Wednesday, January 1, 2014

At the Movies – January 2014 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

That Awkward Moment (Tom Gormican) – Romantic Comedy – Jan 31
Plot Summary: Jason, Daniel, and Mikey are three best friends who decide to take a break from dating to help each other get over their recent breakups. However, they each meet someone new but keep it on the down-low, each not realizing that the others are also hiding a new girl. And at the same time, they each come to decision-moments within their new relationships (like: what do I want in this relationship?). Filmmakers: Writer-director Tom Gormican is making his feature directorial debut with the film. He is working with composer David Torn (Everything Must Go), cinematographer Brandon Trost (This Is the End), and production designer Ethan Tobman (Twelve). Cast: The film stars Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan, with co-stars Imogen Poots, Addison Timlin, and Jessica Lucas making up a pretty strong young cast (even including Playmobil person Zac Efron who is in a role that suits him better than most stuff he does – with this and Neighbors, 2014 might be his comeback/breakthrough year for comedy). Expectations:  As a big fan of romantic comedies, I am always encouraged by new films in the genre that actually look good (and not utterly bland and boring, which is normally the case these days). That Awkward Moment looks very funny (with R-rated humor) and has a great group of actors (lead by Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Imogen Poots). This might be a surprise great film; it certainly has the potential. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

Lone Survivor (Peter Berg) – War Drama – Jan 10
Plot Summary: The true story of Operation Red Wings, a failed 2005 mission involving four members of SEAL Team 10, the film is about soldiers who are sent into Afghanistan to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader (Ahmad Shahd). Only one member of the team came home alive. Filmmakers: Writer-director Peter Berg is at his best when he makes films that balance drama and action, and are not overly bias one way – films like Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom. Lone Survivor seems like a good fit for him. He is working with composer Steve Jablonsky (Ender’s Game), cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (a frequent collaborator with Berg), and production designer Tom Duffield (who has also worked with Berg a few times). Cast: The film stars Mark Wahlberg and co-stars Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Ben Foster. Alexander Ludwig, Eric Bana, and Jerry Ferrara feature in support. Expectations: Lone Survivor looks like a harrowing and intense drama. The title sort of gives away the ending – or so I thought – but really, the ending is quite unexpected. It looks like it could very well be Peter Berg’s best film to date, but will likely be lost among all the big box office and critical releases crowding December. It is probably worth checking out for fans of war dramas, as it looks like a very good one. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Labor Day (Jason Reitman) – Drama – Jan 31
Plot Summary: Adele is a depressed single mother. She is looking for something in her life to give it purpose again, on top of raising her son Henry. One day she offers a ride to a fearsome looking man, Frank. He turns out to be an escaped convict, but Adele and Henry decide to shelter him as he is just what they need. Filmmakers: Writer-director Jason Reitman is back with his fourth feature film, following-up on three strong dramedies (Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult). Although, this looks like something a lot different from Reitman. He is working with frequent collaborators composer Rolfe Kent, cinematographer Eric Steelberg, and production designer Steve Saklad. Cast: The film stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire, James Van Der Beek, and Dylan Minnette feature in support. Expectations: Like I said above, Labor Day looks very different tonally from what Reitman usually makes. Originally, it was scheduled to be in competition come awards season, but it played to only so-so reviews during its festival screenings. 2013 was stacked at the top, so the decision was made (like with quite a few films originally scheduled for November and December releases) to push it back to early 2014. Nonetheless, this is still probably worth a rental for fans of Reitman – and it should feature strong performances from Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Trailer: Here.


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Kenneth Branagh) – Action/Spy Thriller – Jan 17
Plot Summary: Rebooting the Jack Ryan series, this finds the young CIA analyst on the verge of becoming an operative. Ryan discovers a Russian terrorist plot to crash the U.S. economy and is sent into the field (on his first mission) to stop it. Filmmakers: Shakespeare thespian and director Kenneth Branagh has certainly embraced his new role as blockbuster director, as this comes on the heels of Thor. Branagh has a good visual eye and generally gets strong work from his actors. He is working again with his Thor collaborators composer Patrick Doyle and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. New to the team is production designer Andrew Laws (I Love You, Man). Cast: The film stars Chris Pine (Paramount Pictures feels good about what he did as the lead in their reboot Star Trek, so they cast him in this too), and features Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Branagh (playing the villain) as co-stars. Nonso Anozie, Colm Feore, and David Paymer are in smaller supporting roles. Expectations: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit looks very much in the popular mode of The Bourne Identity films (a style and tone seemingly also adopted by the Mission: Impossible and James Bond franchises in their recent films) – fast pacing with lots of gritty, impactful action and drama (which is probably why Ryan is actually a field operative in this rather than being an analyst who is also an action-man who finds himself constantly in the field, like the Harrison Ford films). This is in danger of feeling rather generic. That said however, it does look like a good action spy-thriller, and it has a good cast/director behind it (even if it is in part written by David Koepp who is kind of terrible). I am looking forward to seeing it. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie) – Action Fantasy – Jan 24
Plot Summary: Frankenstein’s monster has lived for centuries as an immortal with super strength. In present day, he finds himself in the middle of a war for Earth between two powerful clans (of what appear to be angels and demons). It is up to him to save humanity from the rampage that the war will likely rain down upon them. Filmmakers: Writer-director Stuart Beattie has mostly made his career writing big Hollywood movies, but he also wrote and directed the B-action movie Tomorrow, When the War Began. This is his second feature. He is working with composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek (Cloud Atlas), cinematographer Ross Emery (The Wolverine), and production designer Michelle McGahey (Killer Elite). Cast: The film stars Aaron Eckhart, and features Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy (as a villain, which is fantastic and almost makes me want to rent this), Jai Courtney, Miranda Otto, and Aden Young (from the very good TV drama Rectify) in support. Expectations: I, Frankenstein is essentially an attempt to make a new Underworld-like series (by the producers of Underworld). It looks fairly terrible and really should only appeal to fans of action fantasy films (like Underworld). Depending on the reviews, I may rent it (because, really, who am I kidding – I have seen all the Underworld films), but I am certainly not enticed by the trailers (despite the appearance of Bill Nighy!). Trailer: Here.


Ride Along (Tim Story) – Action Comedy – Jan 17
Plot Summary: Ben, a security guard in Atlanta, wants to marry Angela. But before he can, he must prove that he is worthy to her brother James, a detective. In an effort to win James’s admiration, Ben decides to join James on a 24-hour ride along on the job. What could happen (you know, other than really generic and tired jokes, pratfalls, and plot points)? Filmmakers: Director Tim Story has made his career directing big action movies like Fantastic Four and urban-market oriented films like Barbershop and Think Like a Man. With Ride Along, he tries to combine the two (though, last time he made a cop action comedy we were treated to the very awful Taxi, a remake of the much better French film). He is working with composer Christopher Lennertz (Supernatural) and cinematographer Larry Blanford (who shot Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Think Like a Man for Story). Cast: Kevin Hart and Ice Cube (who is also producing) star, with a supporting cast featuring John Leguizamo, Tika Sumpter, Bruce McGill, David Banner, and Jay Pharoah. Expectations: Kevin Hart has his moments as a comedian, and Ice Cube should make a good foil for him, but Tim Story is a terrible director, so I do not have much hope for Ride Along. This is only worth renting for big fans of Hart and/or Cube; otherwise, you probably want to avoid this (just remember Taxi, if you dare). Trailer: Here.

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