Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: The Upside (STX Films), Glass (Universal), Replicas (Screenshot), Graphic: Natalie Peeples

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.


Escape Room

Theaters everywhere January 4

The newest entry in the horror subgenre of This Thing You’ve Heard Of Wants To Kill You Now turns popular escape-room experiences into something even more hellish than a corporate team-building exercise. Here, a group of strangers is summoned to what looks like a high-end escape puzzle with a major cash prize. But it turns out to be more malevolent than anticipated, pitched somewhere between the delightful twistiness of The Cabin In The Woods and the dopey twistiness of an early-period Saw sequel. The biggest mystery of all: Why is this movie coming out through Sony’s Columbia Pictures instead of their Screen Gems division?
Will it be worth your time? A brand-new wide release in the first seven days of January usually presumes that your time is both ample and not especially valuable. But director Adam Robitel does have early-January experience, having made last year’s kickoff release Insidious: The Last Key, and Escape Room at least looks more promising than another January haunted house.


Replicas

Theaters everywhere January 11

Keanu Reeves plays a desperate scientist who attempts to undo the effects of a tragic car accident by cloning his deceased wife (Alice Eve) and their kids in a dark science-fiction thriller. That intriguing premise is just about all anyone knows of this movie, which was sold at the Toronto Film Festival a year and a half ago and is only now surfacing. The buyer was the hilariously named Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures; they’ve put out a few wide releases, but the tax-shelter studio name, 90-second trailer, and early-January release date all combine to make Replicas sound an awful lot like a replica itself.
Will it be worth your time? Reeves has surprised us in sci-fi and action repeatedly and should never be fully counted out, and Replicas has a great, creepy hook. Then again, the last movie Jeffrey Nachmanoff directed was the deadly dull Traitor, a decade ago.


A Dog’s Way Home

Theaters everywhere January 11

“From the beloved author of A Dog’s Purpose” comes another shameless attempt to cash in on our species’ innate fondness for rambunctious, loyal canines. Bryce Dallas Howard voices a dog who goes in search of her owner in a movie that looks sort of like Homeward Bound, but with more gooey CGI, fewer actual animals, and more humans in sweaters, probably clutching mugs of hot cocoa. This is actually the first of two W. Bruce Cameron adaptations coming out this year; the confusingly similar-sounding A Dog’s Journey will follow in May. As far as we can tell, this one doesn’t feature reincarnation.
Will it be worth your time? While A Dog’s Purpose was helmed by the dependably middlebrow Lasse Hallström, whose first name hilariously anticipated his direction of pooch-related pictures like My Life As A Dog and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, A Dog’s Way Home is being brought to the screen by none other than Charles Martin Smith, the memorable ’70s and ’80s character actor who also directed Air Bud. Whether that’s a plus or a minus depends on one’s taste in dogteurs.


The Upside

Theaters everywhere January 11

Another long-delayed movie from the 2017 Toronto Film Festival washes up on the shores of January, as this remake of the hit French film The Intouchables is liberated from its Weinstein Company origins. Almost certainly green-lit as an awards play, as most Weinstein Company movies were, the film stars Bryan Cranston as a paralyzed rich man who finds an unlikely caregiver (and… friend?!) in the form of a recently paroled convict played by Kevin Hart. At least this isn’t completely familiar territory for director Neil Burger, a genuine journeyman who has made a YA sci-fi movie, a drama about Iraq War vets, and the magician movie no one likes as much as The Prestige, among others.
Will it be worth your time? Unless your time is being spent on an airplane, maybe not. Reviews out of Toronto were tepid, and the original is no masterpiece to begin with.


Glass

Theaters everywhere January 18

The comic book movie boom hadn’t happened yet when M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense, the creepy superhero fable Unbreakable, hit theaters back in the fall of 2000, but the years have been kind to its eccentric, working-class reading of what has since become our preeminent tentpole-event genre. Now, almost two decades later (has it really been that long?), Shyamalan is back with a follow-up that doubles—surprise!—as a sequel to his bugnuts low-budget hit Split. James McAvoy returns as that film’s multiple-personality villain, while Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their Unbreakable roles as David Dunn, the Springsteen character with superhuman powers, and Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price, the comic book collector who was his mentor and secret arch-nemesis.
Will it be worth your time? Once a victim of his own Spielbergian hype, Shyamalan seems to have become more comfortable with his B-movie influences in recent years. Glass looks wacky even by his standards, and we can’t wait to see it.


The Standoff At Sparrow Creek

Select theaters, VOD, and digital services January 18

After a mass shooting at a police funeral, an ex-cop (James Badge Dale) begins to suspect—as the local authorities do—that the culprit was a member of the militia he joined after leaving the force. So he gathers his crew at a remote lumber mill, locks down the premises, and launches his own investigation, determined to smoke out the guilty party. This ’70s-style pressure-cooker thriller, the first feature written and directed by Henry Dunham, has earned comparisons to Reservoir Dogs, though the premise also recalls John Carpenter’s classic of paranoid seclusion, The Thing—minus the shape-shifting space invader, of course.
Will it be worth your time? Our own Katie Rife raved about The Standoff At Sparrow Creek from Fantastic Fest last year, singling out its lean, hard-boiled, Mamet-grade dialogue. It could be the safest bet for a few good thrills in a January with even fewer promising releases than usual.


Girl

Netflix January 18

Lukas Dhont’s Belgian drama about a trans teenager (newcomer Victor Polster) studying to become a ballet dancer picked up a bunch of awards at Cannes (including the prestigious Caméra d’Or, given to the best debut feature) before collecting more prizes than anyone can count on last year’s film festival circuit. It’s currently up a for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Will it be worth your time? While the film and Polster’s performance have received lavish praise from much of the critical establishment, Girl has drawn plenty of criticism from trans writers for what some see as a miserablist, prurient, and ultimately negative depiction of gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy—not to mention the all-too-common casting of a non-trans actor in a trans role. Netflix has reportedly considered adding a disclaimer to the film when it debuts on its streaming platform.


Serenity

Theaters everywhere January 25

Don’t get your hopes up, Firefly fans. This isn’t another big-screen adventure for Mal Reynolds and crew but instead a very earthbound neo-noir from Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke). Matthew McConaughey plays a fishing-boat captain whose estranged ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) drifts back into his orbit, hoping to cajole him into knocking off her dangerous, abusive second husband (Jason Clarke). But is she pleading for help or just looking for a patsy? Expect plenty of twists and turns on the way to an answer.
Will it be worth your time? Knight’s work as both a writer and director has been uneven, and the fact that Serenity has been pushed back twice (it had two separate release dates this past fall, before landing in the dumping ground of January) doesn’t bode too well for it. That being said, the trailers give off a faint Body Heat vibe, tropical backdrop and all, and the cast—which also includes Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, and Jeremy Strong—is promising. Maybe it’s just good, sleazy fun better suited to Hollywood’s lowest-impact month than award season.


The Kid Who Would Be King

Theaters everywhere January 25

Joe Cornish gave a teenage John Boyega his first starring role in the enjoyable Attack The Block, about a public housing project invaded by toothy aliens; in the years since, he’s co-written a couple of films with Edgar Wright, but it’s taken until now for him to direct a follow-up feature. A boy (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) finds King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, in a London construction site, dragging his ragtag band of friends into the world of Arthurian legend. Rebecca Ferguson plays the sorceress Morgana Le Fay; Patrick Stewart is, of course, Merlin.
Will it be worth your time? Although it shows similar Amblin influences, The Kid Who Would Be King looks more generically family-friendly than the R-rated Attack The Block. But it’s not as if today’s multiplexes are overflowing with quality kids’ movies. We’re happy to see if the charms of Cornish’s first film survived undiluted.


The Image Book

Select theaters January 25

Jean-Luc Godard, the stubbornly brilliant French New Wave veteran, assembles another of his dense and borderline avant-garde collages, slamming together classic movie clips with historical footage and tying it all together with some typically heady voice-over ruminations on art, culture, and whatever else is weighing on the director’s constantly racing mind. These days, that includes the past, present, and future of the Middle East. As usual, it also includes the Holocaust.
Will it be worth your time? Look, either you connect to Godard’s late-period mode of didactic essay filmmaking or you don’t; like nearly everything he’s made since the late ’80s, this latest manifesto unfolds more like a free-associative lecture than a movie. If nothing else, it does prove that when it comes to Godard, “impenetrable” is a relative distinction—despite some playful manipulation of surround-sound, The Image Book makes his last effort, Goodbye To Language, seem as accessible (and even conventionally fun) as Breathless.


King Of Thieves

Select theaters January 25

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that a congregation of the elderly is extremely likely to concoct outlandish schemes that prove you’re only as old as you feel if you live life to the fullest, etc. This goes double for the British elderly, so it’s no surprise that gathering characters played by Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, and Michael Gambon would result in a daring robbery (based on a real-life burglary that’s been hyped as the biggest in the history of the United Kingdom). King Of Thieves doesn’t appear to be all twinkly shtick, though, as the older thieves, plus a relatively youthful Ray Winstone, are threatened by mistrust and infighting. James Marsh, of the tepid Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything, directs another movie your grandparents may enjoy.
Will it be worth your time? The film opened in other countries this fall, so some of our European friends (as well as critics for the U.S. trade magazines) have already weighed in on this matter. The consensus seems to be disappointment, given the illustrious cast.


The Wild Pear Tree

Select theaters January 30

There’s no shortage of films about young men trying to find themselves after college. How many of them, though, take this standard coming-of-age scenario and stretch it out over more than three hours of heady philosophical chatter? For his follow-up to the Palme d’Or-winning Winter Sleep, celebrated Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows an aspiring writer (Doğu Demirkol) who returns to his coastal hometown after graduation, discovering that his father (Murat Cemcir) has become buried under a mountain of gambling debt.
Will it be worth your time? The Wild Pear Tree is more elegantly shot and eloquently written than the average post-academic drama, with some brilliant moments scattered across its epic running time. As with the equally mammoth and chatty Winter Sleep, however, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ceylan’s ambition—his desire to make the cinematic equivalent of some staggering milestone of literature—sometimes works against the human dimension of his stories. It’s a long movie, and it often feels it.

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