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2014 spring movies: A full preview of March and April's upcoming film releases

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After the annual theater doldrums that are the winter months of January and February, the shift to spring always tends to brighten the movie landscape. We're finally shifting past the 2013 Oscar contenders and winners and inching ever so closer towards the big summer season of blockbusters and tentpoles. This year's slate of spring releases offers a pretty eclectic menu of choices, especially compared to the winter, and even a few blockbusters that want to beat the summer big boys to the punch of box office dollars. Here's my final breakdown of this spring's upcoming releases to enjoy. As always, check ahead before hitting the theaters as release dates shift all the time.

MARCH 7

"300: Rise of an Empire"-- The 2007 comic book hit gets an unlikely sequel extending the violent and slow motion grudge match between Persia and Greece. Spoiler alert, everyone dies at the end of the first one, so this new film is populated by all new people, led by Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Headey, and Rodrigo Santoro. (trailer)

"Mr. Peabody and Sherman"-- A little known off-shoot of the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" TV show gets a modern CGI-animated, center stage story. A brilliant dog teams with his human owner for wild time travel and easy kids jokes. I don't see it outdoing "The Lego Movie," but it will make a little something. (trailer)

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"-- Wes Anderson, the quirky director with no equal, is back with his usual cast of characters for this murder mystery-comedy surrounding a hotel concierge trying to clear his name from a wealthy woman's murder. Ralph Fiennes plays the lead with Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Saorise Ronan, and Owen Wilson all playing roles. (trailer)

"Grand Piano"-- This season has several smaller films that are making the rounds on Video On Demand that are also getting limited theatrical releases. Mark a few of these down as some possible "hidden gems." It starts with this little claustrophobic thriller starring Elijah Wood as a concert pianist under an assassin's eye to kill him if he misses a note in concert. (trailer)

"Fading Gigolo"-- Another small film is a little feature written and directed by actor John Turturro (his fifth feature, in fact). He leads the cast as a older male prostitute with Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Bob Balaban, Liev Schrieber, and Woody Allen in a rare acting role outside of his own films. Give it a look, New Yorkers. (trailer)

MARCH 14

"Need for Speed"-- This is certainly a different kind of video game adaptation. Plenty of hot cars get tossed around with Aaron Paul behind the wheel as the star. This is a great-looking movie, as shown by a cool teaser, that loses its way as soon as characters deliver their terrible dialogue in the trailer.

"One Chance"-- The director of "Devil Wears Prada" takes on a true-life story about Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts and his humble beginnings as an aspiring opera singer through bullying. Get your heartstrings ready. (trailer)

"Single Moms Club"-- Here is Tyler Perry's annual directorial entry into the spring season. This one slides between comedy and drama between bonding single mothers. Nia Long, Terry Crews, Wendy McLendon-Covey, and Perry himself are in front of the camera. (trailer)

"Veronica Mars"-- Somehow, a defunct decade-old and minority-beloved niche TV show earned a budget, via Kickstarter, to pull off a big screen movie. I have no idea where this is going and who wasted their money on Kickstarter, but Kristen Bell and company stole your money. (trailer)

"Enemy"-- Mark this down as another VOD hidden gem. Jake Gyllenhaal reteams with his "Prisoners" director Denis Villeneuve on a smaller-scale erotic thriller. Word is this one is hitting cable television and theaters with a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating already. (trailer)

"The Art of the Steal"-- A little lower on the VOD charts is this heist film that feels more like a straight-to-DVD dud more than a theatrical contender. Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon lead a little ensemble with Terrance Stamp and Jay Baruchel about motorcycle-riding bandits, including Russell's Evil Kneivel-like old pro. Call this a question mark. Sometimes there are clear reasons why these films get dumped on VOD. (trailer)

MARCH 21

"Divergent"-- Here you go, folks. This is your bigger hitter for the month of March. "Divergent" is hoping to grab the hype and the teen audience as the next young adult box office championship contender. If you haven't seen an ad, poster, or commercial for this, you're living in a cave. Shailene Woodley is doing her best Jennifer Lawrence impression in a dystopian future Chicago battling society rules. This is the first of a future trilogy. Watch the cash register roll! (trailer)

"Bad Words"-- In a bit of counter-programming, Jason Bateman brings out a raunchy R-rated comedy about a jerk adult who weasels his way into competing in kid spelling bees for the prize money due to a rules technicality. The laughs are there, but is the wrongness too much? (red band trailer)

"Muppets Most Wanted"-- In a perfect placement of equal distance away from both "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" and "Rio 2," Disney drops its star-peppered sequel to its 2011 nostalgic hit. Everyone's favorite puppets are back to their globe-trotting adventures, this one surrounding a doppelganger frog posing as Kermit and framing him as a criminal by taking his place. (trailer)

"Nymphomaniac: Volume I"-- Get your censors out, because the wildly rumored sex acts of the latest from Lars Von Trier ("Melancholia") are ruffling feathers already. To add to the shock, this film is split into two long volumes and involves legit Hollywood stars like Shia LeBouf, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stellan Skargard, and Von Trier's muse and lead Charlotte Gainsbourg. Just look at its odd series of posters of "vinegar strokes" moments for its cast in the throws of passion. Don't expect a general audience following or a wide release, but definitely count on a few headlines and shocked bloggers. (trailer)

MARCH 28

"Noah"-- This is one wannabe blockbuster that has been gaining steam since before its Super Bowl TV spot hit big audiences. It's quite a convergence of talents and spectacle. Small film specialist and "Black Swan" director Darren Aronofsky was handed a big budget checkbook to bring in Russell Crowe and put a Roland Emmerich-esque spin to the Biblical story of Noah. I honestly don't know what to expect, but I wouldn't count on the Christian crowd being very happy with their story getting the un-religious and action-ified take. (trailer)

"Sabotage"-- Since his return from public office, Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps on chugging. His latest is from David Ayer, the director of "End of Watch" and the writer of "Training Day," and involves a loose take of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with a DEA agent team being picked off, one-by-one, as they take on a drug cartel. As usual, he brings a steady crew of friends in the form of Sam Worthington, Joe Maganiello, Josh Holloway, and Terrance Howard. (trailer)

"Cesar Chavez"-- The famous 1970's farm worker and labor rights activist gets his own biopic starring Michael Pena and John Malkovich. The film is also the second directorial effort from actor Diego Luna. If done right, this could have prestige and a good connection to an untapped market. "Cesar Chavez" is slated to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. (trailer)

"Breathe In"-- Up-and-coming actress Felicity Jones re-teams with her "Like Crazy" director Drake Doremus for a drama about a foreign exchange student that turns her host family's life upside down. Guy Pearce appears to be the patriarch at home. Like their first effort, this could find a niche audience. (trailer)

APRIL 4

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"-- Even beyond "Divergent," this is the true spring blockbuster in waiting. Everything Marvel touches seems to turn to gold and Captain America (Chris Evans) is one of the crown jewels. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) join newcomers Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie. With clear connections to both "The Avengers" and the 2015 sequel, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is here to raise the stakes with a political action thriller. (trailer)

"Dom Hemingway"-- In this British import, Jude Law sheds his usual refined glamour and over 20 pounds of flab to play a profane and sleazy safecracker just out of jail who's out to get the money owed to him for staying quiet in the slammer. Demian Bichir, Richard E. Grant, and Emilia Clarke are in the mix as well. The film premiered back at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and is finally getting a release stateside. (trailer)

"Nymphomaniac: Volume II"-- As you read earlier, here's the second half of Lars Von Trier's controversial two-parter on sexual deviance and debauchery. (no separate trailer)

"Frankie and Alice"-- Halle Berry made this small film back in 2010 and it finally sees the light of theater seats. Berry plays a club dancer with multiple personality disorder and we see how that tangles up and clouds her lifestyle. I'm sure it's not going to be as big as last year's "The Call," but Berry could continue to redeem herself with little work like this. (trailer)

APRIL 11

"Draft Day"-- Kevin Costner takes his baseball charm and moves it to the football front office playing the general manager of the Cleveland Browns being influenced in multiple directions with big decisions to make on the opening day of the 2014 NFL Draft. I was lucky enough to see an advance screening of this one and it's a nice crowd pleaser that I recommend for the football fans. (trailer) (full review)

"Rio 2"-- The Blue Sky Studio's 2011 hit gets a reprise and a spirited sequel. The voice cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, and Tracy Morgan are all back for more feathered shenanigans in South America, where the adventure moves from the city to the Amazon rainforest. (trailer)

"St. Vincent de Van Nuys"-- Despite the big-name cast of Bill Murray and red hot comedienne Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Terrance Howard, and Chris O'Dowd, this comedy from short film writer-director Theodore Melfi is skewing to the independent market. The plot surrounds a young kid who befriends a zany war veteran neighbor during the aftermath of his parents' divorce. Give it possible "hidden gem" status. (no trailer yet)

APRIL 18

"Transcendence"-- Christopher Nolan's long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister, an Oscar winner for "Inception," makes his feature film debut as a director with "Transcendence." Merging intriguing science fiction with perilous political ramifications, a brilliant, but terminally ill, scientist (Johnny Depp) uploads his intellect into a supercomputer and acquires scary and untapped power that veers out of control. Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany, and Cillian Murphy round out the cast. (trailer)

"Heaven is Real"-- Right in time for Easter weekend, the loyal Christian and faith-based audiences gets served with a new mainstream film from Sony Pictures starring Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear as a father who's world is swayed by his young son who can seemingly communicate with the dearly departed, raising the title's possible question. This will be a very well-traveled surprise hit for this time of year. (trailer)

"Bears"-- The other annual holiday matching this week is Earth Day and Walt Disney's annual nature documentary entry. This year's film looks at Alaska's brown bear habitat. (trailer)

APRIL 25

"The Other Woman"-- Three woman, comprised of a wife (Leslie Mann) and two mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton), plot to confront their philandering husband/boyfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in lady-centered romantic comedy from Nick Cassavettes, who used to be a cutting edge director with "Alpha Dog" and "John Q." before "The Notebook" made his career. Here's your Easter break date movie that you will be dragged to. (trailer)

"The Quiet Ones"-- Especially after so many little horror movies becoming big hits last year, there was bound to be a seasonal contribution to the genre. "The Quiet Ones" uses poltergeist as a physics experiment gone wrong for a college professor (Jared Harris). "The Hunger Games" heartthrob Sam Clafin is your cougar bait for the ladies. (trailer)

"Brick Mansions"-- Action writer specialist Luc Besson infuses this undercover cop thriller that is one of the last projects of the late Paul Walker. The actor's death buys this smaller budgeted film a wider audience and release. (trailer)

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