January, vis a vis movies, is a little bit like September, which is to say not the best. The studios have little expectations, so they blow out some genre franchise fare that wont hit their stride until they are on iTunes available for rent or playing on the Syfy channel at 11 p.m. when you are having trouble sleeping (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Underworld: Blood Wars), and they toss out an action movie or two because nobody has released a dumb action movie in a few months and sometimes people like dumb action movies (XXX: The Return of Xander Cage and Sleepless where Jaimie Fox gets to try to be an action star), and they they just drop stuff that they don’t really know what to do with (Split, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest starring James McAvoy as a Norman Bates-esque nut job with a whole bunch of split personalities). They will get one mild hit out of that bunch (The Ride Along movies have been the “hit” the last few years, the safe bet this year is XXX: The Return of Xander Cage) but it doesn’t really matter because what January is actually all about are the movies that got the soft opening in December so they qualify for Oscar consideration but truthfully open in January. Assuming they get nominations Manchester By The Sea, La La Land and Moonlight will linger at your megaplex, and these three movies will hope to do a little more than linger:
Opening “wide” this week the story of a team of African-American women who provided mathematical support for the space program in the 1960’s is loaded with acting talent (particularly Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer who are both always great in everything they are in) and seems to have the kind of story that will appeal broadly. It will help, a lot, if Henson or Spencer get an Oscar nod (Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe already), but it may not be necessary for this movie to succeed.
How interested would you be in the story of two Jesuit Priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor and spread catholicism? What if I told you it was a period piece and the Priests face violence and persecution? Not sold? What if I told you it starred Adam Driver (Kylo Renn!) and one time spiderman Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson? Still no? Okay, but it is directed by Martin Scorsese, who also co-wrote the screenplay, so if you are any kind of a film buff you know you are obligated to see and probably like this movie. I have the nagging suspicion that if this were a classic Scorsese we would have seen this open wide on December 13th not January 13th. Truthfully, the filmmaker has been obsessed with the ideas of religion and God for years but every time he has addressed the subject directly (Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ) the films have frankly been too personal and simply haven’t connected broadly (which may be the very nature of faith, but that is a broader discussion than is worth tackling on a movie blog). This is a film that will likely need Oscar nominations to gain any kind of commercial traction but it has been surprisingly absent from most of the critics awards and Golden Globes which usually hint at what the Oscars are likely to nominate.
If you have a serious gambling problem and are therefore looking for anything and everything to bet on here is a pretty safe tip for you, Patriots Day will be the biggest movie of January. This movie has everything going for it. It is based on a story that we remember but probably don’t really know. It will be dripping with patriotism (in the good way). It is getting award buzz. And Mark Wahlberg owns January. This will be this year’s Lone Survivor (also starring Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg) or American Sniper, but it will have a cleaner, more uplifting story to work with than either of those films. We win in the end, we know we win in the end, and when the movie ends with the 2014 Boston Marathon and all of the Boston Strong your going to have a little life affirming moment as you sit in the dark surrounded by other people having life affirming moments of their own.
Look, February is usually only slightly better than January as a whole, but February does have a couple of weekends where the studios will swing for the fences. On President’s Day weekend, for example, we are going to get the Matt Damon Great Wall of China movie that was supposed to come out in December but then the studio remembered “hey, this will movie will get destroyed in December, let’s push it back” (The Great Wall) and an Ice Cube comedy (Fist Fight). Don’t sleep on the Ice Cube comedy, they always do way better than you think they will. But that isn’t the big weekend, not in my opinion anyway. The BIG weekend is the week before, February 10th:
Fifty Shades Darker
Chris Rock used to do a joke about Kmart. He used to say we all make fun of Kmart and act as if we would never actually shop their but we all know what a blue light special is (kids, that was what they called sales at Kmart), in other words, a lot of us are shopping at Kmart. I do not know one person who has admitted they went and saw Fifty Shades of Grey, in fact, I don’t even know many people who will admit they read the book, but here we are with a sequel following a movie that made nearly $600 million world-wide and until Deadpool came along last year held about every February box office record that existed. For my part I think my record for copping to having seen pretty awful and/or embarrassing movies is established enough that when I say I could only make through about 5 minutes of the first one on HBO you know I am not lying. Still, some of you watched it, some of you liked it and some of you will be going to the sequel right before Valentine’s Day.
The LEGO Batman Movie
First, I loved The LEGO Movie. Not because my son was 10 at the time and that film was like mana from heaven for him, but just because I loved it. At first, however, I was not particularly excited about this movie. The original seemed perfect, just the right mix of having fun with something while not making fun of that thing. It seemed impossible that they could do that twice, and maybe they can’t, but man did this trailer change my mind.
John Wick: Chapter 2
My favorite kind of movie experience goes like this; someone tells me a little known movie is really good (or I hear about it from other movie blogs or podcasts or whatever), I DO NOT rush to see the movie but it needles at me in the back of my mind, this idea that I really want to see that movie, then I finally see the movie and it surpasses all of my inflated and built up expectations. That progression is rare because I usually either see the movie soon after hearing about it (like La La Land, although that was far from a little known gem) or my inflated expectations kill the movie (this almost always happens with comedies). Still, in recent years I have had that perfect progression happen a few times. The Raid: Redemption is a good example. Man Up is another. Kingsman: The Secret Service is another great example. I recently watched Mr. Right and it roughly fit into this mold. The best example, probably in my life, was with John Wick. I LOVED John Wick (still do). Does that make me excited for a sequel? Let’s say I have mixed emotions. On the one hand I can’t see where they are going to go with it and I think the first film is a perfect, wholly contained story. On the other hand the outside chance that they may capture some small part of the magic really gets my juices flowing. It may not work. It probably wont work. But I really want it to work.
Did you know that Police Academy, Police Academy 2 and Police Academy 3 were the biggest box office performers of March in consecutive years? Of course you didn’t. I didn’t even know that until I looked it up. The point is that March used to be just another dead month as far as the movies were concerned. If a hit came out in March it was an accidental success like Basic Instinct or Four Wedding and a Funeral. Blockbusters weren’t released in March, but much like the NFL has become a year round things so have movies and March is now a big month. 300, Alice in Wonderland, Zootopia and maybe most significantly The Hunger Games are all March movies. So what will it be this…
Before I get to that, did you know they made a sequel to Trainspotting? Crazy, right? Trainspotting 2? None of those Scottish drug addicts should, would or could be alive 20 years later. Only Keith Richards could survive that much heroine and cocaine and everything else. Anyway, that’s coming out this March too. Now, back to my point.
Here are the most likely blockbusters…
They also made a CHIPS movie, you know, from the old TV show, which, I mean, I get the whole existing IP thing but has anyone been clamoring for a CHIPS movie? I loved CHIPS when I was a kid and I don’t even really care about a CHIPS movie. AND they made another Power Rangers movie, which also makes no sense to me, but then again I am too old for Power Rangers so what do I know? AND they made a Ghost in the Shell movie with Scarlett Johansen which is almost like making that Gods of Egypt movie last year starring a bunch of blond haired, blue eyed actors. Ghost in the Shell is about as Japanese as you can get. On top of that, I mean, quick raise of hands, who has seen the original Ghost in the Shell? It was a groundbreaking anime 18 years ago before anime was even close to a thing in the U.S. (and yes, I know, anime really isn’t a thing now). Anyway…
The most likely blockbusters are:
Kong: Skull Island
Honestly, this would also have made the list of biggest potential flops. It was originally supposed to come out in December (along with the Matt Damon Great Wall of China movie), but it also got held back. Now, movies get held back all the time for all sorts of reasons but I don’t recall the last time something was held back because it was awesome and turned out way better than the studio thought it would. Also, funny odd twist of ownership, they didn’t have the rights to King Kong but apparently as long as they don’t put “King” and “Kong” together they are okay. Kong alone, no problem. Skull Island, no problem. Isn’t this a little like making a Superman movie without the rights to the word “superman”, so you call it “Super: The Man from Krypton”? All of that aside this is another shot from an actor who became famous for a character in a Marvel movie trying to prove he can be a star outside of of the MCU. I like Tom Hiddleston. I always get confused when people say Marvel hasn’t produced a great movie villain because I think Loki is a terrific movie villain. I highly recommend The Night Manager, the spy TV-show that Hiddleston made last year with Hugh Laurie, it is terrific and Hiddleston is really good in it. Will this be the right movie to make him a bigger star? Maybe not, but then again this movie is loaded with really good actors. Sam Jackson (because it is a “franchise starting” movie and there is a law in hollywood that every franchise must have Sam Jackson in it), Brie Larson (soon to be a Marvel superhero herself), John C. Reilly, John Goodman, a bunch of those people who have been in a lot of movies so you recognize them but you never know their name, it’s not just Loki.
Beauty and the Beast
I think we can all agree that when Disney turns one of their beloved princesses into a live action, big budget, spectacle it will draw a lot of kids who don’t love comic book movies to the theater and will look great. Maleficent happened to be good and a big hit. Cinderella was a big hit and quite a thing to look at, just maybe not good. This will be a big hit. Will it be a good big hit or just a pretty big hit? Only time will tell.
For some reason I thought this was coming out in May, which seemed a bit of a stretch for a movie that seems to be aspiring to be Alien. Aspiring to be Alien is a good thing, remember that movie used the juxtaposition of the vastness of space with the confinement of being stuck on a space ship with a killer alien monster to amazing and thrilling effect. But that’s not a summer movie (and, there is an actual Alien movie coming out in May). This is better suited for spring. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal are both great even if they don’t always choose great movies and ultimately Life wont impact how we think of either of them. The curious actor here is Rebecca Ferguson. She is coming off her “as close to a star making turn as anyone can have playing opposite Tom Cruise” part in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Paula Patton had a similar turn in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, went on to be the female lead in 2 Guns and…thinking…thinking…Oh, right, she was in that Warcraft movie last summer, so, obviously her career really caught fire after Ghost Protocol.
More than any other comic book character it feels like being tethered to PG-13 has really hindered the progression of Wolverine. He’s violent and he’s crass and he kills people with claws that come out of his knuckles. More than just the character, it has felt like Hugh Jackman is being held back and lately that holding back feels like it has drained his passion for being Wolverine. I couldn’t even remember if he was in X-Men Apocalypse, not just because that was an entirely forgettable film but because Wolverine has become a mostly forgettable, one-note thing that pops up now and again in the X-Men universe. But, Logan is supposed to be different. Logan is supposed to be what the last standalone movie (Wolverine) was supposed to be (and, honestly, almost was). If Logan gets there, to a dark, violent, funny, kick-ass kind of place people are clamoring for, then we can thank Deadpool. People who have seen early cuts say it is going to blow people’s minds. I hope so. I like Jackman and I Wolverine and I would love to see them both cut loose. And then I would really like to see a Wolverine/Deadpool movie.