Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Feb. 3-9: Maybe renting a movie would be wise

Special showing

Before getting down to the week’s rather meager-looking offerings, I want to include a mention of a special screening of Richard Elfman’s cult film Forbidden Zone (1982), news of which got to me too late to get into this week’s paper. The film is being shown by Votex Cabaret at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 11 Grove St, in downtown Asheville.

For those not familiar with Forbidden Zone, the film is a love-it or hate-it affair done on minimal sets in something of the style of pre-code Max Fleischer cartoons. (There are direct references to—or quotations from—Bimbo’s Initiation (1931), Minnie the Moocher (1932) and Snow-White (1933), which in themselves are some of the most surreal things you’re ever likely to see.) More properly, it might be said that it’s a very R-rated variation on that style. The film is nothing if not raunchy—and occasionally very political incorrect—but it’s all in the service of unwholesome fun and done with an eye toward upsetting the audience (something that Elfman and his more famous younger brother Danny specialize in). If you want more information about the film, check out http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/forbiddenzone.php.

In theaters

Three movies open this week: Crazy Heart (review in this week’s Xpress), Dear John and From Paris With Love. The first is worth consideration. As for the other two … Well, From Paris With Love has been championed by a fairly heavy-hitter critic, David Denby, but as the reviews trickle in, he seems to be the lone voice in favor of this Luc Besson-produced action flick with a bald-headed John Travolta and his odd-couple buddy Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I’m probably grasping at straws, but I’m inclined to think that the detractors are taking the film rather more seriously than intended. In other words, I’m clinging to the hope that it’ll be beguiling junk.

I can’t say the same for Lasse Hallström’s Dear John, but then I can’t find much good to say about any goopy Nicholas Sparks’ novel brought to the screen. I’m not morbidly against romantic movies or even good old soap opera, but this looks positively painful—painful in that special way that is only compounded by seeing Channing Tatum’s name in the cast list. What Lasse Hallström is doing involved with this I can’t imagine, except that his last three movies have not fared well at the box office. (Desperate times and desperate measures, you know.) 

Dear John has been pretty scrupulously kept from critics. There’s only even been one studio shill (who, of course, saw a “special screening”) on the IMDb plugging the thing. However, it’s perhaps worth visiting the IMDb message boards on the film, if only to read a burning discussion over whether Nicholas Sparks is recycling old material. Why? Well, it seems there’s a scene where the girl orders sweet tea and the guy says, “Make it two,” and there’s an identical moment in A Walk to Remember. Seems reason enough to boycott all Nicholas Sparks’ works to me.

On the bright side, A Single Man (Fine Arts and the Carolina), The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans (Fine Arts), The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (the Carolina) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (matinees only starting Friday at Asheville Pizza and Brewing) are still around. However, if you haven’t made it to Broken Embraces (Fine Arts), make haste because it vanishes after Thursday.

On DVD

The agreeable Zombieland and Adam hit DVD this week. While neither are great, they’re both worth a look. That’s more than I can reasonably say about Amelia (not bad, but a bit too much biopic basic) or Love Happens. I admit to a slight curiosity about New York, I Love You, but that’s entirely based on how terrific the similar approach worked for Paris, Je T’Aime. The problem is that none of the filmmakers showcased here are anywhere near the caliber of those on the earlier film (Brett Ratner???), and the reviews have certainly reflected this (as does its lack of many theatrical bookings).

The special releases are mostly Blu-ray upgrades and Universal finding a new way to sell The Wolf Man for a third time. Whether or not they offer anything other than new packaging and a tie-in to next week’s release of The Wolfman, I can’t determine.

Notable TV screenings

Well, it’s the annual TCM 31 Days of Oscar, meaning that there’s 31 days of movies you’ve mostly seen before—and usually more than once. There are a few exceptions, however.

Moonrise 10 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 3, TCM
OK, I haven’t seen Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) in at least 30 years and my memory of it is sketchy at best. However, what I do remember is being absolutely transfixed by this moody melodrama with a title that suggests it’s something of the flip-side to Borzage’s friend and colleague F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927). The studio-created atmosphere of Moonrise also connects it to Murnau’s masterpiece—albeit on a budget. Sunrise was made with an almost limitless budget at Fox. Moonrise was made at Republic Pictures in a very different era and with a very small budget. That Borzage was able to afford a fairly solid-name cast—Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Rex Ingram—is in itself pretty remarkable. I’m sure I’m the only one who’s been waiting years to revisit this film, but you could do worse than joining me.

Disraeli 4:30 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 4, TCM
Mr. George Arliss—as he was often billed by Warner Bros. as a barometer of his prestige—was a star whose immense reputation at the time has all but been eclipsed because of changing tastes. That’s really too bad for a variety of reasons—not the least of which is that I’ve yet to see a George Arliss picture that wasn’t extremely entertaining. Oh, sure, they creak a little—sometimes a lot—around the edges, and Arliss’ acting style is outdated. Let’s face it, Arliss learned his craft in the 19th century and was 61 at the time he made Disraeli (1929). While he’d learned—and would continue to learn—to turn down the volume on his tendency to play everything to the absolutely last row of the balcony in silent films, he did have a tendency to fall back on the mannerisms that were taught in the previous century as dramatic gestures. (Just catch the scene where he learns that the ships carrying money that would allow him to purchase the Suez Canal for England have been “purposefully and criminally sunk” and you get no less than three such outbursts.) So maybe you end up laughing a bit at him as with him, but so what?

Arliss won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli—partly competing against himself in The Green Goddess (1930)—and, in the main, I think he deserved it—mannerisms and all. It’s a wholly engaging performance full of humor that stays with you—and it’s also probably the only actual record we have of a performance of its kind. That’s irreplaceable in itself.

The Green Goddess 6 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 4, TCM
TCM follows Disraeli with The Green Goddess (1930), a film Arliss actually made before Disraeli, but which he asked to have held back so he could make his talkie debut in the more prestigious historical drama. Considering that his word was law as far as Darryl F. Zanuck was concerned, the studio listened to him and it paid off. It’s difficult to understand today, but at the time, Arliss commanded a power I’m not sure any other dramatic actor ever had in the history of film. We’re used to the idea that comedic stars like Laurel and Hardy or Buster Keaton were the true auteurs of their films, regardless of who the titular director was. The idea of a dramatic actor being in that position is foreign to us, but that was exactly the case with Arliss, who was given complete control over his films—from casting to costuming. He even rehearsed the films like plays and insisted the cast perform them for whatever audience could be assembled. That way he could gauge what worked and what didn’t work.

Seen today, The Green Goddess—with Arliss as the villainous and raging libido-driven Rajah of Rukh—probably plays a little better than Disraeli, even though it’s clearly the lesser film. It has the advantage of seeming a little fresher and it offers several genuine surprises. Did anyone really expect that Arliss would break the fourth wall and directly address the camera? Probably not, but he does—twice—and the second time he’s given what is arguably the best curtain line of all time, which I’ll not spoil for anyone who’s never seen the film. And, yes, the salad dressing was named for the play the film was adapted from.

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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 Feb. 3-9: Maybe renting a movie would be wise

  1. Ken Hanke

    The really good COLD SOULS and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL are also out this week.

    I haven’t seen House of the Devil, but I’ll certainly second a recommendation for Cold Souls.

  2. Steven

    [i]An Education[/i] is also getting re-released this weekend. I’m not sure if it’s going to play in Asheville.

  3. Ken Hanke

    An Education is also getting re-released this weekend. I’m not sure if it’s going to play in Asheville

    Thanks for pointing that out. Yes, it’s opening on Friday at the Carolina.

  4. Ken Hanke

    HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is also the first movie in years released on vhs. In beautiful 80s clam packaging

    I’m holding out for Super 8 sound.

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