The big news this week is what's not coming soon to a theater near you.
No James Bond this year. Originally scheduled to be released in April, it was re-scheduled for a Thanksgiving release. And then, last week, the film's distributor, MGM, pushed the film's opening to next Easter weekend (April 4). This means there are just a handful of putative blockbusters still set to open this year: Pixar's "Soul," on Nov. 20, Universal's "The Croods: A New Age," on Nov. 25, Disney's "Death on the Nile," on Dec. 18 and Warner Bros.' "Wonder Woman 1984," at Christmas.
Meanwhile, we're not getting "Dune," which had been scheduled for December, until October 2021. "The Batman" has been pushed back to March 2022.
Obviously, this is squeezing the pandemic-stricken theater industry. In much of the country, theaters were closed for six months. And the restart has been difficult, with theaters operating under social distancing protocols and lots of would-be moviegoers nervous about returning. Distributors aren't willing to release big-budget films into theaters operating a 20% capacity; theaters need those big-budget films to draw audiences back. And while the big news lately is that Cineworld Group plc is temporarily closing 536 Regal cinema locations in the United States and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K., it seems likely big chains will manage to survive in some form or fashion. Meanwhile, people in the industry have told me they expect at least 70% of small and midsize theaters to close permanently.
Maybe that's just hastening the disruption that was begun with the emergence of streaming services and home audio-visual complex as a viable challenger to the moviegoing experience. For years we've been talking about how young people are growing up "platform neutral," ascribing no special magic to the biggest screens.
Still, weirdly enough, distributors are still throwing what they can at those biggest screens, and if your tastes in cinema run more to the sort of movies that don't rely on global marketing campaigns, there's plenty to see out there -- in the theaters and on your personal screens. Opening in Arkansas theaters this week, we have Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7," which in a previous age might have been billed as having "an all-star cast," if we consider the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella and Mark Rylance star. (Excellent actors, yes; but "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is no "The Greatest Story Ever Told.")
While I'm inclined to agree with The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who admitted he didn't "think" "The Trial of the Chicago 7" was "a good movie," it might be a good movie for Americans to watch right now. If you're not familiar with the case, it's about a federal trial in which eight political dissidents -- including Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society -- were tried in federal court, accused of conspiring to cause the riots that had broken out at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. One of the defendants, Black Panther Bobby Seale, was eventually dropped from the case (but not before the judge ordered him to be bound and gagged in the courtroom after a series of vociferous protests), which is why they're usually referred to as "the Chicago 7." (Though there was a 1987 HBO TV movie called "The Trial of the Chicago 8.")
One of the weirdest things I can remember doing as a kid is actually reading the transcript of these absurd proceedings -- they published a paperback book that contained them and a bunch of courtroom sketches -- and I carried it around with me for a while. It was fascinating reading.
Elsewhere in the cinemas this week, we get Robert De Niro in "The War With Grandpa," which I dearly hope is not a sequel to "Dirty Grandpa"; a horror film called "The Wolf of Snow Hollow," which is significant because it features the late Robert Forster in his final role and is written, directed and stars Jim Cummings, who is best known as the modern voice of Winnie-the-Pooh (he replaced Hal Smith as the voice of the character in 1988). Cummings' last movie was the underrated "Thunder Road," so expect this to be something more than the ordinary lycanthrope horror-comedy.
There's also "Yellow Rose," which sounds an awful lot like 2018's "Wild Rose," only we have a young Filipino woman instead of Jessie Buckley's Scottish felon seeking Grand Ole Opry glory, and "Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton," a faith-based documentary about the priest who popularized the phrases "The family that prays together stays together" and "A world at prayer is a world at peace."
Another interesting sounding movie that's apparently not opening here this weekend but might show up soon is Vincent Masciale's "Faith Based," a satire of the Christian film industry, that, according to the reviews I've read, is more interested in satirizing a certain kind of opportunistic bandwagon jumper than taking down the faith-based filmmaking industry. It's one to look for, wherever you might find it.
The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival also kicks off today, with a combination of virtual and drive-in events. I talk a little bit about it in the week's OnFilm video, but more complete information can be found at their website, hsdfi.org.
Oh, and in other news, Adam Sandler's follow-up to "Uncut Gems," "Hubie Halloween" is out on Netflix.