Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Look at Winter/Spring 2015

Last year, we had the usual lineup of Hollywood dreck in January but then the sun came out early in February with the incredible response to The Lego Movie. March gave us some amazing limitedly released films and a multitude of lame offerings for what's supposed to be Hollywood's New Hot Month, only for April to correct the course.

Will this year be any different? Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the first four months of 2015.

January 2, the first weekend of 2015, of course has to give us a horror film: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
. A pretty lame pick to kick off the new year, an unnecessary sequel to a PG-13 horror movie that no one remembers. Since Daniel Radcliffe died in the first one (spoilers!), they replaced him with Jeremy Irvine and newcomer Phoebe Fox, as they try to save some WWII-displaced children from the deadly grasp of the titled villainess. Another ho-hum feature from the rebuilt Hammer Studios. The only other notable offering, heading to a few theaters and VOD, is REC 4: Apocalypse, the possibly final entry of the foreign zombie franchise. Set on a tanker ship, it repeats the bold decision of the third film by dropping the found footage aspect completely. I haven't dipped my toe into the series but this one looks mediocre at best. There's also The Search for General Tso, which is what it sounds like, a documentary about the origins of the popular sauce for Chinese chicken.

January 9 has only one major Hollywood movie to combat the nationwide expansion of Inherent Vice and the sure-to-be-#1 Selma: Taken 3 aka Tak3n. This time around, Liam Neeson isn't rescuing any female family members, instead having to save his own skin, as he must escape the cops and the FBI in order to identify the mastermind who murdered his wife (poor Famke Janssen) and framed him for the crime. Still haven't seen even the first one but considering the chilly reception of the second film and the lack of anyone being "taken" here (why not just call it The Fugitive 3 instead?), this looks to be pure Redbox junk. The two smaller films also being released this weekend don't sound interesting at all unless you have white hair and liver spots. There's the bourgeoisie melodrama Beloved Sisters, which has two German sisters sharing the same lover, and It's All So Quiet, which sadly isn't a feature-length version of Björk's famous music video but instead a Dutch drama about a farmer family. Oh boy.

January 16 has American Sniper's coast-to-coast expansion but that film will most likely end up in 2nd or 3rd place for the weekend. However, it pretty much will defeat its R-rated rival Blackhat at the polls, unless all of the current buzz about hackers makes it more interesting to the general public. Michael Mann's latest feature in 6 years, it has Chris Hemsworth doing his best version of Acid Burn, as he goes on a global escapade with national authorities to defeat an anarchistic data infiltrator. I will likely go see it, even though it once again features Mann's dreadful digital camerawork and the sheer fact that Mann's auteurship has fallen with time. Unless the Oscar nominations talk on Thursday helps keep Selma at the top or people still somehow want to see another round of Bryan Mills, I have the #1 film of the weekend pegged to be the family flick Paddington. I talked at length about my concerns with it back during my winter 2014 overview but apparently the reviews overseas say that the film is a warm treat and a pleasant time at the theaters with your kids. I might have eat my shoe and check it out. Meanwhile, The Wedding Ringer, the weekend's third major new release, will be sure to bomb hard. Kevin Hart can't possibly save this turd, where he plays a rent-a-best-man for lonely Josh Gad. It looks like your average terrible wedding movie and I don't see why anyone should care or be scandalized by the fact that Gad has to hire his wedding party. Not even the presence of Olivia Thirlby can make me want to see it in theaters. Elsewhere in smaller markets: Spare Parts tries to be a Latino October Sky, as four undocumented Mexican teenagers enter an underwater robotics competition; Little Accidents is your average Sundance fare, as Elizabeth Banks, Josh Lucas, and Chloë Sevigny slum as disgruntled townspeople torn apart by a coal mine disaster and the disappearance of a teenager; Match is a stage-to-screen adaptation, featuring Patrick Stewart as an old ballet teacher who's ambushed by Matthew Lillard and the always lovely Carla Gugino; and Tsui Hark pulls out another one of his badly CGI-ed special effects epics with The Taking of Tiger Mountain. If none of those work for you, Still Alice is given a second revival simply because of the possibility of Julianne Moore netting an Oscar nom.

January 23 has three highly questionable offerings. The Boy Next Door seems to be a bad throwback to 90's sexual thrillers, as Jennifer Lopez is stalked and tormented by a young one night stand. Unless there's a bunch of Lopez nudity, nobody will care for it, especially with Rob Cohen at the helm. Mortdecai is yet another kooky movie of kooky Johnny Depp being all kooky. Based on a crime book series, Depp plays the titled character, a bumbling art dealer who must recover a stolen painting from evildoers, only utilizing his own devilish charm and his stone-faced man servant Paul Bettany. As much as I loved David Koepp's last film Premium Rush, I'm not won over on this yet so I will wait until the critical jury is out. Then, there's George Lucas' out-of-left-field animated film Strange Magic, which is apparently supposed to be a more fantastical spin on A Midsummer's Night Dream (if that is even possible) but comes across more as a confusing mixture of fairies and pop songs. Whatever it is, the marketing for this film has been absolutely abysmal, with a terribly nondescript poster and trailers that push nothing but the film's weird rat thingy and the token black stereotype. That Lucas sure knows to write non-whites. An expected disaster at the box office. I'm far, far, far more interested with the limited selection this weekend. The Duke of Burgundy, Peter Strickland's follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio, is a critically heralded, erotically surreal movie about a lowly housekeeper and her S&M relationship with her employer. Noted film curmudgeon (and one of my favorite critics) Mike D'Angelo has dared to declare it as one of the best films of the entire decade; pretty bold words to make and yet it has me eagerly awaiting. Director Kevin Macdonald re-emerges with Black Sea, an underwater heist film where Jude Law leads a roguish group to a sunken Nazi sub full of gold bars, only for everyone to expectedly get a little too greedy. Sports doc Red Army takes an insider look at the life and times of the Soviet Union's much treasured national hockey team. Killers is a brutally violent foreign film about the rivalry between a thrill-seeking serial killer and a noobish vigilante; sure to please the midnight crowd. That is, if they aren't already partaking with R100, the gonzo Japanese flick of an office drone being routinely abused in public by dominatrixes. Mommy is the same pretentious looking art film from last year's Cannes, with its aggravating 1.1 aspect ratio. Americons has a bunch of bro douchebags trying to copy-paste everything from The Wolf on Wall Street. Big Muddy is western noir set in the farmlands of Canada. And finally, Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter takes a close look at modern dance pioneer Martha Hill.

January 30 allows Mike Binder to unfortunately return to the main stage with Black or White, a Saving Isaiah spin-off where white grandpa Kevin Costner and black grandmother Octavia Spencer fight over the custody of their grandchild. Makes me want to gag. The only major competition to it are two films that finally get to come out after many delays. Project Almanac, formerly known as Welcome to Yesterday, has already spoiled the entirety of its time travel found footage premise in its trailer, which you may remember came out nearly a year ago. Teens will sadly come in droves and waste good dollars on it, as it's the only new thing that they can legally get into. The Loft will play out in empty theaters, on the other hand, as the much labored remake of a Belgian thriller (which I covered in an article about movies MIA) gets to be put out of its misery. In limited circles, Cannes favorite/Foreign Language Oscar hopeful Timbuktu is a visually beautiful tale of a town looking to find some fun under the terror regime. Amira & Sam allows comedic actor Martin Starr to play a handsome male lead for a change, as he and Arab girl Dina Shihabi fall for each other, in this cutely generic rom-com indie. You could also go ultra sleazy with Supremacy, where Joe Anderson and Danny Glover get to do a Neo-Nazi remake of The Desperate Hours.

February 6 sadly doesn't have anything to fill the big shoes left by last year's The Lego Movie. Instead, we have two more infamously delayed products and an animated sequel to a property whose popularity has waned considerably. Jupiter Ascending looks to be another incomprehensible sci-fi wet dream from The Wachowskis. Even with the so-called delay to fix up the effects, the film still looks ugly and insane. However, I would gladly park a seat for it over Seventh Son, the boring white male led fantasy flick that Legendary Pictures has been trying to pawn off for three years now. Jeff Bridges couldn't save R.I.P.D., so he can't do it for this one either. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water has the once-mega-popular sea sponge returning to the big screen but only wee small kids will want to seek it out. Of the limited selections, you're best bet will be Ballet 422, a Wiseman-esque documentary of the NYC Ballet. You could do much worse, such as the year's first terrible Christian film Pass The Light, which spins a tale of a teenager who tries to run for Congress against an opponent whose entire agenda rests on perverting the ideals of Christianity. Shockingly, the trailer for it insinuates that the kid and the movie preach for sexual tolerance but I know that there has to be an alternative agenda hidden away in it.

February 13 is the beloved Valentine's Day weekend, with one film for her and one film for him. The highly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey will drive up the attendance for the weekend, as many girls, women, and snarks will rush out to see the dangerous love between Ana Steele and Mr. Christian Grey. I am actually looking forward to it in my own demented way but I am dismayed at recent news stories that say it will likely not be rated NC-17 and will exist as a severely hampered vision of the mommy porn book. Censored eroticism is far more interesting than Kingsman: The Secret Service, which reunites director Mark Vaughn and "visionary" creator Mark Millar for an action film about Colin Firth training British teens in espionage before then sending them off to defeat cartoonish supervillain Samuel L. Jackson and his sword-legged assistant. Could be cool but I'm not just feeling it just yet. No other competition for those two at your local cineplex. Genre hounds and niche fans will have better luck in the indies. What We Do In The Shadows comes courtesy of Jemaine Clement and is a mockumentary of New Zealand vampires. Early viewers have praised it as a very funny and gory flick. For the musical geeks, there's The Last 5 Years, which is kinda Blue Valentine but less depressing and more songs. The Memento-like structure has Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick recounting their viewpoints of an once promising relationship.

February 20. Dear Lord, there is nothing but total crap, so be sure to skip this weekend. The DUFF is a very stupid sounding high school movie where Mae Whitman somehow is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend to a group of mean girls. Further diluting the genre of comedy is Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which was moved out of its Christmas slot to die here and still doesn't have John Cusack in it, who has seemingly been excised from the story completely. McFarland, USA is yet another Disney sports inspiration story where a white guy (Kevin Costner) trains a racial group (Latino high schoolers) in a specific sport to prosper in (cross country) and becomes one with their unique culture. Considering the reception of last year's Million Dollar Arm, the continuing mockery of this Disney design, and the utter lack of anyone caring for this subject and story, it is sure to be quickly forgotten about. The black comedy anthology film Wild Tales heads into art theaters, wishing and hoping that it gets some Oscar glory. As for Gloria, which is not to be confused with the Chilean film released last year, or the John Cassavetes classic, or the lame remake of that iteration with Sharon Stone, it is a music biopic of Mexican superstar Gloria Trevi.

February 27 ends the month with Focus, a slick movie about a con man (Will Smith) teaching/falling for a con woman (Margot Robbie) as they try to, what else, pull off a major game of deception. Smith really needs this one to succeed with audiences, as he has fallen hard thanks to his toxic use of nepotism with After Earth and his lack of appearances on the big screen. Competing against it, and sure to be demolished at the box office, we have the unquestionably awful Little Boy. This Christian movie hiding in sheep's clothing is about how a short kid believes he has telekinetic powers, which will allow him to rescue his dad from the WWII Pacific campaign. Talk about an absolute dog. The Lazarus Effect sorta sounds like a loose remake of Flatliners, with Evan Peters and Olivia Wilde as medical students who learn how to bring back people from the dead, but no further word or media has been handed out. My guess is that it will be resurrected in the fall. While the major releases once again only offer three new films, the lineup for the limited released films is pretty big. '71 has 2014 breakout star Jack O'Donnell caught behind enemy lines in Belfast in the titled year. Said to be very tense and a true knockout. Map to the Stars, on the other hand, is said to be David Cronenberg's worst film ever, a vapid non-satire of the Hollywood lifestyle. Only Julianne Moore has been given any acclaim. The Salvation is a bloody western with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green, which debuted back at Cannes. Joe Lynch directs Salma Hayek in Everly, a violent shoot-em-up about a woman taking on all-comers in her apartment. And finally, Deli Man is not a quirky superhero movie but a fluff documentary about delicatessens and their importance to the Jewish culture in America.

March 6 has a movie solely for sci-fi nerds. Courtesy of Neil Bloomkamp comes Chappie, a film about a robot that can learn and feel and later can be all gangsta. The mechanical man looks very impressive and they were able to somehow secure Hugh Jackman as the villain but I was pretty burned by Bloomkamp's last picture Elysium and I frankly don't have any drive to see it, especially with that annoying female scientist. The Coup has Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell, and Owen Wilson trying to run their white asses off from an evil non-white army, after the country the vacationeers are temporarily staying at has been taken over by said title. Again, no material on this, not even a still. Unfinished Business has Vince Vaughn (ugh) again bringing his bro-tude as he and his two employees (Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson) try to win a major business deal in Germany. No, just no. I really can't stand him right now. Oddly, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is currently only being released in a smaller set of theaters this weekend. A peculiar move for the sequel to the popular dramedy about some old Brits living in a rundown Indian hotel. Richard Gere pops in as its special guest star. Also, Merchants of Doubt offers up a thought-provoking documentary about pundits who are hired to speak in favor of major corporations in the courts.

March 13 will have Cinderella as the number one feature at the box office. Despite not being helmed by Tim Burton (Kenneth Branagh is instead in the cushy seat), it literally has all of the makings of his style, including having Helena Bonham Carter in the prominent role as the Fairy Godmother. I am utterly sick of this dumb fairy tale being regurgitated all the time and the sheer fact that the entire movie is shown through its official trailer has me even more up in arms. Plus, did you see those creepy mice? Another lame pacifier from Disney. I wouldn't even be suckered in by the new Frozen short debuting before it. One last note: Seriously MPAA? This can't even get a G rating? For the adults and those that despise children, In the Heart of the Sea presents the true life historical account of a ship's encounter with a deadly giant whale, which would then inspire the tale of Moby Dick. A promising effort for Ron Howard, though the money shots seem to be spoiled already. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, the sixth installment of the found footage franchise, also comes out, to no one in particular. No plot has been given so just guessing by the title, this iteration will rip off the ideas of the Insidious series.

March 20 gives us another installment to the YA series that was somehow able to survive, coming out the exact same week as it did last year. The Divergent Series: Insurgent has Shailene Woodley once again starring as Tris, now possessing a pixie haircut yet still on the run from evil Kate Winslet, who wishes to use her "divergent" soul to open up a MacGuffin. The first film was generally okay but rushed out a high-stakes third act and pathetically ended with the heroes jumping on to a subway train, despite having the prime opportunity to kill Winslet and help set back her oppressive movement. Already, many fans of the book series are screaming that this film entry diverges (heh) from the original source material, so it needs to be seen how they will react once its released. The Gunman allows Sean Penn to be Liam Neeson for a change, as he stars in a cookie-cutter assassin action flick from Pierre Morel, the same director who gave Neeson a new beginning in film with Taken. In limited releases, the new movie to compete with Judi Dench and her crew in the fogey demographic is Danny Collins, a vanilla comedy about an aging rocker (Al Pacino) who's shaken up by the revelation that John Lennon praised his songwriting skills during his younger years. No thanks, not even with the baiting of a soundtrack full of Lennon songs. Really, the top pick for this weekend is Spring, a refreshing horror film that was all the rage at several film festivals last year. Some have already spoiled its major surprise (all I will say is that it involves a beautiful Italian lady with a secret) but it looks to be a creepy treat.

March 27 brings us Home, which Dreamworks Animation desperately hopes will connect with families, so much so that they released a tiny cut of it as a short film under the flat but better title, Almost Home. Having Jim Parsons as an alien peon who befriends a little girl doesn't further help matters. However, it's more interesting to look at than Get Hard, a lame comedy that pairs up Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell, with the former teaching the latter how to survive in jail. Cruel and unusual punishment. At the art theaters, there's White God, the canine epic that wowed the critics and won the Prize Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Kornél Mundruczó utilizes a large cast of dogs in order to weave a metaphor about the injustices plaguing European society. It will be a tough watch though, as there is sure to be some animal killing involved. Noah Baumbach's latest While We're Young also comes out but I've heard from many that the story of a middle-aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) hanging out with some 25-year-olds (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) is more mean-spirited than funny, which has kinda become the norm for Baumbach nowadays. The much belabored Serena finally heads into station, where Susanne Bier directs a torrid romance between scheming Jennifer Lawrence and woodsman tycoon Bradley Cooper. Alan Rickman steps behind the camera for A Little Chaos, a typical period piece about a landscape designer (Kate Winslet) that enters into the court of King Louis XIV (Rickman, of course). And The Salt of the Earth follows along and surveys the works of photographer Sebastião Salgado.

April 1 has one sole Wednesday release. Considering Easter is around the corner, it of course has to be a Christian movie. But oh man, what a doozy we have here, the movie whose trailer has brought utter confusion to all American audiences, Hillsong - Let Hope Rise. Putting up a false impression of it being a concert film for a Christian rock group, the film is honestly more about the Hillsong Church, an Australian megachurch that no American gives a lick about unless they want to hear about it cultish attitudes and multiple controversies. Just say no, the Christian faithful.

April 3 is an one film weekend, with the only major release being Furious 7. Fans of the series and those curious to see it after the untimely death of star Paul Walker could certifiably give this movie a $100 million weekend. Jason Statham pops in as Luke Evans' more evil older brother, looking to get revenge with Vin Diesel's whole crew after first taking out Sung Kang. I was let down with the last movie but this franchise still generates a hot ticket. In limited release, Woman in Gold will be a big button-pusher, as it is a bunch of hogwash. Based on a true story, an old Jewish lady requests a young lawyer to fight against the Austrian government in order to gain possession of a painting of her aunt, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" by Klimt, which was stolen by the Nazis. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds lead off the too rich cast. I frankly do not have any sympathies for these characters or their mission, especially when you find out that they sold the painting right after winning it through extensive trials.

April 10 unleashes one of the worst blights to humanity still around: a new Nicholas Sparks movie. The Longest Ride tries to redo The Notebook with another double period romance, starting off in the modern day with Britt Robertson falling for reckless rodeo cowboy Scott Eastwood and running it parallel with Alan Alda's memories of his own doomed romance during the days of WWII. At least the poster doesn't have the "just about to kiss" blocking like all of the rest of his films. Terrible kids film director Sean McNamara somehow is brought up to the big leagues with The Moon and the Sun, a bizarre fantasy film with Pierce Brosnan as King Louis XIV (!) trying to capture a mermaid (!!). Paramount, what are you smoking? All I care about is that the Weinsteins finally, finally are releasing Underdogs. Did it really need all this time to send out a little foreign animated film about living foosball figures? In the realm of VOD and smaller markets: Sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland gets his first directing gig with Ex Machina, where a human guinea pig is hired to test out the emotions of a female android; Kill Me Three Times has hired assassins Simon Pegg, Sullivan Stapleton and Teresa Palmer intertwined in a game of murder; and True Story is one of the first outputs from this year's Sundance, with Jonah Hill playing real-life disgraced journalist Michael Finkel and James Franco as a serial killer that used Finkel's name as an alias.

April 17, ugh, has Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Kevin James returns to rehash his annoying comedic figure in Las Vegas. No allusions to Die Hard this time around and no joy to behold. Liam Neeson teams up with his favorite director Jaume Collet-Serra for Run All Night, where he, surprise, plays an old hitman that is about to bring the big heat down on his former employers. Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace headline Child 44, a murder mystery set in the cold war days of the Soviet Union. Disney gives us another one of their nature docs, this time with Monkey Kingdom. Can you guess what animal is featured heavily? The trailer for it needs to be seen to believe, as they dared to set the film to Lorde's "Team" for no real reason. Then, there's Unfriended, a found footage horror film entirely told through a Skype-enabled laptop. It didn't work for that one segment in V/H/S or Paranormal Activity 4, it sure as hell will not work here.

April 24 ends this generally dismal month with only two new major releases. The Age of Adaline is a star vehicle for Blake Lively, who plays an immortal woman living through many decades of America. Looks beautiful but very sleepy. Also, you gotta love that terrible MPAA rating. Rock The Kasbah, on the other hand, allows Barry Levinson to have his first widely released movie in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't sound very inviting, as it deals with a feud between an Afghan singer and a pathetic music producer. The small release of Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary is more up my alley, as it's a documentary on the popularity of the Danish toy. There's also The Water Diviner, a would-be Australian drama directed by Russell Crowe and starring Russell Crowe. The vanity project has Crowe looking for his three sons after the Battle of Gallipoli. Pass.

My Top Picks of Winter/Spring 2015

1. The Duke of Burgundy
2. Fifty Shades of Grey
3. Furious 7
4. '71
5. Underdogs
6. Everly
7. Killers
8. Blackhat
9. White Dog
10. The Last 5 Years

Wow, that's a pretty distressing start of 2015. Don't get me wrong, there are some amazing films to look forward to but really not much from Hollywood. Please, oh please, let this not be another dismal year like 2013.

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly have a hard time determining their release time frame. The big one for myself was trying to find the expected release of It Follows. Also, there is a possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed. It better not happen again to Underdogs, so help me.

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

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