E: Oh, come on, let’s be honest about it. If I wasn’t hunting down Oscar flicks (many of which open in wide release in January, like Spotlight, Carol and The Danish Girl), I’d be at the theater watching The Force Awakens at least once a week. You know you all want to. And the January slate isn’t exactly tempting any of us to do otherwise.
M: While I don’t think I’d make it once a week (as much as I liked it, I still have four kids, including a one year old, and far too many responsibilities), before I start watching trailers the only thing I see that would even contend with another viewing of TFA is Kung Fu Panda 3, and that’s a very weak maybe.
E: Well, I haven’t made it once a week, but I did bring my four kids to see it twice already. Who knows how many more viewings will be in their future? Plus you and C and I wanted to go once just three of us to geek out together… if poor C ever can get time away from the job hunting and wedding planning that’s preventing her from joining in this month.
M: Not to mention dissertation writing and speaking at conferences. She’s a busy lass, that little sister of ours.
E: I think there’s one more movie on this list that might be theatrical-level watchable, but we’ll get to that. Kung Fu Panda‘s certainly the one I’m mostly likely to take my kids to. Otherwise, it’s all Star Wars and Oscar movies for me. In fact, I’m literally headed to the theater to see pseudo-frontrunner Spotlight right after we finish this.
M: We’ll get into Oscar more in the months ahead, but I don’t know if “pseudo-frontrunner” is even appropriate, as every different precursor awards is picking different things, and leaving different things, including all the favorites, off. Anyway, back to January movies, which we’re a week late for, largely because nothing much opened on January 1st.
E: Exactly. Remember the abundance of December? It hogged two months worth of movies and left January with tiny scraps. In other words, 2016 starts with a whimper.
January 1, 2016
Anomalisa ( limited)
E: Puppets. Stop motion.
M: With you so far….
E: Existential angst. Infidelity. Nudity and sex.
M: Wait, what?
E: Charlie Kaufman.
M: Oh, now I get it. Blech.
E: Charming sad brilliant festival darling that will surely land a Best Animated Feature nomination up against Inside Out. It’s not exactly The Good Dinosaur, people, so for heaven’s sake don’t take your kids. But if you’re feeling melancholy, you might enjoy it.
M: So, I just watched the trailer. I don’t get why it’s puppets and stop motion, as nothing in it looks like it couldn’t be done FAR more easily with actors, but it looks better than I expected after your lead in. I have a strong dislike for Being John Malkovich, so that biases me against Kauffman, but this could actually sway me. But no, I won’t be taking the kids. Or going to a theater for it, for that matter.
E: Have you seen Adaptation or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
M: No, actually. I’ve been tempted to see Eternal Sunshine, but everyone that loves it always say they “love it…. but,” and so I’ve never taken the time.
E: Well, those are great. You (and anyone reading who likes smart, original, emotionally affecting movies) should. I’m mostly up on Charlie Kauffman (in fact, I can loan you a copy of Sunshine), and the reviews for this are absolutely glowing, so I’m generally hopeful about it. It’s funny that this weekend was so thin with new releases, though. The Hateful Eight (blech) went into wide release, and then obviously there’s Star Wars. I guess that accounts for the lack of competition?
M: Considering that The Force Awakens had the best 3rd weekend at the box office ever, and already broke the domestic all-time record, I’d say that’s it.
E: Quiet, reflective looking story of three 10 year old boys in 1985, who decide to hunt the mountain lion who may have killed one of their pet cats. A pretty looking take on Stand By Me starring James Franco as the father of one of the three boys.
M: Oh my word. The entire time I was watching the trailer I expected the mountain lion to jump out and kill or maul one of the kids. Maybe it’s because I just watched the trailer for The Forest (see below), or maybe because the non-stoned version of James Franco is never in anything happy, but I could not shake that feeling even until the last second of the trailer.
E: Maybe it’s the music, because I had the same feeling; I kept expecting something awful to happen that just didn’t.
M: Maybe it was the music, because I still don’t trust that it won’t in the movie.
The Forest (wide)
E: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s man versus the wilderness-themed The Revenant goes into wide release today, which may be scaring away the competition; January’s second weekend is also thin on new releases. Leonardo DiCaprio seems to have the momentum behind him in the best actor race for his performance in that movie, and it could snag lots of viewers away from this thriller.
M: After watching the trailer, I’d say this one slants slightly more to horror than thriller, but that’s splitting hairs.
E: No, you’re probably right. We both messed The Revenant up last month, for example; me on director, and you on that bear rape rumor, which blessedly has turned out to be only a rumor.
M: Well, I did say it was a rumor, and am VERY pleased to hear it’s not true. Just thinking about that, especially seeing the bear go after him in the commercials, gives me more creeps than the trailer for The Forest. If you’ve watched it you know it’s pretty creepy.
E: At any rate, I’d guess I’d rather see The Revenant than this movie starring Game of Thrones‘ Natalie Dormer (a good thing because like I said last month, it’s going to get multiple nominations).
M: I like Dormer, she was excellent in a guest starring stint on Elementary as Irene Adler. Made a really believable rival for Sherlock. This, however, does not look “really believable.”
E: Dormer’s sister has disappeared in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest (also known as the Suicide Forest, because people go in there when they don’t want to come out); of course Natalie stays to brave the demons in the woods in the hopes of saving her sister. Your basic creepfest.
M: Don’t forget to mention that it’s her twin sister, and that they have that mystical twin connection where they feel when something happens to the other, which is ever-present in movies and TV. It’s one of those things like amnesia that seems to happen all the time in the movies that is so insanely overused as a plot device that I pretty much shut things off when they get used now.
E: Oh, the mystical twin connection. That explains so much. (And hey, it’s more believable than a forest full of demon ghosts.)
M: Meh, that’s a wash in my book.
E: I’ll say this much: it doesn’t look gory. Just really really alarming.
M: Agreed. When I pressed past the twin esp thing in the trailer, it looked more thriller-ish for a while. Then when the ghosts started appearing, and started body-snatching, it got “make you jump” kind of scary. Which is better than “make you violently ill” kind of scary, so there’s that.
E: Yes, there is that.
E: Scott Eastwood (yes, son of that Eastwood)…
M: …which if you see a picture of him, you won’t doubt for a second…
E: …stars as a Civil War vet hunting down the men who kidnapped his wife (Camille Belle). Also starring Danny Glover as Eastwood’s friend/mentor, and a typically evil Walter Goggins. I get the impression we’re looking at an Unforgiven rip off — it seems like Eastwood junior was a bad man in the war, and has become domesticated until he’s called on to use those murderous skills to track and rescue his wife. I’m not entirely sure, but I think he’s the titular Diablo, not Goggins.
M: I’m pretty sure you’re right about that. However, I think the “good many with the bad past who has to use the dark side of himself again” is where the Unforgiven comparison ends. This looks more like “let’s put Clint’s kid, who looks like him, in a formulaic Western” to me.
E: Ding ding! We have a winner. The other thing that confuses me a little is why his wife seems to be riding along with the bandits without (so far as the trailer shows us) trying to get away. She’s not tied up, she’s got her own horse… I suppose they could just shoot her if she rode off, though.
M: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s it. And it’s not like in the Old West she’d be able to outride them to somewhere that would provide safe haven for her.
E: I guess. Still, seeing her husband up on a hillside watching and trying to rescue her as she rides around with the bad guys, it just looks weird.
M: Hmm, I didn’t catch that shot. Anyway, on to young Eastwood. I can’t tell for sure from the one trailer, as it could be either the script or directing, but I’m not so sure he can act. His lines looked a bit poorly delivered.
E: He’s something of an unknown quantity to me. Eastwood has his first starring role last year in the forgettable-looking Nicholas Sparks bullrider romance The Longest Ride, but he’s probably more familiar to audiences from Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video.
M: IMDb lists him as being “known for” Gran Torino, too, not that that’s a surprise.
E: Hollywood nepotism? Shocking. Seems like he does more squinting at the sun and looking fetching in those previous credits than actually speaking.
13 Hours (wide)
M: Shockingly, my liberal sister left off the movie that’s opening the widest this weekend in her initial set up of this post! Just because we have a blog does not mean we are part of the media that has to try to pretend Benghazi didn’t happen, sis.
E: Look, I can’t always tell from the various sites which movies are miniscule indies and which are getting national distribution. Plus, really. This from the guy who forgot that January started last week and only remembered we had a preview to write after New Years?
M: Except that the main two sites, including the one that tells you which ones are opening wide, list it at the top of this week. Ok, that’s enough of us bickering (for the moment).
E: Yes, let’s get to the film at hand.
M: Ok, I have to say, I find the major players involved in this really weird. Michael Bay is directing, and John Krasinski stars. I would never have pegged either one of those for a recent-events-true-story pic about a the shootout at the Libyan embassy on 9/11/2012. Bay because while there may be some explosions, it’s not likely to be his usual kind of over-the-top ultra-explosions, and a true (or based on true, at least) story doesn’t give the right environment for his normal dreck. As for Jim from The Office… need I say more?
E: Agreed. It’s odd. I can see why Krasinski might want to stretch his image, but still.
M: Exactly. Still, from what I have heard from people who have seen screenings of this, it is very true to the book of the same name by Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff, and is very good. One of the key aspects of the book, and supposedly the movie as well, is that it is from the point of view of the soldiers trying to protect the embassy and Ambassador Stevens, and leaves the political mess that happened both during and after out of it.
E: Well, it’s certainly a dramatic story. The most I know about the individuals involved, actually, concerns Sean Smith, the IT guy killed along with Stevens and the two soldiers, and that’s utterly captivating. I’m sure that won’t be covered in the film, unfortunately, but I can’t think of the situation without wondering if maybe the State Department needs to be recruiting from the ranks of role playing gamers.
M: You say that as if they haven’t been for years. Anyway, the rest of the cast also contains a bunch of people I like, especially James Badge Dale, who’s become one of my favorite actors. I loved his short-lived AMC show Rubicon, and he’s quite a chameleon, ranging from the quiet, bookish hero in that to the evil, juiced up henchman in Iron Man 3, to the “better brother” in The Lone Ranger (yes, I saw it, don’t judge me). It also has a classic “that guy”, Max Martini (he’s in everything, I know him most from The Unit), Suits‘ David Costabile, Harry Potter‘s Freddie Stroma (he played Cormac McLaggen), and Black Sails‘ Toby Stephens.
Norm of the North (wide)
E: There’s a great big wise-cracking cartoon polar bear in this movie. That is all.
M: You said it.
E: Well, it’s not really all.
M: But it should be. With better wise cracks.
E: There also appear to be leopard seals. caribou, lemmings and other arctic creatures, all of whom fear encroachment from humans (lead by a sleazy businessman who wants to fill the Arctic with condos festooned with images of his face).
M: And shopping malls. Because people are dying to live in the Arctic. Right.
E: Oh, absolutely. What’s not to love about ice and subzero temperatures? Especially inside a mall with a slimy CEO’s giant face on it. A congress of animals send misfit Norm and his crew of indestructible lemmings to the big city to prevent the human incursion. As with the Ice Age films, I can’t get over the ugliness of the animation.
M: The animation, the concept, the caricatures. Blech! I couldn’t sit through the entire trailer. Literally. I stopped it with about 15 seconds left. This movie was not worth another 15 seconds of my time.
Ride Along 2 (wide)
E: In the sequel to their 2014 buddy comedy, Atlanta cop Kevin Hart’s about to marry partner Ice Cube’s sister (Tika Sumpter) when the two are sent undercover to Miami to investigate Benjamin Bratt, the dealer responsible for running drugs to their city. They bring Ken Jeung along for the ride, and meet up with Olivia Munn (a Miami detective) along the way. Will Hart make it home for his wedding?
M: See, when you list out the cast like that it sounds like it could actually be decent.
E: Oh no no.
M: Well, Bratt and Munn at least. But then I watch the commercials.
M: Seriously, we’re supposed to believe that after Hart takes a bullet (in his bulletproof vest) for Ice Cube, the latter’s going to use him as a human shield, even if it’s for comedic effect? Ugh.
E: Ugh for sure. It all feels very retro to me; the babes in bikinis, the endlessly bickering partners, the whiny newcomer… There’s also a running gag about Hart wearing his fiancee’s underwear. None of it tickles my funny bone. Still, if you liked the first one, or are dying to see a cop buddy movie and don’t want to just rent one of the Lethal Weapons or Rush Hours, you’ll probably like this.
The 5th Wave (wide)
E: This best selling, well reviewed YA novel begins the chilling tale of Earth after an alien invasion. Casey (Chloe Grace Moretz) desperately searches for her younger brother, unable to tell who to trust when the invaders look just like everyone else.
M: I’m a YA fan, and a sci-fi fan, but the whole alien armada that will be fought off by a rag-tag band of the last survivors of the apocalyptic invasion thing feels both overdone, and entirely unbelievable. When it’s intentionally campy, like ID4 was, that’s different. This looks like it’s taking itself awfully seriously.
E: It’s much smarter than that, I promise. Although, I did love the first few seasons of Falling Skies, so I’m not as offended by that premise as you are.
M: I don’t know if I’d say I’m necessarily “offended” by it, more just that I am finding it harder and harder to suspend disbelief for it.
E: That’s fair, I suppose. Having read the rather terrifying book, I can tell you that it could absolutely make a terrific movie. Whether it has or not is another story. The casting of Moretz (and Kyle Chandler as her father) is a good start; the January opening date is less promising.
M: Without having read it, I’m glad to hear the book is good, and after that I agree on all fronts. Moretz is good. Everything else is less promising.
E: Even Kyle Chandler? I thought you liked Kyle Chandler.
M: Ha! I do like Kyle Chandler, but he’s not in this. I also like Office Space‘s Ron Livingston, who you’re confusing for Chandler. And Maria Bello. And Liev Schreiber. Just not in everything they do, so I’m still sketchy on this.
E: Oh. Hmm. I do really like Ron Livingston, anyway.
Dirty Grandpa (wide)
E: Well. Let’s just say this trailer lives up to the movie’s name.
M: Holy crap yes.
E: We’ve got a very buttoned up and preppy Zac Efron…
M: … for the first 15 seconds, at least…
E: …who’s about to get married to a very buttoned up and preppy Julianne Hough. And then we have Robert DeNiro, who wants to go to Florida the day after his wife’s funeral, because that’s what they always did this time of year. Or so he says.
M: Yeah, based on the rest of the trailer, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they didn’t usually go to Daytona Beach during spring break. I kinda doubt that was Grandma’s thing.
E: Because really, what he wants to do is cavort with college girls (some of whom, shockingly, want to cavort with him) and break up his grandson’s impending marriage. So off the two go in Hough’s pink Mini Cooper, into the land of complete debauchery.
M: Featuring the classic (and classy) You-Know-It’s-Fiction-When line “I want you to tear open my bra like it’s a social security check!”
E: I can’t imagine any woman saying that unless paid to do so. Just gross. Another of the many weird things about this trailer for me is how broad Efron is getting. Way too much muscle, dude.
M: Are we sure that’s not CGI? I’m not. And in that scene, are we really supposed to think that people “letting lose” (or anyone, really) excitedly announces that they just smoked crack? Isn’t smoking crack more of a “my life has devolved to this new low” kind of a step?
E: I don’t think we can apply sense to this movie or expect rationality from any of the characters. All I can say is that as much as I expect Hart to marry Ice Cube’s sister, I do not expect Zac Efron to marry Julianne Hough.
M: Yeah, you don’t need to be Nostradamus to see that one coming.
The Boy (wide)
M: A total creepfest horror movie about a rich old couple who hires a young woman (Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead) to babysit their “boy”, who turns out to be, well, Evil Pinocchio. And kind of looks like the main character in Anomalisa from up above.
E: More shiny that the soft Charlie Kauffman puppets, though similarly sad and defeated looking.
M: Yeah, definitely not and exact match, but similar.
E: Apparently the couple lost their son twenty years prior in a fire he may or may not have set (after he may or may not have murdered a neighboring child), and use this doll to cope (after a fashion) with his loss. Not to be judgmental about coping mechanisms, but good grief.
M: Yeah, I can think of much healthier coping mechanisms than Evil Pinocchio. Especially when he comes with a list of rules you have to follow, and if you don’t, things go badly. Here’s my list of rules: if a creepy couple in a creepy house tries to hire you to babysit a creepy doll that looks like their creepy dead son, don’t accept the job. Leave immediately and report them to social services. Done and done.
M: I’m including this little indie sci-fi time travel flick not because the trailers look good (the one I linked looks intriguing, the longer one less so). No, I included it because the plot summary looks right up my alley, and because it’s being touted as a noir that likens to Blade Runner and Dark City, both of which I like so much that I own.
E: Okay, I’m intrigued by those comparisons, anyway.
M: Exactly, that’s what got me.
E: And I kind of like the throw back 80’s music and font, but when the trailer starts with “From the makers of The Signal“? That would be much more inspiring as a claim if I had ever heard of it.
M: Apparently it was screened at Sundance in 2007, which if you’re a small, indie filmmaker, is a big deal. Anyway, the summary that also pulled me in is that a man invents a time travel machine, and in the first test a rare flower appears. He searches “current” time to find the flower’s match to prove the machine works, meets up with a potential femme fatale, goes back in time to prevent her betraying him, but in doing so finds out some twist about her, the machine and all reality. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’m a sucker for this type of stuff.
E: I do think you’re a bit of a sucker, M; all the first trailer consists of is artfully edited clips with no sound. It barely gives you an idea of the film, other than the (cool at least to our generation) retro style. I actually find the second one more interesting as it gives more substance, but there’s still not a lot of there there. And when Michael Ironsides is the biggest name on your roster? Eh.
M: Oh come on, Michael Ironsides is AWESOME! Or at least, he was 25 years ago. I honestly didn’t know he was still acting.
M: Continuing on little indie sci-fi flicks, we have Terminus.
E: The world is on the brink of nuclear war. Things are bad for bloody-faced, self-proclaimed hicks in a hick town. And then a meteor shows up, with an alien DNA matrix inside it. The government thinks this might be an advantage for them in the coming war. But one flannel-wearing local literally bonds with the stuff, and then sets about protecting it.
M: It’s funny, this looks somewhat decent, with fairly high production value, but the “government” types in it couldn’t look any less convincing to me. Maybe if the government is only supposed to be a bunch of slightly better dressed hicks, then ok.
E: We seem to have a lot of low budget sci fi/horror going on this month, and as you say, it could look worse. It doesn’t remotely seem worth seeing in the theater, though. Not over all the Oscar movies I’ve still to see and definitely not over Star Wars.
Kung Fu Panda 3 (wide)
E: Here, finally, is a movie I want to see. I loved the first two entries in this series.
M: Me too. And the different trailers I’ve seen all make it look like they have put together a more than decent plot for this third installment. There are similarities, no doubt, to the previous two, but not enough to make it look like a retread. And some of the jokes with all the pandas, especially the panda cubs? Fantastic.
E: Watching the Dumpling and Noodle Squadrons eat their symbols off the battle map? Slays me.
E: I’m quite excited about this one.
M: Also, if you’re in the US, pay no attention to the “In Cinemas in March” at the end of the trailer I linked to; I don’t know what country that’s for, it’s definitely being released January 29th here.
Fifty Shades of Black (wide)
E: Marlon Wayans in a parody of the S&M phenomenon. I will say this much; I might be more likely to see this than original.
M: It really looks like a good send up. The initial elevator gag? Really good way to break the “serious” tone of the start of the trailer. If the whole movie is put together that well then it’s got a chance. Oh, and Marlon Wayans dressed as Kim Kardashian doing the champagne into the glass on his butt thing? Funny.
E: That was probably my favorite part of the whole trailer, but I don’t think it’s a reason to see the movie.
M: Oh, hell no.
The Finest Hours (wide)
E: Telling the tale of what it refers to as the most daring rescue in Coast Guard history, Chris Pine leads guardsmen to rescue the crew of a tanker cut in half during a storm. Or, the ocean is scary as bleep. y’all.
M: So, having a good friend who works out of the Coast Guard station mentioned in the trailer, I’m particularly interested in this. And the cast (Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Graham McTavish, Abraham Benrubi and Hermione… I mean Holliday Granger) is at least interesting, and they seem to be able to do passable Boston accents.
E: Yes, passable.
M: Outside of Good Will Hunting, “passable” is as good as it gets. Remember Tom Hanks in Catch Me If You Can? Costner in Thirteen Days? I will gladly take passable over those abominations. Anyway, let’s move on.
E: Being locally set is obviously a draw. The CG looks okay. I think I’ve mentioned more than once, though, I tend to find these lost-at-sea movies really alarming and don’t seek them out. It certainly looks better than most of this month’s drek, though, and it’s nice to see the Coast Guard getting their due.
M: I agree about not usually seeking these movies out, especially since most of them seem to be set around here, and some of them involve friends or relations of people we know. However, this one looks better than most, based on the trailer. The January release has me concerned, however.
E: And not unreasonably so.
Jane Got A Gun (wide)
E: Natalie Portman’s vigilant hunts, and then gets hunted by, the brutal gang which first offered her protection and then tortured her instead. One of those Westerns all about vengeance and blood shed and evil deeds coming home to roost.
M: Two westerns in one month! Holy moley. I wonder if this is a product of what I’ve been referring to as the “artisinal beard” trend that’s been sweeping pop culture over the last couple years.
E: Could be! Costarring Joel Edgerton as the gunslinger who abandoned Jane and her daughter to the gang, Noah Emmerich as her new husband, and Ewan McGregor as — I’m not rightly sure. The money behind the gang? A grasping businessman in love with Jane? I’m confused.
M: A bad guy, either way. And who’d’ve thought, Portman and McGregor, back together for the first time since he cut the arms and legs off the father of her children and left him for dead to go tend to her, before she passed away while he held her newborns….
E: How timely that it comes out when a far better Star Wars movie is in theaters. That does add an extra level of unpleasantness, though, thinking of Obi Wan creeping on Padme.
M: The movie itself looks like it’s combining two Western staples, the “you done wronged me, I’ll kill the lot of you” trope, with the “I’m evil, so I’ll chase you until you kill me and all my men” one. The twist is that it’s Portman who’s the true gunslinger, and will kill all the baddies in the end, with a little help from Edgerton, I presume. Not entirely unappealing, but I won’t be seeing it in the theater, I can tell you that.
E: Heck no. You guys know what we’ll be doing.