So Star Wars came and made us happy (well most of us). The Hateful Eight came and made us feel as though Tarantino was being a bit self-indulgent…even for Tarantino. Daddy’s Home came and became a surprise hit with an actually fun performance from Mark Wahlberg. And Alvin and the Chipmunks 4: The Road Chip came and is doing well? Why?
But while we wait for The Revenant and Anomalisa to make their way out of limited release, we have January to “look forward” to. Let’s take a gander at what’s coming out during one of the weakest months of the year and why its pitiful offerings will probably enable Star Wars, Episode VII, The Force Awakens to become the highest grossing movie of all time … until Star Wars, Episode VIII.
JANUARY 8, 2015
The Big: THE FOREST
Every year begins with a horror movie. Last year, it was The Woman in Black II: Angel of Death, the Daniel Radcliffe-less sequel to the 2012 frightfest. This year, it’s The Forest, starring Game of Thrones/The Hunger Games‘ Natalie Dormer. Set in Japan, though surprisingly not based on a J-Horror, it stars Dormer as a woman who travels to Japan to find out what happened to her twin sister and finds herself in the mysterious Aokigahara Forest, a popular suicide locale. So I guess it’s a mix between the “Only what you take with you” Dagobah scene in The Empire Strikes Back and The Grudge 2. The only thing interesting about these movies is the forced the “OH MY GOD! IT’S NOT OVER!” sequel set-up at the end.
The Small: YOSEMITE
If The Forest is The Big, it’s clear that the small is really tiny. The Revenant and Anomalisa are expanding today, so that’s a positive sign, but those count more for 2015. As for actual new movies, we travel from the forest to the park. Yosemite is James Franco’s latest attempt to be taken legitimately as a dramatist. It’s about three Palo Alto 5th graders in 1985 who must contend with the threat of a mountain lion lurking in their community. Although the three boys are the main characters, it also stars Franco and is based on two of his short stories – but he neither wrote not directed it (Gabrielle Demeestere handled those responsibilities).
James Franco has definitely proven himself as a more than capable actor willing to do interesting movies in a myriad of genres while also being a strong comedic performer. It’s also nice to see him trying to expand his repertoire with writing and directing. Yet despite his popularity, he has yet to break through in the more indie artistic realm. Of course, a big part of that might be his choices. He has attempted to make movies based on novels by William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) and Cormac McCarthy (Child of God), a fete that would be really, really heavy lifting for any filmmaker, let alone a green one. Who knows what’s going to happen next yaer with his adaptation The Disaster Artist and his attempt to recreate the otherworldly insanity of Tommy Wiseau.
Beyond Yosemite, there’s also The Masked Saint – a true story movie about a professional wrestler turned pastor turned vigilante and features Roddy Piper in his last role. This is a real thing.
JANUARY 15, 2015
The Big: RIDE ALONG 2 vs. 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI
Finally, some competition for Star Wars nearly a month after its release – and there are two main contenders that may wrestle away the top slot from Poe Dameron. Ride Along 2 is the sequel to the 2014 hit that established Kevin Hart as a legitimate comedy star as well as set January up as a fair time for comedy films. Its January 15 release date is nearly 2 years to the day the first one came out (January 17) and became one of January’s all-time highest grossing movies. Will this one do as well as the first? Possibly. But it still has to deal with…
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – or Michael Bay gets seriously serious. From the trailer you genuinely get the impression that Michael Bay legitimately wants to tell an actual story and honor the soldiers who defended the Benghazi Embassy during its 2012 attack. However, it remains to be seen whether his inherent tendency towards excess will reduce the actual events to another Baytravaganza. As for the arguably unfavorable January release date, there are two ways to look at it. The more cynical view is that it’s an attempt to bury the film. On the other hand, one might take amore optimistic approach and see it as an attempt to replicate the massive success of the last War on Terror movie, American Sniper, which went wide in January and became 2014’s highest grossing film. (In 2013, Lone Survivor – another War on Terror film released in January – went on to gross over $125 million.) The American Sniper/Lone Survivor analogy seems a bit more apt as the trailers present a movie based just around the events and the soldiers rather than the politics or the controversies surrounding it (e.g. Hilary Clinton’s e-mails and Obama blaming it on YouTube videos). Among the stars are John Krasinski, best known as Jim from The Office, and David Denham, best known as Roy from The Office so Pam is probably very worried.
The Little: BAND OF ROBBERS
For this second insignificant week of littles, the standout doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. It’s Band of Robbers – a indie comedy about modern day Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) and Huckleberry Finn (Kyle Gallner) who are now adults but still screw-ups who hunt for the treasure that eluded them in Tom’s titular book. Like many indie comedies in the “let’s laugh at backwoods people being backwoodsy,” finding the right balance between sickeningly quirky and genuinely funny is hard, if not practically impossible. For every flavor-of-the-month like Napoleon Dynamite or cult favorite like Super Troopers, there are hundreds of others that just simply aren’t funny, hoping that scraggly mustaches and prison mug shots can carry they day. Although the trailer makes it look forgettable, there’s always a chance it could rise above its station. Plus it stars Daddy’s Home and The Eric Andre Show‘s scene stealer / Bill Cosby archnemesis Hannibal Buress as Ben Rogers.
JANUARY 22, 2015
The Big: DIRTY GRANDPA
Robert DeNiro’s gonna haul ass to Lollapalooza! In the tradition of Bad Grandpa and Neighbors, Dirty Grandpa combines Robert De Niro and Zac Efron in a road trip movie starring one as a perverted old man and the other as his uptight grandson. Efron’s character is about to be married, but first, he has to take a little sojourn to…Spring Break! Will he have an uptight fiancée back home but meet a free spirited gal who challenges him and his worldview in sunny Florida? Will De Niro make inappropriate advances to women? Will this have a touch of originality or just coast on old man saying dirty words? We’ll see. But probably the latter.
The Little: IP MAN 3 vs. MOJAVE vs. SYNCHRONICITY
Several smaller movies coming out this week sound slightly interesting, but the January release date might be a sign of trouble. The most likely critical success will be Ip Man 3. The conclusion to the highly popular Hong Kong biopic trilogy, it was already released in its native country to positive reviews. However, like most foreign films, especially foreign series, either you’re on board already or you’re not.
Also being released on this day is Mojave. Directed by William Monahan (Oscar-winning writer of The Departed), Mojave stars Garrett Hedlund as a “suicidal writer” who meets his doppleganger in a drifter played by Oscar Isaac. Between Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina, and Star Wars, Isaac has established himself as one of today’s best actors who continues to show great versatility in every new role. Hedlund was also in Inside Llewyn Davis and was far from the worst thing about Tron: Legacy. And the movie co-stars the underrated Walton Goggins. However, the film has taken quite awhile to finally make it to theaters (it began filming in late 2013) and was initially released on DirecTV Cinema in late 2015. But I am a sucker for a doppleganger movie, though isn’t it cheating to apply the doppleganger moniker when two different actors play the two roles?
Finally, there’s a new sci-fi film called Synchronicity. The IMDB description pegs it as “a mind-bending sci-fi noir” in the tradition of Dark City, Blade Runner, and Alphaville,” which is always a bad sign. Never begin describing your movie by comparing it to classics of the genre; we can smell it as a distraction and it’s setting yourself up for failure. Directed by The Signal and My Super Psycho Sweet 16‘s Jacob Gentry and starring Chad McKnight and A.J. Bowen, Synchronicity is definitely playing with a lot of unknown factors behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but not having expectations could be a boon for sci-fi movies. The plot involves the creation of a time travel device, and the inventor’s paranoia of people trying to steal his creation. But I am a sucker for time travel movies, and maybe the reviews will be positive. If not, it’ll probably be a good choice for a late night Netflix Instant selection. (Or just go watch Primer again.)
JANUARY 29, 2015
The Big: KUNG FU PANDA 3
Every year, January is home to some moderately successful children’s animated film that becomes successful only because kids need something to do. This time, it’s the third part in Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda trilogy. Nothing much to say about this one except it’s either pick this or Fifty Shades of Black, Marlon Wayan’s newest attempt at a parody franchise following Scary Movie and A Haunted House. For this go around, he’s using Fifty Shades of Grey as his base. It’s disappointing that he (and the Friedberg/Seltzer duo) has cornered the market on the parody film genre. I still feel that there’s potential with parody films, but they’ve made people too afraid to touch them.
The Little: JANE GOT A GUN
Jane Got a Gun is one of those films where the behind the scenes story is probably far more interesting than what ends up on screen. In production since 2012, it has lost directors (Lynne Ramsey replaced by Gavin O’Connor) and stars (among the actors who have departed the film are Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, and Jude Law) but main star Natalie Portman has remained dedicated to seeing this come to fruition. Its classic Western plot – lone (wo)man must stand up against a gang of ne’er-do-wells and outlaws – should hold some appeal for fans of the genre, but its generic quality could also be a ding against it. (Last year’s Slow West did a good job at using a conventional Western story as its framework but populated the movie with little vignettes and details that gave it a real life absent in most Westerns and neo-Westerns.) However, it does re-team Portman with “Whatever Happened To” Ewan McGregor, who plays the leader of the evil gang. Oh McGregor, we expected such big things from you. And now you’re the replacement of a replacement of a replacement.
So that’s January. The year’s most consistently worthless cinematic month, with the exception of finally getting to see limited release films from the year before. Thankfully, February comes next with the new Coen Brothers’ comedy Hail, Caesar!, Zoolander 2, and what’s quickly becoming the most anticipated superhero movie of 2016 – Deadpool.