Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april

With the exception of Marvel’s Captain America sequel, the directorial debut of longtime Christopher Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, and yet another Kevin Costner sports drama, April is suspiciously lacking in many big releases. Before theater chains are inundated with all the summer blockbusters, this month’s slate is mostly comprised of smaller independent films, many of which are actually quite promising.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”

Who: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie
What: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
When: April 4th
Why: The first Captain America movie may not have been one of Marvel’s best, but it was a solid and completely necessary introduction to the character that helped pave the way for the awesomeness that was “The Avengers.” And just like that film marked the beginning of the end of Phase One, “The Winter Solider” serves a very similar purpose for Phase Two. Loosely based on the popular storyline from the comics featuring the title character, Cap’s second solo adventure is shaping up to be everything fans wanted and more. The action looks fantastic and the cast is stacked – including the return of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, as well as the introduction of another famous face from the Marvel universe with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon) – so it’s easy to see why expectations are so high.

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“DOM HEMINGWAY”

Who: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir and Emilia Clarke
What: After spending 12 years in prison, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.
When: April 4th
Why: It’s been nine years since writer/director Richard Shepherd burst onto the scene with the hugely entertaining black comedy “The Madator,” and with the exception of his underseen 2007 follow-up (“The Hunting Party”), he’s spent most of that time as a hired gun for various TV series. But he’s finally back with a new movie featuring a character that could rival Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast” for the title of Most Polarizing British Gangster, which is quite the feat considering that the British crime genre is jam-packed with loud, ballsy and over-the-top characters. Jude Law has always been one of my favorite actors, so it’s great to see him playing against type here as the larger-than-life criminal, much in the same way that Pierce Brosnan shocked audiences in “The Matador.” Though the film has received fairly mixed reviews since its UK debut, Law’s unhinged performance looks like reason enough to catch this in theaters.

“DRAFT DAY”

Who: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Sam Elliot
What: The General Manager of the Cleveland Browns struggles to acquire the number one draft pick for his team.
When: April 11th
Why: Between “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For the Love of the Game,” it’s safe to say that Kevin Costner and sports movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, so perhaps the only surprising thing about “Draft Day” is that it’s about football instead of America’s favorite pastime. Filmed in Cleveland where it takes place, locals are no doubt hoping that this film can provide a much-needed reversal of fortune for their precious Brownies in the upcoming season. Whether it will be any good is another matter entirely. You’d have to go all the way back to the early ‘90s to find director Ivan Reitman’s last great movie, though it’s certainly encouraging that “Draft Day” seems to be more along the lines of “Moneyball” than “Major League,” because the behind-the-scenes stuff is far more engaging than anything that happens on the field.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

march

After what can only be described as a fairly lackluster start to 2014, moviegoers will be happy to discover that there are several promising titles scheduled for release throughout March. In addition to new films from Wes Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, this month marks the return of Veronica Mars, the debut of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series and the arrival of a new challenger to the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”

Who: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Adrian Brody and Saoirse Ronan
What: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
When: March 7th
Why: At this point in Wes Anderson’s career, you either like his movies or you don’t, which is good news for fans of the eccentric director, because “The Grand Budapest Hotel” looks very much like more of the same. While not every one of his films is an instant classic (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” remains his worst effort), audiences usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect from a typical Anderson project, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no different. Quirky dialogue? Check. Even quirkier characters? Check. Whimsical production design painted in vibrant colors? Check and check. And if that’s not enough to get you on board, the director’s ever-expanding pool of talent adds a few new faces to the mix with Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and Saoirse Ronan, making this perhaps his most impressive ensemble to date.

“300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE”

Who: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro and Lena Headey
What: Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and his vengeful commander Artemisia.
When: March 7th
Why: It’s been so long since the original “300” hit theaters that it’s hard to imagine many people still care about this prequel/sequel, even if the very idea of a spinoff was ridiculous from the start. With that said, credit to Frank Miller for coming up with an idea that complements the first film instead of feeling like a silly cash grab. Though Sullivan Stapleton will have a tough time living up to Gerard Butler’s Leonidas (especially if you’ve seen his work on “Strike Back”), he fulfills the beefcake quotient, while Eva Green is already earning positive reviews for her turn as the female baddie. Seeing Noam Murro behind the camera of a big action movie like “Rise of an Empire” may be a little perplexing considering his only other credit is the indie dramedy “Smart People,” but judging from the trailers, he’s nailed the look and feel of Zack Snyder’s universe.

“NEED FOR SPEED”

Who: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi and Michael Keaton
What: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross-country race with revenge in mind.
When: March 14th
Why: It’s amazing that it took this long for another studio to exploit the success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise with a racing movie of its own, but considering that Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” video game series (from which the film gets its name) predates the original “The Fast and the Furious” by several years, you can hardly blame DreamWorks for wanting a piece of the pie. Casting Aaron Paul, hot off his Emmy-winning role on “Breaking Bad,” as the leading man is a surefire way to win support, though the involvement of director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) is certainly cause for concern. One of the things that make the “Fast and Furious” movies so entertaining is that they don’t take themselves seriously, and if “Need for Speed” is unable to tap into that childish sense of fun, then it’s already lost before the race has begun.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

february

If February is known for anything, it’s the barrage of romantic films released in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. And in keeping with tradition, there are several to choose from this year. But while past Februarys haven’t been very promising from a guy’s point of view, there’s plenty to look forward to in the 2014 edition, with no less than four action movies (including a remake of an ‘80s cult classic) and the latest from George Clooney and an animated film that’s just as much for adults as it is for kids.

“THE LEGO MOVIE”

Who: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman
What: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
When: February 7th
Why: It’s not very often that I get excited about an animated film, but as a closeted LEGO fanatic, “The LEGO Movie” is one of my most anticipated releases of the year. The fact that it’s taken this long to make a film based on the hugely popular toy brand is shocking, not only because it’s a dream project from a marketing standpoint, but because the very nature of LEGOs provides an almost endless supply of creative possibilities. This could have easily been ruined in the hands of someone else, but based on the materials released so far, it appears that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “21 Jump Street”) have struck the perfect chord in making a kid-friendly movie that adults can enjoy as well.

“THE MONUMENTS MEN”

Who: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Bill Murray
What: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked with rescuing art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their owners.
When: February 7th
Why: On paper, “The Monuments Men” has Oscar bait written all over it. In addition to being based on a true story (set during World War II, no less), the film features some of the best acting talent in the business and was also co-written and directed by star George Clooney. So why the decision to push the movie back from its original holiday release to this February? No one knows for sure, but considering the competition that it would have been up against, it was probably the right move. After all, while “The Monuments Men” certainly has the makings of a crowd-pleaser (the two-second sales pitch is “‘Ocean’s Eleven’ meets ‘Inglourious Basterds’”), it doesn’t really seem like awards material. Still, with that cast, you never know. It could be great or it could be another “The Good German.”

“VAMPIRE ACADEMY”

Who: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Sarah Hyland and Olga Kurylenko
What: 17-year-old half-human/vampire Rose Hathaway is dragged back to her boarding school to protect a race of peaceful vampires from the bloodthirsty Strigoi.
When: February 7th
Why: If “Vampire Academy” comes across as just another young adult book series turned into a film, it’s because it is – a sort of supernatural mashup of “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” But while the Richelle Mead novel on which it’s based sounds about as fun as a trip to the dentist’s office, the movie version looks a lot more enjoyable thanks to the involvement of sibling duo Mark and Daniel Waters. The former directed the hilarious 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” while the latter wrote the screenplay for the precursor to that film, “Heathers.” And if the trailer is anything to go by, “Vampire Academy” strikes a very similar tone, albeit with the added benefit of some action. For every successful YA book adaptation, however, there are five failures, so history certainly isn’t on its side.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

december

Winter has officially arrived, and with it comes the final wave of award contenders hoping to leave an impression on critics and Oscar voters. Though 2013 hasn’t exactly been the best year for movies, there’s plenty of quality on display in December, including the second installment of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy, new films from David O. Russell and the Coen brothers, and the latest collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. And for those looking for lighter fare, there’s also the long-awaited sequel to “Anchorman.”

“OUT OF THE FURNACE”

Who: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana
What: When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.
When: December 4th
Why: Writer/director Scott Cooper burst onto the scene in 2009 with “Crazy Heart,” netting Jeff Bridges the Oscar for Best Actor in the process, so it’s not surprising to see that he’s managed to land some equally impressive talent for his sophomore effort. Though early word for this one has been pretty mixed, the trailers have me intrigued, particularly with such an amazing ensemble cast, which also includes screen veterans like Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. Plus, I’ll watch just about anything starring Christian Bale, because he’s one of this generation’s finest actors with his chameleon-like ability to completely inhabit any role. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a dud every now and again, but his résumé speaks for itself, and “Out of the Furnace” looks like another solid addition to an already remarkable career.

“INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS”

Who: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman
What: A week in the life of a young musician as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
When: December 6th
Why: There aren’t many directors that can boast a track record as impressive as the one that Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed throughout their 30-year careers, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just another notch on that cinematic belt. Markedly different from a lot of their films in that it’s a much more intimate, character-driven piece, “Inside Llewyn Davis” most closely resembles “A Serious Man” in both tone and execution. But although the movie is a fairly bittersweet portrait of personal failure (a running theme in the Coens’ repertoire), it’s not without their trademark wit and humor. The comedy may not be as pronounced as in their other films, but it’s yet another fine period drama that boasts a superb lead performance from Oscar Isaac and one of the best (and most addictive) soundtracks since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage and Orlando Bloom
What: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug.
When: December 13th
Why: It’s a little ironic that the villain of this story is an avaricious reptile, because Warner Bros. could be accused of similar behavior following the decision to split “The Hobbit” into three movies. Of course, fans are hardly complaining about spending more time in Middle-earth, and now that the stage has been set with “An Unexpected Journey,” the second installment promises to be even better. Along with introducing important characters like Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), The Necromancer and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch pulling double duty), the movie also marks the return of fan favorite Legolas and newly created female elf Tauriel, neither of whom actually appear in Tolkien’s novel. It wouldn’t be the first time that Peter Jackson has tinkered with the source material, but he hasn’t let us down yet, and that’s more than enough reason to get excited about Part Two.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

november

Last month may have been pretty uncharacteristic with the quality of films on display, featuring several Best Picture contenders, but if you thought that it would somehow affect the November release slate, think again. Though audiences will sadly have to wait a little longer to see Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” after the director failed to meet the original date, there are still plenty of great movies on tap, including a few award hopefuls, a pair of blockbuster sequels and more.

“ENDER’S GAME”

Who: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and Ben Kingsley
What: The International Military recruits and trains a brilliant young boy named Ender Wiggin to lead his fellow soldiers against an alien attack.
When: November 1st
Why: Though “Ender’s Game” has been mired in controversy due to author Orson Scott Card’s recent anti-gay marriage rant, the fact of the matter is that his opinions have nothing to do with the actual movie. Of course, that’s not to say that the film still isn’t fighting an uphill battle. Director Gavin Hood has some making up to do after the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but despite some concerns from fans, this big screen adaptation of the beloved sci-fi novel (previously thought to be unfilmable) looks like it could be his ticket to redemption. While it’s surprising that he’d follow up “Wolverine” with another effects-heavy film, it shows that Hood is adamant about proving his critics wrong. And with actors like Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis in supporting roles, he certainly has the right tools to do just that.

“LAST VEGAS”

Who: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline
What: Three sixty-something friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.
When: November 1st
Why: A lot of people are already referring to “Last Vegas” as the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apparently, Dan Fogelman’s script was floating around Hollywood years before the Todd Phillips comedy became a box office hit. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that the success of the “Hangover” films didn’t play some part in getting the movie greenlit, and as goofy as the concept sounds (expect plenty of cheap jokes at the expense of its elderly characters), it actually looks pretty fun. The fact that director Jon Turteltaub was able to recruit such accomplished actors like De Niro, Douglas, Freeman and Kline (the latter of whom we haven’t seen much of recently) only helps sell the comedy even more, because if we’re going to watch four old guys make fools of themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quartet.

“ABOUT TIME”

Who: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy and Lydia Wilson
What: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can time travel. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.
When: November 1st
Why: Richard Curtis is responsible for making my favorite romantic comedy of all-time (“Love, Actually”), so to say that I’m excited about his latest (and hopefully not last, if reports are to be believed) directorial effort is a bit of an understatement. For starters, it’s a brilliant approach to the time travel gimmick, eschewing all the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo in place of a simpler explanation, which allows Curtis to focus on the characters instead of getting wrapped up in the how of Tim’s magical ability. The father/son storyline also appears to be more important than the trailers suggest, and between rising star Domhnall Gleeson and the always dependable Bill Nighy, it’s that relationship (and not the one between Gleeson and Rachel McAdams) that will likely provide the careful balance of laughter and tears that Curtis has perfected so well.

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