As if some of the end of year offerings from 2010 weren’t lame enough (Gulliver’s Travels, Yogi Bear, The Tourist and worst of all, Little Fockers), in comes 2011’s doldrum winter season. There’s hardly anything too exciting coming up aside from maybe a few guilty pleasures. But alas, better warned than sorry. (Ok, I had to come back after writing this article to add that there are some fun things ahoy after all, dear mateys.)
January isn’t a complete failure, although the box office numbers will probably prove otherwise. Kicking the year off this weekend, January 7, is another awful looking Nicolas Cage, CG-enhanced actioner, Season of the Witch. Coming from Dominic Sena, who also directed Cage in the Gone in 60 Seconds remake and Swordfish, I think we all know why this one is the first “big” release of 2011. The TV commercials make me laugh out loud, but I don’t think that’s their purpose.
There’s also no more question as to why Country Strong wasn’t screened for awards consideration after all the hype and buzz from Gwenyth Paltrow’s stint on Glee. Finally finding itself a wide release: what a disaster. When TRON: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund gives a better performance than anyone else, you know you’re in trouble. But that could be a good thing; at least it will get keep his career moving along. As for the film itself, imagine if Nicholas Sparks decided to remake the George Strait-starring Pure Country and you’ve just saved yourself the cost of an admission ticket. You’re welcome.
On January 14, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) hopefully offers up the month’s best wide release bringing an update to The Green Hornet. With star Seth Rogen beefing up and taking on co-writing duties with pal Evan Goldberg (they previously brought us Pineapple Express and Superbad) and bringing in Jay Chou to replace Stephen Chow, hopefully Gondry can bring his usual visual flair while Rogen and Goldberg can provide some big laughs with Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), the “Jew Hunter” himself, as the villain no less. Meanwhile, Ron Howard tries to get wacky along with his throwaway cast of Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Channing Tatum, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly and Queen Latifah in The Dilemma.
January 21 gives us the first of two bed buddy rom/coms headed our way and at least this one gives us a dirty mouthed, scantily clad Natalie Portman. Ivan Reitman is in desperate need of another great movie, and maybe the new decade can inspire him. I’m biting my tongue however, as he also cast Ashton Kutcher who’s not totally ingratiating but far from the rom/com inspired leading man Hollywood seems to think he is (Just Married, What Happens in Vegas, Valentine’s Day anyone? Anyone?!).
January 28 sees two helpings of possible guilty pleasure releases: one for being true to its big dumb fun action roots, and the other headed for “so bad it’s hilarious” territory. The Mechanic stars Jason Statham (who knows action all too well) and Ben Foster (who definitely knows a lot about acting). The two seem to pair well judging by the trailer so here’s hoping director Simon West (Con Air, Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, and TV’s Keen Eddie and Human Target) can bring the aforementioned fun even if the remake proves to lean towards dumb at some point. The other offering this week will be Anthony Hopkins playing a spiritual version of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in The Rite. Demonic possessions will ensue as Mikael Håfström returns to 1408 territory. Fingers crossed but I suspect giggles will abound.
Pressing on into February where things usually get worse, things don’t look quite so bad as usual. On February 4, if you’re looking for any reason to get out of the house and brave the cold it’s hopefully to see the James Cameron executive produced Sanctum. With a plot resembling The Descent but without the crawlers, here’s hoping Cameron protégé Alister Grierson can use Cameron’s PACE Fusion 3-D cameras to better use than Resident Evil: Afterlife. Looks fun; I’m in. Check me out however, from sitting through The Roommate, a film you’ve probably never even heard of. Having the luck of starring Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Minka Kelly ((500) Days of Summer), maybe Screen Gems and the hilariously named director Christian E. Christiansen can bring some tongue-in-cheek to the proceedings. If this thing headed is into Black Swan territory then maybe it could be worth checking out; highly doubtful.
February 11 sees a quartet of cinematic death with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston pretending to be soon-to-be divorcees. Armed with Sandler’s regular director Dennis Dugan at the helm (Grown Ups, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore), I think it’s further proof that they all are in desperate need of some therapy to get them out of their safe zones, but where’s America’s dollars in that? How Nicole Kidman got roped into this, we’ll never know.
Touchstone Pictures returns to cinema with what could be the saving grace of the weekend with Gnomeo and Juliet. That’s right, a reimagining of the star-crossed classic featuring red vs. blue garden gnomes. With a wealth of voice talent including Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Stephen Merchant, we could possibly have some fun if not immediately disposable fun on our hands. On the other hand, it also features Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton and Ozzy Osbourne. Thankfully director/co-writer Kelly Asbury has lent a hand to a great body of work already including assistance on Kung Fu Panda, James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beauty and the Beast, The Rescuers Down Under, The Little Mermaid, Shrek, Toy Story, The Black Cauldron, Chicken Run, and TV’s The Littles just to name a few. Oh, and he also co-directed Shrek 2 so ok, maybe I have more hope now.
This year’s early offering of Gladiator-likeness offers up Jamie Bell, Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland in The Eagle. Spawning from a BBC TV production, here’s hoping that director Kevin McDonald reteaming with screenwriter Jeremy Brock can bring some life to the proceedings. Last time they joined forces we got The Last King of Scotland, ah those were good times. Finally, for the tweens, we are cursed with Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. And in 3D! As if his atrocious songs weren’t bad enough, I can’t even imagine what inkling of interest his rise to fame could possibly inspire. But at least he’ll be in your face as well as stuck in your head.
February 18 brings a saving grace from the week before with two films that fall in the already mentioned guilty pleasure category. D.J. Caruso brought some unexpected flair to his Rear Window-inspired Disturbia and hopefully continues his growing trend of mainstream with I Am Number Four. With Caruso behind the camera and Timothy Olyphant in front of it I’ll give it a try. But I won’t be too surprised if Alex Pettyfer fails miserably in the lead. Director Juame Collet-Serra sure has been cutting his teeth for awhile now. With the likes of House of Wax and Orphan maybe it’s time we finally got a good movie out of him. With a great premise involving stolen identities and Liam Neeson in kick-ass Taken mode, Unknown could just be a slam bang time.
Unfortunately, this day also brings upon us a third Big Momma film subtitled: Like Father, Like Son. All of a sudden FBI agent Martin Lawrence has a nephew (the hilarious yet usually misused Brandon T. Jackson) whom he goes undercover with at an all-girls school after Jackson witnesses a murder. Um, did I miss something here? If the title is Like Father, Like Son, why is this revolving around a nephew? Before you even consider a ticket, here’s your sign America. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
February 25 finishes out the month with a double header that I actually find quite comforting. Director Patrick Lussier returns to 3-D B-movie territory with the aptly titled Drive Angry 3D. With a cast including Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner, guilty pleasure is sure to be headed our way. The trailer itself is hysterically bad but at least everyone looks like they’re having fun as Cage plays an escapee literally from Hell trying to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by the same cult who did the same to his daughter with some help from a waitress (Heard) and a muscle car with Fichtner playing a character called “The Accountant” who is trying to return Cage to the Devil. If this synopsis doesn’t get you excited then you need a new sense of fun. Bat shit insanity is what I smell cooking here and if we learned anything from My Bloody Valentine 3D it’s that Lussier knows how to have fun with the format. Bring. It. On!
Finally, the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) bring us what could be the funniest movie of the month, at least intentionally anyway. In Hall Pass we find Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson on vacation from their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate respectively) who’ve granted them each a “Hall Pass” – or: “a week off from marriage to do whatever you want without consequences.” Rounding out the hilarious cast with a second dose of Stephen Merchant along with Larry Joe Campbell, J.B. Smoove and surprising Farrelly regular Richard Jenkins (Say It Isn’t So, Me, Myself & Irene, Outside Providence, There’s Something About Mary), the brothers Farrelly could finally have another long-awaited hit on their hands.
While there may not be a whole lot of good coming, at least there could be enough to warrant a mad dash to the local multiplex or two. With March and April looking slightly better, maybe we’ll see the likes of something truly worthwhile before the summer season officially kicks off in May. I know I already have my sights set on two films, one featuring an alien (Paul) and another bringing the inevitable return of the Ghostface Killer (Scream 4). So for now, choose wisely, as at least we have a few things to look forward to before the summer really starts to heat up with its never-ending barrage of crazy awesomeness.
Photos courtesy Screen Gems, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Summit Entertainment