Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

For as much abuse as January receives for being a bad movie magnet, February isn’t any better, especially when you factor in the bombardment of cheesy chick flicks being unloaded in time for Valentine’s Day. In fact, with the exception of maybe one or two releases, there isn’t anything even worth getting excited about – unless you’re a really big “Star Wars” fan, in which case, keep reading. January was by no means a great month for moviegoers, but it was a heckuva lot better than what February has in store.

“THE WOMAN IN BLACK”

Who: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds and Emma Shorey
What: A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
When: February 3rd
Why: There’s no way in hell that I’m going to see this movie – not because it doesn’t look like it might be good, but rather because there are few things that scare me as unconditionally as creepy old ghost women from horror movies. (Despite really enjoying last year’s “Insidious,” I couldn’t sleep for weeks afterwards.) And that’s a shame, because “The Woman in Black” looks like it might actually rise above the typical horror trash that populates this time of year (see: “The Devil Inside”). Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name (which was also turned into a successful stage play), the script was written by Matthew Vaughn’s go-to scribe Jane Goldman and stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role. The actor undoubtedly had plenty of offers on the table, so the fact that he chose this Hammer horror film certainly speaks of its potential.

“CHRONICLE”

Who: Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Dane DeHaan and Michael Kelly
What: Three friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery, only for their friendship to be tested when one of them embraces his dark side.
When: February 3rd
Why: I didn’t even know about this movie until a few months ago when a friend sent me a link to the trailer, but consider me cautiously intrigued. Though I’m just as sick of the whole found footage fad as everyone else, “Chronicle” is set up in a way that it doesn’t have to adhere to the normal rules of the genre. For starters, since the main characters have superpowers (namely, telekinesis), they can put the camera pretty much anywhere they want, allowing for a more dynamic range of shots beyond the trademark shaky cam. The trailer also seems to suggest that there will be a healthy dose of action, so as long as the story isn’t a complete mess and director Josh Trank can keep the movie’s mystery a secret, this superhero “Cloverfield” could be the first surprise hit of the year.

“SAFE HOUSE”

Who: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga
What: A young CIA agent must go on the run with a rogue operative after the safe house he’s being held at is compromised by men trying to break him out.
When: February 10th
Why: There’s something about Denzel Washington playing a villain that audiences really seem to enjoy, although it’s probably just because we’re so used to seeing him as the good guy. But unlike “Training Day” and “American Gangster,” I have a sneaking suspicion that his character in “Safe House” isn’t actually bad at all, which is a win-win for the actor. Having someone of his caliber also makes director Daniel Espinosa’s job a whole lot easier, because Washington can practically sleepwalk through a role like this and still be compelling. It doesn’t hurt that Espinosa was able to land such a great supporting cast either – particularly Ryan Reynolds, who’s proven on numerous occasions that he’s a much better actor than many people give him credit for. And if the two of them work together as well as I think they will, “Safe House” should be lots of fun.

“STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D”

Who: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Jake Lloyd
What: Two Jedi Knights uncover a political conspiracy when they’re sent as emissaries to the blockaded planet of Naboo… in 3D!
When: February 10th
Why: If there’s one thing that I can’t stand more than new 3D movies, it’s older films that have been post-converted into the format in an attempt by the studios to squeeze every last dollar out of the moviegoing public. There’s no one better at milking a cash cow than George Lucas, so it’s not much of a surprise that he’s decided to release the “Star Wars” saga in 3D less than a year after its Blu-ray debut. What is surprising, however, is that he’s chosen to lead off with “The Phantom Menace,” undoubtedly the most hated installment of all the live-action films. And yet, that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll still be waiting in line on opening weekend alongside my fellow “Star Wars” fans to watch it anyway, especially if it helps the chances of seeing the original trilogy on the big screen.

“THIS MEANS WAR”

Who: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler
What: Two of the CIA’s best operatives wage an epic battle against one another after they discover that they’re dating the same woman.
When: February 14th
Why: You could get dragged by your wife or girlfriend to the new Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum romantic drama “The Vow” for Valentine’s Day, or you could take her to go see this instead. If that doesn’t sound like a very difficult decision, it’s because it isn’t. She gets two handsome guys to fawn over, and you get to stare at the interminably cute Reese Witherspoon while two of Hollywood’s coolest leading men face off in a battle of wits, fists and explosions. Director McG may spend more time these days developing television shows than making movies, but “This Means War” (great title, by the way) looks like a welcome return for the director, who knows a thing or two about blending action with comedy. And if he can manage to strike the right balance, he could be sitting on the next “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Is there a more perfect date movie than this?

“GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE”

Who: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth and Ciarán Hinds
What: While hiding out in Eastern Europe, Johnny Blaze is called upon to stop the devil, who is trying to take human form.
When: February 17th
Why: After 2007′s disastrous “Ghost Rider” set a new low for the comic book genre, I figured that would be the last we’d ever see of Marvel’s B-list hero. But for some reason, Sony has decided to give the character a second chance, handing over the reins to the directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Strangely enough, though, “Spirit of Vengeance” isn’t a sequel, but a reboot of sorts, despite the fact that Nicolas Cage is reviving the title role. The actor surely had a hand in picking the filmmakers this time around, but while Neveldine and Taylor may seem like the perfect guys to take on such an incredibly bizarre superhero (you needn’t look any further than the “Crank” films to understand why), they might have gone too far over the top. Case in point: the shot of Ghost Rider pissing fire. It can’t be any worse than the first movie, but will anyone care?

“WANDERLUST”

Who: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Malin Akerman, Justin Theroux and Alan Alda
What: Rattled by sudden unemployment, a Manhattan couple experiments with alternative living options by moving to a rural commune where free love rules.
When: February 24th
Why: Fans of David Wain’s cult comedy “Wet Hot American Summer” might never see the rumored prequel that’s been bandied about in recent years, but “Wanderlust” could help fill that void thanks to a similar setting and appearances by several of the same actors. While the movie looks a little too good-natured and conventional for my taste, if it’s even remotely as funny as Wain’s last collaboration with Paul Rudd (“Role Models”), we could be in for a real treat. Rudd certainly has the talent to turn an average film into a good one, but save for her against-type performance in last year’s “Horrible Bosses,” Jennifer Aniston is usually poison. Sure, it’ll be fun to see the pair reunited for the first time since “Friends,” but people are probably more excited about Aniston’s scenes with boyfriend Justin Theroux, whose tabloid relationship could do with a little good publicity.

“ACT OF VALOR”

Who: Timothy Gibbs, Dimiter Marinov, Alex Veadov and U.S. Navy SEALs
What: An elite team of Navy SEALs embarks on a covert mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent.
When: February 24th
Why: On the surface, “Act of Valor” sounds like yet another generic action film destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bin, but what sets it apart from its military-themed brethren is that it stars active duty U.S. Navy SEALs. As a result, the movie will likely feature a level of realism that’s never been captured on film before, even if that means making some sacrifices in other areas. Let’s be honest: these soldiers weren’t hired because they’re good actors, but because they’re real-life stuntmen who do this for a living. It’s a pretty interesting experiment on the part of Relativity Media – which promises a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush jam-packed with wall-to-wall action – but it also doesn’t hide the fact that the movie is essentially a feature-length recruiting video for the “Call of Duty” crowd.

“GONE”

Who: Amanda Seyfried, Daniel Sunjata, Wes Bentley and Jennifer Carpenter
What: When her sister disappears, Jill is convinced that the serial killer who kidnapped her two years ago has returned and sets out to once again face her abductor.
When: February 24th
Why: I’m really rooting for Amanda Seyfried to succeed – not only is she talented, but she’s also easy on the eyes – but as long as the actress continues to pick projects like “Gone,” she’ll never make the jump to the A-list. Her latest film looks like the kind of paint-by-numbers thriller that’s entirely dependent on some twist ending – one that the audience will no doubt see a mile away because that’s what they’ve been trained to do ever since M. Night Shyamalan made twist endings trendy. No matter how good the twist may be, however, “Gone” has the makings of a direct-to-video reject that isn’t worth sitting through to get there. In fact, if the studio wasn’t trying to make a quick buck by releasing it in the dead of the winter movie season, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

  

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