It seems unlikely that we can hope for anything like the pretty spectacular disaster of After Earth this weekend — in large part because the mainstream offerings are less ambitious. Let's face it, no one really wants the second week of their big shiny release going up against next week's Superman re-boot. Still, there are two mainstream titles this week — and three art titles.
It's unusual that we get three new art/indie titles in one week, but that's the case this week. The Carolina is opening The Sapphires and The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the Fine Arts is opening What Maisie Knew. That's a pretty heavy duty line-up. As is usually the case — since the art film world places a higher value on reviews — I've already seen all three of the movies and reviews are in this week's paper. All of the films are worthy, but you'll notice that I singled out The Sapphires for this week's top film. Actually, that was a very close call — and it almost could have been The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is a much more ambitious work — possibly too ambitious.
The Sapphires is a much simpler film — even an old fashioned one — but its simpler aims are more effectively achieved. The fact-based story of an Aborigine singing group getting their moment in the sun singing Motown tunes to the troops in Vietnam in 1968 is really nothing more than a pretty standard show-biz story. But it's a show-biz story that's given a freshness by virtue of its real-life underpinnings and its energetic and largely unknown cast (the closest thing to a star is Chris O'Dowd). It's of the shameless, uplifting crowd-pleaser category — and with the bonus of a killer soundtrack. But there's nothing inherently wrong with that — especially when it's done this well. It's the kind of film that will probably appeal to the same audience that so took to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last summer — and that's an audience that's been rather underserved so far this year.
Of course, in addition to this there are the week's so-called big releases.
The first of these is The Internship — a slightly mystifying attempt to cash in on the previous pairing of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, which was Wedding Crashers eight years ago. Not only is this a pretty hefty wait between pictures, but the logic of following up a hugely successful R-rated raunchy comedy with a more "viewer friendly" PG-13 one seems a little fuzzy. And while replacing Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin isn't necessarily a bad thing — after all, the man subsequently gave us Fred Claus and The Change-Up — replacing him with Shawn Levy is another matter. One might note that Levy did direct the fairly pleasing Date Night (2010), but that was after a run of some of the most dismal comedies of the 21st century — Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, and both Night at the Museum movies. The signs are just not good for this little opus about Wilson and Vaughn as overaged interns at Google. Equally gloom-inducing is the fact that there are no reviews at this point.
The other offering is James DeMonaco's The Purge — a futuristic bit of sci-fi/horror about a society where all crime is legal for 12 hours once a year. Setting aside the questionable nature of the film's "high concept" concept, it should be noted that DeMonaco's work (mostly writing) includes Jack (1996), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), and Skinwalkers (2006). I don't know about you, but this doesn't fill me with anticipation. This one seems to be more than a little influenced by Assault on Precinct 13 — right down to casting Ethan Hawke. The surprising thing about The Purge is that the British press — it opened in the U.K. last week — have been fairly supportive of the film. At the same time, the word from horror-centric reviewers (presumably the core audience for a film like this) has been much less rosy. I guess we can find out on Friday.
Despite the arrival of five new movies this week, we aren't actually losing anything. That's not so surprising when you realize the number of screens last week that were taken up with multiple copies of the same movie. Throw in the fact that the Fine Arts split Renoir and Mud (which still has a full set of shows at The Carolina) and the status remains the same.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running Ti West's The House of the Devil (2009) at Thursday, June 6, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Lindsay Anderson's If.... (1968) on Friday, June 7, at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross (2011) Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is running Alfred E. Green's Union Depot (1932) Tuesday, June 11, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress with complete reviews in the online edition.
The surprisingly good "zombie rom-com" Warm Bodies is the best of this week's offerings, but, if you must, we also get A Good Day to Die Hard and Identity Thief.
Notable TV Screenings
It's hardly surprising, but it's always worth noting — James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is showing on TCM on Thu., June 6 at 8 p.m. On Friday night, starting at 8 p.m., TCM has an all night run of movies that have their basis in the writings (both literary and for the screen) of Dashiell Hammett. First up is Roy Del Ruth's original version of The Maltese Falcon (1931). It's followed (at 9:30) by Rouben Mamoulian's City Streets (1931). Then we have W.S. Van Dyke's After the Thin Man (1936) at 11 p.m., Stuart Heisler's The Glass Key (1942) at 1 a.m., John Huston's version of The Maltese Falcon (1941) at 2:30 a.m., and William Dieterle's downright strange version of The Maltese Falcon, Satan Met a Lady (1936) at 4:30 a.m. There are worse ways to lose sleep.