News

The Notable Films of 2011: Part Nine

By Garth Franklin Monday January 17th 2011 12:39PM

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Machine Gun Preacher
Opens: 2011
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll, Kathy Baker
Director: Marc Forster

Summary: After finding God, drug-dealing biker Sam Childers renounces his outlaw ways and embarks on a spiritual path, becoming a crusader for hundreds of desperate and helpless children who were being forced to become soldiers in war-torn southern Sudan.

Analysis: Despite taking the freshly rejuvenated James Bond franchise and nearly destroying it with the very disappointing "Quantum of Solace", German-Swiss filmmaker Marc Forster still has a decent amount of good will left thanks to strong earlier efforts like "Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland," "Stranger Than Fiction" and "The Kite Runner".

Now, in his first film since that Bond outing, Forster returns to serious drama with this true story tale of a biker who became a humanitarian crusader for children in the Sudan. The story itself is fascinating, the born again Sam Childers and his group of freedom fighters have rescued over three hundred children from being forced into becoming members of the Lord's Resistance Army.

A character himself, Childers is not what you'd expect a missionary or a humanitarian crusader to be. This evangelical preacher came upon a torso that belong to a child who had stepped on a landmine. Since then he's been on his quest to not only protect these kids but to hunt down Joseph Kony, the head of the LRA.

Shot in July in Michigan and South Africa, which stood in for Pennsylvania and areas along the Sudan/Uganda border respectively, this'll be a potentially fascinating adaptation that one hopes will remain faithful to the truth, no matter how rough or zealous a light it might portray the gun-toting, bible carrying Childers in.

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Mad Bastards
Opens: 2011
Cast: Dean Daley-Jones, Ngaire Pigram, Greg Tait, John Watson, Lucas Yeeda
Director: Brendan Fletcher

Summary: TJ's quest to find the son he's never known, takes him on a journey across the remote and stunning Kimberley landscape. On the road, TJ questions his life of violence... he meets a host of amazing characters who open up a way of life infused with music and hunting and community.

Analysis: After the big budget studio theatrics of Baz Luhrmann's "Australia", and the still over the top period musical that was recent hit "Bran Nue Dae", this time the Kimberley region in the northern part of West Australia gets to shine on screen with the help of people who actually live up in that pretty spectacular yet rugged and remote part of the world.

Writer-director Brendan Fletcher has been pursuing this film for a decade, the aim being to make a tale about the larger than life characters populating the region, a film tonally that is "something raw and something really gutsy and dirty and exciting".

Instead of actors, Fletcher used many locals who brought their own stories to the script and you can get a sense of this in the recently released trailer. The lead role is played by Dean Daley-Jones, a guy who originally approached the production to work as a grip and is getting to know his own son in real life.

Broome country-folk-rock band the Pigram Brothers contributed much of the music and had numerous roles on and off screen, while Aussie musos Alex Lloyd and Casey Chambers also did some songs. The fruits of Fletcher's labour scores its world premiere at the Sydney Festival tonight and will head on to screen at Sundance next week.

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Man on a Ledge
Opens: 2011
Cast: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Kyra Sedgwick
Director: Asger Leth

Summary: An ex-cop turned con threatens to jump to his death from a Manhattan hotel rooftop. NYPD dispatches a female police psychologist to talk him down. However the suicide attempt is a cover for the biggest diamond heist ever pulled, while the psychologist has a past history with the ex-cop.

Analysis: If you've been living in New York City for the past three months, especially in the mid-town area, chances are you've looked out of your window and seen Sam Worthington hanging out on a ledge opposite you. Sadly he wasn't flashing anyone, instead the Aussie hunk has been shooting this action thriller where a suicide attempt looks to be used as a distraction (either unwittingly or not) for a massive jewellery heist.

The duo behind the awful "Whiteout", the commendable "Red" and the upcoming "Battleship" adaptation have performed a polish on Pablo Fenjves' script, while this marks a rare narrative feature from rising documentary filmmaker Asger Leith ("Ghosts of Cité Soleil"). It's a relatively straight forward premise, but Leith is filming in a realistic style so don't expect much in the way of actors hanging out on some two storey balcony in a car park somewhere with green screen for digital extensions - this was all shot about twenty stories up.

There were inflated mats on the ground and the actors did wear harnesses, but they're not as secure as you might think. Elizabeth Banks says "we're on one little string that holds us to the building and at one point I'm checking my equipment because I'm totally freaking out and the guy's like, 'What you're really checking for is if the screw's loose'. And I go, 'You mean like this?' and it's totally loose." Currently scheduled for an early 2012 bow, if we're lucky this will be potentially moved up to a late Fall release.

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The Man with the Iron Fist
Opens: 2011
Cast: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Batista, RZA, Cung Le
Director: RZA

Summary: A blacksmith forges weapons for the inhabitants of a village in feudal China. They are Soon forced to defend themselves, and before you know it, everybody is kung fu fighting.

Analysis: What sounded like a direct-to-video vanity project for Wu-Tang Clan founding member RZA has grown into a fully fledged Hollywood movie which is currently shooting in China. RZA makes his directorial debut on the $20 million project which apparently is a lifelong dream project for the hip hop star turned filmmaker.

Actors like Lucy Liu, Rick Yune and Byron Mann join Hong Kong superstar Daniel Wu, MMA fighter Cung Le and WWE star Dave Batista in the film. The casting news however that has everyone intrigued is Russell Crowe, who co-starred with RZA in "American Gangster". Crowe is confirmed to be headed to China next month to shoot his role, no word on how large said part will be.

Eli Roth is co-writing and co-producing the feature and apparently co-directing small parts of it as actor/stunt performer Darren E. Scott revealed his brief stint shooting in Shanghai involved Roth behind the camera and RZA off elsewhere working on a different part of the film. Roth himself has said the script "mixes kung fu with a spaghetti Western mindset and a hip hop influence" which means god knows what. Hong Kong veteran Corey Yuen ("The Transporter") is directing the action scenes, while Quentin Tarantino is serving as producer - all ensuring that this should be at least worth a look.

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Margin Call
Opens: April 15th 2011
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley
Director: J. C. Chandor

Summary: A thriller that revolves around the key people at a large investment bank over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis when the economic world was on the verge of collapse.

Analysis: A great big ensemble indie drama exploring the tensions at a financial firm in a 24-hour period during the first signs of the economic near collapse on Wall Street in September 2008. The time limit is an odd one for the film as, though the stock drops were fast and the whole month has become known as a horror time for many investors, there wasn't really one single disastrous day ala Black Tuesday. The impact also didn't really flow through on many major businesses until weeks or months down the line.

With many parts of the world still getting over the GFC's impact though, this tale is still very much a relevant one. Shot in New York City this past Summer, the cast list is astonishing - Jeremy Irons as the firm's CEO, Demi Moore as the chief risk management officer, Paul Bettany as a top-tier trader, Simon Baker as a ruthless securities broker, and Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci and Zachary Quinto as analysts who work under Baker's purview. Penn Badgley, Mary McDonnell and Aasif Mandvi also star.

Quinto, whose analyst character is the first at the firm to spot the oncoming crisis, is also producing the film which J.C. Chandor directed from a script he wrote that scored high on the 2010 Black List. The project is set to have its premiere at Sundance shortly and going in is arguably the biggest project, star power wise, of the festival. Will there be much interest though in a film about the depressing economic state of the world? "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" wasn't a particularly big money spinner, can this do better?

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Mars Needs Moms!
Opens: March 11th 2011
Cast: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Elisabeth Harnois, Dan Fogler, Mindy Sterling
Director: Simon Wells

Summary: Nine-year-old Milo finds out just how much he needs his mom when she's nabbed by Martians who plan to steal her life force. Milo's quest to save his mom involves stowing away on a spaceship and taking on the alien nation with the help of a tech-savvy earthman and a rebellious Martian girl.

Analysis: Four years after they bought it, Disney is shutting up shop at Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital company, making this its final mo-cap CG animated effort. While "Monster House," "Beowulf" and IMD's first official Disney effort "A Christmas Carol" all ended up grossing more theatrically than their production budgets, none of them did the business of a Pixar or Dreamworks Animation effort which is why the studio is in business.

As it's Zemeckis' mo-cap animation technique, the look is at times astounding while at others downright creepy. While the kid and mother appear decidedly animated, Dan Fogler's wacky character is a quite convincing effect and the Martian environments are pretty epic to behold. Simon Wells ("The Time Machine," "The Prince of Egypt") helms this adaptation of Berkeley Breathed's book and it's very much a kids film that hopefully won't pander too much.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene
Opens: 2011
Cast: Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Brady Corbet
Director: T. Sean Durkin

Summary: Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.

Analysis: One of the big unknowns of the Sundance Film Festival, I keep trying to pronounce the title but the only phrase that seems to come out of my mouth is 'Maybe It's Maybeline' thank you brainwashing commercials. Actually brainwashing is an apt metaphor here for a film that explores the question of "what after?", in this case a young woman's attempt to re-assimilate into society after escaping a cult.

The second feature from Borderline Films after acclaimed Cannes premiere "Afterschool", don't expect any sanitary or upbeat elements here - the synopsis itself indicates we know right from the start that the titular Martha will meet a grim and undistinguished fate. Her journey there is one of increasing isolationism and paranoia, the real psychological after effects of what can happen when one so devoted to a singular belief system has that taken away from them. Could be powerful, the reaction at Park City will tell the tale.

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The Mechanic
Opens: January 28th 2011
Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, Christa Campbell
Director: Simon West

Summary: Arthur Bishop is an elite assassin with a strict code. When his mentor and close friend Harry is murdered, he seeks revenge on those responsible with the help of Harry's son whom he takes under his wing. While in pursuit of their ultimate mark however, deceptions threaten to destroy both of them.

Analysis: A $40 million remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson thriller, early reviews indicate it holds only a minor resemblance to the dark and brutal original which was noted for its dialogue-free opening sixteen minutes and its often existentialist take on remorseless killing. Here, the R-rating is intact, but the tone is being described as something more akin to a grittier version of that other Statham franchise - "The Transporter".

The use of director Simon West ("Con Air," "The General's Daughter," "Tomb Raider") means the action sequences and two brutal hand-to-hand combat scenes have come out well, but the story is thin on the ground. The villain is said to be underdeveloped, while the heavy focus on the training scenes and a short 92 minute runtime means the film doesn't spend enough time justifying its twists or the antagonist's actions.

While the casting of Foster as the apprentice is a great choice, Statham seems a tad too young for a part better suited for a more world-weary veteran actor. However, the two do seem to have good chemistry together which is a more important factor in these kind of films. Originally planned for mid-December, Nu Image/Milennium pushed the film back to President's Day weekend and frankly it's a better fit - yielding one of the few films this month to look forward to.

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Meek's Cutoff
Opens: 2011
Cast: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Will Patton
Director: Kelly Reichardt

Summary: 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon team of three families has hired the mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains and the high plain desert. Lost in the dry rock and sage, the emigrants must face the scourges of hunger, thirst, and their own lack of faith in each other.

Analysis: Playing practically every major film festival in the second half of last year, this western marks the re-teaming of Michelle Williams and her "Wendy and Lucy" director Kelly Reichardt with the result yielding a similar response in reviews - a brilliant turn by the actress in a commendable but limited appeal film where long silences and quiet observatory moments are far more important than the sparse uses of dialogue.

Shot in the classic old school 1.35:1 Academy ratio of filmmaking, this a true western in many ways - not romanticised, deconstructed, exaggerated or satirised. Rather, it's slow and spartan with an emphasis on the unforgiving and arbitrary harshness of this way of life. The opening sequence is a river crossing that takes 10-15 minutes, very little in the way of story or action actually happens while the ending is ambiguous.

There are points to be made about maintaining order and society when thrown into the challenge of a new world, but restraint and thoughtful authenticity is the order of the day here - something that true fans of the genre will probably adore which explains why some reviewers went absolutely gaga over this. Yet that quiet reserve is what makes the genre as a whole insufferable to a lot of people, and will certainly limit the film's appeal domestically.

It'll almost certainly not go theatrical overseas either as foreign audiences simply don't share the love the genre has in the hearts of many Americans. Whatever its fate though, Reichardt's reputation will only improve. She's already demonstrated that she's a skilled observer of the dramatic weight that comes with some of the smallest acts and most inane moments in life. Her films are mood pieces of emotion rather than narrative, both feminine and very arthouse which makes them an acquired taste. Those who can swallow what's she shovelling though will likely savour the experience.

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Melancholia
Opens: 2011
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård
Director: Lars von Trier

Summary: Two sisters, Justine and Claire, are becoming increasingly more distant from each other. Newlywed Justine becomes melancholic, which makes her stay calm when Earth is threatened by a collision with another planet, while Claire on the other hand finds herself psychologically undermined by her growing fear and panic.

Analysis: Danish director Lars von Trier's first effort since 2009's explicit "Antichrist" shocked the Cannes Film Festival and led to controversy, awards and divided critical reaction over its merit. While his earlier work like "Dogville," "Dancer in the Dark," "The Idiots" and "Breaking the Waves" made his reputation, Antichrist's graphic scenes of a penis ejaculating blood and a woman giving herself a cliterectomy have become infamous to the point of instantly putting his next few efforts under much closer scrutiny.

So now we have this USD$10 million international co-production with an impressive cast exploring the idea of how people cope with the end of the world. In fact, the whole film begins with the destruction of Earth (not by Vogons though) and jumps back to explore the relationship between two sisters before von Trier starts dialling up the apocalyptic themes. Kirsten Dunst is one of the sisters, the actress having beat out Penélope Cruz and Olga Kurylenko for the part.

Made with his usual directing style with no rehearsals and lots of improvisation, Trier says this will be his first film with an unhappy ending, something that he plans to continue for the forseeable future. A rough cut apparently screened the other week with some quick tweets indicating strong performances and a quite complex narrative. Due for release late May in Denmark, a Cannes premiere is certainly on the cards and it'll be one of the hottest tickets of the festival.

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Midnight in Paris
Opens: September 9th 2011
Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen
Director: Woody Allen

Summary: A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business in the 1920's. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.

Analysis: Having churned out a film practically every year for four decades now, Woody Allen shows no sign of slowing down despite general interest in his movies being on the wane. After years of duds, the shifting of his film's locales to mostly overseas has yielded two recent gems - 2005's "Match Point" and 2008's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".

Yet he's also delivered quite a few flops as well including "Cassandra's Dream," "Scoop," "Whatever Works" and "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger". In the latter two cases, U.S. distributor Sony Pictures Classics did seemingly little to promote the films and yet frustratingly enough they've acquired this film as well which will likely result in a lack of proper awareness and a healthy disinterest at the box-office.

In Europe however, expect a much rosier reception thanks to a high-profile premiere at Cannes in May. It has also scored heaps of free publicity around the world already for its cameo by French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Claims she was inept on-set were quickly dismissed by Allen who called said new reports complete fabrications.

From the get-go this looks more appealing than most of his recent work. His first film shot and set in Paris, he actually attempted to shoot the film back in 2006 but had to abandon it due to the expense. This means he has probably spent more time tweaking this script than pretty much anything else he's written since the 90's.

Setting the action in the 1920's and making it an old-fashioned comedy of manners is a welcome change of scene. The cast is also a bit different for him, but in a good way - Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody and rising newcomers like Tom Hiddleston, Léa Seydoux and Allison Pill. Reviews from the festival should be a good indicator as to whether this is worth bothering with.

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The Mill and the Cross
Opens: 2011
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling, Michael York, Joanna Litwin
Director: Lech Majewski

Summary: Set in 1564, the year Peter Breugel created the painting "Christ Carrying A Cross", this joins the theme of Christ's suffering with the political and religious oppression of Flanders at the time.

Analysis: Judging by the downright odd trailer released the other week, this English-language, €1.1 million-budgeted Polish production should prove to be something quite different than what you'd expect. Back in 2008, art critic Michael Gibson approached filmmaker Lech Majewski to work on a film inspired by Bruegel's masterpiece, a film that wouldn't be confined to a standard historical narrative.

Focusing on a dozen characters out of the five hundred presented in the original painting, Majewski intertwines several dissonant subplots and incorporates them into the movie's main narrative involving Breugel creating the artwork. Opting for a mix of experimental techniques involving 3D, multi-level filming and a lot of digital trickery, the result yields shots akin to painterly compositions with many scenes heavily inspired by various different sections of the painting itself - including a crucifixion, a man getting his eyes picked out by crows, and a woman being buried alive.

The lack of budget is visible as the footage looks distinctly green screen in a way akin to the alien ship sets on NBC's "V". This probably means this will be very much confined to art house cinematic runs. Set for its North American premiere during the "New Frontier" section at the Sundance Film Festival, reviews from there will likely have a big impact on whether this will travel anywhere else outside the continent.

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Miral
Opens: March 25th 2011
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto, Yasmine Al Massri, Ruba Blal, Alexander Siddig
Director: Julian Schnabel

Summary: A drama centered on an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war who finds herself drawn into the conflict.

Analysis: After a steady trajectory of increasingly impressive features with "Basquiat," "Before Night Falls" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," this fourth film from rising filmmaker Julian Schnabel was highly anticipated as it went into production, so much so it easily slotted into plum bows at the Venice, Toronto and London Film Festivals last year where it was one of the hottest tickets. While festivals can make films, they can also break them and in the case of "Miral" the film simply couldn't live up to the lofty expectations put on it after the multiple award-winning 'Diving Bell' surprised the world.

Reviews called it well-intentioned and ambitious, but over reaching and emotionally shallow. Schnabel is tackling a full-blown epic look at the Palestinian struggle from 1948 until the mid-1990s, but the result is "plodding at times, choppily edited and unevenly performed. It has very little of the aesthetic polish of Schnabel's earlier work" said one reviewer.

Others shared similar sentiments, calling it more of a history lesson than an involving story where the structure lets down solid performances and oddly out of place cameos by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe simply distract. Still, this is a perspective on Middle Eastern history and an attempt to humanise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which Western audiences rarely get a proper glimpse of, even when it's delivered without the panache of a filmmaker's best efforts.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Opens: 2011
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Josh Holloway
Director: Brad Bird

Summary: Story details are unknown but it will deal with Ethan Hunt and a new IMF team.

Analysis: With economic times tight, the green lighting of a fourth "Mission: Impossible" was a no-brainer for Paramount. With the last film pulling in $400 million worldwide from a $150 million budget, so long as the costs could be kept under control then the studio would have a sure fire moneymaker on its hands. The initial aim was to get J.J. Abrams back in the director's chair and have the film in theatres in time for Memorial Day 2011.

Then various delays in development and pre-production forced the film to be pushed back to December this year, a welcome move as the studio would've been rushing far too fast to meet that original release date. With a slightly tighter $140 million budget, there was talk the film would drop the "Mission: Impossible" title altogether in favor of just the name "Aries", however that was ultimately decided against and the new title "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" was revealed at a Dubai press conference.

The other big talk in pre-production was Tom Cruise's involvement. With the action superstar not the box-office draw he once was, and the disappointing box-office of "Knight and Day" this past Summer ramming the point home, the studio opted to play it safe and is moving the focus away from Cruise's Ethan Hunt character to the new team and more specifically the role of Brandt whom could become the franchise's new key cast member. That role was tested with various actors including Anthony Mackie, Christopher Egan and Kevin Zegers though ultimately "The Hurt Locker" and "The Town" star Jeremy Renner won it.

Abrams opted out of directing the film but remains as producer and contributed to the script. Ultimately Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "Ratatouille") came onboard to helm and filming has taken place throughout the world over the past four months including Dubai, Prague, Moscow, Vancouver and Rajasthan in India. Shooting in Dubai included some death-defying stunt work on top of the Burj Khalifa tower, the world's tallest building.

The casting is pretty inspired this time out including "Deja Vu" actress Paula Patton, "Lost" hunk Josh Holloway, the return of Simon Pegg, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist as the villain, and "Slumdog Millionaire" actor Anil Kapoor in a key role. The feel here is one of optimism. The general misfire of the second film aside, both the first and third 'Mission' are generally liked though neither are really considered great. This one is expected to at least follow suit if not set a new high watermark if Bird's skills with live action are anywhere near as acute as they are with animation.

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Moneyball
Opens: September 23rd 2011
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathryn Morris
Director: Bennett Miller

Summary: The story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget, by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

Analysis: Based on the 2003 book of the same name by Michael M. Lewis, this was originally developed with Oscar-winning scribe Steve Zaillian and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Everything was set to go on this production until changes in the script by Soderbergh to lend a more documentary approach to the material caused the studio to put this into limited turnaround mere days before it was scheduled to begin shooting. Despite his reputation, Soderbergh was let go.

"The West Wing" and "The Social Network" scribe Aaron Sorkin came onboard to re-write the script and bring it back in line with traditional sports movies. "Capote" director Bennett Miller took over the director's chair, a key supporting role that Demetri Martin was set to play was recast with Jonah Hill, and shooting finally kicked off on the $47 million project a year after originally planned.

It will be interesting to see the final result and how it compares to the version Soderbergh had planned. Baseball films don't do business at all overseas, so this would have to be a potentially serious awards contender to get any traction globally. Domestically though, with a release around the pennant race, this could well get a festival launch if good enough and should do healthy box-office.

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The Monk
Opens: 2011
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Geraldine Chaplin, Déborah François, Sergi Lopez, Roxane Duran
Director: Dominik Moll

Summary: Capucin Ambrosio is a pious, well-respected monk in Spain who is undone by carnal lust for his pupil and later uses sorcery to seduce, rape and kill an innocent young woman. Ultimately the female monk is revealed to be an instrument of Satan orchestrating Ambrosio's downfall.

Analysis: An adaptation of Mathew Gregory Lewis' 1796 novel, this fuses sensationalism with a psychologically driven Gothic thriller that explores "how violent and erotic impulses can break through the barriers of social and moral restraint". With Cassel in the leading role and coming off his great turns in the "Mesrine" two-parter and "Black Swan", the performance alone should be enough to make this one to watch.

Added to that though are dark dealings of murder, incest and torture within the Spanish church at the time of the Inquisition and you get something very sinister, atmospheric and creepy in all sorts of ways. Considered highly lurid for its time, this was one of the first books to feature a priest as the villain and furthered mistrust of Roman Catholicism as a whole.

Nevertheless it was extremely popular and has gone on to influence all sorts of works from stage plays and opera, to novels and even comics like "Batman: Gothic". Though a failed attempt to adapt the property into a film by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière took place in the 60's, there's been two completed film versions thus far with Franco Nero and Paul McGann as the titular creation. This take is currently set for a mid-June bow in France and Spain, so there's talk of a debut at the Cannes Film Festival in late May.

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Monte Carlo
Opens: August 12th 2011
Cast: Selena Gomez, Katie Cassidy, Leighton Meester, Catherine Tate, Cory Monteith
Director: Tom Bezucha

Summary: Three young girls on a dream trip to Paris sneak into the lobby of a five-star hotel where one of the girls is mistaken for a spoiled British heiress. Before they get the chance to reveal their true identities, the girls are wrapped up in a whirlwind of paparazzi, private planes, couture gowns and the glamorous life.

Analysis: Loosely based on Jules Bass' novel "Headhunters", early drafts of this swapped out the four middle-aged New Jersey women lead characters for three Midwestern schoolteachers, at the time Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts were attached to play two of them. Then last year, the studio decided to aim younger with the film's target audience so had the script re-written to make the female leads two college students and a recent high-school graduate. Though Kidman is no longer starring, she remains attached as producer.

Shot in Budapest, Hungary, Paris, France and Monaco over the summer, the cast is an odd mix of talent - especially teaming 24-year-old Meester and Cassidy with 16-year-old Selena Gomez who will adopt an English accent to play the spoiled British heiress whom she's mistaken for. The supporting talent includes "Glee" star Cory Monteith as Katie Cassidy's truck-driving football player who follows her to Europe, along with small roles for Andie MacDowell, French actor Pierre Boulanger, and former "Doctor Who" co-star Catherine Tate.

Originally slated for February this year, the film has kept hitting delays and is now set to bow mid-August, not exactly a sign of a great deal of confidence. Still, a trailer is due sometime next month so we'll get an idea then, frankly though if you're someone who isn't excited by the premise - chances are this won't include anything extra to sway your mind.

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Mother's Day
Opens: April 1st 2011
Cast: Rebecca DeMornay, Patrick Flueger, Jaime King, Matt O'Leary, Shawn Ashmore
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Summary: Three brothers on the run from the law head for home, only to discover that their mother lost the house in a foreclosure. Mother ingeniously orchestrates her sons' escape, teaching the house's new owners and their guests a few lessons along the way.

Analysis: While I'm not a fan of the "Saw" sequels, I do think "Saw" 2-4 and "Repo The Genetic Opera" director Darren Lynn Bousman has a promising future. While he overindulges himself on the gore and the fast cut editing, an interesting visual style and sense of ambition underly everything and he's one of the few out there in the genre with the balls big enough to take some chances, even if they backfire.

This time however, 'Day' feels like an oddly cautious move on his part. Yet another horror remake, this $11 million update of a Troma cult classic ditches that company's signature cheesy comedy in favour of a straight-forward home invasion thriller. The casting of Rebecca De Mornay as the calculating matriarch is a welcome return to the genre for the actress, she left an indelible impression on me in my youth as the manipulative psycho babysitter in "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle".

There's a good supporting cast as well from babes like Jaime King and Deborah Ann Woll, to hottie hunks Matt O'Leary and Patrick Flueger. Cut and finished in April, the project made its public debut at Fantastic Fest in late September where reviews proved decent. Bousman pulls no punches, the result naturally divided reaction as it's difficult to watch these remorseless people fully indulge their wanton cruelty. It's violent, intense, gory and while all the characters are unpleasant, the performances are said to be quite strong - especially DeMornay who may be the only truly moral person in the whole film.

Shortly after that screening, Gigapix Releasing picked up the film for release and at last report is targeting April 1st 2011. There's a catch there as it'll open opposite Bousman's old cohorts James Wan and Leigh Whannell who are releasing their haunted house tale "Insidious" the same day. One will likely have to move in a few weeks, where they will go is hard to say at this point.

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Movie 43
Opens: 2011
Cast: Too Many To Name
Director: Too Many To Name

Summary: An anthology comedy made up of several different short film sketches linked by a common unifying thread.

Analysis: A huge number of big stars are coming together for this R-rated anthology movie made up of short stand alone segments - think along the lines of 1970's comedies like "Kentucky Fried Movie" or dramas like "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Paris, je t’aime". Originally set up at Overture Films, that company dumped it which lead to Relativity Media picking it up (shortly after Relativity bought Overture Films themselves), and a meeting with producers led to a revamp of the central premise.

There will apparently be a unifying storyline for this series of sketches, though details on what that is hasn't been revealed yet. What details have leaked indicate the segments really don't seem to have a common unifying thread. One sketch has Gerard Butler as a perverse and foul-mouthed leprechaun kidnapped by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott who want to steal his pot of gold.

Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet shot their segment entitled "The Catch" in just one day in New York City with Peter Farrelly directing. Halle Berry was spotted donning a giant pair of prosthetic lips for her segment "Truth or Dare" which is apparently about "a career driven woman who is set up to take the fall for corporate embezzlement after her sexy college friend from Las Vegas drops back into her life". Not sure how the big lips fit in with that description.

Another sketch is "Robin's Big Speed Date", a follow-up to the 2006 comedy short "Robin's Big Date" in which Batman's sidekick Robin (Justin Long) tries to go on a date without The Bat-Man (Sam Rockwell) tagging along and ruining the evening. Long will reprise his role though Rockwell couldn't fit it into his schedule so Jason Sudeikis will play Batman. The same short also has Bobby Cannavale as Superman, Uma Thurman as Lois Lane, Kristen Bell as Supergirl, Leslie Bibb as Wonder Woman and John Hodgman as The Penguin.

At current reports, other cast members include Elizabeth Banks, Jimmy Bennett, Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Kieran Culkin, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, Aasif Mandvi, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Moretz, Liev Schreiber, Tony Shalhoub, Emma Stone, Patrick Warburton, Naomi Watts, and even Snooki from "Jersey Shore". The director's list is also suitable impressive including Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk and Brett Ratner. No specific release date has yet been set, though there's talk of a late Summer bow.

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Mr. Popper's Penguins
Opens: June 17th 2011
Cast: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Madeline Carroll, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond
Director: Mark Waters

Summary: A wealthy New York businessman finds his life change for the better when he inherits six penguins. As he transforms his apartment into a winter wonderland, his professional side starts to unravel.

Analysis: An adaptation of the award-winning children's book by Richard & Florence Atwater, this was originally looking to be a reunion of "Greenberg" star Ben Stiller and director Noam Baumbach. Both however dropped out and the result is a more straightforward effort from helmer Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday"). Jim Carrey scored the lead role over earlier choices Owen Wilson and Jack Black.

The setting of the story has been shifted from a family in the small town of Stillwater in the 1930s, to a wealthy real estate developer living in contemporary New York City. Currently filming there, the production seems to be trying to use real penguins where possible though around half their screen time will require CG - mostly for shots that are either too dangerous, or in sequences where they weren't allowed to use them such as a scene where they storm the Guggenheim Museum.

The number of penguins has been cut to six rather than the dozen in the original tome, mostly so that each bird would get their own distinct personality. Originally scheduled for mid-August, Fox has moved up the film which is now set to bow in a more crowded mid-June slot - likely trying to catch the young kids when they're out and about mid-Summer.

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The Muppets
Opens: November 23rd 2011
Cast: The Muppets, Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Director: James Bobin

Summary: A couple and their friend Walter reunite The Muppets, now retired entertainers known for the same Muppet show we know them from, to save the TV studio that the original show was shot in from a Texan oil baron bent on drilling for oil underneath it.

Analysis: With so many franchises being rebooted after years of languishing either dead or in endless sequel obscurity, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that The Muppets are attempting a comeback of their own. It has been a decade since their last theatrical outing, 1999's "Muppets from Space", fizzled with critics and at the box-office. In the interim, Disney purchased the Muppets brand in 2004 and have let it slowly rot as it churned out several unremarkable telefilms with the characters.

Things began to change in 2008 when Nick Stoller and actor Jason Segel pitched a concept for a new theatrical film with Jim Henson's creations, a pitch the studio liked and assigned the pair to pen a script for. While most films tend to keep their production phase quite secret, those involved here have been surprisingly open about this with Segel in particular bringing up the project and talking about it many interviews. At the time it was going by the title "The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time".

The film really began to pick up steam in January last year when "Flight of the Conchords" co-creator James Bobin was drafted as director and planned on adding some musical elements to the project - a fantastic bit of news considering those were the best bits of the acclaimed comedy. The project was formally announced in March with work on Walter, the major new Muppet character for the film, already underway. After meeting with the Pixar people for some script fine tuning, shooting got underway in October.

In the last few months the talk has mostly surrounded the raft of celebrity cameos expected to pop up throughout the film alongside the four main human lead roles listed above. At last report the likes of Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais, Donald Glover, Dave Grohl, Kathy Griffin and Jean-Claude Van Damme are all expected to make short appearances. There was some speculation as to who would voice Walter, with puppeteer Peter Linz ultimately scoring the part.

The big question now is of interest and whether older audiences still care about these characters and younger audiences have any interest in getting to know them. The film opens in a crowded Thanksgiving holiday break against two big budget CG-animated family films, the first part of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" which will easily dominate the box-office, and the threat of Scorsese's family fantasy "Hugo Cabret" and Fox's third "Alvin and the Chipmunks" film 2-3 weeks later.

While Kermit, Miss Piggy and the like have remained in the cultural zeitgeist, it would be grand to see a whole new generation embrace the likes of Beaker, The Swedish Chef, Animal, and Statler and Waldorf. With the might of Disney's marketing power behind it, we might just luck out on that front.

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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