Still, the rest of the month is made up of the usual junk, slightly too good for January and much too bad for anywhere else. Though it is very odd-looking junk this particular month, in a lot of ways...
Case in point: Winchester. A wintertime horror movie? Okay. Tawdrily re-works a real-life story for formulaic thrills? Yep, sounds right. Distributed by CBS Films? They've never done horror, I don't think, but yeah, this kind of grubby little stuff is about their speed. Directed by the Spierig brothers? I mean, they have a bit of a good reputation, but then, their last film was Jigsaw, so let's not go crazy. Nope, this sounds exactly correct: a scuzzy little ghost story hoping to dart in and out of theaters and grab a few bucks-
-and it stars Helen Fucking Mirren? What is that? How does that happen? What is the content of the meeting that goes "Dame Mirren, we have a ghost story not even polished enough for Blumhouse to take the reigns, would you like to play the lead?" and to which she says yes? Suffice it to say, I am more interested in this movie than in anything else coming out in the month - possibly in the quarter - maybe even the whole year - none of which is to say that I expect it to be at all good. But it is damned sure surprising.
Here is my most burning question about The 15:17 to Paris: what are the odds that it's not the worst movie ever made by Clint Eastwood? Surely if it was good in even the most limited way, Warner Bros. would have found a way to squeeze it in for Oscar eligibility. And if there's one sentence that perfectly sums up the greatest liability in a film from ol' "One-Take" Clint, surely it's "a true story in which non-professionals play themselves". And the trailer, by all means, seems to bear out that this is going to be closer to the worst case for this situation than the best. Like, Gran Torino had some whiffy acting, but at least it had Eastwood himself in the biggest role. This looks like the opposite of that.
It also looks like an exercise in pure art cinema next to Peter Rabbit, which has to all appearances decided that the best way to handle Beatrix Potter's delicate little fables of rural life is to bring them up to the modern world, and fill them up to the brim with loud, violent slapstick. Some of the filmmakers have lately come out to swear up and down that this isn't as bad as it looks, and there's precedent in Paddington for a comedy based on British children's fiction to turn out sweet and true, despite a repulsive ad campaign. On the other hand, if there's a movie in here that's even a little bit decent, they are hiding it very well. Hands-down, the nastiest-looking, most repellent-on-paper film of the month.
Anyway, that's how I came to expect that Fifty Shades of Grey 3 was going to be, by a large margin, the best film of the weekend. God damn it.
So here comes that summer-sized hit: Black Panther, which will obviously be the highest-grossing film in the world for the first four months of 2018, and if not for Fifty Shades Freed, I'd expect it to gross more in North America than every other February release combined. God, I hope it doesn't suck. Ryan Coogler is the second-best director to ever helm a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and unlike Taika Waititi, I feel like his natural instincts as a filmmaker are probably exactly what the producers would want. Still, after Thor: Ragnarok, which I thought was fine and not much more, I'm out of the business of being excited-in-advance for Marvel movies. That being said, there's no live-action comic book movie in 2018 for which I have higher hopes, if that actually means anything.
What else... well, Aardman has a new movie coming out, Early Man, and that should in and of itself be exciting, but the trailers just look really dull and dumb. And they also put me directly in mind of 10,000 BC, a film which one never should be reminded of, at all costs.
Also, we'll see if it actually gets a wide release or not, this weekend sees the release of Samson, which finds the contemporary trend of making films for conservative evangelical Christian audiences finally getting back to the Old Testament, and no lie, I'm kind of excited. Movies based on Hebrew scripture have always been more enjoyable than movies about early Christians, as far back as Bible epics have existed, and I'm allowing myself to be deluded into thinking this will be Cecil B. DeMille's lavish, trashy Samson and Delilah from 1949 than anything that's been churned out of this genre in the last decade.
After all that, I almost don't know what to do with a movie I actually think I'll enjoy watching, but here go: Annihilation, the second film directed by Alex Garland, doesn't look like it's doing anything much to add to the usual "in a strange place, there are toothy monsters" template, except that it certainly appears that it's going to be vastly more interesting to look at than usual. And given that his directorial debut, Ex Machina, was above all things amazing for its design and world-building, I'm okay with getting excited for one of the year's few interesting-looking sci-fi films.
Oh wait, two of the year's interesting-looking sci-fi films. As a rule, I don't think it's worth my time to use this space to talk about all of the films that Netflix is premiering, in lieu of a decent theatrical release, but I'll make an exception for Mute, which hits streaming this day - I think worldwide. After all, it's the new Duncan Jones film, and he's had a phenomenal record with low-budget science fiction, and let's just pretend that whole Warcraft thing never happened.
Then comes the year's first live-action comedy, I think? All the way at the end of February? Anyway, Game Night could go too many different ways. Is the trailer getting too bogged down by the high concept, and that's why it looks awful, but the movie will be good? Is the film horrendous, and the trailer has the best material they could scrounge up? Is the movie so fucking great and nasty-minded that they just couldn't make it look mainstream-friendly, and the trailer was some poor ad campaigns desperate attempt to hide comic genius? My good sense, and the careers of the directors and writer, all suggest that it's probably pretty fucking bad, but there's some weird X-factor that makes it feel like this might have something in it it worth excavating (as I reflect on it, that X-factor is almost certainly that Rachel McAdams has better comic timing than the movie deserves, and is making all of her bad bits in trailer seem better).
Lastly, Every Day is a teen romance with an exhaustingly high concept - she falls in love with somebody who wakes up every morning in a different body -that has the distinct feel of something that could only possibly work very well in print, and will become a busy, harried blob in film. I hope I am wrong, because the best-case version of this film could be very interesting. On the other hand, the best-case version of this film is basically just a less-focused Your Name., right?