E: Ah, January. A prime movie-going month in which almost nothing worth seeing actually opens.
C: Right, because some of us haven’t even seen all the things that opened in November yet.
E: And of course, because actual mega-blockbusters (hello, Rogue One) will continue to dominate the box office at least through this month. And also because lots of cool movies faux-opened in December.
C: Meaning that they premiered sneakily on a few screens to qualify for Oscars.
E: For example, Hidden Figures and A Monster Calls — both of which look terrific to me and get great reviews from critics — expand into wide release on January 6th. We already reviewed them in our December preview, but they may not have arrived at a theater near you till now. There’s Patriot’s Day, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Silence, and also Gold, in which Matthew McConaughey sports a Trump-ian comb over, going into wide release at the end of the month.
C: Wow, and I already thought McConaughey was unbearable to watch.
E: Yet it can get worse. Also? I guarantee you that both the true and faux-December flicks (including obvious blockbusters like Rogue One) are going to be far better movies than the few ones that actually come out in January. Prepare yourself for an anemic preview, in terms of both film quantity and quality, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that there’s great stuff already out there.
C: Way to tantalize the people, E. Now read our post about the tepid losers you won’t see! At least it’s very, very short.
Underworld: Blood Wars (wide)
C: Wait, I thought you said January was anemic. A new Underworld film? Who hasn’t been living in hope for that?
E: I thought you were going to make a vampire/blood reference, but I’m okay with the mockery you went with, too. I’m a fan of Kate Beckinsale, of butt-kicking heroines, and of the first installment in this series. I’m rather amazed that they’re still making them, though.
C: I just want to note that the poster for this features Beckinsale looking a bit confused (perhaps because she’s wearing a bustier with a furry hood and armor shoulders) and holding two guns, which reminds me of the line from the faux Lohan-Franco action trailer in The Holiday: “Why do you happen to have two guns?” “I didn’t think one would be enough.”
E: Ha! I love that movie, and what an apt reference. It’s such a weird poster. Instead of a vampire, doesn’t Beckinsale look like a robot dressing for the tundra (but a sexy robot who doesn’t feel the cold enough to button up her coat)?
C: The cold never bothers robots. Anyway… Apparently this is the fifth entry in the vampires-vs.-werewolves series, and is teasing that it may be an epic conclusion, but who knows.
Railroad Tigers (limited)
E: Speaking of butt-kicking actors I adore, we have Jackie Chan. I can’t think when last I saw one of his films, but there’s just something so fun about them. What he does is as much dance and slap-stick as it is martial arts, and I say that because I hold all three of those arts in high esteem.
C: Set in the 1940s, this is about Chinese railroad workers who become Robin Hoods of a sort, resisting the Japanese occupation by sabotaging and stealing supplies off of their trains to feed poor locals. While that plot could suit a number of genres, it’s described as an action-comedy.
E: See, that’s just delightful. From what I can see in the trailers, the execution isn’t remotely up to classic Chan levels — how could it be, so many decades later — but it still looks like a mild amount of fun, and for this preview that feels like manna from heaven. Heck, there are even steam trains! And you know I don’t care that the movie’s in Mandarin. I’m probably more interested in this than anything else that’s opening this month, although that only means I’d seek it out on cable after I’ve seen all the Oscar contenders I have left. And Doctor Strange. And maybe Moana or Rogue One again.
Week 2 January 13th
Monster Trucks (wide)
C: They’re trucks that are monsters! Get it? Get it?? I feel certain that was the entirety of the original pitch for this movie.
E: You have it slightly wrong — a big purple tentacled blob crawls into the truck that high school senior Lucas Till made out of scraps.
C: Okay, so it’s a truck with a monster in it. That only makes the title wrong, not me ;P
E: Till’s fellow cast includes Jane Levy of Suburgatory, Barry Pepper, and Rob Lowe. I have to say, this movie makes me think of all those Disney live action flicks that we used to see on TV when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. You know, goofy old stuff like The Gnome Mobile and The Love Bug and Flubber. They don’t make a lot of flicks aimed at families anymore, not ones starring human beings, but that’s clearly what this one is.
C: At first I was going to say that sounded surprisingly fond and praising for what looks like a powerfully dumb movie, but honestly, if you took away the nostalgia and watched them for the first time as an adult, I doubt one could say much better things of the movies you named.
E: I can’t decide if I’m offended by that or not. Do not mock Herbie!
C: Fine, when I’m around you I’ll just mock Herbie: Fully Loaded.
E: Grrrr. The comparison does make me wonder if maybe there’s some charm to this one, though. Or if I’ve been waiting for someone to make more completely silly, mindless live-action movies for kids.
100 Streets (limited)
C: Much-loved squinty dude Idris Elba and Brit star Gemma Arterton (best known to American audiences for being The Girl in stuff like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Prince of Persia, and Quantum of Solace) play two of the leads in this ensemble drama about interconnected storylines within a neighborhood of London — sort of a sad(der) Love Actually. Unfortunately (if that appeals to you), early reviews are calling this soapy and disappointing.
E: I know you don’t love Love Actually as much as I do (and I totally understand why you get depressed by the plots that bother you), but it’s not easy to make these ensemble pieces work. I’m honestly not sure anyone has succeeded since, and they’ve thrown stars and money and decent directors at every holiday on the calendar, among other organizing gimmicks.
C: I wasn’t slamming Love Actually; just pointing out that this is a drama about unhappy people, not a romantic comedy about mostly unhappy people.
E: The first trailer I saw for this, by the way, totally revolves around the Elba/Arterton plot (former rugby player and actress cheat on each other and wreck their marriage). I really questioned the ensemble nature of the movie, but no, there’s a plot about a drug dealer (Franz Drameh of Legends of Tomorrow), an actor in recovery, and also a couple struggling with trauma and possible infertility. I wonder if this marketing strategy is because the other actors are pretty much unknowns in America? At any rate, you’re right that’s it’s sadder than Love Actually. It’s even more like Babel: life sucks everywhere, but we’re all connected by the misery and occasional grace of the human condition. Except (as the reviews indicate) not as good as Babel.
C: What a bad title! Why would you spend millions of dollars to make a movie and then slap it with such a forgettable, confusable name?
E: Highly generic. I agree, it feels like a failure of imagination.
C: This stars Jamie Foxx and T.I. as corrupt cops in Las Vegas. (T.I. is apparently the name of a person. Specifically a rapper. I’m sure he’s extremely famous.)
E: Oh, C. I don’t even listen to rap and I know that. Somehow you’ve managed to sound like the Dowager Duchess of Grantham.
C: Go on, try to insult me by comparing me to Maggie Smith. Try.
E: You’re incorrigible.
C: Anyway, is it me or does this sound like Tom Haverford’s new favorite movie? I’m asking you, readers, because E won’t be able to answer that.
E: Ha ha. Before we debate how much callow, action-loving fictional characters would like this movie, let me add a few pieces to the plot summary.
C: That’s a woefully inaccurate description of Tom, which, as I already stated, you have no reason to know because you stubbornly refuse to watch the best sitcom ever. But go on.
E: The movie costars Michelle Monaghan as a head-butting Internal Affairs agent, Gabrielle Union as Foxx’s estranged wife, and everyone’s favorite Uruk Hai, Sala Baker. Foxx and T.I. steal drugs from the wrong kingpin, who kidnaps Foxx’s son and holds him ransom to get the drugs back. Cue lots of kung fu punching set to rap music.
C: Wooooo, Sala Baker!
Week 3 January 20th
C: I’ve seen trailers for this and the latest The Fast and the Furious movie and I can’t tell them apart. Are they related in some way? Or different but identical series? I could look this up but honestly I am not going to.
E: Oh my gosh, I was thinking the same thing. Probably because we just saw the F&F trailer when we saw Rogue One together… Anyway, I can at least confirm that these are different series. It seems to be the same plot, and it seems like someone is trying really hard to make Vin Deisel a hit again. Of course, Vin Diesel has been recycling plots and franchises since 2004, so I guess he thinks that’s sufficient.
C: So maybe for some viewers he has never gone away?
C: Another entry in the terribly title category, since when I looked this up on Wikipedia I found about a dozen movies called Split [Something] and one called The Split, but not this. Precision searching reveals that this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie (not promising) starring James McAvoy (very promising). So… should I call it a split decision?
E: Ha ha ha. You’re so punny.
C: In all seriousness though, this movie looks like an absolutely travesty from a disability representation standpoint, since the main character is a kidnapper with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and the condition is being played for horror. I can see why McAvoy, who I think is brilliant, might have seen the opportunity to play 23 different identities as a potential acting tour-de-force, but I wish he (or anyone else involved) had thought about what it feels like for people with this real condition (which itself is often the result of trauma) to be portrayed as scary freak-show villains. Not okay.
E: That’s a very good point; people with so called “multiple personalities” are easy marks for writers looking for exotic villains, which is just unpleasant. Also? It looks awful. McAvoy does well enough creating distinct characters, but I feel like we’ve done this before even if we haven’t exactly done this before. Think Ed Norton when he burst onto the scene in Primal Fear. Yes, yes, I know we haven’t see this exact plot (he’s the kidnapper, and the young women he’s captured try to play his different personalities in order to save themselves) but it feels similar enough to Norton’s cat and mouse game that it doesn’t excite me. Or maybe it’s the fact that it looks like one long excruciating piece of psychological torture porn?
C: Right. Whatever tack you want to approach this from, it’s no thanks all around.
C: Starring Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter, this is the sixth movie in the series and, well, the subtitle title tells you the rest.
E: Dare we hope this series will really end here? I don’t feel remotely qualified to judge this, actually; maybe there are lots of people clamoring for more of the video game-inspired series, but I still don’t understand how any of them have been good enough to merit the effects cost.
C: I don’t know about that, but I do feel we’ve all got enough “resident evil” in our lives and newsfeeds without adding zombies at this juncture, don’t you think?
A Dog’s Purpose (wide)
C: Based on a novel by W. Bruce Cameron, who wrote the book 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter that the sitcom was based on. Josh Gad voices the dog, because being famous for voicing a snowman wasn’t enough for him. Curiously, it’s directed by Lasse Hallström, Oscar-winning director of… My Life as a Dog.
E: The lack of quibbling ends here: he’s Oscar-nominated, not winning. Not that he was nominated for an Oscar for My Life As A Dog; he was nominated for Cider House Rules and Chocolat. But on the other hand, he did direct My Life As A Dog. And his name is Lasse.
C: I didn’t even process that — that’s amazing. And okay, so I was wrong on one tiny, insignificant word choice. As for the premise of this supposedly schmaltzy/heart-warming tear-jerker, it honestly just horrifies me. The main character is a dog who repeatedly dies and is reincarnated throughout the movie. Watching that many dog deaths would be bad enough (who likes even one dog death in a movie? There’s literally a whole website dedicated to helping people avoid them). But no, it gets worse since the premise is that (as the poster says) “every dog happens for a reason” — that’s right, dogs exist specifically to serve the emotional needs of a specific human and will be reborn until that human dies, at which point they’re done.
E: That’s an odd idea. We see this dog reincarnated an awful lot of times, and he seems to have good relationships with lots of people — so it’s weird to think that many of those people were just time fillers, don’t you think? Way stations so that the dog can get back to Dennis Quaid?
C: Apparently. And, you know, not to go off on a whole existential thing here, but pet owning is fundamentally self-serving (perhaps unless it’s an elderly, ill, or disabled pet): we co-opt an animal’s life to improve our own. As a loving pet owner who definitely plans to keep owning pets, I’ve made my peace with it, and can certainly argue they’re better off with me than they probably would be otherwise. However, this movie actively reveling in the self-serving aspect of pet ownership just makes me feel queasy.
E: Um, I don’t think that’s what they’d say they were doing (they’d probably say it was a mystical connection that most people would find emotionally affecting), but okay, that’s a legitimate (if extreme) reaction.
C: Is it that extreme? I’ve never heard people who love animals say they think the animal’s whole “reason for happening” is them. Not to mention that I definitely do not think all dogs are interchangeable — literally the same even! — which is the implication of the premise here. But maybe it’s just me on this one. Personally though: hard pass.
E: I’m a softer pass, but still a pass. And that’s all for January, folks. Now it’s time to turn my focus back to those faux-December Oscar flicks!
C: Time for me to make plans to see Moana, Hidden Figures, and La La Land. Anyone up for a trip to the movies?