December 30, 2011 4:22 pm

Cronenberg’s son Brandon, Villeneuve’s brother Martin debut in 2012

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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 3D 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,” chuckles Fichman, who nevertheless insists that Brandon Cronenberg holds his own as a filmmaker.

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“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 with Lepage’s character largely achieved through performance-capture technology. Villeneuve, whose brother is known for more down-to-earth fare including the black-and-white rendering of the Montreal massacre “Polytechnique” and the Oscar-nominated war-torn family drama “Incendies,” 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 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 of himself 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. We’ll see once and for all whether “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson has the chops to helm a serious drama alongside A-listers Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche.

The Canuck offerings come as a barrage of U.S. spectacles are expected to invade multiplexes next year, including the Batman followup “The Dark Knight Rises;” Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey;” Daniel Craig’s next James Bond adventure “Skyfall;” and the much-anticipated big screen adaptation of “The Hunger Games.”

Other big-budget extravaganzas include director Joss Whedon’s super-hero ensemble “The Avengers;” director Ridley Scott’s star-packed alien popcorn thriller “Prometheus,” Jeremy Renner’s ascension as a full-fledged action hero in “The Bourne Legacy;” and the Toronto-shot “Total Recall” reboot, featuring Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, and Kate Beckinsale.

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 sizeable 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 premiere 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.

“Anticipation is high, everyone’s buzzing about it already,” says Shaikh, who plays the poet Nadir. “I know Salman’s buzzing, I know Deepa’s buzzing.

“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 3D,” 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 Zoë 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 “Amelie” or “Juno.”

“It’s very hyper-real and has a kind of a Latin feel to it.”

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