And now two weeks where we get a collection of movies that might be wide released, might be very limited, or might be relegated to LA/NY just to sneak in time for awards season.
DECEMBER 23, 2016
The Movies: PASSENGERS vs. ASSASSIN’S CREED vs. SING vs. PATRIOTS DAY vs. A MONSTER CALLS vs. WHY HIM? vs. SILENCE
Passengers – It’s undeniable that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are two of the biggest movie stars working today. But is their presence (and essentially only their presence) enough to get people to see Passengers? This has been a good year for smarter sci-fi with the likes of Arrival and Midnight Special, and (presumably) the strength of this movie has forced the similarly-themed (but far less star driven) The Space Between Us to move to February 2017, but could Passengers be the financial juggernaut the studio is (presumably) expecting it to be. It’s ostensibly about very few people alone on a spacecraft, which can be the premise for great movies (e.g. Moon, Silent Running), but they are generally smaller films that achieve cult fandom rather than massive success. Then again, Alien did quite well. But Alien had the alien, this has Michael Sheen as a robot who dresses like Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining. Part romance, part thriller, Passengers seems more like a bigger budgeted Sunshine, which was a fantastic film but not the smash this film presumably needs to be with a purported $120 million production budget. Plus it’s competing against other sci-fi properties with far more brand recognition, which may hurt it (audiences tend to go with what they know) or help it (its “outsider” status could lure more people in).
Assassin’s Creed – Speaking of sci-fi brands with questionable box office potential … While this video game adaptation is definitely one of the biggest movies of the month, is Assassin’s Creed really considered one of the most anticipated? While the visuals and physicality look remarkable, the advertisements aren’t doing a good job at making the overall movie look interesting. Why is Michael Fassbender’s character going back in time to join the “assassin’s creed” (it’s how they say it in the ad)? Is most of the movie in that facility set in “modern/future” day, as some reports have claimed? If so, this could be very problematic. People presumably play the games because they enjoy the past settings, and people will presumably see the movie because they want to see the highly stylized Spanish Inquisition set fight sequences. There’s nothing novel about the sterile “modern/future” day environment presented in the ads. (Not to mention how it looks somewhat like that Skynet facility in Terminator: Salvation. The one about a man sentenced to death who ends up being used for time travel-related medical experiments. Kind of like this seems to be about.)
Nevertheless, it’s too early to count the movie out quite yet. Director Justin Kurzel, Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams have all done some really solid work (as well as far less impressive work), and I wouldn’t want the trailers to spoil everything, but maybe some sense of plot would be nice. Plus coming out a week after a Star Wars movie? Not the best move for a film whose biggest selling point is parkour.
Sing – Animated animals singing. It’s going to be a gigantic hit. Especially because it’s the only children’s movie this month – even the Star Wars installment, despite the reshoot, is definitely skewing older than BB-8 fans.
Patriots Day – Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reunite for a movie that looks fascinatingly similar to their earlier collaboration from this year – Deepwater Horizon. Mark Wahlberg plays the your average blue collar working man who is surrounded by blue sky America symbolism and must be the rock during a major catastrophe (the Boston bombing instead of the BP oil spill). Michelle Monaghan replaces Kate Hudson as “Crying Wife.” Though the Wahlberg/Berg pairing (they also did Lone Survivor together) have established a somewhat nice niche in presenting Based on a True Story movies about the unsung heroes whose deeds are often overshadowed or underreported. Does this mean that people want to see a movie about a terrorist attack during Christmas? Probably not. But what they are doing is kind of respectable, and early reviews have been terrific.
A Monster Calls – J.A. Bayona, director of The Impossible, The Orphange, and soon Jurassic World 2, tries his hand at recreating Pan’s Labyrinth, except far less interesting looking – but it has Super-Groot voiced by Liam Neeson. The BFG showed earlier this year that ‘darker’ kids movies aren’t a surefire bet at the box office. Plus Felicity Jones’ (as presumably the critically ill mother of main character) delivery of “And if you need to break things, by God you break them!” in the trailer is so melodramatic it borders on parody.
Why Him? – James Franco takes a break from being a horrible director whose films are barely seen to replenishing his bank account in a bawdy R-rated comedy. (I’m not even anti-Franco overall, but as a filmmaker he has butchered Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, and Charles Bukowski. How does he keep getting the rights to some of America’s best wordsmiths? At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow he gets to be the one who makes The Catcher in the Rye.) Straitlaced dad played by Bryan Cranston disagrees with his daughter’s (Zoey Deutch) choice for a paramour (Franco) due to his crazy, unconventional style. At the end, they both put aside their differences for the sake of the daughter. Hilarity ensues. Of course, Daddy’s Home made $150 million domestic with the same basic premise and the same basic release date so maybe this could be a hit.
Silence – One of Martin Scorsese’s dream projects finally hits theaters, and it’s a nearly three-hour tale about two 17th century priests (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan to save their mentor (Liam Neeson, also the voice of the titular monster in this week’s A Monster Calls) who is being persecuted for trying to spread Christianity. We know that Martin Scorsese is one of the best living filmmakers, but his previous historical epics (such as Kundun and The Age of Innocence) rarely stand out among his filmography. Silence has the feeling of an epic undertaking, and based on the trailer you can comfortably throw whatever lavish words you want to to describe its look, feel, intensity, etc. – but it’s probably going to be buried critically (maybe) and commercially (definitely) from a lot of the other films coming out this month. Sure, it might get token nominations come awards time based on the Scorsese name alone, but it probably won’t be a serious contender.