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And here's what a Mike Leigh film would be like if it starred Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman and Ivan Reitman directed: in NO STRINGS ATTACHED (January 21), two lovers try to keep things strictly physical. Good luck with that in a Hollywood rom-com!

But Mike Leigh can't serve as a gratuitous comparison for every film this year. For example, Simon West's THE MECHANIC (January 28), in which an elite assassin takes on a new apprentice, will just have to get along on its own, with stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster.

Also, you don't need Mike Leigh when Gus Van Sant is handling things, as in RESTLESS (January 28), in which a terminally ill girl and her funeral-attending admirer encounter the ghost of a kamikaze pilot. Well, why not? Mia Wasikowska and Schuyler Fisk star.

By the way, have I mentioned that these movies are starting to get a little creepy? Like THE RITE (January 28), a thriller about an exorcism school in the Vatican. Kind of Hogwarts with holy water, I guess. Mikael Håfström directs, and Colin O'Donoghue and Anthony Hopkins star.

 

FEBRUARY
This month always seemed claustrophobic to me, so it's fitting that it starts with Alister Grierson's SANCTUM (February 4), in which explorers get lost in a labyrinthine system of underwater caverns. Rhys Wakefield stars and James Cameron produced. For another version of the same tale of panic and entrapment, there is Christian E. Christiansen's THE ROOMMATE (February 4), in which a coed starts having doubts about the title co-habitant.

I don't know about you, but all this confinement makes me want to soar like THE EAGLE (February 11), a sword-and-sandal epic from Kevin Macdonald in which a Roman soldier (Channing Tatum) seeks to restore the reputation of his lost father. It also makes me think, what the heck —JUST GO WITH IT (February 11), whatever "it" might be. In this case, it's some poor, duplicitous schmuck's unrequited love. Dennis Dugan directs, and Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and Nicole Kidman star.

Meanwhile, what an amazing year it is that sees the release of both JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER and GNOMEO AND JULIET on the same day (February 11)! The former is, of course, the long-awaited documentary about the 16-year-old superstar, directed by Jon Chu. The latter is Kelly Asbury's animated adaptation of the tragedy by William Shrekspeare, er, Shakespeare, featuring the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt.

Next follows what seems like three extreme versions of a midlife crisis:

In Jaume Collet-Serra's UNKNOWN (February 18), a man emerges from a coma to discover someone has stolen his identity. A common enough experience when you've reached the age of star Liam Neeson. Pretty Diane Kruger plays a sympathetic friend.

In Patrick Lussier's DRIVE ANGRY 3D (February 25), a father goes nuts in pursuit of the bums who did in his daughter. Needless to say, Nicolas Cage is in the starring role.

And the perennially adolescent Farrelly Brothers are back with HALL PASS (February 25): here a couple of bozos finagle permission from their wives to cheat — the catch being the wives get to do likewise. With Owen Wilson and Christina Applegate.

 

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