Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Winter 2007 Movie Preview

The beginning of the year in the movie industry is usually one of uncertainty. It’s not usually a very profitable time for the studios, as filmgoers, perhaps burned out on the holidays, don’t frequent theaters nearly as much during the first couple of months. Whether the less busy or inconsistent quality of films that gets released during that period is a cause or effect of the low audience turnout is debatable.

At any rate, this time of year for Hollywood is by turns, a place where good films that just didn’t find a home in the cushier summer or fall movie seasons can get exposure, while also serving as a dumping ground for other pictures. In the latter case, studios usually have little to no confidence in the box office performance of the film. Time will tell which category, if any, the following films will best fit in.

So here’s a look at what January and February will present for those who still have a little money to spare after the holidays. As usual, release dates are subject to change.

“Code Name: The Cleaner”

Starring Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu, Nicolette Sheridan, Mark Dacascos and Will Patton
Directed by Les Mayfield

Cedric the Entertainer stars in this action comedy as a seemingly ordinary guy who suffers from amnesia after being attacked by assailants. This leads to him believing he is an undercover spy. (Jan. 5)
Official Web site

“Happily N’Ever After”
Starring the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton, George Carlin and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by Paul J. Bolger

Fairy Tale Land is in danger of being taken over by a gang of villains, led by an evil stepmother (Sigourney Weaver), leading to a resistance effort spurred by a ragtag collection of humans and animals. This animated film is from a couple of the producers of the “Shrek” films, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance. (Jan. 5)
Official Web site

“Freedom Writers”
Starring Hilary Swank, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Mario
Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Oscar-winner Swank is in the lead as a high school English teacher trying to inspire an ethnically diverse group of students to make something of their lives. Certainly the type of story that has been tackled before, but with good results, such as “Stand and Deliver” and “Dangerous Minds.” (Jan. 5)
Official Web site

“Alpha Dog”
Starring Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin and Bruce Willis
Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Accused killer Jesse James Hollywood is the subject of this drama written and directed by Cassavetes, that has found itself in a unique position of having its release challenged by lawyers of the defendant, who are charging that the movie will pollute the jury pool. The suspect was actually captured this year after several years on the run from authorities. So far, it looks like the film will make its release date in January. (Jan. 12)
Official Web site

“The Hitcher”
Starring Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough
Directed by Dave Meyers

A collegiate couple (Bush and Knighton) see their spring break plans go terribly awry when they cross paths with a hitchhiker (Bean) who decides to make them really, really wish they hadn’t stopped to pick him up. In case you’re wondering (or even care), this is a remake of the 1986 film starring C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer. I guess there’s just not enough horror movie stories to go around that there would be a need to remake mediocre ones. (Jan. 19)
Official Web site

“Catch and Release”
Starring Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, Sam Jaeger, Fiona Shaw and Juliette Lewis
Directed by Susannah Grant

Having had success writing “Erin Brokovich” a few years ago, Grant decides to step into the director’s chair with this tale about a woman (Garner) dealing with the death of her fiancee and trying to rebuild her life amidst the discovery of secrets he kept from her. Garner is being showcased front and center in this film, which could serve as a breakthrough for her, having kept a low profile since TV show “Alias” wrapped up its five-year run earlier this year. (Jan. 26)
Official Web site

“Epic Movie”
Starring Kal Penn, Adam Campbell, Faune Chambers, Jayma Mays, Fred Willard
Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

If you’ve seen any of the “Scary Movie” franchise, you’ll get the kind of spoofing humor on display here, with films such as “X-Men,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” getting skewered. (Jan. 26)
Official Web site

“Smokin’ Aces”
Starring Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Common, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Joe Carnahan

Carnahan, who previously helmed the gritty crime drama “Narc,” also featuring Liotta, throws in some comedy with his action this time around. Piven plays a magician about to turn state’s evidence against the mob, leading to a large assortment of assassins looking to collect a huge bounty that’s been placed on his head. Carnahan’s a talent, but can he put a fresh spin on the action genre? (Jan. 26)
Official Web site

“Because I Said So”

Starring Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore, Gabriel Macht, Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham, Piper Perabo and Stephen Colllins
Directed by Michael Lehmann

Keaton is very much in her element in this comedy as a bit of an overbearing mother, looking to find love for her youngest daughter (Moore), who has definite dating issues. Graham and Perabo are Keaton’s other daughters in the movie, which certainly makes up an attractive gene pool for this family. With its pre-Valentine’s Day release, this should do good box office business. (Feb. 2)
Official Web site

“Hannibal Rising”
Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Helena Lia Tachovska
Directed by Peter Webber

Coming on the heels of the new Hannibal Lecter novel by Thomas Harris (who also wrote the film’s screenplay), this movie’s prospects would seem dim on first glance. This focuses on the younger years of Lecter, before all the cannibalism and imprisonment. But can audiences really accept Ulliel as Hannibal “The Cannibal,” with the very large shadow of Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins looming? (Feb. 9)
Official Web site

Starring Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Eddie Griffin, Terry Crews and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Directed by Brian Robbins

When he’s on, there are few actors funnier than Eddie Murphy. Problem is, it’s been a while since Murphy has had good comedic material to really match his talents. But perhaps “Norbit” could change that unfortunate trend, as his brother Charlie conceived the story of a mild mannered nerd (Murphy) who becomes smitten with a new woman in his life. Problem is, he’s already married to a gigantic bully of a woman (Murphy). Expect lots of makeup work such as in Murphy’s “The Nutty Professor” movies and “Coming to America.” (Feb. 9)
Official Web site

“Music and Lyrics”
Starring Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnson and Campbell Scott
Directed by Marc Lawrence

When it comes to romantic comedies, it doesn’t seem to come any more automatic than Grant and Barrymore, who have made approximately 100 of them between each other. Still, having Grant playing a washed up singer from a one-hit wonder ‘80s British music group is an inspired bit of casting. Aiming at at Valentine’s Day release, its no secret what kind of market this movie is seeking. (Feb. 14)
Official Web site

“Ghost Rider”
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott, Donal Logue and Peter Fonda
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Another Marvel Comics character comes to the big screen, as stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze (Cage), better known as Ghost Rider, gets a big budget movie. Cage’s box office track record lately has been quite inconsistent, and Johnson has swung and missed at a comic book character before (“Daredevil”). But the trailer sure has some cool looking special effects, if that counts for anything. (Feb. 16)
Official Web site

“The Astronaut Farmer”
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by Michael Polish

Thornton is frequently drawn to characters who are maybe a bit off of center, and may have another here with Charles Farmer, a man who is forced to leave NASA for a family crisis, effectively ending his career. But his dreams to head into space remain alive, through his work at constructing a rocket in a barn on his Texas ranch. However, unwanted attention is eventually raised, endangering his lifelong dream. (Feb. 23)
Official Web site

“The Number 23”
Starring Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Taking another trip away from the comedy genre that made him a star, Carrey stars as Walter Sparrow, a family man who comes across a book that he believes may be based on his life. He becomes obsessed with discovering the book’s secrets, which seem connected to the number 23, seemingly pushing him closer to madness. Certainly not your typical Jim Carrey movie, but he would seem effective at portraying borderline crazy. (Feb. 23)
Official Web site

“Reno 911!: Miami”
Starring Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney, Cedric Yarbrough, Carlos Alazraqui, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Niecy Nash, Mary Birdsong and Paul Rudd
Directed by Ben Garant

Fans of Comedy Central’s “Reno: 911!” have reason to rejoice, as the hopelessly inept members of the Reno (Nev.) Sheriff’s Department come to movie theaters. The main question that frequently dogs adaptation of TV shows to movies is the matter of sufficient material to sustain a feature-length production. “Reno: 911!” has mined laughs for several seasons on TV, so it would seem the movie could do the same. (Feb. 23)
Official Web site

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