2014 in film: Many happy returns
11:38 AM, Jan 02, 2014
Unlike the rest of us, Hollywood execs haven’t resolved to wipe the slate clean for 2014. Multiplexes will host plenty of well-established characters and themes in the months ahead. USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt previews some of the classic concepts headed our way (release dates are subject to change).
The pop-music biopic
Jersey Boys (June 20)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Freya Tingley
Concept: The popular Broadway jukebox musical comes to the big screen, telling the story of vocal group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. All of the group’s famous tunes are in the movie, but it explores more of Valli’s life than does the musical version, including the relationship with his estranged daughter, Francine (Tingley).
Back story: Eastwood hopes audiences can’t take their eyes off of Young in the role of Valli. The director plucked most of his cast from various stage productions, including Young. A 2006 Tony winner with 1,300 performances under his belt, Young has played Valli more than anybody other than the man with the famous falsetto himself.
“There’s no better audition than playing your Tony-winning role on the original Broadway stage in front of the prospective movie director,” Young says. And by casting roles with theater vets, Eastwood “solidified the legacy of the theater production forever.”
The sci-fi space opera
of the Galaxy (Aug. 1)
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Concept: Marvel goes the Star Wars route with its summer comic-book movie. Audiences will see the team of cosmic outlaws formed to keep a mystical artifact out of the clutches of powerful galactic bad guys. Pratt plays Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, who was taken from Earth as a boy. Saldana is Gamora, the most dangerous woman in space, and Bautista is muscular Drax the Destroyer. The motley crew is filled out by trigger-happy critter Rocket Raccoon and sentient tree Groo (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively).
Back story: People keep telling Gunn that his Guardians is Marvel Studios’ riskiest project yet then he reminds them of a little movie called Iron Man, which also seemed pretty risky at the time. The project is the kind of tent-pole summer movie Gunn has been looking to do his entire career.
“They wanted to re-create the space opera in the Marvel fashion, and that made a lot of sense to me,” he says. “In the little snippets people have seen, they get it pretty easily. I hope the whole movie works in that same way.”
The feel-good sports movie
Draft Day (April 11)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Kevin Costner, Denis Leary, Jennifer Garner
Concept: The general manager (Costner) of a lackluster Cleveland Browns football squad is depending on a high pick in the NFL draft to get a few more W’s for his team and maybe save his job.
Back story: The film also follows the point of view of the coach (Leary), a salary-cap specialist (Garner), the owner (Frank Langella) and the athletes waiting to hear their name called to play in the big leagues. “Inevitably, human stories are what makes movies great and what all these people have to deal with in the midst of whatever the sports truth is going on,” Reitman says. Draft Day is “a story that could almost feel like a documentary, except it has all these interesting and fascinating human and behind-the-scenes stories in it that make us laugh, make us tense and even make us cry.”
The feel-good sports movie, Part 2
Million Dollar Arm
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stars: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton
Concept: Based on a true story, sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) goes to India and brings back two talented cricket players who might be Major League Baseball’s next great pitcher in a Disney film that combines heart and sporting equipment.
Back story: Gillespie, a native Australian who moved to New York City when he was 19, says he could relate to the fish-out-of-water aspect for the youngsters, and also to the agent’s “very ferocious worklife. It’s really about him having to balance that and a family in this case, it’s a surrogate family with the boys.”
The classic monster revival
I, Frankenstein (Jan. 24)
Director: Stuart Beattie
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy
Concept: Back in the day, Frankenstein met everybody from Dracula to the Wolfman to Abbott and Costello. This year, the craftwork creature gets caught up in an immortal war between demons and gargoyles. But he might also get the girl, so at least he’s got that going for him.
Back story: Eckhart stars as Adam, Victor Frankenstein’s action hero of a monster who, unlike his bolt-headed movie predecessor, talks and is really handy with martial arts.
Frankenstein’s body is an amalgamation of a dozen corpses, and he’s been stitched together, but the scarring on the outside just hints at the damage within, Eckhart says. “This guy was left for dead by his father. He called him an aberration, basically hated him from the moment he was born, cast him off, and he had to fend for himself.”
The one person who’s not terrified of him: a scientist (Strahovski) interested in reanimating the dead. “She makes him feel human, and that’s what he’s craved his entire life,” Eckhart says. “They make a good little couple.”
The ’80s cyborg cop revival
RoboCop (Feb. 12)
Director: José Padilha
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
Concept: As in the 1987 original, Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) becomes RoboCop after almost being killed in the line of duty, and there’s an evil corporation at the heart of it. However, the new film draws heavily from modern concerns: In 2028, military drones have been deemed a success, and OmniCorp wants to bring that humanless technology to American law enforcement.
Back story: Kinnaman was obsessed with the original film, from Peter Weller’s cool blaster to his mechanical moves. “Look, I started working on my RoboCop walk way before I became an actor,” he says with a laugh.
As an adult, he appreciated more of the social commentary, though, and there are a lot of philosophical questions again. “What is it to be a human, where is your soul? When you put a man’s brain into a machine that also has artificial-intelligence components, who’s in control?”
“It’s going to be moving to people,” he adds. “The action is about something.”
The biblical epic
Noah (March 28)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson
Concept: The Book of Genesis is the source of the story of how the title character (Crowe) receives prophetic visions of the end of the world via flood. He builds a gigantic ark to house his family and a horde of animals much to the chagrin of others around him and prepares to survive the upcoming disaster.
Back story: It looks like Hollywood still believes the Bible is “the greatest story ever told.” Executive producer Mark Burnett recuts his popular TV miniseries The Bible for the big-screen, Jesus-centric Son of God (Feb. 28), and director Ridley Scott focuses on the Old Testament for Exodus (Dec. 12), which centers on Moses (Christian Bale) leading the Israelites out of Egypt. But it’s Aronofsky who creates a huge production worthy of the “biblical” moniker with Noah.
“I have been intrigued by Noah since I was a kid,” Aronofsky says. “But when you look closely at the story, you find something much more complicated than just a story about animals two-by-two. It is the story of the first apocalypse, and imagining how a family would survive was very interesting to me.”
The mythological hero tale
The Legend of Hercules (Jan. 10)
Director: Renny Harlin
Stars: Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Liam McIntyre
Concept: In this origin story, Lutz plays the son of a human woman and the Greek god Zeus as he’s sold into slavery after his mother is killed by his stepfather. He ultimately discovers his true powers as a demigod along the way to reclaiming his rightful throne.
Back story: Break out the swords, sandals and loincloths 2014 is the year of Hercules. Dwayne Johnson flexes his muscles as the star of director Brett Ratner’s Hercules (July 25), which finds an adult Hercules fighting in the Thracian Wars. But Twilight veteran Lutz strikes first.
To prepare, Lutz immersed himself in viewings of Gladiator, Ben-Hur and Braveheart “to perfect the battle cries and the calls to action for epic scenes.”
Hercules can be viewed as the first superhero, Lutz says. “Maybe he’s a god, as in Thor, or a man like Captain America, but they have rooted human characteristics. They (superheroes) deal with issues of self-denial or guilt, and they have to go through the transitions of a hero’s story to accept their identity and fulfill their destiny.”