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Monday, January 10, 2011

'Illusionist,' 'Thrones,' 'Highness' among early 2011's must-sees

On a snow day, you can only spend so long sliding down a frozen street on a cookie sheet. While housebound, it's a good time to mark your calendar for the cool-sounding stuff coming up in early 2011. Perhaps my most hotly-anticipated pop culture newcomer will be HBO's "Game of Thrones," based on George R. R. Martin's edgy fantasy epic which debuts in April.

The Illusionist
(Feb. 4 in Atlanta) French animator Sylvain Chomet follows his Oscar-nominated charmer The Triplets of Belleville with this feature based on an unproduced screenplay by the beloved Jacques Tati. Not to be confused with the Edward Norton film of the same name, The Illusionist depicts a stage musician (drawn to resemble Tati) who sees his act displaced in the public eye by the rise of rock musicians, but finds solace with his daughter. (Fans of the bittersweet possibilities of old-fashioned 2-D animation will also want to check out My Dog Tulip, with Christopher Plummer voicing a British retiree who forms an unlikely bond with a German Shepard, on Jan. 21.)

"Lights Out" (Jan.11) FX continues its slate of acclaimed new dramas, including "Justified" and the short-lived "Terriers" with this boxing-related drama starring Holt McCallany, Catherine McCormack, and Stacy Keach. If FX has to have a high-testosterone series, "Lights Out" looks to have a reasonably engaging premise, although too many boxing cliches could mean a one-way ticket to Palookaville. (AMC's police procedural "The Killing," scheduled for March, sounds even more promising.)

"Mildred Pierce" (March) HBO teams with Far From Heaven's Todd Haynes and Oscar-winner Kate Winslet for an adaptation of James M. Cain's classic noir novel about a dutiful mother and her conniving daughter. The cast of the five-part miniseries Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Brían F. O'Byrne, James LeGros, Melissa Leo, Mare Winningham, and Hope Davis, but will it be enough to make us forget the 1945 Michael Curtiz film with Joan Crawford?

Rango (March 4) Much more than the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I'm looking forward to this match-up of Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, an animated Western about a chameleon (voiced by Depp) who has rootin' tootin' adventures when stranded in the Mojave desert. The trailer's pretty funny, and note how much said chameleon looks like Depp's take on the later Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Your Highness (April 8) The premise sounds lame: James Franco and Tim McBride play noble and selfish princes (respectively) who team up to rescue a princess from an evil wizard. The red band trailer, however, has some uproariously filthy one-liners, suggesting that Your Highness might hit the sweet spot between The Princess Bride's fairy tale parody and Blazing Saddles' raunch. From the director of Pineapple Express.



"Doctor Who Series 6" and "Sherlock Series 2"
(TBA) In 2010 Scottish writer/producer Stephen Moffatt emerged — at least to American audiences — as a major creative force in episodic television. Moffatt took over as the show runner (i.e., executive producer and lead writer) for "Doctor Who" and more or less lived up to the high standards of Russell T. Davies, who lead the show with its recent renaissance. If the adventures of one superintelligent, hyperactive iconic British character weren't enough, Moffatt also co-created "Sherlock," a contemporary spin on Arthur Conan Doyle's super-sleuth, with Benedict Cumberbatch and "The Office's" Martin Freeman making a delightful duo as Holmes and Watson for the internet age. Both programs are scheduled to return in 2011, and the new season of "Doctor Who" will mark the first time, in nearly 50 years, that the show has been filmed in the United States. Alex Kingston will reprise her role as River Song, who has a Nick-and-Nora-Charles type of chemistry with Matt Smith as The Doctor:

Incidentally, some movie productions filmed in Georgia scheduled to open in early 2011 include Hall Pass (Feb. 25), Water For Elephants (April 22) and Fast Five (April 29). Not to mention June's X-Men: First Class, which will be part of a summer of superheroes, including Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern. The AV Club lists 48 upcoming items from across disciplines. If I overlooked your most hotly anticipated movie or show, please let me know.

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