It’s been a long, dark couple of months at the start of 2013, with not all that much that’s been worth seeing, bar a few bright spots like “Side Effects” and “No.” But as the days start to get sunnier and warmer (we hope so, at least, or we’re going to jump off something tall fairly soon), the prospects at movie theaters are improving a bit too.
Whether you’re into big tentpole blockbusters or indie films by filmmakers both foreign and domestic, March sees the cinematic calendar kick into gear a little bit, and not a day too soon. To help you find your way through the listings, we’ve picked out ten of the most important movies coming out in the next 31 days. Let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments section.
Synopsis: An strange and creepy uncle moves in with a teenage girl and her emotionally unstable mother after her father dies. Although the girl, India, has suspicions about his motives, she finds herself drawn to him.
What You Need To Know: As events for cinephiles go, a new film from Korean master Park Chan-wook — his first in four years, and his first altogether in English — director of “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy,” was surely going to be one of the biggest of the month. And the film, scripted by “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller and starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Jacki Weaver, only looked more and more promising as production got closer. Unfortunately, according to Rodrigo Perez, who reviewed the film at Sundance for us, something got lost in translation; all the director’s “worst tendencies for the histrionic and overly operatic are on utterly garish display in the overwrought and tonally poisoned” film. Overly-stylized, over-familiar and over-egged, according to our review, he called it “a brutally empty, deeply unfortunate movie.” But it should be noted that, while reviews have been wildly mixed in general, ours is at the more negative end of the spectrum; some critics have called it a masterpiece, and while some other Playlist team members wouldn’t go that far, they did enjoy it more than RP. An acquired taste, and don’t say we didn’t warn you, but surely worth a look just to have an opinion on.
Release Date: Today, Friday March 1st
“Jack The Giant Slayer”
Synopsis: An adaptation of the classic fairytale about a simple farm boy whose magic beans unlock the way to a kingdom of giants in the sky — giants who are in no way friendly.
What You Need To Know: If tracking is to be believed, “Jack The Giant Slayer,” the first new film from director Bryan Singer in over four years, is on its way to becoming a “John Carter“-sized flop when it opens this weekend. And the writing’s been on the wall for a while; the $200 million fairytale had been delayed by almost a year, was retitled, and generally looked pretty shoddy. So color us shocked when the film turned out to be a relatively pleasant surprise. It’s far from a home-run — as Kevin Jagernauth’s review revealed, the film has unnecessary bookend sequences, needless 3D, unclear villains, and “perhaps most crucially, the digital effects leave something to be desired.” But it’s also a pretty enjoyable couple of hours, thanks to a good cast (including Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy and Ewan McGregor), Singer’s “already honed blockbuster sensibilities,” and the film in general being a “familiar, but still compelling, well-oiled swashbuckler.” So if you’re considering a family trip to the multiplex in the near future, you could probably do worse.
Release Date: Today, Friday March 1st
“Oz The Great & Powerful”
Synopsis: An inventor named Oz seeks the opportunity to put his stamp on the world of illusion and storytelling, but he finds more than he bargained for when he’s whisked away to a faraway fantasy land.
What You Need To Know: So you know how we said you could do worse this month when it came to CGI-heavy family adventures? Behold, “Oz The Great & Powerful.” The film’s likely to be the biggest movie of March by a mile, but despite the presence of fanboy favorite Sam Raimi in the director’s chair, and a cast including James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, the film adds up to “a lot of smoke and light, without much behind it.” In an inverse of “Jack The Giant Killer,” the film “looks nothing short of spectacular,” according to Kevin’s review, often “beautifully rendered with eye-popping color.” But narratively, it’s something of a black hole, with the story proving “a dull carbon copy from the 1939 movie…The pacing of the two-hour-plus movie often sags, and the film’s humor never quite establishes the running gags or knocks out the one-line zingers with enough success to call it funny.” And while James Franco makes an appealing lead, Mila Kunis is “woefully miscast.” It’s not a disaster like “Alice in Wonderland,” and does look genuinely spectacular, but you may have more fun with the ‘Jack.’
Release Date: Friday, March 7th
“Dead Man Down”
Synopsis: A man is hired by a young woman to kill an underground crime lord in New York City to settle a personal score.
What You Need To Know: This time of year is thin on the ground for grown-up muscular crime fare, but we hope that “Dead Man Down” might deliver a hit for those who’ve been missing that sort of thing in their cinematic diet of late. The English-language debut of Niels Arden Oplev, the Swedish helmer whose original version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” made him a hot prospect around town, the movie reteams him with his Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace, who toplines alongside a looking-firmly-at-home Colin Farrell in a script from “Fringe” writer J.H. Wyman. Terrence Howard (as the villain), Dominic Cooper and, in a rare U.S. role, Isabelle Huppert make up some of the rest of the supporting cast, which would be worth considering the price of a ticket even if the story turns out to be as generic as it looks. But the visuals are impressive too, and while we haven’t reviewed the film yet, the buzz that we’re hearing is that Oplev brings some European smarts to the action, so “Dead Man Down” could turn out to be this month’s most pleasant surprise.
Release Date: March 8th
“Beyond The Hills”
Synopsis: Two friends find their friendship, faith and love tested in a rural Orthodox monastery.
What You Need To Know: Having delivered one of the true classics of European cinema of the 21st century so far in “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” Romanian New Wave leader Cristian Mungiu came roaring back at Cannes with this punishing but rewarding drama that examines faith, love and evil. It’s undoubtedly a tricky watch, as Kevin found in Cannes, saying, “it’s in the push-and-pull between faith, love, God and the devil that the film may lose some viewers,” and a “seemingly random and open ending” could turn off viewers even more. But the film is “gorgeously lensed, and executed with an exacting aesthetic,” and if you “pace yourself and lean back, the rewards are ample; deceivingly complex, with an emotional center that peels away like an onion the longer it unfolds, this is a powerful effort from Mungiu in which love and faith are both different kinds of poison.”
Release Date: Friday March 8th
Synopsis: Hungry for adventure, four bored college girls land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation. They soon find themselves bailed out by a rapper/drug and arms dealer who will give them a spring break experience they will never forget.
What You Need To Know: In the hands of an average joe, “Spring Breakers” could just be a dramatic reading of “Girls Gone Wild.” In the hands of gonzo auteur Harmony Korine, this bizarre and magical film becomes something entirely different. A pop-art fever dream, it’s a far cry from Korine’s last film, “Trash Humpers.” It’s a glossy, gorgeous, curiously dream-like cult-hit in the making, according to our Venice review. Led by a career-best performance from James Franco as the drug dealer Alien, he’s backed up by the unlikely and usually wholesome quartet of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Heather Morris. It might be a touch more conventional than Korine’s usual fare, but it’s no less impressive, and we’ve got our fingers crossed that its cannily-timed release sees it become a surprise spring break smash among the college crowd.
Release Date: Friday March 15th
“Ginger & Rosa”
Synopsis: The friendship between two teenage girls in 1960s Britain is put to the test when one begins an affair with the other’s father.
What You Need To Know: Sally Potter‘s films have become more and more esoteric over the years (her last was shot entirely on a mobile phone, and was about as watchable as that sounds), but she took a step away from the brink with her excellent period coming-of-age drama “Ginger & Rosa,” which premiered at Telluride last September, where our Rodrigo Perez gave it a rave review. While the “narrative tends to grow unwieldy and wanders non-linearly from a coming-of-age story to something much wider and more complex,” “there’s much to love” about the film. The scenes of adolescent joy are “wonderfully vibrant and charged with an electric youthful energy you simply cannot bottle,” but it also knows when to become “sparse and minimal, but always with a thoughtful, examining gaze that illuminates the lives of these frustrated characters.” The film “seals the deal for [Elle] Fanning as a serious performer who is going to have a long and valued career in cinema,” it also provides a good showcase for the “oft-undervalued” Alessandro Nivola, as her father. It risks being overshadowed by heavier competition this month, but hopefully, audiences catch on to a film that’s “beautiful, yet dark and moving, unsparing, but told with a sympathetic eye.”
Release Date: Friday March 15th
“Welcome To The Punch”
Synopsis: Years after letting him slip through his fingers, a London cop has a second chance to bag his nemesis when he comes back into the country to find his comatose son.
What You Need To Know: Still somewhat under the radar a month before release, we suspect that “Welcome To The Punch” is about to put a lot of people on the map, not least director Eran Creevy, who made an impressive debut with “Shifty” a few years back, but steps up to the majors in a big way. A glossy London-set action-thriller influenced by, among others, Tony Scott, Michael Mann and Hong Kong action movies, it has a pretty great cast for a film like this, with James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, “The Walking Dead” star David Morrissey, Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan and Daniel Mays among those making appearances. We’ve seen the film, but we’re still under embargo. But we don’t think we’re giving the game away too much by saying that this is something you should be putting on your to-see list when it hits theaters at the end of the month.
Release Date: March 27th
Synopsis: A documentary tracking the secret theories and conspiracies behind Stanley Kubrick‘s classic horror film “The Shining.”
What You Need To Know: Of all of Kubrick’s films, the one that’s inspired the most obsessive love is probably “The Shining,” his once-derided, now-classic adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel. “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich, of all people, even runs a blog dedicated to the film, something that’s essentially found a feature film equivalent in Rodney Ascher‘s documentary “Room 237,” which looks at almost every conceivable theory about the picture, from it being a metaphor for the Holocaust, to an allegory for sexual abuse. It could be fanboyish, but Kevin called it “one of the best movies about movies we’ve seen in quite some time” when he saw at Cannes last year. The film proves to be “a celebration of Kubrick’s work and the obsession that great works of art can instill in those who come into contact with them,” and left us with the conclusion that it was “unique and at times profound.” A treat for fans of “The Shining,” Kubrick, and movies in general.
Release Date: March 29th
“The Place Beyond The Pines”
Synopsis: A motorcycle rider commits a crime to support his child. A policeman targets him because of the incident and the two men become locked on a tense collision course which will have a devastating impact on both of their families in the years following.
What You Need To Know: Perhaps the big treat of the month for anyone who cares about film, Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to “Blue Valentine” is equally searing and bruising, but an entirely different film experience to its predecessor, exploring the consequences of action, fate, and the legacies that our fathers pass down to us. Ryan Gosling stars as the criminal, Bradley Cooper as the cop, but the picture is also a triptych that spans time, and features commanding performances by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen as well. Our review out of TIFF (where it was our correspondent’s favorite film of the festival) said that all the movie’s disparate elements “build tremendously into a film that feels like it has shades of classic Italian melodramas put through the lens of a distinctly American film,” adding up to “a film of big ideas and vision,” which sees Cianfrance “place himself in the canon of great, contemporary American filmmakers.” So yeah, time to get excited.
Release Date: Friday March 29th
Also hitting this month and worth a look: Mark Webber‘s drama “The End Of Love,” horror anthology “ABCs Of Death,” Studio Ghibli‘s “From Up On Poppy Hill,” Matteo Garrone‘s “Reality,” DreamWorks Animations‘ “The Croods,” indie “Gimme The Loot,” Cannes crowd-pleaser “The Sapphires,” Spanish Snow White tale “Blancanieves,” and oddball Sundance flick “Wrong,” from the director of “Rubber.” More questionable, but maybe with the potential to be better than we think: Halle Berry in thriller “The Call,” Steve Carell/Jim Carrey comedy “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” Jim Sturgess/Kirsten Dunst romance “Upside Down,” Tina Fey comedy “Admission,” Gerard Butler actioner “Olympus Has Fallen,” franchise sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” Stephenie Meyer‘s “The Host,” and, uh, “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor.”