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February Movie Preview 2012

The movie year 2012 is moving fast. After some surprise January hits—some critical and some merely box-office related—it would be unjust to call this winter dull or disappointing thus far. At the same time, the February offerings appear all over the map, from 3D gimmicks to Valentine's Day romances to some small-budget projects looking for big-time results. As always, Player Affinity has your movies scoped out and the latest buzz on all these films.

Feb. 3



The genre of found-footage continues to boom, riding off the renewed success of the “Paranormal Activity” series. As a result, most found-footage films in recent memory have all veered in the territory of horror, but Chronicle opts to take the sci-fi route (yes!).

The film focuses on three high-school friends who come across a mysterious crater in the middle of the night and walk out of it having developed powers: including telekinesis, flight and invulnerability. At first they toy with their powers, and being teenage boys that means use them for various stunts, tricks and practical jokes around town—until one of them goes off the reservation to embrace his darker instincts, leaving his two friends as the only ones capable of stopping him.

Director Josh Trank has been getting a lot of buzz for his directorial debut on the relatively low-budget film ($15 million). Looking to blend sharp writing, likeable performances and impressive action set pieces, Chronicle looks to accomplish what films like Push and Cloverfield aimed for but didn’t quite hit. Should Chronicle be a success, it could mean the start of a new, growing branch within the found-footage genre. After the influx of (bad) horror films we’ve gotten, it would be a welcome change of pace. ~Max

Directed by Josh Trank

Written by Max Landis

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell



The Woman in Black

Even as he was playing Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe wanted to show he was a good actor in the true sense, so he starred in the plays Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in the West End and Broadway. Now that “Harry Potter” has ended, the rest of Radcliffe’s career begins. I

First up is Hammer Films’ adaptation of Susan Hill’s gothic horror The Woman in Black. Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) writes her first solo screenplay and James Watkins of Eden Lake fame directs.

Arthur Kipps (David Radcliffe) is a young lawyer in the 19th Century from London who goes to a remote village to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman. But the residents of the village are terrorized at night by a vengeful ghost who could end up being a threat to Kipps’ family. ~ Kieran

The Woman in Black
Directed by James Watkins
Written by Jane Goldman (screenplay), Susan Hill (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds



Big Miracle

Apparently, the makers of Big Miracle lacked faith in the marketability of a film called "Save the Whales," instead opting for the most generic title possible for this story. Regardless, something called Big Miracle is bound to perform well with the same crowds that made Courageous and Dolphin Tale surprise hits last fall. And with beautiful people (Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski) front and center, this one could be the biggest hit of this inspirational trio.

The film takes place in the late 1980s and follows a journalist (Krasinski) who begins covering the story of a trio of whales trapped in the thick ice off the coast of a small Alaskan town. When his ex-girlfriend (Barrymore), a Greenpeace volunteer, hears about the story, she springs into action and refuses to take "No" for an answer from the less-than-enthusiastic bureaucrats around her.

Anyone doubting how Big Miracle will end clearly hasn't been the movies in his or her life. But early reviews have leaned positive, so if happy ending/underdog stories are your thing, this one will almost certainly be right up your alley. ~ John

Big Miracle

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Written by Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, and Thomas Rose (book)

Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, John Pingayak



Feb. 10


Safe House

Denzel Washington has two basic archetypes: grizzled good guy (Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 123) or charismatic and often scary antihero (American Gangster, The Book of Eli, Training Day). There's a big difference in quality between those two groups, but it's promising that his latest film, Safe House, appears to be firmly in league with the latter group.

Safe House actually appears to be more the story of Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a young CIA agent stationed in Cape Town who has been given the painfully dull task of watching the agency's local safe house. It's not dull for long, however, as a turncoat agent named Tobin Frost is brought in for questioning and later on the safe house is compromised. Weston manages to escape, with Frost in his charge, but the longer the two spend time together the more Weston begins to doubt those he's put all his trust in.

Yes, it's all been done a million times before (probably better a lot of those times), but at least you know what to expect from Safe House. There will be action, there will be excitement, and there will be lots of Denzel badassery. ~John

Safe House

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Written by David Guggenheim

Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick



Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Josh Hutcherson is the only returning piece from Journey to the Center of the Earth, don’t feel bad if you had no idea this film was sequel to that 2008 summer blockbuster that was one of the first 3D offerings since the extra dimension rose back from the dead.

Dwayne Johnson replaces Brendan Fraser in this sequel, which is a fitting replacement when you consider Johnson's strangely abundant family film credits. Unsurprisingly, the director is Brad Peyton of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. The film focuses on Hutcherson’s character who goes with his mother’s boyfriend (Johnson) in search of a mystical island his grandfather always talked about.

The original "Journey" somehow scrounged up $100 million domestically, but this is February and Jules Verne is very distantly connected to this one. The tiny elephants and giant bees will probably scare kids more than excite them, yet with a PG rating that's exactly who Warner Bros. is targeting. The lack of kid adventures in the winter gives this film its best chance to make money, but quality is anything but guaranteed. ~Steven

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Directed by Brad Peyton
Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, Richard Outten, Jules Verne (novel)
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Vanessa Hudgens, Michael Caine



The Vow

This year's lady-leaning big date movie is The Vow, which puts together an all-star rom-com tandem in Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Channing Tatum (Dear John).

Although both of those films were adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels, that's not the case here, but creating that ambiguity seems to be the goal. The two star as a married couple that must start all over when a car accident causes the wife to lose all memory of her husband.

Director Michael Sucsy won a Golden Globe for his fictional remake of the documentary Grey Gardens, while co-writer Jason Katims won an Emmy for Friday Night Lights and the other co-writers helped pen Valentine's Day and He's Just Not That Into You.

Here’s a story that looks a bit too cookie-cutter to be taken seriously as a romance, but these romance heavyweights will do their best tomove the audience to tears and I suspect they'll succeed. ~Steven

The Vow
Directed by Michael Sucsy
Written by Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Michael Sucsy
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Jessica Lange, Scott Speedman



Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D

It was 1999. I was 11 years old and was never a massive Star Wars fan, but enough of one to be excited for Episode I to hit theaters. Plus, it was the event film of all time for its time and fun to get caught up in the energy of anticipation. Then the film itself bitch-slapped most all of us in the face and many viewers, “Star Wars” devotees and non-believers alike never loved again.

In case the plot of “Episode I” went in one ear and out the other for you, here is your recap: the Galactic Republic is in a state of decline and there are a million threads flying around involving the Jedi, a (hidden) Sith Lord, his badass apprentice, a queen in disguise, a truly annoying caricature and a boy who would grow up to be Darth Vader.

For this singular writer, the worst of the prequel trilogy wasn’t “Phantom Menace”…*cough* Clone Wars *cough*. And if the 3D is done correctly, some of the bigger action set pieces, including a pod race and a three-way lightsaber fight (which sounds completely dirty), could pop well in the 3D format. However, there is little word on how lovingly this little restoration is being put together, but we wouldn’t expect it to impress like Hugo. ~Max

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd



Feb. 17


This Means War (Wed, Feb. 14)

Reese Witherspoon is one of the queens of romantic comedy. After an odd departure into lesser James L. Brooks territory with How Do You Know and a well-intentioned dramatic turn in Water for Elephants, she’s returning to her standard laugher with This Means War.

Friends/secret agents played by Tom Hardy and Chris Pine both date the same woman (Witherspoon). Once the men discover that they’re both pining for her affections, however, their friendship renders itself null and void and they decide— rather than telling her—to let the best man win. All three stars are better than this, but money talks.

As if the movie isn’t going for the romantic comedy crowd enough already, This Means War cutely arrives in theaters on Valentine’s Day. It certainly doesn’t look like a masterpiece, but it might work well enough as a date movie (for some), especially given the holiday in question. ~Julian


This Means War
Directed by McG
Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg (screenplay); Timothy Dowling and Marcus Gautesen (story)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine



Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nicolas Cage is back as Johnny Blaze in what will be a darker (but still tongue-in-cheek) superhero offering with a grindhouse spin. Everything about this movie looks grittier and simply better (not to mention the infamous “peeing fire” scene highlighted in many of the trailers). This diversion from the original is in no small part thanks to some new talent behind the camera: duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage, Gamer).

Although the 2006 original was only a minor success financially and even less of one with fans and critics who found the silliness smothering, apparently it did well enough to warrant a sequel. One has to wonder however if the odd tone, slashed budget and questionable star power of Cage (not to mention far from unanimously glowing early buzz) if this is a disaster waiting to happen. But Neveldine and Taylor are crazy dudes and their manic, delirious style of filmmaking should blend will with Cage’s similarly twitchy mannerisms. This could be the surprise or the abomination of 2012. ~Simon

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman
Starring Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Christopher Lambert 



The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty is the most successful movie by a first-time director in Japan. It made 135 Billion Yen ($1.7 Million) on its opening weekend and won Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prize Awards. The Secret World of Arrietty already boasts a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.7/10 rating on IMDB.

So why should North Americans care? The film comes from famed animators Studio Ghibli, for which “Arrietty” director Hiromasa Yonebayashi has been an animator for many great anime movies: Princess Mononoke, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. The Secret World of Arrietty is an adaptation of the classic children’s novel The Burrowers by Mary Norton. Anime legend Hayao Miyazaki helped adapt the story.

Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is a 14-year-old “borrower,” a miniature person who lives under the floorboards of an old house with her family. But their lives are changed when Arrietty is accidentally discovered by a 12-year-old boy named Shoo (David Henrie). The two youngsters form a friendship, but it puts her family in danger from the evils of other men. ~ Kieran

The Secret World of Arrietty
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa (screenplay), Mary Norton (novel)
Starring: (voices) Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett



Feb. 24

Act of Valor

Fun fact: U.S. Navy recruiters saw some of the highest application rates in years following the release of Top Gun. Will Act of Valor do the same for the Navy SEALs? That might seem an odd question, until you watch the trailer for this President’s Day release, which plays like an overly well-funded recruitment video.

That’s probably because Act of Valor did, in fact, start as a recruitment video. It was apparently so good that the Navy gave director/producers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh full license of the SEAL name for use in a feature film. Rather than stopping there, McCoy and Waugh reportedly spent four months convincing eight active-duty SEALs to be the leads in their film, which is less an indictment on the film’s quality than it is a comment on the serious and secret nature of SEAL operatives.

Boasting the use of real Navy weapons and tactics, the film tracks the lead SEAL team as they set out to rescue a captured intelligence operative. With some nifty gadgets and a bunch of crazy kill scenarios at its disposal, Act of Valor should satisfy enthusiasts of modern military stories both factual and fictional. ~Sam

Act of Valor
Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Written By Kurt Johnstad
Starring Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serrano




Already sick of every day being “sweater weather” and the sun disappearing before you’ve gotten home from work? Well, Wanderlust might be the cure for you, as it features some bright and sunny scenery and an equally luminous cast led by Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.

Aniston and Rudd play a pair of high-stressed urbanites whose financial woes lead them to flee the New York urban jungle for something a little different. But the married yuppies have to put their adventurous attitude to the test when they wind up at a hippie commune populated by all manner of nudists, free spirits and bedraggled guitar players.

On paper, Wanderlust has a lot going for it. Rudd reunited with Role Models director David Wain, who will be overseeing a supporting cast that includes a scraggly Justin Theroux, comedy veteran Alan Alda and Malin Akerman, who’s quickly proving that adorable and funny aren’t mutually exclusive. With a solid R-rating and a script co-written by the always hilarious Ken Marino, Wanderlust could provide the winter-weary some escapist relief with bite. ~Sam

Directed by David Wain
Written by Ken Marino and David Wain
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Malin Akerman, Alan Alda




Amanda Seyfried desperately searches for her missing sister and is convinced the same man who abducted her years earlier (but who is non-existent according to authorities) is responsible.

Phew. If this kind of movie is your bundle of twists then you should love Gone, but if you’ve grown tired of the “are they crazy or not?” angle, then I would steer clear. This PG-13 chiller comes from mostly unknown Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia, along with a slew of similarly (un) famous screenwriters. With little to go on in terms of past work, these players could swing either a solid North American debut or just another rental bin pickup.

This psychological thriller has the underrated talents of Seyfried and an interesting supporting cast (including Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) to its credit and seemingly not much else. But if Gone can keep the pace brisk, the revelations snappy and avoid the common last-act-meltdown that plagues so many thrillers, this could be a satisfying low-key effort. Skepticism aside, I’m always one to root for a surprise. Hopefully, Ms. Seyfried will remember she’s not gone, baby—just missing. ~Simon

Directed by Heitor Dhalia
Written by Sidney Kimmel, Dan Abrams, Chris Salvaterra, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Carpenter, Sebastian Stan, Wes Bentley



Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds

Maybe Tyler Perry accidentally threw away his Madea garb, or maybe he just wasn’t feeling up to doing the sassy old woman shtick again. Either way, he writes, directs and leads his next film, Good Deeds, which looks more dramatic in aim than most of his works, though certainly not as grim as the messy yet brilliantly acted For Colored Girls.

Perry, in one of few films he’s led by himself, plays the affluent Wesley Deeds. He’s soon to marry Natalie (Gabrielle Union), but when he starts to develop romantic feelings for a single mother named Lindsey (Thandie Newton), his life becomes a whirlwind.

Given the impressive grosses of Perry’s films, the opening weekend for Good Deeds is bound to be a huge one. Movies with the director’s stamp might not be your thing, but it’s got Thandie Newton and Phylicia Rashad; that’s a good enough reason to check out these deeds, regardless of how good they might be. ~Julian

Good Deeds
Directed by Tyler Perry
Written by Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union



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