Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John Gosling previews the weekend's new films (09-28-12)

Looper is a new science-fiction feature from Brick director, Rian Johnson and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. Levitt plays Joseph Simmons, a 'looper' who works for the mob. A very well paid assassin, it's his job to kill people sent back from the future, where time travel has been perfected, but outlawed. 'Loopers' only operate on one rule - never let your target escape. Major problems arise when Simmons comes face to face with his next hit and discovers it is a future version of himself (Played by Willis). In the confusion, the older version escapes, leaving a young Simmons in a race against time to put things right before the mob step in - all the while knowing that if he succeeds, he will become his own murderer.  Johnson began developing Looper once production on his previous film, The Brothers Bloom was completed in 2008, with a view to start work some time in 2009. While things didn't come together as quickly as anticipated, by May 2010 he had script and had cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role, the two having previously worked together on 2005's Brick. Willis would join the picture later that same month, with Blunt added to the cast in October. Shooting on the $60M Looper got underway in January 2011 (after a short delay while Levitt worked on Premium Rush) taking in Louisiana and Shanghai among its locations.

 The central idea of time travel can be a difficult concept to pull off successfully - more so if one wants to avoid the usual pitfalls and paradoxes associated with it. Initially it looked as if the director had gotten support on this aspect from Shane Carruth, who handled multiple time-lines in his debut movie, Primer, but this was later played down. In fact, during a recent Q&A for the film, Johnson mentioned Carruth had offered advice on the script (which they ultimately had to disregard) and helped them shoot a sequence that ended up not making it into the picture. The first trailer for the film debuted in April 2012, alongside the now de-rigueur viral campaign. This was followed up with further footage, trailers and featurettes.  Film District and Tri-Star set Looper for release in September 2012, but in an interesting move, DMG Entertainment, who are responsible for the picture's release in China, requested a longer cut, reinstating some sequences Johnson had shot in Shanghai but removed due to pacing issues. Early word on the picture has been incredibly strong, with very favourable comparisons to Children of Men, 12 Monkeys and Moon. The only question now is whether a well-made, intelligent movie will translate into box office success.

Our second release this weekend is the family film, Hotel Transylvania, and marks the feature directorial debut for Dexter's Laboratory/Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky. Even monsters need a holiday, is the concept behind the film. Count Dracula has run the titular five star hotel for many a year, and decides to invite some of its most famous guests (Frankenstein's monster, a Werewolf husband and wife, Quasimodo and many others) back for his daughter, Mavis' 118th birthday. The Count is proud of the fact that the resort has been human-free since 1898 but has to think fast when Jonathan, a young traveller stumbles into the place. Can Dracula keep Jonathan from discovering the secrets of Hotel Transylvania and protect Mavis from falling in love with this perfectly regular human? Adam Sandler provides the voice of Count Dracula, while his 'That's My Boy' co-star, Adam Samberg plays Jonathan. Both are ably supported by Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon and singer Cee Lo Green, as an obese Egyptian mummy. Miley Cyrus was originally announced as the voice of Mavis back in November 2011, but left the film to focus on other projects, to be replaced by Selena Gomez.

The project has been a long time coming, having been announced back in 2006, with  David Feiss and Anthony Stacchi attached to direct. However, by 2008, they'd been replaced by Jill Culton, director of Open Season. She in turn left in 2010, with effects animator (and lately producer) Chris Jenkins stepping in to helm, with Todd Wilderman acting as co-director (or sole director, depending on which report you read). Tartakovsky was announced as the new director in February 2011 and set to work re-writing and re-imagining the film. Having worked fruitlessly on the project for a number of years, the crew of Hotel Transylvania took some winning over, but were eventually sold on the Russian-American animator's vision, and things finally began to move forward. Directorial and cast changes weren't the only alteration the film has seen - in the original version of the script, the hotel was actually a safe haven for the classic monsters who found themselves irrelevant in a 21st century world, and a long lost relative of Van Helsing is the one who ends up falling for Mavis. With such a long pre-production period, Hotel Transylvania has seen its budget continue to rise, and while Sony insist costs currently run to $100M, they may in actual fact be much higher (Tangled's long gestating production period saw its budget pushed beyond $250M). While the film will have the family market pretty much to itself this weekend (ParaNorman is all but done at this point), it's only got seven days before facing Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. It would seem Hotel Transylvania's toughest fight may yet be to come.

Our final wide release this weekend is the true-life drama, Won't Back Down, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. The story follows Jamie (Gyllenhaal) and Nona (Davis) as they attempt to transform a local school which they feel is failing their children. The film is partly inspired by/based around the introduction of the 2010 Parent Trigger Law, which allows a parent to enforce changes in a public school if petitioned. Should the petition be successful, parents can push for staff dismissal, or even a conversion to a charter school (which would see it receive public money). Won't Back Down began life as Still I Rise, before getting a title change to Learning to Fly, then Steel Town and finally, the title it now carries. The film was written by Brim Hill and Daniel Barnz, who also directs, this being his follow up to 2011's Beastly, a Beauty and the Beast re-imagining. Along with the aforementioned stars, Won't Back Down also features Ving Rhames and Holly Hunter, who returns to film after a seven year hiatus. Of the three wide releases this weekend, this one is out to the least number of locations, but that doesn't necessarily discount it from making a splash. The Help, for which Davis won an Oscar, opened to 2,534 locations last August and made a stunning $26M during its first weekend. While Won't Back Down isn't expected to see such a strong start, with a solid critical backing, it should make enough to get noticed, especially given its subject matter is still a hotly debated topic.

Out to just over 330 locations this weekend is the musical comedy Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Rebel Wilson. Kendrick plays Beca, a freshman who is talked into joining the university's A Cappella group, The Bellas. Despite initially resenting the idea, she's soon working to convince the group that they need to update their songs if they're going to take on and beat a rival male group in an upcoming competition. Part Glee and Bring It OnPitch Perfect marks the directorial debut for Jason Moore, a Broadway director who won acclaim for his work on Avenue Q, along with working on Shrek The Musical and a Steel Magnolias revival. The film actually started life as a book by former GQ editor, Mickey Rapkin, and was adapted for the screen by Kay Cannon. In terms of the cast, Kendrick can also be seen in current no.1 movie,End of Watch, while Wilson featured in the recent limited release, Bachelorette, opposite Kristen Dunst. While limited this weekend, Pitch Perfect rolls out nationwide next Friday.

Finally, two curios this weekend, the first of which is Solomon Kane. Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard (famed for Conan The Barbarian), the film stars James Purefoy as the title character, a late 16th century privateer seeking salvation after being damned by the 'Devil's Reaper'. The long-delayed action feature received its world premiere at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, opening in France and the United Kingdom in December 2009 and February 2010 respectively. Why, after so long the film is making its U.S debut, is something of a puzzle, seemingly even to Kane's director Michael J. Bassett, though a contractual cinematic release clause sounds a possibility. Solomon Kane debuts at around 15 theatres this weekend.

The Hole, directed by Gremlins' Joe Dante also receives a very limited theatrical release this weekend. The fantasy horror follows three children (two brothers and their female neighbour) who discover a locked hatch in the boy's basement. Locating the keys and opening the door, they quickly discover 'The Hole' has the power to unleash their worst fears. Like Solomon Kane, it actually had its premiere at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and saw release around the world in 2010. Hopes were high for the 3D picture, and it has reviewed incredibly well throughout the globe, but it's taken three years for the film to receive any kind of release in North America, despite making appearances at the AFI Festival in September 2009 and again at the New York Film Festival a year later.  It will be out on DVD next Tuesday.

John Gosling

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