Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler July 14-20: This could be interesting

In theaters

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.

On DVD

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.

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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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27 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler July 14-20: This could be interesting

  1. I’m very much looking forward to INCEPTION to break the long cinematic drought (the last movie I saw in theatres was HARRY BROWN three months ago) and I know nothing about this picture save the personnel involved. I’ve been enthralled by every non-Batman Nolan film and hopefully this will be no exception. Certainly the cast is extremely promising.

  2. Ken Hanke

    the last movie I saw in theatres was HARRY BROWN three months ago

    Since I can’t keep track of Australian releasing patterns, I don’t know whether to call you a slacker or very wise.

    I’ve been enthralled by every non-Batman Nolan film and hopefully this will be no exception.

    The only one I’m genuinely enthralled with is The Prestige. The others don’t entirely work for me. What I’m hoping for here is a movie that’s as brilliantly convoluted as Marc Forster’s criminally underrated Stay.

  3. Since I can’t keep track of Australian releasing patterns, I don’t know whether to call you a slacker or very wise.
    HARRY BROWN was a special one-off screening. The last movie I saw in regular cinemas was IRON MAN II (I’ve seen four films in cinemas this year).

    This is what’s been playing in the intervening period:
    SHREK FOREVER AFTER
    TOY STORY 3
    NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST
    ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – THE SQUEAKQUEL
    GET HIM TO THE GREEK
    GROWN UPS
    KARATE KID
    MARMADUKE
    ONG BAK 3
    PRINCE OF PERSIA
    ROBIN HOOD
    SEX AND THE CITY 2
    THE A TEAM
    LETTERS TO JULIET
    WOG BOY 2
    LEAP YEAR
    REPO MEN
    STREET DANCE 3D
    LEGION
    CREATION

  4. The only one I’m genuinely enthralled with is The Prestige.
    I know you don’t share my love of MEMENTO, but I recall you being pretty positive about INSOMNIA? Have you rethought your position or just not been compelled to revisit it?

  5. Ken Hanke

    This is what’s been playing in the intervening period:

    Mostly like here with the compensations (some of which you may have gotten earlier).

    I know you don’t share my love of MEMENTO, but I recall you being pretty positive about INSOMNIA?

    I’m pretty positive about both of them. I just don’t love either of them — and I’m still trying to figure out if Memento isn’t simply more clever than good. I have a hunch about what keeps me from embracing Nolan — and I suspect Inception will either confirm that hunch or refute it.

  6. Me

    I agree with you on the Batman films and i didn’t see what the big hoopla was about with the Dark Knight, besides the amazing Heath Ledger performance it was just ok, but im not really a superhero movie guy. Memento has also not sit well with me on revisits i think that’s in big part to the way it was shot, it kind of looks dated. I cant say for Following as i haven’t really revisited it. Do you think if Inception does well that it might bring upon some change where we can actually get some smart and well done summer blockbusters?

    I was hoping to see Inception this weekend and Cyrus the next but it looks like Cyrus is only playing one week for some reason. I don’t understand why they cant play it the following week. Is that festival a whole week thing? I thought it was just a weekend festival.

    Are they not doing a Cinema from around the world showing this week because of the festival?

  7. Me

    Never mind i see that they have moved World Cinema to a different venue.

    Looking forward to Beauty and the Beast on TCM Sunday.

  8. I have a hunch about what keeps me from embracing Nolan
    My reservation about him is the emotional distance he has from his characters, which was most evident in the Batman pictures, especially with Bruce Wayne. MEMENTO is the film of his I feel most emotionally invested in the protagonist. He also seems to have little evidence in love (or at least romance), which might explain the unconvincing romantic subplots in the Batman movies.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Do you think if Inception does well that it might bring upon some change where we can actually get some smart and well done summer blockbusters?

    If it does well and assuming it really is that smart, you can bet we’ll see attempts at it. This may or not be pretty.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I was hoping to see Inception this weekend and Cyrus the next but it looks like Cyrus is only playing one week for some reason. I don’t understand why they cant play it the following week. Is that festival a whole week thing? I thought it was just a weekend festival.

    It is only a weekend festival, but movie distributors get real unhappy when you cut their weekend grosses by shutting down for three days, especially when you’ve only had the movie for a week. As a result, the deal was made where the Fine Arts has it for a week and it moves to the Carolina the next weekend.

  11. Ken Hanke

    My reservation about him is the emotional distance he has from his characters

    “Emotional distance” kind of covers it. But this detachment starts to feel like an almost complete lack of simple humanity to me. That’s not exactly appealing to me.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    Ken, in regards to Memento, what do you think of Guy Pearce? I loved his performance in that – in fact, I can’t think of a time that I didn’t fully enjoy his performance. He ranks pretty high on my list of good actors. Memento was the first movie that I recall really noticing him in – aside from his smaller role in L.A. Confidential.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Ken, in regards to Memento, what do you think of Guy Pearce?

    My introduction to him was as the flamboyantly gay drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (also my introduction to Hugo Weaving). I’ve found him consistently good and entertaining since then. I’d put him pretty high on the list, too, but I’m not sure he’s quite in the realm of making me seek out a film based solely on his presence.

  14. Well, I broke the drought early last night – I went to a special screening of REAR WINDOW, which is a good picture to see with a crowd. All the jokes still play really well, and seeing everyone inch forward on their seats during the suspenseful bits was pretty cool.

  15. Ken Hanke

    All the jokes still play really well, and seeing everyone inch forward on their seats during the suspenseful bits was pretty cool.

    A good audience really does enhance the experience of a movie — and you’re more apt to find one at this type of showing.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I usually agree with David Edelstein and Slant Magazine but im really hoping they are wrong about this one.

    So far these reviews aren’t really dampening my interest. Some of the things they’re complaining about sound pretty interesting to me. Other things do sound exactly like what I don’t like about Nolan. It also sounds more and more like Forster’s Stay, which could be in its favor for me.

  17. Tonberry

    Just got back from “Inception.” I think Mr. Nolan needs to throw away the bat cape, and make more types of these films.

    And I like “The Dark Knight.”

  18. Ken Hanke

    Just got back from “Inception.” I think Mr. Nolan needs to throw away the bat cape, and make more types of these films.

    Encouraging. I see you couldn’t wait. I considered it, but the combination of the hour, the length, and my lack of desire to go to a certain particular theater unless it absolutely cannot be avoided conspired against it.

  19. Ken Hanke

    The premise and the cast alone deserve at least 2 stars

    It would have to be bad in ways I cannot imagine to not deserve at least that.

  20. Mike

    Inception really should have been titled Exposition: The Movie. Good God, that first hour is a slog.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Good God, that first hour is a slog

    Really? I didn’t find it at all a slog.

  22. Mike

    Apparently a lot of other people didn’t either, considering the amount of praise I’ve been reading.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Inception was bad, just (at times) leaden. A healthy amount of hand-holding is a practical necessity with this kind of world building, but there’s a fine line between showing and telling that I feel Nolan crossed. It probably didn’t help that much of the exposition was delivered with all the enthusiasm of someone reading off an instruction manual.

    Probably goes without saying that my opinion might change with another viewing; it’s that kind of movie.

  23. Ken Hanke

    It probably didn’t help that much of the exposition was delivered with all the enthusiasm of someone reading off an instruction manual

    You see, this struck me as probably Nolan’s most accomplished film in terms of the emotional resonance, so I think we just had different reactions.

    Probably goes without saying that my opinion might change with another viewing; it’s that kind of movie

    I would have liked a second viewing before actually writing the review, but I don’t see how that’s going to happen this weekend.

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