Wednesday, September 19, 2012

John Gosling previews the week's new releases (09-21-12)

The House at the End of the Street is the new film from director Mark Tonderai, who made his debut with the 2009 thriller, Hush. The idea for the film actually originated from a short story written by Jonathan Mostow (director of Terminator: Rise of the Machines), which was then expanded for the screen by David Loucka. It sees recently divorced mother Sarah and her teenage daughter, Elissa, move into a new place, unaware that the house next door was witness to a double murder in which a young girl killed her parents while they slept. After the crime was committed, the girl vanished, leaving her brother, Ryan, as the only survivor. Elissa and Ryan (who still resides in the neighboring house) form a relationship but it soon becomes apparent that the evil that was present in the house at the end of the street may still be there. Elisabeth Shue takes on the maternal role of Sarah, with Jennifer Lawrence as Elissa. 

Like recent release, The Possession, 'House' has sat on the shelf for some time, having shot during the summer of 2010. At that point, Lawrence was known primarily for her Oscar nominated performance in indie drama Winter's Bone, but quickly rose to mainstream prominence with her turn as a young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, along with roles in The Beaver and Like Crazy. However, it was her turn as Katniss Everdine in the March 2012 smash hit The Hunger Games that shot her to global stardom. The House at the End of the Street was originally set to open in February 2012, but perhaps hoping to benefit from the recent boost in Lawrence's profile, it was pushed back to September. The trailer debuted at the end of March, followed by a second and third trailer in May and August respectively. With The Possession faltering, there is room for this new horror/thriller to take its place, though whether Lawrence can rope in much of the 'Games' fan base remains to be seen. 

 Clint Eastwood returns to the front of the camera this weekend in the drama, Trouble With The Curve. He plays famed (but aged) baseball scout, Gus Lobel, who is given one final job to prove his worth to his employers, who feel he hasn't moved with the times. His boss, played by John Goodman, doesn't want to see his friend fail so asks Mickey, Gus's estranged daughter (played by Amy Adams, who also stars in current release, The Master) to accompany him on the trip. Mickey soon finds herself in a more active role, making up for her father's failing eye sight, while the two attempt to work out their differences and reconnect. Along the way, they cross paths with rival scout Johnny (Played by Justin Timberlake), an ex-baseball player who was discovered by Gus back in the day, and who takes more than a passing interest in Mickey. Eastwood has worked consistently as a director for a number of years, but Trouble With The Curve marks his first acting/non-directing role since 1993's In the Line of Fire (it's also his first time back in front of the camera since Gran Torino). 

Instead, directing duties went to Robert Lorenz, who first worked with Eastwood as second unit director on The Bridges of Madison County. Since then, Lorenz has gone on to work as assistant director on many of Eastwood's pictures, and has acted as one of his producers since 2003'sMystic River. Trouble With The Curve shot earlier this year, with location work taking place mainly in Atlanta. The balancing act of what is essentially three separate elements in one story can be a tricky one to play, with at least one of them often being left underdeveloped, however, early word is said to be solid enough. Certainly the film's profile has been raised somewhat due to Eastwood's infamous turn at the Republican conference, but it may yet struggle to get itself noticed amongst the other releases this weekend, not to mention the holdovers. At the time of writing, Trouble with the Curve is set to open widest of this weekend's movies.

Our third release is police drama, End of Watch. It follows the day to day lives of two LAPD cops, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, their families, friends and work colleagues. While on a routine traffic stop, the duo confiscate a small amount of drugs and firearms, not knowing they belong to an infamous (and very dangerous) drug cartel, and that in the process of doing their jobs, have marked themselves for death. In a twist on the conventional police drama, director David Ayer opted to shoot the film documentary style, with footage made up from police car cameras, CCTV and personal video recording equipment carried by the officers themselves. While not exactly 'found footage', this shooting method attempts to give the picture a more direct and raw approach, adding a gritty realism that would perhaps otherwise be absent. 

Ayer is certainly no stranger to police drama, having shot to fame as writer and producer on 2002's Training Day. He would return to the Los Angeles Police Department no less than four further times (Including this new film), beginning with the script for Dark Blue, before moving onto S.W.A.T and Street Kings. Even his 2006 film, Harsh Times, features a character attempting (and failing) to join the LAPD. Gyllenhaal was last on screen in 2011's Source Code, while Peña played Enrique Dev'reaux in the November release, Tower Heist. Interestingly, Peña also stars in The Gangster Squad, a film that was set for release a few weeks ago but was pushed back so a cinema-based shooting sequence could be reworked. Despite a wide roll out, upwards of 2,500 locations, End of Watch might be tough sell to the public, who may opt for the more fantastical, yet no less gritty, Dredd 3D.

Dredd 3D is based on the famous 2000AD comic-character of the same name. He first appeared in print, in the Judge Dredd strip, back in 1977 and was a creation of writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, both ably backed by editor Pat Mills. The character is a future law enforcement officer, with the power to act as judge, jury and executioner all in one. Along with his fellow street judges, Dredd policies the huge Mega-City One, a fictional place situated along America's east coast - at one time stretching from where Boston to Miami would be. The character actually debuted in the second issue of 2000AD and by issue nine, was the most popular strip in the entire comic - a role that Judge Dredd has held  consistently to this day. Many attempts had been made over the years to bring the character to the silver screen, but it wasn't until 1995, when Sylvester Stallone played Judge Dredd in Danny Cannon's movie of the same name, that it actually became a reality. Despite being a huge fan of the character, Cannon's version veered quite sharply from the source, going as far to sidle Stallone with a comedy sidekick in the guise of Rob Schneider. Critically maligned and a financial disappointment ($113M from a $90M budget), the film has gone on to become something of a cult favourite but halted any further development on a future Dredd film. 

Author and screenplay writer, Alex Garland first proposed a new Judge Dredd feature in 2006, writing a script which he would ultimately disregard due to being largely unfathomable to anyone not familiar with the character.  In 2008, a new Judge Dredd feature was announced as being in development by DNA Films, the producers of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and Sunshine, amongst a raft of other features (notably a hand in Love Actually and Never Let Me Go). Garland joined the project as scriptwriter in September of 2009 and by May of the following year, DNA announced that they had secured a $45M production budget. While an offer to direct went out to Moon's Duncan Jones, it would be Vantage Point director, Pete Travis, who would eventually helm the picture, which would be shot in 3D. With a script, budget and location (South Africa) all in place, the search was on for the actor to play the iconic anti-hero. 

One of the central traits of the character is that he never removes his helmet (there have been minor exceptions in the comic book, and the Stallone version by and large ignored the rule) and the production needed to find an actor famous enough to sell the film, but at the same time be content to stay masked for the duration of its run time. In August 2010, Karl Urban, who played Éomer in the The Two Towers and Return of the King, along with taking on the role of Dr 'Bones' McCoy in JJ Abrams' Star Trek, was announced as Judge Dredd. In fact, Urban had approached the producers and actively campaigned for the role. He'd be joined by Olivia Thirlby, as Judge Anderson, a rookie coming to terms with her psychic powers.   While filming ran smoothly (though initial shots of the judges came under intense scrutiny by fans), trouble raised its head during post production, when it was reported that Pete Travis had apparently been locked out of the editing suite and that Garland was assembling the film, with a view to seek  a co-director credit. A few days after the story broke, a joint statement was released which confirmed that while the editing process was an unorthodox collaboration, Travis was still in charge, and Garland would not be looking for any related credit. 

After that, apart from the occasional production still and the announcement that the picture would see a release in September 2012, news went quiet on Dredd 3D until the first trialer in May of this year. The reaction to the footage was generally positive, with many tentatively stating that Urban, Travis and Garland may well have pulled it off. In a surprising, yet logical move, the studio opted to screen the finished film in its entirety at the San Diego Comic-Con, receiving some very strong notices. The great reviews continued to come and the picture remained 100% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes for some length of time (it's currently at 90%). While the character isn't unknown in North America, it's hoped the positive word of mouth from the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) will help get it noticed and exorcise the memory of Stallone's interpretation. On the downside, the exceptionally graphic violence may put off a mainstream audience and with three other releases entering the fray (as well as expansion for The Master), Dredd 3D will have its work cut out. 

Finally this week, The Perks of Being a Wallflower makes its debut. Based on Stephen Chbosky's novel of the same name (Chbosky also wrote the screenplay and directed the picture), it's the tale of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a teenager in his first year of high school. Told through a series of letters that he writes to an anonymous person, it sees Charlie beginning the school year as an outcast, but slowly coming to terms with who he is, and becoming close friends with two seniors, Sam (played by Emma Watson) and her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller). Given some of the film's themes (drug use, sucide, teen sexuality), it ran foul of the MPAA, who initially awarded it an R-rating. However, on  appeal this was reduced to PG-13, with a new advisory statement highlighting the issues dealt with in the picture. The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens at four location this weekend.

John Gosling

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