And we’ve made it to 2017! Another year of superhero movies, horrible animated films, and dark and gritty reboots no one really asked for (but that’s for March…) after the massive disappointment that was 2016. January has always been one of the lesser months, to be sure, and this year is no different. And it’s still suffering from the lackluster previous year. Even the last-minute Oscar push movies are a far cry from last year’s The Revenant and even Anomalisa (which in hindsight is probably my favorite 2015 movie). Ben Affleck’s anticipated Live By Night is currently sitting at … 36% on Rotten Tomatoes? (Why is everyone hating December 2016’s releases?), and while Martin Scorsese’s Silence is at a phenomenal 90%, a nearly 3-hour period piece is very much a niche movie. Anyway, let’s get to it.
JANUARY 6, 2017
The Big: UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS
Underworld: Blood Wars – Apparently this is still a thing. Four years since the last Underworld movie and 13 years since the first Underworld movie, this pre-Twilight battle between lycans and vampires continues to rage, I suppose. Kate Beckinsale straps back on the leather cat suit, grabs her guns, and … honestly, the only thing I remember from the entire franchise is that scene where she shoots a hole into the floor. It’s currently at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, which sounds right. Fun Fact: One of the original writers of Underworld is named Danny McBride, but he isn’t the Danny McBride of Eastbound & Down and Alien: Covenant.
The Small: I, DANIEL BLAKE
I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach’s new film is getting a quiet release at the start of the year despite its remarkable awards performance. Along with winning two British Independent Film Awards (plus being nominated for an additional two), it also won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. It starts Dave Johns as the titular Blake, who goes on state welfare and meets a single mother also on state welfare.
JANUARY 13, 2017
The Big: SLEEPLESS vs. MONSTER TRUCKS vs. THE BYE-BYE MAN
Sleepless – Jamie Foxx stars in Cop Drama: Cop On The Edge. A remake of the well received French film Nuit blanche, Sleepless looks like your conventional Cop Drama about a cop who must go beyond the law! (This time, to save his kidnapped child.) The generic poster (man looking serious with the police badge on his chest) further makes this look like something you’d come across on Netflix some night and wonder “why is that actor doing such a paycheck movie?” But credit to Michelle Monaghan for getting her name above the title of a movie that isn’t a rom-com.
Monster Trucks – Squid-like aliens possess cars and turn them into crazy, cartoony machines. As easy as it would be to mock the premise or the concept or everything about it, the trailer makes it look like it might be stupid enough to work. Maybe Monster Trucks will be able to walk the very tight, precarious rope of carrying the spirit of an actual kid’s film from the 1980s/1990s and striking the appropriate balance of hokey and charm and escape the stigma of being the movie that nearly destroyed Paramount. Or maybe it’ll just be stupid and earn its shame.
The Bye-Bye Man – The annual January horror movie (now that Amityville Horror: The Beginning: Origins has been moved to June) is The Bye-Bye Man. A group of people discover some ancient evil, and they must work to stop it. It’s a horror movie.
JANUARY 20, 2017
The Big: xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE vs. THE FOUNDER vs. SPLIT
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – Apparently this too is still a thing. Let’s go back to 2002 when Vin Diesel was a rising star, EXTREEEEEEEEEEEME SPORTS was a thing, and original director Rob Cohen (replaced for this one with The Salton Sea‘s DJ Caruso) talked about how Xander Cage was going to replace James Bond as the spy du jour because he represented ‘today’s’ audience. (The weird things we remember.)
Well, clearly it didn’t work. The first and only sequel, xXx: State of the Union starring Ice Cube replacing Diesel from 2005, bombed. Then they mothballed the entire franchise for a dozen years. Why bring it back? I don’t entirely know. I don’t think xXx developed a cult fandom in the way Vin Diesel’s other notable character, Riddick, did, and it’s not like EXTREEEEEEEEEEEME SPORTS suddenly regained popularity. The only real answer is the massive success of The Fast and the Furious, which is lead by Diesel. And, since his other attempts to make franchises tend to fail (e.g. The Last Witch Hunter), why not give this another spin? Even the trailer features him putting together a diversity-tastic team to go on missions together, a notable change from loner rebel Cage.
With its horrible effects (the jumping through the plane moment) and embarrassing dialogue (“There are no patriots anymore, just rebels and tyrants.“ “What are you?” “I’m triple X.”), I can’t entirely tell what xXx3 is trying to do. Some of the material is so bad that you have to wonder if this movie is going for intentional camp. But Diesel is trying so hard at being ‘cool’ that you have to wonder if this movie is going for unintentional camp. Though it does show some real confidence in subtitling the movie “The Return of Xander Cage” as though that name has ever meant anything.
The Founder – I wrote about this movie last month, but I’ve been interested in it since the first trailer. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem as though they are pinning Oscar hopes on it (despite positive reviews with it currently at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes), since I was really hoping for Keaton to get his vengeance after The Theory of Everything robbery.
Split – It’s still okay to hate M. Night Shyamalan, but he seems to be actively trying to rebuild his reputation. Wayward Pines (which he produces) had a solid first season, The Visit got mostly positive reviews, and he wasn’t to blame for After Earth. His new film, Split, goes to two well-worn horror concept: the split personality (Identity, Secret Window, Thr3e, The Scribbler) plus being locked in a small location to play up claustrophobia. It’s unfair to criticize horror movies for reusing concepts/ideas, some things work in certain genres for a reason, it’s the matter of using said components in unique and interesting ways. Shyamalan does/did know how to make thrillers, and the cast is lead by the almost always solid James McAvoy as the person with the dissociative identity disorder and Anya Taylor-Joy, who gave one of last year’s best performances in The Witch. Reviews are also positive, with this presently at 81% positive. Are we building up to Shyamalanagain?
JANUARY 27, 2017
The Big: RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER vs. A DOG’S PURPOSE vs. BASTARDS
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – Apparently this is still a thing as well. Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, the hero of what has to be the most successful video game franchise of all time – 15 years old, six movies including this one. What can compare? The Chinese box office of Warcraft? Now, I don’t think anyone actually cares about the series or takes it seriously or remembers anything from it, but its longevity is a fact. In this “final chapter,” a lie we’ve been sold before, Alice finally takes down the Umbrella Corporation, or does she? Three-way battle for which weathered franchise takes the crown.
A Dog’s Purpose – We get it, this movie wants us to cry. See Todd Solondz’ Wiener-Dog instead.
Bastards – One of those ‘shoved at the end of the month’ comedies. The directorial feature of Lawrence Sher (the director of photography of The Hangover movies and War Dogs), Bastards stars comedy once-were-stars Owen Wilson and Ed Helms as two brothers who try to find their father whom they presumed was dead their entire lives. It seems as if there has been a lot of comedies like this over the past few years, movies about zany families that have actors whose names we actually know, but that also give off the stink that they’ve been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Wilson has become quite a regular with these with the likes of Are You Here (2013) and Masterminds (2016). It’s written by Justin Malen who did Office Christmas Party. It’s not the worst pedigree, but everything about it smells ultimately forgettable.
The Small: THE SALESMAN
The Salesman – One of last year’s strongest foreign offerings, The Salesman is an Iranian-French drama that is on this year’s shortlist for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. A drama about a couple whose relationship begins to fall apart during their production of A Death of a Salesman, it won Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and numerous other awards over the past several months (and is currently sitting at 100% positive).
So that’s January. It’s hard to fault it for not having much because, that’s January. Could xXx be the biggest movie of the month? It doesn’t have much competition (other than more frequently released, but equally forgettable franchises), plus its high-energy ridiculousness and aping off of what made Fast and Furious so successful could definitely attract people. That or A Dog’s Purpose because people want to cry, and the “what were they thinking?” plot of Collateral Beauty has rightfully and thankfully turned people away. Up next month, Rock Dog!