An almost overwhelming amount of offerings this weekend, including the rare joys that only a film festival can offer.
The main draw this week in the Asheville Cinema Festival, running Thursday through Sunday across town. Silver Linings Playbook, starring Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), and Robert DeNiro kicks things off on Thursday at 7PM at the Regal Biltmore Grande. Friday and Saturday features an impressive assortment of feature-length and short films, spanning numerous genres and styles, including documentaries and animation. Screening downtown at the Asheville Community Theatre and the Masonic Lodge, these two days will include Q&As with the film’s creators and a handful of workshops with industry veterans. Winners will be announced at Saturday night’s awards party and will be screened during Sunday’s Best of the Fest back at the Biltmore Grande. Closing out the weekend will be Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Look for more information as the festival nears.
It’s been 12 years since Robert Zemeckis has made anything other than motion-capture films. It’s felt nearly that long since Denzel Washington was in something other than a Tony Scott action film or one of his own feel-good directorial features. They join forces on Flight, the story of airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington), who miraculously saves a plane from crashing. In the subsequent investigation of the incident, Whip’s personal life comes under scrutiny as his hero status is questioned. This one has Oscar Bait written all over it, but the early reviews are promising. The prospect of Zemeckis and Washington challenging themselves with a more traditional dramatic film is also enticing.
Hip-hop heads are familiar with RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan’s fascination with kung-fu. After supporting roles in projects ranging from American Gangster to Funny People and learning at the side of fellow kung-fu enthusiast Quentin Tarantino, RZA has made his own action-packed film. Produced by Tarantino and co-written by RZA and Eli Roth, The Man with the Iron Fists appears rich in battles and full of throwback kung-fu homages. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu round out a cast martial arts veterans.
Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy stays true to the grittiness of his last film, Precious. Set in 1960s South Florida, it follows two reporters (Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo) who investigate the potential framing of a death row inmate (John Cusack). Also starring Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, despite the pedigree cast, early reviews have not been great. I found Precious little more than an exercise in depression and wonder if discomfort is merely Daniels’ forte. Proceed with caution.
Daniel Espinosa already made his mark this year with the mindlessly enjoyable Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. Now his 2010 film Easy Money has received decent distribution by the Weinstein Company and been been picked up by indie venues, including the Fine Arts Theatre. The story looks like a fairly standard action set-up, peppered with gunplay, mafia, police, and drugs, which, if done well as it was in Safe House, can be plenty of fun. For those who enjoyed Espinosa’s Tony Scott-like direction, here’s an opportunity to experience that style in more independent boundaries.
On the family-friendly side, Wreck-It Ralph looks to be one of the more interesting animated films to date. The titular video game bad guy (voiced by John C. Reilly) longs to be a hero. With the creation of a new game with a tough-guy lead, Ralph sees his chance, but in pursuing his dream, he upsets the arcade’s balance, a move that could prove disastrous for his pixelated brethren. Featuring cameos from classic video game characters and the meta qualities of a Charlie Kaufman script, this one could be spectacular.
Fleeing the Scene
As expected, Hello I Must Be Going is out at the Carolina after a week. The underrated Pitch Perfect will also be gone come Friday, as will, most tragically, Frankenweenie. I guess an edgy PG-rated black and white claymation film proved too tough of a sell.
A notable week for indie comedies. Ruby Sparks is the best of the bunch. Real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan exhibit bubbly chemistry as a writer and his fictional creation who comes to life, respectively. Nearly as strong is Safety Not Guaranteed, with Mark Duplass as an apparent crackpot looking for a time-travel partner and Aubrey Plaza as a magazine intern who feigns interest in his project to get the scoop. Also premiering is the dance documentary First Position and the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis comedy The Campaign, the latter of which my parents (whose film tastes I respect) loathed.
On Netflix Instant
The real question is what isn’t new to streaming this week. First Position is also available here, as are such classics as Manhattan, Casino Royale (1967), Bottle Rocket, Harold and Maude, Barton Fink, The Grapes of Wrath, and Bloody Sunday. Several of my favorite filmmakers are represented here and more are on the way over the next few weeks. Also, not to be confused with the action film Easy Money is the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield comedy by the same name. The timing can’t be a coincidence, right?