Welcome to our monthly movie preview. Here, we will count down our top choices for films opening in the month of March surveying an eclectic mix of titles ranging from the biggest and noisiest to the smallest and the strangest. March 2015 will see the arrival of new films from filmmakers Kenneth Branagh, Neill Blomkamp, and Noah Baumbach and movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Ben Stiller, Sean Penn and Shailene Woodley. Will Ferrell in heading off to jail, Tris and Four return to fight further oppressive terror and Judi Dench checks back into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and there’s plenty more headed to theaters in the month of March, so let’s get on with it.
Long standing question: would Serena, the long delayed Depression-era drama from director Susanne Bier (In a Better World, the 2010 Danish film won the Foreign Language Academy Award) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper ever surface in theaters at all? It’s been a something of phantom piece of filmmaking for the longest time. Shot in spring of 2012 – right after the duo filmed Silver Linings Playbook and right around the time the first Hunger Games was cementing Lawrence a legitimate movie star – Serena is finally set to hit American movie theaters near the end of the month. The premise on paper is rather intriguing. Lawrence and Cooper play a North Carolina couple – Serena and George Pemberton – with a budding timber empire whose growing prominence and stature is threatened by jealousy and social pressures. The story grows darker due to Serena’s infertility and George’s dark secret of an illegitimate child.
Buzzometer: 2/10 - Serena‘s long and bumpy road to U.S. theaters has been besieged with loads of bad press, post-production delays, distributor indifference, and a bad showing at the 2014 London Film Festival, yet because of the star power (Lawrence headlined the top grossing film of 2014 in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Cooper starred in American Sniper, currently the third highest grossing film of 2014) there’s bound to be a certain degree of curiosity. Magnolia Pictures took hold of the film a while back and is planning a VOD release alongside its small (and quite discreet) theatrical opening. While financial returns will undoubtedly be small, still there must a few cinematic completists out there (any, aside from myself?) who just want to see if this film actually exists at all.
Release Date: March 27th (limited)
10) THE GUNMAN
Oscar-winning heavyweights Sean Penn and Javier Bardem headline this new crime drama from director Pierre Morel (Taken). Penn finds his inner Liam Neeson, portraying a former military contractor suffering from PTSD and trying rekindle a romance with a former love. Unfortunately, his past catches up with him and he is forced to trek around Europe in an effort to clear his name. Tony Award winning actor Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl), Ray Winstone (Noah), and Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) co-star. Don MacPherson and Pete Travis wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
Buzzometer: 2/10 – Penn and Bardem, two of the most revered and accomplished actors currently working, top-lining a film together should be considered a big deal, and indeed will likely be the only reason why audiences buy a ticket to The Gunman at all. However, from top to bottom, this looks like a mere junk food offering instead of a full course meal. Not that junk food, in moderation, is completely bad – just ask Liam Neeson, whose third Taken film recently opened and performed well at the box office.
Release Date: March 20th
9) THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
As Tina Fey said a few years back while hosting the Golden Globes, “It’s Hollywood, and if something kinda works they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it.” Yet even the shrewdest of industry insiders couldn’t have expected what a global box office smash The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel would be back in the spring of 2012. The film, which was based on the novel by Deborah Moggach, focused a group of elderly Brits falling under the spell of a dilapidated Indian resort, is getting a most unlikely sequel. Oscar winners Judi Dench (Skyfall) and Maggie Smith (Gosford Park) return, as does Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as the hotel host with dreams of starting a franchise. Richard Gere joins the cast this time around, and Oscar nominated director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) returns as director with screenwriter Ol Parker.
Buzzometer: 4/10 – Not the cool choice to see in March but The Second Best Marigold Hotel is the spring must see for the AARP crowd, which is kind of cool in its own right. Why must all franchises be aimed for the younger male demographic anyway? The question is whether the second trip to India can best the first one. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel minted a worldwide box office take of $136 million, earned two Golden Globe nominations (including one for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical), two Screen Actors Guild nominations (including Best Ensemble Cast) and a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film. All of which is a tall order indeed.
Release Date: March 6th (limited)
8) UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Vince Vaughn, slightly promoted from his 2013 comedy The Internship, plays Daniel Truckman, a down on his luck small business owner who travels to Europe in the hope of landing the biggest professional deal of his life in this new R-rated comedy. Along with his rag-tag team (played by Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco), Daniel is horrified to learn that his competition includes the corporate magnates (played by Sienna Miller and James Marsden) that used to be his employers. Naturally, visits to a sex fetish club and drug use are involved. Ken Scott (who directed Vaughn in the 2013 sperm donor comedy Delivery Man) directs from a script by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness.)
Buzzometer: 5/10 – You have to go all the way back to 2008 to the last time Vaughn starred in a hit comedy (in that case it was the quickly-forgotten Four Christmases co-starring Reese Witherspoon), yet the actor seems on the hunt for a resurgence (he will co-star in the next season of the HBO anthology series True Detective) and the trailer for Unfinished Business, as formulaic as it looks, has a polish and confidence that has been missing from his most recent films. Smart, too, to enlist the aid of ace character actor Wilkinson (Selma, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Franco (on a hot streak lately with supporting parts in Neighbors and 21 Jump Street).
Release Date: March 6th
Set in the near-future, this original science fiction action film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp tells the story of a police droid named Chappie (played by Blomkamp muse Sharlto Copely in a motion-captured performance) that is stolen and given new programming making him the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. The oppressive powers that be (embodied by Hugh Jackman and sci-fi queen Sigourney Weaver) fear this thinking man’s robot may pose a threat to the status quo of humanity. Dev Patel co-stars as the programmer who gives Chappie a soul. Blomkamp also co-wrote the screenplay with his District 9 colleague Terri Tatchell.
Buzzometer: 5/10 - Original science fiction is always something to appreciate, as is big budget filmmaking based on something other than a comic book (or a toy, for that matter), yet there’s likely some fan hesitation to Chappie due to Blomkamp’s divisive District 9 follow-up, the 2013 dystopian Matt Damon yarn Elysium. If Blomkamp can re-capture the scrappy, inventive quality that made District 9 a sleeper hit (and surprise Best Picture Oscar nominee), the sky may be the limit here. If not, well, at least Christopher Nolan still has the clout to make original epically-scoped Hollywood movies.
Release Date: March 6th
6) WHITE GOD
As Chappie looks to explore a battle between man and machine, the Hungarian film White God shows a battle brewing between man and man’s best friend. In this film, written and directed by Kornél Mundruczó, a mixed breed canine named Hagan is separated from the little girl who loves him and becomes involved in a pack of militant mutts who begin organize an uprising against their human oppressors. The film comes with a lauded kennel escape sequence that featured 200 dogs and helped the film ignite a passionate response from critics at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival (where White God premiered), many whom said the film favorably called to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Foreign-language films have a fairly low ceiling on terms of U.S. theatrical grosses, but White God comes with a hook and premise that may well spark a spirited word of mouth within hipper segments of the cinematic community. When the film premiered at Cannes last May, it won the top prize in Un Certain Regard sidebar (with many critics musing the movie probably should have been included in the main competition) and Hungary selected the title as its official selection for this years’ Academy Awards. Magnolia Pictures picked up the title, and with the right degree of hipster marketing may be able to insert White God into the cinematic conversation.
Release Date: March 27th (limited)
5) GET HARD
Not a sex comedy like the title suggests, but a buddy comedy starring Will Ferrell as James King, an investment banker wrongly convicted of fraud, and Kevin Hart as the guy who prepares him for impending life in prison. Problem is Hart’s Darnell Lewis has no actual “thug” experience. The R-rated comedy marks the directorial debut of Etan Cohen (whose screenwriting credits include Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy and Men in Black 3). Allison Brie (Community), Craig T. Nelson (The Incredibles) and rapper T.I., presumably in a tongue-in-check performance, co-star.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Racial sensitivities aside, Get Hard could be a lot of fun in hands of Ferrell and Hart and one of the bigger comedy hits of the year because of their participation. Interestingly, since Ferrell’s film dominance in the early- to mid-2000s (Anchorman, Blades of Glory, Talladega Nights), Hart has stealthily taken over as a top comedic draw in recent years with hits like Think Like a Man, Ride Along and this years’ The Wedding Ringer. If the chemistry between the two is there, expect Get Hard to stick around in theaters for a while.
Release Date: March 20th
4) KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER
Oscar nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) stars as Kumiko, a jaded Japanese woman who happens upon a crummy VHS copy of the 1996 classic Fargo and thinks the film is a documentary. As a result, she believes the suitcase full of stolen cash is real and waiting for her to find it. So begins a most eccentric adventure story. As oddball premises go, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter‘s, as directed by David Zellner from a script co-written with his brother Nathan, is a doozy. And one steeped in film lore as well – Fargo, in a witty prank conceived by that movie’s filmmaker siblings Joel and Ethan Coen, was deceptively marketed as being based on a true story.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Art house audiences should be receptive to this strange new drama based on set-up alone. That the film received nearly unanimous positive response when it debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and surprising two Independent Spirit Awards nods (one for Zellner’s direction and another for Kikuchi’s lead performance) will only help its case. Budding indie start-up Amplify is distributing Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. A new cult classic this may very well be.
Release Date: March 18th (limited)
Following in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent (2014), Walt Disney Pictures continues to mine their chest of many classics and, in the grand new tradition of Hollywood, re-boot them. The 1950 animated classic Cinderella is one of the most enduring Mouse House properties, and now comes a live-action take from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor), screenwriters Aline Brosha McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) and Chris Weitz (About a Boy). British beauty (and Downton Abbey alum) Lily James stars as the titular damsel in distress who is transformed with a little help from her Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and courted by Prince Charming (Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden). 2-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett takes on the part of Lady Tremaine a.k.a. The Evil Stepmother.
Buzzometer: 7/10 – Cinderella recently premiered out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film received favorable (if not ecstatic) reviews, so a hit here seems certain. There’s still an uneasy feeling about the direction these live-action reboots are going to go (Disney has already committed to a live action Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson), and if they distort or hurt the legacy of the animated classics. The big treat here may lie in Blanchett’s portrayal of the Evil Stepmother. If anyone can enliven a formula, surely it’s her.
Release Date: March 13th
2) THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT
Exactly one year after Divergent, the first book in Veronica Roth’s The Hunger Games-like young adult series, arrived in theaters comes chapter two right on schedule. Insurgent picks up events where the last chapter ended with Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) now fugitives on the run from the controlling Erudite faction leader Jeannie (Kate Winslet). Along the way, Tris tries to find out startling family secrets that have lead her down this path. Jai Courtney (Unbroken), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars), and Maggie Q (Mission: Impossible III) return to the series, and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) joins, as does Oscar nominee Naomi Watts (Birdman). Robert Schwentke (Red) directs from a screenplay written by Brian Duffield (Jane Got a Gun), Mark Bombeck (The Wolverine), and Oscar winner Akiva Goldman (A Beautiful Mind.)
Buzzometer: 7/10 – Divergent, while a respectable grosser, didn’t quite have the commercial and critical love afforded to The Hunger Games, so Insurgent really needs to be a bit of an improvement to keep this machine running along at the same clip and not turn fans away. Still, the books are popular enough for a decent first weekend, and even more importantly, Woodley’s star has risen considerably since the first go (with a little help from the summer sleeper hit The Fault in Our Stars).
Release Date: March 20th
1) WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
A new comedy of manners from Oscar nominated writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale) explores the generational divide between a forty-something couple (played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) and a couple in their twenties (played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Tensions and jealously arise between Josh (Stiller) and Jamie (Driver), who both are documentary filmmakers – reportedly Driver’s character is based partially on filmmaker Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), who has collaborated before with Baumbach, marking While We’re Young with a hint of a meta-infused exploration of independent movie making.
Buzzometer: 7/10 – After impressing critics with its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, While We’re Young seems poised to be March’s top specialty title for the hip, urban set. With a sharp cast (veteran Charles Grodin co-stars), strong early reviews and a easily digestible premise, this may become Baumbach’s most accessible comedy yet.
Release Date: March 27th (limited)
ALSO OPENING IN MARCH:
- ACCIDENTAL LOVE- Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel star in this long-delayed political satire. (March 20th- limited)
- COMPARED TO WHAT? THE IMPROBABLE JOURNEY OF BARNEY FRANK- Documentary about the openly gay former House of Representative from Massachusetts. (March 6th- limited)
- DANNY COLLINS- New drama starring Oscar winning legend Al Pacino. (March 20th- limited)
- HOME- The latest animated offering from DreamWorks Animation; features the voices of Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Rihanna. (March 27th)
- MERCHANTS OF DOUBT- Probing documentary about “pundits for hire” who present themselves as authority figures on topics as wide ranging as climate change, pharmaceuticals and toxic chemicals. (March 6th- limited)
- THE RIOT CLUB- Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Max Irons headline this new drama from An Education director Lone Scherfig. (March 27th- limited)
- RUN ALL NIGHT- Liam Neeson plays a hitman forced to take on a brutal former boss. (March 13th)
- THE SALT OF THE EARTH- Oscar nominated documentary on renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado. (March 27th- limited)
- SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION- Ethan Hawke directs a documentary about piano teacher Seymour Bernstein. (March 13- limited)