FREE Movies at The Carolina in September

Time for my monthly plug of FREE movies at Carolina Cinemas.

Carolina CinemasEvery Tuesday night at 8 p.m.. the Asheville Film Society puts on a FREE classic movie in the cinema lounge. Membership is not necessary to attend.

9/3 Be Kind Rewind (2008, Michel Gondry) – Jack Black, Mos Def

9/10 The Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese) – Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis

9/17 The Loved One (1965, Tony Richardson) – Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters

9/24 The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson) – Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody

Thursday Horror Picture ShowEvery Thursday night at 8, there is a FREE horror movie in the cinema lounge. Arrive early as Ken and Justin often show a serial before the movie at ~ 7:30. I can only guess that Ken is taking the month off as none of the choices are pre-1950.

9/5 The Faculty (1998, Robert Rodriguez) – Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood

9/12 Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle) – Cillian Murphy, Chris Evas

9/19 The Exorcist III (1990, William Peter Blatty) – George C. Scott, Nicol Williamson

9/26 Blade II (2002, Guillermo del Toro) – Wesley Snipes, Ron Perlman

Also once a month, ActionFest puts on a movie. This month, the ActionFest feature is on Thursday September 19th at 7:30 and is…

Storm Surfers 3D

Like previous ActionFest films, there will be a donation of $10 that goes to benefit Homeward Bound and there will be FREE popcorn and drinks.

Netflix Roku Hulu Plus This ‘n’ That

Roku 3* We recently replaced our Xbox with a Roku 3 because we got tired of paying Microsoft $60 every year for the privilege of watching Netflix. We hardly ever played games on it and when we did, it was not online. I love that you can plug earbuds into the remote to watch movies quietly while others are sleeping. I haven’t actually used that feature yet but I think it’s cool.

* It also comes preloaded with Angry Birds Space. Is there anyone out there who thinks of the Roku 3 as a gaming platform? They also sell, via their channel store, versions of Pac-Man and Galaga for $5 a pop.

Hulu Plus* That said, Hulu Plus’ interface on the Roku 3 is horrendous. I always tell Hulu my favorite shows and put them in queue a la Netflix. This is what I have to do to watch the latest Daily Show in my queue:

The top 2/3 of the screen is taken up by the shows Hulu is currently promoting. Going down to the menu below, I skip past TV, movies, trailers, and kids before scrolling offscreen to queue. I select queue which brings me to favorites (seriously). I go down to queue (again) and select The Daily Show. It puts me on Series Details (again seriously). I go down to a queued episode and select it. Even after all of that, it wants to know if I want to play it or remove from queue or get more details or go to the series page or even see some suggestions from Hulu.

Well, I have some suggestions for Hulu. The printable one is, get me out of this design hell. I swear that the designers of this are probably the sort who would like to bring back rotary phones for the sheer joy of watching people dial a ‘9’.

Netflix* Netflix is doing an admirable job of trying to address the complete mess that is their recommendation system. They now have profiles you can set up for the various members of your household. Hopefully that means that at some point, it will stop recommending all the Disney movies I watch with my granddaughter.

On the other hand, they still haven’t fixed the easiest part of their recommendation system. If I have both watched AND rated something, how can Netflix call it a recommendation? Once upon a time my entire set of ten recommendations were all movies and shows that I had both rated and watched on Netflix. At least now it is down to one, Supernatural.

Another one is that if I have put it into my personal queue, it isn’t really a recommendation either.

/rantmodeoff

* OOPS Department: ActionFest’s August offering is I Declare War on Thursday August 15th at 7:30 p.m. For some reason I listed July’s ActionFest date.

 

The Return of ActionFest

We interrupt Special Forces week to bring you breaking news of the return of ActionFest.

ActionFest OutrageThis Friday night, April 19th, at 7 p.m., Carolina Cinemas is playing a double feature of Outrage and Beyond Outrage. There is a $10 suggested donation for Asheville’s Homeward Bound, a local charity fighting homelessness. Your $10 not only helps them but nets you a nifty Yakuza double feature by Takeshi Kitano AND a FREE Ninja Porter Pint or soda if you prefer.

Outrage played at the 2011 ActionFest and was quite good. Beyond Outrage is the just released sequel. Carolina owner Bill Banowski plans to release monthly ActionFest features to keep the brand alive until next year when, hopefully, we will see the return of a full-fledged ActionFest.

The last minute notice unfortunately means I won’t be able to attend (sadface) as I have a prior commitment. Augh! Still I’ll keep an eye out for future events which will hopefully be advertised further out than a week and a half.

Carolina Cinemas – Asheville, NC

Carolina Cinemas

My reviews of movie theaters started with a trip to Charlotte to visit Studio Movie Grill. I’d like to backtrack a bit and talk about my favorite local movie theater (and we have several good theaters in Asheville) – Carolina Cinemas.

One of the things I love about Carolina Cinemas are all the special events they put on. They have the usual assortment of Fathom events and really expensive opera performances that many big theaters have but they also have a lot of inexpensive and intimate showings as well.

Cinema Lounge

Every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. upstairs in the cinema lounge, the Asheville Film Society puts on a classic movie for FREE (Membership is not required to attend). Once a month (on a Wednesday), they put on a Budget Big Screen movie. This month is The Shining (April 24th) and next month is Moulin Rouge. The Budget Big Screen movies are $5 for members and $7 for non-members.

Thursday Horror Picture Show

Every Thursday evening at 8, there is a Thursday Horror Picture Show upstairs in the cinema lounge. Often on Fridays they will run a marathon of films (again in the cinema lounge) relating to one of the week’s big releases. Currently on Wednesday evenings, they have live music in the lounge.

Mission Impossible Swag

As if that weren’t enough, they often have giveaways, trivia contests, special coupons via messaging, art shows, and special events. They often have FREE 11×17 movie posters at the counter. On Wednesdays, all regular (non-special event) movies are $5 – $3 if you have student I.D.!

In addition to the standard movie fare of soda, popcorn, candy, hot dogs, and nachos, Carolina Cinemas has a fairly decent kitchen. Their flatbread pizzas (cheese, pepperoni, tomato basil) feed two (three if you have popcorn) and are quite tasty. They also have an assortment of paninis, salads, and snacks (my wife’s favorite is the blue cheese chips). The cookie balls make for an excellent dessert. Soda refills (all sizes) are FREE and, if you have an Asheville Film Society card, refills on popcorn are FREE (all sizes) as well. The popcorn benefit makes the $10 membership worthwhile all by itself.

Dead Man Down

I’m not much of a drinker so I usually stick to tea or soda. Carolina Cinemas offers fourteen kinds of bottled beer as well as a slew of local beers on tap for $5 a pint. They also carry a decent selection of wines at $6 a glass or $18 a bottle. Sadly they don’t have a full bar (no hard liquor or mixed drinks) but perhaps that is just as well for me. Occasionally they will have a special wine drink like the Dead Man Down cocktail (above) or homemade Sangria.

They have a FREE rewards program (very similar to Regal’s). For every dollar you spend you get a point and you get an award at every 40 points. This rotates through a FREE small popcorn, a FREE small drink, and a FREE movie ticket and then back again. Rewards can be held in their computer indefinitely – no need to hold onto printed tickets.

In the interest of fairness, I feel I must come up with some negatives. Their food, while generally good, has some misfires (not much meat on their sandwiches) and is not as good as Cinebarre’s or Asheville Pizza Company. The sofa cinemas can get uncomfortable with prolonged seating (did no one sit in these before purchasing?) so a small pillow is helpful and the sofa cinemas can fill up before selling out causing irritation. Screen size is nice as is clarity, though not grand and razor sharp as at the Biltmore. Sound is nice but sometimes bleeds through from adjacent theaters during quiet scenes.

ActionFest

In spite of these minor irritations, Carolina Cinemas is the best movie theater and value in the Asheville area. Not only that but for the first three years, they were home to the awesomeness that was ActionFest. Sadly there is no ActionFest this year but they are talking about next year.

Happy Anniversary!

ActionFest

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful and oh so patient wife. Here she is aiding and abetting my action movie addiction at ActionFest (with action star Michael Jai White). Sadly there is no ActionFest this year – the ActionFest founders are taking a year off to regroup. I sure hope they will be back next year. The first three ActionFests were some of the best vacations I have ever had (There – I’ve gotten my obligatory movie news out of the way).

Marc & JennyBut I digress, this post was supposed to be about the woman who agreed oh so many decades ago to be my life partner (okay two and a fraction). She encouraged me to blog when I complained that my writing skills were getting rusty – and by encourage I mean she set up WordPress and my website for me and showed me how to use them. Because she already blogged about our personal life, I turned to my hobby, movies, for blogging. She is currently encouraging me to write my novel which I finally passed the twenty thousand word mark on (I am a glacially slow writer).

Mouse Creek FallsHere we are at Mouse Creek Falls. When we married, she had never seen mountains. After visiting The Smokies, we vacationed there as often as we could. Eventually we realized we were free to leave Florida and moved up to our vacation spot. Jenny was the driving force behind that idea.

In addition to all the love and support I could ever need, Jenny has given me gifts beyond compare, namely my two incredible daughters and through them a wonderful son-in-law and granddaughter that I love very much.

PostersShe has helped me plaster every available surface in the living room with movie posters of all sizes. For me this has turned it into my personal home theater. My youngest daughter, the make-up artist, got me a poster of her upcoming film, Mister White, signed by her and the director, Erica Summers. My eldest daughter got me a poster of The Expendables 2 signed by Chuck Norris. My treasured mother-in-law even got me an original Vincent Price poster from The Last Man on on Earth.

We aren’t actually doing much this year as we just had a septic tank replacement that spiraled out of control. Apparently it is not good to find an actual spring when digging near the house to place the tank. In spite of that I’m sure we will have a fun time. We like spending money as much as anyone but we’ve also never had a problem having fun on a budget.

She knows that I am terrible with PDAs but I just wanted to tell my wife that I love her.

Happy Anniversary Honey!

Let the Bullets Fly

Okay this is in the nature of a lazy repost but my favorite movie from this year’s ActionFest just became available on instant Netflix. Go watch it now! Yes it is subtitled but go watch it anyway.

Let the Bullets Fly (2010) – Not rated

“Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. “

This was far and away my favorite movie of ActionFest this year. The writing is superb (yes lots of subtitles to read), the cinematography is great, the action is over-the-top to great comic effect, and the acting is top-notch. There are many reasons why this film is the top-grossing film of all time in China.

Chow Yun-Fat is always excellent, especially in Chinese films but here he is actually overshadowed by the writer/director/star Wen Jiang. The film is over two hours long but I didn’t feel that any of that time was wasted. There are so many wonderful gags/situations but I wouldn’t want to spoil any of them so I’ll only mention that the film opens with an attack on a horse-drawn train.

ActionFest 2012 – The Rest of the Movies

Solomon Kane (2009)

“Once a mercenary of Queen Elizabeth I fighting Spaniards in Africa, Solomon met the Devil’s Reaper and discovered he was bound for hell. Barely escaping, he soon renounced violence to atone for his past sins, seeking out redemption in a life of peace. That is until the followers of sorcerer Malachi kidnap a Puritan girl, Meredith Crowthorn, and brutally slaughter her family before his very eyes, forcing Solomon to take up arms and return to his violent ways once more to rescue her. “

I was really looking forward to Solomon Kane. It is directed by Michael J. Bassett, whose previous film Wilderness I had thoroughly enjoyed (check it out on instant Netflix) and stars James Purefoy, who headlined last year’s opening film, Ironclad. It was filmed in 2009 and released in the UK but not here in the US, presumably because of subject matter (a dark sword & sorcery film set during puritan times doesn’t scream blockbuster). It’s been available on Amazon UK for a while and I almost bought it (I have a region free DVD player).

Solomon Kane was fun but, in spite of the unique setting, was rather generic. I liked the setting, James Purefoy, all the rain in the film, and Solomon’s costumes. The identity of the villain’s henchman is obvious, the chief villain isn’t seen until the last ten minutes, the flashbacks are poorly handled, the editing is pretty bad and there is enough plot for two or more movies. For everything Solomon Kane gets right, it gets something wrong.

Part of the problem is that Eastern Europe is the new Hollywood for cheap action films. Filming there allows directors with a lack of funding to get the most bang for their buck. That said action thrillers filmed there often come across as generic – shaky cam is used waaaay too often and action, instead of being showcased, is often obscured. I would love to see a Solomon Kane 2 but can’t quite bring myself to recommend Solomon Kane.

Sinners & Saints (2010) – Not to be confused with Saints & Sinners (1994)

“In the gritty New Orleans underbelly, beleaguered Detective Sean Riley is trying to cope with the death of his young son and his failed marriage. Facing a probable suspension from the department, Riley is teamed with a young homicide Detective, Will Ganz, to help solve a series of brutal murders that have plunged the city into a major gang war. The two quickly realize there is something much bigger and far more sinister going on than either could have ever imagined.”

I have to preface this with the fact that, due to The Wild Bunch running late, we did not get into this until halfway through the movie. While I can only comment on the latter half of the movie, it was fairly easy to understand as it was filled with cliche after cliche. Costas Mandylor and Jurgen Prochnow both seemed to be phoning in their performances. Much of the action is quite silly as this seems to be a throwback to the classic days of Hong Kong cinema where dozens of bad guys/targets just pop up for no reason, other than it’s too early for the heroes to face the big bad guys.

This was another mixed bag. I really liked the post-Katrina filming especially in the still distressed areas of New Orleans. Johnny Strong is likeable on screen and in person but needs a bit more work on his acting. Tom Berenger is in it (always a plus) and Method Man’s bizarre character worked for me. Unfortunately the downsides really keep me from recommending this.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)

“Feature documentary exploring the concept of heroic women from the birth of the superhero in the 1940s to the TV and big screen action blockbusters of today. Heroic role models are important in childhood development, yet there are a dearth of these for girls. Wonder Woman provides a rare example of a female heroine who doesn’t require rescue, determines her own missions, and possesses uniquely feminine values. Featuring Gloria Steinem, actors Lynda Carter and Lindsey Wagner, and a colorful cast of scholars, writers, and fans, the film challenges pop culture’s gender biases by looking at how Wonder Woman’s storyline changed over time while considering how women are rarely depicted as heroic, powerful, or world-changing.”

Certainly there need to be more female action heroes. I think this was addressed in part at ActionFest by the award given to Gina Carano. The award was called the Chick Norris award. The name is a cute play on words but comes across a little denigrating. I scheduled a viewing of this documentary to give my long-suffering wife a break from the testosterone.

Wonder Women! makes a few convincing arguments but unfortunately makes just as many insupportable stabs in the dark. For instance the film claims that the action movie heyday of the 80s arose as a response to feminism. This argument completely ignores the prevalence of westerns up until action movies took over, the dominance of John Wayne in the 60s, Clint Eastwood in the 70s, etc. I view the action film as more of an evolution of the western and detective stories by way of the blockbuster. Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars forever changed the way movies were made and marketed.

Anyway I digress but Wonder Women makes a number of claims that they don’t even bother to back up. It’s really a shame as the topic of the documentary is a good one. It was still enjoyable but again not something I could recommend.

ActionFest 2012 – Some More Good Movies

Goon (2011)

“Labeled an outcast by his brainy family, a bouncer overcomes long odds to lead a team of under performing misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way. “

Goon is hilarious and actually very good-natured considering that it is specifically about the brutal side of hockey. I am not a huge fan of comedy – I like funny movies but consider much of current comedy to be dreck. I am also not a sports fan – not to get all highbrow but I’ve found sports and fandom to be a substitute for the combat that men crave. For me, I’d rather stick with a good action film.

This combination, particularly with the presence of American Pie’s Seann William Scott as the star, would incline me to skip this movie. The movie is very funny and Seann William Scott is quite charming as a thug who realizes, and accepts, that this is what he will always be.

Sleepless Night (2011)

“A drug heist goes wrong, as one of the drug carriers escapes after stabbing the robbers, gets a glimpse of their faces. The two masked men are actually two police officers, who decided to plan the heist. Vincent, a lieutenant who now has a bad stab wound, ends up with a huge bag of coke. The bag of coke belongs to a powerful mob boss/nightclub owner named Jose, who kidnaps Vincent’s son in hopes to reclaim his property. Vincent has until the end of the night to return the stash and save his son.”

I love French thrillers. Luc Besson thrilled me in the 90s with La Femme Nikita and Leon (The Professional). He then came back this century with a hand in District B13, The Transporter, and Taken but for the most part I now look for French thrillers that he did NOT have a hand in. Last year’s Point Blank (currently available on instant Netflix) was an intelligent thrill ride that didn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.

We elected to go to an Actionfest secret screening. I’m a sucker for what’s behind door number two. The secret was twofold. First we were treated to the first ten minutes of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. I really applaud this as I enjoyed seeing the first ten minutes of a film not yet released. Unfortunately it looks awful – the director made the terrible error of filming all of it in first-person. This failed epically in Doom and does not look any better here.

After that we were treated to the French thriller, Sleepless Night. As usual with French thrillers, it is just assumed that the cops are corrupt and the real question is to what extent. The vast majority of the film takes place within a nightclub. There is a fantastic fight in the kitchen and the environs are used to great effect.

I really liked that most of the characters in the film were intelligent and tried intelligent things to get out of their predicaments, some of which worked and some not so much. Normally I don’t comment on a film’s ending as I hate spoilers but I must say that I loved the ending of this movie as it is completely open to your own interpretation.

This was not quite as good as Point Blank, mostly because of a huge overuse of the dreaded shaky cam. That was the only real flaw to the film however as writing was excellent and performances were good across the board.

The Day (2011)

“Open war against humanity rages. 5 survivors; lost and on the run. The pursuit is relentless, the bullets are dwindling and the battle is everywhere. This is a 24hr look into their lives. Fight or die. “

This is a prime example of how to do action on a budget. This is a tense post-apocalyptic thriller that starts a decade after the world ended. Director Douglas Aarniokoski doesn’t waste time on exposition – no prologue, no whys, just an occasional snippet of dialogue to give us a glimpse.

My poor wife was on the edge of her seat, afraid that there were going to be zombies. I love a good zombie movie (okay even a mediocre one) but she hates them. Thankfully it turned out that the bad guys were that other post-apocalyptic trope, cannibals. Just as thankfully, for once, the cannibalism was mostly alluded to rather than shown.

That’s it. The Day is a very simple story of the siege of a farmhouse with our five protagonists inside and a tribe of cannibals outside. The action is filmed quite well and shaky cam is not overused. The young actors all look quite haggard (more tired than emaciated) and acquit themselves nicely. The five characters all have personalities as opposed to personality traits. All together The Day is a solid B-picture.

ActionFest 2012 – My Favorite Movies

Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

“Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. “

This was far and away my favorite movie of ActionFest this year. The writing is superb (yes lots of subtitles to read), the cinematography is great, the action is over-the-top to great comic effect, and the acting is top-notch. There are many reasons why this film is the top-grossing film of all time in China.

Chow Yun-Fat is always excellent, especially in Chinese films but here he is actually overshadowed by the writer/director/star Wen Jiang. The film is over two hours long but I didn’t feel that any of that time was wasted. There are so many wonderful gags/situations but I wouldn’t want to spoil any of them so I’ll only mention that the film opens with an attack on a horse-drawn train.

Headhunters (2011)

“An accomplished headhunter risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary. “

My second and third favorite are really close but I think Headhunters edges out God Bless America. A lot of the reviews, press materials, and hype compare this to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Honestly though there are only a few legitimate comparisons: yes it is a mystery, it is Norwegian, Diana is watching The Girl who Played with Fire in one scene, and one car scene is lifted from Dragon Tattoo. Tonally and thematically it is quite different from Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.

Our protagonist, Roger, is a headhunter who moonlights on the side as an art thief. He does this to afford his extravagant lifestyle because he’s afraid of losing the woman he loves. He makes a rather poor decision to steal from a former mercenary/ex-special forces potential client. The client, Clas is played with a wonderful air of confidence and menace by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (last seen as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones).

Even though Roger is hardly blameless, the battle of wits between Roger and Clas is awesome. The key here is that the movie takes some absolutely wonderful bizarre twists that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling. Basically the less said of the plot the better.

God Bless America (2011)

“On a mission to rid society of its most repellent citizens, terminally ill Frank makes an unlikely accomplice in 16-year-old Roxy.”

“I wish I was a super-genius inventor and could come up with a way to make a telephone into an explosive device that was triggered by the American Superstarz voting number. The battery could explode and leave a mark on the face, so I could know who to avoid talking to before they even talked. “

Headhunters was a complete surprise and constantly headed into new, uncharted territory. God Bless America simply delivers on the excellent trailer. If you’ve seen the trailer, you are not likely to be surprised by anything in the movie – except that the quality is quite consistent and excellent.

This is obviously a darkly humorous film. Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad) writes and directs a masterpiece. God Bless America is not a relentless wish fulfillment film but it is a constant diatribe on our pop culture of hatred.Goldthwait wisely plays this straight – most of his TV parodies are only slightly different from the real thing, just enough to drive the point home.

Everyman Frank is played brilliantly by Joel Murray (Fred Rumsen of Mad Men) with just the right hint of flatness. Frank gets a long series of wonderful rants such as the one above. Frank is ably assisted (actually goaded) by teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr).

The entire film is just a non-stop insightful skewering of pop culture. It is obscene but certainly no more so than the subjects it attacks. This is one I look forward to laughing at again when it hits instant Netflix.

ActionFest VIP Badge – Cost Benefit Analysis

Many thanks to my wife for her tireless coverage of our three and a half day rampage through ActionFest 2012. I thought I’d take another look at the ActionFest VIP Badge we buy every year. We buy early so it cost $75 each. This years activities (if we had not bought the badge):

$8 showings: Solomon Kane, Let the Bullets Fly, Sinners and Saints, Headhunters, The Day, God Bless America, Goon, Wonder Women, Sleepless Nights (secret screening)

FREE showings: Trailer War, The Wild Bunch, Trailblazing Stuntmen panel, Stunt Show, The Art of Fight on Film

So even though we availed ourselves of many of the FREE activities, we still watched $72 worth of premieres. What did we get for our remaining $3? Well we had Sloppy Jai’s from Chai Pani Thursday night after Solomon Kane, an incredible taco bar from Mamacita’s Friday night in the lounge (chicken, chipotle chicken, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, fresh salsa, guacamole, lettuce, tortillas, and sauces), Salted Caramel ice cream from The Hop, cookies from Sugar Momma’s, wraps from Clingman’s Cafe on Saturday, and finally a banquet of chicken, dirty rice, beans, cole slaw, and sweet tea from Bojangles Sunday afternoon.

As if that wasn’t enough they gave badgeholders a grab bag with three posters, three DVDs from Magnet Releasing, a comic book, and some coupons. I got DVDs of Severence, The Perfect Sleep, and Chai Lai Angels. Obviously the badge was more than worthwhile again this year.

ActionFest on a budget: Every year the stunt show, the panels, and the awards show are FREE as are many of the showings. This year True Romance (introduced by Gina Carano – it’s her favorite film), The Wild Bunch (including a Q&A with stuntman Mickey Gilbert), and three showings of Trailer Wars from The Alamo Drafthouse were FREE as well so it would be easy to come on Saturday and stay all day without spending a dime.