Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 5-11: Season of country discomfort?

In theaters

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?

Special showings

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.

On DVD

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.

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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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8 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 5-11: Season of country discomfort?

  1. DrSerizawa

    As usual your weekly reeler is invaluable. Many of the good finds on TCM would have completely passed me by without it.

    The trailer for Season of the Witch looked entirely uninspired and uninviting to both my wife and I last weekend. I’d take bets that it will have far less entertainment value than John Carpenter’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a horror movie that I thought underrated and better than most horror movies of it’s era and better than most horror movies of today actually.

    Then DVDR is getting programmed for the 24 hr Laurel and Hardy shorts fest. And True Grit is on the dinner/movie menu for this w/e.

    I hope some decent movies get release in the next couple of months (dead of winter) like they did last year. It’s the prime movie watching time for myself and many others.

  2. Ken Hanke

    The trailer for Season of the Witch looked entirely uninspired and uninviting to both my wife and I last weekend.

    Oh, I wouldn’t argue that, but I’d still rather sit though it than Country Strong — and barring a substantial snowstorm, I have to see one of them.

    I’d take bets that it will have far less entertainment value than John Carpenter’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a horror movie that I thought underrated and better than most horror movies of it’s era and better than most horror movies of today actually.

    Whatever else it has, Halloween III contains one of my absolute favorite bits of non-writing ever — when Dan O’Herlihy skirts explaining the preposterous notion of having that Stonehenge slab by saying, “You’d never believe how we got it here.”

    Then DVDR is getting programmed for the 24 hr Laurel and Hardy shorts fest.

    Bear in mind, they’re not all primo, but the good ones — Them Thar Hills, Going Bye Bye!, Dirty Work, Me and My Pal, Their First Mistake, The Chimp, The Music Box, Helpmates, One Good Turn, Laughing Gravy, Chickens Come Home, Another Fine Mess, Hog Wild (note the sweet moment when Mrs. Hardy smiles at her husband’s bumbling, then catches herself and stifles it), Below Zero, A Perfect Day, Men o’ War, Come Clean — are choice. The only one I haven’t seen in ages is Unaccustomed As We Are. I’m curious about it. The title refers to the fact that it’s their first talkie. I think there may have been a time when the sound discs were lost, and I’m not 100% sure I ever did see it. (The last 20 minutes of their 1938 feature Blockheads essentially remakes it and that might be my dim memory.)

  3. Sean Williams

    Mr. Hanke, I saw a preview for a film I think you might like, but I can’t remember its title. It’s a Japanese film (you can tell because the trailers for foreign films are always omit dialogue in the hopes that no one will notice) that recounts a boy’s experiences in a private school from the perspectives of four different observers. Does that ring any bells, sir?

  4. Ken Hanke

    Does that ring any bells, sir?

    Offhand, I’m afraid it doesn’t. I think we need a little more information or reader input.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Oh, you’re obviously talking about Rashomor.

    The Wes Anderson picture set at the prep school?

  6. Sean Williams

    I realize that explaining the joke ruins it, but I feel obligated to clarify:

    Rashomon + Rushmore = Rashomor

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