Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler: May 6-12

New in Theaters

For those of us who aren’t diehard Star Trek fans—or even those who think the new incarnation looks a little like kids playing dress-up—the upcoming week offers little prospective joy in mainstream terms. Everyone and every thing seems geared up for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Personally, having seen Abrams’ previous big screen effort, Mission: Impossible III, I have more reservations than those engendered by the trailer. All the same, yes, I’ll be there. It’s an inescapable event movie. And there’s always the chance that—like last week’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine—the film will be more pleasing than I expect. If nothing else, it offers the prospect of seeing Tyler Perry in outer space.

Of course, there’s the option of Benny Boom’s (no, I don’t believe that’s on his birth certificate) Next Day Air, but it’s kind of in the long-shot category. It looks like the movie Guy Ritchie might have made if he were American and black. That’s at least interesting. Mike Epps is an appealing performer and putting Mos Def in anything gets bonus points. But the film’s had little push and it’s been put on a suicide run up against Star Trek. Even if it turns out to be great, it’s almost certainly going to sink without a trace.

Outside the mainstream, there’s the highly-praised Sin Nombre opening at the Fine Arts. This drama about two young people trying to cross the border into the U.S. is the first film from American filmmaker Cary Fukunaga. It also has mostly great reviews from the major critics—though a few caution that it’s both very brutal and that its grimness is often undercut by a tendency to Hollywoodize the material. The latter might actually be desirable if you’re making a film that you want people to go see. In any case, it’s likely the most cerebral new offering of the week.

It’s also worth noting that both Tokyo! and Shall We Kiss? are hanging on in split shows at the Fine Arts. Both are very much worth your while, though the casual surrealism of Tokyo! seems to have proven to be off-putting to some viewers—which might be another case of “know what you’re getting into before you go to a movie.” Just because a film’s gotten good reviews doesn’t mean that you’re going to automatically like it. Have some idea what it is before you beat a path to its door.

Sunshine Cleaning got a surprising new lease on life when it moved over to the Carmike last week where it’s done solid business, especially for a movie that’s been out for three weeks. It’s also playing a couple shows this coming week at the Flatrock. This is also the weekend of the month when the Hollywood has its midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show

In addition to these, Asheville Pizza and Brewing has come up with a 35mm print of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which is good news if you happen to be a fan of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

Noteworthy DVD releases

Everything this week seems geared toward the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—with nods to Last Chance Harvey and Wendy and Lucy. There’s a market for all of these, I’m sure, but I can’t say that they’ll cause me to hang around Wal-Mart at midnight for the titles to be put out for sale. There also appears to be some sort of “Ultimate Edition” of Twilight, which would be of much more interest if they replaced Twilight with some movie of actual merit. It’s the kind of week my bank account likes, but which doesn’t enrich my stash of movies. Well, that’s not entirely true, since Amazon UK sent me a nice note on Saturday telling me my copy of the Region 2 release of Lisztomania had been shipped. Now, there’s a movie.

Hopefully, Marc from Orbit will drop by with some DVD news of greater interest than what I’m seeing.

Notable TV screenings

Considering that last week gave us such things as Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby and James Whale’s The Kiss Before the Mirror—two films that turned out to be even better than I’d actually remembered—it seems churlish to note that this coming week’s offerings are a good bit slimmer. Now, I should note that this doesn’t mean there’s nothing of genuine worth on. It means simply that there’s not a lot that hasn’t been on fairly recently—the Harold Lloyd film The Cat’s Paw is back, for example—or isn’t seen pretty frequently. My purpose here is to alert readers to chances to see movies that are rarely shown. The TCM and FMC websites are worth looking over for other titles.

Three Comrades 10 a.m. TCM, Wed May 6
Frank Borzage’s 1938 film version—famous for being one of those rare films from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood sojourn to actually have his name on the credits—of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is a compromised film. That’s true of just about any film of its era bearing the MGM logo. As usual there’s a little too much MGM gloss and moralizing. And there’s simply no way that Robert Taylor belongs in this movie, but by way of compensation there’s Borzage’s beautiful direction, Margaret Sullavan’s almost ethereal performnce—not to mention a solid supporting cast.

The Green Pastures 4:15 p.m. TCM, Wed May 6
There are reasons—and pretty understandable ones—why the 1936 film of Marc Connelly’s play (co-directed by Connelly and William Keighley) is not shown all that often. The Green Pastures is based on Roark Bradford’s book Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun’. That title probably clues you in on the tone of the work and the reason it’s not much seen. There’s just no way around the fact that the book, the play and the film are very much politically incorrect. The film actually compounds this with an explanatory title at the begining that’s more condescending and offensive than anything in the film itself, trying to excuse the film’s approach as an attempt to portray the simple beliefs of “Thousands of Negroes in the Deep South.” That’s even worse—and weirder—than it sounds, because the film (not the play) goes out of its way to present the events not so much as the beliefs of a group of people, but as the imaginings of a very young girl listening to Bible stories in a Sunday school class. Nonetheless, the film—for all its faults—is not without charm, merit, or surprisingly deep thought.

The basic premise is to present an all-black version of the Bible in stereotypical terms of the old south. As a result, heaven consists of a non-stop fish-fry where cherubs fly around on cotton clouds. The creation of the earth is a kind of afterthought to a miracle “passed” be De Lawd, who comments after the fact to Gabriel, “I just made a garden, too.” If it sounds a bit much, it is, but a bare reading of it doesn’t take into account the sweetly dignified and stately performance of that fine actor Rex Ingram as God—nor the fascinating production design, nor the amazing sound of the Hall Johnson Choir providing a soundtrack of traditional spirituals. The overall effect is a little different than it probably sounds. And for a film about “simple beliefs,” it finally works around to a pretty intriguing theological notion where God concludes that he can’t truly understand humankind unless he also experiences their suffering, something he gleaned from a conversation with a soldier on a battlefield. “Did he mean that even God must suffer?” he asks himself while an elderly angel watches (offscreen) the crucifixion (“Oh, that’s a terrible burden for one man to carry”) and God realizes the truth of the idea. It’s a surprisingly potent moment in a film that almost transcends its stereotypical underpinnings.

Rich and Strange 12:45 a.m. TCM, May 9
An early sound (1932) curio from Alfred Hitchcock, Rich and Strange (its title taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest) is a weird film that charts what happens when a slightly bored married couple inherit money and try to liven things up by travel, which ultimately finds them on a sinking ship from which they’re rescued by a band of rather unsavoury Chinese fellows. They return to London—and almost at once to their old bickering ways. It’s not a great film, but there are several fascinating sequences that find Hitchcock at his most flamboyantly experimental. The opening sequence and the scenes in Paris are the best bits. Technically, the movie’s pretty clumsy. Silent footage with bad overdubbing crops up a good bit. But it’s still Hitchcock and it’s still worthwhile.

The Tunnel 2:30 a.m. TCM, May 9
It’s so long since I’ve seen this 1935 British sci-fi movie about building a tunnel from Great Britain to the United States that I remember little more than its basic—somewhat peculiar—premise and the fact that George Arliss and Walter Huston appear briefly as the British prime minister and the American president. Undoubtedly the fact that Arliss had played Benjamin Disraeli and Huston had impersonated Abraham Lincoln was the logic behind this. Unfortunately, they don’t portray those historical personages here. I’ll be curious to take another look at this movie myself.

Dunston Checks In 2:30 p.m., FMC, May 9
This got mentioned some time back in several vaguely disrespectful posts on the film Gran Torino, so I thought I’d point out its presence this week—the single greatest movie ever made starring an orangutan and Faye Dunaway. No contest.

 

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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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35 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler: May 6-12

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    I’ve got to admit, I’m slightly shocked and befuddled to see that “Star Trek” currently has a score of 100% on the RT Tomatometer – and that’s with a little over two dozen reviews already being submitted. I’ll be at the theater(s) for this on Saturday night with friends, if for no other reason then to participate in the fun of the pop-culture following, and entice my curiosity. I’m becoming much more hopeful than I was a few weeks ago.

  2. Dionysis

    “those who think the new incarnation looks a little like kids playing dress-up…”

    I’m glad you noticed; I thought I was the only one who, after seeing the previews, thought it looked like a bunch of junior high kids play-acting. I thought to myself ‘they must be joking’. To read that it got 100% at RT is surprising.

    I imagine this will not sit well with die-hard Trekkies, but even though I was a fairly solid fan of the original series and Next Generation, I’m overdosing on Star Trek offshoots.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I’ve got to admit, I’m slightly shocked and befuddled to see that “Star Trek” currently has a score of 100% on the RT Tomatometer – and that’s with a little over two dozen reviews already being submitted.

    It is a little unusual — especially now that it’s not mostly just fan sites and the usual peculiar barrage of reviews from Australia. My interest is academic — it’s not like I’m making a decision about whether or not to see it.

  4. Mysterylogger

    Well not every week a smug not so great indendependent flick can come out so Ken Can sing his overated praises on.

    Im sure some overated sundance type movie will be out soon for him to salvate over in the coming months.

    Stay strong Ken.

  5. Justin Souther

    Im sure some overated sundance type movie will be out soon for him to salvate over in the coming months.

    But Sin Nombre played Sundance.

    Stay strong Enigmatic Lumberjack.

  6. Mysterylogger

    See I was right something will be coming out soon for him to salvate over.

  7. Just back from the beach where my troubles melted away…

    This is a slow week like Ken has mentioned. The last season to the popular BOSTON LEGAL is out today (season 5), including that ending that no one saw coming.

    Two Tibetan documentaries came out this week: TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD (narrated by Leonard Cohen) and TOUR IN TIBET.

    There’s more, but I’ve been out for a few days. I love slow weeks because I can catch up on what’s missing from our Criterion collection.

  8. Ken Hanke

    To read that it got 100% at RT is surprising.

    More surprising still is that it’s garnered another 9 reviews and not a bad one yet. Honestly, that makes me more cautious than not. I’m sure it’s a character flaw, but I just have a hard time trusting things that everybody likes.

  9. Ken Hanke

    See I was right something will be coming out soon for him to salvate over.

    The word is “salivate.” Another word is “overrated.” Another is “independent.” And remember — punctuation is your friend.

  10. Ken Hanke

    This is a slow week like Ken has mentioned.

    So is there anything headed our way in the near future to cause joy?

  11. Rufus

    See I was right something will be coming out soon for him to salvate over.

    Maybe “salvate” is a verb meaning “to provide salvation”.

  12. thedj

    Ken, I hope that the older movie theater idea has some legs. I liked the suggestion of the Innsbrook Mall double screen. Committee time.

  13. Dread P. Roberts

    Wow…the grammatically challenged, internet smack talking, childish fanboy(s) have begun to rant before a review has even been posted! Regardless of how good (or bad) “Star Trek” actually is, I hope to see a negative review just for the sake of the silly posts that will inevitably follow. I’m sure someone, somewhere is slightly disheartened to see that Ken gave Wolverine a good review. That leaves no room to defend the movie; but I guess there is still an opportunity to discredit Ken’s knowledge of film by stating how ‘bad’ the movie really was. Face it Ken, it’s a loose-loose situation when it comes to these types of summer blockbuster, popcorn movies.

  14. Dread P. Roberts

    After reading over my previous comment, I think it is a little funny that I misspelled the word lose (by typing loose) in the same paragraph that I mention the grammatical errors of another. I just wanted to point out my own shortcomings before someone else does.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Maybe “salvate” is a verb meaning “to provide salvation”.

    I was thinking it perhaps had to do with the application of a soothing unguent.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I hope that the older movie theater idea has some legs. I liked the suggestion of the Innsbrook Mall double screen. Committee time.

    As I think I noted elsewhere, I don’t imagine anything as ambitious and expensive as the Innsbruck is likely to happen. I would love to believe that Asheville would support an entire theater devoted to older films and series groupings, but realistically I think it’s doubtful.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Regardless of how good (or bad) “Star Trek” actually is, I hope to see a negative review just for the sake of the silly posts that will inevitably follow.

    So far it’s holding in the plus column and there was something like another 11 reviews last I looked. I feel hopeful that we can at least expect Armond White to show up and piss somebody off.

    Face it Ken, it’s a loose-loose situation when it comes to these types of summer blockbuster, popcorn movies.

    Funny thing is I’m not generally that hard on such films — unless they’re incredibly stupid or obnoxious. Now when people start talking about them in terms of joining the ranks of the greatest films ever made…

    After reading over my previous comment, I think it is a little funny that I misspelled the word lose (by typing loose) in the same paragraph that I mention the grammatical errors of another. I just wanted to point out my own shortcomings before someone else does.

    That’s a fairly common mistake — not so much a spelling error as an accidental word substitution. It is, however, one to be way off in certain circumstances. One would not want a tattoo reading “Born too loose,” for example.

  18. Dread P. Roberts

    One would not want a tattoo reading “Born too loose,” for example.

    That’s even better than “Born to be Wiled”. Now I just know I’m going to be snickering at inappropriate times during the proceedings of “Star Trek”.

  19. Ken Hanke

    That’s even better than “Born to be Wiled”.

    But if one were a witty gay playwright “Born to be Wilde” would be acceptable.

  20. Dread P. Roberts

    But if one were a witty gay playwright “Born to be Wilde” would be acceptable.

    touché

  21. Rufus

    But if one were a witty gay playwright “Born to be Wilde” would be acceptable.

    For such clever writing, I believe you deserve an Oscar

  22. Ken Hanke

    For such clever writing, I believe you deserve an Oscar

    Alright, so somebody else topped it!

  23. Ken Hanke

    I feel hopeful that we can at least expect Armond White to show up and piss somebody off.

    And it seems that within an hour of my writing those words, Mr. White fulilled the first part of my prophecy by giving the first bad review, whilst at last count 218 outraged fans provided the pissed-offery.

    The film has now garnered four negative reviews. The surprise is that one of them is from Roger Ebert (who has only generated 82 comments so far, since everyone loves to hate Armond White).

    The interesting thing is that both Ebert and White make statements that — especially in White’s case — don’t exactly match the film itself, which, yes, I have seen now. Ebert merely (or mostly) gets the sequence of events wrong in talking about the story. White, on the other hand, refers to “Leonard Nimoy’s guest-star voiceover” as if this is his sole contribution to the film. In fact, Nimoy has a sizable role in the film. This, of course, is peculiar to say the least. At the same time, I agree with a lot of what White has to say — dropping his passion for Spielberg, which I can’t share — even while clearly enjoying the movie considerably more than he did.

    The most disconcerting remark of all, though, came from a poster on Rotten Tomatoes trying to defend Ebert by saying, “I think Roger’s problem is that he’s expecting a film from a different era. And while storytelling may have held an audiences attention thirty years ago, the bottom line is that films are about making money, and in order to do that, you have to keep the attention of modern audiences, and unfortunately, a great story isn’t going to do it.” Has it really come to this?

  24. Dread P. Roberts

    I feel hopeful that we can at least expect Armond White to show up and piss somebody off.

    I think the biggest problem with White is that he writes bad reviews just for the sake of getting attention – or, at least, that appears to be everyones presumption. It has come to the point where it doesn’t matter if he has written a great review. I saw his review post on RT shortly after he had put it up yesterday, and the unholy venom of hate was spewing from fanboys quicker than you could say “beam me up”. For an avid movie loving geek, it still continues to amaze me to see the level of passionate hate over someone else’s opinion of a movie.

    the bottom line is that films are about making money, and in order to do that, you have to keep the attention of modern audiences, and unfortunately, a great story isn’t going to do it.” Has it really come to this?

    I think this has a lot to do with the modern day ‘microwave mentality’ that comes with living in an age of technology; where everything is about getting things faster. At the speed in which technology advances nowadays, it is difficult for people to keep up, therefore people (especially younger ones) adapt shorter attention spans, in order to be prepared for ‘the-next-big-thing’.

    I saw this comedy skit on TV where this guy goes to a sort of “Best Buy” store to buy a new computer. An employee convinces him to buy the best and fastest state-of-the-art computer on the market, assuring him that he will be comfortably ahead of the game for a long time. A week later he sees an advertisement for an even better, upgraded model of his computer. He goes back to the store, complaining that he was told he had the ‘best’, and that it would be a long time before they were able to come out with a faster computer. They exchange his computer for the upgraded model. When he is driving home he hears an ad on the radio for another new and improved type of computer. That kind of sums up my whole point.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I think the biggest problem with White is that he writes bad reviews just for the sake of getting attention – or, at least, that appears to be everyones presumption.

    A friend of mine who knows him thinks White’s at least a little bit nuts, but it’s hard not to believe that this is at least partly a pose — whether from a desire for attention or just because he enjoys stirring things us. Personally, I find his writing interesting and occasionally insightful — not when he’s trying to sell me on what a groundbreaking work of genius Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, mind you. He also has a tendency to wander into the incomprehensible. At the same time, I’d rather read him than, say, the woman who gushed that Star Trek “just happens to be better than each and every one of the most recent Best Picture Oscar nominees.” (No one seems inclined to tag her on the overkill of that statement.)

    I saw his review post on RT shortly after he had put it up yesterday, and the unholy venom of hate was spewing from fanboys quicker than you could say “beam me up”. For an avid movie loving geek, it still continues to amaze me to see the level of passionate hate over someone else’s opinion of a movie.

    Stranger still is the realization that almost all of this venom was spewed by people who hadn’t seen the movie, which presumably is not the case with White. It’s all very much a sandbox mentality and it always reminds me of a letter to the editor in Famous Monsters of Filmland back in the 1960s when someone wrote that anyone who didn’t like this model of King Kong wrecking the train on the previous issue’s cover was “a big fat nut.” The tone is currently meaner, but the childishness is the same. (White references Eisenstein in his review and I can only wonder how many of these folks even know who he’s talking about — or how many of them think Eisenstein is that Theory of Relativity guy.)

    I think this has a lot to do with the modern day ‘microwave mentality’ that comes with living in an age of technology; where everything is about getting things faster.

    Well, we’ve always tended to be a people who want what the ads used to call “fast fast fast relief,” so I guess this is a kind of logical outgrowth. I just marvel at the idea that the story doesn’t matter and that that’s something only someone wanting movies from some prehistoric era would mind. Funny thing is I actually tend to prefer fast-paced movies and have championed “aggressive editing” for as long as I’ve been able to put a name to it, so it’s not like I’m against speed as such, but that it’s a worthy substitute for content disturbs me.

  26. Dread P. Roberts

    The funny thing (that I forgot to mention earlier) is that I’m occasionally baffled by a somewhat slow-moving film that slips through the cracks to become ‘blockbuster’ status. The most recent example that comes to mind is last years “The Dark Knight”. Without opening up any potential can of worms about the overall quality of the thing, I found it somewhat slow paced at times (not to mention a bit on the overkill side). But that didn’t slow audience attendance down in the least. Perhaps an excessive amount of plot elements is sometimes enough to grab peoples attention, and pull them through the proceedings. I don’t know, it’s just a theory, and I’m sure there are plenty of convincing arguments to be made to the contrary.

  27. Ken Hanke

    The funny thing (that I forgot to mention earlier) is that I’m occasionally baffled by a somewhat slow-moving film that slips through the cracks to become ‘blockbuster’ status. The most recent example that comes to mind is last years “The Dark Knight”.

    That’s a good point. Perhaps it’s the exception that proves the rule? At the same time, it’s not like the movie is exactly weighed down with story (storylines maybe) or asks the viewer to dig very deep thematically. In many ways, it reminds me of the response to Burton’s 1989 Batman, which is also a fairly slowly-paced movie — though it strikes me as offering at least the illusion of depth, if only because it’s the first movie of its type to really suggest that hero and villain are more alike than not. However, I could never get away from a suspicion that its popularity had more to do with an over-the-top Jack Nicholson in a purple suit than with any weightier concern. I’m not at all sure that a similar dynamic isn’t at work with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

  28. Dread P. Roberts

    Funny thing is I actually tend to prefer fast-paced movies and have championed “aggressive editing”

    I would never discredit the importance and value of the editing process. Although I don’t always fully understand the criteria by which the ‘editing’ category is judged for an award; I do believe that editing is a very worthy category to be awarded. It is an essential element in the structure of a movie, and sometimes it is very necessary to be aggressive. But, for me, I like to see editing done in a creative, quality oriented way. Aggressive or not, I don’t want to be distracted by the editing, but rather impressed and engaged. Depending on the movie, playful editing is sometimes refreshing, and can very much be an art form all its own. But editing is not really what I was trying to get at when I was talking about ‘microwave mentality’.

  29. Dread P. Roberts

    I could never get away from a suspicion that its popularity had more to do with an over-the-top Jack Nicholson in a purple suit than with any weightier concern. I’m not at all sure that a similar dynamic isn’t at work with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

    To be honest, that is a huge part of what does it for me. Of course, Danny Elfman’s musical score really impressed me initially with the latter.

  30. Dread P. Roberts

    Danny Elfman’s musical score really impressed me initially with the latter.

    What I meant was Tim Burton’s “Batman”.

  31. Ken Hanke

    But editing is not really what I was trying to get at when I was talking about ‘microwave mentality’.

    I understood that, but it is related, and it’s often cited as being responsible for collective audience ADD. And used improperly, that may be true, but fast cutting dates back to D.W. Griffith. I personally despise incoherent cutting — which has become the predominant manner of conveying action these days — but I don’t find, say, the editing in Moulin Rouge! (which averages a cut every 5 seconds) in the least incoherent. And I actually prized the insane editing of Crank: High Voltage, which even joked about its need for speed by inserting the title “Nine Seconds Later” at one point.

  32. Dread P. Roberts

    I completely agree. But it should be noted that sometimes a complete lack of editing, in certain appropriate sequences, can create a really cool effect and impact. Take the ending of “Children of Men” for example.

  33. Ken Hanke

    But it should be noted that sometimes a complete lack of editing, in certain appropriate sequences, can create a really cool effect and impact. Take the ending of “Children of Men” for example.

    No arguments there. It’s all a part of the fact that there is no single “right way” to do something, though, God knows, there are plenty of wrong ways.

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