Fall Movie Preview banner - November-December

 

NOVEMBER

 

NOVEMBER 1

 

ENDER’S GAME

Director: Gavin Hood (the first Wolverine spin-off and the fantastic South African gang film Tsotsi)

Starring Asa Butterfield (the kid from Hugo), Hailee Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley in full body tattoo, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis

Depending on how many people still care enough to boycott, or even noticed, the racist streak of author Orson Scott Card, this one might be cursed, but we’re here to discuss its aptitude as a film, not the personal lives of its creators (maybe we should also be deterred by the presence of Harrison Ford, who is almost certainly a cantankerous old D-bag in real life). It’s another major entry in the Year of the Futuristic Sci-Fi Epic (see also Oblivion, After Earth, Pacific Rim, Elysium, and Gravity just to mention the original content), but while the 1985 novel is a lauded work, the movie looks like another connect-the-dots space war, a kind of de-fanged Starship Troopers for teens.

Interest Level: C

 

ABOUT TIME

Director: Richard Curtis (he of witty British romances)

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (yes, the son of Brendan Gleeson) (also yes, he played one of the Weasley twins in Harry Potter), Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

Gleeson’s coming-out party is also McAdams’ second time-traveling love story (thankfully less mopey looking than The Time Traveler’s Wife) and Nighy’s third employment as the Curtis-brand lucky charm (he was key to the director’s other directorial efforts Pirate Radio and Love Actually). Though his most recent film Pirate Radio was an unfocused mess that could’ve been something special, Curtis has a sterling track record otherwise, so unless he’s getting soft with age or something, expect better-than-average humor, clever scenarios, effortlessly adorable performances, and about 10% too much schmaltz forgiven by enormously heart-warming moments. It could go either way, given some of the very predictable scenes in the trailer, but I’d love to see this become a winner for all involved (I’m already sure it will be for McAdams, who never fails to glow in these types of leading-lady parts; she needs more of them).

 

Interest Level: B+

 

 

FREE BIRDS

Well, after 100 years of cinema, it’s about time we got an official Thanksgiving mascot movie, I suppose. But even ignoring the cloying hyper-active sense of humor and the marketing team’s shameless theft of Despicable Me tags (from the font and color scheme of the art-work to how the army of identical, easily-amused, dim-witted, monosyllabic lab assistants are basically just Minions), a story about turkeys trying to prevent the holiday’s creation? Okay, so we can assume that they’ll learn an earnest lesson at the end about the importance of family or sharing or whatever, but since tradition mandates their murder and consumption, and seeing as the movie is aimed at children and families, they’re obviously going to be celebrating Thanksgiving rather than re-defining it, how will this end? And there you have your hook. Could be a fascinating resolution since it’s a time travel tale, maybe they’ll go ahead and re-write history to make some other poor animal the main course instead. Or maybe they’ll decide that it’s a worthy sacrifice in the name of honor or respect for humans…..I’m sure it’s something even dumber than those two, but I am curious. Not curious enough to believe that this will be better than mediocre, but it’s something, at least.

 

Interest Level: C-

 

 

LAST VEGAS

Director: Jon Turtletaub (the National Treasures, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 3 Ninjas)

Starring Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Mary Steenburgen, Romany Malco, LMFAO

As a source of humor, old people acting like young people is almost as shiver-inducingly obnoxious as infants acting like grown-ups grandma rapping, grandpa smoking a doobie, someone pulling a hip trying to dance, etc. It’s never funny. Yet call me overly optimistic, but that’s an amazing quartet of geriatric talent and even if De Niro and Freeman are dangerously over-exposed lately (Freeman especially has already trekked this same territory in the tepid Red), having them bouncing around this A-list ensemble should refresh their legacies. Plus Kline and Douglas balance it out they don’t pop up every other weekend in some paycheck-grab; in fact, I’ve missed seeing both on the big screen for far too long (neither has done much leading work at all over the past decade). The movie might be nothing more than a patronizing, MTV-speed lifetime achievement award for these legends, but even if the material doesn’t live up to the cast, it should be fun just watching these titans let loose and goof around.

Interest Level: B

 

NOVEMBER 8

 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Director: Alan Taylor (lots of TV episodes for shows including Game of Thrones, Lost, The Sopranos, Sex and the City)

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Benicio del Toro

Unless the writing has sharpened or there is some astonishing new spectacle to offer, I don’t foresee this being much better than the first Thor: passable, good-looking, mildly amusing, pretty corny, extremely formulaic, not likely to be remembered fondly a few years later. Eccleston is a fine actor, but he hardly made an impression as the villain in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (nor the other time he played a bad guy in a Hollywood summer flick, Gone in 60 Seconds), so casting him to replace Loki doesn’t inspire much faith. Frankly, there’s nothing notable about any of the characters from the first movie (they were all written as chess pieces), so I’m in no rush to watch more of their antics, compared to say, Tony Stark, whose portrayal by RDJ is habit-forming. And finally, I can’t help but feel let down that these Thor movies aren’t embracing their innate camp and outfitting every scene with a Queen song. Missed opportunity.

 

Interest Level: C+

 

NOVEMBER 15

 

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler

The Warning Signs: yet another movie about corruption in the stock exchange (I thought Oliver Stone had this area covered), with a structure that seems to mirror Scorsese’s Goodfellas too closely, down to its American-dream-gone-sour thematic resonance. The “Black Skinhead”-scored surrealistic rush shown in the trailers may end up lasting at most half the movie, while the rest is mopey downward-spiral histrionics.

 

The Upside: Scorsese is the master of these dizzying rise-and-fall sagas; he’s made legitimately great movies out of this framework more than a couple times, so there’s no reason to doubt him. The trailer is undeniably awesome, it looks like McConaughey has landed yet another wonderfully strange performance to distance himself from his rom-com past, and is DiCaprio playing at least some of this for laughs? That’s a first. Despite how strong an actor he is, the guy is so intense in every single movie that he’s in danger of becoming a meme (cue hard glare masking tormented desperation). Just watching him bust out the dance moves for a few frames in the trailer was kind of mind-blowing.

 

Interest Level: A-

 

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Starring: Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall

Now this is a curiosity remember The Best Man, from 1999? Wedding comedy? A nice movie, but it’s not like it crossed over and captured America’s heart. Well to hell with that, because everyone involved brainstormed a yuletide reunion and now here we are, fourteen years later. Depending on how good a time you had with these folks the first time, you may be excited by this wholly unexpected sequel, which will probably be low on dramatic stakes but high on the coasting pleasure of this cast’s company. And it probably doesn’t matter that director Lee has taken a real dive over the years (solid early years with this movie’s predecessor, Undercover Brother, and Roll Bounce gave way to ungodly waste like Soul Plane and this year’s Scary Movie V), since all he really has to do is make sure his charismatic cast is well-lit and dial down his shrill comedic instincts.

 

Interest Level: C+

 

THE BOOK THIEF

Director: Brian Percival

Starring Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer

The power of literature as a metaphor for man’s perseverance…Nazi persecution…period piece…Geoffrey Rush…whether or not it was an excellent book that they adapted, the only way this could be any less subtle a slice of Oscar catnip would be if John Goodman had a small role in it. No thanks.

 

Interest Level: D

 

NOVEMBER 22

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

Director: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine, Water for Elephants)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence (no relation), Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth

The trailer could be misleading, but I take it as a sign of creativity that they don’t seem to be just throwing Katniss and her boyfriend back into another battle royale. Dealing with the fall-out of their survival from the first movie sounds more intriguing than a contrivance to recycle its plot, but I’m sure they’ll end up back in the game somehow. Years ago I would’ve given the advantage to former Hunger Games director Gary Ross (he of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) over the superficially slick stylings of Francis Lawrence, but the last movie had an awful washed-out, grainy look and they went overboard on the garish future fashion, so hopefully Lawrence tempers some of the ugliness at least, even though, like a Harry Potter sequel or the next 10 Avengers-related movies, this is such a profitable (thus expensive) property that it’s probably 89% directed by the studio itself. With their stranglehold over the film’s safe landing, we probably shouldn’t expect many surprises. On the other hand: Philip Seymour Hoffman! Last time he did an outright villain in a popcorn flick was Mission: Impossible III and he was the only memorable thing about the movie.

 

Interest Level: B-

 

 

DELIVERY MAN

Director: Ken Scott

Starring Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Jack Reynor

A chronic sperm donor learns he has 533 kids. No, this isn’t an SNL sketch, nor, incredibly, an Adam Sandler joint (he did fatherhood way back in 1999′s Big Daddy). No, it’s the second attempt this year by Vince Vaughn to re-capture that early-aughts comedy magic he conjured with Old School, Dodgeball, and Wedding Crashers. This is the sort of universal movie concept that could work in the right hands, but could just as easily be lazy and annoying. Unfortunately, as funny as Vaughn’s verbal rants can be and as much as I’d like to see him bounce back from so many years of crap, this doesn’t look like a sure-fire remedy. It’s an adaptation of director Ken Scott’s own New Zealand original, Starbuck, which received mixed praise. Hmm…

Interest Level: C

 

NEBRASKA

Director: Alexander Payne

Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach

Payne is finally back to collect more unanimous accolades, this time by staging a father-son road trip (no points for novelty here) and filming it in black-and-white (form over content this time?). Will the relationship between Dern and Forte start out passively contentious, end up understatedly conciliatory? Will there be comic relief mid-western kooks? Will Bruce Dern win the respect he’s long been associated with but virtually never reinforced (can anyone think of a terrific performance he’s given? Can anyone even remember him in anything besides The ‘Burbs, The Great Gatsby, Silent Running, and as Laura’s dad?)? Those details all point to pre-fabricated indie drama triumph, less a wacky/sad character study of loneliness like Election or Sideways, more a complacent, facile tearjerker like The Descendants (confusing the outcome even more: its film festival reviews ran hot and cold). Will Forte provides something of a wild card, though, having never been involved in such a sincere exercise. If he manages the leap from outlandish comedy to nuanced drama, this could be something special.

Interest Level: B-

 

 

NOVEMBER 29

 

FROZEN

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Voiced by Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff

Disney wisely stands by its classic template for their next sound-the-trumpets official animated production (not Pixar related): updating folklore (this was a Hans Christian Anderson fable) into a beautiful, romantic comic adventure. Doesn’t look quite as timeless as Beauty and the Beast so far (though no official trailer exists yet), but Chris Buck was behind the highly entertaining, lushly animated twosome of Surf’s Up and Tarzan, while co-director Lee had a hand in writing last year’s splendid Wreck-it Ralph, and this particular group of actors is actually rather expressive and enthusiastic (while not carrying much screen presence in live action), making them ideal choices behind the mics, so the pedigree is just right. Latter-day Disney presentations The Frog Princess and Tangled haven’t embedded themselves in cultural short-hand (they’re no Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sully, or Shrek), but they’re actually terrific movies that merely suffer from unoriginality. It would be miraculous if Frozen broke the mold and tried some kind of different approach, but even if it doesn’t, and it probably won’t, it might still be a lovely re-arrangement of the elements.

Interest Level: B+

 

 

OLDBOY

Director: Spike Lee

Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli

Possibly the fall’s riskiest endeavor is this remake of the forbidding Korean film (or rather, its manga), although erratic Spike Lee himself isn’t even the biggest liability (not that his curious aesthetic tastes check out Jackson’s blonde mohawk and wobbly filmmaking habits aren’t causes for alarm). No, my concern here would be for the story I can’t imagine someone like Lee NOT going all the way with the extreme climax, but would the studio allow that? And if they do, what’s in it for those of us who have already seen the other Oldboy? Best case scenario: like The Departed the movie develops a personality all its own apart from its Asian source, refines the storytelling, concocts memorable new scenes to convey the coiling tension, and cranks up some fine thespians to searing temperatures. Worst case scenario: no, not that it’s ratty and ill-conceived like other Spike Lee films can be (Bamboozled, Jungle Fever, Red Hook Summer), but that it’s an overly familiar photocopy whose only purpose is to make the original film digestible for American morons too scared to watch foreign stuff.

Interest Level: A/C/F? I’m leaning more on the negative side, but I’d like to be wrong

 

 

 

BLACK NATIVITY

Director: Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s Valentine, Talk to Me)

Starring Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige

African American Christmas melodrama based on a Langston Hughes play and converted into a musical (hard to tell how song-centric it will be at this point, though just a couple numbers belted out by Hudson, or full-on Les Miserables?). Looks like it’s trying harder than The Best Man Holiday, for what it’s worth, though those musical performances could end up being a curse. More fairly boring Oscar bait albeit on a smaller scale, and with one of the stupidest movie titles ever, but Lemmons is an unconventional artist, so who knows which way this is headed. At least we have perpetual A-game-bringers Whitaker and Bassett to anchor the thing.

Interest Level: C

 

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM

Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Jamie Bartlett

The cynic in me needs to acknowledge the movie’s semblance of clichéd Hollywood hagiography, and the peril of deploying a heretofore weak director to handle a project of this breadth and passion. The moviegoer in me, however, can’t resist the enthralling trailer. Took ‘em long enough to do a proper origin story for Mandela. Elba and Harris look spot-on in their parts.

Interest Level: B

 

 

GRACE OF MONACO

Director: Olivier Dahan (most notable for Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose)

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Paz Vega, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Frank Langella

Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly in Grace of MonacoBiographies like last year’s Lincoln and Hitchcock seem to have popularized the switch from exhaustive bullet-point life stories to narrowing in on a single scenario among many in a famous person’s life and reflecting everything about him through its nuances. So here we have Monacan princess and sometime actress Grace Kelly in the middle of a political dispute during the early ’60s. Kidman will surely give a much-praised performance, but everything else about this is dubious: that bizarre supporting cast doesn’t feel conducive to a believable (respectable?) drama, and director Dahan made a lot of bad decisions the last time he made a movie about a mid-20th century female celebrity. Maybe he’s learned from his mistakes (for one thing, since this is all taking place during one event, we can be sure he dropped the pretzel chronology that mangled Rose).

Interest Level: C-

 

 

DECEMBER

DECEMBER 6

 

OUT OF THE FURNACE

Director: Scott Cooper

Starring Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe

This movie can’t be as predictable as it looks, right? That’s a top-shelf cast, and oh wait, Scott Cooper? He did the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart where he’s an alcoholic folk singer. Sorry to keep holding these new films accountable for their maker’s past work, but that’s usually a good indication of what to expect, and indeed, this Out of the Furnace trailer sports the same gritty realism as Crazy Heart and with just as blank a soul. Harrelson affecting evil menace probably isn’t his strong suit, though he did nail disturbing anti-hero in last year’s Rampart, so I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. If nothing else, I have high hopes for sterling work by Bale, and with any luck, a break-out turn by Saldana (though most likely it will be thanklessly reactive like Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart).

Interest Level: D

 

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Denis O’Hare, Dallas Roberts

Plot: An electrician in the ’80s finds out he has AIDS, gets denied treatment, embarks on a mission to procure alternative medicine for himself and fellow victims.

Here he goes again! See, all these eclectic turns McConaughey has been taking for the past two years should’ve been his career arc ever since the mid-’90s when he became famous for A Time to Kill. What took casting agents and serious artists so long to see the man’s potential? Maybe he himself wasn’t ready to branch out until now. Either way, this looks like another can’t-lose avenue for him. Yeah, it’s the 5,000th inspiring true story coming out this year, but it’s not aiming for glamour (check out the star’s emaciated figure; he went full Bale) and it’s more ground-level than most of these “based on real events” flicks we’ll be seeing.

Interest Level: B+

 

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Director: the Coen Bros.

Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham

The Coen Bros. re-invent themselves within a new genre yet again. Like most Sundance and Cannes hold-overs finally emerging this autumn (but unlike those in year’s past), this one doesn’t have a flawless reputation some have said brilliant, others meandering and atonal but it will be fascinating one way or another. It always is with them. Personally, I’ve had my eye on Oscar Isaac for a few years now, and am amped to see him realize his potential in a major work. Lucky him it’s for the actor’s paradise of a Coens production. If the trailer doesn’t leave as flavorful an impression as I’d imagined when the project was first announced, I’m sure the magic is in the flow and the details.

Interest Level: B+

 

DECEMBER 13

 

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (as a dragon), Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, all those dwarves

Confession: I’ve never read any Tolkien, and my stance on Jackson’s LotR trilogy is one of impersonal admiration. Good job for the most part, but I didn’t fall in love with them like most people. I wonder if that lack of emotional baggage and prejudice is any factor in why I had such an unexpectedly positive reaction to last year’s The Hobbit. Not knowing how stretched thin the novel has become in movie form, it was just a marvelous experience, everything a fantasy adventure should be. The 3-hour length wasn’t overkill, the probably forced cameos by former LotR characters were neat little bits of continuity and the visual effects were among the best and clearest I’ve yet seen in cinema. Needless to say I’ll be welcoming this sequel and the next with open arms. I could do without all the elves, but we do finally get to meet the dragon Smaug, and is this the one where Stephen Colbert pops up? Awesome.

Interest Level: A

 


 

AMERICAN HUSTLE

Director: David O. Russell

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jeremy Renner, Michael Pena, Louis C.K.

The Bad: This isn’t a popular opinion, but I lost faith in Russell after 2012′s pitifully rote Silver Linings Playbook – what a waste of time for everybody, except for the Oscar attention. And he’s got another movie out only a year later, and he’s using all the same principle cast members from his last couple movies?

The Good: Well, maybe that means he’s learned to control his temper. Anyway, rather than adapting a book, here he’s embellishing a true story (yep, that again). This fits all the criteria for a guaranteed Best Picture nomination, but in a good way it’s got Argo‘s ’70s style (maybe it’s superficial, but I would happily watch these actors walk around with these retro hair-dos and fashion statements all day), The Fighter’s nervous energy, and a pair of oft-nominated leads (Bale and Adams) who are magnetically charged in their sleep. Even if it amounts to barely the sum of its parts, those are some dynamite parts.

Interest Level: B

 

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS

Director: Tyler Perry

Starring Tyler Perry, Chad Michael Murray, Tika Sumpter, Larry the Cable Guy, Alicia Witt

For Madea fans, my commentary here is pointless. For everyone else, go ahead and ignore this movie’s existence like you have the last 10 Madea movies. Save yourselves the trauma. Instead of weighing its possible value, I’ll use this space to lament the absence of other studio-funded “ethnic” films. It’s great that African Americans have a steady supply of movies targeted directly at them (more so within this small autumn window than ever before, it seems), but why nothing for Asian Americans? 2002′s Better Luck Tomorrow was the best movie most people have never heard of, yet the field has been empty since then. Or something for Latino Americans, though they have their occasional imports (like last weekend’s pretty successful Instructions Not Included)?

Interest Level: incalculable

 

 

DECEMBER 20

 

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

Director: Adam McKay

Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, a list of cameos that will outdo the first film’s alleyway battle scene tenfold

I don’t even know if we need an Anchorman sequel or if it can possibly live up to the mind-bending hilarity for which it was demanded, but this Christmas we’re gonna party like it’s summer 2004! Will Ferrell is the king of major league comedies this past decade, so if it was inevitable that he’d do a sequel to one of his hits, he couldn’t have chosen better than Anchorman, where he and his legion of distinguished comic brethren are beholden to virtually no rules or limitations whatsoever. After so long a wait between the two, this might not sell as well as they’re hoping, and with so much (deserved) pride in the Anchorman namesake, doing another one could become an overblown vanity project. But if it’s as exciting as they’re leading us to believe, then holy shit.

Interest Level: B+

 


THE MONUMENTS MEN

Director: George Clooney

Starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman

It’s been said already but it makes perfect sense: Ocean’s 11 in WWII. It will be a serious awards contender because it has the dramatic weight of the war underneath it (Goodman too), unless Clooney really reins it in too much like he did with the solid yet totally ignored Ides of March in 2011. As a huge fan of the Ocean’s franchise, I’m down for a spirited ’40s adventure (which Clooney and Blanchett already demonstrated was well within their wheelhouse by starring in Soderbergh’s The Good German), especially with Murray in tow. I want to see what he’s capable of when collaborating with artistic filmmakers who aren’t just named Anderson, Coppola, and Jarmusch. And if this one blows, he has another chance at similar game with (who else) Wes Anderson’s next project, The Grand Budapest Hotel, also involving a search for stolen paintings during the early 20th century. Kismet!

Interest Level: B+

 

SAVING MR. BANKS

Director: John Lee Hancock

Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak

What is it with the upcoming movie season and all these important releases trusted to lousy directors? Are they cheaper than the visionary ones? Or was the studio really so proud of that movie where Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for no reason that they thought Hancock was an ideal candidate to shepherd the first real big screen version of Walt Disney himself? That would seem a noble task, until you catch the trailer, in which yet another true story (Tom’s second in three months!) becomes fodder for fact-bending in the name of contrived triumph. Supposedly P.J. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins (here played by Thompson), was so displeased with Disney’s adaptation that she wouldn’t license any of the other Poppins literature to the studio (hence why such a popular film never popped out any sequels), so…how is this happy, uplifting, family-friendly story about Disney slowly thawing out Travers’s grumpy soul going to end, exactly? I’d be delighted to see some fictionalized accounts of the golden ages in Walt Disney’s life, but even with that stellar ensemble cast (and disregarding how lazily Hanks seems to be acting), neither the troublesome premise nor the cutesy trailer are instilling much faith.

Interest Level: C+

 

 

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS 3D

Director: Barry Cook, Neil Nightingale

Voices of Charlie Rowe, Angourie Rice, and who knows who else

Visually and narratively, a ripoff of the 2000 CG relic Dinosaurs mixed with some Land Before Time and the coming-of-age interval from The Lion King. The hook: it’s all scientifically accurate! With the latest in paleontological discoveries. Good thing, or else the audiences full of 4-year-olds would surely riot. One intriguing part of the production is that they’re using live action backdrops, thereby requiring the CGI to be more realistic than ever. Look, if you or your kids want to see dinosaurs in a movie again, Jurassic Park 4 won’t be out until 2015, so it’s here or nowhere.

Interest Level: C-

 


 

HER

Director: Spike Jonze

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson’s voice, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt

Oh my…take a timely allegory about connecting with others in a modern world of technological substitutions for everything (including relationships), mix the just-beyond-normal fantasy elements in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation  with the bittersweet romantic whimsy from Eternal Sunshine, Punch-Drunk Love, Lost in Translation, and Lars and the Real Girl, add the guy who gave 2012′s most daredevil, unpredictable, haunting vision of loneliness, make sure Amy Adams is in there because she just makes everything better, and kazam: best movie of the year, possibly a culmination of all Jonze’s prior films. As his first unassisted screenplay, there’s a measure of uncertainty here, but whatever, it looks singularly enchanting. Also hoping it will humanize Phoenix some more after his unsettling episode in The Master, hardcore I’m Still Here stunt, and aloof real-life persona.

Interest Level: A

 

DECEMBER 27

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Director: Ben Stiller

Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley MacLaine

Give this one Trailer of the Year already. It doesn’t need any dialogue, it zeroes in on subtleties, its audio/visual dynamic makes a good song seem profound (that’s Of Monsters and Men), and it doesn’t give anything away regarding the story yet provides enough striking imagery, thematic hints, and escalating mood to set your imagination on fire. Stiller has done way too many lame comedies, but in the director’s chair he’s never less than funny, weird, observant, and relentlessly self-aware. Still, it looks like he may have finally reached his inner Wes Anderson (on a blockbuster scale) and pulled out a legitimate masterpiece.

Interest Level: A

 

 

47 RONIN

Director: Carl Rinsch (his first feature film)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano

Kind of like The Last Samurai on top of the Hong Kong fantasy genre (The Legend of Zu, etc.). This seems destined for critical ridicule (criticule?) and box office disappointment (even Hugh Jackman’s dark, action/fantasy trip to Japan couldn’t rough up much business, and it had the whole X-Men series to piggyback on), but I personally prefer some supernatural eye candy to go with…just about anything, really. If we have to watch the white man single-handedly save an ancient civilization again, might as well throw in some monsters and exaggerated scenery to keep us awake. Seriously though this could be a guilty pleasure (it looks like a somewhat artsier Mortal Kombat) and I miss having Keanu Reeves around.

Interest Level: B

 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW ONE

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, David Paymer

Branagh or no Branagh (and let’s face it, he just makes more sense doing Shakespeare), re-booting the franchise all over again by re-casting the lead as a younger man played by a less famous actor (I like Pine enough, but who’s next after him, Dave Franco?) puts this in line to equal 2012′s The Bourne Legacy, another case of a story idea past its prime trying, but not very hard, to cash in again on former glory. Also, putting out a mid-level action movie at Christmastime, based on a best-selling book series, and named after its protagonist didn’t prevent last year’s Jack Reacher from stalling on the tracks and making everyone look bad. The movies aren’t connected in any way, but I sense parallel fates.

Interest Level: D

 

 

GRUDGE MATCH

GM_03389.dngDirector: Peter Segal

Starring Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin

Give us a break De Niro, we’re getting tired of seeing your damn face every month. Give us time to miss you like Keanu Reeves did. Raging Bull meets Rocky. In other words, The Expendables of boxing movies. Not a noble move for either actor, but there’s a slim chance they’ll make an interesting team. I mean, the mere act of casting them together is an amusing notion – here are two instantly recognizable, Oscar-winning movie stars, who have both in show business since the early ’70s – that’s 40 years – and have maintained active, fruitful careers as leading men ever since then, yet never once crossed paths. They seem almost from different worlds – De Niro from intense dramas, Stallone from over-the-top action. It makes me want to imagine other opposite-spectrum pair-ups: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hugh Grant. The Rock and Terrence Malick. Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise. Actually now that I think about it, De Niro has been on a Samuel L. Jackson streak lately (former known as the Christopher Walken streak), appearing in SIX different movies during 2013 alone, after 4 in 2012 and already another three for starters lined up in 2014, so why not look at this other “really, they’ve never been in a movie together??” co-stars: he finally worked with fellow vets John Travolta, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer,  Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and appeared in the same scenes as Diane Keaton (they never met in The Godfather Part 2). That might as well be De Niro’s thing now that he’s loosening his tie: the actor who teams up with everyone you can think of.

Interest Level: D+

 

LONE SURVIVOR

Director: Peter Berg

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

Real life story (nooooo!) of a SEAL team’s unsuccessful mission to take out a Taliban official. With this premise, that cast, and that director, it’s hard to find anything remotely appealing about this one, but YMMV if you liked Act of Valor or, say, Zero Dark Thirty. Berg hasn’t made a good movie since 2004, and if he’s going to recycle one of his older works (in this case 2007′s political war-action flick The Kingdom), I’d be happier to see another old-fashioned action-comedy like The Rundown or another twisted all-star noir like Very Bad Things.

Interest Level: D-

 

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Director: John Wells

Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard

The annual high-profile all-star family drama based on an award-winning play, this one is from the pen of Tracy Letts, whose previous stage-to-screen transitions have been the terrifyingly paranoid thrillers Bug and Killer Joe. This one seems shaped more like Steel Magnolias, though, not a desired endorsement to yours truly, but the Pulitzer Prize won by the play makes me want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Another Academy Award nomination for Streep, no doubt – it’s the only film she appears in this year, so instead of complaining about the cantankerous matriarch affectation she seems to be using, I’ll just be grateful to have her around, and look forward to both or either Cumberbatch and McGregor having plum parts in which to shine.

Interest Level: C+

 

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