An interesting movie weekend looms. We get two very different art titles—Even the Rain at the Fine Arts and I Saw the Devil at The Carolina—and three mainstream wide releases—Hop, Insidious, Source Code. You don’t often get the devil and the Easter Bunny in the same week—at least I don’t.
Of the five titles opening, the only one I’ve seen is Jee-Woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil, the review for which appears in this week’s paper. On the one hand, I keep hearing that there’s a local market for Asian cinema, but the only evidence I’ve seen of this in recent years has been last year’s Mother. So here we have another chance to show that there is indeed that market. On the other hand, I will note here, as I do in the review, that I Saw the Devil is an unsparingly violent, brutal film—a disturbing, bloody work that qualifies as a horror movie. It is very clearly not a film for every taste.
I’m of the opinion—without seeing the film, mind you—that Iciar Bollain’s Even the Rain with Gael Garcia Bernal is apt to be a safer, less controversial bet. It tells an apparently multi-layered story about a filmmaker (Bernal) making a revisionist film about Columbus that depicts the historical figure in a less than flattering light as a persecutor of the Indians. At the same time, there is the current situation of not wholly dissimilar persecution as the water supply of the city is privatized and sold to multinational corporation, suggesting that not much has really changed in the space of 500 years. Then again, there’s the question of whether or not the filmmakers themselves are not also exploiting the native people. (Am I the only one who wonders whether the people making this film haven’t indicted themselves without realizing it?) The early reviews are good and it ought to prove interesting.
I have to admit that I really like the poster for Tim Hill’s Hop. And I have no real problem with the idea of Russell Brand as E.B, the son of the Easter Bunny, who rather than go into the family business, heads to L.A. to become a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Even granting that blending animated characters with live action is something I’ve never liked (few things ratchet-up my cringe factor faster than seeing Mickey Mouse shake hands with Leopold Stokowski in Fantasia), I wasn’t conceptually predisposed against Hop. That only lasted till I saw the trailer and realized that this looks for all the world like Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) all over again. Considering that Tim Hill made that, I oughtn’t have been surprised, but when I got a look at E.B. evacuating his bowels and producing jelly beans, I realized the enormity of the situation.
OK, here’s the deal—I think the Paranormal Activity movies are pretty bad and I’m not an admirer of the Saw series, but I really do like James Wan’s Dead Silence (2007). (The less said about his other 2007 film Death Sentence the better.) As a result, I’m nurturing some hopes for his latest horror opus Insidious, despite Orin Peli (Paranormal Activity) serving as producer. Based on the atmospheric trailer—and, yes, it’s easy to make something look atmospheric for two minutes—it’s clear that Wan has not embraced the surveillance camera aesthetic (if aesthetic is the word) of Paranormal Activity, but has crafted a fairly stylish thriller. If that trailer is any indication, this haunted house/haunted child tale might be a horror movie worth watching.
Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) made a very good, very cerebral art house science fiction film with Moon in 2009. Source Code has all the appearances of being his bid for a more mainstream audience—and he may well find one. The film—about a man who keeps going back in time to relive the last eight minutes of what happened on a train before it was blown up by a bomb—has an impressive cast with Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright. The concept isn’t bad in sci-fi thriller terms. The only potentially troubling thing is that it’s hard to watch the trailer and not think Groundhog Day and Deja Vu, but I’m hoping for something a little surprising from Mr. Jones.
Changes abound this week as concerns what’s playing where. Today’s Special is holding at the Fine Arts, though Cedar Rapids is going away to make room for Even the Rain. Cedar Rapids, however, is hanging on at The Carolina, as is Somewhere. On the other hand, True Grit goes into second-run this week, leaving The Carolina, but showing up at Asheville Pizza and Brewing on Friday. Black Swan is sticking around the Cinebarre for another week in second-run. And in one of the odder things I’ve seen happen, the original R-rated cut of The King’s Speech leaves The Carolina on Friday to be replaced with a cut PG-13 version. The PG-13 version also opens on Friday at the Beaucatcher. Frankly, this sort of thing doesn’t sit well with me, and if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen the film, I’d urge them to catch it at The Carolina between now and Friday.
We’ve got an extra one this week, but let’s take them in order. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 31, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema has Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 1, in the Railroad Library of the Phil Mechanic Building. John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is the film this week from the Hendersonville Film Society at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. Pack Library is showing Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) in Lord Auditorium at the library on Tuesday, April 5, at 6 p.m. The Asheville Film Society is screening Rouben Mamoulian’s Queen Christina (1933) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina.
A surprisingly strong week in DVD releases. First off, there’s Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (even though it’s still showing theatrically) and that’s hard to top. Still, Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham is a very worthwhile film, and one that ought to have done better than it did theatrically here. And Fair Game is certainly a noteworthy fact-based political drama, while Tangled was one of last year’s pleasanter surprises. All Good Things with Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, and Frank Langella didn’t play theatrically here, but it might be worth a look.
Notable TV Screenings
Depending on your stamina—or your DVR or DVD recorder hard-drive capacity—you could easily start at 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, on TCM and just keep watching till about 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 31, without hitting a single clunker. It starts with Wesley Ruggles’s Mae West film I’m No Angel (1933). This is Mae’s second starring film—and her second with Cary Grant. It’s also perhaps her most elaborate film and definitely one of her best and most pre-code racy vehicles. Nothing quite matches Mae singing “They Call Me Sister Honky Tonk” and then surveying her leering audience and saying, “Suckers,” though telling Louise Beavers, “Beaulah, peel me a grape,” ain’t bad. This is followed by Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932)—possibly the most deliciously sophisticated comedy ever made and one of the few movies I’m tempted to call “perfect.”
Not as perfect is the next film, Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (1929), his first talkie and the first of his Maurice Chevalier-Jeanette MacDonald musicals. It’s not so much the early talkie aspect that makes it a lesser film—in fact, it shows just how fluid the best early talkies were—it’s the inclusion—really, intrusion—of second leads Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane that drag the movie down a notch. Otherwise, it’s very agreeable. It’s follow by Lubitsch’s brilliant and daring WWII comedy To Be or Not to Be (1942). It was much criticized at the time on the basis the Nazi occupation of Poland was inappropriate material for comedy (and it didn’t help that star Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on a war bond selling trip). It works much better today—and contains perhaps the only real acting Jack Benny ever did. It all wraps up with Howard Hawks’ classic Only Angels Have Wings (1939) starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, followed by Rouben Mamoulian’s Chevalier-MacDonald musical Love Me Tonight (1932), a film I’ve enthused over before—and one I do call “perfect.”
Really, after that set, everything else seems in the also-ran realm, though if you’ll scan the listings, you’ll likely find some other choice titles.