Asheville Film Festival
Yeah, it’s scaled back and it’s bereft of cool special guests, but it’s still the 2009 Asheville Film Festival and it’s this week. Even with the cutbacks and a dubious decision or two, the AFF has managed to secure three noteworthy special-event films: An Education on opening night, That Evening Sun and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire on closing night. The last is particularly noteworthy since Precious broke records this past weekend by grossing an unheard of average of more than $100,000 per theater in its limited (18 theaters) release. Here’s an early chance to see what the fuss is about.
Don’t overlook An Education or That Evening Sun either. The former—starring Peter Sarsgaasrd, Alfred Molina and a young woman named Carey Mulligan—is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and its newcomer star has received nothing but raves. That Evening Sun is a very Southern film from Ray McKinnon’s (Randy and the Mob) Ginny Mule Productions. McKinnon didn’t direct this time, but he’s in the film—along with the always interesting Walt Goggins and star Hal Holbrook. The word from my fellow South Eastern Film Critics Association members who’ve seen it is that it’s very fine indeed.
The competition films have their delights, too, and bear checking out (see the article on them in last week’s Xpress: www.mountainx.com/ae/2009/cranky_hankes_take_on_the_2009_asheville_film_festival_competition_feature_ ). Plus—and this is very important—there are a number of local films on the slate, including Paul Schattel’s new movie, Alison, and Michael Knox’s (he’s the fellow who got us Sita Sings the Blues and Bart Got a Room for last year’s festival) circus documentary Tearing Down the Tent. It’s always worthwhile to get out and support local filmmakers.
There are only two mainstream releases this week: the inevitable 2012 cash-in, 2012, and Pirate Radio. The former is from big-budget schlockmeister Roland Emmerich, who gave us such incredibly silly trash as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 10,000 B.C. (2008). That should tell you as much as you need to know about 2012—possibly more than you need to know. However, since moviegoers never seem to tire of watching property damage on the big screen, it’s almost certain to be a hit. If nothing else, you can keep track of the various national monuments destroyed by CGI effects over the course of the film. This has the makings of a drinking game, come to think of it.
Richard Curtis’ (Love Actually) Pirate Radio started life as The Boat That Rocked and has been seen under that title already in the U.K. and Australia. For that matter, it was briefly advertised here with that name. So-so box-office numbers and mixed reviews prompted Focus Features to come up with a more appealing (they think) title for its U.S. release—and they appear to have recut and shortened the film, as well. It’s unwise to trust the running times given by theater chains, but one source gives the new running time as 126 minutes and another has it at 115. If the latter is true, then Pirate Radio is a full 20 minutes shy of its original length—a substantial change. The signs aren’t good, but I’m cautiously optimistic all the same. The trailer looks good. Plus, the cast is good and there’s a tasty array of 1960s pop and rock on the sound track—not all of it from standard greatest-hits packages. We’ll see.
Otherwise, the only new thing is the LeBron James documentary, More Than a Game, interest in which likely depends on your interest in James and basketball.
Still barely hanging on till Friday at the Carolina Asheville are It Might Get Loud, The Baader Meinhof Complex and Thirst—all of which are worth your attention and all of which ought to have done better than they did. As concerns Thirst, which almost no one went to see, all I’ll say is that I don’t want to hear another word about how Asheville is crying out for Korean horror pictures. The French film Paris fared somewhat better and will remain—on a two-show-a-day basis—for another week. Coco Before Chanel is pre-empted at the Fine Arts this weekend for the film festival, but will be back Monday through Thursday. Catch it while you can, because next Friday it makes way for the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man.
When it appears next week, A Serious Man will mark the beginning of the push in big fall/winter releases—of both the popular and award-worthy variety. Yes, that means that we’re in for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, but with any luck at all it’ll also mean that Asheville’s on the first expansion list for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. You take the bitter with the sweet.
Some critics are saying that Fantastic Mr. Fox offers a serious challenge to Up as the best animated movie of the year, so here’s your chance to see just what an amazing claim that is with the DVD release of Up this week. Personally, I’m not sure that I think it’s even reasonable to compare the two, since they represent very different kinds of animation. In any case, Up isn’t merely the best animated film so far this year, it’s quite simply one of the best movies of 2009 of any kind.
The week’s other releases are pretty negligible. Also up is the dismally sleazy romantic comedy The Ugly Truth, which lives up to the second word of its title at least. And theaters can finally throw out all those posters and other promotional material for the endlessly delayed The Accidental Husband, which accidentally has gone straight to DVD. I grant you that the trailers looked pretty bad, but that it could possibly be any worse than The Ugly Truth seems incredible.
In the attempt to sell fans the same movie as many times as possible, we now have Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, which seems to have nothing to do with circumcising that big blue willy that bothered so many people in the theatrical release. No, this is the final—really final—cut of the film that, according to the press release, weaves the Tales of the Black Freighter into the director’s cut of an already awfully long movie.
Notable TV screenings
Wow! Here’s a puzzler! For the first time ever, I can find nothing that stands out in the coming week’s listings for Turner Classic Movies. (That the Fox Movie Channel is wanting is certainly no surprise.) Now this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing worthwhile on, mind you. There are quite a few worthwhile titles—including Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950) and Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963)—but it’s all pretty much from the standard playlist. That means you get likable fare such as the underrated (if far from remarkable) 1938 Busby Berkeley movie The Garden of the Moon. In other words, it’s mostly made up of movies that TCM owns and runs with some frequency. I usually eye the listings with a view toward pointing out the more obscure titles and titles that aren’t available on DVD. And there’s just nothing of that sort to be had this week. Hopefully, next week will prove more interesting. This week, you’re on your own.