Opening July 27th: Big Budget versus The Art House … No Contest This Week

Depending On What Kind Of Movies You Count This Is Either The Best Reviewed Weekend of the Year Or The Worst

There is a movie reviewer I like, Jeff Vice, who each week splits the new releases into two categories; the Artsy’s and the Fartsy’s. Leaving the juvenile alliteration aside he points out a truth we all know, movies are either big-budget “studio” flicks or the are indy/foreign/documentary/art house flicks. The truth is those two categories are as different as HBO shows and CBS shows. It is an apt comparison because HBO shows are given the benefit of the doubt and praised more quickly and easily by critics while CBS shows are dismissed in spite of the fact that about 5 times as many people watch them week to week. Which one should count more, which one is more important? I don’t know the answer (either for TV or for the movies) or even know that it matters, but if it does matter, this is the week to look at it.

This week, we have two “Fartsy’s” or “CBS” category movies that happen to be two of the worst reviewed movies of the summer. The Watch has received an impressive 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The 18% is impressive because that means it is worse than Step Up Revolution, which received a 24% Rotten Tomatoes score. Easy math, the two big budget releases averaged a 21% score. That is really not good. How bad? Well, the second week of May is the weekend of the biggest disappointments of the summer. Battleship, What To Expect When You’re Expecting and The Dictator all underperformed (to put it lightly) and were killed by reviewers. They averaged a 38% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The last Madea movie had a better score than this weeks two releases. This week is the worst reviewed weekend of the summer, if all you count is the big releases. However…

This week also features 8 “Artsy” or “HBO” movies. They average 84.2% on Rotten Tomatoes and all of them are certified “fresh”, making this (given the number of movies in the “Artsy” category) the best reviewed and deepest weekend of the summer.

So which is it? Is this a weekend you should forget about movies and catch-up on what you missed or is this a weekend to search your local art house theater and VOD provider to see if you can take advantage of the weekend of the year? It is probably the first. No, its definitely first.


The Watch
Interest Level: 3 or 4
Have You Seen Anything That Made You Chuckle: No

When was the last good movie Ben Stiller made? Think about it. Still thinking? OK, here we go, let’s look at his filmography: Madagascar 3, Tower Heist, Little Fockers, Greenberg, Night at the Museum 2, Madagascar 2, Tropic Thunder, The Heartbreak Kid, Night at the Museum. That is a lot of middling movies (and two undeniably horrible one’s in The Heartbreak Kid and Little Fockers). Sure, Greenberg was quite good (but who saw it?) and Tropic Thunder had its moments (none as good as the short he did with Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr on the MTV Movie Awards), but overall he hasn’t had a movie that wasn’t a sequel or animated or both jump out in a long time (Dodgeball was the last one probably). This movie might join Little Fockers and The Heartbreak Kid if the reviews are fair. Originally called Neighborhood Watch (they changed it after the Trevon Martin shooting), this is about 4 guys who believe aliens are afoot and start a neighborhood watch to protect themselves from the visitors from another world. The trailers aren’t funny, the plot sounds weak and while the cast (Stiller, Vaughn, Hill) should be strong they also look like they are sleepwalking through this movie. Everything feels uninspired about The Watch and my interest level is dropping the more I write about it.

Step Up Revolution
Interest Level: 3 or 4
Have I Seen The First 3 Step Up Movies: Yes

My wife asked me how they could still be making Step Up movies, the answer is simple, money. These movies cost NOTHING to make (the last one had a budget under $30 million, which is beyond negligible for a 3D feature), they do OK ($65, $58 and $45 million) domestically and they are growing fast overseas ($48, $92 and $116 million in foreign box office). In short, they are profit machines. As long as So You Think You Can Dance is on TV and providing a limitless supply of cheap dancers we will have Step Up movies. I am glad about this for one reason, I love seeing them make dancers out to be the toughest guys in whatever ghetto they are in. I’m sure it is the dance crew gang in south central that scares the cops.

Ruby Sparks
Interest Level: 6
Did You See Little Miss Sunshine: Yes, But Not In The Theater

It has been six years since Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made Little Miss Sunshine and now they have finally made another quirky, hopeful, dark comedy-drama. It isn’t generating the kind of disproportionate to its quality love that Little Miss Sunshine did, but that is probably a good thing. As many who saw Little Miss Sunshine after the buzz became deafening know, it didn’t live up to all that people said it was (nothing could have at the zenith of its critical popularity). Ruby Sparks is getting solid buzz to be sure, just not deafening buzz, and that is a good thing.

Having said all of that, what is Ruby Sparks about? It is the tale of a writer who through some kind of magic creates his perfect woman through his writing (she comes to life, he can control her, yada, yada, yada). Clearly lessons will be learned, love will be found and lost and probably found and lost again. It will be funny, writers will love it because it is about a writer. And it will be worth your time as long as you don’t expect anything life changing.


Killer Joe
Interest Level: 8
Is Matthew McConaughey A Good Actor: Maybe, I’m Not Sure But Maybe

Director William Friedkin has had a strange career. In 1972 he won a directing oscar for The French Connection (if you haven’t seen The French Connection stop reading and go rent it now). He was nominated for a directing oscar for his next movie, The Exorcist. Then he made four movies (Sorcerer, The Brinks Job, Cruising and Deal of the Century) that bombed to varying degrees (Cruising in particular was considered simply dreadful, and was simply dreadful). Next thing you know William Friedkin, Academy Award winning director, is directing episodes of TV movies (C.A.T. Squad among others). Slowly Friedkin began rebuilding to a degree his reputation with mild big screen successes like Blue Chips and Jade and Rules of Engagement and now he has the first real critical success he has had since the early 1970’s with Killer Joe, 30 years after he won his oscar. Killer Joe is an NC-17 tale about a down on his luck guy who hires an assassin to kill his mother so he can collect the insurance money. McConaughey plays the assassin and is apparently a revelation (second movie in a row where he is getting raves after Magic Mike). The rating should tell you all you need to know about the tact this movie takes on what seems like a pedestrian plot (the ending particularly is supposed to be shocking, truly and sincerely visually shocking). This is already getting real dark horse oscar buzz (particularly for McConaughey) and is in the running to challenge Moonrise Kingdom as THE indie movie of the summer.

Searching For Sugar Man
Interest Level: 5
Do You Like Rock Documentaries: Not Particularly

Sixto Rodriguez is a singer songwriter who released a couple of albums in the late 60’s early 70’s and quit soon there after because he made no impact (read, they bombed). For some reason, and entirely unbeknownst to him, his alblums became semi-hit in Australia first (in the late 70’s and 80’s) then africa (in the 80’s) and finally in South Africa where his CD’s were first released in the early 90’s and became huge successes (relatively speaking). If you feel you now know more about Sixto than you ever wanted to, obviously don’t go see this movie. If that little story piqued your interest in any way then this documentary, from a South African filmmaker who was a huge Sixto Rodriguez fan and tries to “find” him over the course of the documentary, should be just the thing for you.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Interest Level: 6
Have You Ever Heard Of Ai Weiwei Before: Nope

To some Ai Weiwei is a famous an important person. He is an artist and a social commentator and he has been arrested for tax evasion in China. This documentary will serve as an introduction to most of us and how fascinated you are with China and Chinese culture will likely play a huge role in your enjoyment of it.

Sacrifice
Interest Level: 8
But You Are Fascinated With China, Right: Yup

I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years and while I did not fully embrace asian culture I did fall even more in love with chinese cinema. There is a way they make “historical” dramas in China, and if you like the big, surreal, soap operatic way they interpret history than Sacrifice will be the movie for you, because it is all of those things on steroids. A huge hit in China, some people are loving it and some are balking at it as it rolls out around the world. The story of the son of a feudal lord whose family and kingdom is conquered and killed when he is a baby. He is saved by a commoner and servant who raises him in the castle of his father’s killer and the conquerer of his kingdom. When he reaches adulthood, well, you can guess what happens. 

Klown
Interest Level: 8
Is Anyone Crazier Than Scandinavians: Nope, They Win

To be fair, I am mostly Scandinavian so I feel like I can make this statement with some understanding, Scandinavians are nuts. If you don’t believe me watch this Danish comedy. If you thought comedies like the Borat or The Hangover were crazy you ain’t seen nothing yet. Clearly, this is not for everyone, but if inappropriate male behavior is your cup of tea, check this out.

Big Boys Gone Bananas
Interest Level: 4
So, It’s Another Roger & Me, Right: Yup

How do you define meta? How about a documentary about a company trying to prevent a documentary about said company being released? Does that qualify? Anyway, big companies are evil. There, now you don’t need to see this movie. Better yet, go watch Roger & Me, it is hysterical and was the first of this kind and (and still the best).

Falling Overnight
Interest Level: 6
Did You See Before Sunrise In The Theater: I Did

Why bring up Before Sunrise? Because EVERYONE is comparing this movie to Before Sunrise. One night where love blooms and is somehow probably doomed. It has been a festival darling for the better part of a year and has an outside chance to join 500 Days of Summer as the quirky anti-romantic comedy of this generation. I would stress outside chance, but the fact that most of you have never heard of it probably does that for me.

Conclusion

No doubt there are some good “Artsy” flicks this week. I can’t say whether any resonate with any individual enough to go out of your way to see them this weekend, but probably good enough to catch sometime over the next few months on VOD or DVD or IFC or whatever way you can. As for the “Fartsy’s”, look, you know if you are going to see Step Up, you probably know if you are going to see The Watch, and I can’t change your mind on either (even though I may want to)

But hey, what do I know, I’m fat