. Souther can handle things on the screening front. And a special thanks to Marc at Orbit DVD for providing a copy of the film, since mine is snowbound right along with me.

  3. I am reading this on a beach in Tasmania with the sun baking down on me and trying hard to summon up the mental image, with difficulty.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Envision a Tasmanian devil latching on to your swimming trunks.

  5. DrSerizawa

    The Thin Man is definitely on for tonight

    I have been going through the Thin Man series this week. I could be wrong about this but even a weak Thin Man movie seems to be pretty entertaining. Of course it never hurts to have William Powell and the wonderful Myrna Loy.

    We did go see Tron in 3D. IMO it’s the kind of movie that was entertaining in big 3D but would, well, suck on a TV screen. If this is what 3D is bringing us to then I can easily do without it. If one can’t get to the theater for it then don’t bother.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I have been going through the Thin Man series this week. I could be wrong about this but even a weak Thin Man movie seems to be pretty entertaining.

    Yes, I’d agree, though I think the first is head and shoulders above the others. The next one is good, but it tries too hard to top the first one and is too long, especially all the padding with Mr. and Mrs. Asta. The third is good, but I could do without the baby party. The fourth suffers from two performers I just don’t much like, Donnna Reed and Barry Nelson. And the next two come under the heading of “they have their moments” for me. But they’re all generally entertaining — and sometimes more.

    If one can’t get to the theater for it then don’t bother.

    You have just expressed my feelings about Avatar!

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