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.
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.