As I type these words, it is so cold as to be literally dangerous to go outside, which makes the question of “what shall I see in theaters these next four weeks?” seem slightly ridiculous. But life goes on, even in the winter, and at any rate, we have in front of us a February in which there’s a film almost every single weekend that I’m somewhat or even very excited for.
That “almost” is called for solely because of Miss Bala, the weekend’s only new release, and the sort of thing that’s so clearly going to be awful that you don’t even need to think about it twice. It’s an English-language remake of a Mexican film from 2011 that’s not exactly screaming for a new incarnation, and the trailer sells pure B-movie exploitation, but the kind that things it has a Message and thus is no fun on top of being trashy. Feels like it should be a Netflix original rather than a theatrical release that will slip in and out of theaters on its way to an ignoble life of streaming
From famine to feast: at this moment, there are no less than four wide releases planned for one weekend, and at least two of them even have a shot at being worthwhile. The two that don’t start with The Prodigy, a paranormal thriller about a spooky little boy that has the insurmountable setback of being a horror picture released in the winter, in addition to a title that feels like it’s already been attached to at least five or six other horror pictures. And then there’s What Men Want, a hoary-looking “men are like this, but women are like THIS” type of movie that strands Taraji P. Henson – who needs to drop her agent down a mine shaft, because holy shit she’s on a bad streak right now – in the hands of director Adam Shankman which are not remotely the hands you need for projects that want even a molecule of subtlety.
But over where things are not so painfully bleak, Liam Neeson headlines Cold Pursuit, a remake of the enjoyably nasty Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance. I never got around to formally reviewing that film, but when I caught it at the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival, I mentioned that it was fun to see Stellan Skarsgård play the Liam Neeson character, and I imagine it will be no less fun to see Liam Neeson play the Liam Neeson character.
Least bleak of all, I imagine, will be The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which I’m sure won’t return to the heights of The Lego Movie, but it doesn’t need to in order to still be a fun bit of post-modern goofy fun. And after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I’m willing to offer producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller almost as much slack as much goodwill as when they’re directing (which they’re not, here; that would be Mike Mitchell, whose career has had some above-average highs, and some abyssal lows).
Getting a one-day jump on Valentine’s Day, we have examples of the two most traditional Date Movies. First up is the romantic comedy, Isn’t It Romantic, in which Rebel Wilson finds herself trapped in a self-aware incarnation of the genre. I fully enjoyed the trailer and made the mistake of saying this in public, which earned me a fair bit of judgmental stares, but whatever. It’s got an ironic Whitney Houston musical number gag. I can’t resist that shit, I’m not made of stone.
Second up is a not-too-scary slasher movie, Happy Death Day 2U. And that’s… I mean, slashers get sequels, that’s kind of the point of the genre. And at least it looks very much like it is cognizant of how fucking stupid it is to have a follow-up to the surprisingly delightful, instant cult hit Happy Death Day. But it is very fucking stupid, and jokes calling attention to that fact don’t make it less so. I will go in with the most open mind I can muster, and be pleased that at least Jessica Rothe isn’t making insipid country music romantic dramas anymore.
And now on Valentine’s Day itself, we get a big sci-fi action-adventure adapted from an anime series and advertised almost exclusively on the name of producer James Cameron, Alita: Battle Angel. Which is, at a minimum, an unconventional fit (the meanspirited cynic in my imagines that this is for all the unlovable male geeks to drown their sorrows in the most forbiddingly nerdy release of the first quarter of 2019). I mean, I’ll be there. I’ll be there with great enthusiasm, in fact: this is the kind of gorgeous-looking disaster of a production design-driven sci-fi film that is my absolute greatest weakness, and hell, I even still like the actual director Robert Rodriguez. But it’s a weird Valentine’s release – and on a Thursday, to top it all off.
Can there be any doubt that the best has been saved for last? How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has gotten some ecstatic early reviews (it’s going to be out in most of the world before it gets to the United States), suggesting that the HTTYD trilogy has been wrapped up without losing a fragment of its quality, and that we’re about to have one of the all-time great threequels on our hands. Given how excellent the other two have Just from watching the trailer, I already know exactly what parts of the ending are going to make me cry. It’s fair to say that this is one of my most anticipated films of the whole of 2019, not just the month. The original remains the pinnacle of DreamWorks Animation’s output, and if this even scratches at that level – with a far more robust and artistically interesting DreamWorks than existed back in 2010, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised – it’s going to be quite an excellent treat, indeed.