COLUMN: 2016 Winter Movie Preview

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2016 WINTER MOVIE PREVIEW

With the buzz of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" still fresh and the Oscar race making headlines, the turn of the calendar to a new year means the return of the slowest season of the year.  More often than not, the movies that land in the months of January and February were either not good enough for qualifying for Oscars by the December 31st deadline or not chipper enough for the spring season.  Sometimes, there are those two things and worse.  See what you can circle and look forward to in this preview of the 2016 Winter Movie season.

JANUARY 8

"The Forest"-- Here comes the first of many horror entries in this preview.  The genre has always found an open market in the winter season each year.  Natalie Dormer and "Chicago Fire" heartthrob Taylor Kinney encounter Japan's Aokigahara Forest where people have gone for centuries to end their lives and become shocked at what they find.  (trailer)

"Anesthesia"-- A mugging that turned violent on a college campus causes a collision of strangers and events in this film from actor/director Tim Blake Nelson.  Kristen Stewart, Sam Waterson, Glenn Close, and Corey Stoll build the ensemble.  (trailer)

JANUARY 15

"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"-- Bombastic director Michael Bay returns to polish his political ego because he thinks he can make "Zero Dark Thirty 2" with the supposedly untold story from the 2012 Libyan embassy attack.  Expect extremely over-pumped heroics and questionable messages while John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, and Toby Stephens take aim at the enemy.  (trailer)

"Ride Along 2"-- When you give a comedian and an audience a hit, there going to beat a dead horse and pay to see if they can do it again.  The oil-and-water team of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are back for more pretend cop shenanigans.  Ken Jeong, Olivia Munn, and Benjamin Bratt join this spree.  (trailer)

"The 5th Wave"-- Far more smaller budgeted than the big "Independence Day" sequel later in 2016, "Kick Ass" lead Chloe Grace Moretz and Nick Robinson of "Jurassic World" try to save their family and themselves from another wave of alien attacks.  Based on a popular YA novel, this one has big ambition and a ballsy premise.  (trailer

"Norm of the North"-- Lionsgate enters the animation arena to cling to "Frozen"'s coattails with a comedy led by Rob Schneider's polar bear mascot.  Lowly marketed, it does premiere long enough after November's "The Good Dinosaur" to maybe be a fresh face that steals your money.  (trailer)

JANUARY 22

"Dirty Grandpa"-- If you thought "The Intern" and other comedies were slumming, this is likely the new low water mark for Academy Award winner Robert De Niro.  Here he is teaming with Zac Efron for a raunchy Spring Break comedy with endless senior gags.  Whatever happened to the tough De Niro?  (red band trailer)

JANUARY 29

"Kung Fu Panda 3"-- For a popular animation sequel with brand recognition and a cast like this, we should be surprised to see it limping into January and not occupying a summer tentpole position or high-profile holiday release.  After a tepid sequel and a long wait, could this warrior be dead on arrival, even with returning big names like Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, and Dustin Hoffman being joined by newcomers Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, and Kate Hudson.  (trailer)

"The Finest Hours"-- Similar to the annual dump of horror films in these months, Disney has also started to put an annual live-action family entry in the winter months.  Channeling "The Perfect Storm" for a different era, Chris Pine and Casey Affleck take on rough waters and odds in this retelling of a famous 1952 Coast Guard rescue mission of a tanker in trouble off the Atlantic coast.  (trailer)

"Fifty Shades of Black"-- Leave it to the Wayans Brothers, particularly Marlon, to find fresh meat for parody.  This time their humor targets "Fifty Shades of Grey."  Two hours of one-note jokes?  You make the call.  (trailer)

"Jane Got a Gun"-- This western collaboration between Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, "Warrior" director Gavin O'Connor, and his previous lead Joel Edgerton has been delayed nearly two years, which is never a good sign.  Dumping it here does shows it's cutting its losses.  (trailer)

FEBRUARY 5

"Hail, Caesar!"-- For the cinephiles out there, the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers deliver their latest ensemble comedy with an A-list cast of thousands.  This one is a caper comedy surrounding a fictional and wild behind-the-scenes ransom story of 1950's-era Hollywood film production and a kidnapped star.  George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand (of course).  (trailer)

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"-- From the same genre-smashing author that gave us "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter comes this bloody blender of Jane Austen and the undead.  "Cinderella" starlet Lily James is Elizabeth Bennet and Sam Riley is Mr. Darcy in a far different landscape of romance, tea, and crumpets.  (trailer)

"Dad's Army"-- Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a meddling and attractively distracting journalist disrupting an aged World War II British squad trying to sniff out a German spy at the end of the war.  Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay, Toby Jones, and Michael Gambon are some of the men in uniform from the director of "An Ideal Husband" and "Johnny English Reborn."  (trailer)

"The Choice"-- It wouldn't be a February movie month with an annual Nicholas Sparks film adaptation, love triangle, tissue advertisement, and tourism boost for North Carolina.  "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" star Benjamin Walker falls in love-at-first-sight with Teresa Palmer's newcomer to town only to have her already taken by Tom Welling.  (trailer)

"Regression"-- Famed Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar ("The Others," "The Sea Inside") leads this psychological thriller on parental sexual abuse starring Ethan Hawke as an investigating detective and Emma Watson as the troubled victim.  This film has slowly gained some attention in the fall 2015 film festival scene before debuting in limited release here.  (trailer)

FEBRUARY 12

"Deadpool"-- Ah yes.  Here we go.  This is the one to look forward to and circle on the calendar.  Fox has finally answered the dare and every fanboy's dream to make a legitimate hard-R film of comic's favorite "Merc with a Mouth."  Ryan Reynolds looks to satirize and make us forget about "Green Lantern" in a role he was born to play.  The marketing for this blockbuster has been pitch perfect at being different and exciting compared to the usual "X-Men"-level global doldrums.  This film will be on this website's short list of the most anticipated films of the entire year.  (red band trailer)

"Zoolander 2"-- I don't know why Hollywood has to pick President's Day/Valentine's Day weekend as the one weekend in the whole season to oversaturate.  As if "Deadpool" wasn't enough, you'll have to find time for the returning male model legends of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and company, including newcomers Benedict Cumberbatch, Penelope Cruz, and Kristen Wiig.  This film too has played its previews and clips to adoring audiences.  (trailer)

"How to Be Single"-- Hoping to move her "Pitch Perfect" fandom into a solo act, Rebel Wilson gives you your prerequisite romantic comedy for the holiday weekend.  She plays the free-spirited best buddy to her square friend (Dakota Johnson of "Fifty Shades of Grey") looking to navigate the NYC dating scene.  (trailer)

FEBRUARY 19

"Race"-- Following the recent "42" and in his first film in eight years, director Stephen Hopkins ("The Ghost and the Darkness," "The Reaping") brings the biography of Jesse Owens to the big screen, starring virtual unknown Stephan James as the Olympic legend.  Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, and William Hurt stand at his side.  (trailer)

"Risen"-- In another long return to the director's chair (ten years), Kevin Reynolds ("Waterworld," "187") tells the story of the Messiah's resurrection from the point of view of an investigating Roman Centurion, played by Joseph Fiennes.  Tom Felton, Peter Firth, and Cliff Curtis provide more support.  Go ahead and punch the epic and religious cards for a possible audience.  (trailer)

"Viral"-- The third horror selection goes to this post-virus landscape where half of the population was lost and the other half struggles to stay healthy.  Analeigh Tipton ("Crazy, Stupid, Love.") and TV star Sofia Black D'Elia play survival-challenged sisters.  (no trailer)

FEBRUARY 26

"Gods of Egypt"-- In the gaudiest thing this side of a golden calf of two, the gods and demigods of Egyptian mythology set the screen on fire among the fighting mortals led by Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Chadwick Boseman, Brendan Thwaites, Elodie Yung, Geoffrey Rush, and Rufus Sewell.  Alex Proyas of "I, Robot," "Knowing," "Dark City," and "The Crow" is responsible for this sure-to-be over-the-top spectacle.  (trailer)  

"Triple 9"-- Here is a film I'm going to deem a possible "hidden gem" in this sad season.  Director John Hillcoat has dropped our jaws in wonder before with the likes of "The Road" and "Lawless."  In this heist film, criminals and cops alike are blackmailed into performing a dangerous job by the Russian Mafia.  Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, and Woody Harrelson make up this volatile mix.  Keep an eye on this one.  (red band trailer)

"The Witch"-- We're on four horror films so far and we may have found the one to grab the most attention.  Starring a no-name cast, "The Witch" won the Directing Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, which is no small achievement.  Early reviews have been through the roof for this film surrounding a 17th century Puritan family pushed to the brink in the New England wilderness.  Horror fans, out of all of this season's mess, "The Witch" might be the real deal.  (trailer)

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