Opening January 18th: Everything Is Relative

We Judge Everything On A Sliding Scale And Movies Are No Different

Ask yourself this question, if Manti Te’o or Lance Armstrong hadn’t spent their public lives standing tall as men who overcame adversity to triumph would we have really cared about a fake girlfriend or cheating in a sport where EVERYONE* cheats? Maybe a little, but not much. We care not so much because of the sin as we do about who they pretended to be while they were sinning. Put another way, they inflated our expectations so that their foibles feel disproportionately severe and their mistake, their true sin, was that they mismanaged our expectations. We see this happen with movies all the time. In 2012 John Carter did better than Looper, Battleship, Mirror Mirror, Hope Springs, Total Recall, The Dictator, The Lucky One, American Reunion and literally hundreds of other movies that were released last year (John Carter was the 38th highest grossing movie of 2012, 38th out of 650). So why is John Carter at the top of just about every “biggest bombs of 2012” list? Because of a well publicized inflated budget. Because of a well publicized name change. Because it was marketed as the “Star Wars” of this generation. Because the expectation was that anything short of an Avengers-esque box office bonanza was a failure. Those are some really poorly managed expectations.

What’s the point? Well when we look at the movies released this weekend we can’t look at them with “Summer Movie” expectations or “Holiday Movie” expectations or even “March Movie” expectations. This is January. Last year the highest grossing film of the month was Contraband at it grossed a not particularly whopping $66 million (also less than John Carter). More importantly than that it was nothing more than a watchable and entertaining if ultimately entirely forgettable movie that would have been lost had it been released any other month (except maybe September). But in January that’s a hit. Go into January movies as if they are a linebacker who played for Miami in the early 1990’s and still affiliate himself openly and proudly with  a street gang and has a few domestic violence arrests under his belt or a cyclist that brazenly cheats and didn’t start a cancer fund (in other words every other cyclist in the world, none of whom you have ever heard of). If you do that you’ll walk out saying “Wow, that was pretty good, better than I expected” instead of “Man, what a dud, can you believe they spent that much money on that thing.”

*My favorite little Lance Armstrong/cycling tidbit was that, after stripping Lance of his Tour de France title and deciding to award the victories to the next cyclists in line, the Tour had to go down to someone who finished in the 20’s before they could find someone who they didn’t know had cheated. He probably still cheated but they don’t know if he cheated. And you thought baseball was bad.

Mama
Interest Level: 6
Did You See The Short Film: Almost No One Saw The Short Film

Some movies have legends, the legend of Mama is that Guillermo Del Toro, the director of Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and the highly anticipated Pacific Rim, saw Andres Muschietti’s 2008 short film from Spain and loved it so much that he got the director to make it into a feature length movie. They lucked out and got a  now rising hollywood star in Jessica Chastain to be the lead (you may hardly recognize her with dark hair and a “goth” look) and boom, we have Mama. Mama is the story of a young couple who now have to raise their two young nieces who had been left alone in a cabin in the woods for the last five years, but how alone were they (cue dum, dum, dum, music)? Before you think of this as just another horror gore fest you should know that they kept this rated PG-13, so no gore. The fear here is psychological and by all accounts it’s… OK. Nothing great, nothing dreadful. Think last years The Woman In Black if you want a quality comparison.

The Last Stand
Interest Level: 8
Well, Sure, You Said Arnold Was Better Than Sly: Yes I Did

Speaking of the legend of a particular movie, after making the really creepy and good Korean serial killer movie I Saw The Devil (it is available on Netflix and if you like the serial killer genre it is definitely worth watching), director Jee-woo Kim jumped to the top of every producers “want to get” list. The Last Stand, his english film debut, was originally pitched to Liam Neeson and when he backed out they tapped Arnold to play the aging sheriff of a border town that is last obstacle, or stand (see what I did there) a drug dealer must get past before escaping to Mexico (Arnold must have felt like he had gone into some bizarre-o alternative universe when he found out the only roles he could get were Liam Neeson leftovers). The studio initially did a terrific job of getting the “surprisingly good” rumor mill going but as reviewers have seen it the word has become more mixed. It appears the film became a little more an Arnold comeback vehicle than a Jee-woo Kim introduction to American audiences. Not a bad thing if you are an Arnold fan (as I am), but I am looking forward to seeing Jee-woo Kim’s real first movie in Hollywood, if he ever gets a chance to make “his” movie.

Broken City
Interest Level: 4
Did You See Contraband In The Theaters: Nope, Saw It On HBO A Month Or So Ago

January feels like a Mark Wahlberg action vehicle kind of a month, doesn’t it? Actually most of his action flicks weren’t released in January, Contraband being the recent exception, but they feel like they should have been. Shooter (a movie I quite like), Max Payne, We Own The Night, Four Brothers, they all feel like movies that should have benefitted from the lack of competition that January provides. Maybe that is why they are selling this movie as a Wahlberg flick and not nearly as much as a Russell Crowe movie (man has he fallen a long way) or an Allen Hughes movie (with his brother they directed Dead Presidents, From Hell and Book of Eli among other projects). The problem seems to be that it is not a straight ahead Wahlberg action movie. This movie was aiming higher or at least in a slightly different direction. City politics and corruption apparently aren’t merely the plot devices used to get Marky Mark to kick some butt, they are to some degree what the movie aspires to be about. And the reviewers didn’t think the movie got too close to being what it wanted to be.

LUV
Interest Level: 0
Is There A Trick To Knowing When An Indie Film Isn’t Good: When They Promote That They Were Selected To Be In A Film Festival, Not That They Won Anything, They Just Got To Be There

LUV is the story of an 11 year old boy who gets to spend a day with the ex-convict he has come to idolize. Think a fictionalized and more touching version of scared straight. Critical response has been blah and the general consensus is, once you have heard the plot you could watch this movie in your mind and not be wrong about one scene. In other words… wait, I don’t need “in other words”, that was a perfect way to describe an unimaginative, by the numbers movie.

Outside Satan
Interest Level: 0
Have You Seen Dumont’s Other Movies: Some Of Them, That’s Why My Interest Level Is Zero

Bruno Dumont makes these very stylized movies that combine religious ideas and violence and long slow shots of nothing really happening together into movies that are liked if not beloved in France. Humanite and Twentynine Palms are maybe his two most famous and, by chance, the two I have seen and while I didn’t hate either of them I didn’t really like them either. They felt like art movies at their worst, films that feel like they are saying “if you don’t get this then you aren’t sophisticated enough to understand art”. Anyway, there are people who love his work and on some level I can see why (they are beautifully filmed) they just aren’t for me. Oh, and the movie is almost two years old.

Conclusion

If you go see The Last Stand expecting something as good and entertaining as Django Unchained you are going to disappointed. If you walk into The Last Stand expecting nothing more than The Expendables 3 (it doesn’t exist yet, but give it time) you will have a good time. Managing expectations people! It is one of the great keys to a happy life.

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.