Previewing Hollywood’s spring movies
Optimism may be a scarce commodity in most quarters of the economy right now but hope springs eternal in the movie business. The box office was booming through the first months of the year and Hollywood’s hoping that it can stave off a slump as it readies a huge slate of releases for the spring movie season.
But what with a new U.S. president in office and folks everywhere facing the worst economic conditions in decades, these movies are entering a far different world than their makers might have expected. How will they fit with viewers’ new demands and expectations? Do audiences want escapist fluff or opportunities to vent their anger and anxiety?
All that seems certain is that middle-aged action heroes are in (the Liam Neeson flick Taken was a surprise smash) and crass displays of consumerism are out (sorry, Confessions of a Shopaholic).
Here’s a list of the movies coming soon to theatres and how they might fare in light of the current crisis.
Race to Witch Mountain
Who’s in it: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Carla Gugino
What it’s about: In this remake/reboot of the Disney science-fiction series spawned by the books by Alexander Key, two mysteriously gifted teens and their reluctant protector race to prevent an alien invasion.
Recession ready: Yes ñ the highway chase scenes are rendered plausible again due to depressed gas prices. Our interplanetary visitors may also have some valuable advice about alternate energy sources.
Who’s in it: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Cantalupo
What it’s about: A defiantly unglamorous sort of mob movie, this Cannes prize winner from Italy exposes the inner workings of a crime syndicate in Naples.
Recession ready: Definitely. Thoughtful viewers will appreciate Gomorrah’s bracing portrayal of the ways that greed and criminality turn an economy toxic.
Who’s in it: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti
What it’s about: Two corporate spies (and ex-lovers) team up to get back at a company that burned them in writer-director Tony Gilroy’s follow-up to Michael Clayton.
Recession ready: Not as much as it seems. Gilroy’s film is poised to capitalize on viewers’ anger at corporate weasels but the poor performance of The International doesn’t bode well for biz-minded thrillers.
Monsters vs. Aliens
Who’s in it: Voices of Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Hugh Laurie
What it’s about: In this 3-D animated feature from the DreamWorks team behind Shrek and A Shark’s Tale, a ragtag crew of mutant humans helps defend the Earth from ñ you guessed it ñ an alien invasion.
Recession ready: Hollywood bean-counters are banking on ever-improving digital 3-D technology to turn young viewers (and their parents) into loyal ticket buyers.
Who’s in it: Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Madeline Ivalu, Paul-Dylan Ivalu
What it’s about: Named the best Canadian first feature at TIFF last September, the latest production by the team behind Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) tells of an elderly Inuit woman and her grandson who struggle to survive in the Far North after their community is devastated.
Recession ready: Yes. The depiction of the pair’s hardships in the Arctic is a vital reminder of what people can endure (though maybe not for very long).
Who’s in it: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
What it’s about: Young amusement-park employees get up to no good in this comedy by Superbad director Greg Mottola.
Recession ready: Fer sure. Adventureland’s nostalgic ’80s setting removes it from the stresses of the here and now.
Fast & Furious
Who’s in it: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez
What it’s about: The stars of the original The Fast and the Furious movie reunite to bring down a heroin operation and to race some more hot cars.
Recession ready: Looks dicey ñ the withering auto market could spell doom for this car-crazy franchise. Plus, real-life tragedies due to illegal street racing have made the phony kind a lot less sexy.
Who’s in it: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham
What it’s about: The debut feature by video artist Steve McQueen recounts the circumstances surrounding the early-1980s hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the IRA.
Recession ready: Yes. Major awards from TIFF, Cannes and nearly everywhere else make Hunger one of the movies of the moment.
Even so, its horrific images of brutality and suffering are tough to take at any time.
Observe and Report
Who’s in it: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta
What it’s about: A dim-witted mall security guard gets a chance to shine when he becomes part of a police operation to catch a flasher.
Recession ready: More so than you’d think. The surprise success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop suggests that viewers still have warm feelings for shopping malls despite not having any money to spend.
Who’s in it: Matthew Perry, Zac Efron, Leslie Mann
What it’s about: An unhappy man gets a chance to rewrite his life story when he’s mysteriously transformed back into his teenage self.
Recession ready: Weirdly so ñ what with unemployment rising and expectations sinking, it already feels like we’ve been transported back to 1976, the same year that audiences flocked to see Freaky Friday or 1988 for Big ñ other tales of youth regained.
Crank: High Voltage
Who’s in it: Jason Statham, Dwight Yoakam, David Carradine
What it’s about: Despite dying at the end of its over-adrenalized 2006 predecessor ñ regarded by action fans as the best of Statham’s star vehicles ñ Chev Chelios is back for more abuse as he hunts the baddies who have his heart ñ literally.
Recession ready: Damn straight ñ if this sequel even has half of the ridiculous velocity of the original Crank, that’ll be more than enough to take your mind off your woes.
Who’s in it: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener
What it’s about: In this adaptation of the memoir by Steve Lopez, a reporter befriends a Juilliard-trained violinist he discovers living on skid row in Los Angeles.
Recession ready: Better now than last fall. Though The Soloist’s postponement from its November release date was interpreted as a sign of trouble, this story of small triumphs in hard times may actually benefit from our tough new economic climate.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Who’s in it: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
What it’s about: A sensitive young mutant ñ a French Canadian in the original Marvel comic, though he’s since been Americanized ñ copes with life with an indestructible metal skeleton.
Recession ready: Looking good. The all-pervasive atmosphere of dread is likely to encourage viewers’ fondness for internally conflicted movie heroes, a trend already established with the popularity of The Dark Knight’s Batman, James Bond and Jason Bourne.
The Ghost of Girlfriends Past
Who’s in it: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Emma Stone
What it’s about: An incorrigible ladies’ man gets a supernatural kind of comeuppance when he is taught some harsh lessons by the ghosts of former girlfriends on the eve of his younger brother’s wedding.
Recession ready: Women think so. The healthy box office for female-targeted films like Mamma Mia! and He’s Just Not That Into You have helped keep the studios in the black. What’s more, McConaughey’s charms are powerful enough to make hits even out of movies as awful as Fool’s Gold and Failure to Launch.
Who’s in it: Chris Pine, Zachary Pinto, Simon Pegg
What it’s about: J.J. Abrams and his young cast boldly go where umpteen Star Trek TV shows and feature films have gone before. That said, the Enterprise crew’s new mission could freshen up a moribund franchise.
Recession ready: Fanboys think so, plus, the multiracial cast and Obama-appropriate emphasis on hope and cooperation may capture the zeitgeist more successfully than other new blockbusters.
Who’s in it: Scott Speedman, Arsinee Khanjian, Rachel Blanchard
What it’s about: A Toronto teen’s phony claims to be the offspring of would-be bombers sparks an inquiry into the real history of his parents’ tragic demise.
Recession ready: Atom Egoyan hopes so. The latest feature by the local auteur marks a return to some favourite themes and a more modest scale after the big-budget misfire of Where the Truth Lies.
Angels and Demons
Who’s in it: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard
What it’s about: In this follow-up to The Da Vinci Code (presented as a sequel here, though Dan Brown’s original book was actually that bestseller’s predecessor), more of the Vatican’s best-guarded secrets are brought to light by intrepid professor Robert Langdon.
Recession ready: Iffy. Recent troubles have made many people more interested in spiritual matters than in sinister conspiracies.
Who’s in it: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard
What it’s about: The science-fiction franchise launched by James Cameron’s 1984 hit enters its latest incarnation by returning to the early days of warfare between humans and machines.
Recession ready: We refuse to speculate lest we incur Bale’s fiery wrath.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Who’s in it: Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Robin Williams
What it’s about: Statues and dioramas get lively once again as Stiller and his co-stars cause a ruckus in another American institution.
Recession ready: Yes indeed. A movie ticket still remains far cheaper than an actual visit to Washington, D.C.
The Brothers Bloom
Who’s in it: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz
What it’s about: In this caper movie by Brick director Rian Johnson, sibling con men meet their match when they try to bilk an heiress who’s just as crafty.
Recession ready: Hard to say. The Brothers Bloom might have missed its moment when its release was postponed from last October. And its cool reception at the Toronto International Film Festival the month before suggests that audiences may be wary of these grifter brothers.
And do we really need to be reminded of the Bernie Madoffs of the world?
Previewing Hollywood’s spring movies