As you will know if you have lived here for a while, Ramadan is traditionally a slow time for local cinemas.
Every year, there is much discussion of whether cinemas should take a chance, release a big movie and see whether families might like a trip to the movies before or after iftar. And every year, the accepted wisdom tends to be that they wouldn’t, and so the release schedules go strangely quiet for a month, with all the big releases held over until Eid and the weeks that follow.
Nonetheless, distributors keep distributing and cinemas keep screening. It’s just that they might be distributing and screening three-year-old films you have never heard of that have been gathering dust on a shelf, or got pushed off the original schedule when they bombed in other territories.
This means that the quality of the films at this time of year is variable, to say the least. That said, it does throw up the occasional overlooked gem. With less commercial pressure on cinemas, there is an opportunity to throw away the rule book and screen less-marketable movies that might not have been able stand up to competition from the latest superhero blockbusters.
And this year, there are also signs that cinemas are at last prepared to give bigger releases a chance, with a couple of big sequels getting a release mid-Ramadan: Pixar's Finding Dory, the follow-up to Finding Nemo, and the star-studded crime thriller Now You See Me 2.
Here, then is a round up of some of the best, worst and weirdest of this year’s scheduled Ramadan releases – but be aware that schedules can change at very short notice, so always check with the cinemas for up-to-date screening details.
Maggie's Plan (2015)
Technically, Maggie's Plan sits in the romcom genre – but if that fills you with dread, it is worth noting the film's writer and director is Rebecca Miller, daughter of legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, and so is a cut above the usual formulaic Hollywood comedy romance. It was greeted with positive reviews when it had its premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, and it screened at Sundance in January. Starring Ethan Hawke, Greta Gerwig and Julianne Moore, it is an offbeat, indie romance in which control freak Maggie (Gerwig) finds fate, and other people's feelings, interfering with her meticulously scripted design for life.
Welcome To Me (2014)
Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) struggles with mental illness. She is a big fan of Oprah Winfrey – and hasn’t turned her TV off in 11 years. So when she wins US$86million on the lottery, she decides to fund her very own vanity project – a TV show all about herself. It features silent shots of Alice eating, re-enactments of distressing events from her past – and a section devoted to neutering dogs. Both her fragile mental state and her bank balance deteriorate as she grows increasingly famous. Wig’s performance in particular received acclaim following the movie’s premiere in 2014 the Toronto film festival, and doubtless helped it achieve a respectable 73 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, despite the fact it failed to make an impact in US cinemas.
Money Monster (2016)
Jodie Foster sharpens her directorial claws in this hostage drama starring Jack O’Connoll as Kyle Budwell, a man who has been pushed over the edge by Lee Gales (George Clooney) a smug TV financial guru. After losing his life savings on advice given by Gales, Budwell takes the tipster hostage on live TV and demands answers. The movie, which also stars Julia Roberts as Gales’s producer, has been in cinemas for a couple of weeks now and its longevity suggests we can’t get enough of seeing media tipsters get their comeuppance – so I won’t tip it as such. It’s just a friendly suggestion.
Me Before You (2016
Crippling disability, euthanasia and unemployment? Yes, it’s the romantic drama of the year as Emilia Clarke’s down-and-out Lou finds herself caring for Sam Claflin’s Will, who has been left wheelchair-bound following a traffic accident. The two bond and share great times together. But can she persuade Will to rethink his desire to end his own life?
Finding Dory (2016)
This marks a historic moment for Ramadan schedules as what is sure to be a bone fide blockbuster, Disney/Pixar’s sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, gets a mid-Ramadan release, at the same time as it debuts in other global markets. The movie’s aquatic cast features the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Defoe and Idris Elba among others. It will be fascinating to see how the movie does at the UAE box office. Will the release of a film at this time of year that people really want to see finally disprove the long-held notion that families don’t want to visit cinemas during Ramadan – or will it reinforce the belief if the eagerly anticipated sequel fails to live up to box-office expectations? We will be watching with interest.
Now You See Me 2 (2016)
This sequel to 2013’s illusion-themed crime caper reunites most of the cast of the original. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman all reprise their roles, though Isla Fisher is absent this time around. Once again our favourite magicians attempt take on “the man”, as they try to outwit the FBI, and the forces of global capitalism in general, using magic tricks. This time they take on an unpleasant technology corporation, hoping to offer the fruits of their labours to the little people, again.
The House On Pine Street (2015)
If there’s one thing you can rely on during the slow summer months, it’s obscure horror films suddenly popping up in cinemas. So it goes with The House On Pine Street, whereby a young pregnant woman finds herself moving into a haunted house. The rest you can probably guess as things go awry with the house’s supernatural incumbents. Brothers Aaron and Austin Keeling are the directorial team behind this film – if you’re looking for them to emulate siblings such as the Coens or the Wachowskis, you may need to wait a little longer for them to develop their art.
The Code of Caine (2015)
Renowned journalist Sara Ogden (Natasha Alam) is travelling the world in pursuit of carriers of the fatally dangerous Stamp of Cain. If it all sounds like a low-budget Da Vinci Code, that’s probably because it is. I can’t think of many films in which the dramatic conclusion takes place in Belarus – not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. On the downside, the producers would clearly have loved this film to have been The Da Vinci Code and filmed in Rome instead – an aspiration that is not necessarily a good starting point.
Tini: El Gran Cambio de Violetta (2016)
Another Disney-related movie – although this Italian/Argentinian co-produced companion to the popular Argentine telenovela Violetta, which was developed by Disney’s Latin and EMEA channels, probably doesn’t quite have the same box office appeal as Finding Dory, at least outside of the Latin American market. Nonetheless, South American telenovelas are popular with local audiences, and so this big-screen spin-off – which follows the show’s real-life star Martina ‘Tini’ Stoessel as she leaves behind the world of Violetta and sets out across the Italian countryside to discover herself – should find plenty of fans among local telenovela fans.
Elvis and Nixon (2016)
The title may sound like something from the fevered imagination of the people who brought you Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but in fact this historical drama, online-streaming service Amazon Studios’ first feature-film acquisition, tells the true story of the fateful morning of December 21, 1970, when Elvis Presley turned up on the White House lawn demanding to speak to president Richard Nixon. The pair apparently discussed drugs and hippies (neither of them was a fan of either) and Elvis reportedly asked to be sworn in as an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Kevin Spacey, a past-master at portraying presidents after four seasons in House of Cards, plays Nixon, while the equally talented Michael Shannon (8 Mile, Boardwalk Empire) adds further thespian gravitas at The King.