Top 10 of 2011


The annual ritual of choosing the movies that thrilled, chilled, affected and otherwise dug into the critical consciousness with hooks of steel during 2011 is upon Cinema365 and while our list is posted a bit later than most others, think of it as being a labor of love rather than a necessary evil, a particularly unliked chore.

This is the part where I mention that like any other list, this one is completely arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis, nothing quantitative that I can point to and say “this movie deserved to be on this list because of this.” No, it’s completely from the gut my friends and like any gut this big change is constant. The list you see here today is not the list I would make tomorrow. That’s why it always takes me so long; I hem, I haw, I prevaricate. At last, I assign.

Generally speaking, this list reflects my tastes as I saw the movie. I take all the movies I gave an 8 or greater score to, put the 10s at the top, the 9s below and so on. The half points I generally don’t take into consideration. Therefore you might see an 8 ranked above an 8.5. See what I mean about arbitrary?

So this is all about whether I liked the movie or not. 2011 didn’t see any real game changers in terms of movies that will rank as all-time bests. It is somewhat telling that perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a silent movie whose style harkened back to the films of that era. Still, even if none of them may end up as classics that withstand the test of time (and I think a few of them will), all ten of these and the honorable mentions as well, should provide at least a good starting point if you want to take a cinematic  year in review viewing party and stock it up with really good movies instead of just really popular ones.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late. There are two films on this list that you may find difficult to find either in home video or theaters. Check your local film festival to see if they will be around, or the websites that I have included with the original reviews – you can access those by clicking on the movie title and you can read what I wrote about them way back when.

This is meant to invite discussion or perhaps a heated argument or two. Feel free to submit your own top ten, or harangue me about mine. My skin is thick and I don’t bruise easily. I welcome hearing why my list is full of crap and yours is so much better. That’s why lists are fun.  

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

In a Better World, Hugo, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Company Men, The Descendants, Margin Call, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I Saw the Devil, Thor, J. Edgar, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Holy Wars, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Double Hour, Win Win, Bridesmaids, Young Goethe in Love, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Happy Poet, The Whistleblower, In Time, Apollo 18, Submarine, Drive.

And with no further ado, let us get on with the countdown:

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Everyone in England. Directed by David Yates

Released July 15, 2011 The end of an era finally came to pass as nearly a decade of Pottermania had its final moments and the series went out with a glorious bang. Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron would take on the forces of evil in an epic battle that would shake the very foundations of magic itself as Harry and Lord Voldemort finally had the face-off that everyone had been waiting for.

WHY IT IS HERE: There are those who proclaimed it the best film in the series and in many ways they weren’t wrong. This was an emotional rollercoaster that had heroism, villainy, pathos and even a hint of comedy here and there. After the first part of the last book seemed to be all exposition and no action, this movie made for a wonderful payoff. Not everyone would survive but this was a more than satisfactory ending to a series many people grew up with. There were a lot of misty eyes in the theater when the final credits rolled, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers accountants who would see their biggest moneymaking series ever fade into history.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Harry prepares for certain death as he goes into the black forest to compose himself. There he meets the shades of his parents as well as those in the series who had passed on. It was remarkably moving and I for one had tears literally streaming down my face when I saw it. In fact, I’m a bit misty right now just writing about it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $381 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $1.3 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on HBO/Cinemax. Download/stream from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Blockbuster.

9. INCENDIES

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villanueve

Released April 22, 2011 This was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar, representing Canada but very little of it was set in the Great White North. It didn’t win but many thought it should have. A woman follows the path of her mother as she makes a search for the man who is her father, starting in the small village her mother came from in the Middle East. The more she looks the deeper the mystery becomes as she discovers her mother was caught in a vicious civil war between Christian and Muslim factions in that country, leading to a shocking revelation that turns her daughter’s life upside down.

WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie on this list that will grab your guts quite as much as this one does. While many explore the depths of man’s cruelty to man, here is a movie that takes that cruelty head-on and exposes the ugliness for all to see. Yet even with all this ugliness, there is still lingering hope that tinges the entire film and makes it ultimately an uplifting experience, despite the horror. Forgiveness trumps hatred every time.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene in which a busload of Muslim women meet a horrible end is one that will stay with you for a very long time.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.1 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $3.6M total.

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Streaming unavailable.

8. BUCK

(Sundance Selects) Buck Brannaman, Mary Brannaman, Reata Brannaman, Betsy Shirley, Robert Redford, Bibb Frazier, Betty Staley, Ali Cornish, Shayne Jackson, Smokie Brannaman, Ray Hunt. Directed by Cindy Meehl

Released June 17, 2011 Buck Brannaman is an archetype, a modern day cowboy who is equal parts Roy Rogers and Dr. Phil. His journey from being a trick roper for an abusive father to one of the top consultants to ranchers about horse behavior and horse training (the character of The Horse Whisperer is largely based on him) is a moving one. One look at the trailer which preceded it convinced me that this was going to be a special film and when I got to see it in San Francisco with Da Queen, I found it to exceed those expectations and Da Queen agreed – if you were to ask her, this would undoubtedly be one of her favorite movies of the year as well.

WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January and it’s easy to see why. Few films – and even fewer documentaries – have as much heart and compassion as this movie does and the reason for it is Brannaman. He is self-effacing, quiet and has a connection to horses that is rare as it is beautiful. He has challenged traditional methods of training for one that is more effective and less traumatic for the horse. These days it can be difficult to be proud to be an American but this movie will allow you to do so, at least for a few hours.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Buck comforts a rancher who realizes that her inexperience and poor decisions regarding her horse have led to the injury of one of her hands and the eventual termination of the horse.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4 million domestic (as of 1/18/12), $4M total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Stream on Netflix. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

(Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

Released April 16, 2010 There are some movies that you will not see outside of a film festival. They are labors of love, made on shoestring budget by filmmakers who are often just learning their craft. Sometimes those movies are learning experiences for the filmmakers; they will go on to bigger and better things eventually but sometimes, you run into quality that stands on its own merit and doesn’t need any sort of qualifier, be it low-budget or inexperience. These films stand proudly with movies that have studio backing and/or indie distribution to be among the year’s best.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Brown’s third feature is an often poignant, generally funny and entirely too human portrayal of a dysfunctional family imploding over the course of a Christmas dinner. On paper it sounds awkward and uncomfortable and there are a few moments where those emotions are present but for the most part you just saw the damage done by years of digging, disappointment and disability. Well-acted (particularly Pixley, Keen and Killingsworth) and droll when it needs to be, this movie should be sent to every studio mogul and director as a primer in how great films can be done on microscopic budgets.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene near the end of the film when Danny’s departure brings down the facade from his mother and shows her to be what she truly is. It’s a marvelous piece of acting by Keen.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:The movie worked the film festival circuit last year, culminating in a brief run at New York’s ReRun Gastropub Theater in December. The film’s website doesn’t mention any plans for the movie to be released on DVD; hopefully someday it will be available in that formula or for digital download somewhere. Check the movie’s website for updates.

6. THE HELP

(DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Released August 10, 2011 Based on a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this movie shot to big box office after its release. The amount of success was a bit of a surprise given the subject matter but the quality wasn’t, given the excellent cast. Spencer has already won a Golden Globe for her performance and has received an Oscar nomination, along with Davis. The movie is also up for Best Picture.

WHY IT IS HERE: Some of the strongest ensemble work of any casts this year, for one thing. The writers and director Taylor could have taken the route in which Emma Stone’s Skeeter character was the brave white girl standing up for the oppressed minority (which has been done in other films) but that isn’t the case here; Stone is portrayed as much a cog in the wheel as the axel turning it. This is clearly Davis’ and Spencer’s movie. It’s funny, heartbreaking in places and insightful throughout.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Hilly discovers the truth about the “terrible awful.”

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $169.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $205.3 million total.

BUDGET: $25 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Rachelle Lefevre, Saul Rubinek, Mark Addy, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Cle Bennett. Directed by Richard J. Lewis

Released January 14, 2011 While it’s true Giamatti would win a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character, it was at last year’s Golden Globes. This Canadian film was based on a Mordechai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. For whatever reason it was released in early January instead of late December, effectively ending any shot it had at Oscar contention.

WHY IT IS HERE: Amazing performances from an amazing cast, to be blunt. Giamatti as I mentioned won a Golden Globe and the rest of the cast, from the irrepressible Dustin Hoffman to the breezy Speedman to the gruff Addy to the lustrous Pike all did bang-up jobs. Barney’s journey isn’t an easy one and at times the movie is so heartbreaking you want to run out of the theater – or as the case may be your living room – but staying until the final credits roll is so very worth your while.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, the last 20 minutes of the movie is something special. I was very, very moved.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $8.5 million worldwide.

BUDGET: $30 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

(Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Released June 10, 2011 We saw this at the Florida Film Festival and have been a huge fan ever since. While this is one of the “found footage” films subgenre that has been getting overused over the past couple years, it may very well be the best of them, better even than the one that started it – The Blair Witch Project.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Irreverent and fun, this is a theme park ride disguised as a movie. The trolls themselves are obviously CGI but they look exactly how you’d expect them to. Definitely the humor is low-key which some might have trouble with. This is one of those hidden treasures that nobody knows about, but when you get a friend to see it they become instant fans.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Hans filling out paperwork after his latest successful troll hunt.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $253,444 domestic (as of 1/25/11), $4.2 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime starting February 23rd. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix. Stream on Amazon/Netflix.

3. THE ARTIST

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Bitsie Tulloch, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, Basil Hoffman. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

Released November 25, 2011 After a good showing at the Golden Globes, The Artist is an odds-on favorite at the Oscars, with ten nominations including Best Picture (which it won at the Globes) and Best Actor for Dujardin (which he also won). This is probably the most critically acclaimed film of the year.

WHY IT IS HERE: This isn’t just an homage to silent cinema but an excellent example of the style of silent films. The humor is a bit broad and the pathos a bit maudlin but the movie works on every level. Even though there is almost no dialogue (there is music on the soundtrack and some sound effects) the acting gets across every nuance of the screenplay without fail. Dujardin, a French comic actor and Bejo, an Argentine actress, make a great team. This is the kind of movie that those who ordinarily wouldn’t choose to go see it are made believers after they’ve given it a shot.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: George’s suicide attempt is a heartbreaker.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $12.4 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $33.4 million total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

Released October 7, 2011 Walking the Camino de Santiago has always held a fascination to me. I’m way too out of shape to do it myself; this is as close as I’m going to come to doing it myself. I wasn’t impressed by the trailer or the concept originally but was blown away when I saw the film. It is insightful, emotionally authentic and yes it will make you laugh and cry.

WHY IT IS HERE: I am not the most Catholic of Catholics, but this movie gave me a nostalgic twinge in my ecumenical muscle. I also must admit that James Michener’s travelogue Iberia is a book that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times in my life; the chapter about the Camino always sung to me. No movie released this year afforded the opportunity for self-discovery as this one did and much of the responsibility for that goes to Martin Sheen’s dignified but realistic performance, making me realize how much I miss President Josiah Bartlett. Movies this powerfully moving should get as much praise as can be heaped on them.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene where Sara confesses to Tom about her abusive background.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/26/12), $4.4 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

(AFFRM) Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Marc Gwamaka, Zaninka Hadidja, Mursari Jean, Cleophas Kabasita, Hassan Kabera, Mazimpaka Kennedy, Assumpta Micho, Kena Onyenjekwe, Edouard B. Uwayo. Directed by Alrick Brown

Released December 2, 2011 Some movies aren’t seen so much as experienced. This film tells several stories about the Rwandan genocide, from a teenager girl who comes home after sneaking out to attend a party to find her parents murdered, to a courageous priest who tries to save as many of his Tutsi flock as he can, to a pair of soldiers who have varying reasons to want to put themselves at risk in Rwanda. Each story has an enormous emotional resonance and is based on a survivor’s actual experiences.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that doesn’t seem like a first feature. Indeed, I have not seen a better film this year. Few films will affect you as deeply as this one; but while it is set during one of the darkest moments in human history, it is not a story of darkness. Rather it is a film about reconciliation and hope, of the extraordinary ability of the human spirit to give the divine gift of forgiveness no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the transgression. If the Tutsi can forgive the Hutu and move to becoming a single nation after what happened in Rwanda, there is hope for us as a species if we can, as the Rwandans are doing, appeal to our own higher natures. When a movie can provide that for its audience, it is an extraordinary film indeed.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where one of the soldiers who committed murder in the genocide realizes what he has participated in and what it has cost his soul – with tragic results.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $21,097 domestic (as of 12/4/11), $21,097 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Kinyarwanda has had a limited release mostly in large cities. It is listed on the Netflix site with an as-yet unscheduled DVD release date, indicating that there are plans to release it in that format.

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New Releases for the Week of September 2, 2011


September 2, 2011

APOLLO 18

(TriStar) Cast not available. Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego

The Apollo program supposedly ended after Apollo 17 but in spectacular footage discovered in a long-forgotten NASA vault comes the incredible story of a secret mission to the moon – and the truth behind the reason we haven’t been back since. Another found footage horror flick, only this one has been bouncing around the schedule for over a year.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for some disturbing sequences and language)

The Debt

(Focus) Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson. A team of Israeli Mossad operatives who captured a notorious Nazi forty years earlier come to grips with a terrible secret that only the three of them know. That secret now threatens to come out and destroy them and maybe much more than that.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some violence and language)

The Future

(Roadside Attractions) Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres. A 30-something couple decides to adopt a cat. A pretty mundane act on the surface of it but one which will literally alter the course of time. Who knew?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content)

Point Blank

(Magnolia) Gilles Lelouche, Roschdy Zem, Gerard Lanvin, Elena Anaya. A hospital worker sees his pregnant wife kidnapped in front of his eyes. He is informed that he must smuggle a crime boss who is under police surveillance out of the hospital he works at or his wife will be killed. He works against the clock, trying to avoid rival mobsters and trigger-happy cops to try to save his wife and unborn child.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence and some language)

Project Nim

(Roadside Attractions) Nim, Professor Herbert Terrace, Laura-Ann Petitto, Stephanie LaFarge. The true story of a scientific experiment that proposes that a chimpanzee can learn to communicate as a human does if raised as a human child. We are introduced to the hubris of the scientific community as we attempt to humanize an animal and along the way find the humanity in ourselves. This was the opening film at the Florida Film Festival this year and although we missed it, Da Queen and I talked to several folks who saw it who described it with words like “touching” and “unsettling.”

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language, drug content, thematic elements and disturbing images)

Seven Days in Utopia

(Utopia) Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Melissa Leo, Deborah Ann Woll. A golfer who suffers an epic meltdown during a tournament winds up stranded in a small but eccentric town in Texas. Here he will slow down a bit, find his game again and more importantly discover what’s truly important.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: G

Shark Night 3D

(Relativity) Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore. A group of vacationing teens see their summer holiday turn to horror when they discover that the freshwater lake they’re staying at is full of massive man-eating sharks. They’re going to have some pretty choice words for the Travelocity gnome.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references,  partial nudity, language and thematic material)

Four-Warned: September 2011


September 2011Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. CONTAGION (1.3)
2. APOLLO 18 (1.4)
3. DRIVE (1.5)
4. 50/50 (2.0)
TIE. KILLER ELITE (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL (1.2)
2. SILENT SOULS (1.5)
3. MAIN STREET (1.6)
4. RED STATE (1.7)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

SEPTEMBER 1, 2011

LOVE EXPOSURE (Olive) Genre: Unclassifiable. A Tokyo teen gets involved in upskirt photography and religious cults. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Sounds about as weird as it gets…and Japanese films can get pretty weird.

SEPTEMBER 2, 2011

A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED ORGY (Goldwyn) Genre: Comedy. A 30-something who lives the life of Riley in the Hamptons throws one last blow-out bash when he discovers his dad is selling the old homestead – and decides to make it an orgy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Pretty decent cast including Jason Sudeikis but concept and execution look pretty juvenile.
APOLLO 18 (Weinstein) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. Footage from a secret mission to the moon reveals why we stopped going there. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Great concept; hopefully the execution will hold up.
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (Indomina) Genre: Martial Arts. An ancient Chinese ruler is haunted by mysterious murders and enlists the help of China’s greatest detective to solve the crimes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The newest from the legendary Chinese director Tsui Hark.
I’M GLAD MY MOTHER IS ALIVE (Strand) Genre: Drama. A young man, adopted as a baby, seeks out his birth mother and when he finds her, develops an unhealthy obsession. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 A trailer as creepy as any I’ve ever seen.
INSIGHT (Check Entertainment) Genre: Horror. A nurse who is trying to revive a dying stabbing victim with a defibrillator is accidentally shocked and as a result is able to see what the victim saw. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Could be a real good thriller but the trailer left me ambivalent.
LOVE CRIME (Sundance Selects) Genre: Thriller. A high-powered female executive and her naive assistant engage in a game of high stakes cat and mouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer looked sexy and edge-of-the-seat thrilling; not surprising since the French in addition to doing romance right, make some pretty awesome thrillers too.
RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES (Argot) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker researches mysterious tiles with strange messages that have been appearing all over North and South America for over 30 years. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 In case you ever wanted proof that truth is stranger than fiction.
SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ (Pantelion) Genre: Action Comedy. A Mexican crime boss goes to Iraq to rescue his soldier brother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 The comedy looked a bit broad in the trailer for my tastes.
SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA (Utopia) Genre: Sports Drama. A golfer who is trying to live down a highly publicized meltdown winds up stranded in a small Texas town where he learns the truth about the game. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Any movie with the great Robert Duvall in it has my interest piqued from the get-go.
SHARK NIGHT 3D (Relativity) Genre: Horror. A group of teens celebrating a vacation on a remote island in a freshwater lake are stalked by man-eating sharks. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Lake Jaws…sounds a bit like a train wreck.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUCESCU (The Film Desk) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Romanian dictator is told through propaganda films and home movies. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 Fascinating and horrifying all at once.
BEWARE THE GONZO (Tribeca) Genre: Teen Comedy. When a popular but cruel high school paper editor fires an outsider, said rebel decides to start his own newspaper. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Do high schools even have newspapers anymore?
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A Midwestern boy finds out that his parents were porn stars in the 70s, and heads to Hollywood to make his own mark. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.6 The trailer looked truly bad.
BURKE & HARE (IFC) Genre: Horror Comedy. The notorious 19th century grave robbers’ story is told in a somewhat unusual fashion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in the same movie? I’m all in.
CONTAGION (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. A lethal airborne virus baffles medical science and threatens the human race. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 A great cast assembled by director Steven Soderbergh spells must-see.
CREATURE (The Bubble Factory) Genre: Horror. A group of young people look for a legendary creature in the Bayou and discover it’s not just a legend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks like a cross between Hatchet and Rogue.
INSIDE OUT (Goldwyn) Genre: Action. An ex-con trying to go straight is forced to defend the wife and daughter of his best friend from mobsters and cops alike. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The WWE films haven’t yet hit the quality level of their wrestling product but I have to admit the trailer didn’t look half bad.
LAUGH AT MY PAIN (CODEBLACK) Genre: Comedy Documentary. The Kevin Hart comedy tour, one of the most successful in recent history, is chronicled. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Comedy tour movies are notoriously hit or miss.
LOVE IN SPACE (Fox/China Lion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A mother and her daughters try to juggle their messy romantic lives in modern-day China. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The first release in a joint venture between 20th Century Fox and a Chinese studio.
MAIN STREET (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A southern town on the brink of bankruptcy gets a visit from a stranger who may be the answer to their prayers – or their worst nightmare. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Oscar winning screenwriter Horton Foote wrote this and the ensemble cast includes Oscar winners Colin Firth and Ellen Burstyn.
MERE BROTHER KI DULHAN (Yash Raj) Genre: Musical. An upper class man tries to find the ideal bride for his brother, Bollywood-style. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Silly, surreal and 100% fun – exactly what the Doctor ordered.
ONE FALL (Paladin) Genre: Drama. A man survives a 200-foot fall only to develop an incredible power. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer seemed okay but I had a nagging feeling of disquiet that there might be some preaching to be done here with it which brought my rating down lower.
SHAOLIN (Go Well/Variance) Genre: Martial Arts. A Shaolin temple becomes a battleground when a warlord takes refuge there, pursued by his enemy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks spectacular, with Chinese greats Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse in the cast.
TANNER HALL (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. Four friends in an exclusive New England girl’s school deal with the consequences of love, sex and betrayal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The trailer looks very sexy.
WARRIOR (Lionsgate) Genre: Sports Drama. Two brothers compete in a Mixed Martial Arts tournament for differing reasons. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 Not a big MMA fan and on top of it, the trailer looks kind of cliché.
WE WERE HERE (Red Flag) Genre: Documentary. A look at the effect of the AIDS epidemic on San Francisco in particular, but on the American gay community as a whole. Release Strategy: New York City (Opens in Los Angeles September 16). RATING: 2.6 Will be a tough sell in a country as homophobic as this one.
WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM (International Film Circuit) Genre: Documentary. The film follows four childhood friends from northern Michigan as they go to war and return home. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Could be very powerful but the trailer was awfully talky.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

GRANITO: HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR (Skylight) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker who documented genocide in Guatemala produces evidence at the trial of those who perpetrated it. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.5 Sounds intriguing, although why it took twenty years for the footage to surface is my question.
THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. The Pieter Brugel masterpiece The Way to Calvary is brought to life. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.8 Using sophisticated computer imagery the film looks like the painting come to life – very impressive.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2011

3 (DREI) (Strand) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple, approaching their 20th wedding anniversary, both fall in love with the same man. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.2 A romantic comedy directed by German wunderkind Tom Tykwer? Intriguing…
DRIVE (FilmDistrict) Genre: Action. A Hollywood stunt driver by day moonlights as a getaway car driver by night. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Big buzz on this one, and I must say the trailer looks very promising.
HAPPY, HAPPY (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. The arrival of the perfect couple next door signals changes in the air for the perpetually optimistic Kaja. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 The trailer for this Norwegian film looks charming.
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A New York mom struggles to keep career and family going. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Sarah Jessica Parker as a married working mom? Her Sex in the City fans might revolt!
JANE’S JOURNEY (First Run) Genre: Documentary. This is the story of Jane Goodall whose heroic efforts to save the wild chimps of Tanzania are recounted through rare interviews and home movies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Project Nim this is the year of the chimp!
THE LION KING 3D (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. The Disney animated classic is presented theatrically in 3D for the first time. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 4.0 I’m not convinced this movie will be made any better with 3D; why spend that kind of money at the multiplex for it?
MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (Cohen) Genre: Comedy. An illiterate handyman is taught how to read by a little old lady, opening his mind to the possibility that he might be an intellectual after all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Gerard Depardieu is one of the most charming actors in history.
PRINCE OF SWINE (Self-Released) Genre: Sex Comedy. An idealistic attorney defending a woman fired from a T&A show after being groped by her boss has to decide how far she herself is willing to go to win. Release Strategy: New York City Only. RATING: 3.9 Sounds raunchy and utterly without redeeming social content – which I normally encourage – but also looks poorly executed too.
RESTLESS (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Two outsiders, misunderstood by society in general, find each other and fall in love. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 The plot description could cover about 75% of all indie films, but this one is directed by Gus Van Sant.
SILENT SOULS (Shadow Distribution) Genre: Drama. A journey by a couple of Russian men to say goodbye ritually to one’s recently deceased wife takes on new meaning when it becomes clear that both of the men loved her. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles September 30). RATING: 1.5 The trailer looks absolutely gorgeous.
STAY COOL (Initiate) Genre: Comedy. A successful author returns to his Sacramento high school to deliver a commencement speech and winds up reliving his dreams and disappointments from his youth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The trailer didn’t look terribly funny.
STRAW DOGS (Screen Gems) Genre: Thriller. A trip home for a young couple turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse when the wife’s ex-boyfriend comes back into her life. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A remake of a controversial Sam Peckinpah classic doesn’t look like it will pack the punch the original did.
THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY (Variance) Genre: Documentary. Soul legend Clarence Reid aka Blowfly looks back at his life and career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 I never really connected with his music but there’s no denying his place in music history.
THE WHALE (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. A young orca gets separated from his pod and winds up becoming connected to a small British Columbia town. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The trailer looks wonderfully heart-warming.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

PEARL JAM TWENTY (Vinyl Films) Genre: Music Documentary. The 20-year-career of the seminal Seattle grunge band gets a retrospective. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This band was once the most acclaimed in the land and still makes relevant music.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011

A BIRD OF THE AIR (Paladin) Genre: Romance. A parrot and a vivacious young woman fly into the life of a lonely man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The trailer had enough charm to be intriguing.
ABDUCTION (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. A young man discovers his image on a missing person website, opening the door to a dangerous conspiracy revolving around his true identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 I’m not convinced that Taylor Lautner is able to carry a movie on his own.
DOLPHIN TALE 3D (Warner Brothers) Genre: Family. The true story of a dolphin who’s tale is amputated following an encounter with a crab trap and the heroic efforts to build her a prosthetic. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.9 A decent cast but the trailer made it look more like “Flipper” than anything else.
THE DOUBLE (Image) Genre: Spy Thriller. The murder of a U.S. Senator appears to be the work of a Soviet assassin, bringing a CIA operative who knew him best out of retirement to track him down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but with no trailer available as of this writing, can’t really get too excited yet.
KILLER ELITE (Open Road) Genre: Action. A former special ops agent comes out of retirement to rescue his mentor and friend from the clutches of a team of vicious assassins. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Jason Statham and Clive Owen in the same action movie equals must-see entertainment to me.
LIMELIGHT (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. This is the story of Peter Gatien, the flamboyant and charismatic King of Nightlife in New York City during the 1980s. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 A look at an era that was maybe the golden age of the club scene.
MACHINE GUN PREACHER (Relativity) Genre: Action. The true story of Sam Childers who went from drug dealer to born-again Christian to courageous aid worker in East Africa. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.8 I’m a huge fan of Gerard Butler and this looks like it might be some of his best work yet.
MONEYBALL (Columbia) Genre: True Sports Drama. Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, revolutionizes the game of baseball. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 The trailer looks like money as well, although one wonders how a movie about the business of sports will grab audiences.
PUNCTURE (Millennium) Genre: Legal Drama. A functioning drug addict and lawyer take on the case of an ER nurse who is pricked by a contaminated needle on the job. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles/Houston. RATING: 2.9 Legal dramas always seem to grab my attention; I’m hoping this one does too.
RED STATE (Smodcast/Lionsgate) Genre: Action. A trio of boys looking to party run into a heavily armed fundamentalist group ready to take on the ATF in a gun battle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Director Kevin Smith makes a movie Quentin Tarantino would have if he’d thought about it.
THUNDER SOUL (Roadside Attraction) Genre: Musical Documentary. Alumni of the acclaimed Kashmere High Stage Band return home to pay tribute to their 92-year-old barrier-smashing director, “Prof”. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Interesting trailer but the subject didn’t appeal to me much.
TOAST (W2) Genre: Biography. The true story of British food writer Nigel Slater’s childhood and his struggle to gain his father’s respect. Release Strategy: New York City (Opens in Los Angeles October 7). RATING: 3.1 Not sure how many Americans would be interested in a bio of Slater.
WEEKEND (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. Two Londoners meet in a club on a Friday night and have a weekend full of sex, conversation and drugs, growing to the realization that they are going to resonate in one another’s lives forever. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 As frank a movie about gay sexuality as you’re likely to see.

SEPTEMBER 28, 2011

YOU DON’T LIKE THE TRUTH: 4 DAYS INSIDE GUANTANAMO (Films Transit) Genre: Documentary. The son of a Canadian Muslim is sent to work for the Taliban building mines, but is captured by the Americans and captured at Gitmo. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 The footage is said to be incredibly disturbing.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

50/50 (Summit) Genre: Dramedy. A young man battling pancreatic cancer decides with the help of his friend to fight with humor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen look like a pretty smart team in the trailer.
BUNRAKU (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy. A mysterious drifter and a would-be samurai enter a small town and determine to rid it of the corrupt and tyrannical ruler that plagues it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Definitely a mash-up of classic Japanese morality plays, American westerns and martial arts.
COURAGEOUS (TriStar) Genre: Christian Drama. Four police officers must cope with a tragedy close to home that sparks a crisis of faith. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 If I wanted a sermon, I’d go to church.
DREAM HOUSE (Universal) Genre: Suspense. A man moves his family from New York to a bucolic small town only to discover that the house was the scene of a grisly murder – and that the killer may be after his family now. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 The trailer might have divulged a crucial plot point; watch it at your risk.
MARGARET (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A high school girl, believing she inadvertently caused a fatal accident, tries to make amends but is stymied at every turn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Looks like a very intense, raw emotional film – maybe too raw.
MUNGER ROAD (Freestyle) Genre: Horror. As two cops search for a returning serial killer on the eve of the annual Scarecrow Festival, four teenagers go missing. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like standard supernatural killer fare.
MY JOY (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Drama. A Ukrainian truck driver descends into madness and murder. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Haven’t seen a trailer for this yet but it sounds intriguing.
TAKE SHELTER (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A man has terrifying visions of an impending cataclysm and decides to refurbish his storm cellar in preparation. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opening wider in October). RATING: 2.3 Michael Shannon’s a terrific actor and this looks like a very good film.
TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (Magnet) Genre: Horror Comedy. A group of teens lost in the woods run into a couple of bumpkins and mistake them for serial killers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 This is one of the funniest and fun trailers I’ve seen in ages.
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? (20th Century Fox) Genre: Sex Comedy. A young woman determines to re-check all of her ex-boyfriends to make sure she hasn’t passed over “Mr. Right.”. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Anna Faris just hasn’t connected with me as an actress yet.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Apollo 18, Contagion, Drive, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Straw Dogs, Abduction, Dolphin Tale 3D, Killer Elite, Moneyball, 50/50, What’s Your Number?

Fall/Holiday 2011 Preview


It is a bittersweet time as the lazy days of summer come to an end and for Hollywood, the annual orgy of blockbusters and event movies winds down. It is back to school for the kids, the end of the hot weather and the beginning of cool fall breezes, football and shorter days. Winter is right around the corner but before then, Hollywood still has the end of the year films to tempt your wallets.

The box office figures for this summer can only be termed as disappointing; this summer was one of the most anticipated in years. As I write this, the final box office figures have yet to be determined but it feels like numbers are actually down from last year, both in terms of box office dollars and in theater attendance. Much of that can be attributed to the rise of video streaming and on-demand video through home computers and cable/satellite television services. One can only assume that box office numbers will continue to erode somewhat over the next few years as theater-goers tire of high ticket prices and upcharges for 3D and IMAX screens.

The Fall seasons is also the time of the Oscar watcher. Generally this is when Hollywood releases their films most likely to strike gold at the Academy Awards next year and while it is still too early to determine which movies are going to be the ones to beat this year, you can bet that as the summer comes to an end, movies like The Iron Lady, The Descendants, In the Land of Blood and Honey, We Bought a Zoo, the David Fincher remake of the Swedish hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Coriolanus are on Oscar’s radar early on.

The movies that look to be most likely to hit the box office jackpot are Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Muppets, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I and Arthur Christmas. There might be some love for Puss in Boots, a spin-off from the highly successful Shrek series.

We’ll see horror movies, particularly at Halloween, and on tap at the moment are Paranormal Activity 3, 11-11-11 and the new reboot of The Thing. For those looking for comedy there’s always Jack and Jill, Tower Heist, New Year’s Eve, The Sitter and What’s Your Number. Action/adventure junkies can take heart in movies like Immortals, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, Real Steel, The Three Musketeers and In Time. Those looking for something more family friendly will have Happy Feet 2, Dolphin’s Tale and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked to choose from, among others.

The fall and winter are a great time for star-gazing and 2011 will have its share. You’ll be able to see Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), George Clooney (The Descendants), Daniel Craig (Dream House and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Robert Downey Jr., (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Adam Sandler (Jack and Jill), Ben Stiller (Tower Heist), Hugh Jackman (Real Steel), Robert De Niro (Killer Elite and New Year’s Eve), Matt Damon (Contagion and We Bought a Zoo), Jodie Foster (Carnage), Colin Firth (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), George Clooney (The Ides of March and The Descendants), Kate Winslet (Contagion), Leonardo di Caprio (J. Edgar) and Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary). Those fond of director Steven Spielberg will get a double dose this December with The Adventures of Tin Tin and War Horse, as of this writing slated to come out within a week of one another, although the two films couldn’t be more different.

So there are plenty of movies out there that will be competing for your interest; hopefully this guide will help you find a few. Further details can be found in our weekly Previews and monthly Four-Warned features, and many of the movies you see listed here will eventually make their way to our daily reviews. In the meantime, grab the keys, pack up the kids (if you have any), find that special someone to snuggle in the dark with and enjoy!

SEPTEMBER

September is usually a down time at the box office as kids head back to school and the new fall premieres come out on TV. Generally Hollywood uses the month to sneak in movies that they have less faith in that would get lost in the crush of summer or Holiday movies. Once in awhile there’s a break-out hit, but that’s fairly unusual. There are also occasionally some quality movies amongst the chaff however.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

APOLLO 18

RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2011

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING:

STORY: Ever wonder why we stopped sending men to the moon? This footage of the Apollo 18 mission, which NASA denies ever took place, explains it all.

PROSPECTS: Found footage films are relatively inexpensive to produce and have often been slam dunk winners at the box office, from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to Paranormal Activity seeing box office success and Troll Hunter critical acclaim. This one takes an intriguing premise and with little box office competition, could make an impressive dent.

OBSTACLES: There’s no telling whether the moviegoing audience has grown tired of the genre, and Weinstein apparently doesn’t have much faith in the film either, moving it all over the schedule from a prime spring slot to a lucrative fall slot to the kiss of death September slot.

FACTOID: This is Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s first American feature.

DRUID RITES

CONTAGION

RELEASE DATE: September 9, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwynneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan, Elliott Gould

STORY: The scientific community races against the clock to find the cure for a lethal airborne virus while outside their walls society is rapidly disintegrating into chaos.

PROSPECTS: Steven Soderbergh is the man behind the Oceans 11 trilogy. Medical dramas like Outbreak when done correctly can capture the imagination of the moviegoing audience.

OBSTACLES: These sorts of killer virus movies have been done to death and one wonders if Soderbergh has anything new to add to the mix.

FACTOID: In March, Soderbergh announced that he would be retiring from the movie business following the completion of the films he is currently attached to.

DREAM HOUSE

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Marton Csokas, Jane Alexander, Elias Koteas, Lynne Griffin, Fernando Lara, Chris Owens

STORY: A New Yorker relocating to New England with his family discovers that the house he’s moved into was the site of the grisly murders of a mother and her children at the hands of the husband, who survived – and may not be pleased that there is a new family living there.

PROSPECTS: Suburban horror with a stellar cast has been known to strike box office gold from time to time. Craig is one of the more bankable stars in Hollywood at the moment.

OBSTACLES: Might hit a little too close to home for more timid audiences, and one of the major twists in the plot may have been revealed in the trailer.

FACTOID: Craig won the leading role over Christian Bale and Brad Pitt.

SKYCLAD

DRIVE

RELEASE DATE: September 16, 2011

STUDIO: FilmDistrict

STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks

STORY: A Hollywood stunt driver moonlights on the side as a getaway car driver for hire. When he takes a job for the husband of a neighbor, things get dangerously out of control.

PROSPECTS: This is a brand new studio that’s already had some success with Insidious. There has been some enormous buzz on this since its debut at Cannes earlier this year. The action-packed trailer has only served to fuel appetite.

OBSTACLES: Sounds uncomfortably close to Jason Statham’s Transporter series. Also Gosling has yet to prove himself able to pull in decent box office numbers.

FACTOID: When original director Rob Marshall left, followed by original star Hugh Jackman, Gosling was brought on board and hand-picked Dutch director Nicholas Winding Refn to direct.

CHANTS

SEPTEMBER 2, 2011

SHARK NIGHT 3D (Relativity) finds a group of young people partying on a Louisiana salt water lake one weekend only to discover that the lake has been stocked with sharks. Hungry ones, too – and that can ruin anybody’s weekend.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Columbia) is a comedy starring Nick Swardson (30 Minutes or Less) as the hapless son of two 70s porn stars who seeks out his fortune in Hollywood’s adult film industry, armed with a tool that isn’t exactly the largest in the shed. Nor the sharpest, I’d wager.  WARRIOR (Lionsgate) pits two brothers against one another in the unforgiving arena of a Mixed Martial Arts championship match. You knew there’d have to be an MMA movie sooner or later.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2011

I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (Weinstein) stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a frazzled mom trying to balance career and family, which is not unlike juggling land mines while blindfolded. However, Miss Parker looks a lot better doing it than most. THE LION KING 3D (Disney) is a re-release of the beloved Disney classic in 3D and IMAX formats for the first time. Hakuna Matata that, jerkweed. RESTLESS (Sony Classics) is the latest from director Gus Van Sant and is based on the stage play “Of Winter and Water Birds” by Jason Lew. It’s about a couple of outsiders who become drawn to one another because of – or maybe despite – their many quirks. This one is getting a limited release so it won’t be playing everywhere. STRAW DOGS (Screen Gems) is a remake of the controversial 1971 Sam Peckinpah film and stars James Marsden and Kate Bosworth as a pacifist couple who move into a remote version and are eventually pushed further and further into violence.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

PEARL JAM TWENTY (Vinyl) is Cameron Crowe’s documentary on the 20 year career of Pearl Jam. They emerged from the Seattle grunge scene to outlive their own genre of music. Utilizing home video footage, concert appearances and rare interviews with the band, audiences will get a rare glimpse at one of America’s most acclaimed rock bands.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011

ABDUCTION (Lionsgate) stars Taylor Lautner from the Twilight series as a young man who discovers that the life he’s been leading is a lie when he discovers his picture on a missing child website. The more he digs into his past, the more danger he unearths and soon he is on the run from federal operatives and mysterious forces. DOLPHIN TALE 3D (Warner Brothers) is based on the true story of Winter the dolphin whose tale had to be amputated after she was caught in a lobster trap. Through the courage, inventiveness and resourcefulness of a team of volunteers, veterinarians and engineers, a prosthetic is constructed for Winter, allowing her to survive. KILLER ELITE (Open Road) pits Clive Owen against Jason Statham in a deadly battle for survival. Statham is an ex-Special Ops assassin lured out of retirement to rescue his mentor from captivity, but must first take down Owen’s elite team of assassins to get there. MONEYBALL (Columbia) stars Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who revolutionized the game of baseball a decade ago, using undervalued players to create a championship team.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

50/50 (Summit) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and with his good friend (Seth Rogen) decides to use humor to help him fight the disease. Anna Kendrick also stars. COURAGEOUS (Tri-Star) is about a group of law enforcement officers grappling with a tragedy that brings on a crisis of faith. WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER (20th Century Fox) features Anna Faris in a comedy about a woman who decides she will sleep with no more men until she finds out if one of the ones she’s been with previously – and there are a lot of them – might just be The One.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80 Million. Domestic Gross: $55.7M Total: $140.1M Verdict: Flop. THE AMERICAN (Focus) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $35.6M Total: $67.9M Verdict: Hit. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $72.5M Total: $134.8M Verdict: Made money. MACHETE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $10.5M. Domestic Gross: $26.6M Total: $44.1M Verdict: Hit. GOING THE DISTANCE (New Line) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $42.1M Verdict: Flop. THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) Budget: $37M. Domestic Gross: $92.2M Total: $154.0M Verdict: Hit. DEVIL (Universal) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $33.6M Total: $62.7M Verdict: Hit. YOU AGAIN (Disney) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $25.75M Total: $32.0M Verdict: Flop. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $60.1M Total: $296.2 Verdict: Blockbuster. EASY A (Screen Gems) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $58.4M Total: $75.0 Verdict: Blockbuster.

OCTOBER

October brings fall weather in more properly, as baseball begins its World Series, football is in the midst of their schedule and hockey and basketball are both getting their seasons underway. At the multiplex, the month is usually dominated by horror movies meant to compliment the Halloween festivities, although there are often some counterprogramming moves going on to get audiences that aren’t looking to be frightened into coronaries at the cinema.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

REAL STEEL

RELEASE DATE: October 7, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Olga Fonda, Karl Yune

STORY: A former boxer whose sport ceased to exist when robots took over boxing, makes a last chance comeback with a broken-down sparring ‘bot and the trust of a child motivating him.

PROSPECTS: In a fairly weak month of releases this one stands out as having the broadest audience appeal. Robots beating the crap out of each other have made box office gold for the Transformers series.

OBSTACLES: Jackman has yet to prove he can pull in an audience playing someone who isn’t Wolverine. Some snide remarks about Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots have been showing up in comments about the movie.

FACTOID: Based on a short story by The Twilight Zone author Richard Matheson.

DRUID RITES

FOOTLOOSE

RELEASE DATE: October 14, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Andie McDowell, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Ziah Colon, Ray McKinnon, SerDarius William Blain

STORY: A transplant from the big city to a small town fights an ordinance that bans dancing and loud music.

PROSPECTS: If this sounds familiar it’s because it is. Everyone over the age of 30 remembers the original movie with Kevin Bacon; the casting of “Dancing With the Stars” winner Julianne Hough is sure to bring some of the audience of that massive hit show.

OBSTACLES: Not sure a modern audience is going to go for what was a hit back in 1984; remember Fame?

FACTOID: The movie has been oft-delayed, with problems retaining directors (Kenny Ortega was at one time scheduled to direct this) and male leads (both Zac Efron and Chace Crawford came and went in the lead role).

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

RELEASE DATE: October 21, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Zayd Jaber, Katie Featherston (rumored), Molly Ephraim (rumored)

STORY: A prequel to the first two Paranormal Activity movies shows the curse as it originally took over the family.

PROSPECTS: With the Saw franchise at an end, this looks to take its place as the newest Halloween tradition. The first two movies made enormous profits off of tiny budgets and there’s no reason to think this won’t be the same.

OBSTACLES: Prequels aren’t the most popular things among moviegoers. Ask George Lucas.

FACTOID: The newest installment in the series is being directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the auteurs of Catfish.

SKYCLAD

ANONYMOUS

RELEASE DATE: October 28, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Derek Jacobi, Xavier Samuel, Rafe Spall.

STORY: One of the great debates of intellectuals is whether or not the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by the man named William Shakespeare. All sorts of theories have been advanced, ranging from Christopher Wren to Christopher Marlowe as the true authors. However, this movie posits a more sinister political agenda and machinations of the royal court.

PROSPECTS: A rare non-genre movie directed by Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow), the studio is taking a very low-key marketing approach. Fans of Shakespeare in Love might well go for this one.

OBSTACLES: The subject is a little highbrow for general audiences. No big stars to anchor this and Emmerich isn’t known for this kind of movie; whether or not he can pull it off is a mystery in itself.

FACTOID: Rafe Spall is the son of veteran character actor Timothy Spall (the Harry Potter films, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman).

CHANTS

OCTOBER 7, 2011

DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) is about a schoolgirl whose sexual misconduct lands her in a remedial class where she’s paired with the school loner in a parenting project. She convinces him to help her run off to California, which is probably not the best of ideas. In THE IDES OF MARCH (Columbia), Ryan Gosling stars as the press secretary for George Clooney’s presidential election team. He believes in the candidate’s cause but is torn between serving a candidate he believes in and one that he thinks can actually win. WANDERLUST (Universal) is the latest comedy to be produced by Judd Apatow and stars frequent Apatow collaborator Paul Rudd who is married to Jennifer Aniston. When they are forced for economic reasons to move into the apartment of Aniston’s brother in Atlanta, they take a detour to a small town name Elysium where clothing is optional and ideas are plentiful.

OCTOBER 14, 2011

THE BIG YEAR (20th Century Fox) stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as three rival birdwatchers determined to outdo one another in their year’s birding checklist. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Sony Classics) is the latest from legendary Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, and stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon determined to create a synthetic skin that would be burn resistant, something that might have saved his wife’s life. His zeal will lead him to some questionable moral decisions. THE THING (Universal) is a prequel of sorts to the 1982 John Carpenter movie, showing what happened at the Norwegian arctic camp that discovered the alien being and its space craft buried under the ice.

OCTOBER 21, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Fox Searchlight) is the sensation from Sundance now making an appearance as a limited release. It’s about a girl who escapes from a cult but finds that what is real and what is being generated from her paranoia isn’t always easy to tell aprart. MARGIN CALL (Roadside Attractions) charts the goings on in an investment bank during the 2008 financial crisis. Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Demi Moore star in this limited release. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Summit) is yet another screen version of the beloved Alexandre Dumas classic, with Christoph Waltz – the best baddie in the biz right now – assaying the role of Cardinal Richelieu.

OCTOBER 28, 2011

IN TIME (20th Century Fox) posits a future in which we stop aging at age 25, but in order to stay alive we must earn every additional minute. Time becomes a new currency, one which Justin Timberlake will go to extreme lengths to redistribute. In JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (Universal) Rowan Atkinson reprises his role as a suave but bumbling British superspy returns from retirement to save us all from a global conspiracy. THE RUM DIARY (FilmDistrict) is set for limited release and is based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Johnny Depp stars as a reporter who discovers a massive conspiracy in the Puerto Rico of the 1950s. SAFE (Lionsgate) is the latest Jason Statham action movie (no further plot details were available at present). 

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

HEREAFTER (Warner Brothers) Budget: $50 Million. Domestic Gross: $32.8M Total: $105.2M Verdict: Broke Even. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $97.0M Total: $224.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. SECRETARIAT (Disney) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $59.7M Total: $60.3M Verdict: Flop. BURIED (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.0M Total: $19.2M Verdict: Profitable. RED (Summit) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $90.4M Total: $199.0 Verdict: Hit. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $84.8M Total: $177.5 Verdict: Blockbuster. SAW 3D (Lionsgate) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $45.7M Total: $136.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. JACKASS 3D (Paramount) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $117.2M Total: $170.3M Verdict: Blockbuster. LET ME IN (Overture) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $12.1M Total: $24.2M Verdict: Flop.

NOVEMBER

Thanksgiving weekend is a major Hollywood seasonal barometer, and usually there are several movies that Hollywood has high hopes for box office success. This is usually when we start to see some of the more anticipated movies, usually with at least one major blockbuster arriving before Turkey Day.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2011

STUDIO: Summit Entertainment

STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Maggie Grace, Lee Pace, Elizabeth Reaser, Rami Malek

STORY: Teen romance. Werewolves. Vampires that sparkle. Soulful looks. Shirtless hunks. Brooding Byron-like bloodsuckers. Do they really need a plot? Would anyone care if they didn’t have one?

PROSPECTS: Like the Harry Potter saga, the final book in the series is being split up by the studio so that they can make twice the oodles of dollars they’re going to make with the movie. As with all of the other movies in the saga, this is going to do gangbusters the first weekend and then quickly lose steam en route to ginormous box office numbers.

OBSTACLES: A very narrow audience base limits the box office appeal, and this is a movie whose fans lose interest quickly. If it doesn’t have a spectacular opening weekend, it might be in trouble.

FACTOID: Sofia Coppola expressed interest in directing this but only wanted to commit to one of the two movies and the studio wanted to have the same director for both movies so that they could be filmed back-to-back in order to cut expenses.

DRUID RITES

THE MUPPETS

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2011

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Zach Galifianakis, Kathy Griffin, Ricky Gervais, Emily Blunt

STORY: The World’s Biggest Muppets Fans try to reunite the Muppets for the World’s Biggest Muppet Telethon ever when a greedy oilman wants to raze the Muppets Theater to get at the oil beneath it. The trouble is getting the Muppets, who have all moved on to new lives, to agree to it.

PROSPECTS: The Muppets are cultural icons who appeal to a whole bunch of different generations of kids who are grown up now and have lots of disposable income of their own.

OBSTACLES: The Muppets have been out of the public eye for much of the 21st century and one wonders if they have enough cachet to appeal to a whole new generation.

FACTOID: This is the first commercially released Muppets movie not to feature Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson as “muppeteers.”

HUGO

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer

STORY: A young boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station discovers a mysterious heart-shaped lock which may hold the key to a mystery that has already cost him his father.

PROSPECTS: Reading the story summary would you have guessed Martin Scorsese? Me neither…but anything the master sets his sights on is bound to be quality work.

OBSTACLES: Scorsese directing young adult fantasy? No guns, no mobsters, no De Niro? Is the public ready for this?

FACTOID: This is the first feature film by Scorsese in seven years in which Leonardo di Caprio didn’t star.

SKYCLAD

THE IMMORTALS

RELEASE DATE: November 11, 2011

STUDIO: Relativity

STARRING: Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Isabel Lucas, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, John Hurt, Mickey Rourke

STORY: The legend of Theseus, who stands up against a power-mad Greek king in a war that may signal not only the end of mankind but the end of the Gods as well.

PROSPECTS: This will be a preview of Cavill’s much anticipated turn as Superman in next year’s Man of Steel feature. Tarsem Singh is a visually arresting director.

OBSTACLES: Singh has been guilty of too much style over substance in his films and has yet to really knock one out of the park. Cavill as a lead is an unknown quantity.

FACTOID: The movie was initially titled Dawn of War before being changed to War of the Gods with the final name finally chosen last year during filming.

CHANTS

NOVEMBER 4, 2011

A VERY HAROLD AND 3D KUMAR CHRISTMAS (New Line) features America’s favorite stoners trying to save the holidays after accidentally killing Santa and lighting Harold’s Christmas tree on fire. Another ill-advised journey to New York becomes necessary to find the only man that can save them…Neil Patrick Harris! PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks) is a spin-off from the Shrek series in which the beloved feline’s story is told, with one of his greatest pre-Shrek adventures – how Puss stole the goose that lays the golden eggs. TOWER HEIST (Universal) stars Ben Stiller and an all-star cast including Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick as a group of staff members at an upscale posh Manhattan apartment complex who resolve to steal back their life savings from a Bernie Madoff-like financier who absconded with their pension funds.

NOVEMBER 11, 2011

11-11-11 (Not Available) is a horror film from Saw series director Darren Lynn Bousman about an author who heads to Spain to be with his dying father, whose impending fate seems wrapped up in the number 11, a coincidence that turns far more sinister than you can imagine. JACK AND JILL (Columbia) stars Adam Sandler in dual roles as a successful ad executive and his twin sister who drives him crazy. She’s the one who always turns up at Thanksgiving and turns everyone’s life upside-down. Don’t you have a relative like that? J. EDGAR (Warner Brothers) is the story of the notorious FBI director who became one of the most powerful men on Earth. Leonardo di Caprio stars in the title role and Clint Eastwood directs this film which opens in a limited run two days before it opens everywhere.

NOVEMBER 18, 2011

HAPPY FEET TWO (Warner Brothers) carries on with the series. This one focuses on the son of Mumbles, the hero and dancin’ fool of the first movie. Here, his son turns out to have two left feet, not something you want to have when a crisis is hitting Antarctica that will require everyone’s help. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Focus) is an adaptation of the John Le Carre spy novel with an all-star cast that includes Oscar winner Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Hardy.  

NOVEMBER 23, 2011

A DANGEROUS METHOD (Sony Classics) explores the real-life love triangle between Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Freud’s patient Sabrina Spielrein. The schism that rises between them would eventually give rise to modern psychiatry. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Sony Animation) comes from the people who gave us Wallace and Gromit, and is about Santa’s younger son . He’s kind of a screw-up and in fact his love for the holiday is actually turning out to jeopardize Christmas entirely. THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight) stars George Clooney as an indifferent husband and father who must step up to the plate when his wife is critically injured in a boating accident. This is opening in limited release and is the latest from director Alexander Payne, who also gave us Sideways. PIRANHA 3DD (Dimension) brings our razor-toothed fishy friends to a waterpark. More blood, more boobs…and all in the magic of 3D.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (Warner Brothers) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $295.0Total: $955.4M Verdict: Blockbuster. MEGAMIND (DreamWorks) Budget: $130M. Domestic Gross: $148.4M Total: $321.9M Verdict: Made Money. BURLESQUE (Screen Gems) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $39.4M Total: $89.5M Verdict: Flop. LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $32.4M Total: $102.8M Verdict: Hit. TANGLED (Disney) Budget: $260M. Domestic Gross: $200.8M Total: $590.7M Verdict: Broke Even. THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $138.8M Total: $414.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. DUE DATE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $100.5M Total: $211.8M Verdict: Hit. MORNING GLORY (Paramount) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $30.0M Total: $58.8M Verdict: Flop. UNSTOPPABLE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $100M Domestic Gross: $81.6M Total: $167.8M Verdict: Flop.

DECEMBER

The month of December brings fierce competition for the box office dollar, as Hollywood usually releases their big guns. Christmas Day is almost always a big one for movie releases although with it falling on a Saturday this year, there is far more activity going on the preceding Wednesday. Nothing goes with Holiday shopping like an evening at the movie theater as a way to blow off the stress of hitting the malls. Studios are also very well aware that they have to release their films at least in New York and Los Angeles before the end of the month to qualify for Oscar contention, and some of these will hit general release in January.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Lea Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Vladimir Mashkov, Anil Kapoor, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames

STORY: The IMF is closed down after a bombing of the Kremlin is blamed on them. Ethan Hunt and his team must go deep underground to find out what really happened and clear the IMF’s name before they are captured and executed as terrorists.

PROSPECTS: The first three movies in the series have all been big box office bonanzas. This is the closest to an American James Bond as we’ve ever gotten and while the movies don’t have the suave coolness of either Bond or the original TV series, the quick pacing and spectacular action scenes pack in the crowds. Producer J.J. Abrams is a hot commodity right now.

OBSTACLES: Cruise no longer has the box office draw he once did, and is getting a little long in the tooth for these sorts of roles besides.

FACTOID: Director Brad Bird is better known as a director of animated features for Pixar such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

DRUID RITES

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

RELEASE DATE: December 23, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Cary Elwes, Alex Hyde-White

STORY: Teen reporter Tintin finds himself having the adventure of a lifetime when he discovers a map to a lost  treasure ship.

PROSPECTS: Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg together? Talk about a dream team! The Tintin comics by Herge are beloved the world over.

OBSTACLES: Motion capture has simply failed to catch on. Tintin is not a well-known commodity inside the United States.

FACTOID: Although the movie once carried the subtitle “The Curse of the Unicorn,” it is actually an amalgam of four different Tintin stories.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Eddie Marsan, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly

STORY: The great detective goes up against his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty in a lethal game of murder and intrigue. Holmes must find a way to win this game or the very course of history may be changed.

PROSPECTS: Downey is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. The first Holmes opus was one of the highest grossing movies of 2009. Adding the Swedish star of the Millennium trilogy (i.e. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) adds cachet.

OBSTACLES: I don’t get a sense that there is a great deal of anticipation for this movie the way I did with the first one. Movies that mess with history can really turn audiences off.

FACTOID: Downey and Harris both appeared together in the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Embeth Davidtz, Joel Kinnaman, Goran Visnjic, Geraldine James, Julian Sands

STORY: A disgraced journalist preparing to begin a jail sentence after being convicted of libel undertakes the investigation of the disappearance of a young girl forty years earlier at the behest of her Uncle, the head of a powerful industrial family in Sweden. The journalist is aided by a computer hacker and security specialist who has quite a few skeletons in her own closet..

PROSPECTS: The books and resulting films were wildly popular in Europe and critically acclaimed here. Given some of the twisted aspects of the plot, David Fincher is the perfect choice to direct..

OBSTACLES: The book is more raw than American audiences are used to, with a graphic rape and twisted familial relationships that push the boundaries. How these will translate to an American holiday audience is a bit of a gamble.

FACTOID: The stars of the Swedish version of the film, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, are appearing in competing films opening this month (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol respectively). Interestingly enough, both films are sequels.

SKYCLAD

THE IRON LADY

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2011

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Roger Allam, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Susan Brown

STORY: The story of Margaret Thatcher, the steely British Prime Minister of the 1980s, comes to life on the screen.

PROSPECTS: Streep’s performance is said to be Oscar-worthy. Last year, Weinstein opened The King’s Speech in a limited run (as they are here) and it didn’t do too badly.

OBSTACLES: Does anyone really want to see a movie about Margaret Thatcher? Director Phyllida Lloyd is better known for directing musicals and stage productions. Is she up for the challenge of a major Oscar contender?

FACTOID: To prepare for the role, Streep attended a session of the House of Commons, visited Lady Thatcher’s childhood home and spoke with her daughter.

CHANTS

DECEMBER 2, 2011

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) is about a mother (Tilda Swinton) trying to cope after her 15-year-old son commits a heinous act. While this is currently listed as a wide release, please note that this particular distributor has never opened a film in anything other than a limited release so do take that into account. CORIOLANUS (Weinstein), opening in limited release, is an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and stars and is directed by Ralph Fiennes.

DECEMBER 9, 2011

NEW YEAR’S EVE (New Line) is a companion piece to Valentine’s Day. Like in that holiday-themed romantic comedy, a number of different characters prepare for the oncoming celebration, only this time in New York City and in particular Times Square. An all-star cast headlines.  THE SITTER (20th Century Fox) will remind some of Adventures in Babysitting as a college dropout slacker, living at home with mom, is talked into babysitting a trio of wild, spunky kids next door. The aforementioned slacker is played by Jonah Hill.

DECEMBER 16, 2011

YOUNG ADULT (Paramount) is the latest from screenwriter Diablo Cody. Here, a successful writer of young adult fiction returns home to relive her glory days and maybe, persuade the happily married love of her life to turn his attentions to her. This is opening in limited release the previous weekend. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – CHIPWRECKED (20th Century Fox) is yet another reason I’m so very grateful our son is grown and childless for the moment. CARNAGE (Sony Classics) opens in limited release. It is the newest film from legendary director Roman Polanski and depicts two sets of parents whose children got into an altercation, getting together to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, events spiral out of control and descend into something more horrible.

DECEMBER 23, 2011

IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (FilmDistrict) is directed by Angelina Jolie and is an unblinking, unromantic view of the Bosnian War of the 1990s and is enacted entirely with local performers. WE BOUGHT A ZOO (20th Century Fox) is a true account of how a family bought a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside. It’s a difficult enough task to refurbish the zoo for re-opening that becomes doubly hard when the mother contracts brain cancer. Matt Damon stars.

DECEMBER 25, 2011

THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit) stars Emile Hirsch as an American tourist trapped in Moscow when an alien invasion of strange electric creatures decimates the city. Timur Bekmambetov, the visionary Russian director of Wanted and Night Watch, produced.

DECEMBER 28, 2011

WAR HORSE (DreamWorks) chronicles the adventures of a horse during World War I as he changes the lives of all he encounters, from a trainer on a bucolic English farm to an English cavalry officer, a German soldier, a French farmer and his granddaughter. Steven Spielberg directs.

DECEMBER 30, 2011

A SEPARATION (Sony Classics), opening in limited release, examines an Iranian couple who are torn apart by the strife in the country and by the grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TRON: LEGACY (Disney) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $172.1M Total: $400.1M Verdict: Made a little money. THE FIGHTER (Paramount) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $93.6M Total: $129.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $112M. Domestic Gross: $42.8M Total: $237.4M Verdict: Broke Even. SOMEWHERE (Focus) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $1.8M Total: $13.4M Verdict: Broke Even. TRUE GRIT (Paramount) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $171.1M Total: $250.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. LITTLE FOCKERS (Universal) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $148.4M Total: $310.7M Verdict: Hit. THE TOURIST (Columbia) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $67.6M Total: $278.4M Verdict: Made Money. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (Fox Walden) Budget: $155M. Domestic Gross: $104.4M Total: $415.7 Verdict: Made Money. HOW DO YOU KNOW (Columbia) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $30.2M Total: $48.7M Verdict: Flop. YOGI BEAR (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $100.3M Total: $201.6M Verdict: Made Money.

So that’s our fall preview. As you can see, there are plenty of different choices competing for your entertainment dollar, so choose wisely. As always, be aware that release dates are subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before going out to the multiplex. So even though 2011 is grinding to a close, there are some interesting projects going on scheduled for release next year and you can check out some of them in our 2012 preview, due out at the end of December. Thanks for reading and see you at the movies!

2011 Summer Movie Preview


Usually, this is where I wax poetic on the nature of summer and the joys of sunshine and lollipops, but this is different. This is serious.

Let’s be clear here. This is threatening to be the most amazing summer in the history of the movies. There are more potential $300 million box office films here than…well, ever. We’re talking sequels of blockbusters, highly anticipated franchise makers and event movies of the highest order.

The 2010 summer was disappointing to say the least. While Inception and Toy Story 3 did extremely well, there were an amazing number of flops and movies that didn’t live up to expectations both in terms of quality and box office. The year overall was disappointing in terms of box office but also in attendance. Bumps from 3D and IMAX upcharges helped the bottom line somewhat, but the audience is shrinking due in large part to competition from internet streaming and on-demand video. The first part of this year has continued that trend up to the point this was being written.

The movies will be coming at us from comic book superheroes and bestselling young adult novels. We’ll see comedies, science fiction and action movies cheek by jowl with romantic comedies, horror flicks and adventure movies.

Marvel and DC Comics will be well represented with Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern. Hollywood’s sequelitis remains strong with Hangover II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Final Destination 5. Remakes will abound with Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night 3D. We’ll have science fiction (Cowboys and Aliens), horror (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), fantasy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and romantic comedies (Larry Crowne, Something Borrowed) up the yin yang.

We will be seeing (or hearing) such stars as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Steve Carell, Kevin James, Jodie Foster, Cameron Diaz, Mel Gibson, Owen Wilson, Shia LaBeouf,  Jack Black, Colin Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston displaying their craft either vocally (in animated features) or the old fashioned way onscreen.

So if you have Crazy Stupid Love for the movies, tell your Horrible Bosses or your Bad Teacher you’ve been Kidnapped and take a day at the multiplex. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark while contemplating The Tree of Life. Better still tell them you’re going to Monte Carlo with The Zookeeper to capture Mr. Popper’s Penguins on Super 8 for display at the Cannes Film Festival next year. Hmmm…Maybe not; that kind of stuff is just for Beginners.

MAY

The summer season kicks off with the first big blockbusters and runs through the big Memorial Day weekend. Some of the biggest movies of the year are settled here, looking to be the first to get the big summer box office bite and get their season off to a roaring start. May has become Marvel month – nearly every year for the past several, a movie from Marvel Studios featuring one of their comic book icons has come out in May.

May 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

RELEASE DATE: May 20, 2011

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Judi Dench, Roger Allam, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards, Gemma Ward

STORY: Captain Jack Sparrow has a map to the fabled Fountain of Youth. In order to get there, he will need to get through the English government, the machinations of Angelica, a woman with whom he shares a past, and the legendary Blackbeard, most feared of all the pirates.

PROSPECTS: Depp has made Sparrow an iconic figure in the 21st century and this has become one of Disney’s biggest moneymaking franchises. It has been four years since the last movie and absence generally makes the heart grow fonder.

OBSTACLES: This is the first film in the series that wasn’t directed by Gore Verbinski. The last movie was panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Depp received a letter from a schoolgirl asking him to help her start a “mutiny” in her classroom. He showed up at her school in full Jack Sparrow regalia and talked her out of it.

HANGING TEN

THOR

RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Samuel L. Jackson, Adriana Barraza

STORY: Thor, the arrogant and prideful Norse God of Thunder, reignites an ancient and devastating war through his recklessness. For his lack of humility, he is cast out of Asgard by his angry father Odin, the Allfather. He is sent to live amongst the humans and there discovers not only what true heroism is but what true love is. This will be put to the test when his wicked half-brother Loki sends down a monster so heinous and so powerful that the entire world is threatened.

PROSPECTS: While Marvel fans haven’t warmed to this as much as other Marvel films, there is nonetheless anticipation building for it since Marvel first announced it nearly three years ago.

OBSTACLES: This might be the toughest sell of all the Marvel heroes to a general audience.

FACTOID: Chris Hemsworth won the role over his brother Liam.

THE HANGOVER PART II

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Gallifinakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Liam Neeson, Bryan Callen, Jamie Chung, Sondra Currie

STORY: The boys are celebrating the impending nuptials of Stu in Thailand. After what happened in Las Vegas, they opt for a bachelor brunch – sedate and well-planned in advance. As you can guess, it turns into an absolute disaster; best laid plans and all.

PROSPECTS: Not only was the first movie a big hit, it was also a comedy classic. This is one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, particularly by comedy fanatics.

OBSTACLES: Can they capture lightning in a bottle a second time?

FACTOID: Mel Gibson was initially to have a cameo in the movie as the tattoo artist but protests from the cast and crew put the kibosh on the idea; Cooper got his pal Neeson, with whom he worked on The A-Team, to do the part instead.

KUNG FU PANDA 2

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh

STORY: A new villain has unearthed an unstoppable weapon that threatens to wipe out China and destroy Kung Fu forever. It is up to the Dragon Warrior – Po the Panda and his friends the Furious Five to journey across China and prevent this from happening.

PROSPECTS: Animated features, particularly the well-hyped ones as this one is, have become money-making machines for the studios. The first KFP was a major hit for DreamWorks.

OBSTACLES: I don’t know. Every kid on the planet gets grounded for the summer?

FACTOID: This is director Jennifer Yuh’s first feature-length direction effort. She previously worked as a story artist on the first Kung Fu Panda as well as other animated films.

ROGUE WAVE

THE TREE OF LIFE

RELEASE DATE: May 27, 2011

STUDIO: Fox Searchlight

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Hunter McCracken, Dustin Allen

STORY: The life of a Midwestern family from the 1950s through modern times is centered on the relationship between eldest son Jack and his sometimes mercurial father.

PROSPECTS: The trailer showed some stunning imagery that has elements of fantasy and science fiction in the mix. Star power of Pitt and Penn doesn’t hurt.  

OBSTACLES: Director Terrence Malick can be an acquired taste. The trailer also reminded me of The Fountain whose box office fate was not a good one.

FACTOID: Originally, Heath Ledger was cast in the role eventually played by Brad Pitt, but passed away before shooting started.

SURF’S UP

May 6, 2011

MOTHER’S DAY (Gigapix) occurs when a sadistic mom and her two bank robbing sons take over a birthday party held at their former home inhabited by new residents who took over when it was foreclosed upon. SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Brothers) stars Ginnifer Goodwin as a maid-of-honor whose best friend is marrying her old flame. However, after a night of drinking and partying, the maid of honor sleeps with the groom…which is a serious breach of etiquette I do believe. Kate Hudson and John Krasinski also star. JUMPING THE BROOM (TriStar) is an ensemble romantic comedy in which two families from opposing economic backgrounds clash at a wedding between the two families. In the cast is Angela Bassett, Mike Epps, Paula Patton, Gary Dourdan and Loretta Devine.

May 13, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS (Universal) stars Kristen Wiig as a maid-of-honor to her best friend who must navigate the challenging waters of modern matrimony with a gaggle of often contentious and occasionally unusual bridesmaids to lend support or otherwise. Fellow SNL veteran Maya Rudolph co-stars in this Judd Apatow-produced comedy. THE FIRST GRADER (BBC Films) is based on a true story about an 84-year-old man in Kenya who decides to take advantage of a free education the new government is offering. This sparks outcry in the community despite the fact he fought for Kenya’s liberation and was incarcerated in a prison camp because of it. This is playing in limited release only. PRIEST (Screen Gems) envisions a future where men have triumphed over vampires thanks to the Church and her Warrior Priests. When one discovers a new vampire army is being amassed, he must fight not only them but the Church itself to save his niece. Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Christopher Plummer star.

May 20, 2011

THE LION OF JUDAH (Animated Family Films) is a Christian animated feature about a stable full of barnyard animals who seek the King who was born in that very stable thirty years previously to intercede on behalf of a lamb who is to be sacrificed at the village festival..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

IRON MAN 2 (Paramount) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $312.4M Total: $622.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER (DreamWorks) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $238.7M Total: $752.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $90.8M Total: $335.2M Verdict: Flop.

BABIES (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $7.3M Total: $9.5M Verdict: Broke Even.

ROBIN HOOD (Universal) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $105.3M Total: $321.7M Verdict: Flop.

SEX AND THE CITY 2 (New Line) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $94.4M Total: $288.4M Verdict: Made Money.

MACGRUBER (Universal) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $8.5M Total: $9.3M Verdict: Flop.

LETTERS TO JULIET (Summit) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $53.0M Total: $79.2M Verdict: Made Money.

JUST WRIGHT (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $21.5M Total: $21.6 Verdict: Made Money.

JUNE

June doesn’t always have the big super blockbusters that the months preceding and following do, but this is the month Pixar traditionally releases their annual movie and this year once again is no exception. With most kids getting out of school at this point, family films become more plentiful this month – a trend that will continue up through Labor Day.

June 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

GREEN LANTERN

RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Tenney, Jay O. Sanders

STORY: A brash test pilot is given immeasurable power from a cosmic ring wielded by a force of knights dedicated to protecting the universe.

PROSPECTS: The buzz has been huge on this ever since it was announced. With new Batman and Superman films in the wing for 2012, this is the movie that the suits at DC are hoping will propel their properties into motion picture profitability much as Marvel has become a box office draw.

OBSTACLES: The cosmic setting for the Green Lantern is not unlike that of Thor which opens a month earlier. GL is less known than properties like Wonder Woman and The Flash and the lack of familiarity for non-comic book fans might hurt it at the box office.

FACTOID: The screenwriters were inspired by the comic book arc “Emerald Dawn” which explained the origins of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in greater detail than was done in the comics previously.

HANG TEN

CARS 2

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Disney*Pixar

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Vanessa Redgrave, John Ratzenberger

STORY: As Lightning McQueen is participating in the prestigious World Grand Prix, Mater is getting haplessly involved in a spy plot.

PROSPECTS: C’mon, it’s Pixar. They could probably make an entertaining movie out of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

OBSTACLES: Most of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs from the original are gone, including the late Paul Newman who in many ways was the soul of the first movie..

FACTOID: This will be the first John Lasseter-directed Pixar film not to have a score by Randy Newman.

SUPER 8

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Zach Mills, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths

STORY: Young amateur filmmakers capture a train wreck near their Ohio home in 1979 and soon realize that something far more sinister may be afoot.

PROSPECTS: Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams together? Think of E.T. meets Cloverdale and if that’s indeed an accurate summary this could be the biggest non-surprise surprise hit of the summer.

OBSTACLES: There are some derivative elements in the plot summaries I’ve seen.

FACTOID: This was the first Summer 2011 to get a teaser trailer, shown way back in the summer of 2010.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz

STORY: The origins of the Xavier School are explored and the story of how Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto) went from being close friends to mortal enemies.

PROSPECTS: An all-new X-Men with an all-new cast and director Matthew Vaughn at the helm. While the buzz here isn’t as intense as it is with some of the other superhero films, the trailer did get some fanboy praise. Fox is betting that fans will connect with the younger actors in the X-Men roles.

OBSTACLES: The last film in the series was excoriated by fans, critics and box office alike although the Wolverine stand-alone did enough business to warrant a sequel.

FACTOID: Bryan Singer, who was on board the first two X-Men films, returns to the franchise as a producer.

ROGUE WAVE

A BETTER LIFE

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Summit

STARRING: Demian Bechir, Jose Julian, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio, Carlos Linares, Nancy Lenehan, Isabella Rae Thomas

STORY: A father tries to provide opportunities for his son that he himself never had, while attempting to keep him away from immigration officials and East L.A. gangs.

PROSPECTS: The trailer looks very stark and gritty; this could be one of those sleeper films that makes a splash come awards season.

OBSTACLES: No stars and a mostly Hispanic cast are going to be tough sells for theater owners who have blockbuster summer releases taking up screens.

FACTOID: Director Chris Weitz previously directed About a Boy and Twilight: New Moon.

SURF’S UP

June 3, 2011

BEGINNERS (Focus) stars Ewan McGregor as a man who has never been able to commit to a relationship finally finding one worth committing to – which brings up memories of his late father (Christopher Plummer) who after his wife of 44 years passed away, came out of the closet to lead a fulfilled life. Better late than never. SUBMARINE (Weinstein) is an off-beat coming-of-age film in limited release that wowed audiences at Sundance earlier this year. A teen yearns to lose his virginity and get his parents crumbling marriage back in order, two tall orders indeed.

June 10, 2011

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER (Relativity) is based on the children’s book series and features a bored young girl who enlists her feisty Aunt Opal into helping her have the best summer vacation ever. TROLL HUNTER (Magnet) is a movie I saw at the Florida Film Festival (see review here) that has elements of The Blair Witch Project with a sense of whimsy as a group of student filmmakers follow a government-sanctioned hunter who is authorized to keep trolls from leaving their designated areas in the wild.

June 15, 2011

KIDNAPPED (IFC) shows a family’s bickering in their new condo shattered by the arrival of three masked men demanding their valuables and that they empty their bank accounts. Although this is listed as a wide release, chances are it will only see a limited distribution.

June 17, 2011

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (20th Century Fox) is based on a classic children’s book about a man who dreams of exploring the Arctic writing actual explorers, one of whom impulsively sends him a penguin. Once the penguin turns out to be a pregnant she and gives birth to a dozen beaked birds, Mr. Popper determines to train them to dance and take them out on the road as performing animals.

June 24, 2011

BAD TEACHER (Columbia) stars Cameron Diaz as a less-than-enthusiastic teacher who wants to find a rich husband. When the opportunity presents itself, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants – including actually teaching her students. CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (Abramorama) chronicles the time just after the late night talk show host parted ways with NBC and took his act on the road, which turned out to be as cathartic for him as it was entertaining for his audiences.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TOY STORY 3 (Disney*Pixar) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $415.0M Total: $1.1B Verdict: Blockbuster.

KNIGHT AND DAY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $117M. Domestic Gross: $76.4M Total: $261.9M Verdict: Made Money.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (Summit) Budget: $68M. Domestic Gross: $300.5M Total: $698.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

JONAH HEX (Warner Brothers) Budget: $47M. Domestic Gross: $10.6M Total: $10.9 Verdict: Flop.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $61.0M Total: $91.4 Verdict: Made Money. 

THE KARATE KID (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $359.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.

GROWN UPS (Columbia) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $162.0M Total: $271.4M Verdict: Hit.

MARMADUKE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $33.6M Total: $83.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.

WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions) Budget: $2M. Domestic Gross: $6.5M Total: $12.5M Verdict: Hit.

JULY

With the Independence Day holiday weekend kicking off the month, July is almost always one of the most anticipated months of the studio schedule. Smack dab in the middle of the summer, the schedule this month is normally packed with some of the year’s most anticipated movies and this year that trend will most certainly continue, as you can see below.

July 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Julie Walters

STORY: The confrontation between Lord Voldemort and Harry finally occurs and the Wizarding World will never be the same. Heroes will rise…and heroes will fall.

PROSPECTS: It is inconceivable that this won’t blow effortlessly past the $300M mark. It is the last entry in a franchise that has spanned ten years and eight films; many have grown up with these characters, making this one of the summer’s definite must-sees.

OBSTACLES: There aren’t many, but the first part of the movie was dark and depressing; some might be discouraged from seeing the second.  

FACTOID: Most of the events of this movie including the climactic battle scene take place over the course of a single day.

HANG TEN

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey

STORY: The Space Race of the 1960s turns out to have been motivated by the discovery of Transformers technology on the moon.  

PROSPECTS: The first two Transformer movies have generated well over a billion dollars in domestic box office alone. The fanboy base for these movies is still hella strong.

OBSTACLES: The last movie was roundly panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Gabriela Cedillo, an extra on the set during filming in Chicago, was critically injured when rigging from a snapped cable crashed through the windshield of the car she was driving and struck her in the head. The studio made arrangements to pay for her medical care.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera, Abigail Spencer

STORY: A mysterious stranger with no memory of his past and a strange shackle on his wrist may hold the key to survival for a town in the 19th century Arizona territory that is being attacked by aliens from outer space – which may be the key to understanding why they are so distrustful of foreigners.

PROSPECTS: A terrific trailer has started Internet buzz circulating, and the cast is a winner. Who wouldn’t want to see James Bond and Indiana Jones in the Old West facing down aliens?

OBSTACLES: The title inspired guffaws often when I saw the trailer at the multiplex. Despite a big time behind-the-scenes talent list (director Jon Favreau, producers Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmann and Damon Lindelof) the property is still based on a fairly obscure graphic novel.

FACTOID: This is the second time Harrison Ford has played opposite James Bond – the first was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with Sean Connery in 1989.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Neil McDonough, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Derek Luke

STORY: Steve Rogers, the original 97-lb weakling, volunteers for the Army at the beginning of World War II only to be rejected and humiliated. Undeterred he volunteers for a secret government project to create a super soldier, one who will lead the Americans to victory over the Nazis  – unaware the Third Reich has a super soldier of their own.

PROSPECTS: A very nice looking trailer places the Marvel Universe in a location they haven’t been to heretofore – at war. Director Joe Johnston has been successful with period comic book fare before (see The Rocketeer).

OBSTACLES: Cap as a superhero is a little bit on the bland side, much like Superman. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers come up with a way of making him less of a recruiting poster and more relatable to audiences.

FACTOID: This will be the fifth movie based on a comic book for Chris Evans, including both Fantastic Four movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Losers.

ROGUE WAVE

HORRIBLE BOSSES

RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Charlie Day

STORY: Three friends with overbearing bosses who are unable to quit their jobs and must simply take the abuse concoct a plan with the help of a fast-talking con man to rid themselves of their nemeses permanently. The problem with the best-laid plans is that they’re only as good as the minds dreaming them up.

PROSPECTS: A hysterical trailer and the buzz going around is that this might be as good if not better as The Hangover. This could well be the type of role that will do the same for Bateman as The Hangover did for Bradley Cooper.

OBSTACLES: It’s flying underneath the radar to a very large degree. In an economic climate where so many are unemployed, there might be some push back for a comedy about people who hate their jobs.

FACTOID: Director Seth Gordon is best known for his documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

SURF’S UP

July 1, 2011

LARRY CROWNE (Universal) is about a man who is downsized and decides to attend the local community college to fill up some time. Joining a cast of eclectic oddballs (doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a network TV show?) he finds the last thing he expected to – love. With Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starring, this is probably a slam dunk too. MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) finds four high school grads in a case of mistaken identity while on a graduation trip to Paris being given the opportunity to live the high life. I’m just surprised this didn’t make it to ABC Family.

July 8, 2011

ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) stars Kevin James as a zookeeper much beloved by his animals and who has absolutely no luck with the ladies, so he decides to leave the zoo for a more glamorous job. The animals decide to take matters into their own hands…er, paws.

July 15, 2011

WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) returns Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood into a traditional animated style as they try to find Eeyore a new tail. It looks awfully charming and it would certainly be a shame if it got lost amid all the high-profile releases of the summer.

July 22, 2011

In FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) two people running from bad relationships decide to make it purely physical despite an obvious attraction to one another. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star. ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Searchlight) posits the discovery of a second Earth where all of us have doppelgangers. On this Earth, a young physics student and a well-known composer are bound by a terrible tragedy. This Sundance favorite is due for limited release.

July 24, 2011

LIFE IN ONE DAY (National Geographic) is the results of a call for ordinary people to submit videos of what was going on in their lives and around the world on a specific day – July 24, 2010. Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald assembled the footage.

July 29, 2011

CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers) stars Steve Carrell as a 40ish husband and father whose good life disintegrates when his wife asks for a divorce and cheats on him. A friend of his, a playa in the prime of his career, takes him on as a wingman and protégé, leading to unexpected results. THE SMURFS (Columbia) brings the blue-skinned Belgian creatures (who always reminded me of the Keebler Elves) to the big screen as an evil wizard chases them out of their village and into Central Park in New York. This live-action/animated hybrid is being filmed in 3D, yet another reason for you to have nightmares about little blue things lurking in the dark.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

INCEPTION (Warner Brothers) Budget: $160 Million. Domestic Gross: $292.6M Total: $825.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

DESPICABLE ME (Universal) Budget: $69M. Domestic Gross: $251.5M Total: $543.1M Verdict: Blockbuster.

THE SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE (Disney) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $63.2M Total: $215.3M Verdict: Flop.

CYRUS (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $7.5M Total: $9.9M Verdict: Flop.

SALT (Columbia) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $118.3M Total: $293.5M Verdict: Made Money.

PREDATORS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $52.0M Total: $127.2M Verdict: Hit.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (Paramount) Budget: $99M. Domestic Gross: $73.0M Total: $86.4M Verdict: Flop.

CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $85M Domestic Gross: $43.6M Total: $112.5M Verdict: Flop.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (Paramount) Budget: $150M Domestic Gross: $131.8M Total: $319.7M Verdict: Broke Even.

AUGUST

The last month of the summer season tapers off as the heat keeps people at the beach or indoors, but there is almost one or two last gasp blockbusters. Horror movies seem to do really well this month, as the final days of summer are replete with leftover blockbusters from the months before and less hyped movies hoping to sneak up on audiences and win the reward of box office gold.

August 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

RELEASE DATE: August 5, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson

STORY: Scientists searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s instead discover their formula mutates the ape test subjects, granting them intelligence.

PROSPECTS: The last film in the series made $360M worldwide, so there is certainly an audience out there.

OBSTACLES: This film is minus Tim Burton, Mark Wahlberg or any real name star, although Franco has a certain amount of name value following his Oscar nomination this year.

FACTOID: Originally conceived as a sequel to Planet of the Apes (2001) but when director Tim Burton and star Mark Wahlberg passed, the studio decided to reboot the franchise and lay the foundation for future sequels.

HANG TEN

CONAN THE BARBARIAN

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Said Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Bob Sapp

STORY: A barbarian from the lost tribes of Cimmeria must save all of Hyboria from a supernatural evil, fighting evil wizards, fearsome monsters and fierce warriors along the way.

PROSPECTS: Director Marcus Nispel has had some B-movie successes. This is the franchise that established Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action star 30 years ago.

OBSTACLES: The works of Robert E. Howard haven’t really had a great deal of box office success to date. Momoa is as unknown as Schwarzenegger was but is he as good?

FACTOID: Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, previously voiced the barbarian in videogames and direct-to-video animated features.

FRIGHT NIGHT

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Anton Yelchin, Colin Ferrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing

STORY: A high school senior discovers that his next door neighbor is a vampire – and nobody will believe him, even when people begin disappearing.

PROSPECTS: A remake of a seminal 80s horror flick that featured Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell, an updated version might sell.

OBSTACLES: Not many remember the original, and the market is overcrowded with vampire movies that aren’t making money if they aren’t named Twilight.

FACTOID: Marti Noxon, who wrote many of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes, wrote the screenplay.

FINAL DESTINATION 5

RELEASE DATE: August 12, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Emma Bell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, Jacqueline MacInnes-Woods, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, David Koechner, Courtney B. Vance, Tony Todd

STORY: A young man has a premonition that a disaster is going to occur and manages to save some of his friends when it actually happens. But then death stalks them and takes them in complicated ways…yes, it’s the same damn movie!

PROSPECTS: Why mess with success?

OBSTACLES: Aren’t we tired of this yet?

FACTOID: Todd returns to the franchise after missing the last installment.

ROGUE WAVE

APOLLO 18

RELEASE DATE: August 26, 2011

STUDIO: Dimension

STARRING: Cast unavailable

STORY: The scrubbed moon landing actually took place and here is the found footage to prove it – and also the reason we never went back to the moon.

PROSPECTS: The concept is very compelling; the director of Wanted produced this.

OBSTACLES: The found footage sub-genre might be running out of steam. Also this has been bounced around the release schedule by Weinstein, never a good sign (although Weinstein is notorious for doing this, even with their best films).  

FACTOID: The astronauts who were scheduled to be on the actual Apollo 18 were Richard F. Gordon Jr., Vance D. Brand and Harrison Schmitt, who was eventually moved up to the Apollo 17 mission, the last manned landing on the moon as of now.

SURF’S UP

August 5, 2011

In THE CHANGE UP (Universal) a steady family man and an irresponsible single man change bodies as they wish they had each other’s lives. They’re about to find out why they wish they didn’t. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds star. DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) stars Juno Temple as a girl who gets into trouble in her high school and is sent to a remedial class, where she embarks on an extraordinary friendship that will help her define who she really is.

August 12, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS (Columbia) features Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery boy who has a bomb strapped to his chest by a vicious criminal and must rob a bank within 30 minutes or the bomb will go off. Did I mention that Danny McBride plays the vicious criminal? Yeah, it’s a comedy. THE HELP (Disney) is based on a New York Times bestseller and stars Emma Stone as a would-be journalist in the Mississippi of the 1960s who decides to write a piece on the African-American maids in the area, igniting a controversy and helping a town discover its soul.

August 19, 2011

SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension) introduces some new Spy Kids, this time with their unwanted stepmother (Jessica Alba) as the spy. With a maniacal would-be megalomaniac trying to rule the world through the control of time on the loose, you can bet it will be the kids who once again save the day. Sigh. ONE DAY (Focus), opening in limited release, stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as two friends who meet every July 15th for more than two decades as we watch their friendship ebb, flow and change over the years, seeing the world change and them with it – until they realize the love they’re both searching for is right in front of their eyes.

August 26, 2011

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (FilmDistrict) is a remake of a 1973 horror film in which a young girl moves into a mysterious mansion only to find that there are creatures already inhabiting the house – and they aren’t very nice or very friendly. OUR IDIOT BROTHER (Weinstein) stars Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Elizabeth Banks as a trio of sisters who are constantly exasperated by their un-ambitious brother (Paul Rudd) whose honesty plays havoc with his relationships – and theirs.

August 31, 2011

THE DEBT (Focus) is a taut thriller about a trio of retired Mossad agents whose mission to capture a Nazi war criminal in 1966 may not have been as successful as others were led to believe – and who must now deal with the consequences of that mission.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Universal) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $31.5M Total: $47.7M Verdict: Flop.

THE OTHER GUYS (Columbia) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $119.2M Total: $170.4M Verdict: Flop.

THE EXPENDABLES (Lionsgate) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $103.1M Total: $274.5M Verdict: Hit.

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $29.1M Total: $93.3M Verdict: Made Money.

EAT PRAY LOVE (Columbia) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.6M Total: $204.6M Verdict: Hit.

THE LAST EXORCISM (Lionsgate) Budget: $1.8M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $67.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PIRANHA 3D (Dimension) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $25.0M Total: $83.2M Verdict: Hit.

THE SWITCH (Miramax) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $27.8M Total: $49.8M Verdict: Made Money.

GOINGTHE DISTANCE (New Line) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $42.1M Verdict: Flop.

Excited? I know I am…there is a highly anticipated movie nearly every week this summer, and sometimes more than one, each one hoping you’ll buy a ticket and ensure more sequels for summers to come. There are whispers that Summer 2012 may even outdo this year – we’ll have to wait and see what takes shape. However, the Fall and Holiday season is going to be no slouch either – with new installments in the Twilight and Paranormal Activity series, sequels to Sherlock Holmes, Happy Feet and Mission: Impossible, a spin-off in the Shrek universe starring one of the most beloved characters in that franchise and not one but two Spielberg films, it’s going to be a busy season at the box office then as well. You can catch a more detailed preview at the end of August. In the meantime, the air-conditioned comfort of the multiplex beckons – so what are you waiting for? Buy your ticket, hit the concession stand for an ice cold soda and hot buttered popcorn, settle back in your stadium seat and let this summer’s blockbusters take you out of your world and into a place of pure magic.