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The Notable Films of 2011: Part Ten

By Garth Franklin Friday January 28th 2011 08:13AM

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My Idiot Brother
Opens: 2011
Cast: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan
Director: Jesse Peretz

Summary: Ned is a well-meaning idealist just released from prison for dealing cannabis. In succession, he disrupts the lives and homes of his three sisters: a career-driven journalist about to get her big break; a bisexual hipster whose lies are disrupting her relationship; and a married mother who hasn't noticed that her marriage is falling apart.

Analysis: Scoring a good response over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, this broad light comedy with a sweet heart charmed the pants off The Weinstein Company to the tune of around $6 million for distribution rights. That covers most of its sub-$10 million budget, a number that it could potentially outgross by several factors if the good-natured tone hinted at in the reviews were correct. If anything, the few negatives tended to be because this is a more commercial feature than some expected.

Jesse Peretz and his sister Evgenia came up with an early incarnation of the script but were unable to finance it, instead they decided to draft another more commercial story with characters in their thirties. Evgenia and her husband David Schisgall ultimately penned the script, and the resulting project went into production unusually quickly for an independent film with shooting wrapping less than four months after the script was picked up by the producers.

In fact, Paul Rudd signed on to play the lead role even before the producers picked up the film. Shot over six weeks in New York City and Upstate New York last July with a cast that includes those names above and the likes of Rashida Jones, Hugh Dancy, Kathryn Hahn and Shirley Knight, this is is one indie feature that definitely has some major crossover potential should the marketing guys sell it right.

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My Week with Marilyn
Opens: 2011
Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper
Director: Simon Curtis

Summary: Summer 1956. Colin Clark works as an assistant on the British set of "The Prince and the Showgirl," which stars Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, who is also on honeymoon with her new husband, Arthur Miller. When Miller leaves the country, Clark introduces Monroe to British life and they spend a week together, in which she escapes from her Hollywood routine and the pressures of work.

Analysis: Rather than a straightforward biopic of Marilyn Monroe, feature debut director Simon Curtis ("Cranford," "David Copperfield") and scribe Adrian Hodges ("Primeval," "Survivors") have instead opted for an approach more along the lines of "The Queen" - a study of its subject during a key week in their life. The tone is less somber however, the film showcasing a time when Monroe actually shared moments of her true self with Clark rather than acting the part of the larger than life blonde bombshell icon we all know.

Based on Clark's two diary accounts "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me" and "My Week with Marilyn", and financed by The Weinstein Company and BBC Films, expect this to be both far more respectful and accurate to its subject matter than the oft-derided telemovie "Norma Jean and Marilyn". In fact, there's a chance this could emerge as a surprise awards candidate should the quality of the script and filmmaking match the casting.

That cast is led by Michelle Williams, the only actress that producers met with despite other actresses like Scarlett Johansson, Kate Hudson and Amy Adams being considered for the role. Rising British thesp Eddie Redmayne ("The Pillars of the Earth") will play Clark, while Kenneth Branagh is set to play that titan of acting Laurence Olivier. Judi Dench plays actress Sybil Throndike who, along with Clark, was one of the few that understood Monroe's personality (Olivier famously didn't like her).

In smaller roles there's Dominic Cooper as Monroe's business partner, Julia Ormond as actress Vivien Leigh, Dougray Scott as Monroe's husband Arthur Miller, Zoë Wanamaker as Monroe's acting consultant Paula Strasberg, Emma Watson as a wardrobe assistant, and the likes of Toby Jones and Simon Russell Beale in smaller roles. Shooting literally just finished and in a video interview Williams confirmed that she sings in the film.

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Neds
Opens: 2011
Cast: Conor McCarron, Martin Bell, Linda Cuthbert, Richard Mack, David McKay
Director: Peter Mullan

Summary: Gifted Glasgow student John starts at his new school and is warned by a local thug that he's going to have a tough time. However, John's hoodlum brother Benny steps in and sets in motion a brutal cycle of violence as John progresses through school to become a bona fide 'ned' - non-educated delinquent - himself.

Analysis: "Trainspotting" actor Peter Mullan's third directorial effort following "Orphans" and the acclaimed "The Magdalene Sisters", this sees him tackle territory more akin to the likes of Ken Loach. Helped by the fact that he grew up in the film's setting of 1970's Glasgow (although the film is NOT autobiographical), this explores one young man's potential gradually lost to darker and more violent impulses. Despite occasional moments of outright fantasy, the film is a bleak and very realistic portrayal of the culture at the time.

Already drawing comparisons to Alan Clarke's 1979 effort "Scum", this played the festival circuit late last year and scored a general release in the UK last week to great reviews. It's a film looking at delinquency and the allure of a gang life without taking the easy road of it blaming everything on random choices or a love of brutality, rather life and society as a whole nudging the main character down the possibly inevitable road he takes. Rated '18' for good measure with its unrelenting tension and savagery at several points, including a gang fight set to "Cheek To Cheek", this is definitely one worth seeking out.

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New Year's Eve
Opens: December 9th 2011
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Biel
Director: Garry Marshall

Summary: The lives of several couples and singles in New York intertwine over the course of New Year's Eve.

Analysis: After 2009's "He's Just Not That Into You" raked in nearly $200 million worldwide, Warners has become understandably keen on the format of the ensemble romantic comedy feature. Big name actors can come in and shoot their scenes in the few days when they have gaps in their schedule, the studio doesn't have to pay the actors or the filmmakers much, and the genre is so formulaic anyway that productions can be cobbled together quickly. The logical next step was last year's "Valentine's Day", the first in a potential franchise of 'holiday-themed' ensemble rom-coms.

With a huge cast in tow, that Garry Marshall-directed feature made more than four times its $52 million budget at the box-office alone. So it came as no surprise when this project was quickly greenlit. Originally intended to be a direct sequel with several of the same characters from 'Valentine's' coming back, this instead will be stand alone so returning cast members Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher will play different characters. Joining them in this outing are the likes of Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Zac Efron, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Ice Cube, Lea Michele, Til Schweiger, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sienna Miller, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofía Vergara, Seth Meyers and Ryan Seacrest.

Like 'Valentine's', there's about a half dozen different subplots going on with a few key actors in each. Berry and Bon Jovi play former lovers who run into each other, Parker and Breslin will play mother and daughter, etc. Some second unit filming took place in Times Square this past New Year's, but the main body of shooting kicks off next week with the release scheduled a few weeks before the end of the year. Just in time for the holiday.

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No Strings Attached
Opens: January 21st 2011
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, Cary Elwes, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig
Director: Ivan Reitman

Summary: Emma and Adam are lifelong friends who have sex one morning and worry about their friendship being ruined. They make a pact to have "no strings attached", to have casual sex without falling in love with each other.

Analysis: One of the few titles in this guide I didn't get time to write-up before its U.S. release this past Friday, the film is still slated to come out next month in most international markets. This is one of two studio rom-coms this year about a male and female friend who have a pact to enjoy casual sex without becoming emotionally attached, the other being Will Gluck's much more promising looking "Friends with Benefits".

Reitman as a director has been off his game since his last solid comedy "Dave" in 1993. After that we've seen only drudge such as "Evolution," "Junior," "Father's Day" and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (though I do have a very MINOR weakness for "Six Days, Seven Nights"). The hope here, as usual with him, was a return to form with the help of a script by American playwright Elizabeth Meriwether ("Oliver Parker!").

Sadly that didn't seem to be the case as reviews for the film were decidedly mixed at best, saying both Kutcher and Portman especially are said to be fun and easy going but the story is predictable and the film's attempts at raunchiness take a step too far into crassness. Some reviewers utterly slammed the film and think it could hurt Portman's Oscar chances, whereas a few others though it a tad better than average. Those of us living overseas will see for ourselves shortly.

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Now
Opens: October 28th 2011
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Matthew Bomer
Director: Andrew Niccol

Summary: In a future where aging has stopped and people must pay to stay alive, a man is accused of murder when he inherits a fortune and he is forced to go on the run with a beautiful hostage in tow.

Analysis: After penning "The Truman Show" and delivering an astonishing first effort with the high-concept sci-fi parable "Gattaca" in 1997, New Zealand-born Andrew Niccol hasn't done as well with his interesting but flawed follow-up efforts "S1m0ne" and "Lord of War". Six years after that Nic Cage feature, Niccol returns to near future territory with this project (originally titled "I'm.mortal") that avoids the genetic discrimination issues he already covered in "Gattaca", and doesn't lift too much from "Logan's Run" like so many other sci-fi films that explore ageing seem to.

Here the near future is a time when the ageing gene switches off at age 25. To avoid over population, you're genetically-engineered to live only one more year unless you can afford extensions. As a result, time becomes the ultimate currency with the rich essentially young and immortal while the poor and middle class work hard, borrow or steal time to keep on living. Set against this is a young man (Timberlake) who inherits a fortune in time, is wrongly accused of murder, and is forced to go on the run with a hostage (Seyfried).

The chase thriller aspect sounds conventional admittedly, what's interesting here is exploring the issue of time as a currency. How that works on the day to day, how factors of youth and beauty work in a culture where no-one grows old, etc. In terms of casting, there understandably isn't much in the way of quality veteran actors. Yet there are some strong young talents with the interesting twist being that quite a few of them are playing parents of other characters despite all the actors being around the same age. Along with the five mentioned above in the cast list there's also Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser, Rachel Roberts and Toby Hemingway.

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Of Gods and Men
Opens: February 25th 2011
Cast: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach
Director: Xavier Beauvois

Summary: The story centers on the monastery of Tibhirine, where Trappist monks lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria, until seven of the monks were kidnapped and found beheaded in a still unclear incident in 1996.

Analysis: Last year's winner of the 'Grand Prix', the Cannes Film Festival's second most prestigious award, this €4 million French drama based on a true story scored strong reviews throughout Europe and the UK where it was released late last year. Producer Etienne Comar had been fascinated with the monks for years and first initiated the project back in 2006 on the tenth anniversary of the real life incident.

The hope wasn't just to explore the atrocity but to understand why the monks stayed in Algeria during the civil war which began in 1991 and still hasn't technically come to an end (though has significantly died down). There's also the issue of the monk's relationship with the local citizens and the stability they provided in a country ravaged by violence and unrest.

After a lot of consulting and research for authenticity, the script was completed and shooting got underway in Morocco in late 2009 at the unused Benedictine monastery of Tioumliline which was renovated to resemble the real Tibhirine monastery. Many of the actors lived as monks in the time leading up to filming to prepare for their roles.

After doing so well critically and commercially in Europe, in France alone over three million tickets have been sold, Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film for release in the United States, Australia and New Zealand where it is set to open shortly. With its many awards and endorsements, this is definitely one worth checking out.

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On the Road
Opens: 2011
Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams
Director: Walter Salles

Summary: Sal Paradise, a writer holed up in a room at his aunt's house, gets inspired by Dean Moriarty to hit the road and see America. From the moment he gets on the seven train out of New York City, he begins a journey that explores the highs and lows of hitchhiking, bonding with fellow explorers and opting for beer before food.

Analysis: The term 'long gestating' film takes on a whole new meaning with this adaptation of what many consider the definitive novel of the Beat Generation. For over over five decades now there's been talk of a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's autobiographical book about his time spent traveling America in the 1940's with his friend Neal Cassady. Kerouac wanted to play his literary counterpart Sal himself alongside Marlon Brando as the Cassady-inspired Dean back in the late 50's when the book first came out.

"The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola tried several times to get an adaptation going, one time with Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke, but that fell through. Joel Schumacher tried a version with Billy Crudup and Colin Farrell, that didn't come together either. It wasn't until about six years ago that Coppola convinced Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") to direct the film and production got underway at last. In preparation, Salles shot a documentary taking the same road trip as Sal Paradise and speaking to other Beat poets who knew Kerouac.

Armed with a $25 million budget and much of the same crew who shot "The Motorcycle Diaries", filming got underway in August in Montreal with the cast undergoing a month-long "beatnik boot camp" where they all learned about the Beat Generation. Shooting also took place in New Orleans, San Francisco, Calgary, Arizona, Mexico and Argentina.

The casting has raised some eyebrows with Sam Riley ("Control," "Brighton Rock") as Sal, Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy," "Troy") as Dean and Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") as Mary Lou. The supporting roles seem on slightly stronger footing with Viggo Mortensen and Tom Sturridge cast as the equivalents of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg respectively. Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst also have key roles.

All the key cast have had plenty of time to get ready, Hedlund for example says he prepared for the role for essentially three years. Shot throughout the last half of 2010, filming was done almost "guerrilla style" according to the actors with minimal crew members on hand to lend an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. Reviews of the script have been raves and Salles will certainly bring his A-game to the material. The only question now is will this stand up to the scrutiny that comes when any film is adapted from a beloved novel that's considered one of the defining works of a generation.

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One Day
Opens: July 8th 2011
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Romola Garai, Jamie Sives, Rafe Spall
Director: Lone Scherfig

Summary: Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their college graduation – July 15th, 1988. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground. We follow them across every July 15th over the next two decades their friendship ebbs and flows with time and they come to the realisation of what they're searching for.

Analysis: When relationship dramas avoid a predictable structure, the results are usually quite interesting such as the recent "(500) Days of Summer". With 'Day', a friendship and slowly blossoming relationship is looked at in an entirely arbitrary way - by confining the onscreen action to the same day every year over the course of twenty years. Gradual changes in a person's appearance, personality, etc. are things you rarely notice if you're exposed to them on a daily or weekly basis. Seeing the same person only for a single brief period on an annual basis, said changes become far more visible.

It's a fascinating idea to explore which is why "Starter for 10" author David Nicholls' novel went on to great acclaim and why Random House Films and Focus Features teamed for this high-concept project that marks filmmaker Lone Scherfig's first effort since her acclaimed 2009 coming of age drama "An Education". Nicholls adapted his own book for the film which was shot last Summer in the UK, Scotland and France. Some have debated the casting of Hathaway in the role of what is essentially an insecure and admittedly "frumpy" woman at points.

Photos from the film are intriguing, showing Hathaway and Sturgess sporting wildly differing looks at points. However for this to work it will hopefully keep the reality and inner sadness of the book intact, make this too saccharine and you'd get "When Harry Met Sally 2". In the book the characters have wildly differing career paths, mixed success with relationships, and learn those admittedly depressing life lessons we all do with age - how we tolerate compromise, build up regrets, endure loneliness even in relationships, experience all kinds of disillusionment, and are randomly subjected to the cruelness of fate. It's not cheerful, but the cheerful romantic tales aren't normally ones that stick with you.

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One for the Money
Opens: July 8th 2011
Cast: Katherine Heigl, John Leguizamo, Daniel Sunjata, Jason O'Mara, Debbie Reynolds
Director: Julie Anne Robinson

Summary: Unemployed and newly-divorced Stephanie Plum lands a job at her cousin's bail-bond business. Her first assignment puts her on the trail of a wanted local cop from her romantic past.

Analysis: Let me tell you about two of the worst cinematic experiences I've had in recent years - one was "The Bounty Hunter", the other is pretty much every rom-com I've seen starring Katherine Heigl. Naturally the thought of one in which she plays a bounty hunter would be enough to send me scurrying for the nearest cliff to throw myself off.

If there is a saving grace here it's the source material - Janet Evanovich's bestselling Stephanie Plum series. Evanovich had only modest success as a romance novelist and decided to try her hand at doing a mystery. The result was the 1994 novel "One for the Money" which won her an award and was a major bestseller. Her lead character of Stephanie Plum has gone on to become a literary powerhouse and features in sixteen novels, four novellas, and one short story.

The hope is the scripting here is better than Heigl's usual efforts, certainly the studio has taken its time with the property as they've been sitting on it for almost 15 years and have big plans for this to be a possible franchise for them. Several high profile writers were employed to adapt the script including "Nurse Jackie" creator Liz Brixius along with "Legally Blonde" and "10 Things I Hate About You" scribes Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith.

Shot in Pittsburgh over the Summer, fans of the books have been very vocal about their dislike of the film's casting for many of the key roles. Despite the large fanbase for the books, we've seen potential franchises like these crash and burn before due to bad casting or inept filmmaking. Director Julie Anne Robinson has worked with Heigl before on "Grey's Anatomy" so hopefully she'll be able to get a strong performance out of the actress for this.

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Oranges and Sunshine
Opens: 2011
Cast: Emily Watson, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving, Helen Grayson, Tara Morice
Director: Jim Loach

Summary: The film tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered the childcare scandal of forcibly relocating poor British children to Australia and Canada and sets out to reunite estranged families and bring worldwide attention to the cause.

Analysis: This low-budget ($4.5 million) true life drama explores a 'stolen generation' that many haven't heard of. Throughout the 1940's and 50's, some 130,000 young British children were forcibly shipped off to distant parts of the Commonwealth, some without their parents' knowledge, in order to "populate the countries with good white British stock". Once in places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Rhodesia, these orphans were essentially treated as slave labour and some suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their new guardians.

It's a compelling story that should lead to a potentially powerful film if handled properly. Here, the story is in the hands of Jim Loach, son of director Ken Loach, and the script is adapted by Rona Munro ("Ladybird Ladybird") from Humphreys' own 1996 book "Empty Cradles". Reviews from festival runs late last year reveal an understated film that avoids flashbacks or gratuitous shots of kid endangerment. Instead the story is set entirely in the 80's and we follow Humphrey's as she comes upon this story and helps these people reunite.

While the odd review didn't seem to understand Loach's low-key approach here, most fully praised the reserve on offer and had great respect for a film that avoids easy emotional manipulation or sensationalistic tricks. The acting talent, especially the three W's - Watson, Weaving and Wenham - all apparently deliver strong performances in a film that keeps the focus on personal costs rather than political justice. Powerful stuff.

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The Other Woman
Opens: February 4th 2011
Cast: Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan
Director: Don Roos

Summary: Based on the Ayelet Waldman novel, the story revolves around a young woman who finds her relationship with her precocious stepson the key to recovering from a newborn's death, family issues and her marriage.

Analysis: Starting out as a writer with the likes of "Single White Female" and "Boys on the Side", Don Roos hit the directing scene hard with 1998's wry and rich black comedy "The Opposite of Sex". Ever since then however he's been trying to match that success without much luck - giving us 2000's insipid "Bounce" and 2005's little seen "Happy Endings".

Though scoring his best notices since 'Sex', reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival in 2009 were still not exactly complimentary about the manipulative and conventional approach to this melodrama, though quite a few critics admitted that emotionally it still hit them where it hurts. Changing its title from "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" in certain countries, the film had difficulty finding distribution and ultimately sat on the shelf for over a year.

IFC Films picked it up and is granting it a limited platform release in the U.S. in a few weeks (though it's already available on certain V.O.D. services), mostly to cash in on Natalie Portman's Golden Globe win and likely Oscar win for her "Black Swan" work. It's a shame really as despite the mixed reviews, some calling it a well performed character drama and others a clumsy melodrama, it's a film that deserves more of a chance.

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Paranormal Activity 3
Opens: October 21st 2011
Cast: Katie Featherstone
Director: Tod Williams

Summary: Katie is back and haunting somewhere with a lot of video surveillance cameras.

Analysis: Though it cost quite a bit more than its predecessor, the still very economical $3 million-budget "Paranormal Activity 2" managed to scrape up a cool $157 million worldwide for Paramount Pictures who, not surprisingly, green lit yet another sequel shortly after release. While I'll always be thankful to this franchise for helping lead the "Saw" franchise to the long overdue death it truly deserved, at this point one wonders where can this premise go.

The sequel surprised in that it effectively expanded on the original in terms of characters, but by this point the novelty had worn off and so the impact was far less. There was rumor that the writer of "Disturbia", who performed some minor script duties on the second one, would be writing this outing - but that report has since been debunked. All that's known at present is that the same team (writer/director/producer) behind last year's sequel are serving in the same positions here and an October 21st release is being targeted.

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Passion Play
Opens: 2011
Cast: Megan Fox, Mickey Rourke, Kelly Lynch, Bill Murray, Rhys Ifans
Director: Mitch Glazer

Summary: After Nate Poole, a low-life, junkie musician escapes death at the hands of a dangerous mobster in the Mexican desert, he discovers Lily, a living angel with white wings growing out of her back. He decides to use Lily as leverage to buy back his life from the gangster, only to realize too late that she is the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Analysis: Utterly slammed by critics when played at the Toronto Film Festival back in September, one review called it akin to a bad episode of 90's softcore erotic cable trash "The Red Shoe Diaries". A shame really as respected scribe Mitch Glazer ("The Recruit") reportedly spent nearly two decades trying to get this passion project of his made and spent $15 million on it to realise his vision.

Trouble with that vision lies partly in the casting - Mickey Rourke in a performance akin to his worst direct to video efforts pre-"The Wrestler", and Megan Fox just trying to act in a performance that apparently makes her "Jonah Hex" turn Oscar-worthy. What aims to be a whimsical love fable with a more serious and meaningful climax apparently falls apart under a "stupid and pointless story loaded with downright stupid situations and terrible green screen work" says another review.

Added to that love scenes (with feathers) between the two, even reviewers partial to strange indie films were calling it one of the worst films they've ever seen. The sole saving grace? Bill Murray isn't bad as the villain and is the only one who apparently comes out of it unscathed.

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Paul
Opens: March 11th 2011
Cast: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig
Director: Greg Mottola

Summary: Two British sci-fi fanatics on an American road trip find their conspiracy dreams coming true when they encounter an escaped alien near Area 51. As they try to reunite him with his mother ship, they find 'Paul' has many more opinions than your typical ET.

Analysis: One of the best current onscreen comedy duos, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, return to deliver a comedic tribute to geek cinema with "Paul". Sadly it doesn't involve them re-teaming with their regular brilliant directing cohort Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz"), but they've got the next best cross-Atlantic equivalent in the form of "Superbad" and "Adventureland" helmer Greg Mottola who directed from a script Pegg and Frost penned.

Supporting roles are stacked here with the likes of SNL stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader; "Arrested Development" stars Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor; and flat out movie greats like Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver and Blythe Danner. There was concern about the alien creature itself, but the R-rated clips launched at Comic Con last year impressed - Seth Rogen playing 'Paul' as a grey alien slacker with a wicked sense of humour.

Though scheduled for a worldwide release in 2010, the film got pushed back several months to March with no reason given. Pegg and Frost originally were slated to film part of the movie in San Diego at Comic Con itself but ended up recreating it in New Mexico later because the actual event has become too big for a feature film shoot to take place.

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Peace Love and Misunderstanding
Opens: 2011
Cast: Jane Fonda, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford, Catherine Keener, Kyle MacLachlan
Director: Bruce Beresford

Summary: A conservative lawyer who, after her husband leaves her, takes her teenage son and daughter to the house of their estranged hippie grandmother in Woodstock. There, they each find love in unexpected places.

Analysis: Though his last film "Mao's Last Dancer" was a major hit in his native Australia, it failed to catch on in the rest of the world and now Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Breaker Morant") is tackling this American comedy-drama. Beresford originally planned to shoot South African feel-good drama "Zebras" early last year but financing issues put that project on hold. This indie came up though and with full financing from BCDF Pictures it was shot over six weeks during the Summer in New York's Hudson River Valley.

Set to be Fonda's first film since another multigenerational indie effort, 2007's "Georgia Rule", Fonda plays a hippie who still dresses and behaves like it's the late 60's. The actress posted a whole bunch of photos from the set on her blog, nothing that gives much away other than the usual platitudes that it's a feel good film that explores love and healing. Whether the film itself is in need of some major healing, we'll find out later in the year.

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Peep World
Opens: 2011
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silvermann, Rainn Wilson, Lesley Ann Warren
Director: Barry W. Blaustein

Summary: On the day of their Father's 70th birthday party, four siblings come to terms with the publication of a novel written by the youngest sibling, that exposes the family's most intimate secrets.

Analysis: A superb ensemble assemble here for what one would hope to be a smart pitch black comedy. Reviews from Toronto and Austin gave it a positive if muted response with many comparing it to a sitcom in terms of a lack of screen time for key actors, lacking emotional sincerity, underdeveloped characters, and subplots filled with contrived and not especially smart humor.

Despite not living up to its potential, Barry Blaustein's film nevertheless seemed to be generally liked. Critics loved the actors and claim it conveys sibling relationships quite effectively, while even the dumb laughs actually do hit their mark at times. In many ways it's a textbook festival film, one that won't likely play much in theaters but could find a small cult following on disc. IFC picked up the film to distribute in the U.S. and seem a good choice for this particular title.

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Perfect Sense
Opens: 2011
Cast: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor, Connie Nielsen, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner
Director: David Mackenzie

Summary: The story of a couple falling in love as the world falls victim to a pandemic that causes people to slowly lose their sensory perception.

Analysis: Shot in Glasgow and formerly titled "The Last Word", this British-German co-production comes from Scottish helmer David Mackenzie who worked with Ewan on 2003's provocative affair drama "Young Adam".

Since then his various films including Ashton Kutcher rentboy drama "Spread", 2005's "Asylum" and 2007's "Hallam Foe" have helped give him a solid indie film cred that also doesn't shy away from having a dark edge with more explicit than you might expect sexual scenes. Award-winning Danish scribe Kim Fupz Aakeson ("Little Soldier," "Hannibal & Jerry") penned the script and the cast includes some lesser known but very strong British talent.

A quite beautiful trailer launched the other week deliberately makes no mention of the pandemic but gives you the idea that some major event is happening that we're not seeing. The focus is so much on the characters and their relationship that, unless you know the premise while watching, what's happening makes no real sense. It does however very effectively convey a sense of barely contained anxiety and despair all the characters are struggling to contain.

The film premiered this week at Sundance and just published reviews are overwhelmingly positive, calling it the film that "Blindness" tried to be and failed miserably at. It's a bleak emotional drama meets horror film meets very mild sci-fi, a film that will likely draw comparisons to Alfonso Cuaron’s highly acclaimed "Children of Men". Whether this film will be as critically and commercially successful as that genre high watermark, we'll have to wait and see.

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Piranha 3DD
Opens: September 16th 2011
Cast: Neil Hopkins, Mark Salling, Tamsin Egerton, Ving Rhames
Director: John Gulager

Summary: Those prehistoric piranha are back to take more victims.

Analysis: More teeth, bigger tits. That's essentially the promise of this quickie follow-up to this past Summer's thoroughly enjoyable 3D creature feature remake. Scoring mostly positive reviews for its unabashed embrace of its goofy concept, "Piranha 3D" proved to be the kind of fun genre movie that "Snakes on a Plane" wanted to be and simply failed at. Was it great? Hardly. Was it silly? Absolutely, and proud of it.

Scenes from the film have already become instant minor classics - Jerry O'Connell's severed penis coming out of the screen, the girl getting her face ripped off by a motorboat propellor, and of course the unforgettable nude lesbian underwater swim set to Sous le Dome (better known as the British Airways theme). Taking in $80 million theatrically alone from a $24 million budget, the green lighting of a sequel wasn't just inevitable - it was fast.

Announced during the first film's opening weekend, this follow-up boasts a new writing/directing team with the three guys behind the "Feast" film series taking over the reigns and planning to take the nudity, gore and sheer over-the-topness to new levels. "Glee" hunk Mark Salling, "St. Trinian's" babe Tamsin Egerton, and frequent "Lost" guest star Neil Hopkins will take on the leading roles this time. More surprising is that despite his grisly fate in the first film, Ving Rhames' Deputy Fallon character survived and will return.

No word if any of the other original cast members like Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd or Steven R. McQueen will be coming back. No-one has been locked for a cameo along the lines of Richard Dreyfuss' cute little "Jaws" homage at the start of the first film, though the director apparently wants "Jaws 3D" leading man Dennis Quaid for a similar quickie in-joke appearance. The first film was post-converted into 3D because using the 3D camera rigs underwater proved too difficult at the time, however at last report they were looking at shooting it natively in 3D this time out. A five week shoot has just gotten underway in Baton Rouge.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Opens: May 20th 2011
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz, Stephen Graham
Director: Rob Marshall

Summary: Crossing paths with the enigmatic Angelica, Captain Jack Sparrow isn't sure if it's love—or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard, Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure.

Analysis: Having pulled in over $2.6 billion in ticket sales alone, "Pirates of the Caribbean" is Disney's crown jewel franchise in terms of financial return. Critically however the reaction is more akin to "The Matrix" trilogy - a modern classic of a first film, a deeply flawed disappointment of a sequel with occasional inspired moments, and an absolute mess of a third entry that makes little sense in itself. Despite the sequels diluting enthusiasm for the franchise somewhat, a fourth entry wasn't unexpected and hopefully the filmmakers have learnt from the issues with the previous two films.

Going in, producer Jerry Bruckheimer has indicated that the tone will be much more akin to the first film - a stand alone, less serious, comedic adventure take that isn't overly saddled with reams of exposition. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who penned the previous three films, are back and partly adapted the story from Tim Powers' novel "On Stranger Tides" which deals with Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth, a book that also inspired classic video game "The Secret of Monkey Island". The Fountain of Youth was depicted on a map that Jack Sparrow had in the final moments of the third film, so it being the focus of the story makes logical sense.

This franchise isn't anything without Johnny Depp though, and the actor will reportedly earn around $55.5 million to play Sparrow again in this outing. The other saving grace of this film series, Geoffrey Rush, is back as Barbossa and this time he's working for the Royal Guard to hunt down pirates. The big new casting additions here are "Deadwood" actor Ian McShane as the notorious Blackbeard, and Penélope Cruz as his daughter Angelica who serves as Sparrow's feisty foil and love interest in the film. Cruz's pregnancy caused some difficulties, so her younger sister Mónica stood in for Cruz during long-distance shots in order to hide the baby bump.

With their storyline essentially complete, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are understandably out this time. Instead, Sam Claflin will play Philip, a youthful missionary who'll basically be the equivalent of Bloom's Will Turner here. However, Claflin is expected to serve much more as a supporting character than Bloom did. Greg Ellis is back as Groves and Kevin McNally as Gibbs, but Mackenzie Crook will not return as the wooden eyed Ragetti. Keith Richards is reprising his role as Captain Teague while Stephen Graham is Scrum, Sparrow's new sidekick.

To keep costs under control, Rich Ross restricted the film's budget to $200 million - $25 million less than "Dead Man's Chest" and $100 million less than "At World's End". Gore Verbinski opted out as director, instead Rob Marshall ("Chicago," "Nine") has jumped in to helm the film though the fun first trailer indicates visually it will remain pretty consistent with the others. Shooting ran from mid-June to mid-November with filming at one point in June taking place simultaneously in Hawaii, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, the island of Palominos, and Los Angeles.

Set to be released Disney Digital 3-D, IMAX 2D & 3D, and traditional 2D in the franchise's traditional late May release slot, there's a big sequence involving mermaids that crew members have been raving about, while zombies also figure into this adventure somehow. Judi Dench pops in for a cameo as a noblewoman who gets to make out with Jack Sparrow, one of several little signs that this already looks more interesting and fun than the previous sequels. Hopefully the franchise can rediscover the magic that made the first one so special.

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Priest
Opens: May 13th 2011
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins
Director: Scott Stewart

Summary: A warrior priest disobeys Church law by teaming with a young sheriff and a beautiful priestess. The three band together to track down a band of renegade vampires who have kidnapped the priest's niece before they turn her into one of them.

Analysis: After playing an archangel for director Scott Stewart in "Legion", Paul Bettany finds himself demoted on Christianity's corporate ladder to being a priest, not the first or likely last time the Brit will play a man of the cloth. What sounds like yet another vampire movie actually resembles a sci-fi post-apocalyptic Western in tone, albeit one with supernatural elements and gun-toting martial arts action.

Though its based on the Korean comic series, the film bares very little resemblance to its rich and very complicated source material where fallen angels and zombies are key components of the story. Yet it does manage to capture an interesting societal element with people living in cramped giant metropolises ruthlessly controlled by the church.

Work on the project began a few years ago and initially Sam Raimi was to produce, Andrew Douglas ("The Amityville Horror") was to direct, and both Gerard Butler and Steven Strait were to star. That incarnation fell apart and the project started over from scratch early 2009, though Raimi remains attached as producer alongside Michael DeLuca.

How this version will go though is hard to say. There's been several large release date relays here, partly to give the filmmakers time to convert the film into 3D and partly for the digital effects involved with the non-human 'feral' vampires of the piece - creatures that increasingly resemble a giant hulking foreskin with teeth the wilder they are. Certainly from the trailer it looks more fun than "Legion" ever did.

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Project X
Opens: November 23rd 2011
Cast: Martin Klebba, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Miles Teller, Alexis Knapp, Eddie Hassell
Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Summary: A comedy where something disastrous goes down at a college party.

Analysis: One of the most secretive projects of this year, this hard R-rated $12 million comedy is said to have an "outrageous high concept", one good enough that full scripts weren't handed out to the cast and even a plot line has yet to be officially announced. "Hangover" director Todd Phillips and Joel Silver are teaming to produce this and have hired a batch of college-age unknowns to play the key cast roles.

British video/commercials director Nima Nourizadeh makes his feature directing debut on the film though Phillips will have a big hand in how it turns out. Shot in Los Angeles over the Summer between Phillips' commitments to "Due Date" and "The Hangover 2", the general talks is that they're trying to create a new take on the teen party movie, a "fresh approach to a really f---ed up incident". There's also been talk this will be shot like "Cloverfield" with all the actors shooting entirely on handhelds. Either way, no-one really knows much about it and there's no press material at present to give us a clue either way.

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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