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From sci-fi to rom-coms (and hockey movies, of course), Canadian filmmakers have big projects in the works

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TORONTO -- An effects-laden vision of Montreal in the future, a magical adaptation of Salman Rushdie's masterpiece Midnight's Children, a 3-D take on kids' hockey, and a sci-fi-tinged thriller centred on our celebrity-obsessed culture are among the Canadian films expected to hit theatres in 2012.

Movie fans have much to look forward to in the new year, as established heavyweight directors including Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta and Michael Dowse bring new work to the big screen. Meanwhile, promising new filmmakers make their debut, including David Cronenberg's son Brandon and Denis Villeneuve's brother Martin.

The younger Cronenberg follows in his famous father's footsteps with the disease thriller Antiviral, about a young man who works at a clinic that sells celebrity viruses to obsessed fans.

Any apparent similarities in subject matter to the early body-horror work of David Cronenberg -- whose first forays include the 1975 parasite chiller Shivers -- are hard to ignore, admits producer Niv Fichman.

"It comes from that DNA, shall we say," says a chuckling Fichman, who nevertheless insists that Brandon Cronenberg holds his own as a filmmaker.

"It also is very different. It'll be interesting to see how people respond to it. Brandon has that undeniable last name."

Antiviral stars Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class) and features Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method) as a celebrity who donates a diseased sample. It also includes a cameo from film and TV veteran Malcolm McDowell.

Martin Villeneuve offers up the interplanetary love story Mars et Avril, set in Montreal some 50 years in the future and based on two graphic novels he released in 2002 and 2006. The sci-fi tale centres on an old musician, played by veteran broadcaster Jacques Languirand, who falls in love for the first time with a much younger woman, played by Caroline Dhavernas (Passchendaele, Off the Map). Theatre giant Robert Lepage plays a cosmologist whose research into virtual technologies extends to bold experiments on himself. His head is actually a hologram, with all of his ideas, memories and thoughts stored electronically, says Villeneuve, who is 11 years younger than Denis.

Needless to say, the movie is heavy on special effects. Villeneuve says six cameras were trained on Lepage's head while another actor portrayed the cosmologist's body.

"It was quite a challenge to play, especially because there wasn't anybody to interact with him so he had to act in void really," says Villeneuve, who turned to brother Denis for help on the script.

Polley follows up her acclaimed 2006 directorial debut Away From Her with another look at marriage in Take This Waltz. Michelle Williams plays a young wife whose wandering eye is drawn to a handsome stranger across the street, played by Luke Kirby, while funnyman Seth Rogen reveals a tender side as her unsuspecting husband.

David Cronenberg has two films in the pipeline -- his psychological study A Dangerous Method finally gets a Canadian audience after touring the world, while his buzzed-about take on the Don DeLillo novel Cosmopolis could hit theatres by the end of 2012 with stars Robert Pattinsonn, Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche.

Canadian films have a notoriously difficult time drawing dollars at the box office but 2012's crop is packed with potential, says Stephanie Azam, a national feature film executive with Telefilm Canada.

She points to some slick, celeb-studded productions -- including Dowse's hockey comedy Goon, with Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel and Liev Schreiber; David Weaver's crime thriller The Samaritan, featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Wilkinson; and Nathan Morlando's period piece Edwin Boyd, starring Scott Speedman and Brian Cox -- as films that are expected to do well with audiences.

"All these films have U.S. distribution, which is huge," says Azam, noting they also boast sizable budgets buoyed by hefty private investments.

"It's a really big deal that we're getting potential day-and-date releases with big marketing campaigns and that stamp of a approval really helps to find audiences here in Canada."

Mehta's long-awaited adaptation of Rushdie's Midnight's Children is expected to be one of the biggest films to premi®re in 2012, although no date has yet been set.

The Toronto-based director has said it incorporates dream-like sequences as the sprawling tale moves forwards and backwards in time.

Co-star Zaib Shaikh (Little Mosque on the Prairie) describes the Sri Lankan set as "magical" and says he's excited to see what audiences think of the elaborate production.

"Salman's scope is large and Deepa's scope is large in terms of their effect on cinema and the literary world, so just to have worked with them on a project together of this magnitude, and for it to be Canadian, is a dream come true."

The fertile Quebec market is brimming with hot titles, too, says Telefilm Canada's Marie-France Goddout.

Her francophone picks include the summer police thriller Omerta with Patrick Huard (Starbuck) and Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight); Les Pee Wee 3-D, a hockey flick set for Christmas 2012; and the Africa-set Rebelle, about a female child soldier.

Steve Gravestock, a Canadian programmer with the Toronto International Film Festival, says he's keen to catch Jennifer Baichwal's new documentary Payback, based on Margaret Atwood's bestselling book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. The National Film Board of Canada project hits theatres in Toronto and Vancouver in March before heading to other cities.

Meanwhile, another NFB doc, Pink Ribbons Inc., hits theatres in February with a sharp look at how corporations market and capitalize on breast-cancer fundraising campaigns.

Smaller films battling for attention include the new Guy Maddin fantasy Keyhole, a ghosts-meets-gangsters farce starring Jason Patric as a deadbeat dad and Isabella Rossellini as his long-suffering wife.

Fichman says he's keen to see what audiences think of his Canada-Mexico co-production The Boy Who Smells Like Fish, a coming-of-age tale starring Douglas Smith (Big Love) and Zoe Kravitz, the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet.

"It's kind of about tolerance. It's about this boy who doesn't get accepted except by this one girl," says Fichman, who says the quirky tone is reminiscent of Amélie or Juno.

"It's very hyper-real and has a kind of a Latin feel to it."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2012 E12

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