OK, so last week was pretty grim, but there was a lot of it: Green Zone, Our Family Wedding, Remember Me, She’s Out of My League. (All are reviewed in this week’s Xpress.) Well, yes, there was The Girl on the Train and The White Ribbon, but almost no one went to see those. In fact, most people stuck with Alice in Wonderland. There are fewer titles this week, but most of them don’t look like they’re likely to be any better than last week’s crop. The notable exception is Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, which opens Friday at the Fine Arts Theatre.
Looking at the amassed reviews for The Ghost Writer—easily the best Polanski has had in 30 years, apart from The Pianist (2002)—paints a promising picture of no little depth. Polanski’s film has been compared to his own earlier work—with Chinatown (1974), in particular—and to that of Alfred Hitchcock. These are pretty heavy comparisons, as are the implications that the film may have a subtext linking it to real-life events. The cast—headed by Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan—is impressive. In any case, it’s certainly the best prospect among the week’s offerings.
Of course, there’s also Andy Tennant’s The Bounty Hunter. Why? I have no idea. It’s the sort of thing that gets called “high concept,” though in this case, one may rightly wonder if that means that the folks who gave the project the green light were high. The trailer looks dreadful and promises an essay in predicability. Tennant is pretty completely in the realm of a hack director. The screenplay is by Sarah Thorp, whose last theatrical credit was the awful thriller Twisted (2004), for which she penned such unintentional howlers as, “I was raised by a good person, but I come from bad blood.” (That was funnier than anything the trailer for this promises.) And then there are the movie’s stars. I have nothing against Gerard Butler. I’ve liked him in a lot of movies. But someone needs to tell him that traditional romantic comedy is not his forté—see P.S. I Love You (2007) and The Ugly Truth (2009)—and that he needs to stop making them. As for Jennifer Aniston, someone needs to tell her just to stop.
As for Diary of a Wimpy Kid—from Thor (what were his parents thinking?) Freudenthal, who gave us Hotel for Dogs last year—who knows? I’m told the source books by Jeff Kennedy are immensely popular, and while I vaguely remember hearing about them I have no knowledge of them. My guess is that you’re more likely to have encountered them if you have young children. Regardless, would anyone care to compile a list of immensely popular books that scarcely made a dent at the box office? And some of those weren’t actually bad.
Rounding out the week’s offerings is Repo Men from newcomer director Miguel Sapochnik. This may not be bad—though the rabid (if not overwhelmingly large) fan base for Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) are out for blood over the idea that anyone would dare to make another movie based on the idea of repossessing replaced organs. I like Jude Law and Forest Whitaker (though I liked Whitaker more before last week’s Our Family Wedding). And the trailer looks—well, it looks OK. It also looks like a lot of other movies we’ve seen in recent years. Still, it’s easily in (a distant) second place for this week’s best bet.
Friday sees the passing of The Girl on the Train, A Single Man, An Education and Up in the Air—the last three victims of not winning their respective Oscar nominations. Its Oscar wins, however, assured the holding over of The Hurt Locker at the Carolina and its being picked up on a split schedule with Crazy Heart at the Flat Rock. The Last Stopover is hanging on at the Fine Arts—and if you haven’t seen it you should. Of course, Shutter Island, Alice in Wonderland, Crazy Heart and all of last week’s openers are still with us. Avatar is still hanging on, but is now only at Carmike in 3-D (elsewhere it made room on the limited 3-D screens for Alice). Anyone interested in Brooklyn’s Finest had better satisfy that interest this week, because it’s been reduced to split shows, meaning it’s on the way out.
No doubt the big DVD news of the week is The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which seems to be coming out on Saturday rather than Tuesday for some inexplicable reason. I saw it in the theater and that was more—far more—than enough for me. Also out is The Princess and the Frog, a solidly OK, but far from remarkable Disney offering. And there’s Astro Boy—it tanked in theaters, but may do better on DVD as a babysitting tool, if nothing else. Speaking of tanking, we have Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which no one wanted to hear about, and which pretty conclusively proved that Sarah Jessica Parker can only get people into theaters if her name is coupled with Sex and the City. It probably is no worse than the laughably bad The Fourth Kind, which also shows up this week.
On the plus side, however, we have Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces. If you missed this in the theater—and a lot of you did—be sure to check it out at home. I will note, however, that even an anamorphically-enhanced DVD on a large-screen TV is not going to really duplicate the beauty of Almodóvar’s film as seen on a theater screen.
Notable TV screenings
This is another of those weeks where nothing leaps out at me as a must-see. After Rex Ingram’s The Magician (1926) last week—a film that more than lived up to my expectations in a far better print than I’ve ever seen—I am perhaps hard to impress this week. There’s the usual run of good stuff on TCM, but it’s mostly of titles that they show rather frequently.
It’s worth noting, however, that they are running Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972) at midnight on Saturday, March 20 (i.e., into Sunday morning). This is noteworthy because it may mark the first time this film has run in its entirety on television. You see, when The Ruling Class was made available on home video back in the VHS era, the distributor didn’t want to put it on two tapes and, at the time, 140 minutes was the longest available tape. As a result, the film was cut from 154 minutes to fit the tape, making something in the neighborhood of 32 trimmed scenes. For whatever reason, this truncated version was also used for the laserdisc release and for the film’s TV showings. It was finally put out on DVD by Criterion a few years ago. If you’ve only ever seen the film on TV, then you’ve only ever seen the bastardized version. I’m assuming—they list a 153-minute running time, which is close enough—that TCM is running the full version. You can tell early on. In the scene where Harry Andrews and Arthur Lowe are going upstairs while Andrews undresses and the two discuss the heirs to the estate, Lowe should remark, “Master Richard used to play the xylophone.” If he doesn’t, it’s the same damned old cut print. If it is the complete print and you’ve never seen the film, don’t miss the chance of seeing our greatest living actor, Peter O’Toole, in the role of his career.