So last week we got a scant two movies -- both of which lived down to their promises of mediocrity -- and one art movie -- that drew about as well as a quarantine sign. This week we're being bombarded with choices -- six of them to be exact. Two of these I know to be good. Two of them I think look interesting. The two others...well...
We've arrived at the curious time of year when the mainstream releases start containing titles that look suspiciously like art titles that got out of hand. So far we've had The Master and Seven Psychopaths -- and, to a lesser extent, Looper -- that fall into this category. This week we get Cloud Atlas. I don't object to this on general principles, but it does play havoc with the regular art titles. First of all, it makes distributors and bookers shy away from the smaller titles. Moreover, it drains the audience for the titles that do slip through.
This week we have two cases that demonstrate what I'm talking about. The Fine Arts is opening Liberal Arts and The Carolina is opening Hello I Must Be Going. I've seen -- and the reviews are in this week's paper -- both titles and both are films of merit. In fact, they're almost a wash in terms of quality. I liked Liberal Arts slightly more, but only slightly -- and for reasons that are probably more matters of personal quirk than anything else. Both films are certainly worth seeing, but I suspect neither will gain much traction in terms of viewers -- not through any fault of their own, but because much of their audience will be siphoned off by Cloud Atlas. So spare a thought for the smaller movies this week if you can. Remember the lively art/indie scene we enjoy here is wholly dependent on our support of those films and the theaters that show them.
Now, let's get on with the bigger picture of the movie week.
Taking things alphabetically, we come to Chasing Mavericks. This is a movie that was started by Curtis Hanson, who had to bow out late in production for "health reasons" and was replaced for last three weeks of shooting by Michael Apted. (At least that's the official story.) Frankly, I can think of few things I have less interest in than another "true life" uplifting family-friendly sports drama. But since they keep making these things, apparently there are those who are interested in them. This one is based on the story of surfer Jay Moriarty (played by newcomer Johnny Weston) and his mentor Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler, fresh from his career-stalling Machine Gun Preacher). The studio assures us that it's "inspirational," which is usually a red flag. What surprises me most about this one is that there aren't a bunch of dubious "user reviews" from people on the IMDb who were "lucky enough to see an advance screening."
On another level entirely is Cloud Atlas -- the 172 minute collaboration involving Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. This is an apparently sprawling epic (in the literal sense of the word) from the novel by David Mitchell. A roster of name actors -- Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw -- play multiple roles (and sometimes genders) in a series of interconnected stories that span continents and centuries. (And unlike the novel, the stories in the film are intercut.) It's a huge project that is nothing if not ambitious and daunting -- seemingly an attempt at making a grand symphony of a movie. As such, it's bound to be a polarizing film. As of this moment, it's gotten largely positive reviews -- and seems to be a love it or hate it experience. Justin Souther saw it in Toronto and is very much on the positive side, which I take as a good sign. However, this is one of those movies where sometimes the bad reviews make me want to see it as much or more than the good ones. If there was any doubt in my mind that I wanted to see this, it was completely washed away when David Edelstein wrote that it was "the most jaw-droppingly woo-woo piece of sci-fi romantic drivel since The Fountain." As a keen fan of The Fountain, all I can say is sign me up!
And then there's this thing called Fun Size -- the very title of which alarms me. You see, some 15 to 20 years ago I found myself engaged in some online interaction (I cannot remember how) with a tiresome kid calling himself "Fun Size," a name he'd apparently gotten off a miniature Milky Way wrapper. I sincerely trust there is no connection, but you never know. Anyway, this movie appears to be yet another teen comedy about "the big party." In this case, the big party in question is a Halloween one, thereby making the movie all seasonal and timely. It's the directorial debut of Josh Schwartz -- the producer of the TV show Gossip Girl. That perhaps tells you much. It has a cast of people I've never or barely heard of and has a pretty excruitiating trailer. I suppose it should be noted that it affords the viewer the opportunity of seeing a Volvo humped by a giant pirate chicken. Strictly for intellectuals, I guess.
Christophe Gans' Silent Hill (2006) remains one of high points in 21st century horror cinema -- and is still the go-to movie for the creative use of barbed wire. With that in mind, I hold out some hope for the sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation (also available in 3D). There are some catches, however. Let's start with the fact that neither Gans, nor writer Roger Avary are back onboard. The writer-director chores have fallen to Michael J. Bassett, whose Solomon Kane (2009) was well-regarded in some circles (I haven't seen it). Some of the original cast is back -- notably Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, and Deborah Kara Unger -- and Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss have been added. The trailer is mostly good, but the things that are good about it are all drawn from the original's imagery (the creepy nurses, for instance) and the things that are less appealing have the distinct look and feel of CGI. (Part of the brilliance of Gans's film lay in using CGI to enhance rather than actually create the effects.) So, who's to say? I'm ready to give it a chance. It's not like there's anything else worthwhile competing for your Halloween viewing.
Now, with all this, yes, we're losing some things. The most notable is probably The Master, which will be gone from all local screens come Friday. The Carolina is also losing Arbitrage and Beauty Is Embarassing (the performance of which was embarassing). And it should be noted that they are also reducing Frankenweenie to daytime shows.
This week's Thursday Horror Picture Show brings us the Mexican horrors of Curse of the Doll People (1961) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Oct. 25 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (1974) on Fri. Oct 26 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The TV film Night Gallery (1969) is this week's title from the Hendersonville Film Society at 2 p.m. Sun., Oct. 28 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society's Halloween offering is David Butler's You'll Find Out (1940) -- with the villainous talents of Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff -- at 8 p.m. on Tue., Oct. 30 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all films in this week's Xpress with extended coverage in the online edition.
There's a wide array of releases this week. The most notable of these is Take This Waltz followed by (at least according to Mr. Souther) Magic Mike. The most fun is probably Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And then there's Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection (which I got crap for giving a good review on Rotten Tomatoes) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Notable TV Screenings
Of course, there's no shortage of classic -- and not so classic -- horror to be found on TCM this week.(Just check the listings for Halloween.) But they've kind of buried Rex Ingram's silent horror classic (possibly the first ever Hollywood horror picture) The Magician (1926) at 7:15 a.m. on Wed., Oct. 24. It's followed, by the way, with the rarely seen 1929 version of The Letter with the legendary Jeanne Eagels -- which actually preserves the ending that couldn't be used when Bette Davis starred in her version in 1940. (All this is a part of a day long series of movies based on works by Somerset Maugham.)