Even though we get two mainstream releases -- New Year's Eve and The Sitter -- and two art titles -- The Descendants and Into the Abyss -- plus one impossible-to-classify offering -- Anonymous -- this week feels like the calm before the storm that is Christmas. And while I can't say I'm quivering in anticipation for the mainstream titles, I'm pretty happy with the other ones.
The big news this week art-wise is, of course, Alexander Payne's The Descendants -- a film that has proven so popular with audiences that it's being treated more like a classy mainstream film than an art title. (Think The King's Speech or Midnight in Paris -- only not quite that good.) This sort of thing won't end here -- expect to see it happen at least once more this season. At the moment, I know that it's opening at The Carolina and the Fine Arts. I expect it to be opening at one of the big box theaters, too, but I don't have that confirmed yet.
The Descendantsis one of those films that I've already seen and which is reviewed in this week's paper. As indicated above, I'll go ahead and reveal that I liked it a good deal. I've also seen and reviewed Anonymous (which turned out to actually open last week at the Flat Rock Cinema, but leaves there on Friday.) -- and I liked it ... uh, in a way -- just not perhaps the way intended. You'll see. And while I haven't seen it, Justin Souther has seen and reviewed Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss. In other words, all we're left to prognosticate about here are those two bonafide mainstream titles.
Around Valentine's Day in 2010, Garry Marshall -- aided by writer Katherine Fugate -- brought us the fairly egregious Valentine's Day. The film is mostly memorable to me for the fact that Julia Roberts got paid a reported three million dollars for about six minutes of screen time. Now we get New Year's Eve from the same director-writer team -- another holiday-centered star-studded affair that appears to be minus Ms. Roberts. Don't fret, however, since Ashton Kutcher is on hand again (you were worried, weren't you?), as is Hector Elizondo, but then Garry Marshall never makes a movie without him. This one differs, you see, by being set in NYC rather than LA and, of course, it's about a different holiday (I can't wait for St. Swithin's Day). Judging by the stills, pregnancy seems to be a featured element, too. Oh, and look -- Hilary Swank is onboard showing off her skills at romantic comedy! Good Lord.
Otherwise, there's The Sitter (note: that link is to the red band trailer which is NSFW) -- the latest from former darling of the indies, David Gordon Green, who seems to have learned that there's more money to be made in the world of the R rated raunchycom. What we have here appears to be Jonah Hill (chubby version) in an uncredited reworking of Adventures in Babysitting (1987) -- now "improved" with bad language and weed jokes. I'm sure there's a market for this -- a singularly depressing thought. If nothing else, you can expect the usual fine cinematography from Tim Orr.
This week, the only art title we're losing is The Skin I Live In, which takes its leave from the Fine Arts. The Way and Martha Marcy May Marlene are being split (I do not expect them to be there next week). Melancholia is staying at The Carolina, as are Like Crazy and Margin Call, but I suspect the latter two will not be there come Dec. 16.
This week's Thursday Horror Picture Show is Roy William Neill's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), screening at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, in the Cinema Loung at The Carolina. Chapter Nine of the serial Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) will show at 7:40 p.m. before the feature. World Cinema is showing the Oscar-winning Czech film Closely Watched Trains (1966) at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9, in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto (2005) is the week's title at the Asheville Film Society, and will be at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress.
The big title this week is The Help, which is worth seeing if only for the performances (Viola Davis is a good bet for an Oscar nomination). Also up are the agreeable Cowboys & Aliens, The Hangover Part II (I saw the last hour of it and even simian value couldn't save it), The Debt, and Mr. Popper's Penguins. If you want to shell out for the Blu-ray (there appears to be no plain DVD), Life, Above All is also coming out.
Notable TV Screenings
Nothing particularly out of the ordinary seems to be showing up this week, though there are some nice choices among the TCM usual suspects.