New movies this month include fresh installments of “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Nut Job,” as well as “Norm of the North,” “The Finest Hours” and more. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s new in theaters and on DVD and Blu-ray this month. Note that release dates are subject to change.
PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images | In Theaters 1/8 | Ok for Kids 14+ | Gramercy Pictures | Reel Preview: 3.5 of 5 Reels | The Forest
Rising with terrifying grandeur at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, the legendary real-life Aokigahara Forest is the suspense-filled setting of this supernatural thriller directed by Jason Zada. A young American woman, Sara (Natalie Dormer, “Game of Thrones”), journeys there in search of her twin sister, who has mysteriously disappeared. In the company of expatriate Aiden (Taylor Kinney, “Chicago Fire”), Sara enters the forest – known as “the suicide forest” – after being warned to “stay on the path.” Determined to discover the truth about her sister’s fate, Sara must face the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who dares come near them.
NORM OF THE NORTH
Not yet rated; likely PG | In Theaters 1/15 | Ok for Kids 6+ | Lionsgate | Reel Preview: 3.5 of 5 Reels | Norm of the North
A polar bear of many words, Norm’s greatest gripe is simple: there’s no room for tourists in the Arctic! But when a maniacal developer threatens to build luxury condos in his own backyard, Norm (Rob Schneider) does what all normal polar bears would do … he heads to New York City to stop it. With a cast of ragtag lemmings at his side, Norm takes on the big apple, big business, and a big identity crisis to save the day. Heather Graham, Bill Nighy, Ken Jeong and Loretta Devine voice characters in this cute animated comedy directed by Trevor Wall.
THE 5TH WAVE
PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying | In Theaters 1/15 | Ok for Kids 13+ | Columbia/Sony | Reel Preview: 4 of 5 Reels | The 5th Wave
Ooh, aliens! And girl power! Set in the present day, this apocalyptic thriller centers on “waves” of increasingly deadly alien attacks that leave Earth decimated. Against a backdrop of fear and distrust, 16-year-old Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother. As she prepares for the inevitable and lethal “5th wave,” Cassie meets a young man who may become her final hope. Based on the book by Rick Yancey, this movie is directed by J. Blakeson and also stars Nick Robinson, Liev Schreiber, Alex Roe, Maria Bellow and Ron Livingston.
THE NUT JOB 2
Not yet rated; likely PG | In Theaters 1/15 | Ok for Kids 6+ | Open Road Films | Reel Preview: 3.5 of 5 Reels | The Nut Job 2
Not much has been released about this sequel to the 2014 family comedy “The Nut Job,” but it will no doubt feature plenty of action and center on the further adventures of Surly the mischievous squirrel. In the first movie, he planned a heist to get into his town’s biggest nut shop in order to help his pals in the park gather food to survive the winter. Cal Brunker, who was a storyboard artist on “Minions,” “Despicable Me” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” is directing, with Jeff Dunham, Joe Pingue and Rob Tinkler announced as voice talent.
No trailer or photos at press time.
RIDE ALONG 2
PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content, language and some drug material | In Theaters 1/15 | Ok for Kids 14+ | Universal | Reel Preview: 4 of 5 Reels | Ride Along 2
Kevin Hart and Ice Cube lead the returning lineup of “Ride Along 2,” the sequel to the blockbuster action-comedy that gave us 2014’s most popular comedy duo. As his wedding day approaches, Ben (Hart) heads to Miami with his soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Cube) to bring down a drug dealer who’s supplying the dealers of Atlanta with product. Tim Story directs, with Olivia Munn, Nadine Velazquez, Ken Jeong and Tyrese Gibson also starring.
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI
Not yet rated; likely PG-13 | In Theaters 1/15 | Ok for Kids 14+ | Paramount | Reel Preview: 4 of 5 Reels | 13 Hours
This adaptation of Mitchell Zuckoff’s book centers on the true account of the events of September 11, 2012, when terrorists attacked the US State Department Special Mission Compound, along with nearby CIA station “The Annex,” in Benghazi, Libya. A team of six American security operators went beyond the call of duty with courage and heroism to repel the attackers and protect the Americans stationed there. This is their personal account of what happened during the 13 hours of that now-infamous attack. Directed by Michael Bay, this movie stars John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, David Denman and Pablo Schreiber.
THE FINEST HOURS
Not yet rated; likely PG-13 | In Theaters 1/29 (2D, 3D, IMAX 3D) | Ok for Kids 13+ | Disney | Reel Preview: 4 of 5 Reels | The Finest Hours
This action-thriller tells the true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. On Feb. 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston, which was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) realizes he must take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to work together to ride out the storm. Meanwhile at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring rescue operation, sending four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little means of navigation to face frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds. Directed by Craig Gillespie and based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael Tougias, this movie also stars Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana.
KUNG FU PANDA 3
PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor | In Theaters 1/29 | Ok for Kids 5+ | 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks | Reel Preview: 4.5 of 5 Reels | Kung Fu Panda 3
Yes! Another “Kung Fu Panda” movie. A big favorite in this house. This third installment finds Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappearing and the reunited duo traveling to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when supernatural villain Kai (J.K. Simmons) begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po (Jack Black) must do the impossible—learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas! Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Allesandro Carloni, this cute family movie also features the voice talent of Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Bryan Cranston and Kate Hudson.
NEW ON DVD/BLU-RAY:
Not Rated | On DVD 1/5 | Ok for Kids 5+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
When Tyler’s furry best friend tragically dies, his inventor dad, Tom, creates a new “ROBO-DOG” out of spare parts and a techie “super battery.” But Tom’s old boss, Mr. Willis, wants the battery for himself and will stop at nothing to get it! Robo-Dog must help his new family save the day! Directed by Jason M. Murphy, this cute family movie stars Patrick Muldoon, Olivia d’Abo, and Wallace Shawn.
TIMBER THE TREASURE DOG
Rated PG | Release Date 1/5 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 3.5 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
Timber (voiced by Kix Brooks, from the country music duo “Brooks & Dunn”) is an energetic Alaskan Husky who shows up at the doorstep of 12-year-old Mikey Jones (J.D. Hoppe) and his family’s ranch in Montana. Meanwhile, Casper Stonewall (Sewell Whitney) is buying up all the ranches in the area that can’t pay off their bank deeds – and the Jones’ ranch is one of them. Luckily, Timber holds a clue to the local legend of a buried treasure, so they set off to save the ranch. Directed by Ari Novak, this family movie also stars Wilford Brimley and Averie South.
Rated PG | On DVD 1/12 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
Ride along with a four-legged military hero and his owner when this family movie arrives on DVD (plus Digital), Digital HD and On Demand January 12 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Awarded the Dove Seal of Approval and endorsed by Veterans in Film & Television, the story centers on Sergeant Tom Holloway (Casper Van Dien) and his Army dog, Connor, who return to the U.S. as heroes. But they learn that time away from his family has caused Tom’s daughter, Tara (Grace Van Dien), to resent him. Tom, Connor, and Tara try to connect over a camping trip, but unexpected danger sends them on an adventure that will change their lives forever. Directed by Ezra Kemp, also stars Stelio Savante and Annemarie Pazmino.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2
Rated PG | On DVD/Blu-ray 1/12 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 3.5 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
In this sequel to the 2012 family comedy, everything seems to be changing for the better at Hotel Transylvania. However, Drac is worried that his adorable half-human, half-vampire grandson, Dennis, isn’t showing signs of being a vampire. So while Mavis is on vacation, things get batty as Drac enlists his monster friends to put Dennis through a “monster-in-training” boot camp! Genndy Tartakovsky directs this cute movie starring Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez and Steve Buscemi. Read my full review here.
POWER RANGERS DINO CHARGE: UNLEASHED
Not Rated | On DVD 1/12 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
Get charged up and unleash the mighty strength of the dinosaurs with the Power Rangers Dino Charge! Centuries after intergalactic bounty hunter Sledge tried to get his hands on the mysterious Energems, a new team of Rangers has unearthed the gems, and bonded with their powerful dinosaur spirit. With the help of Dino-fueled weapons, new Mega Zords, and teamwork, they must protect these gems at all costs from Sledge’s monsters and keep the universe safe!
POKEMON THE SERIES: XY SET 2
Not Rated | On DVD 1/19 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
Ash and Pikachu, along with friends Serena, Clemont and Bonnie, venture ever deeper into the Kalos region in this series. Ash takes to the skies in a wing suit in his first Sky Battle, and the group explores exciting new areas like the majestic Kalos Canyon, the mysterious reflection Cave, and Professor Sycamore’s Pokemon summer camp. Meanwhile, Serena finds herself with a new rival, and Team Rocket keeps trying to flummox everyone with clever disguises and Pokemon-nabbing schemes. And of course, everyone wants to learn the secrets of Mega Evolution – but are they prepared for the consequences?
POUND PUPPIES: A RARE PAIR
Rated TV-Y | On DVD 1/19 | Ok for Kids 3+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
New from Shout Factory, Lucky, Niblet, Cookie, Squirt and Strudel are back for five more exciting adventures of the Pound Puppies! From trying to get a kitten and a puppy adopted into the same home, to trying to place an alligator named Rover, to sneaking into the Kennel Kittens’ compound to retrieve a stolen gadget, this team of determined canines will do whatever it takes to find the perfect loved ones for each and every pet at Shelter 17! Sweet and gentle for little ones.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: SEASON 8
Not Rated | On DVD 1/26 | Ok for Kids 7+ | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels | Buy on Amazon
Blair, Natalie, Tootie, and Jo say goodbye to their beloved Mrs. G – and things will never be the same again in “The Facts of Life: Season Eight.” When Edna Garrett finds love, the girls are understandably overjoyed, but it’s bittersweet when they realize their longtime friend and mentor will be leaving them. Edna’s sister Beverly Ann (Cloris Leachman) steps in to keep an eye on them, as the year passes and graduation from Langley College looms for Blair and Jo. Other highlights of this Shout Factory release include a rockin’ trip back to the 1960s, an Eastland girls reunion featuring some familiar faces, guest appearances by George Clooney and pop star Stacey Q., and a hilarious murder mystery in which no one is truly safe.
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
Images used with permission of the studios and distributors.