Opens: March 23rd 2011
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Jodie Foster
Summary: A depressed toy company CEO with a failed marriage starts to wear a beaver puppet on his hand as a form of therapy, much to the initial bemusement of his family. He soon begins talking only through the character.
Analysis: This time last year, excitement was quietly brewing for "The Beaver". Gibson's drunken tirade a few years before hand wasn't forgotten, but enough time had passed that this looked to be the year of a potential comeback for the actor.
The thriller remake "Edge of Darkness" and this were his first on screen roles in ten years, 'Beaver' is also his "Maverick" co-star Foster's return to the director's chair fifteen years after her last feature. The script topped the 2008 Black List and scored rave reviews for its blend of sophisticated humor and sad pathos, while a lot of top comedic talent was being pursued for the project at one point.
Now everything has changed. 'Edge' fizzled, the $80 million film only managed to equal its budget in worldwide grosses and was torn apart by critics. Gibson's apparent abusive phone call recordings with ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva were splashed all over the media this past Summer, leading to his agency dropping him. The chance for a high profile cameo in "The Hangover" sequel fell apart not long after the opportunity was offered, and there's a gigantic question mark over Gibson's head these days as to his bankability at the box-office.
Summit Entertainment, who eagerly bought the distribution rights to 'Beaver' a while back, are now stuck with it and have decided to give the film a limited theatrical release in late March. Summit themselves are partly used to this, in February this year they had to release "The Ghost Writer" just a few months after the high-profile media scandal surrounding the arrest in Zurich of that film's director Roman Polanski. Yet they released it, the film scoring some of the best reviews for a studio feature this year and also pulling in a decent $60 million worldwide gross.
With 'Ghost' though, Polanski's involvement was kept minimised in marketing materials. With 'Beaver', Gibson is front and center and there's no way to avoid it. The trailer for the film was launched the other week with a horribly condescending voiceover and an emphasis on the redemption angle to the point that it seems like we'll be watching Gibson's own therapy on screen. Art should always be judged separately from the artist, but with events still so fresh - it'll likely be some time before 'Beaver' can truly be judged on its own merits.
Opens: June 3rd 2011
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic
Director: Mike Mills
Summary: After his mother's death, a young man's elderly father declares he's gay. Four years later the dad dies of cancer, leaving the man confused about love until a young French woman inspires him to expand his mind and find true intimacy.
Analysis: Five years after the modest "Thumbsucker", indie filmmaker Mike Mills returns with this bittersweet comedy that premiered in Toronto to great reviews. In fact word was so good that Focus Features quickly snapped up the film and made a strong $2 million marketing commitment to ensure it gets a healthy bow in limited release. Focus rarely makes festival acquisitions, one of the few other exceptions it made recently was "The Kids Are All Right" which is now a major awards contender.
The strong response to 'Beginners' shouldn't come as a surprise though as the subject matter is personal to Mills, the writer/director's own father went through a similar late life sexual reinvention which heavily informed the script. Reviews point out it's a deeply personal film that lays bare the various flaws of its characters, while at the same time keeping a charming comedy tone that avoids the overwrought downer that most character studies like this generally are.
A few clips on Youtube for the film look excellent, Plummer absolutely having a ball in one scene where his character goes out to a gay nightclub for the first time. Should be a welcome intelligent alternative for adults during the Summer blockbuster period.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod
Summary: In Belle Epoque-era Paris, a former French soldier from the lower class returns from Algeria and becomes a journalist. Through a series of affairs with well-connected women, he uses his looks and smarts to make his way up the social ladder.
Analysis: Though sharing the same name as Europe's most prestigious hardcore gay porn studio, a fact that made many a headline writer's day when "Twilight" hunk Robert Pattinson was cast, the film is actually an adaptation of acclaimed French author Guy de Maupassant's second novel in 1885. The story is familiar, a young man basically screws over and just plain screws his way into high society, yet it's also considered one of the great books of its time and remains a perennial favourite in certain countries.
A lot of the novel's appeal however is de Maupassant's legendarily efficient and involving prose, a writing style that inspired countless others from W. Somerset Maugham to Friedrich Nietzsche, and one that will be very difficult to translate to the screen. It's also very much a classic French tale, so an English adaptation will likely get a hostile reception in western Europe even if it's good - if it's sub-par then god help anyone trying to do promotion for it over there.
Adapted by newbie scribe Rachel Bennette and directed by a pair of stage production veterans making their feature debut, the London and Budapest-shot period piece will have lots of raunchy appeal that "Twilight" moms might be nervous about their daughters seeing. One major scene is an orgy sequence with Pattinson's character which one source tells the press will be "tastefully done". That scene, shot at Kent's Crossness Pumping Station, will be drenched in candlelight and lace to disguise the fact the station is living up to its name in a different way than it was designed for.
More exciting is the cast with the brilliant Thomas, Thurman and Ricci ably supporting Pattinson who seems a better fit for this kind of material than some of his other projects. He's also joined by some under appreciated great British male talent like Philip Glenister ("Life on Mars," "Ashes to Ashes"), James Lance ("Absolute Power," "No Heroics") and Colm Meaney ("Star Trek: DS9," "The Commitments"). Set photos show off some exquisite looking costume design, but no footage is yet out and a release date isn't locked. At last report it'll be hitting the UK in August which means a likely late Summer/early Fall release in the States.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Rip Torn
Director: Richard Linklater
Summary: In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow. When he murders her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive. No-one misses her for months until the local district attorney (McConaughey) decides to investigate.
Analysis: Still deep in post-production after recently wrapping its shoot in Texas, this black comedy is described as "'Fargo' for East Texas", and is the first film in three years for Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise," "Dazed and Confused," "School of Rock"). Linklater's last work, 2008's well-received "Me and Orson Welles", scored only a limited release over a year after its festival debut.
While the premise for this sounds like a less vacation-centric "Weekend at Bernies", the kicker here is that it's based on a true story which Linklater has been thoroughly researching. As he's also doing the script, one hopes it will have a dark and biting edge. Jack Black's previous teaming with Linklater, 2003's "School of Rock", was easily one of the actor's best works - I hope they strike gold again.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Cast: Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson
Director: John Madden
Summary: A group of British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and with visions of a life of leisure, they find the palace a shell of its former self, but are forever transformed by their shared experiences there.
Analysis: Based on Deborah Moggach's novel "These Fine Things", here's a project that seems destined for awards consideration. A cast of British acting veterans, a story based on a beloved book, an exotic locale, a mature comedic tone, and one of the most successful award-generating art house film distributors backing it fully - Fox Searchlight. Combine that with professionals like John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love," "The Debt") directing and Deborah Moggach (2005's "Pride & Prejudice") adapting the script, the ingredients are all there for a critical heavyweight.
Actor Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") has reportedly had to rapidly shed his British accent and learn to speak like an authentic Punjabi for his character. A bigger concern is if the former "Skins" star will be able to hold his own against these acting legends including two dames. Shooting got underway in India last month with the actors having only just returned to the UK, so presently it's too early to make any judgement calls on this. Searchlight's plans for release however are an important question, and it seems likely a mid-Fall date is on the cards.
Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son
Opens: February 18th 2011
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Max Casella, Tony Curran, Faizon Love
Director: John Whitesell
Summary: FBI agent Malcolm Turner and his 17-year-old son, Trent, go undercover at an all-girls performing arts school after Trent witnesses a murder. Posing as Big Momma and Charmaine, they must find the murderer before he finds them.
Analysis: Every year there's an embarassingly bad comedy that becomes a hit and usually it involves Martin Lawrence, Kevin James, Adam Sandler or a combination of the three. When the first 'Momma' took in nearly $174 million worldwide from a $30 million budget, a sequel made sense despite the pain it would cause. Yet even with atrocious reviews and the bad taste left by the first film, the $40 million follow-up still managed to pull in around $140 million worldwide - ensuring Fox would do yet another entry.
This time out, the fat and cross-dressing jokes are dragging down promising "Tropic Thunder" and "Percy Jackson" co-star Brandon T. Jackson who admittedly makes for a more convincing looking woman than Lawrence. Yet the trailer shows all the tired jokes you'd expect, the college setting an obvious move to keep the budget in check. Lawrence has said this will be the last in this series, it's a statement I hope to god he sticks to so we can wash our hands of this soul-destroying muck.
The Big Year
Cast: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Anjelica Huston, Dianne Wiest
Director: David Frankel
Summary: Based on Mark Obmascik's 1998 book, the story follows three men who try to outdo each other in a bird-watching competition to spot the rarest birds in North America. The rivalry is an allegory for the challenges each faces in his own life.
Analysis: The premise may sound a little too close to the idiotic "Strange Wilderness" for one's liking, but the talent involved here certainly promise to lift the material well above that.
Director Frankel is coming off two major hits with "Marley and Me" and "The Devil Wears Prada", scribe Howard Franklin penned the likes of "The Name of the Rose" and "Antitrust", and the cast list includes not only those five listed above but the likes of Joel McHale, Rosamund Pike, Rashida Jones, Jim Parsons, Kevin Pollak, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy and Tim Blake Nelson.
Shot earlier this year in Canada, the general word is that it looks like a funny albeit predictable PG-13 comedy that'll charm its way to strong box-office but is unlikely to be one of the more distinctive films of next year despite the cast.
Cast: Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas, Tahar Rahim, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Summary: Set in the Arab states in the late 1920's, the story centers on a young well educated Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and liberal father-in-law while serving his duty to protect his country after oil is discovered in the Gulf.
Analysis: One of the most ambitious non-Hollywood projects of next year, this adaptation of Hans Ruesch's 1957 novel "South of the Heart: A Novel of Modern Arabia" uses the fascinating and almost unexplored backdrop of the impact that the discovery of oil, and the ensuing power struggle to control it, had on society and religion in parts of the Middle East. The cast is great, topped by the excellent Mark Strong, veteran Banderas, "A Prophet" star Rahim, rising "Slumdog Millionaire" actress Pinto and "Four Lions" actor Riz Ahmed.
Formerly titled "Black Thirst" and currently shooting in Tunisia, Libya and Qatar, the $55 million project is helmed by French filmmaker Annaud who has demonstrated strong skill with period dramas like Russian sniper thriller "Enemy at the Gates" and the Sean Conney monk murder mystery "The Name of the Rose". Equally exciting is a script by Menno Meyjes who scripted "The Color Purple," "The Siege," "Max" and performed story work and polishes on "Empire of the Sun" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".
It's a major shoot, Tunisia Online reporting that more than 100 Tunisian actors, 100 technicians and 16 assistant directors are involved in the 14-week leg of the shoot in Matmata where "Star Wars," "The English Patient" and 'Raiders' were shot. A brief video interview with Annaud reveals that there will be several battle scenes and shows off various impressive desert locations in Qatar where several key scenes will be staged.
The accents will be interesting, Ahmed amusingly noting that "I’m going to play Tahar Rahim’s brother. Antonio Banderas is playing our dad and Freida Pinto’s playing my sister. It’s all one big happy family with a French accent, an English accent, a Spanish accent and an Indian accent. We’ll shoot for mid-Mediterranean somewhere."
Annaud also hints that the tone might be lighter than expected, calling it "a great, enjoyable and entertaining movie for families around the world." A U.S. distributor isn't yet locked, but distribution rights in Europe are currently split between Universal and Warner Bros. Pictures which means it's likely one of them will give the project a decent sized release States-side sometime in the second half of the year.
Cast: Sam Shepard, Stephen Rea, Eduardo Noriega, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Director: Mateo Gil
Summary: Outlaw Butch Cassidy was supposed to have died in Bolivia in 1908. In truth he’s been hiding there for the past two decades under the name of James Blackthorn and now wants to return home to the son he never met. Soon he meets a young Spanish engineer that has just robbed the mine he was working at and together they undertake their last adventure.
Analysis: A rather curious Spanish/British co-production shot on location in Bolivia, 'Blackthorn' expands on theories that have arisen in recent decades that Butch Cassidy didn't die in that stand-off in San Vicente and went on living well into the 1920's and 30's. In this film, helmed by "Agora" and "The Sea Inside" scribe Mateo Gil making his English-language directing debut, Cassidy has assumed another identity and is now quietly living out his remaining years.
Gil says his film brings a modern point of view to the genre, while still embracing its nostalgia and its deeply moral elements. Mostly though it avoids the "grandiose images and traditional aesthetic" of westerns in favour of an intimate character study of Cassidy himself. A promo trailer on the Arcadia Pictures official site shows an obviously limited budget, but some eye catching scenery and a potentially quite interesting performance from Shepard.
What's amusing to ponder is how many will consider this a "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" sequel. It isn't of course, but the film's events could logically fit the assumption and the marketing could certainly place that suggestion in the minds of moviegoers. It's a similar situation to 2003's "Ripley's Game" which some thought was a direct sequel to 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley", in actuality they're quite distinctly different adaptations with no relation beyond the author's source material.
The Black Tulip
Cast: Sonia Nassery Cole, Haji Gul Aser, Walid Amini, Somajia Razaya
Director: Sonia Nassery Cole
Summary: After the Taliban is routed from Afghanistan in early 2001, the Mansouri family seizes the new window of freedom by opening a restaurant with an open microphone and an inviting platform for all to read poetry and tell their stories. This newfound hope proves to be fleeting as they struggle to maintain their lifestyle when encountering very real threats from lingering factions of the Taliban.
Analysis: If you think it's tough to be a filmmaker in the Hollywood system, spare a thought for Sonia Nassery Cole and her production crew. Cole decided to film her tragic love story tale on location in Afghanistan - an extraordinarily rare event (even "The Kite Runner" shot in China") ever since the Taliban banned motion pictures and closed or destroyed theaters. Even with the American-backed Government in place, shooting in Kabul is considered far too dangerous and certainly makes any production uninsurable.
Cole persevered though, mortgaging her own home to cover the budget and dealing with daily threats and security issues. A fascinating piece in The New York Times had Cole claiming militants cut off both of her leading actress' feet in revenge for a Pakistani film she had done years before, while three senior crew members abandoned the film right in the middle of production. That piece however had to be corrected as Cole was caught "colorfully mischaracterising" events - namely those members stayed through most of the production while the unknown actress in question told her in a call about the amputations and Cole never saw or heard from her again after that.
In spite of all the setbacks and struggles filming in a war zone, production wrapped last Fall. The film went on to premiere in Kabul in September where it met a tough crowd response with attendees praising the film’s anti-Taliban sentiments but often laughing at its inaccurate depiction of social relationships, namely its public displays of affection. Already the country's official submission for the foreign language Oscar, there's still presently no release dates for it in either the U.S. or Europe though it seems only a matter of time before it's scheduled in.
Cast: Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, David Morrissey, Aidan Gillen, Luke Evans
Director: Elliott Lester
Summary: Three members of the South East London police squad - a sociopathic rage-fueled detective, a newly widower DCI, and a black female investigator find their lives worsened by a serial killer targeting cops on different beats around the city.
Analysis: "Moon" scribe Nathan Parker and "Love is the Drug" director Elliott Lester team on this well cast British crime thriller with a great premise. Based on the fourth of seven novels by Irish crime writer Ken Bruen that feature two of his regular characters, if this proves successful there could well be a sequel based on one of the other books.
Certainly Statham's Tom Brant character is said to be a memorably violent copper who makes The Shield's Vic Mackey look like a cub scout. Given the right material, such as 2008's superb "The Bank Job", Statham has shown he can be more than just a hunky action hero.
Yet something smells fishy here. Another of Bruen's works, "London Boulevard", opened in the UK last month to a decidedly mixed reaction which has cooled the anticipation for this somewhat. A poorly cobbled together trailer relied on stupid quick cuts and essentially gives away the whole movie, a shame as it looked like a very dark, fun and exciting piece albeit rather TV movie-esque.
'Blitz' also marks the first production of Lionsgate's new UK branch which in 2008 announced a commitment to develop and produce more local films for Blighty. I hope the venture works out for them, right now though they need some major tweaking to their marketing campaign if they want to ensure this doesn't get quietly dumped like the recent Statham-led "13" seems to have been.
Born to Be A Star
Opens: April 22nd 2011
Cast: Nick Swardson, Christina Ricci, Stephen Dorff, Don Johnson, Edward Herrmann
Director: Tom Brady
Summary: A small-town nerd learns his quiet and demure parents were famous porn stars in the 1970s. This motivates him to leave for Hollywood, hoping to follow in their footsteps and fulfill his destiny as the biggest adult-film star in the world.
Analysis: Co-written by Adam Sandler and helmed by the director of Rob Schneider vehicles "The Hot Chick" and "The Animal", the film may not star Sandler but his fingerprints are definitely all over it. Thus the gags are almost certain to go for the lowest common denominator, which is a shame as the premise could make for a biting black comedy.
One could be sure that this was already set for some 'worst of' lists if it weren't for some of the clever supporting casting such as Don Johnson as a washed up porn director, and Stephen Dorff as a porn star named Dick Shadow. Maybe it'll surprise, but considering it was shot second quarter 2009 and still hasn't seen a release of any marketing materials yet, one gets the idea Sony is looking to quietly dump it in late April where it'll get flattened by the May blockbuster race.
The Borrower Arrietty
Cast: English Voice Cast To Be Announced
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Summary: Sho moves into his great aunt's house and soon discovers the presence of tiny people, the Borrowers, living there. He develops a friendship with a 14-year-old Borrower named Arrietty, despite it breaking the cardinal rule that humans must not know about the Borrowers' existence.
Analysis: The latest effort from Studio Ghibli is a new adaptation of Mary Norton's novel "The Borrowers" and sticks closely to that work aside from moving the setting to western Tokyo. This however is not a film by Hayao Miyazaki, rather it marks the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the youngest person to direct a film for Ghibli. Yonebayashi has worked at the studio as an animator since 1997's "Princess Mononoke" and worked on key animation on Miyazaki's last three movies - "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo".
Yet before the film's release there was concern. Both Howl's and Ponyo scored a slightly more tepid reaction than expected and Ghibli had some of their first outright mixed and even negative reviews for Gorō Miyazaki's flawed take of "Tales from Earthsea". Could this be another potential stinker? Upon release in Japan in July however the mood changed and the various reviews that have come out since have raved about the film, citing it as one of the best non-Miyazaki Ghibli efforts. Over 7.5 million people saw the film in theaters in its home country.
Arrietty's small scope means it lacks the gravitas and depth of a 'Spirited' or 'Mononoke', and there are some minor story quibbles in regards to the script which Miyazaki himself wrote, but otherwise the film is likely to get a rave reception in the U.S. whenever it gets released. Disney distributes Ghibli's films in the U.S., but presently this film doesn't appear on their 2011 slate. No English voice track has yet been cast or recorded either, but a release this year is definitely expected. From past efforts I'd say a late Summer bow is when we'll likely see it.
Opens: May 13th 2011
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Dianne Wiest, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph
Director: Paul Feig
Summary: A maid of honor begrudgingly fins herself competing with snobby, rich bridesmaids at every pre-wedding event before the nuptials of her best friend.
Analysis: Thankfully looking a lot more interesting than other wedding-themed comedies of late like "Bride Wars" and "Made of Honor", this comedy is produced by Judd Apatow and his involvement in a project usually means two things aside from laughs - namely heavy handed sentimentality, and a runtime a good half hour too long. Indeed the first test screening for the film clocked in at an almost painful sounding 142 minutes. That number thankfully has been cut down to just under two hours now.
Paul Feig, who has served as producer on such shows as "Nurse Jackie," "The Office" and "Freaks and Geeks", helms from a script co-written by Wiig. Wiig herself is poised to be a breakout female comedy star and stole the show in this year's "MacGruber". With this being labelled the "female version of 'The Hangover'" and a strong supporting cast, there's hope in spite of Apatow's output proving overrated with only odd exceptions ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express"). Hopefully this will be one of those exceptions.
Cast: Sam Riley, Carey Mulligan, Helen Mirren, Pete Postlethwaite, John Hurt
Director: Rowan Joffe
Summary: Based on the novel by Graham Greene. In order to keep a waitress who witnessed him murdering a rival thug quiet, a small-town hood opts to marry her. As his gang begins to doubt his abilities, the man becomes more desperate and violent.
Analysis: A year ago this was considered a potential dark horse awards contender thanks to its stellar cast and source material. Neil Jordan's "The End of the Affair" in 1999 and Phil Noyce's "The Quiet American" in 2002 showed that author Graham Greene's material can still work on film with contemporary audiences so long as it's in the right hands. While 'Brighton' is not one of Greene's more famous works like "The Third Man", the book remains an important one and the 1947 film adaptation with Richard Attenborough is considered one of the most successful efforts in British film noir ever.
So what happened? The Toronto Film Festival is what. Both this and Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go", a film even more pegged to be a serious awards contender this year, premiered with the hope of generating awards buzz. Instead, both films scored a very mixed response and quickly fell off radars. 'Never' of course had already committed to a limited theatrical run and pulled in a disappointing $2.4 million States-side, while international release plans have yet to take shape.
'Brighton' meanwhile sits pondering its fate. A recent trailer was enjoyably stylish but can't answer the criticisms from Toronto and some truly scathing reviews in London a month later that scribe turned first-time director Rowan Joffe failed to fully grasp Greene's admittedly quite difficult to adapt work. The change of the film's time period from the 30's to the 60's apparently has little impact on the story, aside from the production getting to revel in period iconography. More disappointing are reviews claiming a great cast is wasted in unsuitable roles.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Greene, Olivia Wilde, Rob Corddry
Director: Jim Field Smith
Summary: A young orphan, after being adopted by a Midwestern family, discovers she has an uncanny talent for butter-carving. She eventually finds herself up against the ambitious wife of the retired reigning champion in a town's annual butter-sculpting contest.
Analysis: Despite already being in the can for a half year now, little is known about this upcoming comedy beyond a short "Entertainment Tonight" piece which revealed little. "She's Out of My League" director Smith shot this in Louisiana in April/May and while the concept sounds twee, script reviews have generally been kind and called it a funny and sweet little film along "Little Miss Sunshine" lines. I expect we'll get a much better idea once a trailer hits, though photos seem to confirm reports that Olivia Wilde plays a stripper which should get some guys interested in this.
The Cabin in the Woods
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Williams, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kran
Director: Drew Goddard
Summary: A new twist on a classic scenario -- in this case the young-people-stranded-in-the-woods horror trope. Jenkins and Whitford will play white-collar co-workers with a mysterious connection to the cabin. Zombies also come into play at some point.
Analysis: A victim of circumstance, this throwback to John Carpenter-era old-fashioned horror mixed with "Buffy" style black comedy lashings now sits in a corner somewhere gathering dust as MGM sorts out its long-running financial ordeals and handover to Spyglass. One of the few completed films the company had yet to release before it went tits up, the film was shot in early 2009 and slated for a release in February this year.
Then the decision was made in October 2009 to convert the film into 3D, a decision that involved pushing the movie back a full year to January 2011. Naturally this upset a few people, especially since the film was in the can at that point, but the 3D craze had hit its peak and everyone was in a rush to convert their films. Cut to this past Summer and 'Cabin' was delayed once again, this time indefinitely due to the ongoing financial difficulties at the studio.
Joss Whedon, who co-wrote the script with his old "Buffy" and "Angel" cohort Goddard (who also penned "Cloverfield" and some of the best episodes of "Lost" and "Alias"), showed up at Comic Con in July and explained the plans for a 3D conversion had essentially been dumped - an announcement greeted with applause as the wave of complaints about post-converted 3D had begun in earnest by that point. Yet the project's fate is still up in the air, awaiting the Lion's deal with Spyglass to be completed.
Once done, 'Cabin' will likely be quickly slotted in as one of the new MGM's first major releases to help fill the void until they can get some new films into production and out in theatres. Reviews are expected to be good - reaction to the script has been excellent and it's said to be filled with trademark Whedon witticisms and twists, along with a non-traditional ending.
The casting is pretty solid with Oscar nominee Jenkins, 'West Wing' alum Bradford, and "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth. Funnily enough Aussie actor Hemsworth also filmed a major role in the "Red Dawn" remake, the other major project sitting in MGM's vaults. I'd expect he will be as relieved as anyone when either film finally comes out.
Caesar: Rise of the Apes
Opens: June 24th 2011
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Summary: A contemporary-set reboot of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise, this cautionary tale is set in San Francisco in which man's experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
Analysis: Ten years after Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake fizzled with critics and at the box-office, Fox is aiming to reboot the franchise with this new spin that's best described as an unconnected prequel to the original 1968 film. The well received script is a cautionary tale that deals with genetic experimentation leading to the creation of a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee to which one young scientist (and us as an audience apparently) come to sympathise with.
Said chimp, named Caesar, is just the start of the development of smarter simians and an all-out monkey insurrection. Unlike the previous films which used impressive make-up effects, all the apes in this $90 million project are to be computer-animated and are to be created by WETA Digital using motion-capture technology from "Avatar". Caesar himself will be played by Andy Serkis.
The film's tone is also said to be informed by the fourth and darkest chapter in the old film series, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes," which had a similar storyline. However previously attached scribe Scott Frank at one point dismissed the comparison saying this film doesn't go so far as to have apes rioting in the streets. Yet I have to wonder why Fox feels the need to refresh this franchise now. What can this take bring, beyond the obvious technical advancements, that wasn't already explored in the previous six films and the TV series?
Captain America: The First Avenger
Opens: July 22nd 2011
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Richard Armitage, Stanley Tucci
Director: Joe Johnston
Summary: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero who sets out to stop an evil Nazi scientist who has become a nefarious being called The Red Skull.
Analysis: 2011 is shaping up to be the Summer of untested superheroes with three of the most challenging top-level comic properties that remain unadapted getting their first real chance on the big screen (the low-budget 1990 'Captain' film notwithstanding). While "Green Lantern" is essentially unknown, and most are unaware that "Thor" exists outside of Norse mythology, "Captain America" at least has some name recognition as comic book hero outside of geekdom. Yet part of that recognition is due to the character being seen as such an anachronism these days, a symbol of a time back in the mid-20th century when naive jingoistic patriotism wasn't just respected but idealised.
Cut to today however, a character like Steve Rogers is tremendously difficult to adapt. Keeping the tone as is, the film will likely do well in the States but would be laughed out of theatres throughout the rest of the world. Tone it down, global audiences would still have some problems, while right-wing pundits in the U.S. would be screaming that "Captain America" is now anti-America and we might unfortunately have to witness Glenn Beck slip on a blue spandex bodysuit in protest. Another possibility is to strip it down so completely as to be unrecognisable from the original, though we already saw that with the excrement that was "G.I. Joe".
To be fair Marvel actually came up with a decent solution for this by setting the story during the Second World War. With a tone akin to "Raiders of the Lost Ark", namely the search for an artifact with the Nazis as the antagonists, there's an old fashioned adventure feel here where things are more clear cut and the flag waving doesn't come with so much baggage. The first clip screened at Comic Con gave us a decidedly unimpressive costume test shot for the Captain, but also showed an engaging tomb-set scene with a pre-transformed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) doing his best evil Nazi routine.
The casting of Chris Evans isn't a perfect fit. A strong young actor with good comedic timing who was the best thing about the odious "Fantastic Four" films, Evans certainly buffed up for the role with astonishing looking muscles in early photos from the set. Yet I don't really see him as the character, and neither does a lot of fans judging from the online feedback. It's not as obvious a miscasting as Ryan Reynolds (an actor who is PERFECT for The Flash but seems awkward as Green Lantern), but Evans will have to deliver something special if he wants to own the character.
The supporting cast is absolutely stellar, from household names like Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, to truly brilliant character actors like Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones. There's also handsome leading men like Richard Armitage, Dominic Cooper and the fascinating Sebastian Stan alongside gorgeous and promising actresses Hayley Atwell and Natalie Dormer.
Behind the camera is more of a question. The scribes involved penned the strong teleplay for HBO's "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers", but their only other feature credits so far have been the three decidedly lacking "Chronicles of Narnia" adaptations. Filmmaker Joe Johnston is a solid director who can do enjoyable big budget studio features (ala "Jurassic Park III," "The Rocketeer," "Hidalgo"), but he's also someone who sticks to a very straight forward and safe style which means we probably won't see anything beyond a competently directed blockbuster here.
The other worry is the 'Avengers' effect. The forced tie-ins to the upcoming Marvel team-up film were a big factor in "Iron Man 2" being such a disappointment. Here the enjoyment of a period-specific self contained adventure film could be disrupted by the blunt insertions of Marvel Universe elements that don't fit - a point driven home in the Comic Con clip where a glowing blue cube from Thor's realm feels decidedly out of place with the rest of the scene. Of course that was rough footage shot only a day or two beforehand, in the final film the effect may not be so bad. In some ways this is more of a gamble than any of the other superhero films of the Summer, lets see if it comes up a winner.
Opens: June 24th 2011
Cast: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Jason Isaacs
Director: John Lasseter
Summary: Racecar Lightning McQueen and tow truck Mater head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world’s fastest car. Mater soon gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own, international espionage, after he's mistaken for a secret agent and recruited for a top-secret spy mission.
Analysis: No filmmaker is without a few duds, no prestige label is without a few flawed choices, and no studio has a perfect track record - even the seemingly immortal Pixar Animation Studios. There's debate about which is the better "Toy Story", the lack of rewatch value with "A Bug's Life", the cloying sentimentality of "Monsters Inc.", or the flaws with the second half of "Wall-E".
Yet the most common agreement one hears about Pixar's films, aside from them all being genius, is that 2006's "Cars" is the weakest link. On Rotten Tomatoes the film sticks out like a sore thumb, scoring 74% positive reaction and a 6.9/10 average rating while every other feature they've ever produced scores at least 91% and 7.9/10 respectively.
To be fair it isn't a bad film, even Pixar bad is better than most other animation studio's output at their best, but its "Doc Hollywood"-esque story combined with its heavy-handed morality (even by Pixar standards) and self-indulgences rob the film of the edge, wit and inventiveness that informs all their other work. It's certainly not their biggest seller, a worldwide theatrical take of $461 million sits towards the bottom of their output while strong DVD & Blu-ray sales certainly don't make up for the shortfall.
Yet this is the film they chose to do their first non-"Toy Story" sequel for, rather than something more deserving or fitting such as any other film in their oeuvre. Why? Two things. The first is that "Cars" is Pixar head honcho John Lasseter's personal baby, he's protective of it and wants it to succeed as well as anything they've ever done. The chief motivator however is simple - money. "Cars" has sold $5 billion worth of merchandise, far and above any of Pixar's other films.
A project like this may hold little interest for more adult fans of the studio's output, but it won't affect the kid's interest in the property and will certainly make the company's merchandising partners far more excited than they have been with the limited opportunities on offer in the likes of "Ratatouille" and "Up". Even if the film stinks, there's billions to be made with a film like this, especially as it's introducing a whole bunch of new characters, so it's no wonder it got greenlit.
Will it suck though? One big advantage this time is the setting. With a whole new cast of characters and a spy-themed globe-trotting storyline, the film immediately looks far more appealing than its predecessor. Judging from the first trailer we can expect a bunch of old school James Bond homages, much like they did with the score and story elements of 2004's "The Incredibles". Still, this is the first Pixar release in a long while that it's very hard to get excited about.
The Complete Notable Films of 2011 Guide
Part One: 5 Days of August, 11-11-11, 13 Assassins, 30 Minutes or Less, Abduction, The Adjustment Bureau, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Albert Nobbs, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Amigo, Anonymous, Apollo 18, The Apparition, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Atlas Shrugged: Part One, Bad Teacher, Barney's Version, Battle: Los Angeles, Beastly
Part Two: The Beaver, Beginners, Bel Ami, Bernie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, The Big Year, Black Gold, Blackthorn, The Black Tulip, Blitz, Born to Be a Star, The Borrower Arrietty, Bridesmaids, Brighton Rock, Butter, The Cabin in the Woods, Caesar: Rise of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2
Part Three: Catch .44, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Ceremony, Certified Copy, Chalet Girl, The Change-Up, Clean Skin, The Cold Light of Day, Cold Weather, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, The Conspirator, Contagion, The Convincer, Coriolanus, Courageous, Cowboys and Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love, The Cup
Part Four: Damsels in Distress, A Dangerous Method, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Deep Blue Sea, The Descendants, The Details, The Devil's Double, Dibbuk Box, The Dilemma, Dolphin Tale 3D, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, Drive, Drive Angry 3D, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, The Eagle, Even the Rain, Every Day, Everything Must Go, The Eye of the Storm
Part Five: The Factory, Fast Five, The Fields, Final Destination 5, Flypaper, Footloose, Friends with Benefits, Friends with Kids, Fright Night, From Prada to Nada, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gnomeo and Juliet 3D, Goon, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Griff the Invisible, The Guard, Guns Girls and Gambling, Hall Pass
Part Six: The Hangover: Part Two, Hanna, Happy Feet 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two, Haywire, A Heartbeat Away, The Help, Henry's Crime, HERE, Higher Ground, Hobo with a Shotgun, Homework, Hop, Horrible Bosses, The Housemaid, House of My Father, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Hugo Cabret, The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, The Hunter
Part Seven: I Am Number Four, I Melt With You, The Ides of March, Immortals, The Impossible, In A Better World, Incendies, The Innkeepers, Insidious, Intruders, In Your Hands, Ironclad, Jack and Diane, Jack and Jill, Jane Eyre, Jeff Who Lives At Home, Johnny English Reborn, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Jumping the Broom, Just Go With It, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Part Eight: Kaboom, The Killer Elite, Killer Joe, Kill The Irishman, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Lady, Larry Crowne, Last Night, The Ledge, Life in a Day, Like Crazy, Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer, Little Birds, A Little Bit of Heaven, Little White Lies, Live With It, London Boulevard, The Loneliest Planet, Love and Bruises, The Lucky One
Part Nine: Machine Gun Preacher, Mad Bastards, Man on a Ledge, The Man with the Iron Fist, Margin Call, Mars Needs Moms!, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Mechanic, Meek's Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, The Mill and the Cross, Miral, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Monk, Monte Carlo, Mother's Day, Movie 43, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Muppets
Part Ten: My Idiot Brother, My Week with Marilyn, Neds, New Year's Eve, No Strings Attached, Now, Of Gods and Men, On the Road, One Day, One for the Money, Oranges and Sunshine, The Other Woman, Paranormal Activity 3, Passion Play, Paul, Peace Love and Misunderstanding, Peep World, Perfect Sense, Piranha 3DD, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Project X
Part Eleven: Prom, Puss in Boots, Rampart, Rango, The Raven, Real Steel, Red Dawn, Red Dog, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Red Tails, Restless, Retreat, Rio, Route Irish, The Rum Diary, Safe, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Salvation Boulevard, Say Nothing
Part Twelve: Scream 4, A Serbian Film, Serge Gainsbourg: A Life Heroic, Shame, Shaolin, Shark Night 3D, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Shelter, The Silent House, The Sitter, The Skin That I Inhabit, Sleeping Beauty, The Smurfs, Snabba Cash, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Snowtown, Soldiers of Fortune, Something Borrowed, Son of No One, Soul Surfer
Part Thirteen: Source Code, Space Battleship Yamato, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, Straw Dogs, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Take Shelter, Take This Waltz, Ten Year, There Be Dragons, The Thing, The Three Musketeers, This Means War, This Must Be The Place, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tower Heist