Last week saw the opening of three fairly negligible mainstream titles and Roman Polanski’s remarkable The Ghost Writer (all reviewed in this week’s Xpress). This week brings us two new mainsteam offerings in wide release—How to Train Your Dragon and Hot Tub Time Machine—along with Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (also reviewed in Wednesday’s Xpress), opening at the Carolina exclusively, and the highly acclaimed French film A Prophet, opening exclusively at the Fine Arts.
The big news here is How to Train Your Dragon, which marks the return of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, who haven’t been around since they made Lilo & Stitch in 2002. Considering that Lilo & Stitch is the only Disney cartoon I’ve ever been compelled to actually buy on DVD, I’m reasonably jazzed about the prospect of this new film. I’m a little less thrilled by the fact that they’ve traded in hand-drawn animation for the computer variety. Plus, there are three other writers involved this time around, whereas Lilo & Stitch was all their own. (Hollywood remains oblivious to the “too many cooks” concept.) But—based on what I’ve heard—I remain cautiously optimistic.
There’s little doubt that How to Train Your Dragon will be the movie that knocks Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland out of the top spot—if only because of the shortage of 3-D screens. Locally, that means that the only venue offering Alice in 3-D come Friday will be the Beaucatcher. The other theaters playing it will relegate it to 2-D to make way for Dragon. Until more theaters convert to digital projection and install more 3-D houses (requiring a special screen and processor) this is going to be a common occurrence, especially since Hollywood’s current goal is to release a new 3-D title every other week. Since the remake of Clash of the Titans has been given the 3-D treatment and opens next Friday, the window on Dragon is even smaller.
If you’re wondering why the mania for 3-D has become so prevalent, just look to the theater chains for the answer. It’s not just that 3-D is currently popular, but it allows the exhibitors to tack on a surcharge. Locally, that means an extra $3 to $3.50 per ticket. (Theater chains are testing the waters to see just how high they can go with this charge before customers balk.) This is lucrative, but until—and if—the 3-D boom goes bust, you can expect more of the same.
Going up against this we have Hot Tub Time Machine—an innocuous-looking film that’s been goosed with some measure of raunchiness to give it an R rating in an attempt to cross over into Judd Apatow territory. Despite the presence of John Cusack in the cast, this looks like a pretty low-wattage high-concept movie that’s mostly designed to make a buck off nostalgia for the 1980s. I think you have to be a child of the ‘80s to even understand that nostalgia, and since I’m not, I don’t. On the other hand, co-critic Justin Souther is of the era. There are no prizes for guessing who will be reviewing this.
The art-house crowd can look forward to Chloe and A Prophet. I’ve seen the former, which is at least interesting—even a bit fascinating (maybe as much for what it doesn’t get right as for what it does). The latter I won’t see till Friday. A Prophet certainly comes with recommendations—and awards—aplenty. I’m officially curious about it. I am not, however, convinced that there’s a big market for a 155-minute French prison movie that, by all accounts, is extremely violent and bloody. The art-house crowd—at least, locally—tends to shy away from the violent (the almost equally praised Gomorrah from last year did not do well here). And long, subtitled movies are a hard sell regardless of quality (see The White Ribbon, which in two weeks here didn’t break $1,000 over its entire run). We shall see.
Disappearing after Thursday are The Last Station (Fine Arts) and The White Ribbon (Carolina), so catch them if you can. Still hanging on are The Ghost Writer (ill-advisedly divided up come Friday by three theaters—Fine Arts, Carolina, Biltmore Grande—which will probably cut the pie too small), Shutter Island and, of course, Alice in Wonderland. Sherlock Holmes is sticking around for another week of evening shows at Asheville Pizza and Brewing.
I know it’s out of the way for most people, but if you missed the wonderful Me and Orson Welles that got overlooked by foolishly opening during the big Christmas push, it’s playing at the Flatrock Cinema at 12:30 p.m. (Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday only) and 7 p.m. (all week). I really cannot recommend this delightful and terrifically made little film too strongly. It would be worth it just for Christian McKay’s performance as the young Orson Welles, but really there is so much more reason to catch up with this movie.
The big news on DVD this week is Wes Anderson’s truly fantastic Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I’ve seen on both the big screen and on a fairly large TV. While it does suffer in a few instances on the small screen, it mostly makes the transfer quite nicely. If you missed it in the theater, don’t miss it on DVD. If you saw it in the theater, it’s a movie that pays dividends on repeat viewings.
Also up is The Blind Side, an effectively manipulative soap that a lot of people liked better than I did. I feel no need to revisit it. The Men Who Stare at Goats is available, too. I liked this—but fell far short of loving it—when it was in theaters. I have to say, however, that it’s all but evaporated from my mind. Brothers, which didn’t do very well in theaters (and which I didn’t see), makes it to DVD, where it may fare better. And then there’s Séraphine—a much better movie than its tepid turn at the box office would suggest.
Notable TV screenings
It’s another of those weeks where the reliable Turner Classic Movies proves reliable, but doesn’t offer much that jumps out at me as unusual or rare. I’m not going to complain about a week with a whole night of Marx Brothers movies (Monday, March 29, starting at 8 p.m.)—especially since it includes three of their best for starters: Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers 1932) and Duck Soup (1933). But it’s not uncommon. Now, personally, I’ll be checking out the 10:30 a.m. showing (Saturday, March 27) of the Bowery Boys in Spook Busters (1946), but this is a combination of morbid curiosity (I think I liked it when I was 10) and the fact that I’m playing a 1940s poverty-row-survivor game on a movie-message board. In other words, I am not suggesting anyone else see it. Otherwise, it’s a good week, but not a particularly exciting one. Check the listings, however, there may be something that’s old hat to me, but new to you.