The Must-See Movies of March

March 1st

21 and Over
Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Cast: Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon

It was last year on this exact weekend that another wild, teen party comedy in Project X appalled parents and law enforcement all across the country. Clearly, 21 and Over is hoping to follow in its footsteps, and with The Hangover writers making their directorial debut it may have a pretty good shot. The red-hot Miles Teller, who also has The Spectacular Now coming up this year, stars alongside Skylar Astin as two friends who take their genius pre-med buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) out for a beer, only to have it devolve into a crazy drunken night of debauchery.

Jack the Giant Slayer
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy

There seems to be more skepticism than anticipation for Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer, mostly due to considerable delays and some truly shoddy trailers. The feeling seems to be that it may turn out to be the first big budget flop of 2013. But there's reason for hope, and that's the strong leading man performance by Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies. He may be able to lure in some of those fans to pony up for a violent, adventuresome retelling of the classic fairy tale, complete with magic beans, beanstalks, and scores of angry giants.

The Last Exorcism Part II
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Cast: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Muse Watson

2010's The Last Exorcism proved to be one of the year's more lucrative horrors, earning a hefty $68M on a budget just a shade under $2M. So it was no shock that the Eli Roth-produced film would warrant a sequel, even with the title seeming to indicate there shouldn't be any. Ashley Bell is back as Nell Sweetzer, who tries to get her life in order after the events of the last film, only to find herself tormented by the same demon. 

Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney

For fans of South Korean director Park Chan-Wook, it's been a terribly long wait since his last film, 2009's Thirst.  Featuring an impeccable cast and the same stylish, heightened reality that made his Vengeance Trilogy such classics, the film follows an eccentric girl dealing with her ferocious mother and the sudden return of her mysterious uncle in the wake of her father's death. A better assemblage of talent couldn't have been gathered for Chan-Wook's English-language debut, and hopefully he fares better than fellow countryman Kim Ji-Woon did last month with The Last Stand.

March 8th

The ABCs of Death
Directors: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Jason Eisener

Over two dozen directors from 15 countries have come together for this ambitious horror anthology, comprised of 26 different stories each based on a different word from each letter of the alphabet. Anthology films tend to be a mixed bag, but with so many directors bringing a different style to the table, this could turn out to be a more successful venture than last fall's V/H/S.

Dead Man Down
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Isabelle Huppert, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper

Niels Arden Oplev and Noomi Rapace struck gold together four years ago with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and now they're hoping a reunion will reap similar results.  A WWE Studios co-production (really), the film has Rapace starring as a sexy seductress who blackmails an enforcer into helping her exact some vengeance against his employer.  The cast is all-star, and the trailers have a dark and moody feel similar to Oplev's previous work. A possible sleeper hit here.

Director: Peter Webber
Cast: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones

Having growled and scowled his way into an Oscar nomination for Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones is set to play another historical curmudgeon in Emperor, a WWII drama from Peter Webber (Hannibal Rising). Jones plays General Douglas MacArthur, while Matthew Fox is investigator Bonner Fellers, a Japanese culture expert hired to decide if Emperor Hirohito should be tried for war crimes. The film played the festival circuit last year to mixed response, but the presence of Jones playing such an important military figure ensures Emperor will receive a lot of attention. 

Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Joey King, Zach Braff

Let's face it, attempting to revisit or reimagine the land of L. Frank Baum's classic The Wizard of Oz has mostly led to failed ventures. So what makes Disney's attempt with Sam Raimi's prequel Oz the Great and Powerful any different? First of all is the presence of Raimi himself, but then there's the incredible if somewhat odd cast he's put together. James Franco plays ethically dubious magician Oscar Diggs who is swept to the world of Oz and must convince three powerful witches (Kunis, Williams, and Weisz) he's the savior they've been waiting for. Colorful and polished like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Disney's hoping the box office is just as comparable.

The We & The I
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast:  Michael Brodie, Teresa Lynn, Raymond Delgado

While the low-wattage The We & The I may look like a fairly standard urban teen drama, it's a far cry from what we've grown accustomed to from the visually inventive Michel Gondry. After venturing into mainstream waters with The Green Hornet, Gondry unveiled this film at Cannes to mostly negative response.  Starring a cast of unknown, the story takes place on a school bus after the last day of school for a group of Bronx teens. Gondry's trademark whimsy appears to have been toned down for this one, but he's been pretty good at making the familiar totally unfamiliar. There may be more here than meets the eye.

March 15th

The Call
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Imperioli, Morris Chestnut, David Otunga

The Call features a lot of talent whose best work may be behind them at this point. Directed by Brad Anderson, who gave us the excellent thrillers The Machinist and Transsiberian, it also stars Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, both of whom have been floundering of late. Another WWE Films production (they are on a roll, aren't they?), the film is largely set at a call center where a 911 operator attempts to save a kidnapped girl in a car trunk.

Ginger & Rosa
Director: Sally Potter
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening,

For those who loved Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures (like yours truly), Ginger & Rosa provides an opportunity to see her really flex her dramatic muscles opposite another young actress mature beyond her years. Englert and Elle Fanning star in the latest film from The Tango Lesson director, Sally Potter, a 1960s era story of two girls dealing with their burgeoning sexuality at a time of societal change and global unrest.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Director: Don Scardino
Cast: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin

Years ago it was Jim Carrey who helped boost Steve Carell's career with a small but hilarious role in Bruce Almighty, and now today it's Carell helping Carrey get back on top. Directed by TV vet Don Scardino and featuring a talented cast, the story has Carell and Buscemi as two old school magicians upstaged by a young and arrogant newcomer. It's another chance to see Oscar-nominee Alan Arkin steal the show in a supporting turn as an inspirational figure, while Carrey seems to be doing his best David Blaine impersonation. 

From Up on Poppy Hill
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Voice Cast: Ron Howard, Gillian Anderson, Sarah Bolger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Anton Yelchin

While there have been big changes over at Studio Ghibli, such as Disney no longer distributing their films stateside, it doesn't seem to have affected the legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Hayao co-wrote the script for From Up on Poppy Hill while his son, Goro, steps behind the camera. The story, set in the 1960s as Japan begins to recover from the effects of WWII, follows a pair of teenagers who fall in love while also attempting to save their favorite clubhouse from destruction. Subtle and nuanced, Miyazaki stresses the need to build a brighter future while not forgetting the mistakes of the past. The film was Japan's top-grosser in 2011, and has a pretty good chance of making some waves here in America.

Spring Breakers
Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, James Franco, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine

The unorthodox, audience-provoking films of Harmony Korine have largely been relegated to the art house circuit, where only those who are looking for stuff like Trash Humpers will find them. But now Korine is bringing his shocking, avant-garde style to the mainstream in a film that is sure to ruffle a few feathers. Corrupting beyond repair Hollywood good girls Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, along with a gold-toothed, corn rowed James Franco, the wild tale of sex and crime follows a group of girls who rob a fast food joint to pay for their spring break trip. Franco plays Alien, a rappin' drug dealer who bails the bikini-clad gals out of prison and takes them on one crazy journey.

Upside Down
Director: Juan Solanas
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jim Sturgess

It's been a long, three year wait for Juan Solanas' inventive sci-fi romance, Upside Down, and the delay has greatly diminished what was a great deal of early buzz. It doesn't help that Sturgess was just in a similar film in Cloud Atlas that tanked at the box office. Here he plays a poor man whose love for an affluent woman (Dunst) is held back by her literally being from a different world, an inverted planet seen immediately overhead, close enough to interact with but never join. The phenomenon is beautifully rendered and visually alluring, even if the metaphor between the rich and downtrodden is a touch heavy-handed.

March 22nd

Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Michael Sheen, Lily Tomlin

Now that she's done playing the refreshingly quirky Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Tina Fey has the chance to do much the same thing on the big screen. In Admission, she plays an awkward Ivy League admissions officer, with Paul Rudd as her fun-loving college classmate. When he introduces her to a seemingly unqualified applicant, a mistake from her past comes roaring back. Tonally, this looks a little scattered, but director Paul Weitz has had success combining laughs and tears in the past. Fey and Rudd will keep this pleasant and charming with more than a few laughs. But will the whole thing work as a whole?

The Croods
Directors: Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco
Voice Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman

Hoping to snag some of the Ice Age audience, Dreamworks Animation's The Croods is hoping to be the next great animated prehistoric comedy. They certainly have the high-powered voice cast to do it, and with How to Train Your Dragon's Chris Sanders directing, the film has a wonderfully vibrant visual appeal. Nicolas Cage and Catherine Keener voice the heads of a caveman family forced out of their home due to a natural disaster, encountering a dangerous and unfamiliar world. Ryan Reynolds plays a hunky nomad they encounter, drawing the attention of their teenaged daughter voiced by Emma Stone.

Olympus Has Fallen
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo,

Get this: A disgraced Secret Service agent looks to redeem himself by saving the President when the White House is overrun by terrorists. Not only is it the premise for Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen, but pretty much the exact same as Roland Emmerich's bigger-budgeted, star-studded White House Down. The two films were racing to production, with Fuqua's film getting the release date edge, although the speed with which it was completed should give some pause. Gerard Butler, in desperate need of a hit to revive his career, plays the agent who will be trying to save the life of Aaron Eckhart. It all sounds a little generic, but with Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Melissa Leo on board maybe there's more to it than meets the eye.

The Sapphires
Wayne Blair
Cast: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell

Big crowd-pleasing musical numbers, weighty subject matter, and a comedic actor making a dramatic breakthrough performance, The Sapphires was looking like a potential awards contender for a while. Based on a true story, the film tackles issues of racism from the rarely-seen perspective of four Aboriginal women who form their own musical group in the mold of The Supremes, then head out to Vietnam to entertain the troops.  While I have some problem with the way race is handled in the film, there's no denying the depth shown by Chris O'Dowd as the group's alcoholic manager. He's just as funny as ever, but also shows he can bring the emotional lumber when called upon.

Starbuck (review here)
Director: Ken Scott
Cast: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie LeBreton

One of the most successful comedies in Canadien history, it was only a matter of time before Ken Scott's film would get an American remake, and it is with Vince Vaughn starring in The Delivery Man. But the original will land stateside first, and it's an enjoyable lightweight comedy about a well-meaning but irresponsible man who discovers all of the sperm he donated years earlier was used to father over 500 children. Even worse, they all want to meet their daddy. 

March 27th

Welcome to the Punch
Director: Eran Creevy
Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, David Morrissey

A year ago, the expectations for Eran Creevy's crime flick Welcome to the Punch were astronomical, and for good reason. The cast is spectacular; it's the follow-up to Creevy's promising debut, Shifty; and Ridley Scott even came aboard to produce. So why is it only getting a limited theatrical release before hitting VOD the same week? James McAvoy and Mark Strong square off as a detective and master criminal, forced into a final showdown when the latter emerges from hiding after disappearing years earlier.

March 29th

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Director: Jon Chu
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, Lee Byung-hun, Ray Park

So will G.I. Joe: Retaliation feature more Channing Tatum or not? The sequel to 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra jettisoned nearly the entire cast but kept Tatum aboard, although his presence has largely been marginalized. The nine month delay was rumored to be so they can add 3D while also beefing up his role, although producers adamantly deny this latter point. It doesn't really matter, as the franchise has been given a jump start by Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, leading the 1980s action figure heroes in a new battle against COBRA.

The Host
Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Jake Abel, Max Irons, William Hurt

For a film based on a novel by Twilight scribe, Stephenie Meyer, there isn't a lot of talk surrounding The Host. Perhaps the supernatural romance is too confusing even for fans of the genre? Saoirse Ronan takes on dual roles as human Melanie Stryder and alien "soul" Wanderer. When Wanderer takes over Mel's mind in an attempt to find the last pockets of human resistance, she instead becomes overwhelmed by her strong human emotions. Love only makes things more complicated, as Mel and Wanderer both fall for two different guys at the same time. Awkward. It's the preferred genre for writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), and with Meyer's name attached this should have a good shot at being the next YA hit.

Director: P.J. Hogan
Cast: Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney

Nineteen years after they both burst on the global scene with the smash hit, Muriel's Wedding, P.J. Hogan and Toni Collette are reunited for the crazy family-comedy, Mental. Collette plays a fiery hitchhiker hired by a desperate father to help watch over his five eccentric daughters, all of whom believe they are afflicted with mental illness.

The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan

A film you're going to want to walk into cold is Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines. While the plot clues you in to the enormity of his multi-generational tale, the intricacies of how it plays out are something to be experienced, not read. In another strong lead performance by Ryan Gosling, he plays Luke, a stunt cyclist who turns to bank robbery to take care of the son he never knew he had. The entire cast is extraordinary, with Bradley Cooper again doing some of the best work of his career as a rookie cop intertwined with Luke's desperate gambles. Don't be surprised to see this one turn up on a lot of "Best of the Year" lists.

Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor
Director: Tyler Perry
Cast: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Vanessa Williams, Kim Kardashian, Lance Gross, Brandy Norwood

Alex Cross didn't exactly establish Tyler Perry as a credible action hero, and it's perhaps too soon to don the Madea wig again, so he's venturing into a genre that has proven to be the least financially successful for him. Temptation is a steamy and provocative thriller starring the talented Jurnee Smollett-Bell(The Great Debaters) as a marriage counselor who embarks on a torrid affair with one of her patients when she gets bored of her own marriage. Things only get worse when she leaves her husband for him, only to discover that she may have made her situation worse. Perry's box office numbers have been slowly declining over the years, and it'll be interesting to see if a film such as this can lure some of those people back.

Director: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Jack Plotnick, √Čric Judor, Alexis Dziena, William Fichtner

Here comes another insane film from the twisted mind of Quentin Dupieux, the director who gave us the insane killer tire movie, Rubber. Wrong brings back Joseph Plotnick as a man searching for his dog, running across a nympho pizza delivery gal, a jogging addict, eccentric pet detectives, and perhaps strangest of all, a mysterious pony-tailed guru named Mr. Chang. Chang is played by William Fichtner because....well, obviously! For all its quirkiness, Rubber was ultimately disappointing, so hopefully Wrong lives up to all the hype.