Well, we had a pretty decent crop of movies last week. This would be the week to catch up with some of them. How bad are this week’s offerings? Well, I’m leaving town to avoid seeing them. OK, so that’s an exaggeration. There is merit in Lorna’s Silence and The September Issue (reviewed in Wednesday’s Xpress), but neither could be called exactly mainstream, which is represented by exactly one film.
It’s not true that I’m driving 700 miles to avoid it, but it’s not a bad idea if the reality of Couples Retreat is anywhere near as cosmically God-awful as the trailer makes it appear. I know there was a time when Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau were kind of cool, but how long ago was it that they did Made? Ah, yes, that was eight years ago. Of course, Favreau has gone on to prove himself as a director (which he isn’t doing here), while Vaughn has mostly been in things like The Break-Up (2006), Fred Claus (2007) and Four Christmases—a pretty poisonous parlay. This purported comedy would seem to be in that league, and maybe worse.
Then there’s the four-waller: The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry—a Christian-themed film from Dave and Rich Christiano. Dave Christiano’s the fellow who gave us the ineptly made and rather creepy Me & You, Us, Forever (2008), which I doubt many of you saw. Brother Rich made this one and got Gavin MacLeod and Robert Guillame to appear in it. I view the prospect of poor Justin Souther sitting through this with pangs of guilt and remorse—even though I didn’t know this was coming when I made my plans to be absent.
But there’s good stuff still playing—including last week’s crop—so it’s not an entirely dismal prospect.
Things don’t get appreciably better in the realm of the “big” DVD releases. Most of you managed to avoid My Life in Ruins and Year One when they were in theaters. That sound judgment will hold you in good stead with their DVD releases, too. And if that’s not enough for you to avoid, Dance Flick seems to have emerged, too. Best bets in the popular area are two documentaries, Anvil: The Story of Anvil and Not Quite Hollywood, the film about Australian exploitation movies that played here a couple weeks ago.
I guess they think it’s seasonal, but I don’t entirely grasp putting out a box set of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) and Wolf (1994). That last title seems a very odd match for the other two, but I guess they wanted to cover their werewolf bases. It hardly matters, since none of those titles are things I want to see on Halloween.
Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964) with the Beatles was supposed to make its Blu-ray bow this week, but according to Amazon has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Too bad, if that’s the case, since it might have pushed me over the Blu-ray edge, especially if they’d managed to include Lester’s 1960 short The Running Jumping Standing Still Film.
Also up is a special edition remastering of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). Apart from the remastering (is the old disc anamorphic?), I can’t seem to determine what makes this special edition special. George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964) is back to replace the earlier out-of-print version. Good news for people who like this film.
Notable TV screenings
Sullivan’s Travels 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 8, TCM
Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941) is simply one of the great films—and the film where Sturges managed to get just the right blend of comedy and drama. This story of filmmaker John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) who wants to stop making musicals and comedies and instead “grind out nine reels of hard luck” called O Brother, Where Art Thou? may ultimately be a case of self-justification for Sturges, but that doesn’t keep it from being terrific from beginning to end. Veronica Lake as a would-be actress with a yen for a letter of introduction to Ernst Lubitsch was never this good before and would never be this good again. But then everyone in the film is just right and the Sturges dialogue has never been sharper or more distinctive. The only problem is that it might sour you on current movies for a few days afterwards.
Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! 9:45 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 8, TCM
What the world wasn’t waiting for—a musical film done in the style of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein! Well, back in 1933, director Lewis Milestone seems to have thought differently, and so we have this fascinating Al Jolson picture. For all its strangeness—and there’s a lot of it—and its communist slogans, it’s actually a good picture and certainly has a personality all its own. Even some of the odder things register. It may not be good exactly, but you’ll never forget the scene where schoolchildren sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and Milestone cuts to a different face on each syllable. On the other hand, its depiction of the Depression is one of the strongest of the era. Plus, the Rodgers and Hart songs are good and Jolson gives his best screen performance (and the only one where he doesn’t put on blackface). You may wonder why we never actually see him—only his shadow—when he sings the title song. The answer is simple: The title of the film and the song had to be changed for the British market (where “bum” only meant backside). It was easier then just to have two different sound tracks without reshooting the scene.
Black Moon, 3:30 a.m., technically Thursday, Oct. 8, TCM
Roy William Neill’s Black Moon (1934) mayn’t be a great movie, but it has more than a few points of interest and certainly bears the director’s trademark sense of atmosphere. The film is more or less a sober attempt at exploring voodoo, though it’s certainly done in the most melodramatic (and somewhat racist) manner possible. However, it is the earliest film to tackle the topic, apart from the blatantly horrific White Zombie, making it noteworthy in that regard. Of even greater interest from a film-history standpoint is the obvious fact that Jacques Tourneur’s classic I Walked With a Zombie (1943) owes more than a passing debt to this obscure little movie. There are more than a few similarities between the two, so it’s worth checking out where the history of the horror genre is concerned. Also, this isn’t one of TCM’s standard holding, so it may be some time before the opportunity to see Black Moon resurfaces.