Features

The Notable Films of 2012: Volume Three

By Garth Franklin Monday January 2nd 2012 07:35AM
The Notable Films of 2012: Volume Three

In this third volume I look at films that include a Tarantino slave-themed western, a more down and dirty Judge Dredd, two Aussie films, a stop-motion animated feature film version of a classic Tim Burton Disney short, a British caper remake from the Coens, another Dr. Seuss CG animated adaptation, the return of Nic Cage's fiery hairstyle, several Sundance dramas, Sacha Baron Cohen's latest character creation, the return of some familiar faces of 80's action films and more...

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Opens: August 3rd 2012
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris
Director: David Bowers

Analysis: The kiddie equivalent of the "Saw" franchise, Fox 2000 is pumping out a 'Wimpy Kid' film annually it seems with this third entry hitting this Summer. Both previous films scored mixed reviews, both did similar box-office and both had tight budgets ($15 and $21 million).

Based on the third and fourth books in the series - "The Last Straw" and "Dog Days", this one has Greg and Rowley hanging out at a country club over the Summer when both are kicked out and unsure what to do with the weeks they have left before school begins again. Hijinks no doubt ensue.

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The Dictator
Opens: May 11th 2012
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Fox
Director: Larry Charles

Analysis: Having exploited all three of his character creations from "Da Ali G Show" on the big screen, Cohen has a go at creating a new one in this comedy which drops the pseudo-doco stylings of "Borat" and "Bruno" in favour of more straight forward comedy formula ala "Ali G Indahouse".

The storyline is said to be inspired by "Zabibah and the King", an anonymously published 2000 Iraqi romance novel said to have been written by several ghostwriters under the direct influence of Saddam Hussein. That book is a thinly disguised allegory with Saddam as the hero, the Iraqi people as the female lead and love interest, and the West as the woman's abusive husband who rapes her.

How that works here is unclear, the official synopsis calling this black comedy "a heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed". Throw in homages to some of the more strange aspects of Muammar Gaddafi's reign, including an all-female security force, and there's certainly material to exploit.

Can it match the more successful set pieces of Cohen's last few films? Hard to say. Larry Charles returns to direct the film which had a trailer launch that was somewhat mixed - some of the jokes fizzling painfully, others actually working quite well. After the disappointing "Bruno" though, I'll take a wait and see approach with this.

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Disconnect
Opens: 2012
Cast: Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Frank Grillo
Director: Henry Alex Rubin

Analysis: Rubin's indie ensemble comedy drama deals with characters who are affected, and in some cases destroyed, by the Internet and other forms of modern communication. It sounds essentially like a "Crash"-style film with multiple story lines and characters getting their own occasionally mixing subplot, while the dangers of online chatting, social media and e-mail will no doubt be explored. Decent cast, "True Blood" hunk Skarsgard sports some fake belly padding for some reason in this, but unless it gets some festival play I can't quite see it taking off.

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The Divide
Opens: January 13th 2012
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, Ashton Holmes, Lauren German, Rosanna Arquette
Director: Xavier Gens

Analysis: French filmmaker Xavier Gens arrived on the filmmaking scene in 2007 with "Frontier(s)" and the video game adaptation "Hitman". While the latter yielded a decent little profit, neither film was particularly well received.

Five years on he returns with this graphically violent low-budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror tale about a group of apartment tenants who take refuge in the building's fallout shelter style basement during a devastating attack. As time passes in the confined space and supplies dwindle, cabin fever sets in as the various group members begin to turn on each other in increasingly brutal and gory ways.

The actors reportedly followed a strict diet so you watch their characters physically waste away as the film progresses. Throw in contaminated air which makes the characters sicker (and balder); stock stereotypes including Biehn's racist firefighter, Ventimiglia's combative gay man, and Arquette's single mother; plus a bunch of guys in Hazmat suits with unclear motives randomly showing up and you've got the ingredients for a solid little survival tale.

After premiering at the SXSW Film Festival, U.S. rights were quickly picked up by Anchor Bay. Reviews were solid but warned this is very dark and intense stuff not for the weak stomached.

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Django Unchained
Opens: December 25th 2012
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Analysis: Tarantino's first effort since "Inglourious Basterds" is this revenge thriller meets mashup of spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation, with its theme of slavery meeting the structure of a western. Sergio Corbucci's classic 1966 Italian western "Django", one of the most violent films ever made up to that point, is the big influence here.

Waltz plays Dr. Schultz, a bounty hunter who frees the slave Django (Foxx) to enlist his help tracking down three fugitive brothers. Once that's done, Schultz helps Django in his quest to rescue his wife from Candyland, a Southern plantation owned by the brutish Monsieur Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

The story sounds fairly standard but the characters are colourful and he's enlisted a strong cast including Jackson as the head servant of Candie, Kurt Russell as the trainer for Candie's slaves, Don Johnson as another plantation owner, Sacha Baron Cohen as a gambler, and both Anthony LaPaglia and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as brutish Aussie brothers.

We can expect all the usual trademark Tarantino stylings as well - namely several scenes of long conversations fuelled by QT's trademark dialogue and underlined by mild tension leading to moments of explosive violence. Set for release at Christmas, it'll be interesting to see how this plays with audiences following the very impressive $320 million global haul of 'Basterds'.

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Dog Fight
Opens: August 10th 2012
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
Director: Jay Roach

Analysis: Ahead of next year's elections comes this comedy about two rival politicians who are trying to win an election to represent their small North Carolina congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

What makes this stand out though are the team involved. In front of the camera it's Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis as the two politicians with the likes of Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Aykroyd, J.K. Simmons, Gary Cole and Richard Lewis in supporting roles.

Behind the camera is a script by "Eastbound & Down" writers Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy, producer Adam McKay ("Anchorman," "Talladega Nights") and director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Meet the Parents"). The project will be shooting through until February so very little has come out about it as yet. Should be a decent late Summer comedy.

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Don't Go In The Woods
January 13th 2012
Cast: Matt Sbeglia, Kate O'Malley, Casey Smith, Nick Thorp, Eric Bogosian
Director: Vincent D'Onofrio

One of the more unusual projects this year, frequent cinematic bad guy and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" star Vincent D'Onofrio makes his directorial debut on this decidedly low-budget R-rated horror musical which owes much to the slasher genre.

The premise has a group of archetypal young rising musicians heading out on a trip in the wilderness for a weekend to come up with several hit songs while having a good time. Their girlfriends soon arrive to put a crimp on their plans, shortly followed by a psychopath with a hammer and axe.

Currently available on video-on-demand ahead of a limited theatrical release in two weeks, the fusion of pop and folk songs with random brutal slayings has a mild enough appeal that some might be willing to check it out, though reviews from various horror cinema websites haven't been flattering.

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Dredd
Opens: September 21st 2012
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Jason Cope, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: Pete Travis

Analysis: Sylvester Stallone's often derided 1995 effort "Judge Dredd" bore little relation to John Wagner's British comic character, and now the 'Judge' gets another shot at the big screen. Gone is the big visual effects and decidedly clean looking Megacity One. Instead we have a leaner, darker and grittier $45 million 3D interpretation shot in South Africa back in late 2010.

Star Urban describes this as a setup film mixing together various stories from the comics and following a day in the life of Dredd as he puts his rookie through the paces to see if she is worthy or not of becoming a Judge. The character is much more a figure of fear and intimidation in this, while Urban has confirmed he never removes his helmet - leaving his face obscured throughout.

One element of concern happened this year when director Pete Travis had "creative disagreements between producers and executives" leading to the film's scribe Alex Garland taking over the editing process. The pair released a joint statement saying they had agreed on an "unorthodox collaboration" before production began and Travis was still involved, but there's definitely more to this story which we probably won't find out about until closer to release.

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Drift
Opens: 2012
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Myles Pollard, Sam Worthington, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Robyn Malcolm
Director: Ben Nott, Morgan O'Neill

Analysis: Having made his name in Hollywood blockbusters, Sam Worthington returns home to Australia and the local industry for this $11 million surfing drama shot around the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Decked out with a shaggy hair & beard, Worthington isn't the lead character but rather a bohemian surf photographer and filmmaker who becomes friends with and inspires the main characters.

"Sea Patrol" actor Morgan O'Neill penned the script and co-directs the true story tale which follows Jimmy and Andy Kelly (Xavier Samuel, Myles Pollard), brothers who battled killer waves, conservative society and ruthless bikers to kickstart an entire global industry and help spread the laidback surf attitude lifestyle that many live today. Should play well Down Under, internationally it may have a tougher time.

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Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Opens: March 2nd 2012
Cast: Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White
Director: Chris Renaud

Analysis: Illumination Entertainment, the company behind Universal's recent CG animated hit "Despicable Me", tackles another of Dr. Seuss works - the fourth such adaptation in the past decade and the second to be computer animated following Fox's "Horton Hears A Who".

This one deals with Ted (Efron), an idealistic young boy who lives in a completely artificial town and sets out to find a real tree. Along the way he learns the story of the Lorax (DeVito), a grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.

Renaud, who also directed 'Despicable', helms the very colourful and visually luscious film which will be presented in IMAX 3D and actually seems to have a lot of charm rather than that slightly creepy vibe the previous film adaptations of Seuss works have generally exhibited. The casting of DeVito as the titular fur ball is enough to get me to see it.

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The End
Opens: 2012
Cast: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Denden, Ryo Kase
Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Analysis: Despite the flippant assertion by Criterion's Peter Becker that it's just 'minor Kiarostami', 2010's "Certified Copy" has been a big hit with art house audiences and critics over the past year and one that effectively introduced many cinemagoers to the Iranian filmmaker's work.

Now comes this follow-up about the unusual relationship between a student (Rin Takanashi) who works part-time as a prostitute, and a brilliant elderly academic (Tadashi Okuno) who is one her clients.

The story is described as a 'continuation' of "Certified Copy", what that means however is unclear but one key difference is language as everything will be spoken in Japanese. Production only just kicked off in Japan so it likely won't be hitting cinemas until late next year.

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The End of Love
Opens: 2012
Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried
Director: Mark Webber

Analysis: Webber plays a young father who unravels following the loss of the mother of his young child in this drama set to premiere in competition at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. Webber's aim is to capture the experience of being a single parent raising a child as much as possible, including the burden of love unfairly placed on the child in the equation. Webber's own son plays the role of the kid along with various high-profile actors in supporting roles. Hopefully the word out of Park City will be good.

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The English Teacher
Opens: 2012
Cast: Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear, Michael Angarano, Lily Collins, Nathan Lane
Director: Craig Zisk

Analysis: "Weeds" and "The Larry Sanders Show" director/producer Craig Zisk helms this indie dramedy in which Julianne Moore plays a popular small town high school English teacher who brings a lot of energy to her teaching, but at the cost of a personal life. When a promising former pupil returns home after failing as a playwright in New York, she suggests her high school perform his unproduced play.

Newcomers Dan and Stacy Chariton penned the script. Little is known about the currently shooting project but production company Artina Films has had a strong track record in recent years with the likes of "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "A Single Man" and the upcoming "Arbitrage".

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The Expendables 2
Opens: August 17th 2012
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Jean Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis
Director: Simon West

Analysis: While the reunion of various 80's action heroes was an instant seller in concept, 2010's "The Expendables" was something of a let down in execution. With Willis and Schwarzenegger stuck in only cameos, no Van Damme or Seagal to be found, and a fairly weak plot and direction - the result was a bit of a wet blanket, one that still managed to rake in a damn impressive $274 million worldwide from an $80 million budget.

Now comes the inevitable sequel and here's hoping this time they get it right. Stallone is out as director, replaced by "Tomb Raider" and "Con Air" helmer Simon West. Both Schwarzenegger and Willis have expanded roles this time out but won't be anything more than supporting parts with only a few scenes - the focus will remain the various cast members from the first sans Mickey Rourke who has dropped out. Liam Hemsworth, brother of "Thor" star Chris, plays the young rookie role.

They didn't get Seagal, but Van Damme is onboard as the villain of the piece - the leader of an opposing team of mercenaries who kills one of the Expendables and sets off the storyline of the group seeking revenge. Added in there are some unexpected wild cards like Chuck Norris, an inclusion that has everyone smiling for different reasons, and even a cameo by tennis champ Novak Djokovic as himself.

Shot primarily in Bulgaria with some additional shooting in Russia, France and China, the film will hit in the same release weekend as the first film two years on. With a bigger budget of $100 million, this is one sequel that actually looks to have more potential than the first.

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A Few Best Men
Opens: 2012
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Kris Marshall, Olivia Newton-John, Tim Draxl, Rebel Wilson
Director: Stephan Elliott

Analysis: For much of the past two decades Australian film has been trapped between two polar opposites - bleak and dark inner city crime or drug dramas targeted at art house audiences, and often wince-inducing larrakin comedies aimed at reaching the widest audience possible.

This is definitely the latter and a return of sorts for filmmaker Stephan Elliot who first hit it big almost twenty years ago now with the Guy Pearce/Hugo Weaving-led drag comedy "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert". Here he tackles more familiar (and somewhat dated) fare with a British groom and his three best men who travel to a large estate in rural New South Wales for a wedding.

"Death at a Funeral" scribe Dean Craig and Elliott have come up with material of the pure scatological kind - sheep shagging jokes, gay-panic humor, violent paranoid drug dealers, "Bridesmaids" actress Rebel Wilson as a pretend lesbian, sex gags, 70's pop song covers and the admittedly funny sight of Olivia Newton-John as a coke snorting trophy wife.

Reviews from the North American press at Toronto were not kind, calling it a film that made "The Hangover" look high brow. Yet the humour is very Australian (ie. very British) and trailers play well both in its home market and in the UK where it will do solid business. States-side though, best guess is this will probably go direct-to-disc.

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Finding Nemo in 3D
Opens: September 14th 2012
Cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Allison Janney
Director: Andrew Stanton

Analysis: The best-selling DVD of all time, Pixar's biggest box-office earner up until "Toy Story 3" last year, and an Oscar winner widely considered one of the most entertaining (and certainly the most visually luscious) the studio has ever produced.

Yet Pixar rarely seems to treat "Finding Nemo" with the love of some of its other children, most visibly seen in the fact the movie is still not yet out on Blu-ray - the company's sole theatrical feature yet to make the jump.

That mistake is finally being corrected later this year as Disney will essentially give the film the same treatment it gave "The Lion King" this year - a mid-September 3D theatrical re-release a few weeks ahead of multiple Blu-ray editions hitting the shelves in early October.

'Lion' surprised everyone with its success, so 'Nemo' is not an unexpected follow-up choice - it's Disney's third top earning animated film worldwide behind "Toy Story 3" and 'Lion', and the fifth highest grossing animated film of all time. With nine years having passed since its theatrical run, there'll be more than few keen on seeing this on the big screen.

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The Five-Year Engagement
Opens: April 27th 2012
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt
Director: Nicholas Stoller

Analysis: Actor/writer Segel and writer/director Stoller have proven quite the pairing. After first working together on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", the duo penned both 2010's "Get Him to the Greek" and this year's "The Muppets" movie. Now they've teamed up for this story about the ups and downs of an engaged couple whose marriage keeps being continually delayed due to various mishaps.

The trailer shows some light fun rom-com laughs rather than the crasser tone of Marshall's gags meaning this is a film more specifically targeted at women than the more crossover-style appeal of most comedies from under the Apatow banner. There's some solid supporting talent here including Chris Pratt, Jacki Weaver, Chris Parnell, Mindy Kaling and Mimi Kennedy in what will no doubt be a cute, predictable, heavy handed little morality tale with a few sex jokes thrown in.

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Flight
Opens: 2012
Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
Director: Robert Zemeckis

Analysis: After three CG mo-cap films, Robert Zemeckis returns with his first live action film since 2000's "Cast Away" and what sounds like a dramatic thriller fictional spin on media blowups such as 2009's 'Miracle On The Hudson'.

John Gatins' script centers on a commercial airline pilot (Washington) whose plane malfunctions. He saves the day with some heroic flying and is instantly hailed as a hero, but an investigation into the cause determines he was flying under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As the airline tries to cover up the problem, the pilot attempts to turn his life around.

Zemeckis chose this Paramount project over some more interesting sounding ones like the time-travelling tale "Replay" at Warners. While his past two mo-cap films have flopped, Zemeckis is one of the few that can churn out films that are both critical and commercial success stories so many are keenly watching to see if he still has that magic.

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Footnote
Opens: March 9th 2012
Cast: Shlomo Bar Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Yuval Scharf, Aliza Rosen, Shmuel Shiloh
Director: Joseph Cedar

Analysis: Winner of nine Ophir awards and Israel's official entry for the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Joseph Cedar's drama deals with a power struggle between a father and his son who both teach at the Talmud department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism and the small department is famous worldwide for its uncompromising methods - resulting in epic stubbornness and near mythological rivalries between scholars. Premiering in Cannes, the film scored not just rave reviews but the Best Screenplay Award for this tale of an epic but personal battle. A true highlight of the art house film circuit this Spring.

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For a Good Time Call…
Opens: 2012
Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk
Director: Jamie Travis

Analysis: One of the more promising sheer entertainment prospects at Sundance this year is this indie comedy about two ex-college "frenemies" who move into a Gramercy Park apartment together. To afford rent, they start a phone sex line and become best friends while exploring this strange new world. No doubt said relationship will be put to the test.

Short-film and commercials director Jamie Travis makes his feature debut on the project which features many male star cameos including Miller's fiance Seth Rogen. The tone will be R-rated along "Bad Teacher" lines and could be one of the more easily marketable features at the fest.

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Foxfire
Opens: 2012
Cast: Katie Coseni, Ali Liebert, Claire Mazerolle, David Patrick Green, Kent Nolan
Director: Laurent Cantet

Analysis: Previously adapted into a 1996 film that marked one of the earliest roles for Angelina Jolie, Joyce Carol Oates’ novel "Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang" follows five young girls who form their own 'gang' celebrating female pride by carrying out what is initially basic pranks and mild vandalism but escalates to assault, car theft and ultimately kidnapping.

The earlier film made numerous changes to the book including swapping the setting from 1950s upstate New York to the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. The timeline was compressed from years to weeks, the girls come from nicer homes, and the stunts they pull are fairly tame.

This version marks "The Class" director Cantet’s English language debut and is expected to stick much closer to the source material including keeping the original 50's NYC setting and the darker tone. The cast are all unknowns, not even the supporting roles are filled out with any familiar names, so this will live and die on reeling in audiences based on its concept.

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Frankenweenie
Opens: October 5th 2012
Cast: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, Martin Short
Director: Tim Burton

Analysis: A feature-length 3D stop motion animated film version of the 1984 live-action short film that was one of the earliest works of Tim Burton, one that got him fired from Disney at the time because said film was deemed too scary for young audiences.

The original, a homage to and mild parody of both "Frankenstein" and 50's suburbia, follows a boy who loses his dog and uses the power of science to bring it back to life. The new version is being done in the "Corpse Bride" style, understandable as much of the crew from that film is working on this.

This version is also in black and white and has been in the works for several years, while the voice cast features the voices of many of Burton's previous collaborators from the likes of "Beetlejuice," "Ed Wood" and "Mars Attacks". Christopher Lee will once again play Dracula in a scene with an old film playing on a television set.

Originally planning to be released late 2011, the film has been pushed back a few times and will now open a few weeks ahead of next Halloween.

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The Frozen Ground
Opens: December 1st 2012
Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Radha Mitchell, 50 Cent
Director: Scott Walker

Analysis: On paper this $27 million thriller has a strong premise. The true story thriller centers on the early 80's investigation of Robert Hansen (Cusack), a respected family man who systematically abducted some two dozen women and flew them into the Alaskan wilderness where he released and then hunted them.

The film follows the case and the investigations of an Alaskan State Trooper who, with the help of one of Hansen's victims who escaped, sets out to bring the man to justice. Shot in and around Anchorage, the stark scenery combined with the fact that this actually happened makes for a compelling tale.

Yet newcomer Walker's script has received some mixed reviews. The casting of the likes of Cage, Hudgens and 50 Cent brings all sorts of baggage, and producer Emmett Furla Films have so far released various disappointing thrillers like "Righteous Kill," "Street Kings," "The Contract," "Edison" and of course "The Wicker Man" remake. I'm definitely curious but wouldn't be too shocked if this turns out a disappointment.

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Fun Size
October 12th 2012
Cast: Victoria Justice, Johnny Knoxville, Chelsea Handler, Jane Levy, Josh Pence
Director: Josh Schwartz

Analysis: The feature directorial debut of "Gossip Girl" and "Chuck" co-creator and former "The O.C." showrunner Josh Schwartz, this teen comedy boasts "Zoey 101" star Victoria Justice in the lead role which means there's already a sizeable fan base out there keen to check out this halloween-themed comedy.

Justice plays a whip-smart teen girl who accidentally loses her oddball little brother after being forced to take him out for trick-or-treating on Halloween. So begins one desperate night to track him down before their mother (Handler) finds out. Regular "The Colbert Report" writer Max Werner penned the script with the film shot earlier this year around Ohio.

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Gambit
Opens: 2012
Cast: Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci
Director: Michael Hoffman

Analysis: A remake of the classic 1966 crime caper film with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, this new version comes from the pen of the Coen Brothers. Opting not to direct, several helmers have been attached in recent years until "The Last Station," "Soapdish," and "Promised Land" director Michael Hoffman was locked down and shooting took place last year.

The original starred Michael Caine as a cat burglar who uses the help of a Hong Kong showgirl (Shirley MacLaine) to steal a priceless antique from the world's richest man (Herbert Lom), and everything that can go wrong does.

This quite different new take replaces them with Firth as a British art curator and Diaz as a Texas steer roper who team to sell off a fake Monet painting to England's richest man (Alan Rickman).

Producer Mike Lobell has been trying to get the film made for over a decade. The Coens' script has long been considered one of the great unproduced scripts circling Hollywood since it was first penned back in 2003 and now it has finally arrived.

The concern is that the film will be good, not great. The Coens' last attempt at adapting a classic caper film was "The Ladykillers" which is often considered the worst film the duo has ever made. Hopefully this won't be a repeat.

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Gangster Squad
Opens: October 19th 2012
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte
Director: Ruben Fleischer

Analysis: An impressively cast ensemble true story crime drama, this follows a secret "off the record" police task force in the 1940's and 50's as they try and keep the east coast mob from moving into Los Angeles. In particular high-profile gangster Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen (Penn), a member of the so-called "Jewish Mafia".

Former L.A. cop and novelist Will Beall penned the script for the gritty tale which "Zombieland" helmer Fleischer directs and aims to make into an iconic gangster movie with the L.A. setting a key element in the action. Considering his career has been made on mostly action comedies, many are wondering how he'll go handling both dramatic and period elements.

Joining the names above in supporting roles are the likes of Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie and Troy Garity. Fleischer admits they've taken some liberties with the true story elements which is ultimately about the Penn/Brolin face-off for the future of who will run Los Angeles. Could go either way but for now there's a lot of hope that this could be either an awards contender or, failing that, a damn good fun film.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Opens: February 17th 2012
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Christopher Lambert, Violante Placido
Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Analysis: Like its much bigger and better Spider-Man franchise, Sony has to keep making movies about "Ghost Rider" if it wants to retain rights to the character. The trouble is Mark Steven Johnson's $110 million 2007 original is widely considered a cock-up, a mess of a supernatural western that had to tone down the character in order to give it a PG-13 appeal.

Rather than basically saying forget it and letting the rights lapse, Sony is trying again with this tighter $75 million 3D second entry shot in Romania and Turkey. Johnson is gone, replaced by the "Crank" and "Gamer" filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor whose track record for even adequate filmmaking remains highly questionable at best.

In spite of this being essentially a start over, Nicolas Cage remains in the role of Johnny Blaze. Johnny Whitworth plays the main antagonist Blackout, a servant helping the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) who wants to take over his son's body. The inclusion of "Luther" star Idris Elba, classic action hero Christopher Lambert as a bald sword-fighting monk, and a desire to be much darker and more balls to the wall were good reasons for early optimism.

Then it all turned to shit. An early trailer featuring the character pissing fire gave us an idea of what to expect, but the full trailer last month really demonstrated an unexpectedly cheap looking movie with flat lighting and very digital video quality shots of a handful of people running around random ruins in between the odd impressive car stunt. While the rider's physical design is a distinct improvement, the overall CG is hardly much better.

The real kick in the teeth however came in December when the film screened at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival in Austin, Texas. A packed house filled with the exact target audience (mostly male comic/film geeks) it was aimed at gave it a big thumbs down, Twitter reaction calling it bad enough that it made the first film look like a masterpiece in comparison. I get the feeling we have the next "Punisher War Zone" on our hands here.

The Complete Notable Films of 2012 Guide

Volume One: 2 Days in New York, 21 Jump Street, 47 Ronin, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Act of Valor, The Amazing Spider-Man, American Reunion, Amour, The Angel's Share, Anna Karenina, The Apparition, Arbitrage, Argo, The Avengers, A.W.O.L., Bachelorette, Bait 3D, Battleship, Beauty and the Beast in 3D, Being Flynn, Bel Ami, Beneath the Darkness, Bernie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Big House

Volume Two: Big Miracle, The Big Wedding, Blackbird, Black Rock, The Bourne Legacy, Brave, Bullet to the Head, The Bully Project, Butter, The Cabin in the Woods, Casa de mi Padre, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Chimpanzee, Chronicle, Cloud Atlas, Cogan's Trade, The Cold Light of Day, The Company You Keep, Contraband, Cosmopolis, The Dark Knight Rises, Dark Shadows, Decoding Annie Parker, The Deep Blue Sea, The Devil Inside

Volume Three: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Dictator, Disconnect, The Divide, Django Unchained, Dog Fight, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, Dredd, Drift, The End, The End of Love, The English Teacher, The Expendables 2, A Few Best Men, Finding Nemo in 3D, The Five-Year Engagement, Flight, Footnote, For a Good Time Call…, Foxfire, Frankenweenie, The Frozen Ground, Fun Size, Gambit, Gangster Squad, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Volume Four: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III, Goats, God Bless America, Gods Behaving Badly, Gone, Goon, Grabbers, The Grandmasters, Gravity, Great Expectations, Great Hope Springs, The Great Gatsby, The Grey, Halloween 3D, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Haywire, He Loves Me, Here Comes the Boom, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Hotel Transylvania 3D, House at the End of The Street, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, The Hunger Games, Hunter Killer, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Alex Cross

Volume Five: I Hate You Dad, Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D, Imogene, The Impossible, In Darkness, Inside Llewyn Davis, Intruders, Iron Sky, Jack and Diane, Jack the Giant Killer, Jeff Who Lives At Home, John Carter, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Joyful Noise, Juan of the Dead, Killer Joe, The Lady, Laurence Anyways, Lay the Favorite, Learning to Fly, Les Miserables, Liberal Arts, Life of Pi, Lincoln, The Longest Week, Long Time Gone

Volume Six: Looper, Love and Bruises, The Lucky One, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Magic Mike, Man on a Ledge, The Man with the Iron Fists, The Master, Mental, Men in Black 3, Mirror Mirror, Moonrise Kingdom, The Moth Diaries, Movie 43, MS One: Maximum Security, Mud, My Mother's Curse, Neighborhood Watch, Nero Fiddled, No One Lives, Not Suitable for Children, Nurse 3D, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Of Men and Mavericks, On the Ice, On the Road, One for the Money

Volume Seven: Only God Forgives, Outrun, The Paperboy, ParaNorman, Parental Guidance, Parker, Perfect Sense, Phantom, Piranha 3DD, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Place Beyond the Pines, Playing the Field, The Possession, Post Tenebras Lux, Premium Rush, Price Check, Project X, Prometheus, The Raid, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Hook Summer, Red Lights, Red Tails, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Resident Evil: Retribution

Volume Eight: Return, Rise of the Guardians, Robot and Frank, Rock of Ages, Rust and Bone, Safe, Safe House, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Sapphires, Satellite Boy, Savages, Searching for Sugar Man, The Secret World of Arrietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Seeking Justice, Seven Psychopaths, Shadow Dancer, Side by Side, Silent House, The Silver Linings Playbook, Sinister, Skyfall, Smashed, Snow White and the Huntsman, Something in the Air, Song for Marion

Volume Nine: Sparkle, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D, Step Up 4ever, Stoker, Straight A's, The Surrogate, The Sweeney, Syrup, Taken 2, Take this Waltz, Ted, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Thanks for Sharing, Think Like a Man, This is Forty, This Means War, A Thousand Words, The Three Stooges, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Titanic in 3D, Total Recall, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two, Under the Skin, Underworld Awakening, Untitled Bin Laden Project

Volume Ten: Untitled David Chase Movie, Untitled Ramin Bahrani Film, Untitled Terrence Malick Project, Upside Down, V/H/S, The Vow, Wanderlust, Warm Bodies, Welcome to the Punch, Welcome to People, The Wettest County, What Maisie Knew, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Wish You Were Here, The Woman in Black, The Woman in the Fifth, The Words, Words with Gods, World War Z, Wrath of the Titans, Wreck-It Ralph, Wuthering Heights, Your Sister's Sister

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