Get your new year off to epic beginnings as a drama of biblical proportions leads the charge to the cinemas in January. There are also musicals and some offbeat comedy from the likes of Tim Burton and Robin Williams to keep those New Year spirits high.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Exodus—Out January 30
With director Ridley Scott at the helm of a huge cast of acting talent, Exodus: Gods and Kings is aiming to take the Bible epic back to its days of box-office conquering glory. Set on a truly massive scale, the film is a retelling of the book of Exodus, which charts the rise of Moses, his flight from Egypt and his return to free the Hebrew slaves of the land. Armies clash and plagues are unleashed as Moses goes up against the pharaoh Ramses, who believes himself to be a living God. Dark Knight Christian Bale stars as the defiant leader Moses and Joel Edgerton, most memorable for his turn in fighting drama Warrior, appears as the gold-adorned pharaoh Ramses. Fellow cast members include Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro. The film promises to take the viewer back to the time of ancient Egypt, filled with lavish palaces, thundering chariots and sweeping desert panoramas. With such visual treats as a plague of locusts and the parting of the Red Sea, there’s a wealth of grandiose spectacle on offer, but we can only hope the pace of the storytelling can match that of the events in the story. Last year’s Noah wasn’t quite the old-school biblical blockbuster many hoped for: let’s see if Moses’ smackdown of Pharoah can offer the widescreen thrills of yesteryear.
Big Eyes—Out January 23
Idiosyncratic auteur Tim Burton is back with something slightly different, a biographical drama based on the life of American artist Margaret Keane. Keane rose to fame in the 1950s—or at least her husband did. Margaret created her signature paintings of sad-looking, big-eyed children in their basement, while husband Walter added his name at the bottom and took the credit. When the paintings became something of a phenomenon and prints started selling in stores around the country, Walter became a celebrity and toured the states, reveling in the fame of his fraudulent work. When the marriage broke up, a dramatic court case regarding the true identity of the artist ensued. American Hustle Oscar nominee Amy Adams plays Margaret against Tarantino favorite Christophe Waltz as her conniving husband. It’s good to see Burton make a film without the collaboration of muse Johnny Depp and while Big Eyes may lack the gothic inflections of the majority of his work, this dark tale of suburban art and oddness is right up the director’s street.
Annie—Out January 24
Little red-haired orphan girl Annie has been an influential figure in American pop culture for over a century now, having first appeared in an 1885 poem before finding fame in a comic strip that began running in the 1920s. A 1977 musical and a 1982 musical film cemented her reputation in the public consciousness. Back for another run, Annie has ditched her trademark ginger curls as the role is taken over by the considerable talent of young Quvenzhané Wallis. Wallis rose to fame at just nine years old in the role of Hushpuppy in magnificent bayou-set fantasy drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, leading the little star to become the youngest ever Best Actress nominee. In an updated take on the famous tale, Annie’s orphanage is replaced with a foster home run by bitter alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). When unlikeable mayoral candidate Will Stacks, an update of the original Daddy Warbucks, takes in streetwise Annie, everyone’s life will be changed for the better thanks to her infectiously positive nature. Featuring hit songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” Annie is a bold update of the timeless musical powered along by its stellar cast. Rap superstar Jay-Z, who had his own hit with a more hard-edged take on “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” is a producer on the film.
What We Do in the Shadows—Out January 24
Excellent This is Spinal Tap–style mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows follows the lives of immortal vampires as they go about their lives living in suburban Wellington, New Zealand. Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and the Nosferatu-like Petyr have been living together for hundreds of years when an accident sees new boy Nick join the group. The party-loving, DJing youngster is cool at first but his lack of respect for their secretive ways soon starts to grate with the more experienced vamps. Trouble soon arises involving vampire hunters, werewolves and psychotic ex-girlfriends. Co-written by Taika Waititi, alongside Flight of the Conchords alumni Jermaine Clement, the film has been garnering praise at global film festivals since its debut at last year’s Sundance Festival. It may only be January, but What We Do in the Shadows could well be the comedy of the year.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn—January 12
With the sad passing of comic legend Robin Williams in August last year there’s just a few chances left to catch the final work of the beloved actor on the big screen. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn stars Williams as the perpetually irritated Henry Altmann. When Altmann’s physician, played by Mila Kunis, tells her hotheaded patient he has a brain aneurysm she caves in the face of his subsequent tirade and, lying, she blurts out that he has just 90 minutes to live. A chase ensues with Altmann racing around the city in an attempt to make amends to his family and friends before his time expires. Melissa Leo plays his estranged wife while Game of Thrones legend Peter Dinklage supports as his brother Peter in this reworking of a 1997 Israeli comedy vehicle.
Kabukicho Love Hotel—January 24
Ensemble comedy drama Kabukicho Love Hotel played to an appreciative crowd at November’s Tokyo FILMeX festival and should receive a similar reception with its arrival on general release. Star of Parasyte and Himizu, Shota Sometani is one of Japan’s hottest young actors. The young star teams up with former AKB golden girl Atsuko Maeda to lead a cast of characters whose lives all revolve around a love hotel in Shinjuku’s notorious Kabukicho area. Set over a 24-hour period, drama unfolds and relationships both develop and unravel in the seedy setting of the hotel. Sometani plays Toru, a man who is about to have a very bad day encountering both his sister and girlfriend at the hotel in compromising situations. Other characters include yakuza members, prostitutes, Korean immigrants, a wanted man, detectives and pornographers, in an enjoyably twisty tale with some fine situational comedy and a surprising amount of heart.
Best of the Rest
Taken 3 (Out Janaury 9)—Aged-action man Liam Neeson returns for a third time as ex-government operative Bryan Mills, this time accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Expect the usual hard-hitting action the series is known for.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (Out January 9)—Colorful animation for young children sees Dorothy whisked back to Oz to make new friends and save old ones. Featuring voice work from Kelsey Grammar, Dan Ackroyd and Glee’s Lea Michele as Dorothy.
Appleseed Alpha (Out January 17)—New CG animation of popular manga/anime franchise Appleseed. A soldier and her cyborg companion fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic future in this animated feature for teenage boys.
Elsa and Fred (Out January 31)—Romantic comedy drama starring Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine as a pair who are finding a new lust for life in their twilight years.
The Judge (Out January 17)—Robert Downey Jr. gets serious as a big city lawyer who returns home to attend his mother’s funeral only to discover that his estranged father is facing a murder charge. Acting heavyweight Robert Duvall co-stars as the hard-nosed father and judge.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Out January 10)—Director Robert Rodriguez and comic legend Frank Miller return with another big-name cast to rehash their stylish, hard-hitting original.