Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 19-25: What’s big and green and in need of redemption?

Note

I believe you will find an ad in this week’s Xpress saying that The Square opens at the Carolina Asheville this Friday, May 21. After that ad was placed, The Square got pushed back to next Friday, May 28.

In theaters

Well, Robin Hood gave Iron Man 2 competition, but it fell short of unseating it. (Of course, the studio is saying they never expected it to—that was just before they offered to sell a bridge.) And somewhat disappointingly, Robin Hood didn’t even turn out to be dressed in green. That won’t be a problem this week: We’ve got a character who is himself green. The question with the big green fellow named Shrek, though, is whether or not his fourth (and supposedly final) outing can make up for the huge letdown of his third.

The early word is not encouraging on Shrek Forever After—right now it’s split down the middle. Worse, most of the positive reviews—especially, the gushingly positive ones—are coming from folks who might charitably be called “quote whores.” On the other hand, this is a case where I’m going to have to see it for myself, because I know there’s going to be a tendency for people to go into the movie prepared to hate it based on the lackluster third film and the simple fact that this is the fourth in a series. I’m leaving those prejudices at the door, because I really would like to like this.

And then there’s MacGruber, which is getting better reviews than Shrek Forever After at this point. This is completely an unknown quantity for me. I’ve never seen the Saturday Night Live skits this is drawn from. I couldn’t pick Will Forte out of a crowd of two, though I have apparently seen him in a couple movies, but then I make a conscious effort to forget things like Beerfest (2006). What I’m saying is there are no prizes for guessing who is probably reviewing this one.

On the other hand, we have James Ivory’s The City of Your Final Destination with Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg. I have a feeling, however, that a lot of the movie is handed over to Omar Mentwally (Munich), and that may be OK, but it’s not exactly a drawing card. Ivory is a filmmaker I admire without much liking. The bulk of the Merchant-Ivory films tend to be a little stuffy for me—The White Countess (2005), Remains of the Day (1994) and Maurice (1987) to one side. But I’m officially interested in this—if only because it appears to be the only movie aimed at adults this week.

There’s also a curiosity of some note this week in that the Carolina is opening a movie—City Island—that already opened once (though with zero fanfare) at the Biltmore Grande, did nothing there and quickly closed. The powers that be at the Carolina think it deserves another chance. I haven’t seen it, but Justin Souher reviewed it when it first appeared and found it good, if not great. In fact, he subsequently interviewed star Andy Garcia and I hope we’ll have that on mountainx.com for you in a day or so.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still going at the Fine Arts, but moves upstairs this Friday to make room for City of Your Final Destination in the large house downstairs. Amazingly, The Ghost Writer is still with us at the Carolina, but Mother will be departing after Thursday. Vincere is hanging on there, but since it only fared fairly last weekend, I would suggest catching it this week. Alice in Wonderland goes second-run this week, meaning it’s in the matinee and first evening slots at Asheville Pizza and Brewing. But it’s also still available as matinees at the Beaucatcher in 3-D.

And, of course, there’s the Thursday Horror Picture Show on Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina, where Mr. Souther and I will delight and horrify with Ken Russell’s Gothic.

On DVD

Movies that you may have missed but are worth seeing are hitting DVD this week. Invictus, The Messenger and The Girl on the Train all definitely underperformed when they played here. They’re all worth your time, though, especially The Messenger. Now, I never saw The Spy Next Door and only a bit of Extraordinary Measures and I plan on keeping it that way. At the same time, I did see Valentine’s Day—a mistake I will not repeat. The one advantage I could see to seeing it on DVD is you could turn it off.

Notable TV screenings

Cabin in the Sky 9:30 p.m., Friday, May 21, TCM
This is a late addition to the TCM lineup and came about as part of a tribute to the late Lena Horne, but there’s never a bad time to catch this translation of the stage play Cabin in the Sky to film. The 1943 movie marks the directorial debut of Vincente Minnelli, and he’s good, but the real selling point of this all-black fantasy/musical lies in its astonishing cast and songs like “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe,” “Takin’ a Chance on Love” and “Stormy Weather.” But look at that cast: Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Rex Ingram, Louis Armstrong, Mantan Moreland, Duke Ellington and the Hall Johnson Choir. The movie is a fairly silly story about a war between heaven and hell over the soul of gambling-addict Joe (Anderson). Joe is not much good really, but he has his wife Petunia (Waters) in his corner and she is uncommonly close to God, who has taken a special interest in this on her account. It’s up to Lucifer Jr. (Ingram) to corrupt Joe and ruin his chance at redemption. He is not pleased at the prospect either, because his helpers are nothing but “‘B’ idea men—all the ‘A’ idea men are over in Europe!” (Hey, it was wartime). It’s all a good bit of fun. Plus, it afforded Rex Ingram the interesting distinction of following up his portrayal of “De Lawd” in The Green Pastures (1936) with a portrayal of the son of Satan. Who else can make such a claim?

The Front Page 8:30 a.m, Saturday, May 22, TCM
Lewis Milestone’s 1931 film version of the 1928 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur stage hit about newspapermen is not the best film of that work. Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940) holds that distinction. But Milestone’s film is closer to the play, is very creative cinematically, does boast an excellent Walter Burns in Adolphe Menjou, and it manages to include a good bit of the play’s vulgarity that had to be cut for the 1940 film. Unfortunately, it also boasts a miscast Pat O’Brien as Burn’s ace reporter Hildy Johnson. If only producer Howard Hughes had cast Lee Tracy from the stage play, this film would be something else again. As a film, well, it has a lot of the look of an early talkie, but Milestone is obviously pushing what could be done with a talkie to the limits. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Sometimes it’s just plain odd. It’s rarely less than fascinating. And there’s the pre-code filmmaking vibe.

The Face Behind the Mask 8:15 a.m. Monday, May 24, TCM
Robert Florey’s The Face Behind the Mask (1941) used to be a standard part of the Shock Theater packages back in the 1960s, even though it’s scarcely a horror film. But, hey, it stars Peter Lorre and it does feature him in pretty horrific makeup after he’s disfigured in a boarding house fire, so it qualified on the “sort of” level. Still, I never heard anybody kvetch when it showed up on TV, because it’s so good and has such a great Lorre performance that it didn’t matter. (It certainly made an impression on Tim Burton, who patterned the scene where the Joker’s face is revealed in the 1989 Batman on Lorre’s first disfigured appearance here.) It’s really a very grim film noir—very grim indeed. Lorre plays a Hungarian immigrant (well, that’s fitting) whose dreams are shattered owing to the aforementioned fire. When he is about to throw himself into the river, he meets up with a small-time crook (George E. Stone) and through a series of events becomes a crime kingpin—all to get enough money for the surgery that might allow him to come out from behind his mask. To say that things turn out badly is understatement; heartbreakingly, would be a better assessment.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 19-25: What’s big and green and in need of redemption?

  1. Me

    I really liked the Messenger it seemed to get lost in the shuffle i hope more people find it on DVD.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I really liked the Messenger it seemed to get lost in the shuffle i hope more people find it on DVD.

    So do I. I never understood why it didn’t draw more of an audience.

  3. Vince Lugo

    Zombieland made a Woody Harrelson fan out of me (I never paid attention to him before), so I’ll likely see The Messenger just for that, although it does look good on its own merits. If you really want to see Harrelson shine, though, check out “The People VS Larry Flynt”, which does a remarkable job of making you care about someone that nobody really cares about.

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