Saturday, December 10, 2011

December movies I can safely avoid

This time of year, it feels like we're being assaulted with new releases that demand our attention in the form of a theatrical screening. (Last week notwithstanding.) That is, they demand our attention if we want to be up on what may be getting Oscar nominations a month from now.

So it can be a real relief to make a determination about certain films that you just aren't going to prioritize -- whether they are Oscar contenders or no.

Two such movies are coming out next week -- Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Neither of which are Oscar contenders, really. I might have been a candidate to see Holmes in the theater, except I still haven't seen the first one. (Call me old-fashioned, but I do my best to see these things in order.) And with Alvin and the Chipmunks, well, I think my disinterest in that goes without saying.

But next week's low-priority December releases are not, well, the priority for this post, because there are three coming out today as well.

Entertainment Weekly stole my idea!

You could look at it one of two ways:

1) Entertainment Weekly took a really good (if somewhat obvious) joke out of my hands, or

2) Entertainment Weekly saved me a heckuva lot of work.

See, the sheer quantity of celebrities on the posters for Garry Marshall's last two films -- Valentine's Day, and now New Year's Eve, which releases today -- gave me an idea a couple weeks back. Like I said, it wasn't a particularly original idea. But I wanted to mock up a poster for an imaginary movie called St. Patrick's Day, which would feature a grid of pictures of so many movie stars, the pictures would be too small to even identify them.

Then EW gets out ahead of me by making a parody poster in last week's issue for a fictitious movie called Arbor Day -- and for suggesting a half-dozen other holidays that Garry Marshall could make into movies, including plot outlines for these theoretical movies, a couple of the many stars who would appear in them, and a role in each movie for longtime Marshall collaborator Hector Elizondo.

There was some disappointment that I couldn't go ahead with my idea once I saw theirs, but the more dominant feeling was one of relief. I mean, if you saw this fledgling first attempt at manipulating images on Microsoft Paint, you'd know that I'd have to spend a really long time on this to make it look good. And come on, it's the holidays -- who has a really long time to spend on anything?

Regarding New Year's Eve, the jokes make themselves. I will say that I think it looks like a slightly better movie than Valentine's Day, if only because New Year's Eve is a slightly more exciting, cinematic holiday. (Even if Hollywood has failed to realize that by making more movies about Valentine's Day than New Year's Eve -- which has entirely to do with box office viability, since there's less competition in February than December.) When you come right down to it, though, all of the numerous plots in both films are probably about love, which limits their potential to really surprise us.

The interesting thing about these movies is that the casts are so large, every film fan should be able to find at least one cast member whose participation in this movie is disappointing. For me it's not Robert DeNiro, who jumped that shark a long time ago. Oddly, I'd have to say that Seth Meyers disappoints me the most. Not because he's got some stellar film career going -- in fact, he rarely appears anywhere outside the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live. It's because as a funny guy who both writes and delivers funny lines, he should know better.

Stinker, Failure, Moldier - Why?

You can disregard any meaning in that subheading. I just thought it was a funny play on words. I'm sure Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a good movie, especially since it's directed by Tomas Alfredson, who brought us Let the Right One In.

But I'm down on the movie nonetheless because I've decided in the past couple years that I don't like spy movies. And I'm using the release of this film to tell you about that.

I didn't necessarily know I had a problem with spy movies, until I recognized a pattern of feeling dissatisfied upon finishing a spy movie. I won't go through a list of examples, but I will tell you about one in particular that helped bring home the realization: The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert DeNiro (making his second appearance in this post, in two totally different contexts). The movie is a semi-fictionalized take on the origins of the CIA, and it just left me cold.

What I realized during The Good Shepherd is that narratives involving double or triple crosses and people who speak 14 different languages just don't interest me. I don't find anything relatable in them.

You might think that's ridiculous -- how do I relate to a mob movie, a superhero movie or a political thriller? Well, I have actual answers for those questions. Mob movies interest me because they are all about the bottom line -- achieving an end by whatever means necessary. There's something primal about that. Superhero movies usually involve regular people who are suddenly bestowed with irregular powers. I'm a regular person, so that could happen to me. And a political thriller is interesting because I find the machinations of politics interesting, if often frustrating.

But I don't really care about characters in spy movies, because frankly, spies don't seem like real people to me. Especially movie spies, who are almost incapable of making mistakes -- they are preternaturally talented at what they do. While this should fascinate me, it sort of doesn't. They seem more like narrative constructs than real people.

Another thing is that spy movies often seem to revolve around periods in history from which we have already emerged unscathed. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is supposed to give us a sense of tension and urgency in its drama, but it takes place during the Cold War -- a conflict we have already satisfactorily resolved. We are supposed to gasp the way Gary Oldman gasps in the trailer, when he says "Tinker ... tailor ... soldier ... (gasp!) ... spy!" As if a spy is the most unholy abomination you could imagine, and should fill you with dread. The violins that kick in at that point of the trailer are meant to underscore that feeling. But I don't feel unsettled by a spy. I just feel frustrated.

In case you were wondering, James Bond gets a pass. He's a different story. He's more like an action hero than a spy. But I wouldn't be surprised if he does speak 14 languages.

The latest rehash of After Hours

They keep remaking Martin Scorsese's After Hours, don't they?

This time it's with Jonah Hill as a babysitter who takes his charges out on an ill-advised booty call that ends up involving all sorts of criminal enterprises and other shenanigans.


Then again, I did end up really liking the most recent remake of After Hours, which was last year's Date Night, starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Against all odds and all prejudices I brought into it, I laughed a lot and really liked it.

Note -- The Sitter may be your last opportunity to see the Jonah Hill you've come to know and love. From here on out, he may be waaay too skinny for his body, and continue to look as weird as he looks in anything filmed in the last couple months.

How did that work out for Seth Rogen, Jonah?

However ...

I definitely do have one of this week's new releases on my priority list.

You can't look at this picture of Charlize Theron in Young Adult and not get your hopes up for a gonzo comedic performance, equal parts bitchy and pathetic. The trailers seem to promise as much.

Also looking forward to Young Adult as the fourth feature from Jason Reitman, who seemed like he might veer off toward serious material with Up in the Air. Even Juno and Thank You For Smoking dealt with hot-button issues (teen pregnancy and the tobacco industry). I like that this movie seems content to be just a comedy -- a smart comedy, but not necessarily an important one.

And come on, Diablo Cody doesn't deserve the crap everybody gives her. You liked Juno when you first saw it, admit it. Only in retrospect has her dialogue taken on the reputation of being too cutesy.

But I probably won't actually be getting to the theater at all this weekend. It's a busy one for me. Next scheduled theater trip will probably be Tuesday, when my wife and I plan to make use of a newly discovered babysitter (not Jonah Hill) by going to dinner and then The Artist.

However, don't be surprised if Young Adult sneaks in and steals The Artist's spot.

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