Where else could we find a reboot of The Grudge, a truly twisted take on a Grimm fairy tale, and the third (and final?) installment of the beloved Bad Boys franchise. This says nothing of the action turn that Blake Lively takes in The Rhythm Section or the continued softening of Robert Downey, Jr. in Dolittle. Even as these films are picked apart, Underwater sits before us as a true enigma. By all accounts this underwater film looks like Alien in the deep. What it turns out to be and what this list represents are the first celluloid wild cards of the new year.
The original film came out in 2002. It was made for American audiences in 2005 with a cast that included Sarah Michelle Gellar and Clea Duvall. Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve been given a reboot of this deliciously diabolical tale. A mother kills her family. A single mother teams up with a detective to try and figure out the cause of this senseless killing. What ensues is the revelation that there are supernatural forces at work. With a cast that includes Betty Gilpin (Glow), Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) and the great William Sadler (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), we’ve got a reboot that is nothing if not interesting. Add the solid John Cho (Searching) to the list, and January could potentially be a very scary month indeed.
Movies that center around people doing work under the earth’s surface are, by their very nature, fascinating. Underwater is that rare film that tells you so much simply by it’s title. Researchers working below the earth’s surface literally have their world’s rocked when an earthquake takes out their workplace. Now, in order to get to safety they must traverse the ocean floor. As you can guess that isn’t this research teams only problem. Starring Kristen Stewart this ain’t Twilight or Charlie’s Angels. Underwater is the kind of film that hopes to grip you every second. It uses light and darkness interchangeably, taking the alone at sea motif and squaring it. What unfolds is a horror slash thriller slash adventure into the great unknown.
Just who in the world is Robert Downey, Jr.? After his complete domination as Tony Stark in the The Avenger movies and stand-alone Iron Man films, it seems like the perfect time to subvert all expectations and return to the indy films we know he loves. Two Girls and a Guy, anyone? How about The Pick-up Artist? Well, Downey has completely subverted that and is instead choosing to go back to safer terrain with Dolittle. Or is he? In this seemingly benign children’s tale about a doctor that comes to realize that he can talk to animals, Downey seems to be thumbing his nose at his past. However, upon closer inspection he’s actually stretching his performance chops. After the ginormous production of Avengers: Endgame, Downey appears to being trying to perfect his ability to act with literally nothing around him. This is a true high wire act. A one-person show that seems on track to please both adults and kids. Bring on the January movies!
While some may think the world would’ve kept spinning just fine if Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hadn’t gotten together for this third go round, there are many that are happy Bad Boys for Life exists. What’s the story? Does it even matter? There’s guns, explosions, and lots of jokes from both Smith and Lawrence. At a time in this country where it’s hard to get people to agree on much, the one thing we can all agree on is that we need a good time. At its core that is all that Bad Boys for Life strives to be. It’s not going to save the world. The film doesn’t have to… it just has to make us feel good and remind us why we loved the 90s!
While on the face of it The Last Full Measure may seem like your garden variety war movie, it’s cast alone raises it a few clicks above such films as Hamburger Hill and Behind Enemy Lines. This new film looks at the Vietnam conflict (a war that has aged much better with time and perspective), and the acts of a courageous soul named William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr. (Jeremy Irvine). Pitsenbarger died in the conflict but it’s what he did before making the ultimate sacrifice that further shines light on who this person was. Which brings us back to the cast… Christopher Plummer, Samuel L. Jackson, William Hurt, and Sebastian Stan round out the players in this film. Normally, a movie like this seems like it would be released closer to awards season. This January we get another reason to respect our brave men and women in uniform.
While seemingly more interested in peddling her clothing designs than movies, Blake Lively takes a spirited turn as Stephanie. After her family is killed in a plane crash, she sets about taking revenge on those who caused it to happen. Stephanie is swift, adept, and over the course of the film truly becomes the monster she seeks to stop. It’s almost inevitable that that would happen in a situation like this but Blake Lively brings a believability to this role that was seemingly absent from Green Lantern. On the contrary, The Rhythm Section is the kind of January release that if done right will stay with you throughout 2020, and could catapult lively into a different class of action hero.
All of us have grown up with the tale of Hansel & Gretel. For my generation, it was a mostly fun story with a dark cloud (that we ignored) hanging over it. This tale of a brother and sister taken captive by a cannibal witch wasn’t seen as anything that out of the ordinary in the 1980s. None of that darkness is ignored in Gretel & Hansel which might be the most terrifying film of 2020. This Grim Fairy Tale is completely turned on its head by director Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House). All that cute food and cunning by the witch, plays like something out of Ari Aster’s Midsommar. This child’s tale is subverted in the most ghoulish way and it’s hard to believe anybody who sees Gretel & Hansel will ever look at the fairy tale the same way again.