Assassin’s Creed


Michael Fassbender realizes that taking this role might have been a mistake.

Michael Fassbender realizes that taking this role might have been a mistake.

(2016) Adventure (20th Century Fox) Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Denis Ménochet, Ariane Labed, Khalid Abdalla, Essie Davis, Matias Varela, Callum Turner, Carlos Bardem, Javier Gutiérrez, Hovik Keuchkerian, Crystal Clarke, Michelle H. Lin. Directed by Justin Kurzel

 

Is free will all it’s cracked up to be? What is free will, after all, if the decisions you make are uninformed? Is it better to have someone make our decisions for us for the greater good? Or is it better that we have our own free will even if our decisions tend to be rendered by self-interest and disregard for others?

Convicted murderer Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is about to be executed. Never mind that he witnessed his father (Brian Gleeson) murder his mother (Davis) in cold blood without explanation, he turned to crime on his own and for his crimes he will pay. Except that he wakes up – not in heaven, but in a strange corporate facility where Dr. Sofia Rikkim (Cotillard) informs him that he’s still alive and about to take part in a procedure that will tap his genetic memories. Memories of ancestors, or in this case of a specific ancestor – Aguilar (Fassbender) who was an assassin – excuse me, Assassin – who alone knows the location of an artifact called the Apple of Eden.

This is all a part of an ages-old feud between two warring factions, the Templars and the Assassins, each fighting for their philosophy of free will versus control. Think of the Assassins as Chaotic Good while the Templars are the Lawful Evil. In any case, the Apple of Eden contains the genetic DNA of free will; he who controls it can modify human behavior – eliminate violence altogether, says Dr. Rikkim. Oh boy!

The means of doing that is through a machine called the Animus in which Callum can inhabit the body of Aguilar, see what he sees and utilize his skills which, as it happens, he retains when he comes back into his own body. There’s also a robotic arm on the Animus which allows Callum/Aguilar to do all sorts of nifty parkour moves.

The problem is as it always seems to be is that not everything is what it appears to be. Dr. Rikkim seems to have the best intentions, but what of her industrialist father (Irons) and the haughty patrician lady Ellen Kaye (Rampling)? And when it turns out that Callum’s hated father (Brendan Gleeson) is in the facility, a reckoning is sure to follow.

Like many movies based on videogame franchises, the basic appeal is going to be to the gamers who are familiar with the game and know the mythology behind it. Those of us who aren’t familiar with the game are going to have a hard time navigating this movie which is convoluted and over-complicated. The latter two traits actually work in favor for a videogame; gamers want a complex game to navigate because that maintains their interest.

The visuals are compelling for the most part although there’s a tendency for the scenes set in the Inquisition to be overlighted and a bit washed out. Scenes that are set outdoors don’t look it and I have to think that’s because the CGI is insufficient to the task. Nothing takes you out of a movie faster than scenes that don’t look real. Also, I understand that the Eagle that appears several times in the movie is a game thing, it seemed overused to me and also looked badly animated.

The stunts however were mind-blowing, some of the best of the year. While I thought that the best one (involving a more than 100 foot free fall, a stunt not attempted for a Hollywood film for more than 30 years) should not have appeared in the trailer when it does show up in the film it’s no less breathtaking.

One doesn’t go to this kind of film for the acting, but given the pedigree of the cast including some of the finest actors in the world (i.e. Fassbender, Cotillard, Irons and Gleeson senior) the performances show that they were at least attempting to do their best. Stiff upper lips must have been needed given some of the things they had to do and say here, but one can’t fault the cast here for the film’s shortcomings.

It is ironic that the theme here champions free will and yet the medium is a movie, which is essentially a passive enterprise in which the audience simply accepts the vision and viewpoint of the filmmaker as opposed to the videogame in which the player makes choices. The audience here makes none other than whether or not to walk out halfway through. What we have here is another failed attempt by Hollywood to make a hugely popular videogame into a movie franchise; perhaps they should stop trying.

I’m not against videogames or videogame adaptations – far from it. I’m just against bad adaptations. I would love to see a film adaptation that actually does justice to a game and I know it can be done. It just hasn’t really been up to now for any franchise not called Resident Evil. Hopefully at some point we will see one – just not today.

REASONS TO GO: The stunts are incredible. The cast at least take the material seriously.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is overly complex and convoluted. All of the outdoor scenes look like they were filmed indoors in a simulation of late afternoon.
FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect with a videogame adaptation there is a ton of violence, some adult thematic elements and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was given a completely unique plot rather than bringing one of the videogames to the screen (there are nine of them in the Assassin’s Creed franchise) and Ubisoft has stated that all of their big screen films will have separate storylines from their games.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 36/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tomb Raider
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Fences

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New Releases for the Week of December 23, 2016


SingSING

(Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton. Directed by Garth Jennings

A once-grand theater is dying and the owner, one Buster Moon, has an idea to save it; hold a massive American Idol-like singing contest. True to his predictions, the contest captures the imagination of the whole town as ordinary people with extraordinary dreams compete for fame, fortune and opportunity.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release (Opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and mild peril)

Assassin’s Creed

(20th Century Fox) Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson. Based on the hit videogame, a convicted criminal is executed…and brought back to life for the sole purpose of utilizing his genetic memories. Sent back as part of the Assassin’s Guild (to which his family has belonged for generations), he and the Assassin’s fight the mysterious and malevolent Templars in both the past and present.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Action/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language)

Dangal

(UTV) Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra. The true story of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, a champion Indian wrestler. He was unable to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and vowed that since he failed, his son would do what he could not. The universe having a perverse sense of humor delivers four children to Mahavir – all daughters. At first devastated, he observes that two of them have the tools to become champions themselves – and he swallows his pride and trains them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Fences

(Paramount) Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Mykelti Williamson. Directed by Washington and based on the play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson who also penned the screenplay, this is the story of a proud African-American man trying to raise his family in the 1950s. Bitterly disappointed by life, he turns his back on his son who wants nothing more than to please him while the father seethes, knowing that his son could go much farther in life than he ever did.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens on Sunday)

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material)

Lion

(Weinstein) Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman. A young boy found wandering in the streets of Kolkata is adopted by a kindly Australian couple. Years later as a grown man he begins to experience some childhood memories and knows he must return to India to find his mother and siblings. However, all he knows is that he somehow was mistakenly put on a train and left on it for two days; his home and family could be nearly anywhere in the country. Undeterred, he sets out to find his past so he can help define his future.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some sensuality)

Passengers

(Columbia) Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen. On a spaceship headed on a 120-year voyage to colonize a planet outside the solar system, the colonists are in pods that keep them asleep for most of the journey. When a man and a woman find themselves awake 90 years too early with no way to get back to sleep, they are devastated at first but soon they discover that their early wake-up call was the beginning of even more catastrophic malfunctions aboard the ship.

See the trailer, clips and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release (Opened on Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, nudity and action/peril)

Why Him?

(20th Century Fox) Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mulally.  Stephanie is a great young woman and the apple of her daddy’s eye. Her new boyfriend could be the one, but when mom and dad meet him, it turns out that he’s a Silicon Valley tech billionaire. Quite the catch, no? No. He’s socially awkward but tech-savvy in ways dear old dad could never be. The two enter a one-upmanship contest – advantage, boyfriend – and soon Dad realizes that he could lose his daughter forever…to someone who has no filter whatsoever.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (Opened on Wednesday)

Rating: R (for strong language and sexual material throughout)

2016 Fall/Holiday Preview


ThanksgivingAfter a record-breaking 2015, the summer of 2016 was a bit of a lull. There have certainly been a share of hits; Captain America: Civil War dominated the early part of the summer and Finding Dory dominated the middle; while Suicide Squad was the dominant force at summer’s end. Otherwise the summer was pretty marginal from a box office standpoint although there have been a few other films that have done some decent box office numbers: The Conjuring 2, for example, as well as The Angry Birds Movie, Independence Day: Resurgence, Central Intelligence, The Secret Life of Pets and X-Men: Apocalypse. However we’ve had our share of box office disappointments as well.

There are a goodly number of releases to eagerly anticipate this fall and holiday season. Of course, what has to be uppermost on every moviegoer’s mind is the first standalone Star Wars film ever – Rogue One which Disney is I’m sure hoping to keep the LucasFilm train roaring down the tracks. There’s also the next installment on Marvel’s license to print money, Dr. Strange and a new film from J.K. Rowling set in the Harry Potter Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It is at this time of year that Oscar buzz begins to get generated. It’s a little early yet to get contenders firmed up, but I think we can safely say that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will be a contender, as likely will be the latest from Ben Affleck, The Accountant. We can also expect some Oscar voters taking a good, hard look at Loving, the newest from up-and-coming director Jeff Nichols. Birth of a Nation which was an early favorite after a triumphant Sundance debut, may be hampered in its bid for Academy love following the revelations that director and star Nate Parker was accused (and acquitted) of rape when he was a student at Penn State.

At the end of the year we’ll need all the laughs we can get, so expect a surfeit of comedies including Bad Santa 2 and the standup concert film Kevin Hart: What Now? Once that question is answered, we can also find some grins from Bridget Jones’ Baby as well as from Keeping Up with the Joneses, Office Christmas Party, The Greasy Strangler and Why Me. Speaking of sequels, we will not only get Bad Santa 2 and Bridget Jones’ Baby but also Ouija: Origin of Evil, Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, Rings and Inferno (while Rogue One: A Star Wars tale is ostensibly one, it is a stand-alone film in the Star Wars universe and thus not a true sequel).

There is a cornucopia of biographies this season, with Snowden finally set for release (we’ll believe it when it actually hits theaters), Deepwater Horizon, Masterminds, The Queen of Katwe and Sully. Families will get some diverse fare with Disney’s Moana, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Sing, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, The Wild Life, Trolls and Storks. Those who prefer scary to kids flicks (and kids flicks can be scary) will have plenty of nightmare-inducing movies to check out, including Rod Zombie’s 31, Rings, Morgan, Before I Wake, Incarnate, The Bye-Bye Man, Delirium, Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax and Keep Watching.

There will be plenty of science fiction to whet your appetite for space, with such movies as Passengers, The Space Between Us and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Action and adventure will go hand in hand with such films as Assassin’s Creed based on the popular videogame; also you can look forward to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Allied, Desierto, Inferno, The Magnificent Seven and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

The holidays always bring out the stars and those shining in 2016 will include Tom Hanks (Sully, Inferno), Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher: Never Look Back), Brad Pitt (Allied), Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange), Chris Pratt (Passengers, The Magnificent Seven), Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans, Assassin’s Creed), Kristin Wiig (Masterminds), Lupita Nyong’o (Queen of Katwe), Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa 2), Vin Diesel (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), Jennifer Connelly (American Pastoral), Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven), Dwayne Johnson (Moana), Kevin Hart (Kevin Hart: What Now?), Ben Affleck (The Accountant), Zach Galifianakis (Masterminds, Keeping Up with the Joneses), Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon), Jennifer Lawrence (Passengers), Andy Samberg (Storks), Marion Cotillard (Assassin’s Creed, Allied), Emma Stone (La La Land), Bryan Cranston (Why Him?), Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones’ Baby), Rachel McAdams (Dr. Strange), Alicia Vikander (The Light Between Oceans) and Owen Wilson (Masterminds). There are also some high-profile directors with projects big and small this season including Jeff Nichols, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Tim Burton, Ang Lee, Mira Nair, Rob Zombie and Denis Villeneuve.

Generally speaking, the release dates listed here will be obsolete the moment this is published. Studios have a habit of shuffling release dates, and the further out you go the more likely they are to change. Don’t be left in the cold; check our weekly previews for movies opening in Central Florida, our monthly Pick of the Litter feature for previews of especially deserving films or our Coming Soon section for regular updates of the release schedule for movies with budgets big and small. Until then, you’ve got a preview to read – better get cracking!

SEPTEMBER

As summer wanes and Labor Day signals the end of the blockbuster and barbecue season and the beginning of school and football season, the studios tend to take a deep breath and program movies here that are not quite so exciting, although there are often a few gems among the rocks. This month we’ll be looking at a true-life mountain adventure, the sequel to a hit Halloween-themed animated feature, the biography of a notorious American criminal and the sequel to a surprise hit young adult sci-fi novel adaptation.

The Magnificent Seven

THE ONE TO WATCH

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

RELEASE DATE: September 23, 2016
STUDIO: Columbia/MGM
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung Hun Lee, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer
GENRE: Western
STORY: A desperate town, controlled by a ruthless industrialist, sends a plea for help which is answered by an unlikely ragtag group of outlaws, desperados, bounty hunters, gamblers and gunslingers. As they prepare for the final showdown with the ruthless mercenaries who have been hired as a private army by the industrialist, what began as a job for these seven men becomes something much more.
PROSPECTS: Pratt is on a major roll right now with two huge franchise films that he’s been a part of. Denzel continues to be one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, and this movie is a remake of one of the all-time classic Westerns that a fairly high percentage of modern audiences may be unfamiliar with.
OBSTACLES: Westerns are not super-popular. One has to wonder with a cast with this kind of star power why the movie got exiled to the doldrums of September.
FACTOID: This is a remake of a 1960 Western which itself is a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai.

THE OTHERS TO SEE

SULLY

RELEASE DATE: September 9, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Anna Gunn, Laura Linney, Aaron Eckhart, Autumn Reeser, Sam Huntington, Jerry Ferreira, Holt McCallany
GENRE: Biographical Drama
STORY: After landing his disabled plane on the frigid Hudson River and saving all 155 lives aboard, Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger became a national hero. However, behind the scenes, the accolades and the paparazzi an investigation was quietly launched that threatened to destroy his career, his reputation and his life.
PROSPECTS: Sullenberger remains an object of hero-worship throughout America, and Hanks is one of the most likable actors ever. Add director Clint Eastwood to the mix and you have a movie that is going to pique the interests of a very large demographic.
OBSTACLES: May be a little bit too much like Flight which may suck some of the box office thunder out of it.
FACTOID: Linney and Eckhart played a couple on an episode of Frasier.

DEEPWATER HORIZON

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2016
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Joe Chrest
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: The story of the events of April 20, 2010 when the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon suffered an explosion and a fire that would lead to one of the worst man-made disasters in history. The courage of the crew of the rig will finally get told to a worldwide audience.
PROSPECTS: People tend to have a morbid fascination with disasters and disaster movies. Wahlberg is a charismatic lead whose films tend to be solid performers.
OBSTACLES: Not getting a ton of buzz nor is it getting a lot of push from the studio which leads one to believe they don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the film.
FACTOID: This will be the first time that Kate Hudson has worked on the same movie with her stepfather Kurt Russell.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2016
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Alison Janney, Samuel L. Jackson, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Dame Judi Dench
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy
STORY: A young man stumbles into a deep mystery where children with amazing powers have found refuge in the home of the lovely Miss Peregrine. However, the children are threatened by enemies both secret and overt, who are equally powerful and who want to exploit them; the young man must stand and fight for them but also, in the process, discover who he himself is and what he is capable of.
PROSPECTS: Seems tailor-made for the talents of director Tim Burton. It’s based on a best-selling young adult novel series which gives it an instant audience.
OBSTACLES: Burton’s output has been uneven the last decade or so. Young adult bestsellers haven’t necessarily translated to box office gold overly much.
FACTOID: In the books the character of Dr. Golan was male, but here the character is played by Allison Janney.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

QUEEN OF KATWE

RELEASE DATE: September 23, 2016 (Limited; expands September 30, 2016)
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Madina Malwanga, Russel Salvadier, Charity Rose Pimer, Maurice Kirya
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: A little girl from a Ugandan slum discovers the allure of chess and quickly shows aptitude for the game. Supported by family and community, she develops the confidence needed to become a grandmaster.
PROSPECTS: Director Mira Nair is one of the most poetic directors in the business. While the subject matter may not be the stuff of blockbusters, this could garner some Oscar buzz come Awards season; certainly Oscar should be giving the actors of African descent a good hard look considering how they’ve been ignoring actors of color the past couple of years.
OBSTACLES: Chess isn’t exactly the most cinematic game there is. Disney seems to be hedging their bets a little in not planning a full wide release for the film.
FACTOID: Nair decided to do the film after directing a documentary based on the life of Ugandan chess icon Robert Katende.

WORTH A LOOK

SEPTEMBER 2, 2016

In THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX (Miramax/Summit), a young boy survives a fall off a cliff but in a coma. A neurologist tries a revolutionary new technique to enter the boy’s comatose mind to find out what really happened but unlocks a secret that not only explains how he has cheated death not just here but on eight previous occasions but also opens the door for something incredible…and possibly sinister. In KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE (RLJ) a fighter seeks revenge when his brother is brutally killed in the ring and seeks training from a legendary martial artist. Jean-Claude van Damme returns to this longtime franchise which opens in limited release. THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (DreamWorks) is the latest from up-and-coming director Derek Cianfrance and concerns a lighthouse keeper and his heartbroken wife who, after she miscarries, discover a baby floating in a lifeboat with a dead man. Seeing this as a sign from heaven, they take the little girl as their own but eventually they realize that they know who the real mother is. MAX ROSE (Paladin) stars the legendary Jerry Lewis in his first onscreen role in 21 years, playing a retired jazz pianist who after his wife of 60 years passes away, discovers that his marriage isn’t what he thought it was. This is opening in limited release. Kate Mara stars in MORGAN (20th Century Fox) as a corporate troubleshooter who goes to a remote lab to investigate a mysterious accident. She discovers that at the center of it is a teenage girl with incredible powers who shows great promise – and great danger. Opening in limited release is Kevin Smith’s latest, YOGA HOSERS (Invincible), the second in his Canada trilogy and brings back two convenience store clerks and a somewhat rumpled Canadian detective from Tusk brought together to fight an incalculable evil from underneath the good Manitoban soil of Winnipeg.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2016

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (Rogue) is about a family that moves into a quaint New England home and discovers a small door in the attic that doesn’t appear in any blueprints. When they see the ghost of a child beckoning to them to open the locked door, they unleash a supernatural firestorm of spirits who want to ensure that door stays locked – and the secrets within kept hidden – forever. KICKS (Focus World) is a cautionary tale concerning a set of stolen sneakers, the status they confer on the wearer and how far a 15-year-old boy will go to get his shoes back. WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS (Screen Gems) stars Morris Chestnut and Regina King as an urban professional couple who have done everything to have a baby and are now trying surrogacy. The surrogate mom, however, turns out to be a lot more than they bargained for as her unhealthy obsession with the father threatens their very lives. THE WILD LIFE (Summit) is an animated feature that tells the Robinson Crusoe story – from the point of view of the animals on the island and it looks none too favorably on the famous castaway.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

BLAIR WITCH (Lionsgate) is a sequel to one of the most successful independent films of all time and finds another group of kids entering the woods which are said to be haunted by the Blair Witch, only to find that the tales are frighteningly true. BRIDGET JONES’ BABY (Universal) stars Renee Zellweger in one of her signature roles as the plucky British girl who after years of romantic misadventures is now trying motherhood on for size – with two different men who could be the father. Opening in limited release as well as on Hulu, EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE BEATLES – THE TOURING YEARS (Abramorama) documents the brief period that the Beatles toured from 1963 until their last concert in 1966 (excluding the impromptu show they gave on top of the building where their Apple Records was headquartered) and utilizes much behind the scenes footage as well as never-before-seen concert footage. MR. CHURCH (Cinelou) stars Eddie Murphy as a cook/handyman/housekeeper whose services are  paid for by the boyfriend of a dying mother for six months but whose relationship with her daughter keeps him working for the family for 15 years. This is opening in limited release. SNOWDEN (Open Road) is the oft-delayed Oliver Stone biopic of the notorious whistle-blower (some say traitor who alerted us to the NSA’s program that is in essence spying on the American people. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the title role.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2016

In DIRTY 30 (Lionsgate) lifelong BFFs come together to throw a 30th birthday party for a third friend which turns into a This Is Your Life-kind of affair which quickly descends into chaos. This is opening in limited release. GOAT (Paramount) stars Nick Jonas in a movie that shows just how deadly fraternity hazing can be. It is getting a brief theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles while simultaneously opening on VOD, something unusual for a major studio. STORKS (Warner Brothers) is an animated feature about the birds noted for delivering babies to their parents but as that has proven unprofitable, they have become a delivery service. When an unauthorized baby is accidentally created, a resourceful stork and the only human on Stork Mountain must find a way to deliver it before the boss finds out.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

Opening in limited release, AMERICAN HONEY (A24) is about a rebellious adolescent from a troubled home who runs away and joins a crew of teen…magazine salesmen (I couldn’t make this up). Days of bending the law turn into nights of hard partying and maybe, young love. DENIAL (Bleecker Street) stars Rachel Weisz in the true story of a lawsuit brought about by an academic who claimed the Holocaust never happened against fellow academic Deborah Lipstadt who claimed that it did and led to her legal representatives being forced by English law having to prove that the Holocaust did indeed occur. MASTERMINDS (Relativity) is the (mainly) true story of an armored car driver who is seduced into helping a group of criminals steal $17 million from the armored car company only to be set up as the fall guy. On the run and dodging a hitman, he must find a way to turn the tables on the guys that betrayed him. Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson star.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (Columbia) Budget: $80 Million. Domestic Gross: $169.7M Total: $473.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $61M. Domestic Gross: $81.7M Total: $312.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
EVEREST (Universal) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $43.5M Total: $203.4M Verdict: Hit.
THE WALK (TriStar) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $10.1M Total: $61.2M Verdict: Made Money.
SICARIO (Lionsgate) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $46.9M Total: $84.9M Verdict: Made Money.
THE INTERN (Warner Brothers) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $75.8M Total: $194.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE VISIT (Universal) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $65.2M Total: $98.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
A WALK IN THE WOODS (Broad Green) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $29.5M Total: $36.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE PERFECT GUY (Screen Gems) Budget: $12M. Domestic Gross: $57.0M. Total: $60.3M. Verdict: Big Hit.
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (Relativity/EuropaCorp) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $16.0M Total: $72.6M Verdict: Made Money.
PAWN SACRIFICE (Bleecker Street) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $2.4M Total: $5.4M Verdict: Flop.
THE GREEN INFERNO (High Top) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $7.2M Total: $7.2M Verdict: Lost Money.

OCTOBER

As the weather grows cooler and kids minds turn to trick or treating, the local multiplex will have a pillowcase full of treats, including a new installment in the cinematic franchise of a bestselling cryptography series, the movie version of a Philip Roth novel, the return of a Tom Cruise action hero, the reboot of a series of films based on an iconic Japanese horror movie and a concert film from America’s most popular stand-up comedian.

Inferno

THE ONE TO WATCH

INFERNO

RELEASE DATE: October 28, 2016
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ida Darvish
GENRE: Thriller
STORY: Professor Robert Langdon is once again called upon to solve a seemingly unsolvable puzzle but this time the stakes are much higher, involving a plague that could potentially wipe out half of the world’s population – and Langdon is one of the suspect’s in the investigation!
PROSPECTS: The first two installments in the cinematic franchise based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novels were box office blockbusters.
OBSTACLES: Neither of the films have exactly swept audiences and critics off their feet.
FACTOID: Sy and Khan both appeared in Jurassic World.

THE OTHERS TO SEE

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

RELEASE DATE: October 7, 2016
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans, Laura Prepon, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow
GENRE: Mystery
STORY: A woman who has been devastated by a recent divorce sees a “perfect couple” in a house that her commuter train passes every day and fantasizes wistfully about them. When she witnesses something truly shocking, she is caught in a nightmare in which she may not be an innocent bystander after all.
PROSPECTS: Blunt has been waiting for the right script to elevate her to the next level and this one might be it. The trailer is absolutely Hitchcock-ian.
OBSTACLES: The mystery genre has lately been out of vogue.
FACTOID: This is the first film directed by Tate Taylor in which Octavia Spencer does not appear.

THE ACCOUNTANT

RELEASE DATE: October 14, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson
GENRE: Drama
STORY: A high-functioning math savant is a freelance accountant for some of the most ruthless criminal organizations in the world. When he takes on a legitimate client, it turns out that it could be far more dangerous than the crime bosses he’s used to dealing with.
PROSPECTS: Affleck is a hot commodity these days between his directing triumphs and his roles on-camera as well. Gavin O’Connor is a director who knows how to tell a good story properly.
OBSTACLES: There is a lot of competition for this type of film out there during the month.
FACTOID: The song playing over the trailer is “Everything in Its Right Place” by Radiohead off the Kid-A album. It also played during the opening scene of Vanilla Sky.

JACK REACHER: DON’T LOOK BACK

RELEASE DATE: October 21, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Robert Knepper, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Danika Yarosh, Wolfgang Stegemann
GENRE: Action
STORY: When a friend of Jack Reacher is arrested and charged with espionage, well, that’s just something he can’t let go. Where the law can’t go, Reacher kicks down the doors and takes names..
PROSPECTS: Cruise is still a big box office draw.
OBSTACLES: The first Jack Reacher film was only a middling success.
FACTOID: The first film was based on the ninth book in the Lee Childs novel series; the sequel is based on the eighteenth.

RINGS

RELEASE DATE: October 28, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Laura Wiggins, Aimee Teegarden, Johnny Galecki, Lizzie Brocheré, Bonnie Morgan, Alex Roe, Zach Roerig, Matilda Lutz
GENRE: Horror
STORY: When her boyfriend gets caught up in the urban legend about a videotape that kills you seven days after you view it, a young woman sacrifices herself to save him, but finds out something even more horrifying – that there is a movie within the movie.
PROSPECTS: This is a cult favorite among horror fans, particularly those who love Americanized J-horror. It is also the highest profile release of the Halloween season.
OBSTACLES: It has been eleven years since the sequel appeared, which is a long time for a franchise.
FACTOID: Although there were rumors that this would be a prequel, it was recently confirmed on Twitter by the film’s director that it is a sequel set in present day.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

RELEASE DATE: October 7, 2016
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley
GENRE: Historical Drama
STORY: Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, is used by his financially strapped owner to subdue unruly slaves. A witness to countless atrocities, he is inspired to lead a slave revolt in the days prior to the Civil War.
PROSPECTS: One of the most anticipated indie films of the year drew rave reviews following a triumphant debut at Sundance this past January.
OBSTACLES: Parker, who also directed the film, has been embroiled in a scandal following an interview in which he discussed a 2003 trial when he was accused and acquitted of rape while still a student at Penn State. The outcry of this revelation may end up causing Fox to reassess their strategy with this film which is considered a likely contender for Oscars if released this year.
FACTOID: Fox paid $17.5 million for the rights to the film, a Sundance record.

WORTH A LOOK

OCTOBER 7, 2016

THE GREASY STRANGLER (FilmRise) which appeared at this year’s Florida Film Festival and is now opening in limited release is about a browbeaten son and his degenerate father who are vying for the same girl, right about the time an oily serial killer nicknamed “The Greasy Strangler” shows up to terrorize the women of Los Angeles. MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE (CBS) is based on a best-selling series of young adult books in which an authority-hating young tween boy finds himself in a middle school with a veritable cornucopia of rules. VOYAGE OF TIME (Broad Green) is director Terrence Malick’s ten-years-in-the-making treatise on the birth and death of the universe; it is opening in limited release and in IMAX in selected theaters.

OCTOBER 14, 2016

Opening up in limited release, CERTAIN WOMEN (IFC) is a Montana-set ensemble piece by acclaimed director Kelly Reichardt following three different women whose lives intersect in unexpected ways.  DESIERTO (STX) is a thriller from Mexican director Jonás Cuaron about a group of illegal aliens crossing the U.S./Mexican border who are stalked by a deranged Texan with a high powered rifle and a dog trained to kill. KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW (Universal) is the latest concert film from America’s most popular comedian Kevin Hart on his most recent tour; his historic sold-out stadium performance is bookended by a 007-like spy vignette.

OCTOBER 21, 2016

31 (Saban/Lionsgate) is Rob Zombie’s latest horror epic in which five carnival workers are kidnapped and forced to play a life or death game against an endless parade of homicidal maniacs. This is getting a brief limited theatrical run (including a special Fathom Events presentation which is followed by a live Q&A with the director) with a simultaneous release on VOD. AMERICAN PASTORAL (Lionsgate) is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Philip Roth regarding an American family shaken to the core when their rebellious daughter disappears after being accused of an unspeakable crime. BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN (Lionsgate) stars Tyler Perry as the popular character Madea as she takes on all manners of ghosts and ghouls and scariest of all – a group of uppity teens. All Hallows Eve will never be the same. Opening in limited release, THE HANDMAIDEN (Magnolia/Amazon) is the latest from South Korea’s most acclaimed director Park Chan-wook and tells the tale of a maid installed in a wealthy woman’s household staff who is secretly a con artist working with a heartless partner.  IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (Focus World) stars John Travolta as a world-weary sheriff in a town in the Old West in which his troublemaking son picks a feud with a mysterious drifter who has a skeleton or two in his closet, which escalates into mayhem; it opens in limited release. KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (20th Century Fox) stars Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher as a couple who become obsessed with a mysterious seemingly perfect couple who move in next door but turn out to be much more than they seem. OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (Universal) is a prequel to the surprise 2014 hit and establishes how the house and its accompanying Ouija board got haunted. It’s not a pretty story.

OCTOBER 28, 2016

Opening in limited release THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (Sony Classics) is a documentary chronicling the attempt of a 13-year-old Mongolian girl struggling to become the first female to become an Eagle Hunter, a prestigious position in which trained eagles are used to hunt.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

CRIMSON PEAK (Universal) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $31.1M Total: $74.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE MARTIAN (20th Century Fox) Budget: $108M. Domestic Gross: $228.4M Total: $630.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.
PAN (Warner Brothers) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $35.1M Total: $128.4M Verdict: Flop.
BRIDGE OF SPIES (DreamWorks) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $72.3M Total: $165.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS (Universal) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $2.2M Total: $2.3 Verdict: Flop.
SUFFRAGETTE (Focus) Budget: $14M. Domestic Gross: $4.7M Total: $32.0 Verdict: Made Money.
STEVE JOBS (Universal) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $34.4M Verdict: Broke Even.
LEGEND (Universal) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $1.9M Total: $43.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
GOOSEBUMPS (Columbia) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $80.1M Total: $150.2M Verdict: Made Money.
SCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (Paramount) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $3.7M Total: $14.9M Verdict: Flop.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (Summit) Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $27.4M Total: $140.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
BURNT (Weinstein) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $13.7M Total: $36.6M Verdict: Lost Money.

NOVEMBER

As the cold weather begins to make its appearance in earnest, the cold hearts of studio accountants are warmed by the thoughts of potential blockbusters coming their way. This year, Marvel gets mystical with their second film of the year while J.K. Rowling makes a welcome return to the cinematic medium. Disney makes a bid for more animated income and director Ang Lee looks to garner Oscar gold with his latest film.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

THE ONE TO WATCH

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Zoë Kravitz, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Gemma Chan, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: Newt Scamander is returning home to England in the 1920s after a global excursion in which he has been cataloguing and collecting magical creatures. A stopover in New York City proves disaster as a no-maj (American for muggle) inadvertently lets some of these creatures loose on an unprepared city.
PROSPECTS: The return of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is being met with extreme anticipation; her Harry Potter series is one of the most profitable of all time.
OBSTACLES: Muggle cinema viewers may not be as eager to see a Wizarding World film without Harry Potter in it.
FACTOID: Rowling, who is making her screenwriting debut, has characterized the film as a spin-off or extension of the Potter universe without being a direct prequel or sequel; no characters from the Potter books appear here (although Scamander is mentioned as the author of the textbook of the same name and has his own chocolate frog card).

THE OTHERS TO SEE

DOCTOR STRANGE

RELEASE DATE: November 4, 2016
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Scott Adkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: A gifted surgeon is badly injured in an auto accident and loses the use of his hands. Devastated by his loss, he discovers a secret world within our own, one of magic and mysticism. He must learn to put aside his ego and become the sorcerer supreme, protector of the mortal realm from threats from other planes.
PROSPECTS: This will be another very different Marvel movie, and much like Guardians of the Galaxy has the opportunity to defy expectations and once again break the bank at the box office.
OBSTACLES: May be a bit too much like Christopher Nolan’s non-Batman films to ignore.
FACTOID: The creators of the character, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, based the comic book appearance of Dr. Strange on Vincent Price. They even gave him the middle name of Vincent in tribute.

TROLLS

RELEASE DATE: November 4, 2016
STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation/Fox
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Anna Kendrick, Zoey Deschanel, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, John Cleese, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, Christine Baranski, Ron Funches
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: When the Trolls are kidnapped from their village by the villainous Bergens, only the terminally optimistic Poppy and the equally as pessimistic Branch remain to save their fellow Trolls.
PROSPECTS: The voice cast is literally an all-star cast; while we didn’t have room to list everyone, there are a lot of familiar voices that will be in play.
OBSTACLES: The trailers for the movie have been underwhelming.
FACTOID: The original trolls were created by Thomas Dam in Gjøl, Jutland, Denmark in 1958.

MOANA

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, Temuera Morrison
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: A brave Pacific Islander teen girl must make a perilous voyage to save her people. Aided by the disgraced demigod Maui, she will battle impossible odds and terrifying creatures in the open ocean to fulfill an ancient quest and bring her people to a beautiful paradise.
PROSPECTS: Although the Pixar division gets the lion’s share of attention, Disney’s own animated division has been putting out some very nice films of their own as of late.
OBSTACLES: Anyone remember Lilo and Stitch?
FACTOID: Lin-Manuel Miranda, best known for his work for Hamilton, is the composer of the music and co-writer of the songs. Should he win an Oscar here, he will become just the third person ever to win a Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (joining Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Rodgers).

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

BAD SANTA 2

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2016
STUDIO: Miramax/Broad Green
STARRING: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, Jeff Skowron, Jenny Zigrino
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: Willie Soke returns with his angry sidekick Marcus as the two prepare to knock over a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. This time they’re joined by Willie’s horror show of a mother.
PROSPECTS: This is as cult film as it gets; the first Bad Santa remains a Christmas favorite for people who don’t particularly like Christmas.
OBSTACLES: It’s been 13 years since the original, and while it did decent box office and had a pretty good home video run, its popularity really hasn’t endured.
FACTOID: Bernie Mac co-starred in the original but has passed away since then; his role was not recast out of respect.

WORTH A LOOK

NOVEMBER 4, 2016

HACKSAW RIDGE (Summit) is the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector who ever received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. LOVING (Focus) is also a true story, this time regarding the interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving which was deemed illegal by the state of Virginia. The couple fought this injustice and took it all the way to the Supreme Court, paving the way for anyone to marry whomever they love regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation.

NOVEMBER 11, 2016

ALMOST CHRISTMAS (Universal) is a Christmas comedy about a beloved family patriarch whose wish is for one more Christmas with the entire family together under one roof. However, if this dysfunctional family can manage to make it five days without killing one another it will be a miracle of Biblical proportions. ARRIVAL (Paramount) stars Amy Adams as one of the world’s most expert linguists who is brought in to do the most important work of her career – to help translate for an alien race that has landed in their spacecraft as mankind teeters on the brink of a global war. This is the latest from director Denis Villeneuve who is rapidly becoming one of the best in the business. BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (TriStar) is director Ang Lee’s latest as an Iraqi War veteran who survived a harrowing battle is brought home temporarily for a victory tour, culminating in a spectacular halftime show for a Thanksgiving Day football game. As the pomp and circumstance unspools, we learn what really happened in Iraq – and how it differs from our own perceptions of the realities of war. ELLE (Sony Classics) which opens in limited release stars Isabelle Huppert as the ruthless CEO of a videogame company whose home invasion assault lands her in a vicious game with the man who attacked her. Also opening in limited release, SEASONS (Music Box) is a documentary about the seasons of the year and their effects on humans – and animals. SHUT IN (EuropaCorp/Relativity) stars Naomi Watts as a widowed child psychologist who lives an isolated, reclusive existence in New England. During a vicious winter storm she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

NOVEMBER 18, 2016

In THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (STX) an awkward high school junior with enough self-respect issues to begin with is mortified when her “golden boy” brother starts dating her BFF. Drama, drama, drama! MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) which is opening in limited release stars Casey Affleck as a troubled soul who is shocked to discover that when his older brother passes away unexpectedly that he has been made legal guardian of his nephew, forcing him to move back to the quiet Massachusetts fishing village where he grew up.

NOVEMBER 23, 2016

ALLIED (Paramount) comes to us from director Robert Zemeckis and stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as an Army intelligence officer and a French resistance fighter respectively who fall in love during a mission behind enemy lines and after being reunited in London find the pressures of war tearing them apart. BLEED FOR THIS (Open Road) is the story of boxer Vinny Pazienza, who suffered a broken neck in a car accident. Told he would never fight again, he risks everything to try and get back into the ring. This is opening in limited release on the 11th and then opening wide in time for Thanksgiving. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Focus) opens in New York and Los Angeles on the 18th and then in a limited run here and stars Amy Adams as an art gallery owner whose ex-husband writes a novel whose violence and depravity she interprets as a veiled threat against her. Tom Ford directs this from an Austin Wright novel. In RULES DON’T APPLY (20th Century Fox) Warren Beatty stars as the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes who hires a new driver who in turn falls for a devout Baptist starlet that Hughes takes an interest in.

NOVEMBER 25, 2016

Opening in limited release, LION (Focus) stars Dev Patel as a young man who as a five-year-old wandered on a train and was transported across India to Calcutta where he was discovered wandering in the streets by an Australian couple who adopted him. Years later, armed only with a handful of vague memories and Google Earth he sets out to find his home and true parents and in the process discover who he is. This is based on a true story.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

SPECTRE (MGM/Columbia) Budget: $245M. Domestic Gross: $200.1Total: $880.7M Verdict: Hit.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $99M. Domestic Gross: $130.2M Total: $246.2M. Verdict: Made Money.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 (Lionsgate) Budget: $160M. Domestic Gross: $281.7M Total: $653.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE 33 (Warner Brothers) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $12.2M Total: $24.9M. Verdict: Flop.
TRUMBO (Bleecker Street) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $7.9M Total: $8.2M Verdict: Flop.
CREED (MGM/New Line) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $109.8M Total: $173.67M Verdict: Blockbuster.
BROOKLYN (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $11M Domestic Gross: $38.3M Total: $62.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Disney) Budget: $200M Domestic Gross: $123.1M Total: $332.2M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE NIGHT BEFORE (Columbia) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $43.1M Total: $52.4M Verdict: Broke Even.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $5.8M Total: $34.2M Verdict: Flop.
THE DANISH GIRL (Focus) Budget: $15M Domestic Gross: $11.1M Total: $64.2M Verdict: Big Hit.

DECEMBER

The last month of the year is often a profitable one as Hollywood counts on people hitting the multiplex while out Christmas shopping. This year should be no exception as we return to the land of Star Wars for a standalone tale that fills in the blanks for the very first film in the franchise, the cinematic debut of a videogame franchise, a star pairing between Jennifer Laurence and Chris Pratt and a new musical from the director of Whiplash.

Star Wars Rogue One

THE ONE TO WATCH

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, James Earl Jones, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Warwick Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Jimmy Smits
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: Have you ever wondered how those plans of the Death Star wound up in the hands of the Rebellion? Wonder no more.
PROSPECTS: Well, the Star Wars universe is alive and well after the reboot last year took the world by storm. While there are a few familiar faces here, this is again mostly an all-new cast and is the very first standalone Star Wars film.
OBSTACLES: It’s a new concept for the franchise and…oh, who are we kidding? Expect big box office pretty much no matter what.
FACTOID: Both Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly appeared in Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Jedi as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, respectively and are reprising those roles here.

OTHERS TO SEE

LA LA LAND

RELEASE DATE: December 2, 2016 (New York/LA; opens limited 12/9 and wide 12/16)
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Callie Hernandez
GENRE: Musical
STORY: A man and a woman come to Hollywood to find their dreams and instead find each other. However as they also find success, stardom threatens to rip them apart.
PROSPECTS: This is a unique spin on the old-time Hollywood musical by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. The film has enormous buzz and may be an Oscar contender as his first film was.
OBSTACLES: Musicals have largely been hit and miss at the box office as of late, although they tend to have a better chance of success this time of year.
FACTOID: Stone and Simmons have experience in Spider-Man films; Simmons played J. Jonah Jameson in the original trilogy, Stone played Gwen Stacy in the Amazing-Spider Man films.

ASSASSIN’S CREED

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2016
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Callum Turner, Brian Gleeson
GENRE: Adventure
STORY: An executed criminal who has been resurrected discovers he is part of an ancient order of assassins and is sent back in time to occupy the body of an ancestor in order to stop a plot by an oppressive and ruthless order.
PROSPECTS: This is one of the most cinematic of the videogame franchises and the star power of Fassbender and Cotillard should be able to attract some non-gamers into the theaters.
OBSTACLES: “Based on the popular videogame franchise” hasn’t exactly been magic when it’s come to box office.
FACTOID: During the fabrication of a set in Malta, the island was struck by a hurricane and the set damaged, causing a slight delay.

PASSENGERS

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2016
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Jennifer Laurence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Aurora Perrineau, Kimberly Batista, Vince Foster
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: On a spaceship travelling to a distant planet on a 120-year journey, a malfunction wakes a mechanic a century early. Alone with only robots for company, he impulsively wakes a passenger. They fall in love but soon realize that something is very wrong with their ship.
PROSPECTS: Pratt and Laurence are two of the biggest stars in Hollywood at the moment.
OBSTACLES: There hasn’t been a lot of buzz about this and the studio has been a bit reticent to release a trailer or any footage, not a good sign.
FACTOID: This was originally developed as a star vehicle for Keanu Reeves with Rachel McAdams in the female lead.

SING

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2016
STUDIO: Universal/Illumination
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Leslie Jones, Nick Offerman, Seth MacFarlane, John C. Reilly
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: A desperate theater owner decides that the only way to save his struggling venue is to stage a major singing competition, which attracts other desperate sorts trying to seize a chance at a better life.
PROSPECTS: Illumination has released some of the most successful animated features of the last five years. The trailer is absolutely charming.
OBSTACLES: The fourth movie this year with anthropomorphic animals which might have worn out its welcome.
FACTOID: The first animation that MacFarlane has voiced that he didn’t have creative input for.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

THE SPACE BETWEEN US

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2016
STUDIO: STX Entertainment
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery, Colin Egglesfield
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: The first human to be born on Mars comes to Earth to discover who his father is, but finds that he can only live a short time on Earth.
PROSPECTS: A pretty decent cast and a solid premise will attract at least a little bit of attention.
OBSTACLES: Has more of a young adult romance novel feel more than science fiction which might put off sci-fi fans.
FACTOID: The first movie to film at New Mexico’s Spaceport USA.

WORTH A LOOK

DECEMBER 2, 2016

INCARNATE (High Top), opening in limited release, stars Aaron Eckhart as an exorcist confronted by the demons of his past – literally. In KEEP WATCHING (Screen Gems) two serial killers break into a family’s home, which is unbeknownst to them filled with hidden cameras documenting their every move. KIDNAP (Relativity) stars Halle Berry as a desperate mother willing to go to any extreme to get back her kidnapped son. MAN DOWN (Lionsgate) is about a war veteran trying to come to grips with his past and his present in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

DECEMBER 9, 2016

THE BYE-BYE MAN (STX Entertainment) is a horror film about an evil entity that possesses you when you think about his name – and then forces you to do unspeakable horrors. MISS SLOANE (EuropaCorp/Relativity) is about a ruthless lobbyist who will do anything it takes to win, even if it means hurting the ones she loves most. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY (Paramount) features an all-star cast and is about a branch office that puts on an epic Christmas party in order to impress a would-be client and save all their jobs.

DECEMBER 16, 2016

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (New Line) stars Will Smith as an advertising executive who retreats from life after a profound tragedy. His colleagues devise a drastic plan to force him to confront his grief and return to the land of the living. Denzel Washington stars in FENCES (Paramount) as an African-American father trying to raise his family in the 1950s; the movie opens in limited release and gets a wide release on Christmas day. THE FOUNDER (Weinstein) is the story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who saw the potential in a regional restaurant chain and decides to take it national, trampling on the original founders of the restaurant whose name it bears; McDonalds. The movie is getting a limited Oscar qualification run before opening wide on January 20th..

DECEMBER 21, 2016

JULIETA (Sony Classics) opening in limited release is master Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s latest and is about a mother’s struggle to survive the uncertainty of parenthood. PATRIOT’S DAY (CBS) chronicles the events of the Boston Marathon bombing; it gets an Oscar qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles (also opening in Boston) before going to a wide release on January 13th.

DECEMBER 23, 2016

A MONSTER CALLS (Focus) is about a grieving little boy’s retreat into a world of the fantastic and how it teaches him to deal with faith, loss and love. Liam Neeson stars as the monster. The film is getting an Oscar qualifying run before opening everywhere on January 6th,

DECEMBER 25, 2016

GOLD (Dimension) stars Matthew McConaughey as a modern day prospector searching for his fortune in the jungles of Indonesia; the movie is opening in limited release. Also opening in limited release, TONI ERDMANN (Sony Classics) is a German comedy about a practical joker of a father trying to get the attention of his corporate daughter. WHY HIM? (20th Century Fox) features Bryan Cranston as a straight-laced dad whose daughter falls for a socially awkward Silicon Valley billionaire (James Franco) whom he despises.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Disney) Budget: $245M. Domestic Gross: $936.7M Total: $2.01B Verdict: Blockbuster.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $25.0M Total: $93.9 Verdict: Flop
SISTERS (Universal) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $87.0M Total: $105.0M Verdict: Hit.
CONCUSSION (Columbia) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $34.5M Total: $48.6M Verdict: Lost Money.
JOY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $56.5M Total: $101.1M Verdict: Lost Money.
MACBETH (Weinstein) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $1.1M Total: $16.3M Verdict: Flop.
KRAMPUS (Universal) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $42.7M Total: $61.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
DADDY’S HOME (Paramount) Budget: $69M. Domestic Gross: $150.4M Total: $240.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Weinstein) Budget: $44M. Domestic Gross: $54.1M Total: $155.8M Verdict: Hit.
THE REVENANT (20th Century Fox) Budget: $135M. Domestic Gross: $183.6M Total: $533.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP (20th Century Fox) Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $85.9M Total: $234.8M Verdict: Made Money.
POINT BREAK (Warner Brothers) Budget: $105M. Domestic Gross: $28.8M Total: $133.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
YOUTH (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $2.7M Total: $24.0M Verdict: Lost Money.

Well, that will bring the movie release schedule for 2016 to a close. As always, there will be changes but most of the big ticket items are pretty much set where they are. As you can see there’s a lot of variety to choose from and a lot of great movies to look forward to. 2017 is going to be another engaging year as well with some long-awaited sequels and series installments. A number of movies originally scheduled for 2016 will be making their appearance in 2017 but we’ll get into all that – in our 2017 preview post which should be available at the end of December. In the meantime, we at Cinema365 hope you enjoyed our preview for the upcoming fall and holiday movies and hope you found a few here that have whet your appetite for the multiplex. We’ll see you there – don’t forget to bring the popcorn and soda!