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Well, the first quarter of 2011 has been a disappointment. Although a few crowd-pleasers and acclaimed films slipped out of March (Rango, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless), none of the most hyped films have earned it. April looks to change that very quickly, with some of the films coming out tomorrow getting great early buzz. At the very least, we have 16 films to preview for you, so something ought to get it done before summer movie season kicks into high gear.
The second film from Duncan Jones, who has fast become a hot name since his debut film Moon, Source Code tells the story of airman Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who awakens on a train outside of Chicago in the body of another man. When the train explodes, he learns he is part of the "Source Code" government project, where he is sent back in time to occupy the body of another, in an attempt to stop a catastrophe. With a second, larger bombing planned for downtown Chicago, Colter scrambles to discover the identity of the bomber while falling for one of the train’s passengers (Michelle Monaghan).
Sophomore films from promising young directors are always a gamble. Sometimes when they get their hands on a much bigger budget, they (or producers) can get a little carried away, the end film lacking in whatever X-Factor their debut film had. Source Code is looking (thankfully) to be a taut second film from Jones, balancing a mind-bender plot with balanced performances from the often likable/capable Gyllenhaal and Monaghan. The fact it has already racked up over 90% at Rotten Tomatoes cannot hurt the film's chances at finding traction with more than sci-fi viewers. ~Max
Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Famiga, Jeffrey Wright
Well, I suppose if you want to make the next great live-action/animated hybrid family film a la Alvin and the Chipmunks, you hire the guy who directed Alvin and the Chipmunks. This Easter-themed family film looks to find that same success with bunnies and chicks and capitalizing on a holiday under-utilized by Hollywood. Hop pairs a real James Marsden with the voice of Russell Brand. Set to be the next Easter Bunny, E.B. would rather be a rock ‘n roll drummer, so he travels to Hollywood where has a run-in with Fred (Marsden) who is forced to befriend and care for him.
Universal has really stuck to formula with this movie in order to replicate the “Chipmunks” in terms of receipts. The coup-de-grace of the trailer features the bunny on Fred’s windshield pooping jellybeans. Kids will eat that up (literally). If parents buy into the “Easter-themed” movie, this could be one of the bigger films of the spring. It also has some of the writers behind Universal’s Despicable Me, which effectively catered to the young ‘uns. On a geek-related side note, the movie also marks the first significant film role for Kaley Cuoco of TV’s The Big Bang Theory. ~Steven
Directed by Tim Hill
Written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
Starring: Russell Brand (voice), James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco
Every five years or so, a horror film comes along that surprises everyone by doing something different. It becomes such a huge popular and financial success that filmmakers everywhere try to capitalize on its success with cheap, poorly realized knock-offs. The latest film to do this was Paranormal Activity, so we’ve now entered the age of the Paranormal Activity-wannabe. Ladies and gentleman, we give you Insidious.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a lovely young couple who find an idyllic little house to raise their perfect little family, except the house is a little creepy. There’s the rocking horse that won’t stop rocking, the strange noises coming from the baby monitor, and the odd behavior from the couple’s son. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
But despite the obvious Paranormal Activity emulation, there’s surprisingly a lot to like about Insidious — at least pre-release. Wilson and Byrne, while hardly household names, are certainly talented, as is Barbara Hershey, who seems to be channeling her creepyBlack Swan-mother vibes again. And director James Wan has a proven track record (he helmed the original Saw). So who knows—the film could be the next great horror franchise. In fact, early reviews are leaning positive. And since the film only cost $1 million to make, it’ll no doubt be profitable. We’ll just have to wait and see how much so. ~John
Directed by James Wan
Written by Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, and Barbara Hershey
The original Arthur was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. Its remake, which is hitting screens 30 years after the original, stars Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, and a seemingly out-of-place Helen Mirren. And it has a whole lot to live up to.
Brand plays drunken playboy Arthur who has to marry a woman he doesn’t love (Garner) in order to keep his inheritance. But when he actually does fall in love —with a penniless woman played by Greta Gerwig — he and his trusty nanny (Mirren) and chauffeur (Luis Guzman) are forced to examine what’s important.
The thought of Brand taking on such an iconic role is scary. Although he’s definitely a funny guy, his style of humor is an acquired taste to say the least and I don’t think there were many people out there clamoring for an Arthur remake. But the presence of Mirren can’t be ignored, and Garner showed some great comedic chops in films like The Invention of Lying and Juno. Ultimately, however, this one will all come down to Brand. If you consider yourself among his admirers, there will likely be plenty of laughs to be had. If you don’t, well, there will be other films playing that weekend. ~John
Directed by Jason Winer
Written by Peter Baynham, Steve Gordon (story)
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner
The script for Hanna by Seth Lochhead and David Farr (Spooks/MI-5) was considered one of the best unproduced screenplays by the Black List in 2006 and 2009. It was a project that attracted the interest of Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuarón before Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) took it on.
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a special teenager with extraordinary strength, stamina and intelligence thanks to her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), who raised her to be the ultimate assassin. He sends his daughter on a mission for the first time to kill a ruthless intelligence operative Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett) but has to go run across Europe. Alone, Hanna starts to explore her own existence and humanity.
It is easy to compare Hanna to other films like The “Bourne” trilogy, Kick-Ass, Leon and the Sidney Bristow character in Alias, but it clearly looks like it is going be an action-packed thriller with a heart. Wright is stepping out of his confront zone of prestige period pieces, making a stylish action thriller and getting the Chemical Brothers to score the film. If it’s a success, Hanna could be Wright’s showreel for a future Bond gig. ~ Kieran
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana
How it took so long to make a fantasy action film/stoner comedy hybrid is beyond me. David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) reunites with McBride and his longtime writer pal Ben Best, who were the right writing team for tackling the job. All Eastbound & Downfans should be psyched. When the film was made, I also don’t think they figured to have an Oscar-winning actress on board in the form of Natalie Portman. Your Highness features a potent combination of laughs, magic, herbs and dragons.
Although I would have preferred the film not have been moved from a December 2010 slot to a weaker April spot, I’m plenty excited still for this one as I think that medieval cheeriness, fake accents and period garb combined with modern but tapered-back R-rated humor will make Your Highness a cult hit at the least, even if it does poor business. I don’t think we have the next Monty Python and the Holy Grail on our hands by sheer virtue of intelligence, but fantasy archetypes should give a needed freshness to McBride’s dirty humor. ~Steven
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Danny McBride and Ben Best
Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel
Bethany Hamilton began surfing early on in her life and proved to be quite good at it. At age 13, however, a tiger shark attacked her, and she lost one of her arms as a result. As you might expect, Hamilton didn’t give up on her surfing dreams. Soul Surfer accounts for her remarkable true story with AnnaSophia Robb in the leading role; Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Carrie Underwood have supporting roles.
Every great story deserves a film, right? Well, not exactly. The story proves that anything is possible when one puts his/her mind to it, but don’t we have enough movies like this already? The scripting doesn’t seem to stray at all from the conventional “you can do it” mantra of a Lifetime movie of the week. Of course, I’m not above enjoying a hokey tearjerker every now and then, so it might not be completely terrible.
From an acting standpoint, though, we probably shouldn’t worry. Robb has been a hard worker in the industry since an early age, while Hunt and Quaid have both proven to be exceptional screen presences over the years. Underwood is the one big question mark here, but from what the trailer shows, she’s probably going to be just fine. It’s always awesome to see someone famous in one field of show business succeed in another field, so I’ve got (surprisingly) high hopes for Underwood here. ~Julian
Directed by Sean McNamara
Written by Sean McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz and five others, Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, Rick Bundschuh (book Soul Surfer)
Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Carrie Underwood
Super (Limited Release)
“Shut up crime.” It’s Super time. James Gunn stole heart with the satirical horror comedy Slither back in 2006 (well, maybe not my heart but I had a hell of a good time) and now he is back with another genre-blending farce (with a one-word title that starts with “S” and ends in “er”) in Super. Many would be quick to dub this as just another entry in the increasingly lengthy line of recent anti-superhero genre deconstructions of late, but hopefully it won’t be. The amazing Nathan Fillion in the lead was a key to the success ofSlither and now he returns as The Holy Avenger, a fellow superhero to Rainn Wilson’s The Crimson Bolt, the star of the show. Wilson’s character dons the cape after his wife (Liv Tyler) falls under the influence of a drug dealer.
Ellen Page also joins the production as Boltie, the perfunctory sidekick, and early festival buzz has said this flick is something special to look forward to this April. Super promises pitch-black comedy, action and a whole lot of grizzly gore. Such was the case with Kick-Ass, but hopefully the general pubic will not write this off as a copy cat of that film (not that it filled theatres to begin with). Regardless, you will likely see me at the beginning of the line when this micro-budget flick sees the light of the silver screen. ~Simon
Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn
Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion
Rubber (Limited Release)
An ode to the "no reason" aspect of films, Rubber is about a tire named Robert. Robert inexplicably comes to life one day and views how people are treating tires. Turns out, he doesn't like what he sees. Being the only natural sensible thing to do, Robert goes on a psychotic killing spree, exploding the heads of the inhabitants of a small desert town. How does Robert make heads of humans and other creatures blow up? Well, he also has psychic powers. It's up to the small desert town's sheriff and police department to take Robert down.
That premise alone should tell you if this movie is meant for you or not. It's a unique and original plot to say the least. The cast is made up of unfamiliar faces and small names, but a movie like this probably wouldn't work if it had big name actors (except maybe Christopher Walken). Rubber promises to be an instant cult sensation and hit with the midnight movie audience. So far the reviews have been split, you'll either "get" it or you won't. One thing is for sure though: you haven't seen anything quite like it. ~Derrick
Written and Directed by Quentin Dupieux
Starring: A tire, Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser
Ten years have passed since Sidney Prescott last battled the Ghostface Killer. She has found solace in her writing. True to form, the killer is back on the 10-year anniversary of the murders and Sidney has to fight for her life according to a new set of rules. In real time, it has been 11 years since Scream 3 and 15 years since the original Scream. Both Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson are back for the fourth (and likely fifth) edition of the franchise, which also stars original cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette.
They are joined by a bevy of young starlets to usher in a new era of terror that incorporates new horror movie trends. These are of course discussed in the trailer by Rory Culkin. Expect voyeurism and torture and bloodbaths from this R-rated horror satire. And honestly, I expect good laughs and frights given that early reviews were positive despite excessive reworks and cast changes. The first two of the series grossed more than $170 million worldwide, and with two sequels already greenlit, Dimension must feel confident the fourth installment will do the same. ~Dinah
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Starring: Neve Campbell, Hayden Panettiere, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Fox’s Blue Sky Animation Studio made an impressive debut with 2002’s Ice Age and followed that up indirectly with the charming Dr. Seuss adaptation Horton Hears a Who! Aside from that, their two sequels to the former, in addition to Robots, have been all but underwhelming despite making good money. In their defense, they are a relatively new studio, and as we saw with DreamWorks, it took them some time before they gave us a Kung Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon. Often with kidpics, the trailers focus on the inane slapstick and not the heart that is present in many animated films, so I will reserve going full-scale jaded until I see the actual final product.
Rio follows Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) a rare species of Blue Macaw, who resides at a bookstore in the chilly town of Moose Lake, Minnesota. Although thought to be the last of his kind, scientists discover another female, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) in South America, so they whisk him out of Minnesota and send him to Rio de Janeiro to meet her. Blatant and somewhat creepy overtones aside regarding forced breeding in a kids movie, this seems to be a standard bird-out-of water tale – ok that doesn’t make much sense – with vibrant animation (which will no doubt be washed out thanks to 3D) that will appeal to its target audience with aplomb. ~Simon
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Written by Don Rhymer
Starring Jessie Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Mario Lopez, Jamie Foxx
The Conspirator (Limited Release)
Robert Redford’s last effort as a director, Lions for Lambs, was a political thriller that was critically mauled. But now he has directed American Film Company’s debut feature, The Conspirator, a historical legal thriller about the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Redford has attached an all-star cast: James McAvoy and Robin Wright lead with Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen), Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell (Rock n rolla), Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), Kevin Kline and Danny Huston.
The Conspirator tells the story of Mary Surratt (Wright), the first woman to be hanged by the American Federal Government. After the Lincoln assassination, seven men and one woman was arrested and charged with conspiring to assassinate the president, vice-president and secretary of state. The conspirators used Surratt’s boarding house, so she was attached to the crime. A young idealistic lawyer and Union war hero Fredrick Aiken (McAvoy) sets out to defend her.
I may be reading into the trailer but to me there seems to be a parallel to the aftermath of 9/11 and Guantanamo Bay, with civilians being put before a military trial instead of a criminal court. ~ Kieran
Directed by Robert Redford
Written by James D. Solomon
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood
Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants, based on Sara Gruen’s acclaimed novel, seems slightly out of place in April. This looks to be the sort of story and the sort of actors who debut a motion picture in November, just in time for awards consideration. Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz star as husband and wife, owner and star of a traveling circus. Enter Robert Pattinson of Twilight as an Ivy League student hired on as the circus veterinarian. He abandons his studies after his parents are killed. He then falls in love with the owner’s abused wife and attempts to take her for his own.
From the trailers, it seems this is narrated from the point-of-view of the veterinarian as an old man (Hal Holbrook), similar to the narration of Titanic. The visual styling and music are whimsical and majestic — this is not a teenage romance. However, Francis Lawrence, whose previous work includes the lightweight horror movies Constantine and I Am Legend, directs. Those efforts were middling, as are the entries from writer Richard LaGravenese. With the exit of Apollo 18 from the race though and a good following of book fans, Water for Elephants has a good chance of winning the weekend against Tyler Perry’s latest movie and the annual Disney Earth Day documentary. ~Dinah
Water for Elephants
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Richard LaGravenese (screenplay), Sara Gruen (novel)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family
As can be determined from the title, this first of what are usually two yearly Tyler Perry entries sees the return of the popular and sassy Madea, played by Perry in drag, as the primary character. She finds out that her daughter Shirley (Loretta Devine) has some serious health problems and consequently sets out to gather up Shirley’s grown-up children (Bow Wow, Natalie Desselle, and Shannon Kane) so the news can be shared among family.
It sounds like a nice, character-driven drama, sure, but if the trailer is any indication, we’ll be getting tons of the usual Perry gags this time around. Perry is terrific with handling melodrama and he’s also great with comedy, but he’s not particularly gifted at meshing the two together despite trying every time.
The actors Perry chooses are never at fault, though. Even in his lesser films, the actors are always on point. On that note, can Loretta Devine get some great film roles in the near future please? She was terrific in For Colored Girls and, well, everything else she’s been in. ~Julian
Madeas’ Big Happy Family
Written and Directed by Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine, Bow Wow
"If it's not broken, don't fix it." This old adage seems to follow the continued existence of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. From Justin Lin, director of Fast and Furious, a number of players from past films—including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris—while adding Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to the mix as a federal agent, Fast Five tells the story of Diesel and Walker's crew (yet again) caught between a ruthless gang lord's drug war and a persistent federal agent (Johnson), hell bent on taking them all down. Rio serves as the background, an increasingly popular film destination these days.
If this sounds at all familiar, it's because it's been done before. This series is hardly praised for its originality and has not come all this way due to high critical praise. It knows what it is (a soft-core car porn series), it knows it's demographic (heterosexual males) and it knows what they want (hot cars, women and explosions). If they can do this all for a relatively small budget, what's to stop them from beating that dead horse thoroughly? Every month needs some popcorn entertainment, and Fast Five, much like the films that preceded it, looks to provide just that. ~Max
Directed by Justin Lin
Written by Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
A mix of horror, comedy, action and superhero flick, Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night is about detective Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh), who has been assigned to investigate the crimes of the undead and supernatural creatures. Assisted by his newly undead partner, Dylan takes on werewolves, demons and various sorts of things that go bump in the night.
The premise kinda sounds like Hellboy, but the trailer makes it look like a Syfy Channel movie. This is merely the trailer, which is hopefully not indicative of the quality of the film itself. Things haven't been boding well for this film, it was released in Italy (it’s based on a classic Italian comic) in the middle of March and the reviews have definitely not been favorable. However, looks can be deceiving and sometimes critics bash a movie that is destined to have a cult-classic status in the future. Here's hoping this one turns out to be a decent little-time killer. ~Derrick
Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night
Directed by Kevin Munroe
Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Tiziano Sclavi (comics)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Peter Stormaire, Taye Diggs