There's really no way to describe the layout of this week's movies other than calling it a total mess. We have movies. Oh, my, do we have movies. And in itself, that's not the problem. No, the problem is that some of them arrive on Wednesday, some of them arrive on Friday and some of them arrive on Sunday. If you want to make it just that much worse, some (maybe most) theaters are opening two of them on Tuesday night. My only suggestion is that you pay attention and keep those theater movie-line numbers close at hand and hope that the theaters can keep up with updating those lines. (Having spent more than my share of time recording the "Hello and thank you for calling" phone message at a theater, I know all the possible flaws in the updating process — including everybody thinking someone else did it.) And, no, unless somebody is holding back information, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not opening locally, even though the IMDb makes it look like it is.
Broadly speaking, what we'll have once the dust settles are a raft of mainstream titles — The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, We Bought a Zoo, The Darkest Hour and War Horse — and one lonely art title — My Week with Marilyn — which opens at both The Carolina and the Fine Arts. And it does so on Friday, making it one of the least confusing ones going.
Of all this stuff opening, I've seen My Week with Marilyn and The Adventures of Tintin (not so odd at this time of year). There are reviews for both in this week's paper. One of them I liked a lot. Beyond that, I will not say. I will, however, say that Tintin opens on Wednesday.
Now, let's try to make some sense out of all the others.
Going in order of their appearance, let's take David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first. (This is one of the ones that opens some places on Tuesday night.) Though I see no real artistic percentage in doing this English-language automatic remake of last year's art house hit from Sweden, I realize that a very large portion of American moviegoers are subtitle-phobic and complaining about a remake is pointless. It's also a very old practice (see Ingrid Bergman's U.S. debut in a remake of her Swedish film from a year or so earlier). This version, of course, has the benefit of a known star (Daniel Craig) and recognizable supporting players (Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright). And the none-too-surprising claim is that this is less a remake than a new adaptation of the novel. That remains to be seen, though it would be hard to argue that the Swedish film was anything other than a largely faithful translation of book to film. Admirers of David Fincher are jazzed, of course. I confess only to being curious.
Much interest surrounds Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (another Tuesday night opener), which was already released in IMAX last week, meaning that it has been pretty fully reviewed — and to very strong notices. Tom Cruise — who, even his fans have to admit, has not fared well of recent years — is actually getting good reviews, though there's a sense that he's not the reason the film is receiving all the critical love. No, the critical selling point is more the transition of animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to live-action director. Word is that he has brought new life, new energy, and a ton or two of stylishness to this otherwise rather tired franchise. We shall see. Not being a fan of the series or Mr. Cruise, I'll probably only see this if Justin Souther tells me I need to.
Friday brings us, as noted, My Week with Mailyn, but it also brings us Cameron Crowe's family-friendly We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. This marks Crowe's return to directing since 2005 and the stupefying disaster known as Elizabethtown, so he has a good deal riding on this. Taking the PG-rated, fact-based, family-friendly line may been a smart move, since no one is likely to go see this thinking they're going to get another Almost Famous (2000) and comparisons are less inevitable. So far the response from critics has been generally favorable, but several adjectives shy of being excited. Whether the film will actually find much of an audience at such a busy time of the moviegoing year is another matter altogether. "Pleasant" isn't a strong selling point when there are options aplenty.
The peculiar mania for releasing films on Christmas Day means that we also get two films on Sunday (I'm not sure that's ever happened before). The more important of the two is, of course, Steven Spielberg's War Horse. (Two Spielberg pictures in one week seems a little like overkill, but no matter.) The film boasts no big name stars and so the whole push comes down to Spielberg and a horse. (That Richard Curtis co-wrote the film with Billy Elliott author Lee Hall may be a plus, but it's hardly the sort of thing that means much at the box office.) It's based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and is a "sweeping" tale of a boy (Brit Disney Channel TV actor Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey. Set against a background of WWI makes it more "important," I guess. Honestly, the trailer looks like everything I don't like about Spielberg compressed into two-and-a-half minutes, which is perhaps the very reason that it's the big Christmas Day opener.
And once again we have a taste of counterprogramming for Christmas in the guise of a sort of horror film (of the PG-13 variety) in the sci-fi mould with The Darkest Hour. starring Emile Hirsch. The film is being sold on the strength of the name Timur Bekmambetov — or more correctly on the fact that he made the Russian Night Watch movies and the U.S. quasi-hit Wanted (2008). Yes, well, it is true that he is one of the producers of The Darkest Hour, but the film was actually made by Chris Gorak, a fellow with a single, little-seen directing credit,Right at Your Door from 2006, which, it seems, got him named by Variety as one of the "ten directors to watch." This is your chance to do just that with this tale of five young people battling an alien invasion in Moscow. Whether or not this is your idea of how to spend Christmas Day is up to you.
Now, with all these incoming movies, we're obviously losing things this week. The question is exactly when. Anonymous is already gone from The Carolina and Melancholia will be come Friday (with the 11:45 a.m. and 7 p.m. shows already cut on Wednesday and Thursday). Take Shelter (which underperformed anyway) will be gone from the Fine Arts on Friday.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show has Tod Browning's Christmas-set The Devil-Doll (1936) starring Lionel Barrymore on Thursday, Dec. 22, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina — with, of course, the weekly chapter of Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) coming on at 7:40 p.m. The Asheville Film Society ends the year with a W.C. Fields double-feature — Edward F. Cline's Million Dollar Legs (1932) and Francis Martin's Tillie and Gus (1933) — at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27, in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all these films in this week's Xpress.
Just in time for Christmas — and it would make a pretty spiffy gift, come to think of it — is Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, but don't overlook the DVD debut of Blackthorn while you're at it. Margin Call is also certainly worth a look — Dolphin Tale, Straw Dogs and Colombiana not so much. Those waiting for the plain DVD release of Julie Taymor's much-beleagured The Tempest will finally be rewarded this week. And, of course, there's Glee: The Concert Movie — the film that no one went to see in theaters is now the DVD no one wants.
Notable TV screenings
It's Christmas week. That means a lot of good (not all of it, mind), but pretty predictable and utterly safe titles.