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The pre-Oscar cinematic doldrums continue, so neither of the new releases this week at the Village 8 had press screenings, which is generally a bad sign. But do you really need to know a whole lot about Rings, the third instalment in the The Ring franchise? Probably not, but here it goes: young woman, terrifying curses, possessions, swarming bugs and people gagging on slimy, matted, shower-drain-style hairballs. Nuff said.

The original 1998 Japanese Ringu (along with 2002's Ju-On) kickstarted the Japanese horror genre (a.k.a. J-horror) here in North America, and even though these Americanized sequel versions are starting to feel a bit repetitive, there is still fun to be had. Rings is also the Hollywood debut of director F. Javier Gutiérrez, whose first feature Before The Fall (a.k.a. 3 Dias) gained notoriety for adding intelligence and depth to the asteroid disaster flick genre. Chances are Rings won't hit as hard, but it looks creepy enough.

Also opening blind this week, The Space Between Us is not a film about trying to slow-dance at a 1950s high school sock hop but rather a sci-fi feel-good flick about a young boy who was born on the planet Mars during the first human mission there (his mother apparently didn't reveal that she was pregnant when they started the trip). In any case, he ends up back on Earth as an orphan on a mission to find his real father, and his place in this world. Or some such crap.

If the premise (or the pun in the title) isn't cheese-dick enough, the fact that this one is released in early February ought to be reason enough to skip it. (Exhibit B: It's directed by the dude who made the Hannah Montana movie.)

A highlight this week is that Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is still playing and, like it or love it, you can't deny they played this franchise right by keeping Milla Jovovich in the mix for the entire six-film run. Who would have ever thought that the foxy hippie chick playing guitar at the Moon tower in Dazed and Confused would end up slaying zombies (and stealing hearts) 24 years later in the most financially successful (and arguably best) video game film franchise ever? Tomb Raider is another success, but with only two films in that franchise, even Angelina has to bow down to Jovovich here. Note: There is a new Tomb Raider planned for 2018 starring Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), and directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, whose tidal wave disaster flick The Wave played the Whistler Film Fest last year and is available on Netflix if you want to do your homework.

Speaking of which, the Download of the Week is John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves as a retired mob super-assassin who gets back in the game after an entitled rich kid unwisely kills his dog. What makes this flick stand out are the action sequences. So many contemporary fight scenes consist of quick, jumpy shots pieced together in the editing room with uninspiring results (Exhibit A: most superhero movies). For John Wick, Keanu underwent extensive weapons, tactical and martial arts training. And it shows. Preparation like this allows the filmmakers to shoot the combat wide enough that the action has room to breath and the viewer gets a sense of the real flow of the violence. Check it out this week because John Wick: Chapter 2 gets wide release next week, and everyone is hoping they keep the ass-kicking train on the tracks.

Next week sees a lot more excitement as the Village 8 is getting in on the action with Thursday night pre-screenings (Feb. 9) of both Fifty Shades Darker — which was partly shot in Whistler — and The Lego Batman Movie. It's safe to say the 18A-rated Fifty Shades should draw a big crowd based on the popularity of the entry-level-smut-for-bored-housewives book series. However, most of those fans considered the first flick in this franchise far too tame, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully, the filmmakers watched some old '80s softcore like 9½ Weeks or Blue Orchid and thought, "We can do better than that." Dakota Johnson makes it worth watching regardless.

Lego Batman, on the other hand, can't really fail — kids will watch anything — but for the adults out there, the trailer seems to be going after the in-joke heavy Shrek formula. While the February release date should be worrying, fingers crossed this one is not too dumbed down and kid-cheery for the source material. We'll get into that next week.



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