Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Look at Winter/Spring 2014

Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the first four months of 2014. Maybe we'll get far better movies this time around, compared to the plague of stink-ridden films last year, which later proved to be the prelude to a dismal year of cinema.

January 3, the first weekend of the year, gives us all a little deja vu: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Why deja vu? Because two years ago, the first major film of the year was also a found footage horror film involving demon possession. I'm of course talking about The Devil Inside, a movie that not only made my worst of 2012 list, but also now lives in infamy as one of the biggest raspberries delivered by Hollywood, as easily seen by the many "audience reacts to the ending" videos up on YouTube. This spin-off of the once popular horror franchise might draw a big crowd, mainly the Latino demographic since it takes place within a stereotypical L.A. Latino community. However, the fourth entry in the series quickly soured viewers (how could they afford all of those computers?) and the time off between films hasn't healed up the massive bleeding of the mythos or freshen up the fans. Elsewhere, Takeshi Kitano delivers Beyond Outrage, a sequel to the cult crime film that returned the Japanese auteur/actor to his most popular area of expertise. Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) seems to be continuing his inability to break his "one-hit wonder" status with the seemingly boring The Best Offer. The dreadful director of Apollo 18 somehow got another job, laying bare Open Grave. I will at least say the opening premise is interesting: Sharlto Copley wakes up in a pit full of human carcasses and must figure out why. It will still probably suck though. As for the cult fans of William Fredkin's Cruising, actor James Franco co-directs Interior. Leather Bar., which is his interpretation of the lost hardcore sequences of the controversial 80's queer film.

January 10 is more importantly devoted to the nationwide expansions of possible Oscar contenders, most namely Her and the ever-marketed Lone Survivor. Seriously, I haven't been able to watch a movie or the tele without an ad, trailer, behind the scenes footage, or a personal plea by Peter Berg appearing before me. The only new major release, barely given any equal attention, is The Legend of Hercules, the first of two Hercules movies coming this year. Unlike last year's battle between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, which the former won largely due to timing, I and many others don't expect this Herc flick to have the same early lead at the box office. It looks dirt-cheap and clearly appears to be a composition of 300 and Gladiator, instead of spinning its own web. Also, Kellan Lutz isn't a very good actor, barely having any charisma to play the mightily mythical figure, and it's being helmed by the desperate Renny Harlin. The limited market is really where its at, with the foreign films In Bloom and The Rocket getting some theatrical spotlight after riding on some critical acclaim and controversy; Despite help bringing Laos to the main stage of world cinema, the Australian-produced The Rocket is banned in the country due to homosexual themes. Also, for the few patient anime fans left, Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo reaches stateside.

January 17 has...another paranormal found footage movie? Devil's Due isn't the sequel to The Devil's Inside but seemingly a rip-off of Rosemary's Baby: A woman is rapidly made preggers mysteriously, and she and her husband film the strange phenomena surrounding it. Pass, especially since the TV ads spoil the ending and/or the framing device. The desperate public will instead gravitate towards Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the attempted reboot of the once popular book/film character, with Chris Pine walking in the shoes made famous by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford (sorry Ben Affleck). Pushed from its original Christmas premiere, generating some buzz after the untimely death of creator Tom Clancy, and marketed heavily with a boring trailer and a really vanilla poster, many journalists and film analysts certainly have already written up their fiasco pieces for it. I believe it to be dull but at least it could provide some action substance to those looking to escape their houses. Sure to snooker families, The Nut Job appears to be a severely lame animated flick about squirrels looking to rob a nut store. Testicle jokes are absolutely a given. I also get some chuckles about how Katherine Heigl is not played up at all in the trailer. Despite all of these niche films, I feel that the certifiable winner of the weekend will be Ride Along, thanks to its cute premise (Meet the Parents - The Parents, + Tough Cop Sibling) and the high charisma levels of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. However, the PG-13 rating is a deal-breaker, considering the backgrounds of both performers and the film being an easy follow-up to The Heat. Unless it receives raves, I might just wait until the unrated version hits home video. The overstuffing of movies this weekend continues even in limited theaters: The critically acclaimed Japanese film Like Father, Like Son, which I mocked back at last year's Cannes and is in the process of having a white American version be produced (it's called Switched at Birth, you dolts!), starts its slow roll-out; Israeli horror flick Big Bad Wolves, Quentin Tarantino's pick for the best film of 2013, will satisfy cult audiences; and G.B.F. possibly gets to be the next eccentric high school movie to break out post-Mean Girls.

January 24 brings the gut-punching comedown after the previous weekend's cavalcade of products. I, Frankenstein is the only major release and oh boy, does it look like an mammoth-sized failure at the box office. I may be mistaken; the American movie-going public may want an action-horror flick about angels, demons, gargoyles, and streams of fireballs colliding with a hunky take of Mary Shelley's baby boy. The trailer for it is incredibly super-bad, not easily informing us of what the hell is going on; does Bill Nighy do anything other than sitting and leering? Meanwhile, in smaller circles, we have several unique outputs. Stranger By the Lake was described last year at Cannes as the gay version of Blue Is the Warmest Color, but with more hardcore action and artsy-fartsy elements. Gimme Shelter looks to be early Oscar bait for Vanessa Hudgens, as she plays a "based on a true story" young woman, who clawed her way in life despite suffering from uncaring parents and a sudden case of teen pregnancy. Looks to be more laughable than compelling at this stage. This weekend also finally lets us see Knights of Badassdom, a long delayed film project about a group of live-action roleplayers who must battle a real demon. Its nerd-friendly premise and cast (Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, Ryan Kwanten, Summer Glau, Danny Pudi) had many online foaming at the mouth but the struggle to get it released, plus the reports from director Joe Lynch that the theatrical version is not his cut, has everyone fearing what's to come.

January 31 widely premieres one of the few remaining big 2013 films, Jason Reitman's Labor Day. However, it is sure to be a major disappointment, as the melodrama of an escaped prisoner Stockholm Syndromes a broken mother and her son has been riding on dismal reviews throughout the later half of last year. Paramount is clearly trying to win over audiences with a pitiful, schmaltzy ad campaign and double-downing on receiving any Oscar noms in order to draw up interest. Focus Features instead serves up That Awkward Moment, a bro-comedy of three friends desperately trying to maintain a chastity truce. As much as I love Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, and Zac Efron when he works on better projects, this could either be a nice little gem or obnoxiously dumb ("cock"-tail, anyone?). The rampant movie stands in theaters for it undoubtedly aren't helping matters. In limited release, Tim's Vermeer, a documentary of a guy trying to replicate the techniques of artist Johannes Vermeer, seems interesting and is directed by Teller of Penn & Teller fame. Unfortunately, there is also Best Night Ever, which may have an awesomely clever tagline ("A Raging New Comedy from the Producers of Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring") and a highly potent premise (found footage meets Bridesmaids), but its trailer sucks and it's actually devised by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Dear god, stay away!

February 7 brings us The Lego Movie, and I can't wait any longer. I have been looking forward to this ever since the major nerd news of it being the first theatrical pairing of Superman and Batman. Its first trailer showed off the fascinating animation style, while its second trailer elaborated on the humor. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have already made two amazingly funny features (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street) and I feel they may have a mighty winner here (fingers tightly crossed). The weekend also finally releases George Clooney's The Monuments Men, the once Oscar hopeful that chose to delay itself, in order to fix its post-production kinks and be a top quality product. Obviously, the adults seeking comedy will head towards to this, instead of observing Lego mini-figures on the big screen. If you really want to talk about delays, look no further than the Simon Pegg-starring A Fantastic Fear of Everything, which is hitting theaters stateside after nearly two years. Speaking of British imports, The Weinstein Company is going to be shoving One Chance down all of our throats. The movie is a feel-good, fluffy biopic about the life of Paul Potts, who most will remember as the hefty guy who sang opera on Britain's Got Talent, charming the entire world once the televised performance was made viral on the web. I heard comedian James Corden is likable in the lead but the film is utterly worthless and unnervingly mean-spirited. You'll be better off wishing and hoping and waiting that Sunshine on Leith comes later this year.

February 14 is of course Valentine's Day, so what better way than to end all of the festivities with a trip to the movies. Let's first talk about the elephant in the room: RoboCop. I have had a long, long, long history talking about this, so I'll see what critics have to say before forking over money to watch this unnecessary remake. Oh, but the unnecessary remakes don't stop there, because two more 80's movies are given a modern treatment: About Last Night, refitted with an African-American cast (Movie No. 2 for Kevin Hart) and sure to be the weekend winner, and Endless Love. That's right, the embarrassingly trashy romance flick starring Brooke Shields that hasn't been released ever on video, and gave us one of the absolute worst love songs ever to be created by human minds. If the source material doesn't make you sick, you'll be running out of the theater after just five minutes of Alex Pettyfer's "acting" chops. For teen girls with no boyfriends and no taste, there's Vampire Academy, a film adaptation of the popular young adult book series. Gee, I wonder if it will do well at the box office, just after a year cluttered by the bodies of many unmitigated YA disasters not labeled The Hunger Games. As for the older crowd, they get to feast on Winter's Tale, the directorial debut of long-time screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. Based on a 1983 book (Again with the 80's!), this looks like a really weird fantasy-romance, especially since one of the key players is a magical horse. Before I move on, I also want to highlight Jimmy P., the "Benicio Del Toro plays a Native American" drama that was laughed out of 2013 Cannes.

February 21 is a skip weekend, so enjoy something else besides the movies. Pompeii is a mixture of bad CGI disaster films and the earlier Hercules flick (it too copies Gladiator!). Like that movie, this is also being helmed by someone who was better off in the 90's, namely Paul W.S. Anderson. Having Jon Snow as the lead is not enough to warrant a ticket purchase. 3 Days to Kill is sure to only draw money at a Redbox near you later down the line. This Kevin Costner thriller sounds exactly like the stuff Christian Slater now does for a living. Plus, McG is its director, the former music video auteur who crashed and burned with Terminator: Salvation and This Means War. If you do venture out, I strongly suggest trying to find a screening for The Wind Rises, the possibly last animated movie ever to come from the hands and minds of Hayao Miyazaki. It may be disqualified from being counted for 2014 awards consideration but you should never miss out on seeing this man's imagination on the silver screen.

February 28, well, doesn't have much of worth either. Everybody will obviously be heading towards Liam Neeson's recent action-fest/cash-grab Non-Stop. The trailer spoils nearly everything (when do they not?), so there's no reason for you not to just stay home and watch the International cut of Taken again. Son of God is pure bait for suckers. That's not a crack at Christian patrons; you too would be aggravated that you paid twelve dollars or more to see it, only to be flabbergasted that you're just watching the edited segments of the recent Bible television miniseries. The possible sleeper of the weekend, however, could be Welcome to Yesterday, Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes' take on found footage films, time travel, and douchey teens.

March 7 would have been a momentous occasion, since 300: Rise of an Empire is finally released after a much publicized delay, but we are now currently living in a Zach Snyder-hating world. Even with the push, which in retrospective was a good idea since Men of Steel ended up being one of the most vile films of last year, I don't think many except for frat boys will thoroughly engage with this 3D-laden, blood soaked romp. Mr. Peabody and Sherman is the more probable top pick with audiences, even though the original source material doesn't resonant with the youngsters nowadays. I'm actually more interested in the Rocky and Bullwinkle short that precedes every screening. Though to be real, I'm very interested with the limited picks, especially Wes Anderson's next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. If not that, there's also Jordorowsky's Dune, a documentary on the pre-production process of the Frank Herbert book series by the eclectic director who gave us El Topo and Holy Mountain, and the Hong Kong import Journey to the West, an adaptation of the legendary mythical story and the latest from comedy genius Stephen Chow.

March 14 brings forth the latest video game translation to be botched by Hollywood. Need for Speed is trying to encroach on the honeypot that the Fast & Furious has had a hold over for several years now, but I honestly feel that it will be laughed off. The first trailer was super serious and super stupid, even with Aaron Paul in the lead. Plus, the wounds of the tragic death of Paul Walker is still too fresh, so many might not be ready for cars racing and exploding. Grace of Monaco will certainly pack in the old fogies, as the Oscar bait gets a chance to been seen, after much backstage turmoil between the director and producer Harvey Weinstein. And then, oh god, we have Tyler Perry's The Singles Mom Club. This surely will continue the burrowing career and revenues of the once hot mogul. The top buzzed movie of the weekend, however, is Veronica Mars, the feature film sequel to the cult television series, which was funded by the show's fans through a highly lucrative Kickstarter project.

March 21 has the other sure-to-fail YA adaptation: Divergent. It's story of factions classified by human emotions and the one girl who can't be judged by the higher-ups, is way too convoluted, making all of the marketing unbearable to behold. The poster is a hack job (though butt-tastic) and a short preview released online clearly informs us all that it will be a cringeworthy slog. The better alternative will surely be Muppets Most Wanted, which looks to be a spiritual remake of The Great Muppet Caper, but with more cameos, more Muppets and more zaniness. Other possibilities include Stretch, a hardly-elaborated-on action flick by action kingpin Joe Carnahan and Nymphomaniac: Part I, the first half of the much publicized art-porno by Cannes' persona non grata Lars von Trier.

March 28 will feature the biggest Christian movie event since The Passion of the Christ: Darren Aronofsky's Noah. Man, there sure is a lot of Christian films front-loaded this year. Anyway, I don't really have much to say about it; it could potentially be marvelous or just another throwaway blockbuster. Aronofsky's vision on the project is the only thing that makes me keep an eye on it. For those who are atheists, what better way to believe in a no-God world than the inexplicable sequel A Haunted House 2. The first movie was not good at all last year, sliding off my worst of list due to its "let's put on a show" spunk, but this will surely be sloppy seconds. I rather venture to see a sequel to a good film, namely The Raid 2: Berandal.

April 4 is the final safe bet for Marvel Studios, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the last sequel in awhile for a known superhero property. Though it looks rip-rolling and the cast is great (love Anthony Mackie as Falcon!), the mixed results of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World showed that the sequel makers wanted to churn out easy tripe instead of infusing them with creative energy (though they are not as bad as the boring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show). Additionally, everyone has been spending more time and excitement looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy, especially since it pushes new heroes to the forefront. The other small releases are all very niche and will not be as profitable as Cap: Alan Partridge: The Movie is for fans of the British TV character only, Islands of Lemurs: Madagascar is for families willing to pay the IMAX up-charge, and Dom Hemingway is kind of an oddball crime-comedy. The sole exception is Under the Skin, a movie that wowed Toronto last year and had every critic praising Jonathan Glazer's direction and the deliberately alien performance by Scarlett Johansson.

April 11 will grant a second place showing on the box office receipts for Rio 2, a sequel to an animated film that really no one really wanted. For something more bland, there's Draft Day, a "thrilling" dramedy about the Cleveland Browns deciding who should be their first pick on the titled day. Excuse me while I fall asleep. Strangely, this tedious affair is from Ivan Reitman(!), thus continuing his less-than-stellar directorial career. The awfully titled St. Vincent De Van Nuys looks to be another one of those "young boy/bitter parents/weathered adult" indie comedies that get pushed out to die off quickly. The only lively feature of the weekend seems to be Sabotage, the latest cop action film from David Ayer. I practically ate my own shoe when Ayer's last film End of Watch ended up being far, far better than I initially predicted, so this time I will look forward to it. On the other hand, it's being co-written by Skip Woods, who last year gave us A Good Day to Die Hard.

April 18. What an amazingly awful weekend. Bears, another pointless Disney Nature film. Transcendence, this year's Oblivion, where Johnny Depp turns into a stock 90's cyberpunk villain and super-computes away the destruction of Earth. And then, Heaven is For Real, the film adaptation of the famous news-story/possible scam of how the son of a pastor "truly" experienced the afterlife. Thank god we also have Nymphomaniac: Part II.

April 25 also sucks. What the hell are you doing, Hollywood? There's The Other Woman, a Cameron Diaz-led rom-com that feels 15 years too late for anyone to care about. Earth to Echo sounds kinda cool, a bunch of kids have a Spielberg moment when they encounter a peculiar alien object in the wilderness, but the found footage aspect could ruin it. The Quiet Ones is way too vague to care about right now and Walk of Shame looks to be another unfortunate failure for Elizabeth Banks.

My Top Picks of Winter/Spring 2014

1. The Lego Movie
2. Under the Skin
3. Jordorowsky's Dune
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. Big Bad Wolves
6. Knights of Badassdom
7. Muppets Most Wanted
8. The Raid 2: Berandal
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
10. The Monuments Men

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly have a hard time determining their release time frame. Also, there is a possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed.

I hope your movie experiences will be as good as mine, but probably less cynical.

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