Greek gods, Tyler Perry and Miley Cyrus will be slugging it out for top spot at the box office this week. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a lineup—Clash of the Titans, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? and Last Song—with so little in the way of crossover audiences. Now, Cyrus has an edge here, since her Last Song (oh, what I’d give for truth in titles!) opens on Wednesday—for some reason that’s too esoteric for me. But I think the fact that Clash of the Titans is being offered in 3-D may cancel that out. Perry audiences, however, are a law unto themselves and invariably flock to his movies.
Whatever the outcome, it seems likely that one of these will wrestle the number-one spot away from How to Train Your Dragon (reviewed in this week’s Xpress). Even though it took the top spot last weekend, the take—$43.7 million—was hardly the size that has studio heads dancing in the streets. With a reported budget of $165 million, it needs to gross about $330 million to break even. (People who make far more money than I for assessing such things have opined that the tepid performance reflects the public’s lack of enthusiasm for Vikings and movies that focus on dragons. Fine time to be bringing that up.)
By far the most interesting of the new mainstream crop is Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans, a sometimes (depends on the venue and the house it’s playing in) 3-D-ified remake of the 1981 film of the same name. CGI replaces the stop-motion Ray Harryhausen effects of the original, which will cause wailing and a gnashing of teeth in some corners, but which is also the inevitable approach today. Having always found the original a tough slog, I have no quarrel with the changes—so long as this version divests itself of that R2D2 knockoff owl from the 1981 film, I’m OK with it. Now, how the box-office pundits view the public’s hunger for Greek mythology, I do not know. As concerns the 3-D, from what I can tell, the Carolina and Regal Biltmore Grande both have one 3-D and one 2-D; the Beaucatcher has one 3-D and two 2-D; Cinebarre has one 2-D; and the Epic has two in 2-D.
What is there to be said about the meeting of a Nicholas Sparks novel and Miley Cyrus? Well, it’s certainly a marriage made in saccharine heaven. This poses a problem from my perspective, though, because I handed the last Nicholas Spark’s movie to Justin Souther, meaning that by rights I should be stuck with seeing Last Song. Fair enough, but he’s going to try to weasel out of Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? on the grounds that I’m the Tyler Perry expert (true, I have seen them all). We’ll see how this plays out.
As far as Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? goes, it will play to the people who like Tyler Perry’s quasi-religious melodramas—even though the lack of Perry in Madea drag will probably compromise it a bit. Still the first Why Did I Get Married? fared better than his other non-Madea pictures—and it appears to be his best-liked movie outside of his fan base. The trailer has the same General Foods International Coffees commercial look—along with large chunks of very dramatic drama—so you know what to expect. Doubtless the film will be followed by comments from angry Perry-philes if it doesn’t get the review it “deserves.” It was ever thus.
Owing to the dismal box office of A Prophet (reviewed in this week’s Xpress), those interested in catching that worthy film need to do so soon. Come Friday, the Fine Arts will replace it with the documentary The Art of the Steal, which also will almost certainly only play one week since The Runaways opens there and at the Carolina on April 9.
Somewhat surprisingly, The Ghost Writer not only held up to the task of being divided up in three theaters (Fine Arts, Carolina, Regal Biltmore Grande), but actually had a better second week than first week. For that matter, Atom Egoyan’s interesting, but flawed Chloe did better than I would have thought, and consequently will be hanging on at the Carolina for a second week. Shutter Island is still holding its ground at the Carolina, Regal Biltmore Grande and Carmike 10. Asheville Pizza and Brewing loses Sherlock Holmes (well, it’s out on DVD today), but picks up Percy Jackson for its first three shows and Book of Eli for its 10 p.m. slot. Alice in Wonderland retains its 3-D status on one screen and 2-D on the other at Beaucatcher and Regal Biltmore Grande. It’s in 2-D at Carolina, Cinebarre and Epic.
Three items of note come out this week. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes makes its very welcome appearance on DVD, though this is one of those movies where the big screen was a definite plus. All the same, the often witty screenplay and the playing of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law will not suffer. Also up is An Education—a very fine little movie. If you missed it in theaters, be sure to check it out and you might understand why a lot of us thought Carey Mulligan deserved that Best Actress Oscar over Sandra Bullock. The political thriller The Baader Meinhof Complex was one of the best foreign language films of 2009, but being a foreign language film—and one with a dubious-sounding title—it played here only briefly. (I think it lasted two weeks at the Carolina.) If you missed it then—and you probably did—don’t miss it on 3-D. The less said about Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, the better (I offer my sympathies for parents with small children).
Notable TV screenings
Once again Turner Classic Movies is in reliable-but-not-exciting mode, which is a little like tuning in to a classical music station and complaining that they’re playing the Beethoven Ninth again. In other words, I’m not kvetching. However, there are a couple of more than usually interesting items on April 6.
The Criminal Code 6 a.m., Tuesday, April 6, TCM
Howard Hawks’ The Criminal Code (1931) isn’t shown very much, so any sighting of this prison drama starring Walter Huston, Constance Cummings, Phillips Holmes and a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff is worth noting. Yes, it’s pretty much Columbia’s attempt to cash in on the success of MGM’s The Big House (1930), but it’s actually aged better than the earlier film. It’s based on a play, but you’d hardly know it the way Hawks presents the material. The first shot is an extended take enlivened by Hawks’ use of overlapping dialogue, but it then startles you when the camera proceeds to follow two actors through a shaved set so that they pass through two doors from one room and into another in one take. (No, Wes Anderson didn’t invent the shaved set—neither did James Whale, if you know your history of film.) The story is fairly stock prison-drama stuff, but the execution is not. If nothing else, the film is interesting for Karloff’s performance as the ultimately sympathetic, but still menacing prisoner Ned Galloway. Both his performance and Hawks’ direction of the scene where he gets his revenge on another convict is chillingly accomplished.
Magnificent Obsession 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 6, TCM
No, this isn’t the 1954 Dougas Sirk movie. This is John M. Stahl’s original 1935 film of the 1929 Lloyd C. Douglas novel Magnificent Obsession—and it’s a very different proposition, mostly because Stahl was a very different filmmaker. The stories are more or less the same—great humanitarian doctor dies because the pulmotor that might have saved his life was being used to save the life of a “worthless” playboy (Robert Taylor). Naturally, the widow (Irene Dunne) hates the playboy. Equally naturally, the playboy falls in love with the widow. Now, that would be enough for most people to build a romantic drama on, but retired Methodist minister Douglas had a religio-mystic agenda, which the 1935 film embraces unashamedly. Worthless playboy gets the “answer”—or so he thinks—from mystic-artist (Ralph Morgan) on the topic of performing good deeds and the resultant benefit one might amass from them. What he doesn’t grasp is that these deeds have to be done on the quiet and not done for purposes of gain. (It’s the forerunner to Pay It Forward (2000) in concept.) Another accident, Irene Dunne’s blindness, and more developments than the rational mind can bear follow—until, of course, the lesson is learned and happiness can follow.
Yes, it’s utter soap—and religious soap at that—but what makes it somehow work is the same thing that makes most Stahl films work: the absolute respect for the material and the conviction of the filmmaker. This, for me, is what makes Stahl a true artist. With the Sirk remake (and also Sirk’s 1959 remake of Stahl’s 1934 version of Imitation of Life), there’s always a sense of mockery of the material and, by extension, the audience. Stahl has none of that. And while you might not buy into the mystical side of it all, it’s almost impossible not to be moved by the film, no matter how preposterously sudsy it gets.