Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Look at Winter/Spring 2017

Last year's winter season was pretty rough save for the surprise enthusiasm for the rated R goodness residing within Deadpool and the creepy little indie that was The Witch. Spring had a couple of film successes but nearly every week saw every single new release bomb or be quickly spited out by the public. There were countless bombs all around and if it wasn't for Deadpool, Zootopia, Batman v. Superman and The Jungle Book, the seasonal box office would have been completely barren.

So what does 2017? We have a couple of diamonds in the rough starting months of the year until March brings a sea of potential box office smashes and April sees only one film to rule the roost.

Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the first four months of 2017.

January 6 is the first weekend of the year for new releases and yet the studios care more about their wide expansions of their Oscar hopefuls. Hidden Figures looks to be the major draw from this pack, due to its interesting premise of three real life African-American females who worked for NASA. Lion, on the other hand, is total Oscar bait. It has an unique story, that of an adopted Indian male who uses Google Earth to find his birth family, but the trailers for it make me sick and I generally just don't enjoy the output from The Weinstein Company. As for the new releases, there is only one film that all of Hollywood is willing to sacrifice and it of course has to be a throwaway horror film. Underworld: Blood Wars is the fifth (!) film in one of the most subpar movie franchises of all time. Honestly, I have seen absolutely nothing from this movie. No advance word or hype surrounding it save for a commissioned poster that tells you nil about the movie. Care to guess what really happens? Kate Beckinsale is in a tight leather body suit, fires off a lot of guns, and is caught in the middle of the war between vampires and werewolves. Oh, and the entire landscape of the world is under heavy shadows and a blue tint. In other words, the same thing that practically happens in all of the Underworld films. I'm so non-plus about this, I actually thought of just throwing up a random screen grab of Beckinsale from a previous entry and see if anyone cares to correct my "mistake".

January 13 continues the saturation of possible Oscar contenders. First up is Patriots Day, the second Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg collaboration last year, which most likely will draw in a good size conservative crowd unless they too are not very interested in a subject too soon to come to the big screen. Ben Affleck's latest directing and acting turn with Live By Night might be a joy for those seeking more Dennis Lehane and gangster tales but the noticeable news of Warner Bros. constantly switching up the film's release window is not a good sign. And finally, sure to come in dead last is Martin Scorsese's Silence, which looks like an old fashioned epic a la The Mission, which means it is too ancient for the modern crowd. This weekend, Hollywood was nice enough to give us three films and they all sound pretty stupid upon first glance. The one with the most promise is Monster Trucks, the first live-action film from animation director Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Epic). Lucas Till, TV's new MacGyver and the actor who plays no one's favorite X-man Havok, stars as a twentyish-looking teen mechanic who befriends a octopus-like alien creature and tries to hide him away from government authorities via his suped up truck. I've been kinda looking forward to this 80s throwback kids movie since its trailer first premiere last summer; it looks like one of those perfect kid hangout flicks, the kind you re-watch on video or check out when it airs on Nickelodeon (who are producing the film) on a constant basis. Could be a nice treat for families looking to escape the cold. Next up is The Bye Bye Man, a PG-13 movie that has been mysteriously been delayed for quite a while now. Is it because STX Entertainment can't get decide the perfect weekend for it to succeed? Naw, it's the awful title. Seriously, how can you take a theatrically released movie seriously with a name like that? Even if you give the benefit of the doubt, all it is is four dead meat young adults coming across a deadly vision-distorting ghost. The last big release is Sleepless, the first film in three years starring Jaime Foxx. Here, he plays a corrupt cop out of Las Vegas who strikes back at the criminal underworld when they snatch up his son. Wow, what a great comeback vehicle you got there, Foxx. Seriously, was Bruce Willis too lazy and not greedy enough to do this? Certain to draw more eyes at your local Redbox than your local theater. There's still nothing much going on in the limited releases save for The Book of Love, a lame sounding indie that premiered at Tribeca and features Jason Sudeikis and a badly accented and homeless Maisie Williams trying to make a boat. The most interesting about it, however, is that Justin Timberlake did the score for the film. Odd but considering that Jessica Biel has an important supporting part, it all makes sense.

January 20, aw geez, still has more Oscar wannabes. The Founder gets a big push in order for Michael Keaton to earn a Best Actor nomination, a tall order given the film's early reviews, and 20th Century Women gets a big push in order for Annette Bening to earn a Best Actress nomination, which is more easy given its early reviews. As for the new releases, the biggest one this weekend has to be Split. M. Night Shyamalan is likely to continue his career resurgence with this intriguing thriller about three girls who are kidnapped and locked up by a man with multiple personality disorder. They must both navigate the underground maze they're trapped in and gently handle the 23 different identities residing in the brain of their kidnapper. Even if the film ends up falling under its own weigh or possessing another lame twist ending, it's sure to be pretty amazing just for James MacAvoy's performance as the villain alone. Having Anya Taylor-Joy in tow as one of the victims also helps. That thriller is sure to generate more money than its competitor xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Vin Diesel's long-awaited sequel to a action character only he seems to still like and respect. After a 15 year hiatus (!), Xander Cage is back to once again be a too-cool-for-school secret spy who gets all the chicks and rides the hottest vehicles. Let's face it, this film wasn't produced by Paramount to entertain general audiences or tell a good story but to placate Diesel enough so he can do another Fast and Furious movie. D.J. Caruso, the forgotten action director who last year gave us the horrible horror movie The Disappointments Room, looks to try and match Rob Cohen's "exceptional" handling of Vin Diesel's ego, I mean, the crazy universe of sexy women, badass male fighters, and vehicles and stunts ripped straight from an episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. For those who hate violence and love Jesus, you few people can check out The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, courtesy of WWE Studios and Blumhouse of all people. The Christian comedy, oh no, has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's Brett Dalton playing a former child star who returns to his hometown and fakes his way and religious beliefs in order to act in an Easter play. I don't know if I can handle that much drama. Because the WWE is producing it, the requisite wrestler to have a major acting role this time around is "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. Hmmm, HBK starring in a movie about a guy faking his strong Christian beliefs. I just hope that he holds on to his smile throughout the picture; don't want to lose that again. The art theaters this weekend again do not have any really interesting output. The lone exception is The Red Turtle, an unconventional animated film about a shipwrecked man and his peculiar relationship with the titular creature. The French-Dutch-Japanese production is animated by the fine folks at Studio Ghibli.

January 27 is our first proper full weekend of new releases. Sure there still is another Oscar hopeful getting a wide release but honestly no one really is going to see Gold with Matthew McConaughey. Trust me on this one. Anyway, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the supposed last time we will get to embark on the zombie adventures of Milla Jovovich's Alice and her eternal battle with the Umbrella Corporation. Nice try, Paul W.S. Anderson, but anyone with half a brain knows that you should never trust a title stating it's the "final chapter" of a franchise. Still, I rather enjoy that junk food than the saccharine schlock on display within A Dog's Purpose. Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director who has a nasty habit of working on films with the word "Dog" in the title, directs this intended family film about a Josh Gad voiced canine who keeps getting reincarnated as different breeds and the human relationships he/she develops. Yes, you can read between the lines: this movie will feature a lot of doggie dying. Even though Universal Pictures has spoiled the twist in the trailer in order to calmly reassure parents and kids, I still believe that people will have a hard time paying for tickets to see a death march of cute dogs. Those looking to have a laugh can partake with Bastards. No, the 2013 dark French thriller directed by Claire Denis did not get a re-release or an Americanized remake. The title refers to Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, twin brothers that find out that their supposedly dead father is really alive and immediately go out to find him. Considering that a Hollywood comedy is being released in the dumping grounds of January, I didn't think this will be very humorous or even good. If you want to see a great film this weekend, see if you can venture to see The Salesman, the latest from Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) and Iran's official Oscar submission for the Best Foreign Language Film award.

February 3 gives us the battle of the two much delayed movies no one was hyped for. Just like the famous tagline of Alien vs. Predator, whoever wins at the box office doesn't matter because we all will lose to these sure-to-be stinkers. The Space Between Us and it's "Mars boy woos Earth girl" storyline will not have any admirers. Rings may get some money but everyone will quickly forget about this ancient attempt to kick start the J-horror craze again. I rather look forward to Untitled Blumhouse Horror. Yes, this is literally what is pencilled in on this date in the new release calendar. Something may pop up from Jason Blum's crew or this placeholder will shortly be taken away. If you are not under the age of 18 but are over 60, you might possibly enjoy The Comedian. It is not the unwanted sequel to the anti-funny indie The Comedy but instead a film from Taylor Hackford about Robert DeNiro playing a famous stand-up comedian who still stands behind fake brick walls and tells dirty jokes. Looks very cheap and having Leslie Mann as a love interest? Yeah, I'll take a raincheck on that.

February 10 is the designated Valentine's Day weekend, with a film each for him, her, and them. For the men, John Wick: Chapter Two has Keanu Reeves returning as the retired hitman who gets called back into the dangerous and mysterious world of assassination due to the vibrantly violent actions in the first film. Hopefully there is more well-executed executions on hand and John's dog gets to survive this time around. For the women, they sadly only have Fifty Shades Darker. Ana Steel and Christian Grey come back to each other's arms to partake in some more hanky panky before a female stalker tries to ruin their plans. That's really all there is to the plot. Not much else in the story so why would anyone want to see this film besides some brief nudity? Even with James Foley at the helm, the damage has been done to this so-called franchise after the harsh derision of the first film. And for the kiddies and/or those who are a kid in heart, The Lego Batman Movie follows the further adventures of Will Arnett's Batman as he gets a new ward in the form of Robin (Michael Cera) and tries to save the city with the new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). I think it's safe to say that I absolutely loved The Lego Movie so I'm very looking for to this spin-off feature. The one big problem? Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. That guy has been one of the banes of my existence due to his overrated literature work and his utter failure in the movie industry. Fingers are tightly crossed for this one.

February 17 is a 100% skip weekend. I might get a kick out of it simply for the cheese factor but no one really in America wants to see The Great Wall, not even for a ponytailed Matt Damon. Even with the cool but totally stolen from Attack on Titan premise of soldiers facing off against monsters against a stone wall, general American audiences are not really fans of China-infused blockbusters nor for the old story model of a shoed-in white movie star in a foreign land. Those who are severely desperate for a new comedy might venture for Fist Fight but will most likely walk out even more in disarray. Charlie Day and Ice Cube try to carry a pathetic sounding film about two teachers who get into a drag out battle with each other after Day decided to snitch on Cube to the principal. And for those seeking total confusion, there's A Cure For Wellness. Director Gore Verbinski somehow got the money to create a very trippy movie where Dane DeHaan ventures to a creepy spa and resort in order to pick up his former boss only to then get sucked up into its weird machinations. 20th Century Fox has been trying their damnest to make you care about this film but none of it work, as it will sure to bomb fast and hard. I mean really, how does a movie poster showing a woman trapped in blue bottle against a white background screams "must see"?!

February 24 largely looks like a bust save for one film. Comic actor Jordan Peele tries to further step away from his success with Key & Peele by sitting in the director's chair for Get Out. The film is basically what happens if Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was far more horrific and satirical, as a young black man travels with his white girlfriend to her parent's house, only to experience casual racism from everyone around and seeing that all of the non-white people are emotionally damaged servants. Could be a real sleeper at the box office. And now, for all of the weekend dreck, first up being the sure-to-fail Rock Dog, an ugly animated film about a dog who leaves his mountain tribe in order to pursue a musical career in the big city and meet his rock star idol. Fun fact: this turgid affair is from China, where it infamously bombed at the box office due to low interest and a power play between competing movie theater chains. Not worth your kid's time or your money. Further down the list of new releases are two films your mom will waste an afternoon watching when they eventually come to streaming platforms. Bitter Harvest is practically a propaganda film, as it involves showing how those dastardly Russkies created a famine during their Stalin-led days and the farmers who fought back. Of course, the low budget "art" film can't have real Russian actors so the makers did the usual route of hiring British actors and trying to make you swoon for the main character by giving it to the super dullard that is Max Irons. And there's Tulip Fever, a costume drama involving an artist (Dane DeHaan) falling for the tortured wife (Alicia Vikander) of his rich patron (Christoph Waltz). It sounds really lame and generic but it gets worst when you see that Zach Galifianakis is the cast, giving a dramatic performance, and the plot somehow involves the old economics of the tulip market, hence the stupid title.

March 3 is all about Logan. Hugh Jackman steps into his most iconic role again possibly for the last time, as the now aging and ill Wolverine tries to do one last good deed in his life and protect a small girl that shares his same mutant powers from the black ops forces who want her back. Where this movie takes place within the X-Men Cinematic Universe is up in the air but the fact that Fox is allowing director James Mangold to go nuts with the project and feature rated-R violence is very encouraging. Plus, you pretty much have to see it after that beautiful Johnny Cash-infused trailer. Those seeking less bloodshed and more preachiness came partake with The Shack. Sam Worthington (remember him?) plays a father who's still grieving from the disappearance/murder of his daughter, but ventures out to a mysterious cabin in the woods after receiving a bizarre letter. The film is based on a Christian best-seller and may win in a crowd but the Christian film market has nearly evaporated itself so it will be a tall order for Summit Entertainment to make a profit. Speaking of film markets that don't really exist nowadays, we have ourselves another YA adaptation! Before I Fall has Zoey Deutch playing a teenager who keeps reliving the last day of her young life. In other words, it's Groundhog Day but with pretty people with problems. I instantly checked out on this when spotting that its movie poster ripped off the same visual design of Rabbit Hole. For the kiddies, there's Leap!, a whimsical animated feature set in France and involving a girl ballerina and a boy inventor. What's that, the Weinstein Company is distributing it? Gee, do you wonder if it will miss its release window here and receive multiple delays like a certain foosball movie that I spent a lot of digital ink on? In the indie market, Danny Boyle premieres T2: Trainspotting, the long-gestated sequel to the landmark 1996 film. Honestly, did anyone really want this? And what the hell is up with its title? James Cameron must be so pissed. My Scientology Movie comes over to our shores after much controversial in the U.K., bringing forth an unconventional approach to documentary as director/star Louis Theroux tries to dramatically recreate stories from ex-members of the "religion" while getting into real-life fights with church members who are spying on his production. Last but not least, poor ole Anna Kendrick is stuck in another lame indie comedy with the wedding themed Table 19.

March 10 only has two new releases because no one really wants to do battle with a giant monster here or the giant monster that is sure to conquer the box office next week. Kong: Skull Island is Legendary Pictures' attempt to cast the first stones towards an eventual King Kong vs. Godzilla. In order to reach that cash cow, they whipped up this blockbuster hopeful where Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly step into the jungly, dangerous domain of the titular great ape. Looks like a ton of fun for those seeking more kaiju big battles in their life. The possible spoiler at the box office for the Eighth Wonder of the World however is Doug Liman's The Wall, a war-time thriller where Aaron Taylor-Johnson is trapped behind said stone structure due to an unknown sniper all the while his fellow soldier John Cena is left to bleed in the middle of the desert.

March 17 will finally give the hungry public Beauty and the Beast. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens play the respective title characters in Disney's latest attempt to remake all of their beloved animated classics. This may be exactly like their previous endeavors Cinderella and The Jungle Book and not wow me at all but I'll hedge my bets and try to be swept up by the story and the music I ever love so dear. Its only competition this weekend are two movies best to be enjoyed by cult fanatics and horror hounds. The great folks at A24 are distributing Free Fire, the latest from Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High-Rise). The film has a very simple premise: a meeting between two gangs in a warehouse turns into a deadly shootout. The cast is loaded with talent, including Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, and Jack Reynor, and sure to be loaded with a lot of guns and humor. Facing off against it in the cult department is The Belko Experiment, a horror-satire about a corporate office that goes into lockdown by an unknown person, who then forces the workers left inside to kill each other or else. This little film shockingly is directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and is based on a script penned by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).

March 24 will allow kids to go, go see Power Rangers in theaters, hopefully with their 90s nostalgic parents. It's dark and edgy take on the super powered teens with attitude is pretty dumb (dig that awful looking Goldar!) but I would be lying to myself if I didn't say that a tiny part of me wants to see it, preferably at a drive-in. It's a better pick for all to see rather than the super generically titled sci-fi film Life. Not to be confused with the 1999 comedy that brought Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence together, nor the James Dean biopic that released two years ago(!), this space drama has Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds meddling with organic life brought up to their space station from Mars and the horror that ensues. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, who has not made a good English-speaking film to save his life. To satisfy absolutely no one beside the lawyers at Warner Bros., a comedic television adaptation of CHiPs is coming to us, with Dax Shepard and Michael Peña as Officer Baker and Ponch respectively and Shepard helming the script and direction. 21 Jump Street, this will not be. I would rather partake in the dark humor of Wilson at my local art theater. The indie is an adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, with Woody Harrelson stepping as the titular misanthrope.

March 31 finally lets Ghost In The Shell come out amid massive hesitation among anime fans and intense controversy over its supposed white-washing. I'm not exactly very happy that Motoko Kusanagi is being played by white Scarlet Johansson but the makers saw this issue ahead of time and have repeatedly stated that she is not playing Mokoto but "The Major". Plus, let's be completely honest, Kusanagi is and always has been a god damn cyborg. Pushing all this contention aside, the film itself looks interesting but will likely bomb with general audiences for being too heady and arty. These mouth-breathers will rather venture out to see The Boss Baby instead, even though the central joke and the entire film marketing campaign depends upon the knowledge of Alec Baldwin's famous cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross. Could be cute or another failure from Dreamworks Animation. For the desperate adults, you sadly only get to nibble on The Zookeeper's Wife, a zoo drama that is a Holocaust movie in disguise. Jessica Chastain stars in this period piece about a real life woman who helped save the animals and some Jews during World War II. I love me some Chastain but she's been on a sad streak of duds recently and this one looks to join that list.

April 7 is a perfect weekend if you're a little kid, an old person, or want more Christ in your life. Sony is really banking on Smurfs: The Lost Village to do well. The previous two live action films were poorly received and quickly soured with the American public. The corporation finally listened to my greatest compliment and decided to make their third attempt 100% animation. The story is something ripped straight from an average saturday morning cartoon two-parter (a quartet of Smurfs venture to find a new set of cast members) but I always have a soft spot for the little blue people. Because no asked for it, Zach Graff got to direct another movie, this time being an unnecessary remake of Going In Style. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin try desperately in vein to match up with George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as three senior citizens looking to rob a bank. I don't know if I want to sit through that useless movie or watch The Case For Christ, the latest from Pure Flix. Another one of those "based on a true story" malarkies, this one retells how a supposedly respectable journalist embarked on a long investigation on whether or not Jesus Christ was real. And coming in under the radar this weekend is Sleight, a drama from last year's Sundance involving a young street magician trying to save his kidnapped sister.

April 14 is the big Easter weekend and all lanes are clear by the studios in order for The Fate of the Furious to speed all over the box office. The eighth entry in the franchise is banking heavily on the goodwill of the last one and the major twist of Vin Diesel turning heel and betraying his "family". There will obviously be some kind of dumb excuse and it will all easily be resolved by the end with the status quo back in check. I'm getting a bit tired with the series but I still like the action theatrics it provides and I like to see more of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham kicking ass together. The only other new film this weekend is something called Spark. It's an animated film involving a space monkey and his friends battling an evil space empire. So basically Star Wars with chimps and a low budget. Can't wait to see it later on Cartoon Network on a lazy Saturday.

April 21 has no real winners, as the studios still don't want to compete with Furious 8, even with the diminished second weekend returns. The only offerings are Unforgettable, a domestic thriller where evil Katherine Heigl plays an evil ex-wife looking to ruin Rosario Dawson's life, and Disney's newest animal documentary Born In China. I, along with the rest of the nation, would gladly pay a ticket to see some cute panda cubs rather than see Heigl on the big screen again.

April 28 ends the season with several movies that are the definition of "Hollywood just didn't care". The Circle may sound like an interesting watch based on several factors: Emma Watson and Tom Hanks in lead roles, James Ponsoldt in the directing chair, and based on a book by David Eggers. However, its story of a young intern at a tech company who uncovers more dastardly actions at play screams like a junkie cyber-thriller from the early 2000s. I expect it to be easily trounced by How To Be A Latin Lover, which is sure to win the Latino crowd. Eugenio Derbez stars as, what else, a latin lover to rich old bitties who will most assuredly get into further sex shenanigans. Directed by Ken Marino of all people. And finally, we the people will have to decide who wins at the greatest showdown of all time: Untitled Blumhouse Horror II versus Untitled Paramount Horror Film in IMAX. Yeah, neither of these placeholders will come out.

My Top Picks of Winter/Spring 2017

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. The Lego Batman Movie
3. Kong: Skull Island
4. Logan
5. John Wick: Chapter 2
6. The Fate of the Furious
7. Split
8. Monster Trucks
9. Free Fire
10. Ghost In The Shell

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly had a hard time determining their release time frame or have no interest in talking about them right now. Also to remember, there is the ever present possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed.

I hope your movie experiences will be as good as mine, but probably less cynical.

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