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 January

january

Over the past few years, January hasn’t been quite as disastrous for new films as its reputation would suggest, but it’s hard to find much to be positive about this time around. Unless you like low budget horror movies (of which there are several to choose from, including the latest “Paranormal Activity”), the January release slate has very little to offer, save for a delayed Christmas blockbuster and failed Oscar bait from the usually reliable Jason Reitman.

“THE LEGEND OF HERCULES”

Who: Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Gaia Weiss and Liam McIntyre
What: Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his kingdom.
When: January 10th
Why: The first of two Hercules films being released this year (and most likely the worst of the pair), Renny Harlin’s origin story of the Greek hero looks every bit the cheesy B-movie that you’d expect from the director of “The Covenant” and “Mindhunters.” Kellan Lutz has already proven himself to be a really terrible actor with the “Twilight” films, and not much seems to have changed in that department, but whoever started the rumor linking the actor with America’s favorite media obsession (Miley Cyrus) only weeks before the movie’s release was a brilliant marketing ploy. Unfortunately, no amount of publicity changes the fact that “The Legend of Hercules” promises to be even worse than the recent “Conan the Barbarian” reboot (another January dud), and that’s certainly saying something.

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”

Who: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Costner
What: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.
When: January 17th
Why: It’s another reboot of a popular movie character, although one that, unlike James Bond and Batman, wasn’t exactly in high demand. Originally scheduled for Christmas before Paramount pushed it back to make room for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the studio is apparently so unconvinced that moviegoers even know who Jack Ryan is that they had to include his name in the title. While my lack of excitement may be obvious, “Shadow Recruit” does have a few things going for it, including Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair (as well as playing the Russian baddie), and Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner in supporting roles. I wish the same could be said about Chris Pine, but after already reviving one pop culture icon with Captain Kirk, his casting as Ryan is uninspired to say the least.

“RIDE ALONG”

Who: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter and John Leguizamo
What: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying James’ sister.
When: January 17th
Why: There always seems to be at least one urban comedy released during the doldrums of January, and this year’s lucky winner is the latest movie from Tim Story, which reteams the director with Ice Cube (“Barbershop”) and Kevin Hart (“Think Like a Man”) for what Universal Pictures is no doubt hoping will be the studio’s first hit of 2014. (They have to start recouping that “47 Ronin” budget somewhere). These movies are usually made for pretty cheap and have strong opening weekends, but while “Ride Along” should find success with its target audience, that doesn’t mean it will be any good. The pairing of Ice Cube and rising star Hart is definitely encouraging, but between its paint-by-numbers plot and the surprising lack of laughs in the trailer, you might want to wait for this on Blu-ray.

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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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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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