Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 10-16: Quantity or quality?

In theaters

I don’t object to weeks when only one or two movies come out. Those light releases are as close as I come to having a weekend off. Thinking back, I’m reasonably sure there hasn’t been a weekend between December 2000 and now when I haven’t reviewed something. (Back in 2005, I even paid—paid, mind you—to see Son of the Mask when I was in Florida for that purpose.) Even so, I’m not sorry to see an increase in titles on the horizon—however dubious in quality they may be. Last week, two movies opened. This week, there are six: The Girl on the Train, Green Zone, Our Family Wedding, Remember Me, She’s Out of My League and The White Ribbon. Whether that’s an embarrassment of riches or just an embarrassment remains to be seen.

Actually, I’ve already seen and reviewed (in this week’s Xpress) The White Ribbon, and it’s certainly not an embarrassment. Nevertheless, I fear interest in it will be dimmed, since it didn’t win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Because it’s the only of the foreign-language entries I’ve seen, I can’t say if that was a reasonable decision. I do hope that it isn’t a deal breaker for anyone contemplating whether or not to see the film.

I know very little about The Girl on the Train, and I’m completely unfamiliar with the work of the filmmaker, André Téchiné. While the major critics have tended to give the film high marks, I’m still unclear as to what to expect. (I suppose, since I’ve got a screener sitting not 10 inches away, I could find out soon enough—or as soon enough as I have the time.) I do know this: It’s a film that’s going to take some planning to catch, because it’s sandwiched in with the Jewish Film Festival at the Fine Arts. As a result, it has a limited set of showings.

Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon reteam for Green Zone, a film that appears to hope to translate the style and star of the Jason Bourne movies into a popular work about an unpopular topic: the war in Iraq. Can this happen? Maybe, but I’ve a degree of skepticism, not in the least because it’s hardly late-breaking news that the intelligence that led to this war was dubious—to put it mildly. Friday will tell us the answer. The early reviews are decidedly mixed.

Our Family Wedding, on the other hand, just looks bad. What we appear to have here is a high-concept, lowest common denominator about prospective fathers-in-law—Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia—who detest each other and are less than delighted by the prospect of their respective offspring getting hitched. It’s a raunched-up (at least to PG-13 levels) rehash of that old chestnut of embarrassment Abie’s Irish Rose, which had theatergoers rolling in the aisles (making it hard for critics trying to get out of the theater) back in 1922. Then it was all about the romance of a nice Catholic girl and a Jewish boy. Now it’s a Latino girl and a black fellow—with a Viagra-infused goat adding to the merriment. It will be nice for Miss March and Gentlemen Broncos to have company as embarrassing pictures from Fox Searchlight.

Then there’s Remember Me with Robert Pattinson (complete with New York accent) as a troubled young man in love with Emelie de Ravin. The trailer looks pretty sappy, but it’s obviously aimed at the Twilight crowd, so sap is perhaps the order of the day. For the record, Pattinson does not seem to sparkle in the sunlight here, which may or may not be in the film’s favor. Personally, I think Pattinson exists mostly to prove that James Van Der Beek isn’t the only personality with a head shaped like that of the Frankenstein monster.

She’s Out of My League attempts to turn supporting actor Jay Baruchel into a star. Baruchel is likable enough and his presence enlivened Tropic Thunder (2008) and Knocked Up (2007), while providing the only bright spots in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008) and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009). Whether that means he can sell a film is another matter.

Of course, Alice in Wonderland and Shutter Island are still out there. So are Crazy Heart (Carolina, Flatrock), The Last Station (Fine Arts) and An Education (Carolina). None too surprisingly, the Carolina is bringing back The Hurt Locker for those who are enticed by its Oscar wins. However, this week sees the last of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Carolina), Fantastic Mr. Fox (Asheville Pizza and Brewing), The Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Carolina) and Sherlock Holmes. You have through Thursday on those.

On DVD

A lot of titles hit DVD this week. Among the more choice ones are Precious, Up in the Air (which is still playing theatrically at the Carolina), Paris and Capitalism: A Love Story. Any or all of those are worth your consideration. There may be an audience for The Stoning of Soraya M, which I can’t say is a bad movie, but, for me, was more just plain unpleasant than powerful. At the same time, I can say that Old Dogs isn’t just bad; it’s painfully bad. I didn’t see Planet 51, but I’m content to take Justin Souther’s word that there’s absolutely no reason to remedy that omission in my cinematic education.

There’s a truly cheesy “box set” of supposed vampire movies called Undead: The Vampire Collection 20 Movie Pack from those fun-loving public domain mavens Mill Creek. Well, of the 20 titles, I think about 15 of them actually have anything to do with vampires (there are a few on there I’ve never seen). This much is certain, The Devil Bat (1941), The Vampire Bat (1933) and The Bat (1926 and 1959) are not vampire movies. Basically, it’s your average PD fest of titles that have been around forever. It’s also only $14.98, so depending on your taste for junk—and mindful of the very variable quality of PD prints (purely a crapshoot)—it might not be such a bad deal.

Notable TV screenings

Well, there’s a marathon of every Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie ever made starting at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10, and going on through Thursday afternoon on Turner Classic Movies. That’s a pretty sweet deal, but it’s not like Fred and Ginger are exactly a rarity on TCM. Still, if you’re not doing anything else, it’s worth noting.

Shanks 2:30 a.m., Saturday (that’s late night Friday for those working on TV Guide time), March 13, TCM
I have never seen this and am not exactly recommending it, but it certainly qualifies as a rarity. What is it? Well, it’s schlockmeister William Castle’s 1974 horror film starring Marcel Marceau as a puppeteer, who, according to the TCM synopsis, “learns how to manipulate dead bodies.” (Though I suspect it is done differently, it’s worth noting that the 1945 Charlie Chan picture The Jade Mask had puppet corpses.) A.H. Weiler in the New York Times described it thus: “The script by Ranald Graham, a young newcomer to films, is described as ‘a grim fairy tale,’ and it is just that. It involves Mr. Marceau in the dual roles of a mute puppeteer and as his employer, an odd, aged inventor, Old Walker, of gadgets, who can revive the dead. These improbable, but handy, tools enable him to animate Old Walker, his wicked sister-in-law and her drunken husband and a young girl who adores him, after they have died, to successfully fight the forces of evil represented by a gang of wild motorcyclists.” Now, you may be able to resist that, but I’m not even going to try.

The Magician Midnight, Sunday, March 14, TCM
OK, this is the biggie—- assuming it actually plays, since TCM has a history of announcing obscure titles they own and pulling the plug before it happens. But that usually happens well in advance of the screening, and as of today, Rex Ingram’s The Magician (1926) is still listed as showing. Now, if you don’t know what this is, it’s a legendary horror film that was long thought to be lost, but which showed up some time in the 1960s, played the museum circuit, got badly bootlegged and then pretty much vanished. In some respects, it’s easy to understand why, because Ingram’s style is very much out of favor. He was what is called a “pictorialist” director—ravishingly beautiful compositions, but a somewhat plodding pace and very little camera movement. (Actually, very little camera movement isn’t all that unusual in Hollywood films from 1926, and even though Ingram was working in France—to get away from MGM’s interference—he was still a Hollywood filmmaker at heart.)

That said, The Magician—adapted by Ingram from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel—is a fascinating, often striking work. Even in the lousy bootlegs I’ve seen, the movie has atmosphere for days. The hell sequence is stunning—and very pre-code. Maugham’s story was based in part on the notorious Aleister Crowley, the English writer and possible diabolist magician (or maybe charlatan), who amused himself by reviewing the book under a pseudonym. The story line, however, is purely fictional, involving an experiment by the Crowley character, Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener), to create a homunculus for which he needs the heart blood of a maiden. The film is one of those cases where departing—pretty wildly—from the source material is in its favor. By the end of the proceedings, the book has been completely left behind and we find ourselves in a mountaintop laboratory that is clearly the prototype for the one in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  That Whale—and Universal art director Charles D. Hall—had seen this film seems inescapable. The climax is not far removed from that of Bride in particular. Here is a very rare chance to see it for yourself—probably in a much better print than any that’s been available for years.

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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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2 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 10-16: Quantity or quality?

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    Thanks for the heads up on SHANKS. I actually saw it back in 1974 at our equivalent of the Fine Arts Theater in Greenville SC. I haven’t seen it since then but I remember it as being truly grotesque and macabre and quite unlike anything William Castle had done before (or would do again). I’m sure Tim Burton must have seen it. It’s one of the handful of titles that has never been available and that I’ve been waiting to see again so I can’t wait.

    I’m also looking forward to THE MAGICIAN. I have a copy of it thanks to you but, like you, I’m hoping that the TCM print will be be an upgrade over the previous version. Their recent airing of Rudolph Valentino’s THE CONQUERING POWER (also by Rex Ingram) was no better than the Nostalgia Merchant copy that I already had so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Usually TCM comes through. We’ll know for sure on Monday.

  2. Ken Hanke

    It’s one of the handful of titles that has never been available and that I’ve been waiting to see again so I can’t wait

    I think a dealer was selling a bootleg of it at Monster Bash one year, but my curiosity wasn’t that strong. I am, however, intrigued.

    I’m hoping that the TCM print will be be an upgrade over the previous version. Their recent airing of Rudolph Valentino’s THE CONQUERING POWER (also by Rex Ingram) was no better than the Nostalgia Merchant copy that I already had so I’ll keep my fingers crossed

    My guess is that it will be at least better than what we’ve seen. That copy pretty obviously came from a 16mm dupe that was transfered to VHS and then transfered to DVD. From what I recall, Everson wrote of a perfectly good print being in existence.

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