Let’s spring into a new season of movies
Now that we have the entire awards season out of the way (leave it to Hollywood to devote an entire season to patting itself on the back), studios are ramping up some of their more prestigious pictures before the summer onslaught begins.
Spring is often the most interesting time for filmgoing, as it is typically a testing ground for studios. They are not the tentpole films of summer, the awards bait of fall, nor the dumping grounds of winter. It is a time that studios can often color outside the lines, even if just a little bit. That said, there are certainly a number of familiar titles in the mix as well, be they prequels, sequels or remakes, but even the slightest gamble may ultimately benefit the viewer.
“Oz: The Great and Powerful” (PG): A few of the minds behind Disney’s immensely popular “Alice in Wonderland” have decided to dip into another beloved cinematic well, this time creating a prequel to perhaps one of the most beloved family movies of all time. Maybe they had Nate Silver work the numbers on the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton fantasy, as “Oz” looks like it has stuck pretty darn close to the exact same formula for this James Franco-led flick. Early word is that those who are fans of “Wonderland” will enjoy the spectacle of “Oz,” but those looking for anything more will find themselves madly clicking their slippers wishing to be anywhere else.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (PG-13): “Bruce Almighty” leads Steve Carell and Jim Carrey reunite as Vegas stalwart magician Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Criss Angel-like street magician Steve Gray (Carrey), who use their illusions against one another in a battle of sorcery superiority. It's penned by the writers of “Horrible Bosses,” and one can only wish for a cameo of Will Arnett, whose GOB was the penultimate in prestidigitation.
“Olympus Has Fallen” (R): Once again, Hollywood tries to convince us that Gerard Butler is a star. Never mind that his 11 starring roles since “300” were all box office flops; Butler is back as a national security guard who must save the president from terrorists who control the White House. “Olympus” has the distinction of being the first of two films in which the president is kidnapped by terrorists who control the White House. “White House Down,” starring Channing Tatum and Jaime Foxx is slated for June.
“Admission” (PG-13): Now having exited “30 Rock,” Tina Fey heads back to the big screen as a Princeton admissions officer who risks her job by opening the door to a college-bound kid who may be the son she gave up for adoption years ago. Paul Rudd costars to add romantic flair to the tale, which is being marketed as a comedy but may have closer dramatic ties to director Paul Weitz’s “About a Boy.”
“The Croods” (PG): The Croods are a modern Stone Age family, though they are far away from Bedrock. Nicolas Cage leads the vocal cast (with help from Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone and Catherine Keener) as the prehistoric patriarch who is determined to keep his cave clan together despite overwhelming natural odds. Premiering at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, “The Croods” looks as though it will hit the sweet spot for its target audience, if little else.
“Spring Breakers” (R): This could truly be the wolf in a sheep’s bikini as fringe director Harmony Korine (known for penning the controversial “Kids” and directing a mockumentary of elderly people who enjoy sex with literal garbage, among other films) takes his first stab at mainstream in this day-glo dream-turned-nightmare. It looks like Disney Girls Gone Wild, and “Breakers” stars formerly squeaky-clean pop icons Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson as party girls who hold up a restaurant to fund their Florida vacation, only to wind up entangled with a greasy, corn-rowed, white-boy rapper/drug dealer named Alien (played by James Franco). While the trailer looks at the more titillating aspects of the story, the film could possibly have more more to say about the current excess of bored, spoiled rich kids.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (PG-13): Pulled from last year’s schedule just weeks before its slated summer release, this sequel was rumored to have headed back to the drawing board after the back-to-back successes of “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” to insert more of Channing Tatum inside of it (get your minds out of the gutter!). The sequel already came armed with leading-man ammunition, with both The Rock and Bruce Willis. But considering the latter actors’ latest two releases (“A Good Day to Die Hard” and “Snitch”) shot blanks at the box office, a heavier dose of Tatum may be exactly what will make “Joe” a go.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” (R): Ryan Gosling stars as a quiet, mysterious stunt rider who robs as a way to provide for his family. “Wait,” you say. “Wasn’t this already released two years ago as a film called ‘Drive’?” Silly viewer. This one is much different. In “Pines,” Gosling rides motorcycles! Totally different! Well, that and the entire subplot involving a rookie police officer (played by Bradley Cooper) who is determined to stop him, despite the motives of the corrupt detective who runs his department. Written and directed by “Blue Valentine’s” Derek Cianfrance, although this may look eerily similar to “Drive,” I am enthused that he has much more planned for Gosling and company here.
“The Host” (PG-13): Fear not, “Twi-hards,” your exalted author Stephenie Meyer has more chaste paranormal activity up her sleeves. An alien soul heads to Earth and inhabits the body of a young girl. It becomes conflicted with its intent to take over the human race as it begins to become fascinated with its young host (hey, that’s the title!) and the complex workings of the mind and emotions. Time will tell if “Twilight-ning” can strike twice.
“Evil Dead” (R): Perhaps Sam Raimi’s most enduring legacy among his fans (yes, even bigger than “Spider-Man”) is this, his first big break in the biz. The update on it comes with his blessing (he served as executive producer), and directorial duties are left in the hands of a newcomer (Fede Alvarez, whose short film “Panic Attack” was an amazing slice of efficient, low-budget filmmaking). The first red-band trailer looks like a bloody good time, and then ... then we see who shares the writing credit: Diablo Cody, whose wretched “Juno” was popular enough to keep her employed for a couple more films, though each with diminishing results (“Jennifer’s Body,” “Young Adult”). There are two other writers credited with adapting Raimi’s original script, so here’s hoping their voices overshadow Cody’s penchant for kitschy, self-referential wordplay.
“Jurassic Park 3-D: The Imax Experience” (PG-13): To tide us over before we get another installment in the franchise (part four is slated for next summer), I can think of no better excuse for a road trip up to the new IMAX theater in Wilmington than this remastering of the dino-might Spielberg adventure.
“42” (PG-13): A Jackie Robinson drama just in time for baseball season! The film focuses on his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guarding wing of Branch Rickey. Brian Helgeland has penned some excellent drama over the years (“L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River”), but he’s also done his share of stinkers (“Robin Hood” and “Cirque du Freak”), so he’s hoping this one improves his batting average.
“Scary Movie 5”: Yup. It happened. Filled with such “current” parody targets as “Inception,” “Black Swan” and “127 Hours,” and featuring comedian Katt Williams, whose offscreen life is beginning to upstage those of his costars Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, it looks as though audiences will know exactly what they are stepping (or sinking) in when they plop down the cash for this umpteenth “Paranormal Activity” spoof.