This is an interesting week. Everything -- even the art titles -- open on Wednesday, which is unusual, Thanksgiving or not. The three mainstream openers -- Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets -- are all of the family-friendly persuasion, which isn't surprising at this time of year. What is surprising is that they've all been seen by some critics of note, and have all fared very nicely in the process. It will undoubtedly be noted that the bulk of the Arthur Christmas reviews are from the UK -- its country or origin -- and are therefore suspect. The problem with that bit of "conspiracy" theory is that the Brit reviewers love nothing better than trashing their own though some weird sense of cultural inferiority. Neither of the art titles -- Like Crazy at The Carolina and Martha Marcy May Marlene at the Fine Arts -- could even slightly be construed as family-friendly, especially the latter.
As is often the case, I've already seen the art titles -- Like Crazy and Martha Marcy May Marlene -- and the reviews for both are in this week's paper. I'm going to pretty much leave it at that this week. Let's just say that neither or these is in contention for a slot on my Ten Best list this year. Anything further you can find out in the reviews themselves.
It does indeed look like there's a chance that all three of the mainstream releases are going to be worth your attention -- and I really can't imagine anyone who's interested in film not being curious to see just exactly what Martin Scorsese does with a children's story. Actually, yes, I can imagine one person I know not being curious, but that's a separate can of worms altogether. So anyway, let's take a prognosticating squint at these three movies.
First up is Arthur Christmas, which comes to us from the Aardman Animations. These are the folks behind Wallace and Gromit and Flushed Away (2006). The premise of the film is partly a look into just exactly how Santa can cover the Earth (sounds like a paint company slogan) in one night, and partly a standard-issue unlikely-hero-proves-himself yarn. In this case, that's the title character (voiced by James McAvoy) who, upon learning that one child has been missed, takes matters into his own hands -- with the help of outmoded and out-to-pasture Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) -- to set things right. OK, so that's not the most strikingly original plot, but any movies with Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton providing the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Santa and Bill Nighy doing the honors with the elder Santa is clearly onto something. I'm living in hope that that awful Vampire Weekend song, "Holiday," is only in the trailer and not the film itself. I'd have to dock the film a half-star on general principles for bad taste if it's actually on the soundtrack.
Alphabetically speaking, this brings us to Hugo, which, for me, is one of the most keenly anticipated films of the year. And, no, that's not because I think Martin Scorsese can do no wrong. He has made a number of films that I can admire, but don't actually like. He's also made a couple where I can do neither. My excitement is simply because Hugo strikes me as being potentially the most personal film the man has ever made -- and perhaps is likely to make. In listening to and reading Scorsese on the topic of movies, this particular film -- forgeign though it may be (at least in subject matter) to his oeuvre -- has the appearance of being much nearer Scorsese the man than his other works. If we are to believe the early reviews -- and in the case of content, I see no reason not to -- this is more than a children's fantasy about a young boy (Asa Butterfield, Nanny McPhee Returns) living in a Paris railway station, and has much to do with movies, the magic of movies, and even film preservation. We don't have much longer to wait to find out.
As for The Muppets, I seem to be the only person in the world who hasn't been waiting for their return. This latest big screen incarnation has already garnered 30 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and of those, 30 are positive. Mind you, I have nothing against another Muppet movie, but neither am I excited about it. I'm glad to see that Amy Adams is in it, but I'm glad to see Amy Adams in just about anything. The story finds Adams and Jason Segel getting the Muppets back together to put on a show to save the old Muppet theater that's about to be knocked down by Texas oil man Chris Cooper, who wants to drill for oil beneath it. It sounds perfectly serviceable as a story and will provide room for the Muppets to do all the things audiences want them to do.
Movie schedules are on the screwy side with the holiday. For example, the Fine Arts loses The Way on Wednesday and Thursday, but brings it back for one show a day -- split with The Skin I Live In -- on Friday. The second-run theaters are confusing. Asheville Pizza is closed on Thanksgiving and their schedule doesn't change till Friday. On the other hand, I've seen Cinebarre's list through Thanksgiving, but have no clue what they're doing come Friday. Anyway, The Skin I Live In is staying at the Fine Arts (losing its 4:20 show come Friday) and Margin Call is staying at The Carolina.
Thanksgiving gets its own peculiar celebration from the Thursday Horror Picture Show and the turkey known as The Giant Claw (1957) on Thursday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema, on the other hand, is taking the week off. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Fantasia 2000 (2000) on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society closes out November with Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll in Lewis Milestone's The General Died at Dawn (1936) on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. Information on all three titles can be found in this week's Xpress.
Probably the most appealing title this week for the largest number of people is going to be Super 8, but don't overlook Sarah's Key and take this opportunity to catch up with The Devil's Double, which almost no one went to see in the theater. For that matter, there's also Spy Kids: All the Time in the World and, alas, Conan the Barbarian.
Notable TV screenings
I've gone through the TCM listings twice now and I'm coming up empty-handed as far as finding anything really notable in the sense that it's something work checking out that doesn't run with a (sometimes alarming) degree of frequency. Check it for yourself if there are still things TCM runs fairly often you haven't caught up with.