And down the stretch we come in 2017! Steven James offers our monthly review of nationwide December movie releases, and this is an important time of the year for the movie industry. December is a pivotal month for the annual cinema economic profile – the final chapter in another year. There is usually a mix of Oscar-contenders this time of year coupled with some blockbusters (hopefully) that can take advantage of people looking more for indoor entertainment due to weather, and people of every demographic having some time off from work or school that they might just spend at their favorite movie palace.
After a spate of late-November nationwide releases to coincide with Thanksgiving, the industry catches its breath for a couple of weeks before letting loose numerous coast-to-coast releases. But the first two weeks of December are filled with limited releases that will most likely expand their markets. Notably, The Shape of Water, described as an other-worldly fairy tale with the Cold War of the early 1960s as backdrop, is on people’s short list for Best Picture Oscar, as is James Franco in Best Actor category for his work in The Disaster Artist. There’s also a comedy starring Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo called We’re Just Getting Started directed by Ron Shelton, ex-Rochester Red Wing and creator of the sports classic movies Bull Durham, Tin Cup, and White Men Can’t Jump. It seems like one that has the potential of breaking out from a limited release to the full enchilada across the entire country.
But it’s Friday, December 15th that brings the first films to screens coast-to-coast. There are three on that weekend. The first is Star Wars: the Last Jedi. Yes, that little franchise is back with another installment, Episode VIII, and the early buzz is that it delivers on every level. Of course there have been detractors of anything Star Wars past the original trilogy, but here’s hoping Last Jedi represents the iconic movie series well. The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie with a December release (in 2015), and with its $861 million domestic haul – as in the biggest domestic release in U.S. history – I guess we can understand why they delayed this new release from May until now. Maybe The Last Jedi won’t save the re
al universe, but it can rescue the REEL universe from a sluggish year at the box office. Ferdinand is the second wide-release this weekend. It’s an animated feature about a bull that is mistaken as being a dangerous creature although he really has a big heart. It’s set in Spain and teaches the young ones a strong lesson about not judging a book by its cover. Ferdinand features the voice talent of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, and Gina Rodriguez. The third movie is Gotti. The Teflon Don’s story is brought t
o the big screen by director Kevin Connolly, and stars John Travolta as the legendary mobster, his wife Kelly Preston as Victoria Gotti, and their daughter Ella Bleu Travolta as Angel Gotti. Lots of Travoltas and Gottis in that sauce! Hopefully they blend well for a delicious cinematic gangster dish!
On Wednesday, December 20th, a reboot of a Robin Williams’ classic hits the silver screens from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with a new story and twist on the original, and this time it’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson with top billing. He portrays the character Dr. Bridgewater and teams with Kevin Hart. The big strong man/little funny man juxtaposition should promise some good laughs. Speaking of laughs – Jack Black is in the jungle in this one, too! Karen Gillan is the fourth table leg on this board game turned feature film. Let’s hope it packs the same energy and visual punch as the first! Also on December 20th, we have a musical feature film. The Greatest Showman tells the story that many people believe is the start of modern show biz: the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1881 by master promoter P.T. Barnum. Hugh Jackman – who showcased his musical chops in the movie version of Les Miserables in 2012 – has the lead as Barnum, and the cast includes Zac Efron and Michelle Williams. Musicals are usually high-risk, high-reward affairs. But this one could do well. To paraphrase P.T. : There’s a sucker born for a musical every minute!
Friday the 22nd of the month brings the final three nationwide releases – two comedies and another musical. The first is Father Figures, a comedy featuring Ed Helms and Owen Wilson as brothers who are trying to find out who their father is after they learn that Mom – played by the great Glenn Close – fibbed about Pops passing away when they were very young. They go on to learn that Mom had a kind of, ahhh, well-traveled past. So there are numerous suspects that the brothers must track down in their hilarious mission to solve the family mystery. Next up is an offering by the brilliant team of writer Jim Taylor and director Alexander Payne – known for such gems as Election, Finding Schmidt, and Sideways, among others. Downsizing sounds like, what? A comedy about people losing their jobs? No! It’s about scientists who have come up with technology to shrink people to five-inches tall and live in miniature communities that let their money go so much further than in a full-sized world. Sounds crackpot or Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-ish, but don’t be deceived. Taylor and Payne do not create mediocre products, and with Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig (Rochester’s own!) in the leads, this movie should be hilarious and thought-provoking. And last but not least this month, we have the third installment of the musical surprise blockbuster franchise Pitch Perfect. The original hit the screens in 2012 and grossed $113 million. The sequel, made for $29 million, blew up even more for a $286 million worldwide haul. This third movie finds the singers lacking job prospects after winning the World Championships, but they reunite for an overseas USO tour. These filmmakers know the formula to make musical movie magic, so let’s hope their roll continues.
Two comedies and a musical to close the year out. It seems like it’s been a year that has been trying for many people across the country, so we think it’s good to end it with a laugh and a song. If ever there were two things that sustain the human spirit, laughing and music are at the top of the list. Find your favorite movie house in Rochester here, and we hope to see you at one of them over the holidays!