Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 9-15:  Frogs, soccer and rugby

Special Xmas Jam movies

As usual at this time of year, there’s a selection of musically-inclined Xmas Jam cinematic esoterica booked to play at the Fine Arts Theatre. Also as usual, I haven’t seen any of these films, but there’s a list of the titles and when they play in the movie listings in Wednesday’s Xpress.

In theaters

Perhaps because I’ve already seen The Damned United and Invictus (reviews for both are in this week’s paper), this seems like a very light week, especially this close to Christmas. Once you cross those off the list—and you really shouldn’t, especially The Damned United—the only big release you’re left with is Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Try as I may, I simply cannot get excited about this one. Maybe it’s the fact that retro Disney in the same year that gave us Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up and Coraline just makes my yawn reflex kick in. Maybe it’s the fact that the trailers don’t excite me. Maybe it’s the prospect of a bunch of Randy Newman songs. Of course, this gives me the benefit of low expectations and the possibility of a pleasant surprise. Then again, I went to Transylmania with low expectations last week and … let’s say I was amply rewarded.

What intrigues me is that it’s not being shoehorned into as many auditoriums as possible. Neither the Carolina, nor the Beaucatcher have it on multiple screens, while the Epic and the Grande only have it on two. That’s low for a Disney movie—especially for a Disney movie at this time of year. It strongly hints that this isn’t expected to be the huge hit you might think. I guess we’ll find out this weekend.

My own view is that you’re likely to be on much firmer ground with either Clint Eastwood’s Invictus or Tom Hooper’s The Damned United. Without going into detail here, I’ll note that though the former involves rugby and the latter involves soccer, no particular knowledge of or fondness for either game is required. And if the name Tom Hooper means nothing to you—and it probably doesn’t—it might be worth considering that The Damned United is the latest collaboration of writer Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen, whose previous encounters gave us The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008).

The only other thing opening is Larger Than Life 3-D, which is a concert film with the Dave Matthews Band. I’m not at all sure why Dave Matthews should be seen larger than life and in 3-D, but there you are. This is one of those “limited” engagement things. Certainly you recall when Michael Jackson’s This Is It entered its fifth week of its exclusive two-week run? Chances are greatly increased that Larger Than Life actually will play for one week only. After all, the eagerly-awaited Avatar shows up next week, and even the Carmike 10 with its three houses of 3-D screens is likely to want all of them for that.

On DVD

The choices are a little tastier this week than has been the case for a while. Only the cynical might suggest that the Christmas season could in any way be responsible for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Julie and Julia and Public Enemies all coming out in the same week, but who’s complaining? Actually, I saw Harry Potter a second time when Warner Bros. sent a copy for my “consideration” a week or so back. A smart move on their part, since I found it even better than I remembered it—and I’d remembered it as pretty darn good. I freely admit, on the other hand, that I’d completely forgotten that Public Enemies even existed.

If there’s somebody on your Christmas list who you really, really like, Criterion has come out with a 25-movie Akira Kurosawa set. Of course, it has a list price of $399.95 and an Amazon price of $284.99. And it probably won’t fit in a Christmas stocking. Now, for people you don’t like so much, I see there’s a two-disc set of “highlights” from Jerry Lewis: 1967-69 Jerry Lewis Show. I vaguely remember liking the show when it was on. Of course, I might have been 14 by the time it went off the air, so it’s probably wiser for me to leave it to vague memory. However, if anyone wants to get me the Kurosawa set …

Notable TV screenings

Mostly we seem to be faced with the usual suspects for the Christmas season. TCM will doubtless make sure we’ve all had enough of Christmas in Connecticut (1945) before this is over. Gad, what a stiff that movie would be without Sydney Greenstreet (“Do I smell kidneys?”). However, there are a few less-than-stock items this week.

Swing Your Lady 12:45 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9, TCM
I warned you that this was coming and now here it is. Apart from having a certain notoriety as Humphrey Bogart’s worst movie (his own assessment), this 1938 comedy about a promoter (Bogie) and his quarter-witted wrestler (Nat Pendleton) who gets bested by a lady wrestler (Louise Fazenda) in the Ozarks is pretty grim stuff. At least that’s how I remember it from TV many years ago. It’s a prime example of hillbilly humor Hollywood style—with everything that implies. It also has songs (Penny Singleton performs the title number). Unfortunately, Bogart doesn’t sing. That would make it a must-see—or a must-hear, I suppose. I hope to catch it in DVR fashion, since I’ll be at a press screening of The Lovely Bones when it’s on.

The More the Merrier 6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10, TCM
This 1943 wartime comedy from George Stevens comes at the very end of his pre-pretentious era, meaning it’s his last film that doesn’t smack of self-importance. Rather, it’s a very enjoyable romantic comedy—with a bit of slapstick—starring Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea that’s set during the housing shortage in Washington D.C. during World War II. The plot involves Arthur renting a room to a visiting bigwig (Charles Coburn), who in turn rents half of his room to McCrea—partly because he takes a liking to McCrea, but mostly because he’d like to liven up Arthur’s romantic life. It’s fast-paced, good-humored fun of a kind we almost never see anymore.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen 8 p.m., Monday, Dec. 14, TCM
Here’s a real curio. Determined to win an Oscar, Frank Capra opted to make his one and only art film with The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), a fascinating piece of Hollywoodized exotica done in the manner of Josef von Sternberg. Well, at least it’s done in the manner Capra thought was Sternberg. In essence, it’s Capra’s Shanghai Express—right down to him bringing in composer W. Franke Harling to cook up an ersatz Shanghai Express score. The irony to all this is that it was in large part due to the Academy not recognizing him or Shanghai Express as Best Director and Best Picture that Sternberg quit the association. Capra fared even less well with General Yen, which became his only movie to actually lose money—despite the fact that it was chosen as the movie to open Radio City Music Hall. (Radio City found there was no place to go but up after that, and as a gesture opted to open all of Capra’s subsequent—and profitable—movies.) It’s really not that bad, but it verges on the silly too often—and it does so without Sternberg’s deliberate sense of the absurd. Still, it’s well worth seeing and enjoys a reputation among Capra’s detractors as the only good film he ever made, which basically just means it’s not a populist work. And it most certainly isn’t.

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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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20 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Dec. 9-15:  Frogs, soccer and rugby

  1. T.H.X. Pijonsnodt, Esq.

    Maybe it’s the fact that the trailers don’t excite me.

    There are parts of the trailers that sort of intrigue me (like the bayou setting and the Voodoo priest) and parts that repulse me (like the general maudlin peppiness).

    Also, that Dizzy Gillespie alligator reminds me of the transvestite alligator from All Dogs Go to Heaven. I don’t know if that fact intrigues me or repulses me.

    I’ll probably see it just because I prefer hand-drawn animation to C.G.I. That’s not to say that I dislike C.G.I., just that I don’t want to see it totally supplant hand-drawn animation.

    It strongly hints that this isn’t expected to be the huge hit you might think.

    It’s also noteworthy that although the reviews have been largely positive, they’re been lukewarm positive. Its average score on Metacritic is 68/100.

    That’s the misleading thing about the Tomatometer: in the admittedly unlikely event that every reviewer on the site gives a movie a B- or the equivalent in stars or thumbs or, as is the case with Hammond and Travers, dollar bill signs, that’s technically 100 percent fresh.

    Thank God we have Armond White to shake things up. The man should rate movies out of five icons of his scowling visage.

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    Also, that Dizzy Gillespie alligator reminds me of the transvestite alligator from All Dogs Go to Heaven.

    Holy older cartoon movies, Batman! I completely forgot all about that movie. If my sudden resurgence of memory serves, I thought that was a great little movie at the time. Now I’m going to have to go see about raiding my parents video collection and revisit it.

  3. Alley

    Hey Hanke, just out of curiousity, I’m wondering what you think of the Bollywood film industry. I just watched one for the first time called “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and I thought it was fantastic! Maybe a bit unrealistic but filled with energy and genuine emotion.

  4. Steven

    [b]And what about ANTICHRIST and BAD LIEUTENANT?[/b]

    And [i]Broken Embraces[/i]?

  5. Ken Hanke

    What about The Lovely Bones?

    And what about ANTICHRIST and BAD LIEUTENANT?

    And Broken Embraces?

    Okay, here’s what I know —

    The Lovely Bones opens in limited this Friday. As usual “limited” has not been defined, except that it doesn’t mean Asheville.

    Antichrist is down for the Fine Arts in January.

    I haven’t heard a word about Bad Lieutenant. My suggestion is to make the Carolina aware that there’s an audience for it here. After the way people stayed away from Thirst in droves, I’m not weighing in on these suggestions unless I’m real sure of that market.

    Broken Embraces is slated for the Fine Arts in January — or that’s where things are now. Remember, they’ve only got two screens and if The Young Victoria or Antichrist prove immensely popular (which I very much doubt), it could be delayed.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Also, that Dizzy Gillespie alligator reminds me of the transvestite alligator from All Dogs Go to Heaven. I don’t know if that fact intrigues me or repulses me.

    Boy, it’s an age thing for sure, because the alligator reminds me of the “jazz” musicians that popped up in The Jungle Book — and I can tell you that this repulses me.

    That’s the misleading thing about the Tomatometer: in the admittedly unlikely event that every reviewer on the site gives a movie a B- or the equivalent in stars or thumbs or, as is the case with Hammond and Travers, dollar bill signs, that’s technically 100 percent fresh

    Well, that’s not just technically fresh, it is fresh, all things considered. It doesn’t necessarily convey enthusiasm, however. But that’s kind of like the person who goes to a movie based entirely on the number of stars a critic gave it — that is, if you can’t be bothered to dig a little deeper, you’ve no one but yourself to blame if you’re disappointed.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Hey Hanke, just out of curiousity, I’m wondering what you think of the Bollywood film industry.

    I really haven’t seen enough to say. All I’ve seen are Bride and Prejudice which is Hollywoodish attempt at Bollywood and Awara. The latter which I only recently encountered I found to be just shy of some cockeyed masterpiece.


  8. I heard Herzog being interviewed about it by Elvis Mitchell the other day, and I now cannot wait to see it. I sounds like the The Spirit of cop thriller movies. Apparently it includes scenes shot form an iguana’s point of view (filmed by Herzog personally) and a dead alligator being manipulated by pieces of fishing wire tied around its leg (again, by Herzog personally). Early buzz is that Cage is playing it like he’s been mainlining caffeine. It sounds like some kind of ‘cockeyed masterpiece’ (to borrow a phrase).
    However, the fact that the film isn’t narrated by Herzog is sure to disappoint me on some kind of deeper level when I watch it.
    He also kept referring to the film by its full, cheesy title throughout the interview. Hearing him saying ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ in that casually bizarre speech of his is enough to warm the coldest of hearts.

  9. T.H.X. Pijonsnodt, Esq.

    Boy, it’s an age thing for sure, because the alligator reminds me of the “jazz” musicians that popped up in The Jungle Book — and I can tell you that this repulses me.

    I think that it has less to do with my age than with my fondness for musical numbers involving transvestite alligators.

    But that’s kind of like the person who goes to a movie based entirely on the number of stars a critic gave it

    Which is why, in my unprofessional opinion, critics shouldn’t use star ratings, anyways.

  10. Vince Lugo

    I’m eagerly looking forward to Princess and the Frog just because I’m a huge Disney fan and it looks like it just might be their best film since Treasure Planet. Leaving Pixar aside since Disney proper has nothing at all to do with their creative process, Disney’s animated output the last few years has been dismal. Meet the Robinsons was good, but that’s been the only bright spot. However, now that John Lasseter is in charge, things are finally getting better (as evidenced by the wonderful tv special Prep & Landing, which reruns next Wednesday for those of you who missed it). The man deserves major credit for saving Disney almost singlehandedly.

  11. Steven

    [b]After all, the eagerly-awaited Avatar shows up next week[/b]

    I can’t imagine the responses you will get on Rotten Tomatoes if you give it a “rotten” review.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I can’t imagine the responses you will get on Rotten Tomatoes if you give it a “rotten” review.

    I can easily imagine them, but I don’t care. I certainly am not about to mince words in order not to offend the fanboys who loiter on Rotten Tomatoes. What are they going to do? Call me a “tool” in the comments section? Can someone tell me why this folks seem to think their universe has collapsed the minute someone dares to not like something they’re all jazzed about — often without having actually seen it?

    It depends on the movie itself. I grant you that I think the trailers look like crap. I hate the design of these blue cat people or whatever they are and they look utterly cartoonish to me. I’ll add I’m not fond of Cameron’s movies — they’re not my sort of thing. But I’ve seen what? Maybe 3 and a half minutes? So that leaves a lot of movie unaccounted for. I do find it very interesting that the studio isn’t trying to sell it to critic groups. In fact, they canceled such screenings, citing that it was too expensive. When you’ve already got somewhere between $350 and 400 million invested in something like this, what’s a few theater rentals?

  13. Sean Williams

    I can’t imagine the responses you will get on Rotten Tomatoes if you give it a “rotten” review.

    Actually, the fanboys have responded less harshly than I would have expected.

    Read the comments attached to the few negative reviews. They’re primarily from people joking about how badly the fanboys are going to react…and in the end, very few fanboys show up. There aren’t even very many obvious studio sock-puppets (although I’m suspicious about a few posters).

    And frankly, if the Rapid-Response Moron Militia hasn’t mobilized in defense of this film, it’s failed to excite its core audience.

    I grant you that I think the trailers look like crap.

    Oh, good grief, yes. This is what I call an explosion at the Crayola factory.

  14. Randy Bolton

    A law. Jus give me a John Wayne movie and forgit this junk.

  15. Ken Hanke

    This is what I call an explosion at the Crayola factory.

    They manage to wangle their way onto ABC News last night, which I guess is reasonable now that news and entertainment gossip are on even footing and everybody with a cell phone and the ability to type with their thumbs has become a voice to be heard. The claim now is that they’ve spent $400 million on this, but really all they can find to sell is technology. “This isn’t your father’s 3D,” they claim. (In point of fact it really is, but we’ll let that slide.) It’s mostly more motion-capture technology (read: creepymation) only they’ve made — they say — the eyes look more alive than those in Polar Express.

    But think about that price tag. Even assuming that $400 million includes the advertising, that still means this thing has to gross about $800 million before it breaks even. That’s daunting to the point where I expect to see the movie given a virtual free pass out of fear of what a loss will do to the industry. At the same time, I notice that it didn’t crack the Time magazine top 10 list.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Jus give me a John Wayne movie and forgit this junk

    I’m afraid some folks might find that a hair limiting.

  17. Frank Ash

    Mr. Hanke,

    A belated “Thank You” for recommending “The More the Merrier”. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    The slapstick elements were quite funny, as was the farcical scene in the hallway with the 3 characters going in and out of the 3 doors and just missing each other.

    The bit on the stoop with Joel McCrea caressing Jean Arthur leading up to their kiss was something. The kiss was almost anticlimactic after that.

    Thanks again.

  18. Sean Williams

    Actually, the fanboys have responded less harshly than I would have expected.

    I retract this statement. In my defense, the fanboys did take longer to mobilize than I expected.

    the eyes look more alive than those in Polar Express.

    This is not a particularly impressive feat, considering that, as Tom is fond of remarking, the eyes of the characters in Polar Express appear to have been motion captured from Dramatic Cupcakes Dog:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-XIMEHGoZI

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