Well, it's an interesting week, if nothing else. We have three mainstream films and one art title that is really two art titles (I'll explain that later). At least two of the mainstream releases are in the keenly anticipated category — well, depending on who you talk to, of course.
First of all, let's tackle the art film(s), since I've seen The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014, which this year is actually The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films 2014 and The Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films 2014. Many of you think of these as one film, which is how it's been presented in the past, but the distributor has decreed that these are two separate films and are to be treated as such. I know that this may be off-putting to some viewers, but these are the conditions that prevail. In any case, both of these open on Friday at The Carolina. (And, no, before anyone asks, the documentaries are not showing. They've been too poorly attended in the past to warrant it.)
The films are generally very good — and, of course, it's nice to be able to know what they're awarding at the Oscars, assuming you follow that. If this change in presentation means you're only going to undertake one or the other, I'd go with the live action set. I think it's a little stronger and more interesting than the animated one. Also, if you saw Frozen in the theater (I didn't), I understand that you've already seen the Disney entry, Get a Horse!, which is one of the best of the animated films. (Bear in mind, that's coming from someone who isn't a big Disney fan.) In any case, both sets are worth seeing. The live action stand-out is probably The Voorman Problem — starring Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander, but the others are not bad and some of them are good indeed. And don't let me sell the animated films short. The steampunk take of Jacques Tati, Mr. Hublot is definitely what we'd call a keeper. My review of both packages is in this week's paper.
So let's wander on to the mainstream releases ...
There is a lot of interest in The Lego Movie. Right now, it hasn't garnered a single negative review. Not just that, but the (at the moment) 14 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes aren't just positive, they're gushing. One of my critic friends, Luke Y. Thompson, won't shut up about how wonderful it is. And it may well be. I don't know. I do know I've seen the trailer about three times too often, which I grant you is an occupational hazard. I just can't get enthused about it. It can't be a generational thing, since Legos go back to 1949, meaning they're even older than I am. But somehow or other they were never a part of my childhood — and goodness knows I had everything from Lincoln Logs to (my favorite) American Skyline — so that may be why this isn't enticing me. I begrudge no one their enthusiasm, but I'm on the sidelines here.
Despite the potential red flags over George Clooney's The Monuments Men being removed from awards season to February (a la last week's Labor Day), and the less-than stellar early reviews, I'm still keen on seeing it. When Clooney took up directing in 2002 with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he immediately established himself as a filmmaker worth watching. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) cemented the deal. Neither Leatherheads (2008), nor The Ides of March (2011) were bad, they just weren't remarkable and didn't live up to the promise of those first two films. Based on the story, the cast — Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett — and, yes, the trailer, suggested that The Monuments Men would be a return to form. Now, we're hearing — from several quarters — that it isn't. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't approaching this with a degree of caution, but it wouldn't be the first time I found myself in the minority on a film, should it prove better than its split-down-the-middle reviews suggest.
Bringing up the rear is the week's dark horse. Mark Waters' Vampire Academy. It stars people I never heard of, though it tosses in a few supporting players I recognize — like Gabriel Byrne, Joely Richardson and Olga Kurylenko. It's based on one of those best-selling books that you probably don't know if you're much over 20. In fact, there is a series of books, meaning that the Weinsteins are looking at this as yet another "next" Harry Potter or Twilight cash cow. It has been described as a mix of Twilight and X-Men. Well ... but what about the director? Well, Mark Waters established himself pretty firmly with Freaky Friday (2003) and Mean Girls, and his The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) was better than its box office. Otherwise, things like Just Like Heaven (2005), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) and Mr.Popper's Penguins (2011) do not bode well. His older brother, Daniel, wrote the film. Now, he wrote such things as Heathers (1988) and Batman Returns (1992), but those were some considerable time ago. And it hasn't been screened. What does this mean? Mostly, this is a crapshoot.
So what departs this week? Well, The Invisible Woman is the major casualty, and its departure was a foregone conclusion. Now, The Carolina is dropping The Wolf of Wall Street, but I don't know if any other theaters are hanging on to it at this point.
This week the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running Freddie Francis' Paranoiac (1963) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital (1982) on Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society is screening Daniel Petrie's My Life in Ruins (2009) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society's movie for the week in Neil Jordan's The Good Thief (2002) on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's Xpress with full reviews in the online edition.
There's some good stuff this week (and other things). For starters we get About Time and Dallas Buyers Club — two movies that qualify as must-see. For me, they qualify as must-own. Unfortunately, it pretty much goes to hell from there -- Escape Plan, Baggage Claim, Free Birds, and perhaps worst of all in its special way, Romeo & Juliet.
Notable TV Screenings
TCM is now fully enmeshed in its annual "31 Days of Oscar." In other words, you're on your own for a while.