Spring Movie Preview 2011: Drama and Romance

After awards season, we generally experience drama burnout. Give us comedy, action, anything but some intense and uplifting story. But you can’t discredit all spring dramas. The romance, maybe, but not all the dramas. The range in this list of eight includes teen-focused romance to ensemble crime drama.

8. Prom (Apr. 29)

Directed by Joe Nussbaum
Written by Katie Wech
Starring: Amy Teegarden, Nicholas Braun, Christine Elise

The Word: Disney presents a teenage drama centered around prom night. (Yes, teenage drama about prom night should sound redundant.) Interestingly, this is not an outright comedy, but more so teen romance. Starring a bunch of no-name young actors, the hope here is that teens will embrace a film reflective of their own lives. Joe Nussbaum (“Sydney White”) directs.

My Thoughts: If you’re older than 18 years old, why would you ever want to directly revisit prom experiences in any way whatsoever? Also, unless you went to prom in the last ten years, you really won’t recognize what it’s become in the 21st Century with creatively asking people and obnoxious stuff. Anyway, the film looks to be a glorified Disney Channel Original Movie with no plot other than following repetitive high school character stereotypes as they gravitate around prom. Prom Trailer.

7. Beastly (Mar. 4)

Directed by Daniel Barnz
Written by Daniel Barnz, Alex Flinn (novel)
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris

The Word: Initially scheduled for last July, this modern-day “Twilight”-infused retelling of “The Beauty and the Beast” has found a home eight months later in a crowded March, two weeks after Alex Pettyfer’s big film “I Am Number Four” disappointed at the box office. Don’t expect “Beastly” to fair any better. Pettyfer plays the popular good-looking kid at school who gets cursed by an Olsen twin to look ugly as sin. Locked up in Brooklyn somewhere, he must find someone to love him as he is to break the curse.

My Thoughts: Aimed squarely at the “Twilight” teen/tween girl demographic, which hasn’t been kind to any film without the word “Twilight” in the title, it’s hard to picture any success for this film. CBS Films had no confidence in it when they dumped it here from a slightly more favorably July spot. Poor Pettyfer will have trouble breaking the curse of being a piece of meat to look at once “Beastly” does flop. “Number Four” didn’t alienate guys and still only made less than $20 million on President’s Day weekend. Not only that, but “Beastly” also has to compete with it. Too bad Neil Patrick Harris was dragged into this movie thanks to his connection to CBS. Beastly Trailer.

6. Soul Surfer (Apr. 8)

Directed by Sean McNamara
Written by Sean McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz and 7 others
Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood

The Word: If you saw “127 Hours” and were curious about what life was like for Aron Ralston after he cut off his arm, “Soul Surfer” might interest you. The film is based on the true story of Bethany  Hamilton, a promising surfer who lost her arm after a shark attack and taught herself to overcome it with her father’s help. Carrie Underwood makes her feature film debut.

My Thoughts: AnnaSophia Robb is growing up. The “Bridge to Teribithia” and “Race to Witch Mountain” star gets dramatic and has her arm CGI-ed off for this solid sports “overcoming the odds” story. With a couple veterans player her parents in Hunt and Quaid, the film should avoid being labeled made-for-TV cheese, but then again, Sean McNamara has been a longtime TV director for Disney Channel and at one time Nickelodeon and he last brought the feature film version of “Bratz” to life. Soul Surfer Trailer.

5. Jane Eyre  (Mar. 11 – Limited)

Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Moira Buffini, Charlotte Brontë (novel)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judy Dench

The Word: You probably can’t count the number of film/mini-series adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s literary classic on two hands; that’s probably as good a reason as any to make another one. Only the second feature film for Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”), he gets a slew of veteran and budding talents for this adaptation from the writer of Britain’s “Tamara Drewe.”

My Thoughts: This version is no attempt to squeeze dollars out of an infamous novel given the limited release, the level of talent and the dark and creepy vibe of the trailer. I will have the awesome privilege of sneak preview of this film with Fukunaga and Wasikowska in attendance. Expect a review and some exclusive material next week! Jane Eyre Trailer.

4. The Conspirator (Apr. 15 – Limited)

Directed by Robert Redford
Written by James Solomon, Gregory Bernstein
Starring: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Alexis Bledel, Tom Wilkinson

The Word: Robert Redford hasn’t been a great director since 1994’s “Quiz Show.” He hopes to reverse the trend created by “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Lions for Lambs” with this period piece about a trial in the Lincoln assassination case that accused Mary Surratt (Wright) of aiding and abetting those involved with the assassination. The cast that the name “Robert Redford” assembled for this movie is mind-blowing: everyone from McAvoy, Bledel, Evan Rachel Wood and Justin Long to Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Stephen Root, Danny Huston and others you’ll recognize even if you don’t know them by name.

My Thoughts: I would be a lot higher on this film if it weren’t being released in April in a limited capacity. I believe it could have been ready for a favorable December release last year, but they passed. The mix of talent is eclectic yet undeniable, but it comes off as more overcrowded ensemble drama than a film where any one or two actors will steal attention. If this script by a pair of unknowns holds our attention, however, it could turn out well enough. The Conspirator Trailer.

3. In A Better World (Hævnen)  (Apr. 1 – Limited)

Directed by Susanne Bier
Written by  Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

The Word: Rarely does a film manage to win both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but Denmark’s “In a Better World” managed to do so. Director Susanne Bier also made the Danish film “Brothers,” which was remade for American audiences and released in 2009 with Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. This film follows a man going through a troubled family situation who goes back and forth between his home in Denmark and an African refugee camp. His son is being bullied and a new boy comes to defend him, but the two make a big mistake with consequences for both families.

My Thoughts: I like to make a concerted effort to watch Best Foreign Language Film winners, but if you’re not a subtitles kinda person, then there’s no convincing you. I’m not sure if this film would’ve won had it been a better year for foreign films, but Bier is a respected filmmaker so I’m sure that (and Denmark’s Oscar drought) had something to do with it. In A Better World Trailer.

2. The Lincoln Lawyer (Mar. 18)

Directed by Brad Furman
Written by John Romano, Michael Connelly (novel)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei

The Word: A well-known and highly respected criminal defense attorney named Mickey Haller, whose office is the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car, takes on a high-profile case involving a young man (Phillippe) accused of murder. Haller agrees to go to bat for him, an unusual move, and doubts creep in as to the validity of the defendant’s declared innocence.

My Thoughts: Always refreshing to see McConaughey take on a more dynamic role. After five years of “Failure To Launch,” “Fool’s Gold,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and such, he returns to a crime drama more along the lines of 2005’s “Two for the Money.” Considering all the swagger the man has, he should be doing more of this kind. The cast for director Brad Furman (“The Take”) also includes John Leguizamo, William H. Macy, Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and Josh Lucas, though I’m pretty sure there should be an unwritten rule that Lucas and McConaughey can’t be in the same movie unless they’re playing brothers. The Lincoln Lawyer Trailer.

1. Water for Elephants (Apr. 22)

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Richard LaGravenese, Sara Gruen (novel)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook

The Word: Based on the best-selling novel, this story of circus wonder and drama packs the one-two punch of Pattinson and Witherspoon, which ought to account for 80 percent of the female moviegoing demographic. Veteran Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County” and most recently “P.S. I Love You”) adapted the novel, but more shockingly, “I Am Legend” and “Constantine” director Francis Lawrence shot it.

My Thoughts: There are a lot of sparkling talents here and with a built-in book-loving audience, its likely that even with a poor late April release that many will make a concerted effort to see it even if the box office numbers are not reflective of it. Its “come listen to an old man tell the tale of a forbidden circus romance way back during The Great Depression” vibe has a distinct resemblance to “The Notebook,” to say the least. Water for Elephants Trailer.



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