M: You want to hear something good to start a monthly preview? I actually like the look of a lot of the movies this month!
E: Wait, what did you say?
M: I know, unexpected, right? We often rail about the lack of quality releases in all but a few month of the year, and February is often one of the worst (go back and look at the start of last year’s February preview for some details). I’m wondering if last year’s “surprise hit” Warm Bodies may have warmed up the way executives look at February.
C: I mean, you have to think at this point there’s room for a few good movies to take the place of the Christmas ones leaving theaters. They’d be foolish not to give us at least a few good kid flicks and romcoms.
E: Leaving aside the fact that most people would probably want good movie options all year long, yes — with school vacations and Valentine’s Day, there’s room for good movies to become really big hits.
M: Even better — there’s stuff I want to see, too.
E: Do tell, brother.
The Monuments Men
M: Talk about a different take on February this year — it starts off with the first film on our slate. Not only do we have the kind of movie that looks like a crowd-pleaser and box office hit, we have the kind of stars that usually only appear in February movies when the movie got shelved for two years, and finally had to be put out to try to recoup a small percentage of what had been spent on it.
E: Wait, is that what happened here?
M: I hope not, for this one at least.
E: Good, because I’m SO excited for this movie. I heard an interview on NPR with the author of the book it’s based on. WWII and the hunt for art the Nazis stole? Yes please!
C: Me too. I like nothing better than heist movies, when you can ethically root for the thieves. What’s more legitimate than rooting for a crack team to steal priceless works of Jewish art before they’re destroyed by Hitler?
M: Wait, NOTHING better than that? Not ever, say, Pride and Prejudice?
C: Okay, well, maybe I like a few things better. But not much better.
M: Seriously though, look at the stars in this! Clooney directing and acting. Matt Damon. Cate Blanchett. Suddenly well-respected dramatic version of Bill Murray.
E: If you call the year 2000 sudden, okay.
M: Blah blah, one performance after a career of comedy, not followed up by anything doesn’t count.
E: So we’re not counting Broken Flowers, Get Low, City of Ember and Hyde Park on Hudson?
C: Nope. Especially not City of Ember, which is not a “well-respected drama,” but a poorly rated children’s adventure film.
E: My point was that it wasn’t a comedy, that’s all. But for that matter, Murray’s made a lot of the kind of dark, intellectual comedies that critics love — Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore; the previews suggest to me that this film has a lot of humor blended it.
M: Again, comedies, even “intellectual” ones, don’t count as drama. I’ve never even heard of Broken Flowers and Get Low, and agree with C on City of Ember. I do count Hyde Park on Hudson, but that’s the “sudden” one when he became respected. Now, moving on, John Goodman…
C: Wait, you weren’t talking about Lost in Translation? Now I’m confused.
E: I still disagree, M, but I’m okay with the topic shift because I love John Goodman! Honestly, he’s been in so many outstanding movies in the last several years (Argo, Flight, The Artist) that his presence alone would have drawn me to this movie even if I wasn’t already sold on the subject matter and lead cast.
M: Speaking of The Artist, Jean Dujardin’s in this movie, as is Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville. Put them all together, that’s some serious star power.
C: Aw, I love Hugh Bonneville!
E: Even though February normally finds me on a solid Oscar films diet, I’ll have to make an exception for this one.
M: Unfortunately, now I hear it’s getting panned by the critics. I’m still hopeful!
C: Oh no! It does seem to be getting disappointing feedback. There aren’t that many reviews out yet, though — we’ll have to wait and see.
The Lego Movie
C: Call me juvenile, but I also want to see this. Have you seen the trailer? It looks so fun!
C: Har har.
M: It does have a stellar voice cast that includes Morgan Freeman. Kids as the target. An everyman hero in the midst of superheroes. And of course… Legos. This has box office success written all over it.
E: My Lego-obsessed children are exactly the target audience for this movie, and they are salivating – as well as singing the theme “Everything is Awesome” all the day long. And as a bonus, the early reviews are really pretty great. Mrs. M and I have been making plans to take the cousins together.
M: Agreed. While I, personally, am not overly excited about it, there are moments in the trailers that make me really crack up. And as much as I don’t like him, Will Arnett’s Batman looks and sounds pretty hilariously fantastic.
E: Yep. It already ranks as the most likable performance he’s ever made.
C: Uh oh, I know some who’d consider those fighting words. Arnett isn’t the biggest draw for me there, though — I just like the idea of throwing together beloved characters from every franchise Lego has reproduced in blocky form. It’s a huge crossover of nerdy things, and they do seem — at least I’m hopeful — to have done it with a wry sense of humor. It’s getting crazy good reviews. And also, no one’s mentioned Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt voicing the main character! Or the voice cameos by Anthony Daniels, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson, Cobie Smulders, Will Forte, Billy Dee Williams, and several more familiar names…
M: Okay, didn’t know about most of those. Am getting more excited for it now.
E: Come on, bro. Drink the kool-aid.
M: Oh right, Lego movie and drinking kool-aid reminds me… Bear with me on a quick tangent. A few years back I was helping a friend move, and she had a box of “Lego Fun Snacks,” which are exactly what they sound like: candy snacks shaped like Legos. Seriously, can you think of a worse idea than taking the most obvious choking hazard in the home of any small- to medium-sized child, and making a candy that looks exactly like it? Yes kids, we WANT you to put Legos in your mouth and try to swallow! Dear God, please let no child actually choke because of this moronic idea.
C: To be fair, if they look as much like Legos as fruit snacks look like fruit, the children are probably safe. But it is moronic.
M: Nope, they look pretty much like Legos.
C: Well then let’s hope they’re not revived as part of the film’s merchandizing!
M: With the oh-so-clever tag line of “they suck at school,” this is more of what we expect for February. However, this is destined to finish AT BEST third at the box office this weekend. Progress!
E: I’m not into these books, but I’d rather see this than normal February fare. Or Twilight.
M: Not exactly a high bar, sis.
E: Okay, let me elaborate then, because I don’t mean that as a generic slag on Twilight. At least there’s a sense of humor at work here; it’s not some big emo explosion. Intentionally campy beats unintentionally campy any day.
C: It doesn’t go far enough into parody territory for me — which is another way of saying that if this has a sense of humor, it isn’t mine. I do know some people who love this series, though. If you’re not yet tired of super-sexy teen vampires with an arcane backstory biting and seducing each other…
M: …and who isn’t?!?!
C: …then this is for you.
E: To be fair, M, you were tired of this craze before it began.
M: While that may be a fair point, I stand behind my blindly bashing the vampire movie with the tagline “They suck at school.”
M: Seriously big budget remake of an 80’s camp-action classic. I’m saying it again… what’s this one doing in February?
C: Maybe it’s testing poorly?
M: I don’t know, it looks slick, and while I’ve never heard of lead actor Joel Kinnaman, the supporting cast, which includes Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Ehle, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel and Jackie Earl Haley is outstanding. I’ve certainly seen the “spend less on the lead actor, and use that money for a great supporting cast” formula work in the past.
E: And since we spend very little time with his face, I can understand them not going after someone more famous. But I do know Joel Kinnamen, who played scruffy detective Stephen Holder on The Killing, and I know that he can carry a television show, which bodes well for his work here. And makes me sorry we won’t get to see too many of his expressions.
C: Right, because he’s… a robot… cop. I should probably watch the original, huh?
M: If you do, know that it’s supposed to be campy. Also, note how accurate its depiction of “future Detroit” turned out to be. Minus the robot police, and headquarters of a successful company, of course.
E: Oooh, snap!
About Last Night
M: Smaller budget remake of an 80’s romance “classic.” I’ll willingly admit, I’ve never seen it. From what I understand, though, I’m wondering if it was really a classic, or did people just see it because Rob Lowe and Demi Moore get naked a lot?
E: I have no idea. I don’t know that it was supposed to be good as much as popular?
M: Exactly the reason for my question.
C: I forget sometimes that Rob Lowe was popular in the 80’s. His non-aging messes with my brain.
M: I know, right? Does it even remotely look now like he and James Spader are contemporaries, and were “young lead actors” together in Bad Influence 24 years ago? He’s totally the new Dick Clark. Or, well, Chris Traeger.
C: The first man who will live to 150…
M: Party pooper!
E: Whatever. I was shocked to learn that both this film and the original are based on a David Mamet play; amusing sex romp is definitely not that I expect from the author of American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross.
M: Ha, certainly not! Although, “Always Be Closing” may still apply. 😉 As for the remake, the four leads are Almost Human‘s Michael Ealy (who is great on that show, which you should be watching if you’re not), Regina Hall, Parenthood‘s Joy Bryant, and the suddenly ever-present Kevin Hart, in the Jim Belushi “comedic wingman” role. Seriously, is there anything he’s not in?
C: You mean, other than any movie I have ever seen?
M: Yes, other than that.
E: C, this is the fourth time he’s come up in one of our previews in the last three months.
C: I do take your point. He’s turning up a lot lately.
E: So to sum up: there’s no nostalgia value for us, but with an appealing lead this one might make a good date night or at least a worthy rental. I wish Ealy well — and no, not just because he spent a season on The Good Wife, because it’s really been his work on Almost Human that’s won me as a fan — and will be very curious about the reviews.
M: Okay, remember the discussion at the start of Monuments Men? Well, this might be one of those “finally released after months on the shelf” kind of movies. The first trailer I saw for it looked really, really good. The TV spots I’ve seen since haven’t been as engaging, but they are also 30 seconds, as opposed to the trailer that was maybe 5 or 6 times that long, and was able to get into more detail. I could easily be wrong, but this could be really enjoyable.
C: It strikes me as the kind of movie that sounded like a good idea but didn’t come together. I mean, I’ll wait for the reviews before drawing any conclusions — that’s just my guess. On the other hand, when is the proper time to release a vaguely mystical romance film if not on Valentine’s Day? This could be exactly the date they wanted.
M: Fair point.
E: I don’t know how I feel about it, but I’m intrigued. It’s based on Mark Helprin’s critically acclaimed novel, was adapted for the screen by Oscar winning writer Akiva Goldsman, and it costars Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey.
M: Plus — Russell Crowe! Minus — Colin Farrell. Okay, that’s maybe not as much of a minus as it was a few years ago, I may be starting to come around on him. Or maybe he’s starting to come around.
C: He’s still a big minus in my book. I might be excited about this were he not the lead. I find him smarmy, not romantic.
E: He was well used in the absolutely magical Saving Mr. Banks, so he’s not as much of a minus as he used to be for me. More pluses? Matt Bomer. William Hurt. Jennifer Connolly. Will Smith. Graham Greene. And Eva Marie Saint, who I didn’t think acted anymore.
M: Wait, WHAT? There is no sign of any of them in ANYTHING I’ve seen for this, even the long trailer. That actually worries me, more than encourages me.
C: Why is it disturbing that the trailers are playing up the central love story instead of the neat cast of minor characters?
M: No, you’re missing my point. The point of the ads are to get people to pay for a ticket. If you have someone like Will Smith in your movie, you want people to know that, don’t you? If you have a slew of good actors, like Hurt, Connolly, Greene and Saint, and an actor like Bomer who headlines a popular TV show, wouldn’t your marketing campaign at least mention them?
E: I don’t really know how you missed Connolly; she’s got a pretty prominent role in most of the trailers I’ve seen. And I think I’ve seen Hurt? But I take your point.
C: I don’t, quite; I just meant, that’s more a sign of bad marketers than a bad movie.
M: Perhaps, or perhaps their representatives are trying to hide their involvement. However, now that you mention it, I do recall seeing Connolly, though not really registering that it was her, since her role seemed not overly relevant.
M: Subtitled “Every parent’s second-worst nightmare.”
E: Really? This is a remake of yet another ’80s movie I missed — this one starring Brooke Shields. Meh.
M: Seriously? Huh.
E: Seriously. Innocent young rich girl discovers her sexuality as she falls for a valet (Alex Pettyfer) at her family’s country club. Inevitably, he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and her father goes ape. The trailers want to make it all seems dark and ominous, playing a slow, unsettling version of “Addicted to Love” while the young pair frolic in golden fields and stand naked in front of a fireplace.
M: Yuck. And for the record, I didn’t mean “rich girl falls for guy from wrong side of tracks” for the worst nightmare, I meant “smarmy young dude transfixes daughter, and she falls madly into lust with him, doing everything her parents tell her not to do because he’s so dreamy.”
E: I actually think the father is as much of a danger here as the boyfriend; the trailer gives me the impression that everyone goes a little nuts. There are fires. Baseball bats. Threats.
C: Wait, is this contemporary? By “valet” are we talking the guy who parks the cars, then, not like Downton Abbey-style?
M: I was wondering the same thing.
E: Yes. The guy who parks the cars.
C: Hm. Not quite so classically romantic as the kind who lives below stairs. And is it me, or does this just sound like Dirty Dancing without the dancing (and therefore totally uninteresting)?
M: Pretty much. For those who were wondering, the stupidity of Twilight is a parent’s #1 worst nightmare. The only thing worse than your barely (if even) of age daughter getting brainwashed and seduced by a smarmy dude into making every bad decision available, is if the dude is an immortal emo twerp who alternately puts her life in danger, and makes her depressed and suicidal. That’s the worst.
E: Oh. I was wondering if you were ever going to explain that. Personally I’m not that terrified of my daughters falling for vampires. What with them being fictional and all.
M: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you.
E: I was fascinated by the tragedy of Pompeii as a child, so I’m not surprised that someone’s finally making a film of it, but I wish it had been someone more thoughtful.
M: I know! A city buried alive, seemingly in an instant? Sooooo intriguing. But this? A huge CGI wanna-be epic about the last days of the city, and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (or as Rosie Perez called it in White Men Can’t Jump, Mount Suvius). It looks like someone tried to roll Titanic (aka Romeo and Juliet), Gladiator, all natural disaster movies and a bit of Western Civ class all into one film. I’m guessing the hope is that boys will go for the effects and carnage, girls for the tragic love story. I’m not optimistic about either.
C: Yep, it looks like a point-for-point low-rent Gladiator reproduction until the volcanic eruption begins. Also, I’ve visited the ruins of Pompeii, and I’m pretty positive it was a regular-sized town, not a massive metropolis like they’re depicting it.
E: Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harrington brings his patented scowl to the lead role of love struck gladiator in love, an expression which tells us that his soul is as deep and tortured as his curls are soft and pretty. Seriously, epic movies are supposed to be — you know, epic, but this trailer makes Pearl Harbor look like Saving Private Ryan.
C: I’m not sure what the statement that epic movies are epic is meant to convey, but what I look for in an epic is something worth feeling deeply stirred by — hope, fear, true heroism — and there’s no hint of that in the ads for this.
M: They do also have a sense of grandeur, which is where I think she was going.
E: Clearly I’m not stating this well. It feels like the film-makers forgot that to make an epic, you can’t just throw a lot of rocks and lava at the screen. It seems like a shallow, expensive muddle, so shallow that it makes a would-be epic with good effects and paper thin characters (Pearl Harbor) look like a deep emotional experience (Saving Private Ryan). Make more sense?
C: Okay, yes, that did. It looks more like a disaster movie that thought about being be an epic, but gave up almost immediately.
M: Now, in its defense, it does have Trinity and Mr. Eko (Carrie Anne Moss and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, respectively), and I can’t help but think of the fun Bastille song, Pompeii, every time I see the title.
E: I think I’d rather listen to the song for two hours than watch this movie.
3 Days to Kill
M: Oh, what to make of this? Kevin Costner, desperately trying to channel his inner Liam Neeson, doing a scratchy, Nick Nolte-ish voice, trying hard to be a badass but maintain a “normal” relationship with his daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Amber Heard, Costner’s spy boss, has other ideas, and poisons him to get him to do one last job. Yawn.
C: Poisons him?
M: Yeah, some toxin that will kill him in 3 days, unless she gives him the antidote. Hence the corny title.
E: Now this is the kind of crap I expect from February. I’m sorry to see Steinfeld participating in it.
M: My thoughts exactly.
The Wind Rises
M: Miyazaki-directed animation with a stellar voice cast. Like all of Miyazaki’s work, the animation looks stunningly beautiful.
C: Not just a Miyazaki film, but the last Miyazaki film, as he’s announced his retirement.
E: Which is just depressing. The man is a marvel.
C: I’ll definitely be seeing this one, on DVD if not in the theaters. Disney always deserves props for the English dub casts they provide for Studio Ghibli films, and this is no exception: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, Darren Criss, and Elijah Wood. Wow.
M: Wow is right. With the exception of Criss (due to my general bias against all things Glee), I love all those people.
C: I included him because, even if you detest Glee, you can’t deny the guy has a lovely voice. Though sadly, he’s probably not singing here.
E: He’s still got a nice speaking voice, though.
M: I wonder if there’s an opportunity for his character to do karaoke in the movie?
E: (Eye roll)
M: Thank you. I’ll be here all week.
E: This is on my list as it’s one of this year’s nominees for Animated Feature film, and I agree, it looks lovely. I don’t know how my children will feel about the melancholy historical plot (dreamy, talented boy lives through great stress and upheaval in early 20th century Japan and grows up to design the lauded Zero fighter plane), but I’m going to enjoy seeing it.
C: It does seem on the sadder, more haunting end of the scale — more Mononoke than Totoro. And surprisingly realist, with no evident fantasy element. But it looks gorgeous.
Son of God
M: Coming off their massive success with the History Channel mini-series “The Bible,” producing power couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey take to the big screen for the first of three big budget Bible adaptations coming out in 2014 (the others being Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Ridley Scott’s Exodus). As you can likely guess, this one is about the life of Jesus.
E: What? NO!
C: It seems to be about his adult ministries and crucifixion, which I would have thought The Passion of the Christ had pretty well covered.
M: Well, The Passion really centered around the events of Holy Week, leading up to the crucifixion, and only barely touched on his ministry in brief flashbacks. Not that there haven’t been many other Jesus films (including the aptly named The Jesus Film), but it’s always good for another telling.
C: I’ll give them credit for uniqueness on one score: this is far and away the smirkiest Jesus I have ever seen.
E: I’m sure the casting directors are patting themselves on the back over that encomium.
C: Hey, they should count themselves lucky that nobody will make a fuss about their Jesus actor being Wonder Bread-white. Heaven forbid that somebody, sometime should cast a Middle Eastern actor in the part…
M: Attempting to show Kevin Costner how it’s done, Liam Neeson takes to the skies as an air marshal in a sticky situation on a trans-Atlantic flight.
C: Also featuring Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, and Lupita Nyong’o. Too bad the hijacker-on-a-plane-starts-killing-passengers-one-by-one plot is so incredibly generic.
E: Yes, because with that cast I’m really intrigued. I can’t believe they talked all of those people into making a bad movie.
M: While they’ve both been mostly successful, Neeson and Moore have made some clunkers (for example, are Battleship, Gun Shy, Chicago Cab or Next in your Nextflix queue?), and Dockery and Nyong’o can certainly be forgiven going for the higher profile, bigger paycheck pictures at this relatively early stage in both their careers. Especially Nyong’o, who undoubtedly made this before her success in 12 Years a Slave (read: before the general public had ever heard her name, nevermind tried to figure out how to pronounce it).
E: Well, 12 Years was her first movie. And I honestly doubt the general public still knows who she is, though I expect that will change at least a little if she wins the Oscar next month, which she’s on track to do. Or at least if she keeps winning raves as the new fashion queen of the red carpet.
M: Plus, as opposed to the tired and generic “kill one passenger at a time” plot, the “air marshal being framed for crimes happening in midair” is a decent twist.
E: So I guess we’re calling this one a maybe? It’s not just the cast list that intrigues me – the trailer’s not so shabby either.
M: Agreed. If this were being released in, say, May, I think we’d all have higher expectations for it.
Welcome to Yesterday
M: This is more typical February fare! A group of attractive teenagers (it’s the movies, there are no average-looking teenagers, let alone pock-faced, awkward or, God-forbid, overweight teenagers!) find the plans for a time machine, and see a picture of one of them in the background of his own 7th birthday party, so they build it. I’m assuming that all hell breaks loose, and that this will suck.
C: That could actually be a cool plot, in a thinky sci-fi story instead of low budget “found footage”-style horror/action. And of course, with average-looking teenagers.
M: Like, say, 2004’s The Butterfly Effect? Or maybe The Butterfly Effect 2? Or what about The Butterfly Effect 3:Revelations? Wait, no, nevermind.
C: Maybe it’s a plot device better suited to written fiction.
E: Or maybe it’s just a cool idea in a throw away horror flick; no one expects them to be good, just gross and creepy, so the studios don’t put any work into making sure the script follows up on the interesting pitch.
M: No, I think C was right in her first impression, it’s a good plot that no one’s turned into a good movie yet. I’m doubting this is the one that changes that.