Last week gave us at least two winners: Micmacs and Winter’s Bone, both of which scored with Asheville audiences even more highly than the national average. This week we look toward The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Cyrus and one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer, Christopher Nolan’s Inception. From a summer that had been rather tepid, we’ve moved into one that’s pretty exciting and potentially more so. (It gets even better when you see some of the things on the horizon, like the amazing I Am Love and Ondine.)
I’ve already seen Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (opening Friday at the Carolina), which I don’t expect to explode with viewers, because, yeah, it’s a documentary. It’s a widely praised documentary—including by me as you can see in this week’s Xpress—but it’s still a documentary, which is nearly tantamount to hanging up a smallpox sign with local audiences. Since I’ve reviewed it, I’ll limit my remarks here to saying that it’s funnier than most of the purported comedies I’ve seen this year, but that may be faint praise, considering most of the alleged comedies.
Getting a jump-start on the week is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (opening damn near everywhere), which makes it into theaters as a Wednesday opener. There seems to be no very good reason for this, except to lull the viewer into the belief that the movie is somehow “special.” What makes it special? Well, the fact that Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer want viewers to assume that teaming up Nicolas Cage and director Jon Turteltaub means instant National Treasure crowd-pleaser. And while those films were certainly OK in the realm of hardly penetrating, overproduced family fare, this looks to be a very different sort of thing that, in a smattering of early reviews, seems to lack the magic its title would appear to promise. Of course, Nicolas Cage’s hairpiece du jour is almost always worth a look on the curiosity level.
Of somewhat greater serious interest is Cyrus (opening Friday at the Fine Arts) from the Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay. I am going to go ahead and freely admit that I have not liked anything I’ve seen from them, and find the entire so-called mumblecore movement annoying and underwhelming. It is, in fact, the sort of indie fare that makes me long for the biggest, dumbest, noisiest Hollywood fare imaginable. Indeed, mumblecore is the one thing I wouldn’t mind seeing Michael Bay blow up.
Now, that said, there’s some evidence that their mumblecore aesthetic has here given way—at least in part—to a more mainstream approach. It’s been largely favorably reviewed (79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and has played well with audiences. I’m hoping for a pleasant surprise, but since I got one last week with Winter’s Bone (see review in Wednesday’s Xpress)—another film I was skeptical of—it might be hoping for too much to have that happy event manifest itself this week. We shall see.
And that brings us to Inception—a film with no end of potential and one that many people, myself included, have been waiting for. Early word has it with a whopping 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s out of only 27 reviews, many of which aren’t from—how to put this—the most credible sources. In fact, its sole negative review is from one of the more credible reviewers, David Edelstein, who I expect to be lynched by Nolan fanboys at any moment for daring to dissent. (Last I looked, his negative review had garnered 394 user comments, which perhaps outdistances even Armond White. Of course, a lot of this consists of in-fighting among the users.)
The thing is, I like Christopher Nolan and find his films invariably interesting, but that doesn’t make me uncritical of him. The further I get away from his Batman pictures, the less I like them. I’ve not revisited most of his work, but I have revisited The Prestige several times and it gets better with every viewing. So I’m in the high-hopes range for this one. I certainly can’t fault the cast and I admire the ambition of having created a work that apparently works on several different levels of reality (or non-reality). In short, I’m more excited by the prospect of this than I have been of any mainstream release this summer. Apparently, Nolan wants to blow my mind. I hope he does.
The Human Centipede has already departed—not enough of you wanted to be grossed out—and come Friday Mother and Child will join it, as will The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (come on, it’s been playing since the end of April!). Now, The Secret in Their Eyes is leaving the Fine Arts, but it’s resurfacing at the Carolina, so you haven’t missed your chance to see this remarkable film. The also remarkable Winter’s Bone is holding strong at the Fine Arts, while the same can be said of Micmacs (still my vote for best movie of the summer) and Solitary Man at the Carolina. Harry Brown is also staying at the Carolina, but it’s reduced to three shows a day. That usually indicates a final week, so bear that in mind.
In the special-showing realm, we have Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) on Thursday, July 15, for the Thursday Horror Picture Show and Richard Lester’s Help! (1965) next Tuesday, July 20, from the Asheville Film Society. Both are at 8 p.m., both are free, and both are in the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina Asheville. Philippe de Broca’s King of Hearts (1966) screens Friday, July 16, at 8 p.m. at World Cinema in their new location in the Phil Mechanic Studios building. And Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963) shows at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 18, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Reviews and further information will be in this week’s paper and the online edition at mountainx.com/movies (where you’ll find more in-depth reviews).
And there’s a special showing of the documentary I Am Comic being presented as part of Laugh Your Asheville Off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14, at the Fine Arts Theatre.
I’m not exactly overcome with enthusiasm about this week’s releases. I liked Greenberg in the theater and was slightly less taken with Chloe when it played theatrically, but I can’t say I feel in the least compelled to revisit either one. In the case of the brain-dead Our Family Wedding and the loathsome The Bounty Hunter, I would take actual precautions not to encounter them again even by accident.
Notable TV screenings
The TCM listings this week are pretty interesting. On Wednesday, July 14, they seem to be in a Bastille Day frame of mind, but with Hollywood French-ness. The most interesting of these (because it’s the least shown) crops up at 7 a.m. with George Arliss in and as Voltaire (1933). As is usually the case with Arliss’ historical romps—they don’t really qualify as biopics—what you get is Arliss as a crafty old man who takes time out from being an historical figure to smooth the path for young lovers. History? Probably not, but that doesn’t keep the films from being a lot of fun—and Voltaire is one of his liveliest performances. If you want something a little different—albeit not even faux-French—Joseph H. Lewis’s minor noir classic My Name Is Julia Ross is on at 10:45 p.m.
Then on Thursday, July 15, they have a William Dieterle fest. Now, Dieterle is one of the great unsung stylists of the “golden age,” but the set of movies chosen—Juarez (1939) (6 a.m.), The Life of Emile Zola (1937) (8:15 a.m.), The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) (10:15 a.m.), Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) (11:45 a.m.), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) (1:30 p.m.), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) (3:30 p.m.), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) (6 p.m.)—is full of his biopics, and those are the very reason he’s unsung. They’re visually striking and pretty stylish, but they’re prestige Hollywood biopics. The last three are a little more to the point. I’ve never really warmed to The Devil and Daniel Webster, but it’s highly regarded.
I love the visuals of his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the movie has problems—largely in the casting of most of the big Warner Bros. stars in Shakespeare. The worst, however, is non-WB star Mickey Rooney as Puck. And it’s axiomatic that putting Mickey Rooney in anything is going to work against it. It does. It does to the extent that you end up admiring Dick Powell attempting Shakespeare. You will long for an elephant gun, I assure you. But visually, it’s just plain stunning. (Cinematographer Hal Mohr snagged an Oscar for it—completely on write-in votes, because he hadn’t been nominated.) It also has a splendid Oberon in Victor Jory. And Dieterle’s Hunchback is the version of the Victor Hugo—accept no substitutes. And maybe, some people locally can tune in and put this “shot in the Jackson Building” rumor to bed!
Friday, July 16, finds Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) (8 p.m.), which isn’t all that unusual to show up, but which is generally welcome. But then there is a rarity late night, The Circus Queen Murder (1933) (1 a.m., i.e. Sat. morning) with Adolphe Menjou as the detective Thatcher Colt. This is very infrequently shown anywhere and as it’s not a part of the TCM library, it’s a don’t-miss proposition. It’s actually not as good as its reputation, and Menjou’s earlier Thatcher Colt picture, The Night Club Lady (1932), is better as a film and a mystery. But Circus Queen is still stylish and entertaining.
On Saturday, July 17, TCM seems to be—as the song says—like Webster’s Dictionary, Morocco bound. And the song in question can be heard as the title tune in Road to Morocco (1942) (8 p.m.), generally regarded as the best of the Road series with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. In a more serious outburst of exotica is Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930) (9:30 p.m.) with Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. It was Dietrich’s first American film and it presents her as a nightclub performer in Morocco, who shocks patrons (and 1930) audiences by dressing like a man and kissing a woman on the mouth. She then turns her attention to French Foreign Legion soldier Cooper. It’s pretty startling all the way through.
Sunday, July 18, affords us Fred and Ginger in Follow the Fleet (1936) (6 a.m.), Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) (8 p.m.), King Kong (1933) (10 p.m.) and Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) (2 a.m., i.e. Mon. morning). Things don’t get a lot better than these titles.
And then there are a couple of true oddities on Monday, July 19, with The Manster (6 a.m.) and The Killer Shrews (7:15 a.m.). The former is a really strange Japanese sci-fi horror piece that has to be seen to be believed. The latter is bottom-of-the-barrel schlock that’s in much the same needs-to-be-seen-to-be-believed category, but for less positive reasons. However, if dogs in fur trimmings with false teeth being presented as giant shrews is on your list of things you’ve never seen, here’s your chance to rectify that.