Hollywood's spring releases
Just about a decade ago, the year's most exciting films were released in summer or during the Christmas-New Year period. Suddenly, it seems Hollywood has discovered that any month can be a good time to release a movie.
Avatar, released in December, made most of its $730 million in North America in January and February. The winter did not stop films like Alice In Wonderland turning into monster hits. Even small budget films like Crazy Heart did well in winter.
Now, before the summer behemoths hit the big screens, a slew of big budget (Iron Man 2, Robin Hood and Shrek Forever After, not to forget Clash Of The Titans) films will be competing at the global box office.
Arthur J Pais picks the Hollywood films that might make it a busy box office season
Iron Man 2
Iron Man proved that a sci-fi film could also have emotional intensity. The movie made over $1 billion worldwide and is among the top 10 all-time hits worldwide. From the same team comes Iron Man 2, ready for a May 7 release. According to MovieTickets.com, it is the spring movie that people most want to see.
The previous film showed the versatility of Robert Downey Jr, who has fought hard to put his drug addiction behind him. He is ready to flex his muscles once again in the title role.
With the world now aware of his dual life as the armoured superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Downey Jr) faces pressure from many, especially the United States government, to share his technology with the military.
When Stark won't share his metal suit, his enemy list keeps growing. He has to deal with a rival (Sam Rockwell), a formidable foe (Mickey Rourke) and a new assistant (Scarlett Johansson) whose intentions are suspect. With Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) at his side, he starts protecting his invention.
Director Jon Favreau told The Los Angeles Times, 'The superhero genre has been picked over pretty thoroughly with all the different titles, sequels, reboots. It's tough to keep it fresh and not do something that is derivative of something someone else has done. Taking a left turn at the end of the first film and making him a public figure opened it up to new possibilities. It goes beyond your standard secret identity/caped crusader model.'
Favreau believes his film is a meditation on the effects of fame, notoriety and high expectations. It is, he said, a fable for our times.
As the film was about to start shooting, Favreau told USA Today that tackling the franchise a second time was easier because he knew the landscape. He said, 'I really enjoyed when we were a dark horse and no one knew much about us... I hope we can find that place again.'
'In the same way that Christopher Reeve's Superman stood for go-go optimism, and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man was an icon for hipster-dweebs, Downey Jr's Stark is a cocktail of louche, done-it-all cool,' said Johanna Schneller in The Globe and Mail.
'His delicious reading of the last line of the previous installment -- I am Iron Man -- coupled with his stare into the camera, was suffused with cheeky irony. He's the superhero for our tired age, because he can be one and mock it at the same time.'
At $200 million plus, Iron Man 2 is one of the most expensive films of the year; the list is led by Avatar, which cost, conservatively speaking, $250 million. And with the excitement building, Iron Man 2 has an excellent chance of coming close to its predecessor's $1 billion haul.
Image: A scene from Iron Man 2
A decade ago, Australia's Russell Crowe, then a little known actor in Hollywood, made his mark as a Roman general in Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator. Crowe and Scott went on to work on American Gangster (hit), Body Of Lies (average success) and the bucolic comedy A Good Year (disaster).
Going by the buzz around it, their fifth collaboration, Robin Hood, could be one of this spring's biggest hits. The $130 million movie opens the Cannes Film Festival May 12, and goes public May 14. It will, however, not be in competition at the festival. Crowe stars in the title role as an expert archer in medieval England.
Faced by a despotic sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen), Robin Hood decides to wage a war on behalf of the common people. But he has to deal with emotional baggage, too.
Abandoned as a child, he has found it difficult to fall in love. Though the strong and independent Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett), a widow, wins his heart, he has to work on restoring faith in himself. Marian inspires him to assemble a gang of mercenaries and fight the sheriff as well as the corrupt and ruthless upper class.
The script went through several rewrites, and an initial plan to cast the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero and Robin as a morally ambiguous vigilante was dropped, wrote The Telegraph.
The movie had been under active consideration for years, but it was only a year-and-a-half-ago that Ridley, who is in his 70s, decided to go ahead with it.
'Breathless from watching the first trailer,' wrote a commentator for the International Movie Data Base.
For months there has been speculation on how the new Robin Hood would look. The trailer shows Crowe in a Gladiator-like look. Producer Brian Grazer explained the look in an interview with The Telegraph, 'He doesn't have the old Robin Hood tights. He's got armour. He's very medieval.'
Crowe's recent films have not done well. Playing a role earlier brought to screen by Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner, he may be able to get back some of his glory. The film also features William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Vanessa Redgrave and Lea Seydoux.
Grazer said the film would echo with our times, especially with the economic slowdown and the stories of conscienceless bankers and financiers who are the new villains.
Image: A scene from Robin Hood
The Last Song
Based on a story by Nicholas Sparks, whose many books including The Notebook and A Walk To Remember have been made into successful films, The Last Song offers another sentimental story.
The Last Song was made for about $50 million, and is aimed at women, especially college students. This is the second Sparks novel to make it to the screen this year. Dear John grossed $80 million in North America recently.
Sparks wrote the screenplay of The Last Song before starting on the novel. It is the longest novel that he has written.
He described the story thus, 'Seventeen-year-old Veronica 'Ronnie' Miller's life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father (Greg Kinnear) moved from New York City to Wilmington, North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alienated from her parents, especially her father... until her mother decides it would be in everyone's best interest if she spent the summer in Wilmington with him.'
He also describes it as a love story and a coming of age novel. Unlike the novel, the film is set in Georgia.
Television director Julie Anne Robinson, who has worked on shows ranging from Pushing Daisies to Weeds, makes her feature debut, as singer and performer Miley Cyrus makes her first major non-Hannah appearance. If the film clicks, Cyrus, who plays the estranged daughter, could be taken seriously as an artist.
The film will have competition -- the comedy Why Did I Get Married Too? But it is from the one-man movie industry Taylor Perry, who returns as director and star of a sequel to the 2007 hit, and is aimed at mostly the African-American audience.
Image: A scene from The Last Song
A combination of comedy and drama, this one is eagerly awaited.
'Take Tina Fey (known for her work on TV) and put her in a screen romp with Steve Carell and hilarity ensues, right?' wrote a critic in The Globe and Mail.
That's the idea in this fast-paced movie directed by Shawn Levy (who knows about humor and action from Night At The Museum).
Fey and Carell play a suburban New Jersey married couple whose attempt to spice up their date night with dinner at a trendy Manhattan restaurant leads to a series of thrilling misadventures. We're thinking it will be like 30 Rock and The Office with car chases.'
The Canadian newspaper asked Levy asked by about the actors that have made him laugh out loud.
'There is no movie that I have worked on that I have not ruined many, many takes by laughing at loud,' said the director who has made films with comedians ranging from Steve Martin (Pink Panther) to Ben Stiller.
The strength of his new movie, like Night At The Museum 2, lies considerably in the 'amazing supporting cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Mark Ruffalo, James Franco, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis and Ray Liotta,' he has said.
Image: A scene from Date Night
The Back-Up Plan
Jennifer Lopez, 41, stars in a comedy that rewinds dating, love, marriage and family 'in the reverse.'
The publicity material for the film adds: 'In an unbelievable premise, the fetching Lopez has been unable to find the right guy, decides to visit a fertility clinic, and discovers she's with child the very day she meets the potential man of her dreams (played by Alex O'Loughlin). It's a game of hiding the baby bump.'
Trying to nurture a budding relationship and hide the early signs of pregnancy becomes a comedy of errors for Zoe (Lopez) and creates confusing signals for Stan (O'Loughlin). When Zoe nervously reveals the reason for her unpredictable behaviour, Stan commits fully and says he's in.
Never before has love seen a courtship where a wild night of sex involves three in a bed -- Stan, Zoe and the ever-present massive pregnancy pillow. The real pregnancy test comes when both of them realize they really don't know each other outside of hormonal chaos and birth preparations.
'The Back-Up Plan is Lopez's seventh romantic comedy, a ridiculous number for someone whose very best performance came in Out Of Sight, a movie that makes the very idea of romantic comedy look pointless and stupid,' wrote a Los Angeles Times blogger.
The Back-Up Plan is directed by Alan Poul, who has extensive TV background, having directed Rome and Six Feet Under episodes. If The Back-Up Plan works, Lopez will join a select club of 40-plus actresses who are also stars, like Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts.
Image: A scene from The Back-Up Plan
Shrek Forever After
One of the most anticipated films of the year, Shrek Forever After is the fourth and last film in the series that grossed over $2.8 billion worldwide.
Directed by Mike Mitchell, the new film once again uses the voices of Mike Myers (Shrek), Cameron Diaz (Fiona) and Eddie Murphy (Donkey).
A bored and domesticated Shrek does not like being a family man. No one in town is scared of him anymore. He's tired of changing diapers, the production notes for the film reveal.
Enter Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who lures Shrek into a deal so he's transported back to his old life for a day. Things seem great until Shrek realizes that he's in Far Far Away, a land where Rumpelstiltskin is king and none of his friends -- Donkey and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) -- nor his wife Fiona recognize him. He then sets out to restore his world.
One would think that Shrek would seem tired by now, but surprisingly, it was nice to see all the characters again in the trailer, wrote Amy Kauffman in Entertainment Weekly.
'The Shrek movies have always seemed to resonate well with both children and adults, and the last film seems on target to perform well with both audiences. Some new, generation-spanning voices have been added to the mix, including Megan Fox and Jon Hamm. And then there's the fact that this one will be in 3-D.'
The film will open the Tribeca Film Festival April 21 a month before it goes into over 3,000 theaters in North America and some 4,000 theatres abroad.
Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, said, 'Shrek Forever After combines the very best in storytelling and artistry while showcasing the wonders of innovative 3-D filmmaking. It is one of the most anticipated movies of 2010.'
Image: A poster of Shrek Forever After