Will Avatar make every successive Hollywood blockbuster look like it’s underachieving? For at least the next few months, the answer’s yes. Studios are responding to James Cameron’s monolith by turning everything into 3D whether it demands it or not. This slash ‘n’ burn blockbuster policy is in keeping with a season filled with retreads, reboots and sequels.
High points? While the prospect of Shrek 4 may no longer seem so appetizing—admit it, you didn’t even know it was being released this year—fanboys are salivating over the already spit-sodden Iron Man 2. The airport paperback set, on the other hand, are looking forward to Bourne Goes to Iraq, aka Green Zone. Carrie and co. will also flounce back onto our screens in a new Sex and the City.
Maybe Squally will stick to the return of Mike Newell and the singular pleasures of Tyler Perry. Regardless of the quality, feel the width. This is a star-laden line-up, with Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway all returning to the screen. While they cash the checks, we’ll continue to tip less mainstream fare in our Must See Movie series. Click on the titles for trailers, etc.
Alice in Wonderland
Release date: March 5
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
After damn near 20 years of hit-making, Tim Burton finally found himself as a director by turning to established properties like Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd. A marriage with Lewis Carroll should be a nice fit. Alas, this “sequel” to the original cockeyed gospel looks like an unholy mess. Depp channels Peter Lorre as the Mad Hatter.
Fun fact: Critic Gilles Deleuze proclaimed that Carroll’s final work Sylvie and Bruno “is no doubt the first book that tells two stories at the same time, not one inside the other, but two contiguous stories.” Heads up, Disney. Get Todd Solondz on it.
Release date: March 12
Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson
Damon mans up as Roy Miller, a Chief Warrant Officer whose job sniffing out WMDs in Baghdad is compromised by the U.S. administration. In the time-honored Hollywood tradition, he goes rogue. Hey, if they didn’t want him to make waves, they shouldn’t have put him in the middle of the desert.
Fun fact: Bourne director Paul Greengrass first approached Tom Stoppard to adopt Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, but was turned down.
Clash of the Titans
Release date: April 2
Starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen
Hope Avatar star Worthington finds another facial expression as Perseus, the ancient hero who defeats all manner of beasties with the help of a flying horse. The 1981 original’s charming stop-motion has been replaced by CGI (and 3D) and that sucks, but the trailer for Louis Leterrier’s mythological moussaka left us feeling like we’d taken a haymaker from Hercules.
Fun fact: According to one mythological tradition, Perseus is credited with inventing the game of quoits, a variant of horseshoes. Sadly, Perseus killed his grandfather during a game.
Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?
Release date: April 2
Starring Janet Jackson, Michael Jai White, Tyler Perry
Critics loathe him, but there’s no doubt that writer/director/producer/star/friend-of-Oprah Tyler Perry is a true auteur unafraid to smear emotion all over the frame. This sequel reunites the cast members of his 2007 hit for a second couples retreat in Bermuda. The appearance of an ex- causes the fur and homespun philosophy to fly.
Fun fact: The original 2004 stage production of Why Did I Get Married? featured R&B singer Chico DeBarge in a role Lamman Tucker went on to play onscreen.
Release date: April 16
Starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz
Tired of being a punching bag for the local bullies, geek Dave Lizewski decides to become a superhero. His amateur efforts at crime-fighting entangle him with the real deal–Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Dave learns that these vigilantes mean business. Mayhem ensues, as it usually does in anything associated with self-promoter par excellence Mark Millar (Wanted).
Fun fact: The protagonist’s name was decided by an auction, with the winner Dave Lizewski choosing his own moniker.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Release date: April 21
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia Laboeuf, Josh Brolin
While your 401k was headed into the shitter, Gordon Gekko was staging a comeback. The “greed is good” guy is a reformed character. He partners with a younger trader (Laboeuf) to clean up the Street, suggesting that director Oliver Stone either has a weird sense of humor or has fashioned his very own Godfather III. We’re praying for a short sell.
Fun fact: Oliver Stone’s stockbroker dad Louis was an aide to Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. He met his future bride, Jacqueline, while serving in France.
Release date: April 23
Starring Will Forte, Val Kilmer, Kristen Wiig
Feels like it’s been a while since we’ve had a shitty Saturday Night Live spin-off. Fortunately relief is at hand in the form of Will Forte’s fitfully amusing super-agent. Maybe we should be grateful that it provides the mighty Powers Boothe with something to feather his nest.
Fun fact: Will Forte serves on the Board of Directors of the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness. That makes us feel bad about slamming his movie.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Release date: April 30
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner
Want nightmares? How about a remake of the 1980s horror classic okayed by Michael Bay? Way back in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the director suggested Freddie Krueger had become a monster out of his control. Guess that entitles him to sit back and count the bucks made from this teen-friendly “re-imagining.”
Fun fact: Heather Langenkamp, the final girl of the 1984 original, now runs a surfer trading card company called Malibu Gum.
Release date: April 30
Starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall
Keener and Platt are antiques dealers looking to annex their elderly neighbor’s apartment. They run afoul of the women’s granddaughters (Peet, Hall), who affect them in different ways. The new film from Nicole Holofcener, whose wry urban satires include the indie film mainstay Walking and Talking.
Fun fact: Keener’s first role was appearing as a waitress in About Last Night …. Platt’s first film role was in Married to the Mob after Bill Murray recommended him to Jonathan Demme.
Iron Man 2
Release date: May 7
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson
In the great superhero wars of 2008, Squally was firmly in The Dark Knight camp. We can see, though, how Downey’s cheeky performance and Favreau’s rainbow vision of Marvel’s shellhead appealed. Added to the mix is Rourke serving up borscht and Johansson’s leather-sheathed Black Widow. The trailer hinted that we’ll see too much of one and not enough of the other.
Fun fact: In the year’s strangest piece of casting, Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee will play CNN gargoyle Larry King.
Release date: May 14
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong
Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott will to breathe a big sigh of relief when Hood finally swings into theatres. The film began life with Crowe playing both the green-tighted outlaw and the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s since been scaled back to a medieval tale with requisite Gladiator trimmings.
Fun fact: Robin Hood was played by Robert Frazer in the earliest surviving movie about his adventures. In a career spanning over 200 films, Frazer went on to play such characters as Jesus Christ, “Vanderbilt’s broker” and “Crooked Businessman.”
Shrek Forever After
Release date: May 21
Starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy
Are your kids still crying out to see more of Shrek? Let’s put that another way. Are they still wearing diapers? This time a pact with Rumpelstiltskin transports the jolly green ogre to a terrifying parallel fairytale universe that allows him to do it all over again. Paul McCartney voices the troll, while Jon Hamm, Amy Sedaris and Jane Lynch also make contributions.
Fun fact: One of Mike Myers’ earliest roles was in a commercial where Gilda Radner plays his mother.
George A. Romero Survival of the Dead
Release date: May 28
Starring Julian Richings, Devon Bostick, Athena Karkanis
Those zombies still haven’t gone away. A gang of mercenaries seeking some respite head for a remote island, only to find a rehabilitation facility dedicated to turn the zombies back into productive citizens. Critical reaction has ranged from “Raoul Walsh’s ghost is still dancing” to “This time, it’s not only the zombies who look a mess.”
Fun fact: One of Romero’s earliest directorial gigs was filming segments for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Release date: May 28
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley
A Persian street kid gets a leg up in life when the king makes him his heir. Next on the list: wresting control of time from an evil courtier. The auteurist in Squally laps up anything by Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco), but the principal appeal of this Jerry Bruckheimer popcorn accompaniment will be how long Gyllenhaal keeps his shirt off.
Fun fact: The video game’s creator Jordan Mechner directed a documentary about Chavez Ravine, a vanished Los Angeles neighborhood that also inspired a Ry Cooder concept album.
Sex and the City 2
Release date: May 28
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon
Carrie Bradshaw changes outfits while bitching about Mr. Big. Eh, who is Squally kidding? It’s harmless fluff. Cameos are due from Penelope Cruz, Barbra Streisand, Miley Cyrus and Bette Midler. In between this and Prince of Persia, May 28 is going to be a red letter day for the fugitives of Gomorrah.
Fun fact: Parker’s hometown of Nelsonville, Ohio, hosted a Teddy Roosevelt presidential campaign stop in 1912.
Tags: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Aaron Johnson, Alice in Wonderland, Amanda Peet, Athena Karkanis, Ben Kingsley, Brendan Gleeson, Cameron Diaz, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Keener, Chico DeBarge, Chloe Moretz, Clash of the Titans, Cynthia Nixon, Dave Lizewski, Devon Bostick, Eddie Murphy, Gemma Arterton, George A. Romero, George A. Romero Survival of the Dead, Gilles Deleuze, Green Zone, Greg Kinnear, Heather Langenkamp, Helena Bonham Carter, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Iron Man 2, Jackie Earle Haley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Janet Jackson, Johnny Depp, Jon Favreau, Jordan Mechner, Josh Brolin, Julian Richings, Kick-Ass, Kim Cattrall, Kristen Wiig, Kristin Davis, Kyle Gallner, Lamman Tucker, Lewis Carroll, MacGruber, Mads Mikkelsen, Mark Millar, Mark Strong, Matt Damon, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Bay, Michael Douglas, Michael Jai White, Mickey Rourke, Mike Myers, Mike Newell, Nicolas Cage, Nicole Holofcener, Oliver Platt, Oliver Stone, Paul Greengrass, Perseus, Please Give, Powers Boothe, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Rebecca Hall, Ridley Scott, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Frazer, Robin Hood, Rooney Mara, Russell Crowe, Sam Worthington, Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson, Sex and the City 2, Shia Laboeuf, Shrek Forever After, Stan Lee, Tim Burton, Tom Stoppard, Tyler Perry, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?, Val Kilmer, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Will Forte