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The Notable Films of 2011: Part Five

By Garth Franklin Friday December 31st 2010 07:23AM

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The Factory
Opens: 2011
Cast: John Cusack, Jennifer Carpenter, Ksenia Solo, Mae Whitman, Sonya Walger
Director: Morgan O'Neill

Summary: An obsessed cop is on the trail of a serial killer prowling the streets of Buffalo, New York. When his teenage daughter disappears, he drops any pretension and professional restraint he might have to get the killer.

Analysis: Shot almost three years ago now, Dark Castle had originally planned to release this thriller back in late 2009. However for reasons unspecified, it has been sitting on a shelf for some time and keeps getting delayed. In cases like these, the most obvious reason is usually the correct one - it stinks (eg. "Case 39"). The company certainly has had its fair share of box-office duds lately including "Whiteout," "Ninja Assassin," "The Losers," "Orphan" and "Splice".

Yet Cusack generally has good taste in projects, his last venture into horror was the surprisingly effective Stephen King adaptation "1408". While those above mentioned Dark Castle films may not have earned much, some of them scored decent reviews with "Splice" in particular winning supporters amongst the geek crowd.

The first stills from the production actually look quite commendable despite the generic premise, and there are murmurings that this is amongst the outright scariest films the company has ever produced. Still, it looks as if this second feature of actor turned filmmaker and Australian "Project Greenlight" winner Morgan O'Neill will be quietly dumped into cinemas sometime later this year. Best guess is a late Spring or early Fall bow.

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Fast Five
Opens: April 29th 2011
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson
Director: Justin Lin

Summary: Having escaped custody, former cop Brian O'Conner and ex-con Dominic Toretto are now in Brazil where they must pull off one last job against a corrupt businessman who wants them dead. As they assemble their elite team of top racers, a hard-nosed federal agent named Luke Hobbs and his strike team launch an all-out assault to capture them.

Analysis: Just when you thought the "Fast and the Furious" franchise couldn't get any more homoerotic, the cast is joined by Dwayne Johnson as the gruff daddy agent out to bring down muscle boy Dom (Vin Diesel), well-ageing twink Brian (Paul Walker), and Brian's 'on the DL' friend Roman (Tyrese). The location has also moved to Rio de Janeiro where the coconut oil and the speedo pouches are overflowing.

Though set around the South American city and its outlying areas, only some of this fifth film in the series was actually shot on location with the rest done around Atlanta, Puerto Rico and parts of Arizona and California. Certainly the plot sounds more like an old-fashioned heist movie than the previous films which stuck to undercover cop or gangster drama formulas. That explains the involvement of some extra team mates including rapper Ludacris, and Matt Schulze reprising his role of Vince whom only appeared once before in Rob Cohen's first film back in 2001.

The series is one of Universal's few successful cash cows, the last one racked up $353 million from a mere $85 million budget. Indeed, it did so well that a sixth installment of the series is already in development and, short of an unexpected disaster, will likely get the green light as soon as this opens. Justin Lin, who helmed the last two films in the series, returns here and a big selling point is that it's the first film in the series to get an IMAX release.

A recent trailer showed the usual ridiculously over the top antics - towing a bank vault down a highway, driving a beautiful looking convertible out of a moving train, and lots of running across the rooftops of some slums. There's the standard shots of women in bikinis and flashy dresses, though no quotes as delightfully suggestive as Diesel's "I admire the body, no matter the make" from the last film. One of the early photos has Diesel chained up in a warehouse though for you BDSM fans, while the location and hot cars promise to keep the bean queens and auto enthusiasts satisfied.

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The Fields
Opens: July 16th 2011
Cast: Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Moretz, Jason Clarke
Director: Ami Canaan Mann

Summary: Focuses on the true story of a pair of police officers who undertook to solve two decades of disappearances and homicides - totalling as many as 60 victims - in the industrial wastelands surrounding the Texan Gulf Coast refineries.

Analysis: At one time Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") was attached to direct this and called it a "fantastic script" but didn't think it would get made as it was "just so dark'. The true life crimes are certainly very grim - all were schoolgirls or young women, some snatched in broad daylight not far from their homes, with the bodies littered along an 80km (50 mile) stretch of the I-45 motorway between Houston and the Gulf Coast.

Filmmaker Michael Mann ("Collateral," "Public Enemies") was also attached at one point, but instead ended up producing while his daughter Ami Canaan Mann tackled directing, her second feature after 2000's "Morning". This also marks the first script from Tony Scott's regular associate producer Don Ferrarone.

Reports from early test screenings indicate the true life crimes aren't heavily focused on, rather this tells its own dark and gritty story with the murders simply used as a backdrop. Certainly the location lends itself to some potentially extraordinary visuals.

The film was originally titled "The Texas Killing Fields" when Bradley Cooper was in talks to star, however the actor dropped out and went onto a different project called "The Dark Fields" while this became just "The Fields". Then came concern that the similar titles would cause confusion, so "The Dark Fields" was recently retitled "Limitless".

"Kick Ass" and "Let Me In" star Moretz only has a small part here but it's said to be crucial, while the local sheriff role marks and interesting and welcome change of pace for Worthington who has a few roles this year more akin to his pre-"Avatar" work in Australia. Certainly one of the potentially more interesting studio thrillers to open in 2011.

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Final Destination 5
Opens: August 26th 2011
Cast: Emma Bell, Nicholas D'Agosto, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance
Director: Steven Quale

Summary: One man's premonition saves a group of co-workers from a terrifying suspension bridge collapse. But these unsuspecting souls were never supposed to survive, and, in a terrifying race against time, the ill-fated group frantically tries to discover a way to escape Death's sinister agenda.

Analysis: This is the perfect kind of franchise for a studio in several ways. The appeal is based entirely on the premise, not specific actors or filmmakers, which allows them to re-populate the cast and crew with fresh (and cheaper) talent every time. Each entry is entirely stand alone, making it as accessible to newcomers as it is to long-term fans. With the set pieces being elaborate deaths, it forces the filmmakers to be more creative each time rather than just thinking bigger (and more expensive).

It's also a solid little revenue earner. The first three films sit on a budget of $25 million each and comfortably brought in $110 million apiece in global box-office revenue (and much more in rentals & disc sales). 2009's fourth entry, the first in 3D and a kind of mini-reboot of sorts, upped the budget to $40 million. It was a risk that paid off handsomely with a 25% jump in domestic and a 100% jump in international box-office to deliver a very rosy $190 million haul.

So when this was announced, it didn't come as much of a surprise though the earlier and rather crude title of "5nal Destination" did raise some snickers. Producers have said that this installment will be darker like the first and third film, as opposed to the almost comedic routes that the second and fourth film took. At the helm this time is Steven Quale, the co-director of James Cameron's doco "Aliens of the Deep" and a second unit director on "Avatar".

Tony Todd, who starred in the first two films, is also set to return in his role as the coroner Bludworth who knows a great deal about death's design. One rejected location for a death sequence in the film was a water park, so sadly we won't get to see "Fired Up" hunk Nicholas D'Agosto in speedos or "Walking Dead" actress Emma Bell in a bikini. Still, with its end of Summer release slot, this should make for a welcome respite of fun after the bloated blockbuster season.

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Flypaper
Opens: 2011
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Jeffrey Tambor, Mekhi Phifer, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Rob Minkoff

Summary: A man caught in the middle of two simultaneous robberies at the same bank desperately tries to protect the teller with whom he's secretly in love.

Analysis: Set for an out-of-competition premiere at Sundance in January, this darkly comic bank-heist romp sounds like a new spin on 1969's "Take The Money and Run". Shot in Baton Rouge over the course of a month earlier this Summer, the studio is hoping for a well-reviewed Coens-esque "Fargo" style hit it would appear.

They might get it with "The Hangover" scribes Scott Moore and Jon Lucas having penned the project years ago and giving it a tone said to be dark, intense and violent - certainly much more adult than "The Haunted Mansion" Minkoff's previous films. The supporting cast isn't too shabby either and the film marks a welcome change of pace for Dempsey from the doe-eyed romantic leads he is usually stuck playing.

Here he's trying a Woody Allen style turn - neurotic, fussy and medicated. Sounds alright, but we've been badly burned by promising black comedies before such as the woeful "The Ice Harvest". I'd wait and see what the reaction is out of Park City before giving it a try.

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Footloose
Opens: October 14th 2011
Cast: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Ziah Colon, Ray McKinnon
Director: Craig Brewer

Summary: A remake of the 1984 movie in which a rebellious teenager moves into a town where dancing has been banned.

Analysis: Another in the long line of useless remakes, this new incarnation is apparently a direct remake of the 1984 film rather than a film adaptation of the stage musical spawned from the original (ala "The Producers," "Hairspray"). Filmmaker Craig Brewer ("Hustle & Flow," "Black Snake Moan") is co-writing and directing this new version in which the action has been moved from Texas to Tennessee, though it was actually shot in Georgia earlier this Fall on a budget of $25 million.

Zac Efron was attached for almost two years as the lead on the project with his "High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega set to helm. Both left the project and Brewer came onboard to direct. Upon Efron's departure, "Gossip Girl" hunk Chace Crawford was slated to star but ended up backing out due to scheduling conflicts. Thomas Dekker was also apparently under consideration at one point.

Ultimately the role went to the relatively unknown Kenny Wormald, a professional dancer who has earned a commendable reputation from those in the industry who've worked with him. His largest credits to date have been several music videos and the lead role in the cable TV movie "Center Stage: Turn It Up". The female lead is Julianne Hough, who beat out the likes of Hayden Panettiere and Amanda Bynes.

Like the original, they'll be taking on the stick in the muds of a town that bans dancing and rock music. Yet can they tackle their biggest foe, indifference? "Footloose" hardly has the rosy nostalgia factor of "Grease" for example, those who do remember tend it see it more as a textbook example of 80's cinema (like "Flashdance") and rarely include on a list of their favourites films from that period.

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Friends with Benefits
Opens: July 22nd 2011
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg
Director: Will Gluck

Summary: A young female headhunter in New York convinces a potential recruit to accept a job in the Big Apple. Despite an attraction to each other, both realize they're everything they've been running from in a relationship and decide to see what happens if they leave emotion out of it and keep it strictly physical.

Analysis: The second of two films opening next year with a similar premise, the other being Ivan Reitman's "No Strings Attached" with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, this one boasts a better behind the scenes pedigree and a stronger supporting cast including Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Emma Stone, Jenna Elfman, Andy Samberg and cameos by Jason Segel and Rashida Jones.

Though his first film "Fired Up" wasn't a success, filmmaker Will Gluck became a name to look out for with this year's smart high school comedy "Easy A". Here he directs and is performing a polish on the script by Keith Merryman and David Newman. The choice of Justin Timberlake and "Black Swan" scene stealer Mila Kunis in the lead roles is a bold one, neither are proven box-office draws but both are strong talents with excellent comedic timing and a good chemistry together judging by the trailers.

Whereas 'Strings' plays to rom-com conventions, 'Friends' is much more a self-aware deconstruction of the genre. Gluck calls it a modern-set classic Hepburn and Tracy production where the characters have romantics histories, are well versed on the rom-com conventions they see in movies, and frequently comment on them and parallels with their own lives.

There's also no shyness about the title, Timberlake saying "I don’t want to walk into a movie called ‘Friends with Benefits’ and see the PG-13 version. For me, you can’t have a movie like that without embracing what the title is." Screen Gems is opting for a key late July release which should help make this a welcome alternative for adults to the big fantasy blockbusters dominating at the time.

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Friends with Kids
Opens: 2011
Cast: Megan Fox, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Adam Scott, Kristen Wiig
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt

Summary: A pair of thirtysomething best friends observe the toll that having kids has taken on the couples they know and resolve to bypass that stress by having a child and then date other people.

Analysis: After wowing the independent film scene with her script for the delightful "Kissing Jessica Stein", actress Jennifer Westfeldt ("Notes from the Underbelly," "24") returns to filmmaking with this adult comedy/drama which she stars in, penned the script for, produces AND makes her feature directorial debut on.

In the wrong hands the premise could be a crass and formulaic disaster, with Westfeldt though one expects something more mature, intelligent and insightful. Certainly there's a wealth of territory to be explored here in regards to the way people's friendships change when children enter the equation. Just the societal pressure to conform to the 'happy family' model, one which a good portion of the population finds either archaic or simply not for them, would make for interesting subject matter to explore.

There's also the mannerism changes, from the faux interest those without kids tend to display in regards to hearing about their friend's kids feeding and toilet habits, to the sense of entitlement and even superiority sometimes displayed by those with kids who feel they're more mature, wise or even noble than their self-centered friends now that they have a lineage.

The casting is solid with Westfeldt's long-time partner and "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm co-starring along with two great comedy talents Adam Scott and Kristen Wiig. "Transformers" babe Megan Fox is also on hand in a role that will hopefully allow us to see a different side of her as an actress. Definitely one to look into.

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Fright Night
Opens: August 19th 2011
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, Toni Collette
Director: Craig Gillespie

Summary: Trouble arrives for high school senior Charlie Brewster when Jerry Dandridge moves in next door. He seems like a great guy at first, but there’s something not quite right. After observing some very strange activity, Charlie comes to an unmistakable conclusion: Jerry is a vampire preying on the neighborhood.

Analysis: Anyone who grew up with 80's horror will remember this 1985 cult vampire comedy which scored good reviews and was a big enough surprise hit to spawn a lesser sequel. Now, with so many films of that decade getting remade or rebooted, it didn't exactly come as a shock when it was announced that Hollywood had gotten around to giving this another whack.

The good news is the tone of the original is being adhered to - no silly emo vampires with Abercrombie looks and brooding poet personalities. Jerry Dandridge doesn't have fangs, he becomes "like 'Jaws'...full of teeth" when his vampire side emerges says one crew member. Director Craig Gillespie certainly knows quirky, having helmed the well-reviewed "Lars and the Real Girl", while "Buffy" series writer Marti Noxon penned the script and made it very much her mission to keep the spirit of the original intact.

That hasn't stopped her from making some rather odd changes, most notably the setting which is now Las Vegas. Roddy McDowall's turn as an aged horror actor turned washed up cable TV host was the scene stealer of the first film. Here the character has been changed into a Kriss Angel-esque illusionist who uses horror imagery in his act. That could go all sorts of wrong, but the casting in this case is former "Doctor Who" star David Tennant which creates some interesting possibilities.

The unexpected casting here by far is Colin Farrell as Dandridge. Chris Sarandon added surprising layers to the vampire role in the original - respectable, a little sleazy, seductive, omnisexual and even a creepy sense of patience. It was a cool and collected performance which only went into histrionics once the makeup was in full force. Farrell is a good actor, but whether he fits the material here remains to be seen.

The role of Charlie's mother, played by Toni Collette, looks to be greatly expanded with her character falling under Jerry's spell rather than Charlie's girlfriend. Evil Ed also shows up here, though I doubt actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse ("Superbad," "Kick Ass") will end up getting into gay porn the way the original actor Stephen Geoffreys did. As much as I loathe the idea of yet another remake of a perfectly good film, I'm ashamed to admit I am somewhat curious here.

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From Prada to Nada
Opens: January 28th 2011
Cast: April Bowlby, Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Wilmer Valderrama, Nicholas D'Agosto
Director: Angel Gracia

Summary: A Latina spin on Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," where two spoiled sisters who have been left penniless after their father's sudden death are forced to move in with their estranged aunt in East Los Angeles.

Analysis: The project is being pushed as a Latina version of the Austen classic which, in theory, sounds awful - the kind of cringe inducing, stereotype re-inforcing comedy that simply doesn't need to exist any more. Yet the script is adapted by Luis Alfaro, a respected Chicano performance artist, writer and activist who gave a similar treatment to the stage play "Oedipus Rex" in San Francisco earlier this year.

Four studios are directly involved in this film's production - Gilbert Films, Lionsgate, Odd Lot Entertainment, and Videocine - however it's little known Pantelion Films set to distribute it in late January. The trailer is utterly terrible but will no doubt appeal to a demographic which frankly would have little interest in seeing Austen stories done classically. You'll either delight to the idea, or dismiss it out of hand.

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The Future
Opens: 2011
Cast: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik
Director: Miranda July

Summary: When a couple decides to adopt a stray cat their perspective on life changes radically, literally altering the course of time and space and testing their faith in each other and themselves.

Analysis: After a much talked about debut in 2005 with "Me and You and Everyone We Know", indie filmmaker Miranda July returns with this familiar tale of thirty something hipsters hitting revelations about life, in this case enjoying what's in front of you rather than always looking ahead for the things we desire. Previously titled "Satisfaction", July stars with Hamish Linklater in the film which Film4 is producing. Match Factory is set to release the project though haven't announced a release date as yet.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Opens: December 21st 2011
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Max von Sydow
Director: David Fincher

Summary: Based on the first novel in the best-selling Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. A middle-aged hard-nosed investigative reporter in Stockholm loses a libel case and faces jail time. He's offered an assignment to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of a industrialist's niece on a remote island. His work alongside misunderstood rebellious female hacker Lisbeth Salander uncovers religious killings, Nazism, incest, child abuse and murder.

Analysis: While the youngsters have their "Harry Potter" and "Twilight", for adults the biggest international literary sensation of recent years has been Swedish journalist turned novelist Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. The late author's three weighty tomes unravel the story of Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual, rebellious and genius computer hacker who is very much the victim of abuse and corruption at the heart of the Swedish Government.

While the two latter novels go into her backstory and fight for justice, the first novel introduces her and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist as they investigate a young girl's disappearance decades beforehand. Though the eventual solution isn't a huge surprise, Larsson's grisly but highly descriptive prose sets up a very effective atmosphere with fully dimensional characters and various clever twists. They are mainstream thriller novels to be sure, but they're smart and have far more depth to them than some other modern best-selling sensations (such as anything by Dan Brown).

So now comes the inevitable Hollywood adaptation of the material. Taken on its own, the film has pretty much everything it can have going for it. "Se7en" and "Fight Club" director David Fincher, a talented filmmaker who could put his name on dogshit and have even the toughest film critics claim it's gold, is helming. Daniel Craig is perfectly cast as Blomkvist and the supporting talents on offer include the likes of Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James and Joely Richardson.

Acclaimed scribe Steve Zaillian ("Schindler's List, " "American Gangster") is adapting the script which has gotten rave reviews from those who've read it. The oft-award winning Scott Rudin is producing, Sony has granted the filmmakers a considerable budget, and Fincher is staying true to the book by keeping not only the locations set in Sweden, but is shooting there as well. Sony plans to make the whole trilogy should the first one be the success they hope, and all involved are keen on the idea as well.

So what's the problem? One is that there already has been a recent adaptation. In 2009 Yellow Bird produced three Swedish-language films based on the three books. Originally designed and shot as a six-part, nine-hour TV mini-series, only a cut down, single film version of the first two parts was set to go theatrical. That went on to become a massive hit in Europe and has clocked upwards of $104 million in box-office sales worldwide to date.

Needless to say that after its success in Sweden, the other four parts of the mini-series were quickly shaved down and recut into two films to make a film trilogy which saw release later that year in Sweden. All three films garnered a limited theatrical release in most Western countries over the course of this year. Reviews were also quite strong for the films, especially the first one. These adaptations were kept fairly straightforward, hitting all of the main plot points of the books but doing them in the cold intellectual way akin to many dramas from Scandinavian countries.

Some higher brow critics panned the lack of visible emotion on offer, were turned off by the quite dark nature of some of it (there's a brutal rape scene early on), or just considered it a cheap and nasty work. Yet many others embraced it, calling it one of the best thrillers in years, though the love for the subsequent films was visibly not so strong as the obvious TV production values definitely had an impact on the quality.

Still, there's a considerable fanbase for the Swedish films out there, especially in Europe, who're loathe to a Hollywood remake over moralising the story or not living up to scratch in any area. The biggest area of vulnerability is the girl herself. The single most common piece of praise for the Swedish film trilogy, even amongst the sternest critics, was for actress Noomi Rapace's performance as Lisbeth. Her work was good enough to catch the attention of many Hollywood casting agents which helped score her the female lead role in the upcoming "Sherlock Holmes" sequel.

With Fincher's version, the helmer cast a wide net and considered a whole bunch of talent. Ultimately he settled on Rooney Mara, the young actress whose biggest credits to date were the lead role in the odious "A Nightmare on Elm Street" remake, and as Mark Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend in the brilliant opening scene of Fincher's superb but overpraised "The Social Network". If the other 'Girls' films hadn't been done, Mara would've been under immense of pressure to deliver a strong performance anyway as she's the only one involved without a major track record. With Rapace's work available as a comparison, said pressure only gets higher.

Those who can't handle the idea of a world where one can enjoy both adaptations for what they are should take heart in another Swedish thriller literary figure - Kurt Wallander. The BBC's Swedish shot and set English-language versions with Kenneth Branagh are great, and don't take away from the excellent Swedish-language versions with Krister Henriksson. Both tackle the material with different approaches and the same will happen here, what'll be fun will be comparing the merits of both versions afterwards.

If Fincher manages to get the fullest potential out of the material, we could have something we haven't really had in a very long time - an epic, adult, awards-calibre film trilogy. If he bombs utterly, well we'll always have the Swedish films to fall back on. If he hits the middle ground though, something more run-of-the mill than expected, that would be the biggest disappointment in some ways.

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Gnomeo and Juliet 3D
Opens: February 11th 2011
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham
Director: Kelly Asbury

Summary: The greatest love story ever told, Gnomeo and Juliet are two garden gnomes who have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and thrilling lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness.

Analysis: This CG comedic take on the Shakespeare play was originally slated as one of Disney Animation's major upcoming features. Then Disney acquired Pixar, John Lasseter took over the devision and 'Gnomeo' was shut down. Miramax picked up the pieces and managed to get the film made, but then it folded which left this sitting on a shelf.

Ultimately Disney decided to take the film back and is now pushing it out through its Touchstone Pictures banner, making it that label's first ever G-rated film and its first animated release since "The Nightmare Before Christmas" back in 1993. The cast is almost entirely made up of great British talent, though director Kelly Asbury is a Texan best known for directing the CG-animated "Shrek 2" and the traditionally animated "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron", both for Dreamworks.

The soundtrack is a big selling point here with songs by Elton John, Lady Gaga, Nelly Furtado and Kiki Dee alongside James Newton Howard's score. John himself turned up at Cannes this year to promote the film. While it looks kind of cute, there's little here to separate it from various other third-tier CG movies hitting cinemas next year. Certainly the fact that at least seven writers are officially credited (and god knows how many more aren't) is a point of concern.

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Goon
Opens: 2011
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy
Director: Michael Dowse

Summary: Labelled an outcast by his brainy family, a bouncer overcomes long odds to lead a team of under performing misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way.

Analysis: Currently filming in Manitoba, this hockey comedy made headlines earlier this year when actor Seann William Scott dropped out of Kevin Smith's rival hockey comedy project due to scheduling conflicts and instead opted for tackle film which was set to shoot several months earlier.

Unfortunately the decision to shoot this early also meant the production was making a hockey movie right in the middle of hockey season in Canada - meaning almost every major ice rink in the country was booked out, forcing them to adopt a month-long shooting schedule that ran from midnight to noon.

Michael Dowse ("It's All Gone Pete Tong, Fubar") helms from a script co-written by "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" writer Evan Goldberg and the film's lead star and producer Jay Baruchel. Baruchel is a hockey nut and the pair went through twenty script drafts before it was ready and Dowse came onboard. Yet apparently there's quite a bit of improv in use as well. Scott and Schreiber's involvement certainly have raised my interest.

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The Green Hornet
Opens: January 14th 2011
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos
Director: Michel Gondry

Summary: After his media magnate father dies, a lazy young man teams with one of his father's more industrious and inventive employees to do something meaningful for the first time in their lives. Their idea? Fighting crime using the perfect cover - they'll pose as criminals themselves.

Analysis: Based on the classic 30's radio character, the idea of a contemporary live-action 'Hornet' film has been buzzing around for nearly two decades. The likes of George Clooney, Greg Kinnear, Mark Wahlberg and Jake Gyllenhaal were either signed or offered the role of Britt Reid over the years while Jason Scott Lee and Jet Li had both signed at one point or another to play Kato.

After countless screenplays and an aborted attempt that Kevin Smith was set to direct in 2004, the current version of the film finally began to take shape back in 2007. Even then interest was minimal, the character is dated enough that frankly it would be impossible to do an entirely straight laced version of him these days, while a pure spoof sounds awfully cliche. How do you get people excited for something like this? It was about this time that things started to take a turn for the better.

"Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were hired to do the script while Rogen was set to play the lead role. Cult Asian filmmaker Stephen Chow signed on to direct and co-star as Kato back in 2008, an interesting mix it seemed. Chow had to drop out of directing, which is when Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") came onboard. That caused a lot of people to sit up - Gondry doing a superhero movie?

Chow dropped out as Kato with Taiwanese singer-actor Jay Chou sliding in to replace him. Production went fine but when the film was pushed back from a Summer bow to a December and then later a January release date, the word quickly changed to one of concern and suspicion. Could this be the bomb that many thought it would be? A very disappointing first trailer seemed to confirm as much.

For much of this year 'Hornet' has had to fight off a lack of awareness on the one hand, and vocal derision of its quality, sight unseen, on the other. It hasn't been until recently that both factors began to change. Each subsequent trailer has improved on the last, word from a test screening gave it surprisingly high marks, and positive buzz from early press screenings have revealed that, though not a great film, it's a far cry from the disaster many thought Sony had on their hands.

Yet will it be worth it? Costing a not exactly cheap $90 million, the film has to go someway to get its money back. Films that open in January can have strong runs as we've seen in recent years (eg. "Cloverfield"), but it'll have to break records for the month if Sony wants this to become anything resembling a franchise.

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Green Lantern
Opens: June 17th 2011
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett
Director: Martin Campbell

Summary: Hal Jordan is a gifted and cocky test pilot who becomes a Green Lantern, a member of a brotherhood of warriors sworn to keep intergalactic order. Hal must quickly master his new powers and find the courage to overcome his fears in order to defeat a dangerous alien force known as Parallax.

Analysis: While Marvel has been pushing out films featuring its roster of A-list superheroes for years now, DC hasn't been so quick on the ball about taking their brands onto the big screen. Christopher Nolan's two "Batman" films rule supreme over the current generation of superhero movies, but the few other attempts range from the noble but fatally flawed (Bryan Singer's "Superman Lives" and Zac Snyder's "Watchmen") to the legendarily terrible (2004's "Catwoman" and this year's "Jonah Hex"). Certainly none of the other main members of the DC stable of characters have put in an onscreen appearance lately outside of the small screen animated format.

It's not as if Warner Brothers hasn't been trying. Millions have been spent in development over the years on live-action movies based on Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow, and Justice League with none anywhere near closer to fruition. Development on a Green Lantern film has been underway about as long as Dark Horizons has been running - almost fourteen years. Kevin Smith, Zac Snyder and Greg Berlanti were all attached to direct a version at one point or another, while a comedic take on the property starring Jack Black was seriously considered back in 2006.

Ultimately though it was 2007 when the current incarnation started to pick up steam. Greg Berlanti ("Brothers & Sisters," "Life As We Know It") was originally slated to direct from a script he co-wrote with comic book writers Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim. Though there have been several Green Lanterns in the comic, the story itself is to follow the original 1970s Hal Jordan storyline along with using elements from the later "Emerald Dawn" mini-series and Dave Gibbons' work on the title in the 80's.

Unlike most superhero films, casting speculation about who would play Hal Jordan was fairly minimal with the role ultimately going to Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds at the time was being slated to play The Flash in a film version of the DC hero that David Goyer was developing, certainly he seems more suited to that character than Jordan. Yet that take on The Flash simply wasn't making any progress so Reynolds hopped onboard this.

Berlanti stepped away from the director's chair in early 2009 due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by "Casino Royale" and "The Mask of Zorro" director Martin Campbell. Originally slated to shoot in Australia in late 2009, the $150 million production instead stayed closer to home with a shoot earlier this year in Louisiana. A controversial decision was made not to have a practical costume, as a result Green Lantern's bodysuit is computer generated and composited on in post-production as part of the 1,300 visual effects being done overall.

Now that the film has been made and is ready to hit theatres, the big question that currently stands is that of interest. While amongst comic fans there's an in-built 'Lantern' fanbase, the character has little name recognition across the wider spectrum. That awareness drops almost to zero outside of the U.S. where the few DC superheroes which are household names have earned that awareness due to pre-existing TV shows and movies, something 'Lantern' hasn't had outside of the recent "Justice League" animated series.

A launch at Comic Con this year proved a fizzer - very early teaser of footage barely showed anything from the film whilst a panel made headlines more for Blake Lively's cleavage and a cute kid's question than anything that was actually said. An EW cover showing off a first look at the costume met some derisive comments, while a quite FX-heavy teaser trailer with first looks at Oa, Hal in action and other Lanterns lead to a decidedly mixed reaction online.

With several months to go, Warners faces an uphill struggle in not only trying to separate itself from the three other big comic book adaptations on the way next Summer, but getting audiences onboard what is technically the most ambitious of the four. I wish them all the best.

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Griff the Invisible
Opens: 2011
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody, Heather Mitchell, Marshall Napier, Anthony Phelan
Director: Leon Ford

Summary: Griff, office worker by day, superhero by night, has his world turned upside down when he meets Melody, a beautiful young scientist who shares his passion for the impossible.

Analysis: Comics, specifically superheroes, have only really found serious wide acceptance within the United States. Outside of a few key titles like Batman, Superman, X-Men and Spider-Man, superhero films suffer a similar fate with strong domestic box-office but very little outside North American borders. Yet filmmaker Leon Ford is hoping Australian audiences will warm to his high concept superhero feature where a guy in spandex protects the innocent on the streets of Melbourne.

Ford tells Encore Magazine "It’s a heartfelt action superhero romance about a young man who works in an office by day. He’s shy and almost sociophobic, but by night he’s a superhero who protects his neighbourhood from the bad guys. He meets Melody, the first person who actually sees the world in the same curious and imaginative way."

It's not a "Kick Ass"-style satire either, Ford saying "You should never make fun of the fact that it’s a superhero film. The ones that stay with you are the Batman-type ones that take it 100 percent serious." High concept genre films set in contemporary Australia have generally been dismissed within the industry for fear that local audiences would laugh them off screen. Yet this year's vaguely "Red Dawn"-style teen action drama "Tomorrow When The War Began" scored solid reviews and very good box-office.

'Griff' has only a $2.7 million budget, about a tenth that of 'Tomorrow', yet apparently has decent production values and a reliance on practical effects over digital trickery. Former Aussie soap star turned "True Blood" actor Ryan Kwanten slips on the tight fitting black and yellow rubber bodysuit while "Beautiful Kate" actress Maeve Dermody is the female lead.

Reviews out of Toronto were decent, comments claiming everyone involved was obviously committed and the film has its heart in the right place, but the budget limitations will decidedly limit its appeal both within and beyond its home market. It also has to compete with at least four big budget serious superhero films and James Gunn's better received spoof "Super" which also premiered in Toronto.

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The Guard
Opens: 2011
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot
Director: John Michael McDonagh

Summary: An unorthodox small-town Irish policeman joins forces with a straight-laced and uptight FBI agent to take on an international drug smuggling gang in Ireland.

Analysis: The new comedy thriller from John Michael McDonagh ("The Second Death"), who penned the script for 2003's "Ned Kelly", has scored the honor of being opening night film at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival where it will be one of the sixteen movies in official competition.

Shot very late 2009, the hope is we get a gangster comedy on the same level as the brilliant recent Gleeson-starrer "In Bruges". Certainly Gleeson's character sounds as colourful - a small-town cop with "a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a dying mother, a fondness for prostitutes and no interest in international crime". With its prestigious premiere, reviews will be plentiful immediately after so it's best to wait and see the reaction that follows.

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Guns Girls and Gambling
Opens: 2011
Cast: Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, Dane Cook, Megan Park, Chris Kattan
Director: Michael Winnick

Summary: A stylized crime thriller that story throws Elvis impersonators, Indians, modern cowboys, a 6-foot-tall blond assassin, a frat boy, a corrupt sheriff and a prostitute into a chase for a priceless American Indian artifact stolen during a poker game at an Indian casino.

Analysis: A strange sounding indie caper comedy which began production only a month after it was first announced, this is the third film from indie filmmaker Michael Winnick ("Deuces, "Shadow Puppets"). He's convinced a decent enough cast onboard with Oldman playing the best Elvis impersonator there is, Dane Cook and Sam Trammell as sheriffs, and Chris Kattan and Powers Boothe in key roles. Yet there's a general question as to whether this'll even get a theatrical release despite said cast - it's the kind of film that'll either work wonderfully, or be an absolute mess.

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Hall Pass
Opens: February 25th 2011
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Alyssa Milano
Director: Bobby & Peter Farrelly

Summary: Two best friends who're married are granted a "hall pass" by their wives - they're allowed one week of freedom to do whatever they want...no questions asked. At first, it sounds like a dream come true, but it isn't long before they discover that their expectations of the single life are completely out of sync with reality.

Analysis: Having made a name for themselves in the late 90's with some great gross-out comedies, the Farrelly brothers have had a string of disappointments in recent years ranging from the flat ("Fever Pitch," "The Heartbreak Kid") to the insulting ("Shallow Hal," "The Ringer").

Now they return with this sitcom-esque premise about two guys who get a free pass for a week to do whatever they want in order to spice up their marriage. You know where this is going - lots of jokes about awkward sex and pickup attempts, heavy morality lessons about being married makes these slobs so much better as people, chicks way out of the league of these guys offering themselves to them, etc.

The trailer throws in some wacky drug use, dumb dialogue, and Richard Jenkins in an interesting little cameo as an expert on the dating scene (though obviously not in fashion). The R-rating ensures it'll be crude, and the secondary lead role being played by rising comedy star Jason Sudeikis is a nice bit of casting, but ultimately this looks like a rental at best.

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

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