News

The Notable Films of 2011: Part Eleven

By Garth Franklin Thursday February 24th 2011 08:26AM

image

Prom
Opens: April 29th 2011
Cast: Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, Danielle Campbell, Yin Chang
Director: Joe Nussbaum

Summary: Portrays the precarious passage from high school to independence as some relationships unravel and others ignite. For Nova Prescott, it’s a battle of wills as she finds herself drawn to the guy who gets in the way of her perfect prom. Others face all the insecurity and anticipation that surrounds one of high school’s most seminal events.

Analysis: Disney's attempt at creating the next "High School Musical" franchise for itself, this teen romantic comedy is a batch of clique cliches - the beauty queen, the rebel with better hair than anyone else in the film, the handsome yet dumb foreign exchange student, the 'so above it' geek who really wants to belong, and at least one or two 'fugly' girls.

It's all very "The Breakfast Club" meets "10 Things I Hate About You", and sanitised for the tweens and their moms (no gay kids, tame bullying, no sex talk etc.) who're still reeling from the more accurate depiction of teens these days in "Skins" and the like.

Director Joe Nussbaum ("Sleepover," "Sydney White") is certainly knowledgable enough to tackle this genre, however these kinds of films are hard to take seriously considering how often they've been spoofed before such as Chris Lilley's sublime "Summer Heights High" skit about how proms "remove the apartheid of the playground".

Disney is a master of marketing to their target demographic of young girls and with its late April launch this will be one of the big event films on their calendar. It's a limited appeal movie though, the equivalent 'proms' outside the U.S. are nowhere near as big an event in the school calendar so this won't play internationally the way HSM did.

image

Puss in Boots
Opens: November 4th 2011
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Walt Dohrn, Zeus Mendoza
Director: Chris Miller

Summary: Way before Puss ever met Shrek, our suave and furry feline hero goes on a swashbuckling ride, as he teams with mastermind Humpty Dumpty and the street-savvy Kitty to steal the famed Goose that lays the Golden Eggs.

Analysis: With the "Shrek" franchise thankfully closed, Dreamworks Animation has moved onto this 3D spin-off franchise featuring Antonio Banderas' popular swashbuckling Spanish feline Puss in Boots character. Serving as a prequel set before his first appearance in 2004's "Shrek 2", this was originally set to go direct-to-disc. Plans soon changed however in favor of a theatrical release.

Co-writer David H. Steinberg has stressed that aside from Puss himself, all the other characters are new and this doesn't overlap with the other "Shrek" films at all. The reason? "Partly that was done to tell an original Puss story, but partly because we didn't know what Shrek Forever After was going to do with the characters and we couldn't write conflicting storylines".

Like most of DWA's upcoming output, Guillermo del Toro has signed on as executive producer and has apparently given tweaks to the story. One amusing draw is the re-teaming of Banderas with Salma Hayek who plays his love interest Kitty Softpaws, a Tuxedo cat. Zach Galifianakis will voice Humpty Dumpty, an evil mastermind intent on stealing golden eggs from a certain goose.

With Dreamworks' recent uptick in quality thanks mostly to "How To Train Your Dragon", this at least sheds some of the flab that the increasingly bloated "Shrek" franchise had in its final two outings. Chris Miller helms this, his sole previous directing credit being "Shrek the Third" (easily the worst feature of that franchise). I hope this turns out better for him.

image

Rampart
Opens: 2011
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Nixon, Ice Cube
Director: Oren Moverman

Summary: The action follows a homicide detective's investigations of a single cop against the backdrop of the corruption scandal surrounding anti-gang unit of the LAPD's Rampart Division in the late 1990s.

Analysis: Following on from his success with his acclaimed first directing effort "The Messenger" in 2009, Israeli filmmaker Oren Moverman re-teams with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster to tell this story of the widespread corruption that plagued an anti-gang unit of the Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Division in the late 1990s. Over 70 police officers were implicated in misconduct, one of the most widespread cases in U.S. history. From evidence tampering to assault, theft, perjury and more - all coming to a costly $125 million in settlements for the city of Los Angeles.

James Ellroy's script uses the backdrop of the scandal to tell the story of one veteran cop, a Vietnam veteran who has spent thirty years on the force, who searches for redemption due to the beating and eventual death of suspect. One cute touch is Ben Foster's actor brother, Jon Foster, has a role in this alongside his brother and an impressive cast list that also includes Anne Heche, Robin Wright, Brie Larson, Stella Schnabel and Jon Bernthal. Filming on the project kicked off in Los Angeles late last year so there's little in the way of material available as yet. Hopefully this will turn out as well as "The Messenger" did.

image

Rango
Opens: March 4th 2011
Cast: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy Director: Gore Verbinski

Summary: Rango is a pet chameleon who finds himself lost in an Old West town called Dirt where he establishes himself as the lawman. Unknown to him, the "good guy" role does not do very well in Dirt which has a cemetery full of them. But that does not stop Rango from trying to fit in with his surroundings.

Analysis: After steering the first three voyages of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, filmmaker Gore Verbinski opted for something a bit smaller for his follow-up effort. Yet "Rango" shouldn't be passed off as some simple animated feature either, and even the helmer has said he underestimated how painstaking and time-consuming animated filmmaking is.

This marks the first feature animation done by George Lucas' special effects company ILM, the benchmark studio in visual effects. The resulting animation, especially in high definition, is pretty damn jaw-dropping with the various creature skin textures in particular being immensely impressive. An early trailer last Summer was decidedly surreal and gave no real indication about what to expect. It really wasn't until the premiere of the full trailer in December that we got an idea of the film - a very distinctive homage to westerns, especially Sergio Leone's earlier style.

While Pixar has the warm and fuzzy emotional market, Disney the fairy tales, Dreamworks the celebrity voice stars and pop-culture gags aplenty, "Rango" at least looks distinct in that it's potentially quite dark for a family film and certainly one that takes its love of the western very seriously. There will of course be Depp's usual slapstick theatrics and there's an owl mariachi band providing comic relief, but this is otherwise a straight up action western and so will probably play older than many are expecting.

image

The Raven
Opens: 2011
Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Pam Ferris Director: James McTeigue

Summary: A fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet teams with a detective in pursuit of a serial killer whose murders mirror those in the writer's stories.

Analysis: A fascinating high concept is the setup for this third feature from rising Aussie director James McTeigue's following on from the great "V for Vendetta" and the fizzer "Ninja Assassin". Here the high kicking is being toned down in deference to more mystery-oriented dealings and period-specific action (I'm guessing a darker, less robust "Sherlock Holmes").

Jeremy Renner was originally set to star but dropped out in favor of "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol", while Ewan McGregor and Joaquin Phoenix were also in talks or attached at one point. In the end we got a more unexpected but interesting combination - the always fun John Cusack as Poe himself and the "rip your clothes off hotness" of young Welsh thesp Luke Evans in the supporting role of Inspector Emmett Fields.

Filming kicked off last November in Belgrade and Budapest, and early shots from the set indicate a very Gothic-looking detective yarn with a goatee-sporting Cusack appearing quite suitable in the role. McTeigue can do some great stuff given the right material, the question is will TV actor Ben Livingston and writer Hannah Shakespeare's script live up to the quality of the premise.

image

Real Steel
Opens: October 7th 2011
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis
Director: Shawn Levy

Summary: A near future-set story where robot boxing is a popular sport and centering on a struggling promoter (Jackman) who thinks he's found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he also discovers he has an eleven-year-old son who wants to know his father.

Analysis: Based on the 1956 short story by "I Am Legend" and "Duel" author Richard Matheson, this $80 million project originally sounded like it was aiming to be a dark and serious version of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Certainly the idea of a robot boxing movie sounds incredibly camp in some respects, and this pre-conceived notion seemed only reinforced when muscular action filmmaker Peter Berg was replaced by family comedy director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," "The Pink Panther").

Things actually improved though with the release of the first trailer which showed a surprising earnestness and family-oriented approach with a familiar redemption story of a father and son being the focus rather than the technotronic tussles. When Levy came onboard, he apparently dropped the dystopic ideals of the original story while emphasising nostalgic and old-fashioned Americana locations and tone to deliver a warmer picture that will potentially go beyond the young male demographic.

Shot last summer around Michigan, nineteen animatronic robots were built to feature in scenes with human actors. The brawls on the other hand will be CG motion capture animation with Sugar Ray Leonard serving as an adviser. Having talked with a few people connected with the project, all say people are going to be really surprised by this. Not sure about that, but this is the kind of wide-appealing high concept feature that could really build an audience if timed right. Opting out of its original pre-Thanksgiving release (to avoid the "Breaking Dawn" juggernaut) for an early October bow was also a smart move.

image

Red Dawn
Opens: 2011
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffrey Dean Morgan Director: Dan Bradley

Summary: A group of students find their small American hometown suddenly becoming the foothold for a foreign invasion. Now under enemy occupation, they seek refuge in the surrounding woods and reorganise themselves into a guerilla group of fighters.

Analysis: Maybe it was the blatant militarism and teenage recruitment themes but John Milius' 1984 cult hit "Red Dawn" never really took off here in Australia or in other international territories in the way other film staples of that year like "Beverly Hills Cop," "Gremlins," "Ghostbusters" or even "The Karate Kid" did.

For its time during the height of the Cold War's second phase, the conceit was simple but effective in playing on the very real fear of Soviet insurgents and using a cast of then rising young stars to help teens empathise with their plight and essentially radicalise them into taking up arms. Then of course the world changed and these days 'Dawn' looks like a highly outdated and quaint anachronism. So why bother to remake it?

In many ways this 'Dawn' was a test of the waters, a time back in 2008 when MGM planned an ambitious strategy to remake and/or spawn sequels out of its various successful films of the past several decades. Then the Lion hit financial woes which left this considerable $75 million feature sitting on a shelf for years. With Spyglass having now taken over, the distribution to this is expected to be handled by Sony sometime later in the year as part of a deal MGM is making for it, "Cabin in the Woods" and the next few efforts in the James Bond franchise.

The question still stands though - what's the point? While China and India are set to become the superpowers to dominate the 21st century, the idea of the Chinese launching an outright invasion of the United States isn't just ridiculous but paranoid war-mongering of the worst kind. You also have a global audience fatigued by Iraq and Afghanistan who have little taste for war drama (even those set on their home soil).

Maybe if strong filmmakers were onboard they could craft a plausible story out of it, or better yet a scathing satire. What we have though is a script from an above-average thriller writer Carl Ellsworth ("Red Eye," "Disturbia"), and a second-unit action director turned helmer Dan Bradley whom I still haven't forgiven for using his nauseating shaky cam techniques to eviscerate any thrill from the action sequences of "Quantum of Solace".

The casting of Aussie soap stars and former real-life flames Chris Hemsworth and Isabel Lucas is an odd one, but one of the least strange choices for a film that on the surface offers little more than masturbation material for overly nostalgic fanboys and the gun nuts who regard "Wanted" as the "Casablanca" of today. Yet last year's 'Dawn'-esque Australian film "Tomorrow, When the War Began" showed that in spite of its inherent silliness, the concept can still fly so long as the characters rather than the situation itself remain the focus.

image

Red Dog
Opens: 2011
Cast: Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Luke Ford
Director: Kriv Stenders

Summary: The tale of the iconic and extraordinary red kelpie that roamed the Australian outback in search of his long lost master in the 1970s and ‘80s. He hitched rides and became parts of new families, ultimately bringing together the mining community of West Australia's Pilbara region.

Analysis: It was a true story that became an acclaimed 2002 novel by "Captain Corelli’s Mandolin" author Louis De Bernières, and it's now making its way to the big screen in this Australian feature from Roadshow Films that aims to warm the hearts of local audiences and potentially cross over into being a mainstream family film hit at least in its home country.

Budgeted at $8.5 million, eyebrows were raised when mining industry-related companies such as Rio Tinto, Woodside and WestTrac announced that they would "provide finance and logistical support" for the production which was shot around Western Australia's Pilbara region and South Australia late last year. Nevertheless the move is good publicity for them, helping showcase their industry and the Pilbara region to the world.

A solid cast including Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Luke Ford and Rohan Nichol are a part of this project which Kriv Stenders ("Lucky Country") directed from a script by Daniel Taplitz ("Chaos Theory"). A previously released screen test trailer played up the cuteness of star Koko the dog. How the actual film will play out though is a verdict that's still a little while off.

image

Red Riding Hood
Opens: March 11th 2011
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Summary: Set in the medieval village of Daggerhorn, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) falls in love with an orphaned wood cutter in a village haunted by a werewolf. The villagers of Daggerhorn seek the assistance of a hunter (Gary Oldman) to fight the creature.

Analysis: Despite the numerous and often differing adaptations, no fable has really been as "sanitised" as much as this one. Let's face it, the original Charles Perrault version was the ultimate 'stranger danger' cautionary tale about a giant wolf swallowing both an old woman and a young girl and getting away with it. The Grimm version continues from that with a hunter after the creature's skin eviscerating it and finding the pair alive inside. They also chock on a mini-sequel at the end in which the old lady and the girl have been radicalised into becoming hunters themselves and cruelly lure another wolf to an agonising death by drowning it in a well.

Originally titled "The Girl with the Red Riding Hood", filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke's new take on the famed story at least doesn't pretend that being eaten alive is a fun and quirky event. Having been unceremoniously shafted off the "Twilight" franchise after delivering the first, and still the best released film thus far in that series, Hardwicke doesn't stray too far from that territory here and re-interprets the story as a dark young love-triangle fantasy tale.

The female protagonist must choose between two young and handsome suitors who both want her, and one of them could be the wolf in disguise. The boys are all rippling abs and gelled hair, the potential monster within is a blatant metaphor for emerging sexuality. The setting involves lots of trees and overcast skies, while the heroine is an indecisive and selfish idiot. It's "Twilight" in another form, the period setting and lack of morbidly obsessed female characters being among the few bits of window dressing that have been altered for the better.

The target demographic is obviously young women and despite the marketing of the film's dark tone, horror elements and metal music, guys simply aren't going to fall for it as it's still seen as a "chick flick" in most quarters. Shot in July in Vancouver, Hardwicke revealed in an interview last April some unusual elements that we get to see here from Gary Oldman improvising much of his character's background to Julie Christie in the role that Hardwicke calls "a sexy, bohemian grandmother... she’s no old granny with an old nightcap. She’s a hot, interesting grandmother." That'll really get the teenage boys fapping.

image

Red State
Opens: October 19th 2011
Cast: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Ralph Garman, Kyle Gallner
Director: Kevin Smith

Summary: Three teenagers come across an online personal advertisement from an older woman looking for kinky group sex. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying fundamentalist force with a fatal agenda.

Analysis: Making more headlines at Sundance than anything else this year, Kevin Smith's $4 million independent horror film certainly has more awareness than practically any other film of the same size hitting this year. Awareness however doesn't always translate into sales, and while the Smith faithful will certainly show up, how many beyond that remains the big question. How said faithful will react to this quite different style of film from him, one that's a straight up serious horror movie with no sex-related humor, will also be an interesting question.

Inspired by infamous pastor Fred Phelps, Smith first announced the project almost five years ago now and was intending to shoot it in early 2008, but his comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" ended up taking precedence. It took a while, but Smith finally locked in his financing early last year and the cast was quickly assembled. Smith edited the film throughout production, which allowed him to show a rough cut of the film at the production's wrap party.

The film really hit the headlines though when he managed to secure a world premiere slot at Sundance and began a very public campaign, via social media platforms like his podcast and twitter account, to not only auction off various promotional material from the film, but to sell the film itself right after the screening. As the event took place, the blog-o-sphere lit up with reports that things didn't go as expected - Smith ultimately sold the film to himself for $20 and announced plans to self-release it. First it will be screened as part of a traveling roadshow beginning March 5th at Radio City Music Hall and will tour across North America. Then it will hit cinemas through his Smodcast Pictures label on October 19th.

Media reports from the screening slammed the dog-and-pony show of the seemingly phoney auction which, combined with Smith's anti-critics rants and media behavior of late, has caused many to wonder what's going on with him. Indeed, though it seemed the self-distribution idea was planned from the start, comments from those involved on the film indicate that right up until the screening they were seriously looking for a distributor to pick up the rights. Trouble is the word-of-mouth from the screening wasn't the enthusiastic reaction they hoped, subsequent press reviews were less than rosy about the film with many savaging it. A few notable critics, including Todd McCarthy, sung its praises.

Smith himself has indicated some trimming will be done to the feature, specifically an extended sermon scene is likely to get some nipping and tucking. His planned 'roadshow' will no doubt bring out the fans who're generally easier to satisfy. How it will play with a general audience is a more interesting question and one we won't know until nearer Halloween.

image

Red Tails
Opens: 2011
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo Director: Anthony Hemingway

Summary: As WW2 takes a dire toll on Allied forces, the black pilots of the experimental Tuskegee training find discrimination keeping them grounded. When a mission so dangerous comes up no-one wants it, these airmen finally get to prove their mettle.

Analysis: After twenty years of development, George Lucas' Tuskegee Airmen film finally got off the ground and filmed throughout the second half of 2009 in the Czech Republic. Though "Ali" and "The Manchurian Candidate" first A.D. Anthony Hemingway makes his directing debut on the project, this is very much a Lucas/McCallum project and thus will have their fingers all over it and their full resources behind it.

John Ridley ("Bobby," "Undercover Brother") adapted Lucas' outline into a script based on a fascinating true story that sounds like its been homogenised into a feel good anti-racism studio picture from the press releases. What it should excel at though is showing off period aerial combat to an extent we've never really seen realised on screen. The cast has some odd choices, most interesting is that no less than five actors on this were also cast members on "The Wire".

The other thing of interest will be the shooting techniques. High definition digital Sony F35 cameras were used for the main shoot, but a series of pickup shots and reshoots that took place early last year experimented with consumer-level DSLR digital cameras to film some of the flying and cockpit sequences where the larger cameras are just inappropriate.

Will it work? There was talk that Lucas wasn't happy with Hemingway's footage and cited that being the main reason behind reshoots that were more extensive than suggested, a claim his company later denied and said Lucas himself was handling the reshoots due to Hemingway's commitment to shoot HBO's "Treme". Since then there's been nothing on the project - the film still hasn't scheduled a release date and there's no footage or official stills available as yet from the production.

image

Restless
Opens: 2011
Cast: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Schuyler Fisk, Jane Adams, Chin Han
Director: Gus Van Sant

Summary: A 16-year-old terminally ill girl falls in love with a quirky teenage boy who likes to crash funerals and communicate with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II.

Analysis: Gus Van Sant's latest effort is a dark coming of age drama about two teens rather morbidly obsessed with death - one is terminally ill, the other has a funeral fetish and sees visions of a kamikaze pilot. This is one of those projects that could go so wrong if not handled just right, though the trailer promises something potentially more touching and sincere to balance out the quirk and sadness.

The script comes from Jason Lew, a New York University class mate of the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard who herself is producing the film alongside her father Ron Howard and his regular cohort Brian Grazer. Lew wrote this as a play which Howard got to read and encouraged him to turn it into a screenplay.

Shot in Oregon in very late 2009, the film was completed last Summer and looked to be headed for a bow late last month after a premiere at Sundance, but plans for said screening were cancelled while the release was pushed back. The subject matter is hardly unfamiliar, comparisons have already been made to the likes of "Harold and Maude" and "A Walk to Remember", but this is also an arthouse title that could potentially cross over if given the right sort of promotion. Ball's in your court Sony.

image

Retreat
Opens: 2011
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton, Jamie Bell
Director: Carl Tibbetts

Summary: A British couple stay at a cottage on an isolated and unpopulated Scottish island in an effort to fix their faltering marriage. After losing radio contact and being cut off from the mainland by a storm, an American soldier in a biohazard suit washes up on shore and claims they are the only people left alive due to a pandemic sweeping Europe.

Analysis: Much like Phil Noyce's Aussie suspense classic "Dead Calm" or Roman Polanski's "Knife in the Water", here we have a British thriller that's essentially a three-actor piece set in an isolated locale and dealing with a disgruntled couple (Murphy, Newton) whose lives are interrupted by an outsider (Bell) with dubious motives and catastrophic news that may not be true.

With these 'battle of wills' style pieces it's all about the sharpness of the writing, the strength of the performances and the skill of the direction - get all three right and you'll have an instant cult classic. Get just one of them wrong, it will be easily dismissed. The casting is pretty solid, though first time writer/director Tibbetts remains the big question.

Shot over four weeks in North Wales late last year, the film went through two previous male leads with David Tennant and Jason Isaacs initially set to play Bell and Murphy's roles respectively. Very little has been seen from the production aside from a few low-res stills of tense action, while eyewitness reports from the set don't give much away. There was talk of a potential premiere at Berlinale earlier this month, but the film didn't show up on the schedule. Either way, I'm hoping this will be another dynamic British filmmaker debut like we've seen a few times in recent years.

image

Rio
Opens: April 15th 2011
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Jake T. Austin Director: Carlos Saldanha

Summary: Blu is a rare species of blue macaw who lives in Minnesota. When scientists learn that a female macaw was spotted in South America, Blu is sent to Rio de Janeiro to meet her and along the way they get kidnapped by poachers.

Analysis: After directing the prehistoric hijinks of the "Ice Age" franchise, Carlos Saldanha's next project is this CG-animated feature set in his home country of Brazil. Saldanha has said he wanted to make a film about Brazil from a Brazilian point of view and show people what it's like to visit the country for the first time - the colors, the diversity and the natural beauty.

Described as more musical, fun and colorful than the 'Ice' films, the story is a fairly straight forward piece with lessons about making one's own way in the world combined with a kidnap-escape subplot as the two lead blue macaw characters encounter all sorts of fellow avians around Rio de Janiero.

The general storyline is conventional, what separates this is the energy. The initial trailer showing off a fun out-of-control flying and hang gliding sequence was very promising. A follow-up and more conventional second preview wasn't quite as impressive, but a recent opening sequence clip was strong so it's tough to say how this will go.

image

Route Irish
Opens: 2011
Cast: John Bishop, Mark Womack, Stephen Lord, Andrea Lowe, Trevor Williams
Director: Ken Loach

Summary: The story of a private security contractor in Iraq who rejected the official explanation of his friend's death and set out to discover the truth - risking their lives in a city awash with violence and greed.

Analysis: Still resolutely avoiding Hollywood, British art house darling Ken Loach ("Looking for Eric," "The Wind That Shakes the Barley") returns with this Iraqi road trip feature he and his longtime writing partner Paul Laverty co-wrote. Named after the stretches of road between Baghdad Airport and the International Green Zone, Loach's knack for realism should yield a hard-hitting and thrilling piece dealing with security contractors in the Gulf and explores both a tense love triangle scenario and themes of revenge.

A recent trailer showed it to be gritty, involving and exciting, and playing the festival circuit last year resulted in reviews that were generally good but had reservations, mostly about the screenplay and some of the character development. One great quote called it "about as close to a conventional thriller as Loach will ever get". A mid-March release is planned in Europe, while in the UK Sky Movies Box-Office subscribers will get access to it via that service. No word on a release in the United States at present.

image

The Rum Diary
Opens: 2011
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: Bruce Robinson

Summary: The increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp who left late 1950's New York City to start a more relaxed lifestyle working for a downtrodden newspaper in San Juan and becomes obsessed with the fiancee of a shady property dealer.

Analysis: Having essentially played legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson in the autobiographical "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", it's no surprise that Depp would choose to star in the film adaptation of the gonzo journo's other famous novel. Written in 1959 but not published until 1998, development on this began back in 2000 with Depp signed on to star and produce. However, after two failed attempts (including a version with Josh Hartnett and Benicio del Toro) it wasn't until early 2009 that $65 million in financing got locked down and production got underway in Puerto Rico.

'Loathing' benefited greatly from the direction of Terry Gilliam who seemed very well suited to Thompson's style. 'Diary' however isn't getting the short shrift as it brought "Withnail and I" helmer Bruce Robinson out of retirement - his first directing job since 1992's "Jennifer 8" and first script since Neil Jordan's "I n Dreams" in 1999. Robinson actually seems a good fit for the material which is not as eccentric as 'Loathing' but still somewhat unique.

There's a great supporting cast on hand as well, though some have already had issues with the way the Yeamon character, which was one of the more unique ones in the book, has apparently been written out of the script while his plot elements have been merged with other characters (likely Sanderson). Don't fret purists, before he died Thompson apparently approved the script for the film.

This leaves only one question that everyone wants the answer to - when will this be getting a release? The film was completed almost a year ago and many were wondering what was the hold up. Producer/distributor Graham King went on to reveal late last year in a GQ interview that he's holding it until Fall this year because Depp "wants to really get out and promote that movie and he's working this whole year... The movie is really good. Johnny and I agreed to not just throw it out there and give it time where he can travel around and promote it."

image

Safe
Opens: 2011
Cast: Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, Reggie Lee, Danny Hoch
Director: Boaz Yakin

Summary: A soldier of fortune finds himself on the run across the U.S. eastern seaboard with a young Chinese girl carrying vital secrets that both the Chinese and Russian Mafia are intent on obtaining in order to blackmail world governments.

Analysis: A straight forward action thriller for Statham and filmmaker Boaz Yakin ("Uptown Girls," "Remember the Titans"), set reports indicate a fast-paced "The Transporter" style effort minus the flash car and tongue-in-cheek style. The trouble with these more sober "Kiss of the Dragon"-style films is the lack of distinctiveness or originality, certainly Statham has two other action films due out this year ("Blitz," "The Killer Elite") which both look far more interesting thanks to stronger casts and period settings with better premises. Right now, nothing heard or seen about this makes it sound anything more than direct-to-DVD nonsense.

image

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Opens: 2011
Cast: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Summary: The story of Dr Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist who finds himself reluctantly involved in a project to bring salmon fishing to the Highlands of the Yemen - a project that will change his life, and the course of British political history forever.

Analysis: With "Dreamgirls" director Bill Condon departing the project due to his commitment to the "Twilight" franchise, Lasse Hallstrom took the reigns of this adaptation of Paul Torday's acclaimed novel. Combined with the muscle of Fox Searchlight and a Brit List-making script by Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire"), many expect this to be a potentially serious awards contender come the end of the year should the critics approve.

Shot in London, Morocco and Scotland with a solid cast, the shoot itself was said to be a difficult one. The awards pedigree shouldn't mislead you into mistaking this for a deathly serious affair, in fact it's being labelled as both a "romantic fable" and a satire of politics, bureaucracy and public relations. One cute touch here is Kristin Scott Thomas is portraying the Prime Minister's fearsome spokesperson - a better looking and probably less salty version of Peter Capaldi's unforgettable "The Thick of It" and "In the Loop" character Malcolm Tucker. Keep an eye on this one, it may surprise come the Fall.

image

Salvation Boulevard
Opens: 2011
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei, Pierce Brosnan, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear
Director: George Ratliff

Summary: Set in the world of mega-churches in which a former Deadhead-turned-born again-Christian finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor

Analysis: Screening at Sundance last month to a negative response, this impressively cast indie film swipe at organised religion is said to contain a few chuckles but ultimately prove a rather lazy and obvious disappointment. The basic structure is a chase thriller with Pierce Brosnan's charismatic preacher accidentally killing a high profile Richard Dawkins-esque atheist and trying to make it look like suicide at first. Later, he tries to paint on one of his parishioners - a born again ex-Grateful Dead fan.

General problems don't seem to be with the premise but rather the lazy execution with most supporting characters a dull stereotype, and every comedic swipe rather obvious or silly. The production values are said to be pretty strong and the cast obviously had fun making it, but well-regarded doco filmmaker Ratliff sounds like he's disappointed in the same way his 2007 narrative horror thriller "Joshua" did.

image

Say Nothing
Opens: 2011
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Anthony Starr Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Summary: Four Australian friends set out on a Cambodian holiday, only three come back. Dave and Alice return home to their young family desperate for answers about Jeremy’s mysterious disappearance. When Alice’s sister Steph returns not long after, a nasty secret is revealed about the night her boyfriend went missing, and it is only the first of many.

Analysis: Having just wrapped a week ago, this Australian psychological thriller marks the latest effort of Blue Tongue Films, the company behind "The Square" and who had a hand in the success of "Animal Kingdom". It also marks the feature helming debut of Australian actor Kieran Darcy-Smith who has starred or guest-starred in most Australian TV dramas produced since the mid-90's along with appearances in both the aforementioned Blue Tongue features along with "Two Hands" and "The Reef".

Shot on a low $2 million budget in Australia and Cambodia, it's hard to picture what the tone is yet. This could be a cat-and-mouse mind game piece among its limited cast like last year's superb British indie "The Disappearance of Alice Creed". It could be a more conventional mystery thriller, hell it could be some "Turistas"-esque piece of slasher crap. The best guess however is something akin to "The Square", a clever and interesting little genre piece anchored by solid performances.

The always enjoyable Felicity Price not only stars but co-wrote the script with Darcy-Smith while rising Aussie in Hollywood actress Teresa Palmer and New Zealand actor Antony Starr fill in the supporting roles. The main star is Joel Edgerton whose story is a rather curious one. Getting his start on the Australian TV and film scene back in the late 90's, he lead a solid but not particularly remarkable career and attempts to make him a leading man like "The Night We Called It a Day," "The Hard Word" and "Kinky Boots" never seemed to click.

A few years ago however something seemed to change. He lost weight, he started picking more challenging roles in darker and smarter projects. He surprised everyone with his great stage turn in "A Streetcar Named Desire" alongside Cate Blanchett, and he started getting into filmmaking behind-the-scenes with his brother. In a few years he's changed the local industry's perception of him, maturing into someone who seems more dedicated and serious about his craft. His attempted in-roads into Hollywood also look like more of a sure bet than minor "Star Wars" prequel cameos and that deeply flawed "King Arthur" reinvention.

As for this? Right now it's too early to tell. The elements are there for something interesting and hopefully intense, but without any footage and only two unrevealing photos, there's not much to say. The choice of Cambodia as a location rather than a more familiar Aussie tourist drawcard such as Thailand or Bali, is one that should pay dividends as it's truly beautiful countryside with both a dark history and breathtaking vistas around the ruins of Angkor Wat.

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

SHARE: