Cast: Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, James Duval
Director: Gregg Araki
Summary: Smith's everyday life in the dorm - hanging out with his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella, hooking up with a beautiful free spirit named London, lusting for his gorgeous but dim surfer roommate Thor - all gets turned upside-down after one fateful, terrifying night.
Analysis: A year after "Thelma and Louise" came "The Living End", an independent film which had a similar premise but made the protagonists two gay HIV+ men. It was raw, intense and signalled the arrival of a new talent in the form of filmmaker Gregg Araki. In the subsequent two decades, he's delivered several trippy films involving young, good-looking omnisexual people having lots of graphic sex and dealing with some wacky cobbled together plot shenanigans.
The tone has ranged the light-hearted "Splendor" and "Nowhere" to the darker "Mysterious Skin" and "The Doom Generation". From a nude Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting raped in the former to Jonathan Schaech licking his own semen off his hand in the latter, Araki pushes the boundaries in a way that often stops his films from finding mainstream appeal.
Yet it also makes him one of the few American filmmakers still working who is at least refreshingly frank about sexuality on screen and has no issue taking it places that'll make many uncomfortable. If Araki had made "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", Scott wouldn't have fought each evil ex-boyfriend - he would have had to fuck each one of them into submission.
Now comes his tenth film which screened at Cannes last year and contains many of his usual traits including "bi-curious escapades, conspiracy theories, drug trips, mysterious cults, men in animalmasks, witches, telekinetic powers and post apocalyptic visions" according to one review. It's an utterly bonkers mish-mash of the excessive and the surreal from his 'Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy', while skipping the underlying nihilism of those earlier works in favour of the more upbeat tone he used in "Splendor" and "Smiley Face".
The cast look fun, especially Juno Temple as a highly-charged sexual dynamo and Chris Zylka as Thor, the Adonis of a roommate torturing the male lead with his constant nudity and innocent gay flirting. Even the awesome James Duval shows up for a small role as a wise hippie stoner nicknamed 'The Messiah'. It is a low budget B-movie, but the sheer energy and craziness make this one to watch out for.
The Killer Elite
Cast: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Robert De Niro
Director: Gary McKendry
Summary: The story concerns a series of assassinations of members of the British Special Air Service (SAS) by a hit squad called "The Clinic". In response, a group of vigilante special forces members nicknamed 'The Feather Men' take on the hit men in order to protect members of their regiment.
Analysis: Not a remake of, or to be confused with the 1975 Sam Peckinpah film of the same name, this is actually an adaptation of the 1991 novel "The Feather Men" by adventurer and former SAS soldier Sir Ranulph Fiennes. At the time of publication, the book was mired in controversy over Fiennes' claims it was based on factual events and was essentially an 'authorised' history of this group of vigilantes who saved him from being the fifth man slain by the hired guns of a vengeful sheikh seeking retribution.
For nearly two decades, Fiennes was always vague on the story's veracity - the official report states that the four soldiers who served with Fiennes in Oman had died in accidents or of natural causes while the Ministry of Defence has always claimed the events described in the book "simply never took place". When work on this film adaptation got underway a few months ago, the daughter of one of the four soldiers confronted Fiennes who finally admitted to her that the book is fiction (her father actually died during an SAS endurance exercise in Wales in 1979).
While all that controversy was happening in the UK, on the other side of the globe this $66 million film adaptation was midway through filming in Melbourne, Australia which oddly enough was used to stand in for 1970's Paris. Producer Christopher Mapp says that Melbourne and its surrounding areas will play the Middle East and the UK as well, but some actual location shooting in those real-life locations will be done to be blended together and complete the illusion.
Robert De Niro flew in for ten days to play a small role as an assassin, the sole American amidst a cast that consists of three Brits - Clive Owen, Jason Statham and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ("Lost") - and a bunch of Australians including Dominic Purcell ("Prison Break"), Yvonne Strahovski ("Chuck"), Ben Mendelsohn ("Animal Kingdom"), Grant Bowler ("True Blood"), Michael Dorman ("Daybreakers") and Firass Dirani ("Underbelly: The Golden Mile"). The project also marks the feature debut of Irish commercial director Gary McKendry, whose short film "Everything in This Country Must" scored an Oscar nomination in 2005. Could have a lot of potential.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple
Director: William Friedkin
Summary: Riddled with debt, a young brother and sister employ a hired killer to take out their evil mother in order to collect her life insurance. Thing is, they're not the only members of their family who wants their mother dead.
Analysis: Filmmaker William Friedkin's first film since 2006's "Bug" is an adaptation of Tracy Letts' 1998 off-Broadway play which has been described as a "brutally funny and disturbing play, a black comedy of deplorable manners". Scott Glenn played the role on the stage, a detective and part-time assassin who demands the sister as his 'retainer'.
Friedkin hasn't delivered much in terms of strong cinematic output in the past two decades, but in quite a few of those cases the material and scripting, rather than the direction, was the decidedly underwhelming factor. Here, "August: Osage County" creator Letts is doing the adaptation himself and Friedkin apparently plans to keep the full edge of the original play intact on the screen.
"This is very edgy. It is on the razor's edge. It's been called very violent. I don't think it is very violent, but it's very sexually explicit. It is about a very disturbing group of characters" says Friedkin who calls it a "contemporary, twisted version of Cinderella". The casting is pretty great, while the production was shot super fast in New Orleans and is already in post. I'd expect a Fall release.
Kill The Irishman
Opens: March 11th 2011
Cast: Val Kilmer, Linda Cardellini, Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Summary: Chronicles the rise of infamous Cleveland gangster Danny Greene, who engaged in a power struggle with the Italian mob. Greene was as an upstart longshoreman union rep and later became a cocky, legendarily difficult-to-kill troublemaker in the world of organized crime in the 1970s.
Analysis: Though it took over a decade to get the screen rights, and international sales were brisk, it has taken some time for this American-Irish crime drama to lock down a domestic release date and even then it's through distributor Anchor Bay Films who only do limited theatrical runs. It's a shame really as the true life story is one of gangland's most colourful, with the titular Danny Greene himself such a larger than life character.
Countless cars and buildings were demolished during his warfare with the Cleveland mafia who were quite powerful at the time, while he himself thwarted various attempts on his life which only made him more resolute. He also wasn't some do-good crusader, Greene had no problem killing off anyone who went after him in retaliation. His ability to survive and his fearlessness led to the collapse of mafia syndicates across the country.
Shot early 2009 in Detroit where it used the famed Tigers Stadium for a week of shooting right before it was demolished, the film is directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who is most noted for his action screenplays ("Armageddon," "The Saint," "Die Hard: With a Vengeance") but did direct both 2004's "The Punisher" and the "Cannibal Holocaust" homage "Welcome to the Jungle" which sadly went direct-to-DVD.
The cast is awash with veteran wiseguy talent including Val Kilmer, Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Paul Sorvino, and Robert Davi. The film's trailer released a month ago actually looks like fun, but with the release date it has and the general delays, there's a gnawing feeling that this probably won't live up to its full potential.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Opens: May 27th 2011
Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Summary: Po, now a kung fu master, is fighting alongside with Master Shifu and The Furious Five. The group soon must join forces with another group of kung fu masters in order to defeat Lord Shen, a peacock, who plans to use a secret weapon that can destroy kung fu forever.
Analysis: Dreamworks Animation's best reviewed film until last year's "How To Train Your Dragon", the original "Kung Fu Panda" remains the company's highest-grossing non-sequel and the fourth biggest earner for them after the three "Shrek" sequels. With over $630 million in box-office, it comes as no surprise that a sequel was soon to follow. In fact Jeffrey Katzenberg said last month that there could be up to six films in the series should the financial returns stay high.
Armed with a slightly higher $160 million budget, the cast list has been expanded to include not only the original key stars (Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Seth Rogen and James Hong), but Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh, James Woods and Victor Garber as further kung fu masters. Rather than Ian McShane's snow leopard, the villain this time out is Gary Oldman as a peacock.
The same scribes and composers are back though Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich") apparently did some script polishing. There's a new director in the form of Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and most excitingly "Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth" director Guillermo del Toro has served as consultant on the film and has scored an executive producer credit. There was a teaser trailer released back in November, but it gave no insight other than the film will be in 3D like all of DWA's output since "Monsters vs. Aliens".
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis
Director: Luc Besson
Summary: A biopic of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the heartrending choice she had to make about whether to return to England and nurse her husband who was dying of cancer, or to carry on fighting for democracy in Burma where the controlling military junta had grown paranoid about her popular support.
Analysis: Biopics of politically contentious figures are usually period pieces for a good reason. Chief among them of course is the potential legal and personal ramifications for not just the person in question, but the filmmakers as well. One way around this is to create a fictional character 'inspired by' said person (eg. the Tony Blair-esque Adam Lang in Polanski's "The Ghost Writer"), however French filmmaker Luc Besson isn't one to beat around the bush.
As a result, his biopic of current Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been shot under top secret conditions in Paris, Bangkok and the UK. As time and production winds on though, it's becoming hard for Besson to keep his film a secret. A release for this Fall in the UK is already locked in though, which means the attention will only become more focused from here on out.
For those unfamiliar, Aung San Suu Kyi lead the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to a landslide election win in Myanmar in 1990. However the win was never recognised by the country's ruling military junta who have been in power since a coup d'état in 1962 and have kept her incarcerated for most of the past two decades. She was freed in November after seven straight years of house arrest at her lakeside mansion in Rangoon, less than a week after an election that critics said was a charade aimed at preserving military rule behind a civilian facade in Myanmar.
With the possibility that she could be placed under house arrest again at any time, the surrounding publicity and reaction to the film could have serious repercussions in a way no other film opening this year can come close to. Don't expect any of the usual PR build-up here either, this will be very carefully handled by those involved. If it works though, it could become one of the most truly inspirational films of recent times.
Opens: July 1st 2011
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nia Vardalos
Director: Tom Hanks
Summary: After Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man, is terminated from his job, he goes back to college, where he unexpectedly forms bonds with his fellow students and a romantic relationship with Mercedes Tainot, a professor.
Analysis: Tom Hanks' first directorial effort since 1996's "That Thing You Do", the beloved actor also co-wrote the script with Nia Vardalos about "a man forced to reinvent himself and find a new career as he navigates the second act of his life". In many ways though it's about a significant time that many go through following a major change in their life be it geographical relocation, change in occupation or a change in long-term relationship status. Sometimes it simply is better to chuck everything out and start all over again.
Though he and his "Charlie Wilson's War" co-star Julia Roberts were initially announced as being involved, Hanks revealed the rest of his cast in a highly creative way - he tweeted a photo of a bulletin board containing head shots of all them. Within hours media outlets has rushed to identify and list the actors in their stories about the announcement.
Shot in April last year, there's a sense this could be something akin to NBC's "Community" but with less edgy humour and more heartfelt dramatics. Certainly Hanks and Roberts have a great chemistry together, while "Breaking Bad" Emmy winner Bryan Cranston has a role as Roberts' porn-obsessed husband which should make for a curious love triangle. Hanks posted photos and videos from the set, conveying it to be one of the most relaxed looking and fun film productions to have worked on in recent times. I hope that fun is translated well on screen.
Cast: Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet, Griffin Dunne
Director: Massy Tadjedin
Summary: The story follows a married couple, apart for a night while the husband takes a business trip with a colleague to whom he's attracted. While he's resisting temptation, his wife encounters her past love.
Analysis: One recurring comment I hear from several supposedly film literate writers is that they are curious to see how Aussie hunk Sam Worthington does outside a green-screen heavy action film. That makes me think many of them aren't as up on contemporary Australian cinema as they'd like to believe.
When I first saw Worthington on screen he impressed even in the company of talents like Sam Neill, John Goodman and Toni Collette in David Caesar's 2002 period gangster comedy/drama "Dirty Deeds". He delivered a great dramatic performance in Cate Shortland's bittersweet "Somersault", and he held his own as the straight man to David Wenham's scene stealing yobbo turn in the comedy "Gettin' Square".
When Hollywood beckoned and he became the next action hero, I wondered how long it would take before he would get back around to doing more dramatic work again. This year we have our answer with this Manhattan-set story about fidelity and the lies people tell themselves and their partners.
A mix of international talent - a Brit (Knightley), an Aussie (Worthington), a Frenchman (Canet) and a Latina American (Mendes) came together for this French/US co-production of Gaumont and Miramax Films which marks "The Jacket" writer Massy Tadjedin's directorial debut. Shot in late 2008, the film became one of the victims of the Miramax closure and hand over, so it didn't see the light of day until the closing night of the Toronto Film Festival last year.
Reviews were strong but not unanimous in their praise. The subplot with Knightley and Canet, his first major non-French film since 2000's "The Beach", involves old flames meeting again and the pair of very experienced actors work so well together that it apparently detracts from the less developed Worthington and Mendes 'hot co-worker' storyline. Also the fact the couple both have more obvious chemistry with their potential amours than each other kind of has you wondering why they're bothering with the marriage in the first place. Frankly if I were Knightley, I'd take both - preferably at the same time.
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Terrence Howard, Christopher Gorham
Director: Matthew Chapman
Summary: A young man stands on the ledge of a building and seems determined to take his own life. Enter a detective who recently suffered her own traumatic experience and has been sent to talk the "jumper" out of it. Soon the detective discovers that the man is being forced to jump off the building and the man himself has to convince the cop his own life is worth living.
Analysis: Not to be confused with that other similar sounding NYC-set studio film "Man on a Ledge" starring Sam Worthington, this $10 million indie suspense tale shot in Baton Rouge back in March is said to explore "the different and sometimes dangerous beliefs people adopt as a means of surviving emotional trauma" according to first time writer-director Matthew Chapman.
The man on the precipice is Charlie Hunnam, the British actor who first came to notice a decade ago getting a graphic rim job from Aidan Gillen in the pilot of the original UK "Queer as Folk" series. Since then he's made a name for himself in recent years playing a biker in FX's hit series "Sons of Anarchy". He's joined by Liv Tyler, "Little Children" hunk Patrick Wilson, and original "Iron Man" co-star Terrence Howard as the cop trying to talk the man down.
With its smaller budget than the other 'Ledge', I'd expect this to be more dialogue-driven and emotional but both are essentially single location suspense-driven character dramas (ala. "Phone Booth"). What's going on here is hard to say though as the early information about it is conflicting.
One synopsis calls it "a battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist [that] escalates into a lethal battle of wills". How the hell that fits in with a producer's rather asinine quote that the film "explores the fourth dimension: the interior life of tortured souls hovering over the precipice of emotional nullity" I don't know. In any case, this 'Ledge' has its world premiere in competition at Sundance in a few weeks. We'll get most of our answers then.
Life in a Day
Cast: Planet Earth and Its Citizens
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Summary: A documentary film project by YouTube in which users sent in videos of themselves on July 24th 2010. Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald teamed to edit together a feature length presentation consisting of footage from some of the contributors.
Analysis: A documentary shot by filmmakers all over the world that serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July 2010 in all corners of the globe.
Users all around the world were asked to submit videos onto Youtube of some aspect of their day on July 24th 2010, the best entries would then be edited together into a feature-length documentary film by directors Ridley Scott ("Gladiator," "Alien") and Kevin MacDonald ("The Last King of Scotland," "State of Play") along with film editor Joe Walker ("Hunger," "Harry Brown").
It turned out to be more successful than they probably imagined. An estimated 80,000 submissions and 4,600 hours of footage from 192 countries were sent in and ultimately the contributions from twenty-six different people were selected for the final feature being touted as the first "user-generated feature-length documentary".
The film itself will be live-streamed on Youtube at 5pm US-PST on January 27th with an encore presentation the following night. There's also going to be an interactive Q&A at the festival with MacDonald and the top contributors from the film whom you can submit questions to starting Monday January 24th.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin, Charlie Bewley, Oliver Muirhead, Finola Hughes
Director: Drake Doremus
Summary: A British college student falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she's banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa.
Analysis: Scoring good notices for his film "Douchebag" at Sundance last year, Doremus returns to the festival in competition with this mostly improvised effort shot over the Summer. The timing bodes well, both Lawrence and Yelchin are hot talents to watch out for these days, yet because of the film's very nature and the fact it hasn't been shown anywhere yet - next to nothing is known about it. Whatever verdict the reviews at the festival deliver will have a major impact on its future, but "Winter's Bone" was in this same exact position last year - if it's as good, could this turn out to be as lucky?
Opens: March 18th 2011
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, Jennifer Butler
Director: Neil Burger
Summary: A down-on-his-luck writer takes an experimental drug that allows him to use 100 percent of his mind. As one man evolves into the perfect version of himself, forces more corrupt than he can imagine mark him for assassination.
Analysis: Following the path of every addiction - the initial euphoric highs, the unwelcome side effects, the brutal comedown and the desperation to avoid rock bottom, this is a fairly routine sounding thriller with a fun macguffin - a drug that causes the user to fully tap into the brain's unused potential.
Based on Alan Glynn's 2003 techno-thriller novel "The Dark Fields", reviews for the book claim it was an entertaining read with some big concepts but ultimately a bit of a mess. Despite bodies piling up and his life changing so drastically, the hero doesn't question the origin of the narcotic until near the very end of the book, so the answers aren't that creative or well resolved.
Yet this $26 million adaptation has a modest chance of improving on the material. The script is by long time Hollywood comedy scribe Leslie Dixon ("Outrageous Fortune," "Mrs. Doubtfire") who also wrote two of the very few successful remakes of recent times - "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Freaky Friday".
Neil Burger, who gave us the surprisingly enjoyable "The Illusionist" in 2006, is directing. However the trailer is decidedly dull while the film's ending is being reshot this week - two months out from release which is generally not a good sign.
The Lincoln Lawyer
Opens: March 18th 2011
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy
Director: Brad Furman
Summary: Mickey Haller is a slick young attorney doing business from the back of his Lincoln Towncar, when he realizes that his new client, the son of a major businessman, may in fact be guilty of brutal assault.
Analysis: Though the title sounds like a John Grisham adaptation, this is actually based on the first novel in Michael Connelly's novel series featuring Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. Should the film perform well, this could turn out to be a potential franchise for Lionsgate as there are three further books featuring Haller, not to mention plenty of spin-off potential with his half-brother and Connelly's most famous creation - L.A. police detective Harry Bosch.
This marks the second feature from "The Take" filmmaker Brad Furman who is utilising a script by "The Beast" producer John Romano. Though the story looks fairly predictable, the trailer nonetheless impresses with McConaughey slipping back into "A Time to Kill" easy charm mode while Ryan Phillippe looks to be having a ball as a slimy rich kid.
Legal thrillers like the Grisham adaptations generally seem to have disappeared from the cineplex, probably because a lot of their elements have now been incorporated into various television shows which can do them better thanks to the time available to develop the cases and characters properly. Still, the genre didn't cost much to produce and delivered solid returns which any studio would be stupid to ignore in tight economic times like these.
One person is already a fan though, Connelly himself. After watching a rough cut of the film in November, the author said "I saw an unfinished cut of it and could not be happier. I thought it was very loyal to the story and the character of Mickey Haller. Matthew McConaughey nails him. Those who loved the book will love the movie, I think. Those who don't know the book will love it just the same."
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Leslie Mann, Kay Panabaker, Juno Temple, Kyle Gallner
Director: Elgin James
Summary: Amidst the stark landscape of the Salton Sea, two 15-year-old girls test the limits of their friendship when one follows the other to Los Angeles, only to discover that the boredom of home may be better than learning to survive in the big city.
Analysis: Some people truly never leave home, and some can't get away from their parents quickly enough. The rougher the neighbourhood, the more abusive or restrictive the lifestyle is at home - the more likely you'll be one of the latter. Filmmaker Elgin James understands this well, so much so that when pitching a film based on his rough upbringing, the studios were keen to jump onboard. Yet James walked away from those offers because they were "developing into something that would romanticize the violence I had fought so hard to leave behind. The last thing I wanted was to glamorize it and lure people into that lifestyle."
He then sat down and churned out this indie feature which was developed with the help of the Sundance Institute and which he calls "ten times more autobiographical than if I had tried to write my own so called 'life story'". What's interesting here is the raw honesty on display - two girls escape depressing small town life and instead of finding everything going their way, the world "chews them up and spits them out".
James and producer Jamie Patricof spent almost two years preparing the film, finding inspiration in John Ford movies and German cinema to deliver the setting of a barren wasteland of dust and bone. Though actress Juno Temple is in quite a few films coming out this year, she worked her ass off on this and has been an instrumental player in making sure the film got made. The result will premiere in U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance this year and has a good chance of taking top honors.
A Little Bit of Heaven
Cast: Kate Hudson, Kathy Bates, Gael García Bernal, Lucy Punch, Whoopi Goldberg
Director: Nicole Kassell
Summary: A comedy about a guarded woman who finds out she's dying of cancer, but when she meets her match, the threat of falling in love is scarier than death.
Analysis: Impressing with 2004's "The Woodsman", filmmaker Nicole Kassell returns with this dramedy with a fairly standard terminal illness subplot ala "Love and Other Drugs" and the upcoming "Live With It". Formerly called "Earthbound", the strong cast includes those five above along with Peter Dinklage, Romany Malco, Treat Williams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Steven Weber and Alan Dale. In fact Goldberg is credited as playing 'God', a cute touch.
Shot in New Orleans over seven weeks earlier this year, the filmmakers want audiences to focus more on the romance aspect than on the illness of the female lead character - "it really is about celebrating what she never had before and realising how special life really is and trying to use it as much as she can" according to The Film Department executive Ian Watermeier.
Kassell says the film is bright and inspiring, most importantly though is that despite the heavy emotion that we see, the aim is to make a comedy first and foremost with "Terms of Endearment" cited as the shining example of what they're trying to aim for here.
Little White Lies
Cast: François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Benoît Magimel, Gilles Lellouche, Jean Dujardin
Director: Guillaume Canet
Summary: A successful restaurant owner and his wife annually invite a merry group of friends to their beautiful beach house to celebrate. This year when their friend is hurt in a serious accident just before the trip, a dramatic chain of emotional responses lead to pretenses become increasingly hard to keep up and the naked, brutal truth to emerge.
Analysis: There's a lot of films about the big lies in life like someone cheating on their spouse or committing an act in their past they're deeply ashamed of. Less explored are the polite lies of society, the frustrations or pet peeves one might have with an aspect of their friend's personality or appearance which they will discuss with others but never with the person in question. Fear of offense or hurt feelings is the justification for these polite lies, and the deeper and more intimate a friendship, the less control said fear has and thus the more truthful the relationship.
Now French actor Guillaume Canet explores those areas with this, his third time as director following 2002's "Mon Idole" and the 2006 Harlan Coben novel adaptation "Tell No One" which one him a Cesar Award for Best Director and became an international hit. Here he's assembled a cast of some of the biggest name French actors working today for a sprawling, crowd pleasing effort with humour, sentimentality and emotional insight that has more of a Hollywood sensibility than a French one from the sounds of it.
Far more for the crowds than something like the more critically lauded "A Christmas Tale", 'Lies' screened in Toronto to solid reviews which praised the performances by Francois Cluzet and Marion Cotillard but roundly criticised its indulgent 154 minute runtime and lack of disciplined structure. Once again Canet indulges his taste for American and British classic songs with numbers by the likes of CCR, Gladys Knight, David Bowie and Janis Joplin played throughout.
Live With It
Opens: September 2011
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick
Director: Jonathan Levine
Summary: A young healthy man who leads a nice and simple life is soon diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. While fighting the disease he begins to appreciate what he has in life, especially the things he took for granted before his battle.
Analysis: Big success at Sundance doesn't always translate into real world success. After impressing with "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" in 2006, filmmaker Jonathan Levine scored great notices at the festival in 2008 with "The Wackness" which won the audience award and scored a Grand Jury Prize nomination.
Six months later upon its release, general critical reaction was less rosy while the film itself grossed just $2 million - one third of its production budget. Despite that disappointment, Levine remains a director to watch and so it's no surprise that Summit Entertainment quickly picked up his next feature for distribution, even with its potentially controversial subject matter.
Will Reiser's Black List Top 10 script was originally titled "I'm With Cancer", and right now this one's officially still untitled though "Live With It" seems to be the moniker attached at this point. The casting is great with Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick and Angelica Huston. Joseph Gordon-Levitt replaced the great James McAvoy in the lead role, though the "Inception" actor actually seems a better fit for the material in this case.
On the surface it sounds akin to Judd Apatow's disappointing "Funny People", the biggest difference being this has an empathetic likeable lead instead of a rich arrogant Adam Sandler-esque prick. Early screening reviews were strong, claiming it balances drama and comedy better than most films of this ilk (eg. "Love and Other Drugs"). Performances were praised as well, however the film is still being worked on as it wasn't ready in time for a bow at this year's Sundance.
Cast: Keira Knightley, Colin Farrell, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Anna Friel
Director: William Monahan
Summary: A freshly released ex-con from South London attempts to stay out of the way of a ruthless loan shark by finding honest work at the Holland Park mansion of faded movie actress. As his violent past catches up with him and his disturbed sister is threatened, he is forced to act.
Analysis: This time last year, 'London' was looking to be one of the more promising looking upcoming thrillers on the schedule, and a possible awards candidate if the stars were to align just right. Based on the acclaimed novel by crime author Ken Bruen, it marked the directing debut of "The Departed" and "Kingdom of Heaven" screenwriter William Monahan who also adapted.
There's pointed commentary about the younger stars of today, especially those famous for their hard-partying lifestyle. The crew is stacked with Oscar winners running all the major departments, while the cast includes Ray Winstone as the aggressive crime boss, David Thewlis as an agoraphobic business manager, and other talent like Stephen Graham, Jamie Campbell Bower and Ben Chaplin in supporting roles. It all sounded quite promising.
Then the sentiment changed almost overnight. Reviews out of the festival circuit in the early Fall were bad, while a very deflating trailer in late October was generic and dull. When the film hit UK cinemas in late November, to say the Pom critics tore it a new asshole would be far too kind. Reviews utterly savaged the waste of a cast in an apparently disjointed film that barely holds together from scene to scene and plays out every cliche in the book. Farrell and Knightley are fine actors but have no chemistry, and while the first act had promise - it quickly devolves from there.
How bad did it get? Even Empire Magazine, which is famously over-generous with its star scores, could only muster a 2/5 for it - and that was one of the higher marks it received. What this means for the film's release strategy is hard to say, but I wouldn't be shocked if it suddenly goes direct-to-disc in certain countries. FilmDistrict will likely give it a limited theatrical run in the U.S., but I'd expect it to be a relatively quiet one.
The Loneliest Planet
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gudjabidz
Director: Julia Loktev
Summary: A young couple backpacks through the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia. When they hire a local guide to make through the isolated wilderness, their relationship is tested in ways they never anticipated after a split second decision irrevocably alters their lives forever.
Analysis: Julia Loktev ("Day Night Day Night") directs this independently financed US & German co-production based on a short story by Tim Bissell ("Frozen Planet," "Another Man's Son") and shot on location in Georgia. On the surface this doesn't seem that exciting, certainly it sounds like a slightly more thriller oriented version of the Armenia-set American indie film "HERE" also opening this year and about to get a big launch at Sundance.
Despite the leads being Mexican and Israeli, the film is in English and one description calls it a "chamber-piece set in a landscape that is both overwhelmingly open and frighteningly closed". Certainly the location filming should yield some beautiful scenery, it looks like it had access to the Ciscaucasus region in the north whereas "HERE" was confined to the Transcaucasus further south. Whether the film's narrative will be of any interest, we'll likely have to wait until a possible festival launch later in the year.
Love and Bruises
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Corinne Yam, Jalil Lespert, Sifan Shao
Director: Lou Ye
Summary: Hua, a young teacher from Beijing recently arriving in Paris, drifts between former lovers and recent French acquaintances until she begins an intense love affair with young worker Mathieu who is possessed by an insatiable desire for her body. She leaves him, but soon discovers the vital role he has come to play in her life.
Analysis: Set to debut at Cannes in May, this €4 million French-language project marks the latest venture from controversial Chinese director Ye Lou ("Spring Fever," "Summer Palace," "Purple Butterfly") who was banned twice from making films in his native China. It's also one of the first roles for "A Prophet" star Tahar Rahim after that acclaimed work launched the French-Algerian actor onto the international stage.
The pair likely met in Cannes in 2009 and a little over a year later production got underway on this adaptation of the banned autobiography of Jie Liu-Falin. Originally going by the title "Bitch", the film should ruffle some feathers for the fact that despite their intense passion, Mathieu treats Hua like a dog. Yet in the wake of misogynistic fare like Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me", this might avoid coming under such scrutiny due to its international launch. Certainly if the eroticism is dialled right up, it could become one of those cult works about disturbingly intense sexually relationships like "Last Tango In Paris" and "In the Realm of the Senses".
Lou claims to agree with one of Liu-Falin's letters when describing the heart of his film - "When I was conceiving this story, the very first word that emerged in my mind was 'Bitch'. This is the word that Mathieu has on the tip on his tongue every day. I think 'bitch' not only perfectly embodies the complexity of women, but also reflects the nature of men". An extended synopsis is interesting as it paints Hua as such a broken character who can only find happiness in love as exciting as that first kiss - an energy that no real relationship can truly sustain for an extended period.
The Lucky One
Cast: Zac Efron, Blythe Danner, Taylor Schilling, Adam LeFevre, Joe Chrest
Director: Scott Hicks
Summary: A Marine returns to North Carolina after serving three tours in Iraq and searches for the unknown woman he believes was his good luck charm during the war.
Analysis: At this point author Nicholas Sparks has become a genre unto himself. This marks the seventh of his sixteen books to have been adapted, and there's no sign of that slowing down with three more already in development. From "The Notebook" and "A Walk to Remember," to "The Last Song" and "Dear John", most of his books and corresponding films follow the same pattern - old fashioned morality tales about an intense love affair that's usually cut short by some kind of family secret or tragedy involving a death.
It's textbook bittersweet romance that may be cliche, but has more heart and honesty than the often painfully bad cookie cutter rom-coms with the likes of Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston that get pushed out every month. With this story he claims he wanted to "explore the subject of fate or destiny, but in a way that reflected the reality of the world... people have the ability to influence the future in a way that seems coincidental and when that happens, the feeling of fate or destiny is amplified."
The scenario follows a young marine who comes upon a photo of an unknown but beautiful young woman which he's kept with him during his tour as a good luck charm. Upon returning home he tracks her down and discovers she's a divorced mother with a son living in North Carolina. The pair begins an all-consuming love affair, but he hasn't told her about the photo and the secret ultimately threatens their lives. There's also a death, but not whom you might expect and it certainly doesn't come close to the almost ludicrous flash mudslide in "Nights in Rodanthe".
Having risen to fame as a toned, skinny singing and dancing teenager, Zac Efron is finally shedding his metrosexual stylings to play the ex-marine here. With a buzz cut, no make-up and a few extra pounds on him, the 23-year-old actor actually does look much more manly now and certainly closer to his age. Yet the character himself is several years older, and the casting of the baby-faced Efron has been the biggest point of contention about the project on social networking sites and online discussion forums.
26-year-old "Mercy" and "Atlas Shrugged" actress Taylor Schilling beat out Abbie Cornish and Katie Cassidy for the lead female role, how she'll do is hard to say. The script has been adapted by Will Fetters ("Remember Me") and Douglas McGrath ("Emma," "Infamous"), while Australian director Scott Hicks ("Shine," "No Reservations") is helming. Shot in October/November, a release date is uncertain presently with talk of either a Fall release this year, or an early Spring 2012 bow which is the time of year when most of the previous adaptations have achieved success.
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