M: If you’ve read our movie previews over the months/years, or if you’ve paid any attention to the box office, you know that February is usually a graveyard. It’s that wonderful combination of crap movies that studios are hoping will be a modest success because of the lack of competition, and bigger projects that have become albatrosses that the studios are trying to unload at a time that won’t be too painful, or mess up the rest of their carefully planned schedule. We’re hopeful that a few of these (Hail Caesar!, Race, Risen and Deadpool, for example) are the former rather than the latter, but, well, let’s just say we’re not holding our breathe.
E: Also, apologies, with a dissertation and wedding coming up fast, C will again not be joining us this month.
M: More so, E’s on her way to Mexico, so much of it will be left to me, which is significantly less fun for you, the readers, so we apologize. We are offering full refunds for anyone who is dissatisfied.
E: Maybe I’m dissatisfied with you hogging all the credit!
M: I’m trying to hog all the blame, and you’re welcome! Anyway, on to the movies!
The Choice (wide)
E: Nicholas Sparks-lite, generic-looking romance filled with impenetrable accents and weepy melodrama.
M: It’s actually Nicholas Sparks, not Sparks-lite. And it’s about as Nicholas Sparks-y as it can get.
E: I guess I mean it’s lower tier Sparks. Even for Sparks, it’s generic and rote feeling.
M: See, that’s where you and I differ. I think everything Sparks is lower tier and generic feeling.
E: Fair enough. This is how bad things are for chick flicks. They’re not even bothering to cast famous actors and actresses because this movie is just disposable treacle.
M: So, I’m going to disagree with you… about the cast. The leads may not be superstars, but Teresa Palmer is pretty famous (Mad Max, Warm Bodies, Point Break, and later this month’s Triple 9), and Benjamin Walker played Lincoln in a major movie (ok, it was Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) and was in In The Heart Of The Sea recently. However, after that the cast is pretty great. Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Grace (LOST), Alexandra Daddario (True Detective, White Collar, Percy Jackson) and Tom Welling (Smallville) are all famous.
E: Huh. That’s true, the supporting cast are somewhat well known. I’m still willing to bet that most people viewing the trailer don’t know either lead actor. (Actually, that might go for the supporting cast too, even if I’m sure their face would look familiar.)
M: That’s probably fair, though I’d say they’re more likely to recognize Palmer. Anyway…
E: Speaking of which – every February at least one star of an Oscar nominated movie (often an Oscar nominee themselves) appears in a complete clunker. Last year it was both Julianne Moore (Seventh Son) and Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending). This year, it’s Palmer in this absolutely insulting Valentine’s offering. (Not that anyone went to Mad Max for the acting, least of all Palmer’s, but okay.)
M: I’ll agree with you, anyway, that it looks like treacle. Palmer moves in as grumpy southerner Walker’s new neighbor, and they get thrown together when his dog knocks up hers. Seriously. From there it’s a story of them wrecking her relationship with Welling (who no longer looks like Superman) much to both their families’ delight. Then she gets hit by a car. Because it’s not a Sparks romance if someone’s life isn’t at risk.
Hail Ceasar! (wide)
E: The Coen brothers typically wacky take on the Golden Age of Hollywood, in which megastar George Clooney is kidnapped while making a historical epic about the titular Roman emperor, and studio head Josh Brolin recruits other film stars (Ethel Merman-like Scarlett Johannson, and an innuendo-ridden musical star Channing Tatum) to get him back from a fringe group of old (I think) writers calling themselves The Future.
M: I linked to the second, less publicized trailer (the first is basically what they’ve shown in the commercials) because it’s an absolutely hilarious riff on the way Lina Lamont tries to pronounce things in Singin’ In The Rain. So well done.
E: I thought the same thing! It was just hysterical. It gives me far more hope than the other trailer, which explains more about the movie but looks like it’s trying too hard to be clever and cute, and ends up not being funny. This trailer is funny. Back to the first hand, though — it’s February. Would they be releasing this movie in the month of blizzards and bad box office returns if it were any good?
M: Exactly. But it’s the Coens.
E: When the Coen brothers are on, they’re so on — Oscar winning, instant classic, quotable, thought provoking hilarious genius. I love Old Hollywood, but I can’t tell if this flick is headed to be a classic (like my personal favorite, O Brother Where Art Though?) or the dust bin.
M: Well, they are back together with Clooney, which could be a good sign, and it does look like it’s good. On the other hand, the Coens’ films are typically Oscar-bait in all kinds of categories, and this movie is opening about as far from the Oscars it would qualify as possible. That’s not a good sign.
E: Yes, exactly.
M: Above we had the guy who played Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and now we have that movie/book’s literary sibling!
E: Or, I don’t know. Maybe this is this month’s romantic offering? Again, let me just say how sorry the state of chick flicks are when the closest thing we have to a mainstream movie aimed at women FOR VALENTINE’S DAY is a zombie flick.
M: Hang on, let me shed a tear. *sniff*
E: Complaining aside…
M: …and mocking aside…
E: …C gave Mr. E this book when it came out, sort of as a joke because the women in our family are so obsessed with Pride & Prejudice. I read it, too, and it was pretty funny. I’m not entirely certain if the film is going to be too much of a mash-up; the action looks pretty gory and intense, yet there’s the whole drawing room/costume drama factor. Will it satisfy fans of both genres? My guess based on the trailer is that it leans towards the zombie action flick, which makes me less likely to see it.
M: Agreed, I think it’s more likely to draw zombie fans, but more of the comedic, Shaun of the Dead style zombie fans than the legit horror, Night of the Living Dead style.
E: I don’t see it being nearly as funny as Shaun of the Dead, which is problematic too. Well, anyway, I never have seen a zombie flick in the theater, although there are a few (two) I’ve enjoyed. Heck, I even bought Warm Bodies. (Which, now that I think of it, costars both Nicholas Hoult and Theresa Palmer, just like Mad Max.)
M: Further proving my point that Palmer’s famous. Thanks!
E: I own the movie, I’m somewhat fanatical about knowing who actors are, and I didn’t remember her. How good can that be?
M: You’re also getting old. 😉
All Roads Lead To Rome (limited)
E: I’m not exactly sure how this works, but while I like Sarah Jessica Parker, I’m almost never interested in seeing her movies. This one’s a vacation romance, which sees Parker dragging her reluctant teenage daughter to an Italian villa which just happens to be owned by her long ago fling is no exception.
M: Yeah, I know what you mean about Parker. I think we still have fond memories of her in Flight of the Navigator that bias us, because most everything she’s done as an adult is dreck.
E: And Square Pegs! And Footloose! And she was Annie! It does get points with me for being a girl road trip and sort of a romance, however. And for being set in Italy.
M: And having such romantic lines as “Your body does still look banging.” I’m pretty sure everyone swoons when they hear that, right? I’m also pretty sure the Italian dude’s going to end up being revealed as the girl’s father by the end of the movie.
E: Surely it’s better that the daughter’s the one making the crack about her mom’s body, mocking what the dude might say to her?
M: No, the dude says it.
E: Oh. Ick. But yes, it’s got that total Mama Mia vibe.
Melody to Remember (limited)
E: Scarping the barrel this weekend, we find a beautiful looking Korean film about a children’s choir made of orphans during the Korean War, and the disillusioned soldier who vows to protect it.
M: I recently read a great book that delves into more modern-day North Korean culture, but I’m sad to say that most of my knowledge of the Korean conflict comes from The Manchurian Candidate and M*A*S*H. It’s really a time that should be explored more, and this does look very well made, and potentially very touching.
E: Yes, it looks ultimately sweet and uplifting, if filtered through tragedy and the horrors of war. I’m going to seek this out once it gets to video, only waiting that long because I’m on an all-Oscar diet right now.
E: You would think that a movie starring Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins would be a bigger deal. Proof, I suppose, that it’s not 1989 anymore.
E: No, seriously, the movie actually centers around lawyer Josh Duhamel, who gets information on falsified drug trials from Malin Ackerman’s Emily, intel which he intends to use to help his boss Pacino take down big pharma king Hopkins. Unfortunately Duhamel gets in a little too deep with Ackerman, who turns up dead in his bed. His life in ruins, Duhamel frantically runs through the city, trying to find the author of his undoing. Let’s guess who that might be. Costarring Julia Stiles as a law enforcement agent hunting Duhamel and Alice Eve as his betrayed wife.
M: Seriously, the trailer looks really good, production value is high, and the cast is incredible… how much must this movie suck for it to be released with no fanfare in February?
M: Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson.
E: I swear we already talked about this one. This is the “bad things happened in the barn” movie, right?
M: Yup, that’s the one, so I’m pretty sure you’re right, we talked about it already, I just don’t know when. Classic “pushed out to February to cut their losses” movie.
E: Ethan Hawke is the detective, Emma Watson’s the sweet farm girl whose family was murdered in what might be a black mass. Is there a huge satanic conspiracy in this rural community? Emma’s old professor David Thewlis shows up to “regress” (hypnotize) a man who confesses to the crime. And Emma. And maybe everyone.
E: Horror anthology flick about various travelers going south on a road through the plains and finding hell in various ways.
M: I will say this for it, for much of the trailer I was actually interested in figuring out what was going on. That’s more than I can say for most horror movies.
E: That has to be partly because there are so many stories going on that you really can’t tell what you’re looking at.
M: That’s true! It looks like it’s got a bit of a lot of different horror tropes in it, and is pretty well put together. Though the “From the minds that brought you the V/H/S Trilogy” means nothing to me, and including a press clipping of “HOLY SH*T” in it doesn’t strike me a promising.
M: Before we get fully into this, let me just say that my opinion of Ryan Reynolds acting ability has been changing of late. Seeing things like The Woman in Gold have me coming around to him.
E: I don’t know if this is going to work for me. Deadpool – who is, as I understand it, a reanimated superhero — has a very particular sense of humor, sassy and dark and weird. Which isn’t a bad thing; I’m just not sure it’s my dark and twisty thing.
M: Well, not reanimated, per se, more indestructible. Plus, we’ve kind of seen him already, played by Reynolds no less, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (as opposed to The Wolverine, or any of the “real” X-Men movies). Looks like this is scrapping that version of him, though.
E: Also. Superheroes with guns. How do we feel about this?
M: Well, as much as they play the “he’s becoming a superhero” angle, Deadpool’s at best an anti-hero, and really more of just a bad-ish guy who’s out to fight the really bad guy who’s threatening his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin, who’s great). E, this may not be your cup of tea, but I’m actually rather hopeful for it. While I’m not usually a big anti-hero fan, I do love the sense of humor.
How To Be Single (wide)
E: Do you suppose it’s going to become some sort of Valentine’s Day tradition, the yearly Dakota Johnson flick? Will she come to own the holiday as Will Smith once owned the Fourth of July?
M: Um, no.
E: Somebody seems to be hoping so. This time, she’s looking for love with Rebel Wilson as her guide and Leslie Mann and Allison Brie as fellow travelers on the singles highway. It’s infinitely preferable to 50 Shades of Gray, even if I don’t actually want to see it in theaters.
M: I’ll agree that it’s preferable to 50 Shade of Softcore, but that’s not saying much.
E: There’s a raunchy conversation Wilson and Johnson have in the sauna which made me laugh quite a bit, so at least there’s that.
M: Yeah, still no for me.
Zoolander No. 2 (wide)
E: I wonder who was clamoring for this sequel to be made, how many years after the original?
M: Ben Stiller’s wallet, maybe?
E: I wonder when the last time Ben Stiller had (or was allowed to star in) an original film. I don’t wonder this enough to look it up, but it sure feels like he’s been stuck in the creative vacuum of sequels for ages.
M: Walter Mitty was only, like, two years ago. However, your point is strong, he’s been in a lot of sequels.
E: One thing that’s very smart about this film: it begins with a killing seeking out beautiful people, apparently starting with Justin Bieber. This capitalizes so strongly on the desire many parents have to be rid of Justin Bieber that I’m impressed he took the role.
M: Two things that crack me up with that. First, that apparently at ALL the test screenings of the movie, the audience applauds when he dies (and without someone like Jeb Bush saying “please clap”). Second, the line in the commercials where the villain says “Did you really ask why I killed Justin Bieber?” Classic.
E: Love that Jeb Bush reference, bro.
M: Thought you would.
E: Now, Derek Zoolander and his pal Hansel (Owen Wilson) band together to solve the crimes and save the beautiful people, who are being assassinated.
M: The cast, unsurprisingly, is fantastic, including a lot of people playing caricatures of themselves. Odds are, if you liked the first (which I did) you’ll probably like this, too.
Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (limited)
E: This is a tiny indie, but I had to throw it in just so that there was one true date movie on this entire slate. There’s no car accident, no coma, no terrible southern accent, no melodramatic wind up. It’s just the sweet looking story of two strangers who spend a magical night talking in Hong Kong, only to meet up again later when Jamie Chung’s Ruby ends up moving there for work.
M: This definitely has a bit of a Before Sunrise vibe to it, but with the added benefit of them reconnecting, and actually having a real date when they’re living in the same place. I think it looks endearing, and I would rather see this ten times over than something like How To Be Single or The Choice.
E: Me too. And you know how much I loved Before Sunrise.
M: I do. I, on the other hand, like it, but was not nearly as smitten. I honestly like the look of this more.
E: It is maybe a little weird that Bryan Greenberg’s Josh, the American ex-pat living in Hong Kong, spends so much time introducing Asian-American Chung to it, first when she’s on a limited trip and later when she’s an unhappy new resident.
M: Oh, I loved that aspect. It immediately starts out by letting you know that your preconceived notion of what should happen is going to be thrown out the window.
E: I’m not sure it’s that original, but okay. It’s nice to see that Chung get a chance to move beyond martial arts fighting (Samurai Girl, Believe, Once Upon a Time); hopefully writer/director Emily Ting’s casting gambit paid off.
M: I’m not overly familiar with her… well, Chung or Ting. However, I’ve been a fan of Greenberg since the early days of One Tree Hill. It was a guilty pleasure for a few seasons, don’t judge!
E: I’m not saying anything.
E: Complicated and deeply emotional looking film about an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) hunting down Nazis and exacting retribution. Also starring Dean Norris and Martin Landau.
M: Oof. This looks incredibly heavy, but also incredibly powerful. A very old Plummer, and a very old Landeau are looking for revenge on the Nazi who killed their families. Plummer goes on the journey to find him and kill him. Norris appears to be the Nazi’s son, who may figure out what Plummer is up to. I think I need to see this, though I’m not 100% sure I want to.
Where To Invade Next (limited)
E: Michael Moore. Pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
M: Yes, in case you’ve been waiting for the latest liberal propaganda very loosely disguised as an opinumentary, this is is the film for you!
M: The story of the resurrection, as told through the eyes of the Roman centurion (Joseph Fiennes) and his aide (Tom Felton) who are tasked with proving it didn’t happen, and preventing the uprising that Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) assumes will happen otherwise. We’ve talked a few times about how Christian movies have been improving in both quality, budget and cast in recent years, and this is no exception.
E: Is it weird that I keep thinking of Fiennes being cast as Michael Jackson in an upcoming movie when I think about this?
M: No, because that was just announced, and is insane. Not because he’s white, but because skin tone aside he looks nothing like Jackson (not that anyone really does), and because we don’t know if he can sing. I saw this more as Shakespeare and Draco Malfoy investigating the disappearance of Christ’s body. Definitely an odd couple, those two characters, and kind of a fun thought, I think.
M: So, my comments above about Southbound, and finding the trailer mostly entertaining? Well, count this as the opposite. A Pilgrim-era horror story about a family in the middle of nowhere that has everything go horribly wrong on their new land. Babies disappear, people have blood spilling from their faces onto their chests, there may be a goat walking on two legs and “milking” blood, and that’s just the stuff I felt comfortable enough writing about.
E: On the other hand, its writer-director, Robert Eggers, won best director at Sundance, so there’s that. For this movie, even, before you ask, which completely shocks me.
E: This might be the movie I’m most interested in this month: the story of American Olympic champion and over all track super star Jesse Owens as he triumphs in Hitler’s 1936 games. If that’s not a story worth telling, I don’t know what is.
M: Agreed, Owens’ story is undertold, especially the part where it’s set against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power.
E: Normally I’d worry about the quality, given the month of release, but perhaps February was deliberately chosen because of Black History Month?
M: I think, especially given the title, that you may be on to something with that. Hopefully Selma‘s Stephan James can give the kind of stellar performance that Chadwick Boseman gave in 42.
E: Well, he was excellent in Selma, so I have high hopes.
M: And how incredible must it be for any African-American actor to get to be in both Selma and this? Back to 42, in many ways it looks like director Stephen Hopkins (whose resume does not have me brimming with optimism) took cues from that movie, which you should all see if you haven’t yet. Here we have Owens’ initial struggles against racism in the US, and then once he’s established his credentials on the track, the battle of whether or not to participate in the Games in Hitler’s Germany. Honestly, both sides had compelling arguments, but as history showed, going and winning was by far the more powerful statement. I really hope this knocks it out of the park, so to speak.
E: Me too. And I’m intrigued that, among many other historical characters, Nazi film director Leni Reifenstahl and Olympian/Chariots of Fire narrator Avery Brundage take part in the story.
The Great Gilly Hopkins (limited)
E: The children’s classic comes to the big screen, with turns by Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Julia Stiles and Octavia Spencer.
M: So, I totally don’t know the source material, but this looks like it could be a good family film.
E: I’d never actually read the book either, so I didn’t realize it was about a surly pre-teen foster child who’d been abandoned by her mother and learns to love again through a foster family.
M: Well, that actually makes me feel a little better. Bates plays the foster mother, Spencer a teacher or guidance councillor, and Close the unknown grandmother that shows up right as things are starting to go well. Stiles (I believe) the missing mother, and it’s funny, I was just recently thinking that she’d fallen off the face of the earth, and here she is in two movies this month.
E: It’s not exactly where she was 10 years ago, but it’s a resurgence of sorts, at least. The same can be said of Close, who I’m happy to see making more movies.
M: And a total aside, I love that Gilly’s actual name is Galadriel. How great is that!
E: So great! Really, really great. I rewound the trailer three times, first to make sure I’d heard that right and then to just luxuriate in hearing Close say it.
Eddie the Eagle (wide)
E: How much do I want this one to be good? Eddie the Eagle — Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper — was such a sensation during the 1988 winter games, such an endearing figure. Rather hilariously, the movie stars Taron Egerton as Eddie, and was made by the production team that brought us his first starring vehicle, Kingsman: Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That blows my mind.
M: Also mind blowing, the same guy that directed Kingsman directed Stardust.
E: Wait, for real? Huh. That is a surprise.
M: I think I can see a bit of the sarcastic, irreverent humor in each of the three, but, wow, I did not expect that connection. As for this film, I’m not worried about the February thing this time. Last year in February we had MacFarland, USA, an uplifting, against all odds, formulaic sports movie.
E: Oh, I really enjoyed that movie in a Disney Sunday Movie kind of way.
M: Exactly. It hit all the right notes, and while it wasn’t special, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I’m very hopeful that this follows in its footprints, but with a British sense of humor rather than a southwestern flavor. The presence of Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken help to raise my hopes.
Gods of Egypt (wide)
E: CGI trash. That is all.
M: Yeah, I’m picturing a studio board room, and someone saying “let’s cross Exodus with 300” and someone else replying “and who needs a script, let’s just fling big action scenes at the wall and hope a few of them stick.” and thus Gods of Egypt was born.
E: They tossed a good cast at it too. In case you were wondering, the effects occur behind Geoffrey Rush, Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites, the aforementioned Chadwick Boseman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Rufus Sewell.
M: Yeah, there were some good actors in Pompeii, too, and that was drivel. I expect the same of this.
Triple 9 (wide)
E: Casey Affleck goes undercover in his partner Anthony Mackie’s team of bankrobbing cops, living in a world in which (as Woody Harrelson tells him) good and bad are blurred and have no meaning. Also, Kate Winslet looks trashy — but high maintenance trashy — with shockingly enormous hair. People get shot. Cars speed. Stuff blows up.
M: The cast for this is amazing. In addition to the four you mentioned, there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Wonder Woman herself Gal Godot and The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus. It looks gritty and emotional, with betrayal and people’s lives being put in danger constantly. It also looks like a bunch of other cop/dirty cop movies that have come before it.
E: Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s just another dirty cop flick. If you like those, it might be good, but the trailer doesn’t distinguish it from any other such movie you’ve seen a dozen times before.
M: I don’t have a good take on if it’ll be good. I’m guessing not, given the cast and the release date, but am not confident enough to bet on that.
E: I don’t think I’m interested either way.
E: I was a huge fan of the glorious, sprawling martial arts epic Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
M: One of the greatest “swash-fu” movies ever made!
E: So, okay, the wire work is out of fashion and looks a little cheesy…
M: …I agree on the out of fashion, but I thought that it looks good. Maybe that’s me…
E: …but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Michelle Yeo in action, and I really miss that. (I do still like the swash fu. I pretty much like swash and fu of all sorts.)
M: Agreed, a star who, like her original Crouching Tiger co-star Chow Yun-Fat, had a far too brief cross over into American films. I’ll be interested to see how Jason Lee does filling the role of her ally/sidekick. And to see how a “Netflix original” does in theaters.
E: Agreed; Beasts of No Nation didn’t make a box office splash, but it made a huge impact on critics. Maybe they can have both this time. And hey, that’s a huge change in the world since the original came out, too. Kind of wild.
M: And with that wild though, we end another month’s previews.