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The Coming Wave of Made-in-Manitoba Movies

With the Sundance Film Festival ongoing and the Oscar nominations announced Tuesday, everyone is talking movies.

Why should we be different?

Early last week (on the coldest days of the winter so far, wouldn't you know it) the advance team from the independent thriller The Horsemen was expected in town to do the prep work before shooting starts at the end of the month.

Director Jonas Akerlund has to brave the wind chill in Winnipeg for two and a half weeks before the stars arrive, Dennis Quaid and Ziyi Zhang. Well, you knew it was a dangerous job when you took it.

The one saving feature is that the movie is sure at least to break even.

Ziyi Zhang--- yes, she of Hidden Tiger Hidden Dragon, Flying Daggers, and Memoirs of a Geisha---is such a star in the East that she'll carry the flick by her lonesome over there.

Zhang, it's said, plays Kristin, "a dangerous and manipulative young teenager" who forms a small gang with four boys to avenge the victims of injustice. Dennis Quaid plays "a bitter and hardened detective", still grieving his dead wife, who discovers a shocking connection between himself, the suspects of a series of murders and, believe it or not, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Some have described the movie as in the same vein as "Se7en". Ziyi has said its more like "Silence of the Lambs".

If it sounds dark, you have to realize that producer Brad Fuller is the man behind remakes of The Texas Chainawaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, just out. He's developing a retelling of The Birds, plus a prequel to Friday the 13th. "Nuff said?

In an interview before The Horsemen was given the green light, he was asked by IGN FilmForce:

Q. What is the one project that you've always wanted to do, but have yet to be able to?
A. David Callaham wrote a script called Horsemen that is a challenging movie to get made because it is so dark and has a brutal ending. But at the same time, it is one of the most compelling scripts I have ever read.

Blending dark and brutal with compelling from a first script by a 24-year-old (when it was sold) is the job of Jonas Akerlund, whose best claim to fame is as a director of music videos.

Have you seen Madonna's Jump? Ackerlund.
Ray of Light? Ackerlund.
Videos by The Rolling Stones, Blink 182, Jane's Addiction, Christina Aguilara, U2, Roxette, Smashing Pumpkins, Moby, Paul McCartney? Ackerlund.
He also directed the movie Spun, which was universally panned.

So the heat's on this time, which is a good thing if you're shooting a movie in Winnipeg in the winter.

Ziyi Zhang has been in New York since October honing her English. Reportedly, she's not bad. She supposedly had a meeting with Spike Lee and spoke English fluently without the need for an interpreter.

The Horsemen will be shooting into mid-March. Ziyi is bringing something to North America to remind her of home----her mom. Her mother is coming over for Chinese New Year, which this year is Feb. 17, 2007. That's a Saturday, so its likely she will be flying back to New York instead of spending Chinese New Year's Eve in Winnipeg's Chinatown. And, FYI, this is the Year of the Dog, and Feb. 17 brings the Year of the Pig.

Now, for all the extras out there, here's a round-up of what's happening with all those movies shot in Winnipeg this past year:

* The Good Life is one of 16 movies up for the Grand Jury Prize (dramatic film) at Sundance.

It doesn't stand a chance.

It's up against against "Grace Is Gone," the John Cusack movie that was the first film to be snapped up at Sundance. The Weinstein Co., Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics were in an all-night bidding war with tshe Weinsteins winning the worldwide rights for $4 million.Cusack plays a father who takes his kids on a cross-country tour of American to delay tellilng them their mother was killed in Iraq. It had the audience weeping buckets at its screening Saturday.

The Good Life, which wrapped last April, is set in a Nebraska town (Omaha as portrayed by Winnipeg) obsessed with football. A "mostly normal" young man (Mark Webber) doesn't share the football fever and has his life shaken up by a mystery woman (Zooey Deschanel). Harry Dean Stanton plays a movie theater owner and Bill Paxton plays a Judy Garland fan. Don't ask.

* Full of It , which wrapped in June, is set for release March 2.

Here's how Yahoo movies describes it:

A habitual liar wakes up one morning to find his tall tales have come true. A 17-year-old desperately tries to fit in at a new school by telling elaborate lies to impress the school's most popular kids. But when the lies start turning to truths and the teen becomes the big man on campus, he suddenly finds himself facing a whole new set of problems that he never expected.

The other movies coming out that day include Zodiac, the story of the search for the mysterious Sixties serial killer, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo.

* Can you say "roadkill"?

You Kill Me, starring Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni and Luke Wilson, will play the Cannes Film Festival in May a year after in wrapped shooting in Winnipeg. The Independent Film Channel's entertainment division acquired the North American rights for You Kill Me to be one of only about six movies given a full-court press in 2007.

Quality over quantify is the name of their game.

IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring called the movie "exactly what we've been looking for over the past several months to launch us in this new direction ... This is a film with enormous commercial potential. It is a big movie with a great cast and this acquisition signifies an aggressive new direction for IFC Films. With our First Take label providing a lucrative option for smaller, critically acclaimed indie and foreign fare, IFC Films is in the position to acquire and release movies of a much larger scale."

The movie will get a nationwide release June 22. It's described as:

"The story of Frank, a hit-man from Buffalo (Kingsley) whose drinking is getting in the way of his killing. He's sent to the west coast to dry out where he lands a job at a mortuary and meets Laurel (Tea Leoni), who is a relative of one his hits. Wilson plays his sponsor at AA."

* The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the (now grown-up) kid from Third Rock from the Sun, wrapped in May and may be the most anticipated movie shot in Winnipeg last year.

It will have its world premiere March 9 when it opens the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas.The movie was directed by screenwriter Scott Frank, who wrote it between Get Shorty (Travolta) and Out of Sight (George Clooney and Jennifer Lozez), which got him an Oscar nomination in 1999 for best screenplay. While waiting to take the director's chair, Frank co-wrote Minority Report (Tom Cruise), Dawn of the Dead, The Interpreter (Nicole Kidman) and did some polishing on Saving Private Ryan.
The deadbeat.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a janitor with a brain injury from a car crash who get's recruited by a mobster to take part in a heist at the bank where he works. Isla Fisher, the horny girl that stalked Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers, plays a bad girl who befriends JGL and Jeff Daniels plays his blind roommate. Hottie Carla Gugino plays a thearapist. She could play a telephone poll and we'd watch, but we digress.

Miramax releases the film nationally March 23.

In the eight years its taken to get the script made, the casting has included stars like Ryan Gosling and Leonardo DiCaprio, both of whom were named Oscar nominees Tuesday.

* And, looking ahead, British actor Ralph Fiennes is set to make his directorial debut with Snow Country, production to start in September with shooting in Toronto, Winnipeg and the Actic.

The movie, based on a Japanese novel, tells the story of a love affair between a wealthy white man and a teenaged Inuit girl being raised in a convent. Churchill was scouted as a possible location, but lost out to Rankin Inlet.

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