The holidays have come and gone, and while the snow played havoc with the usual Christmastime-viewing rush, Asheville more than made up for it over New Year’s. Now, it’s time to face the grim reality of what appears to be usual January White Sale of movies nobody much wants to see. Oh, sure, we’re slated for a few choice—or potentially choice—offerings that haven’t yet made their way to the provinces. But all in all, the prospects for a bright new year at the movies aren’t too good for at least the first couple of months—as witness Season of the Witch and Country Strong, which invade local theaters this week.
I could be wrong, but I’d swear we originally saw trailers for Nicolas Cage and his latest wig in Season of the Witch at least a year ago. And I know the first person I think of when someone mentions a 14th-century knight is Mr. Cage. Then, too, I thought we’d perhaps seen the last of director Dominic Sena after Whiteout tanked last year, especially since it was his first feature since the lackluster Swordfish in 2001—a movie mostly notable for shelling out half a million bucks to get Halle Berry to take her shirt off. But here we are with some darkly lit period piece involving witches, knights, monks and Cage’s greasy wig (which may have been recycled from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). The prospects are frankly as dim as the lighting of the movie.
That said, I’m more inclined toward Season of the Witch than I am Country Strong. Here we have a film that appears to harbor notions of quality—notions that are hardly evident in the trailer or the smattering of generally blistering early reviews. The studio, however, has some kind of faith in this backstage story of the trials and tribulations of the world of country music starring Gwyneth Paltrow as an unstable country singer. As evidence of this, I was invited to a press screening for it on Jan. 5. However, that offered no advantage for my deadline, and since it was at a theater I find inconvenient, I passed. OK, I’ll admit I am not a country-music fan, so maybe it has an appeal that escapes me on that score. But, frankly, it looks like a collection of clichéd backstage tropes that have been around since before the movies could talk. I leave this to you and to Justin Souther. I’ll take Nic’s hairpiece.
However, it’s not as if there is a shortage of good—even great—movies still out there. The King’s Speech and Black Swan are still holding strong at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. True Grit is still just about everywhere. And I Love You, Phillip Morris did an amazing leap on its second weekend, earning it a well-deserved reprieve. If you still haven’t caught these, why are you even thinking about the week’s two new entries?
Both World Cinema and the Hendersonville Film Society are back with us this week, meaning a full slate of special screenings once again. On Thursday, Jan. 6, the Thursday Horror Picture Show brings forth Richard Elfman’s quirky Shrunken Heads (1994) at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema has Jean-Pierre Melville’s archetypal neo-noir Le Samouraï (1967) on Friday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. at the Courtyard Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Studios building. Janet Gaynor’s last starring film, The Young in Heart (1938), is being shown by the Hendersonville Film Society at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 9, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Preston Sturges’ career goes out in a blaze of glory with his last fully realized film, Unfaithfully Yours (1948), being shown by the Asheville Film Society at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina.
There are several things out this week, but the big winner for me is Robert Rodriguez’s Machete—a trash masterpiece if ever there was one. Outrageous, over-the-top and subversive, this is a movie I loved when it came out and one that will soon festoon my shelves. Also up is Dinner for Schmucks, which I didn’t see, but which Justin Souther didn’t hate. And there’s The Last Exorcism, which was better than I expected, but not to the point of making a strong recommendation. Plus, we have Catfish, which was worse than I expected, though somewhat interesting. Finally, there’s Case 39. I expected to hate this, but actually found it surprisingly entertaining.
Notable TV screenings
Turner Classic Movies continues their Hal Roach month with tonight’s run of talkie Little Rascals shorts into a day’s worth—28 altogether—of their rarely shown silent films starting at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 5. On Thursday, Jan. 6, TCM has an all-night run of films with (not always starring) Peter Sellers. Starting at 8 p.m., they have I’m All Right, Jack (1960), Heavens Above (1963), Two Way Stretch (1960), The Ladykillers (1955), Your Past Is Showing (1957), The Wrong Box (1966) and Never Let Go (1960).
The underrated Frank Tuttle’s little-seen This Is the Night (1932) shows up at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Jan 9. If remembered at all today, the film is mostly known as the film debut of Cary Grant. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s surprisingly stylish and stylized—certainly worth a look for historical purposes and the fact that it doesn’t turn up very often.
Starting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Hal Roach tribute continues with no less than 40 short films from his greatest contribution to the movies: the Laurel and Hardy collection. I haven’t checked, but I believe this is every talkie short the Boys made—presented in almost reverse order—and is followed by three features: Pardon Us (1931), Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) and The Bohemian Girl. It adds up to 24 hours of Laurel and Hardy. So far as I’m concerned, the best of their shorts is the best of Laurel and Hardy. Seeing as these films remain largely unavailable in the U.S. (they’re all available in the UK), this is something of an event. For what it’s worth, when I participated in a Laurel and Hardy “survivor” game a year or two (maybe three) ago, the last film standing was Come Clean (1931). It shows at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12.