Friday 22 January 2010

Speculative Cinema in 2010: Part One


Release Date: TBD
Anticipation: 6 out of 10

Summary: A young woman caught between life and death... and a funeral director who appears to have the gift of transitioning the dead, but might just be intent on burying her alive.

Commentary: Debut director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo seems to have landed firmly on her feet with this modestly budgeted psychological thriller which wowed crowds during its brief tour of the film festivals in November of last year. Although a great deal of the hype behind After.Life has centered on a rather naked Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson and Justin Long have both been praised for their supporting roles. Despite its title, After.Life stands to attract quite the cult following.

Alice in Wonderland

Release Date: March 5th
Anticipation: 7 out of 10

Summary: 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen's reign of terror.

Commentary: The last Tim Burton film I enjoyed without reservation was Big Fish. Seven years and four variously disappointing films on, I have high hopes for Alice in Wonderland, but then, I always do. Although the haunting of Helena Bonham-Carter rather takes the edge of my expectations, the presence of British treasures such as Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas bodes well indeed, and what's been seen of the visual design to date looks spot-on. At best, this pseudo-sequel to Lewis Caroll's landmark novel could be the twisted adaptation of Alice in Wonderland we've all been waiting for, and right in time for my birthday; at worst, the new Burton could be a repeat performance of the abysmal Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, complete with Johnny goddamn Depp prancing around in another silly costume. Here's hoping for the former. 

Area 51

Release Date: TBD
Anticipation: 8 out of 10

Summary: A group of curious teenagers equipped with a camera stumble upon an area in the Nevada desert known for hosting an alien encounter.

Commentary: Having for some ungodly reason handed over the inevitable but nonetheless unnecessary Paranormal Activity sequel to the director of Saw VI, the second film from Mr found footage himself, Oren Peli, looks to be sticking closely to the formula established by his chilling Halloween '09 release, swapping out supernatural chills for sci-fi spooks. Early "script" reviews, and I use that word loosely, have been positive so far - with the caveat that Peli seems to be retreading some ground. If he can walk the line as effectively as he did in Paranormal Activity, however, I don't think I, for one, will mind. It'll be hard to miss this one come October, at a guess.


Release Date: July 30th
Anticipation: 2 out of 10

Summary: A spoiled rich kid is cursed by a girl who turns him into a hideous figure. His only solution is for someone to fall in love with him, and he tries to force it by making the daughter of an addict he has power over live with him.

Commentary: This modern-day take on the Beauty and the Beast myth will either break out in the same way as the execrable Twilight films - that'd be the CW's great white hope - or it'll be lost amongst the shuffle of Summer blockbusters. One of the Olsen twins in a supporting role means gives the latter theory more credence, although a turn by Neil Patrick Harris, otherwise known as Evil League of Evil member Dr Horrible, could prove to be Beastly's saving grace.

Black Death

Release Date: TBD
Anticipation: 5 out of 10

Summary: Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of a necromancer bringing people brought back to life in a small village.

Commentary: The Speculative Scotsman hates Sean Bean. With a passion. He spoiled the otherwise excellent Silent Hill adaptation and few things have pleased me more than to see his character die - much too slowly for my liking - in The Lord of the Rings. Despite my bias, however, I can see the appeal of this otherwise promising period piece, and director Christopher Smith has impressed me in the past with both Creep and Severance. Black Death even has frequent Derren Brown collaborator Andy Nyman in a supporting role - what's that about? Expect this historical thriller to be good, if not truly great.

The Book of Eli

Release Date: January 15th
Anticipation: 7 out of 10

Summary: A post-apocalyptic tale in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that could hold the secret to saving humanity.

Commentary: Yep, missed the boat on this one a bit - it's out already, even in Scotland, where cinemas like to give new releases at least three months to collect dust before thinking to play them. Still, I'm psyched to see the Hughes brothers' latest. I've heard good things and great things, with nary a complaint amongst them, though I'm going to stay skeptical until I get to a theatre and see for myself. If I took a single thing from their last effort, the disappointing but remarkably well shot From Hell, it's that The Book of Eli will certainly look the part. Fingers crossed this Denzel Washington vehicle has more than good looks on its side.


Release Date: 23rd April (UK)
Anticipation: 8 out of 10

Summary: A splinter group of Roman soldiers fight for their lives behind enemy lines after their legion is decimated in a devastating guerrilla attack.

Commentary: With a fervour every bit the equal of my hatred for Sean Bean, The Speculative Scotsman loved The Descent. On the other hand, renowned Scottish director Neil Marshall has let me down on two other occasions: I didn't love Dog Soldiers the way I thought I would, and Doomsday just felt flat to me. All the same, a great cast of British thespians including The Wire star Dominic West and an intriguing premise means my doubts are firmly on hold. Although it has no Stateside release date as yet, Centurion could easily be among this year's greats.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Release Date: December 10th
Anticipation: 4 out of 10

Summary: Lucy and Edmund Pevensie return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace where they meet up with Prince Caspian for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader.

Commentary: A passing fondness for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe did not translate into anything but outright loathing for its pandering, overblown follow-up, though reliable sources and a knowledge that this is the best of the C. S. Lewis books have me expecting a great deal more from this second sequel. With Rome mastermind Michael Apted at the helm, that promise could even be true, but I wouldn't bet your bank balance on it; Disney certainly didn't.

Clash of the Titans

Release Date: March 26th
Anticipation: 7 out of 10

Summary: The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens.

Commentary: The Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier has the unenviable task of remaking a cult classic, but from the trailers released to date it looks like he's doing a fine job. Here we have Hollywood once again betting on Avatar star Sam Worthington, who for a number of reasons has yet to prove his acting mettle. The fate of Clash of the Titans won't likely be down to strong performances, however; this one's all about the epic fantasy battles, and from what The Speculative Scotsman has seen, it looks every bit the part. Potentially this year's 300.


 Release Date: TBD
Anticipation: 6 out of 10

Summary: In a strict, all-girls 1930's English boarding school, a clique of students idolise their charismatic diving teacher Miss G. When a new Spanish foreign exchange student captures Miss G's fascination, the students grow more resentful and dangerous.

Commentary: This isn't speculative cinema per se, but I'm including it in the run-down because everything about it screams Picnic at Hanging Rock with the best Bond girl in recent memory. I didn't manage to catch Cracks during its limited release here in the UK, but I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open for the DVD, despite early reviews complaining that its story is something of a non-event. An interesting, if unenlightening factoid before we call a halt on this first installment of Speculative Cinema in 2010: Cracks marks the directing debut of Ridley Scott's daughter Jordan.


Keep an eye out for the second part of The Speculative Scotsman's extensive rundown of the year ahead in genre film... a couple of days from now. Precise, I know!

For the moment: enjoy, discuss, and please, feel free to disagree. I am but a humble highlander, and I'd be interested to hear other perspectives on the landscape of speculative cinema stretching out before us.


  1. I'm hopeful Clash of the Titans turns out well. The trailer definitely grabs you. Who doesn't like Krakens?

  2. You hate Sean Bean?!?! He's one of my faves although I haven't seen Silent Hill. Come on, in Troy he was great, Equilibrium, James Bond, of course LotR as you mentioned and soon to be Eddard Stark

    I guess you don't have to like everyone I like. :)

  3. Hatter,
    Clash looks like it could be completely ridiculous or really cool, but I do like Krakens...

  4. Seems we've come to a concensus already.

    A little old-fashioned Kraken action? Always a plus.

    Sorry, Sean Bean just... rubs me the wrong way somehow. I think I have a deep-seated suspicion that he's every bit the smug oaf he often seems. He's been in good films - I'll give you that, Seak, no problem - but I don't know that he's ever made a film good.

  5. Haha! Myself and a friend from Manchester absolutely love Sean Bean. But, yeah, I would agree that he's never technically made a good film, or rather one that couldn't have been made without him. Though I think he made a great Bond villain in "Goldeneye," where his smugness actually served his character well.

    Though, I'm not sure another actor could have saved "Silent Hill." That film had some great moments, but it was way too long for what it was. And what a downer of an ending. =(

  6. with the best Bond girl in recent memory

    I dunno, my recent memory goes back to Die Another Day.

  7. As does mine, and beyond. Shall we just say, the Bond girl with the best character arc in recent memory and leave it at that? I fear favourites may be a case of, um, personal taste in any case.

  8. I was interested in Alice in Wonderland until I saw the trailer. I know you love Johnny Depp, Mr. Burton, but I don't think the Mad Hatter was that important to the story.

    What's that? You're changing the story so Alice is now a crusading warrior? Uh?

    I don't usually play the "they're raping my childhood" complaint, but damn if this isn't close.

  9. I have my reservations about Burton's Alice in Wonderland - and no shortage of them - but for now I'm ready to give the hairy old bastard the benefit of the doubt; from everything I've seen and read and heard, this is a sequel of sorts rather than a straight-forward remake, which goes some way to excusing the Mad Hatter's prominence. Were it otherwise I'd be railing right alongside you, Sam. Alice in Wonderland is not a story the mercenary pillaging of which I'd take any pleasure in.

  10. I think Sean Been made FotR better, and I have heard so frequently. He has has the right presence and makes the character more sympathetic.
    I never perceived him in any way as smug, but what do I know.

  11. Centurion is probably the one on that list I am most keen to say, a nice UK set sword & Sandals epic, one hopes. Well actually Clash of the Titans is a must see as well, it looks awesome sofar. I suspect as we go on Ridley Scott's Robon Hood, due in May, will be on your list as well.

    Black death is due late February in the UK according to IMDB.

    I'm a fan of Liam Neeson, I might see this film though it does not pull me in from the synopsis. Alice in Wonderland looks like a film not for me, that's a pass. Too childish.



  12. As much as I detest this recent rash of Hollywood remakes, I find myself looking more and more forward to this next incarnation of Clash of the Titans.

    I didn't know about Centurion, but will keep it on my radar. Anything historical is of interest to me.

    Saw The Book of Eli. Gave it a pretty good review with the knowledge that a LOT of people will not like it. It just did something for me.

    Alice in Wonderland looks pretty killer, and I am not an Alice fan by any means. The story has always creeped me out, but I do love nearly anything Burton does.

    Black Death I am looking forward to, and I LOVE Sean Bean. I think this vigorous distaste for the erstwhile Boromir needs a bit of explaining.

    Nice post!