A brand spankin’ new year is here, which means we have a few new surprises here at the Weekend Warrior Blog and one of the things we did way back when we started here at ComingSoon.net in the ’00s was a monthly preview column. Now mind you, this isn’t going to replace our weekly column or our semi-sporadic Long Distance Box Office pieces–we’re a little past due on those–but especially in these months where there aren’t any huge profile blockbusters, we want to make sure moviegoers know about their options. Many of these films we will not have seen at the time of writing, so we can’t vouch for their quality either.
January has regularly been known as being a “dumping ground,” but there’s also generally a good amount of genre films–horror, action, comedies–of varying qualities and the box office tends to do better than expected since there’s very little else going on after the holidays.
After cameo-ing in two “Expendables” movies, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his long-awaited return as a leading man action star in The Last Stand (Lionsgate – Jan. 18), which is also the first American film by one of Korea’s most original filmmakers Kim Jee-Woon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird). Arnold plays a former L.A. police officer working as the sheriff of a small town who must face an escaped drug kingpin heading towards the border. The movie has great cast of character actor co-stars, including Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman, Rodrigo Santoro and Eduardo Noriega, so we hope it’s a fun action flick.
Ruben Fleischer, who directed the very different comedies Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, tackles a new genre with Gangster Squad (Warner Bros. – Jan. 11), which stars Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as Hollywood detectives who decide to take on the influx of Chicago gangsters, including Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen, by forming a band of undercover officers who work outside the law. Emma Stone plays the woman who falls for Gosling despite being with Mickey, and it co-stars Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte and Robert Patrick, as it mixes drama with the type of action Fleischer has become known for.
After an astonishing run in limited release, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s political thriller Zero Dark Thirty (Sony – Jan. 11) will expand nationwide and the country should be ready to go out to see the somewhat controversial look at the hunt for Osama bin Laden by the Oscar-winning director and screenwriter. On January 10, one day before the film expands into more theaters across the nation, the 85th Annual Academy Awards nominations will be announced and Sony’s hoping that this movie will receive a bunch of nominations.
Not to be dissuaded from the bomb that was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton team up as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount – Jan. 25). Mixing a fairy tale concept with action and horror, this may be a pivotal movie for both actors as Renner has yet to prove himself as a leading man with the relatively disappointing showing for The Bourne Legacy and Arterton’s last big potential blockbuster, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, failed to find an audience. (She didn’t return for last year’s sequel Wrath of the Titans.)
Straight horror fans who are looking for some early January gore may look no further than Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lionsgate – Jan. 4), the latest attempt to reboot that franchise that began with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre way back in 1975. Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake helped start the current wave of horror remakes and now we’ve come full circle as Takers director John Luessenhop is given his chance to bring back Leatherface with the addition of 3D.
One can hope that the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror thriller Mama (Universal – Jan. 18), starring Jessica Chastain (who may be receiving her second Oscar nomination a week earlier) and Danish actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau aka Jaime Lannister from “Game of Thrones,” may offer higher brow scares with an original premise based on director Andres Muschietti’s short of the same name.
The Wayans Brothers return to the horror spoofing that led to the blockbuster hit Scary Movie and it’s less successful sequel–they left after the second movie–and it’s somewhat wise that A Haunted House (Open Road Films – Jan. 11) is being released months before Scary Movie 5, which seems to be spoofing the same easy targets like the “Paranormal Activity” movies and other found footage horror flicks. These movies tend to be stupid and moronic, but they also seem to find audiences although the spoof movie may be showing signs of deteriorating returns.
Fans of low-brow comedy may instead want to wait for the anthology Movie 43 (Relativity – Jan. 25), produced by Peter Farrelly, which assembles an amazing cast of actors and filmmakers for shorter comedy bits. The directors include the likes of Brett Ratner, James Gunn, Farrelly and Steve Carr with some of the bigger names including Hugh Jackman, Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Kate Winslet, Kristen Bell, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Emma Stone, Uma Thurman and many more.
Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe team for the crime thriller Broken City (20th Century Fox – Jan. 18), director Allen Hughes’ first movie without his brother Albert, with Wahlberg playing a disgraced cop who becomes a private investigator hired by the city’s mayor (Crowe) to look into his wife’s extra-marital affairs. It probably will veer more towards the dramatic side than the action, but we have high hopes.
Jason Statham returns for the action-packed crime thriller Parker (FilmDistrict), based on the character from Donald Westlake’s novels, teaming with Jennifer Lopez and Ray director Taylor Hackford with a cast that includes Michael Chiklis and Nick Nolte. While Statham continues to do well with his “Expendables” gang, it’s been a while since he’s had a solo hit and playing the thief with a code of ethics could help turn things around if FilmDistrict starts getting the word out about the movie. It certainly seems like something that will appeal to Statham fans and it could be one of the month’s sleepers ala Joe Carnahan’s The Grey last year.
Lastly, the Matt Damon-John Krasinski small town drama Promised Land (Focus Features – Jan. 4), directed by Gus Van Sant, will open in wide release as the year begins just a week after its platform release. This is not a film for everyone, a small character-driven drama that mixes humor and drama equally and is more like older films such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or the films of Capra and Kazan, but it should play well with more mature and ecologically-minded moviegoers.
Look for our February preview sometime later this month and we’re crossing our fingers we’ll be able to do these on a regular basis as an adjunct to our weekly box office preview columns.