The Dark of Winter Brings the Light of the Silver Screen
Winter 2020 New Movie Preview
With the end of 2019 upon us, we have a whole season of less-than-stellar films to look forward to before the Spring and Summer blockbuster season is upon us. At least, that's how it would normally work but, over the last few years, good films have invaded further and further across the calendar, leading to great releasing coming out in basically every month. January used to be a reliable time for studios to dump their awful films (and for me to see some real dogs) but now, everything just comes out whenever the studios feel like. I mean, how else do you explain Cats?
So while my season of turd watching may be at an end, we do have plenty of interesting films to see over the next three months:
Comes Out: January 3, 2020
While the focus of this site does tend towards superheroes, fantasy, and sci-fi, I love to talk about horror as well (there are plenty of horror geeks out there). And the first big release for the January doldrums is a new film in the Ju-On/The Grudge series, simply titled The Grudge. I will admit to never really watching this films in the past, but that's simply due to the fact that horror involving ghosts doesn't thrill me. Just about every ghost story I've watched, even the good ones like The Conjuring and The Haunting of Hill House, tend to use the same formulaic devices, the same storytelling beats, the same jump scares. At a certain point it all just feels so samey no matter who is behind the camera.
That's my issue with the first trailer for the new Grudge: nothing here seems original. I'm not just talking about how this film uses the same visual vocabulary in its trailers that every other ghost movie for the last twenty years has used. This film is also cribbing from the other movies in the series (right down to the creepy hand emerging from the back of someone's head while they're showering). About the only thing new this films does is swap out Sarah Michelle Gellar for John Cho. While the inversion of genders might add a slightly new dynamic it doesn't change the fact that this film really doesn't have anything new to say at all.
Apparently Sam Raimi is involved as a producer and he does know his horror. Still, I think this iteration of the Grudge series is a hard pass for me. I'll just wait for the inevitable next ghost story to ignore instead.
Comes Out: January 10, 2020
I feels like once a year we get a film showing us the spectacle, and horrors, of past wars, most specifically World War I and World War II. I certainly get it, from the perspective of Hollywood, as there's an opinion that world was better back in that era somehow, so let's all gather in a theater and what the accomplishments of the Golden Generation and Greatest Generation (even thought most of them are dead at this point). But while I can understand the monetary perspective of making these kinds of movies I can't say I've ever personally enjoyed the films.
Don't get me wrong, Dunkirk was a staggering achievement, stunning filmed and well executed. I just didn't really care that much about the story I was watching. I have a feeling it's going to be the same way for 1917, the new World War I film from director Sam Mendes (of Skyfall, Spectre, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition). Mendes work is generally well filmed and well executed but that doesn't mean I'm going to find it any easier to invest in a war movie from this director than all the others over the years.
That said, the spectacle of this film should be amazing. Both the first and second trailer play up the action and horrors of the war, but what the trailers lack is the filming style. 1917 was filmed as if it was (by and large) one continuous shot, meaning this film is going to be like catnip for film tech nerds. Whether the story is really all that great or not (and most early reviews seem to indicate it's only middling in terms of plot), the technical achievements are unquestioned.
Which leads to the question of whether the technical aspects of the film will make it any more interesting to watch. I'll admit I'm more inclined to watch this film than, say, Dunkirk, which I bought when it came to home video and then spent over a year ignoring (before finally watching it when I had nothing better to do). I might very well see this one in theaters just so I can see the glory of the tech on the big screen. But Sometime tells me I still won't be invested in what's actually being depicted.
Bad Boys For Life
Comes Out: January 17, 2020
There is a contingent of the action movie-viewing public that holds the original two Bad Boys films up as cinematic treasures. Having watched the second film in the series I have to admit I wasn't won over, but the two films did make a ton of money and helped to cement the careers of star Will Smith and director Michael Bay (co-star Martin Lawrence hasn't had the same success as Smith, of course). For years there were talks of a third film in the series, but it took over 15 years for those plans to finally come to fruition (maybe because Smith has had a series of middling films as of late and Michael Bay can't seem to shake the taint of the Transformers films). Whatever the reason for it's development, a third film, Bad Boys for Life, is finally here.
From the first and second trailer, this films seems like it's going to be exactly what fans of the first two films were looking for. There's plenty of the back and forth banter between Smith and Lawrence, some smack talk and a lot of quips, all sandwiched in between action sequences. The film honestly appears to have a lot in common with the second movie, which may thrill fans but does nothing for me; the second film was an awkward mix of action and comedy, poorly stitched together as so many Michael Bay films are (just look at 6 Underground). While I will never argue with Bay's eye for staging action sequences, he's not so good with characters, or people, or human interaction. If this really is Bad Boys II but filtered through Michael Bay's current ADHD-riddled directorial style, it could be a complete and utter mess.
And even then, just making another film in the series done like the old movies doesn't really make sense since action cinema has come a long way in the years since Bad Boys II, while Michael Bay's filming style... hasn't. This could be an absolute train wreck, a film desperately grasping for the glory days of old without having anything new to say. It is billed as a last hurrah for these characters, which would probably make more sense if we'd seen these characters at all in the last 15 years. As it is, it's a resurrection of two characters we barely remember at this point to trot them out and give the stars one last kick-start to their careers. That doesn't really smell like Box Office gold to me.
That said, it might still be delightfully stupid and fun. The action in the trailers does look good, and it seems like both stars, Smith and Lawrence, seem game for a return to the series. It remains to be seen if this resurrection of an old franchise fares any better than The Predator or Terminator: Dark Fate; might gut says it won't. But if its a bona fide hit, bet money they'll find a way to make a Bad Boys 4Ever in 2023 despite the characters saying they were going to retire.
Comes Out: January 17, 2020
On paper this film sounds like a license to print money: Robert Downey, Jr., one of the biggest stars in Hollywood today, leads a star studded cast (including MCU co-cast mate Tom Holland) in a revival of a beloved property. That all sounds fantastic until you realize the "beloved" property is Dr. Dolittle. And then you watch the trailer for the movie and wonder how the film ever got green-lit to begin with (of course, it does come from Universal Pictures, the same studio that just released Cats, so that might go a fair way towards explaining that conundrum).
I have to wonder who they thought was going to be interested in this film, honestly. The original, 1967 film was a big-budget failure for 20th Century Fox, a film the studio expected to make mad bank but only managed to bring in half it's $17 Mil budget (which, back in 1967, was a lot of money to lose). While there have been plenty of adaptations of the children's book series, the only other one that was at all famous in the U.S. was the 1998 film starring Eddie Murphy, which was a modern update of the story with very little in relation to the "classic" tales. So, yeah, who is this film for? Who is really sitting there going, "I want to see a new update to Dr. Dolittle!"
The trailer does nothing to sell the film. It looks like a treacle acid trip, family friendly in it inoffensiveness while attempting to channel the whacked out sensibility of The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe this is a bad trailer, but the fact that Universal is releasing this film in January seems to hint to me that they don't have that much faith in the movie, no matter who might be starring in it. You'd think a new Robert Downey, Jr. film would come out in prime Summer Blockbuster season, not in January (not matter how far the big budget season of films has been pushed).
This film looks like a train wreck, but not a stunningly, staggeringly bad, horror show like Cats (which, for a lot of people, is going to be the low bar we use to discuss cinematic disasters for years to come). I know my wife wants to see it (because, "he talks to animals!"), but I'm going to work my level best to avoid this film as hard as I can. Even hate-watching it doesn't sound like fun.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Comes Out: February 7, 2020
The DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. is in a weird place going into 2020. The main franchise stumbled when it should have soared, with the mediocre (although still enjoyable) Justice League earning far less than studio Warner Bros. wanted for their answer to the staggeringly successful The Avengers. This left the studio struggling to figure out what to do next since some of the elements of the series were hated (basically anything involving SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. or BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen.) but other aspects of the series had done well (such as Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever.).
Follow-ups, like the in-continuity Aquaman, the tangentially related Shazam!, and the not at all connected Joker showed that DC films still had gas in their tank, the studio just had to figure out what to do. The clear plan still isn't known, but the DCEU does live on, not just in the upcoming Wonder Woman '84 but also with Harley Quinn, plucked out of the terrible Suicide Squad and dropped into Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (which is a mouthful, so expect me to call this just Birds of Prey.
Harley Quinn was one of the few things that really worked about Suicide Squad so even after that movie landed like a wet fart among critics, the studio continued to have plans for her character. There's still talk of a solo movie and she's set to star in the next Suicide Squad film and even a Gotham City Sirens movie (although everyone assumes the Harley and Joker film is canceled), but it all comes off of her appearance here, essentially putting Harley into the role Batman had for the first "phase" of the DCEU (i.e., the guy that cameoed everywhere to establish continuity). Whether this proves to be too much Harley is a question, especially since it seems like from the trailer we have so far, this is more "Harley and some other heroes" than "Birds of Prey with Harley Quinn".
Of course, it could just be that Warner Bros. doesn't trust that the viewing public knows who the Birds of Prey are, this despite the fact that Batgirl is a regular member of the team. Marvel generally just launches new characters on the big screen and has faith the name "Marvel" and the fact that it's a superhero movie will be enough of a draw (and generally it is), and I think DC's name is big enough that they could do the same. Whether Harley is needed for this film is a question, but she's the seeming leader of it for now so... yeah.
The trailer does look like fun, with emphasis clearly on Harley. It seems more grounded than Suicide Squad, and more interesting, so we'll all get to see how it really turns out come February. DC has been slowly turning it around (even if critics hated Joker), so call me cautiously optimistic about Birds of Prey.
Comes Out: February 14, 2020
The original Fantasy Island was a goofy lark of a series, like The Love Boat but set on a single island. There, guests (a regular rotation of TV stars and B-list actors) are granted a kind of wish fulfillment where they go on adventures finding happiness and love for whatever dream they've always had but could never pursue. It's a simple premise but solid enough in concept that the original show ran for seven season from 1977 to 1984, and then saw a one-season revival in 1998. And now, Sony is back to do it again as a movie... except not exactly.
There's a question about reviving properties, how do you do so when the viewing public has made it clear they're done with the idea (see also: Predators; Terminators). Just doing a new, but standard, take on Fantasy Island wouldn't have worked -- we've seen that before and the idea would get stale quickly. Instead, this new movie recasts the idea as a horror story. Five random strangers come to Fantasy Island to live out their dreams (one dream per customer, no refunds, offer void in Utah). Each of their fantasies starts simply enough, with they assuming the fantasy is done with paid actors or holograms or whatever. But then the guest quickly realize somehow everything is real, no matter how dark or scary the fantasy gets. That is, in fact, the point, as the island is less "wondrous fantasies" and more "the most dangerous game." Can anyone survive this fantasy?
If you've read this site you know I love horror (except for ghost stories, see above). I also enjoy creative reboots of properties, so long as the revisit really is something new and interesting (such as the HBO Westworld). Taking a happy and bright concept like Fantasy Island and turning it into a dark slasher flick is right up my alley. I will likely be in theaters opening weekend especially since this comes out on Valentines Day and gives me the perfect counter-programming from all the love stories I plan to ignore. The trailer for the film makes it look just scary enough, just good enough, that it should sate my mid-winter needs.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Comes Out: February 14, 2020
I've already gone on, at length, about the Sonic the Hedgehog film trailer, the first of which was horrifying for multiple reasons while the second looked better graphically but still seemed like ass. This is not a film I have any desire to see at all, no way no how. And yet, I know I'll probably see it eventually just so I can review it for this site -- bad movies deserve reviews just a much as the good film (maybe even more so: looking at you, Cats). Whether I see this film in theaters is the question.
Short answer is probably not, just because Jim Carrey seems so terrible in this film. While Sonic looks better, and it seems like they have to right amount of "hedgehog with attitude" in the trailers (horror show lead character or no), Carrey's Dr. Robotnik looks awful. He's a mugging, over-the-top performance I can't stand, like the worst aspects of Carrey's early films. I can, at times, enjoy Ace Ventura or The Mask, but you have to temper that, take it all in moderation. Dr. Robotnik does not seem moderated at all, just pure Carrey id displayed on the screen for all to see. No matter how good the Sonic sections might be, Robotnik looks like he's going to ruin every second of the film he's in.
No amount of Baby Sonic (as glimpsed in the Japanese TV spot) is going to change that (especially since he's got nothing, cuteness wise, on Baby Yoda). This film looks like another sever train wreck (which, again, it is releasing in February, so maybe the studio doesn't even have faith anymore), one that I really don't want to have to sit through surrounded by other people and their screaming kids. If and when I watch this film it will be from the comfort of my couch, alone, so no one has to see my shame.
The Invisible Man
Comes Out: February 28, 2020
I am an unabashed fan of the Universal Monsters films, having watched more than my share of Dracula, Frankie, Mummy, and Wolf Man films over the years (reviews of which can be found over on my Castlevania site, The Inverted Dungeon). One of the monsters I didn't get into, though, was the Invisible Man, largely because that character didn't show up in proper form in the Castlevania series (and if I didn't have to review if for that site, why bother).
That leaves me in a weird place for the upcoming Invisible Man reboot Universal is putting out. It's the third Blumhouse developed horror film on this list (after The Grudge and Fantasy Island) and, by and large, that production house does know its horror. This film could be quite scary, not to mention well acted since it has Elizabeth Moss, one of the greatest actresses of this generation, in the lead role (to be forever haunted by the Invisible Man).
That said, this film doesn't really look great, from the trailer more Hollow Man than classic horror. All the great performances in the world can't save a bad story and it's hard to gauge just how good the tale here. It's more of a ghost story in construction than a sci-fi/fantasy monster film, a kind of gas-lighting horror tale with the woman slowly going mad. It could be interesting or it could be utter crap, and considering this film is a holdover from Universal's Dark Universe initiative that had big plans but fizzled after one film, 2017's The Mummy, I give it even odds this movie is a complete disaster.
But it's a Universal Monster film. Something tells me I'll end up reviewing all the old Invisible Man films before I swing around to this one, so look forward to all that for the site. For the rest of you, maybe wait until more reviews are out before you commit to this possibly terrible film.
Comes Out: March 6, 2020
There was a long stretch there where Pixar could do no wrong. They're the masters of CGI animation, able to wring fantastic stories out of strange concepts while presenting them beautifully. The thing is, though, that many of their most recent movie hasn't been as good as their previous films, with productions like Finding Dory, Monsters U, and anything involving Cars being less than beloved. Sure, there have been winners, like Inside Out and Coco (which audiences loved even if neither of them hooked me), but the studio doesn't crank out winners like they used to.
That's part of what makes me wary of Onward, the new Pixar film about a world of faeries, elves, and magical creatures. From the first and second trailer the film looks great, of course, but the story seems pretty standard family fare as two kids go on a magical quest to review their father and spend just one day with him. It has the literal on-screen magic, but something about the storytelling magic seems to be missing.
It's hard to put a finger on just what leaves me feeling cold about the film. Part of it may just be the recent, spotty track record of the studio; if Onward had come out in the heyday of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., I'd have no doubts about it and would show up opening day. But Pixar isn't that studio anymore; they're the studio of The Incredibles 2, which looked great but was entirely lackluster in every other regard. Which Pixar shows up for this adventure is the big question.
Also, honestly, at this point I've gotten tired of Chris Pratt. He's one of the main voices in the film, but ever since more and more stories about him and his weird, hardcore religious views have come out, I've liked him less and less. I hate holding a single star against a film but sometimes you can't help it, and that's how I feel about Pratt at this point (I tell you, it's going to make watching the third Guardians of the Galaxy really difficult).
I'll end up waiting for reviews to pass final judgment but, in the end, I think this is going to be a lot like other recent Pixar films, something I watch on home video (if I watch it at all).
Comes Out: March 13, 2020
Now here's one I wouldn't have thought twice about were it not for the inclusion of Vin Diesel. When it comes to comic books I know DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s., I delve some into Marvel, and I have a few select Image and Dark Horse books I've read over the years. I wouldn't say I'm well-versed in the whole market, though, and Valiant Comics (and their whole line of heroes) is beyond my wheelhouse. That means I know nothing about Bloodshot, the hero who was a military man before dying and getting reborn as their ultimate, unkillable weapon.
Credit where it's due, the trailer for the film does a good job of explaining the concept and also making it look interesting to watch. The film seems to have plenty of action, some of it quiet superheroic, and a decent hook for the story. Bloodshot is revived, given a mission to go after the men that killed his wife, and then is put to sleep afterwards, only to then be revived again, his memory wiped fresh and a new target that supposedly killed his wife. Clearly he's being used but the question is if he can regain his memories long enough to take out the people controlling him for their own gain.
I dig the hook of the story, but as I said I paid attention to this movie because of Diesel; I was willing to watch the trailer because the star was in it, and I have to say a few years ago that admission would have shocked me. There was a time where I made fun of Diesel because of the terrible movies he was in (like xXx). His more recent films, like many of the enjoyable The Fast and the FuriousStarted as a film about undercover policing in the illegal street-racing community, this series has grown to encompass a number of different genres and become one of the most bankable franchises in the world. movies, have given me a new perspective on the actor. He can be great at times, even if his range is limited. Bloodshot looks to play to his range, and his skills, which could make this a very enjoyable film.
Comes Out: March 27, 2020
So, my big confession is that I've never seen the original Mulan. It came out at a time where, growing up, I could pick and choose the movies I saw and didn't have to get dragged to whatever the rest of my family was watching (just the right age to stay at home and see what I wanted to see). As such, I skipped out on Mulan and never got around to seeing it over the years. That means that, watching the first trailer, I have no clue how accurate a remake this new version of the film may be. I know some of the recent Disney remakes have been shot-for-shot while others have been willing to deviate some, but how far off the beaten path is this new Mulan going to go and will it make watching this new version better than starting with the old one?
It's a question I'll likely answer by skipping the original and starting here just to see how well this movie stands on its own. From the trailer, though, it looks like it could be a gorgeous movie. The filming and style of the movie looks really lush, something to compete with the painted scenes of the original movie. Plus this one doesn't look to be a musical (thank gods) but something much closer to a wuxia-inspired action movie, which I could be totally down for.
It does seem weird that Disney is co-opting this storytelling style, something intrinsically Chinese, to make an American movie. I mean, it's fitting since this is a story about China, but even still, this smacks of the Disney brand of Imperialism, borrowing characters and cultures the studio doesn't really understand so it can make big money at the Box Office. That's been Disney's way for years, really, so while it's not surprising it still seems... off. Most audiences probably won't care, though, and it's Disney so this film will likely make Billions.
Still, it's something to think about while watching Disney churn through yet another story as it makes hollow retreads of its entire back catalog. Hurray for capitalism!
And That's It...
And with that we've covered just about everything interesting that will show up in theaters in the next three months. Of note, I did want to also cover A Quiet Place, Part II, but the trailer for it doesn't drop until tomorrow, after this article posts, so we'll all just have to go into that movie blind. The first one was good, and Hollywood has never screwed up a sequel before, right?