The polar vortices are still making this country a hassle to travel through, but the box office refuses to – if I may quote the most Arnold Schwarzeneggerest character in film history – chill. While January and February have long been dumping grounds for studios’ least impressive efforts, animated flicks like Frozen and The LEGO Movie, along with surprise hits Ride Along and Lone Survivor, have proven audiences will always make the trek to the cinema if the movies are worth it. But they’ll also stay their asses at home if the film is based around baffling volcano physics. No harm done, there.

March is the month where both Hollywood and the indie circuit really kick into high gear, parading out big budget spectacles, quirky comedies, action romps and yes, even a Tyler Perry movie. While we’ll be covering all of the month’s bigger films here, don’t forget to keep an eye out for more limited premieres (usually attached to a VOD release), including the fascinating documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, Eugenio Mira’s tense and gorgeous thriller Grand Piano, E.L. Katz’s comedic thriller Cheap Thrills and Diego Luna’s historical biopic Cesar Chavez. How terrible for a month to be so overloaded with films. Now let’s put our best slo-mo foot forward and take a look at the possible Oscar hopefuls for next year. (Just kidding.)


300: Rise of an Empire
More so than his Dawn of the Dead remake, 300 is the film that put Zack Snyder and slow-motion fight scenes on the map in a big way, and director Noam Murro has the somewhat unfortunate task of following that up with the CGI-heavy 300: Rise of an Empire. Not exactly an impulsive cash-grab sequel from Warner Bros., Rise of an Empire is years in the making, based on an upcoming graphic novel from the legendary Frank Miller, with a screenplay co-written by Snyder himself. So why does it still feel so flimsy?

The story is a prequel, with the action focused on the Battle of Artemisium, fought between the Greeks and the Persians. More specifically, we’ll see Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) going to town against the man-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green), the Queen of Caria. I’m guessing this one will be less inclined to stick to the history books and more inclined to stick spears into people’s necks with as artsy a blood spatter as possible. Sparta!!
Director: Noam Murro
Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson
Release Date: March 7

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
A big screen version of a repetitively formulaic fan-friendly cartoon like Yogi Bear is completely different from a feature take on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the witty, intelligent and often hilarious characters created by Ted Key for Jay Ward’s The Bullwinkle Show. Every one of those segments was watchable, as they gave light recaps of many historical concepts and figures, and DreamWorks Animation hopefully stuck to that central concept without taking a WACRAP all over everything. It’s hard to go wrong with Mel Brooks as Sigmund Freud though.

For the film, the floppy-eared genius Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) attempts to smooth over a school altercation that Sherman (Max Charles) gets into with Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), assuming that inviting the Petersons over for dinner will be a good tactic. Unfortunately, Sherman messes around with the WABAC machine and throws a wrench into human history, so it’s up to Mr. Peabody to head back in time to see if he can repair it all before it’s too late. Time travel allows for endless comedic potential, and the stellar supporting voice cast – including Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Allison Janney and Lake Bell – are confidence builders, but will Rob Minkoff’s final product stand the test of time?
Director: Rob Minkoff
Stars: Ty Burrell, Steven Colbert, Patrick Warburton, Max Charles
Release Date: March 7
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The Grand Budapest Hotel
For some movie fans, the best part of any given year centers on the release of a Wes Anderson feature, while the rest of us just sit back wondering what the big deal is. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very big deal indeed, taking place inside a giant Eastern European hotel whose best days are behind it. Possibly Anderson’s biggest film in years, this looks like a cross between a Coen brothers film with the ensemble mystery from Robert Altman, all while sticking to the director’s familiar aesthetic and fantastical storytelling.

Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave, a hotel concierge whose job description is equal parts "assisting the wealthy" and "sexually assisting the blonde and wealthy." When one of his conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies after they have relations, Gustave teams up with his young protégé Zero (Tony Revolori) to try and prove his innocence once Gustave is named a suspect in her murder. Enter a priceless painting, a gang of angry family members, an assassin, and Edward Norton’s on-the-ball Inspector Henckels. The rest is history, albeit a completely fictional one.
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan
Release Date: March 7

Need For Speed
Of all of film’s countless sub-genres, video game adaptations still make up some of the worst films in any given year. Don’t expect that to change much with Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed, a feature take on the bestselling (and essentially plot-free) Electronic Arts games of the same name. Though it doesn’t look like much more than a place-keeper between Fast & Furious installments, the film boasts action-meister Shane Black as a producer and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as a lead, so maybe it’ll appear closer to quality than it seems in the side-view mirror.

Paul stars as a street racer named Tobey Marshall who spent years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, framed by his business partner Dino (Dominic Cooper). Once he gets out, his only goal is driving across the country to take care of the people who murdered his friend Pete. In a race. Not a lot of fluff in that description, but all of the revving engines and explosions probably just covered it up. Audience appreciation for Need for Speed will probably dictate whether or not we’re looking at a one-off film or a potential franchise, so don’t fall asleep at the wheel, people.
Director: Scott Waugh
Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton
Release Date: March 14

Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club
Tyler Perry’s films have given us much insight over the years when it comes to how Madea feels about gun control, how Madea feels about white people, and how Madea feels about love. His next film, Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club, is leaving Madea behind and focusing on a more centered story about femme power in a world where being a woman is hard work without the help of likeminded friends. And erection jokes.

A group of single mothers from different backgrounds, all at a crossroads in their lives, come together for support, laughs and discussions about their love lives and hardships. These moms include Nia Long, Amy Smart, Cocoa Brown, Kendra C. Johnson, Zulay Henao and Wendi McLendon-Covey, quite a talented squad who may transcend the stereotypical melodrama that Perry’s films usually bring to the theatrical table. But if all else fails, there’s always Terry Crews.
Director: Tyler Perry
Stars: Nia Long, Amy Smart, Tyler Perry, Terry Crews
Release Date: March 14

Bad Words
Since re-catapulting himself into fame on Arrested Development, Jason Bateman has almost redefined the ladder to success, keeping away from major missteps and slowly ingraining himself in the behind-the-scenes world of cinema with his production company and directorial debut, the spelling bee comedy Bad Words. Rather than playing it safe with something family friendly for easy box office earnings, Bateman created a foul-mouthed riot that probably stars more children than the ones that will actually see it in theaters.

As the immature sad sack Guy Trilby, Bateman will seek out a loophole in the rules for spelling bees that allows him to take on the competition as a 40-year-old adult. Doing so causes much controversy, of course, not the least of which is his questionable friendship with the 10-year-old Chaitanya (Rohan Chand). There are obstacles to overcome and friends to be made, including a female reporter (Kathryn Hahn), but most of all, there are sexual deviancies and four-letter words to teach. Based on the Black List screenplay from Andrew Dodge, Bad Words could be the year’s first great comedy, assuming you didn’t think The Legend of Hercules was a comedy.
Director: Jason Bateman
Stars: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rhan Chand
Release Date: March 14 (Limited) March 28 (Wide)

Enemy
Shot before the more highly touted thriller Prisoners, Enemy is the second team-up between director Denis Villeneuve and actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Though it features a similarly moody atmosphere hinging on a dangerous mystery, Enemy couldn’t be further from the kidnapping drama. Admittedly, it does look like Gyllenhaal borrowed Hugh Jackman’s beard for this role.

Enemy sees Gyllenhaal’s talents split between two characters. One is Adam, a frumpy college professor whose life is electrified when he watches a film and discovers he has an exact double, named Anthony. Some detective work leads him into the life of his doppelgänger, where much befuddling backstabbing and sexiness ensues. At least I think so. Festival goers who saw Enemy last year have done a great job of keeping a tight cap on the film’s secrets. My guess is, the title’s anagram "Yemen" comes into play at some point.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: March 14

Veronica Mars
It is an extremely rare ordeal when a cancelled TV show gets to live on as a film, but the cult detective dram-com Veronica Mars is the quick-witted exception. Though some derided Thomas’ decision to get the film funded through Kickstarter, it proved that there were more than enough fans out there to justify the feature debut of Neptune’s best and brightest. So take that, Hollywood think tanks!

The film’s initially moves from the west to the east, as Veronica is trying to establish a law career in New York, but her old life catches up with her, of course, as ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls once again finds himself on the wrong end of a murder charge. (I guess the victim is at the worst end of that.) Veronica goes back to California to find Logan legal help, but soon finds herself right back on the snooping prowl. Nearly all of the series’ stars have come back in some capacity for the film, with a few new faces to freshen things up, including James Franco playing James Franco. You used to be friends, a long time ago, but will Veronica Mars be the same girl we all know and love?
Director: Rob Thomas
Stars: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni
Release Date: March 14

Divergent
Call it The Personality Trait Games if you’d like, as this young adult novel adaptation from Neil Burger is but the latest in a short line of post-Hunger Games releases that try to carve out handholds in the zeitgeist. It hasn’t worked well for anyone thus far, and it doesn’t look too good for this one, but my foresight has diverged from actual outcomes before.

Divergent stars Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior, a girl reaching maturity in a post-apocalyptic society that has sectioned itself off into virtues. As a teenager, Tris discovers she fits into several of them, giving her the rare distinction of being "divergent," knowledge whose spreading would endanger Tris’ life. She leaves her family and teams up with some other highly responsible young people, including Theo James and Miles Teller, to uncover a plot to kill all Divergent people. Kate Winslet is the bad guy. With a cast that also includes Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson and Tony Goldwyn, it’s certainly got enough talent to keep the box office afloat for a while, assuming the story holds up.
Director: Neil Burger
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Miles Teller
Release Date: March 21

Muppets Most Wanted
Sequel! Sequel! Everyone’s favorite squad of felt-skinned hooligans is back with another round of celebrity-infused mayhem. (Don’t tell Miss Piggy I called her a hooligan.) Director James Bobin stepped into the screenwriting role once Jason Segel decided not to return, and he and Nicholas Stoller are giving audiences a modern take on The Great Muppet Caper, trading the "let’s make something good happen" vibe for "let’s stop something bad from happening," and with 100% more Ricky Gervais.

The globe-spanning premise behind Muppets Most Wanted revolves around a master class criminal named Constantine, voiced by Muppets vet Matt Vogel, who just so happens to look exactly like Kermit the Frog, just with a removable mole on his face. Constantine and his sidekick Dominic Badguy (Gervais) secretly get Kermit arrested while none of the other Muppets realize that their oldest friend is now an imposter. Ty Burrell and Tina Fey are major players here, and we’ll also see Zach Galifianakis reappear, along with Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, Lady Gaga and Tom Hiddleston as the Great Escapo! The marketing campaign, full of pop culture skewing and fake Twitter handles, has been pretty genius, so let’s hope the feature itself holds up.
Director: James Bobin
Stars: The Muppets, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell
Release Date: March 21

Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Lars Van Trier has a controversial film coming out. And if the all-star cast, highly sexual subject matter and film length didn’t already have audiences chattering, Nymphomaniac features a performance from Shia LaBeouf, back when he was still famous and making movies. Thankfully, his asinine public acts of self-mockery haven’t damaged anything too harshly, and the positive buzz coming from festivals and international releases should be what people have in their minds.

This two-hour Volume 1 leads us into the longer tale of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who shares stories of her extremely sexual lifestyle with a man (Stellan Skarsgård) who tends to her wounds after finding her beaten in an alley. Her tales include full onscreen penetration, and performances from Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe and Stacy Martin as young Joe. While it will be hitting theaters later in the month, viewers who want to watch it alone in their home (for reasons that I’d rather not contemplate) can find it on VOD starting March 6.
Director: Lars Van Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin
Release Date: March 21

Noah
It’s hard to gauge which of this film’s major distinctions is more important. Noah is the first of two big budget biblical epics coming out this year – the other being Ridley Scott’s Exodus – and it’s also Darren Aronofsky’s long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s widely acclaimed thriller Black Swan. It’s a far stretch from many of the projects the director’s name was attached to, but if a religious tentpole flick is where he wants to inject his unique vision and storytelling style, I’m all for it.

Starring Russell Crowe as the titular bearded man, Noah recounts the trials and tribulations of Noah and his family, played by Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh and a dread-headed Emma Watson. (Plus Anthony Hopkins as the grandfather.) After visions of wide scale destruction, Noah and the fam start to build the famed ark to house the world’s animals, but it isn’t exactly met with open arms by those who weren’t special enough to receive such visions, including Ray Winstone as Noah’s ferocious nemesis Tubal-cain. Whenever you’re in a fight that’s 6 against 100, it’s good to have a deity on your side.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connolly
Release Date: March 28

Sabotage
Arnold Schwarzenegger is currently reassuming his place atop Action Hero Mountain, with movies like Escape Plan and The Last Stand proving his long lapse into politics only made him older, but not any less capable. His next explosive effort sets him up with director David Ayer, who is well versed in high-intensity crime thrillers, such as Harsh Times and End of Watch. Sabotage might be just the film action fans need to get the drone RoboCop taste out of their mouths.

The 66-year-old star plays John Wharton, the leader of a badass team of DEA operatives, filled out by Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway and others. They take down a huge drug cartel’s safe house, which should be a big success, only things take a turn for the worse when members of the task force start showing up dead. Also starring Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiellow, Terrance Howard, Mireille Enos and Martin Donovan, Sabotage looks like it’ll be March’s meatiest piece of fiction, so long as it isn’t overcooked.
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrance Howard
Release Date: March 28

The Raid 2
Gareth Evans blew up on the international front with 2011’s The Raid: Redemption, which traded in explosions for some of the most masterfully crafted fight cinematography in film history. I still have adrenaline flashbacks from seeing it the first time. Evans is returning to this flipping, flopping and high- kicking universe for The Raid 2, which leaves the walls of the first film’s apartment complex and heads into the streets.

Taking place not long after the events of The Raid, this sequel follows Rama (Iko Uwais) as he takes an undercover position within the Jakarta underworld with aims to shine a light on the corruption taking over the police force, as well as taking down the criminal element. Its Sundance premiere left a lot of people swooning with headrushes, with the action ante somehow upped to greater heights, as having a hammer-wielding badass woman tends to do that. If you want to see one film with the same amount of action as all the other ones combined, look no further.
Director: Gareth Evans
Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo
Release Date: March 28

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