Welcome to the Weekend Release Roundup, where we highlight what we think are the most interesting movies to hit theaters this weekend.
Going to the movies isn’t cheap, so we’re here to help you sort through your choices.
Remember how fruitful the months of October, November, and December were? Think about the movies, the drama, the spectacle. Think about the surprises, the suspense, the heartbreak. Surely some of your favorite movies of the year were probably released during that three month period. Remember that? Remember the anticipation of eagerly waiting opening day for every new and worthy major release to grace theaters? Look back on all of it fondly, because this is January. This is just the beginning. February will soon be here, but will offer little respite for cinema-goers. These, my friends, are the “dump months”, affectionately labeled as such because they are the months in which movie studios “dump” the movies for which they have no other room for during the calendar year. The movies in which they have the least amount of confidence. These months are as frigid and bleak as the winter, and can last just as long. So if you still need to play catch-up on December releases, it is highly recommended. If some limited releases are now coming your way, that is also highly encouraged. But, if you’re one of those brave souls looking for new, opening releases this week, well…here’s what you have to deal with this week. It isn’t pretty.
#5 – Black November (Limited and VOD)
Already a couple years old and having been sitting on a shelf until now, Black November is perhaps a harbinger of things to come. A warning of the type of films that will now regularly grace this list (for a while), a far cry from the loaded line-ups of months past. It is a movie in which little is known. It stars Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger (both far removed from their 9 1/2 Weeks days), Anne Heche, Vivica A. Fox, Akon, and Wyclef Jean. The director is Jeta Amata with only one prior film is 2006’s little-seen The Amazing Grace. The trailer highlights an act of terrorism in Los Angeles that somehow connects to a foreign oil conflict in Nigeria. Perhaps there can be a resonant, worthwhile story in that plot line, but you’d never guess that by the trailer, which is thrown together with large, bold red graphics and an action movie score. It’s jarring, to say the least. It makes the list if only for the hope that it says something insightful about a foreign conflict that perhaps we know little about, although I would advise people not to hold their breath.
#4 – Taken 3
Taken 3 makes the list because it is two films removed from Taken. That film, released in 2008, was a pretty good action affair and surprise hit, so there’s that. It also probably ignited the Liam Neeson-as-an-action-star current stretch of his career, for better or worse. And it had a pretty memorable bit of menacing dialogue with Liam Neeson over the phone. All of that is rehashed in the trailer for Taken 3, a franchise that truly seems to be milking it for as long as it can. This time nobody gets kidnapped, but since changing the title goes against what is known in marketing as “brand recognition,” it has remained. For Taken 3, Liam Neeson’s wife gets killed, with Neeson assumed to be the killer. In a quest to prove his innocence and find those responsible, Neeson flees the cops. One of those cops is Forest Whitaker, proving that two worldly actors can indeed star in the third installment of a tragic franchise. Taken 3 is sure to be the biggest new release of the week. That’s not an endorsement, it’s just filler.
#3 – Vessel (Limited)
“When all else fails, watch a documentary.” Somebody really famous and important said that, just don’t ask me whom. Vessel is perhaps the first truly promising film on this list, and it’s because of the content. A compelling and potentially introspective story of Rebecca Gomperts, a woman who bravely decides to make abortion accessible to women in countries where it is outlawed, by starting Women on Waves, a project in which she offers abortions on a boat in offshore waters. Vessel offers not only a completely unique and unheard of account of the hotly debated abortion issue, but also gives us a glimpse into the issue in other parts of the world, outside of the United States.
#2 – Predestination
Ethan Hawke re-teams with the Spierig brothers (Daybreakers), whom at this point are clearly his most trusted directorial collaborators (outside of that Linklater fella). Of the big name releases this week, Predestination looks like the more promising film. The trailer promotes a fresh and potentially gripping sci-fi vision from a pair of directors clearly passionate about genre films. It also hints at a more human element to the story than one might expect from a January sci-fi release, with Ethan Hawke playing a Temporal Agent (or time travel cop, or, wait for it…Timecop) who goes back in time to prevent killers from committing their eventual crimes. On his last job he has to hunt down the killer who has evaded him and is responsible for thousands of deaths. It’s very Minority Report, but hey, that’s cool, right?
#1 – Farewell, Herr Schwarz (Limited)
It’s not often that our number one film is a documentary, but then again it’s not often that we have a week as barren as this one. Nevertheless, don’t allow that to serve as any invalidation for Farewell, Herr Schwarz staking the top spot. Farewell, Herr Schwarz is a documentary in the gonzo style of throwing its filmmaker into an investigative journey towards uncovering secrets from either their own past or that of another subject. Those type of documentaries can usually be very rewarding and emotionally draining experiences (see: Capturing the Friedmans, 51 Birch Street, The Thin Blue Line, Dear Zachary). This one follows filmmaker Yael Reuveny as she attempts to uncover what exactly happened to her family, particularly Michla and Feiv’ke Schwarz, a Jewish brother and sister who survived the Holocaust but separated thereafter, with the sister moving to the Middle East and the brother inexplicably moving back to Germany, near the ruins of the concentration camp where he was held, and marrying a German woman. An intriguing subject, with the potential of uncovering hidden family secrets and unknown motivations, Farewell Herr Schwarz may be one of those fully engrossing docs for people willing to take a gamble in this barren January month.