Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 23-29: More than might appear on the surface

In theaters

Readers who rely on the print edition of the Xpress for their information about upcoming films are apt to think there are only three films opening this week when, in truth, there are five. News of two titles—Solitary Man and The Good, the Bad and the Weird—came in too late to make it into this week’s print issue. This is particularly unfortunate because Solitary Man has the appearance of a solid offering and I know that The Good, the Bad and the Weird is irresistible fun.

Solitary Man is a dark comedy/drama about one of those oily characters that Michael Douglas plays so well, which means it’s a good thing that Douglas is playing the title character. This round he’s a former minor celebrity (based on his used-car commercials) on his way down, but still capable of seducing, scamming or conning anyone he comes across. Also in the cast are Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg. It comes with an 83 percent approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In the New York Times, A.O. Scott called it “a sharp, small-scale comedy of male misbehavior that turns out to be one of this dreary spring’s pleasant cinematic surprises.” This definitely looks like a contender. It opens this Friday at the Carolina.

Then there’s Ji-woon Kim’s self-proclaimed “Oriental Western,” The Good, the Bad and the Weird, a wildly inventive comedic action picture set in Manchuria in the 1930s. This screened in Asheville back in April as part of the ActionFest film festival and now it returns for a regular run. The film’s title should clue you in on the fact that the film is in the style of a Sergio Leone Western, and that’s true enough, but pay particular attention to that final word “weird.” That’s the telling difference. This is kind of Sergio Leone by way of Kung Fu Hustle (2005)—and I mean that in a good way. Yes, it has subtitles, but you won’t really mind. This is over-the-top, completely outrageous violent action—with a solid plot and a twisted sense of humor. It really ought not to be missed when it opens at the Carolina this Friday.

Also at the Carolina (this is really their week for exclusives) is Rodrigo García’s wonderful Mother and Child starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits. Since I’ve already reviewed this for Wednesday’s Xpress, I’ll leave it at that, which takes us to the mainstream titles that are opening just about everywhere. The two films in question are Knight and Day and Grown Ups, neither of which have much shot at knocking last week’s big winner, Toy Story 3, out of first place—to say nothing of what will happen to them when the steamroller known as The Twilight Saga: Eclipse rumbles into theaters next Wednesday.

If I had to pick one—and, come to think of it, I do—I’d go with Knight and Day, which gets a jump on the weekend by opening on Wednesday. I have no idea why, except maybe to convince potential viewers that this is an event. Is it? Well, you decide. It looks like a harmless, but nothing new thrill comedy starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, whose box-office luster has dimmed a good bit in recent years. As for Grown Ups, “harmless” is not a word I tend to use when it comes to Adam Sandler movies—especially those that insist on giving employment to Rob Schneider and David Spade, and he does just that with Grown Ups. Look, you know what you’re getting into if you go to this. I take no responsibility for the choice.

In the still-playing realm of movies of note, both The Secret in Their Eyes (which actually did better its second weekend) and Please Give are staying on at the Fine Arts. If you haven’t seen Secret, in particular, do yourself a favor and catch it. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo proved to still have life in it after its move to the Carolina and is still there for another week. Otherwise, the only things to take notice of are Survival of the Dead, which is barely hanging on in split shows at the Carolina, and Kick Ass, which is holding the 10 p.m. slot at Asheville Pizza and Brewing. Taking their leave this week are Splice and City Island, so those are in the “catch ‘em quick” realm.

On DVD

The quality release this week is The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, both of whom received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their performances in this film. Don’t be put off by the idea that this is some heavy historical drama about the final days of Leo Tolstoy. While it is that—parts of it are fairly heavy—it’s anything but stodgy. In fact, it’s a very lively film that is often quite playful, despite its deeper undercurrents. Also up is Green Zone, which underperformed in theaters and might do better on home video. It’s not bad, but it’ll taste like wax fruit next to The Last Station. That, however, would be preferable to the taste of Remember Me, about which I’ll only say two words: Forget it. I didn’t see She’s Out of My League. I feel no void in my life as a result, however.

Notable TV screenings

The Bat Whispers Thursday, June 24, 2:30 a.m. (late-night Wednesday), TCM
There’s no indication whether TCM is running the 65mm widescreen version (my guess is yes) or the 35mm flat one of Roland West’s The Bat Whispers (1930). It doesn’t matter in a way, because both are wonderful film versions of one of the first old dark-house mysteries. The restored 65mm version, however, is in better shape. This isn’t a case of the flat print being cropped, mind you. The film was actually shot twice—once in widescreen and once in flat. The theory at the time was that the wide version (which few theaters could show) would give the viewer the experience of watching the play from the best seat in the house, wherever he or she happened to be sitting. As a result, the widescreen version is a little shy on shot breakdown, but West keeps his camera so mobile you may not notice. What you will notice are the amazing model effects, the shots with the camera “flying” over the grounds and into the house, and the rich melodramatic playing of Chester Morris as the strangely sinister Detective Anderson, who has been called in to try to catch that notorious madman known as “the Bat.” It’s loads of creaky, creepy fun—right down to its surprise ending.

The Shout Saturday, 3:45 a.m. (late-night Friday), TCM
I have never seen Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout (1978), an apparently artsy horror film about a mysterious mental patient (Alan Bates) with the ability to kill with a single shout, who forces his way into the lives of a composer (John Hurt) and his wife (Sussanah York). If that’s not intriguing enough, the question of what is or isn’t true is upped by snagging a bit from Dr. Caligari (the old doctor has a long arm) and having Bates tell the story to a fellow mental patient (Tim Curry, no less). Well, that’s enough to get me to want to see it, I can tell you.

Master Minds Saturday, 10:30 a.m.,TCM
OK, I’m not recommending this—another one I’ve never seen—but this horror/comedy starring the Bowery Boys is, I believe, the only remaining horror-related of their films that I have not seen. Now, I can take the East Side Kids—their earlier incarnation—in small doses, but the Bowery Boys are a little much for me. This one pits them against a mad scientist (Alan Napier) and his creation, Atlas (Glenn Strange). Let me put it this way: Bowery Boys, this is your last chance with me.

Double Wedding Tuesday, 8:30 a.m., TCM
Of the films that William Powell and Myrna Loy made together that aren’t Thin Man movies, Double Wedding (1937) easily gets my vote as the best. It’s fast and funny to the point of being manic. It’s also a very odd movie to have come from when Louis B. Mayer controlled MGM, because it cheerfully thumbs its nose at middle-class conformity, and in general, represented just about everything Mayer despised. But somehow it got made. Powell plays Charlie Lodge, a Bohemian artist of debatable talent and much charm. He lives in a cramped travel trailer (“the covered wagon of the future”) parked next to a bar. He has a gong in his window so the proprietor of the bar’s owner (Edgar Kennedy) can alert him to phone calls by shooting it with an air rifle. This should tell you much. Lodge also fancies himself as a filmmaker and is working on getting a (dreadful-sounding) Arabian adventure movie made with starry-eyed hopefuls Irene Agnew (Florence Rice) and Waldo Beaver (John Beal). That’s where the plot kicks in, since upright, uptight Margit Agnew (Loy) disapproves of her little sister’s involvement with Lodge and sets out to break it up. (Yes, it’s very like the plot of The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, which Loy starred in 11 years later.) What happens is hardly surprising, but it’s a great deal of fun. Plus, you get Sidney Toler just before he inherited the role of Charlie Chan as Margit’s butler, who—prophetically—fancies himself something of a detective.

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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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11 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler June 23-29: More than might appear on the surface

  1. Son of Rufus

    Those first two movies both sound like good ones (hopefully I can find them down here in South FL). I like that Danny DeVito is in Solitary Man since he is just awesome (at least he is in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

    Yes, it has subtitles, but you won’t really mind.

    It’s sad that you have to put this disclaimer in movie descriptions. A lot of people miss out on great movies because of their hatred for subtitles. I’ve found that, at least for me, after you get used to subtitles your mind almost fakes out your ears into thinking they are speaking in English.

  2. Comic-book nerds like myself should note that THE BAT was an important influence on the creation of the Bat-Man back in 1939.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Those first two movies both sound like good ones (hopefully I can find them down here in South FL).

    Solitary Man is in current art house release nationally, so it’s likely. The other I’m more skeptical on.

    It’s sad that you have to put this disclaimer in movie descriptions

    It’s sad, but it’s a fact of life, especially here, it seems — with notable exceptions. The only way to better insure a poor turnout is with a documentary. I will say that local response to Mother, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (helped a lot by its literary tie-in), and The Secret in Their Eyes has been encouraging of late.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Comic-book nerds like myself should note that THE BAT was an important influence on the creation of the Bat-Man back in 1939

    It’s some time sense I dealt with this, but is the 1930 The Bat Whispers the point of influence or the 1926 original The Bat? There’s very much a comic book panel (before there really was such a thing) look to The Bat Whispers, but I seem to recall that Kane’s character idea had more to do with the silent.

  5. DrSerizawa

    By the bowels of Christ, there’s some good viewing on TCM this week. For sicfi-philes don’t miss “The Monster That Challenged The World” on Sunday. I’m wondering if that short on news stand porn SatAM narrated by George Putnam might be a hoot as well.

    With tickets for “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” already in hand for this w/e I do believe I am set.

  6. Ken Hanke

    For sicfi-philes don’t miss “The Monster That Challenged The World” on Sunday

    Giant grub-worms are kind of hard to beat.

  7. It’s some time sense I dealt with this, but is the 1930 The Bat Whispers the point of influence or the 1926 original The Bat?
    According to Kane’s autobiography, it’s the 1930 picture.

  8. Ken Hanke

    According to Kane’s autobiography, it’s the 1930 picture.

    Well, he should know — though goodness knows I’ve seen some amazing things in autobiographies and interviews. It may be that I’m thinking in terms of the drawing in the Burton Batman, which suggests a familiarity with the…uh…peculiar headpiece in the 1926 film.

  9. Me

    TCM also played The Exiles as part of a Milestone Films mini marathon Wednesday.

  10. DW

    The Good the Bad the Weird is SO much fun! I enjoyed the heck out of that movie.

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