Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

may

The summer movie season has officially begun, and this May promises to be one of the biggest yet, with two massive superhero sequels, the return of Godzilla, and the latest comedies from Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane and Adam Sandler. And just to make things interesting, there are also a couple of smaller indie films that you’ll want to squeeze into your schedule to help prevent blockbuster overload. After all, there are still three more months of this to go.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2″

Who: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Sally Field
What: Spider-Man’s biggest battle has always been the struggle between power and responsibility, but Peter Parker is about to discover that a greater conflict lies ahead.
When: May 2nd
Why: The first “Amazing Spider-Man” improved upon Sam Raimi’s original in just about every way, but the one thing it lacked was a memorable villain. Director Marc Webb may have taken the criticisms a little too harshly, however, because the sequel already has fans groaning for making the same mistake that some believe ruined “Spider-Man 3”: too many villains. But instead of playing down these rumors, the studio has embraced them by not only revealing the several villains that appear in this movie, but teasing future one as well. It was actually a pretty smart move, because in the post-“Avengers” landscape, fanboys appreciate this kind of forward thinking. The fact that Webb has managed to cast some great actors in the villain roles is just the icing on top, provided he can strike the necessary balance that Raimi was unable to achieve with his last entry in the franchise.

“NEIGHBORS”

Who: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco and Lisa Kudrow
What: A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.
When: May 9th
Why: Nicholas Stoller’s last two films were a bit disappointing compared to his 2008 directorial debut, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but he may have finally stopped the rot with this new frat comedy, which played like gangbusters at SXSW earlier this year. Though Seth Rogen runs really hot and cold with me, the actor appears to be in top form here, while Zac Efron has been begging for a role like this to show people that he’s more than just that dude from “High School Musical.” It’s also nice to see Rose Byrne returning to comedy after scene-stealing turns in “Bridesmaids” and “Get Him to the Greek,” because she’s done some of her best work in the genre. Of course, none of that matters if all the funny material has already been spoiled in the trailers, but judging by the early buzz on this one, it’s safe to say that won’t be an issue.

“CHEF”

Who: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo and Scarlett Johansson
What: A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.
When: May 9th
Why: After helping launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s “Iron Man,” it was only natural that Jon Favreau would continue making big Hollywood blockbusters. But following the box office blunder of “Cowboys & Aliens,” nothing pleases me more than to see the “Swingers” scribe returning to his roots with a smaller, more personal film like “Chef.” Though he’s drafted in a couple Avengers friends (Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.) for some cameos, his newest movie is a refreshingly CGI-free affair. The only special effects you’ll see here are the copious amounts of food porn teased in the trailer, and that’s all done in service of the story, which Favreau has smartly centered around the red-hot food truck trend, making “Chef” incredibly timely as well. If it’s any bit as good as “Swingers” and “Made,” Favreau could have another cult classic on his hands.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april

With the exception of Marvel’s Captain America sequel, the directorial debut of longtime Christopher Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, and yet another Kevin Costner sports drama, April is suspiciously lacking in many big releases. Before theater chains are inundated with all the summer blockbusters, this month’s slate is mostly comprised of smaller independent films, many of which are actually quite promising.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”

Who: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie
What: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
When: April 4th
Why: The first Captain America movie may not have been one of Marvel’s best, but it was a solid and completely necessary introduction to the character that helped pave the way for the awesomeness that was “The Avengers.” And just like that film marked the beginning of the end of Phase One, “The Winter Solider” serves a very similar purpose for Phase Two. Loosely based on the popular storyline from the comics featuring the title character, Cap’s second solo adventure is shaping up to be everything fans wanted and more. The action looks fantastic and the cast is stacked – including the return of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, as well as the introduction of another famous face from the Marvel universe with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon) – so it’s easy to see why expectations are so high.

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“DOM HEMINGWAY”

Who: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir and Emilia Clarke
What: After spending 12 years in prison, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.
When: April 4th
Why: It’s been nine years since writer/director Richard Shepherd burst onto the scene with the hugely entertaining black comedy “The Madator,” and with the exception of his underseen 2007 follow-up (“The Hunting Party”), he’s spent most of that time as a hired gun for various TV series. But he’s finally back with a new movie featuring a character that could rival Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast” for the title of Most Polarizing British Gangster, which is quite the feat considering that the British crime genre is jam-packed with loud, ballsy and over-the-top characters. Jude Law has always been one of my favorite actors, so it’s great to see him playing against type here as the larger-than-life criminal, much in the same way that Pierce Brosnan shocked audiences in “The Matador.” Though the film has received fairly mixed reviews since its UK debut, Law’s unhinged performance looks like reason enough to catch this in theaters.

“DRAFT DAY”

Who: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Sam Elliot
What: The General Manager of the Cleveland Browns struggles to acquire the number one draft pick for his team.
When: April 11th
Why: Between “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For the Love of the Game,” it’s safe to say that Kevin Costner and sports movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, so perhaps the only surprising thing about “Draft Day” is that it’s about football instead of America’s favorite pastime. Filmed in Cleveland where it takes place, locals are no doubt hoping that this film can provide a much-needed reversal of fortune for their precious Brownies in the upcoming season. Whether it will be any good is another matter entirely. You’d have to go all the way back to the early ‘90s to find director Ivan Reitman’s last great movie, though it’s certainly encouraging that “Draft Day” seems to be more along the lines of “Moneyball” than “Major League,” because the behind-the-scenes stuff is far more engaging than anything that happens on the field.

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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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