Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 13-19: And still they come

After last week’s mixed—but better than usual for January—bag of movies, this week ought to have been a comparatively light one. In terms of new mainstream fare, we were only looking toward The Book of Eli and The Spy Next Door. (The threat of Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil was held at bay by disappearing from the schedule with no new release date announced.) Well, that wasn’t taking into account the Fine Arts opting to open both Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces and Tom Ford’s A Single Man, nor did it factor in Paramount going wide with The Lovely Bones. So instead of two movies, we’re now looking at five. Since these include Broken Embraces and A Single Man, however, I’m not complaining.

I won’t say much here about last week’s films, since Daybreakers, Leap Year and Youth in Revolt are all reviewed in this week’s Xpress. I will say that if this is as bad as January gets, we might be in for a remarkable movie year. I’ll also note that I’m glad to see that Asheville turned out in decent numbers for The Imaginarium of Dr. Paranassus—and remind everyone yet again that supporting this type of non-mainstream fare is the only thing that will guarantee we’ll continue to get it.

Of this week’s offerings, I think I can safely say that anyone planning on seeing Jackie Chan as a spy roped into duty as a babysitter in The Spy Next Door isn’t likely to be dissuaded by anything I might caution. No, I haven’t seen it and I hope to keep it that way. In fact, I’ve arranged to keep it that way, but only by telling Justin Souther that if he’d tackle it, he could also have The Book of Eli, which at least has possibilities. The stars—Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman—and the Hughes Brothers’ last film, From Hell (2001), have to count for something. Whether or not the world is waiting for another post-apocalyptic movie is a separate matter.

On the other hand, I’m very excited by the prospect of Broken Embraces and A Single Man—the only remaining 2009 releases that might have affected my “best of the year” choices, as far as I can tell. Considering that the first is from Pedro Almodóvar is enough right there to warrant some excitement in my book. Almodóvar hasn’t made a bad film in years, and there’s nothing to suggest that’s going to change with this latest one—his take on a film noir (with the expected amped-up soap-opera elements that are part and parcel of his work). That it’s another collaboration with Penélope Cruz—an incredible actress out of whom Almodóvar gets more than any other director—adds to the anticipation.

As for A Single Man, I wouldn’t sell it short. Though fashion-designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford is an unknown quantity (not necessarily a bad thing), the unstinting praise given to the almost invariably underrated Colin Firth is encouraging to say the least. Firth’s simmering intensity may have found its perfect match in this period piece about a gay man mourning the death of his long-time lover. Firth’s internalized performance style would seem to be just what you’d want when you place that concept in 1962—a time when such things were pretty completely just not talked about. Considering the Oscar buzz that’s surrounded his performance in a number of reviews, this is a film that ought to be on everyone’s short list of movies to catch.

Now, I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones—back before the tepid-to-abusive critical response caused Paramount to back off pushing it during awards season. I have not reviewed it, however, because Monday was the first we knew of it going wide this week. And I’m not reviewing it here, except to say that, while it’s flawed, I think it also got a much rougher handling than it deserved. Whatever else it is, The Lovely Bones is an interesting film—one that ought to be even more interesting to anyone familiar with Jackson’s career, especially his earlier one. I’ll have more to say in next week’s paper.

On DVD

There’s no shortage of worthy contenders on DVD this week. While it’s been available for rental for some time now, The Brothers Bloom finally goes on sale. It snagged my pick as the best film of 2009, and I can’t honestly think of a better way to spend your money. But having said that, your time and finances would not be wasted by Moon or In the Loop either. Both of these are 2009 titles that are definitely worth a look—or worth a second look, if you caught them when they played theatrically. In the Loop may just be the most blisteringly funny movie of 2009—accent on blistering.

And there’s The Hurt Locker. This is a very good film, and it’s one that should be seen. It’s just not a film—maybe it’s just not a kind of film—that I can find myself particularly fond of. Then again, it’s not a film that’s pitched for that kind of response, and it’s certainly come in for its—not undeserved—share of critical enthusiasm. Here’s a movie where I’d particularly say judge it for yourself.

I’m considerably less enthused over Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (also available in an unrated director’s cut, of course), though I do find it a consistently interesting film that’s considerably more worthwhile than his first Halloween outing. That’s not exactly a recommendation, but I will admit that I’ll probably pick this up myself. I will not be picking up the fairly lousy remake of Fame, however. That very much is a warning—one that I’ll follow up by saying check out the 1980 Alan Parker original instead.

Notable TV screenings

It’s perhaps just as well—with all the new theatrical and DVD enticements—that this turns out to be one of those rare weeks where there’s nothing in the offing on TV that strikes me as remarkable. There are good things out there, yes. I noticed that TCM is running the often-overlooked Laurel and Hardy film Blockheads (1938) at 10:15 p.m. on Jan. 19, and that’s a good thing, but overall there’s just no “wow” factor for me in this week’s choices. Maybe it’s just a case of overload, or of me being under the weather, but I’m hoping for a more tantalizing set of choices next week. We shall 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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23 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 13-19: And still they come

  1. There’s more goodies on dvd this week.

    First up is the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, former Onion editor and screenwriter of THE WRESTLER. BIG FAN starring Patton Oswalt is about an obsessed NY Giants fan who’s actions get himself, his favorite player and the team in some trouble. It’s fantastic and a twisted little gem.

    Also out is last year’s Oscar winner for foreign film, the Japanese DEPARTURES.

    All in all the best week for dvds in months.

    And thanks for naming BROTHERS BLOOM #1 Ken. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  2. one that I’ll follow up by saying check out the 1980 Alan Parker original instead.
    I haven’t seen the remake, but I have to say that your review of it could easily apply to the original for me.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Also out is last year’s Oscar winner for foreign film, the Japanese DEPARTURES.

    Maybe it’ll do better on DVD than it did theatrically here. I think it pulled in something like $200 for the entire weekend. I begin to think there’s some weird thing where people will watch Asian movies at home, but not on DVD.

    And thanks for naming BROTHERS BLOOM #1 Ken. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

    Rents well, eh?

  4. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t seen the remake, but I have to say that your review of it could easily apply to the original for me.

    While I kind of like the original, I wouldn’t go two falls out of three defending it. However, I doubt you’d say that if you saw the remake.

  5. One of my favourite things Johnson did with THE BROTHERS BLOOM was that he posted a downloadable commentary track online, while the film was still in theatres, with the idea that you could stick it on your iPod and listen along in the theatre. Which I did, and was an interesting experience. There’s even a point where you’re prompted by Johnson to fake a cough and see if anyone else in the theatre is listening along with you. No other takers in my screening, although that may just mean that others had more of a sense of decorum than I did.

  6. Dread P. Roberts

    Also out is last year’s Oscar winner for foreign film, the Japanese DEPARTURES.

    Maybe it’ll do better on DVD than it did theatrically here.

    I’ve actually just rented this, and plan on watching it this evening.

    One of my favourite things Johnson did with THE BROTHERS BLOOM was that he posted a downloadable commentary track online, while the film was still in theatres, with the idea that you could stick it on your iPod and listen along in the theatre.

    That is actually a really cool idea. Especially when marketing to someone like me, who would never listen to a commentary during the initial viewing. It sounds like a great way to encourage people to go back for a second viewing. I wish I would’ve heard of this before. Oh well, I’m sure the commentary is on DVD now, so it doesn’t really matter anymore.

  7. Ken Hanke

    It sounds like a great way to encourage people to go back for a second viewing.

    The only thing that would worry me is that people might do it on a first viewing.

  8. Dread P. Roberts

    The only thing that would worry me is that people might do it on a first viewing.

    Yes, that would be a bit disappointing, and do a bit of a disservice to the movie. But I cannot fathom doing that of my own free will. In college had to watch a movie in film class (I believe it might have been The Conversation) that I hadn’t seen before, with the commentary on over the whole movie. I was so annoyed that the professor didn’t care that I hadn’t seen the movie prior to the screening, and wouldn’t wait a day or two for me to see it on my own first. I know a lot of people are not at all bothered by this, but I guess it’s a personal little pet peeve of mine. Which is funny, because I really do enjoy a good, informative commentary – so long as it IS good, and not pointless.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I really do enjoy a good, informative commentary – so long as it IS good, and not pointless

    Commentaries are such an iffy proposition. I’ve done three myself (and never listened to them) for Charlie Chan movies. Most of them strike me as good for a single listen. There are a few exceptions. Michael Winner’s commentary for I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname is informative and entertaining. Ken Russell’s commentary for Lair of the White Worm (which I think may only be on the original release of the DVD) is almost like spending 90 minutes with Ken Russell at his best. The triple-barrel commentary — Peter O’Toole, Peter Medak, Peter Barnes — on The Ruling Class is a lot of fun. I’m not sure I’ve ever listened twice to any others.

  10. Dread P. Roberts

    Most of them strike me as good for a single listen. There are a few exceptions.

    I’ve never listened twice to any commentary. For me, it’s the sort of thing that is entertaining only in the bits of info that you can acquire. But I’ve just never had a desire to listen to a commentary a second time. Even in the instances of the couple that I really, really enjoyed, and told myself I would go back and revisit someday. I’ve looked at the DVD, and thought about it, but I’m just never motivated enough. In a sense, it’s kind of like a documentary. Right now I can’t think of any documentary that I’ve watched twice, either. In my mind, whatever entertainment value I got out of it just isn’t going to be there on second viewing, the way it is for an actual movie. (Not to say that a documentary isn’t an actual movie, I just can’t think of how else to word this right now.)

  11. Ken Hanke

    I’m just never motivated enough. In a sense, it’s kind of like a documentary. Right now I can’t think of any documentary that I’ve watched twice, either. In my mind, whatever entertainment value I got out of it just isn’t going to be there on second viewing, the way it is for an actual movie.

    I understand what you’re saying about “actual movie,” though I fear you may get jumped over it as a statement. I think the only documentary I’ve watched twice is The Times of Harvey Milk. Oh, and Tim Kirkman’s Dear Jesse, but since Tim’s a friend that may not count.

    Thinking back on it, the commentaries I’ve listened to twice were because I was in search of a quote and I just ended up listening to the whole thing.

  12. Jim Donato

    Wow. DPR saw The Conversation for the first time with commentary on? What a horrible fate! For my money it’s the best Francis Ford Coppola film by far. And the only one of his film’s I’d rank with his daughter’s work.

  13. Dread P. Roberts

    DPR saw The Conversation for the first time with commentary on?

    It’s unfortunate, but it was a good commentary nonetheless. And I would recommend it to anyone who has seen the movie, and enjoyed it. I didn’t have any control over my professor’s surprise viewing, but at least I could then go out and re-watch the movie on my own terms.

    Now if only I can get my hands on Tetro

  14. Steven

    [b]For my money it’s the best Francis Ford Coppola film by far.[/b]

    And here I thought I was the only one that felt this way.

  15. Ken Hanke

    And the only one of his film’s I’d rank with his daughter’s work

    I will never understand the acclaim for his daughter’s work.

  16. Ken Hanke

    And here I thought I was the only one that felt this way

    It’s actually a view I’ve seen expressed a good bit over the years. It’s so long since I saw it that I wouldn’t care to weigh in on it, but without reassessing it, I’d rate Apocalypse Now and Tetro over it. But bear in mind, I’ve never put any Godfather film on any best of list ever, so what do I know as concerns Coppola?

  17. Dread P. Roberts

    I’d rate Apocalypse Now and Tetro over it.

    Obviously I haven’t yet seen Tetro, but I’m with you on Apocalypse Now. Have you seen Apocalypse Now Redux? I love some of the additions in Redux that were cut from the original (like the random surfboard stealing incident). Apocalypse is right up there as one of my all time favorite war films. I just can’t decide between that and Full Metal Jacket. (Both in Vietnam, hmm…interesting coincidence.)

  18. Ken Hanke

    Have you seen Apocalypse Now Redux?

    Yes, in fact, it’s what I think of now when I think of the film.

  19. Oh well, I’m sure the commentary is on DVD now, so it doesn’t really matter anymore.
    Actually, I’m pretty sure the commentary on the DVD is newly recorded. The first commentary would confuse people watching it on DVD, as there are plenty of references to it being made for cinema viewing.

  20. Steven Adam Renkovish

    I just submitted my review of THE LOVELY BONES to the Easley Progress. It will appear in Friday’s paper. I cannot wait to see A SINGLE MAN! I’ll be seeing it at Cherrydale on Tuesday. I saw Werner Herzog’s BAD LIEUTENANT with Nic Cage, and it was pretty good. I am dying to see Michael Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON, and I am hoping that Cherrydale will pick it up. I’d love to see it in theatres.

  21. Steven Adam Renkovish

    I want to see BROKEN EMBRACES too! Let me know what you think as soon as you’ve seen it. I hope it comes around SC.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I want to see BROKEN EMBRACES too! Let me know what you think as soon as you’ve seen it. I hope it comes around SC.

    Actually, the reviews for it and A SINGLE MAN and LOVELY BONES will be available on here about midnight tomorrow.

    I have a screener of BAD LIEUTENANT, which is gonna open here next Friday (or so is claimed), but I haven’t watched it yet.

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