Top 10 of 2015


2015 Top 10After what I thought was kind of a down year in 2014, the overall quality of the movies I saw in 2015 went on the rebound and in general, I thought there were far better films in general than the year previous. A little more interestingly, I also thought that there were fewer movies that I’d give 10 out of 10 for this year, which is a bit of a dichotomy; better quality overall, but fewer slam dunks.

However, the films on this list were all as good as you’d find on the lists of any year previous with the top spot going to a movie that I thought was far and away the best film of the year – but oddly enough, very few people have seen it other than on streaming services. We’ll get to that in a moment, but the movies that followed were still of very high quality and are worth seeing every one.

While studio movies have tended to continue going with the traditional distribution model; a wide theatrical release followed by VOD/home video release once the movies are out of the theaters, then onto a premium cable outlet. They are still tending to avoid streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, although Lionsgate and Paramount have bucked that trend. With Netflix flexing its muscles more and more with indie films, having made some pre-emptive deals even before films were screened at Sundance, something tells me that the majors may start following suit and putting their films on streaming sites or even creating their own. It may not be this year but as more and more people go with Netflix and Chill, it makes good sense for the majors to start looking at that audience more carefully.

As with previous years, you can learn more about each movie on the top 10 list by clicking on the title to access my initial review, or clicking on the photo of the movie to go to the movie’s website or Facebook page when available. The other information given in each entry should be self-explanatory, with box office and critics’ scores available to help you give an idea of how audiences and film critics alike responded to these films.

As always, the list is entirely arbitrary. How I rank these movies today isn’t necessarily how I would rank them tomorrow. I am also ignoring half-points from the initial ratings so you might see a 9.0 ranked ahead of a 9.5. It’s my list. Deal with it. In any case, at the end of the day the order the films are ranked in is unimportant save for the number one movie of the year. The thing to remember is that all of these films including the honorable mention films are all of the highest quality and you can’t go wrong seeing any of them. Hopefully this list will suggest a few to you that you might have missed during the year or didn’t get distribution in your home town. Many of them will be already out on home video or VOD, while a few may still be in your local theaters. Do yourself a favor and try and see as many of these as you can. You won’t regret it.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So, in no particular order;

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Stepped Out of a Window and Disappeared, Love and Mercy, The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, A Brilliant Young Mind, Straight Outta Compton, My Life in China, 3 ½ Minutes, The Wrecking Crew, Bone Tomahawk, Sicario, Welcome to Leith, Mad Max: Fury Road, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Inside Out, The End of the Tour, Stink!, Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem, Room, Grandma, Phoenix, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

It Follows

10. IT FOLLOWS

(Radius) Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Bailey Spry, Carolette Phillips, Loren Bass, Charles Gertner, Debbie Williams. Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Released March 23, 2015 19-year-old Jay has just graduated from high school and it is a summer of transition – soon she’ll be going away to college and it is time for one last hurrah with her friends before they scatter, each to their own place. Everything is perfect; except they are being stalked by something terrifying and supernatural. After having had sex with a seemingly nice young man, Jay has attracted a supernatural entity to her and it is coming ever closer. Her only chance is to have sex with someone else and send the entity after them, although if it kills them it comes back after her. How do you escape the inescapable?
WHY IT IS HERE: An extremely clever concept, for one. After an acclaimed run at Sundance, the movie was given a very brief limited release but the numbers were so astounding that Weinstein hurriedly arranged for a wide release. The movie went on to be one of the more acclaimed horror movies of recent years.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The climactic swimming pool battle.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $14.7 million domestic, $20.3M total (as of 1/19/16).
BUDGET: $2M.
GENRE: Horror
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix. Stream on iTunes/Amazon/Vudu/M-Go. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

9. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendolyn Christie. Directed by JJ Abrams

Released December 18, 2016 Three decades after the events of the first trilogy, the Empire is rising again and is being faced by a small but determined Resistance. With a new and improved weapon being brought to bear on the peaceful but ineffective Republic, unlikely new heroes will combine with familiar ones to take on a villain so heinous that he rivals even Darth Vader.
WHY IT IS HERE: The anticipation for this movie was enormous and when it finally arrived, it proved to be one of those rare films that was worth the wait. Everything about this movie worked and everything about it pleased fans who went back to see it again and again and again. It is already the all-time domestic box office champion and has a shot at dethroning the all-time global champ. In short, Star Wars is back.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The confrontation between father and son.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $859.0 million domestic, $1.8B total (as of 1/19/16),.
BUDGET: $200M
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Still in wide release

The Hateful Eight

8. THE HATEFUL EIGHT

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bechir, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Channing Tatum. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Released December 25, 2015 A bounty hunter with a reputation for bringing in his quarry alive – to be hanged – is escorting a young woman to the Wyoming town of Red Rock but is forced to stop at a stagecoach stop high in the mountains, stranded by a blizzard. There are others there, some apparently innocently enough, others of suspicious character. By the time the snowfall ceases, there will have been a reckoning of Biblical proportions.
WHY IT IS HERE: Despite controversy over alleged racism and misogyny, this is still a well-crafted cracking story that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats throughout. Seeing it in the nearly extinct 70mm format was a rare treat but beyond all the noise surrounding it, at the end of the day this is a movie that sucked me in and kept me there.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Major Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix get some well-deserved payback for John Ruth.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $49.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/15), $86.7M total.
BUDGET: $44M
GENRE: Western
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Beasts of No Nation

7. BEASTS OF NO NATION

(Netflix/Bleecker Street) Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Ama Abebrese, Richard Pepple, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel Affadzi, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Fred Nii Amugi. Directed by Cary Fukunaga

Released October 16, 2015 Agu, a young boy in a civil war-torn African nation, is forced to become a child soldier for a charismatic warlord. Convinced he is going straight to hell for all the atrocities he is party to, we watch as his soul becomes more and more tainted, his eyes more and more lifeless. When hope for anything better is gone, what more is left but obedience?
WHY IT IS HERE: There is a realism here that is missing from other films that are similarly themed. It helps tremendously that both Elba as the warlord and young Abraham Attah as Agu deliver searing performances that will remain as indelible impressions for a very long time to come. I thought Elba was a sure thing for an Oscar nomination, although the Academy didn’t agree. This is one that the Academy got wrong.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Young Agu’s rage finally breaks free.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $90,777 domestic (as of 1/23/15), $90,777 total..
BUDGET: $6M.
GENRE: Drama
STATUS: Available exclusively on Netflix.

The Big Short

6. THE BIG SHORT

(Paramount) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong. Directed by Adam McKay

Released December 11, 2015 In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, a brilliant medical doctor turned hedge fund manager discovered the terrifying truth; that American banks and other financial institutions were relying heavily on securities based on mortgages, securities that had always been considered stable and rock solid but had been filled with mortgages that were almost certain to be defaulted on. Other managers discovered the same truth and while some tried to raise the alarm, others moved to profit off of the information.
WHY IT IS HERE: A sobering look at how unregulated greed damn near brought the world economy to its knees with the even more sobering warning that those running those same banks and securities firms – who were never punished for their actions which often crossed the line of securities laws – are involved in the same behaviors once again, having failed to learn their lesson the first time mainly because the American taxpayers bailed them out. Although it is admittedly hard to find heroic the actions of those who eventually profited from the human misery that came of the 2008 financial meltdown, this has become perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale to come out of the 2015 movie year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The mentor of a pair of young ambitious hedge fund managers tempers their enthusiasm by explaining the real-life consequences of their success.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $54.2 million domestic (as of 1/24/15), $72.7M total..
BUDGET: $28M.
GENRE: True Life Drama
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Brooklyn

5. BROOKLYN

(Fox Searchlight) Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Maeve McGrath. Directed by John Crowley

Released November 4, 2015 In the 1950s, a young woman in a small Irish village leaves for New York, knowing that she has no future at home. However, she is best by homesickness and finds life in the Big Apple lonely and unsatisfying, but eventually she meets an Italian man at a church dance and is slowly won over by her persistence. However, bad news from home will send her packing back for Ireland where she’ll be courted by an eligible bachelor and where she finds she is fitting in more than she ever had before, but where will her heart lead her; to stay in her native land or to return to the man she loves in America?
WHY IT IS HERE: An award-worthy performance by Ronan in the lead role for one. Crowley, working off of a script by Nick Hornby, has delivered a lyrical and moving paean both to Ireland and America. Beautifully shot, rendering the sweet Irish countryside as well as the charms of Brooklyn, well-acted throughout and buoyed by a terrific script, this remains one of the most charming and lovely movies of the year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Two lovers are reunited.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $26.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/15), $34.5M worldwide.
BUDGET: $10M
GENRE: Romance
STATUS: Still in limited release.

Spotlight

4. SPOTLIGHT

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Tom McCarthy

Released November 6, 2015 At the Boston Globe, the Spotlight investigative journalism team begins to look into allegations of covering up for a single Catholic priest who was accused of pedophilia. As their investigation widens, they discover to their horror that the problem is widespread on a global level. In a city where the Catholic Church is an immense political and social force, they encounter resistance to their investigation but their perseverance will lead to a scandal that will shake the very foundations of one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in the world.
WHY IT IS HERE: This may be the most realistic film about print journalism ever made. The emotional impact of the story itself cannot be overestimated as we see victims recount their harrowing experiences and the devastating aftermaths. The ensemble cast is made up of some of the most accomplished actors in the business and while Keaton and Ruffalo have been getting the lion’s share of the acclaim, the truth is that the performances here are outstanding top to bottom. It is fitting that one of the best-written films of 2015 was the movie about journalism.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Spotlight team begins to realize the enormity and the impact of their story.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $33.2 million domestic (as of 1/27/15), $34.5 million total.
BUDGET: $20 million.
GENRE: True Life Drama
STATUS: Still in general release.

The Martian

3. THE MARTIAN

(20th Century Fox) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott

Released October 2, 2015 The first manned mission to Mars has to be cut short when a massive storm heads for the landing site. As the team of astronauts scurries to get their things stowed and the landing vehicle launched, one of their number is struck by flying debris and apparently killed. Reluctantly his team leaves without him but in the immortal words of Monty Python, he’s not quite dead yet.
WHY IT IS HERE: This tale of survival is certainly one of the best films of the year and is in my mind superior to other reality-based sci-fi films like Gravity for a number of different reasons. Not only is the science far more accurate than other films of this ilk, it has an Oscar-worthy performance by Damon, a terrific cast behind him and one of the most edge-of-your-seat plots you’ll see in this or any other year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Matt Damon “sciences the shit” out of a problem.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $227.7 million domestic (as of 1/28/16), $598.6 million total.
BUDGET: $108 million.
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Download from Amazon/iTunes/ Vudu/M-Go/Google Play.  Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix the week of February 7.

Ex-Machina

2. EX-MACHINA

(A24) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alice Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeton, Gana Bayarsaikhan. Directed by Alex Garland

Released April 10, 2015 A young programmer wins a company competition that spirits him to a weekend at the reclusive founder’s fortress-like mountain hideaway. There he discovers that the tech wizard is working on something game-changing; an artificial intelligence in a robotic body, taking the form of a beautiful woman. However whatever the plans are that both men have for her, she may have an agenda of her own.
WHY IT IS HERE: This speculative science fiction film made on a budget that probably didn’t cover the costs for massages and manicures on Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the smartest and most provocative movies to come out this year. I was completely done in by Vikander’s performance which was outstanding and kicked off an amazing year for her in which she’s been transformed into one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Isaac and Gleeson also performed solidly, leading into a year when both of them also emerged as names to look out for.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Caleb and Nathan have a conversation on a glacier.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $25.4 million (as of 1/29/15), $36.9M total.
BUDGET: $15M
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Available on home video. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Stream on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix.

Message From Hiroshima

1. MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA

(Cinema Libre) George Takei (voice), Kazuo Fukushima, Akinori Ueda, Ryoga Suwa, Hisako Miyake, Kinue Nakamitsu, Chieko Fujiki. Directed by Masaki Tanabe

Released August 4, 2015 The atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima was a watershed moment in modern history. We read about in history books, but that really doesn’t come close to telling us what it was really like. This amazing documentary collects some of the few still-living survivors of the blast and details their stories, complimented with some excellent computer graphics that reconstruct what Hiroshima looked like before the bomb fell.
WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie, no documentary, no television show, no book and no social interaction that will affect you as much as this movie will. It will literally change your life. Seeing a beautiful, vibrant city come to life before your eyes – and then to watch the astonishing destruction, hear the account of people who were children at the time explain what it was like to lose parents, friends, brothers and sisters – to see the emotions still raw 70 years later, is absolutely unforgettable. The movie barely got any sort of theatrical release and is mainly available on Hulu, but it’s also available on DVD. This should be required viewing for not just our political leaders, but for everyone human. Never again.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, every one of the survivor’s stories.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: N/A
BUDGET: N/A
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Stream from Hulu.

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2016 Preview


2016 PreviewHere it is, a bit late but better late than never. 2015 was looked forward to eagerly by Hollywood accountants as potentially a banner year for box office totals and so it has been, with three films finishing in the all-time top ten, two from their summer runs (Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is on course as of this writing to eclipse the records set by Titanic.

However with all that success – and those weren’t the only big hit movies this year – there were some flops last year, some of them spectacular. The studios have been up and down, depending on which one you’re talking about. Universal set box office records by mid-year with Furious 7, Minions and Pitch Perfect 2 bringing in big box office dollars as did Straight Outta Compton later on in the summer. Disney also had a banner year, with Inside Out and Ant-Man enjoying box office sunshine, while 20th Century Fox brought The Martian and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the table. Columbia and Warner Brothers both had subpar years but both have some light at the end of their tunnels, with Columbia bringing Ghostbusters back from the dead next year and Warner Brothers initializing their DC Comics Cinematic Universe as well as a new trilogy of films in the Harry Potter Universe written by J.K. Rowling herself. Paramount was solid last year, with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation heading up their box office charts. Lionsgate/Summit had a good year with their franchises in The Hunger Games and Divergent both doing good business and Sicario bringing in rave reviews.

There are a lot of big movies to look forward to with Marvel cranking out five movies for Disney and Fox while DC has two highly anticipated movies for Warners; the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise will continue with Star Wars: Rogue One being the first stand-alone film in the LucasFilm universe, and plenty of sequels, reboots, shared cinematic universes and franchise starters on the horizon but we’ll get to that in a moment.

This year Cinema365 has increased its coverage of independent and non-major films with both coverage of the Florida Film Festival as well as coverage of films from the festival circuit. That will continue this coming year as we bring you movies that you may not necessarily have heard of but may (or may not) be worthy of your attention, particularly if you’re a film buff like us here at Cinema365 headquarters. While the expansion of our beloved Enzian Theater will not take place in time for this year’s festival, plans are for the additional two screens to be added in late 2016 and hopefully as the fundraising continues for the ambitious Enzian Forever project continues they’ll be ready for the 2018 version of the FFF.

There have been changes here at Cinema365 but one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to covering the movies as best as we possibly can. That said, do remember that the release dates listed in this preview are very unlikely to remain static for every movie listed in our annual preview and in fact we can almost guarantee that there will be major changes; dates will be changed, projects will be shelved or sent direct to home video and titles will not stay the same. Our weekly preview will continue to inform you what’s opening in Orlando that week, whereas Pick of the Litter is our monthly look at the best independent movies opening in theaters across the United States. Our Coming Soon section will continue to be regularly updated with theatrical release dates. However, we will actually be taking a hiatus from coverage beginning in May for about five weeks so be aware that some films won’t get the coverage that you’re used to.

No doubt you’re ready to dive in and open up the presents for all you cinemaphiles out there that the studios and distributors have lined up for you next year. Enjoy the 2016 preview and look forward to seeing you at the multiplex next year!

JANUARY

The first month of any year is usually a quiet one after the cornucopia of holiday releases which will continue to dominate the box office in January. There are also some Oscar hopefuls that have had qualifying runs in New York and L.A. at the end of last year getting their wide release this year including much anticipated films from Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro González Iñárritu as well as a sequel to a hit buddy cop comedy, a threequel to a popular DreamWorks animated feature, a new alien invasion movie and true life dramas depicting one of the most daring Coast Guard rescues in history as well as one of the most controversial events of recent history.

The Hateful Eight

MUST- SEE

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

RELEASE DATE: January 1, 2016
STUDIO: Weinstein
STARRING: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Damian Bechir, Zoë Bell.
GENRE: Western
STORY: A bounty hunter bringing in his bounty to hang in a Colorado town finds himself holed up in a mountain pass stagecoach stop to wait out a storm. There are eight strangers there doing the same thing, but as the night wears on the prospects of any of them making it to Red Rock become less and less likely.
PROSPECTS: Quentin Tarantino doesn’t make a lot of movies but when he does there’s a rabid following ready to embrace it. Weinstein seems to think that there’s some serious Oscar potential here, setting it up for an Academy qualifying run at Christmas before opening in wide release two weeks later.
OBSTACLES: Westerns aren’t exactly box office barnburners and while Tarantino brings in a fairly savvy film crowd, it’s not a large audience and this likely isn’t going to appeal to a lot of non-fans.
FACTOID: This is the first film since Khartoum (1966) to be filmed in the 70mm Ultra-Panavision process, a format that Tarantino – maybe the ultimate film nerd – is anxious to bring back.

SHOULD-SEE

THE REVENANT

RELEASE DATE: January 8, 2016
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Leonardo di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Javier Botet, Brendan Fletcher, Kristoffer Joner, Dave Burchill
GENRE: Western
STORY: After a vicious bear attack, an explorer in the American West of the mid-1800s is left for dead. Betrayed by his best friend and confidante who steals from him his most precious possession, he survives a harsh winter fueled by the thirst for one thing – vengeance.
PROSPECTS: The last film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu was Birdman and won the whole kit and kaboodle at the last Oscars. With two legitimate stars in the line-up and a whole lot of buzz behind it, some say this might be the favorite to win Best Picture at the next Academy Awards.
OBSTACLES: Again, Westerns are very nearly box office poison these days. Iñárritu has yet to direct a blockbuster although Birdman did decent business.
FACTOID: Di Caprio, Hardy and Haas all appeared in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

RIDE ALONG 2

RELEASE DATE: January 15, 2016
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, T.I., Tyrese Gibson, Nadine Velazquez, Tika Sumpter, Sherri Shepherd
GENRE: Action
STORY: This odd police partnership continues as the Brothers-in-Law head to Miami to track down the source of a drug infusion into their city and find that what got along in Atlanta won’t get along in the Big M.
PROSPECTS: The original film was a huge hit during the same time period in 2014.Hart and Cube make a compelling comedy team.
OBSTACLES: If the word of mouth isn’t good, it could be a very short ride for this sequel.
FACTOID: This is the second movie starring Ice Cube to be set in Miami; the first was All About the Benjamins.

KUNG FU PANDA 3

RELEASE DATE: January 29, 2016
STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: Po’s long-lost father arrives to take him to Panda Paradise to meet other lovable but clumsy panda pals. But when a supernatural scourge attacks all the kung fu masters in China, Po must figure out a way to train his village to become an army of Kung Fu Pandas.
PROSPECTS: One of the more successful animation franchises not from Disney.
OBSTACLES: January isn’t exactly the most fertile time for box office gold for family films.
FACTOID: Rebel Wilson was originally set to voice Mei Mei but had to drop out due to schedule conflicts and was replaced by Kate Hudson.

THE FINEST HOURS

RELEASE DATE: January 29, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Holliday Granger, Eric Bana, Casey Affleck, Kyle Gallner, Abraham Benrubi, Rachel Brosnahan, John Magaro
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: During one of the worst storms on record to hit the East Coast, an oil tanker breaks in half, stranding 30 sailors on board. The Coast Guard dispatches a crew aboard an inadequate wooden craft to mount a daring rescue that lives on still in the annals of American seafarers.
PROSPECTS: Has an epic quality to it plus an American pride aspect that will likely appeal to post-holiday crowds who are tiring of 2015 movies.
OBSTACLES: Being hidden in late January doesn’t auger well for the studio’s confidence in the movie’s ability to draw in big audience numbers.
FACTOID: The actual craft that was used in the rescue is still intact and maintained in perfect condition at Rock Harbor in Orleans, Massachusetts.

COULD-SEE

DIABLO

RELEASE DATE: January 8, 2016
STUDIO: Orion
STARRING: Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camilla Belle, Samuel Marty, Danny Glover, Adam Beach, Robert Franco, Diego Diablo Del Mar, Nesta Cooper
GENRE: Western
STORY: A Civil War veteran wakes up one morning to discover that his beautiful wife has been kidnapped by ruthless bandits. He goes out in search of those responsible and finds the line between being good and evil blurring. As the final showdown looms he must discover how much of himself he can lose in order to win back the woman he loves.
PROSPECTS: This has kind of been skirting the edges. Not many know about this film but judging on the trailer this could be a surprise hit.
OBSTACLES: Already too many Westerns out there..
FACTOID: Scott Eastwood’s first western despite getting 50 scripts a year to do one due to his father’s fame in the genre.

MIGHT-SEE

January 8, 2016

THE FOREST (Gramercy) stars Game of Thrones hottie Natalie Dormer as a woman who searches for her sister after she enters the mysterious Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan and disappears. Discovering that this is a place considered dangerous by the Japanese because so many people go there to commit suicide, she nonetheless hires an ex-pat American guide and goes into the forest searching for her sister and finding that the forest’s sinister reputation is well-earned. Opening in limited release,  LAMB (The Orchard) is about a man, shaken to the core after a bitter divorce and the death of his father, tries save an eleven-year-old girl from a life of apathy and emptiness by taking her on a road trip to the Rockies..

January 15, 2016

THE 5TH WAVE (Columbia) stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a young woman trying to save her younger brother in the aftermath of a devastating alien invasion. 13 HOURS (Paramount) is based on a true story about six American security operatives who during the attack of the American embassy in Benghazi came to the rescue during the 13 hours of the attack, keeping the death toll from being much worse. This is their account of the events of that night, much of which has never been revealed before now. NORM OF THE NORTH (Lionsgate) is an animated feature with a garrulous polar bear travelling to New York trying to keep his beloved Arctic Circle from being turned into condos and vacation rentals by an unscrupulous developer.

January 22, 2016

THE BOY (STX) stars Lauren Cohan, Maggie on The Walking Dead, as a young woman hired as a nanny to a small boy only to discover that the elderly couple that hired her have presented her with a creepy doll to watch over, a way of coping with the grief of the death of their actual son twenty years prior. However when she violates a list of written rules, a series of unexplained and increasingly disturbing events leads her to believe that the doll may actually be alive. A week from marrying his boss’ controlling daughter, a young man agrees to drive his DIRTY GRANDPA (Lionsgate) to Spring Break in Daytona, putting his upcoming nuptials in jeopardy. Zac Efron and Robert De Niro co-star. EXPOSED (Lionsgate) stars Keanu Reeves as a police detective trying to discover the truth behind his partner’s death as a mysterious woman who claims to have witnessed a miracle becomes the center for some unexplainable occurrences. In MOJAVE (A24), two men meet in the desert for a deadly game that only one – and maybe neither one – will walk away from. Oscar Isaac and Garret Hedlund play the two men.

January 29, 2016

JANE GOT A GUN (Weinstein) stars Natalie Portman as a frontier wife whose past dealings with a bloodthirsty gang comes back to haunt her and her family. Desperate to save them, she enlists the help of her one-time fiancée, a gunslinger who has a past with the gang of his own. This movie has been bouncing around the schedule for more than a year; it’s anybody’s guess whether this will actually see the light of day. If it does, it will likely be in limited release.

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.

TAKEN 3 (20th Century Fox) Budget: $48 Million. Domestic Gross: $89.3M Total: $326.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH (Relativity) Budget: $1M. Domestic Gross: $26.5M Total: $26.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
MORTDECAI (Lionsgate) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $7.7M Total: $47.3M Verdict: Flop.
PREDESTINATION (Vertical) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $68,372 Total: $4.3M Verdict: Probably Broke Even.
THE WEDDING RINGER (Screen Gems) Budget: $23M. Domestic Gross: $64.5M Total: $79.8M Verdict: Hit.
PADDINGTON (Dimension) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $76.2M Total: $259.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
BLACK SEA (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.2M Total: $1.2M Verdict: Probable Flop.
BLACK OR WHITE (Relativity) Budget: $9M. Domestic Gross: $21.6M Total: $21.6 Verdict: Made Money.
PROJECT ALMANAC (Paramount) Budget: $12M. Domestic Gross: $22.4M Total: $33.2 Verdict: Made Money.
BLACKHAT (Universal) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $7.9M Total: $19.5 Verdict: Major Flop.
MAX (Warner Brothers) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $42.7M Total: $44.0 Verdict: Made Money.
THE BOY NEXT DOOR (Universal) Budget: $4M. Domestic Gross: $35.4M Total: $52.4 Verdict: Big Hit.
SPARE PARTS (Pantelion) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $3.6M Total: $3.6 Verdict: Probably Lost Money.

FEBRUARY

As 2016 is a leap year, there will be an extra day to enjoy some of the fruits of the year’s second month cinema offerings and as usual with most February offerings things begin to look up after the dead zone that is January. This year, we can expect to see the latest from the Coen Brothers, a sequel to a cult comedy that is 15 years in the making, a biopic of an American athlete who stood for something much more and the first of five Marvel movies to hit the multiplexes this year.

Deadpool

THE ONE TO SEE

DEADPOOL

RELEASE DATE: February 12, 2016
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Andre Tricoteux
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: A Special Forces hero turned mercenary, rogue experiments turn Wade Wilson into a hideously deformed Deadpool who is able to heal instantaneously. Now possessed of freakish accuracy and a dark, twisted, sense of humor, he’s going after the man who ruined his life.
PROSPECTS: Fans have been waiting for a Deadpool movie since his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Deadpool, with his habitual breaking of the fourth wall, is one of Marvel’s most popular characters. The fanboy anticipation factor is through the roof with this one.
OBSTACLES: Fox stumbled big time with Fantastic Four, a film that was reportedly beset with studio interference, something Fox has become notorious for. There has been some fan backlash on the casting of Reynolds once again as Deadpool.
FACTOID: This is the first film in the X-Men franchise to receive an R rating,

NEXT IN LINE

HAIL CAESAR

RELEASE DATE: February 5, 2016
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: A studio fixer in the 1950s has a day where he has plenty to fix, not the least of which is the kidnapping of the star of the studio’s biggest film of the year.
PROSPECTS: The latest from the Coen Brothers who always deliver something interesting. An all-star cast and a superb trailer are making film buffs salivate.
OBSTACLES: While the Coen Brothers deliver terrific films, that doesn’t always translate to superior box office.
FACTOID: This will be the fifth time Hill and Tatum have appeared together in the same movie although reportedly they didn’t share any scenes in this one.

ZOOLANDER 2

RELEASE DATE: February 12, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kristen Wiig
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: Derek Zoolander and Hansel, the two hottest male super models of the 90s are forgotten men 20 years later. However, when beautiful people the world over are turning up dead bearing Zoolander’s signature “Blue Steel” look, the two are back – as spies in the modern world of super modeling, which they don’t understand anymore – not that they ever understood anything.
PROSPECTS: This is one of those movies that people quote from religiously. It may not have set the box office on fire but it is certainly a cult classic.
OBSTACLES: It’s been 20 years since the last Zoolander movie and it wasn’t exactly a big hit in the theaters; it grew into a cult classic on home video. And that might happen again this time.
FACTOID: The announcement of the film was made at a fashion show by Stiller and Wilson, in character as Zoolander and Hansel.

GODS OF EGYPT

RELEASE DATE: February 26, 2016
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Chadwick Boseman, Brenton Thwaites, Geoffrey Rush, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Courtney Eaton, Elodie Yung
GENRE: Swords and Sandals
STORY: Dissatisfied with the way Egypt is being run, the god Set usurps the throne and turns the once-peaceful kingdom into a maelstrom of chaos and combat. A mortal, in an attempt to save the love of his life, enlists the god Horus to help him save Egypt but first must retrieve the eyes of Horus, which are guarded by Set…oh, my head aches already.
PROSPECTS: Lots and lots of eye candy will certainly get some attention.
OBSTACLES: Movies like this – Immortals anyone? – didn’t keep that attention.
FACTOID: This is director Alex Proyas’ first feature in seven years.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

THE WITCH

RELEASE DATE: February 19, 2016
STUDIO: A24
STARRING: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger, Julian Ritchings, Bathsheba Garnett
GENRE: Horror
STORY: A family in 17th century New England is beset by strange and disturbing events. Suspicion falls on the teenage daughter of witchcraft but the truth may be far more terrifying than that.
PROSPECTS: Was considered one of the most terrifying films to screen on the festival circuit in years.
OBSTACLES: No-name cast and competition from TV shows like Sleepy Hollow which has similar themes.
FACTOID: Ineson and Dickie have both appeared in Game of Thrones.

AND THE REST

February 5, 2016

THE CHOICE (Lionsgate), based on yet another Nicholas Sparks novel, is about an unlikely couple who build a wonderful life together until an unexpected turn of events forces one to make a wrenching decision on their own. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (Screen Gems) is also based on a novel (although not by Nicholas Sparks). Here the Zombie Apocalypse is brought into Jane Austin territory. Opening in limited release, REGRESSION (Dimension) looks into the investigation of an unspeakable accusation by a daughter against her father which opens the door to a further mystery with national implications. SOUTHBOUND (The Orchard) which is also opening in limited release is a horror anthology of five tales set on the open road..

February 12, 2016

HOW TO BE SINGLE (New Line) stars Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson as a couple of single gals in New York City trying to navigate the dangerous waters of modern romance using all the means at their disposal. TOUCHED WITH FIRE (Roadside Attractions), which opens in limited release, stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby as a pair of bipolar poets who meet at a treatment facility and forge an instant chemistry which both inspires them and drives them even deeper into the darkness of their disorder. WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (Drafthouse) is the latest documentary from gadfly Michael Moore in which Moore visits a variety of other countries to steal their ideas which might solve a lot of problems here in the United States. This will be available in limited release.

February 19, 2016

RACE (Focus) is the story of Jesse Owens, one of the greatest athletes of his time who confounded the Nazis in the 1936 Olympics but faced prejudice and privation in the United States. Stephan James stars as Owens. RISEN (TriStar) tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection through the eyes of a non-believing Roman centurion. In VIRAL (Dimension) a teen whose town has been devastated by a deadly virus must survive the chaos of quarantine and somehow protect her sister who has become infected with it.

February 26, 2016

EDDIE THE EAGLE (20th Century Fox) is the story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper in almost 50 years who conquered the odds just by getting there. Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman star. TRIPLE NINE (Open Road)’s title refers to the police broadcast code for “officer down.” A group of corrupt cops, forced by the Russian mob to pull off an impossible heist attempt to use the shooting of one of their own as a distraction to perform the robbery but things go not just sideways but incredibly sideways.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

JUPITER ASCENDING (Warner Brothers) Budget: $176 Million. Domestic Gross: $47.4M Total: $183.9M Verdict: Lost Money.
50 SHADES OF GREY (Focus) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $166.2M Total: $570.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.
KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $81M. Domestic Gross: $128.3M Total: $414.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
MAPS TO THE STARS (Focus World) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $350, 741.Total: $1.3M Verdict: Flop.
THE DUFF (CBS) Budget: $8.5M. Domestic Gross: $34.0M Total: $43.5M Verdict: Hit.
MCFARLAND, USA (Disney) Budget: $17M. Domestic Gross: $44.5M Total: $45.7M Verdict: Made Money.
THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER (Paramount) Budget: $74M. Domestic Gross: $163.0M Total: $323.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE SEVENTH SON (Universal) Budget: $95M. Domestic Gross: $17.2M Total: $114.2M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE VATICAN TAPES (Lionsgate) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $1.7M Total: $9.0M Verdict: Flop.
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (Paramount) Budget: $14M. Domestic Gross: $12.3M Total: $13.1M Verdict: Flop.
LITTLE BOY (Open Road) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $6.5M Total: $7.5M Verdict: Flop.
FOCUS (Universal) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $53.9M Total: $159.1M Verdict: Hit.
THE LAZARUS EFFECT (Relativity) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $25.8M Total: $64.1M Verdict: Big Hit.

MARCH

March can be another transitional month at the box office although this year it will have one of the most anticipated films of the year – the beginning of a new shared comic book universe to compete with Marvel. We’ll also be seeing a true story about a female reporter covering the war in Afghanistan, an adaptation of a beloved children’s book, the latest Disney animation, and the sequel to one of 2014’s most successful action films.

Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice

THE ONE TO SEE

 BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

RELEASE DATE: March 25, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Shannon
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: In the fallout of Man of Steel, Bruce Wayne, the vigilante of Gotham city known as Batman, goes up against Superman, the savior of Metropolis whom the Dark Knight considers to be a major threat to humanity. Engineering this conflict is a maniac billionaire who stands to gain by the end of superheroes, but in his hubris he engineers something far more dangerous.
PROSPECTS: DC fans have been salivating for this for some time; this will be the beginning of a shared cinematic universe for DC heroes for the very first time, pitting their top heroes in the same film, also for the first time.
OBSTACLES: The DC superhero films have for the most part (i.e. the ones not directed by Christopher Nolan) not been well-received even by DC fandom.
FACTOID: Hans Zimmer composed a separate theme for each hero in the film which will be used in all their solo films (with the exception of Batman, who is using a theme from a previous film).

NEXT IN LINE

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

RELEASE DATE: March 4, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Evan Jonigkeit, Josh Charles, Sheila Vand
GENRE: True Life Dramedy
STORY: Journalist Kim Barker wanted nothing more than to be a field correspondent, covering important news stories. She manages to finagle an assignment as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, one of the few women to do so.
PROSPECTS: Fey is one of the most popular comic actresses on the planet and has remained that way by being choosey about her projects.
OBSTACLES: Films about the Afghanistan conflict are notorious for generating lousy box office.
FACTOID: The title is a radio alphabetic code allusion to the abbreviation WTF, or What the F*ck.

ZOOTOPIA

RELEASE DATE: March 4, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, Jenny Slate, Alan Tudyk, Octavia Spencer
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: In a world where animals live together in a single city where anyone can make whatever they are able to out of their lives, an ambitious bunny who longs to be a great police detective pairs up with a scam artist fox to solve a tough case that might be one nut too tough to crack.
PROSPECTS: Hey, it’s Disney. Keep Calm and Rake in the Cash.
OBSTACLES: While the merchandising opportunities are virtually endless, there hasn’t been a ton of enthusiasm from Disneyphiles for this one, which may be getting overlooked in favor of Finding Dory which opens in June.
FACTOID: Tudyk has appeared in four consecutive Disney Animated Studio features.

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT

RELEASE DATE: March 18, 2016
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Zoë Kravitz, Jeff Daniels, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Jonny Weston
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: Tris and Four lead their friends out of Chicago only to find a new menace in the wastelands beyond.
PROSPECTS: With The Hunger Games completed (at least for now), this is the pre-eminent young adult series with a strong female lead and it has been doing very strong box office for the first two movies of the four-film series.
OBSTACLES: The series has been doing moderately good business but not the sort of box office of Twilight or The Hunger Games.
FACTOID: Although the book series was a trilogy, the third book is being divided into two parts. The producers decided to avoid backlash from fans who have expressed displeasure that Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games all did the same thing with the final book in their series.

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

RELEASE DATE: March 18, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Joel Edgerton, Sean Bridgers, Jaeden Lieberher, Dana Gourrier
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: A father and son are forced to go on the run with the boy develops extraordinary powers.
PROSPECTS: May end up being some clever counter-programming to the DC juggernaut debuting the following week.
OBSTACLES: A little bit like too many other kid-oriented sci-fi films that may feel a bit too dated for modern family audiences.
FACTOID: The fourth film for director Jeff Nichols that Shannon has starred in.

THE LITTLE PRINCE

RELEASE DATE: March 25, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: James Franco, Paul Rudd, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Benicio del Toro, Jeff Bridges, Paul Giamatti, Albert Brooks
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: An old pilot relays his story of the time he crashed in the Sahara desert and met an extraordinary young boy who claims to be the prince of an Asteroid going from world to world trying to discover what it means to be an adult.
PROSPECTS: Based on the classic children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this is the most lavish version of the book to appear on the silver screen.
OBSTACLES: The Saint-Exupéry book doesn’t have the same resonance with American children it once did which likely means the same for the animated feature based on it.
FACTOID: Although this is a French production, the original audio was recorded in English; Paramount wouldn’t allow the English version to be released in any other country before its U.S. release so the versions that have been screened in other countries are either in French or that country’s native language.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

THE BRONZE

RELEASE DATE: March 18, 2016
STUDIO: Sony Classics
STARRING: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong, Dale Raoul
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: A faded Olympian gymnast, still milking what fame she has left years after the Games came to an end, must coach an up-and-coming young prospect in order to receive a sizable inheritance which might jeopardize her status as the most famous person in town.
PROSPECTS: This received a huge buzz from last year’s Sundance.
OBSTACLES: The financial problems with Relativity, which originally owned the distribution rights, led to long delays for its release and its eventual sale to Sony Classics. What buzz it had will be long gone by the time it comes out.
FACTOID: Rauch co-wrote the film with her husband.

AND THE REST

March 4, 2016

In DESIERTO (STX) Gael Garcia Bernal plays a Mexican national trying to cross the border to reunite with his children in the US. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a psychotic anti-immigration sort who is hunting down illegals. A game of cat and mouse ensues. BLAMMO! BLAMMO! BLAMMO! But who shot who?  KNIGHT OF CUPS (Broad Green) is the latest from director Terrence Malick which means this will look sumptuous and make no sense to anybody. LONDON HAS FALLEN (Gramercy) stars Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent once again trying to protect President Aaron Eckhart from terrorists, only this time across the pond. And they say originality is dead in Hollywood. ME BEFORE YOU (Warner Brothers), based on a best-selling novel, has a small-town girl hired by a wealthy industrialist who has been confined to a wheelchair as an attendant. The wealthy guy has given up; the plucky girl helps him find his spark of life again. But what are plucky girls for, if not for giving wealthy industrialists the will to live?

March 11, 2016

BARNEY THOMSEN (Gravitas) is a British comedy opening in limited release about a shy and ordinary barber whose life takes a change for the better when he becomes a serial killer. Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson star. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (Columbia) stars Sasha Baron Cohen in this spy spoof about a superspy who in searching for his idiot brother, separated from him for 28 years, discovers that this brother may be all that’s standing between the world and a horrible terrorist plot. THE CELLAR (Paramount) is about a girl who after losing consciousness in her car wakes up in a strange cellar where a mysterious woman tells her that the rest of the world has been wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. Yeah, I wouldn’t believe her either. In EYE IN THE SKY (Bleecker Street) a British drone mission turns complicated when it becomes obvious that the terrorists are planning a massive attack that will kill many innocent civilians; however the pilot becomes aware that there are children present, putting the mission into a moral grey area. Opening in limited release, HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (Roadside Attractions) stars Sally Field as an aging woman who falls for a man half her age. In trying to woo him, she finds herself in a world she never knew existed – and risks alienating her longtime friends who think she’s making a fool of herself. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (20th Century Fox) is a horror film about a woman whose young son dies tragically and is willing to do just about anything to bring him back but the ritual that brings him back also brings a warning, one she disregards with horrible consequences. The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies stars. THE YOUNG MESSIAH (Focus) chronicles the largely untold story of Jesus Christ as a young boy and how he and his family eventually came to terms as to who he truly was.

March 18, 2016

KRISHA (A24) is about a Thanksgiving reunion in which a young woman’s appearance causes unaccountable tension but as the day goes on secrets are brought to light and the family is forced to face events that they thought they’d left behind. MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (Sony) is based on the incredible story of a young girl whose life-threatening disease is miraculously cured, touching off a series of unexplainable events that leave her family, her medical doctors and the community at large baffled. Opening in limited release, TERM LIFE (Focus World) stars Vince Vaughn as a desperate man who has everybody after him to kill him. He takes out a term life insurance policy payable to his estranged daughter but it doesn’t take effect for 21 days and surviving that long may not be an option.

March 25, 2016

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (Relativity) stars Kate Beckinsale as a woman whose marriage is failing; she and her husband decide to move to a dilapidated old home on the Eastern Seaboard and restore it. However when she discovers a room that doesn’t appear on the blueprints, she uncovers a terrifying secret that forces beyond life and death will stop at nothing to protect. Opening in limited release, I SAW THE LIGHT (Sony Classics) stars Tom Hiddleston as the legendary country artist Hank Williams in this biopic that covers his meteoric rise to fame and his just as startling fall into a tragic end. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (Universal) is the sequel to the surprise indie hit that launched the career of Nia Vardalos. She returns along with the rest of her wacky Greek family, this time learning that her parents’ marriage wasn’t valid because the paperwork wasn’t signed properly. So what else is there to do but have another big fat Greek wedding?

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (Summit) Budget: $110 Million. Domestic Gross: $130.2M Total: $297.3M Verdict: Made Money.
CINDERELLA (Disney) Budget: $95M. Domestic Gross: $201.2M Total: $542.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
HOME (DreamWorks) Budget: $135M. Domestic Gross: $177.4M Total: $386.0M Verdict: Made Money.
CHAPPIE (Columbia) Budget: $49M. Domestic Gross: $31.6M Total: $102.1M Verdict: Made Money.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $33.1M Total: $86.0 Verdict: Big Hit.
GET HARD (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $94.0M Total: $111.7 Verdict: Made Money.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $10.2M Total: $14.4M Verdict: Flop.
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (Sony Classics) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $308,156 Total: $308,156 Verdict: Likely Lost Money.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (A24) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $7.6M Total: $14.2M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE GUNMAN (Open Road) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $10.7M Total: $10.7M Verdict: Flop.

APRIL

As we swing into spring, the entries into the box office wars heat up, and this year is no exception as we can expect a sequel to a hit fairy tale-based fantasy, a new Disney live-action take on one of their iconic animated features, a new star vehicle for one of America’s favorite comic actresses and the latest nature documentary from DisneyNature.

The Jungle Book

THE ONE TO SEE

THE JUNGLE BOOK

RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley (voice), Scarlett Johansson (voice), Bill Murray (voice), Lupita Nyong’o (voice), Idris Elba (voice), Christopher Walken (voice), Saffron Burrows (voice)
GENRE: Family Adventure
STORY: A young boy, orphaned and raised by wolves, becomes the target for various jungle animals who want him eliminated because he’s human.
PROSPECTS: Director Jon Favreau’s track record as of late has been stellar, as has Disney’s been when it comes to live action remakes of their animated classics.
OBSTACLES: The Jungle Book is not as well known as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella nor are there any princesses involved.
FACTOID: All of Bill Murray’s movies for Disney to date have been released by the more adult-oriented Touchstone label; this is his first movie for Disney proper.

NEXT IN LINE

THE BOSS

RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2016
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Melissa McCarthy, Peter Dinklage, Kristen Bell, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Bates, Cecily Strong, Margo Martindale, Tyler Labine
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: After a stint in prison, America’s wealthiest woman has to start over from scratch and determines to rebrand herself as America’s sweetheart; however, not everyone she screwed over is quite ready to forgive and forget.
PROSPECTS: McCarthy is one of the most bankable comedy actors in Hollywood; now that Mike and Molly is coming to an end, she’ll be free to focus on her big screen career.
OBSTACLES: McCarthy’s films have varied in quality and she has a tendency to play roles that are all too similar in tone.
FACTOID: The film was co-written by McCarthy, her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed) and her friend from her Groundlings improv days Steve Mallory.

CRIMINAL

RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2016
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Kevin Costner, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, Tommy Lee Jones, Amaury Nolasco, Antje Traue, Scott Adkins
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: In a desperate attempt to stop a plot that will take the lives of millions, the memories and skills of a dead CIA operative are implanted into an unpredictable and dangerous death row convict in the hopes that he can complete the mission of the dead agent.
PROSPECTS: A truly impressive cast will bring in at least their more devoted fans into the theater.
OBSTACLES: No trailer as of yet, which tells me that this is likely to be delayed or shelved.
FACTOID: Oldman, Costner and Jones all appeared in JFK.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

RELEASE DATE: April 22, 2016
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Sam Claflin, Sophie Cookson, Colin Morgan, Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: The Evil Queen Ravenna is dead, but her sister Freya – the Ice Queen – has managed to get her hands on the Magic Mirror and is able to resurrect her sister from its golden depths. The Huntsman must fight his way back to the side of the woman he loves – the warrior Sara – if the vicious army the sisters has raised is to be defeated.
PROSPECTS: No Kristen Stewart this time, which has its pros and cons; the trailer promises another special effects spectacle.
OBSTACLES: The first film did good business but didn’t really get the kind of rabid fanbase that makes sequel success guaranteed.
FACTOID: Originally this was to be a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman but it was decided to do a prequel instead and Snow White was dropped from the film.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

RATCHET AND CLANK

RELEASE DATE: April 29, 2016
STUDIO: Gramercy
STARRING THE VOICES OF: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Armin Shimerman, Bella Thorne
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: Two unlikely heroes; a risk-taking last of his species and a brilliant but small robot, struggle to keep a vile alien from destroying the galaxy.
PROSPECTS: A very cool-looking trailer from the studio that has had lots of success with the equally offbeat animated features from Laika Studios.
OBSTACLES: Not exactly household name kind of stuff and videogame adaptations have tended to fail in epic fashion.
FACTOID: Based on a hit videogame series from Insomniac Games.

ALSO OPENING

April 1, 2016

In COLLIDE (Open Road) a young English couple is caught in the crossfire in a war between German criminal kingpins. Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley play the gangsters, Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones the couple. THE DARK HORSE (Broad Green) is about a man called to leadership who must overcome his own flaws in order to become a role model for the children of his community. Cliff (Fear the Walking Dead) Curtis stars. GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 (Pure Flix) is the sequel to the surprise hit faith-based classroom drama. In KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (20th Century Fox), a couple move into a nice, quiet new neighborhood only to discover that their neighbors are undercover secret agents. John Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher and Gal Gadot head up the ensemble cast. Opening in limited release is MILES AHEAD (Sony Classics), written, directed by and starring Don Cheadle in this searing biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis. After a global plague wipes out most of the population in PANDEMIC (XLRator), a courageous doctor leaves New York for Los Angeles to find as many uninfected survivors as she can. This is opening in limited release as well as on VOD. In RINGS (Paramount) is a prequel to the successful J-horror remakes in which Samara’s deadly spree begins and the infamous videotape, which whoever watches it is fated to die within seven days, is created. It was bounced from the schedule from last October to April Fool’s Day; read into that what you will.

April 8, 2016

In BEFORE I WAKE (Relativity), a young couple adopts a boy who is terrified of falling asleep and they soon find out why; his nightmares manifest themselves in reality. Rescheduled after Relativity’s bankruptcy issues forced a temporary suspension of operations. Opening in limited release, DEMOLITION (Fox Searchlight) is about an investment banker (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who is reeling after the tragic death of his wife and writes an intensely personal letter of complaint to a vending machine company. The letter attracts the attention of a customer service rep (Naomi Watts) who is undergoing personal challenges of her own; the two form a connection that help both of them re-create their lives, starting with the demolition of their old ones.

 April 15, 2016

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING (Dimension) which will have been sitting on the shelf for more than a year by the time this has been released, sort of mashes up The Haunting in Connecticut with The Amityville Horror to form a whole separate film. BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (New Line/MGM) is the third film in the series, taking place a decade after the last one in which Calvin’s barbershop now has a woman’s hair salon in it as well, changing the dynamic somewhat. Unfortunately, the neighborhood has changed too, for the worse and Calvin and crew are hell bent on doing something about it. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (Paramount) is the latest from director Richard Linklater (Boyhood) in which a group of college freshman in the 80s try to navigate the changes in their lives while trying to make the baseball team. THE GREEN ROOM (A24) sees a diabolical club owner with some nasty little secrets squaring off against a resilient punk band who see something backstage they shouldn’t have. Patrick Stewart stars.

April 22, 2016

THE MEDDLER (Sony Classics) which opens in limited release stars Susan Sarandon as a recently widowed mom who moves from Jersey to L.A. to be closer to her daughter, which isn’t necessarily welcome news for her daughter.

April 29, 2016

A BEAUTIFUL PLANET (Disney) takes nature documentaries higher than ever as views from space show the beauty and fragility of our world in this IMAX presentation. MOTHER’S DAY (Open Road) comes from Garry Marshall and continues his series of holiday-themed romantic comedies. This time, Julia Roberts stars. NINE LIVES (EuropaCorp) follows the misadventures of a workaholic who through a strange set of circumstances finds himself trapped in the body of the family cat. In SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (Paramount) an international art dealer whose marriage is falling apart has to develop a friendship with a dangerous homeless man, taking the trio on a remarkable journey.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

FURIOUS 7 (Universal) Budget: $190 Million. Domestic Gross: $353.0M Total: $1.515B Verdict: Blockbuster.
MONKEY KINGDOM (DisneyNature) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $16.4M Total: $17.1M Verdict: Likely Made Money.
THE AGE OF ADALINE (Lionsgate) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $42.6M Total: $42.6M Verdict: Lost Money.
TRUE STORY (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $4.7M Total: $5.1M Verdict: Probably Lost Money.
EX-MACHINA (A24) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $25.4M Total: $36.8M Verdict: Made Money.
RUN ALL NIGHT (Warner Brothers) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $26.5M Total: $71.6M Verdict: Lost Money.
WOMAN IN GOLD (Weinstein) Budget: $11M Domestic Gross: $33.3M Total: $61.6M Verdict: Big Hit
PAUL BLART MALL COP 2 (Columbia) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $71.1M Total: $107.6M Verdict: Hit.
THE LONGEST RIDE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $34M. Domestic Gross: $37.5M Total: $62.9M Verdict: Lost Money.
CHILD 44 (Summit) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $1.2M Total: $13.0M Verdict: Flop.
UNFRIENDED (Universal) Budget: $1M. Domestic Gross: $32.5M Total: $62.9M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE WATER DIVINER (Warner Brothers) Budget: $22.5. Domestic Gross: $4.2M Total: $15.5M Verdict: Flop.

SUMMER

As usual, Cinema365 will be bringing you our annual summer movie preview at the end of April. Until then, also as usual, we’ll present a sneak preview of what you can expect this summer. As noted earlier, there is a good chance that a good many of these will change dates, change titles and even some will head direct to home video, skipping a theatrical release entirely. There will also be other films that haven’t been scheduled as of this publication that will show up and perhaps have a whole lot of impact on your box office dollar. In any case, this is what we know so far – I’m sure that some of these entries are apt to excite your anticipation for them.

Captain America Civil War

THE ONE TO SEE

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2016
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: Iron Man and Cap find themselves on opposite sides as following an Avengers encounter that leaves significant collateral damage, government types want tighter oversight on superheroes and of course this becomes a political football with Shellhead siding with the government and Steve Rogers for freedom.
PROSPECTS: This is essentially the Marvel movie that many fans have been waiting for and maybe the most anticipated film in the series (until The Infinity War gets going). Bringing in characters from around the Avengers-verse and introducing a couple of new characters (including the new iteration of Spider-Man who will be part of the MCU from here on out), this is bound to be another billion dollar moneymaker for Disney.
OBSTACLES: While Avengers: Age of Ultron did big time box office, it was a little bit disappointing from both a creative and commercial standpoint. Could it be a sign of superhero overload?
FACTOID: The trailer for the film debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live and broke a record for most views online in 24 hours set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

NEXT IN LINE

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

RELEASE DATE: May 22, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Olivia Munn, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: Set in the 1980s, the X-Men take on their greatest foe as an immortal mutant, worshipped throughout time as a God, seeks to cleanse the world of humankind with only a team of young, inexperienced X-Men along with a few survivors of the first two films of the trilogy to stop him.
PROSPECTS: Brian Singer returns to the director’s chair which is welcome news for fandom; Apocalypse is one of the most popular villains in the Marvel X-Universe.
OBSTACLES: Competing with a whole lot of superhero films this summer, and the public hasn’t been exactly warmed to the X-Men franchise as much as it has the MCU.
FACTOID: The wheelchair used in the teaser trailer was the same one Patrick Stewart used in the very first X-Men movie in 2000.

WARCRAFT

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2016
STUDIO: Universal/Legendary
STARRING: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Robert Kazinsky, Toby Kebbell, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: Orcs and humans, the deadliest of enemies for generations, must now unite to face down an evil so insidious that it threatens to destroy all life.
PROSPECTS: Director Duncan Jones has been a fan favorite since Moon and this is a franchise that has been just waiting to be made. Could well be the next Lord of the Rings.
OBSTACLES: Or not. Videogame adaptations have notoriously failed in the medium of film and epic fantasies have largely done the same. A lack of bankable stars may end up hurting this.
FACTOID: It has taken ten years from the time the film was announced for it to finally make it to the screen.

FINDING DORY

RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2016
STUDIO: Disney*Pixar
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Idris Elba, Ed O’Neill, Dominic West, Diane Keaton, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Hayden Rolence
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: The perpetually forgetful Dory is beginning to retain memories. She and her true friends Nemo and Marlin will go on a quest to find Dory’s family, along the way experiencing an adventure like nothing they’ve ever seen.
PROSPECTS: The sequel to one of the most beloved animated features of all time with much of the same voice cast.
OBSTACLES: 13 years will have passed between the first film and this one. Few franchises can withstand that kind of gap.
FACTOID: DeGeneres campaigned for a sequel for years on her talk show; the announcement that this was greenlit came on her show.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2016
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Vivica A. Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Joey King, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, Judd Hirsch
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: After repulsing the alien invasion 20 years ago, humankind has been adapting the technology from downed alien aircraft to upgrade their defenses. Now the aliens are coming back, bigger and badder than ever. Will it be enough?
PROSPECTS: One of the most beloved films of the 90s, a sequel had been called on by the studio right away and fans have been clamoring for it ever since.
OBSTACLES: No Will Smith this time as his salary demands were deemed too high. It’s been 20 years since the first film came out; will younger audiences embrace it the same way?
FACTOID: This is director Roland Emmerich’s first sequel.

GHOSTBUSTERS

RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2016
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Andy Garcia
GENRE: Horror Comedy
STORY: A whole new generation of Ghostbusters takes on a new spectral threat to New York City.
PROSPECTS: Who ya gonna call? Director Paul Feig has had plenty of success with McCarthy and with female-led comedy in general.
OBSTACLES: There has been much fan backlash over an all-female ‘busters crew. The original came out almost 30 years ago; is that too long a gap?
FACTOID: This is the fourth film McCarthy has been directed in by Feig.

STAR TREK BEYOND

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2016
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Deep Roy, Sofia Boutella, Melissa Roxburgh
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: When the U.S.S. Enterprise is viciously attacked by a swarm of ships under the command of the nefarious Krall, the crew is marooned on a deadly world and must go to extreme lengths to survive.
PROSPECTS: The franchise is back on solid footing with a new TV series on the horizon and the movies as strong as they’ve ever been.
OBSTACLES: Director J.J. Abrams has gone on to a different sci-fi franchise and new director Justin Lin, who has done well with the Fast and Furious franchise, has never done this kind of effects-driven film before. There has also been a lot of fan dissatisfaction with the trailer.
FACTOID: This is the third film of the rebooted series and the twelfth overall and is being released in the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original series.

BOURNE 5

RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2016
STUDIO:Universal
STARRING: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Neve Gachev, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd
STORY: Not much is known about the story other than Bourne apparently has gotten some of his memory back and has resurfaced after 12 years of being off the grid.
PROSPECTS: For awhile it was thought that the Bourne series was going to supplant James Bond as the pre-eminent spy franchise. With Damon back as well as director Paul Greengrass this could be a return to the critical and commercial success of the first three films in the series.
OBSTACLES: This has a very good chance of being delayed until the fall or even summer 2017. Although filming has commenced, almost no marketing has been done.
FACTOID: Although Jeremy  Renner’s Aaron Cross character from The Bourne Legacy isn’t appearing in this film, a sequel will be filmed for the character following the release of this film.

SUICIDE SQUAD

RELEASE DATE: July 10, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Ben Affleck, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
GENRE: Superhero
STORY: In order to stop a threat against humanity, the U.S. Government enlists the services of convicted criminals on a mission that will probably end in their deaths – or their crimes being pardoned if they survive.
PROSPECTS: The next chapter in the DC Cinematic Universe is an offbeat choice; rather than one of their signature heroes, they’re going with a team of villains. The buzz has been high on this one; this will end up either being a brilliant move…
OBSTACLES: …or a fatal mistake. Some of the characters on the team are fairly minor lights in the comic universe and may be unknown or at least not well-known to non-fans.
FACTOID: Ben Affleck is the first actor to play Batman in two different films in the same year.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2016
STUDIO: Focus/Laika
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: A kindhearted storyteller unintentionally summons demons from his past and must battle gods and monsters with his magical musical instrument in a fantasy version of Japan.
PROSPECTS: Laika has become maybe the second-most respected animation house in the world; each of their films have gotten progressively better, more acclaimed and more popular.
OBSTACLES: A bit of a departure from the usual Laika style and coming out in the doldrums of summer.
FACTOID: This is the fourth film to come out from Laika and the first without an ostensible horror theme.

AND THE REST

A BIGGER SPLASH (Fox Searchlight) which opens in limited release has a glamorous couple whose idyllic vacation is thrown into disarray by the appearance of an old friend and his daughter (May 13). THE FREE STATE OF JONES (STX) is set in the Civil War and stars Matthew McConaughey as a farmer who leads a revolt against the Confederacy where slaves are freed and are treated as equals (May 13). KIDNAP (Relativity) stars Halle Berry as a mother determined to do whatever it takes to rescue her kidnapped son (May 13). LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT (Broad Green) is about Jesus’ 40 day ordeal in the desert as he is tempted by the Devil. Ewan McGregor plays both roles. (May 13). In MONEY MONSTER (Tri-Star) a financial TV show host and his crew are taken hostage live on-air by an irate investor whose stock portfolio crashed after he followed the recommendations of the host (May 13). SNOWDEN (Open Road) is Oliver Stone’s biopic about the notorious whistleblower (May 13). THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (Columbia) is an animated feature telling us why the stars of Rovio’s hit game are so darn mad (May 20). NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING (Universal) is the inevitable sequel to the hit comedy in which an ordinary family gets new neighbors; this time it is a college sorority house (May 20).THE NICE GUYS (Warner Brothers) stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a hired thug and an incompetent private eye who are thrown together to find a missing girl in 1970s L.A. and find themselves sucked into a web of corruption that extends into the highest corridors of power (May 20). ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Disney) follows Alice into new adventures in the Underworld in this sequel to the hit Tim Burton adaptation although Burton isn’t directing this time around (May 27). CONNER4REAL (Universal) is a feature film from the digital troupe Lonely Island starring Andy Samberg as a wannabe rapper (June 3). SAUSAGE PARTY (Columbia) is an animated feature about a sausage who is determined to find out the truth behind his existence. (June 3). TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (Paramount) reportedly takes a darker turn in the franchise as familiar villain makes it to the live action series for the first time (June 3). THE CONJURING 2 (New Line) returns with another case from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren – this time taking them to North London where a single mum and her four kids live in a house where malevolent spirits are growing increasingly violent (June 10). NOW YOU SEE ME 2: THE SECOND ACT (Summit) reunites the Four Horsemen from the first end as they take on even more elaborate and dangerous illusions as they take on a billionaire tech wizard (June 10). In CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (New Line) Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart make the unlikeliest spies ever as they get involved in a case that might just be all in the head of one of them (June 17). THE BFG (Disney) sees Steven Spielberg make a live action version of the Roald Dahl classic children’s tale about a giant who takes a young girl on the adventure of a lifetime (July 1). THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (Warner Brothers) is the latest version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic pulp hero, this time hopefully developing an all-new franchise for an audience unfamiliar with the books and serials (July 1). In THE PURGE 3 (Universal) Frank Grillo returns in this continuation of the hit franchise in which one day a year is set aside where every crime is legal (July 1). MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES (20th Century Fox) is about two brothers who place ads to find dates for a wedding, only to see the ads go viral (July 8). THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (Universal/Illumination) is an animated feature that shows us what our pets are up to while we’re away (July 8).LA LA LAND (Summit) is director Damien (Whiplash) Chazelle’s take on the movie musical in which a couple pursuing their dreams find those same dreams tearing them apart (July 15). ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE (20th Century Fox) sees Skrat’s pursuit of acorn nirvana lead to a cosmic calamity that threatens every creature on the planet (July 22). LIGHTS OUT (New Line) is a new horror film starring Teresa Palmer (July 22). Opening in limited release, GENIUS (Roadside Attractions) examines the real life relationship between author Thomas Wolfe and his editor Max Perkins (July 29). THE SPACE BETWEEN US (STX) is a sci-fi romance about a the first human born on Mars who returns to Earth to discover who his true father is with the aid of an incredibly smart girl named Tulsa (July 29). BEN-HUR (Paramount/MGM) is a remake of the classic swords and sandals film about a Roman noblemen falsely accused and sentenced to slavery, surviving all his tribulations only to come face to face with his former best friend who betrayed him and having to choose between vengeance and forgiveness (August 12). PETE’S DRAGON (Disney) is a remake of the classic live-action/animation mix about an orphan boy and his dragon (August 12). SPECTRAL (Universal/Legendary) pits a Special Ops team against a supernatural force that nobody can explain, but everyone knows must be stopped (August 12). ARMS AND THE DUDES (Warner Brothers) is based on a true story about two young men, good friends, who exploit a government program that allows small businesses to bid on military contracts. When they land a $300 million deal to arm the Afghan military, they realize they are in way over their heads (August 19). MECHANIC: RESURRECTION (Summit) returns Jason Statham as Arthur Bishop, the ice-cool contract killer who is brought out of retirement by someone from his past who forces him to assassinate a list of the most dangerous men in the world (August 26). THE INFILTRATOR (Broad Green) is the true story of Robert Mazur, an undercover agent in the shady world of drug cartel financing who brought the economics of drug dealing to its knees briefly in the 1980s (August 31).

FALL

Once again, a little taste to whet your appetite; Cinema365 will be presenting a brand new preview of all things 2016 Fall/Holiday at the end of August. Until then, this is probably the most fluid portion of the preview; as mentioned earlier, it is unlikely that the majority of these will remain in the slots that are posted here, and certainly there will be a lot of Festival favorites that will be making their debut, hungering for Awards and Box Office gold. Until then, this is what we know at the moment.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

THE ONE TO SEE

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2016
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, Katherine Waterston, Ron Perlman, Samantha Morton, Gemma Chan, Dan Fogler
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: Set 75 years before the first Harry Potter, the legendary Newt Scaramander – he of the essential textbook in the title – makes a brief stopover in New York while on a journey to catalog magical beasts and all chaos occurs when some of them escape.
PROSPECTS: Hello, it’s Harry Potter! We can’t get enough of the Wizarding World and with J.K. Rowling herself penning the scripts and an Oscar-winning actor leading the way, what could go wrong?
OBSTACLES: Neither Potter nor any of his companions make an appearance here. It’s an entirely new cast set in an entirely new environment.
FACTOID: Rowling wrote the book in 2001 as a spin-off from the Potter books with over 80% of the cover price of each book going to Comic Relief, helping poor and underprivileged children around the world.

NEXT IN LINE

DOCTOR STRANGE

RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2016
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Amy Landecker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins
GENRE: Superhero/Fantasy
STORY: An arrogant neurosurgeon whose life is shattered after a car accident, finds a realm of mystery and magic existing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
PROSPECTS: Opens up the MCU to the mystical realms, of which Strange is the most well-known character, which is a strategy that worked for the cosmic realms which Guardians of the Galaxy brought to life.  
OBSTACLES: The mystical realm is somewhat esoteric and an acquired taste – certainly not a slam dunk for superhero fans.
FACTOID: Cumberbatch initially had to decline the role due to scheduling conflicts but when the release date was pushed back and consequently the production dates pushed back as well, Cumberbatch was able to accept the role.

MOANA

RELEASE  DATE: November 23, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Alan Tudyk
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: A spirited teenager living in the islands of the South Pacific determines to prove herself a master wayfarer by setting out on a daring mission of exploration and fulfilling the ancient quest of her ancestors.
PROSPECTS: The Disney animated studios has had spectacular success with their autumn releases.
OBSTACLES: Not very much is known about this film, which leads one to wonder if it might not end up being delayed.
FACTOID: Moana will become the 14th Disney princess and the fifth of non-European origin.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2016
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, Wen Jiang
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: A band of resistance fighters attempt to smuggle plans of the Empire’s terrifying new weapon, the Death Star, to the rebellion in this story that takes place just prior to the events of Episode IV.
PROSPECTS: Considering The Force Awakens has broken nearly every box office record imaginable and that this is the first-ever stand-alone film in the history of the franchise, I’d say this is pretty much a slam dunk that you’ll need to get your tickets early.
OBSTACLES: The demand for tickets will likely exceed the supply of seats so expect lines and sell-outs for this one.
FACTOID: It is rumored that Peter Cushing will appear via archival footage as Grand Moff Tarkin despite the fact Cushing passed away in 1994.

ASSASSIN’S CREED

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matias Varela
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: Through a revolutionary technology, a 21st century man is able to access the genetic memories of his ancestor, who turns out to have been a member of a secret society of assassins, to take on a rival organization in modern times.
PROSPECTS: This project has been gestating for awhile and has been generating a lot of positive buzz. A stellar cast and unique storyline may resonate with moviegoers.
OBSTACLES: And yet there’s always that bugaboo of videogames not translating well to cinema, and the hyper-critical gamer crowd not trusting moviemakers to make their favorite franchises right.
FACTOID: This is the first release from Ubisoft Studios, a cinematic entity created by the game publishers Ubisoft in order to create movie versions of their game franchises.

PASSENGERS

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2016
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne, Inder Kumar, Jamie Soricelli, Vince Foster, Robert Larriviere, Barbara Jones
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: A passenger on an interstellar voyage to an outer colony wakes up 100 years early due to a malfunctioning hibernation pod; he decides to awaken a fellow passenger so as not to be completely alone. Both of them must face a possibly catastrophic failure in the starship itself.
PROSPECTS: Director Morten Tyldum has released a number of critically acclaimed features, and writer Jon Spaihts has written some high-profile scripts, plus of course the two leads are arguably the two biggest stars in Hollywood at the moment.
OBSTACLES: This is not the kind of sci-fi that sells in Hollywood; this is more of a thought-provoking piece.
FACTOID: At one point, Keanu Reeves and Rachel McAdams were cast in the lead roles.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

BAD SANTA 2

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2016
STUDIO: Broad Green/Miramax
STARRING: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: A mall store Santa with a despicable attitude once again faces the Yuletide season drunk and disorderly.
PROSPECTS: The 2003 original is something of a cult classic and remains one of Thornton’s most iconic characters.
OBSTACLES: Who the (f-bomb) remembers it?
FACTOID: Thornton, Cox and Kelly all return from the original film; both Bernie Mac and John Ritter, who were also in the original, have passed away since then and neither of their characters are supposedly being recast.

AND THE REST

PATIENT ZERO (Screen Gems) is the story of a global pandemic and the search for the originator of the devastating disease to find a potential cure (September 2). SOLACE (Relativity) stars Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell in this story of a doctor with psychic powers enlisted by the police to find a sadistic serial killer (September 2). SULLY (Warner Brothers) is the story of airline pilot “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero who safely landed his plane on the Hudson and saving the lives of all aboard, but who was the target of an investigation even as he was being lauded as a hero; Clint Eastwood directs and Tom Hanks stars (September 9). BRIDGET JONES’ BABY (Universal) brings back Renee Zellweger as the irrepressible British romantic who finds herself unexpectedly expecting (September 16). WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS (Screen Gems) is a thriller about a young urban professional couple who have tried and failed to conceive a child; when they go with a surrogate, too late they discover that she has become obsessively – and psychotically – fixated on the husband (September 16). In A CURE FOR WELLNESS (20th Century Fox), Dane DeHaan stars as a man sent to a Swiss Alpine treatment center to pick up his boss, only to find that he’s disappeared; he soon finds himself at the center of sinister events that may lead to his own disappearance as well (September 23). THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (MGM/Columbia) is a remake of the iconic Western, this time starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke, among others (September 23). STORKS (Warner Brothers) is an animated tale of the deliverers of babies who have moved on to becoming a different type of delivery service – until one of their number accidentally revives the baby-making machine (September 23). BESTIES (STX) is about a pair of best friends in high school, trying to make it through together – until one discovers the other has been dating her older brother behind her back (September 30). DEEPWATER HORIZON (Summit) is based on the events that led to one of the worst oil spills in history with catastrophic consequences for the Gulf Coast (September 30).In DELIRIUM (Blumhouse) a man recently released from a mental institution inherits the family mansion but as he takes up residence he comes to believe that the house may be haunted – but everybody already thinks he’s crazy (September 30). MASTERMINDS (Relativity) boasts an all-star cast in a tale of a boneheaded heist by the most half-witted criminals ever – all supposedly based on true events (September 30). In THE ACCOUNTANT (Warner Brothers) a mild-mannered accountant (Ben Affleck) moonlights as a lethal assassin (October 7). GAMBIT (20th Century Fox) is a solo film for one of the most popular X-Men in the franchise. Channing Tatum stars (October 7). THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (DreamWorks) is based on the best-selling thriller by Paula Hawkins (October 7). MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE (CBS) is the theatrical version of a best-selling, award-winning young adult series in which a young boy battles bullies, a tyrannical principal, hormones, her mother’s boyfriend and the mysteries of the opposite sex (October 7).In A MONSTER CALLS (Focus) a bullied boy escapes the torments of his life into a world of fantasy where monsters are real (October 14). THE BYE-BYE MAN (CBS) is a horror feature about a trio of college students who move into an off-campus residence and unwittingly unleash a supernatural entity by learning his true name (October 14). KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?  (Universal) is the latest concert film by the wildly successful comic actor and stand-up comic (October 14). UNDERWORLD 5 (Screen Gems) is the latest in the series that chronicles the hidden world of vampires and Lycans (werewolves) in their never-ending war that has humans caught in the middle (October 14). JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (Paramount) has Tom Cruise revisit the role as the taciturn military detective who visits his old base in Virginia to have dinner with a friend – only to discover she’s been arrested for murder. Now he must clear her name and his own as he brings his own special brand of violence to the case (October 21). OUIJA 2 (Universal) is a sequel to the horror hit from 2014 in which a whole new group of friends unleashes the wrath of the spirit world through an innocuous toy (October 21). INFERNO (Columbia) is the latest in the trilogy of stories of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon that began with The Da Vinci Code and returns star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard (October 28). In BASTARDS (Warner Brothers) a pair of brothers who were told their father had died are surprised to discover he is very much alive; they set out to find him and in the process find out far more about their mom than they probably ever wanted. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms star (November 4). TROLLS (DreamWorks Animation) is an animated feature about the beloved toys that are far more alive than they seem (November 4). A MEYERS CHRISTMAS (Universal) is a heartwarming tale of an estranged family brought together for the first time since the passing of the family matriarch (November 11). BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (Tri-Star) is based on the bestselling novel about a 19-year-old Army private whose company survives a harrowing battle and is brought back for a promotional tour of the States, culminating in an appearance in a halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football day after which they’ll be sent back to the front lines (November 11). SLEEPLESS NIGHT (Open Road) stars Jamie Foxx as a seemingly corrupt Las Vegas cop whose son is kidnapped by a drug cartel as ransom for a drug shipment he stole; as he races to get his son back, he must avoid gangsters and cops alike all the while chased by an Internal Affairs officer who must ultimately determine which side of the law he’s actually on (November 11). In WHY HIM (20th Century Fox) a Midwestern dad visiting his daughter at Christmas finds that he must compete for her attention with her brash, arrogant tech billionaire boyfriend (November 11). THE GREAT WALL (Warner Brothers) is an epic adventure about a group of British soldiers who discover a hurriedly constructed wall wasn’t just to protect China against Mongol invaders but from something far more sinister – and inhuman (November 23). THE FOUNDER (Weinstein) is the story of Ray Kroc who went from a milkshake machine salesman to the CEO of McDonald’s, one of the most successful companies on the planet (November 25).  STRANGERS 2 (Relativity) is the sequel to the creepy 2008 home invasion horror tale (December 2). CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL (Warner Brothers) utilizes characters and stories from the acclaimed feel-good series of books to bring the heart-warming feel of the series to the screen (December 16). SING (Universal/Illumination) is an animated feature in which a group of animals struggle to save a fading theater by staging the world’s greatest singing competition in it (December 21). JUMANJI (Columbia) is a remake of the Chris von Allsburg children’s classic that Robin Williams headlined more than 20 years ago (December 25). MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (20th Century Fox) stars Asa Butterfield as a 16-year-old who discovers a crumbling home which once housed the titular institution whose children were more than peculiar – they may have had spectacular powers and they may still be alive. Tim Burton directs. (December 25).

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So that should get you caught up with 2016. As loaded as the schedule is with potential blockbusters, the bounty of cinematic goodness should continue into 2017 as that year will include four Marvel and two DC films, the next chapter in the Star Wars trilogy, the debut of new cinematic universes for Universal monsters and Legendary giant creatures, the first installment in an ambitious Stephen King adaptation in the Gunslinger series, sequels galore and new franchises in the offing. But before we get to those films, we still have plenty of multiplex goodness to enjoy and no doubt many of you are already making plans to buy tickets or watch at home. Thanks for reading the preview and Cinema365 is eager to review these and other movies that are on the horizon. In the meantime, we’ll catch you in the darkened theater, watching the latest miracles to hit the silver screen.

The Hateful Eight


A blizzard can be hateful.

A blizzard can be hateful.

(2015) Western (Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Channing Tatum, Keith Jefferson, Craig Stark, Belinda Owina, Zoë Bell. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation. Quentin Tarantino is a no-talent hack. Quentin Tarantino is the arbiter of style and cool. Quentin Tarantino is a racist and misogynist asshole. Whatever you believe Quentin Tarantino is, chances are it isn’t somewhere in the middle. Most people tend to have extreme view of his work.

His eighth film has gotten polarizing responses from critics and fans alike, not just for the occasionally brutal violence (which to be fair should be pretty much expected in a Tarantino film) to the gratuitous use of the “N” word and the occasionally over-the-top violence against a particular female character. I’ll be honest with you; I wasn’t particularly offended by any of it, but I’m neither African-American nor a woman so my perspective might be different if I were. However, I think your sensitivity to such things should determine whether you go out and see this film, or even read on in this review.

That said, I’m going to keep the story description to a bare minimum because much of what works about the movie is that you don’t see what’s coming all the time. Essentially, in post-Civil War Wyoming, a stagecoach carrying bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) and his bounty, accused killer Daisy Domergue (Leigh) and their driver O.B. Jackson (Parks) are trying to outrun an approaching blizzard to safety in a mountaintop stage stop known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. However, along the way they pick up two additional passengers; fellow bounty hunter and former Northern colored regiment commander Maj. Marquis Warren (Jackson) and former irregular Chris Mannix (Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff in Red Rock, the town that Ruth is taking Daisy to hang in.

Already at the Haberdashery are Bob (Bichir), a Mexican who is taking care of the horses; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), an English dandy who is the local hangman; Joe Gage (Madsen) a taciturn cowboy writing a journal and General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers, a Confederate general (in uniform) who doesn’t seem much disposed to talk about anything to anybody, despite Mannix’ hero-worship.

In a sense, this is a typical Tarantino set-up; a lot of bad men put in a situation where they are enclosed and sort of trapped – a lot like his early film Reservoir Dogs although very different in execution. Bad men trapped in a confining space with each other is a formula for bad things happening, and they do in rather graphic fashion.

Russell, who was magnificent in Bone Tomahawk continues to personally revitalize the Western genre all by himself with another excellent performance here. John Ruth isn’t above giving a woman an elbow in the face to shut her up; he’s known for bringing his bounties in alive to be hung which isn’t what anyone would call merciful. He’s paranoid, testy and a bit of a loudmouth.

Jackson, a veteran of six of Tarantino’s eight films (including this one) is all Samuel L. Jackson here and all that it entails. He has a particularly nasty scene involving the relative of one of those in the Haberdashery that may or may not be true (everything all of the characters say should be taken with a grain of salt) that might be the most over-the-top thing he’s ever done cinematically and that’s saying something.

Goggins has been a supporting character actor for some time, and he steps up to the plate and delivers here. I’ve always liked him as an actor but he serves notice he’s ready for meatier roles and this one might just get him some. Dern, Madsen and Roth all give performances commensurate with their skills. Channing Tatum also shows up in a small but pivotal role.

Regular Tarantino DP Robert Richardson, already a multiple Oscar winner, outdoes himself here with the snow-covered Wyoming landscapes and the dark Haberdashery. Richardson may well be the greatest cinematographer working today but he rarely gets the respect he deserves other than from his peers. A lot of film buffs don’t know his name, but they should.

The legendary Ennio Morricone supplies the score, his first for a Western in 40 years (he is best known for his work for Sergio Leone and the Italian spaghetti western genre, among others) and it is a terrific score indeed. This is in every way a well crafted motion picture in every aspect.

Not everyone is going to love this. Some folks are going to focus on the racial slurs, the violence against Daisy and the sequence with Major Warren I referred to earlier and call this movie disgraceful, mean-spirited and racist, sexist, whatever else you can imagine. I will confess to being a huge fan of QT’s movies and so I might not be as objective here as perhaps I should, but I do think that this is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of his career and that’s saying something.

For the moment, the movie is available in a 70mm format at selected theaters around the country on a special roadshow edition. This is the first movie in 50 years to be filmed in 70mm Ultra Panavision, so it is highly recommended that if you can get to a theater presenting it this way that you take advantage of it. Otherwise it is just starting to hit regular 35mm theaters starting today. The roadshow will be available only until January 7, 2016 (unless extended) so don’t wait too long to go see it that way, the way it should be seen.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous story. Well-acted and well-executed throughout. Gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack. The characters are well-developed for the most part.
REASONS TO STAY: The violence and racism may be too much for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: A lot of graphic violence, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was nearly never made when the script was leaked online during pre-production and Tarantino elected to shelve it and rewrite it as a novel; however after Jackson advocated that the film be made anyway, Tarantino eventually relented.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wild Bunch
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Concussion

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

Bone Tomahawk


Kurt Russell knows how to make an entrance.

Kurt Russell knows how to make an entrance.

(2015) Western (RLJ Entertainment) Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, Sean Young, David Arquette, Evan Jonigkeit, Fred Melamed, Kathryn Morris, Michael Paré, James Tolkan, Geno Segers, Zahn McClarnon, Brandon Molale, Jamison Newlander, Omar Levya, Eddie Spears, David Midthunder, Raw Leiba, Marem Hassler. Directed by S. Craig Zahler

Love can be wonderful; a tender feeling of caring and compassion. But love can also be a terrible burden. If it requires us to go somewhere dangerous, then we go, heart heavy and maybe even terrified, but we go nonetheless.

Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson) and his wife Sam (Simmons) are deeply in love. They live in the small town of Bright Hope, on the edge of the prairie near forbidding hills where even the cattle trails that Arthur uses as a cattle driver fail to go. She’s a bit of a nag, not letting him forget that she warned him not to go repair the roof in the middle of a storm. Per her warning, he fell off the roof and broke his leg, forcing him into essential confinement to bed. This is the Old West, after all, and men did what they had to do.

Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) also does what he has to do and that might involve shooting a drifter (Arquette) in the leg when he acts a little squirrelly. Because the town doctor is in his cups, Sam is summoned to remove the bullet from the drifter’s leg (she evidently has some sort of medical training). When she doesn’t return home, Arthur becomes a bit concerned.

Deputy Chicory (Jenkins) returns to the Sheriff’s office to discover everyone missing, including Deputy Nick (Jonigkeit). The evidence of a struggle includes a strange bone arrow at the scene. The local expert on Native Americans (Midthunder) tells them that it is from a tribe that isn’t even a tribe – it is in fact not exactly human. He refers to them as troglodytes and asserts that they eat the flesh of humans. He only knows they reside in something called The Valley of the Hungry Men.

A posse is formed. Sheriff Hunt is obligated to go, and even a broken leg won’t keep Arthur away. Deputy Chicory is ordered to stay behind but he refuses to; someone else can watch over Bright Hope while the Sheriff is away. Finally, dapper gambler John Brooder (Fox) also offers to go; he had escorted Mrs. O’Dwyer to the jail and feels obligated to assist in her rescue.

&Even on horseback it will take three days to get to the Valley if they can find it. The way there will be anything but safe, as bandits and bushwackers lurk in the hills. And when they finally get there, the men will be up against something they’ve never seen before – and are woefully unprepared to fight.

Russell is also starring in another Western opening up this winter, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and has found success in other Westerns – Tombstone comes to mind immediately. The plot has a little bit of The Searchers in it, but the similarity ends there; this is more of a mash-up between horror and Western than the traditional John Wayne horse opera.

Russell is at his best here, rough and ready in the saddle and apt to shoot first and ask questions later. His is the iconic taciturn lawman whose moral compass steers towards what’s right rather than what’s convenient. Fox, who is a decent actor who hasn’t yet equaled his role on Lost, does some of his best work on the big screen here, as does Wilson who has found a career boost in horror films like The Conjuring and Insidious. Here, Wilson plays to type but not just that; there is an inner strength to the character that is absolutely unexpected and mesmerizing. Arthur’s dogged determination and refusal to give up despite having a broken leg speaks volumes of what it means to be a man in the West.

And lest we forget the horror element here, it is more or less an overtone, although there is an onscreen kill here that is as brutal and as shocking as any you’ll see in more overt horror films this year. There is plenty of blood and gore and brutality, and those who are on the squeamish side are well-advised to steer clear.

Zahler is better known as a novelist and a musician as he is as a director, but he does a bang-up job here. There isn’t really a false note in the movie and while some critics have sniped at the length of the movie (just over two hours), it never drags and it never feels long. He also has wonderful cinematography to fall back of thanks to Benji Bakshi whose name should be on a lot of rolodexes after this.

It is unlikely the Western will ever go back to its level of popularity that it enjoyed back in the 1950s but it will never completely die. Movies like this one insure that the Western will always be around as a genre, and remind us that there can always be something new made of a time-tested cinematic formula.

REASONS TO GO: Well-acted. Exceptional cinematography. Captures the frontier mentality.
REASONS TO STAY: Excessive gore might put some off.
FAMILY VALUES: Brutal, bloody violence, sexuality, graphic nudity and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Russell authored a testimonial for Zahler’s second novel before this was cast.
BEYOND THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cowboys and Aliens
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Chi-Raq