Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Sept. 23-29: A bit of a lull

In theaters

We’re getting a little bit of a break this week—though it probably feels more that way to me, since I’ve already seen and reviewed three of the six movies opening this week for Wednesday’s Xpress: Bright Star, Not Quite Hollywood and Timecrimes. That, however, is part of the reason that I’m perfectly fine with getting a break. With special screenings factored in, there were 12 films reviewed for this week’s paper. Of those, I tackled 10 and saw 11 (Justin Souther was kind enough to review two of this week’s films). The upside of that is none of the 11 I saw were in the painful category—and most were actually good or at least interesting. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m well and truly ready for a slack week.

This week the more interesting openers—at least from the looks of it—are the ones I’ve already reviewed, and which will be in Wednesday’s Xpress. I suppose it’s actually a stretch calling Timecrimes new, but it’s never played here theatrically and is serving to officially open the mezzanine screening room at the Carolina, which is a potentially interesting experiment for them.

The other movies opening this week are, well, not particularly inspiring. Near as I can determine, the studios are considering the Bruce Willis sci-fi action flick Surrogates as the movie most likely to succeed this weekend. That said, it remains to be seen if the public can take Willis seriously with his golden locks. There’s also some who have reservations over its 88-minute running time, which may not be a bad thing. There are a lot of pretty good movies that are under 90 minutes. Granted, the trailer for this one doesn’t strongly suggest that it will be one of them. At the same time, it’s possible that the film is just loopy enough to come across as preposterous fun.

Also up is the re-imagining of Alan Parker’s Fame. I wasn’t aware that Fame needed re-imagining. For that matter, even though I liked Parker’s movie just fine last time I saw it (about 20 years ago), I can’t say that I spend a lot of time thinking about it in general. Apparently, the plot is different in the new version, which I presume means the characters are different, since it’s still going to be a musical set at New York’s School for the Performing Arts. It’s unclear as to how many of the original songs are being used, though there’s an updated (read: club mix) version of the title song featured in the trailer. The big questions for me are whether this version will take Parker’s approach of focusing more on the story than the songs and whether the straight-to-gay ratio at a school for the performing arts is any more believable this round.

And then there’s the R-rated sci-fi horror of Pandorum “from the producers of the Resident Evil movies.” That may strike you as a good thing, but it lowers my expectations considerably—and that’s not even addressing the Cam Gigandet factor. The presence of Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster may or may not offer sufficient compensation. Judging from the trailer and the movie’s pedigree, what I’m hoping for is amusingly gory cheese. I’ll settle for that.

Of course, you’re not limited to these newcomers. Cold Souls is holding at the Fine Arts, (500) Days of Summer is still at the Carolina, and My One and Only (largely overlooked last weekend) is sticking around the Beaucatcher. Inglourious Basterds and The Informant! are also hanging around at various theaters. However, if you’re planning on catching Adam, In the Loop, Extract or Gamer, there’s no time to lose, because come Friday, they’re gone.

DVD releases

OK, I’m officially interested in seeing Rob Zombie’s animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, which never played here. (Distributors just have no clue.) This looks like the best bet to me—even sight unseen. The fact that both Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Observe and Report are not sight unseen is enough reason for me to be more interested in Mr. Zombie’s opus. However, it’s worth noting that although Observe and Report tanked in its theatrical release—and I thought it was just plain awful—it’s a film that has a certain, fairly passionate following. Another theatrical non-starter, the animated Battle for Terra, wasn’t even able to entice viewers with 3-D, so I doubt it’s likely to do all that much on DVD.

The cult, collectible and box-set realm doesn’t me aflame either, though fans will probably be happy to see a Wallace & Gromit collection, while cineastes might be interested in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou from Criterion. (There is no truth to the rumor that Criterion is Latin for “twice the price,” though it might seem that way on occasion.) The nostalgically minded may want to note that the late-in-the-day (1952) serial Zombies of the Stratosphere has come out. Warning to the unwary—the serial’s nowhere near as good as the title might suggest, and even though Leonard Nimoy is in it, he’s not exactly featured. There are better serials out there.

Notable TV screenings

Even TV screenings are on the slim side this week, but there are a couple unusual items this Friday on Turner Classic Movies.

The Circus Queen Murder Friday, Sept. 25, 9:45 a.m., TCM
For years, Roy William Neill’s (the man who made most of Universal’s Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone) The Circus Queen Murder (1933) was one of those films that you only ever saw if you happened to run into it at a cinema convention. That’s the sort of thing that causes movies to get a legendary reputation that often isn’t borne out when you actually catch up with them. While that’s sort of the case here, this second (and last) film featuring Adolphe Menjou as Anthony Abbott’s fictional detective Thatcher Colt is still a pretty good, stylish mystery. It’s not as good as the previous year’s Night Club Lady (even more rarely shown), but Menjou makes for a dashing and amusing sleuth. And really any movie that boasts Dwight Frye—chewing the scenery like he’s playing Renfield in Dracula all over again—as a maniacal jealous husband can’t be all bad. The big problem is that the mystery is pretty unmysterious, but the cast and Neill’s atmospheric direction mostly make up for that. Since this isn’t a film from TCM’s own library, it’s not likely to be shown very often. I think this is only the second time it’s been on.

Man’s Castle Friday, Sept. 25, 11 a.m., TCM
Another rarity not from the standard TCM catalogue is Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle (1933) with Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young. It’s not quite in the same league as most of Borzage’s earlier work at Fox, but it’s certainly of a piece with the filmmaker’s romanticism. The story’s a Depression yarn (one of the few to depict people living in shanty town encampments) with Tracy as a tough guy looking out for himself while making a meager living doing stunt advertising. Things change when he meets Tina and the two become an oddly matched pair of lovers: She dotes on him; he verbally abuses her (shades of Borzage’s 1930 Liliom). But his abuse is only masking his basic insecurity over showing any feelings. The proceedings are on the melodramatic side, and Borzage typically romanticizes many aspects of poverty—not in the least by imbuing the film with a visual quality that’s often luminous. As is always the case with one of Borzage’s personal works, however, it works because of the filmmaker’s innate belief in the ability of his characters to transform and transcend themselves.

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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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12 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Sept. 23-29: A bit of a lull

  1. There’s also some who have reservations over its 88-minute running time
    For lord’s sake, why? Sounds like the perfect length for a lightweight action thriller. I don’t have the attention span for 210 minutes of punches and explosions (I’m looking at your Transformers II). Casablanca is only 100 minutes long and it clips along like a race car. Brevity is often a virtue. A lean structure is not a bad thing.

  2. Ken Hanke

    For lord’s sake, why? Sounds like the perfect length for a lightweight action thriller. I don’t have the attention span for 210 minutes of punches and explosions (I’m looking at your Transformers II). Casablanca is only 100 minutes long and it clips along like a race car. Brevity is often a virtue. A lean structure is not a bad thing.

    I’m not apt to argue the point, but as you know there are those (well, one anyway) who would tell you I have the attention span of a gnat. Myself, I’d rather have 65 nearly perfect minutes of Ulmer’s The Black Cat or 80 minutes of Sternberg’s Shanghai Express than most two-plus hour movies I can think of. I really think the fondness for length for its own sake was the result of the battle with TV in the 1950s. There had always been long movies, but they didn’t tend to feel like they were padded just to be long. In the 50s they often did. And it continues, but now I think it’s a combination of habit and the idea that people will feel cheated if they get only 90 minutes of movie for their 9 or 10 bucks.

  3. Jim Donato

    Mr. Dylan. Parse what you just wrote: “I don’t have the attention span for 210 minutes of punches and explosions.” When you think about it that statement makes no sense on the face of it. I think the crux of the matter is that you have too ample an attention span to be squandered on 210 minutes of punches and explosions!

    A cursory examination of FX blockbusters reveals that the main costs of these movies (apart from publicity and marketing) are the costly visual effects. One would think that it would make all of the fiscal sense in the world if Transformers II were 87 minutes long. It would still be (“realistic” computer graphic cartoons of) robots beating the hell out of each other, but:

    1) it would cost less
    2) theatre chains could squeeze in at least two more showings a day to meet the furious demand!

    I can’t imagine this scenario being carried out without a huge monetary upside to those who make and show such movies.

  4. Ken Hanke

    theatre chains could squeeze in at least two more showings a day to meet the furious demand!

    Well, one at least — the general rule is 4 shows a day for anything over 100 minutes and 5 for anything under. And having learned far more about theater chains than I ever wanted to, I can assure you that they would go lollipops over the idea. Of course, if a theater chain thought it could make a 25 cent profit on it, there’s not much they wouldn’t go lollipops over.

    I can’t imagine this scenario being carried out without a huge monetary upside to those who make and show such movies.

    The problem lies with the fans, who have been taught to believe that bigger/longer is better, that bigger/longer is inherently a barometer of importance and that they’re getting ripped off unless they occupy that seat for a substantial period of time. The studios helped create that mindset, so they’ve no one else to blame.

  5. Jim Donato

    I suppose it is also cogent to factor Michael Bay’s ego into the equation!

  6. Ken Hanke

    I suppose it is also cogent to factor Michael Bay’s ego into the equation!

    I think it inescapable, but don’t forget the other name associated with the Transformers movies — Spielberg. More talented than Bay (hell, Brett Ratner is more talented than Bay), but not exactly lacking in ego.

  7. Jim Donato

    The Great Spielberg??! The Norman Rockwell of the cinema?! Associated with a common entertainment like Transformers II? Why sir, I had no idea.

  8. Ken Hanke

    The Great Spielberg??! The Norman Rockwell of the cinema?! Associated with a common entertainment like Transformers II? Why sir, I had no idea.

    Co-executive producer. His name is prominently on both movies.

  9. Dread P. Roberts

    Co-executive producer. His name is prominently on both movies.

    Isn’t that Spielberg’s title for every mainstream blockbuster that he himself hasn’t directed. Well Ok, maybe not every, but at least 80-90% of these ‘popcorn’ flicks have his name somewhere in the credits – and all of the movies in the 80’s.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Isn’t that Spielberg’s title for every mainstream blockbuster that he himself hasn’t directed. Well Ok, maybe not every, but at least 80-90% of these ‘popcorn’ flicks have his name somewhere in the credits – and all of the movies in the 80’s.

    I don’t if it’s quite that widespread, though I don’t keep track of it either. I’m not sure why it sticks out on these — except that he seemed to have been a more active participant, and the first one had his personality stamped all over it with all its comic suburbia schtick. Of course, there’s no filmmaking term that’s as elastic as a producer’s credit.

  11. Sean Williams

    there are those (well, one anyway) who would tell you I have the attention span of a gnat.

    Who on Earth would make such a ridiculous accusation? A cursory glance at the Mountain Xpress review archives disproves it.

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