Let us begin with a moment of reflection: Cinemascore, the audience-polling firm, had published a score of F for 19 films in total between 1999 and 2019. In January 2020, there were two different films to receive that score, and neither one of them was Dolittle (not a record: in October 2000, there were three rated-F films – two on the same weekend!). So it is, I think, fair to say that January 2020 was a world-class shitty month of cinema.
The goal of February 2020 is thus simple: don’t suck as hard as it is possible to suck. And while there’s not very much I’m looking forward to this month, I think it ought to at least rise above that bar.
Whatever else happens, we know this: the biggest film at the box office is easily going to be Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a movie whose title makes me want to put a brick through a window. And once again, we have an awfully low threshold for success: it just needs to be better than 2016’s Suicide Squad, the last time we saw Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in a movie. I don’t think it’s impossible for the film to fail that test (Warner Bros. already proved they could make a worse DC Comics film with Justice League), but let’s practice optimism. I’m not sure that my hopes are really all that higher than “a comic book movie that’s perfectly functional”, and I’ve still got enough affection for DC in my bones that I’m a bit salty that the Birds of Prey couldn’t get their own proper vehicle (with their proper line-up) except as the sidekicks to Harley, but I will say this: any tentpole comic book movie with a running time comfortably below two hours already gets my vote.
In limited release, the newest neo-Hammer picture, The Lodge, is popping up, on the back of some fairly whiffy trailers, and the reunciation of our own Carrie Jarosinski, who no longer stands by her optimism from when this still had a fall release date. All in all, looks like something to remain leery of, though the Hammer brand name, I regret to say, is all it takes to get me in the door.
A jam-packed Valentine’s weekend, though the only romance among the wide releases is The Photograph, a melodrama spanning generations that looks pretty bad, and has the unimpressive imprimatur of Will Packer Productions to ensure that it probably is bad, though the presence of LaKeith Stanfield means that I’m going to keep pretending it might not be. Also, technically the new Sharon Stone/Andy Garcia vehicle What About Love is on the books for a wide release, but I have my strong doubts that actually ends up panning out. Meanwhile, if we turn our attention to the limited releases, we find my favorite romantic film of the 2010s, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, finally moving beyond the chilly confines of an Oscar-qualifying run, and I beg all of you to see it whenever you get the chance.
This leaves us with three very different films united only in how fucking awful they sound on paper. Downhill is a kind of romance, if “a marriage is riven by mistrust and betrayal – but comically!” sounds romantic: it has bizarrely decided to remake Force Majeure with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (okay) and Will Ferrell (fuck me, absolutely not), and I was already not super excited by Force Majeure. Still not the most abject remake of the weekend: Blumhouse has taken the name and general notion of Fantasy Island and very little else in the construction of a rather bland looking conspiracy horror movie. You can at least look forward to me breaking out a very unfortunate Hervé Villechaize impression to yell “de pain! de pain!” on the podcast that week. Lastly – but first in my heart – the exciting new run of “CGI animals that melt the skin right off your goddamn skull” movies, here comes the long-unawaited first feature film adventure of Sonic the Hedgehog, who underwent a very expensive last-minute digital makeover to go from looking like a perversion in defiance of a loving God, to merely an unpleasant visual effect. Also, Jim Carrey is on hand to do his ’90s Jim Carrey shtick, and boy, did I ever hate that. Naturally enough I cannot wait.
And just like that, we’re already at our next “face-melting CGI animal” picture, a new adaptation of The Call of the Wild that has inexplicably decided to make the dog a cartoon character in a world of live-action men, among them Harrison Ford. Because, as we all know, live dogs are famously untrainable, and people hate watching movies about them.
Also, I didn’t realise that the 2016 killer doll horror movie The Boy was any sort of meaningful hit, but apparently it was enough to generate a sequel titled Brahms: The Boy II. I imagine Fantasy Island is pleased to not be the most pointless-looking horror movie of the month.
Speaking of horror, I’m almost interested in seeing The Invisible Man. Turning H.G. Wells’s sociopathic scientist into a gaslighting ex is a slightly terrific idea, and putting Elisabeth Moss into a movie is always the right choice. The whole thing where Universal is trying with all its might to mount remakes of its old horror movies has so far only ended in tears, but at least this one is doing something more interesting than trying to kick off a shared universe out of nothing at all. Oh, and what’s this we see? Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Oh my Christ, no, hard pass.
Leaving us only with the wide expansion of Emma, a new Jane Austen adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the youthful matchmaker. The trailer promises an un-prestigious sense of humor, a bright and lively visual style, and it gives me tasty Love & Friendship vibes, and given everything else, that’s enough to make it the film I’m most excited for this month almost by default.