The upcoming summer movie season promises to be one of the biggest in years, so it’s a bit of a surprise that studios are limping (rather than sprinting) into that period with such a humdrum selection of films. Not even the few blockbusters that have smartly moved away from the summer madness – “The Jungle Book” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – are very enticing, and that pretty much sums up all you need to know about April’s new releases. See a matinee if you must, but you’d be better off saving that money for the busy months ahead.
Who: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kristen Schaal and Kathy Bates What: After she’s arrested for insider trading, Michelle Darnell emerges from prison ready to rebrand herself as America’s new sweetheart. When: April 8th Why: The last time Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone collaborated on a movie, it resulted in the groan-inducingly bad “Tammy,” and there’s not much evidence to suggest that “The Boss” – which sounds like a raunchy remake of the 1989 comedy, “Troop Beverly Hills” – will be any better. If you’re a fan of McCarthy’s over-the-top antics, then you’ll probably love her latest character, because it’s basically just another variation of the same obnoxious and mean-spirited jerk that she’s been playing for years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny the first time, and no amount of ridiculous outfits or wigs is going to change that.
Who: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Heather Lind What: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. When: April 8th Why: Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with films like “Nightcrawler” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems fitting that he would team up with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director partially responsible for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Reese Witherspoon’s (“Wild”) recent career revivals. Though early reviews for “Demolition” have been mixed, this looks like yet another great showcase for Gyllenhaal as he continues to reinvent himself as a serious actor who’s willing to take risks. The April release date will likely kill any chances for an awards run, but it’s still the month’s best prospect.
Let’s not beat around the bush: the big draw this month is undoubtedly the long-awaited match-up between superhero heavy hitters Batman and Superman. Although it’ll be interesting to see whether Warner Bros. and DC Comics are finally able to jumpstart their own shared cinematic universe à la Marvel with this very expensive Hail Mary, there are far more interesting movies that deserve your attention, including a pair of adult-minded sci-fi flicks from the makers of “Cloverfield” and “Take Shelter.”
“London Has Fallen”
Who: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett What: While in London for the Prime Minister’s funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders. When: March 4th Why: “Olympus Has Fallen” may have been the better of the dueling “‘Die Hard’ in the White House” movies (though just barely), but the premise behind the sequel is almost as lame as its title, a moronic play on the famous children’s song. Not only does it seem ridiculous that Aaron Eckhart’s president and Gerard Butler’s secret service agent would find themselves in yet another hostage situation, but the very thing that made the first film enjoyable – the close quarters, single-location setting – has been discarded in favor of a more sprawling, city-wide adventure. Granted, it worked for “Die Hard,” but those movies also had John McClane.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”
Who: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton What: A journalist recounts her wartime coverage in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When: March 4th Why: War comedies are a tough proposition, especially those set in real-life warzones, because it’s a tricky balancing act of trying to earn laughs while still being respectful of the people at the butt of the joke. Though “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” sounds like a slam dunk on paper – in addition to Tina Fey reteaming with frequent collaborator Robert Carlock, it boasts a talented cast and a pair of directors (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) with a solid track record – the trailers aren’t very encouraging. Moviegoers could use a good political satire after recent flops like “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Rock the Kasbah,” but sadly, this doesn’t seem to be it.
2016 got off to a pretty dire start last month, but thankfully, Hollywood has put together one hell of an apology with what is quickly shaping up to be the most promising February in a very long time – if ever. Though there are still a few duds littered throughout the month (here’s looking at you, “Gods of Egypt”), there are also some really exciting new releases, including the long-awaited Deadpool movie and the latest from directors Joel and Ethan Coen and John Hillcoat.
Who: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson What: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line. When: February 5th Why: It’s been awhile since the Coen brothers made a straight-up comedy, instead focusing on more dramatic fare like “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “True Grit,” but the writing/directing duo appears to be back to their screwball best with this period piece set during the latter years of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Though the Coens’ goofier films have always been hit-and-miss (for every “Raising Arizona,” there’s an “Intolerable Cruelty”), the footage released thus far has been pretty encouraging, particularly an extended clip with Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich squabbling over a line of dialogue that perfectly encapsulates the farcical tone of the movie.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”
Who: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Lena Headey and Charles Dance What: Jane Austen’s classic tale of tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge: an army of undead. When: February 5th Why: How do you make “Pride and Prejudice” exciting? Add zombies. That was the secret sauce in Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling mashup novel, which transformed the literary classic into a blood-stained horror comedy. But that was seven years ago, so it’ll be interesting to see whether anyone still cares now that it’s finally being adapted for the big screen. After all, the last Grahame-Smith novel to receive the Hollywood treatment, 2012’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” was a massive flop, and although “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has a cleverer concept, it’s just as one-note, which doesn’t bode well for its audience, whoever that’s supposed to be.
As if the winter months weren’t already miserable enough, the January movie slate definitely won’t be one to remember. Though recent years have seen a slight increase in the quality of films being released during this time, 2016 will remind audiences why it’s long been considered a dumping ground for bad movies. There a few potential surprises from the likes of Michael Bay and Gavin O’Connor, but you’d be better off catching up on all the awards contenders (and maybe seeing “Star Wars” a third or fourth time) instead.
Who: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa and Eoin Macken What: A young woman searches for her twin sister in a Japanese forest, only to find herself surrounded by paranormal forces. When: January 8th Why: Believe it or not, “The Forest” isn’t a remake of a Japanese horror flick, but rather an original story whose makers somehow thought it would be a good idea to cast mostly white actors in a movie about a real-life problem in Japan. Cultural insensitivity aside, “The Forest” looks like your typical supernatural horror film circa 2005, when retooling Asian genre movies for American audiences was all the rave. Though it’s nice to see Natalie Dormer in her first Hollywood leading role, the “Game of Thrones” actress is far too talented to be wasting her time on low-rent projects like this.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”
Who: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber and David Costabile What: An American ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos. When: January 15th Why: Michael Bay’s “smaller” movies always interest me more than his effects-driven blockbusters, like this adaptation of bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Though Bay’s romanticism of the U.S. military can be a little irritating at times, he’s one of the best action directors around, and “13 Hours” is shaping up to his own personal “Black Hawk Down.” The film also boasts a solid ensemble cast led by John Krasinski and journeyman actor James Badge Dale, but its success will depend largely on whether Bay can tone down the pro-American flag-waving and just focus on telling a good story.
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: December may normally be all about awards season, but this year, the real draw is “Star Wars.” Although there are several major contenders – from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell and Alejandro González Iñárritu – scheduled for release at the end of the month, the highly anticipated seventh installment in the “Star Wars” film series is what everyone will be talking about during the holidays. For the few people that don’t care about “Star Wars,” there are plenty of great movies to discover this month, but for everyone else, it’s going to be awfully hard to concentrate until after December 18th.
Who: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman and David Koechner What: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home. When: December 4th Why: Michael Dougherty’s 2007 horror anthology “Trick ‘r Treat” is one of the most underrated movies in the genre, but sadly, it doesn’t look as if “Krampus” will be following in its footsteps. While his directorial debut relied on a smart mix of humor and horror, Dougherty’s new film seems genuinely confused about what kind of movie it wants to be. The trailer doesn’t really establish a definitive tone, swinging from one extreme to the other, and that could ultimately prove problematic for its marketing campaign, which already has the unenviable task of selling a horror movie during the holiday season.
“In the Heart of the Sea”
Who: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw What: Based on the 1820 event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days. When: December 11th Why: It’s not very often that you see a film’s release date moved to a more competitive time of year, but Warner Bros.’ decision to push “In the Heart of the Sea” from last March to December (one week before the release of “The Force Awakens”) speaks volumes of the studio’s confidence in the Ron Howard-directed historical epic. Though Chris Hemsworth has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man without the built-in audience of the Marvel movies, his latest collaboration with Howard promises to showcase what he’s really capable of as an actor, provided the CG-heavy thrills don’t get in the way.