Contagion


Contagion

How is it that Marion Cotillard can still look so hot while trying to appear concerned?

(2011) Medical Drama (Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Demitri Martin, Brian J. O’Connor, Chin Han. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

From time to time, the human population of this planet has been culled from everything from the Black Death to the Spanish Flu. It has been almost a century since our last plague; we’re about due for the next.

It takes just one person to start a plague. In this case, it’s Beth Emhoff (Paltrow). She has just returned home to Minneapolis after a trip to Hong Kong with a case of the flu. At first it’s just chalked up to jet lag, but she suddenly has a violent seizure and is rushed to the hospital. Within hours she is dead. On his way home from the hospital, her husband Mitch (Damon) is told his son is having a seizure. By the time he gets home, his son is already gone.

In the meantime, cases of the disease are sprouting up all over the place, from a bus in Tokyo to a small village in China to a home in Chicago. It seems that a pandemic is about to break out.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, personified by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) are mobilizing their forces, sending Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) to Minneapolis to co-ordinate with Minnesota health officials while the World Health Organization sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Cotillard) to Hong Kong which is apparently ground zero. Both women soon find themselves in unexpected situations with potentially deadly consequences.

As more and more people get sick, things begin to break down. There is looting and riots as people demand answers and a cure. Doctors Ally Hextall (Ehle), David Eisenberg (Martin) and Ian Sussman (Gould) work feverishly to find the cure for this insidious disease which is so far resisting all known treatment. Meanwhile blogger Alan Krumwiede (Law) seeks to manipulate the crisis to his own advantage, fueling the panic that is already just below the surface. Mitch Emhoff is holed up in his home with his daughter Jory (Jacoby-Heron), watching supplies dwindle and terrified that he will lose his only surviving family member to the disease as her persistent boyfriend Andrew (O’Connor) repeatedly tries to get together with her physically. Will a cure be found before civilization completely collapses?

Soderbergh has shown a deft hand with ensemble casts in the Oceans trilogy but here he winds up with too many characters. Too many plotlines to really keep straight, so some his stars (not all of whom survive the movie by the way) are given extremely short shrift while other plotlines seem to go nowhere.

What he does do well is capture the realism of the situation. The movie was made with the co-operation of the CDC and while I’m not sure what, if any, of the film was actually filmed in CDC facilities, you get the sense that if they weren’t the filmmakers at least were granted access so they could find reasonable facsimiles.

You also get a sense that this is the way things would really go down, with lots of conflicting information going out, political in-fighting and finger-pointing as well as heroics by front line personnel who are trying to care for the sick and protect the healthy, not to mention a shady few who stand to profit by the misery of millions (I’m sure insurance companies will make out like bandits and the right will blame it all on Obamacare).

The stars deliver for the most part, particularly Damon who has to run through a gauntlet of emotions from disbelief to grief to anger to fear throughout the course of this movie. He rarely gets the kudos he deserves, but he’s a much better actor than he is often given credit for and for those who need proof of that, they need go no farther than his performance here.

Cotillard is given little to do but look concerned and beautiful and does both beautifully. Winslet does well in her role as a field representative of the CDC who is well and truly over her head to a crazy extent. Law is nefarious and snake-smooth as the blogger with ulterior motives.

The plot here follows standard medical thriller format; the difference here is that there is more emphasis placed on the procedures than on the patients. That’s a double-edged sword in that it gives us a unique viewpoint, but we rarely get to connect to the suffering of those affected by the disease in one way or another.

The scenes that show the rapid breakdown of society are the ones that held my attention the most. Sure, the scenes of scientific research had their fascination as well but I tend to swing my attention more towards the human than the technological or the bureaucratic. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many of those sorts of scenes as I would have liked so the movie scored fewer points than it might have, but still plenty to recommend it to most audiences.

REASONS TO GO: All-star cast and a good sense of realism. Fascinating look at the breakdown of society as social services become impossible.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and not enough plot.

FAMILY VALUES: The content is rather disturbing and there are a few choice words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Damon, Paltrow and Law last worked in the same film together in 1999 for The Talented Mr. Ripley. Law has no scenes with either Damon or Paltrow this time, however.

HOME OR THEATER: You’ll want to see this at home; trust me, once you see this you won’t want to be within miles of another human being.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: I Don’t Know How She Does It

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New Releases for the Week of September 9, 2011


CONTAGION

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, John Hawkes, Elliott Gould. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

An innocent cough turns into a global pandemic as the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention tries to get a handle on a rapidly mutating virus that seems to anticipate their every attempt to come up with a cure. In the meantime, fear and paranoia turn out to be nearly as deadly as the virus itself.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Medical Thriller

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

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

(Columbia) Nick Swardson, Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff. A somewhat dorky slacker in the heart of the Midwest discovers to his shock that his conservative parents used to be porn stars back in the 70s. Believing this to be his genetically-imposed destiny, he heads to Hollywood to follow in their footsteps despite lacking certain…equipment. Adam Sandler produced this so send your cards and letters to him.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive crude sexual content, language and some nudity)

Creature

(The Bubble Factory) Mehcad Brooks, Serinda Swan, Amanda Fuller, Sid Haig. A group of young people on a road trip to New Orleans stop at a roadside convenience store for supplies and learn about the legend of a creature that is half man, half alligator. They decide to check it out for themselves, only to discover that the legend is real – and the creature is not even the worst aspect of it.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, grisly images, some sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use)

Higher Ground

(Sony Classics) Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Bill Irwin, Donna Murphy. A woman finds herself coming to terms with her love relationships in the 1960s as part of a spiritual community and trying to balance that against her own burgeoning feminism. This is also the directing debut of Farmiga.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some language and sexual content)

Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain

(CODEBLACK) Kevin Hart, Na’im Lynn. Comedian Kevin Hart’s recent comedy tour smashed box office records for African-American comedians held for more than twenty years by Eddie Murphy. There are those who say that he is the funniest stand-up comedian working in the field today and this movie aims to present evidence to that effect.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy Documentary

Rating: NR

Terri

(ATO) John C. Reilly, Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia. Yet another Florida Film Festival entry that Da Queen and I were unable to fit into our schedule, this moving and yet funny indie film follows a plus-sized teen who forges a relationship with a well-meaning yet often inept vice-principal. As things progress, he begins to find a little bit of the inner man he is to become even as he sheds his own self-image.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drug and alcohol use, all involving teens)

Warrior

(Lionsgate) Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison. Two brothers, driven apart years earlier, find themselves on a collision course in the biggest winner-take-all event in Mixed Martial Arts history. Each is doing it for different reasons – one for redemption, the other to save his family from financial ruin. Neither is expected to get there – and they must both confront their own demons if they are to win and become the warrior they have within them.

See the trailer, a clip and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some 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!