Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

february

It may only be February, and half of the country may still be buried under a foot of snow, but there’s a decidedly pre-summer feel to this month’s releases – the time of year when studios unleash a barrage of popcorn-friendly movies on audiences that aren’t deemed important enough for the summer season. Delayed blockbusters with big-name stars? Check. Unnecessary sequels to cult comedies? Check. Edgy comic book adaptations with breakout potential? Check and check. In fact, the February slate is so different from what we typically expect that instead of the usual hoard of Valentine’s Day shlock, women get a film about BDSM instead. How kinky.

“Jupiter Ascending”

Who: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy and Sean Bean
What: A lowly caretaker who is actually intergalactic royalty teams up with a genetically engineered warrior to stop a tyrant from taking control of Earth.
When: February 6th
Why: It’s never a good sign when a movie gets postponed, especially one as big as “Jupiter Ascending,” but what really set off alarm bells was the decision to move it from a prime summer release date to the dead zone of February. The studio claims that the delay was to provide the Wachowskis with extra time to polish the visual effects, but that’s just Hollywood talk for covering up a deeper issue. Whether it’s because “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t very good, or because the sibling duo’s last film (“Cloud Atlas”) performed so poorly at the box office, there’s a reason why Warner Bros. suddenly lost confidence in the movie. And when you have Channing Tatum playing a half-werewolf bounty hunter, that’s bound to happen.

“Seventh Son”

Who: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander
What: A young man is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits, and his first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement.
When: February 6th
Why: If you thought the delay of “Jupiter Ascending” was bad, that’s nothing compared to “Seventh Son,” which has seen its release date change three times over the past two years. Originally scheduled for early 2013, the fantasy film – which is based on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s young adult series – actually boasts a really good cast, including Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams and Kit Harrington of “Game of Thrones” fame. Unfortunately, this looks like pretty standard sword-and-sorcery fare, with Bridges basically playing a variation of the Rooster Cogburn character from “True Grit” and “R.I.P.D.” Fans of the genre will probably get a kick out of it, but it’s unlikely that “Seventh Son” will have much life beyond that.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Who: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine
What: A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.
When: February 13th
Why: After satirizing the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) returns with an equally over-the-top take on spy films. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s big screen adaptation looks a lot more fun, bursting with the energy and humor that was lacking in Millar’s version. It’s incredible to think that Colin Firth was never considered for the James Bond gig, because he’s perfectly cast as the badass super-spy, while newcomer Taron Egerton is already garnering acclaim for his debut role. Early buzz for this one is through the roof, and if you’ve seen the trailer, then you can understand why.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

january

January used to be a place where studios could dump their worst films like an orphan on the front steps of a church, but over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable improvement in the quality of the releases. For the most part, the movies still suck, but following the box office success of films like “Taken” and “Ride Along,” the studios seem more willing to give higher-profile titles a chance to perform against the weaker competition. It doesn’t make much difference in the long run, but if you’re able to catch just one good film that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen during a busier season, then it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

“Taken 3″

Who: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen
What: After he’s accused of a ruthless murder he didn’t committed, Bryan Mills goes on the run in order to find the true killer and clear his name.
When: January 9th
Why: Thankfully, no one’s been taken this time around, because that would have been too ridiculous even for this series, which already requires a willing suspension of disbelief not seen since the days of “24.” Though it’s unclear if the men framing Mills in this movie are connected to the bad guys from the first two films, the real draw of “Taken 3” (other than the action, of course) is its “Fugitive”-like storyline, which finally gives Liam Neeson a worthy co-star in Forest Whitaker. And if Neeson truly is done with the series after this installment, Luc Besson could easily keep it going with Whitaker’s federal agent. That is, provided he’s not the villain.

“Blackhat”

Who: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang and John Ortiz
What: A hacker is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal.
When: January 16th
Why: It’s been awhile since Michael Mann made a great film, and though it’s unlikely that will change with “Blackhat,” the techno-thriller at least looks more entertaining than his last few movies. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of being released on the heels of the highly publicized Sony hacks, which gives it a sense of timeliness that Mann couldn’t have planned better himself. Though Chris Hemsworth doesn’t exactly look like your typical hacker, he’s proven that he has the charisma and talent to be a really good leading man, and it’s the collaboration between actor and director that gives me hope that, if nothing else, “Blackhat” will be a fun distraction.

“The Wedding Ringer”

Who: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Alan Ritchson
What: A shy young groom needs to impress his in-laws, so he turns to a best-man-for-hire to help him out.
When: January 16th
Why: Kevin Hart has become to January what Will Smith used to be to Fourth of July weekend: box office gold. Simply put, the guy is on fire, and Screen Gems, the studio behind three of his most recent hits, is milking him for everything he’s worth. But while both Hart and Josh Gad can be funny with the right material, there’s no getting around the fact that “The Wedding Ringer” – which is basically “Hitch” meets “I, Love You Man” – looks pretty dumb. There are a few good bits in the trailer (especially that “Goonies” line), but if that’s the best the marketing team could find, you’d be wise to steer clear.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

november

The holidays are just around the corner, which means that it’s officially time for awards season, even if a number of studios got an early start last month. Although there aren’t as many options as you would expect from November, the release schedule is packed with promising titles, including Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender, Oscar hopefuls starring Steve Carrell and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the penultimate installment of the “Hunger Games” series.

“Interstellar”

Who: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Wes Bentley
What: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to travel through space in search of an inhabitable planet for the human race.
When: November 7th
Why: Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi flick has been so shrouded in secrecy that it seems rude to even talk about it, and therefore, I’d actually recommend skipping this entry altogether. But if you’ve already seen the trailer or have been following your favorite movie blogger on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that “Interstellar” has reached “OMG Best Movie Ever” levels of excitement. Of course, it’s that kind of ridiculous hyperbole that has made me super cautious about my own expectations for the film, because while Nolan has proven that he’s one of the best directors in the game, and star Matthew McConaughey can seemingly do no wrong at the moment, chances are that although “Interstellar” will be really good – great, even – it won’t be the cinema-defining masterpiece that some are expecting.

“Big Hero 6″

Who: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez and T.J. Miller
What: Child prodigy Hiro Hamada and his plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
When: November 7th
Why: Pixar may be taking the year off, but Disney wasn’t going to loosen its grasp on the Best Animated Featured category without putting up a fight, although it’s hard to see “Big Hero 6” competing with likes of “The LEGO Movie.” Based on the little-known Marvel comic of the same name, the film certainly looks impressive with its stylish art design, while the cute and cuddly Baymax (whose robotic influences range from WALL*E to C3PO) will likely make Disney millions of dollars based on toy sales alone. Though “Big Hero 6” doesn’t pique my interest nearly as much as the studio’s 2012 hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” here’s hoping that it’s a giant success, if only because it may lead to more animated versions of other forgotten Marvel properties in the future.

“The Theory of Everything”

Who: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox and Emma Watson
What: A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
When: November 7th
Why: It’s actually pretty surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to make a proper biopic about Stephen Hawking (not counting the 2004 TV movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, of course), especially considering his prominence not only in the scientific world, but pop culture as well. Director James Marsh’s first narrative feature, “Shadow Dancer,” may not have received the same attention as his documentaries (“Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”), but his follow-up is guaranteed to be in the awards mix thanks to some early buzz following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The same goes for star Eddie Redmayne, whose performance as Hawking has already garnered praise as the one to beat at this year’s Oscars. And though it’s still early, the trailer does a damn good job of backing up those comments.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

october

October has never really been known for its quality, but in recent years, studios have been a lot more open about releasing potential awards contenders alongside the usual array of horror flicks. In fact, 2013 saw two of the year’s most-nominated movies – “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” – released during this time, and that trend appears to continue this year as well, with no fewer than six potential Oscar hopefuls debuting throughout the month. The October lineup is certainly tasty, which is only good news for moviegoers, because that means you can see some of these prospective gems that much sooner.

“Gone Girl”

Who: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry
What: When his wife’s disappearance becomes the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when he’s suspected of foul play.
When: October 3rd
Why: With the exception of “Aliens 3,” David Fincher’s body of work is almost flawless, and there’s little reason to believe that “Gone Girl” will change that. Though this marks his fifth film in a row to be adapted from preexisting source material, Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel is tailor-made for the edgy director. The decision to hire Flynn to also write the screenplay was certainly a bold move, but Fincher has a history of making offbeat choices that work surprisingly well, and that extends to the cast of “Gone Girl” as well. Ben Affleck probably wouldn’t be most people’s top pick for the lead role, and the supporting cast is even stranger, but if anyone deserves your blind trust, it’s Fincher.

“Annabelle”

Who: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard and Eric Ladin
What: A couple begin to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.
When: October 3rd
Why: It’s not often that a horror movie finds so much success both critically and commercially, but “The Conjuring” is without a doubt one of the best horror films of the past 20 years. And while fans wait for the inevitable sequel, they can dive deeper into the film’s mythology with this spinoff featuring the creepy Annabelle doll. Though it’s hard to imagine an immobile doll carrying an entire movie on her own, the trailer suggests that Annabelle isn’t responsible for a bulk of the scares, but rather the spirit that’s attached itself to her. The whole thing feels more like a cheap cash-in than a necessary addition to the “Conjuring” franchise, but with James Wan’s longtime DP behind the camera, we’re hoping for the best.

“The Judge”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thorton
What: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder.
When: October 10th
Why: Now that Robert Downey Jr. is a huge movie star (thanks again, Marvel), the actor can pretty much do whatever he wants, including producing smaller, character-driven dramas like “The Judge” under his new company with wife Susan Downey. But while the film boasts an interesting premise and a superb cast of actors, the decision to hire David Dobkin, who’s best known for directing comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus,” is extremely odd, particularly because he has zero experience handling serious material like this. Warner Bros. is obviously angling for awards consideration with its Oscar-bait plot, but reactions were very mixed after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, with many praising the actors but damning Dobkin and the clichéd script.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september

The fall movie season is always pretty hit and miss, but this September features one of the most unpredictable lineups in quite a while. Though there aren’t many big releases apart from Antoine Fuqua’s adaptation of “The Equalizer,” there are several big names headlining smaller films, like Tom Hardy in “The Drop,” Liam Neeson in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the star-studded cast of “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s too early to say whether any of the movies have a genuine shot at Oscar gold, but they’re just a few of the promising new releases this month.

“NO GOOD DEED”

Who: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb and Kate del Castillo
What: When a charming escaped convict shows up at her door claiming car trouble, a suburban mother finds herself fighting for survival when the man invades her home.
When: September 12th
Why: “No Good Deed” may sound like your garden-variety home invasion thriller, but while it doesn’t appear to offer anything new to the genre, it at least features a pair of great actors in Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Elba, in particular, has such an incredible star quality that it’s amazing he’s not headlining his own major franchise by now (Marvel Studios, take note), while Henson has proven on numerous occasions that she’s no slouch either. If nothing else, their involvement provides hope that the movie will be entertaining as a pulpy genre flick, but unless there’s more to the story than the trailer hints at, chances are that “No Good Deed” will be as forgettable as the hundreds of other likeminded thrillers just like it.

“THE DROP”

Who: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts
What: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into his neighborhood’s past.
When: September 12th
Why: Though it comes with the undesirable label of being James Gandolfini’s final movie, “The Drop” has all the makings of a dark horse awards contender. Adapted by esteemed crime writer Dennis Lehane from his own short story, and directed by Michael R. Roskam, who first gained attention in 2011 with his Oscar-nominated film “Bullhead,” “The Drop” also boasts an excellent international cast led by Tom Hardy. Obviously, Gandolfini is the main draw, and he looks to be at the top of his game here, but Hardy has been quietly building an impressive body of work for years, and if we’ve learned anything from the last few Lehane adaptations, they always bring out the best in actors. Could this finally be the year that Hardy nabs a nomination?

“THE MAZE RUNNER”

Who: Dylan O’Brian, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Thomas Brodie-Sangster
What: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of boys, he must join forces with some of the other captives in order to escape.
When: September 19th
Why: Every studio in Hollywood wants their own “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” but the fact of the matter is that most movies based on young adult novels are massive failures. (Just ask the casts of “The Mortal Instruments,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and “Vampire Academy,” all of which were released in the past 18 months.) With that said, first-time director Wes Ball’s “The Maze Runner” is one of the more intriguing YA adaptations in recent memory. Though its “Hunger Games”-meets-“Lord of the Flies” premise is every bit as uninspired as most of the novels permeating the genre, there’s something about its blend of mystery and science fiction that’s piqued my interest. 20th Century Fox hasn’t had much luck with these types of films, but this could be the one that finally breaks their duck.

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