Welcome to the Guide to Love and Movies Valentine's Day Spectacular! "Dinner and a movie" is a phrase that for too long has raised the specter of hum-drum date night mediocrities. No longer! Movies, like fine wine, must be carefully paired with a meal. This year we've prepared three romantic itineraries to bring cinematic sizzle to your date, our little gift to all the lovers out there. Bon appetit!

 
 Brooklyn (2016)



An option for serious cinema lovers, an internationally-inspired dinner is paired with a moving Best Picture nominee about a homesick girl who finds love in a brand new country. This date night is unlikely to appeal to anyone with a deep-seated hatred of the Irish.

The Meal: Get into a New York state of mind by stopping into your favorite pizza shop. To put an Irish spin on your pie, consider toppings like cabbage, potato, or sausage. If you're an adventurous couple, pretend to have accents! Exclaim "Fugget about it!" or "What a load of bollocks!" anytime you think someone is listening, then giggle to yourselves. Engage in a pretend argument about the merits of black pudding or complain loudly about "the damned protestants."

After Dinner: Enjoy the movie! "Brooklyn" is rated PG-13 and runs for 1h 52m. After the film, solemnly contemplate the experience of immigrants in the United States. Invite your most racist relatives over for dessert and coffee. Sit in silent, abject misery when they launch into a series of vitriolic diatribes against refugees. Donate $10 to the charity of your choice. Go to bed, but stare at the ceiling for hours.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)


Celebrate Valentine's Day with this unconventional choice featuring the romantic passions of legendary star-crossed criminals.

The Meal: This date starts by looking your best. Head to the mall with your sweetheart. Select stunning outfits for each other. Steal them. Head to your favorite restaurant with four or more dollar signs on Yelp. Order the most expensive things on the menu, then leave without paying. Notice a wine rack as you race out. Select a wine. Steal it. At your local entertainment retailer, ask for help finding "Bonnie and Clyde" on Blu-ray or DVD. Steal it. When driving, speed at all times.

After Dinner: Pop the cork on your wine selection, kick your feet up, and enjoy the movie! "Bonnie and Clyde" is rated R and runs 1h 52m. Sirens approach. When the cops finally break the door down, the end credits are playing, but the room is empty. Somewhere, tires squeal and tail lights fade into a dark, distant mist. A new legend begins.


Twilight (2008)
 

Celebrate a love that will never die with this affordable date night inspired by the the timeless story of a girl and the 100 year old corpse who loved her!

The Meal: Surprise your sweetie to a delicious four-course dinner spread across four mouth-watering stops in this culinary celebration of the best-selling four-part series! Kick things off with a toast over a pair of Bloody Marys hastily concocted in the parking lot of your favorite grocery store, then dash with the speed of a glitzy glampire to Burger King for an appetizing round of garlic-free onion rings. For your main course, enjoy a burger from Wendy's, made to order as under-cooked as possible. Finally, head to the only place with arches as golden as Edward's eyes and enjoy an ice cold McFlurry. Close your eyes and imagine the frosty sensation of open-mouth kissing a Cullen.

After Dinner: After returning home, retreat to the sofa and snuggle up for the movie! "Twilight" is rated PG-13 and runs for 2h 2m. When it concludes, discover you have died. Spend eternity haunting your apartment/house with your boo.

And that wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to read this year's V-Day spectacular. If a blog could have a valentine, you'd be ours. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

"The Space Between Us" is sweet and sentimental in a superficial sort of way, the kind of theatrical candy that critics hate but casual moviegoers eat up. Indeed, many professional reviews have slammed the film as schmaltzy. I'm not so cynical as to be immune from a little well-meaning cheese and if excessive sap was its only problem, this might be a very different review. But "The Space Between Us" is undercut at nearly every turn by scrambled, almost directionless film editing and a script badly in need of revision. Yet even as I'm writing this I find myself wanting to like it more than I did because, gosh darnit, the movie means well! What a pickle.

The story puts an interplanetary spin on otherwise standard YA romantic dramedy. Elliot Gardner is a sixteen year old whose very existence is classified, secretly raised by scientists on Mars after the sudden death of his astronaut mother. It's a lonely life (his best friend is a robotic babysitter) made tolerable by Skype sessions with an Earth girl named Tulsa. After finding a video of his father, Gardner feels more and more trapped by circumstance until the powers-that-be offer him the chance to visit the homeworld he never knew. Gardner seizes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and immediately goes on the run, determined to find his dad - with Tulsa's help, of course - unaware that Earth's heavier gravity is slowly bringing heart to a stop.

Broadly, the story is fine if unsurprising, buoyed by a pair of perfectly likable performances from its leads, Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson. Butterfield plays awkward but earnest well and the interactions between his Gardner and Robertson's fiercely independent Tulsa produce some genuinely chuckle-worthy moments. But each scene advancing their blooming relationship is interrupted with real clunkers. "The beautiful music you make gives you away," said no sixteen-year-old (or anyone) ever. Veteran Carla Gugino turns in a solid supporting role, bringing some dramatic weight to the story alongside an overacting Gary Oldman as they race to save Gardner from himself.

It isn't just the dialogue; generally, the script seems several rewrites short of a final draft. The action is frequently propelled by absurd coincidence. When Gardner finds himself in momentary danger after recklessly driving a rover far from the Mars station, help immediately materializes out of nowhere. In another scene, Gardner needs to bypass security systems and it turns out a magnetic implant in his chest shuts them down (apparently its only function as the device is never mentioned again). As Gardner makes his escape from NASA, the base is put on lockdown - "No one in or out!" - except, it seems, for a caravan of unsearched cargo trucks. Each break is dumber than the last. When Tulsa steals an iPad for directions and declares "We're so lucky, it's unlocked," you'll swear she winks at the camera.

These may seem like nitpicks, but they add up to a film unable to engage its audience any more than if they'd simply read the script, its own weaknesses exacerbated by editing that honestly feels unfinished. Some scenes end mid-argument, then resolved off-screen by the very next shot. Others linger too long after ending, such as concluding a dramatic revelation with two characters awkwardly running away from the camera. Others slam competing emotional tones together with no transition at all, like abruptly ending a high energy shopping trip and it's accompanying pop music soundtrack with quiet contemplative piano playing in the same scene. It's funny, but you aren't meant to be laughing. Whatever experience the filmmakers intended is lost among the missteps as the film struggles to establish emotional identity or tone.

And yet, despite all of that, I still want to like "The Space Between Us" more than I do. It is not a hatable film. Even though I groaned and snickered, I liked Gardner and Tulsa enough to want to see it through to its silly conclusion. It's not a good movie, but it did make me smile. And really, that isn't the worst way to spend a Saturday.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Whew, what a whirlwind the last two months have been! Somehow between the usual holiday crunch jumping around the state for one hundred and one family gatherings and jetting around the country for work, we bought and moved into our first home. It's great and amazing, the only drawback being a two month detour on my road to "Watch Every Movie"™. Well, we're settled in now and I'm ready to get back on track.

Like Puxsutawney Phil I've popped my head out and seen my shadow, which means six more weeks of winter and another four weeks of winter dump month movies. As always, we run down the trailers for each new release and try to guess their quality with wild, baseless speculation. Dress warmly, take a blanket and sneak some cocoa into the theater - here are the eleven nationwide February releases.


In Theaters February 3

Rings

At Glance: In "Rings," the secrets of "The Ring" are found to go deeper than just death after seven days when a woman discovers a second message hidden inside the original cursed tape.


Why I'm Not Excited: I started to write that this was the sequel to 2002's "The Ring," forgetting completely that there has already been a sequel in the form of 2005's "The Ring Two." I didn't see it, but a cursory Google search suggests it was terrible. "Rings" of course shouldn't be judged against any of its predecessors sins and has indeed changed hands to both a new director and a new writing team. Unfortunately, director F. Javier Gutiérrez's work has not been well received in the past and one of the screenwriters is responsible for the abominable "Batman & Robin." Yikes.


The Space Between Us

At a Glance: Born unexpectedly to an astronaut, Elliot Gardner has lived his whole life on Mars, far from Earth and anyone his age. After striking up a digital friendship with an Earthbound girl, he gets the chance to travel to the planet for the first time. But the trip may come at too high a cost: as the young Martian's organs begin to fail in the terrestrial environment he embarks on a race to experience a world he never knew.


Why I'm Ambivalent: By now reviews for this are starting to trickle in and boy howdy are they not positive. But I firmly believe that critics be damned, you should see always experience film for yourself. Even the worst movies have fans. But aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes are helpful in terms of expectation management. They just shouldn't determine your opinion. Low expectations can be pleasantly met a lot easier than sky high ones. Anyway, I like space and Asa is pretty okay. And really, what else am I going to see this weekend?


In Theaters February 10

Fifty Shades Darker

At a Glance: This follow-up to 2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey" threatens to leave suburban moms everywhere flush, hot and bothered. In the aftermath of the first film's events, an independent Anastasia Steele is passionately pursued by Christian Grey and comes face to face with demons from his past.


Why I'm Not Excited: I have a penis.


John Wick: Chapter 2

At a Glance: Sequel week continues with a follow-up to 2014's action-packed surprise hit about a former hitman seeking revenge on those who stole his car and killed his dog. "Chapter 2" sees Wick travel to Rome with a bounty on his head and shadowy enemies seeking power.


Why I'm Excited: I haven't seen the first, but word of mouth from folks I respect is that it's great and the same team is responsible for "Chapter 2." Action flicks tend to be very samey and formulaic; anything that breaks the mold is worth checking out. Besides, Neo and Morpheus together again? Sign me up!


The LEGO Batman Movie

At a Glance: This spin-off set in the LEGO universe pits LEGO Batman against his nemesis The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime's nefarious machinations may prove too much for the tiny plastic Caped Crusader alone, forcing him to turn to the unlikely heroes around him for help.


Why I'm Excited: I'm ready for a DC movie that isn't bound by the rules of the DC Cinematic Universe that resulted in a boring, incoherent "Batman v Superman" and a brainless, forgettable "Suicide Squad." This looks like the complete opposite of those movies. Get lost, drab grays and browns, this movie has color. So long, overplayed grim seriousness, this movie jokes about Robin's tights. Get fired into the sun, Jared Leto's Joker, this movie forgets you exist! This is a celebratory send up of one of the notoriously serious superhero franchises. After those bombs, that's just what I want.


In Theaters February 17

 A Cure for Wellness

At a Glance: A young executive goes to retrieve his CEO from a remote spa in the Alps, but begins to suspect something sinister behind their miracle treatments.


Why I'm Excited: Everything about this trailer is very much my jam. Hidden mystery tucked behind the apparently perfect? Check. Weird medical setting? Check. Creepy cult-like imagery? Check. But remember: trailers lie, and it's February. Still, the premise has me intrigued and the creative minds behind the film produced some good work (despite an overall uneven record). An aside presented without interpretation: Today 20th Century Fox retweeted a ton of positive publicity from people selected to attend an early screening.


Fist Fight

At a Glance: A teacher accidentally gets another, more feared teacher fired on the last day of school, resulting in his challenge to an after-school teacher throw down he is sure to lose.


Why I'm Not Excited: How do you stretch this premise into a satisfying ninety minutes? I'm sure I don't know. Trailers lie, but there's enough repetition in the three minutes above that I'm not sure these guys do either.


The Great Wall

At a Glance: Mercenaries seeking gunpowder in Song dynasty China are set upon by a monster and, fleeing, are taken prisoner by the Chinese armies at the Great Wall. When the Wall is itself besieged by an army of the creatures, they join in its defense.


Why I'm Excited: Okay, hear me out. I'm almost certain this movie will be ridiculous. That said, there's an interesting element to "The Great Wall" in that it is an inverse of the common Hollywood trend of shoehorning Chinese elements into films to appeal to the Chinese market. This film has already been released in China, was produced in-part by a Chinese production company, was directed by a renounced Chinese director, and has a majority Chinese cast. Matt Damon, arguably, was shoehorned in to appeal to Western audiences, concern over white-washing not withstanding. It's an interesting layer in a complex issue the industry is rightfully grappling with.


In Theaters February 24

Collide

At a Glance: A man returns to a life of drug smuggling to raise the money for the kidney transplant his girlfriend desperately needs, only to end up on the run from his dangerous employers.



Why I'm Not Excited: I like Hoult, Jones, Kingsley and Hopkins, but I'm not sure anyone is exactly screaming for an English "Taken."


Get Out

At a Glance: Writer-director Jordan Peele takes a break from comedy to turn in this surprise race-based horror film about a man visiting his white girlfriend's family for the first time. At first relieved to see another person of color, bizarre behavior leads him to suspect something is very wrong at the picture-perfect estate. His only goal: to get out.



Why I'm Excited: I love seeing talent try new things. Satire has been the heart of Peele's work since the comedy sketch show that helped propel him to fame and while this may be his first horror film, it's clear that the premise comes from a nugget of personal truth. I've always enjoyed his work and can't wait to see what he's come up with.


Rock Dog

At a Glance: A guard-dog training to be the protector of his village discovers a passion for music after a radio falls from the sky and sets off to pursue his musical dreams, inadvertently becoming the key for the hungry wolves threatening his peaceful home.


Why I'm Ambivalent: This seems harmless, and is this month's only option for younger kids who may not be ready for "LEGO Batman." It's probably no "Norm of the North," but (despite the trailer's hinting) it's unlikely to be "Toy Story 2" either.


And that's the month! Remember, all commentary is wild, baseless speculation and in no way indicates a movie's actual quality. See what you want! So, what are you excited you see this month? Sound off in the comments below to share what you're seeing and why!

"Incarnate" is the latest from horror factory Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind the "Saw" and "Purge" franchises. I shared my screening with only one other person, an older gentleman who fell asleep about a third of the way through then left before it ended. I wonder which of us enjoyed the movie less. This is a ninety minute eye roll with fewer scares than I have fingers to a hand and hokey "thrills" more deserving of a Direct-to-DVD bargain bin than the big screen. It is so limp and lifeless a film that I can't muster up the give-a-damn to hate it. It has all the impact of wind broken on an elevator: deeply unpleasant but forgotten the moment the doors open and you go about your day.

The premise is familiar. A powerful demon possesses 11-year old Cameron and the Vatican consults Dr. Seth Ember to give it the boot. But in a twist on the typical formula, Ember is not a priest but a man of science. His work is eviction, not exorcism! Demons aren't hellspawn, they're just like any ol' malignant parasitic energy! Rather than compelling the demon with crucifixes and holy water and all that religious mumbo-jumbo, Ember evicts from within by using his aura to "dive" into the victim's mind - you know, with science! - where he punches the demon in the face while he convinces the possessed to reject the demon by jumping through a window.

An updated formula is still a formula though, and despite the pseudoscientific additions there are no surprises as "Incarnate" explains the convoluted logic and arbitrary rules of its poorly conceived "Inception" knockoff over pages and pages of clumsy exposition that both bore and hint at every plot twist and dramatic turn in painfully obvious ways. I may not be able to articulate why Ember's "dives" can only last eight minutes, but I sure as hell knew how the movie would end within twenty.

On the subject of the script, it's amazing to see talented actors struggle with such miserable material. The writing is incredibly bad. Conversations consist of a series of escalating clichés delivered with all the dramatic nuance of an afternoon soap. "That's why I'm the only chance you've got." "I'm the one she wants!" and so forth, endlessly. I actually made a game of guessing a characters' next line. It was a depressingly easy game to win.

I'm willing to give the cast a pass on their performances because the characters aren't written as flesh-and-blood humans. The actors are never given an opportunity to explore their characters beyond a single defining trait or part. Take Ember. He clearly had a falling out with the Catholic Church at some point and more importantly has personal beef with the demon possessing Cameron. But he is written as a generic gruff badass who never shows vulnerability, so Eckhart grunts and grumbles his way into through a bland performance. Mazouz, whose work on "Gotham" is quite good, plays the stereotypical possessed child. He does exactly the things you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. Boring. "Game of Thrones" veteran Carice van Houten plays Cameron's mother and is reduced to staring at a screen saying very worried-sounding things. Ugh.

At one point "Incarnate" winks at itself, joking that it avoids the spinning heads and vomit that are so typical of the genre. But in directly referencing "The Exorcist," the film drives home how lessor a copy it is, stripped of compelling themes like loss of self, faith and doubt. It portrays possession through digitally-deepened voices and red contact lenses, positively G-rated compared to Regan MacNeil's shocking transformation. Exorcism itself - sorry, eviction - is reduced to a couple of lame action sequences; there is nothing as compelling as the deeply personal struggles of Fathers Merrin and Karras. It's not even scary! I counted a total of three jump scares that were so telegraphed I actually become annoyed waiting for them to hit.

Well, it got my six bucks anyway. After the credits rolled, I processed the movie over pizza and decided to compare my notes with a few reviews by professional critics. The first one I pulled up suggested that a sequel could be really good. As I read, a chill ran down my spine.

Finally, "Incarnate" managed a scare.

Score: 1.5/5


'Twas the month of ol' Christmas and all through the cines,
Twelve* new releases for twelve bucks plus pennies.
The posters were hung by box office with care,
In hopes that some patrons would spend their cash there.

The audience nestled all snug in their seats,
snacking on popcorn and sodas and treats.
While my wife and her husband, your blogger most true,
Wracked brains over choices like which movies to do.

From YouTube the trailers arose with such clatter,
now posted below with my thoughts on the matter.
Watch and enjoy them, maybe comment below
Then it's off to the pictures to enjoy a show!

*As always this covers films nationwide only,
Poor limited-screen runs will likely feel lonely.
But frankly those movies are too hard to track,
So get off my back, man, and cut me some slack!


In Theaters Dec 2

Incarnate

At a Glance: When professionals fail to expel the demon possessing her 11-year old son, a mother turns to an unconventional exorcist who plans to enter his mind and face the evil there.


Why I'm (Not) Excited: Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like a ho-ho-horrible horror movie! If  "The Exorcist" and "Inception" had a shitty, unlovable baby, this would be it. I'll probably still check it out because it has Baby Bruce from "Gotham" and Two-Face from the Nolan Batman films because of my weird fan loyalty to all things Batman. I really like Batman.


In Theaters Dec 9

Office Christmas Party

At a Glance: To save their failing branch, two managers plan to impress a must-land client with an epic office party that, of course, spirals out of control.


Why I'm (Sorta Kinda) Excited: Did you see last year's "Sisters?" It was a pretty standard but entertaining house party movie that also came out around Christmas. Swap the house for an office and this looks like the same thing. More of the same may not be high art but it isn't the worst way to spend ninety minutes. Besides, the cast looks good, I guess.


Miss Sloane

At a Glance: This political thriller pits Elizabeth Sloane, a determined and successful lobbyist, against her most dangerous foe in a battle over gun control legislation.


Why I'm Excited: "Miss Sloane" released a few weeks ago in New York and Los Angeles to generally positive reviews, but Jessica Chastain's performance has received near universal praise. As an added bonus, the movie is enraging gun nuts by merely existing. A game: can you guess which of these zero or half star audience reviewers actually watched the movie? Hint: Probably none!


Nocturnal Animals

At a Glance: A woman receives a manuscript from her long-divorced ex-husband. As she reads the dark and violent novel, she finds herself again confronting their troubled relationship.


Why I'm Excited: This looks like everything I wanted "The Girl on the Train" to be and has a killer cast to boot. Like "Miss Sloane," this got a head start release in NY/LA and has gotten pretty positive reception. I haven't seen a good thriller in theaters since "10 Cloverfield Lane" in March. I'd love for this to break the dry spell.


In Theaters Dec 16

Collateral Beauty

At a Glance: A man grapples with his daughter's tragic death by writing letters to Love, Time, and Death, each of whom answer in person to help him again find meaning.


Why I'm (Naively) Excited: Okay, the trailer plays out like an Oscar-bait version of Scrooge's three ghastly visitors but I admit that it struck a chord with me. That said, despite the phenomenal cast and the director's reasonably solid track record, screenwriter Allan Loeb's filmography can be charitably described as terrible. Mixed signals clouding my judgement on this one.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At a Glance: Bridging the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies, "Rogue One" tells the story of the band of rebels tasked with stealing the plans for the Empire's planet-killing superweapon, the Death Star.


Why I'm (Super Hella) Excited: You're kidding, right? It's a damn "Star Wars" movie. I don't care that there were massive reshoots and rewrites that culminated in an entirely new ending. I don't care that Disney executives were afraid that the movie didn't fit the tone of the franchise. I don't care that idiot losers are pooping themselves online that everything is ruined due to its female protagonist. It's "Star Wars." Day one, nerds.


La La Land

At a Glance: Chasing their dreams in Los Angeles, an aspiring actress and a down-on-his-luck musician meet and fall in love in this homage to the big musicals of old.


Why I'm (Singing I'm So) Excited: Damien Chazelle, the creative mind behind "La La Land," is also responsible for one of my favorite films of 2014: "Whiplash." This has been making the film festival circuit all year and to say the critical reception has been positive would be understatement - raving is probably closer to the mark. This will be a contender when Academy Award voting starts.


In Theaters December 21

Assassin's Creed

At a Glance: A condemned criminal is plucked from death row by a mysterious corporation and forced to participate in an experiment that lets him relive the memories of his ancestor, an Assassin locked in battle against the Templars during the Spanish Inquisition.


Why I'm (Not) Excited: I enjoy the Assassin's Creed games despite the ridiculous premise that you inherit your ancestor's memories through DNA. Even so, this is a video game movie and our first rule is "Never Get Excited About A Video Game Movie." Low expectations can only be met or surpassed!


Passengers

At a Glance: A ship transporting thousands of colonists to a distant world malfunctions, waking two of the passengers 90 years early.


Why I'm Excited: I love small cast films, and I love the isolating things-aren't-what-they-seem premise that seems to be displayed in the trailer, though I am concerned that the trailer lays too many story beats out.


Sing

At a Glance: A koala hosts a singing competition hoping to save his failing theater, drawing entrants who seek to live their dreams and escape from disappointing lives.


Why I'm Excited: "Song Covers: The Movie" may not break any new ground but I trust Illumination Entertainment to deliver warm, family-friendly holiday fare. This is the only animated feature coming out this month and given the studio's track record it's probably safe to say this will be somewhere between fine and good.


In Theaters December 23

Why Him?

At a Glance: A father becomes locked in a holiday rivalry with his daughter's wild boyfriend.


Why I'm Excited: The trailers just don't do anything for me. The humor seems obvious and easy. However! I'm going to keep an open mind because the director, who also did work on the screenplay, is responsible for writing some pretty good comedies like "Meet the Parents" and "I Love You, Man." Trailers are edited separately from movies (hence our refrain to always judge a movie yourself: "Trailers Lie") so I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle.


In Theaters December 25

Fences

At a Glance: Based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Fences" revolves around an African-American man raising his family against the backdrop of 1950s race relations.



Why I'm Excited: There's a lot working in "Fences" favor. The award-winning play's author returned to adapt the film to screen and the film is bolstered by a proven cast in Denzel Washington (also directing) and Viola Davis. Since it's early screenings, "Fences" has gotten a lot of critical attention, nominated for best picture/film at both the Critic's Choice and Satellite Awards. Like "La La Land," expect this to pop again when Oscar nominations are announced next month.


And that's it for 2016! What a year! What are you most excited to see this month?
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