Monday Morning Critic – Courageous (2011) and Faith-Based Films

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the things I like to do is glimpse at the box office returns of the week’s new releases. And the one that really surprised me was that of Courageous, which grossed around $9 million or so in 1,000 theatres with minimal marketing and word of mouth through the faith based circuit. It’s following the same path that Fireproof did, amongst others, of faith-based films in being remarkably inexpensive and making handfuls of money.

It’s kind of like a horror film in that regard; make it cheap and market it to your audience and you’ll end up making money on it. I’ve always thought of it as the future of film-making, with Hollywood aiming smaller and making money in volume as opposed to gambling on big films regularly enough. You lose money on a film like Courageous and it’s not bad; you drop $200 million on a Prince of Persia film and lose your shirt on it then you can almost kill a studio.

The fact that the DIY attitude of a bunch of inexperienced church professionals, who had Kirk Cameron as their biggest star in a series of faith-based films, can find a way to appeal en masse to audiences it’s always made me wonder why Hollywood has never genuinely tried to make a series of faith-based films appealing to the church going set. You’d think in an industry that claims to be about profit and bottom lines you’d have thought this would be a natural fit. In theory you could churn out a faith-based film about as quickly as you could an indie horror film with about as much thought and creativity involved in them.

You don’t need tremendous acting or anyone with a high level of talent. That’s the first thing you can tell about horror films; as much as they have a vocal and proud audience one has to admit that you’re not exactly reinventing cinema with a Saw clone or a generic slasher film. It’s fairly formulaic in many aspects; a big bad villain, a bunch of cannon fodder and a plucky hero who someone manages to survive until the end. Make it cheap, keep it atmospheric and audiences will come out if you advertise it to the right sectors. You can do the same with a faith-based film.

There are plenty of actors, directors and screenwriters who are devoutly religious and not talented enough to really make an impact in Hollywood. There are probably many really talented people in Hollywood of faith, but the law of averages says there’s more moderately to lower talented folks in Hollywood and odds are you can find a bunch of them of faith. Or they can fake it, which is fairly common in a city built on perception instead of reality. If Glee can have a kid who can walk play a handicapped guy, and a gay dude playing straight, then people of limited faith shouldn’t be that hard to find who want steady work playing those who have faith.

If straight guys can play gay and win Oscars for it, or play the mentally handicapped and come off like a shrieking self parody, one imagines that an actor like Sean Penn can add a third Oscar for a man of faith in a faith-based film. Harvey Milk and a retarded man are in his wheelhouse already so playing a blue collar worker discovering his faith in God and all that jazz shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

It’s what Tyler Perry has ridden to becoming one of the highest paid folks in Hollywood and I’m shocked Hollywood hasn’t done more with this market. I say this as someone without a whole lot of faith and the type who avoids these types of films with my own cinematic dollar; in an era where Hollywood is looking to make every picture profitable. If there’s one thing the Sherwood Baptist Church has shown it is that you don’t need much but a film with a good story to appeal to your target audience and a built-in network of people that can spread a word of mouth.

With pre-sales and the internet making faith-based films easier to sell and market, one thing has stricken me funny. It’s kind of odd that Hollywood avoids what could be a really profitable division of a studio. If studios can have boutique studios, like Fox Searchlight being the indie arm of Fox, then I’ve always wondered why anyone hasn’t taken the uber-cheap route and tried to bring a niche market like this into something that could provide profitability. You’d think if the Sherwood Church can make a film every couple years using volunteers and DIY fun that someone like Fox could do the same.

Why couldn’t a studio that has everything needed take $10 million and release four faith-based films a year? Market it in the same way, using churches and group ticket buys to bring in audiences, and you’re tapping into a market that avoids films en masse for the most part. You wouldn’t need a big opening and it would allow you to avoid big stars, with big demands, and bring in new talent that you can pay cheap.

Considering all the schlock that comes out of Hollywood on an annual basis, and how they pander to many demographics, I’m shocked they haven’t pandered this one.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Valley of the Dolls

Based off the novel “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann, I covered the parody of it (for lack of a better phrase) called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls written by Roger Ebert a while back and the film it was spoofing came up in the queue.

The film follows three young women who meet when they embark on their careers. Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) has undeniable talent who sings in a Broadway show that earns the wrath of legendary actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), the star of the play. Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is the one with looks but meager talent, stuck in the chorus. Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) has recently arrived in New York City and works for the law firm that represents Lawson. The three women become fast friends and share all the same pratfalls including drug abuse.

It’s easy to see how Ebert wanted to parody this as a sort of sequel to the drugs and sex campiness of it, but this film is so insanely bad that it really didn’t need it. It’s one of those that end up with people justifying “it’s so bad it’s good,” which is code for “yeah this film sucks but I enjoy the campiness of it all.”

Recommendation to avoid at all costs.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Ides of March – George Clooney is running for President. Ryan Gosling is a dirty tricks oriented campaign manager who thinks he’s found his perfect candidate. Shenanigans ensue.

See it – Clooney has good taste in what he picks to direct and star in; despite the political background if it ends up becoming a great character piece and not Clooney using it as a vehicle to rant about his left wing politics.

Real Steel – Hugh Jackman is a fighting robot guy down on his luck. Queue the big comeback, Rocky Balboa style.

See it – It’s been getting bad reviews and buzz so far but it could be entertaining crap. I’m also a fan of Hugh Jackman and it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry a film that doesn’t involve him having metal claws.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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