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.
Having offspring can drive a woman to drink and say the word “fuck” a lot under any circumstances. But the joy of the holidays just means added stress for the heroines of A Bad Moms Christmas (played again by Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn), for whom yuletide cheer becomes more like running a gauntlet when their respective terrible mothers (played by Susan Sarandon, Christine Baranski, and Cheryl Hines) show up unannounced for some forced family bonding time. Time to crack open some mall beers, eh, ladies?
Will it be worth your time? The first Bad Moms movie took the easy route when it came to satirizing the impossible expectations placed on mothers in our society. This cheap, Christmas-themed sequel takes it even easier, wasting a winning cast on lazy gags.
About the only thing keeping last summer’s Captain America: Civil War from looking entirely like a full-fledged Avengers sequel was the conspicuous absence of two key teammates: the golden-locked himbo with the hammer (Chris Hemsworth) and the walking green temper tantrum (a motion-captured Mark Ruffalo). Thor: Ragnarok reunites those absentee Avengers, plus trickster black-sheep brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), for a kind of interstellar buddy comedy, with Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, and Jeff Goldblum also enlisting in Marvel’s already-gigantic army of heroes and villains, gods and monsters. It’s Taika Waititi, the director of quirky Kiwi laugh riots What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, standing behind the camera of this rainbow-hewed entertainment.
Will it be worth your time? To call Ragnarok the best of the Thor movies isn’t saying too much, given that the previous two are among the least-loved MCU entries. So we’ll go further and note that’s also one of the studio’s funniest blockbusters, with game comic performances from everyone involved (Goldblum is a special gas). Still, don’t go in expecting a super-sized Taika Waititi movie; the Marvel formula has been upheld, with all the good and the bad that entails.
The winter of 2003. While his son’s body is flown back from Iraq, a mild-mannered PX clerk (Steve Carell) goes looking for two friends he hasn’t seen since the days of the Vietnam War to invite them to the funeral; one (Laurence Fishburne) has become a small-town pastor, while the other (Bryan Cranston) has kept up his hard-drinking, shit-talking ways into grizzled middle age. The result is another loosely plotted multi-character-study from director Richard Linklater, as well as a spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, based on a follow-up book by Darryl Ponicsan, who wrote the source novel for the Ashby movie.
Will it be worth your time? Though clumsy in spots, Last Flag Flying nonetheless showcases Linklater’s substantial gifts as an actor’s director. He has an eye for young talent, but is even better with seasoned pros; as the grief-stricken father, Carell gives the finest dramatic performance of his career.
Rob Reiner goes back to the White House, a place for which he showed an easy facility in The American President, to follow a savvy Southern politician from his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign through to his efforts to carry out the agenda of JFK after ascending to the Oval Office. The film boasts a solid bench of character-actor talent: Woody Harrelson in the title role, with support from Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey Donovan, and more.
Will it be worth your time? A meek, standard-issue biopic, LBJ is made memorable only by the miscast Harrelson’s terrible Dicky Tracy villain make-up.
A decade after sharing a byline with Joe Swanberg, and a few years after co-writing two of Noah Baumbach’s fizziest films, Greta Gerwig strikes out on her own with a loosely autobiographical high school comedy. Her solo debut as a writer and director stars Saoirse Ronan as a Sacramento teenager navigating first love, impending graduation, and family conflict over an eventfully uneventful senior year. Laurie Metcalf is her hypercritical mother, playwright Tracy Letts is her warmly supportive father, and Manchester By The Sea breakout Lucas Hedges is her drama-club crush; that’s really just the tip of the film’s ensemble-cast iceberg.
Will it be worth your time? Sweet, perceptive, and often gut-bustingly funny, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age comedy for the ages—one that proves that much of what made Baumbach’s Frances Ha such a charmer, from its nimble montage to its blizzard of bon mots, came straight from Gerwig. Run, don’t walk.
Japanese jack-of-all-genres Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer) tackles Hiroaki Samura’s popular manga about an unkillable swordsman (pop star Takuya Kimura) who takes a vengeance-obsessed orphan (Hana Sugisaka) under his wing, helping her dispatch wages of enemy combatants. It’s basically an Eastern cousin to this year’s Western-themed graphic-novel pastiche Logan, following as it does an aging ronin with regenerative powers and his young, ferocious female protégé.
Will it be worth your time? The publicity machine behind this episodic actioner insists that it’s Miike’s 100th movie. Whether that number’s been fudged or not, it’s always fun to see this prolific purveyor of ultra-violence dabble in samurai cinema. Blade Of The Immortal isn’t as awesome or resonant as Miike’s 13 Assassins (or Logan, for that matter), but it’s still lots of fun, beginning with a one-on-100 bloodbath and proceeding from there like an especially kinetic video game, volleying from one ruthless boss battle to the next.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s murderous exploits have been chronicled in newspaper articles, books, TV episodes, documentaries, and podcasts, but My Friend Dahmer takes a different approach to profiling the notorious serial killer. Based on a graphic-novel memoir by cartoonist Derf Backderf—who was actually a high school classmate of Dahmer’s in Akron, Ohio, in the late ’70s—the film follows “Jeff” through his last year of high school, chronicling his struggle with his sexuality, his ultimately futile attempts to make and keep friends, and the slow buildup of warning signs about the deeply disturbed man Dahmer would become.
Will it be worth your time? Lead actor Ross Lynch takes a sharp right turn from Disney Channel to Milwaukee Cannibal, which should lead to some interesting reactions from young fans who know him as the lead singer of boy band R5. And given that the film invites viewers to understand, and even sympathize with, young Jeffrey, they won’t be the only ones squirming in their seats.
Eighteen filmmakers each followed a different narrative across Election Day last year, planning to document the crowning of the country’s first female president, and instead… well, you know how things turned out. The film was helmed by producer Jeff Deutchman, who previously shepherded the Obama valediction 11/4/08 using a very similar format. The stories gathered here seem varied, from coal workers fearing for their future to immigrants also fearing for their future; on the other hand, these are all stories that journalists have grappled with mightily and in much greater depth over the past year as they try to figure out what the fuck happened, and why.
Will it be worth your time? Reliving that day’s shell-shocked terror may be cathartic for some, but it’s hard to imagine it’ll be illuminating for anyone. Show this one to your grandkids in a few decades; they’ll get a kick out of our cheerful cultural naïveté and also our ability to breathe the Earth’s atmosphere without protection.
Agatha Christie’s classic 1934 whodunit gets a new Hollywood adaptation, courtesy of actor-director Kenneth Branagh. A dead body is found on board a luxurious Istanbul-to-London train; with the tracks closed because of a snowstorm, the dapper, mustachioed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is forced to investigate, with his fellow first-class passengers as the only viable suspects. The 1974 version directed by Sidney Lumet is famous for its cast of stars; this one includes the likes of Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. as the passengers of the Orient Express.
Will it be worth your time? Color us intrigued, especially by Branagh’s decision to depart from most portrayals of Poirot—a small, delicate man with a neat, sharply pointed mustache and black-dyed hair—in his depiction of Christie’s iconic detective.
Adopting the Fockers franchising formula, 2015’s surprise Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg hit Daddy’s Home—Ferrell’s biggest live-action movie, somehow—gets an obligatory sequel that adds even more meddling parents to the mix, while also hedging its bets with a Christmas setting. John Lithgow and Mel Gibson step in to play the goofy and intimidating fathers to, respectively, the weakling Ferrell and (reformed) dirtbag Wahlberg, as the friendship they forged in the first film is put to the test through various slapstick fights. John Cena intrudes as yet another dad.
Will it be worth your time? If you enjoyed the inert, slightly off-brand version of an Adam McKay-Will Ferrell comedy in the first film—and you’re not the kind of person to be put off by Mel Gibson’s documented history of psychotic behavior being played once again for cuddly laughs—chances are you won’t mind taking an eggnog nap while it plays on TBS someday.
A message appears, scrawled across three empty billboards on a lonely stretch of road. It’s the first shot fired in a war between a bereaved mother (Frances McDormand) and the sheriff (Woody Harrelson) who’s failed to find whoever raped and murdered her teenage daughter. Pulling back a little on the profane humor that characterized his In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh unfurls a tense Missouri drama about vengeance, culpability, and the complicated bonds forged in small-town America.
Will it be worth your time? For sure. McDonagh sets up what looks like a cut-and-dry, David-versus-Goliath story, only to shrewdly complicate it with multidirectional empathy, dividing our allegiances among his whole cast of characters; even the most seemingly detestable, like the lumbering moron cop that Sam Rockwell plays, are afforded a measure of humanity. Expect the film, with its rich performances and almost Coenish blend of tones, to be one of the fall’s critical favorites—and maybe a commercial one, too, if winning the Audience Award at Toronto is any indication.
Finally escaping the watchful eye of her strictly religious parents, sheltered college freshman Thelma (Eili Harboe) discovers that it’s more than just poor social skills separating her from her new classmates. Strange things happen when strange feelings are stirred—and Thelma never feels stranger than when in the company of beautiful, confident classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins). This campus Carrie is a change of pace for A.V. Club favorite Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs), who’s added a supernatural dimension to his coming-of-age drama.
Will it be worth your time? Trier handles the collegiate romance with typical sensitivity; he’s an expert on youthful yearning. But Thelma is somehow both too straightforward and too muddled, using a confused metaphor to make a pretty simplistic point about repressing who you really are. It’s no Raw.
DC goes fishing for those big Avengers bucks, as Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne assembles a superhero supergroup, enlisting the Amazonian ass-kicker Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), burly sea prince Aquaman (Jason Momoa), speedy quipster The Flash (Ezra Miller), and high-tech tin man Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to take on an impending planetary threat. (No one’s being particularly coy about the inevitable appearance of a familiar sixth teammate, though chances are good he won’t show up until the eleventh hour, during the climactic CGI fireworks.) Batman V Superman director Zack Snyder shot most of the film before stepping away from the production after the death of his daughter, leaving Joss Whedon to handle post-production and about $25 million worth of reshoots.
Will it be worth your time? Visually, Justice League looks very much in keeping with the murkiness of Snyder’s other two DC productions. But the trailers also suggest that Whedon, who made the two Avengers films and who rewrote enough of this movie to get a writing credit, may have chipped away some at the monolithic seriousness of the franchise, allowing for a little character-based levity. If nothing else, Justice League’s two-hour runtime means that it can’t be quite the slog that Batman V Superman was, though one does have to wonder how they’re going to find the space to coherently introduce all those new characters.
The Nativity may be the most well-trod subject in art history, second only to animated films where seemingly ordinary, humble protagonists discover they have a hidden purpose. Sony’s The Star combines both tropes into one faith-driven package with its tale of a donkey named Bo (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun) and his goofball animal pals, preaching the previously unsung role that beasts who sing Mariah Carey songs played in the birth of our lord and savior.
Will it be worth your time? The Star is being explicitly marketed at a Christian audience through Sony’s Affirm label, as well as through its big, juicy part for Jesus Christ, so unless you want to go to hell… If you’re a heretic, you may yet find your spirit called by a celebrity cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key, Zachary Levi, Gina Rodriguez, Tracy Morgan, and even Oprah Winfrey. Still, that’s quite the leap of faith.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower director Stephen Chbosky stays firmly within his poignant wheelhouse by adapting someone else’s bestselling coming-of-age tale—this time R.J. Palacio’s novel about a boy born with a facial deformity (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) who struggles to fit in at his new school. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play the supportive parents who offer him various, slightly reworded reminders that real beauty is on the inside.
Will it be worth your time? Updating 1985’s Mask for the 21st century—at a time when society needs the periodic reminder more than ever to not be bullying assholes—certainly isn’t the worst concept, and the book already has a built-in, devoted audience for its honestly realized depictions of the cruelty, and eventual kindness, of children. That said, hoo boy, the trailer is pretty much wall-to-wall treacle, from its endless procession of bedside heart-to-hearts to that incessantly tinkling piano score, all of it superficially suggesting a Hallmark movie that’s only barely elevated by its prestige cast. But uh, look, real beauty is on the inside.
Denzel Washington slips on nerd glasses, an ill-fitting suit, and a whole lot of nervous tics to play the title character of this sophomore feature from Dan Gilroy, writer-director of Nightcrawler and younger brother of Tony “Michael Clayton” Gilroy. A legal drama about an idealistic lawyer facing a crisis of personal and professional ethics, Roman J. Israel, Esq. also features the very busy Colin Farrell as Roman’s ruthlessly pragmatic new boss.
Will it be worth your time? Sadly, no. Having coaxed career-best work from a spooky, hollowed-out Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Gilroy accomplishes something almost equally (if more perversely) impressive: He gets a bad performance out of Denzel Washington. To be fair, the star’s showy, inconsistent oddball routine isn’t any worse than the movie around it: a baggy, unconvincing character study that rambles around for more than two hours, to no especially good end. It’s a film as awkward as its title.
Produced on the sly and kept a secret until its premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Louis CK’s first proper feature in 16 years tries to turn a literal “What if it was your daughter?” scenario into a CK-ian consideration of adulthood and its foibles. The film-obsessed stand-up and TV auteur stars as a successful sitcom producer who finds himself at wit’s end when his idol, a Woody Allen-esque movie director (John Malkovich), takes a leering interest in his spoiled 17-year-old daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz).
Will it be worth your time? Riffing on Allen’s Manhattan, Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, and the glamour of classic Hollywood dramas, this poky, teleplay-paced black-and-white comic drama juggles a lot of ideas about lenience, parenthood, and, yes, sexual predation. It might be a victim of perfect timing; despite Malkovich’s spookily convincing performance as a sociopath, it isn’t really interested in the Weinsteins or Tobacks (or Allens) of the entertainment world, or their enablers.
Writer-director Dee Rees (Pariah) makes a giant leap forward with this WWII-era drama, based on a 2008 bestseller by Hillary Jordan. Mudbound helixes the fate of two families, one white and one black, working the same few acres of Mississippi land, and sliding into a conflict that spans years (and generations). The robust ensemble cast includes Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks.
Will it be worth your time? Even at roughly two and a half hours, Mudbound struggles to keep track of all its characters; it sometimes seems in danger of buckling under its own ambition. But Rees preserves the multiple perspectives of the novel—and divides our sympathies—by employing multiple narrators, decentering the drama to create a spectrum of POVs. It has a poetic interiority lacking from most prestige literary adaptations.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring A Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton
Documentarian Chris Smith has previously tackled obsession, comedy, and questionable genius in Collapse, The Yes Men, and his breakout hit, 1999’s American Movie. That same year, Jim Carrey vanished into the role of Andy Kaufman for Milos Foreman’s Man On The Moon, a bravura feat of method acting that Smith is now documenting in Jim & Andy. Judging by the trailer, this story is heavily told through Carrey’s perspective, but the behind-the-scenes footage—reportedly hidden by the studio until now—shows the shocking lengths Carrey went to for his role.
Will it be worth your time? The newly bearded and philosophical Carrey speaks about the experience as if he was possessed by Kaufman’s ghost. It’s always compelling to watch artistic eccentricity at this scale.
Notoriously consistent, the films of the prolific South Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo (Right Now, Wrong Then, The Day He Arrives, Oki’s Movie, etc.) share an unvarying palette: booze, awkward social interactions, cold weather, dislocation, loneliness, characters who make or teach film, relationships, zooms, cigarettes, offbeat structures. This latest exercise in Hong-ian preoccupations stars The Handmaiden’s Kim Min-hee as an actor in a two-part story; the first part is set in Germany, the second in Korea.
Will it be worth your time? Hong has spent much of his career making variations on the same movie—not that it matters, because the movie happens to be pretty good. Advance word regarding On The Beach At Night Alone has been good, with many critics singling out Kim’s performance.
The latest Pixar film goes south of the border—which is to say, it crosses the one between the living and the dead. Young Miguel has big dreams of becoming a great musician like his idol, Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately, his family has an inexplicable and longstanding ban on music. But after a strange encounter, Miguel finds himself in the land of the dead, where he joins together with amiable trickster Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) in an effort to discover the secret of his unusual family history.
Will it be worth your time? It’s a Pixar film, which means it gets an automatic benefit of the doubt, even after Cars 3. The studio still has an unbelievably lopsided hit-to-miss success ratio, so odds are good that Coco will prove to be a journey worth the time—especially with director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) in the driver’s seat, albeit co-directing with Monsters University story artist Adrian Molina.
On the heels of Dunkirk and the already forgotten Churchill comes Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s arty and blatantly theatrical drama about the political maneuvering behind the Dunkirk evacuation. (With this film and Atonement, Wright seems to have set himself up as a specialist in all things Operation Dynamo.) A mound of prosthetic makeup stars as the newly appointed British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; somewhere underneath is Gary Oldman, struggling to get out.
Will it be worth your time? If the idea of Oldman playing Winston Churchill sounds like a distracting stunt… well, it is. Fortunately, Wright’s take on the post-King’s Speech prestige pic has plenty of other distractions to offer; his showboating direction is unflaggingly watchable.
Critics have been raving about this tender romance from Italian director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) since it premiered at Sundance back in January, and it’s so highly anticipated that some theaters have been selling tickets weeks in advance, as though the film were the art-house equivalent of The Last Jedi or something. Based on a novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is more like a swooning throwback to sensual European gabfests of the 1960s, tracing as it does the attraction that sparks between a smart, sensitive teenager (Timothée Chalamet) and the strapping graduate student (Armie Hammer) invited by the boy’s parents to stay at their Italian villa for the summer.
Will it be worth your time? The two leads are terrific (as is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the kid’s academic father), and Guadagnino has finally found material to match the beauty of his favored seaside setting: Like some lost Éric Rohmer classic, Call Me By Your Name is a glorious slow-burn romance, synced to the heartbeats of its characters. Believe the hype, and maybe grab one of those advance tickets.