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New in Theaters April 18: Transcendence, A Haunted House 2, Bears, Heaven is for Real

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By Chris Kavan - 04/17/14 at 06:50 AM CT

Captain America has ridden the box office wave for two weeks now - even though Rio 2 almost had audiences going to the birds - but Winter Soldier is likely not going to three-peat thanks to the star power of Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman (and various others). Given the trend, this weekend should be another strong showing thanks to the strength of both the new films and the likely impressive showing from the holdovers. In fact, the whole of April looks to be strong, though time will tell.

TRANSCENDENCE The marketing for the new Johnny Depp sci-fi thriller has been heavy of late. First-time director Wally Pfister (a long-time collaborator with Christopher Nolan as cinematographer) will take on AI - that is, Depp is a brilliant man working on ground-breaking AI technology before his untimely death would seem to stop it in its track. But he makes a decision to upload himself into this program and, of course, things go south fast. Beside Depp, there is a nice mix of actors here - Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser and the always welcome Morgan Freeman - are all on board. The question remains whether this is going to be a "smart" sci-fi or just another excess in CGI extravagance with a paper-thin premise. I only known I'm looking forward to this - and if it doesn't hold up to scrutiny, at least people are still trying something new. But we'll see what the reaction is, and if it is a good debut for Pfister.

A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 I have to admit, although the first Haunted House movie was pretty dumb - it was also pretty fun. Marlon Wayans managed to make a film that skewered the current trend of "found footage" horror films in a way that reminded me of the first Scary Movie rather than remind me of the terrible spoof films from Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie etc barf). It's more of a guilty pleasure thing, really. Now Wayans is back with some friends old and new - Gabriel Iglesias, Jaime Pressly, Cedric the Entertainer, Essence Atkins and Missi Pyle are along for the ride as it looks like everything from The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity (once again). I'm sure other horror tropes that have popped up will make an appearance as well. The success of the first film ($40 million off just a $2.5 million budget), likely is the reason the sequel got such a fast turnaround. It remains to be seen if lighting can strike twice - though I can't see it doing much worse as if people liked the first one, there's no reason this doesn't look just as fun. I'll most likely catch this at home - but from an entertainment standpoint, dumb fun is better than no fun at all.

BEARS Finally we have the annual Disneynature offering, Bears. Thought these films never do knockout business, obviously they have done wee enough that they will keep cranking out a yearly treat (next year, we already have Monkey Kingdom in the works). This time Wreck It Ralph himself, John C. Reilly, narrates this story about a year in the life of a bear family (two cubs and their mother), set in the wilds of Alaska. I don't usually go for nature films (though I quite enjoyed the Planet Earth series on TV) - though it seems Disney does take their time crafting each one - and each one seems to delight audiences as they continually show up on the highest-grossing full-length nature film list time and time again. As long as audiences support the effort, I don't see why the tradition will stop. At least it provides something different for families to enjoy together.

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL Inspirational films have been a big hit this year: Son of God and God's Not Dead have both been surprisingly strong at the box office. Greg Kinnear, along with Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale and newcomer Connor Corum star in Heaven is for Real - based on the best-selling novel. In it a young boy has a near-death experience and when he comes back claims to have seen Heaven and develops knowledge of events he couldn't possibly know. Small-town skepticism gives way to belief - and suddenly his claims inspire not just his home town, but the entire world. I have to admit, the trailers make this appear to be all kinds of overly saccharine sentimental with a strong Christian message. Yet, for all that, I also think it has a real emotional core - and that is what is going to draw in audiences. In face, early tracking has this ahead of Captain American and Transcendence - so blockbusters may take a back seat to inspirational if the trend holds. Considering the recent success of similarly-themed films, it's not out of the question at all.

Another great mix this weekend from sci-fi blockbusters to a goofy horror spoof to nature documentary. I think Winter Soldier will finally take a back seat as Transcendence looks to come on strong - I'll be back on Sunday with the final tally.


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