DID YOU READ

Five easy ways to turn January into a great month for movies

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January doesn’t have the best reputation among cinephiles, possibly because January is, hands down, 99 and 44/100% pure crap when it comes to movies. Studios are still focused on their award contenders from November and December, audiences are getting back to their lives after a long vacation, and most of the movies released between January 1 and 31 get dumped there for a reason; namely, they’re terrible. In January 1996, Hollywood released Pauly Shore’s “Bio-Dome,” the orangutan “comedy” “Dunston Checks In,” and the immortal “Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace” all on the same, terrible day. It was January 12th, if you’re curious. We should probably light a candle every year to remember all the movielovers who died that day of acute bad movie poisoning.

But just because Hollywood’s mostly turned their back on January doesn’t mean you have to as well. There are plenty of ways to turn January’s Cinema Dead Zone into a Videodrome of delights. Follow these five simple steps, and you’ll be a much happier moviegoer this month.

1. Don’t Assume That It’s Bad Just Because It Was Released in January.
Granted, in the majority of cases, that assumption would be correct. But almost every year good movies open in January. You just have to dig a little deeper to find them — they’re not so much diamonds in the rough as truffles buried in pig shit. In January 2011, we got critical favorites like “Nostalgia for the Light” and “Kaboom;” in January 2010, I fell in love with “Sweetgrass,” a tiny documentary about sheep herders that wound up on my top ten list that year. Other good-to-great January releases over the past twenty-five years: “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” “Cloverfield,” “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” “City of God,” “Half Baked,” “Fallen Angels,” “Zero Effect,” “Waiting For Guffman,” “Before Sunrise,” and “Broadway Danny Rose.” The odds are long, but not impossible. This year, you can try your luck with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” “Miss Bala,” and “Haywire.”

2. Check out Video on Demand.
The multiplexes may be filled with platforming awards contenders and garbage from the studios’ discard piles this month, but you can find a ton of interesting new stuff right in your own home. Straight-to-video or VOD used to come with a stigma of cheapness and failure — movies premiered there only as a last resort. Not anymore; now filmmakers use VOD and digital downloads as a more cost effective way to reach a wide audience. In the waning days of 2011, that’s where “House of the Devil” director Ti West premiered his new film “The Innkeepers” and Edward Burns released his latest microindie, “Newlyweds,” which he shot for just $9,000. Tomorrow, one of the most acclaimed festival thrillers in recent years, “Kill List” from British director Ben Wheatley, bows on VOD. You want to talk about a joyful noise — that’s the sound I make when I get to watch “Kill List,” which I’ve been dying to see since last year’s South by Southwest, without having to put pants on. (Too much information? Sorry.)

3. Visit Your Local Repertory Theater.
Because January tends to be a slow month for new releases, repertory distributors often exploit the weakness in the market with some of the most interesting offerings of the year. In recent Januaries, you could have caught revival screenings of “Last Year at Marienbad,” “The Battle of Algiers,” “Le Cercle Rouge,” or a pair of forgotten documentaries by Martin Scorsese. This year, you can watch a Robert Bresson retrospective in New York City, a collection of “Super 80s” kids movies in Los Angeles, or a haunted house series in Boston. Ignore what your therapist tells you and do what I like to do at this time of year: live in the past.

4. Catch Up on Cinematic Blindspots Online.
If you’re not fortunate enough to live near a good revival house, there are plenty of classic films available right at your fingertips on Netflix Watch Instantly, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and assorted other streaming services. Rainer Werner Fassbender’s sci-fi epic “World on a Wire” doesn’t hit Criterion Blu-ray until Februray, but you can already watch it on Hulu Plus. If you’re more of a Howard Hawks fan, Netflix has “Scarface,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Redline 7000,” and more. Internet streaming turns any month of the year into the Golden Age of Cinema.

5. Embrace the badness.
Every year there are at least a couple of terrible January releases so bad that they’re actually worth seeing as sociological experiments in the field of human endurance or just as an opportunity to get your buddies together — and by buddies, I mean like Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker kind of buddies — and enjoy the hell out of some schlock cinema. Pick a time when you’ll be the only ones in the theater — either really early or really late at night — and get good and rowdy on Mark Wahlberg strapping money to his chest. Remember: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or at least make fun of them.

What January releases are you looking forward to? No, it’s not a trick question. Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Road Trip

Scott Aukerman Is Hitting the Road for a Comedy Bang! Bang! Live Tour

Scott and Comedy Bang! Bang! are coming to a town near you.

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Comprised of countless characters, hilarious guests, and running gags, Comedy Bang! Bang! simply can’t be contained in just its podcast and TV forms. As such, host Scott Aukerman is taking the show and its oddball cavalcade on the road in a brand new live tour. Fan favorites Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins, and Neil Campbell will be along for the ride (either as themselves, as their show personas, or both — we’re not at liberty to say!), and there will surely be a few surprise drop-ins as well. And maybe…a little magic?

Scott Magic

Check out the tour dates below and catch the Comedy Bang! Bang! live tour when it swings nearby. And be sure to check back for updates on Comedy Bang! Bang!‘s new season, debuting this spring on IFC with new bandleader and cohost “Weird Al” Yankovic.

April 30 – Theater at the Ace—Los Angeles, CA
May 6 – Convocation Hall—Toronto, ON
May 7 – Wilbur Theatre—Boston, MA
May 8 – Keswick Theatre—Philadelphia, PA
May 9 – The Lincoln Theatre—Washington, DC
May 10 – The Carolina Theatre of Durham—Durham, NC
May 11 – The Tabernacle—Atlanta, GA
May 13 – Gramercy Theatre—New York, NY
May 17 – Texas Theatre—Dallas, TX
May 18 – Paramount Theatre—Austin, TX
May 19 – Pantages Theatre—Minneapolis, MN
May 20 – Athenaeum Theatre—Chicago, IL
May 21 – Royal Oak Music Theatre—Detroit, MI
May 22 – Paramount Theatre—Denver, CO
May 23 – Fox Theater—Oakland, CA
May 24 – Revolution Hall—Portland, OR
May 25 – The Moore Theatre—Seattle, WA
May 26 –Vogue Theatre—Vancouver, BC

The best flops of 2011

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The end of the year is a cruel time for movies. Everything gets broken down into winners and losers: this film got a nomination, this one didn’t; this film is the best, this one isn’t. But movies aren’t nearly so black and white. A film can win over the hearts of every person who sees it, and still lose at the box office. Whether it’s because of marketing, piracy, word of mouth, or plain old bad timing, good movies fall through the cracks all the time. This list will celebrate a few of the best movies of the year that also happened to be some of the worst grossing movies of the year.

There are a variety of ways to define a flop. The Hollywood Reporter‘s list of the biggest flops of 2011 includes one or two movies, like “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” and “Sucker Punch,” that outgrossed their budgets (before marketing costs). Hollywood accounting is more of an art form — or a shell game — than a science. So I went with a simple qualification for the list you’re about to read: if the movie cost more to make than its worldwide gross, it was eligible.

Here are my picks for the best flops of 2011. Winners all, at least where it counts.


“The Beaver”
Directed by Jodie Foster
Estimated Budget: $21.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $6.3 million

A black comedy about a suicidally depressed man who finds stability (and later further insanity) in the form of a talking beaver puppet would have been a tough sell under ideal circumstances. In the wake of star Mel Gibson‘s ongoing personal problems, it was basically an impossible one. “The Beaver” was far from perfect — the subplot about Anton Yelchin as Gibson’s son went nowhere and director Jodie Foster weirdly gave her own character the short shrift — but Gibson himself was wildly impressive as a broken man in freefall. Even if he had some real life experience to drawn on. Read my full review here.


“Killer Elite”
Directed by Gary McKendry
Estimated Budget: $70.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $52.9 million

“Killer Elite” wasn’t one of Jason Statham‘s best vehicles, but it was another rock-solid action movie from the most dependable star on the planet (his other 2011 vehicle, “The Mechanic,” was even better, but it cost less and made more money). Clive Owen made a fabulously evil (and fabulously mustached) antagonist for Statham, and the fight scene where Statham beats up two dudes at the same time while tied to a chair is the best scene of the year nobody’s talking about. The plot, about the machinations of a secret cabal of wealthy British businessmen called The Feather Men, definitely crept into so-bad-it’s-good territory — especially when The Feather Men spent an entire secret meaning explaining to each other why they’re called The Feather Men (“Because our touch…IS LIGHT!”). Plus Robert De Niro, playing an aging mercenary who’s obsessed with money, hasn’t been this believable in years. Read my full review here.


“Drive Angry 3D”
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Estimated Budget: $50.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $28.9 million

2011 was not a great year for Nicolas Cage. The combined revenue of his three starring vehicles — “Season of the Witch,” “Drive Angry 3D,” and “Trespass” — was less than the box office totals of either of his 2010 films, “Kick Ass” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” both of which were also considered disappointments. But if audiences didn’t show up to “Drive Angry,” that was their loss: it more than delivered on its promise of exploitative thrills. Patrick Lussier’s drive-in throwback was saddled with dual misfortunes: it came at the tail end of a slew of mediocre-to-bad Cage vehicles and at the tail end of a slew of mediocre-to-bad 3D movies. But Cage was great as a man who escapes from hell on a quest for revenge and William Fichtner was even better as the man hell sends to bring him back. Highlights included a simultaneous sex scene and gun fight and Cage drinking beer out of a dead man’s skull. Now that’s entertainment. Read my full review here.


“Conan the Barbarian”
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Estimated Budget: $90.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $48.7 million

The problem with “Conan” wasn’t so much what director Marcus Nispel made but how he made it. $90 million bucks on a schlocky barbarian flick? Even if that number is slightly inflated — IMDb puts the figure at $70.0 million — it’s still way too high. In comparison, the original “Conan” cost approximately $20 million to make back in 1982 or roughly $46 million 2011 dollars when adjusted for inflation. In other words: half as much. If they’d spent $20 million bucks on this thing, they’d have themselves a modest hit. Jason Momoa was no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he was good with a sword and a growly retort, Ron Perlman was fun as Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons,” and Rose McGowan gave a hilariously campy performance as an evil witch woman. The deaths were almost as spectacularly gruesome as the film’s box office flameout, if you’re in to that sort of thing.


“Warrior”
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Estimated Budget: $25.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $23.0 million

Last but definitely not least — last but most, really. I already wrote about “Warrior” in our best genre movies of 2011 piece, where I called it “the most inexplicable flop of the year.” This movie really had everything you would want from a sports movie except maybe a bankable star, but this sort of rags-to-riches underdog story always works better with a relative unknown in the lead. Great acting, great MMA fights, great training montages; the only way I can make sense of “Warrior”‘s failure is by reassuring myself that people will find this movie on DVD and embrace it. Since the movie is about men who’ve gotten kicked around their whole lives finally making something of themselves, that outcome would be rather appropriate. Read my full review here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka3vpNlR8qI


What was your favorite flop of 2011? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Five movies guaranteed to freak out anyone with a fear of heights

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Acrophobics beware! Stay far, far away from Brad Bird‘s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” especially the scene where Tom Cruise dangles precariously off the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The Burj is over 2700 feet and 160 stories high, and Cruise actually hung from its windowed exterior.

In the ultra-large IMAX format, it really feels like you’re up on the edge of that building with Cruise. It’s a thrilling sensation for your average moviegoer, and a sickening one for anyone afraid of heights. Which got us thinking: what are the other worst movies for acrophobics?

Here’s the five we picked, complete with stomach-churning video of their ickiest moments. There are plenty of other choices, of course; you can leave yours in the comments below. But remember: whatever you do, don’t look down.


“Mission: Impossible II” (2000)
Directed by John Woo

“Ghost Protocol” isn’t Cruise’s first ride on the crazy heights rodeo. He famously kicked off the first “Mission: Impossible” sequel with an equally vertiginous sequence atop Utah’s Dead Horse Point. Why is anyone surprised when this man has a mild freakout on a talk show couch? I’m pretty sure this sequence, performed with cables and stunt doubles but no safety net, conclusively proves he’s insane. The shot where he willingly takes his left hand off the ledge and leans back over the yawning expanse makes me legitimately nauseous.


“Man on Wire” (2008)
Directed by James Marsh

“Death is very close,” says Philippe Petit as he describes the sensation of peering over the edge of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Yeah, no shit man! You walked on a high wire between the tallest buildings in the world! It is very hard to watch this footage — even if you’re not afraid of heights — without your palms starting to sweat.


“Cliffhanger” (1993)

Directed by Renny Harlin

The breathtaking cinematography high atop the Rocky Mountains is bad enough. But then you add in a terrifying scenario for anyone afraid of heights — a climber’s gear breaks in the middle of precarious crossing between two peaks — and you’ve got some serious nightmare fuel. The rest of “Cliffhanger” is fairly silly; it involves suitcases of stolen cash and John Lithgow with an outrageously haughty British accent. But this opening scene cuts to the bone. Stallone screams “You’re not gonna die!” and then drops this poor woman anyway. Absolutely heartbreaking.


“Eraser” (1996)
Directed by Chuck Russell

Just remember, guys: if you ever find yourself in a plane with the engine on fire and the door open, just hold on reeeeeeally tight. Grunting seems to help as well. Oh, and if you drop a parachute out of an airplane, you can totally catch up to it if you just aim your body carefully.


“Saboteur” (1942)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This one doesn’t just make you afraid of heights, it also makes you afraid of shoddy textiles. Hitchcock wraps up “Saboteur”‘s movie-long chase at the Statue of Liberty, where the hero (Robert Cummings) chases a Nazi saboteur (Norman Lloyd) out onto the Statue’s torch. The saboteur slips and the hero catches him by his jacket sleeve. But then the sleeve slowly starts to rip at the seam. And rip a little more. And then…well, you know.


What movie scenes make you afraid of heights? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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