I Am Thor


It's good to be Thor.

It’s good to be Thor.

(2015) Music Documentary (Blue Lame 61) Jon Mikl Thor, Mike Favata, Steve Price, Rusty Hamilton, Jack Cionne, Katherine Elo, Stuart Morales, Thundergeek, D. Stevens, Steve Zazzi, Frank Soda, Nik Turner, Jack Holmstrom, Ed Prescott, Bruce Duff, Mark Weiss, Al Higbee, Mike Muzziani, Don Hill, Frank Meyer, Ben Perman, Ani Kyd, Linda Dawe. Directed by Ryan Wise

Florida Film Festival 2015

Some of our rock gods live in palaces, Taj Mahal-like and florid. They are truly Gods among men, regal and unlike us mortals in every way. We aspire to their greatness for they are great indeed, touching millions of lives in different ways. Then again, some of our rock gods live in trailer parks. They scrape and struggle to get by, trying to bring their music to the masses and somehow, failing. It isn’t always because their music isn’t up to snuff; sometimes it’s bad decisions or just plain bad luck.

Jon Mikl Thor is one such rock god. In the 1970s, he took up bodybuilding and as a baby-faced blonde youth, he showed some promise. What he really wanted to do was entertain however, and so he went to Las Vegas where he starred as a nude waiter in a Vegas revue – until someone with a bigger package took his spot.

So Jon picked himself up, dusted himself off, went back home to his native Canada and put together a band. I mean, doesn’t everybody? The strange thing was, this band had talent. They had potential. They had a contract with RCA in Canada. The band called itself Thor, after Jon’s onstage persona. And on the eve of their debut album release, a dispute erupted between the record label and the band’s management company. And in the middle of all this, Jon disappeared. Indeed, he was kidnapped – or at least he says he was and while perhaps you might be skeptical as you see him discussing this early on in the documentary, as the film wears on you come to believe that Jon Mikl Thor is a lot of things but he isn’t a liar.

This incident alone could have sustained a documentary but Wise, who followed the band for 15 years, instead focuses on the band’s attempts to break out into mainstream prominence. In many ways, it’s a heartbreaking portrait of a man on a mission who at every turn sees his mission prevented. And the hell of it is, Thor is actually a pretty damn good band. They actually deserve to have some fame, and yet it eludes them. That doesn’t mean that Jon and his bandmates have given up on the dream, or more importantly on themselves.

Now on the over side of 60, Jon continues to chase the rainbow of success. He keeps up a cheerful and optimistic attitude, perhaps to the point where he might be considered delusional. I have to admit that at first, I thought he had a problem distinguishing reality with desire, but the more I got into the movie, I began to realize that he still believes in the dream and knows full well the uphill battle he’s fighting. He also understands the inherent ridiculousness of a man putting on fake armor and battling fake monsters onstage.

Indeed, Thor is an engaging and charismatic guy. Not only does he have plenty of onstage presence, enough to grab the attention of a gigantic rock festival crowd, he also is humble and likable offstage (which is his Canadian heritage showing, eh?) which helps make this a fascinating view. I had no problem spending an hour and a half with Jon Mikl Thor and wouldn’t have minded hanging out with him for a much longer time.

Thor’s live show is, even by metal standards, something to behold. Many of Thor’s bodybuilding feats are displayed, from blowing up a hot water bottle through his own lung power until it explodes, to bending steel bars to having concrete blocks broken on his chest. Thor is an impressive entertainer and he is canny enough to surround himself with some superb musicians, particularly Price and Favata.

I have to admit that while I like heavy metal and listen to it from time to time, I’m not much of a fan and while I was semi-aware of who Thor is, I didn’t really expect much from this documentary. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised that this is not only entertaining but poignant. You end up rooting for a man who seems to be a genuinely nice guy who’s had more than his share of bad  breaks. Against all odds, I became a fan which is a difficult achievement for any band these days given how many bands I’ve heard in my misspent days as a rock critic and since as a listener. So, rock on God of Thunder. Long live Thor!

REASONS TO GO: Thor is an engaging and charismatic personality. A look behind the trailer park of rock and roll.
REASONS TO STAY: Heavy metal isn’t for everyone.
FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During his bodybuilding days, Thor once finished as runner-up in a bodybuilding contest to Lou Ferrigno.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/1/15: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Paul Williams: Still Alive
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Cartel Land

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Hawkeye takes the heat.

Hawkeye takes the heat.

(2015) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy. Directed by Joss Whedon

As Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man series was wont to say, with great power comes great responsibility. It also makes sense that with great power comes great ego. When you have god-like powers (or are an actual god), the tendency would be to think that your powers make you right. When you get a roomful of such beings who may disagree on certain things, how possible is it for them to work together?

Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up from the pieces of HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and continued in the television show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD as the Avengers are mopping up certain HYDRA bases trying to find Loki’s scepter which Thor (Hemsworth) is eager to restore back to its place in Asgard.

Despite heavy resistance from HYDRA and their leader Baron von Strucker (Kretschmann), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans) leads the Avengers to their goal and retrieves the scepter as well as capturing von Strucker. Von Strucker has been using the scepter to experiment on humans, bestowing on twins Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) superpowers; in Quicksilver’s case super speed, in the Witch’s case the ability to enter minds and to shoot red hex blasts from her hands. She implants a suggestion in Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey) to sow discord among the Avengers, somewhat successfully. After all, the conflict was essentially already there.

Stark uses the scepter to kick start an artificial intelligence he calls Ultron which is meant to be a program that protects the planet from alien invaders, an event from Marvel’s The Avengers that so traumatized Stark that it has literally become his greatest fear that the next time invaders come he won’t be able to stop them. However, Ultron (Spader) decides to make himself a body and after quick consideration comes to the conclusion that the best way to protect planet Earth is to remove the human beings from it and to start anew, preferably with metal constructs as the dominant species. That Stark doesn’t tell his fellow Avengers what he’s up to (although The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) assists him reluctantly) further stirs the pot.

As you might guess, this doesn’t sit too well with the Avengers who go out to stop Ultron, who has recruited the twins to his side. They get wind that Ultron is visiting Ulysses Klaw (Serkis), an arms dealer in the African nation of Wakanda to retrieve as much vibranium as he can get his metal hands on and each are given a kind of dream courtesy of the Scarlet Witch that stops them in their tracks and further makes the team wonder if they can function properly. Afterwards, with their gaudy New York headquarters compromised, they retreat to a farm owned by Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Renner) and his wife (Cardellini) to lick their wounds. Thor heads off to find out the meaning of his dream, enlisting old friend Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to help him.

In the meantime romance begins to blossom between Banner and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), and Nick Fury (Jackson) arrives to give the team a pep talk. Thus they head out to stop Ultron, even though it might cost them their lives. And Ultron plans an extinction level event to take out the entire planet. Can the Avengers stop a being that may be smarter and stronger than they are collectively?

Believe it or not, that’s just the bare bones outline of what’s going on in this movie; there are tons of subplots going on as well. Along the way we get more insight into the characters of Hawkeye and the Black Widow (which are welcome) and extended battle sequences which after awhile, truthfully, begins to feel repetitive.

Whedon was able to weave all the different characters together in the first Avengers movie in a way that brought disparate elements into a congenial whole. He is less successful at it this time, which I think has more to do with an attempt to tell a story with so many moving parts, meant to not only influence events in Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also lead directly into the next Phase. In many ways, this is the worst review I’ve ever written; there’s so much Marvel-centric jargon here that it’s nearly impossible to really sum up the movie without going into detailed background, so much so that to really do it justice the review would end up being novel-length. Therein lies the rub for the movie; whereas Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t require a lot of explanation, this one does.

Still, the battle sequences are plenty amazing and while there are so much of them that after awhile there may be some overload particularly among audiences who aren’t young and male, they are all impressive enough to make for wonderful summer entertainment. I’m also liking Whedon’s attempts to illustrate the team’s dysfunction, their self-doubts and the realization that even if they succeed the collateral damage may be unfathomable. Whedon goes well out of his way to depict these warriors as human beings chock full of frailty; it doesn’t always work but at least it makes the movie more interesting than just a mere smashfest.

This sounds very much like a negative review and maybe it is; after all, Marvel has been setting the bar high with their cinematic universe and the last two films in the series have been absolutely outstanding, year-end top 10-worthy features. This doesn’t quite reach that bar but maybe it doesn’t have to. For those looking for ideal summer blockbuster entertainment, this more than fits the bill. It’s the kind of movie made for hot days, cool theaters and freshly popped popcorn. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to see with friends and go out for pizza afterwards. And yeah, it may not be the best Marvel film ever but it isn’t the worst either and it more than gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of superhero goodness. Looks at the inherent dysfunction of a team of powerful beings.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels less focused than the previous Avengers.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of comic book violence and mayhem, and a couple of suggestive comments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Juggling all the characters in this film was so grueling and exhausting that Whedon elected not to direct the next Avengers movie, scheduled for 2018. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s The Russo Brothers will take on the next two-part Avengers: Infinity Wars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: My Life in China

Thor: The Dark World


Quoth the raven, nevermore will there be barbers and razors in Asgard.

Quoth the raven, nevermore will there be barbers and razors in Asgard.

(2013) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo, Alice Krige, Clive Russell, Jonathan Howard, Chris O’Dowd, Talulah Riley. Directed by Alan Taylor

It is hard to achieve success when it comes to the movies, but it is harder still to maintain it. The Marvel superhero films have been on a long winning streak but has the moviegoing public tired of their celluloid adventures yet? Not according to the box office.

Thor (Hemsworth) pines away on Asgard, having had to clean up the mess that his half-brother Loki (Hiddleston) – who rots in an Asgardian prison – wrought with his invasion of Earth in The Avengers. Two years have passed since New York was trashed and Thor has been busy mopping up the results of those events, leaving Jane Foster (Portman) – his earth-born ladylove – petulant and sulky, wondering if her God-like boyfriend has dumped her.

Something called the Convergence is approaching – an event when all nine realms which include Asgard and Earth – are perfectly aligned. As it approaches the boundaries between the realms get a bit thin, causing some temporal and spacial anomalies. While Jane is investigating one of these (leaving a date with the hapless Richard (O’Dowd) to do so) she is infected by something called the Aether.

That’s a bad thing. Apparently this is the stuff that the Dark Elves planned to use at the last Convergence to bring about a return of the universe to complete darkness, something that the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Eccleston) are very eager to do. The Asgardians had gone to war with the Dark Elves to prevent this and only through the efforts of Thor’s grandfather had the forces of light prevailed. Malekith and his major-domo Kurse (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) skedaddled into a spaceship where they would remain in stasis until the Aether called them back, which when Jane is touched by the stuff is precisely what happens.

Cue Thor to fetch Jane to Asgard to see if the medicine of the Gods can help her. Cue Odin (Hopkins) to be grouchy and a bit frumpy. Cue Thor’s mom Frigga (Russo) to be far more understanding than her husband. Cue Thor’s pals Fandral (Levi), Vostagg (Stevenson), Sif (Alexander) and Hogun (Asano) to be understanding. Cue Jane’s ex-boss Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to lose his marbles and walk around Stonehenge stark naked and muttering crazy talk about the Convergence. Cue Jane’s intern Darcy (Dennings) to be snarky and get an intern of her own (Howard). And after Thor desperately seeks his help, cue Loki to make some plans of his own.

Taking over from Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair is Alan Taylor who cut his teeth on the Game of Thrones HBO series as well as other fine TV shows but it is the adaptation of the George R.R. Martin fantasy that prepared Taylor for this big screen debut. He certainly doesn’t have any problem with the scale needed for a cinematic franchise like this. Asgard is properly awe-inspiring, the battle sequences (of which there are several) are properly epic and the heroes properly heroic.

While some critics have groused about Hemsworth as Thor, I don’t agree with their assessment. His character has a bit of an inflated ego (hey, he’s a Norse God after all and the son of the King for all that) and a bit of a maturity issue and he is well aware that his strength doesn’t lie in his intellect. He is the kind of guy who charges in to lay a beat-down on his enemies first and asks questions later. However Thor isn’t just a caricature thanks to Hemsworth who makes his personality work and be relatable to his audience. That’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Hiddleston however is the star of this show in many ways. He is deliciously evil as Loki with a snarky attitude to boot. He revels in his badness but shows some depth that makes his character perhaps the most interesting one in the film. He has some of the best comic relief in the movie and also conversely some of the most poignant moments. Hiddleston is a star in the making and perhaps with this performance arrives in that sense.

The drawbacks here is that the movie drags a bit particularly in the middle and for a movie of this nature that can be a killer. Also early on some of the events are a bit confusing and are never properly explained or given context.

Fortunately the movies plusses outweigh those fairly significant minuses, making this solid entertainment that will please the superhero junkie in your family, although I predict that the fanboys will probably pick it apart and as we head into the next Marvel film will in all likelihood trash it and moan about how it has killed the Marvel franchise. They’ve done the same with Iron Man 3 which is no better or no worse than this.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful eye candy. Hiddleston raises the bar on super-villains. Hemsworth is a terrific Thor.

REASONS TO STAY: Confusing in places. Lumbers a bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a good deal of sci-fi/comic book violence, a few bad words and some suggestive dialogue.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This the last film to be written by Don Payne (who also wrote Thor). He died of bone cancer shortly before the movie was released.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: What Happens in Vegas

Marvel’s The Avengers


Marvel's The Avengers

Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson are a bit grumpy because they didn’t get a nifty uniform.

(2012) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Gwynneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany (voice), Alexis Denisof, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton. Directed by Joss Whedon

 

Okay, take a deep breath now. It’s finally here, after five years of anticipation, of endless speculation, it’s here. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, assembled in one place. Comic book fans of all sorts have been squirming in their chairs for months waiting for this movie to make it into the multiplex.

The thing is, this isn’t a movie just for those who love superheroes. This is spectacle on an epic scale, with battles raging in the skies as well as in the streets of Manhattan. However, there is more to it with a bit of pathos as well as some sharp dialogue. For those wondering, you don’t necessarily have to have seen the preceding Marvel superhero movies, although it helps to have done so.

Loki (Hiddleston) has been released from his quantum exile by the Tesseract, a cube of immense power that SHIELD has been using to try to create a self-sustaining energy source. He immediately uses his spear to control Professor Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) who’s been consulting with SHIELD on the project, and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Renner), an agent of SHIELD.

SHIELD director Nick Fury (Jackson) realizes that war has been declared on Earth by Loki – and he may have an army of alien beings behind him. The armed might of the world’s armies will be insufficient to stop what’s coming, so he is forced to recruit the most powerful beings on Earth to stop the threat – Iron Man (Downey), he of the powerful metal battle suit; Dr. Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), a brilliant scientist and expert on gamma radiation who when angered turns into a gigantic mindless beast that can tear about virtually anything without much effort, and Captain America (Evans), a soldier from World War II rescued from a decades-long sleep who was enhanced at the genetic level by a super soldier formula.

They are joined by the Black Widow (Johansson), an athletic spy and master interrogator and agent Phil Coulson (Gregg), Fury’s right hand – and eye in the field. They’re going to need all of them because with Hawkeye swinging for the other team, Loki is privy to all of SHIELD’s dirty little secrets.

The rest of the team is transported to SHIELDS heli-carrier, an airport carrier with gigantic helicopter rotors and the ability to turn invisible – yes, a cloaking shield! Eat your hearts out, Trekkers! In any case, Banner works on a device to track the unique but faint gamma radiation signature of the Tesseract. In the meantime, Loki is captured by Cap and Iron Man in Germany.

That brings Thor (Hemsworth) into the mix. Thor, Loki’s adopted brother, has noticed what Loki is up to and has had his father send him to Midguard (Earth) at some great cost. The intention is to bring Loki back to Asgard to answer for his crimes there. However, there is work to be done on Earth before that can happen – heading off the invasion that Loki has initiated, for one thing and the alien Chitaurs are not particularly interested in a gentle, benevolent rule. It will take the combined might of all of them to thwart Loki’s intricate plans and save the Earth from being subjugated by alien masters.

This is everything a superhero film is supposed to be; it captures the dynamics of each individual character and Whedon and writer Zak Penn extrapolate how the interpersonal relationships would work given their personalities and egos (which, to be fair, the comics have been doing for years). The result is a believably dysfunctional group of heroes who can be prima donnas and have their own agendas from time to time. Tony Stark (the alter ego of Iron Man) for example is highly suspicious of SHIELD’s motives and distrusts government, particularly after they forcibly tried to take away his work from him in the first two Iron Man movies.

Everyone gets to shine here, from the big guns (Downey) right on down to Gregg who has few scenes but makes the most of them. All of them, including Nick Fury (who hasn’t had much to do in previous films except for a good deal of expository dialogue) kick patooty, whether each other (as in  Thor-Hulk battle) or against the aliens (Cap gives the big green guy the orders “Hulk smash” and Hulk, grinning broadly, does just that).

It might have gone a little bit long (and waiting until the very end of the credits for the second extra scene might be a too much to ask) but all in all this is mind-blowing when it needs to be and visceral when it has to be. Watching Hulk smash is one of the great joys in life, as is seeing Cap’s leadership abilities come to life, or Tony Stark’s ego.

Nothing I say is going to dissuade people who want to see this from seeing it or those that don’t want to see it from avoiding it. If you don’t like superhero movies, if you find big loud action movies with Dolby sound and 3D glasses to be sensory overload, you’re going to be uncomfortable with this. HOWEVER if you don’t mind or actively love these things, you’ll be in your element here.

A note to parents: please don’t bring your kids along if they’re say seven or younger. The movie is a bit long for kids with short attention spans, it’s very scary in places and LOUD throughout. There was a moment when Hulk was roaring and I happened to be glancing at a little girl who couldn’t have been more than five years old covering her ears with a look of ABSOLUTE terror on her face. She had no business being there and you know it wasn’t her idea to go. Get a babysitter folks, or take them to see a Pixar film instead or be prepared to have an angry mob of people at the theater turn on you. This isn’t a little kids movie by any stretch of the imagination. If your kids aren’t able to handle a two hour movie at home, they probably won’t be able to handle it in a theater – and if you should know how easily frightened they are. The movie theater isn’t a day care center.

REASONS TO GO: Extremely well-choreographed action sequences. None of the heroes get short shrift.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be a bit long for those with short attention spans.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence of the alien invasion sort, as well as a few fairly scary sequences. This is definitely not for children under, say, seven years old.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie became the fastest to earn $200M at the U.S. box office – it only took three days to reach that milestone.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.The reviews are almost without exception positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: X-Men

STAN LEE LOVERS: The legendary Marvel Comics grand vizier shows up in his cameo during a montage of interviews of Big Apple residents being interviewed about the battle just fought on city streets.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Top 10 of 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION

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

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

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

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: Not available.

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

9. INCENDIES

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

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

8. BUCK

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: Not available.

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

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

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

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

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

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

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

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

6. THE HELP

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: $25 million

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

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: $30 million

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

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: Not available.

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

3. THE ARTIST

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

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

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

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

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

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

BUDGET: Not available.

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

Thor


Thor

Thor is a bit perplexed as Odin extolls the joys of fava beans and a nice Chianti.

(2011) Superhero (Paramount) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Clark Gregg, Colm Feore, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Part of the maturing process is realizing that, in fact, you don’t know everything. Most parents will tell you that this is a condition that afflicts most teenagers, some worse than others. Of course, if your teenager happens to be a God, that can be a bit overwhelming to deal with.

Thor (Hemsworth) is the God of Thunder and son of Odin (Hopkins), the Highfather of the Norse Gods. Thor isn’t exactly a teenager but he acts like one – reckless, arrogant and foolish. The mortal enemies of the Gods are the Frost Giants, whom Odin defeated a thousand years before and took their most fearsome weapon from them. Now, a trio of them has attempted to steal it back, unsuccessfully which cheeses off Thor big time. Not just because they dared to cross the borders of Asgard itself, which Thor sees as an act of war – but because they did it on the day that Odin named him his heir over his younger brother Loki (Hiddleston).

So Thor decides to pay the Frost Giants a little visit, taking along his good friends the Warriors Three – handsome Fandral (Dallas), taciturn Hogun (Asano) and voluminous Volstagg (Stevenson), as well as Loki  and Sif (Alexander), an intense but loyal female warrior. To get there they must cross Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge which is guarded by the grim Heimdal (Elba), who normally wouldn’t allow Thor to cross on such a fool’s errand – but he is curious as to how the Frost Giants got into Asgard without him knowing, so he allows them to pass.

Of course this turns out to be a very bad idea. The confrontation quickly turns ugly and the Asgardians must fight their way past a kind of gigantic dog-like creature as well as a horde of Frost Giants, necessitating their rescue by Odin himself. He asks Laufey (Feore), the King of the Frost Giants if the incident could be forgotten but Laufey says a brusque no. War, it seems, is coming to Asgard.

Thor continues to be petulant about the whole thing and he and his dad get into a shouting match. Odin, pissed off beyond all measure, exiles Thor to Earth, stripping him of his powers and sending his enchanted hammer Mjolnir after him. When Thor learns some patience and gains the wisdom that is worthy of the hammer, he’ll be allowed to use it once again.

Meanwhile, on earth, a trio of scientists is studying some mysterious radiation surges in the New Mexico desert. Jane Foster (Portman) is extremely dedicated and passionate to her scientific muse. She is mentored by pragmatic Scandinavian Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) and aided by flighty intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings), who is a bit science challenged (she’s majoring in Political Science but this was the only internship she could get). They are out in the desert when a giant funnel cloud opens up. Of course Jane drives right into it – and smack into a Norse God which she strikes with her car.

As she begins to analyze her scientific data she theorizes that what she encountered was one end of a wormhole, through which the “really cut for a homeless guy,” as Darcy describes him, travelled. At first, he seems a bit demented. He is courtly to near ridiculous levels, freakishly strong, socially awkward by our standards and continually spouts out insane statements about Norse mythology, asserting that he is the God of Thunder and carries an enchanted hammer. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, the government agency SHIELD, led by the somewhat brusque agent Coulson (Gregg) has taken over, throwing a cordon around the hammerfall site and taking all of Jane’s research, including her journal. Thor, finding out where his hammer is, determines to go get it and prove himself worthy to Odin.

Up in Asgard, things have gone from bad to worse. Odin has fallen into a coma, Loki has proven to be treacherous and has taken the throne, threatening to annihilate the Frost Giants once and for all. Thor’s friends Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun and Sif come to Earth in a desperate attempt to retrieve Thor and set things to rights. Loki, discovering their treachery, sends down a Destroyer robot to end the lot of them and give him the throne of Asgard free and clear.

At first glance, Branagh is an unusual choice for directing a superhero comic adaptation. After all, he is best known for his Shakespeare adaptations and somewhat classical approach to film. However, he turns out to be the perfect choice; he immediately saw the epic quality in the story that even the Bard would have appreciated and Branagh wisely approaches the story in a matter befitting Shakespeare.

The result is a visually stunning, well-acted superhero movie painted on a cosmic canvas. Hemsworth, memorable as George Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, proves to be a solid and charismatic lead. He has all the makings of a big star, which bodes well for the Marvel Universe. His Thor, although petulant and impulsive is also easy-going and good-hearted. It’s nice to see a superhero mature onscreen in front of you as opposed to the darker superhero tales which seem to be more in vogue these days.

He gets some pretty good support, particularly from Hopkins who lends every inch of gravitas possible to Odin. Portman makes for a sweet romantic interest, in a PG kind of way. Skarsgard, one of the more reliable character actors around, is flinty and stolid as Dr. Selvig; skeptical and practical but also loyal to Jane, the daughter of an old friend. Dennings provides ample comic relief, which is surprising since in previous roles she didn’t strike me as the sort. I’m pleased to see Dennings show that kind of range – I’ve always liked her as an actress, so having that sort of versatility does make career longevity more of a possibility. Rene Russo also makes a rare and welcome appearance as Thor’s mother (and Odin’s wife) Frigga.

Hiddleston makes a fine Loki – tormented, mischievous and hateful. He is not the pure evil that sometimes he is portrayed in the comics; his origin also diverges from Marvel canon somewhat but in a good way I think. He proves to be a formidable opponent for Thor.

I also liked Elba as Heimdal, lending the kind of gravitas usually associated with James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman and Patrick Stewart. While we’re on the subject of the guardian of the rainbow bridge, the bridge makes one of the more arresting visuals of the movie. It is a combination of magic and science that is colorful (as you’d expect) and in an odd way, sensible. The city of Asgard itself is also gorgeous; certainly a CGI creation but looking almost like a miniature in many ways. It looks very much like a city of Gods.

As you can tell from the plot description, the story is a bit ponderous in places, with lots of characters showing up from the pages of Thor and Norse mythology in general. Fleeting glimpses are made of the Infinity Gauntlet, Hawkeye (of the Avengers) and Stan Lee. Keeping track of everything and everyone can be taxing at times, particularly for those who aren’t as well-versed in the comics.

Still, this is a very good start to the franchise; not quite to the level of Iron Man but surprisingly close. Now that the Marvel moviemaking machine is in full gear, it’s good to see that the quality standards are still high. Hopefully that’s something that will turn out to be as eternal as the Gods themselves.

REASONS TO GO: Asgard is beautifully realized. There’s an epic and Shakespearean quality to the story. Hemsworth acquits himself well as a leading man, with fine supporting performances by Portman, Hiddleston, Hopkins, Skarsgard, Elba and Dennings.

REASONS TO STAY: The story can be a bit confusing in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some science fiction/fantasy/comic book violence and a couple of scary monsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Marks the first appearance of Rene Russo in a feature film in six years.

HOME OR THEATER: Most definitely the big screen to maintain the epic quality of the movie.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Tropic Thunder

New Releases for the Week of May 6, 2011


May 6, 2011

Thor gets ready to lay the hammer down on a bad guy.

THOR

(Paramount/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Thor, the God of Thunder and son of Odin is a mighty warrior but an arrogant one. His arrogance unwittingly triggers hostilities between the Gods and the Giants who have been in an uneasy peace for centuries. For his actions, Odin banishes his son to live on Earth and to learn a little humility, which isn’t easy for a God living on Earth but there you go.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette, promos and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence)

I Am

(Paladin) Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn. After a devastating cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly permanently, director Shadyac (auteur of the Ace Ventura movies among others) re-examines himself and his place in the universe, deciding to make a movie about it which might just make up for Ace Ventura, karma-wise.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

In a Better World

(Sony Classics) Mikael Persbrandt, William Johnk Nielsen, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard. An idealistic doctor who splits time between his home in Denmark and an African refugee camp must choose between revenge and forgiveness. At home his son is undergoing the same choice, albeit in a far different situation. This was the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for violent and disturbing content some involving preteens, and for language)

Jumping the Broom

(TriStar) Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine. It seems like it would be a simple thing; two young people coming together in matrimony, in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard no less. However their families – one well-to-do, the other blue collar – are at each other’s throats. Not exactly the seeds for a happy nuptial, right?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content)

POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold

(Sony Classics) Morgan Spurlock, Ben Silverman, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader. Gadfly Spurlock (he of Super Size Me) takes on his own industry this time – and product placement therein as he documents his attempts to have his film entirely financed by product placement. Along the way he gives us a glimpse of how the movie industry works – and how pervasive advertising is in our lives.

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 language and sexual material)

Potiche

(Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard. Set in the 1970s, the trophy wife of a wealthy French industrialist proves to be better at running his company than he is when he is convalescing from a heart attack, setting the stage for this French war between the sexes. I saw this previously at the Florida Film Festival and reviewed it here.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality)

Something Borrowed

(Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski. Rachel and Darcy are best friends; Rachel is the maid of honor for Darcy, who is about to marry the man that Rachel has had a crush on since law school. When Rachel sleeps with Darcy’s husband-to-be after a night of too much drinking, their little circle of friends are in for a game of “change partners!”

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material)

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.

Four-Warned: May 2011


May 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. THOR (1.1)
2. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (1.2)
3. THE HANGOVER PART II (1.6)
4. PRIEST (1.9)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. BEAUTIFUL BOY (1.8)
TIE. THE FIRST GRADER (1.8)
3. THE SILENT HOUSE (LA CASA MUDA) (2.1)
4. THE BIG BANG (2.2)

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

MAY 6, 2011

AN INVISIBLE SIGN (IFC) Genre: Drama. A child who escapes her father’s illness through numbers becomes a math teacher who helps her students escape their own crises. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Although Jessica Alba wasn’t the casting choice I might have made, the trailer looks very intriguing.
THE BEAVER (Summit) Genre: Drama. A man deep in the clutches of depression uses a beaver hand puppet to help save his family, his career and ultimately himself. Release Strategy: Limited (expands wide May 20). RATING: 2.8 Jodie Foster in the director’s chair is always welcome; Mel Gibson in the lead role might not be for some.
DAYDREAM NATION (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. A young girl moves into a small town and gets involved with her teacher and a troubled but sweet classmate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 I’m not sure I liked some of the thematic elements displayed in the trailer.
FORKS OVER KNIVES (Monica Beach Media) Genre: Documentary. Claims that most degenerative diseases can be controlled and even eliminated with diet are examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 The fable that vegetarianism is healthier for you than a balanced diet just won’t go away.
HARVEST (Monterey Media) Genre: Drama. A patriarch gathers his family together in an idyllic shoreline town. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 It’s certainly a talented cast and an interesting premise; trailer wasn’t half bad either.
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Magnet) Genre: Action. A hobo trying to make a better life for himself must take on a criminal gang armed with a shotgun and a lawnmower. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 The second movie based on a Grindhouse trailer.
I’M NOT JESUS MOMMY (FilmDemic) Genre: Horror. It is discover that the world’s first cloned child was cloned using DNA from the Shroud of Turin. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Not sure if this is a standard horror movie or a Christian one.
JUMPING THE BROOM (TriStar) Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy. Two families of different socio-economic strata clash at a Martha’s Vineyard wedding. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Trailer very “been there done that.”
LAST NIGHT (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A couple separated by a husband’s business trip must face romantic temptation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 A very interesting premise but unfortunately, not a cast to match it.
MAKE BELIEVE (Crowd Starter) Genre: Documentary. The film follows six entrants in the World’s Best Teen Magician in Las Vegas. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Could be interesting; might not be.
MOTHER’S DAY (Gigapix) Genre: Horror. A sadistic mom and her bank robbing sons take control at a birthday party held at their former home, terrorizing the new residents. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 I don’t think this has anything to do with the 80s slasher film of the same name.
OCTUBRE (OCTOBER) (New Yorker) Genre: Drama. A small-time criminal in Peru is forced to care for a baby and utilizes a prostitute to help him; the three form an unexpected family of sorts. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Sounds a little bit like the South African film Tsotsi.
PASSION PLAY (Image) Genre: Fantasy. A jazz musician on the run from a gangster meets a mysterious winged woman in a carnival. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A cast that includes Bill Murray, Mickey Rourke and Rhys Ifans has got my vote.
THE SILENT HOUSE (LA CASA MUDA) (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A father and daughter renovating a cottage endure terrifying events. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Filmed in one continuous shot a la Rope, this is reportedly based on actual events.
SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Brothers) Genre: Romantic Comedy. The maid of honor winds up sleeping with the groom, who happens to be her old flame – and the bride her best friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Ginnifer Goodwin is not one of my favorite actresses but Kate Hudson is.
THERE BE DRAGONS (Goldwyn) Genre: Historical Drama. The story of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei is presented in a fictionalized form here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 A pro-Catholic look at the man who founded the controversial group that has haunted the dreams of Dan Brown.
THOR (Paramount) Genre: Superhero. The God of Thunder is banished to Asgard for unleashing war, only the war follows him down to Earth. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.1 A new Marvel movie – must be May!
THE VINTNER’S LUCK (Panorama) Genre: Fantasy. A French peasant winemaker must choose between an aristocratic Baroness, his wife and a fallen angel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 The trailer has elements of the avant garde and the straightforward both.

MAY 11, 2011

CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A dramatization of the Japanese invasion and subjugation of Nanking prior to World War II. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 Haven’t seen the trailer yet but still waiting for the definitive “Rape of Nanking” movie.

MAY 13, 2011

THE BIG BANG (Anchor Bay) Genre: Crime Thriller. A bedraggled L.A. gumshoe investigates a case of stolen diamonds that might turn into the end of the world as we know it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Film noir with a modern setting and an impressive cast – I like it.
THE BLEEDING HOUSE (Tribeca) Genre: Horror. A family with a violent secret is infiltrated by a sweet-talking young man out for retribution. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Sounds like a psychological thriller with a haunted house title.
BRIDESMAIDS (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A maid of honor attempts to perform her duties with a group of demented bridesmaids and her best friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Judd Apatow tries to do for weddings what he did for pregnancy.
CAMERAMAN: THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JACK CARDIFF (Strand) Genre: Documentary. Cardiff was one of the most influential cinematographers of his era, a career that spanned nine of the first ten decades of motion picture history. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles June 3). RATING: 2.7 Responsible for some of the most memorable motion pictures in history.
EVERYTHING MUST GO (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. After being locked out of his house and his possessions thrown out on the lawn by his wife, a man seeks to sell everything and in doing so find release from his demons. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Will Ferrell stars in a role very different than any other he’s ever played.
THE FIRST GRADER (BBC Films) Genre: True Life Drama. When the new government of Kenya offers free education to all, an 84 year old man decides to take advantage of it with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The trailer looked good and the premise is wonderful – and the BBC made it? I’m there.
GO FOR IT! (Lionsgate) Genre: Urban Dance Drama. A young daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago is forced to choose between her family, her boyfriend, her dream of becoming a dancer and her future. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Fodder for the “So You Think You Can Dance” crowd.
HESHER (Wrekin Hill) Genre: Dramedy. A long-haired drug-using tattooed anarchist falls in with a grieving family and helps turn their lives around. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Terrific cast (Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) makes this worth seeking out.
THE HIGH COST OF LIVING (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. When a drug dealer and a pregnant woman’s lives intersect tragically, the drug dealer becomes an unlikely guardian angel until his past begins to catch up with him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Decent cast, a fascinating premise and a terrific trailer equals interested.
HOW TO LIVE FOREVER (Variance) Genre: Documentary. Filmmaker Mark Wexler tackles our society’s obsession with aging and how to prevent it. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Looks more like a social commentary than a primer so be warned.
L’AMOUR FOU (First Film) Genre: Documentary. The story of iconic fashion designer Yves St. Laurent as seen through the eyes of his decades-long life partner. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.6 I simply don’t care that much about fashion although I’m interested enough in his life story that I might actually see this.
PRIEST (Screen Gems) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. In a future in which man has won a war with the vampires, a warrior priest discovers that a new army is being built and he must defy the Church to stop it. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.9 If it sounds like a graphic novel it’s because it’s based on one.
SKATELAND (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Drama. Texas teens deal with alcohol, difficult home lives and the closing of their roller rink hangout in the early 80s. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 Too many films have mined this era lately.
THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS (Argot) Genre: Documentary. A look at the world’s only singing, yodeling lesbian twin sisters whose political activism helped change New Zealand’s social landscape. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 They aren’t well known here in the U.S. so this is certainly a learning opportunity.
TRUE LEGEND (Indomina) Genre: Martial Arts. When his power-made brother returns home from war with a deadly weapon, a man must learn a new way to fight in order to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 One of David Carradine’s last movies, directed by the fight choreographer of The Matrix.

MAY 18, 2011

LOUDER THAN A BOMB (Balcony) Genre: Documentary. Follows six Chicago-area poetry teams as they enter a prestigious poetry slam for teens. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 The art form doesn’t really do much for me, although I recognize that there is talent involved here.

MAY 20, 2011

35 AND TICKING (Image) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Four friends come to grips with turning 35 as their biological clocks tick away. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Not a lot of information available about this movie.
BEAUTIFUL BOY (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. A family comes to grips with the tragedy of their son shooting up his school before killing himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Stars the great Michael Sheen and the trailer is really compelling, by the way.
BLOODWORTH (Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. A country legend must come to grips with his family after having abandoned them 40 years earlier for a life on the road. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a little bit too much like Crazy Heart.
THE LION OF JUDAH (Animated Family Films) Genre: Animated Feature. A family film revolving around Biblical themes. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 4.0 Not my cup of tea.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A family takes a trip to Paris revolving around business and finds their lives changing because of it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 The latest from director Woody Allen and his first in France.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (Disney) Genre: Action. Captain Jack Sparrow seeks the Fountain of Youth with Blackbeard in hot pursuit. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.2 New director, new supporting cast but same old Jack.

MAY 26, 2011

THE HANGOVER PART II (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. More lost weekend hi-jinx, this time in Thailand. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 One has to wonder if they will be able to capture lightning in a bottle twice.
KUNG FU PANDA 2 (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. Po and the Furious Five must defend Kung Fu against a terrible weapon that threatens to wipe out their way of life. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.3 The first film was one of my favorites to come out of the DreamWorks Animation factory.

MAY 27, 2011

TIED TO A CHAIR (Process Studio Theater) Genre: Comedy. A housewife decides to return to her acting career and is embroiled in a series of increasingly dangerous mishaps. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Quite frankly, the trailer looked amateurish.
THE TREE OF LIFE (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A man reconciles his relationship with his father over a 50 year timespan as he seeks out the origins of all life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The latest from director Terrene Malick stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Beaver, Thor, Something Borrowed, Bridesmaids, Priest, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Tree of Life

2011 Preview


2010 will in all likelihood not be remembered fondly by studio executives in years to come. While there were several movies that did big business  it was a year full of disappointments.

But there’s always next year, and 2011 looks to be the most eagerly anticipated line-up of movies in recent memory. In addition to the final movie in the Harry Potter franchise, we can expect the first movie in the Twilight finale, a barrage of superhero movies including Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, Thor, The Green Hornet and Captain America: The First Avenger, a spin-off from the Shrek universe and new installments in the Sherlock Holmes, Cars, Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Planet of the Apes, Spy Kids and Paranormal Activity series, just to name a few.

All signs point to a record year at the box office and while there isn’t anything with Avatar-like potential, there are enough movies that have the promise of $300 Million plus box office receipts that studio accountants should have their work cut out for them this year.

Of course, what that means to you and me is more time at the multiplex, more 3D upcharges, more popcorn and soda, and of course, more great movies to review. Many of them will show up on the blog as new releases and as always, those we can’t get to during their theatrical run will show up later when they make it to DVD/Blu-Ray.

It’s been a good year for Cinema365; site hits are at an all-time high and hopefully will continue to grow exponentially. Our Top 5 series has been very successful, and the Six Days of Darkness campaign did very well indeed; both will be back in 2011. We have added box office performance numbers to both our DVD reviews and preview articles; we hope to add additional content that will enhance your enjoyment of our reviews.

In the meantime, we have a preview to get to so just a few words of business before we get started; as always, release dates are extremely subject to change. Plenty of the movies that show up in the preview will wind up coming out on a date other than the one listed here and maybe some may not be released at all. Others may change their titles and come out as something else entirely. The farther out the movie is scheduled for, the more likelihood for change there is. The information we present here is as accurate as we can make it when it was written but I’m sure that within a few days of publication there will already be changes. For more accurate release dates, consult our weekly previews which contain the movies being released nationwide, as well as those that are coming out in limited release here in Orlando. By all means, consult your local theater listings to make sure the movie you’re interested in seeing is playing in your area before heading out to the multiplex. If you’re looking for further information about a movie that grabs your fancy, you can find it at either iMDB or ComingSoon.net; the links to both of those sites are available on the front page of Cinema365.

That’s about it. So buckle your seat belts, grab your popcorn and get ready for what promises to be a great ride. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present 2011 in all its cinematic glory. Enjoy!

JANUARY

 

January is usually the time of holiday holdovers, movies that debuted during the Holiday season and remain in theaters. Most of the movies released during this month are those the studio has little confidence in although occasionally there will be one that connects with the audience. This year, with the schedule full of potential blockbusters all year long, there are a few exceptions, like a masked avenger seeking justice, a man who finds out unpleasant information about his best friend’s wife and an exorcism movie starring Hannibal Lecter…well, the guy who plays him.

January 2011

THE 400 LB. GORILLA

THE GREEN HORNET

RELEASE DATE: January 14, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Seth Rogen, Cameron Diaz, Jay Chou, Christoph Walz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Edward Furlong

STORY: The indolent son of a crusading newspaper publisher takes on the persona of a costumed crime fighter after his father is murdered. Aided by his father’s friend, confidante and employee Kato and many glorious gadgets, Britt Reid will become the Green Hornet.

PROSPECTS: The trailers look like the movie is taking a fairly serious view with a light edge without being an out-and-out comedy. I wouldn’t have thought Rogen to be a first choice for a costumed crime fighter but he seems to work well here.

OBSTACLES: Michel Gondry wouldn’t have been my choice as director nor Rogen my choice as the lead. If it veers too much into comedy, hard core fans of the character will turn their back on the film.

FACTOID: Rogen lost thirty pounds to prepare for the role.

BMOC

THE DILEMMA

RELEASE DATE: January 14, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Queen Latifah, Channing Tatum

STORY: A man discovers that his best friend and business partner’s wife is cheating on him. He wrestles with the idea of telling him about her infidelity, discovering that his friend is not without his own secrets. Now on the eve of the biggest presentation of their careers, he must decide how, when and even if he is going to reveal the truth.

PROSPECTS: The film received a lot of negative publicity for the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative in its trailer and, as they say, any publicity is good publicity. With Ron Howard in the director’s seat and Vaughn and James in front of the camera, this could be a big hit if it’s any good.

OBSTACLES: There is almost sure to be some backlash from the gay community and if the movie isn’t any good it will end up on a quick trip to the DVD cut-out bin.

FACTOID: This is director Ron Howard’s first comedy since How the Grinch Stole Christmas back in 2000.

THE RITE

RELEASE DATE: January 28, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Anthony Hopkins, Alice Braga, Colin O’Donoghue, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Franco Nero

STORY: A skeptical seminary student is assigned to the Vatican’s School of Exorcism and assigned to an unorthodox priest, with whom together they discover a terrifying secret about the dark side of the faith.

PROSPECTS: Hopkins in a horror film is almost certain to bring in the fanboy segment into the theaters.

OBSTACLES: Exorcism movies have not been box office barnburners as of late.

FACTOID: The trailer made its debut at the Scream Awards 2010, introduced by Anthony Hopkins himself.

UNDERDOG

RABBIT HOLE

RELEASE DATE: January 14, 2011

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Patricia Kalember, Sandra Oh, Miles Teller, Mike Doyle

STORY: A happy family is turned upside-down when a tragedy changes their dynamic forever. Caught in a maelstrom of grief, memory, suspicion and rage, they try to escape the storm before it tears them apart.

PROSPECTS: Highly acclaimed out of the Toronto Film Festival, the movie has gotten a huge amount of Oscar buzz and is getting a limited run in December before opening wide in January.

OBSTACLES: These types of dramas rarely get the big box office numbers, although from time to time one breaks out.

FACTOID: The movie is based on a Tony Award-winning play and will be the first movie that Kidman will act in as well as produce.

ALSO IN THEATERS

January 1, 2011

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (Giant Flick), opening in limited release only, is a special effects-heavy production putting the Arabian hero on a desperate journey to save the sultan’s spirited daughter. Hey, isn’t that pretty much every Sinbad story?

January 7, 2011

SEASON OF THE WITCH (Relativity) stars Nicolas Cage as a hero of the Crusades tasked to escort a convicted witch to a faraway castle for execution. There’s just one hitch – she actually is a witch. This has been bouncing around the release schedule for more than a year, never a good sign.

January 14, 2011

ONG BAK 3 (Magnet) is the third and final installment in the Thai martial arts series. Tony Jaa returns in an epic confrontation with Demon Crow (played by fellow Thai martial artist Dan Chupong), a supernatural warrior of evil inclinations. Opening in limited release.  

January 21, 2011

In NO STRINGS ATTACHED (Paramount), a pair of friends with benefits find themselves falling for each other despite their agreement to keep things strictly physical. Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman star. THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper as three men who are downsized from their corporate jobs and must find ways to redefine themselves. While the trailer has looked intriguing, the movie has been rescheduled several times and now has been exiled to the wasteland that is January which doesn’t bode well.

January 28, 2011

 FROM PRADA TO NADA (Pantelion) is Jane Austin’s ”Sense and Sensibility” given a Latina spin. Camilla Belle and Alexa Barger are two spoiled sisters forced to move in with their impoverished aunt in East L.A. after their father passes away, with a resultant fish out of water scenario that is both comic and dramatic. This will be opening in limited release. THE MECHANIC (CBS) is based on a 1972 Charles Bronson film and stars Jason Statham as an assassin who takes on the son of an old friend as an apprentice after his old friend is assassinated by his own company. The two are out for vengeance, but can never know who to trust – including each other.

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. These totals don’t include ancillary merchandising, home video sales or broadcast/cable sales, all of which are sure to push the bottom line beyond profitability. When production budgets aren’t available, I’ll be making a guess based on production values and star power. 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.

THE LOVELY BONES (DreamWorks) Budget: $65 Million. Domestic Gross: $44.0M Total: $93.5M Verdict: Flop.

BOOK OF ELI (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $94.8M Total: $157.1M Verdict: Broke Even.

EDGE OF DARKNESS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $43.3M Total: $81.0M Verdict: Flop.

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES (CBS) Budget: $31M. Domestic Gross: $12.1M Total: $15.1M Verdict: Flop.

LEAP YEAR (Lionsgate) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $25.9M Total: $32.6M Verdict: Lost Money.

THE SPY NEXT DOOR (Lionsgate) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $24.3M Total: $43.5M Verdict: Profitable.

LEGION (Screen Gems) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $40.2M Total: $67.9M Verdict: Profitable.

WHEN IN ROME (Touchstone) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $32.7M Total: $43.0 Verdict: Hit.

FEBRUARY

Hollywood likes to keep the Valentine’s Day weekend stocked with date movies but this is really when the 2011 release schedule gets serious with some fairly anticipated movies, including a Justin Bieber concert film, a James Cameron-produced underwater adventure, another stab at a young adult sci-fi franchise and a supernatural action film among those vying for the box office championship.

February 2011

THE 400 LB. GORILLA

SANCTUM

RELEASE DATE: February 4, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Allison Cratchley, Christopher Baker, John Garvin

STORY: Based on actual events, this James Cameron-produced thriller follows the exploration of the Esa-ala Caves in the South Pacific by one of the most respected explorers in the world who has a contentious relationship with his son. When flash floods block their only exit, they must fight the rising waters and their own panic to find a way out to the sea.

PROSPECTS: Utilizing 3D technology developed for Avatar, the movie also has the magic name of James Cameron to draw in crowds. While the underwater spelunking brings vision of Descent to mind, the trailer looks phenomenal.

OBSTACLES: For one thing, Cameron is producing and not directing. Cave exploration movies have done only marginal business at best and there are no name stars in this one.

FACTOID: Andrew Wight, whose story this movie is partially based upon, is credited with being one of the co-writers of the script.

BMOC

DRIVE ANGRY 3D

RELEASE DATE: February 25, 2011

STUDIO: Summit Entertainment

STARRING: Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, Billy Burke, Simona Williams, Katy Mixon, David Morse, Pruitt Taylor Vince

STORY: A hardened criminal breaks out of Hell to save his infant granddaughter from the evil cult that murdered his daughter. Accordingly, Hell sends its own private bounty hunter to retrieve the wayward soul. Things are going to get a whole lot of hot before too long!

PROSPECTS: The trailer looks, for lack of a better term, kickass. Director Patrick Lussier is mostly known for reboots of horror classics (My Bloody Valentine) and sequels (Prophecy 3: The Ascent) but he did helm the very underrated White Noise 2.

OBSTACLES: Cage has had a string of missteps in his career with only the lucrative National Treasure series really having any success. Kickass movies may look fine in theory but at the box office they haven’t fared very well lately.

FACTOID: The lead character is named Milton for John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost.”

I AM NUMBER FOUR

RELEASE DATE: February 18, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand, Callan McAuliffe, Jake Abel, Emily Wickersham

STORY: Three teenagers have been killed by a mysterious, evil force. A fourth is on the run to a quiet Ohio town where he lives with his guardian. Raging hormones trigger the development of powerful abilities, but will these be enough to save him when the killer comes calling?

PROSPECTS: This is based on a popular young adult sci-fi novel. Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg are executive producing, D.J. Caruso (Suburbia) is directing and Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, creators of the “Smallville” TV series, are writing the screenplay.

OBSTACLES: This is the latest in a series of attempts to take a popular young adult novel or series of novels and turn it into a franchise a la Harry Potter and Twilight. Many have tried and all have failed.

FACTOID: Sharlto Copley was originally supposed to play the guardian but had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts.

UNDERDOG

GNOMEO AND JULIET

RELEASE DATE: February 11, 2011

STUDIO: Touchstone

STARRING THE VOICES OF: James MacAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ozzie Osbourne, Julie Walters

STORY: Shakespeare was never anything like this. Warring clans of garden gnomes – the porcelain sort – engage in lawnmower races until one of the blue gnomes falls in love with one of the red gnomes. A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.

PROSPECTS: The co-director of Shrek 2 is responsible for this epic madness. It’s just so out there that it might just work. I mean, Patrick Stewart and Ozzie Osbourne in the same cast? Someone had to be on crack.  

OBSTACLES: Unless this is staggeringly good, this might go down as an epic fail. The trailer wasn’t terribly inspiring.

FACTOID: This is the first animated feature to be released by Disney’s Touchstone imprint. Previously, all other animated films had been released by Disney or Pixar.

ALSO IN THEATERS

 

February 4, 2011 

THE ROOMMATE (Screen Gems) stars Leighton Meester as a deranged college freshman who becomes obsessed with her roommate. Single White Female, anyone? WAITING FOR FOREVER (Freestyle) is about a guy content to live without a job, but who can’t live without his girlfriend, a young actress. Rachel Bilson, Blythe Danner and Richard Jenkins star in this limited release.

February 11, 2011

THE EAGLE (Rogue) concerns a young centurion of ancient Rome whose father disappeared with the Ninth Legion in Briton. Years later, the son returns to the British Isles to find out what happened, and takes his slave, a Briton, with him. JUST GO WITH IT (Columbia) stars Adam Sandler as a man who entreats his friend Jennifer Aniston to pose as his ex-wife so that he can woo another woman, in this case Nicole Kidman. Some guys are just lucky that way. JUSTIN BEIBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (Paramount) is a concert film and semi-biographical documentary about the current flavor of the weak in pop music. I’m sure your screaming, crying pre-teen daughter will force you to take her to see this, so if you missed the Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers phenomena you aren’t off the hook just yet. IN HER SKIN (IFC) is based on a true story about the body of a missing 15-year-old girl found in Australia whose murderer was determined to be her best friend, who had then tried to change her identity. Although listed as a wide release, films for this distributor are generally released on a limited basis so keep that in mind.

February 18, 2011

BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (20th Century Fox) is the third installment in the Martin Lawrence comedy series. Here, he goes undercover in an all-girl performing arts school to find a murderer but this time he’s not alone – his son will be masquerading as a student. UNKNOWN (Warner Brothers) is about a physician who awakens from a coma after a car accident to find that his wife doesn’t know him, another man has assumed his identity and mysterious assassins are after him. Talk about a bad day! However, when the physician is played by Liam Neeson, you know that some serious butt-kicking can’t be far behind.

February 25, 2011

HALL PASS (New Line) is the latest from the Farrelly Brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber). Here, two best friends (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis) are given a one week free pass from their wives to do anything they want – no recriminations, no questions asked. However, the single life they both so crave has changed quite a bit since they got married. SHELTER (Weinstein) stars Julianne Moore as an expert on multiple-personality disorders who has put several murderers away with her testimony. As she examines a new patient, she begins to realize that he may be much more than human in this supernatural horror thriller.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

SHUTTER ISLAND (Paramount) Budget: $80 Million. Domestic Gross: $128.0M Total: $294.8M Verdict: Hit.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF (20th Century Fox) Budget: $95M. Domestic Gross: $88.8M Total: $226.4M Verdict: Profitable.

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE (Lionsgate) Budget: $52M. Domestic Gross: $24.1M Total: $52.8M Verdict: Flop.

COP OUT (PREVIEWED AS A COUPLE OF DICKS) (Warner Brothers) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $44.9M Total: $55.5M Verdict: Flop.

VALENTINE’S DAY (New Line) Budget: $52M. Domestic Gross: $110.5M Total: $213.0M Verdict: Hit.

DEAR JOHN (Screen Gems) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $80.0M Total: $115.0M Verdict: Blockbuster.

THE CRAZIES (Overture) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $39.1M Total: $54.6M Verdict: Hit.

THE WOLFMAN (Universal) Budget: 150M. Domestic Gross: $62.0M Total: $139.8M Verdict: Flop.

MARCH

 

With the summer film schedule becoming more and more crowded, the studios often put movies that might otherwise get lost in the summer binge here; 2010 saw box office gold go to Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and How to Train Your Dragon. This year there are several movies that hope to achieve that kind of success, including the latest from director Zach Snyder, an alien invasion movie, a couple of off-beat animated features from Paramount and Disney and a re-imagining of a classic fairy tale.

March 2011

THE 400 LB GORILLA

SUCKER PUNCH

RELEASE DATE: March 25, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Oscar Isaac

STORY: A young woman is locked away in an asylum with a terrible fate awaiting her. In a fantasy world of her own imagining, she does battle with monsters, samurais, dirigibles and biplanes as she fights to save herself and her friends.

PROSPECTS: Director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) is known for his imaginative vision and it is saying something when I assert that this might be his most fantastic film yet. The trailer looks off the hook and fans have been buzzing about this since footage was first screened at Comic Con last summer.

OBSTACLES: This looks to be a bit eclectic and mainstream audiences don’t always appreciate eclectic. Although Jon Hamm is thought to be an up and coming talent, there are no real names in the cast other than Hudgens who is associated with the High School Musical series more than anything.

FACTOID: This is Snyder’s first movie not based on a different medium (all of his other films are based on graphic novels, children’s books or previously released horror movies).

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RANGO

RELEASE DATE: March 4, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina

STORY: A chameleon with an identity crisis wanders the Southwest trying to stay out of the jaws of certain death, which isn’t easy.

PROSPECTS: This is Paramount’s first foray into the lucrative animated feature market and they have been marketing this movie big time. Director Gore Verbinski did the first three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and was able to nab some big names for his voice cast.

OBSTACLES: While the trailer looked good to a certain extent, it also looked a bit too much like a low-budget Robert Rodriguez film which might turn some would-be viewers off.

FACTOID: This is also the first animated feature for Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects company George Lucas created for the Star Wars films that became the most famous effects house in Hollywood.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

RELEASE DATE: March 11, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Joey King, Lucas Till

STORY: An alien invasion takes over the cities of the world one by one. Los Angeles is the last human city standing and its survival hinges on the actions of one Marine staff sergeant and his platoon.

PROSPECTS: The trailer looked mighty impressive and alien invasion movies are the Hollywood trend du jour.

OBSTACLES: The poor reception of Skyline might deter some from heading directly to the box office, which means this will likely require a good word of mouth in order to be successful.

FACTOID: The movie was mostly filmed in Louisiana because of tax incentives; streets resembling Los Angeles were built there for the crew to film in.

UNDERDOG

JANE EYRE

RELEASE DATE: March 11, 2011

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Holliday Grainger, Judi Dench, Tamzin Merchant, Imogen Poots, Sophie Ward

STORY: Yet another filmed version of the Charlotte Bronte classic, as a young governess flees the employ of the wealthy Edward Rochester, having to come to terms with the horrible secret he hides and that she has uncovered.

PROSPECTS: Director Cary Fukunaga last made the acclaimed Sin Nombre and has produced a very lush-looking version of the novel. This is opening in limited release only.

OBSTACLES: Does the world need yet another remake of the classic novel? And with all the choices out there, will a Victorian morality play make much of a dent in the box office?

FACTOID: This is the eleventh big screen version listed on iMDB of the classic dating back to the silent era, not to mention the countless versions that have appeared in TV movies, mini-series and ongoing series over the years.

ALSO IN THEATERS

March 4, 2011

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (Universal) is based on a Philip K. Dick short story and stars Matt Damon as a Senatorial candidate who falls in love with a dancer and thus runs afoul of those who control individual destiny. This was originally scheduled to be released last fall. APOLLO 18 (Weinstein) is a “found footage” horror film that is taken from the allegedly canceled moon mission and shows that there’s a reason we haven’t been back. TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT (Relativity) is the story of a wild Labor Day party wherein a recent college grad pursues the girl of his dreams and runs smack dab into the responsibilities of being grown up.

March 11, 2011

MARS NEEDS MOMS (Disney) is a motion capture animation from the folks that gave you The Polar Express. Based on the Berkeley Breathed book of the same name, a young nine-year-old who’s tired of being bossed around by his mom finds out how much he really needs her when Martians kidnap her. RED RIDING HOOD (Warner Brothers) is a re-imagining of the classic fairy tale by Twilight director Catherine Hardwick. In it, Amanda Seyfried stars in the title role as a young heroine living in a village that has a werewolf prowling the woods around it, a werewolf that has suddenly, inexplicably begun to attack humans after years of accepting animal sacrifices once a month from the villagers.

March 18, 2011

BEASTLY (CBS) is a re-imagining of the Beauty and the Beast fable, set in modern times with high school kids. Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer star in this release that was previously scheduled for last fall but has found a spot in the March line-up.  LIMITLESS (Relativity) is a sci-fi thriller about a discovery that allows men to use 100% of their brains. When a writer becomes the first person to use the experimental drug, he becomes a target for sinister forces. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro star. DESERT FLOWER (National Geographic) is the dramatization of the story of Waris Dirie, the author and supermodel who escaped a life of poverty in Somalia to become an outspoken opponent of the practice of Female Genitalia Mutilation. Although listed as a wide release, this might wind up getting a limited release instead. THE LINCOLN LAWYER (Lionsgate) is based on a Michael Connelly novel. It stars Matthew McConaughey as a criminal defense lawyer who operates out of the back seat of a Lincoln Continental. His latest case turns from the opportunity of a lifetime into a deadly game of survival. PAUL (Universal) reunites Shaun of the Dead’s Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as a couple of sci-fi geeks pick up an illegal alien, only this one is from a lot farther away from Mexico. This smart-aleck space traveler leads the two on a merry chase that turns the Hope-Crosby road movies on their ear. Seth Rogen voices the alien being.

March 25, 2011

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2: RODRICK RULES (20th Century Fox) is the sequel to last year’s hit middle school comedy and is based on the second book of the juvenile illustrated novel series. MIRAL (Weinstein) opens in limited release and is about a defiant orphan in war-torn Jerusalem in 1948 who goes on to become a teacher in refugee camps who must decide between fighting the same battle that has defined that region for decades, or choose a path of using education to bring a lasting peace. THE LION OF JUDAH (Animated Family Films) is an animated feature with a biblical setting, as a group of stable animals attempt to rescue a lamb that is to be sacrificed at an upcoming festival. They see out the King, who was born in the same stable 30 years prior. Expect a number of Sunday school field trips for this one.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Disney) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $334.1M Total: $1.0B Verdict: Blockbuster.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $125M. Domestic Gross: $163.2M Total: $493.2M Verdict: Hit.

GREEN ZONE (Universal) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $35.0M Total: $94.8M Verdict: Flop.

CHLOE (Sony Classics) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $3.1M Total: $10.4M Verdict: Flop.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (DreamWorks) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $217.6M Total: $493.2 Verdict: Hit.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $67.1M Total: $136.3 Verdict: Hit.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (MGM) Budget: $36M. Domestic Gross: $50.3M Total: $64.4M Verdict: Flop.

SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE (PREVIEWED AS HARD 10) (Paramount) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $31.6M Total: $48.4M Verdict: Profitable.

APRIL

As the weather begins to warm, the multiplexes also begin to heat up with movies that are out to pave the way for the big summer blockbusters. While last year turned out to be a disappointing box office month mostly dominated by films released in March, this year looks hopeful with the return of a horror franchise, a pair of animated features that look to keep kids happy, a new Disney nature film, a sci-fi flick from the acclaimed director of Moon and the latest in the Madea and Fast and Furious franchises.

April 2011

THE 400 LB. GORILLA

SCREAM 4

RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2011

STUDIO: Dimension

STARRING: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panattiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Mary McDonnell, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Nico Tortorella

STORY: The gang from the first three films, including writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven, get together for a grand reunion of sorts, with new meat for the grinder as well as old favorites and a whole new set of rules for survival in a horror film.

PROSPECTS: With a nice mixture of horror and comedy, the first three Scream movies were among the most popular of the genre in the 90s. Many of the actors (whose characters survived) the first three movies are back, and there are rumors that if this is successful it will be the first of a new Scream trilogy.

OBSTACLES: It has been eleven years since Scream 3 and fifteen years since the first one. Younger generations might confuse this with the Scary Movie films which were a spoof of the Scream movies and not nearly as good.

FACTOID: Craven decided to make a cameo in the movie, asking his followers on Twitter to come up with an idea as to how to do it.

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RIO

RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Mann, will.i.am, George Lopez, Rodrigo Santoro, Carlos Ponce

STORY: A rare blue macaw leaves Minnesota for Brazil to meet with the last female blue macaw. It turns out that the flight-challenged and somewhat timid American and the high-flying fiercely independent Brazilian aren’t exactly the perfect match, but they embark on an adventure that will force them to depend on one another.

PROSPECTS: A new animated feature from the Blue Sky team that gave us the Ice Age series (and yes, there’s another one of those planned for 2012). Think of this as being a (literally) polar opposite in tone.

OBSTACLES: The competition for the family entertainment dollar is getting fierce and I’m not 100% sold that the trailer has given families a reason to see this more than once…or twice.

FACTOID: There are no species of macaws that are completely blue. The closest is the Hyacinth Macaw which are blue all over except under the wing where they are black.

SOURCE CODE

RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2011

STUDIO: Summit

STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Peters, Michael Arden, Susan Bain

STORY: A young soldier is forced to relive a train catastrophe over and over again in order to find out who’s responsible and prevent a much larger disaster from occurring.

PROSPECTS: A very intriguing time travel premise from director Duncan Jones (Moon) that has elements of 12 Monkeys and Timecop. The science fiction community is looking at this project with great interest.

OBSTACLES: Time travel movies are notoriously difficult to make work, and even more difficult to sell. While Jones has gotten critical plaudits for his work on Moon, he has yet to really make a serious box office splash.

FACTOID: Topher Grace was originally considered for the lead role before it went to Gyllenhaal.

UNDERDOG

MEEK’S CUTOFF

RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2011

STUDIO: Oscilloscope Laboratories

STARRING: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Rod Rondeaux, Neal Huff

STORY: A story of the ill-fated expedition from Fort Laramie to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1845 led by Stephen Meek.

PROSPECTS: The film has been getting some plaudits on the festival circuit, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, one of the most prestigious festival awards there is.

OBSTACLES: It’s a Western and about a fairly grim set of circumstances to boot.

FACTOID: Director Kelly Reichardt last directed Wendy and Lucy; this is her first Western.

ALSO IN THEATERS

April 1, 2011

HOP (Universal) stars the voice of Russell Brand as the Easter Bunny who is injured by a slacker who then must not only take the injured icon in but perform his duties as well. MOTHER’S DAY (Gigapix) has a trio of not-too-bright criminal brothers who head home to mama’s only to find strangers living in her house, giving a birthday party. Things take a turn for the worse when mother comes home in this horror romp. INSIDIOUS (Film District) is the first release from a new genre studio concerning a young comatose boy whose body becomes a magnet for malevolent entities while his consciousness resides in a mysterious realm.

April 8, 2011

BORN TO BE WILD (Warner Brothers) is a nature documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman that tells the story of caring humans who take orphaned orangutans and elephants and prepares them for life in the wild, training them in much the same way their parents would have. HANNA (Focus) stars Saoirse Ronan as a young girl who has been trained as an assassin by her CIA operative father (Eric Bana) and whose training makes her a target for shadowy agency figures with an agenda of their own. YOUR HIGHNESS (Universal) stars Danny McBride as the ne’er-do-well younger brother of a heroic prince who embarks together on a quest to rescue the fiancé of the heir apparent from an evil wizard. You say Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman are both in this? I’m there! ARTHUR (Warner Brothers) stars Russell Brand in the perfectly-cast title role in this remake of the 1981 hit comedy. Arthur is a rich kid who excels at drinking and womanizing, but little else. When he falls in love with a poor girl, his world is thrown upside down. THE BEAVER (Summit) stars Mel Gibson as a man suffering from depression who learns to get past his affliction through a raggedy beaver puppet who does his talking for him. This is directed by Jodie Foster who also plays his wife.

April 15, 2011

SOUL SURFER (TriStar) is the true story of a teen surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. Far from letting that stop her, she determines to do what it takes to become a surfing champion.

April 22, 2011

AFRICAN CATS (DisneyNature) is the third film from the new nature documentary arm of Disney, this time focusing on lions and tigers and bears…without the bears. And cheetahs instead of tigers. But definitely lions…for sure. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (20th Century Fox) is based on the bestselling novel and concerns a gentle veterinary student working in a circus from a bygone age who becomes attracted to the wife of a charismatic but cruel lion tamer. Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz star. BORN TO BE A STAR (Columbia) is about a small-town Iowa boy who discovers that his parents were porn stars in the ‘70s. His world turned upside down, he decides to head out to Hollywood to find out if his genetic predisposition towards porn star superstardom will pan out. TYLER PERRY’S MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY (Lionsgate) is the eleventh Tyler Perry film for Lionsgate, and this one returns the straight-shooting matriarch. Paired opposite her this time is Isiah Mustafa, the guy in the Old Spice commercials. Wanna bet his shirt comes off during the course of the movie?

April 30, 2010

PROM (Disney) is an ensemble piece about the various dramas that intersect and come to a head at the senior prom. I don’t know if it’s just me but this sounds more like a Disney Channel kind of thing to me. FAST FIVE (Universal) returns Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster to the fast car franchise, this time with the crew being chased by Dwayne Johnson, who intends to lay the smack down on the lot of them. WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? (20th Century Fox) stars Anna Faris as a woman who goes back through all her sexual partners to find out if the right one is among them. This is based on a book by Karyn Bosnak.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

DATE NIGHT (20th Century Fox) Budget: $55 Million. Domestic Gross: $98.7M Total: $152.3M Verdict: Hit.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (PREVIEWED AS WALL STREET 2: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS) (20th Century Fox) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $52.4M Total: $130.6M Verdict: Lost money.

KICK-ASS (Lionsgate) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $48.1M Total: $96.1M Verdict: Hit.

BABIES (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $7.1M Total: $9.5 Verdict: Might have broken even but probably lost money.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (20th Century Fox) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $64.0M Total: $75.7 Verdict: Blockbuster.

THE LOSERS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $23.6M Total: $29.3 Verdict: Flop.

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

REPO MEN (Universal) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $13.8M Total: $18.4M Verdict: Flop.

SUMMER

This is the season that most film fans look forward to with anticipation and a little bit of drool. While last year was a disappointment in terms of overall box office appeal as well as the quality of the films that were released, there were some gems that managed to make their way into the multiplexes. This year looks to be the opposite; director Jon Favreau compared it to the invasion of Normandy with wave after wave of highly anticipated movies hitting theaters on a weekly basis. There is going to be some carnage as weaker films will die by the wayside, but it looks very likely that we’ll see record box office numbers this summer. We’ll be presenting a full preview of the summer movie season in April, but here’s a sneak peak at what’s coming now.

Summer 2011

THE 400 LB. GORILLA

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, Jay O. Sanders, Jon Tenney

STORY: A cocky and irresponsible test pilot receives a device of incredible power from a dying alien and determines to use that power for good.

PROSPECTS: One of the most anticipated movies of 2011 is getting some pretty solid buzz at this point. It is quite likely to be one of the box office bonanzas this summer.

OBSTACLES: The Green Lantern’s power ring manifests whatever the wearer is thinking; the comic book used gigantic fists and hammers to do battle, something which may look hokey on the big screen, plus he would be considered one of DC’s second-tier heroes behind Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

FACTOID: Rather than wearing a latex suit, the Green Lantern corpsmen will wear motion capture suits onto which computer generated images will be imposed, making the suit (theoretically) look more realistic.

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TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK OF THE MOON

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/DreamWorks

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

STORY: The Space Race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. hid an enormous secret that the presence of new Transformers will threaten. In the meantime, Sam Witwicky takes his first tentative steps into self-reliance while remaining a reluctant human ally of Optimus Prime. 

PROSPECTS: The first two movies have made north of $1.5 billion. The creative team of director Michael Bay, producer Steven Spielberg and star Shia LaBeouf remain intact.

OBSTACLES: The second film was universally panned and another subpar film might alienate the core audience. In addition, Megan Fox is not on board for the third movie which might give some of her fans reason to stay away.

FACTOID: The concept of American astronauts being connected to the initial discovery of the Transformers as is depicted in the trailer was first put out in the prequel novel “Ghosts of Yesterday.”

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

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

STORY: The final battle between good and evil is upon us as the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix’s battle has escalated into all-out war. Nobody is safe and in order to preserve the wizarding world, Harry may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.

PROSPECTS: This is the last of the lucrative series and by all indications it means to go out with a bang. Certainly all those who grew up with the boy wizard will be in line to say their final farewells.

OBSTACLES: The first part was almost an endurance test and was so grim that it may have put off some of the more casual fans from seeing the finale.

FACTOID: A fire set by explosive devices used during a battle scene on a Hogwart’s set did some minor damage to the set. No actors, crew or stunt persons were injured during the mishap.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

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

STORY: A town in the Arizona Territory, an amoral cattle baron, Apache warriors and a mysterious stranger with an unusual shackle on his wrist and no memory of how he got there must unite to battle an implacable foe from the stars.

PROSPECTS: Director Jon Favreau is a fan favorite at the moment. The reaction to the initial trailer for the movie has been extremely positive.

OBSTACLES: First of all, it’s a western science fiction mash-up – and neither westerns nor mash-ups have done particularly well at the box office. The title of the movie made some audience members titter when the trailer screened.

FACTOID: The movie is based on the Platinum Studios comic by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.

THOR

RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgaard, Kate Demmings, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Colm Feore

STORY: The arrogant Norse god Thor, the God of Thunder, is cast out from Asgard for reigniting an ancient war. For his crimes, his father Odin banishes him to Earth, stripped of his powers. However, when the war spills over to Earth, Thor must take up his mantle as a warrior-God once again in order to save both heaven and earth.

PROSPECTS: The first new Marvel hero to get his own movie since Iron Man (not counting Wolverine who had previously appeared in the X-Men movies) and quite frankly, the trailer looks good.

OBSTACLES: While Thor is one of Marvel’s longtime heroes, he has never been one of their major players. While Hemsworth was awesome in Star Trek, he hasn’t shown the ability to carry a major tentpole franchise as of yet.

FACTOID: The movie was teased in an Easter egg post-credit scene at the end of Iron Man 2.

UNDERDOG

SUPER 8

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

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

STORY: Not much is known about this project but it supposedly involves “found footage,” a train wreck and an alien.

PROSPECTS: The last time J.J. Abrams did a found footage movie, the plot of which was kept tightly under wraps, the results were Cloverfield which made a ton of money.

OBSTACLES: This has far more competition than Cloverfield did and there are quite a few found footage movies on the horizon.

FACTOID: The teaser trailer for the movie debuted with Iron Man 2 last year, even though it had been greenlit literally a few weeks earlier.

ALSO IN THEATERS

 PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (Disney) returns Captain Jack Sparrow, this time on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth before Blackbeard does, while a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz) complicates matters. Johnny Depp returns as the good captain (May 20). In BRIDESMAID (Universal), two women battle to plan their friend’s wedding party. Kristen Wiig stars (May 13).  PRIEST (Screen Gems) is a comic book adaptation about a warrior priest who goes against the church to track down a gang of vampires that has kidnapped his sister in an alternate world where men and vampires have been at war for centuries (May 13). THE HANGOVER PART II (Warner Brothers) reunites the gang from the first movie, this time on an expedition to Bangkok. Don’t laugh (May 26). KUNG FU PANDA 2 (DreamWorks) is the sequel to the smash animated hit with Jack Black reprising his role as the title character. This time, a new villain surfaces with a weapon that threatens the serenity of China and its noodles. Oh, the horror (May 27)! SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Brothers) is a comedy about best friends, one of whom sleeps with her best friend’s fiancé after having had too much to drink, leading to a comic romp of misunderstanding, secrets between friends and of course sex (May 6). BEGINNERS (Focus) stars Ewan McGregor as a man who discovers his terminally ill father is actually gay and has a much younger lover (June 3). X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (20th Century Fox) is a prequel to the Marvel mutant superhero series, this time directed by Matthew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn. It depicts the initial friendship and eventual falling out between Magneto and Professor X  (June 3).  BAD TEACHER (Columbia) centers on a foul-mouthed, irreverent and bitter middle school teacher from director Jake (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) Kasdan (June 17). CAESAR: RISE OF THE APES (20th Century Fox) is a prequel to the Tim Burton reboot of the classic sci-fi series and if that doesn’t confuse you, I don’t know what will (June 24). CARS 2 (Disney/Pixar) brings back Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater, this time getting caught up in an international spy ring with a suave British agent some may recognize watching their backs…err, fenders (June 24). LARRY CROWNE (Universal) features Tom Hanks as a middle aged man who returns to college after being downsized, and discovers a whole new outlook on life as well as a new love, in the form of Julia Roberts (July 1). MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) stars a trio of Disney Channel-esque girls who go on a vacation to Paris where one is mistaken for an heiress and winds up getting the three of them a dream vacation to Monte Carlo. They just don’t make ‘em like Princess Grace anymore (July 1). ONE FOR THE MONEY (Lionsgate) stars Katherine Heigl as a divorced, broke, unemployed and desperate woman who joins her slimy cousin’s bail bondsman company and gets involved in a big case of murder, deceit and romance (July 8). ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) is about a group of caged animals who give Kevin James romantic advice. That’s about who Kevin James would normally get that kind of advice from anyway (July 8). THE SITTER (20th Century Fox) headlines Jonah Hill as a slacker who is coerced into watching the kids next door, turning his otherwise boring night into one to remember. Adventures in Babysitting anyone? I thought so (July 15). WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) brings back the silly ol’ bear and his beloved friends in the 100 Acre Wood back for some all-new adventures (July 15). CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (Paramount) stars Chris Evans as the star-spangled superhero who erupts from World War II into modern times; this movie sets up the much anticipated Avengers movie for next summer (July 22). FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) boasts Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as a couple who decide to keep things strictly physical which as we all know in Hollywood never works (July 22). In CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers), Steve Carell’s wife cheats on him and then asks for a divorce, turning his comfortable suburban live into chaos. Simply unprepared for the modern dating scene, he is taken under the wing of a playa friend (Ryan Gosling) who shows him the joys – and pitfalls – of modern love (July 29). THE SMURFS (Columbia) is a live-action and animated mix that brings back the beloved animated characters of the 80s and plops them down in 21st century Manhattan (August 3).  In THE CHANGE-UP (Universal) an irresponsible man-child (Ryan Reynolds) changes bodies with a family man (Jason Bateman) and much hilarity ensues (August 5). THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit) is when five young people find themselves stranded in Moscow after an alien attack. Those who think this is a documentary about the Republican win in the mid-term elections, that’s the second-darkest hour (August 5). 30 MINUTES OR LESS (Columbia) is about a pizza delivery guy and a junior high history teacher who are forced to rob a bank when one of them is strapped to a bomb vest. Incidentally, this is a comedy (August 12). In THE HELP (Disney) Emma Stone turns a small Mississippi town in the 1960s upside down when she decides to interview the servants of prominent white families for a book she’s writing . Incidentally, this is a drama (August 12). MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (20th Century Fox) is based on the Newberry Award-winning children’s book in which the title character becomes obsessed with penguins, until he finally gets his own troupe which cause mayhem and chaos, much like star Jim Carrey does (August 12). CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Lionsgate) resurrects the fantasy franchise, with Jason Momoa taking the title role. This version is said to be more faithful to the Robert E. Howard books than was the Schwarzenegger version (August 19). FRIGHT NIGHT (DreamWorks) is a remake of the 1985 horror flick in which a young boy suspects that the new neighbor across the street is a vampire and, along with a very timid horror movie show host, goes out to save his town – and his mom – from the embrace of the non-sparkling bloodsucker (August 19). SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension) is a new installment in the Robert Rodriguez kid spy series, this one with a mostly new cast including Jessica Alba and Jeremy Piven, although Antonio Banderas makes an appearance (August 19). FINAL DESTINATION 5 (New Line) marks the fifth installment in the series of Rube Goldberg-designed deaths. It is what it is, folks (August 26). THE WHISTLEBLOWER (Goldwyn) stars Rachel Weisz in the true story of a Nebraska cop who goes to Bosnia as part of a UN peacekeeping team and ultimately exposes a sex-trafficking ring that has been covered up by the United Nations itself (August TBA).

FALL

This part of the schedule is the most fluid at the moment as Hollywood studio heads jockey for position, putting out movies that are legitimate contenders for Oscars as well as a few more blockbusters for the holidays. 2010 had its share of winners and losers and the jury is still out for the most part. As with the summer, we will be presenting a full Fall/Holiday film preview in August that will be somewhat more detailed and much more accurate in terms of scheduling, but this is what Hollywood has penciled in for now.

Fall 2011

THE 400 LB. GORILLA

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN

RELEASE DATE: December 23, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Cary Elwes, Tony Curran

STORY: The beloved comic book character by the French author Herge gets a motion capture animated treatment. Tintin, an intrepid reporter, goes on the trail of a mythical beach and comes up against the nefarious Red Rackham as a cornucopia of unusual characters assist or oppose our young hero.

PROSPECTS: Steven Spielberg is directing this, and although he hasn’t had a megahit for awhile, his name will at least guarantee a certain amount of curiosity. Early looks at the movie have been astonishing.

OBSTACLES: The Tintin stories are far more popular overseas than they are in North America, and younger audiences may not be familiar with the character. Plus motion capture in general hasn’t fared well at the box office.

FACTOID: Steven Moffat, who penned the first draft of the script, later went on to become the Executive Producer of the BBC “Doctor Who” series.

BMOC 

SHERLOCK HOLMES 2

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

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

STORY: The world’s most brilliant detective takes on his arch-nemesis, criminal genius Professor Moriarty. Holmes is aided by his trusted right hand man Dr. Watson and his genius of a brother Mycroft.  

PROSPECTS: The first movie made over half a billion dollars worldwide and re-imagined the great detective as an action hero. The funky and somewhat irreverent attitude of the first movie helped earn it box office gold, and with Downey still bringing in big audiences, there’s no reason to believe the second one won’t either.

OBSTACLES: Holmes purists bemoaned the first movie’s liberties, and may not be back to support the second.

FACTOID: Downey and Harris both worked together on Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2011

STUDIO: Summit

STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Jackson Rathbone

STORY: The fourth and final book in the Stephenie Meyer series is split into two parts (the second arriving in 2012) as Bella’s romantic triangle moves to a resolution and the world of the vampires, werewolves and Forks, Washington become forever changed.

PROSPECTS: The fanbase for this series is rabid and loyal; they have made the first three movies of the series blockbusters. With the series coming to a close, I don’t imagine they will be any less rabid or loyal.

OBSTACLES: The movies have had considerable backlash from non-fans and critics and generally make nearly all their box office in the first couple of weekends; with fiercer competition, the box office might suffer.

FACTOID: Sofia Coppola was reportedly very interested in directing, but balked at doing two movies consecutively.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgaard, Robin Wright, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff

STORY: The long-unsolved disappearance of an heiress is investigated by a disgraced journalist and a young computer hacker. Along the way they stir up a hornet’s nest of intrigue, corruption and cover-up. This is the remake of the first book in the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, which was made into a very successful film in its native Sweden as well.

PROSPECTS: The Swedish films of all three books in the trilogy did spectacular business in Europe and decent numbers here in limited release. Director David Fincher has a long resume full of offbeat, disturbing thrillers as this one is.  

OBSTACLES: Those who loved the first movies may be a little put off at the “Hollywood-izing” of the trilogy. There are already grumblings that original star Noomi Rapace is irreplaceable in the movie. 

FACTOID: Daniel Craig originally declined the role due to scheduling conflicts with the next Bond film. When MGM’s financial difficulties caused filming on it to be delayed, he was able to accept the role. 

UNDERDOG 

IMMORTALS

RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

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

STORY: The power-mad King Hyperion seeks an ancient weapon that will unleash the Titans that could threaten both the Gods and mankind. The peasant Theseus is all that stands between the world and total annihilation.

PROSPECTS: Clash of the Titans did astounding box office and may well signal a renewed interest in Greek mythology at the box office. Director Tarsem Singh is a highly visual director well-suited to this kind of thing.

OBSTACLES: Singh has yet to make a hit movie. The fact that Immortals is being released in 3D will raise questions about the process and bring up memories of the notoriously bad 3D that Clash of the Titans employed.

FACTOID: This is the first movie based on a DC Comic book character to be made at a studio other than Warner Brothers.

ALSO IN THEATERS

 

COLUMBIANA (Columbia) is the latest action flick from French producer Luc Besson, this one set in Columbia as the daughter of murdered parents who is raised as an assassin to work for her uncle, while investigating her parents’ murder in her off time (September 2). THE APPARITION (Warner Brothers) is about a couple who discover that they are the targets of supernatural forced feeding on their fears stemming from a parapsychological experiment in college (September 9). JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (Universal) returns Rowan Atkinson as the suave but bumbling spy (September 16). WARRIOR (Lionsgate) is a mixed martial arts saga about two brothers on a collision to fight in the finals of a brutal tournament (September 9). PIRANHA 3DD (Dimension) is the sequel to the surprise hit remake from last fall (September 16). DRIVE (Film District) stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for the criminal underworld (September 16). STRAW DOGS (Screen Gems) is Rod Lurie’s remake of the Sam Peckinpah domestic violence film from 1971 (September 16). ABDUCTION (Lionsgate) is about a teenager who discovers that the parents who raised him aren’t his biological parents – and his real parents didn’t give him up willingly (September 23). MONEYBALL (Columbia) is the story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who assembled a competitive club on a shoestring budget using a computer program to draft players. Brad Pitt stars in a movie that could well be 2011’s The Social Network (September 23). ANONYMOUS (Columbia) opines that the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by somebody else. This is directed by Roland Emmerich who usually does big budget action/disaster thingies so this is something new (September 30). COURAGEOUS (TriStar) is about four police officers who must deal with a tragedy at home which, judging from the studio synopsis, has to do with their children (September 30). DREAM HOUSE (Universal) stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz as a couple who move into a suburban house that may or may not be haunted (September 30). NOW (20th Century Fox) is a sci-fi thriller starring Justin Timberlake in a world where the aging process stops at 25, but in order to survive you must literally buy time (September 30). DOLPHIN TALE (Warner Brothers) is the remarkable true story about a dolphin named Winter and the people who banded together to save her (September 16). REAL STEEL (DreamWorks) stars Hugh Jackman as the manager of a fighter – in a future world where robots do battle (October 7). WANDERLUST (Universal) is about a spoiled upper middle-class couple who lose everything and take refuge in a commune (October 7). FOOTLOOSE (Paramount) is a remake of the 1984 film that made Kevin Bacon a star, with all-new tunes complimenting some of the songs from the original movie (October 14). THE THING (Universal) is a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter version of the movie, showing us what happened to the Swedish research base that is only alluded to in the original movie (October 14). THE THREE MUSKETEERS 3D (Summit) is a new version of the tale filmed entirely in 3D by director Paul W.S. Anderson; his musketeers are Ray Stevenson, Matthew Madfadyen, Luke Evans and Logan Lerman, although the supporting cast of Christolph Waltz, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger are far more impressive (October 14). CONTAGION (Warner Brothers) is like Outbreak on steroids – a deadly airborne pathogen that kills within days throws the world into a panic as authorities race to find a cure while struggling to maintain order as society breaks down (October 21). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Paramount) is the third installment of the very profitable Halloween series of found footage of suburban hauntings (October 21). DIBBUK BOX (Lionsgate) concerns a wooden box bought on eBay from a holocaust survivor that has hidden within it a terrible curse (October 28). PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks) is a spin-off from the Shrek series and stars the voice of Antonio Banderas as the cavalier kitty (November 4). TOWER HEIST (Universal) stars Ben Stiller as the overworked manager of an exclusive high-rise residence who plots with members of his staff to steal back money they were defrauded from by a Bernie Madoff-type financier who swindled it from them (November 4). JACK AND JILL (Columbia) stars Adam Sandler in a comedy about…well, we’re not quite sure yet (November 11). HAPPY FEET 2 (Warner Brothers) is the sequel to the 2006 animated feature about dancing, singing penguins (November 18). ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Columbia) is the newest animated feature from Aardman Studios, the British group that made their name with the Wallace and Gromit series. This one concerns the son of Santa Claus; a teaser trailer for this is already out (November 23). THE MUPPETS (Disney) is a star-studded affair as a telethon is put together in a desperate attempt to save the Muppets Studio (November 23). PROJECT X (Warner Brothers) is an ensemble comedy about a group of teenagers documenting a house party that goes terribly wrong (November 23). HUGO CABRET (Columbia) is Martin Scorsese’s first foray into juvenile fantasy as a young boy living in the walls of a Paris train station encounters unique, strange characters and embarks on a mysterious, magical adventure (December 9). NEW YEAR’S EVE (New Line) is from the makers of Valentine’s Day and is much along the same lines; an all-star cast copes with the ramifications of the holiday in Los Angeles (December 9). ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (20th Century Fox) is the third installment in the live action-computer generated series that has yet to really captivate me (December 16). MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL (Paramount) returns Tom Cruise into the IMF team as he undertakes a mission that just well be his last. Pixar director Brad Bird makes his first foray into live action directing (December 16). WE BOUGHT A ZOO (20th Century Fox) is the charming account based on the true story of a family that buys a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside in order to save 200 exotic animals from destruction. Matt Damon is the star (December 23). WAR HORSE (DreamWorks) is an epic adventure by director Steven Spielberg about a horse and its master during the First World War (December 23). 

MOVIES CURRENTLY WITHOUT RELEASE DATES BUT LIKELY TO OPEN

HORRIBLE BOSSES (New Line) is a comedy with an all-star cast about three working stiffs who concoct a clever and convoluted plan to rid themselves of their nemeses – their overbearing bosses – once and for all. GATCHAMAN (Warner Brothers) is an animated feature based on a Japanese anime TV series that is wildly popular worldwide. Although this has already come out in Japan, it is awaiting an American release date. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Magnet) is the second movie to be based on a trailer that aired with the 2007 movie Grindhouse. JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (New Line) is the sequel to the 2008 hit 3D movie although it only returns Josh Hutcherson from that cast. This time, Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine are among those who take a voyage to another place that was thought to be an invention of Jules Verne’s fertile imagination. DOROTHY OF OZ (Summertime Entertainment) is the first of several planned Oz-related movies to come out, this one an animated feature with an all-star vocal cast including Martin Short, Oliver Platt, Kristin Chenoweth, Dan Aykroyd and James Belushi. THE TROLL HUNTERS (Magnet) is a Norwegian movie that got tremendous acclaim on the festival circuit, about a group of students who set out to document the existence of trolls and wind up with much more than they bargained for. ONE DAY (Focus) chronicles the relationship between two friends (Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess) by checking in on them every July 15th – the anniversary of the day they met. RESTLESS (Columbia) is the latest from director Gus van Sant and concerns a couple of misfits who meet, fall in love and take on a world that is not particularly forgiving of misfits. RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT (Paramount) stars Jim Carrey as Robert Ripley, a man who travels the world in search of oddities and winds up finding the human being in all of us.

All I can say is wow! This might well be the most promising slate of movies for a single year in a very long time. The moviegoing public is going to have a lot of hard choices to make – or else will be going out and spending a whole lot more money than they ever have before, a scenario that I’m sure the studio heads would be more than happy with. Even so, things are already gearing up for another big year in 2012, when the latest installments in the Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Men in Black series are scheduled to be released, as well as the much-anticipated Avengers not to mention the finale in the Twilight saga. Also, don’t forget the return of Peter Jackson to Middle Earth in The Hobbit. Hopefully this preview can help you make your plans for 2011; I know I have. See you in the multiplex!