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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

It’s no secret that Hollywood saves some of its biggest guns for the end of the year, and between all the awards season hopefuls and holiday blockbusters, there’s an entire arsenal of exciting movies coming to theaters this December. While Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino duke it for Oscar honors with their newest films, “Jack Reacher” and “The Hobbit” promise to deliver pure escapist entertainment. The only thing missing is a big red bow, because this is the ultimate present for film lovers.

“HYDE PARK ON HUDSON”

Who: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West
What: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley during the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited upstate New York.
When: December 7th
Why: Bill Murray is notoriously picky about choosing scripts, but not even he could turn down the chance to play Franklin D. Roosevelt, which practically comes with an Oscar nomination attached to it. All kidding aside, Murray is actually a pretty inspired choice to play the wheelchair-bound 32nd President, especially because Roger Michell’s film appears to be much lighter for a story that takes place during such a harrowing period in history. While it’s unlikely that “Hyde Park on Hudson” will garner the same awards recognition as 2010’s “The King’s Speech” (although the two movies would make a perfect double feature), it’s hard to imagine that it will disappoint with such a solid cast.

“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving
What: Bilbo Baggins journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
When: December 14th
Why: After years stuck in development hell due to the MGM bankruptcy crisis, the most anticipated prequel to come out of Hollywood since “The Phantom Menace” is finally arriving in theaters, although not exactly in the way that most people were expecting. For starters, Peter Jackson is back in the director’s chair after Guillermo del Toro cut his losses to work on other projects (and really, it’s for the better), while two movies have now become three after the decision was made to turn “The Hobbit” into its own trilogy. Though I’m not exactly sure how Jackson plans to do that (especially when Part One, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” will reportedly run 160 minutes long), that doesn’t make me any less thrilled about getting the chance to revisit Middle Earth all over again.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY”

Who: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt and Jason Clarke
What: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of Navy SEAL Team Six.
When: December 19th
Why: The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal got together, they made the superb military thriller “The Hurt Locker,” which went on to win six Oscars, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The pair has reportedly been working on a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden for quite some time – so long, in fact, that they had to completely rewrite it after the al-Qaeda leader’s death in 2011 – but if there’s one film with the potential to outdo their last collaboration, “Zero Dark Thirty” is it. Though the movie is clearly much larger in scope than “The Hurt Locker,” with a lot of moving parts and an incredible ensemble cast too big to list here, if Bigelow and Boal get it right, this could be the movie event of the year.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

Much like the month before it, October isn’t exactly overflowing with quality, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for with plenty of variety. Though there aren’t many films worth getting genuinely excited about, the schedule does provide some audience-friendly fare as well as an early look at a few potential awards contenders.

“TAKEN 2″

Who: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija
What: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
When: October 5th
Why: Though it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t really need to exist, the original film was so much fun (not to mention made a decent bit of coin at the box office) that it’s not surprising Fox was so quick to greenlight another installment. After playing the helpless victim in the first movie, it’ll be refreshing to see Maggie Grace get in on the action this time around, even if all people care about is watching Liam Neeson kick ass and take names. Granted, the setup is ridiculous, as it’s hard to imagine the villains would have the resources to track down Neeson’s character, let alone know when he’s in a different country (a U.S.-based story would have been much more exciting), but it’s one of those details you just have to ignore in order to enjoy the movie for the action fantasy that it is.

“THE PAPERBOY”

Who: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack
What: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
When: October 5th
Why: Unlike most of Hollywood, Lee Daniel’s “Precious” failed to convince me that it was anything more than a well-made afterschool special, so I’m curious to see what he’s able to do with his latest film, a pulpy erotic thriller featuring a trio of dependable actors. Though it’s been awhile since Nicole Kidman or John Cusack did anything of note, you can never count them out, while Matthew McConaughey has been on a bit of hot streak recently. The wild card of the cast is undoubtedly Zac Efron, because despite the actor’s dogged determination to shed his “High School Musical” image with more adult roles, he’s yet to really prove that he has the talent to back it up. Reaction was pretty mixed when the movie debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (not terribly surprising considering the material), so you would be wise to approach it with caution.

“BUTTER”

Who: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde and Rob Corddry
What: An adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their small town’s annual contest.
When: October 5th
Why: A black comedy that takes place in the offbeat and seemingly trivial world of butter carving competitions? What’s not to love? The concept sounds like something that Alexander Payne might make (it’s especially reminiscent of his 1999 cult hit “Election”), but while that may speak well of the movie’s potential, it’s a little worrying that it’s take so long to get a theatrical release. Directed by Jim Field Smith, who also made the underrated rom-com “She’s Out of My League,” “Butter” played the festival circuit at the end of last year, but the Weinstein Co. hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in the movie by dumping it in October. With that said, however, the cast is awesome (Jennifer Garner is great at playing the uptight socialite), and the script by newbie Jason A. Micallef landed a spot on the 2008 Black List. That doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, but it helps.

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