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At Player Affinity, we dread the first months of the year. As exciting as it is to start 2011 with a clean slate of movies, if you know anything about the annual movie calendar, studios dump films with low expectations into January (usually) with hopes of making whatever money they can. So in figuring out what to see at the theaters, there's always this giant shadow of doubt because the film was released in January. So tip-toeing cautiously, we present to you our January Movie Preview.
Season of the Witch
Season of the Witch has been sitting on the shelf for a while: its original release date was going to be Mar. 19 of last year, but it was pushed back and given the first full weekend of 2011. That’s never a good sign.
Season of the Witch sees director Dominic Sena and Nicolas Cage unite for the first time since Gone in Sixty Seconds. This sword and sorcery film was written by Threshold creator Bragi F. Schut and stars Ron Perlman, who when he is not working with Guillermo del Toro or in French cinema is a B-movie specialist. Also in the film are Claire Foy (Little Dorrit), Stephen Campbell Moore (The Bank Job), Stephen Graham (Public Enemies) and acting legend Christopher Lee.
Shot in Austria, Hungary and Croatia, there is a market for supernatural medieval films: last year Solomon Kane and Black Death were released and the new Conan film will be released this summer (yes I know that film is set before the Bronze Age). It may offer an escape for people who want to see some action or simply be another blip in Cage’s career. ~ Kieran
Season of the Witch
Shana Feste’s Country Strong continues the musical-drama genre with Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead as a country singer looking to make a comeback after having a difficult time keeping her life on track. Tim McGraw plays Paltrow’s husband/manager, while Tron: Legacy star Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester round out the cast as up-and-coming new talents on the country scene.
While the story sounds somewhat promising, the trailers have echoed last year’s Oscar-winning Crazy Heart all too heavily and to no positive effect. The supporting cast is rather intriguing, but Paltrow might be problematic. Although she is talented -- make no mistake about that – it might be hard to believe her in this kind of role. Her country twang is convincing enough, but personally I can’t buy her as an alcoholic.
Country Strong debuted in Los Angeles last month so that it could qualify for this year’s Oscars, but that seems to be a lost cause outside of a possible Best Original Song nomination. Early word of mouth and critical consensus on this one so far are fairly negative, but it might be worth checking out for the music. The soundtrack boasts some pretty impressive tunes, including the Chris Martin-penned duet “Me and Tennessee” and the title track terrifically performed by Paltrow. ~ Julian
Written and Directed by Shana Feste
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet is a 13-year-old boy’s dream. It has fast cars, hot chicks, guns and mayhem all in three dimensions. Seth Rogen plays opposite Jay Chou and the previews make it seem that Rogen is the bumbling fish out of water and Chou is the steel-faced sidekick who gets it done.
Based on the radio series and TV show, Rogen plays Brett Reid, the son of a media mogul who has recently died and left his slacker party boy son a huge fortune. Teamed up with his father’s confidant, Kato, the two decide to fight crime by posing as villains to get close and then kicking ass with a myriad of gadgetry. Christoph Waltz in his first major role since his Oscar win for Inglourious Basterds plays a crime lord that wants to own all criminal operations in the city. Though barely advertised, Cameron Diaz plays the film’s leading lady.
“Hornet” is an odd vigilante movie that has raised eyebrows ever since stoner funnyman Rogen took on the project and gave the keys to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. It is the bright spot of January, but that isn’t saying much. Perhaps this will be one of the year’s early surprises. ~ Dinah
Directed by Michel Gondry
How Ron Howard ended up directing a Vince Vaughn comedy is beyond most people’s scope of understanding, but nevertheless, he tells this story of a guy (Vaughn) who instead of deciding to tell his best friend (Kevin James) that his wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him, decides to spy on her. Jennifer Connelly, Queen Latifah and Channing Tatum also have supporting roles, the former as Ryder’s lover.
A January release date as opposed to pre-Valentine’s Day makes it appear as if Vaughn has starred in another bust, but that’s only critically speaking. Despite bad reviews, Vaughn, who has become the face of middle-aged date night comedy, still gets the 35- to 55-year-olds out to the theaters and still pulls in some of the younger demographic too for some impressive totals.
The script for “Dilemma” comes from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Switch writer Allan Loeb, who also co-wrote Adam Sandler’s next film, Just Go With It, which comes out next month in that coveted pre-Valentine’s Day slot. Those earlier films received mixed-to-decent reviews, so there’s some reason to hold out hope. ~Steven
Rabbit Hole is a dreary drama about death, marriage, and the monotony of life. It doesn’t sound like the sort of film people rush out to see and that is probably why Nicole Kidman’s newest independent picture with Aaron Eckhart isn’t making much coin on the art house circuit. Still, when the movie debuted at the festivals in 2010 it was whispered as a comeback masterpiece for Kidman and an honest portrayal of loss.
The Golden Globe-nominated Kidman stars as a mother dealing with the death of her young son and how it affects her relationship with her husband (Eckhart), who grieves much differently. John Cameron Mitchell, filmmaker and star of the cult favorite Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directs this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Audiences will get a chance to decide whether Rabbit Hole has been undersold at all when the adaptation expands January 14. ~ Dinah
Barney’s Version (Limited Release)
After earning a nomination for a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (which ultimately went to Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere), Barney’s Version has been earning points with critics, chiefly for its acting from Paul Giamatti in the lead role as the titular Casanova and Dustin Hoffman in a supporting as Barney’s father.
This sweeping tale of heartbreak and complex relationships follows Barney over the course of his life and his many loves and losses and is the twenty-first film adaptation from Canadian author Mordecai Richler, whose credits include Fun with Dick and Jane. It all starts when Barney falls for the girl of his dreams at his wedding. That girl, of course, not being his bride.
The Oscar buzz has not been anything close to overwhelming (and it did not get released in time to qualify for this years upcoming ceremony), but the talent is certainly there to make some arthouse waves in the months to come. ~ Simon
No Strings Attached
Not to be confused with your favorite *N’SYNC album, this is one of two fuckbuddy films we’ll get in 2011, “No Strings” boasts Portman when hype will be high for her Oscar chances along with (strangely) Ivan Reitman directing (“Ghostbusters”). Reitman goes behind the camera for the first time since My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which didn’t go over so well.
Anyway, Kutcher and Portman play friends who finally sleep together and decide to be sex partners who are friends rather than lovers. A large supporting cast of friends (Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Jake M. Johnson, oh, and Ludacris) help them sort through it.
When the trailer initially debuted for this film alongside this summer’s upcoming Friends with Benefits, ”Benefits” went the red band way with a dirtier trailer and “Strings” appeared to be the cutesier film. Not so fast. Now “Strings” has released a Red Band trailer and it makes the film seem that much funnier. It's been yanked off YouTube, but see if you can find it somewhere. Below is the rated trailer ~ Steven
No Strings Attached
The Way Back
Prison escape dramas rarely have the epic feel that The Way Back seems to offer, and considering the director at the helm this is no shocking surprise. This is the true story of a group of soldiers in 1940s Siberia who escape their confines in a Siberian Gulag and make a mammoth trek to safety over mountains and deserts.
The novel on which the film is based is a true account (although its been revealed to have certain exaggerations) of Polish army lieutenant Słavomir Rawicz who made the actual arduous journey. To bolster this tale further are the talents of Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and Mark Strong as the fleeing inmates and other refugees with director Peter Weir (Master and Commander, The Truman Show) behind the camera. Having been released in Los Angeles on Dec. 29 for Oscar consideration, this harrowing tale will get an expansion a few weeks into the New Year. ~Simon
The Way Back
You asked for more religious themed horror films (right … ?) and you’re getting one. Anthony Hopkins returns to the thriller/horror genre with The Rite, yet another religious/horror film inspired by “true events” directed by Mikael Håfström (1408). Focusing on skeptical seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue of The Tudors),The Rite follows Kovak’s exploits when he encounters an unorthodox priest in Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who exposes Kovak to a world of demons in an attempt to strengthen his faith.
Naturally any horror film like this that opens with “inspired by a true story” is to be taken with a grain of salt; the trailer for The Rite doesn’t break this pattern. Still, with Hopkins getting to darken the scenery as a rogue priest, what looks to be a well shot Rome and the (albeit generically) handsome O’Donoghue to ogle for a few hours, The Rite could provide a suitable alternative for date night (for certain tastes) if you don’t want to see action (The Mechanic) or a chick flick (From Prada to Nada) that weekend. ~ Max
Jason Statham continues his impressive run as the big-draw action star in this remake of The Mechanic. Calling Statham's character a "mechanic" of course is just a way to disguise that he's playing yet another hitman character. Honestly, slap the words "The Transporter 4" at the end of this trailer and you'd have no one batting a doubting eyelash.
In this incarnation, Statham plays a most immaculate hitman, but things get personal when someone kills his mentor (Donald Sutherland). Vengeful and determined to hold the killers responsible, Statham does what he does best, except it gets a bit crowded when his mentor's son (Ben Foster) comes to him asking demandingly to learn the hitman trade so he as well can have his revenge and eat it too.
Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) directs this explosive and sure to be adrenaline-filled revenge flick. The original 1972 film starred Charles Bronson. ~Steven
Directed by Simon West
Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (screenplay and story)
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland