The Least Wonderful Time Of The Year: 2013 winter movie preview
- Here's an exclusive first look at Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart
- The other side of summer: A preview of the season’s non-blockbuster movies
- Inner child vs. outer adult: Our conflicted guide to the summer movie season [part 2 of 2]
- Inner child vs. outer adult: Our conflicted guide to the summer movie season [part 1 of 2]
Hollywood operates a little like the Las Vegas of Martin Scorsese’s Casino: Just beyond the glitz and glamour of fall’s Oscar hopefuls are the desert sands of January, February, and March, where the studios hide the bodies under cover of darkness. Failed prestige projects, troubled productions, second-rate action films, unscreened-for-critics horror movies, Marlon Wayans vehicles: Joe Pesci is out there, just waiting to hit them with a shovel. With our Winter Movie Preview, the A.V. Club film staff seeks to shine a light on these doomed creatures, with the understanding that a few of them may turn out to be orphans worth adopting. A few genuine hopefuls have been left off the list—Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful, the fourth Die Hard sequel—but we hope what follows is a helpful and comprehensive guide to this current season of movie-going despair.
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Can-miss premise: Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre shocked audiences in 1974 with its low-budget, chillingly realistic shocker about a family of cannibals in rural Texas. Whatever, grandpa. This is the 21st century: We’re talking non-stop boobs and blood in 3-D, so murder-filled that even the definite article has been lopped off the title. The film sends four good-looking people to a beautiful Victorian house one of them has inherited. Turns out, the place is occupied.
Signs of trouble: As the only new release opening everywhere on January 4, Texas Chainsaw 3D has been given a wide berth. Are other studios running scared? Or are they merely reluctant to banish their product to the cinematic land of wind and ghosts? Whatever the case, Texas Chainsaw 3D threatens to continue the high-impact, excruciatingly inane aesthetic of the 2003 remake and its 2006 prequel, both from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company.
Possible redeeming facets: Platinum Dunes is now out of the picture, which can only be good news, and the film is being touted as a direct sequel to the 1974 original. Adding to the almost-certainly illusory sense of authenticity, the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, has been given a cameo role.
Can-miss premise: After playing small roles in the likes of Bugsy and L.A. Confidential, real-life gangster Mickey Cohen grabs the spotlight as the main bad guy in a movie about the rough-and-tumble game of cops and robbers in late-’40s Los Angeles. Sean Penn plays Cohen; Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling play the hunky LAPD detectives who are assigned to work outside the law to restore order in the City Of Angels, which they do mainly by packing deadly weapons and flashing smoldering looks at the ladies.
Signs of trouble: Gangster Squad was bumped from its original September 2012 release date, not because of any trouble with the finished product, but out of sensitivity to the victims of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. (Gangster Squad originally featured a scene in which criminals shoot machine guns in a theater.) Of greater concern is the film’s trailer, which makes it look like an L.A. Confidential retread, with less style and plot and a lot more gunplay.
Possible redeeming facets: L.A. Confidential was a hell of a movie, and even a retread would be welcome right about now. Also, director Ruben Fleischer’s first two movies, Zombieland and 30 Minutes Or Less, have marked him as a solid craftsman, capable of working in multiple genres. If nothing else, Gangster Squad has Emma Stone as a smoky femme fatale, which should be a kick.
A Haunted House
Can-miss premise: The found-footage horror genre gets the Wayans treatment courtesy of veteran funnyman Marlon, who co-wrote, produced, and stars as a married man who moves into a haunted house with wife Essence Atkins, who is soon possessed by an evil spirit. Can a wacky exorcism conclusively deliver the couple from evil?
Signs of trouble: It does seem odd that Marlon Wayans decided to make a Scary Movie-style spoof of films like Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside instead of merely returning to the Scary Movie franchise he himself kicked off. Oh well, that just means that we’re now blessed enough to potentially have two separate Wayans-powered horror-movie spoof franchises. If that isn’t proof that we live in the best of all possible worlds, then what is?
Possible redeeming facets: Dance Flick, the last entry from Wayans Parodistic Industries Inc., was less egregiously awful than most Wayans-generated comedies. The famous family may not be getting better, but hopefully they’re not getting worse.
Can-miss premise: The red-hot Mark Wahlberg stars as a former cop (who we’re just going to assume ran into trouble with superiors for his hotheaded ways and unconventional approach and may or may not have been forced to give up his badge) who falls for the wife of New York mayor Russell Crowe and ends up getting in over his head, as protagonists in thrillers like these are wont to do.
Signs of trouble: Crowe as the mayor of New York? That’s a hell of an acting challenge for the 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts frontman. Broken City has tremendous promise, which makes it a little suspicious that the film is being released during such a dead zone. It’s also directed by Allen Hughes, but not his twin brother, Albert, of the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society). Did Albert smell a stinker early on and bail out? Only time will tell.
Possible redeeming facets: The screenplay made the famous Black List of the best undiscovered scripts, and the cast—which includes Barry Pepper, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jeffrey Wright—is aces. This could be a sleeper.
The Last Stand
Can-miss premise: Updating the classic Western premise of heroes bunkered in against overwhelming forces (see also: Rio Bravo, and remember The Alamo), Kim Ji-woon’s English-language debut brings Arnold Schwarzenegger out of retirement and back into bombastic action fare. (Hence the awful tagline, “Retirement is for sissies.”) Schwarzenegger plays a former LAPD officer who downshifts to the quiet border town of Summerton Junction, but finds himself outmanned and outgunned by a drug kingpin looking to flee into Mexico.
Signs of trouble: Before his two-term governorship of the state of California, Schwarzenegger was an unrivaled action star, someone who routinely opened blockbusters in the middle of summer while other movies ran for cover. Now he’s stuck in the mid-January bog, promoted by an indie studio (Lionsgate) that belches out Jason Statham and Tyler Perry movies—a less dignified fate than even a lesser fossil like Sylvester Stallone gets with his August-slated Expendables movies. Add to that the awkwardness inherent in an accomplished foreign director making his Hollywood debut, and The Last Stand could be a disaster.
Possible redeeming facets: Kim Ji-woon seems uniquely well-suited to make movies in America, having shown some serious genre chops in horror (A Tale Of Two Sisters), action (The Good, The Bad, The Weird), and dark places in between (I Saw The Devil). At worst, he could do something like John Woo’s Hard Target—a film that seemed at the time like a sellout to fans of Woo’s Hong Kong output, but has looked better every day since. Add to that an absurdly stacked cast of supporting players (Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzmán, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford), and there’s genuine reason for hope.
Can-miss premise: Two little girls are discovered alive and creepy after five years in the forest. How did they survive? What is their mental state? And why do they keep name-checking “mama”? These questions are answered in the form of blood-curdling horror when couple Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau bring the girls—his nieces—into their home.
Signs of trouble: Mama was originally slated for Halloween 2012, but was pushed into January, a standard winter dumping-ground maneuver. And how often is a PG-13-rated horror movie any good? PG-13 horror usually occupies the no-man’s land between the eerie suggestion of an old-fashioned, family-friendly horror film and the unbridled intensity and gore of an R rating. Arriving close to when Zero Dark Thirty expands to multiplexes, the film stands to make the case against Chastain’s ubiquity.
Possible redeeming facets: Guillermo Del Toro serves as executive producer, based largely on the strength of the short film of the same name by co-writer/director Andres Muschietti and his sister, producer/co-writer Barbara Muschietti. In the past, Del Toro has put his name on accomplished—or at least compelling—horror films like The Orphanage and Splice. Veteran British TV writer Neil Cross (Luther, Spooks) had a hand in the script, and it’s rare for a prestige actress like Chastain to delve into horror, so perhaps this one is something special.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Can-miss premise: After escaping a witch by shoving her into an oven in the old fairy tale, siblings Hansel and Gretel decided to make a vocation of their experience. “We’d gotten a taste of blood. Witch blood,” Hansel snarls in the trailer. As adults (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), they march around in black leather, sporting an endless array of not-exactly-period-accurate high-tech weapons, wiping out witches in CGI-heavy fights. The plot has them headed for a climactic confrontation with head witch Famke Janssen, who has supposedly kidnapped a group of children for sacrifice.
Signs of trouble: Initially slated for a March 2012 release, Witch Hunters was pushed to fall 2012, then to January 2013, often a sign that a studio is dumping a stinker. Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola has an iffy track record; his one U.S.-released film, the zombie-Nazis action-horror-comedy Dead Snow, is erratic, though it has a strong climax. The Hansel & Gretel trailers range between laughable and sad, with a weird emphasis on Wicker Man-esque misogyny, dumb dialogue, and endless cocking of weapons. Seriously, how many weapons does one brother-and-sister witch-hunter team really need to cock?
Possible redeeming facets: Renner has had a series of winners lately, with The Hurt Locker, Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers. And the production credits for Will Ferrell and Anchorman director Adam McKay at least nod in the direction of self-aware comedy. But mostly, this looks like a dour, smug second run at Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Can-miss premise: In a from-left-field throwback to the days of the Kentucky Fried Movie/Amazon Women On The Moon comedy anthology film, producer Peter Farrelly rounds up a bunch of his friends to write, direct, and star in a dozen comic vignettes, ranging from the lightly absurd to the gleefully vulgar.
Signs of trouble: Movie 43 was in production for four years, shot whenever enough of the behind-the-camera and in-front-of-the-camera principals could gather. Unlike past comedy anthologies, there doesn’t appear to be any unifying theme to this one; it’s just a bunch of sketches, thrown together like an especially raunchy Saturday Night Live episode.
Possible redeeming facets: Even if half the sketches bomb—or heck, even more than half—it’ll be hard not to marvel at the teeming all-star cast, which includes the likes of Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Terrence Howard, and the ubiquitous Emma Stone.
Can-miss premise: Donald Westlake’s classic anti-hero Parker starred in a series of pulp novels that Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark, and has appeared in multiple movies, usually under other names like “Walker” (as in 1967’s Point Blank), or “Porter” (as in 1999’s Payback). Now Jason Statham plays Parker as Parker in Parker, in which director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin combine Westlake’s 1962 book The Hunter (the source for both Point Blank and Payback) with 2000’s Flashfire, in which Parker works a job in Palm Beach. Jennifer Lopez plays a real-estate agent who gets drawn into the action.
Signs of trouble: This is another fall 2012 movie that got bumped to 2013, because even given the prestigious pedigree of the main character, it’s hard to get too excited about Statham playing yet another stone-faced, all-business thug.
Possible redeeming facets: Hackford and McLaughlin appear to be moving beyond The Hunter, the Parker origin story that has already been well-adapted (twice). As Darwyn Cooke’s recent series of Parker graphic novels has shown, there are plenty of great Parker stories that translate well to a visual medium. So if Parker is successful (and any good), perhaps it’ll lead to a franchise. But maybe with a different lead?
Bullet To The Head
Can-miss premise: Given a title that recalls a John Woo movie (Bullet In The Head), it’s only fitting that its premise evokes another Woo film (The Killer) by bringing together two men from opposite sides of the law in common purpose. Sylvester Stallone stars as a professional hit man who teams up with a D.C. police detective (Sung Kang, of later The Fast And The Furious sequels) to bring down the ax-wielding supervillain (Jason Momoa) responsible for killing their respective partners.
Signs of trouble: The trouble began when Stallone, perhaps drunk with power after his Expendables comeback, disagreed with original director Wayne Kramer (Running Scared) over the “dark” direction in which the film was headed. After Kramer was scuttled from the project, veteran action auteur Walter Hill was brought in as a more-than-capable replacement, but the dark clouds haven’t dissipated since. Bullet To The Head was shot in summer of 2011, originally scheduled for April 2012, and bumped to a to-be-determined date. Now that date has been determined: The inglorious February 1st.
Possible redeeming facets: Hill reinvented the mismatched buddy-action movie with 48 Hrs, and even some of his disasters have been sorely underappreciated, like the 1987 Nick Nolte-Powers Boothe-Michael Ironside shoot-’em-up Extreme Prejudice or the prison boxing film Undisputed. He’s somehow never worked with Stallone before, and while neither man is in his prime, they seem like a natural pairing: Two appreciators of the simple pleasures of a well-choreographed ass-whooping.
Can-miss premise: Based on Isaac Marion’s popular novel—which itself is loosely inspired by Romeo And Juliet—Warm Bodies imagines the possibility of love transcending the division between humans and zombies. Nicholas Hoult (once the kid from About A Boy, now grown up) stars as a sensitive zombie of Robert Pattinson-esque complexion who rescues a human teenager (Teresa Palmer) from a zombie attack and tries to protect her. Their affection for each other is tough for humans to buy, given that zombies usually want to eat their brains.
Signs of trouble: With the Twilight series over, Summit Entertainment seems desperate to replace its only reliable cash cow with a heifer of a similar sort, replacing one undead charmer with another. And while the zombie genre has been worked over a hundred different ways, the idea of a zombie not wanting braaaaaaains sounds antithetical to the concept—not to mention mushy in the extreme.
Possible redeeming facets: With The Wackness and 50/50, writer-director Jonathan Levine has proven capable of dealing with young people’s problems with some perceptiveness and skill, and Shaun Of The Dead’s Simon Pegg has given Marion’s book an approving nod, so perhaps its zombie revisionism isn’t completely out of line. But the potential movie-saver here could be John Malkovich, whose casting as a relentless zombie killer heralds a return to the deliciously villainous Malkovich of In The Line Of Fire.
Can-miss premise: Jason Bateman stars as a Jason Bateman-type character, an ordinary businessman whose comfortable, middle-class life is disrupted by identity theft. Rather than allow the authorities to straighten out the situation, Bateman heads from Denver to Florida to find the culprit, a seemingly mild-mannered woman (Melissa McCarthy) who turns out to be anything but. A road trip ensues, and guns are brandished.
Signs of trouble: “From the director of Horrible Bosses” isn’t the most stirring endorsement, and the introduction of crooks with guns makes Identity Thief look like a comedy with the scale of the Hangover movies, which favor bigger-is-better action-comedy over the character-based stuff. More troubling still is the handling of McCarthy, who was the clear comic standout in her supporting roles in Bridesmaids and This Is 40, but appears to be presented as a curly-headed beast here.
Possible redeeming facets: The director of Horrible Bosses did happen to direct The King Of Kong, the great documentary about the bitter rivalry between Donkey Kong masters. And McCarthy is a brilliant comedian, as the closing-credit improv in This Is 40 makes abundantly clear. Perhaps she’s doomed to be miscast as a weird, lumbering rage monster in Identity Thief and elsewhere, but she has yet to be unfunny on screen.
Can-miss premise: This Southern-gothic story is based on Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s YA fantasy about a teenage girl with supernatural talents, which will be “claimed by the Light or the Dark” on her 16th birthday. Her Tennessee Williams-worthy family of sniping, battling supernaturals have plenty of opinions about which way she’ll go, but inevitably, she falls for a teenage boy who complicates things considerably.
Signs of trouble: Richard LaGravenese is a deeply odd choice as director for Beautiful Creatures. Nothing in his past directorial projects (the beyond-the-grave romance P.S. I Love You, the inspirational-teacher drama Freedom Writers) or his screenwriting career (The Horse Whisperer, Water For Elephants, The Bridges Of Madison County) suggests any facility for or interest in Twilight-esque teen fantasy or special-effects spectaculars. And while Twilight’s success has prompted many, many books and movies in this particular teen-angst-meets-teen-powers mode, the majority of them are pretty lousy.
Possible redeeming facets: It’s been far too long since Emma Thompson had a role she could really sink her teeth into, one where she wasn’t hiding behind hideous makeup and shtick, or fading into the background as a support character. Her villainous role here at least has some potential, and Jeremy Irons as the family’s patriarch is guaranteed to bring stern, spare gravitas to a movie that otherwise looks hilariously rococo and self-important.
Escape From Planet Earth
Can-miss premise: A revered, blue-skinned alien astronaut (voiced by Brendan Fraser) receives an urgent SOS from a planet that turns out to be Earth and ends up in a trap perpetrated by wily human general James Gandolfini in this 3-D computer-animated adventure comedy. It’s then up to Fraser’s milquetoast brother (Rob Corddry) to save the day.
Signs of trouble: Escape From Planet Earth comes to us from the good people over at The Weinstein Company’s animation wing, the studio behind Doogal and Igor, so they’re not exactly Disney or Pixar in their prime.
Possible redeeming facets: There’s a germ of a good idea in making an extraterrestrial movie from the alien’s point of view, and in spite of its shoddy animation, The Weinstein Company’s Hoodwinked was actually pretty clever.
Can-miss premise: The latest sunny adaptation of a wistful Nicholas Sparks romance novel (see also The Notebook, The Lucky One, Dear John, A Walk To Remember, etc.) stars Julianne Hough as a Woman With A Dark Past who flees to safety in North Carolina, where Tragic Widower With A Heart Of Gold Josh Duhamel teaches her to trust and love again. Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Dear John, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen) directs.
Signs of trouble: See “premise” above. Also “Nicholas Sparks.”
Possible redeeming facets: The trailer appears to tell 95 percent of the movie’s story. People who love schmaltz will know exactly what flavor of schmaltz to expect, and people who don’t can watch the trailer and save $10 and a couple hours.
Can-miss premise: Legion and Priest director Scott Stewart returns to the realm of science-fiction horror with a movie starring Keri Russell as a suburban wife and mother who turns to paranormal expert J.K. Simmons when she fears that her family has become possessed by alien consciousnesses.
Signs of trouble: Stewart started his career as a special-effects guy, and his movies so far have been more about cool-looking images than original stories or memorable characters.
Possible redeeming facets: The possibility of annoying friends all February by referring to the movie as “dark skis.” Hilarity!
Can-miss premise: A little birdy told us that Snitch is about a man (Dwayne “No Longer The Rock Please Don’t Call Me That It Is No Longer My Nickname Personally Or Professionally” Johnson) who agrees to go undercover in a prison in an attempt to help get his wrongly convicted son out.
Signs of trouble: Trouble? We don’t know nothing about no troubled production, though a couple of $20 bills might jog our memory, if you catch our drift?
Possible redeeming facets: Johnson is a spectacularly entertaining performer with a remarkable gift for making incredibly un-entertaining films, though Fast Five changed that and gave the wrestler-turned-actor a critical as well as commercial hit. Then again, that’s what someone might tell you, as we personally don’t know nothing about this movie.
Jack The Giant Slayer
Can-miss premise: In yet another modern update on a classic fairy tale, a callow young man named Jack (Nicholas Hoult) accidentally opens a gateway to the land of the giants via a handful of magic beans that become an immense beanstalk. When they kidnap a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), he joins the king’s guard (led by Ewan McGregor) in the fight to rescue her and save his kingdom from impending giants-vs.-humanity war.
Signs of trouble: Jack has been through a title change (it was originally Jack The Giant Killer), a director change (with Bryan Singer taking over for D.J. Caruso), and a number of screenwriters. It was also originally scheduled as a June 2012 tentpole feature for Warner Bros., but was pushed to late March, then to early March. It’s never a good sign when a seeming summer blockbuster gets put off until the late-winter dumping period, but in this case, the reasoning might not be too dire. Warner may have wanted to avoid competition with its own July 2012 release of The Dark Knight Rises, and Singer reportedly pushed the production schedule later in order to use motion-capture rather than pure CGI for his cast of giants. That said, the trailers all point to a generic, same-old action-fantasy with no particular distinguishing traits.
Possible redeeming facets: Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie did team up on The Usual Suspects, though their last partnership was the disappointing Valkyrie. And Jack has a number of potential high points in its cast, including Ian McShane as the king, Stanley Tucci as a scheming sentient smirk of an aristocrat, and Bill Nighy playing half of a two-headed giant. Besides, with so many live-action fairy-tale updates stinking up the joint lately (Beastly, Mirror Mirror, Snow White And The Huntsman, Red Riding Hood, and sure, let’s just call it now, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), maybe the genre is overdue for a success.
The Last Exorcism Part II
Can-miss premise: Picking up where The Last Exorcism left off—with cascading boos from audiences ticked off by the ending—Part II finds country girl Ashley Bell alone in the woods and terrified, not remembering that she’s 1) given to demon possession and 2) slaughtered her entire family. As she tries to start over, Bell finds the latent evil within asserting itself again, and confronts another attempt at exorcism.
Signs of trouble: The title The Last Exorcism suggests a clear finality that a sequel betrays—it may as well be called The Lastest Exorcism. But beyond the title and the repetition that goes along with all horror sequels—yes, Halloween III is an exception—the main trouble with Part II is that it will have to lose the most compelling element of the original, which is the plight of a Bible-thumping charlatan who conducts staged exorcisms for easy cash. In a rare occurrence, the mundane, non-scary scenes in The Last Exorcist are more arresting than the wall-crawling fright scenes, and they’re in danger of being lost.
Possible redeeming facets: Canadian co-writer-director Ed Gass-Donnelly is coming off Small Town Murder Songs, a little-seen but well-received song-driven crime drama starring Peter Stormare and Martha Plimpton. Plucking indie talents for cheap studio horror is a common habit—see also: the Catfish guys, who have directed the last two Paranormal Activity movies—and it seems possible that Gass-Donnelly has more on his mind than predictable shock effects.
21 & Over
Can-miss premise: Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore—the guys who wrote Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, The Hangover, and The Change-Up—make their directorial debut with a comedy starring Justin Chon as a studious undergrad whose buddies Skylar Astin and Miles Teller take him out and get him epically fucked-up for his 21st birthday, on a night when he’s supposed to be studying for a big med-school interview.
Signs of trouble: If the words “from the writers of The Change-Up and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past” aren’t chilling enough, surely the prospect of another drunken bro-com will dim the soul a tad.
Possible redeeming facets: Um… maybe the world really needs a mash-up of Risky Business and Harold And Kumar during these trying economic times?
Dead Man Down
Can-miss premise: A crime boss’ enforcer gets too close to the wrong woman in this thriller starring Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, and Noomi Rapace. Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the original 2009 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is the man behind the camera.
Signs of trouble: Dead Man Down is a product of WWE Studios, the cinematic arm of Vince McMahon’s musclehead empire that has previously given the world The Marine and The Chaperone as well as the upcoming, tentatively titled Scooby Doo & WWE: The Curse Of The Ghost Bear. If that isn’t troubling, we don’t know what is.
Possible redeeming facets: Farrell is certainly an assured and accomplished leading man, and Oplev knows how to direct a thriller. If done well, this could be the over-achieving Contraband of 2013.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Can-miss premise: Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi play Siegfried & Roy-like Las Vegas magicians whose livelihood is threatened by the ascendance of the Criss Angel/David Blaine-esque “street magician” played by Jim Carrey. Then Carell encounters Alan Arkin, the man who made him want to be a magician in the first place, and he rediscovers his passion.
Signs of trouble: Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein didn’t exactly wow with their just-okay first movie, Horrible Bosses. Also, the trailer makes it look like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone will be relying heavily on wigs and makeup for comic effect, which is often a sign of creative desperation.
Possible redeeming facets: Carell, Buscemi, Carrey, Arkin: These are funny guys. And the story has the potential to be both satirical and sweet. Plus it’s mid-March and the NCAA basketball tournament hasn’t started yet. What the hell else are you gonna do for entertainment?
Olympus Has Fallen
Can-miss premise: Gerard Butler, presumably more in 300 mode than P.S. I Love You mode, plays a Secret Service agent who has to rescue the president from Korean terrorists who take over the White House. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) directs from a script by two first-timers.
Signs of trouble: If it’s a bad sign when a studio postpones a film’s release from summer to the winter ghetto, it should be a good sign that Olympus Has Fallen was originally slated for 2014, but was pushed to March 2013, right? Maybe not. The fact that there’s no trailer and so little information available for a film that ostensibly comes out in two months is both curious and dubious. The reigning theory is that Olympus was rushed toward theaters to beat Roland Emmerich’s extremely similar White House Down, another Secret Service-vs.-White House-invaders action thriller due out in June 2013. But a film so rushed that no advance footage is available seems like a film that’s likely to be compromised in larger ways.
Possible redeeming facets: Olympus does have a respectable cast, including Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, and Aaron Eckhart, plus yet another Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd reunion. The question is, how many top-shelf character actors does it take to balance out one more grunting-Gerard Butler action hero?
Can-miss premise: Girl meets boy. Girl gets taken over by parasitic alien entity that attempts to erase her memory. Girl/alien remembers boy anyway, and goes looking for him, through a society overwhelmingly dominated by parasite-aliens in human bodies.
Signs of trouble: The Host is based on a bestselling but critically panned novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, and if it maintains the book’s focus on treacly, labored soap-opera romance, it may wind up feeling like the season’s second Nicholas Sparks adaptation, except set in a science-fiction future. And frankly, the body-snatcher premise is a little too good to waste on another story of angsty teen yearning.
Possible redeeming facets: Director Andrew Niccol (who was temporarily replaced on this project, then came back to it) didn’t live up to his early promise with his last film, In Time, but he did at least give it the kind of crisp, distinctively chilly look he’s brought to his flawed but memorable, strikingly unusual films, including Lord Of War and Gattaca. From the trailer, this film may wind up sharp or soppy, but either way, it’s likely to have memorable visuals. And star Saoirse Ronan has been known to elevate choppy material through sheer force of will.
Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor
Can-miss premise: Tyler Perry keeps the Madea fat suit and wig in the closet for his latest instant blockbuster/adaptation of one of his theatrical smashes, a melodramatic morality tale about a highly educated, professionally successful woman (boo! hiss!) played by Jurnee Smollett who doles out relationship advice in her job as a relationship counselor but doesn’t seem to realize the cracks in her own crumbling marriage. Would a little straight-talk from Madea set this deluded yuppie straight? Yes it would, but this is one of Perry’s non-Madea movies, so redemption and sassy, commonsense wisdom will have to come in some other form.
Signs of trouble: Perry’s non-Madea films tend to gross substantially less than his cross-dressing opuses, as do films where Perry doesn’t act. Perry movies are still a license to print money, but without that golden fat suit they’re a license to print substantially less money.
Possible redeeming facets: Tyler Perry’s Medea’s Temptation: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor combines the writing and directing of Tyler Perry with the acting of Kim Kardashian. How could Oscars and accolades fail to ensue from such a collaboration?