Last week wasn't very much fun, was it? There we were gathered together — gloomy and despondent — huddled around a single, meager mainstream release and a documentary no one cared about. (The situation was so bad from my perspective that I opted to make the Weekly Pick one of the Special Showings.) This week is somewhat more promising — in its way. (What we're really waiting for are the next two weeks.) Exactly how promising you will find it depends a great deal on how much you are jazzed about yet another Hobbit movie — that and your Tyler Perry tolerance.
Yes, indeedy, Peter Jackson is back with part two of his three-part adaptation of one rather slender book — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. (This is apparently not related in any way to Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, so don't get your hopes up on that score.) This is the middle section of Mr. Tolkien's yarn — always the tricky part — as poked, prodded and otherwise caressed into something of greater size by the creative Jackson. I freely confess that after the whole Lord of the Rings business, I'd had enough of these riots of crepe hair and wizardry for a lifetime. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I was reasonably entertained — slapstick dwarf nonsense to one side — by the first entry. Oh, I'll never see it again, but it was fine for what it was. I expect this to be much of the same. I also expect it to make oceans of money. Certainly, it will easily be the hit of the week — for what that's worth.
It is almost certainly worth considerably more than Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas. Sure, I long ago adopted a "lie back and think of England" attitude toward Tyler Perry's peculiarly distinctive oeuvre. Hell, I've even championed a couple of them — and, in one case, got accused of being on Mr. Perry's payroll for my pains. I have nothing against yet another Perry movie. This will be my 15th foray into the cinema of Tyler Perry. What is there left to fear? Well, Perry has managed to come up with something on that score — the presence of Larry the Cable Guy. I really thought Mr. The Cable Guy had been banished to TV, direct-to-video and hawking digestive aids — and now Tyler Perry has brought him back to the big screen. I must remember to send him a note of thanks. Or something.
So, what do we lose? Well, the Fine Arts is holding steady with Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena. The Carolina is keeping those too, as well as 12 Years a Slave, The Book Thief and About Time. However, they are dropping All Is Lost, and (no surprise) Spinning Plates. Plus, there are a number of things opening next week — and, of course, on Christmas Day. It is a wise move to catch that which you've missed this week. About Time and 12 Years a Slave look especially vulnerable.
This week, the Thursday Horror Picture is showing Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (1996) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is screening Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980) on Friday, Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Asheville Film Society is running Brian Desmond-Hurst's A Christmas Carol (1951) — the definitive film of the story with Alastair Sim as the definitive Scrooge — at 8 p.m. on Tue., Dec. 17 in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress — with full reviews in the online edition.
The big deal (I guess) this week is Despicable Me 2, followed by Fast & Furious 6. More notable, though, is Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt. It didn't play here, but it nearly made my top Foreign Language list and is certainly worth a look. Cashing in ... excuse me, tying in with next week's release of Saving Mr. Banks. the folks at Disney are bringing out the special 50th Anniversary Edition of Mary Poppins this week. (Never mind that it's not really at the 50-year mark just yet.) In a similar vein, the Samuel Goldwyn Company is trotting out a DVD of Norman McLeod's 1947 version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This is strictly for those with a high Danny Kaye tolerance.
Notable TV Screenings
Assuming you've never seen it, Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) is on TCM at 1 a.m. on Friday night, Dec. 13 (or Saturday morning). And it's followed at 3:15 a.m. by Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge (1971) — a film that doesn't hold up that well, but is still worth a look.
Saturday finds a Claudette Colbert triple feature starting at 8 p.m. with Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story (1942). It's followed at 9:45 by Irvimg Pichel's superior soaper Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) — a film in which Orson Welles claimed to have beleagured his leading lady by poking her with a dildo during a big dramatic scene. And it concludes at 11:45 p.m. with Mitchell Leisen's romantic comedy Midnight (1939).
Sunday night, Dec. 15, finds a pair of agreeable Christmas comedies with William Keighley's The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941) at 8 p.m. It's not perfect, but it does offer Monty Woolley in perhaps his greatest role. Plus, it boasts penguins and a (rear-screen projected) octopus — things most Christmas movies could benefit from. It's followed at 10 p.m. by Sidney Lanfield's Bob Hope Christmas comedy The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) -- one of Hope's last really good movies. Its most famous scene — the "Silver Bells" number — was added after the fact in reshoots and was directed by Frank Tashlin.