Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

After a tepid last couple of months, Hollywood is finally gearing up for award season, and with it comes a host of really promising films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, David O. Russell and Ang Lee, many of which are already projected to land several Oscar nominations. But perhaps the most highly-anticipated release this November isn’t an award contender at all, but rather the long-awaited 23rd installment in the James Bond series, which looks to be Daniel Craig’s best 007 adventure yet.

“WRECK-IT RALPH”

Who: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
What: A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
When: November 2nd
Why: I was cautiously optimistic about “Wreck-It Ralph” when it was first announced, but after seeing the film, I can say unequivocally that it’s one of the best movies the studio has put out in years, and that includes the Pixar stuff as well. In fact, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the kind of film that you’d almost expect Pixar to make, because it’s a remarkably original idea that’s catered to both kids and the adults who grew up playing retro games. Director Rich Moore comes from a background that includes “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” and it really shows in the type of humor on display, while John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman shine in their voice roles. The animation is also really gorgeous, especially the attention to detail between games, and the much-publicized cameos help bring an authenticity to the world that only makes it even more enjoyable.

“FLIGHT”

Who: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo
What: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been drunk at the time.
When: November 2nd
Why: After spending nearly a decade helping pioneer motion capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis marks his return to live-action filmmaking with something that has a little more bite to it. Early reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with Denzel Washington singled out for his amazing performance, and though he may be considered a bit of a dark horse with so much stiff competition this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy rewarded the actor with his first nomination since 2002’s “Training Day.” The subject matter certainly carries the danger of becoming too melodramatic, but between the interesting premise and excellent cast, “Flight” is exactly the kind of riveting character drama that should help remind audiences just how good Zemeckis’ movies used to be.

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS”

Who: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Dave Bautista
What: A humble blacksmith defends his village from a band of assassins and mercenaries when they come to town in search of a fabled treasure of gold.
When: November 2nd
Why: Anyone who knows anything about Wu Tang Clan founder RZA is that he loves kung fu cinema, so you can be sure that his directorial debut is going to be nothing short of a love letter to the genre, albeit one with a hip-hop soundtrack. The fact that he’s managed to attract the kind of talent that he has is certainly a sign of the film’s potential, because let’s be honest, Russell Crowe is the last person you’d expect to show up in this type of movie, even if it only ends up being an extended cameo. With that said, however, “The Man with the Iron Fists” looks every bit like the kind of chop-socky B-movies that RZA grew up watching, so if you’re expecting something more along the lines of “Kill Bill,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk away disappointed.

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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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

The summer movie season may be finally over, but awards season is just around the corner, and Hollywood typically uses September as a time to catch its breath between all the madness. But while there aren’t many high-profile releases on tap for the month, there are still plenty of promising titles worth checking out, including the latest from visionary directors P.T. Anderson and Rian Johnson and the return of Clint Eastwood.

“THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY”

Who: Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Echegui
What: After his family is kidnapped, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase.
When: September 7th
Why: Despite a starring role in last year’s underwhelming Greek epic “Immortals,” British actor Henry Cavill has failed to demonstrate why he was chosen to don the iconic red and blue suit for Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Man of Steel.” And though his latest vehicle was delayed earlier this year due to reportedly bad test screenings, “The Cold Light of Day” will give him another shot to convince audiences that he’s the right choice to play Superman. With that said, however, not even the involvement of Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver makes this action thriller look any less like a Jason Bourne rip-off. After all, there’s usually a pretty good reason when a film’s release date gets pushed back, and it’s hard to imagine that any amount of re-editing will fix that.

“THE WORDS”

Who: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons
What: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work.
When: September 7th
Why: CBS Films doesn’t exactly have a very good track record, but compared to their past projects, “The Words” seems to be a step in the right direction. Though it received mixed reactions when the movie premiered earlier this year at Sundance, the concept is intriguing enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble cast certainly doesn’t hurt its chances, although it’s not the first time that the studio has used big stars to disguise a turd. And while Bradley Cooper is an actor that I admire, and it’s always a pleasure to see Jeremy Irons no matter how small the role, it’s a little worrying that “The Words” might follow suit, especially in the hands of first-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the writing duo behind the disappointing “TRON: Legacy.”

“BACHELORETTE”

Who: Kristen Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson and James Marsden
What: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.
When: September 7th
Why: It may seem awfully convenient that another R-rated comedy about bridesmaids behaving badly is being released only a year after Paul Feig’s Oscar-nominated film became the surprise hit of last summer, but that’s about where the similarities end. In fact, those who claim the movie is just a rip-off might be surprised to discover that Leslye Headland’s directorial debut (which screened at Sundance this past January) is based on her 2010 off-Broadway play of the same name. Though it hasn’t gotten quite the same acclaim as “Bridesmaids,” I’m actually looking more forward to this darker, meaner wedding comedy, namely due to its awesome cast. Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher can be great with the right material, while Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson are two very funny women with very different brands of humor that deserve more recognition.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

August has never been the most exciting part of the summer movie season, but the studios have treated it like a warm-down of sorts in recent years, taking the opportunity to discard their misfit films with seemingly no interest in how they perform. That may change this year, however, as there are a number of high-profile movies (including several targeted at action fans) that could end up doing some pretty big business. In fact, with the somewhat disappointing summer that we’ve had so far, it’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that August might end up being the highlight of the season.

“TOTAL RECALL”

Who: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy
What: Factory worker Douglas Quaid begins to suspect that he’s a spy after visiting Rekall, a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories.
When: August 3rd
Why: While not exactly a remake in the conventional sense, director Len Wiseman’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” has nonetheless caused diehard fans of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original to scream blasphemy. But just like that movie was forced to get creative and expand upon Dick’s story, so too has Wiseman’s version, seemingly sticking closer to its source material by keeping the action on Earth. Colin Farrell is definitely an inspired choice to play Quaid (and just like Adrian Brody in “Predators,” it should help to limit the comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger), while Bryan Cranston is on such a hot streak right now that it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Cohaagen. Whether Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale or the special effects provide the film’s best eye candy, however, is still up for debate.

“CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER”

Who: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor
What: A divorcing couple tries to maintain their friendship while pursuing other people.
When: August 3rd
Why: In addition to being a smart piece of counterprogramming to “Total Recall,” the indie dramedy has been riding a wave of strong buzz since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, where most critics praised the excellent chemistry between its two stars. Though I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Andy Samberg as a romantic lead (or a serious actor, for that matter), I’ll see just about anything that Rashida Jones does these days, especially if it leads to more high-profile roles for the “Parks and Rec” actress. Jones also co-wrote the screenplay, which boasts an interesting premise that practically guarantees it won’t be anything like the typical Hollywood rom-com, with a more dramatic streak reminiscent of movies like “Annie Hall” and “(500) Days of Summer.” And if it’s even half as good as those films, we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

“HOPE SPRINGS”

Who: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell and Jean Smart
What: After 30 years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship.
When: August 8th
Why: There are usually a few movies every summer targeted explicitly towards adult audiences, and more often than not, one of them stars Meryl Streep. That’s the case once again with this geriatric twist on the traditional rom-com, which reunites Streep with her “The Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel. Unfortunately, “Hope Springs” doesn’t look nearly as good, instead hewing closer to the vibe of “It’s Complicated,” at least where Streep’s overly giggly character is concerned. The actress appears to be trying too hard to get a laugh, while Steve Carell doesn’t seem to have that much to do. The wild card is Tommy Lee Jones, who isn’t the first person you’d think of for this kind of role, but that’s exactly why it’s such a brilliant piece of casting. And if the three actors work as well together as you’d expect, “Hope Springs” might not be that bad after all.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

You’ll probably notice that there aren’t very many movies receiving wide releases this month, and that partly has to do with the return of a certain wise-cracking web-slinger to the big screen, but it’s mostly because every studio is terrified of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and they should be. Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film absolutely dominated the box office, eventually grossing just over a billion dollars worldwide, and if the business that “The Avengers” has been doing is any indication, the third installment is going to easily exceed that. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other movies worth checking out, because just about every title on this list should be considered must-see.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”

Who: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen and Sally Field
What: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help explain why his parents disappeared years earlier, leading him to his father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors.
When: July 3rd
Why: Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man series only a decade after Sam Raimi’s first movie was released has earned its share of naysayers, but having already seen director Marc Webb’s new version, most people are going to be happy with the direction the series is headed. Though it’s a bit of a pain to have to sit through Peter Parker’s origin story all over again, Webb makes it just different enough that it’s never boring. The action scenes are also well-staged, and Spider-Man’s wise-cracking humor remains intact, but the best part about the movie is the characters themselves. Not only are the actors perfectly cast in their respective roles (especially Andrew Garfield, who embodies everything that’s great about Spider-Man), but the relationships are actually interesting, and you can’t say that about every superhero film, Raimi’s trilogy included.

“SAVAGES”

Who: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro
What: Marijuana growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel that kidnapped their shared girlfriend.
When: July 6th
Why: It’s been awhile since Oliver Stone made a movie worth caring about, but this big screen adaptation of Don Wilson’s bestseller has certainly piqued my interest. A drug-fueled crime thriller that looks like something the director would have made back in the 90s, “Savages” has a cool premise and a great cast to boot. Okay, so maybe Taylor Kitsch hasn’t had the best year between “John Carter” flopping and “Battleship” failing to find its sea legs at the domestic box office, but Aaron Johnson has impressed with his career choices lately, and the idea of Salma Hayek playing the big bad is oozing with potential. Though it’s unclear whether the film is supposed to have that grindhouse feel on purpose, if Stone can pull it off, he might just have another cult hit on his hands.

“EASY MONEY”

Who: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic and Mahmut Suvacki
What: A three-tiered story centered on drugs and organized crime, focusing on a young man who becomes a runner for a cocaine dealer.
When: July 13th
Why: I don’t know a whole lot about Daniel Espinosa’s “Easy Money” (originally titled “Snabba Cash” in its native country) other than it stars Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s “The Killing” and was a near-universal hit on the festival circuit, but quite frankly, that’s enough for me. The Swedish film industry has gotten a huge boost thanks to the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series in recent years, and “Easy Money” reportedly follows in the same footsteps. Though I wasn’t crazy about Espinosa’s U.S. debut, “Safe House,” it had enough good moments (especially the fight scenes) to suggest he’s a promising talent. Plus, I’d see anything Kinnaman does these days, because his work on “The Killing” is so amazing that it’s no wonder he’s been tapped as Hollywood’s new It guy.

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