The experience of watching films in movie theaters will return. Just don’t hold your breath.
by Michael Bergeron
So when exactly will movie palaces reopen? One theater manager I contacted regarding a possible July date suggested that “It’s very much in the air.”
I’m reminded of an email reply from a publicist that had set me up to interview a noted directed at this year’s SXSW a few days before the festival announced cancellation. “Let’s say the situation is fluid.”
Theater general managers are still on the payroll as current laser projectors have to be turned on once a day to maintain their light source as well as general equipment upkeep.
You may have read about AMC declaring bankruptcy. The truth is AMC owns over 10,000 screens in North America and Europe. Restructuring their finances would allow them to close underperforming theaters and fortify ones that are already profitable.
Multiple films ranging from indie dramas to animated features from major studios have bypassed their theatrical engagements and gone straight to VOD. Video On Demand means the customer can stream the movies in their living rooms through utilities such as VUDU, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play and others.
This brings up some quaint observations. Movie theaters operate on the premise that you pay a uniform price for a ticket whether the film cost $200-million or $2-million to produce. Yet video on demand prices can fluctuate for premieres. For instance, two new films that were booked for theaters on April 10 are now available with different rental amounts.
A low-budget romance/drama shot in Austin, “The Lost Husband” was set to open in 25 theaters nationwide and can be viewed for $5.99; while Universal’s “Trolls World Tour”, which was set to open wide in over 2500 theaters, is garnering $19.99 per rental. Perhaps not oddly “Trolls World Tour” can be seen on the big screen at a handful of drive-in theaters domestically still in operation.
When movie theaters do reopen they will certainly sandbag the big budget fare that generates the majority of their revenues. On the other hand with so many people staying at home watching self-programmed movie marathons the aftermath of the quarantine will no doubt see a rise in the amount of online movie critics.
The Lost Husband
The title “The Lost Husband” is a bit of a misnomer as it suggests a solid mystery: perhaps the titular husband isn’t really dead. Is it an insurance scam? Did he lose his way during an expedition to find a hidden city in the Amazon? Does he have amnesia after a failed murder plot and now work as a mechanic in Kentucky?
The soggy truth is that the film adaptation of romance author Katherine Center’s 2013 novel moves more sluggishly than the typical Hallmark Channel movie it most closely resembles.
The Dallas Morning News likened reading a book by Center as having a lunch conversation with “an old friend you haven’t seen for a while.” Really? The resulting film is like having an uncomfortable encounter with a relative you’ve been avoiding for years.
There are some things that “The Lost Husband” gets right. The production values are polished and the film stars a couple of name recognition actors that guarantee the producers can sell the film to cable and overseas markets. Leslie Bibb as Libby, a poor-woman’s Rachel McAdams, and Josh Duhamel, a poor-man’s Timothy Olyphant, star. Soundtrack songs by Bill Withers and Bob Schneider lend credence to select scenes that would otherwise flounder.
Although shot at small towns and locations around Austin (in October 2018) Libby hails from Houston. Writer/director Vicky Wight in her sophomore outing uses two establishing shots of Houston – mainly a high angle shot of the picture vehicle (a white and blue pick-up) driving on Allen Parkway towards downtown. Quite frankly, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking because it literally implies 1000 words in one image. A similar shot was used in the movie “Crazy Heart” (2009), which was also partially set in Houston (albeit shot in Albuquerque).
Bibb along with her two children move out from her estranged mother’s house after grieving and sleeping on the couch for several months following the death of her spouse in a car accident. A letter from her aunt (Nora Dunn) offering a job at her rural Texas goat farm provides the incentive to get on with her life.
Teaching Libby the ropes of running a farm Duhamel as James exudes macho charm and backwoods wisdom. “Pray for the best, plan for the worst.” A sequence where he teaches her to milk goats, and there are more than a couple of dozen of the bleating critters, has the potential to turn “The Lost Husband” into a lyrical ode about the chance of personal self-discovery in an idyllic setting. As the film dragged on one could only wish that the lead character was one of the ruminant mammals.
Libby accidently locks herself and James in the goat cheese freezer in the barn; Libby has an emotional crisis that’s calmed by a young distaff psychic who helps Libby metaphorically talk to her deceased beloved around a nocturnal campfire; Libby hears some uncomfortable truths from some old friends she bumps into at a farmer’s market. What sounds promising in print fails to deliver in motion.
There’s a third act reveal of a childhood trauma that’s just laughable. Situations that should be challenging seem to exist as chaff and supporting players like Dunn, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Sharon Lawrence chew on the hay while delivering their one-note performances. Duhamel has charm as an actor but Bibb comes off like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights on a desolate farm to market road.
Suffice it to say that jettisoning the novel’s baggage and exploring the inner life of Libby and James mingling with farm animals along with rural economics would have given “The Lost Husband” some indie credibility (not unlike the 2017 contemporary western “The Rider”) instead of rendering an instantly forgettable rote romancer.