Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

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It’s not just the studios that get excited about the beginning of the summer movie season, but audiences as well, because the four-month period marks the release of some of the year’s most anticipated films, from action blockbusters to all-star comedies. This summer is particularly exciting, and it kicks off in May with the latest installments of some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Fast & Furious” and “The Hangover”), as well as a few lower profile features with the potential to make a big impression.

“IRON MAN 3″

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce
What: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, Stark starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
When: May 3rd
Why: “Iron Man 2” may be one of the weaker films in Marvel’s Phase One, but it deserves some slack for shouldering a lot of the groundwork leading up to “The Avengers.” With that said, it’ll be nice to see Tony Stark in a more standalone adventure this time out, which is reportedly based on Warren Ellis’ well-received “Extremis” arc, ushering in a change of status quo for the Iron Man armor. The film also marks a change behind the camera as well, with Shane Black taking over for the departing Jon Favreau, although the trailers suggest that it’s business as usual. That’s great news for fans of the first two films, because with the addition of Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley to the cast, “Iron Man 3” is shaping up to the best of the series.

“THE ICEMAN”

Who: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco and Ray Liotta
What: The true story of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men.
When: May 3rd
Why: Millennium Entertainment doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to releasing small movies with big stars, but the cast of “The Iceman” is almost too good to ignore. Michael Shannon tends to deliver his best work in these types of indie films, while Winona Ryder proved in “Black Swan” that she’s still capable of turning in a good performance with the right material. And it wouldn’t be a crime movie without Ray Liotta popping up at some point, so director Ariel Vromen has that box checked as well. Though most people have probably never even heard of Richard Kuklinski or his true life story, sometimes those ones are the best.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

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April has always been an odd month for new releases, particularly now that the spring movie season doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the minds of studios. Instead, everything seems to be split into two groups: films that fit the summer mold and those that don’t. But while moviegoers will be pretty limited with their options this month, it’s definitely one of the more promising Aprils in recent memory.

“EVIL DEAD”

Who: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods.
When: April 5th
Why: Remakes are always a worrying proposition, especially for fans of the original film, but when it was announced that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were behind the modern-day update of “Evil Dead,” there was a collective sigh of relief. After all, who better to trust then the trio responsible for the 1981 cult original? It’s also nice to know that the film isn’t just a rehashing of Raimi’s first movie, but rather a whole new story with new characters in an otherwise familiar setting, and if the early buzz from the film’s world premiere at last month’s SXSW festival is any indication, Fede Alvarez’s remake/reboot/sequel (whatever you want to call it) has everything horror fans could possibly want – namely, the gooey red stuff, and plenty of it.

“TRANCE”

Who: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and Danny Sapani
What: An art auctioneer mixed up with a group of criminals teams up with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
When: April 5th
Why: Danny Boyle’s follow-up to “127 Hours” can’t get here quick enough, especially after being delayed by the director’s other engagements on stage (the National Theatre production of “Frankenstein”) and for his country (the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony). His new movie is a return to roots of sorts, reteaming with frequent collaborator John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) for the kind of gritty, edgy crime thriller that he cut his teeth making in the mid-90s. It’ll be interesting to see what Boyle brings to the genre now that he’s a more mature and wiser filmmaker, because “Trance” looks a lot more experimental than his recent work, and despite its “Inception”-like premise, that’s probably the most exciting thing of all.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

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After suffering through the doldrums of winter, it’s encouraging to see that the quality (and selection) of movies will improve along with the weather. Though many of this month’s films probably won’t be remembered by the time summer rolls around, there are a few indie flicks with real cult potential and a pair of tentpole-type movies based on popular properties that will benefit from opening during a less competitive time of year.

“JACK THE GIANT SLAYER”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy
What: When a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants, he must fight for his kingdom and the princess he loves.
When: March 1st
Why: It’s been awhile since Bryan Singer directed a movie that I was genuinely excited about, and unfortunately, “Jack the Giant Slayer” doesn’t break that trend. Though the fantasy film sounds great in theory, the trailers don’t look very promising, particularly in regards to its uneven tone (is it for children, adults or the whole family?) and cartoonish CGI. It doesn’t even bare much resemblance to the fairy tales on which it’s based, and while the cast is filled with some great actors (Nicholas Hoult appears to be the real deal), there’s probably a good reason why the original summer release date was axed.

“STOKER”

Who: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Jacki Weaver
What: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie comes to live with her and her unstable mother, only to discover that he has ulterior motives.
When: March 1st
Why: Continuing the Korean invasion that kicked off in January with Kim Ji-woon’s “The Last Stand,” Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut hits theaters in time for U.S. audiences to get accustomed to the director’s unique style ahead of the long-awaited remake of his 2003 cult hit “Oldboy.” It’s taken longer than expected for Park to export his talents to Hollywood, but “Stoker” is the perfect project if there ever was one. It’s also clear from the cast he’s assembled that the director is well-admired within the industry, and all three leads don’t seem to be holding back. Early buzz has been mostly positive, drawing comparisons to Hitchcock, and that alone should be enough to get you excited.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”

Who: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff
What: A small-time magician with questionable ethics arrives in a magical land and must choose between becoming a good man or a great one.
When: March 8th
Why: Disney is putting a lot of faith in Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prequel, no doubt hoping that it can reach “Alice in Wonderland” levels of success, but was anyone really clamoring for another movie? It’s not even based on any of L. Frank Baum’s novels, despite the fact that Disney owns the rights to nearly every book in the Oz series, and though it’s supposedly inspired by his works, the risk of upsetting fans of the original film doesn’t seem worth it. Then again, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is exactly the kind of franchise-ready cash cow that Disney loves to produce (i.e. “Pirates of the Caribbean”), and while it’s depressing to see Raimi wasting his talents, at least it’s in good hands.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

If this past January proved anything, it’s that the movies weren’t nearly as bad as those from previous years. Unfortunately, I highly doubt the same will be true of February’s line-up when all is said and done. Though there are certainly a couple movies to look forward to (including the latest John McClane adventure and only the second rom-zom-com in existence), the pickings are even slimmer and less promising than last month.

“WARM BODIES”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich and Rob Corddry
What: After a zombie named R saves Julie from an attack, they form a relationship that sets in motion a series of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.
When: February 1st
Why: If there’s one movie that I’m actually looking forward to this February, it’s the big screen adaptation of Isaac Marion’s clever YA novel. Director Jonathan Levine has already tackled some pretty ballsy material between “The Wackness” and “50/50,” but this is probably his most adventurous and challenging project yet, if only because the subject matter is about as outside-the-box as you can get. Vampires are one thing (and though the “Twilight” comparisons are inevitable, they’re completely unwarranted), but the idea of doing a romantic comedy where a zombie falls in love with a human is ripe for exactly the kind of dark humor that “Warm Bodies” will hopefully deliver in spades.

“BULLET TO THE HEAD”

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa and Christian Slater
What: After watching their respective partners die, a New Orleans hitman and a Washington D.C. detective team up to bring down their common enemy.
When: February 1st
Why: Arnold Schwarzenegger may be back to reclaim his action hero title, but Sylvester Stallone never gave it up, and though his latest movie doesn’t look very good, you have to respect the guy for grinding away all these years. Though director Walter Hill has made his share of fun buddy action films (including “48 Hours” and its sequel), that formula has been run so far into the ground that only a dinosaur like him would think it’s still relevant. It’s always nice to see Sung Kang getting work, because he’s probably one of the best Asian-American actors in the business, but if the cheesy dialogue from the trailer is any indication, “Bullet to the Head” is destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

“IDENTITY THIEF”

Who: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet and Morris Chestnut
What: When a mild-mannered businessman learns his identity has been stolen, he hits the road in an attempt to foil the deceptively harmless-looking thief.
When: February 8th
Why: Jason Bateman reteams with “Horrible Bosses” director Seth Gordon for a new film co-starring Hollywood It Girl Melissa McCarthy. On paper, “Identity Thief” sounds like it should be comedy gold, but go watch the trailer again and count how many times you laughed. Did you get zero too? It’s not entirely surprising considering the film was written by the same guy behind a trio of spoof movies and “RocketMan,” but I’ve come to expect better from Bateman. McCarthy, on the other hand, continues to overact the only way she knows how, and though some people seem to find her funny, I’m not one of them. In other words, unless you’re a fan, you can probably wait for it to hit home video.

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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.

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