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.
“The Dark Phoenix Saga” isn’t just the most celebrated arc in the half-century history of the X-Men—it’s also one of the undisputed classics of comic book storytelling, full stop. So maybe it’s not so surprising that Fox is taking another shot at bringing it to the screen, after 2006’s maligned The Last Stand. The plot once again revolves around telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose swelling, expanding powers transform her into the most dangerous mutant on the planet, forcing the rest of the X-Men—plus frequent frenemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender)—to confront the threat of world destruction she poses. Directed by Simon Kinberg, who wrote many of the franchise’s previous entries (including, um, The Last Stand), Dark Phoenix will presumably close out this chapter of the X-Men movie saga.
Will it be worth your time? Bumpy though it’s been, the X-Men series deserves a proper climax before Marvel-Disney ushers its cast of mutant characters into a different overstuffed universe. Sadly, Dark Phoenix isn’t it: As we wrote in our full review, it’s a curiously skimpy blockbuster, and even setting aside that the franchise has already tackled this storyline, the movie offers little that X-fans haven’t seen before. Also, major points off for wasting Jessica Chastain in a truly generic villain role.
Having neutered any potential PR disasters, Illumination is free to let its hit animated franchise off the leash, with Patton Oswalt stepping in for the fired Louis CK, and no lingering unpleasantness to distract from the adorable existential angst of cute puppies and kitties. As the neurotic terrier Max, Oswalt heads up another voice cast seemingly recorded in the Largo green room: Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Eric Stonestreet, and Kevin Hart all return, alongside new additions Tiffany Haddish, Pete Holmes, and Nick Kroll. Most notably, Harrison Ford makes his animated debut as a grouchy, presumably press-averse sheepdog who helps Max overcome anxieties about his owner’s new baby, all while the rest of the menagerie get into myriad hijinks revolving around a sinister Russian circus.
Will it be worth your time? Like the original, Secret Life Of Pets 2 has a screwy, Looney Tunes sensibility to match the outsized personalities of its cast. However, it’s busy in a way that feels smaller and more scattered, barely trying to make its multiple unrelated subplots coalesce.
Mindy Kaling makes the leap to the big screen with a movie set behind the scenes of the small one. The Office alum and Mindy Project creator wrote and stars in this comedy about an inexperienced but eager joke-writer who lands a plum gig supplying zingers for a late-night show. But the job is much more grueling than she could have imagined—in part because her male, Harvard-educated coworkers dismiss her as unqualified, but also because her showbiz hero, a veteran talk-show host played by Emma Thompson, turns out to be something of a nightmare boss. It’s a Devil Wears Prada for the fast-paced world of nightly television, directed by prolific sitcom helmer Nisha Ganatra.
Will it be worth your time? Thompson is terrific as the aging TV star, fighting to reinvent herself (and save her show) after years of coasting on her legacy. But as our official review notes, Late Night is otherwise muddled, striking an uneasy balance between withering industry insight and an easy uplift supplied by professed romantic-comedy enthusiast Kaling.
The first feature from writer-director Joe Talbot is a sweeping, idiosyncratic, Sundance-feted drama about gentrification and its effect on the cultural landscape of the Bay Area. Jimmie Fails, who grew up in the eponymous city with Talbot, stars as a lightly fictionalized version of himself, trying to reclaim his childhood home—the Victorian house built by his grandfather and lost by his father years earlier. Talbot’s ensemble cast also includes Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Mike Epps, Rob Morgan, and Finn Wittrock; if you wanted to torture a certain cliché, you could say San Francisco plays an important supporting character: itself.
Will it be worth your time? A sensation at this year’s Sundance, Last Black Man In San Francisco overreaches in pursuit of big insights about its eponymous city and the relationship between home and identity. But “too much ambition” isn’t the worst problem for a first-time filmmaker to possess; warts and all, this is a moving, funny, and poetic debut.
Luciano Pavarotti, the multi-platinum crossover king of the high Cs, was the most famous tenor since Caruso; by the time he died in 2007, he was probably the most popular opera singer in the world. This documentary uses archival footage and interviews with friends and celebrity fans to recount the story of his life, from his humble beginnings as the son of an amateur singer to his slow rise from obscurity to 100-million-record-selling stardom.
Will it be worth your time? Though the dependable Ron Howard has shown himself to be an increasingly visually adventurous director in more recent films like In The Heart Of The Sea and Rush (and even in parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story), his music documentaries (Made In America, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week—The Touring Years) have, for better and worse, been workmanlike fan-pleasers. This is one is no exception; so committed is it to playing the hits that it barely touches on the controversy of its subject’s career—or, for that matter, shows us who he was.
Along with keeping his favorite classic rockers flush in licensing fees, Martin Scorsese has paid tribute to some of them in his side career as a documentarian, fashioning loving homages to musicians like The Rolling Stones and George Harrison. Rolling Thunder Revue returns the director to one of his favorite subjects, Bob Dylan, whom he last tackled in 2005’s No Direction Home. Here Scorsese zeroes in on an even more narrowly defined period of Dylan’s life, capturing the carnivalesque tour he undertook in the fall of 1975, where guests and collaborators like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Mick Ronson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Allen Ginsberg joined him in playing a series of unpredictable shows in smaller auditoriums.
Will it be worth your time? A film about this tour has been in the works since before it even happened, as Dylan invited director Howard Alk and playwright Sam Shepard along to wrangle the whole thing into a movie somehow. And while some of that footage already ended up in the loosely fictionalized (and mostly tedious) Renaldo & Clara, Scorsese presumably still had reels and reels of unearthed performance footage and backstage interviews to work with, using them to create something Netflix describes as “part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream.” Whatever the actual ratio there, it all promises to be masterfully sewn together—and it goes without saying that few filmmakers have as deep an appreciation of rock mythology.
After seven years spent lurking in the cinematic shadows, the Men In Black are finally back—albeit, with an entirely new crop of characters and actors stepping in to fill the “last suit they’ll ever need.” And while there are Noisy Crickets and neuralyzers aplenty in the trailers for F. Gary Gray’s revival of Barry Sonnenfeld’s action-comedy franchise, International’s most obvious weapon is the comic chemistry between Thor buddies Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, teaming up this time under the leadership of Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson to fend off a series of alien attacks on our poor, lonely blue marble.
Will it be worth your time? Thompson and Hemsworth are a battle-tested action-comedy pairing, which bodes well for the film’s ability to make fun out of a slightly generic-looking premise. Plus, we’re suckers for a good weird Kumail Nanjiani voice performance.
Continue shutting your mouth, because we’re still talking ’bout Shaft. This sequel to the 2000 film of the same name—itself a sequel to the 1971 film of the same name—finally brings together all of cinema’s myriad Johns Shaft, a multigenerational dynasty of private dicks. Middle-Shaft Samuel L. Jackson returns as Detective John Shaft II, who helps his estranged FBI agent son, John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher), solve a murder in the Harlem underworld, bringing in some heavy back-up from his uncle, Richard Roundtree’s original Shaft. At the same time, the youngest Shaft helps the elder Shafts navigate a more modern era of cybercrime and shifting sexual mores. It’s a complicated plot, and no one understands it but its womaaaan.
Will it be worth your time? Barbershop director Tim Story and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, who cowrote the screenplay, promise to bring a more explicitly comedic, self-aware spin to the blaxploitation classic—something that could either be considered a welcome change for those bored with gritty vigilante tales or a complete sacrilege to its legacy. Can you dig it, given that caveat?
Having already applied his signature chillaxed cool to vampires, America’s hippest bohemian auteur, Jim Jarmusch, turns to the walking dead. His zombie comedy (or zom-com) casts Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as hapless small-town cops trying to respond to an outbreak of reanimated corpses munching on the locals while crying out for the things they loved while alive, like coffee and wifi. Jarmusch fills out his typically stacked cast/menu with roles for Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, the RZA, and horror maverick Larry Fessenden.
Will it be worth your time? It’s rare that a Jarmusch movie isn’t, but this one really pushes it. As we noted from Cannes last month, The Dead Don’t Die is about as stiff as its title attractions: a glib, surprisingly unfunny Night Of The Living Dead spoof that’s really a long sigh of resignation at the current state of the world. It’s especially disappointing as an encore to Paterson, the writer-director’s humanistic masterpiece.
Seven years after confounding audiences at Cannes with Post Tenebras Lux, Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas has thrown another curveball in the direction of his critics: a nearly three-hour drama about a rancher who talks his wife into opening up their relationship, but then has second thoughts once she starts sleeping with an American ranch hand. Reygadas and his real-life wife, Natalia López, play the married couple; if rumors are to be believed, the plot is largely autobiographical.
Will it be worth your time? Our Time premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival to largely negative reviews; many have described it as self-indulgent, self-obsessed, suffocatingly heavy-handed, and better suited for a couples-therapy retreat than a movie screen. Which, of course, has only made us more curious.
There’s one scrappy romantic comedy starring adorable up-and-comers that Netflix inexplicably didn’t get its hands on. Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine), friends since college, are both staring down one of those summers that happens around 30, where everyone they know seems to be getting married. They’re both single, so naturally they agree to serve as each other’s plus-one slash wing-people at every event, doubling their wedding attendance but also (theoretically) increasing their chances at love in the process. What are the odds the person they were looking for was right in front of them this whole time?
Will it be worth your time? If you’re a rom-com fan, heck yes. Despite the shopworn obviousness of the premise, Plus One is briskly funny and sweet, with Erskine especially delightful as the vulgar, heartbroken Alice.
Toy Story 3 is widely revered for having a near-perfect ending, bringing a genuine—and rare—sense of closure to Pixar’s most beloved franchise. To risk spoiling it with another sequel, Disney had better have a damn compelling reason, and maybe it’s found one in a plastic spork. Namely, Forky (Tony Hale), who joins Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang after their new owner Bonnie brings him to life at school. Forky’s ensuing existential crisis plays out against a road-trip buddy comedy when he and Woody become lost, a journey that eventually reunites Woody with his old would-be flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), then introduces a new gaggle of playthings voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves. Along the way, everyone learns the true meaning of being a toy… again.
Will it be worth your time? Fans skeptical of the series’ unnecessary continuation may be assuaged by Allen and Hanks reportedly having difficulty getting through the film’s emotional ending, which Hanks has loftily described as “a moment in history.” Okay, but then that’s it, right?
Sorry, Jack: Chucky’s back, and he sounds a little bit like Luke Skywalker now. The functionally unkillable Child’s Play franchise’s latest stab at life discards years of Brides, Seeds, and Cults in favor of a straight reboot with a very 2019 premise, reimagining everyone’s favorite serial killer-possessed Good Guy doll as an app-controlled manifestation of internet of things anxiety. Aubrey Plaza is the mom who brings the little web-enabled hellbeast into her son’s home, with Brian Tyree Henry as the detective trying to figure out why everybody who gets close to Chucky suffers some kind of machine-assisted death.
Will it be worth your time? There’s only so much even a great cast can do with material this obviously goofy; the most inspired thing about the whole enterprise may be the decision to counter-program it against Toy Story 4.
Mick Garris has devoted his career to the horror genre and to the filmmakers who work in it. His “Masters Of Horror” concept began as a series of dinner parties in Los Angeles before blossoming into first a Showtime series and now, with Nightmare Cinema, a sort of backdoor reboot of it: an anthology film featuring segments by horror filmmakers from around the world, including Alejandro Brugués (Juan Of The Dead), Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus), David Slade (30 Days Of Night), and the legendary Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling).
Will it be worth your time? As is the case with nearly all horror anthology films, Nightmare Cinema has its highs and lows; while Dante’s segment is his best work in years, Kitamura’s pushes his signature excess into the realm of nonsense. But the theatrical release schedule, which will pair the film at select venues with other project from the the directors’ back catalogs, all but guarantees a good night at the movies.
After belly-flopping with the U.S. release of his nutty sci-fi epic Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, Luc Besson is back to business as usual, making shlocky-looking movies about waifish women killing the ever-loving shit out of a bunch of anonymous goons. This one casts Sasha Luss, a model and Valerian bit player, as a beautiful assassin. That’s about all the trailer gives up, aside from the disappointing fact that two members of Jason Statham’s onscreen Fast & Furious brood (Helen Mirren and Luke Evans) are here but the Stath himself isn’t. He’s in an A-list summer movie coming in August; this is clearly a B-picture affair.
Will it be worth your time? While Besson’s movies are often a trip, he hasn’t made a really good straight-up action movie in years—maybe decades, considering that the similarly monikered Lucy is really more sci-fi—though he has been writing and producing a lot of junky ones (and facing some troubling sexual assault accusations). Still, in the midst of blockbuster tentpole season, it’s hard not to feel some nostalgia for the lower-rent action extravaganzas of yore.
Bringing Hollywood’s unofficial Month Of Creepy, Frequently Murderous Dolls to a close, this latest entry in the endlessly lucrative Conjuring franchise has an undeniably hooky premise: What if a couple of hapless teenagers were let loose in the big room of creepy ghost stuff that the series’ demon-hunting protagonists, the Warrens, keep locked up in their house? The titular evil doll is only the start of the problems for these poor doomed kids, as they’re forced to fend off haunted samurai, coin-eyed weirdos, and more supernatural beasties as the night progresses.
Will it be worth your time? The Conjuring films are usually good for a few cheap, effective scares. Though the last two weren’t really up to snuff, 2017’s Annabelle: Creation was one of the best of the bunch. Plus, there’s something undeniably exciting about getting to see all the evil crap in the Warren’s big haunted toy box finally come out and play.
In a premise guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of baby boomers everywhere, struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wakes up from a traffic accident to find that the Beatles songbook has been erased from the collective consciousness. Even his manager/best friend/roadie Ellie (Lily James) doesn’t recognize his rendition of “Yesterday”—so naturally, he makes a play for the big time by recalling all of the band’s biggest hits and claiming them as his own. The predatory music biz, personified by Kate McKinnon, comes calling, but can Jack carry on the deception, even if no one is capable of calling him out? It’s an uncharacteristically gentle sorta-musical from director Danny Boyle, teaming for the first time with master of sop Richard Curtis.
Will it be worth your time? Hardcore fans of the Beatles and/or Danny Boyle will want to check it out, even if it’s not quite the Beatlemaniac’s fever dream that one might expect from that enticing combo; the heavy hand of Curtis intrudes. Most disappointing, Yesterday is barely even a proper musical, a shame given Boyle’s music-video-inspired visual gifts. But Patel and James are both charmers.
In 1989, Tracy Edwards entered the grueling Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race (now simply known as The Ocean Race) with the competition’s first-ever all-woman crew. This documentary by Alex Holmes tells the rousing underdog story of their efforts to complete the 30,000-mile race and Edwards’ drive to succeed in the male-dominated world of competitive sailing.
Will it be worth your time? Are straightforwardly made, crowd-pleasing, against-the-odds sports documentaries your thing? Then Maiden might just be for you. The fact that yachting remains one of the world’s most exclusive and least spectator-friendly competitive sports, with races that can last for months, adds an extra curiosity factor.