Cranky Hanke’s screening room: The winter of our discontent

So the groundhog (I mean Punxatawny Phil—accept no substitute rodential meteorlogisists) saw his shadow this past weekend, heralding six more weeks of winter. In moviegoing terms winter — at least post-Christmas winter — means only one thing: scads of truly dismal movies being dumped in theaters throughout the land. And now this furry little prognosticator promises us another six weeks of such.

Considering that last week’s crop of four new movies generated three half-star reviews from Mr. Souther and myself — a first time occurrence — I wasn’t terribly surprised by this. The combined half-star awfulness of Over Her Dead Body, The Eye and Strange Wilderness was hardly off-set by the comparative innocuousness of Hannah Montana, which qualifies less as a movie than a manufactured event.

These are grim times indeed — something only underscored last night when I screened the latest Martin Lawrence laff-riot Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins (more about this in the coming week’s paper).

The single bright spot in this weekend’s releases lies in the fact that even though we were threatened with it, the Paris Hilton romantic comedy The Hottie and the Nottie did not make it to town. (Chalk up a point in the plus column for the existence of God.) Otherwise, we’re facing the action-adventure romantic comedy Fool’s Gold with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, which has thus far snagged 21 blisteringly bad reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website and only two good ones. The other offering is the improbably titled Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights — Hollywood to the Heartland and it may fare better, but stand-up comedy on the big screen almost always look like it stumbled into the theater on its way to cable.

Realizing the direness of the situation, I decided to look ahead and see what else the groundhog hath wrought. In the main, it’s not pretty. Oh, there are a few bright spots — like In Bruges and Be Kind Rewind — but these are primarily of the “limited release” variety, which means that there’s no guarantee when or if they’ll make it to Asheville.

Plus, there’s the possibility that The Spiderwick Chronicles might be a pleasant surprise. The books (the studio kindly sent them to me for Christmas) are no great shakes in terms of storyline and they certainly don’t enhance the world of literature as concerns writing style, but the film has a creative director in Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and a better than average cast (Freddie Highmore, David Strathairn, Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright). And good things have been said about Definitely Maybe, a romantic comedy with Ryan Reynolds and Rachel Weisz. The fact that writer-director Adam Brooks was responsible for such lackluster screenplays as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Wimbledon, however bodes ill.

Speaking of boding ill, though, we’re looking toward Doug Liman’s Jumper, a movie that would look pretty silly even if it didn’t star Hayden Christensen. This, however, is a tantalizing prospect when put up against Step Up 2: The Streets. Not only does there seem little excuse for a sequel to Step Up, but does the world really need another “personal validation through dance competition” in the thrilling world of “underground dancing?”

Ah, but this can be put into perspective by the threat of Larry the Cable Guy in Witless Protection (at least the title is honest) the following week. A movie like this could cancel out three good ones, but then a case could be made that the popularity of Larry the Cable Guy illustates to our generation why democracy won’t work, just as the success of Abie’s Irish Rose did for Robert Benchley back in the 1920s.

It’s hard to top the prospect of Witless Protection, but Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro — yet another of his sports comedies (basketball, this time) — doesn’t fill me with glee. What’s next? Competition bandminton? Croquet? Couldn’t they have just cast him in Step Up 2 and killed two birds with one stone? Hot on the heels of this comes another Martin Lawrence vehicle, College Road Trip, which one co-stars TV’s Raven Symone and puts Lawrence in slapstick G-rated mode as an overprotective dad. Chances are it’ll make Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins look like a classic if the previews are any indication.

That same week we get Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC — a stirring adventure drama set in the Ice Age. In case you’ve forgotten Emmerich’s the guy who gave us the Matthew Broderick Godzilla and the even sillier Day After Tomorrow. This round we get English-speaking cavemen (who knew?), a largely no-name cast and tons of CGI woolly mammoths. Granted, the mammoths look a little better than the elephants festooned with crepe hair in Quest for Fire, but the trade-off is they look more like effects than, say, paleolithic megafauna.

It will get better no doubt. As has been noted several times, most of the best films from 2007 we didn’t even know to look forward to at this time last year. At the moment, however, that’s cold comfort in the land of mainstream moviegoing. I can’t prove that the groundhog had a paw in all this, and I know that one shouldn’t shoot the messenger, but I have an old cookbook around here somewhere with a recipe for groundhog that’s looking awfully tempting right about now.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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13 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s screening room: The winter of our discontent

  1. Ken Hanke

    Well, there you are — ten movies and a nice serving of fricasee of groundhog. What more could one ask?

  2. Ken Hanke

    I dunno. My mama always said possum was greasy. I wonder how she knew…

  3. TigerShark

    Gotta tell you…that photo makes you look like Bilbo sitting at the feet of Gandalf. Try one with you looking all cranky!

  4. Ken Hanke

    In point of fact, it’s me sitting in the Fine Arts pontificating about Charlie Chan movies to documentarian John Cork for the “special features” on 20th Century Fox’s first Charlie Chan box seat. Can’t say I ever thought of John as Gandalf.

    Regardless, there’s some kind of caricature thingie in the offing, I believe. And since I’m going to be talking about some specific movies this week, maybe we’ll go with a movie still.

  5. Actually, that pose looks like you’re ready for the dunce cap.

    Have I told you that I can’t stand ACROSS THE UNIVERSE?


  6. Ken Hanke

    “Have I told you that I can’t stand ACROSS THE UNIVERSE?”

    No, but I make allowances for lapses in taste.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I would never accuse you of a lapse in bad taste! That would just be rude.

    It’s not like I expected you to like ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. I mean you’re not keen on the Beatles and you appear to not care for musicals as a genre. These are signficant stumbling blocks to liking this movie. And, yes, I know there are folks who love the Beatles and hate this film. I don’t “get” them, but they do exist.

  8. Ken Hanke

    “That photo reminds me a bit of Liberace”

    At least it doesn’t remind you of Larry the Cable Guy.

    As for THE HOTTIE AND THE NOTTIE, marc, the distributor apparently decided to put it out in limited to see if there was any interest in it. The theater average for last weekend was $225. It should be adorning the shelves of your store any moment now.

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