2014 Spring Movie Preview

By on March 15, 2014
Courtesy of imdb.com

As the winter draws to a close and the weather finally changes for the better, thank God, so do the offerings at the local multiplex. With Hollywood’s closets cleared, it’s time to slowly but surely start hauling out the good stuff. Oh, to be sure, there’s bound to be a few clunkers- looking at you, “Need for Speed,” opening this weekend- but things are definitely looking up. Join me for a look at some of the best the film world has in store for the spring.

First up, a favorite cult television classic gets a new lease on life, thanks to the little Kickstarter campaign that could. It’s the “Veronica Mars” movie! Opening in limited release this weekend, the movie will go wider in the weeks to come. As Hollywood has squandered Kristen Bell’s formidable talents a little too much as of late, “Frozen” notwithstanding, it will be nice to see her return to the character that put her on the map in the first place. Can’t wait.

Also opening this weekend in limited release is the directorial debut of comedy favorite Jason Bateman, late of “Arrested Development,” another television cult classic given a new lease on life, albeit via Netflix. In “Bad Words,” Bateman plays a man who never graduated elementary school, which allows him to compete in spelling bees, much to the consternation of parents of spelling prodigies across the States. The trailer’s a lot of fun, and the movie looks to be as well, if the preview didn’t give away the best jokes, as some of these trailers are wont to do. I like Bateman enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, even after the pretty bad “Identity Thief.” We’ll see.

Another film in limited release this weekend is the intriguing-looking “Enemy,” starring erstwhile “Donnie Darko” Jake Gyllenhaal, working with the same director as last year’s superlative “Prisoners,” one of JG’s best movies in many a moon. Co-starring “Inglourious Basterds” siren Mélanie Laurent and former David Lynch muse Isabella Rossellini, this one has a grabber of a premise: JG plays a man who spots his doppelganger in a movie and obsessively seeks him out, potentially for nefarious purposes. Very meta, and very cool sounding.

Courtesy of imdb.com

Courtesy of imdb.com

Finally, last but not least, opening in limited release this weekend, and going wide in the weeks to come is the latest from literary auteur Wes Anderson, who makes films that only seem like they’ve been adapted from classical literature. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” features a who’s-who of Anderson also-rans, including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman; along with some new faces to the festivities, including erstwhile Voldemort Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, and the always-fascinating Saoirse Ronan. I have no idea what it’s about and don’t want to know. I love Anderson, co count me in for anything he does. At the very least, the art direction and cinematography should be amazing and the soundtrack quirky.

On March 21st, we have the return of the newly-rebooted Muppets franchise, in “Muppets Most Wanted,” which, as ever, boasts a big name cast, although Amy Adams and Jason Siegel will not return. Instead, we have a dream-team comedic line-up that includes Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and “Modern Family”-star Ty Burrell, currently in another family friendly flick, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” I’ve no doubt there’s plenty of big name cameos, and with another soundtrack from “Flight of the Conchords” member and Oscar winner Bret McKenzie, no doubt some catchy/funny tunes as well. I love me some Muppets, so I’m already there.

However, the Muppets will have some stuff competition courtesy of the latest Young Adult novel adaptation, “Divergent,” opening the same day. With a solid cast that includes “Descendants”-star Shailene Woodley, Oscar winner Kate Winslet, “X-Men” co-star and rock star daughter Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd, and former “Nikita” star Maggie Q, this one should be a lot of dystopian fun, if such a thing is possible. Hey, it worked for “The Hunger Games.” Why not this one?

Opening in limited release the same weekend is a different kind of bleak, star-studded epic, the first part of the eternally doom-and-gloom embracing controversial director Lars Von Trier’s two-part opus “Nymphomaniac.” I have mixed feelings about Trier’s feel-bad approach to film, but his films are nothing if not interesting, if depressing as all get out. While I don’t doubt for a second he’ll suck all the fun out of sex here- Lord knows he made me cringe in such a way during the ending of “Antichrist”- at least here he’s got an impressive line-up of actors that includes the star of that film Charlotte Gainsbourg, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen (“The Following”), Stellan Skarsgård (“Thor”), and, okay, Shia LaBeouf, who infamously donned a paper bag exclaiming “I’m not famous anymore” at the film’s premiere. We can dream, Shia. Reportedly, newcomer Stacey Martin, as the younger version of Gainsbourg’s character, steals the show, reportedly actually having some of the sex depicted on screen for real. Not holding my breath for this one to come (no pun intended) to Alabama, but we’ll see. (“Part 2” is scheduled for April 4th.)

Courtesy of imdb.com

Courtesy of imdb.com

Rounding out the month of March on the 28th is the highly-anticipated “Noah,” the latest from “Requiem for a Dream” auteur Darren Aronofsky, which reunites him with the star of that film, Jennifer Connelly. A forward-thinking take on the biblical tale- think Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”- this one is sure to cause some controversy in the Bible Belt, but you better believe it should sell some tickets here, too. Especially with a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson (Hermione!), and Russell Crowe as the titular hero. The effects look spectacular, if CGI-heavy and I think this should make for decidedly better viewing than the last stab at this material, “Evan Almighty.”

Opening on the same day is the latest stab at action movie relevancy from Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Sabotage.” Normally, I might write something like this off, but it’s got several things going for it that give me pause: it’s from the writer of the superlative “Training Day” and the director of the even-better “End of Watch.” The supporting cast is pretty impressive, too, with a TV-heavy list of favorites including “The Killing” star Mireille Enos, “Lost”-stars Josh Holloway and Harold Perrineau, “True Blood”-star Joe Manganiello, “Dollhouse”-star Olivia Williams, and “Avatar”-star Sam Worthington. I was a bit on the fence about this one, but the writer/director’s pedigrees make me want to give it a shot in spite of myself. Hopefully, it will be more like the movies on their resume and less like Arnold’s as of late, i.e. “The Expendables 2.”

Courtesy of imdb.com

Courtesy of imdb.com

Hollywood fires its first big bona fide blockbuster of the pre-summer, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” on April 4th. I was a bit lukewarm on this one too, until I heard Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was coming along for the ride, and then I saw the trailer, and I was all in. Between that and the presence of luminaries like Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Toby Jones (“The Hunger Games”), Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”) and Emily Van Camp (“Revenge”), this looks surprisingly good, and a damn sight better already than the lackluster second “Thor” movie. Count me in.

Speaking of Johansson, she competes against herself on the same day, with a “Sophie’s Choice” for film and sci-fi geeks, the much-buzzed about “Under the Skin.”The latest from critically-acclaimed director Jonathan Glazer, of “Birth” and “Sexy Beast,” this art-house sci-fi flick features a twisty non-linear narrative, and copious amounts of sex and nudity from Johansson, her first such offering to do so. From the sound of it, it’s like an artier, trippy take on a plot similar to that of “Species,” as she plays an alien preying on men in Scotland, killing them through seduction. Hey, if anyone could do that for real, it’s Johansson, who managed to seduce a lot of us all too well on the strength of her voice alone in “Her.” This may be the rare weekend I have to watch two movies, and what a double feature that’s going to be, if you get my drift. April 4th can’t get here soon enough for this filmgoer.

On April 11th, we have the latest from the team behind “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious,” the interesting-looking “Oculus,” which features two sci-fi luminaries, sexy redhead and “Dr. Who”-star Karen Gillan and “Battlestar Galactica”-vet Katee Sackhoff. The trailer is très creepy, and looks to get what “Mirrors” missed the mark on right this time. The presence of director Mike Flanagan, of the underrated “Absentia,” also bodes well for fear film fans. This production team hasn’t let me down so far, so I’m in.

The sci-fi madness continues with “Transcendence,” opening April 14th, and starring Johnny Depp. It marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, best known for being the cinematographer on most of Christopher Nolan’s work, including the “Batman” films and “Inception.” It also helped screenwriter Jack Paglen land the script-writing duties for the next installment of “Prometheus,” so this film should be a good gauge on how much that will or won’t suck. The plotline certainly seems interesting, revolving around a scientist (Depp) who’s dying and opts to download his mind into a computer to preserve it and becomes an unstoppable madman in the process. Though I suffered a bit of sci-fi overload last year, this year’s line-up already seems more interesting than most of those offerings, which is a relief.

Paul Walker RZA

Courtesy of imdb.com

Rounding out the month on April 25th is one of the final features from the late Paul Walker, an action flick with a parkour spin to it that looks moderately entertaining. It’s a remake of the French film “District 13,” with a screenplay co-written by action movie royalty Luc Besson, of “The Professional” and “The Transporter” fame, and co-starring the actor from the original, David Belle, reprising his role from the French film, and RZA, formerly of the Wu-Tang Clan. Director Camille Delamarre also did the Besson-affiliated “Taken 2,” “Lockout” and “Columbiana,” the latter of which was pretty underrated, so I might give this one a shot, given the lack of competition that weekend.

Most of the rest of April on the upcoming film slate is a mixed bag, to say the least, including the likes of the animated sequel “Rio 2”; a spin on a “Moneyball”-type movie, “Draft Day,” with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner and revolving around football this time; the latest from the hit-or-miss “Eastbound & Down”-creator David Gordon Green (see also- or better yet, don’t- “Your Highness”), the drama  “Joe,” which features Nicholas Cage, who’s more than a little hit-or-miss his own self; the rom-com revenge flick “The Other Woman,” which sounds like an older-skewing variation of “John Tucker Must Die,” and stars Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and the oft-awe-inducing SI model Kate Upton as women who discover they’ve all been sleeping with the same man, played by “Game of Thrones”-star and incest-creeper Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

So, the spring slate of movies looks to be a lot more promising than previous months, to say the least. I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much of what Hollywood’s been offering as of late, so I’m definitely looking forward to a lot of these flicks. See you at the movies!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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