Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter movie preview: The cream of the crap

It's no secret that January-April provide little in the way of box office breakouts. Sure there may be a "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" every once in a while, but for the most part these early months are when studios clean off their shelves before summer.

With that in mind, here's the guide to the few movies worth checking out in the next few months.

"Contraband" is an action packed Mark Wahlberg thriller where he plays a ex-smuggler who is drawn back into the criminal world when his family is threatened by his former associates.

While this looks like a run of the mill action flick, Wahlberg will make it better than average and it could provide a nice change of pace from all the Oscar dramas currently flooding theaters. (Jan. 13)

"Beauty and the Beast (3D)" doesn't change the story or fun of the Disney classic but it does give families who've never seen it on the big screen a new way to enjoy the film. And of course, it's in 3D. There are also rumors that a "Tangled" short will premiere before it. That alone might be worth the $12. (Jan. 13)

"Haywire" is your typical assassin wronged by her own employers, who must go on the run. However, this film has an all-star cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas, and is directed by Steven Soderbergh. A pedigree like that would normally make it a sure thing. The only draw back is that the main character is played by former MMA champion Gina Carano. In this case the big stars may outweigh the non-acting former fighter. (Jan. 20)

"Underworld: Awakening" is the fourth film in the original vampires vs. werewolves series. Kate Beckinsale returns as death dealer Selene, who must now fight a race of super lycans. A major change is that humans have discovered vampires and werewolves and started a campaign of destruction. Original director Len Wiseman produced and co-wrote this installment which was shot in 3D. These films are always fun because they don't try to be anything they're not and they stay faithful to the world they have built. (Jan. 20)

"The Grey" continues Liam Neeson's streak of ass-kicking roles as he portrays a plane crash survivor who leads a group through the Alaskan wilderness, in the process fighting off a pack of wolves. Neeson has proven that watching him kick butt for 2 hours is always a good time. (Jan. 27)

"Chronicle" is a new twist on a found footage film where the subjects are teenagers who have developed superpowers and try to fight succumbing to darker tendencies. While this story has been told a million times before, the superpower aspect gives it a new quality. (Feb. 3)

"Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (3D)" is obviously the worst chapter in the "Star Wars" legacy but all the nerds will still be lined up to see it in 3D on the big screen. Sometimes we just can't help ourselves. (Feb. 10)

"Safe House" stars Ryan Reynolds as a green CIA agent who must guard a notorious fugitive at a safe house that soon comes under seige. Under normal circumstances that wouldn't sound overly interesting, but with Denzel Washington playing the fugitive, it just got 100 times better. The cast also includes Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepherd, Robert Patrick and Sebastian Roche. Now that sounds like good times. (Feb. 10)

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" once again stars Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Though the first one was awful and there's no reason to think that this will be any better, nerd requirements force us to mention all superhero based films. (Feb. 17)

"This Means War" is a romantic comedy about two spies played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy who fall in love with the same woman, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, then begin to use CIA resources to mess up each other's dates. Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, so anytime something new is discovered it's always worth checking out. (Feb. 17)

"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as grown up versions of the brother and sister who have become witch bounty hunters. Though the trailer hasn't been released yet, the premise is fascinating and fairy tales are very popular right now. Plus any chance to see Renner in action hero mode is appreciated. (March 2)

"The Hunger Games" is destined for box office domination. It's based on an extremely popular book series and by all accounts filmmakers have done a good job with the adaptation. With a cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland, and absolutely no competition this movie is set up to become the first giant success of 2012. (March 23)

"Titanic (3D)" will attempt to revive the frenzy that the film's original release caused, only this time it will be in 3D. Though there's nothing new to see here, expect lots of nostalgia viewings and a renewed love affair with Jack and Rose. (April 6)

There are plenty of movies not on the list, but to be honest does anyone care about "Journey 2," "Wrath of the Titans" or "American Reunion."

Thought not.

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