January is over, and whew, what a stinker! As explored in my January preview, we knew it was probably going to be a rough month for film. Total damages? According to my tally, the average Tomatometer score for the twelve feature films previewed on this site was 35%. Exclude "The Revenant" (it technically released in December) and it drops to a dismal 30%. Yikes!

Friends, I have some sad news for you: according to a Slate analysis of films released between 2000 and 2013, February has a slightly lower average score than any other month. Yes, dear readers, we may well still be in the dreary doldrums of the winter dump months, but take heart! I'm considerably more optimistic about the overall quality of the upcoming releases than I was the January dreck.

There are 11 films getting nationwide releases in February. Let's dig in and see what's heading to a big screen near you.

In Theaters February 5

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

At a Glance: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is an adaptation of the hit 2009 parody novel of the same name, a re-imagining of Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice set in a zombie-ridden England. I've not read Pride and Prejudice myself, but I strongly feel that the inclusion of the living dead would have enhanced most titles on my high school English class reading list.

Initial Thoughts: One of the sure-fire signs of a dump month movie is a troubled production history, as we learned with last month's "Jane Got a Gun." Despite how much my jam this movie should be, it suffers from many of the same problems "Jane" did. The film languished in production hell for five years and cycled through four directors and three screenwriters. Ironically, "Jane" leading lady Natalie Portman was originally cast as Elizabeth Bennet before herself dropping out. It's hard to imagine a coherent vision coming out of the mess. Downgrade expectations.

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five head-shots. With zombies, you always double-tap.

Hail, Caesar!

At a Glance: "Hail, Caesar!" is the latest from the Oscar Winning, writing/directing Coen brothers. When one of M.G.M's biggest stars is abducted by a mysterious group calling itself The Future, studio "fixer" Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is charged with his rescue. The film boasts a star studded ensemble that includes Scarlett Johansson, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, and Ralph Fiennes.

Initial Thoughts: Joel and Ethan Coen make good movies. Their films and scripts are routinely award-nominated. "Hail, Caesar!" is another blend of all their best ingredients: direction and writing by the brothers, cinematography and score by longtime Coen collaborators Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell, and a terrific cast. This is a movie the Coen brothers have talked about wanting to make for a long time, and there's no reason to think "Hail, Caesar!" won't live up to the promise of the talents behind it.

Recommended Hype Level: Five of five mispronunciations of "Coen."

The Choice

At a Glance: Just in time for Valentine's Day, it's our annual film adaption of a Nicholas Sparks novel. "The Choice" follows the budding love between new neighbors Travis and Gabby, emphasizing the - wait for it - choices that define their relationship.

Initial Thoughts: Coming to a big screen near you, it's NICHOLAS SPARKS MOVIE!  Watch PRETTY MAN and PRETTY WOMAN see past their PERSONAL DIFFERENCES and overcome OBSTACLE TO ROMANCE to find TRUE LOVE. Feel the heartbreak of A TRAGEDY and cheer for BITTERSWEET ENDING. 

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five, but it doesn't matter because you're still going to see it and cry yourself stupid.

In Theaters February 12


At a Glance: The Merc with the Mouth hits the big screen! "Deadpool" stars Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, who is left disfigured and more than a little insane after agreeing to an experimental cancer treatment that turns out to be a secret weapons program. "Deadpool" promises to break through the thoroughly PG-13 superhero genre with a foul-mouthed, blood-splattered edge.

Initial Thoughts:  This isn't a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, it's a spin-off of the 20th Century Fox X-Men cinematic universe. Fox has a spotty track-record with the franchise; recent installments ("Days of Future Past," "First Class") soar, but previous spin-offs like "X-Men Origins-Wolverine" and "The Wolverine" were met with tepid fan and critic response. Based on the trailers, I'm optimistic Fox has learned from its mistakes. Unlike the character's disastrous appearance in "Origins," the Deadpool depicted in the trailers is a close depiction of the manic, fan-favorite anti-hero. If the film can skirt some of the tired tropes of previous superhero origin stories it could deliver on its promise and be, like it's subject, one-of-a-kind.

Recommended Hype Level: Six of seven (seven!!!) superhero movies releasing in 2016.

How to be Single

At a Glance: We're only in week two and are already on our third novel adaptation for the month! "How to be Single" follows newly single Alice (Dakota Johnson) as she learns the ways of the big city single lady from her cuh-raaaaazy co-worker, Fat Amy Robin (Rebel Wilson).

Initial Thoughts:This trailer is impenetrable. The movie doesn't seem to have so much a narrative as a thin premise stretched out over the running time. Who are any of these characters and how are they related? Good question! Maybe it's in the book. Finding nothing here on which to base a hype level, I turn instead to the filmography of the director and the screenwriters. The director has no feature film directing credits. The screenwriters are frequent collaborators whose average Tomatometer is 36%. I'm not saying a film's value is based on a Rotten Tomatoes score. I am saying this film is probably going to be garbage.

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five jokes in this trailer made me chuckle.

Zoolander No. 2

At a Glance: Derek Zoolander returns in this sequel to the 2001 hit. After years out of the industry, Zoolander is tasked by Interpol to infiltrate the changing world of high fashion to stop a series of high-profile celebrity murders.

Initial Thoughts: This movie looks positively stupid in the best possible way. I've never seen "Zoolander," but I'd be lying if I said the trailer for "Zoolander 2" didn't make me want to go back and watch it. Ben Stiller's work has held up over the years in a way many of his old "Frat Pack" collaborators' (like Vince Vaughn or Adam Sandler) has not. I just hope they haven't put all the best jokes in the trailer.

Recommended Hype Level: Four of five on the merits of killing off Justin Bieber alone. 

In Theaters February 19


At a Glance: "Race" tells the story of Jesse Owens and his record-shattering performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The film depicts the heightened racial tensions in the United States against growing American concerns over the Nazi regime's treatment of minorities.

Initial Thoughts: I really, really want this movie to be excellent. The film was slated for an April release before being advanced to February. Director Stephen Hopkins is best known for critical flops "Lost in Space" and "Predator 2" and the screenwriters have only one credit, also a flop. It's possible the advance was to position "Race" against more favorable competition, but it's equally possible the studio just doesn't have much faith in the film. There's an obvious double meaning in the title of this film. "Race" may be a bold film with a strong statement about race in America and abroad, but it could just as easily be a bland, safe biopic.

Recommended Hype Level: Three of five pissed off Hitlers. No number of pissed of Hitlers is enough. Piss off all Hitlers.


At a Glance:Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and his aide (Tom Felton) are tasked with finding Jesus of Nazareth's missing body to subdue an imminent uprising in the days after his crucifixion. The film was produced by Affirm Films, a branch of Sony Pictures focused on films appealing to evangelicals.

Initial Thoughts: Here's my problem with faith-based films: how surprising can they be, really? Is there any question what's going to happen at the end of this film? Is anyone going to be shocked when Clavius comes face-to-face with Jesus? If you're already a believer it will certainly be affirming, but the movie is pitched as a mystery! We know how it will end before we ever buy a ticket! At any rate, the trailer is well made and the film seems to have decent production value. Also I'm a sucker for the setting.

Recommended Hype Level: Here's a question worth pondering: should a religious film be evaluated on its merits and value for the average movie-goer or only on how well it connects with its intended evangelical audience? While I figure that out, let's go with a safe, non-committal three of five.

In Theaters February 26

Gods of Egypt

At a Glance:A film in the style of 2010's Clash of the Titans. To overthrow the evil god Set (Gerard Butler), a mortal must help the fallen god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) regain his sight. Casting for the film ignited controversy; nearly all of the Egyptian gods are portrayed by white actors.

Initial Thoughts: Story deep as a rain puddle? Inconsistent CGI quality? Clunky dialogue? Check, check, check! This is not going to be a great film; its saving grace will be in whether or not it's great fun. The trailer was equal parts style, silly, and stupid, so it's anyone's guess. Better to play it safe and assume the worst, though.

Recommended Hype Level: One of five gods of an African civilization actually played by a minority actor. Hollywood diversity at its finest! #EgyptSoWhite

Triple 9

At a Glance:Stop reading this right now and watch the trailer below, then come back up here. I'll wait. Have you watched it? Okay. Now in your own words, describe the story of this film. Can you do it? Let's see how close you are. I'm copying this straight from IMDB: "A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town." Did you guess it's about an intricate conspiracy between crook and cop that hinges on the death of a rookie to be successful? Yeah, me neither.

Initial Thoughts:Am I the idiot here? I am genuinely stumped by trying to sleuth out what this movie is about. Okay, there's a corrupt cop, or cops maybe? And they rob a bank. But then there's a good cop who just wants to make a difference and at some point they decide they gotta kill him. And there's Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet is a Russian for some reason? I'm not saying I want everything spelled out but this movie's IMDB synopsis claims to be about some big conspiracy and all I'm seeing is the most generic good-cop/bad-cop shoot-fest and only the thinnest veneer of story. What are you about, movie? WHAT?!

Recommended Hype Level: One of five because I'm just confused and angry and emotional right now.

Eddie the Eagle

At a Glance:"Eddie the Eagle" is a sports comedy biopic about Eddie Edwards, the first person to represent Great Britain in ski jumping at the Olympics. Edwards performance at the games led to the establishment of a rule that would ultimately disqualify him from ever participating in the event again. The film features "Kingsman: The Secret Service" star Taron Egerton as the titular Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his trainer Bronson Peary.

Initial Thoughts: Sports films are a mixed bag. So many fall into the inspired sports-movie formula. Eddie Edwards' biography is such that there's real potential to go a very different route. It will depend entirely on how much of his story they choose to tell. Either way, the trailer looks endearing and its stars are fun to watch.

Recommended Hype Level: Four of five, in the spirit of last month's end-of-preview optimism. 

"The Revenant" is an incredible experience. It is an elegantly simple film, forgoing narrative complexity without sacrificing compelling storytelling. Its central struggle - survival - is brutally and believably realized. In each element of the film, a lonely isolation lingers. We can't help but hope against such stacked odds. "The Revenant" is unflinchingly oppressive, thoroughly exhausting, and unquestionably gripping. This is one of the best films of the year.

The film opens with a surprise attack by Native Americans on a band of fur trappers. Only a dozen or so survive, among them navigator Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Glass, the most experienced among them and fearful of another ambush down-river, convinces the expedition's captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) to abandon their boat (and thus, their ability to transport their prized pelts) and make the return trek on foot, a decision that infuriates veteran trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Slowly the small band of survivors make their way back to camp. While hunting one morning, Glass disturbs a group of grizzly bear cubs and is instantly set upon by their mother. The trappers attempt to transport him on a make-shift stretcher until the terrain proves too difficult. Fitzgerald insists the captain end Glass' suffering, but he instead offers a reward to any volunteers who remain with Glass until his death. Hawk, the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and Fitzgerald accept. Glass stubbornly clings to life. Fitzgerald grows impatient and, once alone, attempts to suffocate Glass. He is discovered by Hawk. Desperate, Fitzgerald stabs him to death. After lying to Bridger that a native attack is imminent, he half-buries Glass in a shallow grave and departs. Bridger, terrified and helpless, follows.

Of course, Glass survives. "The Revenant" is at its core a survival story. The film truly begins when Glass drags himself out of that grave. The remainder of the movie follows his recovery and long journey to Fort Union, where he intends to avenge Hawk and kill Fitzgerald.

Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: Leo deserves the Oscar. His riveting performance is absolutely central to "The Revenant."  This movie does not work if we don't believe in and care about Hugh Glass. This is not a wordy movie; DiCaprio has very few spoken lines, requiring him to convey nearly everything with his face and body. The range he displays without the benefit of dialogue is simply incredible. His pain is cringe inducing, his heartbreak is real. He commits so completely to the physicality of the role that for much of the film DiCaprio is invisible.

If anyone else in this film deserves an Oscar, it's Tom Hardy. Hardy is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. His Fitzgerald is coldly self-interested. His speech is succinct and unsettling. He convinces himself that he's just doing what needs to be done, that he's a good man. Maybe he was once.

The cruelty of Glass' ordeal is juxtaposed against the beauty with which cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki captures it. There are hints of his work on "Birdman" in the camera's seamless glide through action, sometimes seemingly in one shot. Lubezki's camera seems to treat the abundance of cruelty and suffering in "The Revenant" with the same harsh indifference that the 1823 frontier gives Glass. The bear attack sequence goes on for minutes; it feels like we should look away, but the camera lingers apathetically. When an injured Glass dives into a frigid river or limps half-frozen across a snowy plain, the camera puts his suffering into nature's perspective with awe-inspiring wide-shots often not even centered on Glass. The starkness of the film is made even more visceral by Lubezki's use of entirely natural lightning, bringing each already-gorgeous shot to life.

I was also struck by how well this film evokes loneliness. The script is sparse; Glass rarely speaks after dragging himself from death. The brilliant score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is a reflection of Glass' lonely journey, slowly moving a few notes before yielding to the whispers of a lonely wind. The vast landscapes are incredibly beautiful but unfeeling and isolating; when you can see to the horizon, you can see just how alone you are.

And yet, despite its intimacy, "The Revenant" is one of the most thrilling movies I've seen recently. The film has a baseline tensity of general unease and has a number of scenes that left me positively white-knuckled. This is the first film I've seen where the audience audibly cringed - repeatedly! The final twenty minutes of the film are edge-of-your-seat intense and unforgettable.

I wasn't the biggest fan of director Alejandro Iñárritu's "Birdman;" I enjoyed it but had a stronger reaction to other Oscar contenders that year. With "The Revenant," Iñárritu has won me over. This is a must-see film.

Score: 5/5
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