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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september_movies

Now that summer is officially over, moviegoers are bound to see a greater variety of films arriving in theaters beyond the usual barrage of action flicks and comedies. Though the September release slate isn’t as promising as it’s been in past years, there are a few potential Oscar nominees among the pack, as well as new movies from A-list stars like Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

“RIDDICK”

Who: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine and Karl Urban
What: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick teams up with a new breed of mercenary against an alien race of predators.
When: September 6th
Why: Though “Pitch Black” was a cool sci-fi thriller that introduced the world to Vin Diesel, director David Twothy’s 2004 follow-up, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” failed to convince audiences that the character warranted additional adventures. That hasn’t stopped Diesel from moving forward with a third installment anyway, and after the blockbuster success of the last two “Fast and Furious” movies, Universal was hardly in a position to say no. But whereas the sequel bit off more than it could chew with its grand space battles and expansive mythology, especially after the more character-based first film, “Riddick” seems to fall somewhere in the middle, and it’s that balance that could help transform the series into the franchise Diesel always envisioned.

“INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2″

Who: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell and Lin Shaye
What: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.
When: September 13th
Why: James Wan may be the reigning king of horror, but I’m not exactly sure what to think about the sequel to his 2010 sleeper hit. That movie ended with Patrick Wilson’s character supposedly becoming possessed by the demon that haunted him as a child, and yet “Chapter Two” gives the impression that Wilson is now leading a happy life with his family. So what happened between the two films? And will it even be addressed in the sequel? That seems to be one of the biggest questions leading into the movie, and unless Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell have come up with a doozy of an explanation, prepare to be disappointed.

“THE FAMILY”

Who: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones and Diane Agron
What: A notorious mafia family is relocated to France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.
When: September 13th
Why: It’s been awhile since Luc Besson last directed an action film (though he’s kept busy over the years as a writer/producer on the “Transporter” and “Taken” franchises), and he couldn’t have picked a better movie for his return to the genre than “The Family.” Besson has never had trouble attracting big names to his films, but that doesn’t make the involvement of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer (both returning to their mob roots here) any less exciting. Though the veteran actors have been in films together before (2007’s “Stardust” and 2011’s “New Year’s Eve”), this marks the first time that they’ll actually share the screen, and that alone gives me hope that “The Family” will be just as much fun as it sounds.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july_movies

Audiences have seen quite a few big movies may their way into theaters over the past two months, but the onslaught of summer tentpole films isn’t even close to over. In fact, we’ve just reached the midway point of the season, and as you might expect, there’s plenty more big blockbusters on their way, including a potential new Disney franchise for Johnny Depp, Guillermo del Toro’s answer to Godzilla, and the return of Wolverine.

“THE LONE RANGER”

Who: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter
What: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
When: July 3rd
Why: Disney may think that they have another ready-made hit on their hands with this big screen adaptation of the popular radio serial, but I don’t know many people that are actually excited about “The Lone Ranger,” and that includes myself. Though Johnny Depp will almost certainly be a riot as the dead-bird wearing Tonto (he’s at his best when playing eccentric characters), Armie Hammer has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man. Additionally, the rumors about the film’s troubled production don’t exactly exude confidence, and although “World War Z” taught us not to take behind-the-scenes drama at face value, there hasn’t been a single trailer released yet that doesn’t make the movie look like one really expensive mess.

“THE WAY, WAY BACK”

Who: Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell and Amanda Peet
What: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.
When: July 5th
Why: After becoming a smash hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the coming-of-age comedy ignited a bidding war, with Fox Searchlight ultimately acquiring the rights for a near-record $10 million. The indie studio clearly believes that the film can replicate the box office success of “Little Miss Sunshine” (it even features two of the actors from that movie in Steve Carell and Toni Collete), and if the festival buzz is to be believed, an awards campaign might not be too far behind. The film marks the directorial debuts of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who first turned industry heads with their Oscar-winning script for “The Descendants,” and boasts a star-studded cast that also includes Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet. Though it may seem like an odd time of the year to release such a small comedy, it’s actually a smart piece of counterprogramming that could work to its benefit.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to June

june_movies

Though the summer movie season is typically reserved for the kind of big blockbuster action films that dominated theaters last month, June offers a more eclectic assortment of movies, including star-studded comedies, small indies, and yes, another helping of big blockbuster action films. From the return of Superman to the end of the world (twice), there are plenty of good reasons to get out of the sweltering heat and be entertained this June.

“THE INTERNSHIP”

Who: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne and John Goodman
What: Two salesmen whose careers have been ruined by the digital age get internships at Google, where they must compete against young, tech-savvy geniuses.
When: June 7th
Why: It’s been almost a decade since Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson teamed up for “Wedding Crashers” – which, along with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” helped revive the R-rated comedy – so there’s a certain degree of excitement about seeing them together on screen again. Of course, “Wedding Crashers” was actually funny, whereas “The Internship” doesn’t look quite as promising. The studio clearly believes that just by reuniting the two actors, the laughs will automatically flow, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Director Shawn Levy’s previous comedies have been pretty tame in comparison to the duo’s last film, and many of the jokes in the trailer feel about five years past their sell-by date, Still, the Vaughn/Wilson reunion is simply too enticing to pass up, so I wouldn’t count out “The Internship” just yet.

“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING”

Who: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Nathan Fillion
What: A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.
When: June 7th
Why: Most directors would take a much deserved vacation after wrapping on a movie as massive as “The Avengers,” but not Joss Whedon, who used his short break between filming and post-production on the Marvel blockbuster to shoot a modern day version of “Much Ado About Nothing” with some friends at his house. The movie is packed with familiar faces from the director’s so-called Whedonverse, with every one of his former TV shows represented in some capacity. Shot entirely in black and white, the film looks about as close to a low budget indie as you’re bound to find, but Whedon and Shakespeare are such a great fit (both celebrated for their sharp and witty dialogue) that it’s a wonder the latter didn’t attempt an adaptation of the Bard’s classic any sooner.

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