E: Like January, February is a month I mostly reserve for seeing Oscar movies and writing about them. There’s normally not much to see in the theaters that isn’t a Best Picture or acting nominee. Expect more great box office for Hidden Figures and La La Land, for example – and see them if you haven’t already. If you can only choose one? La La Land will win the Oscar, but Hidden Figures is the experience you really want.
M: Which says all you need to know about the Oscars.
C: I really want to see it. I know I said that a month ago, so I need to get off my duff, but I really do!
E: Do it! Do it now!
M: This month, we have mostly the usual February mumbo-jumbo: there’s a strong chance the more promising-looking films may under-deliver, otherwise they wouldn’t be opening in February. Except for Lego Batman. That might not suck.
C: I loved The Lego Movie (unexpectedly), so high hopes here.
E: It’s true. We can say that much for this February, because of Lego: it probably won’t all suck.
M: That aside, the movie news we’re really excited about this week is the announcement of the cast and crew for 2018’s Ocean’s Eight. Yes, it’s Hollywood again proving that it either has no original ideas, or that even when they have a semi-original idea they have to package it in something that sounds familiar so that it has a built in audience and (theoretically) less chance of total failure.
C: Normally I’d complain, but HEIST MOVIES. They never get old.
M: Right, plus: Sandra Bullock is the new lead, in the Sinatra/Clooney role, with Cate Blancheit, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna among the women filling out the other seven members of the heist crew. Gary Ross, who’s awesome and wrote things like Big and Dave and directed Seabiscuit and the first Hunger Games, is writing and directing. Awesomeness!
C: I totally freaked out when I heard about that. But let’s save our comments for that preview, huh?
E: Just noting that we are crazy excited about it, because the wait is soooo long!
M: And now, back to February.
The Space Between Us (wide)
M: Okay, so first wide release of the month, and I’m eating my words. I think this looks fantastic. I’m also a sucker for sci-fi and space travel, a fan of coming of age stories, Asa Butterfield and a huge fan of Gary Oldman, who I think might be the best actor in the world. So, I might be biased.
E: Yeah, you might be. The first time I saw the preview, I was captivated. The more I saw it, the more it seemed schmaltzy and filled with bad decision making.
C: It does look pretty cheesy, but I’ll hear M out.
M: This is the story of a boy (Butterfield) who was born and grew up on Mars, but eventual travels to Earth (despite doctors’ warnings that his heart isn’t strong enough for Earth’s gravity) to make human connections, starting with his pen pal of sorts, who is of course by a young beautiful girl his age, who is of course an outcast and needs to make connections of her own. I know it shouldn’t sound appealing, but I love the look of it.
E: I love the look of it, too, but I am too old for this Romeo and Juliet crap.
M: See, I don’t see this as Romeo and Juliet-ish at all. There’s no effort to keep them apart, just an effort to keep him alive.
E: What I mean by that is the idea that the person you crush on when you’re 15 is worth dying to meet. After all, Romeo and Juliet were virtual strangers who meet for five minutes and decide they have to be together at any cost. Isn’t it more romantic to sacrifice yourself for someone you actually know?
M: I think he’s more willing to die for the Earth experience and having real personal connections, but let’s move on.
C: I’m not sure it’s clear he has no personal connections on Mars; I assume there are other people. But Earth has the cute girl.
E: The only one, yes. Yeah, and he’s pretty clear that she’s the best thing on Earth (you know, because of his vast life experience) and the connection he’s been seeking.
M: So, we’re not moving on?
E: WE will… to the next thing that irks me, anyway. 27-year-old Brit Robertson has been playing a teen for too long. I first noticed her in Life, Unexpected and Avalon High, back in 2010 — after she’d already ceased being a teenager — and I don’t believe it anymore. This dissonance is magnified by the fact that Butterfield (who is actually 20) looks 15, tops.
M: Huh. She didn’t look familiar to me, and didn’t strike me as looking any appreciable amount older than Butterfield. Now that you mention her name, though, I realize she was in Tomorrowland (which I haven’t watched).
E: I have, which might be part of the problem. Other people might recognizer her from Under the Dome as well.
M: And to be fair, she doesn’t turn 27 until April, so she’s *only* 26, which is sooooo much more realistic.
E: Oh, yes, so much more realistic. I can see how it wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t know her, so maybe this won’t bother other people. It’s not like Alexandra Daddario playing Annabeth Chase to Logan Lerman’s Percy Jackson. But I don’t think I can unsee it.
C: Yeah, that’s pretty weird. You know the Really Old Teenagers thing always annoys me (and is especially on my mind now as husband & I are watching Travelers, a cool Netflix show with a “teenager” it took us a whole episode to figure out was supposed to be a teenager, because he is — and looks — 30).
M: You’re all Debbie Downers, I think this looks good. But let’s move on to stuff we all won’t like. 😉
M: The latest installment in the The Ring horror franchise, that seemed to have been dead.
E: Why don’t these things ever stay dead?
M: Because of the title Spaceballs proposed for its own sequel… the search for more money.
C: Rings is a pretty forgettable name, for what I’m sure will be a forgettable sequel.
E: The Ring was supposed to be good for a horror movie, though, right? I mean, they’re certainly a visually distinctive and have a sort of creepy-beautiful aesthetic, at least. I wonder if there’s any shot the series is decent given how long it’s gone on, though.
M: I can shoot down that theory in just two words. Fast. Furious.
The Comedian (limited)
M: Robert DeNiro doing stand up, insulting everyone else that comes on screen in a humorous way, and dating… Leslie Mann?
C: Oh, GROSS.
E: And suddenly Brit and Asa seem much less skeevy as a couple! I love Leslie Mann, but ew. (Actually, I love Leslie Mann — therefor, ew.)
M: Right? At least they make jokes about the age gap.
E: I’m sorry, but that is no consolation. It’s more of a consolation that it’s not clear whether they’re actually dating or not. And wouldn’t be a consolation even if I ever intended to watch the movie.
M: It wasn’t really intended to be consolation, but I will quibble that it appears clear to everyone but Mann’s character that they are dating.
C: Gross, gross, gross, gross.
M: Anyway, the cast is pretty spectacular, with Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Harvey Keitel (as Mann’s father, setting up brilliantly awkward interactions with DeNiro), Cloris Leachman, Edie Falco, Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin and more. It was written by longtime producer Art Linson, with help from comedians like Jeffrey Ross, so it’s got chops. It’s looks VERY New York.
E: The creepy dating-your-elderly-father stuff aside, this actually looks like a decent movie, especially if you happen to be into the comedy club scene or have a thing about stand up. Or New York of a certain era (lots of jokes about Jews and Italians and old people and fat people and lesbians). It’s not super exciting to me, but I can see it serving it’s audience really well.
C: I have a thing about stand up. My thing is that I almost never enjoy it. (With certain, few exceptions.)
M: Huh. I love stand up. Love Last Comic Standing, whenever NBC decided to put on a new season of it. Went to the tour of it a last time, and it was a hilarious night. Anyway, the New York comedy club stuff is actually a bit similar to The Jim Gaffigan Show, which is excellent, so I have a little interest.
E: I’m a fan of Jim Gaffigan’s book Dad is Fat. Does that count?
C: It does, because I gave it to you! Yay!
I Am Not Your Negro (limited)
Disclaimer: The N word is used frequently in the trailer. Click at your discretion.
M: Based on the work of author and 1960’s civil rights activist James Baldwin, this looks to be documentary of sorts, but to me it looks to be even more a challenge to us all to do better.
E: This is one of the Oscar nominees this year for Best Documentary Feature, so yeah, it’s definitely a documentary. It’s narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and features both archival footage and pieces of Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House.” Which, as a concept, sounds original, and it probably works.
M: So, I said “documentary of sorts” because it’s not your standard documentary following a real person around or investigating something. The interspersing of interviews with Baldwin, and his fictional work, and current events, with narration, just strikes a different cord than a typical documentary.
E: You’re right, your hesitation was fair.
M: And you were right, it looks like it works.
C: The trailer states, “The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.” This looks raw, timely, important, and powerful. I’ll definitely see this, though probably when it comes out streaming.
M: Standard horror fare.
C: Okay, so confusing, because when I read the title I thought of the classic Eloise children’s books about the little girl who lives in the hotel. I assumed this was an adaptation, aimed at children, and it SO is not!!
M: Far from it! A group of young adults, led by an anonymous-looking guy and Eliza Dushku, go to an abandoned insane asylum to retrieve a death certificate so one of them can get an inheritance or something (you know, something totally reasonable and not made up at all!), and the ghosts of the past of the asylum, led by Robert Patrick, terrorize them. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve already ordered my tickets! 😉
E: Oh, Robert Patrick and Eliza Dushku. At least you’re still working?
M: Technically, Robert Patrick has been a regular cast member on Scorpion for three years now, so work’s not an issue for him. Dushku, on the other hand…
C: Can I just say I love the phrase “an anonymous-looking guy”? It really says it all. I know the type. Done.
The LEGO Batman Movie (wide)
M: Obviously, from the makers of the fantastic LEGO Movie, which also opened in February and was a huge hit, hence the February opening for this one.
C: Yeah, that one broke the longstanding trend. And was hilarious. Not exactly super-memorable (except its earworm theme song), but tons of laughs and fun.
E: The LEGO Movie was odd and original and absolutely proved you can open a good movie any time. We went in a snow storm, as I recall. We (and the studios) are betting audiences would do the same for this latest outing.
M: Totally agree, I’ve never understood why they completely forsake February. Anyway, Will Arnett reprises his voice-role as LEGO Batman, and takes him to a whole new level of goofiness.
E: Animated is how I like Arnett best; his face seems permanently stuck on smug, but in a cartoon that doesn’t matter.
M: So totally true!
C: Yeah, I’m not a big fan of him generally (*dodges the Arrested Development votaries*) but his Batman was hilarious. Particularly his song.
E: And even the trailer for this makes me laugh out loud as the plot forces misanthrope Batman to create a team with a hilariously pantless Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl (Rosario Dawson).
M: I love that they spun the Robin suit as starting out as Reggae Batman. The cast is, of course, star studded. You know what my favorite casting is, though? Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face. Why, you ask? Because Original Lando played Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent in the two Tim Burton Batman movies, but was dropped in favor of Tommy Lee Jones when Burton turned over the reigns. He finally gets to play Two-Face! Yes, I am fully aware that I’m a dork.
E: And that’s why we love you. I’m kind of jazzed about that piece of casting, too. I’m also bemused that they managed to get Ralph Fiennes to play Alfred. Also on the cast list? Mariah Carey (no backing tracks necessary) and Jenny Slate.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (wide)
M: I was pretty shocked when John Wick became a hit, as the plot outline literally made me roll on the floor laughing.
E: I’m pretty sure the three of us spent an inordinate amount of time mocking the premise in one of these previews, yes.
M: Yes we did, and rightfully so, it was ridiculous. So, of course there’s a sequel.
C: Wow, I… totally don’t remember what this even is. Googling frantically…
M: I will say, several people have told me the first is great, at least for the action sequences. Literally had two people tell me that today. Also, this brings us the reunion of Neo and Morpheus.
E: I’m not that guy anymore, Wick tells someone leaning on him to do one last job. You’re always that guy, the heavy says. That pretty much sums up this series and about a dozen others like it.
M: I will say, I like the “Chapter 2” in the title a lot more than if they had just called it John Wick 2. It *almost* sounds cool this way.
E: It sounds more cool this way, anyway.
C: Can you believe that’s what it’s come to, that sequel names are so characteristically drab that adding “chapter” gets our plaudits?
M: Pretty sad. However, not as sad as…….
50 Shades Darker (wide)
M: Hooray for super-romantic misogyny and abusive relationships! If this wasn’t a wide opening, and likely to win the box office I wouldn’t have included it in the preview. I’m not even bothering to include (let alone watch) a trailer.
E: Yeah, it’s super offensive. And not because of the fetishes involved, but because the guy is a complete domineering jerk. That’s just not romantic to me, no matter how rich or good-looking the character is.
C: I think the domineering is the fetish, but I agree; whatever consenting adults may want to do on their own time, I don’t need to watch misogyny as a supposed romance fantasy.
A United Kingdom (limited)
M: Now we’re talking! David Oyelowo, who is rapidly becoming one of the best leading men, with the most gravitas, in Hollywood, stars alongside Rosamund Pike in this true story of the first president of Botswana. Despite having some connection to Botswana (I mean, who doesn’t?), Id never really read up on it’s history before now. It’s a fascinating tale of going from being a British protectorate (not colony), to independence. The catalyst was truly the interracial marriage of it’s prince (Oyelowo) with a British woman he met while being educated in London. It led to in-fighting within his family, pressure put on from apartheid forces in neighboring (and much richer and more influential) South Africa, but eventually independence, freedom and great advances. I cannot wait to see this!
E: C and I had been super excited about this, but why do I feel like it’s already been released in England to tepid reviews?
M: Oh, that would totally stink. Although, maybe with their complicated involvement in it, and the portrayal of their government officials doing everything they can to stop the marriage, and then excommunicating him after it, maybe it’s understandable?
E: Okay, I checked it, and while I swear C and I had this conversation, the reviews are quite good.
C: We did have this conversation. I thought it was on the blog too, but it must have just been over chat or something. It looks good, although I’ve heard it may be problematically romanticized in terms of its version of history, it’s still a worthwhile story and both actors are favorites so I’m sure we can expect great performances.
E: Relief! Something worth seeing! I like Pike and Oyelowo quite a bit. I’ll have to rent this one in the future (too many Oscar movies, including the similarly-themed Loving). But wouldn’t you feel better about the world if this turned out to be the romantic hit of Valentine’s Day weekend, instead of that other flick?
M: So totally yes.
C: Not holding my breath, but that would be a nice world.
M: This one looks like, basically, Hotel California: The Horror Movie.
C: Which is kind of a shame since to me the name sounds like a fun kids’ book about, like, children who go to school in a Gothic manor and have fun hijinks, or suchlike.
M: Alas, no. That would be so much more fun. Instead, Julie Benz (Dexter) and Fionnula Flannagan (the creepy old lady from the middle-to-later seasons of LOST) star as tenant and creepy landlady in a tale about a woman who goes looking for her friend who disappeared after living in an exclusive apartment building that, well, people never leave. Blech.
E: I don’t know about you, but if I were running an apartment building which people can never leave alive, I would totally want to put it right in the middle of Manhattan. Who would ever think to look for it there? I’m sure no one would notice all those rich people — including kids — going missing.
M: Well, in their defense, people disappearing from high population, high traffic areas is less noticeable than from low population, low traffic areas. I mean, you’re more likely to be noticed missing in a town of 187 than in a city of 12 million…
E: They might be more likely to notice apartment vacancies in downtown Manhattan, though.
M: That’s fair.
M: I’m including this one primarily for C. It’s a documentary telling the stories of seven of the several thousand stray cats that live and roam freely in Istanbul. No, I’m not joking.
E: You didn’t think I’d be interested? Really?
M: I did, but figured C would be more so. Yes, you both have cats, but she strikes me as more of a cat person. No offense or compliment intended.
C: I think that’s fair, and I am both excited and also puzzled as to what “the stories” of seven different cats would be. I mean, my cat is endlessly fascinating to me, but his “story” is pretty much sleeping in odd places and trying to trick me into feeding him each meal four hours early.
M: To be fair, he doesn’t live in and freely roam one of the most interesting cities in the world.
E: C, I don’t know why you’re questioning anything about this. This movie is the balm that will heal all society’s ills and I want to watch it. Right. Damn. Now.
E: I am not joking. Not even a little. The world is in serious need of a well made cat video.
C: Amen to that.
Fist Fight (wide)
M: I feel like this should be horrible, and probably will be horrible, and I think I want it to be horrible, but… I’ve seen a lot of commercials for this already. Against my better judgement, I consistently chuckle at a bunch of things in them.
E: Yeah, I’m with you on that. I laughed. It’s ridiculous and moderately offensive, but I laughed.
M: Exactly. For those that haven’t seen all the ads, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day and Ice Cube playing teachers at the same school. Day rats out Cube to the administration over something, setting up the conflict that leads to the titular fight.
E: “Teachers don’t fight!” Apparently in this world, everybody does.
C: Well, it sounds like there wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t.
A Cure For Wellness (wide)
M: Holy creepfest Batman! Naked people floating in tanks, snakes or eels swarming a guy submerged in water, eerily lit hallways, dark scribble-drawings, and a cover of the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated, that’s the most skin-crawling trailer music I’ve heard since the version of Got No Strings On Me that Averngers: Age Of Ultron used. Yeesh.
C: So, the average birthday party, basically.
M: Um, sis, what birthday parties have you been going to?
C: Well, you know…
M: Wait, no, don’t answer that. Back to the movie, Dane DeHaan stars, and Gore Verbinski directs. The trailer lauds Verbinski as “visionary”. Is that really what we call the director of three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Rango and, to bring back an earlier creepy discussion, The Ring?
E: Well, there’s a prettiness and even grandeur to some of the cinematography. But no, we certainly wouldn’t. The people who want to sell us on his vision clearly do.
M: That’s fair. It looks like there’s some sort of “wellness” spa in the Alps that doesn’t exactly make people well. DeHaan appears to end up there after a car crash, but the synopsis I read said he’s trying to retrieve his company’s CEO. Can’t tell any kind of plot details from the trailer, though, just that it’s not a fun place.
E: We clearly watched different trailers, and it sounds like mine was more informative. DeHaan’s character does go to retrieve one Mr. Pembroke, who’s left a strange manifesto behind that boggles his automaton-like colleagues. Once off the train in Switzerland, and how spectacular was the shot of the reflections on side of the bullet train…
M: …unbelievably awesome. Worthy of “visionary”…
E: …he attempts to extract his boss, but instead gets his car wrecked by a deer, and ends up getting a “treatment” from Jason Isaacs instead. What’s real? Who’s sick and who’s well?
M: And who cares? Not I, said the Quibbling Brother.
The Great Wall (wide)
E: Matt Damon, fighting supernatural forces trying to breach the Great Wall of China. Okie-dokie.
M: Forces that were the true reason the wall was built. Yeah, baby! Now, I could have sworn, as we’ve discussed off-line, that this already came out last year, but no. Instead this is the prototypical February opening, a movie that was expected to be a blockbuster, that ended up being trash, and is being released now hoping that the utter lack of competition and the big name star will get the studio at least a tiny percentage of their money back.
E: This may not be true, but this seems like an attempt from China to merge a Hollywood star and budget with a Chinese story. A really interesting entry from a world marketplace standpoint, if middling in terms of effects and story.
C: A better way to think of it might be that China and the U.S. are basically merging their film markets — our movies often make even more money there, so blockbusters these days have to appeal to both audiences. So I guess somebody got the idea to just make the blockbuster as a joint production to start with. Which makes great business sense, but I kind of hate the idea of reinventing Chinese history to be about heroic badass… Europeans.
M: I still think it’s being buried in February because it sucks. We’ll see who’s right.
Everybody Loves Somebody (limited)
M: This is the exact opposite: a small budget, multi-lingual rom-com with a female writer-director (Catalina Aguilar Mastretta) trying to find an audience. It’s got a few of the usual tropes: ethnic family pushing for the successful woman to find a man, taking a fake date to a wedding, pretending that fake date at least partially shares their ethnicity, her most serious ex being at the wedding, and the pull between the fake-but-becoming-real date and the seemingly-perfect-but-really-not ex.
C: Ahh, I know someone who will like this. The Fake Date trope is very overdone, but it still has its fans.
M: It’s like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Meet the Parents mashed together in southern California/northern Mexico. And yet, it looks kind of endearing.
E: It does, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s derivative of half the romance novels and Lifetime movies out there, and irritatingly sexist that the successful OB needs to bring home a date for her parents to feel like she’s in a good place…
M: …especially to the wedding of her parents, who have just never bothered to get married until now.
C: Okay, that’s some hardcore unnecessary judgment.
M: Actually, that’s the plot point in the trailer. They even joke that they’re ruining their relationship by getting married.
E: …but the characters seem pretty appealing. I’ve never seen the very relatable and charming Karla Souza, but I did just see Ben O’Toole in Hacksaw Ridge. Something about him reminds me of Rupert Graves back in his Fred Honeychurch days (less now as Lestrade, but you can still see the resemblance in his snub nose and round, boyish eyes).
M: I only really know Graves as Lestrade, and from V for Vendetta, but I see it.
American Fable (limited)
M: Limited release number two this weekend with a female writer-director! However, before we get into this one, when did Hollywood decide that February was, to use the John Wick parlance, October: Chapter 2? There aren’t that many movies opening this month, but this is, by my count, the sixth horror movie. Why?!?!
E: It’s odd. Is it some kind of retro date thing for Valentine’s month? Give you a reason to clutch your date in the theater?
C: There are just too many horror movies made every month, end of story. I’m tired of writing about them.
M: So say we all. As for the movie, the trailer quotes a reviewer claiming it has echos of Del Toro, and the comparison is easy to see, as there’s a child, creepiness and a curly-horned dude.
E: It had a Pan’s Labyrinth feel, so I can see that. With more of a certain kind of Americana — blond kids on a farm told to keep out the dark skinned strangers, and not to talk to the mysterious man who offers them everything.
M: The same quote in the trailer also claims it channels Speilberg, and that I’m not seeing. It does look to be a somewhat intelligent and questioning mystery, with a family trying to save their farm, a man (personal favorite Richard Schiff) locked in their silo, and then a lot of supernatural-y stuff going on, like the curly-horned dude riding on a horse, and the young girl who’s the main character later appearing to grow those same horns.
E: I think the curly horned dude on the horse is actually a woman…
M: I use dude very gender-neutrally.
E: But yes, lots of xenophobic stuff about there only being our kind and the other kind, unsettling talk about the morality of keeping secrets from your parents… It seems like it has something to say. If I liked horror movies, this is the one of this month’s offerings I’d watch.
M: I don’t know, the trailer bored me to the point that I don’t remember any of the stuff about “dark skin” or “other kinds.” And I watched it today.
M: Nicholas Hoult. Felicity Jones. Anthony Hopkins. Ben Kingsley. Daaaaaaaaamn. If this formulaic action movie was opening in May, I’d be thinking blockbuster, and be psyched because I’m a fan of all four of those actors (even if Hopkins is in a lot of bad movies). But it’s opening in February, and as mentioned looks formulaic, so I hate to say it but I’m really skeptical. That said, Kingsley looks fantastic, and I’m sure I’ll watch this at home some time in the next couple years.
C: That is a stellar cast. Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones seems like a very natural pairing to me, for some reason.
M: Me too!
E: What M isn’t telling you is that this is at least heavily inspired by Quentin Tarantino.
M: And he’s not telling you that because he didn’t know it.
E: I’m just saying the style is obviously there.
M: Apparently it was less obvious to me.
E: It feels like a mash up of Drive and True Romance; quirky low-life couple Nicolas and Felicity, guy needs to pay for girl’s medical treatment (is she sick or an addict? who can say) so goes back to life of crime…
M: I can say. She’s sick, she needs a kidney transplant, and doesn’t have insurance, so it’d cost something like $200k.
C: Welcome to America, Brits.
E: Great line, sis, but it makes me want to snort and cry at the same time. To get that cash he works for colorful gangster Kingsley, she gets kidnapped by rival gangster Hopkins… you know the drill. It’s amusing seeing most of these lofty Brits struggle with wide ranging American accents, among other things.
M: Only Kingsley stood out to me, but Kingsley always stands out.
Get Out (wide)
M: Hey, another horror movie! Hooray! And one filled with racist, hypnotizing white people who kidnap African Americans and turn them into their zombie servants. Awesome.
C: I’m sorry, WHAT?!
E: Well. That’s a premise. (Also, it’s the second horror movie this month that features a car crash caused by a deer. Life lesson: if a deer runs at your car, it means that the psychos who control it are coming for you.)
M: Oh, and damn does Bradley Whitford look old. That makes me really sad.
E: He does, doesn’t he, with the white beard and hair? I think I’m sadder for his career, though. For what it’s worth Catherine Keener looks better as his hypnotist wife.
M: Much better, yes.
E: Anyway, Keener uses her tea cup and spoon to help reprogram her daughter’s black boyfriend, there to meet the family.
M: Probably something I should have mentioned in the first paragraph. If I cared for the look of this at all. Which I don’t.
E: It’s not long before tons of white folks descend on their estate, wearing fascinators and (apparently) using bingo cards to bid on the boyfriend. No question that it’s a horror movie…
C: Okay but what the heck? How does a bizarro KKK fantasy get made into a Hollywood movie?
E: Again, I suspect it’s trying to say something more inclusive by highlighting the horror of the uninclusive, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out if there really is a clear message and what it might be.
Rock Dog (wide)
E: It’s a cute idea, maybe — Rock Star dog, who comes across like a Zen-seeking surfer dude, must save a mountain village from savage wolves — if the animation didn’t look so third rate. After a year of so many clever, heart-warming and terrific animated movies, this kind of slop just won’t do.
M: Yeah, this looks to be along the lines of Storks or The Angry Birds Movie, not Finding Dory, Zootopia or Kubo. I found nothing in the trailer to be particularly memorable, funny, or entertaining.
E: I don’t think the animation’s on the level with any of those films, and I thought Angry Birds looked abysmal.
M: I think it looks like it’s along the lines of Storks (which I why I mentioned it), or maybe Norm of the North.
C: My husband informs me that this is, in fact, “just a rip-off of Rock-a-Doodle.”
E: Er, thanks? That’s very … what?
M: I’ve heard of it, at least, so it’s likely far more memorable than this will be.
Tulip Fever (limited)
E: C, prepare to be unhappy; it’s an infidelity drama.
C: Sigh. These are not romantic, Hollywood. Staaap.
M: To channel your offense about Kedi, E, you didn’t think I’d be unhappy? Really?
E: No, I guess I just think of her as being offended first.
M: I’m offended! 😉
C: It’s not offense so much as strong distaste and sadness.
M: Which I share. I cannot stand infidelity drama, back to such “wonderful” films as Legends of the Fall and Bridges of Madison County. To echo C, please staaap.
E: Based on Deborah Moggach’s literary best seller set amidst the 17th century Dutch craze for tulips, a poor young woman (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander) married off to a rich old man (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) falls in love or lust with the painter (Dean DeHaan, again) her husband hires to immortalize them on canvas.
M: Big February for DeHaan. And no, that’s not a good thing.
E: Not for him or me.
C: So it’s like Girl with a Pearl Earring or one of those. Retread and ethically unpleasant.
E: The film, which clearly takes some liberties with the text, costars Judi Dench as the abbess who helped raise the wife Sophia (and I love Judi Dench, but why was that necessary?), Tom Hollander as the family doctor, Holliday Grainger the maid who blackmails and assists Sophia in her increasingly crazed situation, and Jack O’Connell as the maid’s lover. Even Zach Galifinakis dips his toes into dramatic acting as DeHaan’s disaster of a servant.
C: Okay, that’s just weird.
E: I’m not even done yet. There’s Cara Delevigne and Matthew Modine in major roles that, like Dame Judi’s, I’m pretty sure were invented whole cloth for the film. I read the book, and I love a lot of the cast, and obviously I think it’s cool they brought in Tom Stoppard on the script, but I don’t know quite how to feel about it all.
M: I know how I feel, and it’s uninterested.
E: Worries: the cuckolded husband is supposed to be kind. Pompous, yes, but solicitous and well-intentioned. That’s really where you want to cast Christoph Waltz?
M: Haha, as you were saying that I was thinking, “Can Christoph Waltz even be kind?”
E: Well, right? You’re never going to trust him. The point of the book is that he’s just too old for Sophie, not that he’s a bad person, but you’re always going to be waiting for Waltz to starting beating people up. And then there’s DeHaan, who is just not my idea of a romantic lead. And of course there’s the 64k question: why is this movie bowing in February?
M: In limited release, at that.
E: With this cast and pedigree, the movie has Oscar written all over it. Art, sex, death, money, religion — all the juicy stuff Oscar loves is right there, with pretty costumes and gorgeous cinematography thrown in.
C: Because it’s going to be a pretty, ultimately soulless schmaltzfest.
M: Three words. Suck. Suck. Suck.
Bitter Harvest (limited)
E: Just in case you were wondering about Soviet history, Stalin was a super bad dude, did you hear? You may have heard, in fact, that the death toll from his policies rivals Hitler’s — the notable difference being that he didn’t conquer other countries to do it, but murdered his own citizens.
C: If you think this is old news to most of the population, you can think again. It could in fact be a timely reminder.
E: In this case, they stole every bit of food in one section of the Soviet Union to feed others. Bitter Harvest tells the story of Ukrainian freedom fighters who went up against one of the 20th century’s mustachioed despots. Wonder how that ends…
M: The Ukraine was knows as the bread basket of the Soviet Union, and is still a major food producer in eastern Europe, actually. As for the freedom fight, well, Stalin was long dead before the Iron Curtain fell, so… at least we know that going in.
E: Still, when was the last time we heard good things about the Ukraine? I’ll take it.
M: Good things? I suppose a few years ago, when they were seemingly shrugging off Russian influence, having democratic protests, and trying to join NATO. Since then the Russians annexed Crimea again, and probably the eastern half of the country, so, not so good since then, no. Anyway…. back to the movie.
E: I don’t particularly recognize the cast, but it seems well made.
M: I saw a few episodes of The White Queen, which Max Irons was in, so he’s at least mildly familiar to me. Other than that, I don’t recognize anyone either.
Year By The Sea (limited)
M: Karen Allen (aka Marian Ravenwood) stars as a older woman going through a divorce who moves to Cape Cod and starts to live life, have fun, and learn who she is again, with the help of SVU‘s S. Epatha Merkerson and Yannick Bisson, who was the male lead on the old PAX network show Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye., which Mrs M and I used to watch. I always liked him. This actually looks somewhat endearing.
C: That actually… sounds nice. Yeah.
E: Huh. I quite like the look of this too, right down to Celia Imrie (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) dancing all over Cape Cod, swathed in diaphanous scarves. She makes me want to dance too.
M: Yeah, I liked that, too. She reminded me of a younger, but still old, Shirley MacLaine. In a good way.