Nashville moviegoers can’t bitch anymore about their lack of options. Between the reopening of the Belcourt and Regal’s competitive counterthrust in Green Hills, the past few months have brought a bonanza of cool movies. The supply isn’t slowing. In the coming week, you can see the restored version of Carol Reed’s classic The Third Man and John Waters’ Cecil B. DeMented at the Belcourt. You can see Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro at Green Hills, along with the fine documentary The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack. The following weeks will bring even more. And if the calendar didn’t seem tight enough, Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Cinema and the Watkins Film School have both released their fall film schedules.
For hardcore movie nuts, the Sarratt and Watkins film schedules, like the Belcourt and Green Hills’ three-screen arthouse ghetto, serve soul food in a world of Dennys. That attendance is growing for each is a sign that Nashville moviegoers aren’t the sheltered sheep coastal bookers and distributors imagine. Sarratt in particular has seen dramatic audience boosts over the past year; it’s easy to see why, given the goodies on its fall list.
One of Sarratt’s big successes has been its partnership with Nashville Premieres, a group of passionate local cinephiles who sponsor movies that wouldn’t show here otherwise. Nashville Premieres’ fall schedule starts Sept. 13 with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, which recreates a famous fraud case in which a man hoodwinked a family by posing as Kiarostami’s colleague Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film uses all the actual participants, including Makhmalbaf and his doppelganger, to blur documentary and fiction. October brings the long-overdue premiere of Leos Carax’s dazzling French romance The Lovers on the Bridge (Oct. 10-11). The November feature is Shohei Imamura’s black comedy Dr. Akagi (Nov. 7-8), and Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang concludes the series with his end-of-the-century fantasy The Hole (Dec. 5-6).
On its own, though, Sarratt is doing an excellent job of filling the cracks between Regal and the Belcourt. François Ozon’s current arthouse hit Water Drops on Burning Rocks, a dark comedy of romantic obsession scripted by the late German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, shows Dec. 12-13; it’s followed Dec. 14-17 by the arty vampire thriller The Wisdom of Crocodiles, with Jude Law as a bloodsucker who thirsts for love. The Holocaust comedy-drama Train of Life makes its local debut Oct. 26. And scattered throughout the schedule are some of the year’s most interesting American films, including The Virgin Suicides (Sept. 15-17) and Hamlet (Oct. 12-15).
Documentaries are represented by the first Nashville screening of South (Dec. 19-21), which features restored silent footage from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s perilous trek through the Antarctic in 1914-1916. Other docs include the hugely entertaining John Waters profile Divine Trash (Oct. 5-8) and Allen and Albert Hughes’ raunchy American Pimp (Oct. 27-29). The schedule is rounded out by a few wild cards: midnight shows of Reservoir Dogs (Oct. 13-14) and Taxi Driver (Dec. 15-16), and a two-day nuclear-war film fest (Oct. 2-3).
The Watkins Film Schooldoesn’t have Sarratt’s resources; its projection system is video, not film, and the notoriously bizarre layout of its screening room leaves few good seats in the house. But the Friday-night screenings are freeand the selections are often even more wide-ranging than Sarratt’s. The series kicks off Sept. 8 with Orson Welles’ visually stunning 1963 version of Kafka’s The Trial.
From there, the screenings encompass cult favorites, classics, and cool obscurities. Sept. 22 brings a rare showing of Werner Herzog’s 1969 fantasy Even Dwarfs Started Small, in which a cast of little people enacts a revolution at a desert prison. Jack Nicholson is represented in his ’70s prime by Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens (Sept. 29) and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (Dec. 1). The other films are a memorably diverse lot: Michelangelo Antonioni’s industrial allegory The Red Desert (Oct. 20), the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (Nov. 3), Dario Argento’s uncut, nightmarish shocker Inferno (Oct. 27).
But if there’s one must-see on the list, it’s Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1946 wonder Detour (Nov. 10). A dirt-cheap noir that’s the ultimate in mind-blowing cinematic nihilism, Detour turns its cut-rate cast and grubby sets into an expressway to oblivion, a space you’d flee in an instant. But a city where you can see Detour, Duck Soup, The Lovers on the Bridge, and The Hole within just a few spare weeksnow, that’s a place worth sticking around.
The goofy cheerleader comedy Bring It On opened this past weekend to big box office and positive reviews from surprised critics, many of whom trotted out that old horse “guilty pleasure” to describe their reaction. To be sure, the film has its pleasures: snappy direction by Peyton Reed, flavorful teen dialogue by screenwriter Jessica Bendinger, lots of attractive young guys and gals in skimpy outfits, and the fact that the villain likes Matchbox 20 and Hootie while the hero likes the Clash and Jerry Lee Lewis. But what is there that the viewer should feel bad about?
Perhaps it’s the afterschool-special premise. Bring It On stars the ever charming Kirsten Dunst as Torrance, the new head cheerleader for the six-time national champion Rancho Carne Toros of San Diego. While attempting to lead her squad back to the national spotlight, Torrance learns that her team’s award-winning routines were stolen from an inner-city Los Angeles cheerleading squad, whichuntil this yearhas been unable to afford to attend any competitions. As Torrance tries to get her gang into shape with a new set of cheers, she deals with jealous teammates, a treacherous long-distance boyfriend, and romantic attention from the weird brother of her new best friend. Many critics have a problem with this sort of soapy, girl-centered plotmaybe they feel guilty that they cared about how Torrance was going to solve her problems?
Or perhaps they feel bad that they laughed at the smutty humor. Roger Ebert noted in his mixed-to-negative review that Bring It On is one of a recent slew of summer movies that sneak in an alarming amount of raunchy sexuality under the PG-13 rating; he says that films like Bring It On are really R-rated at heart, but have been dumbed-down and softened for a less mature, more free-spending audience. Ebert’s right that there’s too much hard material in PG-13 films, but he’s wrong that Bring It On should’ve cut loose and gone for the restricted rating. Director Reed’s satirical veinstrengthened during his work on HBO’s Mr. Show and Comedy Central’s Upright Citizen’s Brigademight’ve pumped fresh blood into a nastier scenario, but gratuitous profanity and oral sex references aside, Bendinger’s script is basically too frothy to be successfully tricked up.
My theory is that critics feel guilty for enjoying the kinetic cheerleading routines. All those scribes who missed the boat on the corny-but-sincere ballet melodrama Center Stage earlier this summer are now grinning over dance sequences thatunlike the rest of Bring It Onactually suffer from Reed’s jumpy editing and restless camera. But even awkward musical numbers can be a delight, and in the case of Bring It On, the climactic cheerleading finals are the almost satisfying payoff to a bright, almost winning film. It may not be much, but heypleasure is pleasure. Check your guilt at the door.
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