January usually isn’t regarded as the big month for blockbuster releases, but this year has seen some notable exceptions; below are four of the most important releases of January 2013.
“The Last Stand”
What would American cinema be like without the good old blockbuster? “The Last Stand” stars over-the-top physical comedian Johnny Knoxville playing Costello to over-the-hill cybernetic organism Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Abbot. This movie is about an escaped felon, a small-town sheriff who inexplicably knows how to use a chain gun, and his hilariously incompetent sidekick who would actually be out of place in a huge statewide manhunt for a dangerous fugitive. The plot is exactly what it sounds like, and moviegoers will be neither positively nor negatively surprised by a single element of this film. Yes, Arnold gets to shoot a minigun and Johnny Knoxville gets hurt a lot; no, it isn’t explained how a Southwestern sheriff came by that accent. One question worth asking, however, is why drug dealers are the go-to villains in every third-action movie. One would imagine a town with the reputation enjoyed by Hollywood might see its way clear to taking it a little easier on the hardworking traffickers who keep the dance floors full; however, that is not the case here, as every one of them must be portrayed on film as the next Pablo Escobar. Then again, it does give Schwarzenegger a chance to man that machine gun.
“Prosecuting Casey Anthony”
Americans have a morbid fascination with the cosmic dysfunction of the legal system. Movies and stage performances such as “Indictment: The McMartin Trial,” “The Crucible,” and “Erin Brockovich” are all, in some way, a celebration of the justice system’s greatest and most easily avoidable failures. With this in mind, it’s surprising that nobody has yet made a good movie about the Simpson trial. “Prosecuting Casey Anthony” is perhaps the next best thing, allowing the audience to revel in the occasional total malfunction of the Anglo-Saxon system of confrontational jurisprudence from the comfort of their own couches. Unlike the other movies on this list, “Prosecuting Casey Anthony” was not blessed with a theatrical release but rather was produced in collaboration between Fox Television Studios and Lifetime. It is included as one of the biggest movies of January largely for its cultural value as a signpost on the way down from America as a global cultural leader to a negative object lesson. In addition, Rob Lowe is seen in it as being all serious and so forth.
“A Haunted House”
It would appear Marlon Wayans has written another one of those delightful parodies he and his brothers have made so often. This one is about a house haunted by a demon who gets in the way of Marlon’s sex life, which means that something must be done. The leads, Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins, are both very talented and funny human beings. They’re both really good when somebody more talented and clever is writing their material in a film that confines itself to a mere three or four sex, scat, or rape jokes per scene. Funny moments aren’t entirely missing from this film, but they float around in isolation. In this movie, comedic bits that are actually funny meander along until they’re out of steam, scenes end at the point when the cameraman ran out of film, and the old-fashioned stereotypes grandpa was laughing at are wheeled out again for another spin around the block. “A Haunted House” is the zillionth installment of the Wayans’ horror movie spoofs, and no effort seems to have been made to break with what is now almost a twenty-year tradition, meaning few surprises can be expected in this one. One silver lining is that Cedric the Entertainer chews the scenery for twenty solid minutes near the end and, as per usual, nearly redeems the rest of the film.
Forget the prequel, the reboot, and the earlier follow-ups; “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is intended to be a direct sequel to the 1974 original in the series. Indeed, shots of the original film are even included in the opening title sequence, which is the cinematic equivalent of those four-page letters people write to their estranged spouses begging to be reconciled. The plot tries really hard to follow up on the first movie’s timeline, with the protagonist (Alexandra Daddario) being Leatherface’s long-lost cousin and so forth. After inheriting a big house from her grandmother, she moves in with some friends and a random hitchhiker off the interstate, only to find that Leatherface has been living in the basement all this time, and-as it happens-it hasn’t been good for his mental health. The whole film turns cubist as blood splashes across blood, except that it’s fresh and exciting now because the scenes are in 3D. John Luessenhop does a good job as a director, managing to keep a steady pace and get decent performances out of his cast.