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March movie madness should keep Hollywood sizzling

The movie business should continue to sizzle in March just as it did in February despite a deep global recession that’s cut into just about every other industry’s revenues. Hollywood, however, is benefiting from people cutting back on other expenditures but still wanting a few hours of entertainment to escape from grim reality.

Although the cost of moviegoing has gone up along with related expenses like babysitters, transportation and concession stand snacks, it’s still cheap compared to other types of entertainment like the theater, rock concerts and theme parks. At least for now, people are still heading to the movies to get away from everything else. In fact, as February ended Hollywood’s 2009 gross was approximately $1.8 billion (up over 17 percent from 2008) with attendance up over 15 percent versus this time last year, according to Media By Numbers president Paul Dergarabedian.

March should be another strong month at the boxoffice with films on deck that will once again provide something for everyone. That’s been Hollywood’s winning formula thus far and looking at what’s opening wide this month it’s clear that it’s not changing. All the basic movie genres — horror thrillers, romantic comedies, family films, dramas, animated features, action adventures, etc. — are going to be turning up at theaters everywhere.

The following synopses will give you some details about March’s wide openings, but beware of spoilers if you don’t want to know too much in advance. And as always, be sure to check out our Zamm Cam movie previews. You’ll know in one minute which movies are the ones you most want to see.

March should come in like a lion at the boxoffice thanks to Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures sci-fi action adventure “Watchmen”, which has the weekend of Mar. 6-8 entirely to itself. Not only is this going to be a big picture at the boxoffice, but it’s also going to be ultra-big on screen in many locations because over 120 of its 3,600 runs will be in IMAX theaters.

No other studio is going head-to-head against the R rated “Watchmen” because for months there’s been a huge buzz about this film based on the hit 1986 comic book series. Much of the anticipation for “Watchmen” is directly attributable to its director Zack Snyder, who directed WB’s graphic novel-based blockbuster “300”, which opened Mar. 9, 2007 to $70.9 million and went on to gross $210.6 million domestically.

Starring in “Watchmen” are Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson and Matt Frewer.

The Story: “Watchmen” is a complex, multi-layered mystery adventure set in an alternate 1985 America where costumed superheroes are part of everyday society and the “Doomsday Clock”, displaying America’s tension with the Soviet Union, is set at a very volatile five minutes to midnight.

When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed-up but still determined masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion — a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers — Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity, but the real question is, “Who is watching the Watchmen?”

The weekend of Mar. 13-15 will see a return to boxoffice competition with three wide releases — two of them are rated R — and one film going into limited release a week before its wide break.

Horror thriller fans are the core audience for the R rated “The Last House on the Left” from Universal’s Rogue Pictures genre label. Directed by Dennis Iliadis (“Hardcore”), it stars Garret Dillahunt, Riki Lindhome, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Rhys Coiro and Martha Maclsaac.

The Story: “Left” sounds like just what the doctor ordered if you’re into horror genre films. Its story revolves around a pair of adventurous teen girls who are kidnapped, raped and murdered by a gang of thugs. The killers unwittingly take refuge in the home of one victim’s parents, who, upon realizing what their guests did, devise some gruesome revenge.

Moviegoers who’d rather laugh than scream can opt for the R rated comedy “Miss March” from 20th Century Fox. Directed by Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore in their feature directing debut, it stars Molly Stanton, Trevor Moore and Zach Cregger.

The Story: A young man awakens in “March” from a four-year coma to learn that his once virginal high-school sweetheart has become a centerfold in one of the world’s most famous men’s magazines. He and his sex-crazed best friend decide to take a cross-country road trip in order to crash a party at the magazine’s legendary mansion headquarters and win back the girl.

Race to Witch Mountain Star Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Race to Witch Moutain”. Photo Credit: © 2008, Ron Phillips Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Family audiences won’t be left in the cold this weekend thanks to Disney’s very hot PG rated sci-fi suspense thriller “Race To Witch Mountain” directed by Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”) and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Anna Sophia Robb, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, Alexander Ludwig, Tom Everett Scott, Christopher Marquette, Garry Marshall, Cheech Marin and Billy Brown. The new film is inspired by Disney’s 1975 classic family adventure “Escape to Witch Mountain”, which starred Eddie Alpert, Ray Milland and Donald Pleasance.

The Story: For years stories have circulated about a secret place in the middle of the Nevada desert known for unexplained phenomena and strange sightings. It’s called Witch Mountain and when a Las Vegas taxi driver (Johnson) finds two teens (Robb and Ludwig) with supernatural powers in his cab, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an adventure he can’t explain. When they discover that the only chance to save the world lies in unraveling the secrets of Witch Mountain, the race begins as the government, mobsters and even extraterrestrials try to stop them.

The weekend’s limited release in major markets is Overture Films’ R rated comedy drama “Sunshine Cleaning” directed by Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”) and starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Jason Spevack, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins, Jr., Eric Christian Olsen, Kevin Chapman, Steve Zahn and Alan Arkin.

The Story: A woman who wants to send her eight year-old son to a private school decides to go into business with her unreliable sister in order to earn more money. They form a company doing biohazard removal and crime scene clean up.

The weekend of Mar. 20-22 will also bring plenty of boxoffice competition with three openings targeted to different audiences. The highest profile opener is Universal’s PG-13 adult appeal suspense thriller “Duplicity”, written and directed by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) and starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Khan Baykal, Kathleen Chalfant, Denis O’Hare, Oleg Stefan and Rick Worthy.

“Duplicity” is an important film for Roberts, who’s been missing in action at the boxoffice for a few years. Her future as one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses will depend on how successful “Duplicity” turns out to be. Her last major release was Universal’s 2007 drama “Charlie Wilson’s War”, in which she played a relatively small role opposite Tom Hanks. Directed by Mike Nichols, “War” also starred Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It grossed $66.7 million domestically, a disappointing total considering its star power.

Roberts and Owen, who star in “Duplicity”, previously teamed up for the 2004 romantic drama “Closer”, directed by Mike Nichols and also starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law. “Closer” grossed a very disappointing $34 million domestically.

The Story: Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play Claire Stenwick and Ray Koval, two spies-turned-corporate operatives having an affair. When they find themselves embroiled in a high stakes espionage game, they discover the toughest part of their job is figuring out how much to trust the one you love.

For young adults the perfect choice is DreamWorks and Paramount's R rated comedy “I Love You, Man”, directed by John Hamburg and starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns and Thomas Lennon.

Left to right: Paul Rudd and Jason Segel

Left to right: “I Love You, Man” stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel

The Story: Paul Rudd plays real estate agent Peter Klaven who after getting engaged to the woman of his dreams (Jones) discovers he has no male friend close enough to serve as his Best Man and embarks on a series of bizarre man-dates to fix the problem.

Thriller fans also have something targeted to them at the movies this weekend — Summit Entertainment’s PG-13 rated fantasy suspense thriller “Knowing”. Directed by Alex Proyas (“I, Robot”), it stars Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn and Adrienne Pickering. The film should benefit from its PG-13 rating, which will make it accessible to a wider audience than the more restrictive R rating that keeps out anyone under 17 who’s not accompanied by an adult.

The Story: When Professor Ted Myles’ son returns home from school with a piece of paper that’s been buried in a time capsule for fifty years, he makes a startling discovery. Cryptic rows of apparently random numbers written on the page contain an encoded message which has predicted the details of every major disaster of the past fifty years, including three that have yet to happen and one that involves destruction on a global scale. With time running out, Ted’s attempts to alert the authorities fall on deaf ears so he takes it upon himself to try to prevent more destruction — and perhaps the ultimate disaster — from taking place.

This weekend will also see the wide release of “Sunshine Cleaning” (see above).

March should go out like a lion rather than a lamb thanks to four wide releases arriving the weekend of Mar. 27-29. Young males will head for the PG-13 rated action adventure “12 Rounds” from 20th Century Fox’s Fox Atomic label. Directed by Renny Harlin (“Mindhunters”), it stars John Cena, Aidan Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris, Brian White and Gonzalo Menendez.

The Story: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) champion John Cena stars as New Orleans Police Detective Danny Baxter. When Baxter stops a brilliant thief from getting away with a multi-million-dollar heist, the thief’s girlfriend is accidentally killed. After escaping from prison, the criminal mastermind enacts his revenge, taunting the cop with a series of near-impossible challenges — the title’s 12 rounds — that Baxter must somehow complete to save his own fiancee’s life.

Young adults are the target audience for Miramax Films’ R rated comedy drama “Adventureland”. Written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, Ryan Reynolds and Paige Howard.

The Story: When an uptight recent college graduate realizes he cannot afford his European dream vacation, he’s forced to take a minimum-wage job at a local amusement park. The experience helps him loosen up a bit as he finds first love, forms new friendships and emerges with a newfound sense of maturity just in time to enter the real world in the fall.

Horror thriller fans will be heading to see Lionsgate’s “The Haunting In Connecticut”. Directed by Peter Cornwell (“Ward 13”), it stars Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas, Brooklynn Proulx and Ty Wood.

The Story: An astounding story about a family forced to relocate near a clinic where their son was being treated for cancer. Strained financially and emotionally, the family discovers their recently renovated home was previously a mortuary with a dark history. After experiencing violent supernatural events both inside and out of the house, the family seeks the help of ghost hunters and the Catholic Church, which performs an exorcism.

DreamWorks’ Monsters vs Aliens

DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs Aliens”

Last, but certainly not least, there's “Monsters vs. Aliens”, DreamWorks and Paramount’s 3-D animated PG feature for family audiences. Directed by Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”), its voice talents include Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Kiefer Sutherland and Paul Rudd.

The Story: When California girl Susan Murphy is unwittingly clobbered by a meteor full of outer space gunk on her wedding day, she mysteriously grows to 49-feet-11-inches tall. Alerted to the threat of this new monster, the military jumps into action and Susan is captured and secreted away to a covert government compound. There, she’s renamed Ginormica and placed in confinement with a ragtag group of other monsters — the brilliant but insect-headed Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.; the macho half-ape/half-fish The Missing Link; the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B.; and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus.

Their confinement is cut short, however, when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins storming the country. In a moment of desperation, The President is persuaded by General W.R. Monger to enlist the motley crew of Monsters to combat the Alien Robot and save the world from imminent destruction.