Thursday, April 11, 2013

Join Thursday Review: The Rise of B+ Cinema


It used to be that if a movie went staight-to-video it was probably a total piece of crap that starred either actors who were really has-beens or never-weres and a production budget equivalent to your weekly grocery budget.  What I've noticed in the last year or so thanks to Netflix and Redbox and all that is the rise of what I'm calling B+ cinema.

The reason I'm calling it that is these movies star people who aren't has-beens or never-weres.  Sometimes they star (or at least include) actors who still are featured in big-budget movies.  A couple of examples are "Fire with Fire" and "Catch .44" which both feature Bruce Willis, although he doesn't necessarily DO a whole lot in either one.  "Meeting Evil" (which I only heard of from a preview in front of another B+-type movie) starred Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson...OK, at least the former is still in some big movies.  And then there was "Deadfall" that starred Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, and Treat Williams.  That's a lot of people I've seen in other movies!  And yet I don't recall it ever being in theaters, unless it was one of those that was in New York and LA for like 2 weeks. 

I think that's more of the new model for a lot of movies.  You get a couple of people who are still somewhat recognizable, who aren't A-list anymore but aren't entirely B or C-list either, hence my moniker of B+.  Then you get a script that doesn't require a lot of big CGI effects or anything, you shoot in foreign locales or American ones with good tax credits, and you put it out on DVD and Netflix and hope for the best.  The idea I would say is that movie tickets/concessions are so expensive and the theaters usually glutted with so much 3D CGI kiddie junk that most adults aren't really going to movie theaters for grown-up type movies.  Instead they'd rather rent something for $1.20 off Redbox or download it off Netflix for "free" and watch it in the comfort of their own home theater.  Which is incidentally what I prefer to do even if my home theater system sucks.

In publishing I think this would be akin to when authors who already have a decent following decide to start self-publishing.  Digital distribution and all that has pretty much given them the tools of production and the ability to easily reach the audience, so why not cut out the middleman and take 100% of the profits?  As far as movies go that's not the perfect example, but I think smaller production companies are realizing that it's easier to go that route than to try to compete for screens with the big boys.  And really the performance of many thrillers/actiony movies this year so far has shown that's probably the way to go.  So it's definitely something we'll see more of in years to come as it's also a good way for older actors or those who really, really need work (Nicolas Cage comes to mind) to get a few paychecks.

Since this is the Thursday REVIEW, I'll give you some brief reviews of some of these I've seen.

13:  Starring Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Brendan Gleeson, etc.  I got this for free on DVD from Amazon.  It's about an underground league of Russian roulette.  The winner gets millions of dollars, as do people who bet on him.  Some kid joins up in order to make some money and winds up going against Jason Statham's crazy brother, who's in it because Jason Statham needs some quick dough.  It was an OK movie but the rules of the Russian roulette league made it pretty tame.  I mean come on, we're playing Russian roulette not golf! (2/4 stars)

Catch .44:  Starring Bruce Willis, Forrest Whittaker, Malin Ackerman, etc.  Another one I got on DVD free from Amazon.  Like "Smokin' Aces" or other movies it tries really, really, REALLY hard to be a Quentin Tarantino movie.  And if I liked Quentin Tarantino more I might have liked it better.  There's a lot of gunplay and double-crosses over a MacGuffin in the form of some money. (2/4 stars)  (BTW, the title reminds me of when Peter Griffin on "Family Guy" came up with "Bigger Jaws" the sequel to Jaws with an even bigger shark.  In the same way calling it Catch .44 is saying it's like twice as catchy as Catch-22.)

Our Idiot Brother:  Starring Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, etc.  (I think this did at least have a limited theatrical release but I also got it free on DVD from Amazon.)  Basically Paul Rudd plays a good-hearted stoner doofus who goes to prison when a cop begs him to sell him some pot and then arrests him when he complies.  He gets out and tries to find a place to live with his three sisters.  They're all bitches and while they all act superior to him, it's readily apparent they're the real fuck-ups.  I really enjoyed this.  It was funny and not as dumb as most of the slapsticky schlock Paul Rudd usually does that doesn't involve Judd Apatow.  (3/4 stars)

Get the Gringo:  Starring Mel Gibson.  I guess after his big comeback attempt with that beaver puppet failed, this is what he had to do next to make some money to pay his alimony and legal bills.  Basically it's Gibson doing what he did in "Payback," playing a jerk who still has a heart of gold, only in light of Gibson's real life the last few years it's harder to find that lovable.  He robs a bank in Texas, crashes in Mexico, and gets thrown into a corrupt Mexican prison, where he runs afoul of the prison's shadow government.  What was a bummer to me is that in the beginning the brother-in-law DEA agent in "Breaking Bad" plays a border guard, but we never see him again in the movie.  As an action movie it was pretty good, though it's still hard to enjoy Mel Gibson in light of his real life baggage.  (2.5/4 stars)

Fire With Fire:  Starring Bruce Willis, Josh Duhamel (that white guy in the Transformers movies who wasn't Shia LeBeouf or a robot...), Vincent D'nofrio, etc.  Josh Duhamel plays a fireman (hence the clever title) who runs afoul of a white supremicist mob boss (Vincent D'...OK, I can't spell his name) and goes into witness protection.  But eventually the mob finds him and when they can't get him, kidnap the US Marshal he was banging.  To get her back Josh Duhamel has to take down the mob with his fireman training.  Bruce Willis plays a police detective who pretty much just sits around doing nothing.  (2/4 stars)

Meeting Evil:  Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Luke Wilson, etc.  Luke Wilson is a dude who's about to lose his home to foreclosure, which will put him, his wife, and two fat kids on the street.  He's also just lost his job, which really screws him over.  But when Samuel L. Jackson shows up saying his car stalled, Luke Wilson still helps him out.  No good deed goes unpunished, as he becomes a witness to Samuel L. Jackson's crime spree that kills probably two-dozen people, but strangely not Luke Wilson.  Sam Jackson isn't as good as in say "Pulp Fiction" but he still manages to be a captivatingly evil dude.  (2.5/4 stars)

Deadfall:  Starring all those people I named earlier.  I liked this movie more when I thought they'd actually filmed it in Michigan.  When I watched the credits and saw it was filmed in Quebec then I was annoyed.  (Thank you Rick Snyder for getting rid of those tax credits...jerk.)  Anyway, so Eric Bana and his sister Olivia Wilde rob the Soaring Eagle casino in Mt. Pleasant (they don't actually name it but there's only one casino in Mt. Pleasant) and then they're heading...I'm not sure where.  There's a car accident and so they split up and head in different directions.  Olivia Wilde hooks up with some Channing Tatum clone who just got of prison and has parents who live near the border with Canada, which means they live where, the Upper Peninsula?  I mean the only place near the border in the Lower Peninsula is around Detroit and they obviously aren't there.  Meanwhile Eric Bana is going on a killing spree as he tries to find shelter.  They both conveniently end up at the Channing Tatum clone's parents' house in wherever it is, where Eric Bana takes everyone hostage, including the sexist local sheriff's daughter.  Anyway, it was OK but not great.  (2.5/4 stars)

From my reviews anyway you can see another reason why maybe they didn't bother trying any wide releases.  But hey for $1.20 or whatever the average per-movie cost would be on Netflix, they weren't completely awful.  So that's something.

Speaking of movies, tomorrow Box Office Blitz Continues!

12 comments:

  1. Between writing and reading blogs I just don't have that much time to watch movies, although we've just gotten Showtime and we're now hooked on Homeland.

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    1. Since I don't have a Mrs. Grumpy Bulldog I usually watch a movie over dinner. Or an episode or two of a TV series on Netflix. It's a lot more relaxing than the news.

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  2. I saw the one with the Ryan Seacrest looking guy from transformers. That movie had a lot of slow motion. That's all I really remember about it.

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  3. I don't watch many "B" movies, but I do watch a ton of Porn. You wanna talk about budget and bad acting? But I can't seem to stop myself. It's like Samara in "The Ring." They just wanna be watched/heard.

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  4. Our Idiot Brother was a wide release movie that just didn't do well. Basically, it was gone withing two weeks of opening.

    Part of what's going on here is that it looks good for big name actors to appear in independent movies. It shows they are serious about movies, not just about a paycheck. That's why you get these big stars in these no budget movies. It's like a lawyer taking a case pro bono.

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    1. None of the movies I mentioned were the kind of prestige movies that would show anyone was serious about movies. For that you do dramas, not action movies. Straight-to-Netflix/Redbox action movies are paycheck movies, pure and simple.

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    2. I'd also argue that expectations are diminished when you don't know how other people thought about the movie. That's as much as makes any movie seem like a hit or a miss.

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  5. Russell Crowe was in a B+ movie or so, and then he started appearing in theaters again. It's a shift. Previously when a big star was featured in a direct-to-video release, it meant that they couldn't be hired in theater-released movies. It's as much a reflection of the shrinking box office as anything. Prices go up, but fewer movies are released. Colin Farrell has appeared in plenty of these kinds of releases. But that only figures.

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    1. Everything Colin Farrell does should go straight to video since it all flops in theaters.

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  6. I like that term, B+ movies. I know what you mean - there are movies on Netflix I've never heard of, but star actors I recognize, and came out very recently. I'm like, "This must be an old movie...2012? Why did I not see this?" I do agree that the distribution model is changing. I'm still looking forward to the first big-budget movie to be released online only. Maybe in the next couple of years.

    Nice comparison to self-publishing as well. It's gaining legitimacy.

    I would also coin the title B- movie, a movie so bad that it shouldn't even have gone direct-to-video. A lot of Syfy's movies fall into that category.

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  7. I stopped in for the reviews, but stayed for the abuse on the posts below it. Sorry I missed the rant yesterday. WORK, amiright?

    Anyway: you're very crafty with those action figures. And I like to see the Grumpy rants.

    As for the B+ movies, it is just me or is Bruce Willis the busiest guy in Hollywood? Some of these sound pretty good, although none sound as good as "Way Bigger Jaws." Wasn't that Peter's NEXT movie?

    I'll probably check out that Catch .44 one. And you're probably right about the way cinema is moving. Steven Soderbergh released his last movie directly to dvd/digital and the theater.

    Nice use of "J" to make this an A To Z.

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