Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Shall we dance?

(2017) Fantasy (Disney) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ray Fearon, Haydn Gwynne, Gerald Horan, Nathan Mack, Clive Rowe, Thomas Padden, Gizmo, Rita Davies, Adrian Schiller, Harriet Jones, Zoe Rainey. Directed by Bill Condon

 

Disney has of late taken the strategy of remaking animated classics as live action films. It has thus far been successful for them; Maleficent, Jungle Book and Cinderella have both been moneymakers for the studio. Now comes the most lavish and most recent of the animated classics to get a live action version.

The tale’s as old as time; Belle (Watson) is a bookish, intelligent young woman growing up in a provincial town in France in the 18th century. The daughter of Maurice (Kline), a widowed inventor, she happily borrows every book she can get her hands on and cheerfully ignores the advances of the young men of the town, particularly Gaston (Evans), a former soldier chafing in his idleness in a life of hunting and drinking, assisted by the loyal LeFou (Gad).

On the way to the market, Maurice gets chased by wolves onto the grounds of a creepy looking castle. It turns out to be inhabited by a dreadful Beast (Stevens) and living furniture who used to be the servants of the castle. When Maurice’s horse comes home without him, Belle knows something is wrong and races out to rescue her father. When she finds him locked up in a prison cell in the castle, shivering and sick, she offers to take his place and the Beast agrees.

What she doesn’t know is that the Beast and all who lived with him are victims of a curse leveled by a witch (Morahan) who was refused hospitality on a cold stormy night because she was ugly. Now time is running out on the curse which can only be broken by someone who loves the Beast and is loved by him. But Belle is beautiful; she can have any man she wants. Why would she want a Beast?

Although roughly based on the French fairy tale, this version more closely adheres to the 1991 Disney animated version and includes the songs written by the Oscar-winning duo of the late Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken and includes four new songs written by Mencken and lyricist Tim Rice. The results are lush and elegant, gathering many of the elements that worked so well in the original and transferring them note-perfectly into live action.

The production design here is intense and we feel that we are given a glimpse not necessarily into 18th century France so much as a France of myth and legend. It’s an idealized version that is at odds with the suffering amongst the poorer classes that was so great that they rose up and slaughtered their own ruling class. Here however, the ruling class in their rococo Versailles is beloved by the simple folk despite the cruelty and conspicuous consumption displayed by the palace’s occupant that was so egregious that he and all around him were cursed. Well, he had some daddy issues so I suppose he can be excused, right?

There also was much made over the “outing” of LeFou as Disney’s first outright gay character, but even that is a bit of a tempest in Mrs. Potts (Thompson). LeFou’s coming out consists of him dancing with another man (who is dressed as a woman for reasons I won’t get into here) for a few seconds of screen time at the movie’s conclusion. Considering the brouhaha it created in the religious right, I’m not surprised Disney is taking baby steps towards inclusion (there are also a couple of interracial couples among the castle’s inhabitants) but it does feel like the studio didn’t have the courage of their convictions here.

Still, one must commend them for at least trying and for not bending to pressure, refusing to re-cut the movie for Malaysian censors who banned the film from their country based on those few seconds of screen time. Personally, I think the studio should have cut the film a little more judiciously; it runs over two hours long which is about 45 minutes longer than the original animated feature. Condon and writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spillotopoulos flesh out the backstory, explaining why Belle’s mother is out of the picture and why the Beast’s human prince was such a rotten individual among other things and it makes the movie a little too ponderous for its own good. Several little princesses in full regalia at the screening Da Queen and I attended got extremely restless during the movie’s final half hour.

But the ending is definitely worth it. It is slightly different than the animated version and the difference is enough to really tug at the heartstrings and create an emotional catharsis that warms the cockles even as you’re wiping away the tears. I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did; everything I heard about it made me fear that it was a bloated mess and in some ways it is, but there is enough heart here that it actually becomes a worthwhile viewing. Plenty of little princesses are going to be demanding that their parents add this to their video collection not too long down the line when it becomes available.

Chances are, you’ve already seen this and if you haven’t, I strongly urge you see it on the big screen while you still can. The amazing special effects deserve the best possible presentation. Even if you aren’t required to see it by a child in your life, this is actually a fine motion picture for adults, if for no other reason the nostalgia that it evokes. It truly is a tale old as time.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are gorgeous. The film has a lot more heart than you’d expect from an effects-heavy fantasy.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a little too much ephemera.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and action sequences, scenes of peril and a few frightening images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ian McKellen was originally offered the part of Cogsworth for the 1991 animated version and turned it down (David Ogden Stiers eventually took the role) but he chose to accept it this time out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cinderella
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Dinner

New Releases for the Week of March 17, 2017


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

(Disney) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Directed by Bill Condon

This live-action version of the beloved Disney animation contains the classic songs from the original as well as some brand new songs by original composer Alan Mencken and legendary lyricist Tim Rice. We all know the story; an inquisitive young girl rescues her father who has been poking around a castle where he shouldn’t have been and has been captured by a terrible Beast. She offers herself in his stead and stays at the castle where everything is alive – even the candlesticks. What she doesn’t know is that a curse has been laid on the Beast and his castle and time is running out on reversing it. It will take a miracle; after all, how could Beauty ever love a Beast?

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action violence, peril and frightening images)

The Belko Experiment

(BH Tilt/Orion/MGM) John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz. A group of American workers are trapped in a high rise where a mysterious voice orders them to kill some of their number – or more of them will be killed at random by the owners. And as things progress, the dog eat dog world of business turns into a deadly game of survival. James Gunn, director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wrote this.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Kedi

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Bülent Ustün. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is one of the world’s most ancient cities. They’ve had a tradition over the years of taking care of stray cats as a community. The cats have become an indelible part of Istanbul’s charm and personality. Told from a distinctly feline point of view, this is the viral cat video to end all viral cat videos.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Land of Mine

(Sony Classics) Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikel Boe Følsgaard. As World War II came to a close, German prisoners of war in Denmark are given a daunting task to complete before being allowed to return to their homes. They must clear a beach of literally thousands of land mines that had been placed there by the German army. The painstaking and crazy dangerous work is high stress and the Danes are not terribly happy about having the Germans around at all but slowly the Danes begin to see the Germans differently as the beach is slowly made safe again.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence, some grisly images, and language)

The Last Word

(Bleecker Street) Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall. A formidable woman, in the twilight of her life, has been of late reading obituaries of people she knows and finds that the obituary writer is making their somewhat ordinary lives sound extraordinary. She decides that having exerted control over everything her entire life she wants to read her obituary before she actually dies, but to get the kind of write-up she wants she may need to make a few changes. Cinema365 was privileged to be invited to a press screening for this; the review will run tomorrow.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for language)

The Sense of an Ending

(CBS) Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer. A recluse who is happy in his quiet existence is confronted with secrets from his past. This will force him to face that his flawed recollections of what actually happened are not the truth about his first love and that he has yet to experience the full consequences of decisions made long ago.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality, and brief strong language)

2017 Preview


2017 Preview

For the most part, 2016 was a very fruitful year for the studios. Ticket sales set records this year, although ticket prices are also up and attendance a little down. However records are also being generated for VOD and other home cinema sales, so people are watching movies in one form or another more than ever.

Disney has already set a studio box office record even before three of their major year-end releases had come out; one has to look at their box office offerings like Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, The Jungle Book and Zootopia not to mention the overlap from Star Wars: The Force Awakens which kept them rolling in it at the beginning of the year, with Doctor Strange, Moana and Rogue One keeping the bean counters happy at year’s end. Fox had a big year as well, with The Revenant, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Deadpool bringing in big numbers; Universal countered with The Secret Life of Pets, Jason Bourne and Warcraft. Warner Brothers got box office success from their DC properties Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad as well as The Legend of Tarzan and The Conjuring 2 bringing in the bacon. Sony bounced back from an off year with The Angry Birds Movie and Ghostbusters while The Mermaid set box office records in Asia. Lionsgate/Summit had success with Now You See Me 2 while Paramount could crow about Star Trek Beyond and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

There are plenty of reasons to look forward to 2017 cinematically; Marvel and DC will continue to crank out movies all year long (seven between the two competing comic book companies) and there will be plenty of sequels. reboots and returns to make plenty of fanboys quiver with delight. We’ll get to all of that in just a moment.

As usual, Cinema365 will be covering our local Florida Film Festival in April of 2017 but on top of that we have been covering out of town festivals as well, and we’re hoping that will continue throughout the year. We’re committed here to presenting not just the big budget Hollywood spectaculars but also the independent movies, foreign films and microbudget indies that range from “why did I bother” to “absolutely delightful” to even life changing from time to time. Some of our top ten movies will be coming from sources that have nothing to do with Hollywood and that will likely continue to be the case next year.

Our previews will continue to run, including our weekly new release preview which details what’s opening in the Orlando area (where Cinema365 currently calls home), Pick of the Litter which details our choices for movies to look out for every month, to our Coming Soon pages which let you know what’s on the horizon, and of course our quarterly preview specials of which this is the first of 2017. We’ve also instituted mini-reviews for movies we haven’t had time to write full reviews for, which will hopefully start to make a dent in the backlog of movies we’ve seen over the past few years but simply haven’t had the bandwidth to get to. We’re adding coverage of direct-to-streaming films for services like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo and Hulu since so many of our readers see the bulk of their movies in that medium.

But enough of the appetizer; it’s time to get to the meat of the matter. Dive on in to the 2017 preview and hopefully like what you see here and we’ll look for you at the multiplex in 2017!

JANUARY

Generally the year begins with movies who did their Oscar qualifying run in New York and L.A. in 2016 finally making it out to the rest of the country and there are some possible dandies there, including Ben Affleck’s most recent stint in the director’s chair, a biopic of a fast food giant and a look at the unsung heroes of the space program. In addition, you can check out the return of an extreme superspy, the final entry in a videogame film franchise and what could be M. Night Shyamalan’s most twisted film yet.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

MUST- SEE

XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2017
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Donny Wen, Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone
GENRE: Spy Action
STORY: Extreme athlete, YouTube star and retired spy Cage finds himself forced back into the game when a ruthless counterpart goes after a megaweapon known only as Pandora’s Box. Cage will have to assemble a new team of thrill seeker Type-A sorts to save the day and look dope while doing it.
PROSPECTS: Not a lot of competition in 2017 month number one in turns of action so those who are tired of Rogue One and looking for something new might be ready to embrace this.
OBSTACLES: The original xXx was released 15 years ago (we won’t even mention the abortion of a sequel) and the concept might well have seen its time come and go.
FACTOID: The first two films in the series were distributed by Columbia but the franchise has now moved over to Paramount.

SHOULD-SEE

A MONSTER CALLS

RELEASE DATE: January 6, 2017
STUDIO: Focus
STARRING: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Ben Moor, James Melville, Jennifer Lim, Liam Neeson (voice)
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: A young boy dealing with the serious illness of his mother and ongoing bullying at his school escapes into a world of fantasy and monsters that help him face his fears, deal with loss and find his faith.
PROSPECTS: Although this might be a bit heavy for family viewing, the award-winning book the movie is based on has helped thousands of children deal with difficulties in their own lives and hopefully the movie will do the same.
OBSTACLES: As I said, a bit heavy for family viewing and without a few Oscar nominations to buoy its profile it might just get lost in the end-of-the-year awards season deluge.
FACTOID: The newest Spider-Man, Tom Holland (who previously worked with director J.A. Bayona in The Impossible) was the stand-in for the monster.

LIVE BY NIGHT

RELEASE DATE: January 13, 2017
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Scott Eastwood, Elle Fanning, Anthony Michael Hall, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper
GENRE: Crime Drama
STORY: An ambitious Boston mobster during Prohibition commits a cardinal sin in the underworld; he steals the money and the moll of his boss. This propels the young outlaw out of New England and into Tampa’s steamy rum-running underworld where he might get the revenge he craves.
PROSPECTS: Affleck’s last two films were both big hits and Oscar contenders.
OBSTACLES: The early reviews for this one have been less than enthusiastic.
FACTOID: This is the second time Affleck has directed a movie based on a Dennis Lehane novel (the first was Gone Baby Gone).

SPLIT

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2017
STUDIO: Universal/Blumhouse
STARRING: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Kim Director, Brad William Henke, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley
GENRE: Horror
STORY: A man suffering from multiple personalities – 23 distinct ones that he has revealed to his trusted psychiatrist – is compelled to abduct three teenage girls as the barriers between his personalities begins to shatter, revealing a horrifying 24th personality.
PROSPECTS: Director M. Night Shyamalan delivered the top grossing horror movie of 2015 the last time out. The studio has been giving his latest some heavy support.
OBSTACLES: It’s unclear if Shyamalan has redeemed himself after a string of critically and commercially panned movies dropped him from fan favorite director status.
FACTOID: This is the second time McAvoy has played someone with multiple personalities – the first time was in 2013’s Filth.

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

RELEASE DATE: January 27, 2017
STUDIO: Screen Gems
STARRING: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Ruby Rose, Iain Glen, Shawn Roberts, William Levy, Eoin Macken, Rola, Jun-ki Lee, Ever Gabo Anderson
GENRE: Horror
STORY: With Alice having survived what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead, she must go to where it all began – the Hive in Raccoon City where the Umbrella Corporation is planning a final assault on the survivors of the Apocalypse. One way or another, it all ends here.
PROSPECTS: This is the final installment of the most successful film franchise based on a video game ever. This is one of the few video game to film adaptations that has consistently worked.
OBSTACLES: The movie has been delayed a couple of times and pushed into the no man’s land of the movie schedule.
FACTOID: Milla Jovovich is the only actor to appear in every film of the Resident Evil franchise.

COULD-SEE

RED TURTLE

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2017
STUDIO: Sony Classics
STARRING:
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: A castaway is stranded on an island populated only by turtles, crabs and birds.
PROSPECTS: Has received massive acclaim around the world due to its incredible animated imagery and compelling story.
OBSTACLES: An animated film without any dialogue means no big stars to bring in audiences…
FACTOID: This is the first film produced by Studio Ghibli that was not made in Japan.

MIGHT-SEE

January 6, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox) recently got a boost with some Golden Globe nominations; fresh off of an Oscar qualifying run, the film opens wide the first week of January, telling the story of three African-American women who played an important role in the space race at a time when their color got them excluded from opportunity and their gender did the same. UNDERWORLD BLOOD WARS (Screen Gems) is the latest chapter in the war between the vampires and the werewolves; once again it features Kate Beckinsale in the role of a remorseless vampire caught between saving the human race and fighting the evil Lycans.

January 13, 2017

Opening in limited release, THE BOOK OF LOVE (Freestyle/Electric) features Jason Sudeikis as an introverted architect befriended by a spunky teenage girl. Together they help complete the other with the architect designing a raft that will help the teen fulfill her lifelong dream. THE BYE-BYE MAN (STX Entertainment) is a kind of a boogie man who if you think about him possesses you to do unspeakable acts of brutality; the problem is you’re thinking about him now. Just like The Game, no? THE COMEDIAN (Sony Classic) which is opening in limited release stars Robert De Niro as an aging stand-up comic who just when he thought his career was finished meets a woman who helps him find himself in surprising ways. MONSTER TRUCKS (Paramount) is a family film about a strange creature that is all about speed that is accidentally welded into a made-from-scratch truck. PATRIOT’S DAY (CBS) is the third pairing of director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg in a true life drama, this one about the Boston Marathon bombing. It will have already opened in New York, Los Angeles and Boston for an Oscar qualifying run. SLEEPLESS (Open Road) stars Jamie Foxx as a corrupt cop desperately fighting to get his son back from the mobsters he’s stolen from.

January 20, 2017

Also expanding after an Oscar qualifying run, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (A24) is set in the 70s and follows a mother and daughter who are navigating the sexual turmoil of the times. THE FOUNDER (Weinstein) is the story of Ray Kroc, the former CEO of McDonald’s who took a regional burger joint and turned it into a multi-billion dollar franchise without a whole lot of regard for those who stood in his way. Michael Keaton stars in the title role.

January 27, 2017

A DOG’S PURPOSE (Universal) is a touching family film following a loyal, loving dog through several incarnations, all of whom show how much more we rely on our dogs than they rely on their humans. GOLD (Dimension) stars Matthew McConaughey as a modern-day prospector whose dogged search for the mother lode pays off – but keeping his hard-earned find from corporate piranhas is even harder than finding it in the first place.

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. These totals don’t include ancillary merchandising, home video sales or broadcast/cable sales, all of which are sure to push the bottom line beyond profitability. When production budgets aren’t available, I’ll be making a guess based on production values and star power. 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.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Weinstein) Budget: $44 Million. Domestic Gross: $54.1M Total: $155.8M Verdict: Hit.
THE REVENANT (20th Century Fox) Budget: $135M. Domestic Gross: $183.6M Total: $533.05M Verdict: Big Hit.
RIDE ALONG 2 (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $90.9M Total: $124.3M Verdict: Hit.
KUNG FU PANDA 3 (DreamWorks/Fox) Budget: $145M. Domestic Gross: $143.5M Total: $519.9M Verdict: Hit.
THE FINEST HOURS (Disney) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $27.6M Total: $52.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE FOREST (Focus) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $26.6M Total: $37.6M Verdict: Hit.
THE 5TH WAVE (Columbia) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $34.9M Total: $109.9 Verdict: Made Money.
13 HOURS (Paramount) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $52.9M Total: $69.4 Verdict: Lost Money.
THE BOY (STX) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $35.8M Total: $64.2 Verdict: Big Hit.
JANE GOT A GUN (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $1.5M Total: $3.0 Verdict: Flop.
DIRTY GRANDPA (Lionsgate) Budget: $11.5M. Domestic Gross: $35.6M Total: $94.1 Verdict: Big Hit.
NORM OF THE NORTH (Lionsgate) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $17.1M Total: $27.4 Verdict: Lost Money.

FEBRUARY

February as far as 2017 is concerned is the year of the rescheduled; no less than eight of the movies scheduled for release in the shortest month of the year as of this writing were previously scheduled before then. Hopefully some of them will prove worth the wait, as we’ll be seeing a version of a young adult novel about a boy born on Mars falling in love with an Earth-born girl, the latest from fan favorite director Gore Verbinski, the second installment of a franchise based on a hit mommy porn novel series, Chinese master director Zhang Yimou’s latest English-language film and the much-delayed reboot of a hit J-horror franchise.

The Great Wall

MUST- SEE

THE GREAT WALL

RELEASE DATE: February 17, 2017
STUDIO: Legendary/Universal
STARRING: Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Numan Acar, Eddie Peng, Han Lu, Kenny Lin
GENRE: Action
STORY: The Great Wall of China stretches 5500 miles long and took 1700 years to build. An elite fighting force makes a stand on that wall with the survival of humanity on the line against a foe that may not be beatable.
PROSPECTS: Director Zhang Yimou is one of the most visually innovative directors to come out of China. Given the resources of a major Hollywood studio, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with.
OBSTACLES: There has been a great deal of backlash regarding the casting of Damon in what is essentially a Chinese story.
FACTOID: This is the most expensive film ever made by Chinese filmmakers.

SHOULD-SEE

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

RELEASE DATE: February 10, 2017
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Keanu Reeves, Ruby Rose, Bridget Moynihan, Ian McShane, Peter Stormare, Thomas Sadoski, John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne, Common
GENRE: Action
STORY: Former hitman John Wick returns in another tale of mayhem.
PROSPECTS: The first movie has been hailed as one of the best action films of recent years.
OBSTACLES: The story has been kept under wraps, which might indicate that the filmmakers are much more concerned about the action than the story – not a good sign.
FACTOID: This will be the first time that Reeves and Fishburne have worked together since the Matrix trilogy concluded with The Matrix Revolutions in 2003.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

RELEASE DATE: February 10, 2017
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Will Arnett, Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Mariah Carey, Billy Dee Williams
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: The Dark Knight has been a lone wolf for a very long time but with the Joker’s latest bid to take over Gotham succeeding, the Caped Crusader may need to admit he needs some help – and learn to lighten up.
PROSPECTS: Batman was one of the big reasons that The LEGO Movie was a huge box office success.
OBSTACLES: Most of the creative team behind The LEGO Movie is not involved with this spin-off.
FACTOID: Williams, who plays Two-Face the alter ego of DA Harvey Dent, also played Dent in Tim Burton’s original Batman.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS

RELEASE DATE: February 17, 2017
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Carl Lumbly, Susanne Wuest, Adrian Schiller, Lisa Banes
GENRE: Thriller
STORY: An ambitious young executive is sent to fetch his company’s CEO from a “wellness resort” in the Alps and finds himself caught up in a mystery of illness, cures and life and death.
PROSPECTS: Director Gore Verbinski was responsible for launching the Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring franchises.
OBSTACLES: The movie has been flying under the radar with much less buzz than one would hope.
FACTOID: The movie was filmed at Castle Hohenzollern in the German Alps.

COULD-SEE

A UNITED KINGDOM

RELEASE DATE: February 17, 2017
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo
GENRE: Biographical Drama
STORY: The King of Botswana falls in love with a white London office worker and intends to marry her. South Africa, at the time just initiating its policy of apartheid, is infuriated at the thought of a biracial couple ruling an adjacent country and puts pressure on England to thwart the marriage, threatening an invasion of the much smaller Botswana if the couple actually marries.
PROSPECTS: Came out of the Toronto Film Festival as one of the most applauded films of the event.  David Oyelowo has been delivering some powerful performances as of late.
OBSTACLES: There may be little American interest in events of the UK.
FACTOID: The scenes in the couple’s home were filmed in the actual home that they lived in.

MIGHT-SEE

February 5, 2017

COLLIDE (Open Road) is a crime thriller about a young hustler caught in the middle of a power struggle between rival mob bosses (played by Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley!) with his girlfriend’s life hanging in the balance. RINGS (Paramount) reboots the iconic horror franchise, itself based on a Japanese horror classic. Having been rescheduled several times, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the franchise. THE SPACE BETWEEN US (STX) is a young adult adventure in which the first human born on Mars – now a teenage boy – falls in love with a girl on Earth. Wanting to find his father (his mother died without telling him his identity), he heads to the planet his species originated on to try and find answers although the gravity and other factors may kill him before he finds any.

February 10, 2017

FIFTY SHADES DARKER (Universal) continues the cinematic adaptations of the “mommy porn” series by E.L. James.

February 17, 2017

FIST FIGHT (New Line) features Ice Cube and Charlie Day as a couple of teachers who get into an altercation which is to be resolved in an after school fight, much to the consternation of one of the two of them. PATIENT ZERO (Screen Gems) is a horror film about a pandemic that infects the majority of humans and turns them into vicious, intelligent killers. One man, who alone can communicate with the infected, may hold the key to the survival of the species.

February 24, 2017

GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal) comes to us from Jordan Peele, one half of the duo of Key and Peele; in it a young African-American man visits the parents of his white girlfriend and discovers that a very sinister and nasty truth hides beneath their veneer of civility and acceptance. ROCK DOG (Summit) is an animated feature about a Tibetan dog who wants to be more than his village has available for him – he wants to be a rock and roll star. Opening in limited release, TULIP FEVER (Weinstein) stars Alicia Vikander as a woman trapped in an arranged marriage who finds passion with a young artist (Dane DeHaan) hired to paint her portrait during the tulip speculation madness of the 17th century.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

DEADPOOL (20th Century Fox) Budget: $58 Million. Domestic Gross: $363.1M Total: $782.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.
HAIL, CAESAR (Universal) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $30.1M Total: $63.2M Verdict: Made Money.
ZOOLANDER 2 (Paramount) Budget: $56M. Domestic Gross: $28.9M Total: $56.0M Verdict: Flop.
GODS OF EGYPT (Summit) Budget: $140M. Domestic Gross: $31, 2M.Total: $150.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE WITCH (A24) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $25.1M Total: $40.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
HOW TO BE SINGLE (New Line) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $46.8M Total: $112.3M Verdict: Hit.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (Screen Gems) Budget: $28M. Domestic Gross: $10.9M Total: $16.4M Verdict: Flop.
RACE (Focus) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $19.1M Total: $25.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
RISEN (Columbia) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $36.9M Total: $46.1M Verdict: Made Money.
EDDIE THE EAGLE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $23M. Domestic Gross: $15.8M Total: $46.2M Verdict: Broke Even.
TRIPLE NINE (Open Road) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $12.6M Total: $23.1M Verdict: Lost Money.

MARCH

As the spring film season begins, a few summer-like blockbusters begin to creep into the line-up this month, including the return of one of Hollywood’s iconic monsters, the final appearance of an actor in the role that broke him into the big time, the latest live action version of a Disney animated classic, an iconic anime getting a live action treatment and the return of a children’s television action classic now gone adult big time.

Kong: Skull Island

MUST- SEE

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2017
STUDIO: Warner Brothers/Legendary
STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Tian Jing
GENRE: Horror
STORY: An expedition to an uncharted Pacific island brings to light gigantic creatures, horrors from the dawn of time and a secret that will forever change our understanding of our place in the food chain.
PROSPECTS: Part of a new shared universe that includes the Pacific Rim and Godzilla franchises, the spectacle of a new Kong after Peter Jackson’s version will modernize the franchise.
OBSTACLES: Perhaps some franchises shouldn’t be modernized.
FACTOID: While the appearance of Kong in this version is based on the look of the 1933 version, the new one will stand approximately 100 feet tall – the tallest American version of Kong ever.

SHOULD-SEE

LOGAN

RELEASE DATE: March 3, 2017
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Doris Morgado, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant, Elise Neal, Eriq La Salle
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: A scarred and aging Wolverine is brought out of retirement by Professor X, who pleads with the former X-Man to protect a young female clone who may be the key to the survival of mutants.
PROSPECTS: Jackman has announced this will be his final go-round with the adamantium claws which will bring the fanboys out in force.
OBSTACLES: Neither of the Wolverine solo films thus far have been particularly memorable.
FACTOID: Stewart has also announced that this will be his final appearance as Professor X.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

RELEASE DATE: March 17, 2017
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen
GENRE: Family
STORY: A live-action version of the beloved fairy tale about plucky Belle, who willingly surrenders herself in exchange for the freedom of her father, to live in a cursed castle with a hideous beast and where the objects are all alive.
PROSPECTS: The animated and Broadway versions of this Disney classic have been licenses to print money; there’s no reason to believe this won’t be more of the same.
OBSTACLES: This will likely get unfavorable comparisons to the animated version.
FACTOID: Alan Mencken, who wrote the music for the animated version, returns to score the new movie as well as co-write some songs with famed lyricist Tim Rice.

POWER RANGERS

RELEASE DATE: March 24, 2017
STUDIO: Lionsgate/Saban
STARRING: Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader, Naomi Scott, Dacre Montgomery, Fiona Vroom, Becky G, Ludi Lin, RJ Cyler, David Denman
STORY: A group of five high school kids discover that they have been given amazing powers – and that they are the only ones who can save humanity from an alien menace.
PROSPECTS: Most of the kids into The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers back in the day are pushing 30 these days, with kids of their own. Expect a lot of dads in the theater for this one.
OBSTACLES: The Power Rangers haven’t really been a relevant force in kid vid for more than a decade now.
FACTOID: Cranston voiced two different creatures in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers film back in 1993.

GHOST IN THE SHELL

RELEASE DATE: March 31, 2017
STUDIO: DreamWorks
STARRING: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Wincott, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Rila Fukushima, Christopher Obi, Takeshi Kitano
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: A cyborg special ops investigator known as The Major heads an elite team in a future where robotics are a part of life but an unknown terrorist organization threatens that way of life.
PROSPECTS: The manga this is based on is extremely popular and Johansson is definitely a favorite of the fanboy community.
OBSTACLES: “Extremely popular manga” doesn’t yet translate to big box office.
FACTOID: Originally the producers wanted Margot Robbie for the role of the Major; however, she turned down the part and it went to Johansson instead.

COULD-SEE

T2: TRANSPOTTING

RELEASE DATE: March 3, 2017 (expands March 10)
STUDIO: TriStar
STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Ewan Bremner, Steven Robertson, Anjela Nedyalkova
GENRE: Dramedy
STORY: The original characters from the cult film return 20 years later to see how their various lives have turned out.
PROSPECTS: The film that launched Danny Boyle’s career has been a cult favorite from the day it was released.
OBSTACLES: There is not a lot of star power here and the fans of the film are not a numerous lot.
FACTOID: The original film was based on a novel; while a sequel to the original novel was written, the sequel to the film will be original material.

MIGHT-SEE

March 3, 2017

In BEFORE I FALL (Open Road) Zoey Deutch plays a young woman who has everything – until the day she dies. And to add insult to injury, she relives her last day over and over again. But why? And how? THE SHACK (Summit) is about a man struck by an unfathomable personal tragedy. In his suffering, he receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to “The Shack” and signed by “Papa,” his wife’s nickname for God. That note sends him on a journey that will transform his entire life. TABLE 19 (Fox Searchlight) features Anna Kendrick as a maid of honor who is relieved of her duties after being dumped by the best man. Refusing to miss the wedding of her oldest friend, she is seated at the misfits table in the back of the reception – which may prove to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

March 10, 2017

Opening in limited release, THE LAST WORD (Bleecker Street) is about a controlling industrialist who is now retired. She wants her obituary written while she’s still alive and hires a down-on-her-luck journalist to do just that. What results is that the industrialist discovers that not everything in her life has been written yet. Shirley MacLaine stars. In RAW (Focus World) a vegetarian who wants to be a veterinarian tries meat for the first time with horrific consequences. THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (CBS) stars Jim Broadbent as an elderly man whose perception of himself begins to take a beating when long-buried secrets resurface and force him to face the consequences of the decisions he made as a young man. THE WALL (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) is about two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper with nothing but a crumbling wall to protect them. This Doug Liman-directed war drama is opening in limited release.

March 17, 2017

Opening in limited release, 13 MINUTES (Sony Classics) is about an attempt on Adolph Hitler’s life that is unsuccessful – but would have changed the world had Hitler left a meeting 13 minutes later. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (Orion/Blumhouse) was written by James Gunn and is about an American company in South America whose employees are sealed in the building one day and mysteriously ordered to kill each other – or be killed. In FREE FIRE (A24) an arms deal goes horribly wrong when shots are fired during the hand-off of the weapons and what was a criminal transaction turns into a deadly game of survival.

March 24, 2017

CHIPS (Warner Brothers) is a big screen comedy version of the venerable TV cop procedural set in the California Highway Patrol. LIFE (Columbia) explores the consequences when the first alien life is discovered on a space station. The stellar cast includes Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. THEIR FINEST (EuropaCorp/STX) is a comedy about a British film crew trying to make a movie that will boost morale during the London Blitz. Opening in limited release, WILSON (Fox Searchlight) is based on the Daniel Clowes graphic novel and stars Woody Harrelson as a middle-aged misanthrope who decides to try to connect to the teenage daughter he never knew he had.

March 31, 2017

BOSS BABY (DreamWorks Animation) has a suspicious young boy discovering that his new baby brother who incongruously wears a business suit is involved in a plot to get rid of puppies. Grrrrr! Opening in limited release, STEP SISTERS (Broad Green) is about an ambitious African-American sorority sister who in order to get admitted to the Law School of her dreams must first teach a bunch of white sorority girls the fine art of Black Greek stepping. THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (Focus) stars Jessica Chastain in the true story of a Polish zookeeper’s wife who hides Jews in the empty cages of her zoo to avoid the Nazi purge of the Warsaw ghetto.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $250 Million. Domestic Gross: $330.4M Total: $873.3M Verdict: Blockbuster.
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (Paramount) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $23.1M Total: $23.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT (Summit) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $66.2M Total: $179.3M Verdict: Lost Money.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (Warner Brothers) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $615,816 Total: $6.2M Verdict: Flop.
THE BRONZE (Sony Classics) Budget: $3.5M. Domestic Gross: $33.1M Total: $615,816 Verdict: Flop.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (Universal) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $59.7M Total: $88.9 Verdict: Big Hit.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (20th Century Fox) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $3.0M Total: $14.3M Verdict: Likely Made Money.
LONDON HAS FALLEN (Focus World) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $62.5M Total: $205.8M Verdict: Hit.
ME BEFORE YOU (New Line) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $56.3M Total: $208.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (Open Road) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $6.9M Total: $25.2M Verdict: Flop.
THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (Relativity) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $2.4M Total: $2.4M Verdict: Flop.
EYE IN THE SKY (Bleecker Street) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $18.7M Total: $33.0M Verdict: Made Money.

APRIL

While April here in Orlando means time for the Florida Film Festival to roll in, everywhere else it means one last month before the summer blockbusters arrive but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few movies of interest arriving this month, including the eighth installment of one of the more profitable franchises of recent years, an adventure based on street magic and the latest nature documentary from DisneyNature.

The Fate of the Furious

MUST-SEE

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2017
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Jordana Brewster
GENRE: Action
STORY: A member of the family turns on the rest and in order to take him on they will have to ally themselves with a former enemy.
PROSPECTS: One of the most prolific and successful action franchises of the last 20 years seems to be getting better as it goes along.
OBSTACLES: It remains to be seen how the franchise does without Paul Walker in it.
FACTOID: This is the first film in the franchise to be set in New York City.

SHOULD-SEE

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE

RELEASE DATE: April 7, 2017
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Mandy Patinkin, Danny Pudi, Jack McBrayer
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: Smurfette discovers a map that leads to the mythical Lost Village. She and her friends engage in a race against time to find the village before the evil wizard Gargamel does.
PROSPECTS: The live action Smurf movies have done well and the animated Smurf shorts are classic children’s entertainment for generations.
OBSTACLES: Smurf movies have done better live action than they have as straight animation.
FACTOID: The producers decided to go the animated route after the death of Jonathan Winters, the voice of Papa Smurf in the live action films.

THE LOST CITY OF Z

RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2017 (limited; opens wide April 28)
STUDIO: Bleecker Street/Amazon
STARRING: Tom Holland, Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Angus Macfayden, Daniel Huttlestone, Nicholas Agnew
GENRE: Biographical Drama
STORY: The true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who discovered evidence that an unknown advanced civilization once existed on the Amazon and his obsession to find it.
PROSPECTS: A kind of real life Indiana Jones adventure might appeal.
OBSTACLES: Flying a little bit under the radar.
FACTOID: Holland had to wear a fake moustache for the film as he was unable to grow a suitable one yet.

UNFORGETTABLE

RELEASE DATE: April 21, 2017
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Robert Wisdom, Jayson Blair
GENRE: Thriller
STORY: After a bitter divorce, a man gets engaged to his girlfriend, hoping that he’ll finally have a relationship that makes him happy, but the ex-wife isn’t going to rest until she gets him back.
PROSPECTS: These kinds of thrillers tend to do good business this time of year.
OBSTACLES: The trailer doesn’t really show anything particularly enticing about the movie overall.
FACTOID: This is the directorial debut of long-time producer Denise Di Novi.

COULD-SEE

GIFTED

RELEASE DATE: April 12, 2017
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Chris Evans, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Keir O’Connell, Julie Ann Emery, Joe Chrest
GENRE: Drama
STORY: A single man takes on the responsibility of raising his niece after his sister passes away and vows to give her the normal childhood her mother wanted to give her. Those plans get quashed when the girl turns out to be a mathematics prodigy and when that ability comes to the attention of her formidable grandmother she threatens to tear apart the nascent family.
PROSPECTS: Evans has shown he can pull off the leading man thing, and Spencer always elevates every movie she’s in.
OBSTACLES: The story has a “been there done that” quality to it.
FACTOID: This is the first original screenplay (not adapted from another source) that Webb has filmed since (500) Days of Summer.

MIGHT-SEE

April 7, 2017

The latest from actor/director Zach Braff is GOING IN STYLE (New Line) as three lifelong friends – played by Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin watch helplessly as corporate interests wipe out their pensions. Desperate, they decide to rob the very bank that legally stole their pension in the first place. SLEIGHT (BH Tilt/WWE) which opens in limited release is about a savvy street magician who has to care for his little sister when his parents pass away. When he gets involved with the wrong element, his sister ends up being kidnapped and he must use his skills and his smarts to get her back safely. Opening in limited release, WONDER (Lionsgate) is about a severely disfigured young boy who proves to be an inspiration to everyone around him.

April 14, 2017

SPARK (Open Road) is an animated feature about a teenage monkey who must save a distant planet from an inter-galactic warlord. Opening in limited release is TOMMY’S HONOUR (Roadside Attractions) is the inspiring story of the founders of the game of golf.

April 21, 2017

BORN IN CHINA (DisneyNature) is the most recent release from Disney’s nature documentary label which looks at the flora and fauna of China.

April 28, 2017

THE CIRCLE (STX/EuropaCorp) stars Emma Watson as an employee at the world’s largest social media company but discovers that complete transparency, which the founder espouses, may be far more dangerous than she could have imagined. Tom Hanks co-stars. In HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER (Pantelion), a young man moves up the social ladder by seducing wealthy older women. When he marries one such who is twice his age, he is set in the lap of luxury. When she dumps him for a younger man a couple of decades later, he is forced to move in with his poor sister and nephew and sets out to rekindling his charm, but at this point in his life, is money the most important thing to consider? Opening in limited release, THE PROMISE (Open Road) is a love triangle set during the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Disney) Budget: $175 Million. Domestic Gross: $364.0M Total: $966.6M. Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE BOSS (Universal) Budget: $29M. Domestic Gross: $63.3M Total: $78.8M Verdict: Hit.
CRIMINAL (Lionsgate) Budget: $31.5M. Domestic Gross: $14.7M Total: $38.8M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (Universal) Budget: $115M. Domestic Gross: $48.4M Total: $165.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
RATCHET AND CLANK (Focus) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $8.8M Total: $13.0M Verdict: Flop.
BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (New Line) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $54.0M Total: $55.0M Verdict: Made Money.
MOTHER’S DAY (Open Road) Budget: $25M Domestic Gross: $32.5M Total: $43.8M Verdict: Lost Money
NINE LIVES (Relativity/EuropaCorp) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $19.7M Total: $44.2M Verdict: Lost Money.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (Paramount) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $3.4M Total: $4.6M Verdict: Flop.
DEMOLITION (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $2.0M Total: $4.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE GREEN ROOM (A24) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $3.2M Total: $3.8M Verdict: Flop

That’s it for now. Keep your eyes peeled for our Summer Preview at the end of April, followed by our next Fall/Holiday Preview at the end of August. We’ll have more Marvel goodness as well as the Universal horror universe getting underway as well as a shared cinematic universe of Giant monsters joining in. There will also be more entries into the DC Universe and a pair of Stephen King adaptations. Plenty of new entries in ongoing franchises will be presented as well as potential new franchises to be established. There is an awful lot to look forward to but there is certainly plenty here in the meantime to keep your cinematic urges satisfied. Don’t forget that the dates here are subject to change; there will doubtlessly already be some by the time you read this. To keep abreast of what’s being released, check out our weekly preview which will inform you as to what’s opening in the Orlando area that week, or our Coming Soon pages which go out a little bit further afield. We try to keep that as up to date as possible. In the meantime, there’s no time to waste – let’s go check out some of the bounty that will be 2017. See you at the multiplex!

Pick of the Litter – January 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth movie opens for the general public after an Academy qualifying run in New York and L.A. starting on Christmas Day. A bounty hunter bringing in a dangerous woman wanted for murder to be hanged in a small Colorado town is caught in a blizzard in a stagecoach stop in the Rockies. There, he finds a number of other characters, most up to no good in typical Tarantino fashion – and all connected in an unexpected way, also in Tarantino fashion. If you love this director’s body of work as I do, you too will be chomping at the bit for this one to arrive. January 8

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Diablo

Diablo

(Orion) Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camila Belle, Danny Glover. Westerns have been making something of a comeback of late, and there have been some very good ones hitting both the indie circuit and the big theaters. This one is about a man with a violent past who is provoked when his wife is kidnapped from their home. He goes after them with a vengeance, knowing that he might have to become something terrible in order to save her. Clint’s son does his first Western, and it looks like a good one. January 8

Yosemite

Yosemite

(Monterrey Media) James Franco, Henry Hopper, Steven Wiig, Barry Del Sherman. Set in 1985 in the wilds of Northern California, a mountain lion has been blamed for the disappearance of a young boy. One of his friends, whose parents are in the midst of a break-up, determines to hunt the lion and exact justice for the death of his friend. Out on the festival circuit, this has already been compared to Stand by Me as maybe the finest coming of age film of this generation which is high praise indeed. January 8

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

(Sony Classics) Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Dominic Cooper, Claire Foy. Playwright Alan Bennett gave a transient woman who lived in her broken-down van permission to stay in his driveway for a few weeks while she got the van repaired. That stay turned into fifteen years; this (mostly) true story shows the relationship between the two which grew over the years, and gives the background on the woman much of which Bennett found out only after she passed away. Smith’s performance has been raved about by the British press. January 15

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

(Lionsgate) Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux, André Dussollier, Eduardo Noriega. This tale as old as time is something of a national treasure in France, where it has been made several times into cinematic gold. This latest version is a sumptuous retelling of the famous fairy tale with Bond girl Seydoux as Beauty and French superstar Cassel as the Beast. Gorgeous sets and eye-popping visual effects make this version, which played in France in 2014, one to keep an eye out for. However, this may end up going direct-to-home video so be warned. January 20

Terminus

Terminus

(Vertical) Jai Koutrae, Kendra Appleton, Todd Lasance, Bren Foster. The world is falling apart. Starvation is rampant, and we stand on the brink of nuclear war. Then, in a small town in the middle of America, an asteroid falls, causing a working class man to crash his truck, but strangely he has not a scratch on him. And he begins to build something odd. The world is ending…or is it really beginning? January 22

 Jane Got a Gun

Jane Got a Gun

(Weinstein) Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich. Actually keeping my fingers crossed that this is at long last finally going to see the light of day. This film, directed by Gavin O’Connor, (Warrior) is about a former bad girl turned good whose family has run afoul of a vicious gang. In desperation, she turns to a gunslinger for help – a gunslinger she once was intimate with. The movie has been completed for something like three years; it has been repeatedly bounced down the schedule and has even changed distributors. The buzz around it had always been very high and with Westerns doing particularly well right now, this might be the right time for it to finally appear on your local art house screen. January 29

Beastly


Beastly

Alex Pettyfer is in need of a career makeover after this one.

(2011) Fantasy (CBS) Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, Dakota Johnson, Eric Knudsen, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Roc LaFortune, Gio Perez, David Francis, Miguel Mendoza, Steve Godin, Julie Dretzin. Directed by Daniel Barnz

People can be incredibly shallow; we make value judgments based on what we see alone. The way a person looks really does influence how they are treated in life which is often inversely true to how they deserve to be treated. Beauty is often skin deep, although not always.

Kyle (Pettyfer) seems to have it all. The son of a well-known local news anchor (Krause), he attends an exclusive Manhattan private school – an academy, don’t you know. He is running for the Green Committee chairman on a platform that beautiful is better. He doesn’t really care a whit about the environment – he just wants the position for his transcripts so that colleges will think better of him.

He wins but not by as great a margin as he would like to; that’s because the local Goth, Kendra (Olsen) has defaced his posters and badmouthed him. He concocts a plan to humiliate her at a party but that’s a bad idea; you never know when a Goth is a real, live witch who can afflict you with a curse. In Kyle’s case, the curse is to be ugly for a year; if he can find someone to say “I love you” by the year’s end, he’ll revert back to his handsome self. If not, he will be doomed to live that way forever.

So Kyle becomes afflicted with tattoos that seem irremovable; gashes with metallic staples in them, as well as boils and bubbly flesh as well as a bald head; all his sexy hair falls away. His dad is horrified; he takes him to doctors who basically tell him nothing can be done. Rather than take his son home, he banishes him to a townhouse on the Hudson where he claims he will visit from time to time, but never does. Apparently, the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the blighted tree.

Kyle, now going by the name of Hunter, is not alone in his exile; his housekeeper Zola (Hamilton) is sent along to see to his needs and a private tutor, the blind Will (Harris) is hired to take care of his schooling. None of this helps Kyle, who is brooding and angst-ridden. You can tell this because of the many montages set to moody emo songs.

However, there is hope; the lovely Lindy (Hudgens), a scholarship student who is not wealthy (although she is beautiful) who is forced to stay with Hunter and his crew when her drug-addicted dad (LaFortune) falls afoul of a drug dealer (Perez) – it’s a long story. As she begins to see the inner Hunter (who builds her a greenhouse on the roof of the brownstone to give her an idea of how sensitive he’s become), she begins to fall for the young man but the year is running out and before long, Kyle may remain Hunter…forever.

I have always had a problem with the whole Beauty and the Beast story, upon which this is based (it’s actually based on a young adult novel that was based in turn on the story). It doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions. We all know that the point of it is supposed to be that beauty is only skin deep, but how does that compute when the happily ever after has the beast returning to his handsome outer self?

The movie plays to all the teenage arrogances that piss off most adults. There is a hipper-than-thou vibe which is mildly irritating that comes from having characters who are mostly too rich and too pretty to give a crap about anything else other than their own selves and that never really changes much in the movie.

Pettyfer has a good deal of charisma, although his acting abilities haven’t yet caught up to it quite yet. Then again, that may be due to how the part is written. I really liked him in I Am Number Four; but not so much here. He has the looks and the screen presence to go far, but he frankly needs better performances than this one to get there.

Hudgens, a veteran of the Disney channel’s High School Musical movies, is dreadfully miscast here. She has a certain amount of charm, but has zero chemistry with Pettyfer. Her character is also badly underwritten; you never really get much look at the inside of Lindy who works with the homeless to show us how sensitive and caring she is, but otherwise is just like all the other students who are getting dissed for their insensitivity here. She certainly has a good deal of baggage in the film – a dead mom, an addicted dad – but we only get glimpses of the anger and pain this must be costing her.

The supporting cast is all right. Harris is always delightful, whether in his television show or his movie appearances. The trouble was we don’t get to see enough of him here. Olsen, yes of the Olsen twins fame, is actually revelatory here, making her character at least a little bit three-dimensional despite the white powder and Stevie Nicks wardrobe. She might be however *sob* a bit old for the role.

We all know where the movie is heading and the shallowness that the movie is wagging its finger at self-righteously in the end is celebrated. The movie is all about appearances and that is what bugged me the most. If you’re going to make a morality tale, at least have the courage to stick to your principles. I expected better from the director of Phoebe in Wonderland, a promising indie director who I still believe has some great films in him. This sure ain’t one of them.

I get the feeling this would have made an episode of “Gossip Girl” or “Glee” better than a motion picture. I don’t have a problem aiming a movie for the CW network audience, but I would hope that even movies aimed at that demographic would at least have something in it for parents dragged along to watch. No such luck here.

REASONS TO GO: There are some charming moments. Pettyfer is a star on the rise. Neil Patrick Harris is always a pleasure to see.

REASONS TO STAY: The message the movie sends is disturbing. Almost no chemistry between Hudgens and Pettyfer. The movie is a little too full of itself.

FAMILY VALUES: A few choice bad words and some drug references and even a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robert Pattinson and Zac Effron were rumored to be casting choices before the producers settled on Pettyfer.

HOME OR THEATER: Probably better on a home screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Brooklyn’s Finest

Top 5 Animated Features


While Planet 51 is something of a disappointment, animated features have been a major part of the Hollywood landscape since 1939 and with the advent of computer animation have become even more of a dominant force at the box office. While Pixar Studios has dominated both in terms of quality and box office, nearly every major studio has an animated division and the quality of some of these studios has been growing both in terms of animation and storytelling, with DreamWorks animation leading the way. Still, Disney and Pixar are the 400 pound gorillas of the genre, and when most aficionados come together to discuss their favorites, those two studios are going to receive the lion’s share of attention.

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While cartoon shorts had been a part of the landscape since the silent era, it wasn’t until Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) that Walt Disney thought to make a full-length movie of a cartoon. Even now, nearly 75 years later, the movie holds up. The hand-drawn artwork is simply astonishing in its beauty; Disney made sure that the first animated feature, a calculated gamble, had no expense spared. It remains one of the most beautiful animated features ever drawn. Shrek (2001) established DreamWorks Animation as a major player in the field and would inspire three sequels, paving the way for movies like Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens. Peppered with pop culture references and sly satire, the fairy tale gone hideously wrong sported an all-star cast and impressive animation in becoming the most successful feature animated franchise of all time. Akira (1988), based on one of Japan’s most honored comic books (manga) of all time would set the standards for anime, the uniquely Japanese form of animation. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the original manga, the finely-detailed world of Neo-Tokyo would become a hallmark of the kind of animation that would come out of Japan for the next two decades. A live action version of the movie has been in the works for decades but so far nothing has come of it. Finally, Bambi (1942) bears a personal place on this list – it is the first movie I ever saw in a theater, way back in 1964 when I was just four. Even today, I find myself entranced by the lush, verdant forest scenes and feel the tears welling up when Bambi’s mother is shot.

5. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

 

Animated features had always been somewhat looked down upon by critics and the Hollywood mainstream as “kids stuff” and ghettoized in that fashion – until this movie became the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It was the last movie to be worked on by composer Howard Ashman who passed away before the film was released, and features beautiful music and a timeless story. This was a movie to truly recapture Disney magic and is as good if not better than their classic animations, most of which could easily be on this list but this one was special. It also was a precursor to things to come with extensive digital animated sequences, including the ballroom scene depicted here, as well as hand-drawn animation. This is the favorite of many families, including ours.

4. THE PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997)

 

There are other works of Hayao Miyazaki that are better known and quite frankly, better respected than this one but it is this fantasy film that brought me into his world and has kept me there ever since. Miyazaki is perhaps the most respected animator working today and certainly one of the best ever to come out of Japan. In this allegory that depicts the conflict between nature and technology, he brings fantastic characters to life in an almost fable-like setting with hints of science fiction and high fantasy throughout. It’s a masterful work not only of animation but of storytelling as well, and while it never received the acclaim his other works (such as Spirited Away and Ponyo) got, it nonetheless is my favorite of his both sentimentally and critically.

3. THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

 

 It’s no secret that I’m a comic book junkie, particularly of the superhero variety. Yes, I love all those spandex wearing characters from DC to Marvel and when Pixar decided to make a feature length film about a superhero team that was also a family, I was over the moon to say the least. The final product didn’t disappoint. My initial fears that the genre would be disrespected and dumbed down (as other films like Zoom and Sky High had done) were groundless; this was clearly a labor of love that not only poked gentle fun at the genre but also told a compelling story about family dynamics changed by the advent of great powers. Something like the Fantastic Four done for the Family Channel with a villain straight out of a hip James Bond movie, I was enchanted by every moment of this movie which remains one of my all time superhero favorites.

2. FANTASIA (1940)

 

The idea of animation as a work of art had never really been as explored quite as completely as it did on this film, which was one of Walt Disney’s pet projects and clearly something close to his heart. Vignettes set to classical music pieces (such as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain) used whimsical Disney imagery to create a breathtaking work that elevates as it entertains. In many ways, Fantasia is a cultural landmark although it was never a commercial success; today it is best remembered for the one vignette featuring Mickey Mouse – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which was spun off into its own movie that had very little to do with the original. A sequel, Fantasia 2000 came out just in time for the new Millennium; while it captured the spirit of the original, it wasn’t quite as impressive.

1. UP (2009)

 

Only the second animated feature to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, this movie has clearly elevated the bar for animated features. Very few movies can walk the fine line between appealing to children and telling a sophisticated story that will stimulate adults, but this one does, creating timeless entertainment in the process. The opening montage telling the story of balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie is both charming and poignant and was one of the most memorable moments in the movies last year. It cements Pixar’s position as the most innovative studio of any sort out there, churning out high quality films year after year. Whether they can ever produce a movie this good again is almost irrelevant; the fact that they proved that it can be done has changed the standards for animated movies from disposable kids stuff to important cinema for everyone.