Probably the best thing opening this week is Vincere, which starts Friday at the Carolina and the review for which is in this week’s Xpress. I won’t say more here except to note that it’s remarkable. The big deal in terms of mainstream releases, however, is Robin Hood—and the question of whether he can go best two falls out of three with Iron Man. Personally, I’m skeptical.
I’m sure there are people out there who are absolutely primed to see Russell Crowe as Robin Hood in a new interpretation from director Ridley Scott. Somehow, I’m not among them, and I don’t seem to actually know any of them. Of course, there’s the vibe left over from the Crowe-Scott teaming on Gladiator (2000) (assuming no one remembers A Good Year (2006)). And there’s no denying that Robin Hood boasts an impressive cast: Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins. No expense has been spared. And this version is apparently quite different from previous Robin Hood movies, but Justin Chang’s Variety review keeps plaguing me: “often seems devoted to stifling whatever pleasure audiences may have derived from the popular legend.” Friday will reveal all, of course.
There’s also Gary Winick’s Letters to Juliet with Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael García Bernal and Franco Nero. Even overlooking the fact that Winick’s last movie was Bride Wars (2009)—and that’s a lot to overlook—it’s hard to ignore that the movie’s admittedly small number of reviews have not been good. It’s harder still to ignore that the film’s trailer appears to give away the entire story in two-and-a-half glossy minutes, leaving you with a sense of having already seen the movie. The acting may help, and it’s always nice to see Redgrave in a movie. But unless it turns out that her lost love turns out to be a serial killer with dozens of bodies buried in his vineyards (and while the idea kind of appeals to me, I think it unlikely), this looks like it’ll be short on surprises.
I’m not expecting surprises from the Queen Latifah romantic comedy Just Wright either, though I’m hoping for some freshness from director Sanaa Hamri (Something New). This is pretty obviously formula stuff, but it looks rather agreeably done—and the trailer doesn’t give it all away, though the genre conventions probably do. Bad signs? Well, its early reviews aren’t looking good—and it’s not widely booked. I haven’t seen all the area listings yet, but it’s not playing at all the venues it might be. That usually means something less than good news. Then again, Queen Latifah can make me forgive much—except Taxi (2004) and The Cookout (2004).
The Fine Arts brings in the critically acclaimed Italian film Mid-August Lunch. I actually have a screener on this one, but I haven’t had time to watch it yet. Since it’s a small film—and a small film with subtitles—it’s being split with Greenberg and is only playing matinees this coming week.
Otherwise, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still with us (Fine Arts), as is Greenberg (Fine Arts), but with fewer shows. The Ghost Writer is still kicking (Carolina) as is Mother (Carolina), butNorth Face and Chloe (both at the Carolina) are leaving us by Friday. Alice in Wonderland is still holding matinee slots at the Beaucatcher. And Asheville Pizza and Brewing is bringing back Fantastic Mr. Fox for matinees and opening Shutter Island in their evening slots. Now that is noteworthy booking.
Well, Daybreakers was surprisingly decent (and seemed even more so because of the New Moon twist on the vampire movie that did only so-so at the box office). Here’s hoping it finds a wider audience on DVD. Edge of Darkness and Legion also come out this week. Rarely have the words “don’t bother” seemed more appropriate.
If you don’t already have them, there’s a bargain-priced set of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies coming out this week. Spy Kids (2001) is an essential. Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002) is a worthy addition. The less said about Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003) the better. All of this, of course, is to prep you for Spy Kids 4, which comes out in August of 2011—in 3-D, of course.
Notable TV screenings
Horse Feathers 9 a.m. , Saturday, May 15, TCM
I go back and forth over which is my favorite Paramount Marx Brothers movie—after Duck Soup (1933)—but Horse Feathers (1932) is a strong contender. And since I saw it not that long ago with an appreciative audience made up of first-timers, I’m leaning toward it these days. (Comedies really are better with an audience—so long as the comedy is working, of course.) This one—which probably has more flashes of surrealism than any of the others—finds Groucho taking over as dean of Huxley College. Naturally, he insults everyone from the onset and manages to turn the staff of very grave, black-robed professors into a chorus line for his musical number “I’m Against It.” That pretty much sets the tone for the entire film, which involves romancing a lady of dubious virtue referred to as “the college widow” (Thelma Todd) by all four brothers—all of whom perform variations of the song “Everyone Says I Love You” for her—and trying to put together a football team to beat rival Darwin College. It’s completely inspired nonsense, though why it’s on at the unMarxly hour of 9 a.m. is beyond me.
Hail the Conquering Hero 8 p.m., Sunday, May 16, TCM
Preston Sturges’ final film for Paramount Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) is a mixed bag and far from his best work—though it’s probably better if you like Eddie Bracken, whom most of you probably know as Roy Walley of Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). I confess my Bracken tolerance is not high. Most of Sturges’ stock company of supporting players show up—William Demarest, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Al Bridge, Jimmy Conlin, Frank Moran, Robert Warwick—if only as passersby or background. (Sturges viewed these boys as good luck charms.) The story is really a wartime variant on Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940), with a perennial loser making good because people think he’s something he’s not. In this case, some Marines pass Bracken off as a returning war hero in his home town. It works well enough as comedy, but Bracken isn’t sufficiently sympathetic to really make the more serious parts resonate as they need to. However, it’s a virtual textbook of Sturges’ style with its beautifully orchestrated chaos, outbursts of slapstick and those long, long tracking shots that serve to integrate his characters with their surroundings. Not great Sturges, but certainly worth a look.