From Frigid Cinema Winter to Hollywood Spring Fever
By Ethan Gates '12, Arts and Living Section Editor
The months of January and February are traditionally unkind to cinephiles. After the glut of quality films released in late December, just in time to qualify for awards with forgetful voters (Penélope Cruz in “Nine” was really the only other ‘strong’ supporting performance you could think of, Academy members?), every studio dumps their worst projects on the helpless public. This unwritten (I think) pact among Hollywood executives forces audiences into choosing between romantic, chick-oriented schlock like “When in Rome” or violent, dude-oriented schlock like “Legion,” and guarantees at least one bizarre box office total per year (see the $146 million gross for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” last January). Of course, the studios were somewhat foiled this year, as theater-goers merely decided to go see “Avatar” for the16th time.

But fear not, for I bring tidings of great joy. For just this past Groundhog Day, Dwayne Johnson emerged from his burrow and failed to see himself in a tutu, forecasting a shortened winter in Hollywood. Already, quality filmmakers are starting to stir from their studio-imposed hibernation. Here, I offer a preview of some of the most intriguing, prestigious and potentially delightful projects on the horizon. Between limited releases and inexplicable distribution delays, it has become nearly impossible to predict when exactly films will arrive in the Amherst area, so I won’t even try to include dates here. Still, all these films should be released within the next couple of months, so just keep an eye open.

First up, a pair of films that were originally supposed to be released in late 2009 but were delayed due to ‘financial constraints’ (translate: the studios were too busy converting all of their upcoming releases into 3-D to pay for awards campaigns). “Shutter Island” is a home run on paper; based off a book by Dennis Lehane (one of Hollywood’s favorite providers of source material, as the creative force behind “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone”) and helmed by legendary director Martin Scorsese, this film tells the story of two U.S. marshals investigating the disappearance of an inmate from a fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane. Featuring an astounding cast — Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, among others — “Shutter Island” should provide the kind of suspense that only a filmmaker like Scorsese understands. Meanwhile, fans of the Jason Bourne trilogy should flock to “Green Zone,” which features Matt Damon back in action-hero mode as Roy Miller, a U.S. Army officer assigned to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq who instead discovers an elaborate cover-up set up to subvert his mission. Director Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” “The Bourne Supremacy”) is a master of editing, keeping the action frantic but never beyond comprehension.

Is it possible to summarize the buzz surrounding Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” in only a few sentences? Considering his recent arrest by Swiss authorities (Mr. Polanski fled the country over 30 years ago on a charge of sexually assaulting a minor, but has continued to make films in France), this is potentially the last film to be directed by the talented but extremely controversial figure. That would be enough to get me to the theater even if the film’s premise (a ghostwriter hired to write the memoirs of a former British prime minister uncovers secrets that endanger his own life) didn’t promise the kind of psychological thrills Polanski built his career on. Sure to be a hot topic all year long.

There is little I could say to add to the anticipation for Tim Burton’s upcoming, 3-D extravaganza adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” I myself have a host of reservations regarding Burton’s tweaks to the story (what’s up with the war between the White Queen and the Red Queen hinted at in the trailer? The last thing this industry needs is another “Lord of the Rings” knock-off fantasy battle sequence), but there’s no doubt the fantastic cast could end up saving Burton from himself.

Cop drama “Brooklyn’s Finest,” featuring Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere and Don Cheadle, could be a successful return for director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) to the genre where he established his name. On the other hand, is there anything new to be wrung out of crooked cops and complex criminals?

Of course, Amherst Cinema, our local art-house theater, should continue to bring the very best of independent film right to our neighborhood, as it has even during the dark days of the past few months. “The Last Station,” a very literary drama depicting the last year or so of the life of Russian author Leo Tolstoy, has two Oscar nominations under its belt (for Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively), while a trio of universally acclaimed foreign films (“35 Shots of Rum,” “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet”) should delight and challenge those without a phobia of subtitles.

I can’t guarantee that all of these films will prove to be as worthwhile as they sound; and, looking back at my fall preview, my track record at predicting the best entertainment from their concepts is not necessarily the best (hello, “Jennifer’s Body”). The point is that options are a movie-lover’s best friend. There will always be films like “The Wolfman” and ‘Valentine’s Day” floating around, providing cheap computer-generated scares or shameless exploitation of the date crowd. If that’s what you’re looking for from your $7.25, then that’s fine. But if you want a little more content for your hard-earned cash, don’t let the 5,000 commercials for horror-remake “The Crazies” distract you. The good stuff is coming.

Issue 15, Submitted 2010-02-17 01:28:48