So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.
Theaters everywhere February 2
Helen Mirren tests the boundaries of the phrase “based on a true story” in this horror film shot in a real place (the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California) about a real person (firearms heiress Sarah Winchester, the mastermind behind said house) that also somehow manages to be entirely made up. In real life, Sarah grew reclusive after inheriting her dead husband’s fortune, spending the last few decades of her life building a sprawling, seemingly endless house with architectural eccentricities that wouldn’t be out of place in an M.C. Escher painting. In the movie version, she does so to appease the angry spirits of unfortunate souls killed by the rifles upon which her family built its fortune. Now, there’s no evidence that Winchester was even wracked by guilt over her family’s deadly legacy, let alone literally haunted by it. But who needs actual history when you’ve got a good ghost story?
Will it be worth your time? The mere presence of Mirren, who plays Sarah, tends to elevate any project, and Mudbound’s Jason Clarke in a supporting role isn’t too shabby either. But this may end up being a misfire (no pun intended) for both thespians, given the spotty critical record of directorial team Michael and Peter Spierig, whose last film, Jigsaw, flopped both with critics and at the box office.
Select theaters February 2
The late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami (Taste Of Cherry, Certified Copy) spent much of his career stretching and bending the parameters of cinema. So it’s fitting that his final work has inspired a fresh round of debate on the subject, with critics and festival programmers wrestling with whether to classify it as a film, a kind of art-installation project, or something else entirely. Completed after his death, 24 Frames finds Kiarostami digitally manipulating 24 still images—most of them photographs of nature—to create the suggestion of movement within the frame: a flock of birds dispersing and reforming, wolves feasting on a kill, etc. It’s a kindred spirit to some of the director’s earlier experiments in observational stasis, like Five Dedicated To Ozu, only more fatalistic; whether he knew this would be his swan song, the shadow of death falls over several of the vignettes.
Will it be worth your time? The last project by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers would be worth your time no matter how it turned out. That Kiarostami managed to end his career on such a typically adventurous and visually accomplished note makes this posthumous avant-garde effort a must-see, at least for those receptive to non-narrative filmmaking.
Before We Vanish
Select theaters February 2
Three extraterrestrial scouts touch down on Earth to lay the groundwork for an impending planetary invasion, taking bodies as hosts and mucking with puny human minds, in the new sci-fi thriller from Japanese visionary Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira). Though based on a stage play, Before We Vanish suggests a mash-up of several genre touchstones, from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers to Starman to the 1987 alien-buddy-cop potboiler The Hidden.
Will it be worth your time? It’s been a spotty decade for Kurosawa, who chased the career high of 2008’s devastating Tokyo Sonata with a series of awkward, plodding, or nonsensical movies. But the recent Creepy was a minor return to form, and Before We Vanish has its pleasures, too. It’s a half-goofy, half-creepy pulp pastiche with the hint of some big ideas about identity. Just don’t expect anything as disquietingly assured as the filmmaker’s J-horror classic Pulse.
Fifty Shades Freed
Theaters everywhere February 9
The final installment in the Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy promises to finally provide viewers with a satisfying, uh, climax—though coherent three-act structure isn’t really author E.L. James’ thing. (The last two movies just sort of stopped mid-story.) This time around, hunky, troubled billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and naïve, headstrong fiction editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) get married, allowing for Johnson and Dornan to strut around in various states of undress in exotic European honeymoon locales rather than their usual digs in rainy Seattle. But because these films have to be something a little more than just a series of light BDSM sex scenes, trouble follows Christian and Ana abroad in the form of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the latter’s psycho ex-boss and the former’s lifelong nemesis.
Will it be worth your time? Considering the diminishing returns between the first Fifty Shades Of Grey movie (not great, but better than expected) and sequel Fifty Shades Darker (occasionally incoherent, unintentionally hilarious), we’ll be impressed if the third one manages to keep the boom mic out of the shot throughout. Approach with extreme caution, even for ironic viewing purposes.
The 15:17 To Paris
Theaters everywhere February 9
Clint Eastwood’s patriotic streak continues with this tribute to the three American tourists—two of them off-duty members of the U.S. military—who helped thwart a terrorist attack onboard a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015. Eastwood has taken the unusual step of casting Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos as themselves for the portion of the film dramatizing the real-life attack, in which Stone was severely injured. The rest of the film, depicting the trio’s friendship from their elementary school days through Stone and Skarlatos’ military training, uses a more conventional, if similarly unexpected cast, including Jenna Fischer, Jaleel White, Thomas Lennon, and Judy Greer.
Will it be worth your time? Casting nonprofessional actors in one of his movies isn’t unheard of for Eastwood, who cast kids with no prior acting experience in Gran Torino. That being said, using amateurs for a thriller that promises some intense, bloody action scenes is a gigantic gamble—one that could either give the film an uncommon sense of realism or sink the entire enterprise well before the climactic attack.
Theaters everywhere February 9
This updated adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic children’s book reimagines the mischief-making little rabbit as an animated adult dickwad voiced by late-night host James Corden and his elderly arch-nemesis Mr. McGregor as a live-action Domhnall Gleeson with dyed hair. There is also a romantic subplot. Look on the bright side: At least it isn’t another one of those miserable Finding Neverland-type children’s author biopics; we already got one of those with 2006’s Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellweger as the English writer and illustrator.
Will it be worth your time? Those surprisingly good Paddington movies didn’t seem like a sure bet either. But at least they had the director of the cult surreal comedy series The Mighty Boosh at the helm and the blessing of Paddington creator Michael Bond. This comes from the director and co-writer of the already forgotten Annie remake and the animation studio that loosed The Emoji Movie and three Smurf films upon the world.
Select theaters and digital platforms February 9
Video-store-clerk-turned-indie-auteur Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip, Queen Of Earth) has never been shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve, having previously nodded to everyone from John Cassavetes to Wes Anderson to Roman Polanski. Golden Exits, which premiered at Sundance a year ago, is basically his Interiors, applying a Bergman-by-way-of-Woody lens to the story of two men (Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz and Jason Schwartzman) pondering affairs with the twentysomething Aussie beauty (Emily Browning) who wanders into their mundane Brooklyn lives. The impressive cast also includes Mary-Louise Parker, Chloë Sevigny, Analeigh Tipton, Lily Rabe, and the hardest working actor in American independent film, Kate Lyn Sheil.
Will it be worth your time? An oddly clumsy facsimile of arthouse relationship dramas, Golden Exits reduces terrific actors to stiff automatons, delivering formless, depressive chitchat and mopey, overwritten monologues. It’s a misfire for Perry, lacking his usual caustic wit and awkward in all the wrong ways. At least it looks nice; the gorgeously grainy 16mm imagery comes courtesy of Good Time cinematographer Sean Price Williams.
Netflix February 9
A very British hiking trip goes horribly wrong in this latest offering from director David Bruckner, helmer of the horror anthology Southbound (as well as earlier entries in the multi-part V/H/S and The Signal). Tackling a feature-length story for once, Bruckner adapts Adam Nevill’s novel about a group of friends from England (headed by Rafe Spall and Downton Abbey’s Robert James-Collier) mourning the death of a college buddy by taking his long-desired hike through the Swedish countryside. After an injury forces them off the approved trail to pursue a shortcut, things go south in seemingly the usual way of haunted, lost-in-the-woods tales, with the trailer promising inexplicably gutted animals, ominous symbols, and the inevitable strange sounds outside the tent at night.
Will it be worth your time? Bruckner’s previous work has been more inventive than the usual creature features, and the aforementioned trailer suggests that he’s elevated another rehash of Blair Witch-style scares. The guy’s scared us before in smaller chunks. Time to give him a chance to do it at longer length.
Select theaters February 14
Forget Fifty Shades. This year’s most risqué Valentine’s Day movie is the latest from French jack-of-all-genres François Ozon (Swimming Pool), who casts Marine Vacth as a model torn between her psychoanalyst boyfriend (Jérémie Renier) and his secret, chauvinistic twin brother (also Renier). Expect sex, violence, secrets, disorienting nightmare sequences, polished marble surfaces, and lots of mirror imagery, because it wouldn’t be a thriller about twins without mirror imagery!
Will it be worth your time? Don’t be fooled by the Cannes-competition laurels: The Double Lover is pure premium trash, rebooting David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers into a slick, kinky, borderline-camp erotic thriller. Whether it would make for good date-night fodder is a matter of taste. Is your date turned on by Paul Verhoeven movies, ostentatious wealth, or clinical close-ups of gynecological exams?
Theaters everywhere February 16
A great, richly conflicted character with the kind of backdrop that comics writers’ and artists’ dreams are made of, Black Panther finally gets a big-budget superhero movie of his own, after making his big-screen debut in Captain America: Civil War. Chadwick Boseman returns as the African king with the super-suit and the heavy crown, but a large part of the film’s inevitable hype factor has focused on what director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) might do with Marvel’s most intriguing fictional setting, Wakanda, a secretive Afrofuturist kingdom of wildly advanced technologies and complex backstories. The stacked cast includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, and—in what we’d like to think of as an informal Ghost Dog reunion—Isaach De Bankolé and Forest Whitaker.
Will it be worth your time? The rule of thumb for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s current output is that the floor and the ceiling tend to be close together. The worst movies are still watchable and charismatically cast; the best are thematically ambitious but limited by formulas and over-stuffed superhero rosters. This one does have a soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar, though. Can’t say that about Ant-Man.
Theaters everywhere February 16
Aardman, the British studio behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun The Sheep, goes back to the end of the Stone Age with this animated film about a caveman (Eddie Redmayne) who sets out to save his tribe from French-accented Bronze Age snobs. Unexpectedly, his quest takes the form of an underdog sports comedy that pokes fun at the global commercialization of soccer. Returning to directing for the first time in a decade, stop-motion animation icon and four-time Best Animated Short Film Oscar winner Nick Park makes his solo feature debut, having previously split directing duties on Chicken Run (with Aardman founder Peter Lord) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.
Will it be worth your time? Early Man recently opened in the U.K. to warm reviews, with many critics praising the humor and tactile visual style that is Aardman’s trademark, while noting that the movie falls short of the wit of the short films that first turned this formerly low-budget outfit into the country’s most famous animation studio.
Theaters everywhere February 16
Taylor James, a generic handsome person whose most notable screen credit to date has been the role of “Atlantean Messenger” (uncredited) in Justice League, stars as the Old Testament strongman Samson in this wannabe swords-and-sandals epic from the evangelical production outfit Pure Flix (God’s Not Dead). Most of the ensemble cast is similarly untested, apart from Rutger Hauer and Billy Zane; they play, respectively, Samson’s father and the Moab king Balak, best known for his role in a mystifying passage in the Book Of Numbers that involves a talking donkey. We’re praying that episode makes its way into Samson, though apart from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, movies have never been comfortable with the weirder parts of the Hebrew Bible.
Will it be worth your time? Judging from the trailer, Samson seems very “cost-effective.” Or to put it less nicely: While most Pure Flix productions are simply tedious, this has the makings of a real shitshow.
Select theaters February 16
British director Sally Potter updates a classic theatrical setup for a post-Brexit age. Working in the tradition of films like Carnage and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, The Party skewers bourgeois manners by putting a handful of seemingly sophisticated upper-middle-class people in a room together, then watching them tear into each other with stinging wit and withering sarcasm when the social contract is suddenly, irrevocably breached. Kristin Scott Thomas is the hostess, an ambitious politician celebrating her recent promotion with a small group of friends. That is, until her husband (Timothy Spall) drops a conversational bomb that sends the intimate gathering into delirious free fall.
Will it be worth your time? After premiering at the Berlin Film Festival last February, The Party opened in the U.K. in October, where it received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its knife-edged dialogue and scorching sense of humor. And even if chamber pieces make you claustrophobic, the film’s crisp 71-minute running time should keep things manageable.
Theaters everywhere February 23
If there were one film that readers wouldn’t stop pestering us about after we published our list of the best science-fiction films since Blade Runner, it was Ex Machina. And with good reason: The unlikely (but deserving) winner of a visual-effects Oscar, the indie directorial debut of English screenwriter Alex Garland had intriguing ideas, oodles of atmosphere, a sharp visual sense, and a couple of terrific performances. (We’re still not sure about the ending, though.) Adapted from a Nebula-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Garland’s follow-up casts Natalie Portman as a biologist who joins an expedition into a mysterious abandoned zone (shades of Stalker) full of secrets and wildly mutated predators.
Will it be worth your time? Garland first made a name for himself through a creatively fruitful collaboration with Danny Boyle, penning the scripts for 28 Days Later and Sunshine and the source novel for The Beach. Even if his stories don’t always deliver a satisfying finale, the guy knows how to create a tense setting out of speculative world-building.
Theaters everywhere February 23
Combining the reality-bending of David Fincher’s The Game with the suburbanites-gone-wild plot that accounts for 90 percent of modern movie comedies, Game Night follows a group of staid adult friends who meet up to role-play a murder-mystery, only to have things get dangerously real. Horrible Bosses duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein direct Jason Bateman through another series of criminal misadventures, aided and frustrated here by Rachel McAdams as his wife, plus an impressive assemblage of TV talent that includes Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Lamorne Morris, and Sharon Horgan.
Will it be worth your time? Bateman can do this sort of deadpan, in-over-his-head shtick in his sleep, while Daley/Goldstein (also of the Vacation reboot) have a middling-blockbuster tendency to rely on sight gags and slapstick. That said, it’s a potentially fertile plot for their brand of action-comedy—and you can’t argue with that supporting cast, which also includes Jeffrey Wright, Michael C. Hall, and Chelsea Peretti. There are probably worse ways to spend your own staid, suburban night.
Theaters everywhere February 23
An unmoored soul awakes in a different human body each morning, then does his best to live that person’s life for the day. But what will happen when he catches feelings for sensitive teenager Rhiannon (Angourie Rice)? Can the two make their love connection work, given that he literally becomes a new person every day? Michael Sucsy, whose previous directorial credits include the romance weepie The Vow and the surprisingly strong HBO telefilm Grey Gardens, takes on a bestselling YA novel with a pretty high-concept conceit.
Will it be worth your time? It’s very difficult to get coming-of-age romances right under even the best of circumstances, and given the immense difficulty of pulling off such a complicated premise on top of that, we don’t have too much optimism that Sucsy (working from a script by Me And Earl And The Dying Girl writer Jesse Andrews) will be able to deliver the delicate touch this premise requires.
Netflix February 23
Director Duncan Jones has been talking about his passion project for a long time—at least since 2016, when he said that it would be “related” to his 2009 feature debut Moon. But it’s only within the past few days that we’ve gotten an actual trailer for the film, which stars Alexander Skarsgård as a mute bartender in a futuristic version of Berlin trying to find his missing girlfriend with the help of two American surgeons played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux.
Will it be worth your time? After the big-budget disaster that was his Warcraft adaptation, it’s good to see Jones returning to a more personal project. He wrote the script for Mute before the release of Moon, and has praised distributor Netflix for allowing him the creative freedom to realize his vision. That makes the film worth a look, even if the the futuristic cityscape shown in the trailer is pretty generically Blade Runner-esque.
Select theaters February 23
Don’t generational curses just play so much better in a moldy old manor house? Director Brian O’Malley’s follow-up to Let Us Prey is soaked with shadowy Gothic atmosphere, all the better to tell a ghost story set in early 20th-century rural Ireland. Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner star as twins Rachel and Edward, whose lives are bound by three immutable rules passed down to them by their parents: Be in bed with the doors locked by midnight; never allow a stranger into the family house; and never abandon their home. As their 18th birthdays approach, Rachel finds herself tempted to break the family rules, unleashing the wrath of the supernatural Lodgers that enforce them.
Will it be worth your time? Reviews of The Lodgers off of the festival circuit have been mixed, but for fans of atmospheric Gothic spectacles like Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, the sheer beauty of the film—and the dilapidated 700-year-old mansion in which it was shot—should be worth a rental, at least.
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun
Select theaters February 28
How’s this for a compelling nonfiction premise? “I couldn’t get it out of my head that my great-grandfather… had murdered a black man in the 1940s and gotten away with it.” The latest from Travis Wilkerson (An Injury To One, Who Killed Cock Robin?) finds the strongly political documentary filmmaker investigating his own family history, interviewing relatives and looking through home movies and old photos in search of answers about his great-grandpa, an avowed racist who appears to have gotten away with at least one murder.
Will it be worth your time? Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? found its share of critical support when it played film festivals last year, though some of the praise has been tempered with concerns that the film raises many more questions than it answers.