New Movie News: January and February

The first two months of the year always seem to represent the worst in filmmaking. In 2014, however, there appear to be some inspired choices for theatrical release (or, if not inspired, at least worthy of some discussion). Here are seven titles to keep in mind when trying to find something worthwhile amidst the onslaught of those 80s-redux RoboCop and Endless Love remakes.

At Middleton (January 31) Based on an original screenplay by Glenn German and director Adam Rodgers, this romance stars Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga (ages 56 and 38-going-on-39, respectively, during filming) as two parents who fall for each other while accompanying their kids on a college tour. From what I’ve heard, it’s actually a pretty good movie. Besides, the film also features Tom Skerritt (can you believe he’s 80 years old already?), so it can’t be all bad.

Labor Day (January 31) – I usually scoff when I see ads for this film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, but I suppose I should hold my tongue until I actually see it. I enjoy director Jason Reitman’s first two films, Thank You for Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007), which are dark comedies dealing with serious topics in witty ways, but Labor Day looks like the kind of melodramatic stuff adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels (see A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, The Last Song, et cetera, et cetera). Cheesy romance can be terrible rather than a guilty pleasure, but again, I’ll refrain from further comment until I have seen the whole production.

Life After Beth (January 31) – Zombie movies are a dime a dozen, but I am willing to try a comedy starring Aubrey Plaza (the great April Ludgate from “Parks and Recreation”) as the title undead woman and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings) as her former boyfriend. The film stars other young actors like Anna Kendrick, Matthew Gray Gubler and Alia Shawkat and also the older, more established names of John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser.

The Monuments Men (February 7) – An unusually A-list-caliber group shows up here in George Clooney’s fifth directorial effort since the film was originally supposed to open back in December for awards season. Clooney himself, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and even composer Alexandre Desplat populate the cast of this World War II drama about the recovery of artworks that had been stolen by Nazis.

One Chance (February 7) – This feel-good story of a working-class man aspiring to be an opera singer stars James Corden, who won a Tony for the Broadway show One Man, Two Guvnors in 2012 and who I know (and adore) best for his recurring role as endearing English bloke Craig Owens on “Doctor Who.”

In Secret (February 21) – After a school semester of 19th century art history, in which my professor often spoke of Emile Zola’s literature, I finally decided to try Zola’s scandalous 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin. What a page-turner! I fully expect this film to be just as passionate and disturbing, particularly because Elizabeth Olsen (the maladjusted heroine of Martha Marcy May Marlene) is the lead, although I am aware that there have been award-winning versions made in 1953 (Simone Signoret) and 1980 (Kate Nelligan) as well.

The Wind Rises (February 21) – I definitely got some chills when watching the trailer for Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song when I was at the movies recently. As a person interested in both Japanese cinema and Japanese history, I want to see how Miyazaki’s highly artistic form of storytelling intersects with depictions of his nation’s actions during World War II.

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