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New in Theaters January 06: Underworld: Blood Wars, Hidden Figures, A Monster Calls

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By Chris Kavan - 01/05/17 at 06:44 AM CT

Welcome to the first full weekend of 2017, where Rogue One should still be able to rule the roost over the one new film and two wide expansions muscling their way in to theaters. The best of the bunch looks to be Hidden Figures, which hit a home run in its limited debut, as it focuses on three African-American women who had a major part in shaping the early missions of NASA. We also get a new Underworld offering along with A Monster Calls. I have a feeling both Star Wars and Sing are going to hold up well, but we'll see how audience mood starts off in January.

HIDDEN FIGURES Stories like Hidden Figures really need to be told. The film has already been successful in limited release, earning $2.65 million ahead of its nationwide expansion. The film follows three African-American women: Katherine G. Johnson (portrayed by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (portrayed by Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (portrayed by Janelle MonŠe) as the fight both racism and sexism as they prove instrumental in making NASA a success. These "human computers" as they were called, are three of the most dedicated and talented mathematicians at NASA but because of they are women and black, have been all but relegated to a footnote in history. It is films like these that put these oft-overlooked people into the spotlight where they truly belong - and, as a fan of history, I love these kind of stories. The film has plenty of other big names attached: Kevin Costner, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell all lend their considerable talents to the mix. 2016 was a banner year for African-American filmmakers and actors - with Hidden Figures, it looks like 2017 is getting off on the right foot.

A MONSTER CALLS While the film was originally going to drop last October, a hefty dearth of competition (including Jack Reacher, Madea and Ouija) led to some rescheduling. Like Hidden Figures, this one enjoyed a limited release, but the response has been pretty muted with a scant $81,600 to its name. It has done much better on the international front, where it has already earned over $30 million. In any case, the film follows a boy, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with both bullies at school and the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones). He finds help in an unlikely place when a humanoid tree creature (Liam Neeson) offers help and advice. The film is described by many as a dark fantasy/coming-of-age drama and has received generally positive reviews. Yet the appeal also seems somewhat limited as it seems to dark for most children but the subject matter may also not offer enough for adults. In any case, it doesn't look like a bad film but it may have trouble establishing itself. Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Ben Moor and James Melville help round out the cast.

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS That leaves us with our last new film, the latest in the Underworld franchise Blood Wars. The last time we joined Kate Beckinsale as Selene, vampire warrior extrodinaire, was back in 2012 with Awakening. This franchise has never seen huge numbers - Awakening and the 2006 offering Evolution lead the pack with $62 million each, but it has been a solid enough franchise that a new film came around about once every three years. The break this time has been a bit longer, but we'll see if audiences are still willing to give this action series another chance. I, for one, have always been (mostly) entertained - and Beckinsale makes a good choice for the title role, but things have been stretched about as far as they can go. Blood Wars finds Selene essentially on her own - caught between the ages-long fued with the Lycans and hunted by her own vampire clan that betrayed her. In order to survive, she will have to figure out if there is any way to stop this seemingly eternal war - all while relying on scant few allies. Theo James and Charles Dance play her only two real friends while Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver and James Faulkner round out the cast. I have a feeling if you've seen a previous Underworld film, this is going to be more of the same - we'll see if the longer-than-average wait between movies will make a difference for better or worse.

Those are the offerings. I'm sure with Sunday's Golden Globes that next week will see a bump in some awards-season hopefuls - but we'll have to wait on that. This Sunday Rogue One will keep fighting for that top spot - and I have a feeling it will still win.


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