Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler July 7-13: Now, this is more like it

In theaters

While last week offered very little, this week perhaps offers almost too much. Neither mainstream offering—Despicable Me or Predators—is without potential interest, and on the non-mainstream front we get the new Jean-Pierre Jeunet film Micmacs, the glowingly reviewed indie film Winter’s Bone and let’s not overlook The Human Centipede. All that’s without factoring in special showings, a couple of choice new DVD releases and some pretty tasty TV screenings. Make use of it—and bask in the fact that theaters are air-conditioned!

Micmacs and The Human Centipede I’ve already seen. The reviews for both are in this week’s Xpress, so, as usual, I’m not going to go into detail about them here. (You can always come online ‘long about midnight and catch the reviews in the online edition.) About The Human Centipede, I will only note that, yes, the premise—and aspects of the film—is every bit as disgusting and depraved as you have likely heard. (I’m as fascinated with considering the kind of mind that came up with the film as I am by the film itself.) As for Micmacs, perhaps if I merely note that I’ve watched the screener three times, some measure of my feelings about the film may be conveyed. Both open this week at the Carolina.

I should probably pause here to address the fact that the times in Wednesday’s print edition of the Xpress for The Human Centipede are wrong. They were changed today. It opens on Thursday at 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. (the latter show designed for brave Thursday Horror Picture Show habitues who might want to follow up their usual Thursday fare with something a little more—daring) and plays on Friday and Saturday at 9 and 11:15 p.m. At this point, those are the only scheduled shows.

The Fine Arts opens the widely acclaimed Winter’s Bone on Friday. This I haven’t seen, but the critics mostly like it and it’s done solid business at specialty theaters around the country. I’ll be the first to admit that a story about a 17-year-old girl in the Ozarks searching for her missing—and likely dead—meth-cooking/drug-dealing father isn’t the sort of thing that immediately appeals to me. And that’s putting it mildly. However, critics I tend to trust suggest that the film isn’t going to be anything like that makes it sound. So I’m approaching it with an open mind and a desire to be pleasantly surprised. Since it’s one of the highest regarded films of the year, it at least deserves a look—and I know a lot of folks are looking forward to it. I’ll find out where I stand on Friday.

In the land of the mainstream, the big noise is probably Despicable Me. Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Danny McBride and Julie Andrews offer voice talent to this animated movie. OK, so the trailers have varied in quality—to the degree that they don’t seem to be advertising the same movie on occasion. But the early reviews have been good and the most recent trailers have been a lot clearer and more appealing. There’s a small irony to the fact that it’s not on as many 3-D screens as it might be, owing to the lingering presence of Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender. The irony stems from the fact that Despicable Me was designed from the beginning for 3-D, while Airbender is a quick 3-D retrofit—and yet it’s helping to keep the “real” 3-D film in 2-D. Personally, I’ve had about enough 3-D for a very long time.

Predators has an “iffy” director in Nimrod Antal, but it has an impressive cast that includes Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins (he of Ray McKinnon movies fame), Laurence Fishburne and the always welcome Danny Trejo. In addition, Robert Rodriguez produced the film and didn’t try to up the teen-accessible factor by toning things down to a PG-13 level. Nope, this one has the full R rating in its corner. The reviews from Australia are positive, but then Urban Cinefile (why do they have two reviewers on the same movie?) appears to specialize in those. (And does it really have “undulating tension,” as Louise Keller claims? What exactly is that?)  Anyway, I’m at least interested.

It’s worth noting that Please Give takes its leave from the Fine Arts on Friday, but The Secret in Their Eyes is still going strong. No surprise that The Good, the Bad, the Weird and Survival of the Dead are leaving the Carolina, but a little surprising that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is hanging around for another week, since it came out on DVD today. Solitary Man is still doing well and sticking around. The same can be said of Harry Brown and Mother and Child.

There are no shortage of special screenings this week. In the free range, there’s the Asheville Film Society with Blue Velvet at 8 p.m. tonight and City of Lost Children at 8 p.m. Wednesday night—both in the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina. In the same location, we have Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes as the Thursday Horror Picture Show at 8 p.m. on Thursday. Those who were appalled by last week’s Blood for Dracula may find this less damaging. World Cinema has the 1958 Russian film Ballad of a Soldier in their new location in the Phil Mechanic Studios building at 8 p.m. on Friday. Le Corbeau, the 1943 French thriller, is at the Hendersonville Film Society in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lakepointe Landing in Hendersonville on Sunday at 2 p.m. Plus, the Asheville Art Museum is screening—not on a donation/free basis, but for $10/$8 for museum members—the documentary Chuck Close at 7 p.m. at Fine Arts Theatre on Thursday.

As I noted, it’s a very full week of movies.

On DVD

Well, two titles of note come out this week—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and A Single Man. The former is an incredibly stylish thriller that’s probably familiar to Asheville audiences seeing as how it’s been playing—and is still playing—here since the end of April! A Single Man, on the other hand, is in the must-see realm, especially if you missed it when it played at the Fine Arts this past winter. There are lots of reasons to see this excellent film, but at the top of the list is Colin Firth’s performance. See it, and you’ll know why I say Firth was robbed at Oscar time.

Notable TV screenings

I should probably just call this “TCM Roundup” and be done with it, but in any case, I’m going to approach this a little differently this week and see how it goes. The problem is that when I go through the listings and look for the unusual, I find that a lot of the less frequently run titles are run often enough that they’ve already been addressed here once. So let’s try a more sweeping, less detailed approach.

On Wednesday, July 7, the day starts off with George Cukor’s Dinner at Eight (1933) at 6 a.m. This is the film that attempts to outdo the previous year’s Grand Hotel in star power by giving us John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lee Tracy and Billie Burke—all in one movie. I’ve always been a little disappointed in the film. It contains probably the only John Barrymore performance that I don’t like all that much. But historically, it’s an essential, and the final conversation between Dressler and Harlow makes it all worthwhile. At 10 a.m., there’s Cukor’s David Copperfield (1935), which has just about as many stars. As with any film that attempts to pack Charles Dickens’ long novel into two hours, it’s a truncation, but it’s a very good one—and W.C. Fields was born to play Mr. Micawber. The little-seen early Carol Reed film Bank Holiday (1938) shows at 10 p.m. I’ve never seen this, but I hope to rectify that.

Leo McCarey’s Love Affair (1939) crops up at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, July 9. If the story of this high-grade soap starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne feels familiar, that’s because McCarey remade it (sometimes shot for shot and with an almost identical script) as the more famous An Affair to Remember in 1957. Unfortunately, McCarey’s powers had dimmed by 1957, as had his judgment. There’s a good 30 minutes of fat on the later film—including that ghastly attempt at creating another “Swingin’ on a Star” with the children’s choir singing “Tomorrowland.” Try the original. It’s so much better.

Saturday, July 10, finds the Hammer sci-fi/horror Five Million Years to Earth (1967), which was called Quatermass and the Pit in the UK. It’s a remake of the 1958 Brit TV film of that title, and it’s a keeper. Roy Ward Baker’s direction manages to capture a whiff of Satanic creepiness with a sci-fi explanation. I’ve long wondered, since I’m not a big sci-fi fan, if the reason I like all of writer Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories is grounded in the fact that Kneale wasn’t a big fan of the genre himself.

Other notables are Harold Lloyd in Speedy (1928) at 8 p.m. and D. W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921) at midnight on Sunday, July 11. On Monday, July 12, at 8 p.m., there’s William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953), the movie that introduced Audrey Hepburn, and at midnight we get a spot of Hitchcock with Spellbound (1945). Tuesday, July 13, finds Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942) with Carole Lombard (her last film) and Jack Benny (his only great film).

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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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6 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler July 7-13: Now, this is more like it

  1. DrSerizawa

    I saw Dr Phibes at the Chinese in Hollywood when it came out. If anyone is a fan of the movie and has only seen it on a TV then I most highly recommend you make it to Ken’s screening if you can.

    5 Million years is already programmed. I’ve been waiting for that one literally for years.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I saw Dr Phibes at the Chinese in Hollywood when it came out

    Gee, that makes saying that I saw it at the State Theatre in Lake Wales, Florida sound pretty lacklustre!

    5 Million years is already programmed. I’ve been waiting for that one literally for years

    Then I have accomplished something useful today if you learned it was on from the column.

  3. Me

    TCM is playing Purple Rose of Cairo on Sunday. Out of all the Woody films they play ad nauseam that’s wone i rarely see shown on cable.

  4. DrSerizawa

    Well, I just saw 5 Million Miles to Earth for the first time since 1977. It reminded me of why I am consistently disappointed by the usual movie they called Science Fiction. Recent years have been the absolute worst IMHO. The plot in 5MYTE followed a logical progress and the effects were designed around the plot instead of the plot being designed around the effects.

    Maybe Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich should be put in the chair from A Clockwork Orange and be forced to watch 5MYTE a few dozen times with the phrase “THIS is a good movie” being punched into their brains.

    It IS possible for SciFi movies to be good.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Recent years have been the absolute worst IMHO.

    In fairness, recent years did give us Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, and we recently had Splice. It could be argued, of course, that those are as much art house as sci-fi. Plus, The Fountain is also fantasy, I guess, and Splice is sci-fi horror. Then again, isn’t Quatermass and the Pit/Five Million Years to Earth sci-fi horror, too?

    Of course, if all we’re talking about are Bay and Emmerich, then, yes.

    I watched it for the first time in some time yesterday and it is certainly intelligent and compelling. I’m pretty good with the effects work, too, though I think it would’ve been a good idea to have downplayed the styrofoam rocks and masonry a bit. Ought to rewatch The Quatermass Experiment (The Creeping Unknown) and Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space) sometime.

  6. DrSerizawa

    I couldn’t help but chuckle at the guy getting buried under styrofoam blocks. Fortunately that was the only scene that jarred me out of the movies’ universe. On the other hand the levitation effects were excellent. In fact they looked better to me than most modern CGI effects.

    Yes, there are still good SciFi flicks made. I bought both Sunshine and The Fountain. District9 literally pwned Star Trek and Avatar last year. It supports my theory that bigger budgets tend to make worse scifi movies. It looks like that’s true of vampire movies too, actually. Van Helsing (shudder).

    Scifi can meld very nicely with horror. There’s much of that melding in scifi literature. Some of the best Scifi movies have had that horror element.. Forbidden Planet, Alien(I), Enemy From Space, the original Invaders From Mars and It Came From Outer Space, for example. They nicely build up a sense of dread.

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