Friday, January 26, 2007

Why Film Critics Hate January

Movie Reviews at This Week:
Catch and Release
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Painted Veil
Miss Potter

All through December, while film critics are camping out in theaters, driving from screening to screening, living on Krispy Kremes and coffee, we all dream of January—when screenings are few and far between, when we can actually get a bit of sleep from time to time, and when we can reacquaint ourselves with our friends and family. And then January comes, and we realize that we hate January almost as much as we hated December. Because January is, for the most part, one of those months when studios toss out their trash and hope that no one notices. In December, it was all about award hopefuls. In January, no one’s even thinking about next year’s awards yet—so why release something that’s actually good? If you’ve got to release something, release, say, Code Name: The Cleaner.

This week’s screenings started on a low note right away on Monday night. I lead a knitting group for kids on Monday afternoons, so that meant that I had to get out of the knitting group, eat a SlimFast granola bar for dinner while driving to the theater, and go right from two hours with the kids to two hours of painful cinema.

Monday’s screening was Jennifer Garner’s Catch and Release. Reportedly, it was supposed to be released a year ago, but they just never got around to it until now. And now I see why.

Since the screening was planned at the last minute, it was mostly just the usual band of critics and a few others. Mark and I took our usual seats and saved an extra for David, the other member of the MOD Squad (see Thank You for Smoking), who (luckily for him) decided at the last minute that staying home and watching TV would be a lot more fun than seeing a bad romantic comedy. Behind us were two girls who spent the screening time playing with their cell phones and (strangely) acting like they liked the movie. I suspect that alcohol must have been involved. I can think of no other explanation—because it’s just plain bad. The story is ridiculous. The acting is bad. I felt bad for the city of Boulder and for all fly-fisherman, for being associated with it. Heck, I made it through Apocalypto with my eyes wide open, but I had to cover my eyes through parts of this one because I just couldn’t stand to watch. I was hoping for a good chick flick, but all I got was a headache.

Afterwards, the members of the United Critics Organization (UCO) were planning on going out for a drink to celebrate the announcement of the first annual GAG Awards, but the turnout for the screening was so bad that we decided to postpone the drinks and just go home to drown our sorrows alone.

I had hope for Tuesday night’s screening of Smokin’ Aces. My husband even decided to join me for that one (though that’s usually a bad sign—since he usually ends up going to the worst movies…though he did miss Catch and Release). Obviously, we weren’t the only ones expecting great things (at least as far as January is concerned) for the movie—because the theater was packed. People were fighting for seats (and I could only imagine what the theater reps who were forced to turn people away were dealing with outside). When we walked in, the guy in front of us was grumbling about the multitude of seats reserved for press. I know how it goes. We hear it all the time.

But here’s a tip: if you ever get a pass for a sneak preview of a movie, notice the small print. Having a pass doesn’t guarantee a seat. Show up early. Like an hour early. Half an hour at the latest. Else, don’t come drying to me if you can’t get a seat. Even I show up half an hour early, just so I don’t have to fight you for my reserved seat.

Before the movie, we discussed our upcoming Fantasy Moguls draft. Since I took a dreadful 8th place out of 8, I get the first draft pick this time around. And I’m finding that’s not as great as I thought it was. After all, I get to try to figure out which of the horrible movies that are coming out in February, March, and April will make the most money. And, well, I tend to be bad at predicting what people will see. How was I supposed to know that no one would actually see Unaccompanied Minors? It’s a freakin’ Christmas movie! And what about We Are Marshall? Doesn’t everybody love sports dramas? Guess not.

Anyway…I will still argue that Smokin’ Aces was pretty good for a January movie. I laughed a bit. I was entertained. I hated the ending—but not enough to totally hate the movie because of it. Others of my fellow critics, however, disagreed. And as we huddled around after the screening, I was the only one who seemed to not totally hate it. Or perhaps that’s just because I sat through Catch and Release on Monday. I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Wednesday we had a night off. Or, at least, we had a night in which we could do our grocery shopping and see our families. That was nice. I got to go to my husband’s hockey game, which was nice—since I often have to go to screenings instead. The team thoughtfully chose to win one for me—and I appreciated that.

But on Thursday, it was back to the theater. Thursday’s movie: Blood and Chocolate, a werewolf movie based on a book for teens. At one point in the afternoon, I checked the runtime, and one site had it at 2 hours and 18 minutes. And I almost decided to skip. Then I found that it was actually a merciful 98 minutes long, which didn’t make me want to cry nearly as much. So I decided to suck it up and make my way through the light snow flurries (which, in Ohio, means people going 40 on the highway) and back out to another screening. I was hoping it would be bad-funny: you know, the kind of movie that’s so horrible that it’s hilarious. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, we got a laugh out of it every once in a while, but it wasn’t nearly bad enough to keep us laughing through the whole thing. Great movie for teenage girls—but since there’s not a single teenage girl in the posse, we were all left feeling a bit…baffled.

Afterwards, the MOD Squad plus Kevin (who was sticking around for a later showing of Pan’s Labyrinth) headed across the lobby for a drink. After our week, we all deserved it. I felt like I was about to slip into a coma, but it was fabulous to go out with the gang again. We didn’t get to do that in December, since we all had to run home and try to get something written up before hitting the next screening in the morning. So I guess January’s good for something after all…


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