It’ll be a few more weeks of catching up with movies I missed before I’m ready to fully wrap up talking about the movies of 2019 – and after that, of course, there’s a best of the decade list coming up – but time will not start, and we have the first month of both the year and the 2020s overall to contend with. In what will hopefully not be a template for the months to come, it’s a month unusually jam-packed with the unwanted leavings of previous months, stranded here to drown and die. Sounds like fun, so let’s dive in!
Speaking of which, the new reboot of The Grudge is just such one of those sad orphans, though I am in this case going to hold onto a tiny scrap of hope. For one, the trailer actually looked really good. For two, writer-director Nicolas Pesce has been in my good books ever since his stylistically outrageous, viscerally nasty debut, The Eyes of My Mother. For three, I can easily believe that Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, and Lin Shaye might all individually be in a terrible movie, but all of them together sounds like the casting director was too good at their job for this to be a complete blow-off project. Anyway, the bar for January horror is extremely low, so it should at least be good enough for that.
If my “hey you guys, I bet The Grudge will actually be good!” take has left me with any credibility at all, let me volunteer to set it on fire: I’m also looking forward to Underwater, in which Kristen Stewart wears a platinum blonde crew cut and fights deep-sea aliens, or some such thing. It’s been in the can since 2017, and there’s very little reason to suppose that delay means anything remotely good, but also it looks like it has truly been held back from 1998 or thereabouts, and at this point, if I can have a movie that feels like 2010s crap or feels like 1990s crap, I would take the 1990s crap with a song in my heart and a beaming smile on my face.
The other new films – and such January films they are, even more than the “monsters versus SEALAB” picture – are The Informer, a Joel Kinnamen vehicle in which his character gets himself thrown into prison to fight the mob, and I mean, if the phrase “a Joel Kinnaman vehicle” leaves you with any hope at all, congrats on being the world’s biggest optimist. Also, this is its third release date. There’s also the unfathomably foul-looking Like a Boss, with Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne lending the patina of respectability to a film whose trailers were the unfunniest things I saw in a theater all year. Also, Oscar hopefuls 1917 and Just Mercy go wide, and having reviewed both of them, I can certainly recommend one more than the other, by a whole lot. But truth be told, I’d still be more excited for the sea monster movie.
The question we’ve all been asking for these 25 years: what would a Bad Boys movie look like if it wasn’t directed by Michael Bay and starred an obviously disinterested Will Smith? Bad Boys for Life will attempt to provide the answer, and it appears that the answer will involve an amount of lazy nostalgic pandering stunning even by the standards of contemporary nostalgia cinema. Also, Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Doctor Dolittle, the man who can talk to animals, in Dolittle, a film that would have opened on Christmas Day if there was anything worthwhile about it on literally any level whatsoever; if ever I could point to a January release, in all my years of blogging, and say “the studio is trying to bury that”, this would be it. Put it this way: forced to decide between this and Cats as their more reliable holiday season play, Universal actually decided to go with Cats. I cannot fathom how it was possible to make the worst Doctor Dolittle film at this point, but by Christ, they seem to have found a way.
First, the low-hanging fruit: I don’t even understand what the plot of The Last Full Measure is. It appears that somebody figured out that “support the troops” films have done well in January, and made a film in which supporting a particular troop is the whole of the dramatic spine. It has managed to accrue quite a large and impressive cast for something that barely seems to actually exist, so that’s gonna be some kind of something. Also, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that Run (whatever the hell that is) comes out this date, but it’s still officially on the schedule, so I’m mentioning it for form’s sake.
As far as the actual movies: Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen is probably going to be bogged down in a little bit too much metanarrative play, but it has his best cast on paper in ages, if not ever, and it looks to have some of the early-2000s energy that used to make his films feisty, if not necessarily “good”. I’m not going to say that I’m excited for it, but I’m more than incidentally curious. As for The Turning, a ghost story directed by music video veteran Floria Sigismondi, that looks joyless and exhausting and heavy, I am chiefly interested in finding out if it’s actually an official adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, or if they’re just being WAY the fuck too cute for some reason. I get that Henry James isn’t exactly a white-hot name, but you’d think he’d show up somewhere in the advertising materials.
In limited release, Nicolas Cage starring in an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation gets me excited just on the face of it, and if Color Out of Space is even slightly the film being promised by its trailer, it could easily be the best film ever taken from that author’s work. The obvious highlight of the month, or it would be if I actually had a shot at seeing it this month.
Even knowing that it’s an action thriller coming out in January, I want to be excited for The Rhythm Section: the lead is Blake Lively, whom I’ve taken to rooting for of late, and the supporting cast includes Sterling K. Brown, and Jude Law in what the trailer promises to be “not obviously sleeping” mode. And the trailer also includes some good, chewy, straight-faced but silly dialogue. But this is still another of the long-delayed releases, and that really just can’t be good.
Finally, a very horror-packed month wraps up with Gretel & Hansel, which looks like it’s trying much too hard to be grave and grim and moody. But director Oz Perkins is at least interesting and good at atmosphere, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with something resembling a budget.