The Debt (2010)


The Debt

Sam Worthington takes aim.

(2010) Spy Thriller (Miramax/Focus) Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, Romi Aboulafia, Brigitte Kren, Istvan Goz, Morris Perry, Jonathan Uziel, Iren Bordan, Katya Tompos. Directed by John Madden

The thing about the truth is that it is rarely what we think it is. Often we are told one thing and the truth is quite another. Sometimes knowing that truth doesn’t set us free however; sometimes the knowledge of truth shackles us for a lifetime.

Rachel Singer (Mirren) is a retired Mossad agent who bears the scars of her vocation both literally and figuratively. Her daughter Sarah (Aboulafia) has authored a book about her career, particularly concerning a daring raid into East Berlin that was performed by a three-person team in 1965 in order to retrieve a Nazi war criminal. Although it didn’t end up well, Rachel emerged from the raid as a national heroine.

In 1966, Rachel (Chastain) was the junior member of the team which included team leader Stephan Gold (Csokas) and David Peretz (Worthington). They are in East Berlin to extract a former Nazi War criminal – Dieter Vogel (Christensen), the so-called Surgeon of Birkenau who performed hideous experiments on Jewish concentration camp residents and bring him to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes.

He is masquerading as an ordinary OB-GYN, so Rachel and David pose as a man and wife unable to have to date. The plan is set up meticulously with an escape route marked for them. However the plan misfires and they are forced to bring their prisoner back to their East German apartment while they try to find a way back home. Unfortunately, Vogel manages to escape his bonds and after a fierce struggle in which Rachel is scarred for life, she shoots him dead rather than let him escape.

But was that the whole truth? When Rachel’s ex-husband Stephan (Wilkinson) tells her that information has surfaced that puts everything she’s built in her life in jeopardy, she will be forced to take a journey to make things right, not only for herself but for her daughter, her team and her country.

John Madden is best known for directing Shakespeare in Love but he does pretty well in the taut spy thriller genre. There are some scenes that literally had me on the edge of my seat, cliche as that might sound. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has quite a cast to work with.

Mirren is one of the top actresses in the world at the moment and one of the finest of all time when all is said and done. She is one of the main reasons to see this – as always her performance is letter perfect. She plays Rachel as a woman haunted by that secret and embittered by the way her life has turned out. Her only saving grace is her daughter Sarah who is now getting sucked into the lie.

The rest of the cast is pretty impressive as well. Chastain, who has had a couple of exceptional performances already this summer in The Tree of Life and The Help adds a third (although this movie was shot well before the other two). Her character is as naive as Mirren’s version is worldly and jaded. She is certainly flawed, but her dedication is unquestioned.

Worthington gets a role here that plays to his strengths as an actor and runs with it. His David is cold, shut-off and haunted by the specter of the War in which is family was decimated. He is guarded and closed off, which Worthington can do well.

Wilkinson is another veteran actor who has a complex role to fill and he does it admirably. His character is crafty, devious and infectiously charming while Hinds, who plays the older David, is thoroughly haunted and destroyed, his expression one of a man who doesn’t expect anything in life but misery.

The problem with the movie is two-fold. For one thing, the 1966 and 1997 versions of the characters don’t really resemble each other and when it comes to Csokas and Worthington, it is easy to confuse them with Wilkinson and Hinds (who resembles Csokas more than Worthington). For the record, here are the correct pairings: Wilkinson (1997) and Csokas (1966) as Stephan, Hinds (1997) and Worthington (1966) as David and of course Mirren (1997) and Chastain (1966) as Rachel.

It also must be said the ending is a little bit hoary, although I must admit there was at least some tension in the scene, enough that it made it entertaining. The movie itself harkens back to the cold war thrillers of the 60s in many ways, although I have to admit it’s a pale echo of some of the better examples of the genre. Still, given the performances and the tension, I can recommend it without reservation for most audiences.

REASONS TO GO: Great cast. Some well-thought out taut moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Ending is unsatisfying. Not easy to match 1997 versions of 1966 characters.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of two movies that was distributed by Miramax whose release was delayed due to the purchase of the company by Colony Capital. The company eventually made a distribution deal with Focus.

HOME OR THEATER: Works just as well at home as it does in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Columbiana

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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: August 2011


August 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. THE DEBT (1.3)
2. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1.5)
3. CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1.6)
4. ONE DAY (1.9)
TIE. THE HELP (1.9)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. BELLFLOWER (1.8)
2. GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (1.9)
TIE. THE CALLER (1.9)
4. CHASING MADOFF (2.0)

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

AUGUST 5, 2011

BELLFLOWER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Action. A pair of buddies preparing for a global apocalypse discovers something far more devastating – a woman. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.8 The movie generated major buzz at Sundance this year.
THE CHANGE-UP (Universal) Genre: Fantasy Comedy. A bachelor and a family man exchange bodies after urinating in a fountain. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Body switching comedies are beginning to wear out their welcome.
GUN HILL ROAD (Motion Film Group) Genre: Drama. A soldier returns home to the Bronx from war to find his wife emotionally unfaithful and his son undergoing a sexual transformation. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.2 Could be interesting depending on how many Latino clichés they use.
MAGIC TRIP (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Never before seen footage of the 1964 psychedelic bus trip of Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters from San Francisco to the New York World’s Fair finally sees the light of day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 What a long strange trip it’s been…
MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Music Box) Genre: Drama. A bastard child in 19th century Portugal tries to find out who his parents are and discovers that knowledge can be dangerous. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Acclaimed as a beautifully filmed modern masterpiece.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. Animal experimentation on a new wonder drug has unexpected consequences. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Meant to take this franchise in a completely different direction might be just what the mad scientist ordered.
THE WHISTLEBLOWER (Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. A U.N. police officer in post-war Bosnia discovers an insidious web of corruption and murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Rachel Weisz stars in the title role of a movie based on actual events.

AUGUST 10, 2011

THE HELP (Disney) Genre: Drama. An ambitious journalist student in Mississippi in the 1960s decides to write an article on the servants of Jackson. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Based on a best-selling novel that brings the Civil Rights era to life.
OVER CITIES GRASS WILL GROW (An Alive Mind) Genre: Documentary. An artist turns a derelict silk factory in France into a gigantic art installation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Normally I’d be interested in something like this but the studio summary makes this sound awfully pretentious and artsy.

AUGUST 12, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS (Columbia) Genre: Crime Comedy. A pair of bumbling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery boy and strap a bomb to his chest, forcing him to rob a bank or else. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Reunites Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer and star Jesse Eisenberg.
AARAKSHAN (Reliance Big Picture) Genre: Thriller. The friendship between a legendary academic and his disciple is tested when they stand on opposite sides of a controversial decision. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 A Bollywood film with some very strong production values.
FINAL DESTINATION 5 (New Line) Genre: Horror. Survivors of a bridge collapse get visited by Death who is apparently Rube Goldberg. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.3 It’s been a winning formula but how much longer are people going to be interested in it?
GLEE: THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Musical. The kids from the Fox TV hit “Glee” are captured in concert. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 4.0 Oh joy.
SENNA (Producers Distribution Agency) Genre: Documentary. The story of Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, who revolutionized the sport and died tragically young. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Will a documentary on a Formula One hero fly in NASCAR country?

AUGUST 17, 2011

ATROCIOUS (The Collective) Genre: Horror. Footage from a video camera reveals the hidden truth behind a gruesome multiple murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 One has to wonder how many of these found footage movies audiences are going to warm to.

AUGUST 19, 2011

5 DAYS OF WAR (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. A television journalism team documents the 5-day Georgian conflict in 2008 putting their lives in grave peril. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Although I normally love these sorts of movies, the trailer left me cold.
AMIGO (Variance) Genre: Drama. During the Spanish-American War, Americans come to a village in the Philippines and raise havoc, igniting conflicts between the peaceful villagers and the local resistance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 John Sayles is one of the most consistently intriguing directors today.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Lionsgate) Genre: Fantasy. A young Cimmerian warrior’s quest for revenge turns into an all-out fight against supernatural evil. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.6 Is the public ready to see Jason Momoa step into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boots?
FLYPAPER (IFC) Genre: Crime Comedy. When two rival gangs try to rob the same bank at the same time, a teller and a customer try to save the day without getting caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A very interesting trailer and a very attractive cast.
FRIGHT NIGHT (DreamWorks) Genre: Horror. A high school senior suspects his new neighbor is a vampire. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.0 Was a remake of this ‘80s horror comedy really needed? And does the new version add anything?
GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (Indomina) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A shy young office worker assumes the guise of a superhero by night; it’s up to his new girlfriend to save him from the clutches of his own monsters. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer looked very enticing.
THE LAST CIRCUS (Magnolia) Genre: Period Drama. A sad clown and a happy clown do battle in a circus struggling to survive in Franco’s Spain. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 This is the latest from one of Spain’s hidden treasures, director Alex de la Iglesia.
THE MISSING PIECE (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. A Trivial Pursuit player becomes obsessed with the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa and resolves to shed more light on the crime. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Sounds fascinating but has no official distribution.
MOZART’S SISTER (Music Box) Genre: Period Drama. The re-imagined life of Mozart’s sister posits a similar talent that can’t be nurtured because of her gender. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 To show you my ignorance, I wasn’t aware Mozart even had a sister – which is not only a sad comment on my education but also on the treatment of women.
ONE DAY (Focus) Genre: Romantic Drama. The evolution of a friendship into romance is chronicled over two decades as we see a single day in each year of their lives. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Sort of like Same Time, Next Year only with Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway.
PROGRAMMING THE NATION (International Film Circuit) Genre: Documentary. A look at the history of subliminal messaging in the United States. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 A subject which has always been of great interest to me but the trailer doesn’t look like the movie covers it in an interesting way.
SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension) Genre: Family. A couple of kids discover their stepmom is a spy. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.3 I think the concept would work better if the kids weren’t so much smarter than the adults.

AUGUST 26, 2011

BRIGHTON ROCK (IFC) Genre: Crime Drama. A vicious criminal takes up a romance with a naïve waitress who may have proof of his gang’s involvement in a revenge slaying. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 British gangster movies are the best in the world at the moment.
BUZZKILL (Indican) Genre: Comedy. A struggling writer becomes famous when a notorious serial killer steals his car and his latest script. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 The trailer didn’t excite me as much as I’d hoped.
THE CALLER (Goldwyn) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. A divorced woman gets disturbing calls from a woman who claims to be in the past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks pretty nifty, like the anti-Lake House.
CHASING MADOFF (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Documentary. A securities analyst goes on the hunt for one of the most notorious white-collar criminals of our time. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 It’s amazing how something that sounds so much like a John La Carre novel could have actually happened.
CIRCUMSTANCE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. Two Iranian teenage girls struggle with their burgeoning sexual desires in a repressive society. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 As titillating as the concept is, the trailer looks actually pretty serious.
COLUMBIANA (TriStar) Genre: Action. A young Columbian girl who witnesses the murder of her parents is raised by her uncle to be a world-class assassin, going after the ones responsible for her parent’s death in between jobs. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 The casting of Zoe Saldana in the lead role seems a little odd but Olivier Megaton is an excellent director.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (FilmDistrict) Genre: Horror. A young girl moves into a 19th century mansion her dad is restoring begins to hear voices that may be connected to some hideous creatures. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Guillermo del Toro produces this remake of a made-for-television movie that might not interest me as much if not for his involvement.
THE FAMILY TREE (Entertainment One) Genre: Comedy. A dysfunctional family gets a new lease on life when the shrill matriarch suffers from amnesia. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.2 The trailer didn’t really give me much incentive to see this film.
HIGHER GROUND (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. During the 1960s, a woman struggles with her strong conservative religious background, the onset of feminism and the loves of her life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Actress Vera Farmiga makes her directing debut.
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: 2.9 Could be interesting but haven’t seen a trailer for it yet.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. Three sisters take turns housing their uber-honest hippie-like brother. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 A great cast and an intriguing trailer make this one a sleeper to look out for.
REDEMPTION ROAD (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. Two men become unlikely friends on a journey between Texas and Alabama. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Mario van Peebles is a capable director and with an outstanding cast should produce a respectable movie.
SPECIALTREATMENT (First Run) Genre: Drama. A high end prostitute and a psychiatrist discover that they are therapeutic for one another. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Terrific trailer and the wonderful actress Isabelle Huppert make this one a must-see for me.

AUGUST 31, 2011

THE DEBT (Focus) Genre: Thriller. An Israeli MOSSAD team hides a terrible secret that comes to light 40 years later. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 An amazing cast with a trailer that reminds me a bit of Spielberg’s Munich.
GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE (Music Box) Genre: Biographical Drama. A fanciful interpretation of the life of French icon Serge Gainsbourg. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 Je t’aime indeed.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Change-Up, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, 30 Minutes or Less, Conan the Barbarian, One Day, Columbiana, Our Idiot Brother, The Debt

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.

Fall/Holiday 2010 Preview


The difference between summer movies and fall movies are like night and day. Summer is the time of blockbusters, big budgets and megastars. Fall is the time of Oscar contenders, big directors and holiday films. While the biggest movies tend to be released in May and then again right around the July 4th timeframe for the summer season, Hollywood does the opposite in the fall, going with lesser films to begin with and building to release the bigger-splash movies at the end of the year.

That’s not to say there isn’t a share of box office bonanza in the latter half of the year; in fact, the top two box office movies of all time were released in December – which is to say James Cameron’s top two moneymakers, Avatar last year and Titanic in 1997. Nothing on the radar looks to do those kinds of numbers, but the new Harry Potter should do at least $300 million domestically and Tron Legacy may well equal that.

Oscar-watchers are usually busy this time of year keeping an eye out on potential contenders for the most prestigious awards in the film industry. While it’s impossible to know in advance which movies are going to be collecting nominations by the handful – frontrunners can stumble at the gate while dark horses can surprise from out of nowhere – there are always a few safe bets to keep an eye out on. This year is no exception, as Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech look to be early favorites.

Besides the two blockbusters I already mentioned, there are a few movies that Hollywood is counting on to add to their coffers this year; The Chronicles of Narnia franchise has moved over to Fox from Disney and the third installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is going to be on the radar of fantasy enthusiasts and family filmgoers alike. Disney’s Tangled, Zack Snyder’s The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and DreamWorks Animation’s MegaMind all look to capture a good chunk of the animated feature market this fall, while action enthusiasts will look to True Grit, Red, Faster and Machete to get their fix.

Halloween means horror and there are plenty of movies that look to scare up big box office bucks, including Paranormal Activity 2, Buried, Saw 3D The Traps Come Alive, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Let Me In and My Soul to Take. Those looking for a lighter touch will find plenty of laughs in Gulliver’s Travels, Little Fockers and Morning Glory.

The crisp night air brings out plenty of stars, and 2010 will have a galaxy full of them in movies like The American (George Clooney), Burlesque (Cher), Gulliver’s Travels (Jack Black), Little Fockers (Ben Stiller, Barbra Streisand and Robert DeNiro), Hereafter (Matt Damon), Morning Glory (Harrison Ford), The Fighter (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale), Everything You’ve Got (Reese Witherspoon), Life As We Know It (Katherine Heigl), Red (Bruce Willis), Faster (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Conviction (Hilary Swank), The Town (Ben Affleck), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf) and Due Date (Robert Downey, Jr.).

So even as the days begin to get shorter that doesn’t mean that your film choices are as well. There is, as always, something to please everyone at the multiplex this fall and hopefully this will help you find a few to anticipate on your own cinematic shortlist for the fall. By all measures, it was a dismal summer at the movies, with few bright spots on a fairly bleak box office horizon; the studios are almost certainly looking to several key movies to help brighten up their year somewhat. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our monthly Four Warned and weekly Previews for further details about the movies you’ll find herein. Enjoy!

SEPTEMBER

September 2010 Preview

September is usually a time to catch your breath after the summer season. Your post-Labor Day offerings are usually a motley assortment of remainders and leftovers that the studios put out mostly as placeholders, meant to come and go quickly and hit the home video market early in the New Year. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems among the dross, however.

MUST-SEE

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ryan Kwanten, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Helen Mirren, Richard Roxburgh, Jim Sturgess

STORY: A young owl, enthralled by the tales of his father about a legendary band of warriors, must summon up the courage of a Guardian to defeat the evil Pure Ones and save his people…er, owls.

PROSPECTS: 2010 has been the year of the family film, given the runaway success of Toy Story 3, How to Train a Dragon and Despicable Me. Given the astonishing animation shown in the trailer, this could well join that elite group. The only other competition this month in the family film sweepstakes is the absolutely awful-looking Alpha and Omega. Plus, the last two films on director Zack Snyder’s resume? 300 and The Watchmen.

OBSTACLES: An all-owl cast doesn’t necessarily make this a box office slam dunk. While there isn’t much competition for the Ga’Hoole, families have a tendency to want to get their kids acclimated to school and movies can be a secondary priority.

FACTOID: The books this was based on were written by Kathryn Lasky. The movie is based on the first three of the fifteen books currently in the series.

HOT TICKET

THE AMERICAN

RELEASE DATE: September 1, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Bjorklund, Bruce Altman, Samuli Vauramo

STORY: An American assassin, weary of bloodshed and brutality, vows this last assignment will be his last. However, when a potential romance begins to cloud his judgment, he finds himself in a more precarious situation than he ever bargained for.

PROSPECTS: The filmmakers have announced that this will be the last movie in the franchise, so that will get people into the theaters on its own. This is the most popular animated film franchise to date.

OBSTACLES: The public may be getting a bit tired of Shrek as those who were kids when the first one came out are well into their teens and early 20s now.

FACTOID: Director Anton Corbijn is best known as a still photographer for album covers and a director of music videos, especially for Depeche Mode and U2.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito

STORY: The sequel to the iconic 1987 film reunites director Oliver Stone and star Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the disgraced broker who has been released from jail and means to redefine himself and resume his life. He becomes involved with the impressionable young broker who is engaged to marry his estranged daughter.

PROSPECTS: The chicanery of the stock market has never been timelier than now. Certainly, those who made the first movie a hit will be lining up to hear Douglas utter those immortal words “Greed is good.”

OBSTACLES: Some of the issues tackled by the movie may be a little too close to home for an economy-weary audience.

FACTOID: This is the third consecutive non-documentary film directed by Stone whose title begins with the letter “W” (the other two are World Trade Center and W).

RISING STAR

MACHETE

RELEASE DATE: September 3, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan

STORY: A former Mexican Federale roams the streets of a small Texas town after having been double-crossed by a political spin doctor, a drug lord and a politician. Things are gonna get violent.

PROSPECTS: This started out life as a faux trailer on the Grindhouse double feature, now getting a life of its own as a feature film. Those who loved that film, the Robert Rodriguez El Mariachi films and ultra-violent B-movies of the 60s and 70s are going to love this.

OBSTACLES: Trejo is a great character actor but has never carried a film of this magnitude before. None of the movies that look like this have made a significant box office dent.

FACTOID: This is the first movie to be commercially released for Steven Seagal in eight years. Marin and Johnson both starred in the hit television show “Nash Bridges.”

ALSO PLAYING

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) stars Sam Rockwell as a local misfit brought on to coach the high school girls’ basketball team. Hmm, you think there’s going to be an uplifting finale on this one? Either way, it’s opening up in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) is the fourth installment in the popular videogame-based franchise, finding Milla Jovovich back to take on the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, but this time she’s going after the head of the snake – judging from the trailer, literally. LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) is a family film about a family torn apart by a tragedy that learns to heal through an unexpected means – high school wrestling. WWE superstar John Cena stars in this, which is also getting a limited release. THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) is produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who have Talladega Nights and The Other Guys to their credit as well as the online site Funny or Die. Here they give four guys a camera and send them out to show just how bizarre and funny losing one’s virginity can be. And here I thought it was just terrifying.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) is based on the novel by Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”). This movie stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man) as three kids at an English boarding school in a reality much like our own but just slightly different learning a secret that changes them forever. This is in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) is the first animated feature from the mini-major. Two wolves (one at the apex of the pack, the other at the bottom) must co-operate to find a way home after they’re shipped hundreds of miles away by well-meaning park rangers. DEVIL (Universal) is about a bunch of people trapped on an elevator with Satan. Yes, the Satan. I know – been there, done that. EASY A (Screen Gems) has high school goodie two-shoes Emma Roberts facing the fall-out of a little white lie that she’s not a virgin anymore. She decides to use the new notoriety to her advantage. THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) stars Ben Affleck as a bank robber who falls in love with his hostage, and then tries to create a romance between them once he gets away. And yes, he wore a mask so she doesn’t know who he is. So there. CATFISH (Rogue), opening in limited release, has absolutely the best trailer I’ve seen in a long time. It’s about an Internet romance that is being documented by the young man’s filmmaker brother that turns sinister in the blink of an eye. The buzz at Sundance about this film was deafening.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) is the newest film from Woody Allen and as is typical for the veteran director, little detail about the plot is available. All we know is it’s about a family dealing with a myriad of romantic issues among several individual members. Also as is typical for Woody Allen, he’s assembled a stellar cast with Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas among others. This will be out in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

YOU AGAIN (Disney) finds a mother and her daughter dealing with their high school demons in the form of their nemeses when her son proposes to the daughter of the mother’s rival – who is coincidentally the mother of her daughter’s rival. Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell star. JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan as a pair of isolated New Yorkers who are introduced and find the courage to come out of their shells, face their fears and come together, even as the couple that introduced them are falling apart. From the new distributor Relativity Media (who recently acquired Overture Films), this is opening in limited release on September 17th before getting a wide release this week.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. Since we didn’t include September in last year’s Fall Preview, I’ve chosen some movies that I probably would have previewed had I included September. 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.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (Columbia) Budget: $100 Million. Domestic Gross: $124.8M Total: $243.0M Verdict: Profitable. SURROGATES (Touchstone) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $38.6M Total: $122.4M Verdict: Flop. WHITEOUT (Warner Brothers) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $10.3M Total: $17.8M Verdict: Flop. EXTRACT (Miramax) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $10.8M Total: $10.8M Verdict: Flop. 9 (Focus) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $31.8M Total: $48.4M Verdict: Flop. GAMER (Lionsgate) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $20.5M Total: $40.7M Verdict: Broke Even. ALL ABOUT STEVE (20th Century Fox) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $33.9M Total: $40.1M Verdict: Broke Even. FAME (MGM) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $22.5M Total: $77.2M Verdict: Hit. THE INFORMANT! (Warner Brothers) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $33.3M Total: $41.8 Verdict: Flop.

OCTOBER

October 2010 Preview

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.

MUST SEE

HEREAFTER

RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Steve Schirripa, Jennifer Lewis, Lyndsey Marshall

STORY: The lives of three people who have been touched by death in different ways will intersect and be changed by what they think lies in wait after death.

PROSPECTS: Clint Eastwood is on a hot streak; he is one of the few directors who will bring in box office on name alone. The fact that he is doing a movie that has elements of the supernatural to it will only add extra fanboy frenzy.

OBSTACLES: The plot details have been kept very tightly under wraps, leading to the kind of speculation that might cause failed expectations when the movie opens.

FACTOID: Filming stopped for a month while Damon was shooting his scenes for The Adjustment Bureau.

HOT TICKETS

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

RELEASE DATE: October 1, 2010

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones, Joe Mazzello, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara

STORY: A young Harvard student creates a website that will eventually become Facebook.

PROSPECTS: There are more than 500 million Facebook subscribers, and you would think at least a significant fraction of them will want to go see this.

OBSTACLES: There are no real name stars in it, and you have to wonder if there’s any appeal to those who have limited or no connection to the site.

FACTOID: A cousin of Eisenberg works for Facebook.

SECRETARIAT

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, Fred Thompson, James Cromwell, Kevin Connolly

STORY: The story of a horse that came out of an unlikely environment to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and race into legend.

PROSPECTS: With the success of Seabiscuit it was proven that movies about horse racing can win at the box office as well. Disney has made a cottage industry out of these sorts of feel-good sports dramas based on true stories.

OBSTACLES: One wonders how many of these kinds of movies the public is going to line up to see; there are already signs that the market has been oversaturated with them.

FACTOID: The race records that the real Secretariat set in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont still stand today, 37 years after the fact.

RISING STAR

BURIED

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowski, Samantha Mathis, Robert Paterson, Anne Lockhart (voice), Erik Palladino

STORY: A contractor working in Iraq awakens to find himself six feet underground but still alive, armed with only a cell phone and a lighter without any idea where he is, why he’s there or who’s responsible. With only 90 minutes of oxygen to sustain him, he must fight panic, despair and delirium to get help, or find a way out.

PROSPECTS: One of the most highly sought-after movies at Sundance instigated a bidding war among the studios. The consensus of those who’ve seen it is that it is one of the most original and gripping thrillers to come along in years.

OBSTACLES: Are audiences ready to see a movie that is essentially Ryan Reynolds in a box for 90 minutes? Certainly claustrophobes won’t be able to sit through this one either.

FACTOID: Thomas Jane and Emile Hirsch were both considered for the title roll until Josh Brolin got the part.

ALSO PLAYING

OCTOBER 1, 2010

LET ME IN (Relativity) stars Kick-Ass breakout star Chloe Moretz as a mysterious young girl who befriends a lonely, bullied young boy. Based on the acclaimed Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. FREAKONOMICS (Magnolia), based on the best-selling book, presents a series of case studies that mix the methods of economic study with pop culture and human behavior. This is to receive a limited release.

OCTOBER 8, 2010

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (Warner Brothers) stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as the godparents of a baby who although they don’t particularly like each other, become legal guardians of the baby when their parents die suddenly. NOWHERE BOY (Weinstein) tells the story of a young Englishman who can’t stay out of trouble and is brought up by an aunt when his mum turns out to be unable to handle him. The boy will grow up to be John Lennon. STONE (Relativity) has Edward Norton and Robert De Niro facing off as a man convicted of setting a fire to cover up his grandparents murder, and the parole officer who is reviewing his case. In between them is Milla Jovovich, the con’s wife. Finally, TAMARA DREWE (Sony Classics) will be in limited release; it is based on a graphic novel which is itself loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” and stars Gemma Arterton as a young flirtatious woman who returns to her small country village and stirs up passions among the locals.

OCTOBER 15, 2010

RED (Summit) is based on a DC Comics graphic novel about a group of retired CIA assassins who are being hunted down by their present-day counterparts. With a cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, it looks like quite the romp. CONVICTION (Fox Searchlight) is the true account of Betty Ann Waters’ efforts to free her unjustly convicted brother from prison. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell star in this early contender for Oscar gold. JACKASS 3D (Paramount) is the return of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Wee-Man and company for more dumbass stunts, only this time in 3D. Weren’t their 15 minutes up, like, years ago?

OCTOBER 22, 2010

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount) is the sequel to last Halloween’s surprise hit, this time in a new house with a new family being stalked by the supernatural.

OCTOBER 29, 2010

THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) is extremely topical; three men are downsized from their executive positions and are forced to find meaning in their lives that doesn’t revolve around their workplace identities. The trailer for this looked awfully good. MY SOUL TO TAKE (Rogue) is the newest horror offering from genre superstar Wes Craven. Here, a serial killer vows to take revenge on the seven children who were born the night he died. Freddie Kruger, step aside! MONSTERS (Magnet) is a limited release horror film that sees alien life forms taking over half of Mexico, which is now under quarantine. A journalist and a tourist try to make it to the border and safety. Again, a superior trailer has piqued my interest. SAW 3D (Lionsgate) is slated to be the final entry into the billion dollar horror franchise, in which survivors of Jigsaw’s traps get together to talk about old times, unaware that one of them has quite a different agenda in mind.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AMELIA (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $40 Million. Domestic Gross: $14.2M Total: $19.6M Verdict: Flop. SAW VI (Lionsgate) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $27.7M Total: $64.6M Verdict: Blockbuster. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $77.2M Total: $100.1M Verdict: Flop. A SERIOUS MAN (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $9.2M Total: $31.3 Verdict: Broke Even. THE INVENTION OF LYING (Warner Brothers) Budget: $18.5M. Domestic Gross: $18.5M Total: $32.3 Verdict: Flop. CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $39.2 Verdict: Flop. ZOMBIELAND (Columbia) Budget: $23.6M. Domestic Gross: $75.6M Total: $102.3M Verdict: Hit. MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $72.1M Total: $261.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. COUPLES RETREAT (Universal) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $109.2M Total: $171.8M Verdict: Profitable.

NOVEMBER

November 2010 Preview

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.

MUST SEE

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 19, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, Warwick Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Julie Walters and every British actor still breathing.

STORY: The final showdown between Harry and Valdemort begins as the war between the Deatheaters and the wizards gets underway and spills over into the Muggle world.

PROSPECTS: This is as near to a slam dunk as you’re going to find out of any movie released this year.

OBSTACLES: Those who grew up with the Boy Who Lived are getting too old for…oh, who am I kidding here?

FACTOID: M. Night Shyamalan and Guillermo del Toro were at one time both considered for the director’s chair for the final two installments before the producers decided to stick with David Yates, who did the last two films.

HOT TICKETS

MEGAMIND

RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2010

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Will Farrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill

STORY: A superhero battle from the viewpoint of the supervillain who, try as he might, can never triumph over the forces of good with his nefarious plans.

PROSPECTS: This could easily become the next Shrek-like franchise for the Second-Best Animated Studio on Earth.

OBSTACLES: The trailer made this look more like a one-trick pony in terms of plot; let’s hope that the finished  has a lot more going for it.

FACTOID: The movie was originally titled Master Mind until it was discovered a TV game show had rights to the name; the title was then changed to Oobermind until it was determined that most people wouldn’t get the reference.

BURLESQUE

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: Screen Gems

STARRING: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Julianne Hough, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci

STORY: A small-town girl with a big voice helps to turn around a financially ailing theater, but her notoriety brings some problems she never could have anticipated.

PROSPECTS: Aguilera is one of the hottest musical stars on the planet and Cher is an icon; the combination sounds unbeatable on paper.

OBSTACLES: Cher hasn’t really done anything musical in years; Aguilera has never starred in a movie before. Will audiences flock to see it as they did with Chicago or stay away in droves as they did with Nine?

FACTOID: Gigandet beat out fellow Twilight stars Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kellan Lutz for his role.

RISING STAR

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, Gabriel Macht, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt

STORY: The misadventures of a salesman trainee at a pharmaceutical company who’s assigned to push male enhancement drugs.

PROSPECTS: This sounds like one of those quirky movies that emerges from left field to make some real noise.

OBSTACLES: Does anybody really want to see a movie about Viagra?

FACTOID: The movie is based on a novel by Jamie Reidy, who really did work as a Viagra salesman.

ALSO PLAYING

NOVEMBER 5, 2010

DUE DATE (Warner Brothers) stars Robert Downey Jr. as a first-time father trying to get home to be by the side of his wife in time for the birth. Standing in the way is a disaster-prone actor (played by Zach Galifianakis) and a whole lot of country. Shades of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

NOVEMBER 12, 2010

MORNING GLORY (Paramount) stars Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton as feuding morning show hosts, with Rachel McAdams as the producer charged with making the peace – or else! Sounds fairly pedestrian but given the star power will be worth looking into. SKYLINE (Universal) is a sci-fi thriller about a group of people trapped in a high-rise as an alien invasion literally sucks people from the face of the Earth. UNSTOPPABLE (20th Century Fox) stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as the engineer and conductor trying to stop a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals from hitting a small town. FAIR GAME (Summit), opening in limited release the previous weekend, is the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by a journalist and became a cause célèbre for the antiwar faction.

NOVEMBER 19, 2010

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (Lionsgate) features Russell Crowe as a man whose wife is imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit. With time running out and his wife suicidal, he determines the only way to save her life is to break her out of prison. Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson co-star.

NOVEMBER 24, 2010

THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein) chronicles the relationship between speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and King George VI (Colin Firth), whom Logue must help get past a terrible stammer so that he may lead his nation into World War II after the unexpected abdication of his brother Edward. The impressive cast includes Timothy Spall, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon. FASTER (CBS) stars Dwayne Johnson in a welcome return to the action genre. Here, he plays an ex-con out for revenge after his brother dies in the botched robbery attempt that got him sent to prison. TANGLED (Disney) is a sassy animated version of Rapunzel, with a voice cast including Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

NOVEMBER 26, 2010

RED DAWN (MGM) is a remake of the 1984 movie that starred the late Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Beals and C. Thomas Howell, among others. As in that film, the United States is invaded, and a resistance group of high school-aged football players is all that stands between us and total annihilation. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star. It should be noted that given MGM’s precarious financial position that this movie may or may not see the light of day.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (Summit) Budget: $50 Million. Domestic Gross: $296.6M Total: $709.8M Verdict: Blockbuster. DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $137.7M Total: $325.2M Verdict: Flop. NINE (Weinstein) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $19.7M Total: $53.9M Verdict: Flop. THE ROAD (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $8.1M Total: $26.8M Verdict: Flop. 2012 (Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $166.1M Total: $769.7M Verdict: Hit. PRECIOUS (Lionsgate) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $47.6M Total: $62.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $29M. Domestic Gross: $256.0M Total: $309.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. UP IN THE AIR (Paramount Vantage) Budget: $25M Domestic Gross: $83.8M Total: $163.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $21.0M Total: $46.2M Verdict: Flop.

DECEMBER

December 2010 Preview

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.

MUST SEE

TRON LEGACY

RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett

STORY: A young man searches for his father who’s been missing for 20 years. Of course, when your father is Kevin Flynn, we all know where he is and where that search is going to lead – a digital world whose landscape has changed very much since we last saw it.

PROSPECTS: This has a shot at becoming the year’s top grossing film. Only Inception rivaled the buzz of this movie all year long. Director Joe Kosinski and Disney are making all the right moves; great casting, a stellar marketing campaign, a trailer that left all who saw it breathless, and electronic Daft Punk creating the soundtrack. Merry Christmas, everybody.

OBSTACLES: The original Tron, while a groundbreaking movie in its time, is nonetheless 20 years old and may not necessarily speak to its target audience which is far more savvy and sophisticated than the same audience was in 1982.

FACTOID: The movie was shot in just 64 days. However, post-production took 68 weeks due to the pervasive nature of the special effects.

HOT TICKETS

THE FIGHTER

RELEASE DATE: December 10, 2010

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Dendrie Taylor, Jenna Lamia, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Sue Costello

STORY: The true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, a chronic underachiever who was taken under the wing of his ex-con brother, a former boxer himself, and fought all the way to a championship fight.

PROSPECTS: There is a good deal of Oscar buzz surrounding this movie; true-life boxer movies have a respectable history with the Academy (i.e. Raging Bull, Cinderella Man).

OBSTACLES: The studio hasn’t done a tremendous amount of promotion on this just yet. Sometimes, Oscar buzz doesn’t necessarily translate into box office.

FACTOID: The gym shown in the movie is an actual working gym and is in fact the same one where the real Mickey Ward trained.

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connelly, James Gorden, Catherine Tate, Chris O’Dowd, Romany Malco

STORY: The classic Jonathan Swift tale is given a modern update, with an aspiring travel writer getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle, only to find himself in a strange land called Lilliput.

PROSPECTS: This looks to appeal to a family audience to at least a certain extent, or at least that’s how the marketing looks as I write this. If it’s done well, it could give Voyage of the Dawn Treader a run for its money.

OBSTACLES: Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver? I’m not sure that’s precisely what Swift had in mind when he wrote the book.

FACTOID: Emily Blunt turned down Iron Man 2 to do this movie.

RISING STAR

SOMEWHERE

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pontius, Robert Schwartzman, Caitlin Keats

STORY: Actor Johnny Marco lives the high life at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood; a steady stream of girls, a Ferrari, a different party every night and all the pills he can pop. Into that life comes the 11-year-old daughter from his failed marriage and suddenly Johnny is given a choice between two very different lives.

PROSPECTS: Director Sofia Coppola is one of the most respected on the indie scene at the moment; everything she does seems to have legitimate Oscar potential.

OBSTACLES: Her movies may be a little more intellectual than general audiences might accept.

FACTOID: Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. She also won a Best Screenplay Oscar for Lost in Translation, making the Coppola family only the second to have three generations of Oscar winners (grandfather Carmine, father Francis and cousin Nicolas Cage); the Huston family (grandfather Walter, father John and daughter Angelica) was the first.

ALSO PLAYING

DECEMBER 1, 2010

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight), opening in limited release, is the latest from director Darren Aronofsky and follows the exploits of Nina, a young dancer in the New York Ballet Company who is tapped to replace the company’s prima ballerina in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. However, competition with another dancer leads to some dark and twisted events. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder star.

DECEMBER 3, 2010

WARRIOR’S WAY (Rogue) is a new martial arts fantasy from Korea, this time set in the American badlands of the Old West. The impressive cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston and concerns an Asian assassin who hides out in a small American town, but his past eventually catches up with him.

DECEMBER 10, 2010

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (Fox Walden) is the third in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise and the first not to be made by Disney. Here, Edmund and Lucy are sucked into the Narnian sailing vessel Dawn Treader along with their ne’er do well cousin Eustace. On the voyage they’ll encounter fantastic creatures, terrifying trials and embark on a quest to save Narnia from a ghastly fate. THE TOURIST (Columbia) concerns an American tourist trying to mend a broken heart in Venice – good idea, that – and meeting a lovely, exotic woman. The two are soon caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense, as usually happens in Venice. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie headline, a pairing sure to put quite a few butts in seats.

DECEMBER 17, 2010

THE TEMPEST (Touchstone) is the latest from visionary director Julie Taymor. Here, she takes on Shakespeare – and changes the gender of the lead character from male to female, leaving us with Prospera, a sorceress on a mystical island played by the fabulous Helen Mirren. HOW DO YOU KNOW (Columbia) stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman torn between major league pitcher Owen Wilson and corporate executive Paul Rudd, the latter of whom is going through a rough patch. His father is played by Jack Nicholson, so that’s a big plus right there; the director is James Brooks so that’s another. YOGI BEAR (Warner Brothers) is a live action version of the beloved Hanna Barbera cartoon with the title character computer generated and voiced by Dan Aykroyd, with Tom Cavanaugh as the Ranger. Did we learn nothing from Garfield

DECEMBER 22, 2010

LITTLE FOCKERS (Universal) is the third installment of the hit comedy series and returns Robert de Niro and Ben Stiller as the dysfunctional in-laws. This time, events revolve around the birthday party of Stiller’s twin boys and his ability to be a good dad, a good provider and a good son-in-law. Is this series played out yet? Time will tell.

DECEMBER 25, 2010

THE ILLUSIONIST (Sony Classics), opening in limited release, is an animated feature based on an unproduced script by legendary French comic Jacques Tati. Produced by the same outfit that gave us The Triplets of Belleville, it concerns an old-fashioned stage magician whose livelihood is being marginalized by rock star magicians – until he meets a young fan who will change his career and life forever. TRUE GRIT (Paramount) is a remake of the Oscar-winning John Wayne western by none other than the Coen Brothers. If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, think Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in the cast. Yeah, this is on my list of must-sees this holiday season too.

DECEMBER 29, 2010

ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Classics) is also opening in limited release. Not much was known about the plot at press time, but the director is the always-fascinating Mike Leigh and the stellar cast includes Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. THE DEBT (Miramax) stars Helen Mirren as a former Mossad agent who discovers the man she brought in as a war criminal years ago may not have been the right one.

DECEMBER 31, 2010

BLUE VALENTINE (Weinstein) stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks trying to save their relationship in the course of a single night.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AVATAR (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A but thought to be over $300M. Domestic Gross: $749.8M Total: $2.7B Verdict: MegaSuperGinormousBlockbuster. SHERLOCK HOLMES (Warner Brothers)  Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $209M Total: $523M Verdict: Blockbuster. INVICTUS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $37.5M Total: $122.2M Verdict: Broke Even. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS (Sony Classics) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $7.7M Total: $61.8M Verdict: Broke Even. IT’S COMPLICATED (Universal) Budget: $85M. Domestic Gross: $112.7M Total: $219.1M Verdict: Profitable. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL (20th Century Fox) Budget: $75M. Domestic Gross: $219.6M Total: $443.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. ARMORED (Screen Gems) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $16M Total: $20.9M Verdict: Flop. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Columbia) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $29.6M Total: $85.3M Verdict: Flop. BROTHERS (Lionsgate) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $28.5M Total: $43M Verdict: Flop. THE LOVELY BONES (DreamWorks/Paramount) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $44M Total: $93.5M Verdict: Flop.

So that’s our fall preview. There’s a fairly diverse set of movies here, and at least a couple of them potential blockbusters. 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. For those who have been disappointed with the crop of movies so far, take heart that 2011 is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. You can see for yourself when the 2011 preview comes out at the end of December.