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.
In his latest blurring of the lines between performance and identity, fiction and nonfiction, documentarian Robert Greene (Actress, Kate Plays Christine) treks out to Bisbee, a mining town turned tourist destination in Arizona. Here, a group of the locals provide an oral history of their community, while also agreeing to reenact a century-old atrocity: the deportation of some 2,000 unionized coal miners (many of them immigrants), rounded up at the behest of their employers and by their own deputized neighbors, then shipped out of town on cattle cars. Will playing the part of their ancestors help them grasp the significance of this shameful event from the town’s past? It’s basically a homegrown, Southwestern Act Of Killing.
Will it be worth your time? The climactic reenactment doesn’t hit quite as hard as Greene maybe intends, and the parallels to contemporary horror stories of deportation are plenty apparent without the director needing to underline them. Still, Bisbee ’17 remains another fascinating doc-like-thing from the filmmaker, interrogating not just this particular town’s history but also the porous barriers of nonfiction itself.
Remember that creepy nun that showed up to provide some jump-scare backup in The Conjuring 2? Well, like Annabelle before her, the ghost in the habit has been granted her own spin-off, an origin story that reaches back to the early ’50s, when a Catholic priest (Demián Bichir) and a young novice (Taissa Farmiga) travel to Transylvania to investigate the mysterious suicide of a nun. Corin Hardy, who made the 2015 creature feature The Hallow, tackles a story co-written by the mastermind of this whole spooky mega-franchise, James Wan.
Will it be worth your time? That may depend on how intent The Nun is on tying itself to the (Lucifer help us) Conjuring expanded universe. If the film can forgo the mythology that nobody cares about and just deliver on the promise of more finely tuned haunted-house mayhem, we’ll forgive the inevitable scene setting up that planned Crooked Man vehicle or a different spin-off for a different member of the Avengers-style supergroup these ghouls are probably forming.
The trailer for Peppermint starts off like any number of recent Jennifer Garner movies: There’s footage of a happy family enjoying a night out at the fair, with Garner delivering a cutesy monologue about a girl with “snow in her eyes and peppermint in her blood.” Then the guys with the machine guns roll up. Turns out that the latest from Taken director Pierre Morel is a vigilante thriller in the Death Wish mode, starring Garner as a suburban mom who transforms herself into an action hero to kill the cartel members who gunned down her family in a drive-by shooting.
Will it be worth your time? The trailer leans on the Trumpian scare tactic of evoking rabid gangs of Latinx gang members (MS-13, specifically) infesting American cities, bringing senseless violence in their wake and evading justice with the help of activist judges and corrupt cops. So it probably depends on your tolerance for that sort of thing.
Folk musician Ben Dickey won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his performance as late, underrated country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley in Ethan Hawke’s bittersweet musical biopic, which premiered at Sundance back in January before traveling to Foley’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas for a showing at SXSW. Alia Shawkat co-stars as Sybil, the love of Foley’s hard-drinking, hippie-redneck life.
Will it be worth your time? Festival reviews of Blaze praised the film’s easygoing attitude, crediting the poetic cinematography and lived-in performances for making the film more moving and compelling than most biopics about artists too sensitive for this world.
Hal Ashby probably isn’t the first name people list when ticking off the greats of ’70s Hollywood, unless they’re doing it alphabetically. And yet his best works—Harold And Maude, Being There, Bound For Glory, The Landlord, Shampoo—are some of the enduring classics of the era. Hal takes an affectionate look at the director’s career, which soared and then fizzled, with detours into his messy family life and voluminous drug consumption. Archival footage directly from the era and interviews with Jeff Bridges, Jon Voight, and Judd Apatow speak to the filmmaker’s legacy.
Will it be worth your time? Only if you’re already a big Ashby fan, as Hal does a pretty lousy job of actually communicating the significance of his work, or even the plots of his movies. It’s a generous, fuzzy remembrance, low on context and vital new information.
Is there a more perfect choice to bring back the ugliest of motherfuckers than Shane Black, who had a small supporting role in the original movie and whose own ’80s action touchstone, Lethal Weapon, opened the same year? Despite its singular title, The Predator sends a whole posse of technologically advanced, genetically enhanced, green-blooded alien sportsmen to the American ’burbs, pitting them against shit-talking former soldiers and a kid with autism (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) who accidentally triggers the hunt. The whole thing could only look more Shane Black if it was set on Christmas.
Will it be worth your time? As controversially lukewarm as The A.V. Club was on Black’s last take on a popular action/sci-fi series, we’re coming up short on reasons not be excited for The Predator. The cast is fun, with Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Keegan-Michael Key, Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, and Thomas Jane all taking their best shot at the bulky extraterrestrials. The premise has a real Monster Squad vibe, which makes sense, given that it shares with that ’80s cult classic the writing team of Black and Fred Dekker. And judging from last week’s Red Band trailer, both the cursing and the killing will be choice. I guess we could note that Boyd Holbrook is no Arnold Schwarzenegger. But then, neither were Adrien Brody and Danny Glover.
Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer adapted the YA novel Nerve into a surprisingly entertaining thriller a couple of years ago. Now she turns to more grown-up concerns with this big-screen version of Darcey Bell’s seemingly Gone Girl-ish novel. Anna Kendrick plays a young mother who bonds with a glamorous fellow mom (Blake Lively), only to find herself in the middle of a mystery when the woman vanishes without a trace. Recently anointed king of handsomeness Henry Golding (from Crazy Rich Asians) plays Lively’s left-behind husband, and Paul Feig tests his versatility for his darker, decidedly smaller-scale follow-up to the Ghostbusters reboot.
Will it be worth your time? Feig’s movies of late are typically lightly plotted affairs about funny, complicated women hanging out. A Simple Favor looks like it imposes some narrative tightening on his fascination with female friendship, and might give Kendrick and Lively some solidly grown-up roles in the process.
America has such a seemingly inexhaustible supply of so-crazy-they’re-true crime stories to turn into movies, it was only a matter of time before we got to one about a bona fide kid criminal. The kid in question is Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), who went from drug dealer to mini-kingpin to FBI informant, all by the age of 14. Matthew McConaughey lends some star power as Rick’s dad in this second feature from French director Yann Demange, following the acclaimed thriller ’71.
Will it be worth your time? Lately, it feels like there’s been a ceiling on how well these juicy true-life crime pictures with stacked ensembles can actually turn out. On the other hand, the presence of McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, and Bruce Dern is still awfully enticing, even if the movie turns out just okay.
The real-life story of Louis Zamperini chronicled in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken might have seemed amazing, following the travails of an Olympic athlete who survived a World War II plane crash, a month on a life raft, and terms at several different POW camps. But wouldn’t it be just as amazing if, after the war, he returned home and got really into Billy Graham? Unbroken: Path To Redemption answers that question in the affirmative, sequelizing Jolie’s film by filling in the blanks between Zamperini’s war experiences and the forgiveness he later offered his captors. The original cast is gone, and so is the original studio, as Universal appears to have subcontracted its rights to the Laura Hillenbrand book to Christian distributor Pure Flix.
Will it be worth your time? The Jolie-directed, Coen brothers-coscripted, Roger Deakins-shot version of this story was something of a noble-suffering snooze, and it’s hard to imagine the discount-bin sequel ginning up more excitement for a plot focusing so intently on Billy Graham.
Nicolas Cage gets into a chainsaw fight. If that sounds like pure genre bliss, you’re probably the target audience for Mandy, the new gonzo revenge thriller from Panos Cosmatos (son of Tombstone director George P. Cosmatos), going even deeper down the psychedelic rabbit hole in his follow-up to the cult freak-out Beyond The Black Rainbow. Cage plays a gentle lumberjack and reformed mercenary who gets back in touch with his inner commando after a Jim Jonesian religious guru and his zealots destroy everything he holds dear. The setting is the woods, circa 1983.
Will it be worth your time? Mandy often feels like a conscious attempt to craft the ultimate cult sensation, with Cosmatos throwing everything from Mad Max to Clive Barker to giallo into the blender. Even those who dig the individual ingredients may balk at some of the more languid-if-striking stretches of trippy surrealism. But you probably know from the description if this is your cup of spiked Kool-Aid. Also, we repeat: Nicolas Cage gets into a chainsaw fight.
Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her parents 40 whacks. Or did she? Popular schoolyard rhyme aside, the Borden murders remain an unsolved mystery. With Lizzie, director Craig William Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass concoct a speculative explanation, pivoting their dramatic theory around the invented slash-fiction romance between Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) and the family maid (Kristen Stewart), who was also around on August 4, 1892, the day of the massacre at the Massachusetts home.
Will it be worth your time? It’s actually kind of impressive, the degree to which Lizzie leaches its famous story of all sensationalistic urgency. This is a dour, glacially paced art drama, and while it has a perspective—one tied to the vaguely anachronistic depiction of Lizzie as a proto-feminist heroine, lashing out against an oppressive patriarchy—those seeking true-crime thrills will have to trudge through a lot of pregnant pauses and mournful stares to get to them.
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan (Atonement), this courtroom drama gives Emma Thompson one of her meatiest roles in years (and a nice 180-degree turn from her gushy alcoholic in The Meyerowitz Stories). Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a British high-court judge tasked with ruling on the case of a brilliant young Jehovah’s Witness (Fionn Whitehead) who is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. As Fiona’s marriage to her longtime husband (Stanley Tucci) buckles under the weight of her commitment to her work, she throws herself ever deeper into the case and begins to bond with the dying boy.
Will it be worth your time? There have been largely positive advance notices for the latest from Richard Eyre (Iris, Notes On A Scandal), a longtime chronicler of dramatic British ennui; multiple outlets have praised the film’s sensitivity and thoughtfulness, and Thompson’s performance in particular. In other words, this could be an excellent start to the traditionally more high-minded fall movie season.
The beloved children’s classic by John Bellairs gets transformed into a CGI-heavy spectacle starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett and directed by Hostel mastermind Eli Roth, of all people. How very 2018. In the early 1950s, 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black), who along with his kindly neighbor, Florence (Blanchett), reveals the existence of magical powers, plus a ticking clock in the walls of the house, placed there long ago by a nefarious couple bent on destroying the world.
Will it be worth your time? It’s tough to say whether a hard pivot into family-friendly entertainment will spur splat-pack veteran Roth into new creative territory or merely sand off his more interesting edges. The trailer does bear an unfortunate resemblance to the garish “nothing but effects” junkers of latter-day Tim Burton. Here’s hoping the film is sharper—and smarter—than it looks.
Fourteen years after Fahrenheit 9/11 became the highest grossing documentary of all time (while also failing, alas, to sway the election in John Kerry’s favor), Michael Moore returns with another polemical takedown of a sitting president. Expect lots of the filmmaker’s usual tactics: feverish montages of current events, faux-naïve lines of questioning, theoretically funny man-on-the-street shtick, voice-over pontification—all destined to preach to a choir of outraged progressives, growing more outraged with every new day of this disastrous administration.
Will it be worth your time? Moore has his work cut out for him if he hopes to add anything new to the daily chorus of dissent being directed at the White House and the unqualified bigot residing within. Also, there’s almost too much potential material for Fahrenheit 11/9 to even function as a comprehensive rundown of Trump’s crimes against democracy and decency. Best-case scenario is that Moore leans on his singular talent for digging up incriminating evidence (not that we’re lacking in that either), or that he finds some way to reach those still somehow on the fence—though that would require an across-the-aisle persuasiveness that this polarizing agitprop artist has never really possessed.
Somehow, between shooting The Last Jedi, Operation Finale, Annihilation, At Eternity’s Gate, and Triple Frontier and recording his voice for The Addams Family and Star Wars Resistance, Oscar Isaac made time to co-star in the newest dramedy from This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman. The film follows the seemingly-ordinary love story of Will (Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde), which begins in college and eventually leads to marriage and kids, before epically transcending generations—even lifetimes—and touching the lives of people all over the world.
Will it be worth your time? The premise sounds both dangerously saccharine and, worrisomely, like something Paul Haggis might write. In fact, it’s from a script off the Blacklist, an annual survey of the best un-produced screenplays. Even if the schmaltz factor gets out of control, the supporting cast is stellar, with roles for Mandy Patinkin, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Samuel L. Jackson (who, intriguingly, will be playing himself).
The fact that Assassination Nation takes place in a town called Salem is no accident: Writer-director Sam Levinson’s buckshot satire of social media, mass hysteria, smartphone culture, and toxic masculinity makes the case that YouTube and Instagram are where modern-day witch trials go down. And they’re just as sexually charged this time around, as embodied by the lead quartet of wickedly smart, hyper-sexualized (but, like, in an empowering way) and extremely deadly teenage girls.
Will it be worth your time? Assassination Nation received mixed reviews at Sundance; some critics were exhilarated and titillated by the film’s relentless provocation, while others were left rolling their eyes.
The late Gilda Radner, easily an all-time top-five Saturday Night Live cast member, gets the biographical documentary treatment in a film that covers her early life, her electric and endearing work on SNL, and her open-hearted struggles with the cancer that took her life in 1989. Though some of her SNL co-stars like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Jane Curtin are sadly absent, the presence of Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Cecily Strong, and Bill Hader picks up some of that slack. The real star, of course, is Radner’s performance clips and the boundless joy they express.
Will it be worth your time? Love, Gilda frequently comes close to a familiar bio-doc trap: Hardcore fans of its subject will not learn much, while neophytes might want to go straight to binge-watching old SNL episodes rather than starting here. But the access to home movies and other recordings Radner made outside of the TV spotlight yields some lovely moments, and who’s too good to watch a bunch of old Gilda Radner clips, anyway?
Peter Dinklage follows his tortured, melancholic turn in last year’s Rememory with another high-concept premise, albeit a more familiar one: The entire human race has disappeared in some sort of unknown apocalypse, save for Del, Dinklage’s lone survivor. Del builds himself a comfortable, almost utopian world of solitude, only to have it shattered when another person, Grace (Elle Fanning), appears suddenly without explanation, and decides to stay.
Will it be worth your time? Director Reed Morano recently took home both an Emmy and Directors Guild Award for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, suggesting she more than knows her way around a spare and unsettling story. Pair that with Dinklage’s facility for commanding solo performances (his talent sometimes seems in inverse proportion to how many people he’s forced to share the screen with) and I Think We’re Alone Now appears to be a global disaster worth enduring, even if reviews out of Sundance earlier this year weren’t exactly glowing.
In Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish was the rebellious wild card of the central foursome, but in Night School she’s been promoted to a figure of authority: a teacher for a GED class full of misfits, led by a particularly desperate Kevin Hart, who needs the degree to get ahead at work. Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, and Ben Schwartz lend their comic-ringer support to round out the group. The movie also reunites Haddish with veteran comedy director Malcolm D. Lee, who can go farcical (Undercover Brother), sentimental (the Best Man series), warmly nostalgic (Roll Bounce), or, as with Girls Trip, all at once.
Will it be worth your time? Hart has yet to make a classic comedy, or even an especially good one. But having his manic energy bounce off of Haddish isn’t a bad idea, and the trailer looks agreeably silly.
What if Bigfoot, but opposite? That’s the basic pitch for this animated comedy, wherein a bumbling Yeti (voiced by Channing Tatum) is determined to prove that his belief in the existence of legendary small-footed creatures (that is, humans) is not pure unfounded crackpottery. Eventually he locates a smallfoot and attempts to bring him back to his tribe. Even by contemporary big-studio cartoon standards of hiring anyone who’s remotely famous for anything to do voice-over, this one has an eclectic, borderline incoherent lineup, featuring Tatum, Zendaya, James Corden, Gina Rodriguez, Danny DeVito, Common, Jimmy Tatro from American Vandal, and LeBron James. Given all that, doesn’t it feel like Andy Samberg should be in this too, preferably as the presumably goofy human?
Will it be worth your time? It’s hard to hold much faith in feature animation from Warner Bros. when it’s so confusingly outsourced: Like its Warner predecessor Storks, Smallfoot is actually animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks, who also did its parent company’s Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs series. For older animation fans, it may look like second-tier Sony. For kids, well, the Sony cartoons are reliable bouncy and appealing.
In what he’s promised will be his final screen performance, Robert Redford lends his iconic gravity and famous Hollywood charm to the true story of a prolific career criminal: the bank robber and escape artist Forrest Tucker, who’s said to have broken out of prison a whopping 18 times, and made another dozen unsuccessful attempts at it. Somewhat curiously, The Old Man & The Gun largely relegates that amazing statistic to the sidelines, focusing instead on his later years as the leader of the so-called Over The Hill gang, a trio of geriatrics who cut a path of armed robbery across the Southwest during the early 1980s. Fellow screen legend Sissy Spacek plays the widow Tucker woos on the side of his crime spree, while Casey Affleck is the rumpled detective on his trail.
Will it be worth your time? Like most of writer-director David Lowery’s movies, which include A.V. Club favorite A Ghost Story and the Pete’s Dragon remake, this agreeably laidback true-crime yarn doubles as a love letter to the American cinema of the 1970s. But there’s also a touch of relaxed Steven Soderbergh panache to The Old Man & The Gun, which sometimes plays like a sunset-years sequel to Out Of Sight, with that film’s on-the-lam Jack Foley still knocking off banks with a smile in his late 70s. The performances are mostly wonderful, and the film’s charms largely rest on the wistful relationship the audience has with Redford’s stardom.
Green Room fans will have to wait until January to see director Jeremy Saulnier’s contributions to the new True Detective season. Arriving much earlier is his Netflix-bound fourth feature, about a writer (Jeffrey Wright) who agrees to go searching for a child supposedly dragged into the Alaskan wilderness by wolves. The supporting cast includes Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, and Saulnier’s Blue Ruin star Macon Blair, who adapted the screenplay from a novel by William Giraldi.
Will it be worth your time? Saulnier’s last two thrillers were visceral masterclasses in suspense, and Green Room in particular proved the nerve-wracking wonders he can do with killer canines. Maybe skip the overly revealing trailer above and just go in blind on this one.
Monsters And Men pulls a handful of stories from the headlines—namely, the murder of an unarmed black man by police officers, and the protests of police brutality by professional athletes—and weaves them together into a complicated tapestry of cause and effect. First-time director Reinaldo Marcus Green leads a broad and talented cast, including Hamilton’s Jasmine Cephas Jones and Anthony Ramos, as well as BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington.
Will it be worth your time? Green has certainly bitten off a lot, but advance notice for the film from Sundance in January was mostly positive, and it couldn’t possibly be more timely.