I haven’t written reviews for the winter/spring months in the past, but these previews have proven to be one of my most popular regular features, so, in the interest of helping you spend your entertainment dollars wisely, I decided to do them for every month, even the dismal graveyard months of January and February.
Something to keep in mind about January: While the month is 98% shit that’s been banished here to die an ugly death at the box office, several award-bait projects are expanding wider. I won’t write out summaries since they’ve been covered already, but I’ll note them where applicable.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
This is a highly-regarded film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys) about a group of men traveling through the Anatolian steppes of Turkey in search of a murder victim. After a solid festival season tour in 2011, which included winning a Grand Jury prize at Cannes, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia makes it way to general audiences. If you’re looking for any kind of quality at the cinema in January, this is one of your strongest options.
The Devil Inside
I can’t watch or think about exorcism movies—they scare the shit out of me. This one is about a girl trying to uncover what really happened during her mother’s exorcism by participating in other exorcisms. Or something. The Devil Inside was a surprise box office win, though I’m not sure what exactly was so surprising. It’s a Paranormal Activity-style scare fest and those movies always do well and The Devil Inside performed comparably to a PA movie. That said, The Devil Inside scored abysmally with audiences, earning an “F” on Cinemascore and often drawing boos at screenings. Look for it to nosedive in successive weeks in theaters.
For a generation of movie-goers, Peter Facinelli will be Carlisle Cullen, the scarf-wearingest vampire coven leader to ever grace the big screen in the Twilight movies. For me, Facinelli will always and forever be Mike Dexter. But now PFac is moving into a new phase of his career, that of the writer. Loosies is the first feature film he’s written and tells the story of Bobby, whose free-swinging criminal lifestyle comes crashing down when a former one night stand informs him that she’s pregnant. It doesn’t look totally awful but nor does it look particularly good. It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Dexter can engineer a writer’s career as well. AmanDUH!
Downtown Abbey’s Jessica Brown-Findlay (Lady Sybil) wins the best reviews in this British coming-of-age tale that also stars Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Julia Ormond and Sebastian Koch (Unknown). Brown-Findlay stars as Emelia, an aspiring novelist who strikes up an affair with her friend Beth’s (Jones) father (Koch). It looks pretty cliché but if you’re a fan of Lady Sybil I guess it’d be worth it.
Beauty & The Beast 3D
Now, coming to you in vivid 3D, Disney is proud to present, Money Grab: The Musical! Revisit some of your fondest childhood movie memories with songs like “Be Our Guest, Concessions to the Left” and “Beauty and the Beast and the Shameless Cash Grab Preying on Your Fondness for This Beloved Childhood Tale”. And don’t miss Disney’s next big 3D release: Aladdin Picks YOUR Pocket (in 3D).
Mark Wahlberg something something Boston blah blah family pride yadda yadda yadda guns and violence something else blerghy blergh no one fucks with Marky Mark.
A post-nuclear apocalypse tale starring the Rosanna “I’m still here” Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan), Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order), Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls) and a bunch of other people you’ve never heard of, The Divide is basically a Lord of the Flies and Blindness mash-up brought to you by the makers of Hitman. And people are trying to say studio execs don’t send bad movies to die in January. HA.
Don’t Go in the Woods
Vincent D’Onofrio is a very talented actor. Vincent D’Onofrio is not a bad writer. Vincent D’Onofrio might even be a decent director. We’re about to find out. Don’t Go in the Woods is a horror movie about a band…in the woods…written and directed by Vincent D’Onofrio. Vincent D’Onofrio is a guy who can’t hold his shit together for anything. I bet he could cook up a pretty crazy horror story.
Vincent D’Onofrio was born to play Orson Welles. Someone make this happen, like, yesterday.
The Iron Lady*
Previewed in December.
Well I think this movie looks like a big steaming pile of horse shit, but it stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton and is about a gospel choir realizing their dreams against the stifling expectations of a small town and there’s a lot of inspirational singing and hopeful children, so I bet it’s a surprise hit at the box office.
Writer/director Ed Burns is back with another tale of idyllic New York City love ruined by a family member. In this case, it’s newlyweds (GET IT?!) Buzzy (Burns) and Linda (Caitlin Fitzgerald, It’s Complicated) who have their wedded bliss bubble burst by Linda’s dysfunctional sister (Kerry Bishe, Red State). Burns isn’t a bad filmmaker, even if he does keep telling the same story over and over again, and Newlyweds was met with largely positive reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. Might be worth a look eventually.
We Need to Talk About Kevin*
Previewed in December.
NYC only, expanding to LA on January 20, expanding wider on January 27
Legendary Parisian burlesque club Le Crazy Horse de Paris is the subject of documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s newest film. It’s a thorough behind the scenes look at what goes on at this famous nude revue, from techies to dancers to patrons. This was a very popular selection coming out of the fall film festivals last year (I preferred Wim Wender’s Pina), and if you’re a fan of dance/burlesque, it’s definitely worth a watch eventually.
Previewed in December.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close*
Previewed in December.
Steven Soderbergh is a very talented filmmaker who sometimes gets a wild hare and chases it down to less than stellar results (see also: The Girlfriend Experience). Haywire would appear to be one of those “hey this would be cool” moments for Soderbergh that didn’t turn out quite like he wanted. Despite the presence of an outstanding cast—Ewan Macgregor, The Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas—and despite some kiss-assy early reviews praising MMA fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano’s skills as an action star, her line-readings in the trailer are AWFUL and I don’t have high hopes for this movie over all. I’m willing to see it—mostly for The Fassbender—but I’m not expecting a pleasant surprise along the lines of The Grey.
This Mexican import about a would-be beauty queen who gets sucked into the drug war was another 2011 festival stand out. I passed on it at the Chicago Film Fest because it sounded too fucking depressing, and because I hadn’t heard anything that made me think Miss Bala does anything that Maria Full of Grace didn’t already do, and better. I doubt I get to this one in theaters but I’ll likely Netflix it for future viewing.
Ugh, this movie. On the one hand, it’s a predominately black cast starring in a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, which is a topic that is perfectly suited to cinematic treatment (the 1995 movie, The Tuskegee Airmen is well worth your time). On the other hand, it’s produced by George Lucas, who might actually be the devil, and it looks awful. I hope I’m wrong, though. The Tuskegee story is one of the best of the WWII-era.
Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen were together for years and have a daughter together. During the filming of the first Underworld movie, though, when Beckinsale’s career was at its peak, she left Sheen—who was a virtual nobody at the time—for the Underworld director, Len Wiseman. Nine years later Sheen has become one of the most in-demand character actors out there and is almost certainly a future Oscar nominee. He’s coming off a role in Woody Allen’s most successful movie ever, Midnight in Paris, and is living with Rachel McAdams. Beckinsale, meanwhile, is playing Marky Mark’s wife in Contraband and has Underworld 4. I’m just saying, I wonder if Kate Beckinsale ever wishes for a Time Turner.
Previewed in December.
Limited release, expanding
Though it looks like “Liam Neeson face-punching wolves for two hours”, The Grey is a bit deeper and darker than that (although he does punch wolves in the face a couple times). In fact, this movie is good enough that I’m wondering why it’s coming out in January and not, say, September. Neeson is the best he’s been in the last couple years—at time he’s more than a little uncomfortable to watch as he doesn’t seem to be acting so much as purging—and director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) displays considerable visual skill for action sequences. The plane crash is tough to watch if, like me, you’re not a good flier to start with. When I write my full review we’ll get more into the depiction of the wolves, but for now I’ll say it’s not demonizing but nor is it really that accurate. The Grey is way, way better than the usual January dreck.
This is Poland’s official entry for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars this year. It’s a depressing true story about a man in Nazi-occupied Poland who helps hide and save a group of Jewish refugees. It’s based on the memoir of one of the survivors and In Darkness got good notice at TIFF last year. This is the kind of movie that I really have to steel myself to see. Surviving-the Nazis movies are almost always worth it, but they’re always so hard to sit through.
La guerre est declaree (Declaration of War)
I’m down with the idea of this movie—a young couple faces the serious illness of a child—especially since the child’s survival is understood from the very beginning. What I’m not down with is the lead characters being named Romeo and Juliette, which is just twee and ridiculous. But then, I thought The Artist was kind of twee and ridiculous, so maybe that’s just a trend in French cinema right now. Other than that, this looks like a decent movie, if not extraordinary. However, the fact that it’s in French means it will get at least a +15% bump for the artsy factor.
Man on a Ledge
My like for Jamie Bell does not outweigh my extreme dislike for walking cardboard cutout Sam Worthington, I’m indifferent to Elizabeth Banks, and Ed Harris has made one too many shitty “for the paycheck” movies for me to fully trust his taste. So in all, Man on a Ledge holds little appeal for me. But if you’re looking for something heisty and thrillery, Man on a Ledge may as well satisfy…you know what? NO. Between The Grey and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy there’s no reason to see Man on a Ledge. There are much, MUCH better options for a thriller this month.
One for the Money
Originally developed for Sandra Bullock and based on Janet Evanovich’s long-running Stephanie Plum mystery series, One for the Money practically sells itself. This is a crowd pleaser, an easy hit, a slam-dunk spring score. Or, it should have been. Instead it looks horrid and it’s been sent to January to die a hopefully quiet death.
FUCK YOU KATHERINE HEIGL.
Previewed in November.