- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spring is in the air, and what better time to head into the controlled-atmosphere comfort of the local multiplex as winter gradually loses its death grip before making us all wish for it again as soon as the heat rolls in a few months from now.

Here’s what to expect at a theater near you as the spring flowers begin their tentative peek above the snowpack — and most likely retreat again from the cold.

Merchants of Doubt

(Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: Robert Kenner

March 13

This documentary takes a sardonic look at the American spin factory, which stonewalled public health’s fight with Big Tobacco for half a century, consistently provides counterexperts of dubious scientific credentials to deny climate change and who otherwise do the bidding of big business in the disservice of the public. Director Robert Kenner previously focused the magnifying glass on unseemly aspects of the American meal supply in “Food, Inc.”

Cinderella (Walt Disney Studios)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

March 13

The latest Disney animated classic to make the leap to live action finds young Ella (Lily James) living under the heel of evil stepmother Cate Blanchett and vile stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera). Ella’s fortunes change thanks to a kindly spirit (Helena Bonham Carter) armed with a magic pumpkin and the means to get her to that all-important ball.

The Gunman

(Open Road Films)

Director: Pierre Morel

March 20

Sean Penn, getting ever craggier and grittier, stars as a former special forces operative who becomes the target of some of the world’s deadliest hit men. Directed by Pierre Morel, helmer of the first “Taken” film, this is our bet for best action-thriller of the spring.

Get Hard

(Warner Bros.)

Director: Etan Cohen

March 27

Two words: Will Ferrell. Ka-ching. Nuff said. The all-but-unassailable Mr. Ferrell plays a hedge fund manager on his way to San Quentin prison for fraud who “consults” Kevin Hart on how best to “get hard” for life in the clink. Expect cheap laughs and ample flatulence jokes, no doubt elevated by Mr. Ferrell’s considerable talent and charm.

Home

(Fox)

Director: Tim Johnson

March 27

In this animated film from Fox, the adorable alien Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) comes to Earth and finds an unlikely companion in a girl named Tip (Rihanna). Much like “E.T.” 33 years ago, the alien and the earthling form a bond that teaches them about each other and about themselves. One for the family.

The Salt of the Earth (Sony Picture Classics)

Directors: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

April

Photography stands as a testament to times and places that no longer exist, and no one knew that better than Sebastiao Salgado, who roamed the planet taking pictures of world events and some of the Earth’s last unspoiled places. This documentary from German director Wim Wenders — himself a photographer — follows of Salgado’s final travels, some of which are seen through his son, co-director Juliano Riberio Salgado.

Furious 7

(Universal)

Director: James Wan

April 3

The high-speed hijinks of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) continue in this seventh entry in the speed demon franchise that began 14 years ago. Also returning are series regulars Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, with high-octane international additions in Jason Statham, Tony Jaa and Kurt Russell. Sadly — and, it must be said, ironically — Walker was killed in a car accident in late 2013, requiring some script rewrites and creative filmmaking to fill out his performance, which will be his character’s last in the series.

James Wan, famous — or infamous — for the first “Saw” film as well as “The Conjuring” and “Insidious,” directs.

While We’re Young

(A24)

Director: Noah Baumbach

April 3

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as a childless, middle-aged couple in a domestic comedy/drama from director Noah Baumbach, who helmed the superb “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005. A free-spirited couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) enter their lives, which propels Mr. Stiller to attempt to recapture his youth. If this is anything like “The Squid and the Whale,” the laughs will be plentiful and painful.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

(Sony/Columbia)

Director: Andy Fickman

April 17

The type of film the term “critic-proof” was invented for. Have fun.

Ex Machina

(A24)

Director: Alex Garland

April 17

The writer of the zombie apocalypse thriller “28 Days Later” takes his first turn in the director’s chair with a thriller centering on a twisted CEO (Oscar Isaac) attempting to “test” his new artificial intelligence machine — named a Turing Test, in honor of the real-life British mathematician who broke the Nazis’ Enigma Machine — on a hapless programmer (Domhnall Gleeson).

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

(Marvel/Walt Disney)

Director: Joss Whedon

May 1

The highest-grossing superhero film in history gets the inevitable sequel treatment, with comic geek maven Joss Whedon back in the director’s seat. Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor and others must once again put aside their supersize egos and bickering to battle the forces of evil, this time in the form of Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who is out to — what else — take over and/or destroy the world. Expect “Age of Ultron” to take in more money than most countries’ gross domestic product in its first weekend alone.

Pitch Perfect 2

(Universal)

Director: Elizabeth Banks

May 15

The Barden Bellas retune the pitch pipe for this sequel to 2012’s smash a cappella comedy that made those dorky, quirky college singing competitions cool (or at least a tad less nerdy). Anna Kendrick, making quite a run as a singer in film after film of late, returns as the shy Becca. Elizabeth Banks directs her first feature (in addition to returning to the cast), written by the first film’s returning scribe, Kay Cannon, thus ensuring more forced spoken permutations of “acca” at every turn.

Mad Max: Fury Road

(Warner Bros.)

Director: George Miller

May 15

It’s been 30 years since we last saw Max Rockatansky kicking butt in post-apocalyptic Australia, and so long has been the gap that original star Mel Gibson — thanks to time and his status as Hollywood pariah — has been replaced by Englishman Tom Hardy (Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”) in the titular role. With series creator George Miller finally getting “Fury Road” on the, well, road after 15 years in development hell, anticipation for a return to the Wasteland is off the charts, especially considering the film will be offered in the no-longer-special 3-D format.

Tomorrowland

(Walt Disney Pictures)

Director: Brad Bird

May 22

In this sci-fi thriller, George Clooney embarks with an ill-tempered teenager (Britt Robertson) to a mysterious place beyond time and space known only as “Tomorrowland” (note the film’s distributor for a clue to this one). The screenplay was co-written by veteran “Lost” scribe Damon Lindelof, all but assuring that moviegoers will be scratching their heads long after the lights come up.

San Andreas

(Warner Bros./New Line)

Director: Brad Peyton

May 29

The “big one” finally wrecks California on Memorial Day weekend in what could be the first big entry in the summer blockbuster sweepstakes. Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino star as an estranged married couple who have the misfortune of tabling couples therapy in favor of scurrying from Los Angeles up to San Francisco to rescue their only daughter, thus continuing the grand tradition of films where bystanders, extras and CGI humanoids buy it by the millions so long as the protagonists’ offspring may live.

And thus, spring 2015 will be off and running. See you at the movies.

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