M: Star Wars. Oscars. Assassins. December starts off slowly, but once it gets going it’s got it all.
E: If a film’s going to be eligible for Oscar, it has to play for at least a week before the year’s out. So Christmas, particularly, is packed full of last minute contenders jostling for attention.
M: It’s been a few years since I voiced this complaint, so I’ll do it again now. I hate the system that allows movies to be released on literally two screens (one in NY, one in LA) in December, then get release wide right around when people are actually voting for the Oscars. My proposal is this: to qualify for Oscars, at the time of the voting deadline the total number of screens your film is being shown on must be equal or higher in the calendar year you are qualifying for. So, if you release on two screens in December, you can’t expand beyond two until after the voting is complete. If you want to be eligible in 2016, really be a 2016 movie.
E: Thanks, M; that was not predictable at all. You get that it’s strategy, right? Studios want their movies to be fresh in voters’ minds when they vote. Almost never does a movie from the first half of the year get Oscar attention. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying, that’s the game.
M: That’s my point. The attention span of the Oscar nominators and voters is so insanely small that studios play to it, and movies that are really 2017 movies end up winning awards for 2016 because they play the game. I’d prefer to try to minimize the game playing, or at least punish people for the manipulation.
E: I’m not sure it really qualifies as manipulation. That said, the real point is that there’s so much good stuff in December; it’s a heady mix of blockbusters and grown up dramas, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.
E: Wow, this is a really light slate, huh? I guess they’re assuming that we’re all still seeing Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Arrival and Dr. Strange. (2 down, 2 to go!)
M: One down, three to go for me, but yeah, it’s weird to see a weekend in as prime a month as December with basically nothing of consequence opening!
E: Well, not nothing, but we’ll get to the substance.
M: I said nothing of consequence. No way anything that opens this weekend tops Moana or Fantastic Beasts, and maybe even Dr Strange and Arrival. My guess is this is the only one that makes the top 10 at the box office. That’s what I meant.
E: First, a show of hands: who else feels like a movie with this title released in December ought to be a religious Christmas movie?
M: *Hand raised* As opposed to a movie with the tagline “Faith has failed us,” yeah.
E: Yawn. Whatevs. And what a ridiculous notion of faith exorcist movies promote anyway.
M: As for the movie itself, it’s a crappy looking horror movie that takes exorcisms to the next level… away from the spiritual and into pseudo-science. Yay.
E: Yawn. Whatevs. I mean, I suppose that could be refreshing if you really liked exorcism flicks and were tired of the religious component? Not sure who that audience would be, though, so that brings me right back to saying whatever.
M: Gotham‘s David Mazouz, who I like, stars as the possessed boy. Aaron Eckhart, who I could take or leave, as the non-faith based exorcist who “goes into people’s minds” to deal with the demons directly, rather than dealing with the symptoms… because that’s a thing. Not shockingly, the demon in Mazouz is the strongest he’s ever seen, the boy’s life is in danger, yada yada yada.
E: I like them both, but I wouldn’t be the audience for this movie even if it looked good, which it doesn’t particularly. Yawn. What. Ever.
E: Coming off of a long hiatus, Natalie Portman stars as the famous first lady in the wake of her husband’s assassination. She’s a top contender for Best Actress, almost assured a nomination along with Emma Stone and Annette Benning.
M: Considering there’s a critic’s comment calling it her “most demanding and complex performance to date,” and considering her past performances, I’d say her chances are pretty strong, yeah.
E: I should probably note that, as often happens with films helmed by women, this movie is only getting attention for Portman’s performance. It’s not predicted to get many (if any) noms outside of that one.
M: I didn’t know Pablo Narrain was a woman. Or did you mean that it’s a female lead, and not helmed (directed) by a woman?
E: Oh please. Like there are enough movies directed by women to have that be a trope? Let me rephrase, despite the fact that “helmed” is not a synonym solely for direction…
M: …yes, it is, but move on…
E: No, it isn’t. Anyway. The movie is about a woman. Therefore AMPAS does not take it particularly seriously.
M: Liberal Hollywood, everyone!
E: Now there’s a total misnomer.
M: Nope, just hypocrisy. Anyway, let’s get back to the movie.
E: Well, to segue a little to another movie first, I have to confess I found Portman’s Oscar vehicle Black Swan a bit… how shall I say… overwrought? And I wonder if this movie might not also be somewhat melodramatic in a mannered way. Also, Portman’s accent sounds peculiar some of the time, as well as her word choice. I have trouble imagining that someone as well educated and well spoken as Jackie would have such a poor grasp of English. All that said, I’m hoping for good things, for depth and true emotion.
M: Right. It looks like a staggering portrayal of Jackie Kennedy, revolving mostly but not only around the moments and days after JFK’s death. It also revolves around the portrayal of her husband and family, and how they manipulated public perception to resent a picture that would tell a story far different than their reality.
E: I think you mean represent rather than resent? It’s a nice mistake, though, because the trailer, at least, discusses the idea of Camelot as a deliberately created alternate reality, which definitely interests me.
M: Ha, present, not resent, but same difference. An unintentional, but somewhat appropriate typo.
E: One wonders just how much Jackie resented the demands of her fairy tale cage. It seems like this movie wants to tell us.
M: This LITERALLY popped up on November 30 on the sites I follow to find out what new movies are being released. It’s being release on December 2. I, like, 600+ theaters. Very strange. Clearly the people marketing this film are taking their title to heart.
E: And perhaps are depending on a power higher than a marketing department for their box office?
M: As for the movie, it’s a fairly heavy-handed looking Christian film telling the story of a businessman in a rust-belt looking town who is struggling financially to both run his business and the Christmas pageant that his grandfather started. He closes shop on both, pissing off pretty much everyone, and getting him beat up and his car torched. He’s saved by a hope-filled little boy and his social worker mom, who, duh, change his heart over the course of the rest of the film, and no doubt save the pageant and the town.
E: It’s a plot I’ve seen plenty of times as Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies, barring the explicitly religious twist in place of Santa or Christmas magic or manufactured romance or the Ghost of Christmas Past reforming the main character. The too saintly mom is played by Danielle Nicolet, currently on The Flash, but handles the monstrously corny lines better than pretty much anyone else. I can’t say that kids don’t talk about their faith the way her little boy does (mine sometimes do), but they don’t sound like things kids would say.
M: Exactly. I’ll give it this, it’s certainly more seasonally appropriate than Incarnate.
E: The bar, it’s so low.
M: Lying on the ground, in fact.
Office Christmas Party (wide)
M: You want an Oscar movie? Look elsewhere! But if you want a movie with a great cast of mostly 40-somethings acting as if they’re 21-year-olds on spring break, well you’ve come to the right place.
E: How delightful.
M: As I’ve said to a few people, this looks like one of those comedies that will either be outrageously funny, or outrageously bad, and nothing in-between. So, it’ll either be Hot Tub Time Machine…. or it’ll be Hot Tub Time Machine 2. The cast is promising, with Jennifer Aniston, her Horrible Bosses co-star Jason Bateman, Courtney B Vance, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Hot Tub Time Machine‘s Rob Corddry, TJ Miller and that guy from the AT&T wireless commercials, Karan Soni.
E: I have no idea who that guy is, though I’m always happy to see underrepresented minorities showing up in movies.
M: You don’t remember those commercials with the two guys traipsing all over the place setting up wireless networks? The other guy had a beard. The most memorable one was where Soni geekily asked the woman in the office they were working in if it hurt when she fell from heaven. Anyway, they were good, and I’m glad he’s getting work.
E: Nope. Never seen ’em. Generally I’d agree that it’s a good cast, even though I have no interest in the hi-jinks associated with this party.
La La Land (limited)
E: You really want on Oscar movie? Here you go. That’s what you’ve been waiting for.
M: Honestly, so far nothing I have seen for this makes me even the tiniest bit interested in seeing it. Everything I’ve seen looks like it’s trying to hard, like it’s just actors and musicians pompously patting themselves on the back for being creative, or is just Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone kissing, which, no offense, but I’m not female, so I can take or leave that. Maybe I’ll be wrong, and it’ll be Singing In The Rain for this generation.
E: Weirdly, it makes me think of Umbrellas of Cherborg, a classic, visually striking French movie I have actually not yet seen.
M: I don’t know if you’ve ever written a sentence that encapsulates your essence more than that. OF COURSE this movie reminds you of an obscure foreign film you haven’t seen.
E: Totally not obscure, if you know anything about French films, but sure.
M: Right, because French film isn’t obscure at all.
E: Maybe to you! Maybe I was driven to such extreme lengths (comparing to a movie I want to see, have seen clips of but haven’t yet in its entirety), because while I adore Singing in the Rain, I do not actually find it romantic? And this looks wildly romantic. Yes, it looks self-consciously arty, a movie about love in the movies, but it’s just deeply swoon-worthy. Wildly, adorably, magically romantic. The out of work pianist and actress in their gorgeous clothes, slipping through LA together, singing and dancing and sliding their fingers together in a crowded theater? Sigh.
M: To quote you, “Yawn. Whatevs.” I don’t think it looks that romantic. I think it looks like it wants to be romantic. But again, I don’t swoon whenever I see Ryan Gosling.
E: How I wish C was here this month, instead of grading and applying for jobs; she would totally get this. I will say one thing for your Scrooge-like attitude. Most Oscar prognosticators are assuming that this is the movie to beat (it’s so Hollywood and so charming) but maybe it’s too girly. Maybe the feminine will be subsumed into something vulgar and disastrous. It’s harder to say what, though, the next two contenders are gay African-American coming of age drama Moonlight – even more unlikely – and blue collar grief-drama Manchester by the Sea. Not exactly feel good movies. Or perhaps the crown will go to Martin Scorsese’s searing Jesuits in Japan tragedy Silence? But God knows I’d love to hold on to something hopeful these days.
M: Which is why I go back to the fact than in years gone by, Hacksaw Ridge would be the leading candidate.
E: Back when Hollywood liked Mel Gibson, maybe.
M: And when it liked movies that audiences actually went to see.
E: I think people will see this. It’s not like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone don’t draw crowds. My favorite line from the trailer? “This is the dream! It’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting.” Bring it on, Ryan!
M: Yawn. Whatevs.
Harry Benson: Shoot First (limited)
M: A fun, lighthearted looking documentary about celebrity photojournalist Harry Benson, who has photographed everyone and everything, from behind the scenes with the Beatles to the assassination of RFK.
E: I love Dan Rather’s comment, that it’s rare when you’re in the moment that you know a moment is going to be legendary. Benson, apparently, knows it. In fact, more than just being a glorified portrait artist or paparazzi, he’s called one of the greatest photojournalists of all time, not only for his work with RFK but also in wars and the third world. This one looks like a keeper.
Rogue One (wide)
M: Before we get to the details of this, the first theatrical release of a live-action non-episodic Star Wars movie, a quick technical point… I refuse to include “A Star Wars Story” as part of the title. I know it’s Star Wars. You know it’s Star Wars. Frickin’ everyone knows it’s Star Wars. Why do studios insist on assuming potential movie-goers are stupid?
E: I guess it’s better than them name the movie A Star Wars Story 1. Which plenty of studios are capable of doing. I’m with you on ignoring the dumb stuff, of course. Now can we talk about the movie, please?
M: So, the movie. I think this is telling… when getting the link to the trailer for this post, I very much did not need to watch it again, as I’ve probably seen trailers for this a hundred times. I watched it again anyway. The music gets me right from the start, but it hits all the right buttons. It has familiar faces, and unfamiliar ones. Familiar themes, and new ones. I am probably unrealistically hopeful that this tale of the theft of the plans for the first Death Star, the plans that we saw Princess Leia hide in R2D2 way back in 1977, is fantastic. I love the look of Felicity Jones as the lead, the actors they got to portray Mon Mothma and Governor Tarkin look suitably like their 30+ years ago predecessors (Mothma uncannily so).
E: Oh yes. Totally uncanny. Love that.
M: The lush jungles of the preview look like a great new environment for the Star Wars universe. The building of the Death Star looks epic, as it should. The ragtag band of rebels look right. As C, who couldn’t join us this month, pointed out, some of the dialog in the trailers about hope and rebellions and saving dreams is a bit much, but I’m more than willing to look past that. Let’s go!!!
E: We could go on and on about how excited we are, about how it includes characters from The Clone Wars TV show, has a great diverse cast including Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Oscar nominee Felicity Jones, and how curious we are about that the first Star Wars score not by John Williams will sounds like, but we’re just ready. Bring it on!
Collateral Beauty (wide)
E: This is pretty high concept and deeply sentimental looking: Will Smith stars as a man who wrote letters to Love, Time and Death when his young daughter was dying. To help him grieve, they appear to him in person so he can talk things through. My first thought was that Smith was aiming at Oscar again, but it might actually be too sentimental, and I haven’t heard much buzz. Perhaps it’s holiday box office, then.
M: I think it could be both. I have heard some Best Actor buzz, and the trailer looks like it could be a perfect, hopeful, hope-filled holiday movie. Smith’s track record with this type of this is decidedly mixed, but he’s still a huge star, and is a very capable actor.
E: If they can pull this off, I will be all about it. Truthful emotion is something I’m a big fan of.
M: The cast is also fantastic. In addition to Smith you have his coworkers, played by Kate Winslet, Ed Norton and Michael Pena (who is surprisingly versatile), then Naomie Harris as the woman he confides in, and in as the answers to his letters, Helen Mirren as Death, Keira Knightly as Love and Jacob Lattimore as Time.
E: Yeah, it’s a fantastic group.
M: As a total aside, this looks to be one of the rarest of rare movies…. a movie starring Kate Winslet in which she remains fully clothed throughout!
E: Right. Like Sense & Sensibility, The Holiday, Finding Neverland, Steve Jobs, Hamlet … Maybe I’m just not remembering it, but I don’t actually feel like she’s naked in even half her films. She didn’t take her clothes off in the Divergent movies, did she? (Not that it matters. I feel squicky even fighting you back on this very meaningless subject.)
M: In my defense, there is this clip, but no, we don’t need to get into it, it was supposed to be a quick hitter joke.
A Kind Of Murder (limited)
M: A stylish noir set in the Mad Men era, about and architect played by Patrick Wilson who is married to Jessica Biel and having an affair with Haley Bennett. When his wife ends up dead in a suspicious-looking would-be suicide, things start to unravel for him. I certainly won’t be running out to the theater to see this, with everything else that’s on the docket, but it could turn out to be a good rental some day.
E: Seems like something that would have been much more tempting in February, right? I mean, not exactly a date movie. Maybe to watch on cable in February? Alone?
M: Hahaha, yes. Or maybe a date movie for people on Ashley Madison.
E: I’m going to add that I thought that Patrick Wilson was Michael Keaton in the freeze frame on the trailer.
M: I don’t know if Wilson would be more offended, or Keaton more pleased, by that mistake.
E: Also, Haley Bennet (the sexy singer/mistress) has a total Jennifer Lawrence thing going on.
M: She also played a character who was equally, let’s say, unencumbered by morals, in The Girl on the Train, so she may be getting a bit type cast.
E: Sex object? Young woman? The film’s based on a book by Patricia Hightower, so it has elements not only of Mad Men but of Carol and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
M: Ugh. There are few movies that I think are as visually well made as Ripley, and few that are as despicable.
E: I’m sure you’ll have plenty of moral qualms with this one as well. And finally, to add to the Mad Men vibe, Mad Men alum Vincent Kartheiser plays the detective who’s convinced that Wilson did it. While it doesn’t look very original, it looks well made and thought-provoking. I would rent this or watch it on cable.
M: Same here.
M: Speaking of movies I won’t see in a theater, but might make a good rental. This is a spin on the psychic-helps-police-find-serial-killer trope, but a newer one where the killer is also a psychic, and kind of the Kwisatz Haderach, able to see the future to the point of being able to tell the exact time the police will discover a note he left on the wall of one of the crime scenes.
E: Oh, that’s pretty fantastic as a plot twist.
M: Anthony Hopkins, taking on the other side of the hunt for the serial killer, is the good psychic, and Collin Farrell the killer.
E: Gee, thanks for the spoiler, M. Or at least it was a spoiler till I saw the preview, which explains the same thing.
M: Abbie Cornish and Jeffrey Dean Morgan round out the cast as the believer and the skeptic on the police force, in essence this film’s Mulder and Scully.
E: In that she’s a psychologist who doesn’t believe in the paranormal, while he’s a true believer. I have to say, I was more interested in this than you seem to be. It’s dark, but I was intrigued. Maybe my normal feelings of revulsion for Colin Farrell have been blunted by his surprisingly excellent turn in Fantastic Beasts, but I would see this. If, you know, it got nominated for an Oscar, which it won’t. So I’ll have to wait till it hits cable or blu ray before seeing how Hopkins does on the side of the law. (Quite a refreshing change for him, right?) But for people without my Oscar obsession, this looks like it could be the serial killer thriller they’re looking for.
M: Hmmm, I think you read my interest level wrong. I will absolutely see this some day, just not in the theater.
E: You mean we actually agree? Huh.
M: It’s a Christmas miracle!
M: Yay, communism!
E: Er, okay.
M: Sorry, maybe I’m a little overly-sensitive to the attempts at glorifying communism, given the recent passing of Fidel Castro, and all the praise being heaped on one of the worst human rights violators in the history of mankind.
E: Stop, people are going to think that this movie’s about Cuba.
M: Ok, ok, moving past Castro, this movie tells the semi-true tale of the fascist Chilean government’s chasing of communist poet Pablo Neruda in the years following World War II. Putting aside my disdain for the “whitewashing” of communism, it actually looks like a spirited romp of a movie that could be quite entertaining.
E: It’s funny, because what I know of Neruda’s work is wildly romantic and not at all political. So I was completely captivated by this trailer which as you say looks spirited, entertaining and original. I love the idea of the poet running around the country-side, hiding out from a corrupt government that must respond to his taunts but doesn’t actually want to catch him. Also, I expect that this film will be a contender for Foreign Film. I’ll be happy to see it when/if it actually arrives at a theater near me. It’s a fine December for director Pablo Larrain, who brought us this month’s Jackie.
M: Very impressive.
December 21 – 23
Passengers (wide – Wednesday)
E: Here’s a movie aiming for box office gold that looks pretty likely to get it.
M: It may well get my box office dollars, I love stuff like this.
E: Oh yes, me too. The siblings are totally the audience for this movie, though we’re hardly going to be the only ones. It’s a big space epic in which Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (love them!) are the only conscious people on a massive space ship, having been woken up too early from stasis on a long journey to a colony far away. Amid the inevitable romance, there’s mystery and adventure: why did they wake up? Will they be able to return to sleep? Were they awakened for a larger purpose?
M: Is the entire trip, and ship, in danger? Is the survival of the human race on the line? Why is robot bartender Michael Sheen dragging his head across the bar? Why are they so close to a star? And how the heck do Laurence Fishburn and Andy Garcia, who are both in it, factor into things? Things definitely look like they turn pretty bleak, amid the jaw dropping special effects like swimming in a zero-G giant bubble of water.
E: I’m thinking that Fishburn and Garcia factor in from home? In flashbacks? I don’t know, though, and I’m intrigued to find out.
M: I have to say, when I see at least Fishburn’s brief appearance in the trailer, I can’t help but think they look like the human crew/passengers of the ship in Wall-E.
E: So obese that they can’t walk on their own? Really?
M: It’s the only moment of anything I’ve seen for this that makes me laugh in a bad way. Otherwise, I’m totally in.
E: This is absolutely where my non-Oscar dollars/date night babysitting fees are going.
Assassin’s Creed (wide – Wednesday)
E: Aaaaand here’s a perfect example of where my non-Oscar dollars will not be going.
M: There aren’t a lot of examples of good movies that are based on video games, this is aiming at bucking that trend. And, admittedly, rarely do video game movies boast a cast like this, with Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons.
E: I am absolutely astounded by that. I can’t believe this is even a live action movie, to be honest.
M: Well, the definition of “live action” is not what it used to be, but I know what you mean. Anyway, the set up for the film version of the insanely popular game series is that Fassbender is a criminal being given “one last chance” (while having any trace of his existence erased).
E: No, not his existence; they fake his execution. He’s now officially dead. But go on.
M: This is being given to him by a covert organization, for whom Cotillard is the mouthpiece. They traced his genealogy back 500 years to a member of the, you guessed it, assassin’s creed, a group who “work in the dark to serve the light” as the game touts.
E: And, okay, that’s interesting, but I totally don’t get the point of it.
M: People who assassinate bad people at the bidding of the good people, I think.
E: Yeah, but still. What people? Who gets to decide?
M: There’s some weird tech that allows Fassbender to relive the memories of his dead ancestor, and thus the movie is set both now and during the Spanish Inquisition, allowing for fun costumes and sets. What I can tell is that there’s a lot of action, what I can’t tell is if there’s any plot.
E: I think there is a plot, amid a lot of effects for the sake of effects (how stupid is the giant robot arm holding Fassbender up?), but it doesn’t make much sense. Are they trying to change the future by changing the past? It wouldn’t be the first time, but the trailer makes no sense of it. Despite the pedigree of the cast, the trailers’s just about action and style, not substance. Pass.
Sing (wide – Wednesday)
E: Since I have seen almost every decent animated movie to hit the theaters this year, I have been seeing the previews for this movie through pretty much all of 2016. Hey, guys, let’s save this old theater by putting on a singing contest!
M: No one’s ever done a singing competition, that sounds awesome!
E: Hush your mouth. Yes it does. Unoriginal, but cute. It will be even more awesome because their world is inhabited by animals instead of humans! And of course each animal has a strong personal reason for wanting to win — Kristen Bell’s (Reese Witherspoon???) pig to be seen as more than just a mom and housekeeper, Taron Egerton’s gorilla looking to make it out of his dad’s criminal gang, Scarlett Johanssen’s porcupine to score off her cheating ex-boyfriend, Tori Kelly’s elephant to get over her terrible shyness. Instead of being sick of it, I’m actually quite excited to see it.
M: I’m glad to hear that! I haven’t been inundated by the previews for it, since I’m a bad dad and don’t take my kids to the movies almost ever. So I was watching the trailer thinking it looked winning and that I’d actually enjoy it. That you’re not sick of it by now is hopeful.
Patriots Day (wide – Wednesday)
E: Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
M: Reeeeeeeeally deep breaths.
E: That trailer, seriously.
M: It gets very dusty in whatever room I’m in when I see it. I don’t say this often, but I honestly think it’s too soon. I’m sure you do too, but I know plenty of people who were there that day. I had people that work for me that were close (but thankfully not too close) to it, that I didn’t know if they were ok for several excruciating hours after it happened.
E: Readers, you probably know this, but even non-sports fans in the Boston area take sports pretty seriously. We take the Marathon very seriously. I have personally stood on the street for hours, yelling till my voice was gone, handing out orange chunks to racers who needed a pick me up. So that attack… that slices to the heart of every complicated, bitter, brutal issue of the war on terror. You see the best and the worst. So while I’m always nervous when Hollywood takes on subjects near to my heart, what I like about this movie to start with is that it acknowledges that complexity. I am very nervous, but also hopeful that the film does justice to the subject.
M: I also like that it’s made by people who are from here. People, like the writer of The Fighter and The Finest Hours, who know how important it is to get it right. Whatever else I think of him, I trust that Mark Wahlberg will get it right. I just don’t know if I can watch it. Not yet.
E: Really? Huh. I think I can. And despite it not being an Oscar film (or, at least, not having a ton of Oscar buzz, since it’s emotional and epic enough to get there), I kind of feel like I need to support it.
M: I strongly feel that, too. It’s just still raw.
Why Him? (wide – Friday)
M: The only thing I need to hold back watching the trailer for this, on the other hand, is vomit.
E: That’s a father of daughters talking right there.
M: Three of them, yep. And this is a classic father-hates-his-daughter’s-boyfriend flick, with Bryan Cranston returning to comedy as the dad, and James “I’m nowhere near as young as all the characters I play” Franco as the boyfriend, who gives the dad plenty of reasons to hate him, like, you know, talking in great detail about their most recent sexual experience in his hot tub… at the dinner table… on the parents first night meeting him. That’s just one highlight.
E: As Megan Mullally, the mom says, “I didn’t see that. But now I feel like I have.”
M: The thing that annoys me is that, from the look of the trailer, it’s clear that Franco will charismatically win over everyone, eventually including Cranston, and Cranston will be played as the prude and overprotective and all the things that a good dad should actually be, to prevent his daughter from marrying some dope like Franco (or his character).
E: To which we say yuck, because they do too good a job painting him as awful.
E: Against his better judgement, Jesuit Ciaran Hinds sends Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield on a mission to Japan, to rescue a fellow missionary (Liam Neeson?) who’s been taken prison by the Shogun and, rumor has it, made to publicly renounce his faith.
M: With only the trailer to go on, I totally don’t know what to make of this.
E: Agreed. We see lots of half-starving bodies and terrible hair. Lots of violent reprisals against the converts to Christianity. Lots of suffering. Through it, someone (perhaps Garfield? It’s hard to tell with the distractingly terrible accents) whispers that it’s hard to pray through all this. “Am I just praying to silence?” I can’t help looking at this and thinking, sorry, but The Mission already did it better.
M: I can’t say, as I have actually never seen The Mission.
E: WHAT? How is that possible? I swear I saw that at home when we were in high school. One of the all time greats. And the score… as Jack Black notes in The Holiday, also genius.
M: Yeah yeah, I know. Oh, I’ve also never seen The Holiday, but I feel less bad about that. Moving back to Silence, I agree, the accents are horrible, especially Garfield’s. And Driver always looks odd, but here he takes it to a whole different level. Then late in the trailer Neeson shows up looking TOTALLY Liam Neeson-y, and it just doesn’t seem to fit. Like I said, I don’t know what to make of it.
E: It’s not that there’s anything wrong with telling more than one story about Jesuit missionaries: far from it. It’s just – I hate that I had to sit through The Revenant last year, with its puzzling attempt to turn revenge into some sort of spirituality. I just don’t feel like gearing up for the same level of grotesque, savage violence again, which is exactly what this looks like.
M: You’re making me glad I skipped it.
E: Oh, you should be. I will never understand that film and I’m still basking in the afterglow from its Best Picture loss. Though to clarify my thoughts about the trailer, it doesn’t appear that the Jesuits are fighting back. I just don’t know how much torture I can take, or why audiences in general would want to subject themselves to it.
M: I will say that as a long-time Scorsese fan, it makes me happy to see “From Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese” during the trailer.
E: But when that’s the best part of the trailer? Not so good.
A Monster Calls (limited)
E: This Liam Neeson starrer, on the other hand, captivates me.
M: Sooo much!
E: A boy (Louis MacDougall), wrecked by his mother’s terminal illness, creates a monster in his head to help him deal with the upheaval in his world.
M: A monster he initially drew while the same mother was teaching him to draw.
E: And the Giant Monster, of course, is voiced by Neeson. Pretty fabulous. And unlike this summer’s super-disappointing looking BFG, the monster has a fantastic look.
M: HA! When I was watching the trailer I thought “It’s kind of the BFG, but with Treebeard instead of a humanoid giant.” So, as it goes on, treebeard teaches the boy to release his emotions he’s been bottling up, to take risks and have adventure and excitement. It looks brilliant, both visually and in it’s message.
December 25 – 30
Fences (wide – Christmas Day)
E: Here’s another big contender for the end of the year awards. Could Denzel Washington take Casey Affleck out and win his third Oscar? Yes, you heard me. Maybe it’s not the most likely of all scenarios (think about how hard Meryl Streep had to work for her third; she has more than double his career nominations), but it could definitely happen. He’s virtually certain to be nominated as the patriarch of a fractured family, as is Viola Davis, who plays his wife.
M: Jack Nicholson has three, so clearly it’s easier for men to win three than women, since Jack isn’t remotely in Streep’s league. If anyone is, then the other living three-time winner, Daniel Day Lewis is. I’m not sure Denzel is in their league, but if he’s not he’s close.
E: Maybe not with Day Lewis, but I’d consider him better than Nicholson. Now, since this is based on an August Wilson play (the screenplay is actually written by the playwright), anyone who’s read him before knows that it’s all happy families, right? People loving each other, being kind. That sort of thing.
M: I haven’t read Wilson, but I think I might detect a hint of sarcasm in your text.
E: Wilson is great, but boy does he have Daddy issues. Lots of ugly yelling and withholding of affection and tears. Honestly, if it wasn’t an Oscar flick there’s no way I’d be seeing this one. Maybe I’ll really like it, but I would not go there on my own.
M: Huh, maybe it’s because of you knowing Wilson, but I was thinking this looks like one that would be powerful and worth seeing.
E: Let’s hope you’re right, since I’ll have to see it.
Hidden Figures (limited – Christmas Day)
E: Just in case Fences and Moonlight fall through, there’s yet another highly anticipated movie that should help prevent a repeat of last year’s #Oscarssowhite stupidity. Of course, it shouldn’t have happened last year, either, so I guess we can’t guarantee that there won’t be stupid shenanigans that end up ignoring all the non-white performances, but the odds are against it.
M: Liberal Hollywood, everyone!
E: You said it. This movie tells the story of three African American women who work at NASA, played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, singer Janelle Monae, and Oscar & Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson, in their race to put John Glenn in space.
M: Having watched Person of Interest for Henson’s whole run on the show, I know how good an actress she is. Spencer’s quality goes without saying. I will say, it’s only based on the trailers, but I was very glad to see that Monae, perhaps best know for singing with fun. on the song We Are Young, seems to more than hold her own.
E: I think she’s terrific, too. (I would have said she was better known for her own song, “Tightrope,” though.) Costars Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons…
E: …and Mahershala Ali, the House of Cards actor who’s likely to score his first Oscar nod for Moonlight.
M: Which also features Monae, by the way.
E: It’s a great year for her, then, too. Hidden Figures caught my attention from the first preview.
M: Same here. I still remember that I saw it during a football game, so it definitely left an impression.
E: Yes, exactly. I love inspiring true stories; from Lorenzo’s Oil to Apollo 13, there’s nothing quite like seeing people conquer seemingly unsolvable problems and knowing they actually did it. I can’t wait to see this.
Gold (limited – Christmas Day)
E: Matthew McConaughey, wearing a terrible hairpiece and a bad 70s/80s suit. No. Just no.
M: This is another “based on a true story” film, this time about a huckster (McConaughey) in the 80’s who finds gold digging in the jungle of Indonesia. Bryce Dallas Howard, with a spectacular 80’s perm, plays his girlfriend.
E: Totally unrecognizable.
M: I’m trying to wrap my brain around it, between the location changes and breakneck pace of the trailer, McConaughey’s not-quite-comb-over-not-quite-bald fake hair, and a few other things. It looks a bit like a cross between Wolf of Wall Street and, I don’t know, maybe Romancing the Stone?
E: Yeah, the tone thing is really odd. I think that’s a spot on analogy.
M: E, is McConaughey in Oscar contention? Because if he’s not, I can’t figure out why this is being put in limited release now.
E: No, but maybe after American Hustle his people were hoping for him to be? It looks awful. I better not have to see it.
Live By Night (limited – Christmas Day)
M: Ben Affleck brings another Dennis Lehane novel to the screen. This time it’s a prohibition era mob movie, and Affleck decided to take the lead himself, instead of giving it to little bro Casey like he did with Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone. It’s stylish, as you’d expect. Also as you’d expect, the cast is amazing, with Zoe Saldana as Affleck’s love interest, with Elle Fanning as a preacher, and Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Eastwood, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver and This Is Us‘ Chris Sullivan filling it out.
E: I’ve heard next to nothing about this, which is surprising given the source material and cast. I have no interest in gangster movies, even pretty ones.
M: I like good ones, but from the looks of the trailers I’m not sure if this will qualify.
E: Affleck doesn’t want to run with the mob; he’s getting forced anyway. How original! Not that you can’t make a great movie from a formula, but the older I get the less patience I have for poor attempts. I’m interested to hear the reviews, anyway, and I’ll try to reserve judgment (which frankly would be based on the genre) until I do.
20th Century Women (limited – Christmas Day)
M: Hey look, back to back Elle Fanning films. This time she plays Annette Benning’s daughter.
E: Meh. Bitter single mom in the 1970s (Benning) manipulates her teenage son’s life.
M: In other words, Annette Benning being Annette Benning. Was it last month that I mentioned that I don’t think she ever actually acts?
E: Hey, you don’t know Annette Benning. We have no idea if she’s actually jaded and bitter; she’s got a pretty good life, so probably not. I don’t think that’s fair, or even accurate to what I’ve seen her do.
M: We talked about this last month, I don’t think she acts because she plays the same character in almost everything she’s in. Not everything, but almost. Like Al Pacino does. When people do that I generally assume it’s either part of or a caricature of themselves.
E: Again, I just don’t agree with that. She’s not a Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis who disappears utterly into each role, but I’ve seen her play varied characters.
M: Moving past that, seriously, nothing in the trailer made me even remotely interested in seeing this. Nothing moved the needle at all. With all the other great or entertaining or intriguing looking things coming out in the latter half of this month, why would anyone choose to see this?
E: Now that much I agree with. And yet, it seems I will have to see it, because she’s on the short list for best actress. I’m hoping it’s a lot better than it looks. Which might be a good tagline for December: the movies I think will be good, and the movies I hope will be good because I’ll have to see them anyway. Let’s hope we all enjoy the end of 2016!