It’s the weekend that Iron Man 2 opens. What else do you need to know? Whether or not you’re keen on seeing it, it’s the big news this week—and besides the only other thing opening is Babies. So you might as well settle back and enjoy it as best you can. Personally, I’m OK with it, but I’m not exactly a-dither. I liked the original, but I wasn’t as crazy about it as a lot of people seemed to be. I thought—and still think—that it had an amazingly flat ending that was mostly overlooked due to the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. and the surprising chemistry between him and Gwyneth Paltrow.
That will undoubtedly be alive and well in round two—and, with apologies to Jeff Bridges, I can’t say I’m not pretty jazzed about the prospect of Mickey Rourke playing a Russian villain. Throw in Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell and the prospects are improving all the time. And while there’s been the expected carping and kvetching about this not being as good as the original (isn’t there always?), there have also been some remarks about Iron Man 2 going a long way toward a repeat of its predecessor’s unsatisfying big final scene. Let’s hope so. Clapton knows, after last week’s double dose of A Nightmare on Elm Street and (sweet merciful King of Glory!) Furry Vengeance we’re owed something by the movie industry.
Of course, there’s also the French documentary Babies. No, you needn’t run screaming for the exits over its nationality, because it doesn’t appear to require reading subtitles. What it appears to require, rather, is the belief that nothing could be cuter than spending 79 minutes watching cute babies do cute things. (I may have to rethink my qualms about all the cutaways to the Boston terrier in The Back-up Plan.) For folks who find babies endlessly fascinating, it’s probably just what the pediatrician prescribed. Others, however, may be less enthused about watching the one-year progress of four babies from different parts of the world—the U.S., Japan, Mongolia and Namibia—for the length of even a reasonably short feature. Both camps know who they are.
At the same time, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Greenberg are still with us at the Fine Arts. In fact, the utterly polarizing Greenberg actually did better in its second week than its first, but it definitely seems to more than alienate some viewers. More amazingly, The Ghost Writer is hanging on at the Carolina, as are Mother, Chloe and North Face, though the latter three have been reduced to two shows a day come Friday. Alice in Wonderland in 3-D still adorns the Beaucatcher—at least during the daylight hours. In the evenings, it makes way for a third print of Iron Man 2. If there’s anybody out there who hasn’t seen and wants to see The Runaways, make it quick. After Thursday it will be gone from the Carolina.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show makes its monthly appearance this Saturday at 11 p.m. at the Carolina. The Hendersonville Film Society skips this week, owing to Mother’s Day, but World Cinema brings in Andrzej Wajda’s highly acclaimed Man of Iron at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Courtyard Gallery. And, of course, Mr. Souther and I will be hosting the Thursday Horror Picture Show at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at the Carolina. This week is the double feature of the classic Karloff-Lugosi horror thrillers The Black Cat and The Raven—and, yes, it’s free, so come out and join us for the mayhem.
While I did think Rob Marshall’s Nine was better than either its critical or box-office reception indicated at Christmastime, I can’t claim that I believe anyone should run right out and rent it or buy it on DVD. I’ll merely note that it got a raw deal and that it hits DVD this week. On the other hand, I will warn you against Leap Year, a romantic comedy that works overtime to prove that not all movies built around Amy Adams are worthwhile—and proves it spectacularly. That still is probably preferable to Dwayne Johnson in just about anything, but especially in Tooth Fairy. I didn’t review it and I didn’t see it and that can remain unchanged.
However, all is not lost this week in the realm of the DVD. Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro is finally making it to DVD. Asheville is one of the few places where Tetro played theatrically—albeit not for very long—so some of you know what a tremendous and special film this is. It’s easily the best thing Coppola has made since Apocalypse Now. That’s a strong statement, but I think the film supports it. Unfortunately, some of its impact and sheer beauty will be lost on even the best home video setup, but it should retain enough to allow you to get a feel for what a stunning work this is—and to make you kick yourself for missing it in the theater if you did.
Notable TV screenings
The Fountainhead 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 7, TCM
OK, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a fairly silly novel—a mix of about 10 percent insightful observation and 90 percent crackpot philosophy (oh, I’ll hear about that from some quarters). But King Vidor’s 1949 film of it—from a screenplay by La Rand herself—is an overwrought, overheated delight that oozes with the sexuality of stars Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. (That they were embroiled in a real-life affair at the time may enter into this.) Vidor himself had no great love for the book, and in fact argued that the ending where Howard Roark (Cooper) blows up his compromised vision for a housing project was absurd and needed changing. (It is not on record as to how he wanted it changed.) But with Rand overseeing the production, that wasn’t happening. So instead Vidor busied himself with the sexuality of the thing and crafting what is probably the most utterly stylized film of its era. This was made at a time when movies were more and more embracing “realism” and often shooting on location. Not so here. Nearly everything is exaggerated and larger-than-life. Symbolism and psychological sets dominate everything. It’s hard to take it terribly seriously—which may be a good thing, considering aspects of its theme and its rape-fantasy level of “romance”—but it’s certainly something to see. Whether you find its symbols and pretensions meaningful or unintentionally funny, they’re undeniably entertaining.
Jewel Robbery 6 a.m. Saturday, May 8, TCM
William Powell and Kay Francis star in William Dieterle’s Jewel Robbery (1932), one of the great—and often overlooked—comedy gems of what may just be the best year the movies ever had. (Yes, I know that’s supposed to have been 1939, but it isn’t.) It may also be the most amazingly pre-code movie you’ll ever encounter. If there’s any aspect of the impending 1934 production code that Jewel Robbery doesn’t cheerfully break, it wasn’t for want of trying. Powell plays a sophisticated (OK, it’s Powell so that’s a given) thief, who makes off with Kay Francis’ jewels and her affections during a robbery. (You may well be surprised at how Powell subdues his victims while he makes his getaway—and even more surprised by how much the victims seem to like his method.) Of course, the fact that she’s married ought to be a stumbling block, but hey, this is pre-code, and given the choice between the sexy, sophisticated Powell and the rather dull Henry Kolker, who plays Francis’ husband, it’s impossible to question her choice. Then again, aren’t criminals supposed to suffer the consequences of their crimes? Well, in the land of the pre-code film that’s not such a given. Granting that 6 a.m. is a most unreasonable hour for a movie like this to be shown, I’ll merely note that this is the reason Tivo and DVR were made.
Murder in the Private Car 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, TCM
“Hell and a lot of laughter breaks loose in Murder in the Private Car” and “24 hours on a speeding train with a mad man and the world’s dumbest detective” is how the trailer promotes this 1934 mystery/comedy starring Charlie Ruggles (“the world’s dumbest detective”) and Una Merkel. That’s actually a pretty fair assessment. (The fact that it’s also trumpeted as being based on the “hit” play The Rear Car seems to use the word “hit” rather loosely.) Chances are that you’ve never heard of this bizarre little B picture. I’d never heard of it until about 20 years ago when someone sent me a copy of it that had been taped off TNT back when TNT was exploring the MGM, Warner Bros. and RKO vaults Ted Turner had acquired. It was your proverbial love at first sight. It’s a fairly ridiculous thriller with a bumbling detective (he calls himself a “deflector”) trying to prevent the murder of a newly found heiress (Mary Carlisle) on her way to claim her inheritance. (Newly found heiresses are always at risk, you know.) In essence, it’s an old dark-house mystery—complete with clutching hands—that’s been transported to a train. If you can imagine any possible genre convention, it’s in here—right down to the ever popular escaped gorilla. Look, you’ve got your man in a gorilla suit (Ray Corrigan), you’ve got your threatening notes, you’ve got your sudden plunges into darkness. And if that’s not enough, you’ve got a circus train wreck (which affords the spectacle of Charlie Ruggles holding a kangaroo by the tail) and a runaway-train-car finale. It would be absurd to ask for more.