The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

(2013) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, Toby Jones, Lynn Cohen, Patrick St. Esprit, Meta Golding, Megan Hayes. Directed by Francis Lawrence

With the Twilight series completed (at least for now), the studios scrambled to find a new franchise that would appeal to a similar demographic. They’ve found it with The Hunger Games based on the best-selling Young Adult book series by Suzanne Collins.

Following the events of the first film (there are spoilers for that film if you haven’t seen it yet), Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) are preparing to go on their Victor’s Tour of the 12 Districts of Panem, a traditional responsibility of the winners. Their love story has captivated all of Panem which has the tyrannical President Snow (Sutherland) a bit worried. You see, he has seen through the pair’s ruse. Katniss still has it bad for the strapping miner Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) and her sham relationship with Peeta was something done so that they could both survive. Snow warns Katniss that she not only has to convince Panem that her feelings for Peeta are genuine – she has to convince the President first of all.

This isn’t the same Panem that Katniss left however. The repressive policies that have created such a wide gulf between the haves of Capital and the Have-Nots of the Districts has begun to spark some thoughts of uprising with Katniss herself a symbol that is giving the people the courage to stand up for themselves. The new master of the games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) agrees with the President that Katniss needs to go – but not as a martyr. She must be associated with the government of Panem and become a symbol of its corruption and repression – then they can kill her.

And he has just the means to do it. The 75th Edition of the Hunger Games is coming up, the so-called Quarter Quell and rather than getting all-new tributes, Heavensbee proposes that the tributes be reaped from the existing pool of victors. Katniss, as the only female winner from District 12 is automatically chosen to go and this time she’ll be up against trained killers who have a win in the Games to their credit. This will be a Hunger Games like none seen before.

While director Gary Ross has exited and Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has stepped in, there are plenty of familiar faces including Haymitch (Harrelson), the alcoholic former winner who has become mentor to Peeta and Katniss; Effie (Banks), Caesar (Tucci) the smarmy host of the Games whose capped teeth can be seen from space and Cinna (Kravitz), the brilliant clothing designer who is largely responsible for Katniss’ popularity and image.

There are also new faces mostly the tributes for the Quarter Quell including the hunky Finnick (Claflin), his mentor Mags (Cohen), the brainy engineer Beetee (Wright) and the savant Wiress (Plummer), as well as the buttkicking Johanna (Malone) whose motivations remain unclear. The overall performance level has been raised significantly from the first film.

So too have the special effects. There is a sequence in which a kind of mandrill-like monkey clan attacks and it is done so smoothly and seamlessly that it doesn’t seem like CGI at all. The look of the film is pretty satisfying in every sense.

More importantly, there’s so much going on here than just a mere action tale or a romance. There are all sorts of underlying subtexts from the class warfare to the vapid fashion-obsessed culture to the role of mass media in shaping opinion. That’s the kind of thing that makes a critic’s heart beat faster – assuming they have the gumption to look more closely at the movie or its source material.

Lawrence has won an Oscar since the last time she played Katniss and her self-confidence from that clearly shows in Kat’s own growth. While Hemsworth is a fine actor, it’s Hutcherson who captured my attention and seemed to make a better foil for Ms. Everdeen. However, be warned that some of the romantic elements don’t have the same amount of complexity that the rest of the story has and so it seems aimed more squarely at juvenile hearts. Also it should be said that at times Katniss is of a participant in her own story and more of a reactant. For someone who is as supposedly kickass a warrior and strong in spirit she can come off as a self-pitying wimp in places. I don’t think it’s Ms. Lawrence’s fault so much as it is male writers who have problems writing strong female characters. I’d love to see a female screenwriter take a crack at the next one although I understand that’s fairly unlikely an occurrence.

Still, this is solid entertainment that is going to capture the imaginations of its young female core audience. Katniss is truly a heroine to be admired, much more so than Bella Swan. In every respect this is a superior franchise to that other one with a lead character who is much worthier of being a role model despite the occasional hiccups. I wasn’t sure if I cared about seeing a sequel after the first Hunger Games; after the second, I can’t wait for the third.

REASONS TO GO: Some fine performances and action sequences along with a solid storyline.

REASONS TO STAY: Stumbles over itself with occasional overkill and main character sometimes doesn’t seem true to her own traits.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action and violence, with a few frightening images, some suggestive situations, a couple of instances of bad language and overall thematic elements not for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the Capitol scenes were filmed at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel which also happens to be where Dragoncon, one of the Southeast’s premiere conventions, takes place.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Running Man

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Muscle Shoals

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of November 22, 2013


The Hunger Games-Catching Fire

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE               

(Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz. Directed by Francis Lawrence

Katniss Everdeen’s victory in the 74th Hunger Games has made her not only a hero but an icon, a symbol that is becoming dangerous to the ruling class of Panem. While on her victory tour, a plan is hatched to see to it that she becomes an enemy of the people, a figure of hatred and revulsion. Katniss, however, has other ideas.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)

Blue is the Warmest Color

(Sundance Selects) Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, Jeremie Laheurte, Catherine Salee. A 15-year-old French girl is determined to find out what all the fuss is about boys and sex in particular. She means to find the right one to take her virginity. However, her plans are thrown into disarray when she meets a free-spirited blue-haired woman who raises feelings in her she has never had to handle before now. Based on a French graphic novel, this was a huge but controversial hit at Sundance earlier this year.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NC-17 (for explicit sexual content)

The Christmas Candle

(Echolight) Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Sylvester McCoy, John Hannah. In the tiny English town of Gladbury, there is a Christmas tradition in which an angel visits the village candlemaker each Christmas Eve and touches a single candle which grants to whomever lights it a miracle. But this is the turn of the 20th century after all and the new preacher has no time for such nonsense – in fact, it’s time to bring electricity to the church. However, the preacher – and the village – have no idea what kind of miracle is in store for them this Christmas. Based on the Max Lucado novel.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Holiday Drama

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements) 

The Delivery Man

(DreamWorks) Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Colbie Smulders, Britt Robertson. David Wozniak is a habitual slacker who is pushing 40 and still doesn’t really have a clue what he wants to do with his life. When his girlfriend gets pregnant, he looks forward to being a father but she breaks up with him instead, realizing that he  won’t ever be father material. Realizing he has a lot of work to do, he is given the perfect opportunity – a snafu at a fertility clinic to which he had donated sperm years ago had caused him to be the biological father to 533 now-grown children. Based on the Florida Film Festival hit Starbuck.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language)

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein

(Reliance) Kareena Kapoor, Imran Khan, Anupam Khan, Shraddha Kapoor. A young architect is more interested in spending his father’s considerable fortune than he is in designing buildings. A chance encounter leads him to the realization that there is a lot more to life than having fun.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Kill Your Darlings

(Sony Classics) Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen. In 1944, three young men and aspiring writers would meet at Columbia University. Their lives would be permanently entwined by their words – and also by a murder that took place that would lead to a new Beat that reverberates through American society to this day. Meet Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence)

Four-Warned: November 2013


Thor: The Dark World

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (1.0)
2. ENDER’S GAME (1.3)
TIE. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (1.3)
4. ABOUT TIME (1.4)
TIE. OLDBOY (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. COUSIN JULES (1.0)
2. BEST MAN DOWN (1.3)
3. MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (1.4)
4. PHILOMENA (1.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

ABOUT TIME (Universal) Genre: Romantic Fantasy. A young man discovers that he has the ability to move through time, complicating his life enormously. Release Strategy: Limited (opens wide November 8). RATING: 1.4 From Richard Curtis whose Love, Actually remains one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time.
AFTERMATH (Menemsha) Genre: Drama. A pair of brothers discovers that their father had a role in the systematic elimination of Jews during World War II in the Polish village they grew up in. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 8). RATING: 1.7 Looks gripping; will be playing the Jewish Film Festival here in Orlando in mid-November.
ANGELS SING (Lionsgate) Genre: Holiday Drama. A man whose Christmas spirit was wiped out by a childhood tragedy must find a way to rekindle it for the sake of his young son. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Looks a little schmaltzy but any cast that includes Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson is bound to have a great soundtrack.
BIG SUR (Ketchup) Genre: Drama. Jack Kerouac tries to deal with the success of his novel On the Road by retreating to his cabin in the woods near Monterrey. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 There has been a good deal of interest in Kerouac and the Beats of late.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. Love at first sight, propelled by bluegrass music and caught from the breathless beginning to the bitter end. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like it could have been shot in the South but is actually a Dutch film.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) Genre: True Life Drama. A hard-partying cowboy in the mid-80s discovers he has AIDS and has 30 days to live; rather than give in he imports tracks down alternative medicines, bringing them into America for others who can’t get access to them. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opens wide November 22). RATING: 2.1 May well turn out to be the crowning performance in Matthew McConaughey’s career and an almost certain Oscar nomination.
DIANA (eOne) Genre: Biographical Drama. The last two years of the brilliant life of the world’s most famous woman culminates in a secret love affair. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Naomi Watts is a very good choice for a role that is sure to be a difficult one to play.
ENDER’S GAME (Summit) Genre: Science Fiction. The fate of the human race rests in the hands of a brilliant young boy as Earth prepares for the final assault of a malevolent alien race. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 While I’m not a big fan of his beliefs, I do admire the Orson Scott Card book on which this is based.
FREE BIRDS (Relativity) Genre: Animated Feature. A somewhat delusional turkey recruits the turkey that received the presidential Thanksgiving pardon to travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving to make sure turkey is off the menu. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.4 The trailer was stunningly unfunny.
LAST LOVE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Drama. When an aged world-weary widower and a free-spirited dance instructor meet in Paris, they learn the quality of salvation that good friends and family can provide. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 I actually thought the trailer looked pretty good, and you really can’t go wrong with Michael Caine now can you?
LAST VEGAS (CBS) Genre: Comedy. Four childhood friends now long-in-the-tooth head to Sin City to celebrate the last bachelor in the bunch’s impending nuptials. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 When you say Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline are in the cast, I’m listening.
MAN OF TAI CHI (Radius) Genre: Martial Arts. The superior skills of a young martial artist in modern Beijing lead him to the underground fight circuit where he will need all those skills and an inextinguishable will to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut has him playing the Merovingian in someone else’s saga.
MR. NOBODY (Magnolia) Genre: Sci-Fi Drama. Standing on a train station platform, a young boy must make a decision that will affect the rest of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Something of a Sliding Doors conceit but it looks very effective here.
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. Cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek examines the role of movies on modern culture. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Looks funny in places but could be kind of long-winded and condescending.
SAL (Tribeca) Genre: Biographical Drama. These are the last few days of actor Sal Mineo’s life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 James Franco directed this two years ago and it’s kind of been out there languishing waiting for a distributor but at last it’s going to make it into theaters and this looks like it could be worth the wait.

NOVEMBER 6, 2013

A CASE OF YOU (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a young man embellishes his online profile to woo a beautiful barista he’s sweet on, he finds it hard to live up to his own online alter ego. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 OK, I’ll admit that the trailer charmed the heck out of me; but it does have Peter Dinklage and Justin Long in the cast so that’s hopeful.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

THE ARMSTRONG LIE (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. The amazing rise and precipitous fall of one of the 20th century’s most controversial sports heroes. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney gets the most candid interview with Lance Armstrong yet.
ASS BACKWARDS (Gravitas) Genre: Comedy. Two delusional women whose lives were changed when they finished dead last in a beauty pageant are invited back to their hometown for a reunion which they hope means redemption. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A reasonably funny trailer but I’m still not sold on the concept.
BEST MAN DOWN (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. A newlywed couple must cancel their honeymoon to arrange the funeral for the best man who died unexpectedly, in the process discovering that there was more to their friend than they realized. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 I actually found the trailer to be affecting enough so that I can’t wait to see this.
THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. A young girl, sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany, transforms the lives of all those around her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Based on the beloved novel, could be maudlin or could be moving – not sure which yet.
GO FOR SISTERS (Variance) Genre: Drama. Two best of friends end up as criminal and parole officer 20 years later but need to unite to save the son of one of them. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 15). RATING: 1.7 The latest from the great John Sayles and any of his films are worth seeking out.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Main Street) Genre: Drama. The latest film version of the classic Charles Dickens tale. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.1 Acclaimed British director Mike Newell leads a strong cast.
HOW I LIVE NOW (Magnolia) Genre: Sci-Fi Romantic Thriller. After an American teen goes to rural England to stay with relatives, she is forced into a ruthless fight to survive after Europe descends into chaos and war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Saoirse Ronan stars and Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald directs, a winning combination.
IT’S ME, IT’S ME (Pictures Dept.) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. When a young Japanese slacker takes part in a cell phone scam, the unexpected fall-out is that everyone starts to turn into him – and they start to eliminate each other by any means necessary. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Novel concept; looks ripe for an American remake of it down the line.
THE MOTEL LIFE (Self-Released) Genre: Thriller. Two brothers who essentially raised themselves must at last face reality when one of them is involved in a fatal accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looked extremely imaginative.
PARIS COUNTDOWN (Screen Media) Genre: Thriller. A pair of best friends who were coerced by police to testify against a psychopathic drug dealer find themselves alone and vulnerable when he is released from prison. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 It’s not a Luc Besson film but it surely could have been.
REACHING FORTHE MOON (Wolfe) Genre: Romance. American poet Elizabeth Bishop goes to Rio to visit a college friend and falls in love with her partner, initiating a tumultuous relationship that spans decades, distance, political upheaval and alcohol abuse. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles November 29). RATING: 2.5 Miranda Otto gives a terrific performance in a movie that seems to channel the spirit of Out of Africa.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Superhero. The God of Thunder must take on a threat to Asgard that could wipe out life on every other plane as well. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 And Marvel just keeps rolling on; every movie brings out the greatest anticipation not just in this critic but in the movie-going public at-large.

NOVEMBER 13, 2013

ILYA AND EMELIA KABAKOV: ENTER HERE (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. After a life of deprivation and repression, Ilya became the first living Russian artist to have an exhibition at the Hermitage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Is it about the effect of modern art on a nation, or the effect of a nation on the modern artist?

NOVEMBER 14, 2013

THE STARVING GAMES (Ketchup) Genre: Spoof. Recent sci-fi and fantasy films are parodied. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 In general these types of films have done absolutely nothing for me and I won’t bother with them.

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

12-12-12 (Weinstein) Genre: Concert Documentary. A behind-the-scenes look at the concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 Some of the concert footage could be pretty nifty but behind-the-scenes looks tend to bore me.
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (Universal) Genre: Comedy. The college friends of The Best Man reunite for a holiday weekend in New York which reignites old rivalries – and old romances. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 I have to say the trailer looked a bit cliché to me.
CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (Millennium) Genre: Action. Acting on the advice of the apparition of his dead mother, the title character flies to Romania to get involved in the hallucinatory Romanian underworld, a vicious gangster and the love of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Looks to be solidly entertaining.
COLD TURKEY (Film Buff) Genre: Comedy. The arrival of an estranged daughter turns a Thanksgiving family gathering into disarray. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in New York City November 22). RATING: 2.5 The trailer doesn’t really tell me that this is anything but a typical quirky indie family gathering comedy.
DEAR MR. WATTERSON (Fingerprint) Genre: Documentary. The effect of the Calvin & Hobbes newspaper strip cannot be understated; this documentary attempts to explain just how important it is to modern culture. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 I was brought back to reading this strip as a young man by the trailer alone; I imagine the complete doc will be a complete nostalgia-fest.
FAUST (Leisure Time) Genre: Drama. Goethe’s classic tale of a deal with the devil is given a modern update. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A psychedelic take on the legend by arguably the greatest living Russian filmmaker.
NEBRASKA (Paramount) Genre: Dramedy. After receiving a sweepstakes winning entry notification in the mail, a cantankerous old man gets his son to accompany him to Nebraska to claim the prize despite the younger man’s skepticism as to the validity of the letter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The latest from director Alexander Payne stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte.
SUNLIGHT JR. (Gravitas/Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. A couple on the ragged edge of poverty faces adversity and pregnancy together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Great cast includes Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon and Norman Reedus.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013

CONTRACTED (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. After a woman spends a night with a mysterious man, she discovers she’s contracted something more catastrophic than an STD. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Has all the earmarks of becoming a cult favorite.
DELIVERY MAN (DreamWorks) Genre: Comedy. A slacker who works as a delivery man for his father’s meatpacking business discovers that through some sort of glitch he’s become the biological father of 533 children through a sperm bank he donated to years earlier. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Based on the hit from the Florida Film Festival Starbuck, this one has the same writer/director but Vince Vaughn in the lead.
DETROIT UNLEADED (Self-Released) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Romeo and Juliet plays itself out in a convenience store attached to a gas station in Detroit. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 An official selection at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, looks to have an earthy sense of humor and a whole lot of heart.
FROZEN (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. A young – dare I say it – princess must travel the length of her kingdom, finding allies where she can, in order to save the kingdom from the icy spell her sister has cast. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening wide November 27). RATING: 1.9 The teaser was the closest thing to a Looney Tune that Disney’s ever done.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) Genre: Science Fiction. Katniss must weather political intrigue and a growing rebellion at which she is the center of before she is cast in a new Hunger Games – against former winners like herself. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 I liked the first film in the franchise; hopefully the second will be better still.
PHILOMENA (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. A woman who’d given up her son for adoption in Ireland goes to the United States decades later to find him, aided by a BBC Reporter. Release Strategy: Limited (opening in expanded release November 27). RATING: 1.5 Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan headline this acclaimed festival favorite.
WEEKEND OF A CHAMPION (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. In 1971, Roman Polanski followed Grand Prix legend Jackie Stewart for a weekend prior to a big race; forty years later the two meet again to reminisce. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 I think I may have gotten my fill of Formula One racing with Rush.

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Urban Family Holiday Drama. A frustrated street-wise teen from Baltimore sent to New York City to stay with estranged relatives for Christmas embarks on a journey back home to be with his mother. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Based on the acclaimed Langston Hughes play.
COUSIN JULES (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The rhythms of life for a blacksmith in rural France are recorded over a five year period. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Filmed from 1968-1972 and shown to great acclaim in 1973 this lost masterpiece hasn’t been shown publically since then and it should be seen by any self-respecting movie lover.
HOMEFRONT (Open Road) Genre: Action Thriller. When a young girl gets into a row with a boy at school, the meth cooking uncle of the boy decides to pick on the dad – who turns out to be ex-DEA. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 For Da Queen, any movie with Jason Statham in it is enough reason to go and see it.
JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC (MacGillivray/Freeman) Genre: Nature Documentary. Cate Blanchett narrates this exploration of remote West Papua where a myriad of species of life exist both above and below the sea. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX). RATING: 2.5 Amazingly colorful and bright, something that should make for a fantastic IMAX experience.
OLDBOY (FilmDistrict) Genre: Drama. A man is kidnapped and held for 20 years while he is accused of the murder of his wife; suddenly released, he is given just three days to discover why he was held and who really killed his wife. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Based on an amazing Korean film and directed by Spike Lee; I wonder if the mind-blowing twist at the end will make it intact here.

NOVEMBER 29, 2013

BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. The iconic but reclusive sex symbol at last tells her story in her own words through a series of interviews recorded starting a decade before her death. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.9 She’s someone who is still a tremendous influence even today, yet still a figure of mystery which might be part of her allure.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. The trials and tribulations of the beloved South African liberator with Idris Elba in the title role. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A definite candidate for Oscar gold.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
About Time, Aftermath, Ender’s Game, Last Vegas, The Book Thief, Thor: The Dark World, Nebraska, Delivery Man, Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Homefront, Oldboy, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

2013 Fall/Holiday Preview


2013 Fall/Holiday Preview

With summer coming to an end for another year, life takes a different turn from the carefree days of our warmest months; the beginning of school isn’t far off, the weather turns from warm and sunny to cooler and our attention turns from barbecues and vacations to the preparation for the holidays. Autumn is, no doubt about it, my favorite time of year but I do have to admit that I feel a bit of a pang of loss for Hollywood’s blockbuster season.

Fear not, however because there will be plenty of movies this fall that will keep us from missing those popcorn epics we know and love. Iron Man 3 was a big success particularly overseas where it seemed to strike a chord (although a lot of Marvel fanboys have expressed some displeasure over the film but that is just, as far as I can tell, the inevitable Internet fanboy backlash that comes to every franchise). Also grabbing some big box office numbers was Man of Steel which although less successful with the critics, got big box office number and a good deal of fanboy approval, paving the way for DC to create a shared cinematic universe of their own – a sequel has already been fast tracked and it is said that preparation for a Justice League movie is well under way. Superheroes weren’t the only big winners either as Star Trek Into Darkness did big box office as did Fast and Furious 6 while Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 showed that the family film market is still thriving.

For movie buffs, the fall and holiday films are the Oscar contenders as Hollywood puts out their prestige projects; this year the frontrunners look to be The Wolf of Wall Street from legendary director Martin Scorsese, the highly-praised Inside Llewyn Davis and the big buzz project from George Clooney Monuments Men.

The popcorn epics I referred to earlier will also be in plenty of abundance, as Peter Jackson continues his Tolkien trilogy with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and last year’s blockbuster sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will both doubtlessly will inspire long lines at the box office. Not to be outdone, Ender’s Game should put a lot of butts in seats as a potential franchise film, Anchorman: The Legend Continues is the sequel to one of the great comedies of the 21st century and Tom Clancy’s smart spy Jack Ryan reboots the franchise with Trek veteran Chris Pine in the title role.

Fall is a time for jack o’lanterns and scares, and traditionally horror movies rule the October box office. This year, however, there is surprisingly little in the pipeline for the scare-inclined. At the top of the list is the remake of the Stephen King classic Carrie as well as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Insidious Chapter 2 to turn to. There will be plenty of laughs as well, with a new take on the James Thurber classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Delivery Man and Last Vegas all hoping for box office gold. This year will see our share of biographies and true stories in the multiplex, with Captain Phillips, Grace of Monaco, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Saving Mr. Banks and Rush out in theaters.

There will be more than a few remakes as The Delivery Man (a remake of this past year’s Starbuck), Oldboy from director Spike Lee putting his spin on the Korean cult classic, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet returning to the big screen along with the aforementioned Carrie and Walter Mitty. There will be plenty of family fare with Frozen, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Free Birds waiting in the wings. The glut of science fiction films carries over from the summer as Thor: The Dark World, Gravity, Ender’s Game, Riddick, Homefront and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will transport us to new worlds. And, as always, plenty of drama with August: Osage County, The Counselor, Dallas Buyers Club and Prisoners.

There’s nothing like a clear winter night sky for star-gazing and 2013 will have plenty of opportunity for that. You’ll be able to see Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), George Clooney (Monuments Men), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend Continues), Vin Diesel (Riddick), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Robert De Niro (The Family), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Matthew McConaughey (The Dallas Buyers Club), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan), Michael Fassbender (The Counselor), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Harrison Ford (Ender’s Game), Vince Vaughn (Delivery Man), Owen Wilson (Free Birds), Jennifer Hudson (Black Nativity), Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World), Samuel L. Jackson (Oldboy), Vince Vaughn (The Delivery Man), Nicole Kidman (Grace of Monaco), Ben Affleck (Runner Runner), Michael Douglas (Last Vegas), Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Jason Statham (Homefront) and Hugh Jackman (Prisoners). There will also be plenty of stars behind the camera with Peter Jackson, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Ron Howard, Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers all sitting in the director’s chair this fall.

You can start planning your trips to the multiplex now with this preview of what lies ahead. Further details can be found in our weekly Previews and monthly Four-Warned features, and of course many of the movies that are in this preview today will be one of our daily reviews down the road. There are plenty of great movies to choose from this fall so enough of this blather and let’s get started telling you about them.

SEPTEMBER

As fall is a time for the earth to rest after the summer growing season, so too is September a brief respite between the big summer blockbusters and the Holiday box office monsters. Generally the movies here are not of the quality we’ll see later in the season although once in awhile some pretty good films manage to make their way through. Hopefully one of them will be the third installment in Vin Diesel’s epic science fiction saga, as well as Ron Howard’s tale of a legendary Formula One racing rivalry, Canadian director Denis Villaneuve’s taut kidnapping thriller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut that was a big hit at Sundance.

Riddick

DEANS LIST

RIDDICK
RELEASE DATE: September 6, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Matt Nable, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson
STORY: After falling from his place as Ruler of the Necromancers, Riddick finds himself stranded on a planet more desolate and deadly than he ever has been before. With bounty hunters after his head and the ever-deadly Lord Vaako demanding answers, Riddick will have his hands full getting off this planet alive.
PROSPECTS: More of a return to Pitch Black which made Diesel a star. Doesn’t hurt that he’s riding high after enormous numbers for Fast and Furious 6.
OBSTACLES: The ponderous and pretentious Chronicles of Riddick may leave some wary of the franchise.
FACTOID: Urban is the only returning character other than Riddick from the second film.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Sony Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Will Forte
STORY: Flint’s machine is still going and now mutating giant food into hybrids of food and animals. Flint and his crew must somehow make their way back to the island and find the machine and turn it off once and for all.
PROSPECTS: Really the only family film coming out during the void between the end of Summer and October so could have a good time as the only game in town.
OBSTACLES: While the first film did decent numbers, it wasn’t an overwhelming hit.
FACTOID: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directors of the first movie, will be taking an executive producers role without directing.

RUSH
RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay, Stephen Mangan, Natalie Dormer
STORY: Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda develop a fierce rivalry on the track and a fierce respect off of it.
PROSPECTS: Hemsworth is hot and director Ron Howard’s name ought to pull in at least a few folks into the multiplex.
OBSTACLES: This will probably do much better overseas than in the United States where NASCAR is king and Formula One is more or less a footnote.
FACTOID: Howard decided against using archival footage of Lauda’s Nürburgring crash but re-created it where it actually happened.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

DON JON
RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Relativity
STARRING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc, Italia Ricci
STORY: A handsome ladies man who has no trouble scoring with the ladies finds himself with a porn addiction. When he falls (and is fallen for by) a pretty young woman with old-fashioned values and an unrealistic expectation for romance, the two try and find a way to make things work out.
PROSPECTS: One of the most acclaimed films to come out of Sundance earlier this year. Gordon-Levitt seems poised to move on up to the next level.
OBSTACLES: Not a sure thing that the public sees him as a leading man.
FACTOID: This is Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013

POPULAIRE (Weinstein) is opening in limited release and is set in 1958 France. Herein a vivacious young woman, seeing a wife of dull housewifery ahead of her, interviews for a secretarial position in another town and her amazing typing speed gives her new boss the idea of entering her in a speed typing competition. WINNIE MANDELA (Image) chronicles the life of the former first lady of South Africa and a freedom fighter in her own right in this limited release.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

In THE FAMILY (Relativity) a mob informant in witness protection whose wife and kids are as criminally inclined (if not more so) than he is gets moved to a small French village where they fit in like a Goth at a Pat Boone concert. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones star. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) returns Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne whose supernatural issues from the surprise 2010 hit have not been put behind them after all.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

BATTLE OF THE YEAR 3D (Screen Gems) is one of those hip hop dance movies that is pretty much interchangeable with all the others. PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) is the first major studio film from acclaimed French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis as the parents of two missing daughters whose desperation to find them drives them to unspeakable acts. Jake Gyllenhaal also stars as a sympathetic detective. THE WIZARD OF OZ IMAX 3D (MGM) is re-released on the 75th anniversary of its original release in the IMAX forward. Lions and Tigers and Bears…in 3D! Oh My!

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

BAGGAGE CLAIM (Fox Searchlight) stars Paula Patton as a flight attendant determined to get engaged before her younger sister’s wedding and willing to use her airline connections to find her Mr. Right – in just 30 days. METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) send Dane DeHaan as a roadie for the legendary Metal heroes on a quest while his employers shred in concert. While this opens in limited release this week, it will get a wider release starting October 4 for the resurrected Picturehouse distribution company. THERESE (LD Entertainment) is a new version of the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin which scandalized Paris in the 19th century. It opens in limited release..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (Columbia) Budget: $85 Million. Domestic Gross: $148.3M Total: $346.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (Screen Gems) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $42.3M Total: $240.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
LOOPER (TriStar) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $66.5M Total: $176.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (Summit) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $3.7M Total: $16.9M Verdict: Flop.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $35.8M Total: $49.0M Verdict: Probably Broke Even.
END OF WATCH (Open Road) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $48.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
DREDD (Lionsgate) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $13.4M Total: $35.6M Verdict: Flop.
HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (Relativity) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $31.6M Total: $39.5M Verdict: Hit.
THE WORDS (CBS) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $11.5M Total: $13.2 Verdict: Made Money.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Summit) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $17.7M Total: $33.4 Verdict: Made Money.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Weinstein) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $37.9 Verdict: Made Money.

OCTOBER

The leaves are turning now and fall is beginning in earnest. While this year’s installment of the horror film franchise of the hour has been put off until next year that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to bring those who like their spines chilled and their senses shaken with a remake of a Stephen King classic and the latest from director Alphonso Cuaron set in outer space. There is also Tom Hanks in a true life thriller, a new installment in a series that began on reality TV and a sequel to a big animated hit.

Captain Phillips

DEANS LIST

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2013
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Angus MacInnes, David Warshofsky
STORY: When the freighter Maersk Alabama is seized by armed pirates, the Captain must take heroic measures to protect his ship and crew, leading to a daring rescue by U.S. Navy Seals that would capture the world’s imagination.
PROSPECTS: Director Paul Greengrass proved his mettle when it came to current event films with United 11. With Hanks leading the way and little competition at the box office, this could do surprising business.
OBSTACLES: Hanks hasn’t had a big hit or Oscar buzz for a few years now, and with a competing film coming out in December his draw might not be what it used to be. Current event films tend to do poorly at the box office unless they’re sports-related.
FACTOID: The MV Maersk Alabama was the first American-flagged cargo ship to be seized by pirates in over 200 years.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

GRAVITY
RELEASE DATE: October 4, 2013
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Eric Michels, Basher Savage
STORY: Two astronauts on a routine spacewalk are left stranded when their shuttle is destroyed. Completely cut off from NASA and spinning out into deep space, their oxygen will rapidly deplete unless they can undertake a radical plan to save themselves.
PROSPECTS: Director Alfonso Cuaron is Oscar-nominated and well respected in the genre community. Bullock and Clooney are two of Hollywood’s most appealing stars and the trailer looks absolutely spectacular.
OBSTACLES: With the shuttle program completed and the next generation program years away, interest in NASA may be unusually low.
FACTOID: This is producer David Heyman’s first project since the Harry Potter series concluded. Cuaron directed the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, of the franchise.

ESCAPE PLAN
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan
STORY: An expert on prison security agrees to test the integrity of a brand new high-tech supermax facility. Betrayed and falsely imprisoned, he must team up with an inmate to escape the most escape-proof facility ever built.
PROSPECTS: Stallone and Schwarzenegger co-starring as leads will set action fans to salivating.
OBSTACLES: They are also getting a bit long in the tooth. Prison break films haven’t exactly set the box office on fire as of late.
FACTOID: Filming was interrupted while Stallone grieved for his eldest son Sage who passed away during shooting.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

THE FIFTH ESTATE
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: DreamWorks
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney
STORY: Julian Assange and partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg co-found WikiLeaks, a platform for whistleblowers to anonymously post covert data, shedding light on government secrets and corporate crimes. When they gain access to the largest leak of classified U.S. military information in history, they are faced with the ethical question of whether the price of posting information that could cost lives is worth the exposure.
PROSPECTS: Cumberbatch is one of the hottest faces of this summer after his stellar work as the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness. The cast of international stars supporting him is impressive.
OBSTACLES: Assange isn’t really seen as a hero in America.
FACTOID: James McAvoy was originally cast as Domscheit-Berg but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with his stage play Macbeth. Bruhl was cast in his place.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 4, 2013

RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) stars Justin Timberlake as a grad student who gets burned in an online poker game. Believing he got ripped off, he goes to set things right – and winds up even deeper in a world more corrupt than he could have imagined. Ben Affleck also stars.. A TOUCH OF SIN (Kino Lorber) examines the effects the economic boom in China has had on four individual lives from various places and economic stations in that country. This is likely opening in limited release and yes, this is based on actual incidents. A.C.O.D. (The Film Arcade) stands for Adult Children of Divorce and stars Adam Scott, trying to get his bickering divorced parents to co-exist for one night at his little brother’s wedding, with unexpected results. This played Sundance earlier this year as part of the Sundance Across America program and was reviewed here.

OCTOBER 11, 2013

In MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) the ex-Federale is recruited by the President himself to stop a billionaire arms dealer and a revolutionary from hatching a mad plot to start World War III. Danny Trejo returns to the role. ROMEO & JULIET (Relativity) is a reimagining of the classic Shakespeare tragedy re-set in the modern era. Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth play the star-crossed couple. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (Radius) has taken a long and circuitous route but is finally getting a theatrical release after years of sitting on the shelf and passing from distributor to distributor. At a party on a secluded ranch a number of the revelers begin to disappear one by one and the guest of honor, a “good girl” who has become the object of obsession for a number of high school boys, might be involved. As you might guess, this is opening in limited release.

OCTOBER 18, 2013

CARRIE (Screen Gems) has cast Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role of the classic Steven King horror film. A young teenager, sheltered by an overbearing and religious nutjob of a mother, begins to develop psychic powers even as she becomes the object of scorn and torture at her school. You just know it isn’t going to end well for anyone. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) is based on a true story as a free black man in pre-Civil War New York is abducted and sold as a slave. The incredible cast includes Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Steve McQueen, one of the best young filmmakers in the world. Sadly, it’s opening in limited release but hopefully it will make it to Orlando. HAUNTER (IFC Midnight) is also opening in limited release and is a haunted house thriller in which Abigail Breslin must unravel a mystery dating back well before she was born if she is to save her family.

OCTOBER 25, 2013

THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) stars Michael Fassbender as a young lawyer who gets involved in an illegal business deal which turns his life sideways quickly. Ridley Scott directs this adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy screenplay. JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) brings back the entire gang for a road trip in which Johnny Knoxville’s character Irving Zisman introduces his naive grandson to a wide variety of real people. Opening in limited release, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (Sundance Selects) was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, receiving an NC-17 rating for its eroticism as it depicts a 15-year-old French schoolgirl discovering love and sex with a free-spirited young woman.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
CLOUD ATLAS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $102M. Domestic Gross: $27.1M Total: $130.5M Verdict: Lost Money.
ARGO (Warner Brothers) Budget: $44.5M. Domestic Gross: $136.98M Total: $232.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (Paramount) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $53.9M Total: $140.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE PAPERBOY (Millennium) Budget: $2.5M. Domestic Gross: $693,286 Total: $1.4M Verdict: Flop.
TAKEN 2 (20th Century Fox) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $139.9M Total: $376.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.
FRANKENWEENIE (Disney) Budget: $39M. Domestic Gross: $35.3M Total: $67.1 Verdict: Lost Money.
ALEX CROSS (Summit) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $25.9M Total: $30.4M Verdict: Flop.
HERE COMES THE BOOM (Columbia) Budget: $42M. Domestic Gross: $45.3M Total: $73.1M Verdict: Lost Money.
SINISTER (Summit) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $48.1M Total: $77.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (CBS) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $19.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
PITCH PERFECT (Universal) Budget: $17M. Domestic Gross: $65.0M Total: $113.0M Verdict: Major Big Hit.

NOVEMBER

November is when things really start to get interesting. Fall’s biggest blockbusters normally start making appearances now as well as some Oscar front-runners. Marvel is bringing their box office magic this month, and Martin Scorsese prepares another Oscar contender. Disney has a brand new animated feature and the newest franchise fluttering the hearts of pre-teen girls delivers its second installment.

Enders Game

DEANS LIST

ENDER’S GAME
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2013
STUDIO: Summit Entertainment
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Moises Arias, Brandon Soo Hoo
STORY: After barely surviving an alien attack, the forces of Earth prepare for the next one by preparing young people at Battle School, training them in strategy and tactics. One student will rise above and become mankind’s only hope to win the coming impossible battle.
PROSPECTS: The Ender novels are extremely popular and the good young cast (along with some outstanding adult cast members) will certainly make a case for this to become a new franchise for Summit if it does well.
OBSTACLES: Author Orson Scott Card’s political views, particularly towards gay marriage and President Obama, have offended some who may boycott the film because of it.
FACTOID: The Battle Room sequences used a special wheel harness that allowed the actors a much more free range of motion than traditional harnesses.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THOR: THE DARK WORLD
RELEASE DATE: November 8 2013
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson
STORY: A shadowy foe that predates the Universe and the vengeful Malekith seek to topple Asgard and with it the Nine Realms. Not even the might of Odin can withstand them; only Thor, reunited with Jane Foster, might have a chance of victory but it will cost him everything.
PROSPECTS: Marvel is showing no signs of slowing down. This is said to be setting the stage for the Outer Space venue that will be the setting for Avengers: The Age of Ultron in 2015.
OBSTACLES: Sooner or later fans may well tire of the Marvel cinematic universe like they did of the Star Trek universe. Overexposure with two movie and a TV series this year are a very real concern.
FACTOID: Josh Dallas, who played Fandral in Thor, was unable to reprise his role here because of his commitment to his TV show Once Upon a Time. He was replaced by Zachary Levi who was originally the first choice for the role but was unable to take it – because of his commitment to his TV show Chuck.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
RELEASE DATE: November 22, 2013
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci
STORY: Katniss and Peeta embark on a tour of Panem as a requirement of their victory in the Hunger Games. However her inspiring victory is brewing up a rebellion, one which the ruthless President will crush by any means necessary – including killing Katniss and everyone she holds dear.
PROSPECTS: This really resonated with the pre-teen and teen girls, many of whom were Twihards as well – but also appealed to their boyfriends and brothers. This might well be the big franchise Lionsgate has been looking for.
OBSTACLES: The Hunger Games was released early in the year with little competition; that won’t be the case here.
FACTOID: Gary Ross, who directed the first movie, declined to return for the second although he had been invited to.

FROZEN
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Chris Williams
STORY: An optimistic young woman whose sister is the Snow Queen, undertakes a perilous journey with eccentric friends to put an end to the perpetual winter the kingdom has been stuck in.
PROSPECTS: Disney has deliberately kept this movie largely under wraps; the only footage we’ve seen yet is a Looney Tunes-esque clip that has served as a trailer. If the movie holds to that, it might be one of the best movies they’ve turned out in years.
OBSTACLES: The plot is a little Narnia-esque with a bit of Wicked mixed in for good measure. There will be some family film competition this month as well.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
RELEASE DATE: November 15, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin
STORY: The rise and fall of a cutthroat Wall Street tycoon (based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort) whose party hard lifestyle symbolized the excesses and outrages of Wall Street.
PROSPECTS: Every Martin Scorsese movie has at least something worthwhile to see; chances are this will be yet another Oscar contender for the director.
OBSTACLES: Movies set in the financial sector have fallen into disfavor as of late.
FACTOID: This is the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

OLDBOY
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: FilmDistrict
STARRING: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, James Ransone, Michael Imperioli, Rami Malek, Max Casella, Hannah Ware
STORY: A man is inexplicably kidnapped and held captive for 20 years, then just as inexplicably released. He is given three days to discover who kidnapped him and why, only to discover that he is still trapped – by his past.
PROSPECTS: Based on one of the best movies of the past five years, director Spike Lee might just be the perfect fit to sit behind the camera for this one.
OBSTACLES: The original Korean movie was extremely violent and sexual, with some of the plot elements perhaps too rough for mainstream audiences.
FACTOID: Among those who turned down roles were Daniel Craig, Will Smith, Rooney Mara, Clive Owen, Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Mia Wasikowska.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

FREE BIRDS (Relativity) is an animated feature in which the turkey pardoned by the President is sent on a mission back in time to the first Thanksgiving to take turkey off the menu. Who’s got the cranberry sauce?. In LAST VEGAS (CBS), four old friends (and I do mean old) head off to Sin City for one last fling to celebrate the impending marriage of one of their number. Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman star. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) opens in limited release and stars Matthew McConaughey as a hard-living Texas cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live. Finding no solutions in traditional medicine, he seeks out alternative medicines both legal and otherwise from around the world and distributes them to himself and others in the same pickle. Based on a true story.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

ABOUT TIME (Universal) is the latest from British rom-com king Richard Curtis (Love, Actually). This one’s about a young man who discovers he can travel in time and put right all of his romantic mistakes, but changing the future can be a dangerous thing..

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (Universal) reunites the cast of 1999 urban comedy for a magical Holiday weekend in New York in which secrets will be revealed and their lives changed forever. THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox), based on a best-selling book, is the story of a brave young girl who goes to live with a new family in Nazi Germany and discovers courage – as well as instills it in others – through the power of literature. THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (Millennium) opens in limited release and stars Shia LaBeouf in the title role as a young man who falls in love with the girlfriend of an insanely violent (and jealous) crime boss which we really don’t recommend you do either.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013

DELIVERY MAN (DreamWorks) stars Vince Vaughn as a genial slacker who discovers that through an error at a fertility clinic his donated sperm has fathered over 500 children. NEBRASKA (Paramount) comes from acclaimed director Alexander Payne and stars Bruce Dern as a cantankerous old man who believes he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes and takes a road trip wit his son to collect the prize.

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) is an adaptation of a Langston Hughes play about a streetwise Baltimore teen who is forced to spend the Christmas holidays in New York with his strict and devout relatives. When he rebels against their rules, he determines to make the trip back home to his mom, no matter what the odds. HOMEFONT (Open Road) stars Jason Statham as an ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his ten year old daughter. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong town. Sylvester Stallone wrote this. GRACE OF MONACO (Weinstein) chronicles the life of the late actress-turned-royalty with Nicole Kidman in the title role. Opens in limited release.

NOVEMBER 29, 2013

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) stars Idris Elba in this biography of the great South African leader, activist and liberator.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (Summit) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $292.3Total: $829.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SKYFALL (MGM/Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $304.4M Total: $1.109B. Verdict: Blockbuster.
FLIGHT (Paramount) Budget: $31M. Domestic Gross: $93.7M Total: $161.7M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK AND DIANE (Relativity) N/A. Domestic Gross: $1,142 Total: $1,142. Verdict: Flop.
LINCOLN (DreamWorks) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $182.2M Total: $275.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
LIFE OF PI (20th Century Fox) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $125.06M Total: $609.0M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (DreamWorks) Budget: $145M. Domestic Gross: $103.4M. Total: $303.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Weinstein) Budget: $21M. Domestic Gross: $132.1M Total: $236.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
WRECK-IT RALPH (Disney) Budget: $165M Domestic Gross: $189.4M Total: $471.2M Verdict: Made Money.
RED DAWN (FilmDistrict) Budget: $65M Domestic Gross: $44.8M Total: $44.8M Verdict: Flop.
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (Universal) Budget: $15M Domestic Gross: $15.6M Total: $19.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
A LATE QUARTET (EOne) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.6M Total: $1.6M Verdict: May have made money.

DECEMBER

The twelfth month is a frenzy of foul weather, Christmas shopping, Oscar wannabes and blockbuster hopefuls as the year comes to an end. This year, we’ll be seeing the middle installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, a long-awaited sequel to a very funny film, a reboot of a popular realistic espionage series, and George Clooney’s latest directorial effort set during the Second World War.

Anchorman The Legend Continues

DEANS LIST

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES
RELEASE DATE: December 20, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Harrison Ford, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Greg Kinnear
STORY: Legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy and his news team are enticed out of retirement at the prospect of joining the country’s very first 24-hour news channel but it doesn’t turn out quite the way they expected
PROSPECTS: Holy mother of God, Burgundy’s back! Many consider this one of the funniest movies ever made and certainly it is still quoted regularly by fanboys to this day. Has only grown in stature since the original aired a decade ago.
OBSTACLES: It’s been more than a decade and one wonders if it still has the cred it used to have.
FACTOID: Ferrell, in character, announced the movie on the Conan O’Brien show.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013
STUDIO: New Line
STARRING: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace
STORY: The epic quest to reclaim the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor continues as the party of 13 crosses the desolation of Smaug and comes face-to-face with the mighty dragon himself.
PROSPECTS: The huge Tolkein fanbase and those who have loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy will continue to show up in huge numbers.
OBSTACLES: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey didn’t generate the kind of excitement that the previous trilogy did.
FACTOID: Due to the dearth of female characters in the source novel, screenwriter Philippa Boyens created the character of Tauriel to inject some redheaded feminine energy into the film.

JACK RYAN
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, David Paymer, Gemma Chan, Nonso Anozie
STORY: A young CIA analyst races against time to foil a plot that would destabilize the economy of the nation.
PROSPECTS: Ryan has done big box office in four films with three different actors playing him and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue.
OBSTACLES: Given recent events, there’s not a lot of love for the covert departments of the government and that might translate to smaller audiences.
FACTOID: This is the first Jack Ryan movie to contain an original plot not from one of the novels.

SAVING MR. BANKS
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013 (limited; opens in wide release December 20)
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Kathy Baker, B.J. Novak
STORY: The classic family film Mary Poppins almost didn’t get made; author P.L. Travers was extremely reluctant to sign the rights to a Hollywood studio that she felt would maul the spirit of her book. This is how Walt Disney convinced her otherwise.
PROSPECTS: Truly a fascinating story, the moving tale might well be an Oscar contender. Certainly those who love Poppins will be eager to see it.
OBSTACLES: May fall in heavy competition both for the box office and for Oscar attention.
FACTOID: The first Disney film to have Walt Disney as a main character.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
RELEASE DATE: December 6, 2013 (limited; opens in expanded release December 20)
STUDIO: CBS
STARRING: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Max Casella
STORY: An aspiring folk singer, preternaturally attached to his cat, tries to survive in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s.
PROSPECTS: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They carry their own little niche and this could well be the first film from that struggling studio to be a serious Oscar contender.
OBSTACLES: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They never make a ton of money at the box office.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the life of the late Dave van Ronk.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 6, 2013

In OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity), a blue collar worker caring for his dying father watches helplessly as his brother, just home from Iraq, gets involved in a ruthless crime ring. When his brother vanishes and the police seem ill-disposed to find him, he takes matters into his own hands. Christian Bale stars.

DECEMBER 13, 2013

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) is America’s most irascible grandmother’s first holiday movie. Ho ho ho, y’all.

DECEMBER 18, 2013

THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) is directed by and stars George Clooney, leading an all-star cast (including Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett) depicting the true story of a small group of experts during the War who attempted to prevent the Nazis (and the Allies) from destroying priceless art and architecture.

DECEMBER 20, 2013

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE (20th Century Fox) brings the world of the dinosaurs to life through computer animation and live photography. Should be a big hit with the kids. FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) is the true story of John DuPont, the eccentric heir to a chemical fortune whose obsession with Olympic wresting would lead to murder. Opens in limited release.

DECEMBER 25, 2013

47 RONIN (Universal) stars Keanu Reeves as a masterless samurai who is betrayed along with 46 others by a ruthless warlord. Driven from their homes and hunted down, they must unite to make a stand against a powerful and merciless foe. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) boasts an all-star cast and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In it, a group of strong-willed sisters whose lives have diverged in different directions return to the home they grew up in and the dysfunctional woman who raised them. GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) features Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as two retired boxers who decide to get back into the ring and settle their rivalry – 50 year after they got out of it. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox), based on the beloved James Thurber short story which was in turn made into a beloved film starring Danny Kaye. How beloved this will be remains to be seen but it will be Ben Stiller playing the title role of the perpetual dreamer Walter Mitty..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (New Line) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $303.0M Total: $1.017B Verdict: Blockbuster.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $95.7M Total: $108.7M Verdict: Made Money.
THIS IS 40 (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $67.5M Total: $88.1M Verdict: Made Money.
LES MISERABLES (Universal) Budget: $61M. Domestic Gross: $148.8M Total: $441.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Weinstein) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $162.8M Total: $425.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK REACHER (Paramount) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.1M Total: $216.6M Verdict: Hit.
THE GUILT TRIP (Paramount) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $37.1M Total: $41.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
AMOUR (Sony Classics) Budget: $8.9M. Domestic Gross: $6.7M Total: $19.8 Verdict: Made Money.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $77.3M Total: $119.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (FilmDistrict) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $13.1M Total: $13.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (Summit) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $19.0M Total: $172.4M Verdict: International Hit.
PROMISED LAND (Focus) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $7.6M Total: $8.1M Verdict: Flop.

Thus ends this year’s Fall and Holiday preview. Maybe a few of these whetted your appetite for popcorn and darkness; maybe more than a few. Theater owners can only hope. Remember; release dates are always subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before heading out to the theater. Readers in New York and Los Angeles, please note that there are several major December releases which will be opening wide in January following their Oscar qualifying run in your cities; those will be previewed in our 2014 preview issue. Speaking of the 2014 preview, our 2013 preview work is done and the annual look ahead at next year is due out at the end of December. There are some interesting projects on the horizon, including no less than six movies from Marvel including their first feature-length animated feature, a return of the Transformers, Sin City, 300, the Hobbit, the Expendables and the Hunger Games and reboots of Frankenstein, Dracula and Godzilla. However, 2014 may well be only a prelude to a blockbuster 2015 which promises the second Avengers film, the first film in the brand new Star Wars trilogy, sequels to Independence Day, The Terminator and Pirates of the Caribbean as well as a new James Bond film and a Superman/Batman team-up. Reason enough to be optimistic about coming attractions. See you at the multiplex!