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.
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.