Synopsis: A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
Release Date: December 25, 2014
Thoughts: The anticipation is certainly building for the big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods, with Disney carefully releasing nice bits and pieces in recent days. After dropping some dreamy looking pictures earlier this week of the star heavy ensemble all fairy-tale-d up, the first preview is finally at hand and it’s a nifty little teaser that pleasantly keeps some of the bigger names in shadows while predictably avoiding any musical cues hinting that the film is largely sung. No matter, with Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Chris Pine (People Like Us) leading the cast the stage is set for a lovely transition from stage to screen.
Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.
Release Date: August 27, 2014
Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man. Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record. Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.
Review: If I’m being honest (and c’mon, we’re close enough friends that I’ll always tell the truth) I’ll admit that at first I just didn’t know what to make of Guardians of the Galaxy. After several years of recognizable Marvel comic book properties making their way to the big screen (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers) I wasn’t certain where this new franchise film would fit in. Not being well acquainted with the source material, I couldn’t quite warm to the first jokey preview that set fan tongues a waggin’ but had me scratchin’ my noggin. And what was up with the raccoon and talking tree?
So I find myself hunkering down for a screening of Marvel’s latest attempt at superhero domination a little grumbly and prepared for my worst fears onscreen: an overblown yuk fest of an actioner with copious one-liners and inter-galactic battle sequences that pummel you with lots of noise and digital effects. Who knew that’s exactly what this summer needed?
If the previous Marvel superhero films equate to a stretch limo with your cool aunts and uncles, then Guardians of the Galaxy is the party bus transporting your crazy cousins. I ask you…which ride would you rather take?
Starting with an emotional Earth-bound prologue that segues into a silly credits sequence showcasing the first of several 80s musical hits, Guardians of the Galaxy hits its stride early on and never lets up as audiences are taking to various points throughout the solar system. When overgrown kid/space pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, now primed for A-List stardom) steals a mysterious orb that looks like the Omegahedron from 1984’s Supergirl, he gets into all kinds of hot water from blue hued baddie Ronan (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) that wants to use its powers to do some planetary damage. Additionally, Quill has a bounty put on his head from another Smurf colored character (Michael Rooker) that sent him to retrieve the orb in the first place.
Bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines) and deciduous sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel, Riddick, in possibly his best performance…heard not seen) aren’t the only ones after Quill. Sent by Ronan to fetch the orb, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace, trading her Avatar blue for wicked green) may have plans of her own for the strange object. It all turns into your standard case of multiple people wanting to possess the orb for numerous purposes. From prison breaks to narrow escapes, the movie has a breathless pace but never feels rushed or out of balance. It’s a full meal of a film that blessedly doesn’t wind up feeling like a franchise jumping off point (which of course it is).
Director and co-screenwriter James Gunn packs a lot into his film and there’s a welcome point of view sorely lacking in films made from comic book tales. He backs up strong characterization with an assembled design team that should get ready for Oscar nominations in visual effects, make-up, and costume design. From the mechanizations of the evil Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) to the body art of logic driven He-Man-esque Drax (Dave Bautista, who maybe would have been a better choice for Hercules), there’s a follow-through and attention to detail that acts as the sprinkles on top of Gunn’s visual sundae of a film.
Did I mention it’s incredibly funny as well? I was worried that the laughs would trump logic but from Gunn’s clever music selection and his willingness to capitalize on Pratt’s comedic gifts, there’s the sense that everyone is on the joke and relishing their chance to participate. Gunn doesn’t let the humor rule the picture but instead picks wise moments to break up some of the overly nerdy bits.
In a summer of ups and downs, Guardians of the Galaxy emerges as the most satisfying big studio film I’ve seen all year (my favorite films of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, don’t count seeing as they’re independent endeavors) and goes a long way in saving the Summer of 2014 from being remembered as three months of mediocre-to-terrible offerings like A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended, Jersey Boys, and the cinematic Ebola virus called Tammy. It’s a mammoth sized two hour superlative treat – the one film of the summer worth seeing twice.
Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Thoughts: I’m so ready to see Interstellar. Not that I needed any more convincing after the teaser and first trailer for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi drama, but this recently released preview shown at Comic-Con definitely ramps up my anticipation. I cringed a bit when I saw how long the trailer was but thankfully Nolan (Batman Begins) remains a cagey filmmaker and doesn’t let go of many plotlines and important pieces of info that could spoil the overall experience. Bolstered by a truly A-list cast featuring Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Jessica Chastain (Mama), Ellen Burstyn (Draft Day), and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises), the rocket boosters are starting to truly heat up to send this one into orbit come November. Can’t wait.
Synopsis: A young musician struggles to make it as a top jazz drummer.
Release Date: October 10, 2014
Thoughts: If early awards buzz is to be believed (and in this PR heavy brave new internet world every trumpeted performance should be taken with a grain of Kosher salt) then Whiplash is going to be a movie audiences will want to add to their Oscar shortlist. Actually, it’s supporting actor J.K. Simmons (Labor Day) who might want to make sure his tuxedo fits because his performance as a driven music teacher coming down hard on a young drummer (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, That Awkward Moment) is earning raves across the board. With Simmons reprising his role from a 2013 short of the same name, this represents a rare case of a short film being expanded into feature length. Another film I’m greatly looking forward to this year, Whiplash could be 2014’s little indie that could.
Synopsis: A group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.
Release Date: October 24, 2014
Thoughts: The only thing worse than a bad horror movie is a bad horror trailer and this overlong first look at Ouija doesn’t bode well for the October release. Giving away possibly all of its twists and turns along with its basic flimsy plot, if ever a movie called for a teaser short on information but big on atmosphere it would be this one. Not the first horror film to center on a Ouija board (1986’s Witchboard also comes to mind), I’m actually surprised it’s taken this long for a movie studio to give the omnipresent sleepover entertainment another chance to cash in at the box office. From the looks of it, you may get more unexpected scares venturing into your own attic to get your Ouija board off the shelf…
Synopsis: The Company of Thorin has reached Smaug’s lair; but can Bilbo and the Dwarves reclaim Erebor and the treasure? And, if so, can they hold on to it?
Release Date: December 17, 2014
Thoughts: All those eyebrows that have been raised since Peter Jackson returned to Middle Earth and the land of elves, hobbits, dragons, and wizards will finally get a chance to rest once the final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy is released in December. Though the trilogy hasn’t been met with the same rapturous acclaim that The Lord of the Rings films accumulated, there’s no denying Jackson has leveraged his talents to see it all through to the very end. I was slow to warm to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and thought The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an improvement so I hope that trajectory continues. Even with the endless debate about Jackson’s use of advanced filming technology and employment of 3D can’t diminish my overall respect for his hefty accomplishment. Looking forward to this, no question.
Synopsis: Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.
Release Date: August 29, 2014 (30th Anniversary Release)
Thoughts: I wouldn’t normally feature a trailer for an older film so prominently on this site, but seeing that said film is 1984’s Ghostbusters and that the re-release is set to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the 80s hit comedy I decided to make an exception. There’s not a lot particularly special about this trailer, and anyone that’s remotely familiar with the movie may feel it comes off as more of an ad for the upcoming BluRay release than anything else…but my nostalgia meter went off the charts the moment Ray Parker Jr.’s Oscar nominated theme song started up. Playing for only one week in theaters (though these limited runs often turn into two weeks at least), I ain’t afraid of no ticket prices and will happily see this one on the big screen again.
Synopsis: A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.
Release Date: December 5, 2014
Thoughts: Remember that time that Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for Walk the Line? Yeah…that seems like a distant memory now. Though I still feel Witherspoon was led to the podium by a campaign based on charm rather than an award winning performance (Felicity Huffman should have been honored for Transamerica that particular year), she’s proved more often than not that she’s a smart cookie of an actress. Paired with Jean-Marc Vallée who led not one but two actors to Oscar victory in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club and working with a script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy) based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild could be the movie that brings Witherspoon (This Means War, Mud) back into the top tier of Hollywood’s A-List. Don’t expect some wimpy outdoor version of Eat, Pray, Love either…the trailer indicates Wild will be a raw journey for all involved. That alone makes it worth looking forward to.
Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.
Release Date: November 21, 2014
Thoughts: Though I’m still not crazy about the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy being split into two parts being released this year and next, I have to admit being fairly excited for November to roll around so I can get a look at the first chapter in the epic finale. I’ve held off on reading the book until the release is closer but based on how well The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made their way to the big screen, I have high hopes that these next two installments will maintain the gold standard of its predecessors. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Julianne Moore (Carrie), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace), and Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) should be sitting pretty this Thanksgiving.