January is often known as one of the two months studios use as a dumping ground for troubled movies. After the humongous winter months of November and December when studios release their prestige films hoping for Oscar nominations, and family friendly blockbusters to keep the kids and their parents entertained over the school break, studios tend to scale back their output. This January is no exception with only a couple medium-profile releases.
Universal hopes to have this January's comedy hit with Along Came Polly, a romantic comedy starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. Stiller plays Ruben Feffets, a man who has spent his entire life as someone who simply doesn't take risks. After his bride dumps him on his honeymoon, he plans to play things closer than ever. What he doesn't expect is a chance encounter with childhood friend Polly (Jennifer Aniston) who takes him into a world of activities beyond that of his wildest dreams. Stiller's had a couple shaky openings of late, with Duplex failing to light up the sold out signs on box offices across North America, but Aniston is red-hot on Friends. Not to mention the trailer looks extremely funny and has been getting lots of laughs every time it's on-screen. Look for Along Came Polly on January 16th.
If comedy is not your cup of tea, then perhaps a group of high schoolers breaking into a testing center to steal a copy of the SAT to improve their scores is. That's the premise behind Paramount Pictures' and MTV Films' latest effort, The Perfect Score. Erika Christensen (Traffic) joins current "it girl" Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, The Girl with the Pearl Earring) in this teen action thriller. Despite a plot line that seems pretty standard, this film is directed by Brian Robbins, the man responsible for Varsity Blues, the film that put MTV Films on the map and a huge January hit from a few years back. The testing begins January 31st.
Also making its way into multiplexes in January is the motorcycle actioner Torque from Warner Bros. and featuring Ice Cube in his first of two films to be released in the early part of 2003. Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) plays a small town girl who tries to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, also opening on the 23rd from DreamWorks. Bouncing its way into theaters one week later on the 30th is Warner Bros.' remake of the 1969 film The Big Bounce, with Owen Wilson in the Ryan O'Neal role, and also that day is Screen Gem's black comedy You Got Served and Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, the first of two sequels to the surprise Canadian horror hit of 2000.
With the dog days of January behind them, studios start ramping up their output in February with a plethora of both exciting high-profile releases and sure-fire box office hits. This month has something for everyone, including a pair of sequels and a controversial release from Mel Gibson which has already caused a great divide in the press.
Just in time for Valentines Day, Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios release 50 First Dates, a romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with a girl. The only problem is she has no short term memory. Adam Sandler reunites with his Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore in this sure-fire hit. Memory loss pictures seem to be hot at the box office after Memento and Paycheck, so combine that with the box office clout of Adam Sandler and there's no question this film will play to packed houses. Directed by frequent Sandler collaborator Peter Segal and written by a bunch of Sandler's buddies, there's no reason to expect anything but trademark Sandler. The Lord of the Rings fans take note: this is the first post-Samwise Gangee role for Sean Astin. The first of many dates is February 13th.
Ash Wednesday marks the long-awaited release of director/actor Mel Gibson's controversial The Passion of the Christ, which tells the story of the last 12 hours of Christ's life. The film, which has been causing a stir amongst various religious groups and within the Catholic church, stars Jim Caviezel and Monica Belluci and is told entirely in three ancient languages including Aramaic. Gibson was originally planning not to include subtitles, suggesting that the images should speak for themselves. However, he's since relented and the film will include English subtitles, making it more accessible for North American audiences. Despite an initial struggle to obtain distribution, Newmarket Films (Whale Rider, Memento) in the U.S. and Equinoxe Films in Canada have signed on, and the film will see a limited release on February 25th.
Other February releases are Miracle, a story about Team USA's 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice" starring Kurt Russell (Feb. 6th). Ice Cube is back at the Barbershop in Barbershop 2 (Feb. 6th). 20th Century Fox has two February releases with Catch that Kid entering theatres on the 6th, while Ray Romano makes his live-action movie debut in Welcome to Mooseport two weeks later on the 20th. Punching its way into theatres that same week is the Meg Ryan boxing drama Against the Cut from Paramount Pictures, which was delayed from a 2003 opening. DreamWorks takes another vacation with Eurotrip and Samuel L. Jackson and Ashley Judd become Twisted on February 27th. Those crazy Broken Lizard comedy troupe members (Super Troopers) are back in Club Dread while Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights moves onto the dance floor February 27th.
Spring seems to be starting a little early this year as the movie studios kick things into high gear during the month of March, with a number of highly-anticipated sequels and remakes making up the majority of the releases this month. With so many movies being released, I for one know I'll be spending a considerable amount of time at the multiplex.
March 5th sees the release of two highly-anticipated releases. The first is Warner Bros.' Starsky and Hutch movie starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Stiller is red-hot as a comedian and Wilson is no slouch either. Combine that with the popularity of one of the 70's biggest TV shows and you have a proven winner. If that's not enough for you, then add Todd Phillips -- director of one of the funniest comedies in some time, Old School -- and well, I'm sure you can't go wrong. Competing directly against that is Walt Disney Pictures' Hidalgo starring Viggo Mortensen, hot off the sucess of the third and final Lord of the Rings.
Fans of director Kevin Smith will be happy to know that his latest Jersey Girl will finally hit screens on March 19th from Miramax Films. This shot-in-2002 film marks the first feature for Smith to take place outside of his "Askewniverse" and the first without his trademark characters Jay and Silent Bob. Ben Affleck stars as Ollie Trinkie, a hotshot ad executive whose world changes when he loses his wife and his job and is forced to move back into the suburbs to take care of his daughter. Liv Tyler, Jason Biggs, and George Carlin make up the supporting cast in a film that's loosely based on Kevin's own experiences with fatherhood. Jennifer Lopez does make a brief appearance in the film, but don't worry, this isn't another Gigli. This has all the makings to be his best and most personal film since Chasing Amy.
Scooby Doo is back in theaters on March 26th with Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, the follow-up to the live action CGI film from 2002. All the main cast returns, including Sarah Michelle Gellar, her husband Freddie Prinze Jr., and Matthew Lillard. This time, the Mystery Inc. team tries to stop an anonymous villain from taking control of the city of Coolsville with a monster machine that recreates all of their most notorious foes. The core creative team from the first film returns, with director Raja Gosnell and writer James Gunn heading up the pack, so fans of the first will surely be happy with this one.
March 12th sees the release of four films. Hot on the success of Mona Lisa Smile and one of the nicest actresses I've ever met Julia Stiles returns to screens with Paramount's The Prince and Me, while Elisa Cuthbert fulfills every man's dream when she plays an ex-porn star in 20th Century Fox's The Girl Next Door. Everyone's favorite Jr. spy Frankie Muniz dawns the mini tuxedo for Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London. Hot young talent not your thing? Then Warner Bros.' Spartan is the latest film from master screenwriter and director David Mamet. Zombies are unleashed on March 19th in Universal's Dawn of the Dead, a reimagining of the 1979 horror film of the same name. Also on the 19th is Angelina Jolie's latest, Taking Lives, the DMX-powered Never Die Alone, and Jim Carrey in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Rounding out the month of March on the 26th is The Ladykillers with Tom Hanks from the Coen Brothers.
You know the old saying April showers bring May flowers, well if that weather prediction holds true this year, this should be yet another banner month at the theaters with no shortage of movies vying for your movie dollars. If there's a theme to this month, it's that young Hollywood is back, with a number of Hollywood's hottest young stars appearing in new projects as well as a couple delayed 2003 releases finally getting their shot on the big screen.
April 9th sees the long awaited release of director John Lee Hancock's The Alamo, a prestige picture for Walt Disney Pictures. The film, based on the true story of "The Last Stand of the Alamo" from 1936 features historical figures Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie. Long projected to be released in theaters in late December, Disney announced that they were so happy with the film that they wanted to allow the director more time to edit the picture. Featuring a talented cast including Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thorton, this has the potential to be one of the spring's biggest hits. Moving a picture out of December is always a risky move given the Oscar nominations, but in this case I think Disney made the right one allowing more people to see The Alamo in a less crowded time of the year.
Fantasy has been given a renewed lease on life with the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Miramax hopes to capitalize on this with the female themed Ella Enchanted, starring The Princess Diaries' Anne Hathaway. This is the story of a young girl who is given the gift of obedience, who soon learns it's more of a curse than a gift when it causes problems for her love life with a handsome prince. Based upon the popular young adult novel of the same name, the studio is hoping this will become a family hit not unlike Disney's (Miramax's parent company) April 2003 hit Holes.
One of Marvel Comics darker characters, The Punisher, makes his way to the big screen on April 16th from Artisan Entertainment. Undercover FBI Agent Frank Castle is devastated when his family, including his wife and children, are murdered in a mistaken Mafia hit. Determined to avenge their deaths and to abolish crime in America, he turns himself into the Punisher, a trenchcoat-wearing judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. Marvel Comic adaptations have been hit and miss of late at the box office, with X2 and Spider-Man becoming humongous hits while Daredevil fizzled. Given the decidedly different set of circumstances and the fact that the film is liable to be rated 'R', this is certainly not going to be a kid friendly adaptation. That being said, you have John Travolta playing the main villain and Rebecca Romjin-Stamos and Laura Harring in the female roles, so this should be a medium-sized hit for the studio.
Director Quentin Tarantino splashed back on to the screen in 2003 with Kill Bill: Volume I, the first half of an assumed 4 hour action-packed epic. In part one, The Bride (Uma Thurman) vowed to get revenge on the group of people responsible for her near-death experience. With three people knocked off that list, The Bride is back to take on Bill himself in Kill Bill: Volume II unspooling onto screens on April 16th from Miramax Films. Kill Bill: Volume I was an action-packed, violent affair and now after roughly 6 months and a lot of speculation, fans will be able to see the end of this tale.
Also making their way into multiplexes during the month of April are Paramount's Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan, the traditionally animated Disney film Home on the Range, the Jack Black comedy Envy from Dreamworks Pictures, and Columbia's comic book adaptation of the Dark Horse title Hellboy. Those four all enter theaters on April 2nd. Meanwhile Warner Bros. will go The Whole Ten Yards on April 9th, while The Rock walks tall in Walking Tall, the latest actioner from MGM, and 20th Century Fox gets a two day jump on its competitors with the Wednesday, April 7th opening of Johnson Family Vacation. April 16th sees the return of Nia My Big Fat Greek Wedding Vardolos to the screen in Universal's Connie and Carla, while Miramax unleashes Hero, the latest in a series of imports from Japan. On April 23rd Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning star in Man on Fire from 20th Century Fox, while Seth Green and Matthew Lillard are left Without a Paddle in director Steven Brill's Paramount Pictures comedy. Also competing on the 23rd is Columbia Pictures' The Secret Window, an adaptation of the Steven King story of the same name. Rounding out the month, Columbia and Screen Gems will be Breakin' All the Rules with the often hilarious Jamie Foxx.
The summer movie season officially gets started in the month of May as Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, and DreamWorks begin to release the first of hopefully many Summer blockbusters. These films vary in scope and size, but bring the return of a popular green computer-animated character as well as three of Hollywood's hottest leading men and one of Britain's most talented exports. And if that's not enough, there's also the latest film from the team that brought you Independence Day. There's so many releases to cover and so little space, so without further ado let's look at the top three.
Universal is first out of the gates once again this year with their summer picture Van Helsing, based on the character that was first introduced in Bram Stokers Dracula. The film, which stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale (her second vampire picture) combines elements of Dracula, The Wolfman, and other characters from Universal's vast catalog of monster properties. Backed by the man who reignited the monster trend with The Mummy, Steven Sommers, this film has a huge budget (reports of up to $150 million) and barring any huge problems should be a success at the box office. The studio is obviously hoping for another Mummy-sized hit that can be used to spawn atleast one or two sequels featuring some or all of the cast. The vampires are unleashed on May 7th.
Gladiator revived the historical epic, and Warner Bros. and director Wolfgang Petersen takes viewers deep into the heart of Troy on May 14th. Set in the lost city of Troy, the film features a tremendous cast including Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, as well as Sean Bean and Eric Bana (The Hulk). Warner Bros. has spared no expense on the film and this has all the makings to be another tremendous film. Usually I'm not one for historical dramas or epics, but this one has the makings to change that, at least temoparily.
The character that gave Disney and Pixar a run for their money and for their hold on the computer animated market is back on May 21st with Shrek 2 from PDI and DreamWorks Pictures. One of the surprise hits of 2001, this film will light up sold out signs as fast as theater employees can sell tickets. All the core creative team is back on board, with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz reprising their roles. Newcomers lending their voices to the film include Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, and John Cleese. The film has one of the better trailers I've seen of late, and I'm eagerly awaiting this sequel.
Fighting those three films for the almighty box office dollars are New York Minute from Warner Bros., which bows on May 7th, Disney's Mr. 3000, which goes head to head with the gladiators of Troy on May 14th, and MGM's Soul Plane, which tackles Columbia's 13 Going on 30 and 20th Century Fox's The Day After Tomorrow on May 28th.
The summer movie season continues full steam ahead during the month of June with the return of one of the most successful children's novels turned-to-films in history as well as a CGI version of one the coolest cats in the history of the comic strip. If that's not enough, Vin Diesel is back in the prequel to one of 2000's surprise hits and Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks in his second film of 2004, The Terminal. If the testosterone levels get too high, you can always sit back and enjoy Nicole Kidman in her remake of a popular 1975 film directed by Frank Oz and featuring Matthew Broderick and the acting debut of country singer Faith Hill.
First up for the month is the return of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the first Potter film to debut during the summer months and is also the first to be directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Curan. Curan is best known for A Little Princess and 2002's stunning Y'Tu Mama Tambien. Stepping in for Christopher Columbus, Curon's Potter looks to be darker and closer to the original text. The film takes place during the young wizard's third year at Hogwarts and details the story of Sirius Black, a renegade wizard who's come looking for Harry. All of the cast, with the exception of the late Richard Harris who's been replaced by Michael Gambon, returns, and with the addition of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black this should be one chapter in the saga you don't want to miss. I was a bit disappointed with Chamber of Secrets, but with a strong teaser trailer out for Azkaban and the promising direction of Curon, this is a must-see for June.
When Pitch Black hit screens, the name Vin Diesel meant very little. Now three years later, Diesel is one of the screen's mega action stars and commands a hefty salary for his appearance. Diesel was one of the best elements of The Fast and The Furious and was a key reason the sequel lacked the firepower and punch of the original. Not wanting to be typecast and be stuck in franchises, Diesel opted out of that film and chose instead to reprise the role of Riddick. June 11th sees the release of Universal Pictures' The Chronicles of Riddick, which like a number of big budget action pictures was shot in Vancouver to keep costs down. I liked the original Pitch Black and while I didn't feel a sequel/prequel was necessary, I do like seeing Vin Diesel act bigger than life so I'll more than likely check this film out.
Also seeing theatrical release during the month of June is Paramount Pictures' The Stepford Wives on June 11th and Disney's remake of Around the World in Eighty Days on Wednesday June 16th, which gets a two day jump on 20th Century Fox's Live action/CGI hybrid Garfield and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, both out on the 18th. Opening a week later on the 25th is Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story with Ben Stiller, and The Wayans Brothers' White Chicks, a film they chose to make over Scary Movie 3.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.