Considering the fact that the first time I saw the trailer for Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story some admirer yelled, “You suck!” from the back of the theater, and since the Fine Arts Theatre lost one poster for the film to some wit who scrawled an expletive across it, I’d say that we’re in for the usual controversy that lies in the wake of every Moore film. And bear in mind, these responses came from folks who haven’t even seen the movie they already hate. Of course, probably 90 percent of the film’s most violent detractors never will see the film, making the spectacle of their ire just that much more entertaining. I have seen Capitalism—which opens Friday at the Fine Arts and the Carolina Asheville (the only confirmed local venues at this point)—and you can read my take on it in this Wednesday’s Xpress.
Capitalism is only one of several movies that make this week more interesting than last week—not that it’s all that difficult to be more interesting than last week’s crop. In addition to Mr. Moore’s blood-pressure-raiser, we have Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It; Rick Gervais’ directorial debut, The Invention of Lying; a splattery zombie comedy (is the zom-com the next new genre?), Zombieland; the 3-D-ified double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2; and the indie film Humpday. (The review for this last also appears in tomorrow’s Xpress.) It’s a rare week where there are three mainstream releases I’m actually anxious to see, but this one qualifies.
While I can’t claim any great enthusiasm for the topic of roller derby, I am intrigued by the promise of the trailer for Whip It. It’s pretty obvious that the movie’s really a female-empowerment opus, and that’s fine. I have no quarrel with that. The real interest for me, however, lies in the trailer’s suggestion that Ellen Page has a range that extends beyond Juno—something that her last film, the dismal Smart People (2008), did not suggest. Plus, it’ll be interesting to see what Drew Barrymore does behind the camera. It’s been a long road from the first time I saw Barrymore (with maybe one line of dialogue) in Ken Russell’s Altered States back in 1980 (she’d have been 4 years old) to this.
Ricky Gervais’ last attempt at stardom, Ghost Town (2008), was an undeserved box-office flop (probably because that title sucks), but The Invention of Lying may well change that. This time Gervais also co-wrote and co-directed the film. The concept is intriguing—a movie that takes place in an alternate reality where everyone speaks the truth, until one day when Gervais hits on the concept of lying and discovers that something other than total honesty may not be such a bad thing. When you think about it—and apparently the film does—that’s probably more true than not.
I have to admit I’m pretty much zombied out. I’m tired of zombie movies and zombie walks and zombiethons and people playing fantasy games about surviving zombie attacks. That doesn’t keep Zombieland from having a certain appeal—not in the least because it looks a little like Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) with Woody Harrelson standing in for Harry Dean Stanton and Jesse Eisenberg taking the Emilio Estevez position. That may be wishful thinking based solely on the trailer, but it’s enough to officially make me want to see the thing.
This is also the week where several good movies disappear from local screens. Come Friday, you can say goodbye to Cold Souls, District 9 and Not Quite Hollywood. Catch ‘em while you can. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that Asheville Pizza and Brewing is brining back Up, albeit only for matinees.
For me, the biggest news in DVD releases this week is the rental-only appearance of Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom. This is very much in the running for my favorite film of 2009 and I’m very much interested in seeing it again. Actually, I’m very much interested in owning my own copy of it, but that’s another matter.
Otherwise, I’m glad to get the chance to catch up with Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, which comes out in the normal fashion this week. I missed it when it was in the theater, but people whose tastes usually line up with mine (including co-critic Justin Souther) thought highly of it, so I definitely plan on catching up with it. I wish I could say I’d missed Management—also appearing today—on the big screen, but it was the opening-night movie at the Florida Film Festival this year, and I was there. I’ll admit I napped through part of it—as did Ken Russell’s wife, Lisi. The fact that Russell stayed awake through the whole film, and the experience can hardly be said to have brightened his mood, makes me disinclined to see the part I missed. The fact that it’s on DVD pleases me, however, since it diminishes the chances that I’ll ever have to review it.
Notable TV screenings
October is here, which means horror movies are going to start easing into the programming on Turner Classic Movies. I’m OK with that, but this first week isn’t that exciting, though a couple titles stand out, albeit not at the most convenient time of day. Still, it’s more exciting than Fox Movie Channel, which I’m getting tired of even checking. (Yes, Dunston Checks In is back there this week. Find it for yourself.)
White Zombie 6 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, TCM
Speaking of zombies, here’s Bela Lugosi in the first zombie picture ever made, White Zombie (1932). Everything that follows zombiewise stems from this little movie—a film for which, we’re told, Lugosi was paid a whopping 500 bucks. (The man had no head for business and an agent who should have been shot.) These zombies are a little different. They move much the same as the ones we’ve come to know (at least pre-Danny Boyle), but they don’t eat people, and, in fact, aren’t really dead, but are the result of some esoteric drug and mind control. Moreover, they exist mostly for the rather mundane purpose of providing labor for Lugosi’s Haitian sugar mill (“They are not worried about long hours”). Fortunately for Lugosi, the Haitian health department was apparently pretty lax, since the occasional zombie falls into the mill and gets mixed in with the sugar cane. The plot centers around a wealthy landowner who has the hots for Madge Bellamy and takes Lugosi’s advice to have her zombified in order to take her away from her fiancé. That doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it works surprisingly well, thanks to the film’s incredibly moody atmosphere and Lugosi’s throughly evil performance (the most unsympathetic of his career). Made on the cheap by the the Halperin Brothers, it’s a gorgeous-looking film that operates more on a creepiness factor than shock horror.
Mad Love 7:45 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, TCM
Peter Lorre’s first American film, Mad Love (1935), was also the final directorial effort of the great German cinematographer Karl Freund. It’s also in the running for the most purely sadistic horror film of the 1930s—something that lends credence to Zita Johann’s assessment of the director as a sadist from her experiences with him on his first directing job with The Mummy (1932). The oddest thing about this is that the film comes from the MGM factory—the most middle-brow, reactionary, white-bread studio of the era. Odder still is the fact that MGM’s other forays into horror are also heavy on the sadism. The film is a variation on The Hands of Orlac—the tale of a concert pianist (Colin Clive) whose hands are crushed in an accident and are replaced with the grafted-on hands of a murderer. As we all know, this will turn the recipient of such hands into a murderer himself. The focus of this version of the story, however, is on the surgeon who performs the operation, Dr. Gogol (Lorre), and much of what happens is psychological in nature, grounded in a plot by Gogol to make nice-nice with Orlac’s wife (Frances Drake). Gogol has already become fixated on her by getting his jollies from watching her being “tortured” onstage at the Theatre of Horrors prior to the accident. That the idea that someone could be sexually aroused by watching scenes of torture ever got past the censors is either remarkable, or simply a testament to how naive the censors were. In either case, this is a rather nasty little movie. I mean that in the nicest possible way.