Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 17-23: Polanski to the rescue?

In theaters

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.

On DVD

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.

 

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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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34 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 17-23: Polanski to the rescue?

  1. janice

    thank goodness most sane people don’t listen to the likes of you. we all have our own taste in films and stars so if you have not seen the movie don’t comment. and as for jen you ma not like her but millions world wide enjoy her movies. get a life

  2. Me

    So i guess Ghost Writer is whats coming to the Fine Arts Theater this weekend? I was hoping for A Prophet, i guess i will be checking out White Ribbon this weekend. Ive heard Ghost Writer is good in a kind of 80’s way but i cant get into late period Palanski.

    I’m going to check out The Ruling Class i think that’s one i have in my Netflix que. TCM is also running a month long Kurasawa marathon. You were right about Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call i finally got around to seeing it and it wasn’t as bad as i thought it was going to be. I still don’t think its better than the other Bad Lieutenant but it was pretty fun for what it was.

  3. Rufus

    and as for jen you ma not like her but millions world wide enjoy her movies. get a life

    The 2 movies of her’s I have seen were slightly more entertaining than the TV series she took part in… damning by the faintest of praise.

  4. Arlene

    Well, I was planning to record RULING CLASS just in case it was a better copy than I own… Seems it will be!

    I may just do The VArsity Drag in clelbration.

  5. Sean Williams

    don’t miss the chance of seeing our greatest living actor, Peter O’Toole, in the role of his career.

    Or the two greatest roles, as it were.

    A disproportionate number of my favorite scenes in all of cinema come from The Ruling Class: the showdown with the Electric Messiah, the skeletons in the House of Lords, the scene in which Jack levitates the table…

    I’ve never understood the fact that some critics view its theatricality as a bad thing, but when I get frustrated with their negativity, I just put their reviews in my galvanized pressure cooker.

  6. Chip Kaufmann

    Jen who? Actually don’t get a life. Most sane people (those interested in movies) do listen to you, they just don’t always agree (which is as it should be). For example…I thoroughly enjoyed Stanley Myers’ jazz score for NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY. It made the movie for me along with the wacked out performances by Boone and Moreno. Serious bonus points to anyone else who knows what I’m talking about.

  7. Ken Hanke

    we all have our own taste in films and stars so if you have not seen the movie don’t comment.

    I didn’t comment on the movie. I commented on the plot and the trailer and the stars — at least two of those aspects are meant to lure me into wanting to see it.

    and as for jen you ma not like her but millions world wide enjoy her movies

    A debatable point, since few of the movies she’s been the featured attraction in have been successful. Her most successful movies are grounded in her co-stars or a concept that has nothing to do with Ms. Aniston.

  8. Ken Hanke

    i guess i will be checking out White Ribbon this weekend. Ive heard Ghost Writer is good in a kind of 80’s way but i cant get into late period Palanski

    Well, if you have any interest in seeing The White Ribbon theatrically, you’d better do it this week. It grossed a whacking $250 last weekend and has been cut to two shows a day come Friday. I have no idea what “good in a kind of 80s way” means, but I’ll take Polanski from any period with a couple exceptions.

  9. Ken Hanke

    The 2 movies of her’s I have seen were slightly more entertaining than the TV series she took part in… damning by the faintest of praise

    I didn’t mind The Good Girl, but it hardly stayed with me. I can’t say I’ve liked anything else I’ve seen, but I can’t compare it to the TV show because I never saw it.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Well, I was planning to record RULING CLASS just in case it was a better copy than I own… Seems it will be!

    And if it isn’t, the Criterion disc is still available and it isn’t one their “mortgage the old homestead” to buy it ones. Actually, it’s worth it for the triple Peter — O’Toole, Medak, Barnes — commentary.

  11. Ken Hanke

    A disproportionate number of my favorite scenes in all of cinema come from The Ruling Class: the showdown with the Electric Messiah, the skeletons in the House of Lords, the scene in which Jack levitates the table…

    I could add to that list signficantly, but it would nearly catalogue the whole film.

    I’ve never understood the fact that some critics view its theatricality as a bad thing, but when I get frustrated with their negativity, I just put their reviews in my galvanized pressure cooker

    And that’s where those reviews belong. The only downside to the film preserving the theatrical nature of the material is that it does make for a film that works far better on the big screen than on a TV. But then again, Medak was making the film for the big screen, wasn’t he? The whole concept of home video was a few years away at the time — and I’ve never thought that filmmakers should concern themselves with it anyway.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Actually don’t get a life.

    Probably a little late in the game anyway.

    Most sane people (those interested in movies) do listen to you, they just don’t always agree (which is as it should be).

    If they always agreed with me, it would be most awfully boring for them and for me.

    For example…I thoroughly enjoyed Stanley Myers’ jazz score for NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY. It made the movie for me along with the wacked out performances by Boone and Moreno. Serious bonus points to anyone else who knows what I’m talking about

    I hope everyone doesn’t answer at once.

  13. Me

    Well i heard in a filmspotting review that they thought it had a lot of 80’s thriller elements and i guess another reason was because Jim Belushi’s in it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Well i heard in a filmspotting review that they thought it had a lot of 80’s thriller elements and i guess another reason was because Jim Belushi’s in it.

    Still conveys very little to me, since I don’t know what thriller elements are specific to the 80s. I hope it doesn’t mean this is anything like his 80s thriller Frantic, which is one of the few Polanski movies I find to be without merit. Perhaps I will understand the 80s idea better after I’ve seen the film.

  15. thank goodness most sane people don’t listen to the likes of you. we all have our own taste in films and stars so if you have not seen the movie don’t comment. and as for jen you ma not like her but millions world wide enjoy her movies. get a life

    You big meanie.

  16. steve

    Will the film THE RUNNAWAYS be in Asheville on its opening weekend? What have you heard about it?

  17. Jim Donato

    Having only seen The Ruling Class from my (still long) 3 sided late 80s laserdisc (which I naively assumed to be a full cut) I guess that I need to track down that Criterion pressing!

  18. Ken Hanke

    Will the film THE RUNNAWAYS be in Asheville on its opening weekend? What have you heard about it?

    No, it’s a limited release. What I’ve read about the film has been generally positive — especially as concerns the leads — but the reviews are few at this point (Armond White liked it…). What happens next probably depends on how well it performs in the big cities.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Having only seen The Ruling Class from my (still long) 3 sided late 80s laserdisc (which I naively assumed to be a full cut) I guess that I need to track down that Criterion pressing!

    Yes, what you’ve seen is the version I spoke of. And someone wrote to tell me yesterday that the version that was re-released theatrically in the 1980s was the same cut print, even though it was advertised as being complete for the first time. What that meant I guess was that the cuts Avco Embassy made in Carolyn Seymour’s (the future Mrs. Peter Medak, by the way) strip scene to get a PG back in 1972 had been restored. (That amounted to two obvious jumps in the scene so that we didn’t see any of her more private parts.) The 31 or 32 other cuts that were subsequently made didn’t count, I suppose.

    I still have the laser, but I don’t have a working player. If I could run it, I could catalogue all the cuts. I once did back when I was planning on writing an in-depth article on the film (maybe I’ll do that for a Screening Room one day). Bear in mind, none of these cuts impact the storyline, but they do have bearing on the tone and feeling of the film. (Losing O’Toole smoking a cigarette and dreamily listening the song from La Traviata in front of one of those big metal disk music boxes — I think they were called polyphons — is a major mood deletion.)

    I suspect that the original negative may no longer exist in complete form, because the Criterion DVD was made from Medak’s personal 35mm print, which was in surprisingly great shape, all things considered.

  20. Ken Hanke

    “Armond White liked it” that’s not a good sign

    Well, he can’t possibly be wrong all the time. And perhaps he likes it for all sorts of weird reasons.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps, honestly it doesn’t look that bad

    It doesn’t look bad, no, though I can’t claim to be all that interested in the subject matter. My biggest problem is probably going to be Kristen Stewart. I’m hoping she surpises me, but I can’t help but feel that I’d have really liked — in a modest way — Adventureland if anyone else had been the female lead.

  22. steve

    From what I hear, RUNNAWAYS is really Dakota Fanning’s movie to shine in. I also hear she does all her own vocals and no lip syncing.

  23. Ken Hanke

    From what I hear, RUNNAWAYS is really Dakota Fanning’s movie to shine in. I also hear she does all her own vocals and no lip syncing.

    I believe that both of them do their own vocals, though technically they probaby do lip synch, since nearly all musical numbers are done to a playback — even if it’s your own voice. (I can only think of two exceptions — Frank Capra’s Riding High and Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love.)

  24. Ken Hanke

    Didn’t she sing in Into The Wild?

    Maybe. There’s a movie that has almost completely evaporated from my mind.

  25. Ken Hanke

    By the way, having seen The Ghost Writer, I don’t see much connection to the 1980s. The 1970s and much of Polanski’s filmography, yes. Now if you want a 1980s vibe, catch Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (review coming this Wednesay; movie opening at the Carolina on Friday).

  26. Me

    I heard David Edlestien’s review of The Runaways on Fresh Air today and he talked like it was Dakota Fannings movie and that she might surprise people especially with the first scene. I had no idea Michael Shannon was in this movie and playing Kim Fowley, now that has me really interested to see if he can pull it off.

  27. Ken Hanke

    I heard David Edlestien’s review of The Runaways on Fresh Air today and he talked like it was Dakota Fannings movie

    Very likely it comes across that way, since I believe she plays the more screwed-up character.

    I had no idea Michael Shannon was in this movie and playing Kim Fowley, now that has me really interested to see if he can pull it off

    This weekend’s box office on its limited release will likely determine how soon or even if it will play locally. I suspect it will.

  28. (I can only think of two exceptions—Frank Capra’s Riding High and Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love.)
    Not to mention Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion.

  29. Ken Hanke

    Not to mention Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion.

    I should have remembered that.

  30. Ken Hanke

    Ken, would you recommend seeing The Ghost Writer?

    Well, the review will be in this Wednesday’s paper, but the short answer is yes — assuming you like Polanski.

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