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.