As of now, only 11 Hollywood studio films are set to open this month, which by my advanced calculations comes to less than three a week. (Read tt stern-enzi's broader look at the year ahead here.) Perhaps the most curious of the bunch is The Green Hornet (set to open Jan. 14), visionary director Michel Gondry's film adaptation about a newspaper publisher (a slimmed-down Seth Rogen) who adopts a secret identity to fight crime with his faithful Asian sidekick (Jay Chou).
The odd release date, Gondry's shaky, post-Charlie Kaufman track record (the alarmingly slight Be Kind Rewind was a train wreck of mismatched tones) and the late addition of 3-D are all red flags, but the casting of Rogen and Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz (he replaced Nicolas Cage, who dropped out) as the bad guy and the fact that Gondry is again working from someone else's script (supplied by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the duo behind Superbad) might make this the rare superhero movie with a more overt comedic sensibility and, via the director's crafty lo-fi approach, one with more organically generated special effects.
Speaking of Cage — just when you thought he was back to his 1980s gonzo groove via the delirious Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and his hilarious ode to Adam West in Kick-Ass, he drops this week's seemingly tepid Season of the Witch on us. Throw in last summer's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the heinous-looking Drive Angry 3D (which is set to open Feb. 25) and the currently filming Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance, and it looks like Cage is still making fat paychecks a top priority in order get out of his apparently still-dire financial situation. Please payoff your various islands and other outlandish purchases quickly and come back to us, vintage Nic.
COUNTRY STRONG — Writer-director Shana Feste has the misfortune of shepherding a Country music project a year after Jeff Bridges earned his first Academy Award in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart. The authenticity of the hard-knock life as a singer-songwriter bent every note in Cooper’s film, which kept it perfectly in tune. But Country Strong tries to glitz the arrangement up into a Country Pop piece, and the results are barely radio worthy. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D-plus
SEASON OF THE WITCH — Obviously, Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds) has a degree of comfort working with Nicolas Cage, but there’s no way anyone will buy the off-kilter performer and Ron Perlman as his crusading sidekick in the 14th-century when they sound like they wondered off a mid-1980s buddy picture set. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D-
VISION — Actress-turned-director Margarethe Von Trotta collaborates yet again (the fifth time, to be exact) with actress Barbara Sukowa to tell the story of Hildegard von Bingen (Sukowa), a 12th-century nun known for her skills as a scientist, composer and receiver of visions. (Opens Friday at Mariemont Theatre.) — JG (Not Rated.) Review coming soon.