Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Feb. 17-23:  Scorsese arrives

In theaters

A few goodies come our way this week. The splendid The Last Station opens Friday at the Fine Arts and The Oscar-Nominated Short Films (both live-action and animated) does the same at the Carolina. Both of these are reviewed in this week’s Xpress, so I’ll say no more about them here, other than to note that these offer the chance to expand your knowledge of what’s up for Oscars this year.

The big news otherwise, of course, is the arrival of the new Martin Scorsese picture Shutter Island—a film everyone was shocked to see removed from the awards season lists, especially in favor of a February release. The question is, why the delay? The film has a strong cast—Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson—and a genuinely creepy trailer. Plus, it’s a Scorsese film, which is a sure sign of generating some degree of interest right there—at least among people who actually care about movies. So what’s the deal? Rumor is that the film has played well with test audiences, but few major critics have weighed in on it yet, so it remains shrouded in mystery. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s a mystery I’m particularly keen on solving.

As I was writing those words, the trades—Variety and Hollywood Reporter—have been added to the early reviews, and both are positive, well, in their way. Kirk Honeycutt writes in the Reporter, “Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is a remarkable high-wire act, performed without a net and exploiting all the accumulated skills of a consummate artist. It dazzles and provokes. But since when did Scorsese become a circus performer?” He goes on to praise the film, but pegs the film as “lesser” Scorsese in that it isn’t “deep.” In Variety, Todd McCarthy opines, “Expert, screw-turning narrative filmmaking put at the service of old-dark-madhouse claptrap, Shutter Island arguably occupies a similar place in Martin Scorsese’s filmography as The Shining does in Stanley Kubrick’s.” Just to be sure we don’t take that as unstinting praise, he later remarks, “This is high-end popcorn fare adorned with a glittering pedigree by a powerhouse cast and crew.” You know, there’s a lot to be said for high-end popcorn fare. Consider me officially jazzed by the prospects. For the deeply committed, I just got word that the Cinebarre is opening Shutter Island at midnight on Thursday.

I’m far less interested in Jeb Stuart’s (presumably not the Confederate general) Blood Done Sign My Name, which also opens this week. I’m sure this fact-based low-budget and apparently faith-based film about the murder of a black Vietnam veteran in a small North Carolina town is well-intentioned, but when have any films that fit this description been anything more than TV-movie level—if that? The N.C. setting—and the fact that the film was shot in Charlotte, Shelby and Statesville—may boost local interest. Of course, the film will be a must-see for Ricky Schroder completists.

Still around and of interest are Crazy Heart (Fine Arts, Carolina, Regal Biltmore Grande), The Imaginarium of Dr. Paranassus (Carolina), A Single Man (Carolina), Sherlock Holmes (Carmike) and An Education (Carolina).

On DVD

How overwhelming this week’s offerings might be is a little up in the air. Law Abiding Citizen, which came and went without much notice (and which I didn’t see), is out, as is the very good Coco Before Chanel. However, both Good Hair and Black Dynamite are films that never played here, but both have the potential for being worth a look. Both are also pretty much unknown quantities.

Notable TV screenings

Svengali 10:15 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 18, TCM
One of the more overlooked classic horror films is Archie Mayo’s Svengali (1931) starring the great John Barrymore in the title role. I’ve never been quite sure why this film receives as little attention as it does—maybe it’s simply the fact that Archie Mayo isn’t normally all that interesting of a filmmaker. Or maybe it’s the fact that aspects of the story—especially those concerning the virtue of leading lady Trilby (Marian Marsh)—seem pretty old-fashioned. In either case, it’s too bad, because it means a lot of people are missing a very entertaining and often surprising film. The plot revolving around an unscrupulous—as well as unprincipled and unclean—Polish singing teacher, Svengali, who hypnotizes and transforms a promiscuous painters’ model, Trilby, into a sensational star isn’t much. What’s done within its confines is another matter. The film is all Caligari-esque in terms of design and atmosphere, and despite being obvious model work, the sequence where the camera “flies” over the rooftops of the city when Svengali sends out his hypnotic message to Trilby is stunning. Barrymore is at his finest, too, managing to make Svengali menacing, funny and ultimately heartbreaking. He keeps the film aloft at every turn—so much so that you’re not quite sure whether its surprisingly downbeat ending is really downbeat at all.

Ruggles of Red Gap 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23, TCM
Americana is usually wasted on me, but Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) is a rare exception. The story—which had been filmed before and would be filmed again—concerns a butler, Ruggles (Charles Laughton), who is won in a poker game in Paris by Egbert Floud (Charlie Ruggles) and taken back to the small western town of Red Gap—mostly at the behest of Egbert’s social-climbing wife, Effie (Mary Boland), who hopes Ruggles can civilize her roughneck husband. As might be expected, nothing goes according to her plans. Little that happens is unexpected, but it’s executed with such charm and such good humor—and by such a perfect cast—that you absolutely won’t care. I cannot think of anyone or anything in this movie that could possibly be improved on.

One Hour With You 9:45 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23, TCM
Ernst Lubitsch’s penultimate Maurice Chevalier-Jeanette MacDonald vehicle One Hour with You (1932) is one of the director’s finest and most deliciously sophisticated works. Lubitsch had already filmed the story as a silent called The Marriage Circle (1932), but the talkie with its perfect stars, its witty scoring, some nice tunes and a delightful supporting cast is easily the better film. It’s a sex farce of the decidedly pre-code kind (two years later it could not have been made) that finds MacDonald’s best friend (Genevieve Tobin) out to sleep with none other than MacDonald’s husband (Chevalier). The situation is perfect, so far as the friend’s husband (Roland Young) is concerned, because he’s after divorce evidence. It also suits MacDonald and Chevalier’s friend (Charlie Ruggles), who is hopelessly in love with MacDonald. What will likely surprise you is how adult all this is—and how it’s handled, because it doesn’t take the expected virtue-rewarded route. Other surprises await. Try it and see.

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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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22 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Feb. 17-23:  Scorsese arrives

  1. I’m excited that Scorsese seems to be dipping into the horror genre at last.

    BLACK DYNAMITE is a film that lives up to the hype. It helps to have some knowledge of the blaxploitation genre, but I found it funnier than anything I’ve seen in years. It’s a spoof, but a more loving one more akin to the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright films.

    GOOD HAIR is also very entertaining with Chris Rock asking some hard questions and opened my eyes to a world that I never knew about (black women’s hair fashion)

    Lion’s Gate now owns the Studio Canal library (bye bye Criterion discs) and today they release magnificent blu-rays of Godard’s CONTEMPT and Kurosawa’s RAN.

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    bye bye Criterion discs

    What do you mean by this? From what I’m seeing, Criterion discs are still coming out. I work in a CD/DVD PrePress department, and Criterion is one of our good clients. I just processed the artwork for an eight disk collection of “Janus Films Presents: Essential Art House” two days ago. I’m maintaining hope that Criterion is staying around. But if you know something that I don’t, then please fill me in.

  3. What do you mean by this? From what I’m seeing, Criterion discs are still coming out. I work in a CD/DVD PrePress department, and Criterion is one of our good clients. I just processed the artwork for an eight disk collection of “Janus Films Presents: Essential Art House” two days ago. I’m maintaining hope that Criterion is staying around. But if you know something that I don’t, then please fill me in.

    I should have been more clear. They no longer have the rights to the Studio Canal collection, so many titles in their inventory are going out of print.

    We have most of them and the rest are on the way, so need to worry… if you rent from me of course.

    http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1366

  4. Dread P. Roberts

    Ok, that makes sense. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Are we not getting Ghost Writer this weekend?

    Word is that it won’t filter down to us till late March.

  6. Me

    Yeah i think they were loosing the rights to films like Alphaville, Trafic, and some more i cant remember at the moment. Im really looking forward to that House release though does anybody know when it comes out?

  7. Me

    I really didn’t care for Shutter Island to predictable and the ending was redundant why did they feel the need to actually show the murders after it was loud and clear. They could have done a better job with the trailer to they practically give away the twist in the trailer.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I really didn’t care for Shutter Island to predictable and the ending was redundant why did they feel the need to actually show the murders after it was loud and clear. They could have done a better job with the trailer to they practically give away the twist in the trailer.

    Well, you won’t like my review then.

  9. Dread P. Roberts

    Overall I thought Shutter Island was great. Fantastic atmosphere, editing and build up (I really don’t get why so many people are complaining about the pacing. The pacing seemed important to me.)

    I think I would’ve preferred not going into the theater knowing there were twists that would unfold. I felt like any big shock factor was more or less removed for me, having thought about the possibility of what might happen, prior to it unfolding. But nevertheless it played out well enough. The big flashback reveal was sufficiently disturbing to me.

    DiCaprio’s final line(s) that he quotes at the very end of the movie really helped to end things on a perfect note in my mind. But at the same time, a part of me sort of understands why so many people don’t seem to enjoy this movie. It’s very rich with Hitchcockian noir. I think you might have to really appreciate the strong homage to that style, in order to really get into this one – but that’s just my theory.

    Yesterday I saw that Polanski’s Ghost Writer was coming out in limited release. Does anyone know when it will be coming to Asheville? After seeing Shutter Island I’m really in the mood for a new Polanski thriller.

  10. davidf

    I also thought SHUTTER ISLAND was fantastic. I don’t agree with the critics who have suggested that this is lesser Scorsese. It’s definitely a genre piece, but Scorsese uses the genre to explore issues of individual and collective guilt, society’s response to individual madness, individual response to collective madness, and violence as a response to madness. Scorsese’s depth often appears through his examinations of the origins of violence, the role of violence in the creation of the social order, the relationship between madness and violence. I feel the Scorsese canon is made more complete by the addition of SHUTTER ISLAND.
    It also happens to be one of the most artfully executed horror films I’ve seen. It manages to be thoroughly creepy and scary while retaining an emotional resonance. Even more impressive is that I never saw a single image that came off to me as cheesy. Kubrick’s THE SHINING is another horror film full of beautifully creepy and horrific images, masterfully filmed, but it remains less than perfect in my mind because of the few images that struck me as cheesy (think skeleton’s at the dinner table). If these two films are to be compared, in my mind, Scorsese wins hands-down.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Yesterday I saw that Polanski’s Ghost Writer was coming out in limited release. Does anyone know when it will be coming to Asheville?

    Late March is what I’m hearing. Or what I was hearing last week.

    I’m pretty much in accord with you two on Shutter Island, but I’m slightly constrained by the fact that the review doesn’t come out till Wednesday’s paper — or till midnight tomorrow online.

    Don’t think I agree with David on The Shining comparison (though the films can be compared), but then I’ve had 30 years to think about The Shining and three days to think about Shutter Island.

  12. Me

    I kept getting a Shinning feeling in a couple spots during this film but especially during the children and the interior building scenes, but i didn’t remember in any interview’s Scorcese mentioning that film as an influence on this one. I did notice he used Krzysztof Penderecki for the score which might suggest otherwise.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Not sure I think we’re always sure of all our influences. There’s a lot Ligeti on the soundtrack, but I don’t think there’s any Penderecki.

  14. Jim Donato

    My wife loved the book of this and was interested in seeing it so I guess it’ll be time for a well-done thriller. In discussing with my wife, it transpires that we’ve barely seen any Martin Scorsese films that were not music/concert films. I’m certainly looking forward to his George Harrison film.

    The Dylan docu was great. I enjoyed “The Last Waltz” even though I dislike The Band and most of the music. That was a case of form over content winning me over. It had the fortune to have been filmed in 1978 and looks like a painting next to the videogame that is “Shine A Light.” As much as I really enjoy the Rolling Stones versus The Band, I can’t imagine sitting through that one again. Credit if you will the devolution of filmmaking technology in the intervening 30 years.

    I guess in spite of his talent as a director, his subject matter just doesn’t resonate with me. I can agree that Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are every bit as great as their reputations even if the former I can’t imagine watching again. Apart from “Casino” and “Bringing Out The Dead,” I’ve not seen any movie he’s made since “After Hours.” But that is the film I’ve spent by far the most time and money on in the eighties! It was a big cult movie for me and I saw it many times in the theatre before getting the laserdisc (later upgraded to widescreen). “King Of Comedy” wasn’t exactly chopped liver either and heaven knows it was tough overcoming my Jerry Lewis revulsion to watch that one! But those two remain my personal fave rave Marty Scorsese flicks by far.

  15. Ken Hanke

    All the articles i’ve read says it is i couldn’t tell you though if its just in the movie or on the soundtrack

    It may be in the film. I didn’t notice it either in watching the film (though my knowledge of Penderecki is hardly all encompassing) or on the credits, though I only sat through the credits once and wasn’t looking for his name.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I enjoyed “The Last Waltz” even though I dislike The Band and most of the music. That was a case of form over content winning me over.

    Perhaps it’s mostly because I really dislike — more correctly, I think, have zero interest in — The Band, but I have never gotten the greatness of this film. It’s one of those cases — there are several — where I hear how visually stunning a film is and don’t see it myself.

    My general taste in Scorsese is hampered by not tending — during his pre-21st century films — find much interest in his choice of subjects. Raging Bull is dynamite filmmaking, but it’s all to no real end for me because I don’t give a damn about Jake LaMotta. The same holds true for most of his mob/gangster films. I don’t care about these people and I don’t find them interesting. I’ve never seen After Hours or King of Comedy, so I’ve no idea if I’d find them to be exceptions.

  17. Me

    Wow you’ve never seen King of Comedy? I think you might change your mind about finding his characters interesting if you watched that one. Its one of his best films.

  18. davidf

    “My general taste in Scorsese is hampered by not tending—during his pre-21st century films—find much interest in his choice of subjects.”

    I have similar feelings about Scorsese because I’ve also never been that interested in gangster films or boxing. I loved KING OF COMEDY, though, as it explores some of the same psychological territory invoked by DeNiro’s other Scorsese roles, but with subject matter to which I was more sympathetic. I highly recommend it.

    I also happened to rewatch THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST the other night. After watching the visual splendor of SHUTTER ISLAND, I couldn’t help wishing that I could see what the movie would look like if Scorsese made it today. It’s a very uneven film in all regards. In some scenes it’s visually stunning, and then a rubber snake shows up as a temptress and I can’t help laughing a bit. I think the final act is the strongest. I’m curious what you think of this film, Ken. I also noticed an interesting parallel with SHUTTER ISLAND in the end that may be worth noting. When Jesus comes to the realization that it would be better to die and be resurrected as God than to die as a man, I couldn’t help thinking of the final words in SHUTTER ISLAND.

    As far as THE LAST WALTZ is concerned, it gets points from me because I do enjoy THE BAND, but more so, I’m impressed by Scorsese’s flawless editing, and his ability to move the camera around the stage to capture different perspectives at just the right times. Concerts films tend to either appear flat, with few camera movements (as if the directors didn’t want to move around so much because they were afraid they’d miss something), or they turn and swoop around the stage in an attempt to be impressive and exciting, forgoing the discoveries that can come from the patient still cameras. Scorsese knows the music and the performers well enough to avoid both of these pitfalls, always shifting to just the right angles to capture just the right moments. Granted, if you’re not interested in the music, you’re certain to wonder “what moments”?

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