Like a harbinger of the end of a winter that seemed utterly disinclined to go away — and the typical dead-of-winter parade of dreary movies (at least the ones actually released this year) — Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel comes to town this week. It’s a joy. It’s a wonderment. It’s a delight. It’s a must-see. It’s a film I didn’t mind in the least getting up early Saturday morning to be at a 9 a.m. press screening at The Carolina to see. Oh, yeah, there’s some other stuff opening, too. I’ll get to those eventually.
It’s also a film from which big things seem to be expected. The Carolina has two screens of it and the Fine Arts has remonkeyed their schedule to get in four shows on weekdays, as well as the usual late shows on Friday and Saturday (making five shows those days). I may be misremembering something here, but I do not recall a Wes Anderson movie ever being afforded this kind of exposure before. (All this also means that one of the Big Box theaters is almost certain to go after a piece of the action. About that I will only say, The Carolina and the Fine Arts bring us this kind of non-mainstream material 52 weeks out of the year — not just when there’s a sure thing — and they deserve our support.)
If I haven’t made it clear yet, I absolutely adored this movie. I can’t wait to see it again because it’s so richly detailed and moves so fast that I know I missed things. Plus, the film’s marvelous dialogue deserves to be heard more than once. (I confess that there is no Anderson film I haven’t seen multiple times.) Am I calling Grand Budapest Wes Anderson’s best film? No, I stop short of that — at least right now. It’s too soon to make that kind of assessment. I’ll go so far as saying that it’s certainly in the running for such an accolade. I’ll also say that if you don’t like Anderson’s work — you’re one of those people who use that word about his films — chances are this isn’t going to change your mind. But you never know.
So, yeah, there are some other movies coming to town this week, including one that sneaked in to watch at about 6 p.m. yesterday (read: it’s not in the Upcomers in the paper). They all seem like wax fruit in comparison, but let’s take a look at them.
First of all, there’s this thing called Divergent from director Neil Burger (he had a cultish hit in 2006 with The Illusionist). It’s yet another hopeful franchise drawn from yet another “best-selling” YA series of books. We are assured (by the studio) that it’s “a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues.” Well, you can’t really expect them to say it’s tepid-looking stuff of the been-there-done-that variety, though that’s certainly what it looks like. Shailene Woodley stars as our heroine, who is, of course, Divergent. This means she’s not like other folks and can’t fit in. (Where is Prof. Xavier when you need him?) Evil folks (headed by Kate Winslet, it appears) want the Divergents dead. Unsurprisingly, the Divergents are not too keen on this. And somehow or other, this goes on for 143 minutes. Plus, despite lackluster early reviews, it’s expected (by those who predict such things) to drag down $50-60 million on opening weekend.
Then there’s God’s Not Dead. Someone saw the plot outline for this newest faith-based opus and said it sounded like an April fool’s joke. I understand the confusion. This is all about what happens when a good Christian boy (Shane Harper) runs up against one of those atheist philosophy professors (Kevin Sorbo) at college. Seems the professor insists that his students deny the existence of God in writing or risk failing his course. After much soul searching, said boy finds he can’t do this and is therefore tasked to scientifically prove the existence of God. I’m sure there is an audience for this. And to sweeten the deal Duck Dynasty‘s Willie Robertson (and his beard) makes some kind of appearance as himself. I am so not the demographic for this.
For those more secularly minded, we have Muppets Most Wanted — the inevirable, inescapable sequel to the immensely popular and critically acclaimed The Muppets. This one has the same writers and director. It also has the expected array of felt-covered characters and an array of guest stars. The plot this round has Kermit the Frog has some sort of look-alike who is, in fact, some kind of international thief. Obviously. mix-ups will happen and hijinks will ensue. It will also undoubtedly do well at the box office, though interestingly the early reviews suggest that the critics aren’t as charmed this second time around. Does the lack of Amy Adams and Jason Segel account for this? Or is it merely diminishing returns? You can find out for yourself on Friday.
And finally, there’s that movie that sneaked in at the last minute — Veronica Mars, which opened on 291 screens last week and did so-so business. Whether it really warrants an expansion remains to be seen. Apart from the fact that this film version of the TV series was partly fan-financed via a Kickstarter campaign, I have to admit to utter ignorance on the topic. Oh, yeah, I know that Kristin Bell plays Veronica Mars, who appears to be some kind of modern day Nancy Drew. And I know that the reviews for the film have been fairly positive. Otherwise, well, here’s what the studio has to say: “On the eve of graduating law school, Veronica Mars has put Neptune and her amateur sleuthing days behind her. While interviewing at high-end New York law firms, Veronica Mars gets a call from her ex-boyfriend Logan who has been accused of murder. Veronica heads back to Neptune just to help Logan find an attorney, but when things don’t seem right with how Logan’s case is perceived and handled, Veronica finds herself being pulled back into a life she thought she had left behind.”
So what do we lose this week? Well, the Fine Arts dropped The Wind Rises. but if you missed and want to make the drive (or are in the area), the Flatrock Cinema picked it up. The Carolina is dropping Like Father, Like Son and Gravity. And it’s worth noting that the intrusion of Veronica Mars got Better Living Through Chemistry (which did surprisingly well) knocked down to one show (9:05 p.m.) a day.
Owing to the Cinema Lounge being unavailable this week, there will be no Thursday Horror Picture Show. It will return next Thursday, March 27, however. World Cinema is showing Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949) at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 21 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is running Peter Yates’ The Dresser (1983) on Sunday, March 23 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society concludes its tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman with Richard Curtis’ Pirate Radio (2009) (the longer UK version The Boat That Rocked will be run) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25 in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress—with full reviews in the online edition.
The big release this week is David O. Russell’s American Hustle, but also noteworthy is Saving Mr. Banks. The most anticipated release is probably Frozen, and the least anticipated is almost certainly Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Notable TV Screenings
It’s not really good, but On with the Show (1929) is on TCM Wednesday, March 19 at 8:15 a.m. It’s an interesting antique at best — not in the least because Joe. E. Brown plays an unsympathetic character. The big selling point — and the main reason to watch the film — are two songs by the great Ethel Waters, “Am I Blue?” and “Birmingham Bertha.” And if you stick around on Wednesday night, you can see Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (1942) at 8 p.m, Michael Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case (1933) at 11:15 p.m. — and for some more antiquity there’s Warner Bros.’ Show of Shows (1929) at 3 a.m. If you’re really dedicated, Lewis Milestone’s terrific silent comedy Two Arabian Knights (1927) is on at 5:15 a.m.
On Thursday March 20, there’s John G. Adolf’s George Arliss comedy A Successful Calamity (1932) at 6:45 a.m., followed by Roy Del Ruth’s The Little Giant (1933), the first, the best, and the most outrageous of the movies where Edward G. Robinson spoofed his movie gangster image.
On Saturday, March 22 at 2 a.m.. (yeah, it’s really Sunday morning) they bring is John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974) one of oddest science fiction movies ever made and one of the most overlooked. If nothing else, you’ll at least get Sean Connery wearing a red diaper. Not many movies can make that claim.
Now, my memory of Viictor Schertzinger’s Dorothy Lamour vehicleThe Fleet’s In (1942) is that it’s not very good. That memory, however, is from 1971 — and that’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen it. That should tell you that the 8 p.m. showing of it on Monday, March 24 is on the rare side.