Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 2-8: Marmaduke looms large

In theaters

If a tidal wave were headed your way, I’d alert you to this fact. If a cassowary stampede was imminent, I’d clue you in. If hot gospelers were about to descend on your neighborhood spreading the word, yes, I’d let you know. It is in this same spirit of good fellowship that I warn you that the film version of Marmaduke arrives on thousands of screens across the country this Friday. Plagues of locusts will likely follow—and possibly be an improvement. Look at it this way, I have to go see this. You do not. This is apparently my karmic burden (which is in no way related to the lead singer from The Animals).

The apparent logic at work in the decision to turn one of the lamest comic-strip creations of all time into a big-screen movie has nothing to do with my discomfort, nor with embarrassing Owen Wilson, Lee Pace and William H. Macy. No, seemingly the notion is that if you can make a lot of money off a movie of Alvin and the Chipmunks you can do likewise with Marmaduke. But what are they working from? Marmaduke is a large, good-natured Great Dane. He causes havoc by being a large, good-natured Great Dane. That’s about it. It would seem the possibilities for this premise are somewhat shy of endless.

Of course, a week that brings us Marmaduke has the wayward advantage of making things like Killers and Get Him to the Greek look more appealing via the relativity factor. Under normal circumstances, these would look pretty grim. I’m still not all a-twitter about any movie starring Ashton Kutcher, and neither he nor Katherine Heigl have ever proved they have what it takes to actually carry a movie. I’m even more hard-pressed to buy the idea of Kutcher as some kind of secret agent with a “license to kill,” but that’s the premise laid down by Killers. Yes, it does look like an idea left over from Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), and yes, it looks like a low-rent version of Knight and Day, which arrives later this month. It is, however, not Marmaduke.

That’s about all I can say for the prospects of Get Him to the Greek, too. OK, so Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow was amusing in small doses in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but does that mean you want a whole movie built around the character? The Judd Apatow machine says you do. There are also a handful of high-voltage reviews from generally low-wattage reviewers assuring us of its brilliance as a really raunchy comedy—and that hasn’t happened for two whole weeks when it was being said of MacGruber. Even so, again, it isn’t Marmaduke.

On the other hand, there’s Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, a sci-fi horror picture that bears the name of Guillermo del Toro as executive producer. In addition, it stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. And it comes with a tidy collection of good reviews from generally more reliable sources than those festooning Get Him to the Greek. Plus, the trailer for this story about an experiment involving gene splicing gone wrong looks pretty creepy. So here we have something that looks like it has more going for it than just not being Marmaduke. It is the one thing I’m actually looking forward to seeing this week.

I might have been looking forward to seeing The Secret of Kells, which opens exclusively at the Fine Arts this Friday, but I already saw it last week. The review is in this week’s Xpress, but I’ll note here that despite the film’s shortcomings, it is visually unlike anything I’ve ever seen—once it hits its stride. Nothing that can be said in print will actually convey how the film looks.

Even though it comes out on DVD this week, Alice in Wonderland is still playing in the matinee slots at Asheville Pizza and Brewing. And even though The Ghost Writer goes into second run (and goes into the 7 p.m. position at Asheville Pizza and Brewing) this week, the Roman Polanski thriller—still one of the best movies of the year—is hanging on for two shows a day at the Carolina. It also appears that City Island did indeed find a niche at the Carolina and it will be staying. On the other hand, you have only through Thursday to catch Vincere. Last week’s most interesting films, The Square (Carolina) and Exit Through the Gift Shop (Fine Arts), both opened soft. The Square, however, is sticking around with a full set of shows for at least another week. Gift Shop, on the other hand, is slated to be split with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—something that suggests this is likely the last week for them both.

In the realm of special showings this week, there’s an unusually rich array of offerings, The Hendersonville Film Society (at the Smoky Mountain Theater in Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville) has Lewis Milestone’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), one of the less celebrated gems of film noir, at 2 p.m. on Sunday. World Cinema (Courtyard Gallery, downtown Asheville) has Luis Buñuel’s blasphemously funny and strangely reverent Simon the Desert (1965) at 8 p.m. on Friday.

The Asheville Film Society (the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina Asheville) features Wes Anderson’s second film, Rushmore (1998)—starring Jason Scwarzman and Bill Murray—tonight (Tuesday) at 8 p.m. The Thursday Horror Picture Show (also in the Cinema Lounge) digs up Ken Russell’s classic mix of horror and comedy The Lair of the White Worm (1988) with Amanda Donohoe and a very young Hugh Grant. This is also at 8 p.m., but, as the name of the series implies, on Thursday. Both films are free to the public and both will be hosted and discussed by a pair of wandering Xpress movie critics.

On DVD

The big news this week is the appearance of Tim Burton’s phenomenally successful (over a billion dollars grossed worldwide) Alice in Wonderland on DVD. While it’s far from my favorite of Burton’s works, it’s certainly a good addition to them. I’ll certainly be adding it to my Burton shelf. I’m less sure I have any great desire to acquire Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman for my personal collection. Oh, it has an amazingly good cast—Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving—and gorgeous production design (that looks more like Hammer with a big budget than it does the old Universal horrors). I thought it was better than generally credited when it came out, but I haven’t even thought of it once since then, and thinking about it now, I can’t imagine what I’d get out of subsequent viewings.

Notable TV screenings

Films adapted from novels by Sinclair Lewis
Starting at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, TCM offers up an interesting selection of movies that share the common thread of having all been based on novels by Sinclair Lewis. (Does anybody still read Sinclair Lewis? If not, it’s a great pity.) The six films are Babbitt (1934), Ann Vickers (1933), Dodsworth (1936), Arrowsmith (1931), Cass Timberlane (1947) and I Married a Doctor (1936).  (No, Lewis never wrote anything with that last title, but for some reason, Warner Bros. decided it sounded better than Main Street.) I’ve only seen three of the films—Babbitt, Dodsworth and Arrowsmith—but those three at least are very worth catching. Babbitt is a majorly simplified version of the book and played more for comedy than Lewis probably intended, but it does offer Guy Kibbee in the title role—a role he was born to play—and the great Aline MacMahon as his long-suffering and cleverer-than-he-knows wife. It may not be the book, but it’s a nice little movie on its own merits. William Wyler’s Dodsworth, however, is a solid version of the book—and one of Wyler’s best films. Strong performances from Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor certainly help out. If you watch nothing else, this one is definitely a movie you should see. John Ford’s Arrowsmith has a good deal going for it, too—including the presence of Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes. While it has some of the clunkiness we associate with early talkies, it’s a visually striking film that shows Ford’s eye for composition and detail.

Road to Bali 7:45 a.m. Monday, June 7, TCM
It’s the last and least of the Paramount Road pictures—and the only one in color. It feels a little shopworn and tired and a bit like Bing, Bob and Dotty are indulging their audience. But Road to Bali (1952) does have its share of bright moments and nice tunes to compensate. The Chicago-style musical turn for the boys is a solid opening, and the business with them singing the “Whippenpoof Song” with a flock of sheep isn’t bad. Some of the one-liners are as sharp as ever, and “The Merry-Go-Runaround” is a truly pleasing addition to the catalogue of memorable Road picture songs. That it doesn’t all work is undeniable, but any movie where Bob Hope has to deal with a giant squid and a gorilla cannot be without value.

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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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39 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 2-8: Marmaduke looms large

  1. Dionysis

    Perhaps films like ‘Marmaduke’ are just one part of the on-going Illuminati/Bilderberger/Jason Society plan to hasten the dumbing down of our society. Instead of bread and circuses it’s fast food and cinematic dreck. I’m not too surprised that Owen Wilson is in it, but William H. Macy (I don’t know who Lee Pace is)?

    As for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ coming out on DVD, I really, really wish I liked Burton’s stuff as much as most everyone else seems to; I’ve seen most of his films, and while I liked two or three (my favorite remains ‘Ed Wood’, which I really like a lot), I just can’t join in all the praise. As heretical as this will no doubt sound to some, I really disliked his version of ‘Batman’. Most of his other films I am kind of luke-warm to; they had their positive aspects, but none of them would I elevate to anything near being ‘great’.

    As an unrelated aside, over the weekend I watched the first (and probably ONLY) movie by some French ‘director’ (and I use the term ever so loosely) named Jean Rollin. It was among the most inane things I’ve ever seen. My eyeballs will never forgive me.

  2. Ken Hanke

    hasten the dumbing down of our society

    Well, it’s certainly not doing my brain cells one bit of good.

    I’m not too surprised that Owen Wilson is in it, but William H. Macy (I don’t know who Lee Pace is)?

    Lee Pace is a decent young actor who’s been in such things as The Falls and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. He may be best known for the TV series Pushing Daisies, though I’m personally unfamiliar with it.

    I really, really wish I liked Burton’s stuff as much as most everyone else seems to

    I don’t think it’s actually reuired by law.

    It was among the most inane things I’ve ever seen. My eyeballs will never forgive me

    I have never made it all the way through a Jean Rollin movie. What I did see made me suspect that the “poetry” his admirers talk about really translates into “hot girl on girl action.”

  3. Dionysis

    “…suspect that the “poetry” his admirers talk about really translates into “hot girl on girl action.”

    Well, even that (which was in the film I saw) was pretty tepid and boring. And that may have been the highlight of the thing.

  4. Ken Hanke

    And that may have been the highlight of the thing.

    Kinda depressing, ain’t it?

  5. Dionysis

    “Kinda depressing, ain’t it?”

    Yes, topped only by the fact that I actually ordered this, er, ‘movie’ and paid about 15 times its actual value (which would be no more than $1.00).

    I’m not sure I’ll trust anyone’s review of some ‘avant garde’ French film again.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I’m not sure I’ll trust anyone’s review of some ‘avant garde’ French film again

    Rollin’s movies strike me as the sort of thing no one would pay the slightest attention to if they’d been made in English.

  7. I have mild hopes for GET HIM TO THE GREEK. My experience of Brand is that he’s essentially a glam rock pirate, and if he provided with a decent enough script, could easily carry a light comedy. However, the script could easily be terrible and sink the film completely.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I have mild hopes for GET HIM TO THE GREEK

    If Justin comes out claiming it’s wonderful, then I’ll be moved to find out. Otherwise, I think I’ll pass.

  9. Just reread my original post: “and if he provided with a decent enough script”
    I seem to have adopted Tarzan’s grammar momentarily.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I seem to have adopted Tarzan’s grammar momentarily

    Perhaps if the movie’s no good Justin can review it by saying, “Script sink film.”

  11. Ken Hanke

    Bruton’s only made one really great movie and that was Ed Wood

    Uh, no.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    For those that don’t already know (and care), I thought I’d share this bit of info. It would seem that Guillermo Del Toro has quit as director of The Hobbit, due to the studios delay in green-lighting the production.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/hobbit-movie-in-jeopardy-as-director-guillermo-del-toro-quits-1987991.html

    I’m sure Ken is delighted by this news, as it would (theoretically) mean that Del Toro will be moving on to more personal projects. I’m somewhat torn, because while that IS a good thing, it also means that they will have to find a new director to replace him – which might result in a less desirable finished product.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I’m sure Ken is delighted by this news

    I considered buying champagne.

  14. Son of Rufus

    The Ghost Writer goes into second run (and goes into the 7 p.m. position at Asheville Pizza and Brewing) this week, the Roman Polanski thriller—still one of the best movies of the year—is hanging on for two shows a day at the Carolina.

    So should I completely give up hope that if The Ghost Writer isn’t playing in theaters down here by now that I’ll just have to wait for the DVD to come out?

  15. Ken Hanke

    So should I completely give up hope that if The Ghost Writer isn’t playing in theaters down here by now that I’ll just have to wait for the DVD to come out?

    Unless there’s a second run house in the area, probably. If you’re in Lake Wales. definitely. though I think the old Continental in Winter Haven is now some kind of second run mugs ‘n’ movies affair.

  16. Mike

    “Bruton’s only made one really great movie and that was Ed Wood.”

    Depends on your definition of great, I suppose. I think Ed Wood is easily his best film but have a lot of respect for his earlier work, especially Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. The latter is pretty amazing and I think the praise that gets heaped on Edward Scissorhands is warranted too.

    I think the fact that certain stylistic choices have been repeated ad nauseum in just about everything he’s done post-Mars Attacks have really diminished at least my opinion of him and apparently other film fans as well. I try not to let this influence my opinion on his overall catalog though.

    This all reminds me of a bit College Humor did a few months back: http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1929453

    Oh, and Splice looks like it is going to be great. Can’t believe this thing is getting a summer release.

  17. Rufus

    though I think the old Continental in Winter Haven is now some kind of second run mugs ‘n’ movies affair.

    Long gone… It was a casualty of the hurricanes in 2004, and never reopened.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I think the fact that certain stylistic choices have been repeated ad nauseum in just about everything he’s done post-Mars Attacks have really diminished at least my opinion of him and apparently other film fans as well.

    I just don’t get that. I like most of his 2000 era work better than a lot of the earlier work. I hear this complaint frequently, and while I am only okay with Alice, I simply don’t share the view. In fact, I rank Big Fish and Sweeney Todd with his best films.

    Oh, and Splice looks like it is going to be great.

    I am hopeful at least.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Long gone… It was a casualty of the hurricanes in 2004, and never reopened

    Oh, well. It was owned by Carmike, so it’s probably no great loss.

  20. Ken Hanke

    That College Humor bit pretty much nailed his late period

    For you. Not for me.

  21. Dread P. Roberts

    In fact, I rank Big Fish and Sweeney Todd with his best films.

    I can definitely agree with that. I’d also add that both of those films feel, to me, like more of a daring and different direction, than some of Burtons older stuff. Big Fish is the only Burton film to make me cry (unless I cried the first time I saw Edward Scissorhands; I’m can’t quite remember), so that ranks as a pretty powerful, moving film in my book. Also, as someone who knows nothing of the actual play, I thought Sweenedy Todd was brilliant. But I can see how others wouldn’t care for it. I don’t, however, really understand how people can dislike Big Fish. That is somewhat baffling to me, but whatever.

    To me, if a filmaker is always making the majority of people happy/satisfied, then he/she might be being a little artistically restrained. Therefore, I choose to see the little Burton distain fad as a bit of a good thing. Hell, maybe this’ll help put an end to the Hot Topic trust-fund goth kids epidemic, that has made Burton franchise merchandise so popular, and consequently, made many filmgoers write Burton off as a sell-out.

  22. Dread P. Roberts

    As far as Burton’s films not being quite as good as his earlier stuff, I have a theory as to why some people might feel this way.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of these people tend to be in roughly the same age group as me. If they are anything like me, then there is probably a bit of nostalgia for the stuff like Beetlejuice and Pee Wee that we saw and enjoyed as kids. That stuff was so playfully fun, and yet a little bit sinister at the same time. Despite the directorial merits of Burtons new films, that whimsical childhood feeling can’t be recaptured. Movies like Charlie and Alice are probably going to appeal to a whole new generation of kids, who will one day say that this was Burton’s best work. The claymation effects have been replaced by CGI, and some of that feel that is hard to explain is seemingly gone. It doesn’t mean the movies aren’t as good, but people will write them off as such, because they experienced a bit of dissapointment when the movies don’t live up to the magical charm that they use to.

  23. Ken Hanke

    To me, if a filmaker is always making the majority of people happy/satisfied, then he/she might be being a little artistically restrained.

    This is almost completely a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. Make something that people like and follow it up with anything different and it’s not as good as his earlier work. Make something in a similar tone and style and “he’s just spinning his wheels.” I see so little appreciation for subtle variations within stylistic consistency that I find it depressing sometimes. It’s like people in musical circles who claim that Anton Bruckner didn’t write nine symphonies, but that he wrote the same symphony nine times.

    Hell, maybe this’ll help put an end to the Hot Topic trust-fund goth kids epidemic, that has made Burton franchise merchandise so popular, and consequently, made many filmgoers write Burton off as a sell-out

    I think the thing is that Burton from any era will continue to appeal to disenfranchised, disaffected young people — whether posers or the real thing. I wouldn’t have said that 20 — maybe even 10 — years ago. When I first saw Edward Scissorhands I thought it so completely captured childhood from the perspective of the early-mid 1960s that it might be foreign to younger viewers, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. I now find it has an appeal for people less than half my age.

    Despite the directorial merits of Burtons new films, that whimsical childhood feeling can’t be recaptured

    I suspect this is very true.

    Movies like Charlie and Alice are probably going to appeal to a whole new generation of kids, who will one day say that this was Burton’s best work

    This is almost demonstrable. You find the same enthusiasm for these films from a lot of younger viewers that once greeted Burton’s early films.

  24. Me

    I’m in that age group that watched Pee Wee and Beetlejuice as a kid so that may be possible. It’s sad to think that kid’s are going to grow up with his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not the original.

    As i have gotten older i’ve realized half of Tim Burton’s “film style” is just an Edward Gorey rip off.

  25. Ken Hanke

    It’s sad to think that kid’s are going to grow up with his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not the original.

    Strange, I’ve always fely it was sad that kids grew up on the Gene Wilder version.

  26. Son of Rufus

    Success (sort of). I found a small theater that plays limited release films in South Florida (unfortunately they don’t have Ghost Writer) but they do have City Island and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (both of which I saw had a favorable review). Huzzah!

    On the topic of Burton, I’ve never really understood why people geek out over his style. A lot of people my age (early to mid 20’s) seem to almost live and die by The Nightmare Before Christmas.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Success (sort of). I found a small theater that plays limited release films in South Florida (unfortunately they don’t have Ghost Writer) but they do have City Island and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (both of which I saw had a favorable review). Huzzah!

    Good news indeed. Where is this theater?

    On the topic of Burton, I’ve never really understood why people geek out over his style

    Oh, I do, but then I’m one of them.

    A lot of people my age (early to mid 20’s) seem to almost live and die by The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Well, they’re a little younger’n I am and I wouldn’t go that far or pick that particular film. (Interestingly, they’re fixing on a film that, to me, has always seemed to have less of Burton or its nominal director, Henry Sellick, than it has of Danny Elfman.)

  28. Ken Hanke

    Why? Gene Wilder’s a legend

    So? Just because Gene Wilder is a legend doesn’t make that movie great or even good, nor does the fact that people who grew up watching it tend to love it make it good. I disliked it when it came out and haven’t become any fonder of it with the passing years, though I have — on the occasions I’ve had to see it — come to appreciate the sinister quality of Wilder’s performance.

  29. Dread P. Roberts

    I have a confession to make: the original Oompa Loompa’s kind of creeped me out as a little kid. On the other hand, I always thought that Gene Wilder was definitely the best part of the movie. The really lame songs, like “Cheer Up Charlie”… yeah, not so much.

    Interestingly, they’re fixing on a film that, to me, has always seemed to have less of Burton or its nominal director, Henry Sellick, than it has of Danny Elfman.

    …and what wonderfully composed music it is. Nightmare truly wouldn’t be the same without that fantastic musical score.

  30. I remember seeing WONKA when I was nine and had already become fairly addicted to Dahl’s novels. I liked a couple of the songs and thought the film as a whole was ok, but I thought Wilder was electrifying. He struck me as quite Wellesian at the time.

  31. Ken Hanke

    Im glad it’s become a children’s classic

    I’d call it a staple more than a classic, but no matter. The question is whether it will remain so, or whether the generation that saw the Burton version at an impressionable age will choose the later film to show to their children. You see, this really does play into what Dread P. was talking about.

  32. Ken Hanke

    I have a confession to make: the original Oompa Loompa’s kind of creeped me out as a little kid.

    I can understand that. As a 17 or 18-year-old, they just struck me as cheesy. Then again, there was the drug crowd who found something in them that escaped the rest of us.

    The really lame songs, like “Cheer Up Charlie”… yeah, not so much

    The songs all strike me as pretty bad.

    …and what wonderfully composed music it is. Nightmare truly wouldn’t be the same without that fantastic musical score.

    Oh, assuredly not. And I think that score and those songs identify and drive the film’s story in ways that aren’t exclusively Burton.

  33. Ken Hanke

    He struck me as quite Wellesian at the time

    I don’t think that comparison would have ever occurred to me, but nevermind all that where are those gorillas you sent? And you have nothing to say about the fact that we addressed your questions?

  34. Son of Rufus

    Good news indeed. Where is this theater?

    Palm Beach Gardens. It’s tiny with only 6 screens, I look forward to checking it out.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Palm Beach Gardens. It’s tiny with only 6 screens, I look forward to checking it out.

    Well, I know where the mall is, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of PBG. Is it six screens of “art” movies? If so, I’m jealous.

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