Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 20-26: Cheese on the march

In theaters

If last week was a cornucopia of delights—a couple titles to one side—this week is a small cheese tray. When the best-looking new movie gives every appearance of being lower-tier horror that might at least be fun—even if not intentionally—you know things are looking a little grim. From where I sit, that’s the case. We have three new offerings—Legion, Extraordinary Measures and Tooth Fairy—and the only one I’d even consider seeing if I had a choice in the matter is Legion. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice in the matter—and having fobbed The Spy Next Door off on Justin Souther last week strongly suggests that Tooth Fairy is in my immediate future.

Legion looks both dumb and lacking in originality. The red band trailer allows one to add “trashy” to the list. Even so, it still looks more promising to me than the fact-based “disease of the week” dramatic suggested by the trailer for Extraordinary Measures, which also looks dumb and lacking in originality—without the balancing factor of trashy to afford some kind of appeal. Of course, there’s always Tooth Fairy, in which Dwayne Johnson gets sentenced by Julie Andrews into being a toothy fairy for a couple weeks. The real question is who sentenced either of them to be in this dismal-looking family comedy?

There is an upside to all this, of course. It should clear your calendar to allow for some catching up—and there’s a lot of it to do, if you haven’t already. Though I won’t go into details, since the reviews come out in tomorrow’s Xpress, Broken Embraces and A Single Man definitely belong on your list, as does The Book of Eli, according to Justin Souther.

I was glad to see that The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus held up pretty nicely in its second week in town—only dropping 28 percent in attendance. Even more heartening has been the unusually high number of people who have gone out of their way to tell me what a wonderful film it is. If you haven’t, you should find out for yourself. Also hanging on at the Carolina is Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is also opening in the first three slots at Asheville Pizza and Brewing come Friday. Sherlock Holmes and The Young Victoria are also out there and also worth a look. So while the new offerings may be nothing to get excited over, it’s not like there’s a dearth of movies out there to go see—even twice.

On DVD

Both The Invention of Lying and Gamer underperformed at the box office—and both deserved to do better. Well, they’re both out on DVD this week and perhaps they’ll find their audiences that way. It should probably be borne in mind that a recommendation for Gamer works on the assumption that you liked Neveldine-Taylor’s two Crank movies. If you didn’t, you won’t like this one either.

Whiteout and Pandorum are also out and were also box-office failures. Well, sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason why a movie fails to draw an audience—and these attest to that. There’s also a straight-to-video sequel to Smokin’ Aces called Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball. I’m sure there’s a reason why someone would make a sequel to Smokin’ Aces, but it eludes me.

Notable TV screenings

The Hatchet Man 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, TCM
William Wellman’s The Hatchet Man (1932) is one of the more peculiar things of its era you’re likely to see. It’s also the kind of film that wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—be made today. Edward G. Robinson stars as Wong Low Get. Yes, you read that right, and he’s about as believable as a Chinese hatchet man as you might imagine. I’m sure at the time Robinson viewed the role as some kind of a challenge, though I’m not sure that playing a hired assassin of whatever race is all that far afield from playing a gangster. The problem is that he plays Wong Low Get in his distinctive Eddie G. voice and this tends to make you insert all the “yeahs” and “sees” into whatever he says. It may not be written, “Yeah, the great god Buddha’ll catch up with ya, see?” but it feels like it was when Robinson delivers it. That makes for a kind of amusement value, but it hardly makes for persuasive drama. In the bargain, you also get Loretta Young, Dudley Digges, Leslie Fenton and Tully Marshall as Chinese folks. I won’t say the spectacle is without entertainment value.

Two Seconds 11:45 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 21, TCM
I’m suggesting Mervyn LeRoy’s Two Seconds (1932) based entirely on pretty dim memory. This also stars Edward G. Robinson, but not made up as a Chinese character. The premise of the film lies in its title, with the bulk of the action being a flashback that takes place in Robinson’s mind during the two seconds between when the switch is thrown and when he dies in the electric chair. It’s an interesting structural device and my memory is that the film is almost as interesting. Certainly it will help you remember what a fine actor Robinson was when he wasn’t out of his element.

Animal Crackers 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Jan. 24, TCM
Yes, it’s about as clunky a 1930 artifact as you’re apt to find, but its clunkiness also contains the Four Marx Brothers in fine form as they bring their stage hit Animal Crackers to the screen. You get Groucho’s two signature songs, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and “Hello, I Must Be Going,” and his impeccably phony impersonation of a great African explorer for a group of society swells on Long Island. He all but dares them to spot that he’s a fraud, especially when he lectures on Africa and manages not to mention a single animal that’s indigenous to the continent. (His excuse for the existence of a polar bear is that the bear was anemic, was rich and went to a warmer climate for the winter.) There’s also Harpo and Chico at their best, and for a change, even poor old Zeppo is given something to do (maybe not much, but more than most times). The downside is that structurally the film is problematic, which in this case means it has no structure worthy of the term. It simply comes tumbling out like the silverware from Harpo’s coat. This, however, doesn’t keep it from being funny. And watch the scene where the lights go out and the action takes place mostly in the dark. I don’t know who it was, but whoever is playing Groucho in this scene most definitely isn’t Groucho.

SHARE
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."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

12 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Jan. 20-26: Cheese on the march

  1. Dionysis

    “…having fobbed The Spy Next Door off on Justin Souther last week…”

    How cruel.

  2. Steven

    [b]I don’t have a choice in the matter—and having fobbed The Spy Next Door off on Justin Souther last week strongly suggests that Tooth Fairy is in my immediate future.[/b]

    You deserve it.

  3. Ken Hanke

    How cruel.

    In fairness to me, he got Book of Eli out of the deal, which I believe may be the first movie he’s reviewed that got the full five stars.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Also out are WEEDS SEASON 5 and CHE

    In the case of Che watch part one. Then quit while you’re ahead.

  5. Ken Hanke

    You deserve it.

    Very probably, but had Extraordinary Measures been much more than four minutes longer than Tooth Fairy, Justin might well have gone for the Tooth.

  6. Jim Donato

    When my wife and I attended a matinee of “Parnassus” last weekend, we were shocked to see a substantial audience for a film we were viewing at The Carolina. Unlike the “command performances” we’ve been having there lately. Were they all Heath Ledger fans?

    Sidebar – we actually had to ask people to the left and behind us to please keep quite during the show! This was a first, but not the last time we’ll have to do this in our lifetimes, we suspect. When the talkers at our left departed afterward, they kicked their wine glass (?) across the floor. Fortunately it was not broken.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Were they all Heath Ledger fans?

    That probably accounts for some of it, but I’ve heard more about it from a Gilliam perspective.

    When the talkers at our left departed afterward, they kicked their wine glass (?) across the floor.

    The hoi polloi are always with us.

  8. Uncle Charley

    Were they all Heath Ledger fans?

    We actually had a slew of folks who came up to finish their wine after the show and expressed giddy surprise that Heath Ledger had anything to do with the movie. I can’t tell you how happy that made me, but I can tell you the reasons why it did.

    1. Terry Gilliam really has been the main draw of the film.
    2. The handling of Heath Ledger’s involvement has remained tasteful enough throughout its press and current run to show more than a modicum of respect for the guy.
    3. I live in a town and work in an establishment (which will one day just admit that it doesn’t care whether or not kids ever show up again) full of literate people that know good fantasy does not involve sparkly vampires trying desperately to believe that they’re not involved in pornography.

    Thank you, Asheville.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I live in a town and work in an establishment (which will one day just admit that it doesn’t care whether or not kids ever show up again) full of literate people that know good fantasy does not involve sparkly vampires trying desperately to believe that they’re not involved in pornography.

    There’s something to that.

  10. Just back from “Broken Embraces.” Good story telling….loved the hilarious coke scene towards the end.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.