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.
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.
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.
Springtime is finally here, and as the weather starts to get a little better, so does your choice of movies. Though March wasn’t always known as a month where you could score big at the box office, Zack Snyder’s “300” changed all that, and since then, the studios have been more open to releasing some of their higher profile films in an attempt to cash in on the pre-summer excitement. If it’s big-budget epics you’re after, or just a great comedy anchored by some big names, then you’ll want to continue reading.
Who: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby and Julianne Moore What: While working in a Boston homeless shelter, Nick Flynn re-encounters his estranged father, a con man and self-proclaimed poet. When: March 2nd Why: This is the kind of film that you’d normally expect to see during awards season, which is what makes Focus Features’ decision to release it in March so refreshing. Of course, it could just mean that the movie simply isn’t good enough to be Oscar bait, but with actors like Robert De Niro and Paul Dano involved, it seems pretty unlikely. Based on playwright Nick Flynn’s memoir, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” (a great book title, but hardly one that rolls off the tongue when buying a ticket at the movie theater), “Being Flynn” might just be the film that finally gets De Niro’s acting career back on track. If nothing else, it’s great to see Paul Weitz directing some much headier material following the dreadful “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” and “Little Fockers.”
Who: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West and Mark Strong What: After a Civil War veteran is inexplicably transported to Mars, he becomes mixed up in a conflict amongst the habitants of the planet. When: March 9th Why: I had never even heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of pulp fantasy novels when a “John Carter” movie was first rumored a few years ago as a possible directing project for Jon Favreau, but after seeing the initial trailer, I was sold. It’s been awhile since a sci-fi epic has come along that actually looks the part, and a lot of that credit goes to Andrew Stanton, who, although he’s best known for directing Pixar hits like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” is following in the footsteps of colleague Brad Bird with his live-action debut. While it will be interesting to see what Stanton can do outside the realm of animation, however, the film’s success will ultimately depend on whether Taylor Kitsch can prove to be the action star that Hollywood is betting on him to become.