Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 22-28: Cars, a Bad Teacher, L’amour Fou, and the Tree of Life

In theaters

Well, last week’s onslaught of penguins, beavers, and green-tights wasn’t a very pretty sight. (Maybe penguins and beavers in green tights would have been better. Green Lantern with an all-penguin cast kind of appeals to me.) If it hadn’t been for Cave of Forgotten Dreams and the fact that Midnight in Paris was still around, I might go so far as to call it grim. Do Bad Teacher and Cars 2 indicate much of an improvement? Perhaps not, but there’s also The Tree of Life and L’amour Fou to take into account. That should help.

The only one of this week’s offerings I’ve seen is L’amour Fou—a documentary about Yves Saint Laurent—and the review for it is in this week’s paper. As you might guess, your level of interest in it will largely depend on your interest in fashion, art collecting, and people who own really cool houses that it looks like no one actually lives in (but you wouldn’t mind giving it a try).

Before getting down to the week’s other offerings, I should take this opportunity to make it clear that while Cave of Forgotten Dreams did really well this past weekend, it will only be here through next Tuesday, June 28, since it has to move out to make room for—well, more traditional 3D fare. If you want to see Cave, bear this in mind.

Going in alphabetical order on the others, we come to Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, and Jason Segel. My interest level in this just went up after reading an IMDb post headed, “SHAMEFUL, America is a sick nation.” (This then purports to skewer the film for various transgressions on Muslim law, which mostly seems to center on women being “unfeminine.” I thought it was a gag, till I found this guy has a substantial “reviewing” history in which the phrase “feminist garbage” crops with great frequency.) Anyway, looking at this a little less passionately, we have a movie from Jake Kasdon, who apart from being Lawrence Kasdan’s son, is known for such things as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) and Orange County (2002). The bar for improvement here is set pretty low. Diaz went the raunch route once before with The Sweetest Thing (2002). I actually thought that was pretty good. Almost no one else did.

Rumor has it that the entire raison d’etre for Pixar’s Cars 2—a sequel to their least highly regarded film Cars (2006)—is that it will sell ancillary items. In other words, they and the folks at Disney can make a mint on the toys it will generate. (I guess Up was a little shy in the action figure department.) After listening to John Lasseter wax ecstatic over it by saying something along the lines of, “It’s like a James Bond movie—only with cars,” I’m more than willing to believe it. What I’m less willing to do is sit through anything involving Larry the Cable Guy if I can possibly avoid it. And I think I can in this case.

And then we come to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which was supposed to be the big movie for people who prefer to fish out of the mainstream this summer. It may still be, but it’s come nowhere near the crossover popularity of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (no one really expected it to do what it’s done). But really, apart from the art film circuit aspect, it’s impossible to actually compare Allen’s film and this one— not because I think this one’s more “important” (whatever that means), but because the aims are so different. Malick’s film attempts to somehow be a reflection of his own childhood in a way that encompasses human existence—and indeed the world and possibly beyond—in one film. Is that possible? I’m skeptical—and not just because Malick’s work has never tended to be to my taste—but I’m certainly keen on finding out for myself.

Since The Tree of Life opens at the Fine Arts (it expands to The Carolina next week or the week after) and Midnight in Paris is still going great guns, that means that Incendies is taking its leave this Friday. Also leaving is 13 Assassins (Carolina). And though I doubt anyone much cares, The Beaver takes its final bow on Thursday night after a single week.

Special Screenings

David Cronenberg’s massively strange—and landmark—Videodrome (1983) is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show on Thu., June 23 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) at 8 p.m. on Fri., June 24 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is showing Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend (1971) at 2 p.m. on Sun., June 26 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society has Josef von Sternberg’s The Last Command (1928) on Tue., June 28 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress.

On DVD

Quite a number of new titles seem to be upon us this week, most of which I haven’t seen. The one I have seen, Cedar Rapids, is certainly worth a look. As far as The Adjustment Bureau, Diary of Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, The Eagle and Unknown, I refer you to Mr. Souther—or at least his reviews.

Notable TV screenings

TCM wraps up its Thursday night “Drive-in Double Features” with more…er…classic schlock. Actually, a couple of these are considered good, which mostly means they’re not as dopey as the others. It starts at 8 p.m. on Thu., June 23 with It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), featuring world’s only giant quintopus (hey, five arms fit the budget, eight didn’t). This is followed by giant grub worms in The Monster That Challenged the World (1957). Then we have The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and The Giant Behemoth (1959), and The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955), which apparently rated no trailer. The climax of the series is Roger Corman’s Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), which stars quite possibly the dumbest looking monster ever—even by Corman standards.

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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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53 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 22-28: Cars, a Bad Teacher, L’amour Fou, and the Tree of Life

  1. I watched CEDAR RAPIDS on the plane home to Oz last week. Very enjoyable.

    “It’s like a James Bond movie—only with cars,”
    Don’t James Bond movies already have cars?

  2. June has already been packed full of great films, and this week is easily the biggest for good films. There’s also ELEKTRA LUXX, the sequel to the popular indie film WOMEN IN TROUBLE. A great Criterion is out, Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY. CEDAR RAPIDS is the funniest film of the year, LOUIE SEASON 1 (Louis CK) is the funniest tv show of the year. There’s also one of our favorites SQUIDBILLIES VOLUME 4 out with our daddy, The Unknown Hinson.

  3. Of course, the main artist event of the year comes next month with the return of everyone’s favourite meth cooking school teacher Walter White.

  4. Me

    I know you dont do tv shows but season 2 of Louie premieres this week, im pretty excited for it too.

  5. Louie CK is the best comedian working right now, and this show is a brutal and rambling extension of his stand up act. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  6. Ken Hanke

    You lucky bastard. I actually will have to sit through Cars 2

    Yeah, well, I will be sitting through Transformers: Dark of the Moose — all 157 minutes of it.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Don’t James Bond movies already have cars?

    You have a point, though I admit I’m not sure it was James Bond movies. It might have been spy movies. Of course, unless it’s Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel, those generally have cars, too.

  8. Ken Hanke

    A great Criterion is out, Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY.

    I’m convinced that without the brief case and the weird ending, no one would care in the least about this movie. And there’s a lot of deadwood to get through for those elements.

    CEDAR RAPIDS is the funniest film of the year

    Not sure I think it’s funnier than Rango, but I would agree that it has the single funniest line.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    Well, you can’t recommend it highly enough to get me to watch it. Pootie Tang was enough exposure to Mr. CK for one lifetime.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Something I can’t repeat here, but it’s the offer the hooker makes to show she loves Helms.

  11. [b]Yeah, well, I will be sitting through Transformers: Dark of the Moose—all 157 minutes of it. [/b]

    True. But that likely won’t show in a room full of distracted children, who are all running amok and making noise because their parents have taken them to a movie that they have begged for months to go and see despite being too young to follow the plot.

    On the other hand, it will be showing in a room full of people who have made the continued success of [i]Transformers[/i] films possible, so I suppose there are just no winners on this one.

  12. Ken Hanke

    On the other hand, it will be showing in a room full of people who have made the continued success of Transformers films possible, so I suppose there are just no winners on this one.

    Probably not, but I figure if I go to an 11 a.m.-ish show I will avoid the bulk of the Mooseformers crowd.

  13. [b]Probably not, but I figure if I go to an 11 a.m.-ish show I will avoid the bulk of the Mooseformers crowd.[/b]

    Huh. How many people go to an 11am show?

    For that matter, who has one?

  14. Ken Hanke

    How many people go to an 11am show?

    Exactly my point.

    For that matter, who has one?

    It varies, but The Carolina usually has one in the 11:30 range. I won’t know till Monday, though.

  15. DrSerizawa

    Looks like my first attempt disappeared into internet limbo.

    Anyhow, has any movie directed by Malik ever made money? I doubt it. Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Lineespecially were disasters. Do investors need another tax write-off? I have difficulty understanding how such a chronic failure of a director gets bankrolled.

    Since I already own every Thursday Night TCM Drive-In movie this week I win the free pass to the rubber room.

    You might need a free pass too after 157 minutes of Transformers. However it’s possible that 30 minutes of that is credits. How many animators and caterers does it take to create a couple of hours of CGI? One can hope. And doesn’t that ridiculous length eliminate one screening per day for local theaters? Seems counter productive when the whole purpose is to rake in every idiot’s spare dollars in the world. I’m just glad I don’t have to see it. That’s why they pay you and Justin the big bucks!

  16. Mike

    The Thin Red Line made money, judging by the figures posted on Box Office Mojo. Can’t vouch for accuracy though.

    I suspect one of the reasons Malick takes so long to make movies has a lot to do with financing. Sure his notorious perfectionism tends to drag out production (word has it Tree of Life was delayed a year due to editing) but his brand of art house cinema is esoteric to a point that it’s likely that only his most ardent fans are willing to pony up operating cost.

    Or then maybe it’s just a case of that old Hollywood myth that says as long as the studio makes money off the mainstream stuff they are willing to take chances with the weird stuff. Who knows?

  17. Ken Hanke

    However it’s possible that 30 minutes of that is credits.

    I’d guess 15 minutes easily. The first Pirates movie had about 13 minutes of closing credits.

    And doesn’t that ridiculous length eliminate one screening per day for local theaters?

    Depends on the theater or the corporate policy (if it’s a corporate theater) — and on the whim of the moment. I’ve seen Carmike’s “any movie over 130 minutes gets no show later than 8 p.m.” notion ignored more than twice. If they start at 11:00, it should be possible to squeeze four shows a day in.

  18. DrSerizawa

    No offense but I find it hard to believe that TTRL made money. The theaters were nearly empty. It just doesn’t pass the smell test. I know that foreign sales can make up for a lot of domestic losses but TTRL is really art house fare and I doubt that it did much better overseas.

  19. Mike

    No offense taken, I remember feeling pretty indifferent about it when I caught in in theatres. Your claim just seemed a bit specious since I remember this benefiting from both critical acclaim and riding on the coattails of Saving Private Ryan as that other “important” WW2 movie. Empty seats were hardly the norm in my neck of the woods.

    Assuming a grand doctoring of the books did in fact take place, however, the question this raises is: why? Award season? Generating hype to boost home video sales? Doesn’t really wash…

  20. Ken Hanke

    Looking at the figures on Box Office Mojo, what I’m seeing is a production budget (meaning it isn’t taking the huge cost of advertising into account) of $52 million and a worldwide gross of $98,126,565. That would indicate a loss, since the break-even point is roughly twice the cost — and a production budget isn’t even close to the actual cost.

    It’s not safe, however, to claim success or failure based on the observation of local theaters. That fluctuates wildly from place to place. If I used Asheville as the yardstick, The Life Aquatic and The Brothers Bloom should come up as huge grossers. Gosford Park was selling out in Asheville. That same week in Hickory it sold six tickets.

  21. DrSerizawa

    I was looking at TTRL based on the patronage in both Salt Lake and Los Angeles that my brothers and myself observed. Anyhow, who knows what motivation anyone has for fudging the figures or even bankrolling a project? Just a few years back Hollywood couldn’t seem to make enough money losing movies about the Iraq War fast enough.

  22. luluthebeast

    [b]Yeah, well, I will be sitting through Transformers: Dark of the Moose—all 157 minutes of it.[/b]

    A Møøse once bit my sister …

    And I missed the first CARS, so I guess I’ll have to miss this one as well.

    And I will be seeing Malick’s movie if I can find it. I might not like it, but I’ll see it for the cinematography if nothing else.

  23. Ken Hanke

    I was looking at TTRL based on the patronage in both Salt Lake and Los Angeles that my brothers and myself observed.

    Not that it matters all that much, but did you all follow the theaters for the entire run?

    Just a few years back Hollywood couldn’t seem to make enough money losing movies about the Iraq War fast enough.

    It didn’t even matter which way they were slanted, no one wanted ’em.

  24. luluthebeast

    [b]
    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Director Michael Bay promises that the third “Transformers” movie is way better than the second.[/b]

    Considering how bad the second one was…..

  25. Ken Hanke

    A Møøse once bit my sister …

    One of these days, I’ll see you face face and we’ll discuss your default to that line…

    And I missed the first CARS, so I guess I’ll have to miss this one as well.

    I’d’ve tried that excuse, but Justin didn’t see the first one either. I resorted to other means.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Considering how bad the second one was…..

    Yeah, that’s not a very compelling argument.

  27. luluthebeast

    [b]One of these days, I’ll see you face face and we’ll discuss your default to that line…[/b]

    That whole movie still cracks me up.

  28. Ken Hanke

    That whole movie still cracks me up.

    Ralph the Wonder Llama will be visiting you.

  29. Ken Hanke

    You should check out some of Louie CKs short films that one him acclaim at Sundance in the 90’s, they are more similar to the tv show which he has total control over by the way.

    All in all, I prefer Pootie Tang. These remind me of smart-ass student films ca. 1972.

  30. Is this the “Cars 2” where Mater dies screaming in a “Goldfinger”-style car crusher? No? Ah. Then two for “Super 8,” please. – Paul Dini

  31. Vince Lugo

    Why all the hate for Cars? It’s not their least liked film. It’s actually one of their most popular among kids. The sequel’s pretty good, but in an interesting move for Pixar, it is NOT a kids’ movie. At all. Naturally, parents are furious about this because they think that all animation should only be for kids and can’t imagine that there could be such a thing as an animated film only for adults. What is wrong with these people?

  32. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s being marketed to kids and has a G rating, so it’s hardly the parents who are fault. And critically, it is their least liked film. But you say it’s one of the most popular among kids. However, you then say that a sequel to a movie that’s popular with kids isn’t for kids and want to blame the parents? You don’t see the flaw in this reasoning?

    And the mere fact that these movies have Larry the Cable Guy is enough to keep me away.

  33. All in all, I prefer Pootie Tang. These remind me of smart-ass student films ca. 1972.

    POOTIE TANG was 10 years ago. Louis CK’s comedy has evolved to involve marriage, kids, and now divorce. I think the show is the best on tv right now.

    CARS is perhaps Pixar’s most poorly reviewed, yet most popular film. EVERY boy under five goes crazy for it.

  34. Vince Lugo

    I don’t work for Pixar, I’m just a huge fan. I wanted to clarify what I said before: For a film as kid-friendly as Cars, I was genuinely surprised that the sequel is not and I thought it was pretty bold of them to do it that way. The comments I’ve read from outraged parents imply (and one of them even stated outright) that Pixar should not make films for an adult audience. My question is, why not? It’s their movie, why shouldn’t they be able to do it any way they feel like?

    I do agree, however, that the marketing for the film is way off and it really should have been rated PG for “frightening images” or something. How it got away with a G when the violence is somewhat worse than the PG rated The Incredibles is a complete mystery. That’s the power of being a brand name, I guess.

    From what I’ve read, their next film, Brave, sounds like it will be adult-oriented too, so this seems to be the direction they want to go in. Personally, I think that that would be a good thing because it would prove that animation can be for adults without being vulgar like Family Guy and South Park. As long as they let people know what the movie actually is (which, in the current case, they did not), I can’t see where there would be a problem with that.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Louis CK’s comedy has evolved to involve marriage, kids, and now divorce. I think the show is the best on tv right now

    If the shorts I was directed to are in any way related, I won’t be agreeing with you.

    EVERY boy under five goes crazy for it.

    I suppose if that’s your barometer of quality, it’s a big plus. Personally, I think introducing a child to Larry the Cable Guy is dubious.

  36. Ken Hanke

    For a film as kid-friendly as Cars, I was genuinely surprised that the sequel is not and I thought it was pretty bold of them to do it that way.

    Since — short of being subjected to the Ludovico treatment — I will never see this thing, I have to ask in what way this movie is “adult?” Outraged parents are a dime a dozen, so that’s no barometer (for all I know, they don’t like it because it’s in some way not Scriptural), and I haven’t seen any reviewers call the film adult in any way. Personally, I can’t put the word “adult” and Larry the Cable Guy in the same sentence and have it work.

    Would it be fair to say that, much as with movies based on comic books, you never met a cartoon you didn’t like?

  37. [b]I have to ask in what way this movie is “adult?” [/b]

    I’ll have to let you know after I see it, which will probably be later this week.

    I strongly suspect that it may be less “adult” oriented than it is pre-teen oriented. I think when Pixar makes sequels, they just assume the target audience is the same batch of kids that watched the previous one and that smaller children who just saw it on DVD last week won’t come to the theaters.

    From what I read of the reviews, [i]Toy Story 3[/i] was sort of a downer film about a boy growing up and leaving his toys behind. Not exactly a feel-good romp aimed at the 5 to 7 demo, right? Well, it comes 15 years after the first one, so those 5-7 year olds have left home and might be the ones to see the third film.

    So, the 5-7 crowd who swallowed [i]Cars[/i] whole six years ago are older now and want a more, um, “sophisticated” film. So they add a spy storyline and some explosions. That’s not for five year olds, even though five year olds love the first film and are probably dragging parents to see this one, too.

  38. Ken Hanke

    I’ll have to let you know after I see it, which will probably be later this week.

    I’ll be curious to hear your take.

  39. [b]I’ll be curious to hear your take.[/b]

    Well, it was a movie. About cars. And alternative fuel. And a dastardly plot against that fuel. And a fish out of water. And spies. And learning to accept your friends for who they are.

    It may sound jumbled but it worked fairly well according to the film’s own internal logic.

    The opening scene of the film establishes that someone has built a large group of oil rigs in the middle of an unnamed ocean, that this group has already rooted out and killed one spy, and that they have a secret weapon that looks a lot like a television camera. Finn McMissile doesn’t have much time to ponder any of this, as he’s spotted and proceeds to start the film’s first chase scene as he races to exit the oil rig. In the ensuing chaos, there’s plenty of room to assume that at least several dozen bad guys are incinerated, crushed, or drowned. McMissile fakes his own death and cruises away from the oil rigs (apparently, he’s also a Transformer as he changes from a car to a submarine).

    At this point, the film reintroduces the characters from the first film. In the years since [i]Cars[/i], Lightning McQueen has gone on to win four Piston Cups, which have now been renamed The Hudson Hornet Piston Cup in honor of the late Hudson “Doc” Hornet (whose absence from the film is glossed over very quickly in a brief scene). McQueen returns to a bustling Radiator Springs to the great joy of his best friend Mater and his romantic interest Sally. While the tension that comes from this odd triangle might make an interesting film for adults, this is a “children’s” film, so we just gloss over that as well in order to get to the actual plot.

    We learn that billionaire Sir Miles Axelrod has created a viable alternative fuel after being lost on an around the world trek. To promote his new fuel as the answer to the woes caused by Big Oil, he has established a World Grand Prix that will feature the best race cars worldwide, all fueled by his fuel, All-in-all. During a televised call-in show about the race, Mater becomes upset that Francesco Bernoulli, a champion Forumla 1 car, insults his best friend Lightning McQueen. He calls into the show, ensuring that Lightning becomes involved in the race. Lightning is at first hesitant, wanting only to relax in Radiator Springs, but agrees to the race after Mater is insulted (and after learning that Sally finds Bernoulli’s “open wheels” exciting).

    McQueen decides to take Mater and the rest of the gang along on the world tour, something he’s never done for his Piston Cup races, and this sets up the tension of the rest of the film. After their arrival in Japan, Mater embarrasses McQueen at the gala event to celebrate the opening of the Grand Prix. He also gets in the middle of a fight between the American spy in the film and two bad guys, and the spy plants his information on Mater. (The spy is later killed as well, in a particularly nasty way – again, not for children, per se).

    And so, off we go. The rest of the film is either a spy story punctuated by car races or car races interrupted by a spy story, apparently depending on the age of the viewer. During our bathroom break, my four year old told me, “that race was pretty exciting but the start of the film, not so much.” (Yes, he talks that way.)

    Mater is mistaken for the American spy who has the information about who is behind the massive oil operation in the ocean. And, since we’ve already met everyone we need to meet in the film, it’s pretty obvious who that mystery bad guy is. The spies distract Mater during the first race, who in turn distracts Lightning, who loses the first race to Bernoulli. Following a fight between the friends, Mater leaves, only to be picked up by the spies (who are convinced he is a master spy, not just a hick tow truck).

    In the end, of course, it’s Mater who saves the day and unmasks the bad guy. Along the way, there’s the action sequences (car races, car chases, fight scenes), there’s espionage (disguised Mater, informants, ridiculous method of killing good guys) and one odd twist that makes the film work.

    It’s a competent, if somewhat thin, film. It follows its predecessor as being a film that borrows liberally from classic plots and places those elements inside its own context. It works, even if the target audience is hard to pin down. The action and fight sequences are definitely too heavy for small children (but the merchandising includes diapers, training potties, and other gear aimed at small children), as are some of the more profane jokes, while the overall plot is too simplistic for adults (although the eye candy is plentiful, the film looks like it cost more than $200 million). Perhaps it does work well for a teen audience, although one wonders how many classic Bond films they have seen and if they are willing to see a film that is perceived as a “kid’s film”. There weren’t any teens at the showing I went to (admittedly, on an off-night).

    In the end, if you can get over the emphasis placed on Mater, then the film is at least watchable, probably more so than [i]Transformers[/i] or [i]Larry Crowne[/i].

  40. luluthebeast

    “Thin” is being kind. I found it dull and cliched and only went to see it to escape one of my wife’s friends, who was staying longer than she should have and I REALLY didn’t want to be Mooseified. The little tykes liked it though.

  41. Ken Hanke

    In the end, if you can get over the emphasis placed on Mater, then the film is at least watchable, probably more so than Transformers or Larry Crowne.

    The very existence of Mater makes the film anathema to me. Probably preferable to Mooseformers perhaps, but since I ended up kind of liking Larry Crowne, I’m skeptical of the second claim. Yes, skeptical.

  42. [b]“Thin” is being kind. I found it dull and cliched…[/b]

    Ebert’s review pointed out that it was actually a more thought out plot than most action films and I would actually agree with that but that still doesn’t mean it had any real teeth to it. Like I said, I knew the ending as soon as the “mystery bad guy” element was introduced. The rest was just waiting for the reveal. And it was a pretty formulaic ride to the end.

    [b]Yes, skeptical.[/b]

    Well, I’ve never been hugely drawn to either Hanks or Roberts so I’m not sure I could really enjoy a film with both. Not to mention that it almost looks like a less sexually charged retread of [i]The 40-Year Old Virgin[/i].

    Now, Mater’s hard to deal with and, since his goofiness is pretty central to both a theme and the plot you probably could never be convinced to see the thing. I can ignore it, probably because I don’t expect a lot out of a Pixar film. I have actually been hard pressed to really like any of them.

  43. Ken Hanke

    Not to mention that it almost looks like a less sexually charged retread of The 40-Year Old Virgin.

    Actually, no.

    Now, Mater’s hard to deal with and, since his goofiness is pretty central to both a theme and the plot you probably could never be convinced to see the thing. I can ignore it

    It’s that it’s Larry the Cable Guy being Larry the Cable Guy that makes it no sale with me.

    I have actually been hard pressed to really like any of them.

    The only one I’m actually wild about is Up.

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