Another week of movies is headed our way. This week we get two art titles — Sarah’s Key (The Carolina and Fine Arts) and Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (The Carolina) — and three mainstream ones — Drive, I Don’t Know How She Does It and Straw Dogs. Hopefully, the deserving titles in this set will generate more interest than last week’s did (pleasant weather and the Mountain State Fair did the box office no favors here).
As opposed to my usual statement about having seen this or that already, here we have a week where I haven’t seen any of the films that kick off on Friday, meaning that there aren’t any reviews to refer to in this week’s Xpress and everything that follows is what you should call conjecture. Funny thing is I’m interested in — or at least curious about — four of the five movies that are opening. The fifth one … well, into each life some rain must fall. And really compared to last week’s Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star just about anything is bound to be an improvement. (Then again, based on what Mr. Souther tells me, Bucky Larson makes the previous weeks trifecta of terror — Apollo 18, Seven Days in Utopia, Shark Night 3D — look pretty mild.)
So let’s take a gander at what we’re looking at looking at. Whatever else it may be said about this lot, it’s a decidedly varied assortment.
First, there’s Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. This actor-turned-filmmaker Michael Rappaport’s documentary on A Tribe Called Quest. I freely admit that I don’t know this group at all, so I’m reliant entirely on the press notes and the early reviews. It is described as a documentary about “one of the most influential and groundbreaking musical groups in hip-hop history. Having released five gold and platinum selling albums within eight years, A Tribe Called Quest has been one of the most commercially successful and artistically significant musical groups in recent history, and regarded as iconic pioneers of hip hop. The band’s sudden break-up in 1998 shocked the industry and saddened the scores of fans, whose appetite for the group’s innovative musical stylings never seems to diminish.” The documentary was made on their 2008 reunion tour. To date, it has a 91 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — 48 postive vs. five negative. And it should be noted that it seems to be more about the group and their conflicts with each other to a degree that the film is compelling even to people with little interest in hip-hop.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive follows his well-regarded Valhalla Rising (2009) and looks for all the world like an art movie that has managed to get a wide release. I say that less because of Refn’s directorial Cannes win than because of the claims that it contains elements of everyone from David Lynch to Quentin Tarantino to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Refn, in fact, says the fim is dedicated to Jodorowsky. So what is it exactly? Well, roughly, it’s a neo-noir about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who also works in his off hours as a getaway driver for criminals Given the genre we’re in, it follows that a crime will go wrong and Gosling will find himself — along with his next door neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her son — being chased by persons wishing to do them harm. It currently boasts a 93 percent approval rate, but it should be noted that a number of its 29 fresh reviews (there are two negatives) are not from the most reliable of sources.
I confess to a large adult-sized dose of skepticism when it comes to I Don’t Know How She Does It. What a dreadful title given that its star is Sarah Jessica Parker, since it leads to recognition of my own inability to know how she keeps getting movie deals. The trailer — hard-working, bread-winner mom (Parker) tries balance her career and family, while avoiding the temptation of having an affair with a business associate (Pierce Brosnan) — looks generic and fairly ghastly. The thing is, I’ve liked two films from director Douglas McGrath — Nicholas Nickleby and Infamous — and he did co-write Bullets Over Broadway with Woody Allen. Also, New York Magazine critic David Edelstein liked it, as did Michael Rechtshaffen from The Hollywood Reporter. Maybe it’s better than I fear.
Then there’s Gilles Pacquet-Brenner’s Sarah’s Key. First off, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with Kristin Scott Thomas that wasn’t worth seeing. But more this looks like something a little different. It’s set in two eras. In the present, Kristin Scott Thomas plays an American journalist who is assigned to write an article about the Vel’ d’Hiv round up in 1942 — a black mark on French history where the national police rounded up Jews and housed them in conditions easily mistaken for something the Nazis themselves might have done. Many of the most unfortunate ended up being moved to Auschwitz. The film takes place in both times, and as her research continues Thomas’ character finds a connection between the round up and her French husband’s family. For this one, I’m headed to the first show on Friday morning.
And last we have Rod Lurie’s Southern-fried remake of Sam Peckinpah’s still-controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs. In the original, Dustin Hoffman played an inoffensive fellow who has moved with his wife (Susan George) to rural England where local rubes harass them, finally raping the wife and finally driving the man past the breaking point into the realm of vengeful fighting back. It wasn’t just the violence that made the film controversial (though that might have been enough), but the fact that it treats the rape in an ambiguous manner that suggests the wife enjoys it. I’ve already heard that the new film avoids that aspect. Otherwise, it seems to be pretty much the same thing — only transplanted to the American South and with James Marsden (who may always be the Easter Bunny to me after Hop) and Kate Bosworth replacing Hoffman and George. Now, I don’t object to remakes in general. They don’t hurt the originals and actually draw attention to them, but in this case I’m just baffled by the whole point of doing this.
I suppose I should also note — with a touch of weariness — that a 3D-ified version of The Lion King comes out this week. I’ll pass.
Now, last weekend was such a box office dud — look, even The Guard underperformed here — that two estimable films — Terri and The Devil’s Double — are leaving The Carolina after a single week. I find this very unfortunate, especially as concerns Terri. You have through Thursday to catch them. Also leaving The Carolina is Magic Trip. The Fine Arts drops both Another Earth and Midnight in Paris, but is keeping The Guard. Midnight in Paris, however, is hanging on at The Carolina.
Charles Brabin’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) with Boris Karloff as Fu is this week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. (It will be preceded by chapter 11 of Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) at 7:40 p.m.) Classic World Cinema is running Luis Buñuel’s The Extreminating Angel (1962) on Friday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The indestructible Gone with the Wind (1939) — or at least the first half (the second half in next week) — is this week’s film at the Hendersonville Film Society. It shows at 2 p..m on Sunday, Sept. 18, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is showing Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers (1970) on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week’s Xpress.
The big DVD news for me this week is Julie Taymor’s barely released version of The Tempest. This died almost at birth last year and never made it to Asheville. Some say it’s awful, but I want to see for myself. Based on Taymor’s track record, I can’t believe it’s without interest. Of course, there’s also Thor, which I think I liked more than most. Not sure I liked it will enough to see again, though. And there’s Hesher — another title that intrigued me, but never made it to town. Finally, there’s Meek’s Cutoff, a film I liked fine, but one that I’ve seen twice, which is probably enough.
Notable TV screenings
Whatever else TCM offers this week, it starts off with something not on DVD and rarely seen — Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933) starring Miriam Hopkins. This extremely pre-code film is the film version of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary, which even the pre-code censors would not allow to be filmed under its own name. In many ways — including an ending that completely subverts Faulkner’s — the film is a bit of a travesty, but it does capture the Faulkner atmosphere in a way no other version of any of his works has. And Hopkins is perfect in the role of Temple Drake. It’s showing at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Also on is William K. Howard’s The Power and the Glory (1933), a film often considered the forerunner of Citizen Kane (1941) — and it well may be with its flashback structure telling the life story of an industrialist (Spencer Tracy). But it definitely misses Kane‘s fireworks. It’s playing at 10:15 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18.