Winter Movie Preview, January Movies

2008 Winter Movie Preview: January

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Last January gave us "Code Name: The Cleaner," as clear an indication as any that the studios hate each and every one of us. This year, what's on offer is better than that, by and large; this doesn't mean we're entirely in the clear -- there's still stuff like "Mad Money" to contend with -- but there's a surprising amount of wheat among the typical early-winter chaff. Read on to find out more!

One Missed Call (Warner Bros., January 4)
Starring: Ed Burns, Shannyn Sossamon, Ana Claudia Talancon, Ray Wise, Azura Skye, Johnny Lewis, Jason Beghe, Margaret Cho
Director: Eric Valette
Rating: PG-13

The Pitch: Beth (Sossamon) begins to notice that her friends are dying at an alarming rate -- and receiving cellphone messages consisting of recordings of their deaths days before they happen. Understandably, she freaks the fuck out, and enlists the aid of a police detective (Burns) whose sister might have shared a similar fate.
The Buzz: We like Burns, but hoo boy, has his star fallen in the last ten years or so. What's he doing in this? For that matter, what the hell is Margaret Cho doing in it?
Trailer Highlight: The brief flash of the creepy older woman is kind of scary.
Bottom Line: If you're reading this and thinking it's all got some decidedly Japanese overtones, you're right -- and if you're thinking "didn't that whole fad die at least a year ago?" you're right again. But the January release schedule is always packed with crap, and this is as likely to top the box office as anything else.
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27 Dresses (20th Century Fox, January 11)
: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, Ed Burns, Melora Hardin, Judy Greer
Director: Anne Fletcher
Rating: NR

The Pitch: A bridesmaid 27 times over (Heigl) is forced to confront a lifetime of subsuming her needs when her younger sister (Akerman) gets engaged to the man she loves (Burns). Or at least thinks she loves -- another guy (Marsden) is busy trying to change her mind.
The Buzz: Heigl's hot, and so's her career; even though this looks painfully similar to everything from "In Her Shoes" to "My Best Friend's Wedding," something tells us it'll all turn out fine in the end.
Trailer Highlight: Heigl talking about having hot revenge sex with random strangers.
Bottom Line: In a pinch, you could do worse for a date movie -- in fact, you probably have.
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First Sunday (Screen Gems, January 11)
Ice Cube, Regina Hall, Chi McBride, Loretta Devine, Katt Williams, Tracy Morgan, Malinda Williams
David E. Talbert

The Pitch: The official synopsis calls this "A caper story about two petty criminals who rob their local church." We're hoping Cube and Morgan are the criminals.
The Buzz: We've learned that it's best not to expect a whole lot from comedies bowing in January, and honestly, Cube's script radar seems to have gone completely out of whack lately -- but this has got to be better than "Are We Done Yet?," right?
Trailer Highlight: The pickings are decidedly slim, but Katt Williams gets what passes for the good lines.
Bottom Line: It's undoubtedly going to be as stupid as the day is long -- and we're talking about a day in July. But if Cube and Morgan are at the tops of their respective games, it could be funny, too.
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The Orphanage (Picturehouse, January 11)
Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin, Montserrat Carulla, Mabel Rivera, Andrés Gertrúdix
Juan Antonio Bayona

The Pitch: A woman returns to the orphanage where she was raised after purchasing it with the intention of reopening it as a home for disabled children. She soon discovers, however, that the place has a less-than-positive effect on her young son -- and that it may, in fact, be plagued by a malevolent presence.
The Buzz: It was produced by Guillermo del Toro, whose name is enough to send film geeks into squeals of glee -- and during its original South American run, its reviews were positive enough to spark development of an American remake. In other words, if you liked "Pan's Labyrinth," it's smooth sailing ahead.
Trailer Highlight: For the record, kids wearing sacks on their head are pretty goddamn creepy.
Bottom Line: Unless you have something against subtitles, check this one out.
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Cloverfield (Paramount, January 18)
: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
Director: Matt Reeves
Rating: PG-13

The Pitch: "Cloverfield" was written by Drew Goddard and directed by Matt Reeves, but all anybody knows is that it's being produced by J.J. Abrams, the mad genius behind "Alias," "Lost," and the upcoming "Star Trek" franchise reboot. Abrams has been doing more than just writing checks, though -- he's been flexing his viral-marketing muscle, coordinating a monthslong awareness campaign that had people buzzing about the movie before it even had a title. What's it about? Oh, some monsters or something.
The Buzz: Shrouded in secrecy. All the same, it has the look of the movie that could finally change January from a dumping ground for shitty movies into another stop for blockbusters. At the very least, other filmmakers should be paying very close attention to the way Abrams and friends have heightened anticipation for what looks to be a fairly standard monster movie.
Trailer Highlight: Who can tell? What isn't obscured by shaky hand-cam action is obscured by darkness. If the "Bourne" movies made you want to hurl, watch out for this one.
Bottom Line: Abrams productions have a tendency to come with killer buildups and underwhelming final acts. Will "Cloverfield" continue the trend? Wait for reviews to be sure.
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Mad Money (Overture, January 18)
Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson
Callie Khouri

The Pitch: Three bank employees (Keaton, Latifah, Holmes) scheme to relieve their employer of "worn out" money that's due to be recycled. It's based on a true story, but something tells us that the reality wasn't as "wacky," or scored with "Lady Marmalade."
The Buzz: It's a comedy and it's coming out in January, which means it might wind up being a "Wild Hogs"-sized hit, but it's still gonna suck something awful. Oh, and if you thought you couldn't possibly find Katie Holmes less attractive than the first time you found out about her and Tom, think again.
Trailer Highlight: "It's like recycling!"
Bottom Line: If anyone winds up buying tickets to see this, we lay 80% odds that it'll be because there's nothing else out and they just don't feel like staying home.
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How She Move (Paramount Vantage, January 25)
: Tracey Armstrong, Clé Bennett, Nina Dobrey, Romina D'Ugo
Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid
Rating: PG-13

The Pitch: The trailer lays it all out in the first couple seconds: "When my parents lost everything...that meant there was no more money for private school." And when there's no more money for private school, you know what happens -- time to head back to your old public school in the 'hood, where you can throw down, stand up for your rights, join the step squad, and maybe -- just maybe -- learn a little something about yourself.
The Buzz: More beats 'n' bromides from MTV Films, where the bar seems to be set just a little lower with each successive film. Remember how dumb we all thought "Save the Last Dance" was just a few years ago? Feast your eyes on "How She Move" and pray for us all.
Trailer Highlight: We were all set to say "the dancing," but really, not even the dancing is all that impressive.
Bottom Line: Twenty years ago, this would have been a Very Special Episode of "The Facts of Life." It probably would have sucked a little more, but at least it would have been over in half an hour and had commercial breaks.
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John Rambo (Lionsgate, January 25)
: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Rey Gallegos, Jake La Botz, Tim Kang, Paul Schulze
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Rating: R

The Pitch: Nearly two decades after moviegoers thought he buried the franchise with "Rambo III," Stallone returns for the fourth (and, we can only imagine, final) chapter, which finds Rambo living in Thailand, where he's forced to nobly defend a group of Christian missionaries from warlords or something.
The Buzz: Not "buzz" so much as "snickering."
Trailer Highlight: The trailer, honestly, is a friggin' mess -- a corny voice-over followed by an endless series of quick cuts -- but it's all redeemed with the final shot: A frozen image of Stallone, washed in red, with "JOHN RAMBO COMING SOON" emblazoned over the top. It looks every bit as direct-to-video as you're imagining.
Bottom Line: Bringing the Reagan era's most iconic hero back to the screen just as the Reagan era's disastrous foreign policy mistakes are coming home to roost could have made for an interesting film. Sadly, this does not appear to be that film. Or interesting.
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Untraceable (Screen Gems, January 25)
: Diane Lane, Colin Hanks, Erin Carufel
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Rating: R

The Pitch: Lane plays a "cybercop" who helps the LAPD catch the bad guys from the comfort of her desk -- until, that is, the department discovers an "untraceable" site that's hosting live murders.
The Buzz: It's a thriller being released in January, so you can pretty well bet on a generous helping of stupid dialogue and unbelievable plot twists -- in fact, the trailer stuffs an entire film's worth into just a couple of minutes.
Trailer Highlight: Oh my God, the killer's in the car with her!!!!!!!!
Bottom Line: We love Diane Lane, and respect her need to earn a living, but we totally can't get behind this.
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