Wednesday, February 16, 2011

11 Movie Releases in 2011 You Probably Didn't See Coming

It still is the beginning of the year, and I have to hop on the bandwagon before it's too late to roll out any more of these previews. Thumbing through a list of "101" upcoming films this year, there were all the usual suspects; the movies everyone is looking forward to and has been waiting for - you know, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Green Lantern, Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (gosh, that's not even gramatically correct), Sherlock Holmes: The Game of Shadows and so on.

A new version of The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul WS Anderson (the Resident Evil guy), starring Logan Lerman, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen and Milla Jovovich, and filmed in 3D. Yes, really.

Then, there are movies that you never saw coming.

Or at least I never saw coming.

These include obscure/unnecessary/long-in-the-tooth sequels/prequels/spinoffs, interesting and original concepts, star vehicles one probably might not expect, and unlikely actor-and-animal pairings - Jim Carrey looking after penguins, Morgan Freeman a dolphin conservationist and Matt Damon buying a zoo, anybody?

A lot of these films have been flying under the radar, but it's probably because the hype and publicity that, say, "Animals United 3D" might bring would probably be dwarfed by the public's hunger for the afore-mentioned superhero/blockbuster juggernauts.

Now, I'm sure the filmgoing public have heard of some or not all of the films below, but several of these just really, really surprised me, and I thought I'd put a list out. On one end of the spectrum, you have overwhelming evidence in the case for Hollywood's Good Idea Epidemic - it didn't occur to anyone that we don't need more Alvin and the Chipmunks movies? - and on the other, you have ideas that are so intriguing and original, they might fly right off the cliff, or become great big sleeper hits.

And here they are, in no particular order (apart from alphabetical, I suppose)

It's hard to find posters or even promotional stills of some of these films as many are a long way off - I didn't even see any photos with animals at all for that Matt Damon zoo movie. All photographs are used purely for the use of illustration only, and all release dates are for US wide releases, and may be subject to change if too many people get injured in bizarre freak accidents during the test screenings.

(August 12 release)

Two criminals kidnap a pizza delivery boy and force him to rob banks for them, with a time bomb set to go off in 30 minutes strapped to his chest, in this film directed by Ruben Fleischer (of Zombieland fame) and produced by MTV films. As with all the films below (okay, some of them) it's impossible to make any judgements this early in the game, but I will say it sounds like one of those horribly dim-witted action-comedies - that is until you discover the pizza delivery boy is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Yes, the now-Academy Award-nominated star of The Social Network. Ticking bomb career suicide or brilliant left field move? Only time will tell.

(December 16 Release)
Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I often complain about movies I have not watched, books I have not read, videogames I have not played, and the taste of chipmunks I have not eaten. In my defense, I value my sanity. I do enjoy watching big dumb movies, if they are at least fun.  I wager that a third Alvin and the Chipmunks film is not fun for anyone over the age of 6 and a half. This movie puts the chipmunks and the chipettes on a luxury cruise ship and then maroons them somewhere. By all means, put these critters on a luxury cruise ship - but don't let it shipwreck. Let it sink.

(September 2 Release)

Zoe Saldana is back, she's gotten rid of the motion-capture suit, and she's doing what she does best - kicking ass. In this action flick, she plays a cold and dangerous assassin, hardened by the murder of her parents when she was a child in Bogota, Colombia. During the day, she's a hit-woman for hire - but at night, she's a murderous vigilante out to feed some hot lead to the mobsters responsible for her parents' death. Produced by Luc Besson and directed by Olivier Megaton (of Transporter 3 infamy), this looks like it could be fun - but really the only thing going for it is their lead actress, in what looks like a reprisal of her role in The Losers. The plot does sound like a "if Batman could KILL!" scenario, and really why does Saldana need to do movies like this after appearing in the highest-grossing film of all time, and in a rebirthed sci-fi movie franchise?

(September 16 Release)
The words "Dolphin", "Tale" and "3D" in this film's title probably lost it an audience comparable to the number of dolphins slaughtered by Japanese whalers every year. This sounds like another sad, Finding Nemo-ripoff - but it's based on a true story. And it's a live-action film. And it stars Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson. Whoa, back up. This is about a baby dolphin who lost its tail (ah, the title takes on a darkly humorous angle now) in a crab trap, and is found by a young boy. Harry Connick Jr plays the vet, Ashley Judd the boy's mother, Morgan Freeman a doctor who invents a prosthetic tail for the eponymous dolphin, and Kristofferson the vet's dad. It's like How To Train Your Dragon, but with dolphins! I'll be honest - I am not writing this one off yet, it could be good.

(October 7 release)
Johnny English is one of those films that everyone wants a sequel to - at least, I as a ten-year-old wanted a sequel to it. Sure, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it was a parody with a plot, a budget, John Malkovich as a French madman and benefitting from Rowan Atkinson's physical comedy prowess. It also reminded me a bit of the late Leslie Nielsen's turn in Spy Hard and the Naked Gun movies. However, after two or three years, it looked like it wasn't going to happen. But now, eight years after the release of the first film, bumbling MI7 agent Johnny English has returned, and is living in a Tibetian cave in self-exile after messing up a job in Mozambique. However, he is called out of hiding to foil an assassination attempt on the Chinese Premier, and he's dragged along with him Gillian Anderson and Rosamund Pike. Agent Scully? Miranda Frost? Also, Johnny English was an infantile character to begin with - I would hate to see him being "reborn".

(March 18 release)

Okay, this one you probably have heard of, because it is less than a month away from being released. Based on Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields", it has a fairly interesting concept - a slacker is given a miracle pill that unlocks the full potential of his brain, granting him superhuman intelligence, prescience and in turn success, wealth and women. However, a shady business mogul wants to know his secret- and will stop at nothing to discover it. Bradley Cooper plays the slacker-turned-genius, and recent recipient of the Cecile B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, Robert De Niro, is the business mogul. This looks like an interesting film, but doesn't seem like it will be more than an above-average techno-thriller. Still, it's good to see Bradley Cooper using that charm in something other than a comedy (he has more range than people give him credit for) and Robert De Niro in a film that does not co-star Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy or Ben Stiller. Maybe he took the miracle drug and wised up.

(June 17 release)
Whoops, wrong photo...
that's better.
If there's one thing I've learnt from watching movies, it's that the biggest and most lucrative stars of today's film aren't the likes of Will Smith, Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise - they are the flightless birds of the order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae. March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Surf's Up, Madagascar...they're like what dinosaurs once were to the movies. Jurassic Park, this is a reserved space, The Land Before Time, your 15 minutes are up...move over for the penguins. Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino and Angela Lansbury, this is an adaptation of the beloved 1938 childrens' book. However, I don't know how one could stretch that into a meaningful 90 minutes - it's like making a movie adaptation of Make Way for the Ducklings. This could sink, or swim quickly away from the film critics comparable to hungry orcas, leopard seals, and boat chefs on Antarctic expeditions. I admit the joke was in poor taste, but the penguins weren't all that tasty either.

8. NOW
(October 28 release)
Much like Limitless, Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau, this is an alternative-science fiction film with an interesting twist. In the future, one can "buy" extra years to live, physically stay at the age of 25, and become effectively immortal. However, only the rich can afford this - everyone else has to fight through life desperately trying to "earn" an extra day at a time. Since everyone will look 25, this boasts a sexy cast: Justice Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Matthew Bomer, Alex Pettyfer... This may end up looking like a slick and pretty billboard, but it has the potential to become a cult sci-fi cornerstone of sorts. It was originally called I'm.mortal, which sounds like a pretentious Kanye West rap album, but does sound better than the rather blah title they're using now. That is to say "Now" is the title they are now using. 

(October 7 release) 
There exist in this world many pretty bizarre films - movies about stealing dreams, single-handedly bankrupting Las Vegas casinos, supervillains armed with laser-beam-equipped space satellites, tragic drug-users and their psychedelic mindtrippin', awkward nerds who become champion fighters or superheroes and most of all, movies that pair Adam Sandler with Kate Beckinsale, Salma Hayek, Brooklyn Decker or Emmanuelle Chriqui. However, this is probably as bizarre as it gets. Based on a 1956 sci-fi tale by Richard Matheson, Real Steel is about a future where robots have replaced humans as boxing champions, and a washed-out former prize fighter played by Hugh Jackman has salvage his pride and train a robot to win a championship. Transformers meets Cinderella Man and starring Wolverine. Like many of the other films on this list, this really could swing either way. Ding ding ding, place your bets. 

(October 14 release)
What thing? This thing? Or that thing? Or the other thing? Be more specific, please. This film is a prequel to 1982's science-fiction blood-and-gore horror masterpiece The Thing (they have a legacy of not being specific, speaking of which, who is they?) , directed by John Carpenter and starring Keith David and Kurt Russell. About a parasitic alien monster who attacks unwitting researchers in an Antarctic research station, taking on the appearance of those it kills and creating paranoia amongst its next victims. This Hollywood-Norewegian co-production probably sets the record for "prequel that takes place the least amount of time before the events of the original movie" - a mere three days earlier. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Eric Christian Olsen star as (very likely) ill-fated palaeontologists who discover the horrific alien life form. It was originally slated for a March release, but has been pushed back to October to facilitate reshoots that will improve on...somethings. 

(December 23 release) '
Like "A Dolphin's Tale 3D", this film is based on an inspirational true story involving animals, except instead of marine mammal limb-replacement technology, We Bought a Zoo is about the most unlikely real estate investment ever. Benjamin Mee and his family bought over the crumbling Dartmoor Wildlife Park after his father passed away and his mother needed to find a new family home; transforming it into the Dartmoor Zoological Park. Compared to the awful-looking, Kevin James-starring talking animal comedy The Zookeeper, this movie and its cast (including Matt Damon, Thomas Haden-Church, Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning) sound a great deal better. The above-mentioned names could definitely carry and inspirational dramedy like this one - my biggest hope is that Hollywood doesn't try too hard to dress up and sensationalise a quality true story, like they've done many times before.


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