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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

It’s hard to decide what the worst part about January is – the cold weather or the crappy movies – but at least with the winter chill, you can always add extra layers to help stay warm. There’s not a lot you can do to make a bad film more tolerable, and unfortunately, the turn of the year is typically brimming with cinematic duds. Though there are a few potential surprises in the cards this January from some heavy hitters, it’s best to keep your expectations low, because even the biggest stars are due a stinker every once in a while, and if there was ever a good time to release it, this would be the month to do it.

“GANGSTER SQUAD”

Who: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Nick Nolte
What: A crew of LAPD enforcers team up to take down vicious mobster Mickey Cohen.
When: January 11th
Why: After getting bumped from its September release date to accommodate reshoots following the Aurora, Colorado tragedy (particularly a scene involving machine guns in a movie theater), it’s a little sad to see Ruben Fleischer’s police drama land in the dregs of January, because it deserves better than that. Loosely based on the LAPD’s war against organized crime during the late 40s and early 50s, the film’s cast is packed with enough talent – from its major stars to supporting players like Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick – to rival any of the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. Though I was disappointed by Fleischer’s last effort, the crime comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” it’ll be interesting to see how the “Zombieland” director handles more serious material, and whether his unique visual style clashes with the particular look of that era.

“A HAUNTED HOUSE”

Who: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson and David Koechner
What: When Malcolm and Keisha learn that a demon resides in their dream home, Malcolm turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghostbusters for help.
When: January 11th
Why: Unless you’re a fan of the “Scary Movie” franchise, which Marlon Wayans helped launch over a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine you’ll have any sort of interest in his new horror comedy, which parodies found footage films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Devil Inside.” But if those awful spoof movies by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer taught us anything, it’s that there’s definitely a market for this brand of lowbrow idiocy, although you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to actually admit it. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but even for a spoof movie, “A Haunted House” looks embarrassingly bad for everyone involved, including those dumb enough to waste their time and money.

“THE LAST STAND”

Who: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker and Luis Guzman
What: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.
When: January 18th
Why: Between the English-language debuts of Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook, and Spike Lee’s upcoming remake of the cult classic “Oldboy,” the Korean invasion is in full swing, and deservedly so, because they’re making some of the best movies at the moment. Kim Ji-woon’s revenge thriller “I Saw the Devil” was one of my favorite films of 2011, so it’s not surprising that his fans have been drooling over the prospect of his Hollywood debut, and the fact that it also happens to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a decade will probably bring it even more attention. That could end up hurting the movie more than it helps it if expectations are set too high, but the script didn’t earn a place on the Black List for nothing, and if it’s anything like Kim’s oddball Western “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” then U.S. audiences could be in for a fun treat.

“BROKEN CITY”

Who: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kyle Chandler
What: A former cop hired to trail the adulterous wife of New York City’s mayor finds himself caught up in a much larger scandal.
When: January 18th
Why: It’s hard to believe that a film starring the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones is being released in January, which leads me to believe one of two things: either the studio has zero confidence in the movie, or they’re hoping to cash in against much weaker competition. Unfortunately, the trailer doesn’t really get me excited about the film, even with the talent involved, and that’s because we’ve all seen a variation of this film several times before. Though there’s always the chance that Allen Hughes’ first solo effort without brother Albert (who’s off making his own movie with Mickey Rourke) will bring something fresh to the genre, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

“MAMA”

Who: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Megan Charpentier
What: Annabelle and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his two nieces that disappeared into the woods five years ago, but the girls might not be alone.
When: January 18th
Why: Horror movies aren’t usually my thing, but even I’m somewhat intrigued by first-time director Andres Muschietti’s “Mama,” which is based on his 2008 short film of the same name. Though having Guillermo del Toro attached to the movie as an executive producer certainly lends some credibility to the project, it’s the involvement of Jessica Chastain that really perks my interest, because the Oscar-nominated actress could do just about anything she wants at the moment, so she must have saw something really special in the script to agree to do a horror film at this stage in her career. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve gotten my hopes up about a movie opening in January only to get burned, so here’s hoping that Muschietti and Co. prove me wrong.

“HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS”

Who: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen
What: In this dark spin on the famous fairy tale, siblings Hansel and Gretel have grown up to become bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.
When: January 25th
Why: I’ve lost count of how many times “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” has been delayed over the last few years, but now that it’s finally coming to theaters, will anyone even care? Filmed long before Jeremy Renner became a household name, the studio is clearly hoping to exploit his recent success, but you have to feel bad for the actor, because this looks like the kind of low-rent action movie you make before becoming a big star. Much like director Tommy Wirkola’s zombie Nazi comedy “Dead Snow,” the concept sounds like a lot of fun, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to be too campy for its own good, especially when none of the actors appear to be in on the joke.

“PARKER”

Who: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale and Nick Nolte
What: After being double-crossed and left for dead, a thief forms an unlikely alliance with a woman on the inside to hijack his crew’s latest score.
When: January 25th
Why: If you’ve seen one Jason Statham movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but with Taylor Hackford behind the camera, you’d expect this to at least fall on the better end of his action film oeuvre. Though I don’t know much about the series of books that it’s based on, this isn’t the first time that author Donald Westlake’s antihero has been transported to the big screen, perhaps most notably in the underrated Mel Gisbon film “Payback.” However, this is the first time that the Parker name has been allowed to be used, so you can bet that the plan is to jumpstart a franchise using a similar strategy as “Jack Reacher.” Fans of the novels probably shouldn’t get their hopes up, but even though it may not be franchise material, action movies starring The Stath are rarely dull.

“MOVIE 43″

Who: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Gerard Butler, Emma Stone and Elizabeth Banks
What: An outrageous ensemble comedy intertwining different tales and starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
When: January 25th
Why: The idea of enlisting some of the most famous actors in the movie business to take part in an anthology of lewd and politically incorrect vignettes directed by guys like Peter Farrelly, Brett Ratner and James Gunn sounds pretty funny on paper. Whether or not “Movie 43” manages to fulfill that comic potential, however, is a completely different story, especially when some audiences might not like the thought of seeing Hollywood darlings such as Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet sink to that level. There’s definitely a spoof movie vibe to it, which also means that there’s plenty of room for disappointment, but with this much talent packed into one film, it’s hard not to be at least a little curious.

  

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