Tag Archives: Previews

The Movies of Fall 2020 (Hopefully)

When I published my last movie season preview here in April, I knew that it was on the optimistic side and would’ve likely changed over the course of the summer.  Sadly, the worst case scenario played out.  2020 will be a historic year for the film industry, because for the first time in who knows how long, there was no Summer movie season.  Movie theaters remained shuttered for the entirety of what used to be the most profitable period of the year, and only now are some of them (not all) beginning to reopen for business here in America.  Some of my last summer movie preview covered movies that I was hopeful would make it to the big screen on time, and almost all of them failed to meet their original release date, with only Bill & Ted Face the Music (of all movies) actually sticking the landing.  For a movie fan like me who greatly prefers the big screen experience, it’s been a rough couple of months.  Not only am I seeing so many movies I’ve been excited for be pushed back months or even a year away from it’s original date, but some of the studios have just given up and dropped their movies off on streaming services.  I’ve already covered the boom of streaming content plenty during this pandemic, but I will add that my hope is that all these measures taken is just to get us through the crises of the moment, and that things will turn around soon, giving us a chance to return back to normal soon.  I feel bad for the people behind movies like Mulan and Tenet, as they are seeing their films roll-out in a less than desired way.  My hope is that within the months ahead, it will be safe to once again watch movies on the big screen, and that the movies of Fall 2020 don’t see the same disruptions in their roll-out that their Summer cousins endured.  Like my last preview, I am foregoing my usual categories, and instead just spotlighting the most notable movies coming out in the Fall season; hopefully with all of them managing to avoid any postponement.  Anything could change between now and New Years, but hopefully for these movies, we’ll still be enjoying them this Fall season.

DUNE (DECEMBER 18, 2020)

What was already one of the year’s most anticipated new films from the start still remains the most anticipated movie of this holiday season.  Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel of the same name, Dune is a grand scale epic that people are hoping will be the movie that brings people back to the big screen in a major way.  Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) will undoubtedly bring a bold artistic style to this film, and with major studio backing from Warner Brothers, this movie will almost assuredly demand a big screen presentation just to capture the immensity of it all.  This movie could very well be for science fiction what Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was for fantasy.  The movie also boasts an impressive all-star cast that includes Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, and Dave Bautista just to name a few.  For many fans of the book, this movie will also satisfy a long held desire for a faithful adaptation that feels truer to Herbert’s vision, after David Lynch’s failed 1984 version left much to be desired.  It’s going to be interesting if Warner Brothers can pull this off, but you get the sense already that they are hedging their bets.  Nearly 3 months out from the scheduled release date, and we still don’t have a trailer.  That’s unusual for a big movie of this kind, and it makes people wonder if this will be yet another big tent-pole pushed back to 2021.  Hopefully, the pandemic will have died down by Christmas and studios will feel confident in putting this and others like it on a big screen again.  But, without a viable vaccine available in time, and a threat of a second wave, it’s possible that we may have to wait a bit longer for Dune to make it’s big screen debut, if it indeed gets one.  All I can say is if the industry needed a big movie to help boost the theatrical market once again, this would indeed be the movie to do it.

BLACK WIDOW (NOVEMBER 6, 2020)

Marvel’s newest blockbuster was supposed to herald the beginning of the Summer 2020 movie season, as Marvel has done over the last decade on the first week of May.  However, plans changed quickly, and Marvel had to postpone like everyone else; missing out on that traditional slot that has always served them well.  However, unlike most other studios this year, Marvel was actually well positioned to adapt to the delay.  Because they plant their flags so far in advance in anticipation for their upcoming releases, all Marvel had to do was have each of their movies take one step backward to the next available slot.  As a result, Black Widow, which was supposed to come out May 1 is now coming out on November 6 instead, taking over the release date of their next film, The Eternals, which was pushed back to Marvel’s next available date, February 12.  At this point the Marvel brand is so strong that they can make moves like this without hurting their chances at the box office.  Black Panther already showed that they can perform just as well in February as any other time of year, so Eternals is still in a good position.  What also benefits Marvel is that they delay has allowed audiences to build up more of an appetite for a new Marvel movie, with last July’s Spider-Man: Far From Home coming a full year and a half before Black Widow.  That’s good for this new movie, which marks the starting off point for Marvel’s Phase 4 plans.  It will be interesting to see where Agent Natasha Romanoff’s long awaited solo film fits within the ongoing MCU storyline, given what we know of her fate from Avengers: Endgame (2019).   The movie also looks like a fresh departure from past Marvel movies, taking on a more grounded Jason Bourne-esque style and plot.  The inclusion of Black Widow’s “family” of fellow assassins, played by Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour also looks to make this a fun action movie as well.  Can Marvel keep the ball rolling into Phase 4?  Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see this November.

SOUL (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)

You can always count on Pixar to get movie goers excited about what they have coming up next.  Unfortunately for the studio, they suffered a bad hit right at the start of this pandemic when they’re highly anticipated Spring 2020 release Onward suffered at the box office during it’s brief two week run before theaters started closing.  It failed to cross the $100 million mark, a first for Pixar, and was rushed quickly onto Disney+ in the hopes that it might help the new streamer gain more subscribers.  With the pandemic raging on through the summer, it became clear that Pixar’s second original film of the year, Soul, would not meet it’s June release date and a delay was quickly enacted.  Taking the release date from Disney Animation’s Raya and the Last Dragon (now set for Spring 2021), Soul is hoping to get a chance to bring Pixar back strong at the box office.  This new film comes from Pixar chief Pete Doctor, who has one of the best track records as a director so far at the studio, having made the likes of Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015).  With his fourth film, Doctor is delving into another high concept, which is what makes up a person’s soul.  Here, the story revolves around a jazz musician and music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who suddenly finds himself in an ethereal realm after an accident, stuck between the afterlife and the place where souls begin before life.  There he meets a soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who refuses to join the realm of the living.  It’s the kind of ambitious, multi-layered film that Pixar has built it’s brand around, and my hope is that we will get to see this movie presented beautifully on a big, wide screen.  The trailer gives the indication that this movie will be gorgeous to look at, and hopefully those high Pixar standards bear fruit.  Let’s just hope that the theatrical experience will be able to give us that chance to witness all that beauty in the best way possible.

NO TIME TO DIE (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)

The very first casualty of the 2020 pandemic, this newest entry of the long running James Bond franchise gave us the first real indication of the severity that this pandemic was going to have on Hollywood’s plans for the year.  The movie, marking Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as 007, was originally going to be released in April, an unusual time slot for the franchise.  With the delay, it has now moved in a traditional Fall release, which has always been what the Bond franchise has done before, so it seemed a natural move given the circumstances.  But it is interesting that when MGM and Sony moved their massive tent-pole to the Fall, the world had not really fully grasped how bad this pandemic was going to get.  Sure, we already saw China suffer through the outbreak during the winter, but here in North America, it still seemed remote.  The decision to move this film came as a shock, given how close to the release it was.  Tickets had already gone on sale (I bought mine, in fact) and were soon refunded.  But, as we now know, it was only the first domino to fall.  In hindsight, the Bond team did the right thing by postponing the film.  Hopefully, they won’t have to do it again.  This is another movie that definitely demands a big screen presentation, as most Bond movies are.  Considering that Craig is hanging it up as the iconic character after this makes the new movie all the more monumental, and it will help to generate excitement once it’s finally released.  Seeing old faces return, as well as new ones coming in for the first time, like Oscar winner Rami Malek’s enigmatic new villain, will be pleasing to many fans of the franchise.  Let’s hope that the long wait will be worth it, and that Craig’s Bond goes out with a big bang on the big screen.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (OCTOBER 2, 2020)

You’ve got to hand it to Warner Brothers; they are committed to the theatrical experience for their big tent-pole films.  In addition to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, they stated that Wonder Woman 1984 would be screened in theaters and they have stuck with that.  Whether or not theaters are going to be ready is another question.  Tenet is already getting a staggered release in markets across the world, with some theaters in North America getting it for the Labor Day weekend, while others in hot spot areas (which sadly includes California, where I live) will have to wait.  Hopefully, when Warner’s next big tent-pole comes out, more theaters will be open to present it.  But, October is readily approaching and it’s hard to say if we are going to be ready.  Having already passed on two Summer release dates, people are hopeful that Wonder Woman 1984 will be able to stick the landing this fall.  The highly anticipated sequel brings back Gal Gadot as the super heroine and the movie looks to deliver on the same blend of high octane action and charming character dynamics that the original 2017 film gave us.  Given the double threat of Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, two of Wonder Woman’s biggest foes from the comics, this looks to be a movie that not only builds on the original, but also takes it to new heights.  Hopefully, Warner Brothers and DC’s high expectations are justified with their optimistic release date.  I enjoyed the last film very much, and I too have high hopes for the movie.  This could indeed be the movie that helps to bring movie theaters back to booming business, but given the dangers involved with the ongoing pandemic, it could prove to be a huge risk as well, and it’s asking a lot of the audience to put their health on the line in order to watch this in a theater.  Hopefully, the curve finally flattens before this movie makes it’s debut, but we’ll have to wait and see.

MANK (TBA FALL 2020)

With all this talk of the big tent-pole movies pushed back from the Summer and Spring, we can’t overlook the awards season films that also normally make their way to the silver screen.  The only question is, will they make it to the screen this year.  The entire rest of the 2020 movie calendar could still be in flux, and a lot of the movies put up for Oscar season might not even make it as scheduled.  Given that Academy Awards already decided to push back their deadline for consideration into February, there is less pressure to get these kinds of movies out onto screens before December 31.  Most of the Oscar season movies may now be coming out in January or February at the latest.  There are, however, a few movies vying for Awards consideration that will be released this year, and they are mostly the ones being made by streamers like Netflix.  In fact, Netflix has a few highly anticipated new movies from the likes of Charlie Kaufman, Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin and maybe even the Coen Brothers if we’re lucky.  But, for me, the one that I’m looking most forward to is David Fincher’s new biopic called Mank.  The movie tells the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the film Citizen Kane (1941).  The plot will detail the tumultuous history of that legendary film’s making from the point of view of Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and show how the pressures put on him from threats by the Hearst Corporation as well Orson Welles (Tom Burke) taking most of the credit, led to a short lived career for the now celebrated writer.  For movie lovers like me, this story is one that will make for a great cinematic experience, especially in Fincher’s hands.  We don’t much about the movie other than it’s cast and that it will be in black and white (a first for Fincher).  I hope that Netflix does screen this somewhere here in LA like they did for last year’s The Irishman (2019).  At least with Netflix behind this one, we know that it will be released without delay.  The only question now is when, and hopefully we get that answer soon and with an exciting trailer to go with it.

It will be interesting to see if these release dates do indeed pan out over the next few months.  I’m hopeful that we’ve gone through the worst of this pandemic and that movie theaters will be able to screen new releases in a safe manner.  That being said, it’s going to be a while before the business will be able to return back to normal.  With the digital only releases of Trolls World Tour, Scoob! and now Mulan, a precedent has been set for how studios can circumvent the movie theater industry with a premium On Demand model for release.  One hopes that it is temporary for the circumstances, but as of right now, the movie theaters need the studios support more than the other way around.  Now of course not every movie is going to benefit from streaming.  Disney suffered a loss by dumping the $140 million Artemis Fowl onto Disney+ instead of delaying it for theaters, but let’s face it, that movie was always doomed to fail, even with theaters open.  But, movie theaters are still in a desperate place, and a lot of hopes are riding on the movies set for this Fall.  Time will only tell what impact the deals the theater industry cut with the major studios, like the controversial one between AMC and Universal, will have on the future of the business.  If anything, this Fall season may be the one that makes or breaks the theatrical market forever.  Hopefully, the movies that I spotlighted here are big enough of a draw to help people return the movies.  I am cautiously optimistic, though I do understand that it will still be a tall order.  One thing that does give me hope is that I hear a lot of people lament about missing being in a theater during this time of year.  Being stuck in a home has run it’s course for many people, and they are eager to get back outside whenever they can.  I can see this whenever I’ve gone to Drive-In theaters here in LA.  They are almost always packed, which is a great sign for the theatrical industry.  It’s hard to know the future, but if what I’ve seen is any indication, the movie theater industry may not nearly as dead as we thought.

The Movies of Summer 2020 (Hopefully)

From the very first few weeks that I started this blog seven years ago, I had created a fixture on this site that I’ve continually returned to at nearly the end of every April.  That of course being my Summer movie preview, which has always been one of my most anticipated articles each year to write.  The Summer movie season over the last decade in particular has always been huge and worthy of spotlighting each year.   No matter what, I could always count on a four month span of Marvel kicking things off with a bang in the first week of May, then the mid summer entries that always ranged from something big and loud to intimate and though-provoking, and usually it would all end with sometimes worthwhile late surprises in August.  But, this year is going to be very different.  There is some belief that we may not even have a summer movie season at all.  After the entire slate of movies from the major studios had been moved off the calendar due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this year all the way through the month of June, the movie landscape looked pretty bleak for a while.  As of now, there is a lot of doubt that the movie theater industry can recover from this unprecedented shutdown, though that hasn’t stopped the studios from still committing to theatrical releases for their major tentpole films.  The only question is, will audiences be ready to come back, after a substantial quarantine has forced us into remaining wary of large public gatherings.  Though the summer movie season has been cut at least in half, there are still remarkably some movies that are remaining scheduled for these upcoming months, at least for now.  It still might be touch and go for a few more weeks, and the studios might reconsider some of these upcoming dates, but there is hope that not only will we see the movie theaters open for business again, but with some noteworthy movies as well in order to get excited about.

Considering the unusual circumstances of this summer movie season, I am going to forego my format of this preview article that I have followed up to now.  So for this season only (I hope), I will not be looking at the movies based on what are the “must sees,” “the ones that have me worried,” or the “ones to skip,” simply because there aren’t enough to talk about.  Instead, I am just going to spotlight the most notable movies still on the schedule at this moment, and give my general feelings about them, uncategorized.  Keep in mind, these movies are not set in stone, and they could very well be moved off at any time, like so many from this Spring were all of a sudden.  One movie in particular on this preview was even on my Spring preview as well, showing just how crazy this change was.  In addition, I will provide trailers that have been made available.  My hope is that even with all the chaos that has gone on over the last few weeks, we are hopefully past the worst of it, and able to return to some bit of normalcy, including going to the movie theaters, and that these films in particular are enjoyed the way they were meant to be seen; on the grand silver screen.  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at what can hopefully be the movies of the  truncated Summer 2020 movie season.

TENET (JULY 17)

So much was taken off the schedule in the critical moments where a lockdown of the economy became not only a possibility, but a certainty.  Marvel, Pixar, James Bond, and DC all fell like dominoes, until we were left with the reality that movie theaters would remain closed with nothing new to show until at least July; nearly 4 whole months.  This is a huge disruption for the market to face, and it’s going to take something big to bring people back to the theaters.  Fortunately, we have a new film from Christopher Nolan on the way.  While there is the possibility that this movie could be pushed back too, Warner Brothers still hasn’t made that choice yet, which indicates some confidence that they have in this particular film.  Whether or not that translates into a strong box office is unclear, given that it’s going to need to depend on the audience feeling that theaters are safe at that point.  Their desire to keep this movie’s original scheduled theatrical date is likely due to the demands of director Nolan, who is a proud champion of the theatrical experience, and who certainly wants to push the medium to it’s limits in a way that cannot be replicated in a home theater.  In many ways, this is the right kind of movie to get audiences back in a big way, because of the way it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible; especially if you’re watching the 70 mm IMAX version, the director’s preferred format.  But it will remain to be seen if audiences go for an original concept sci-fi espionage thriller.  I for one am excited, and will gladly pay to see this in a theater, especially after seeing the prologue attached to The Rise of Skywalker last Christmas.  The plot looks so intriguing, the cast led by John David Washington and Robert Pattinson look excellent, and the visuals are the typical Nolan-style mind-benders.  I hope this is the movie that opens the movie theaters back up in a big way, because it will devastate me to have to wait any longer for another Nolan epic.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (AUGUST 14)

Though Warner Bros. did keep Tenet where it is, they still made a difficult move of their other major tent-pole for the year.  Thankfully, it didn’t get moved back too far.  Wonder Woman 1984 is the heavily anticipated sequel to the beloved original film that many credit for steering the DC ship back on the right course.  After a steady stream of hits including Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019), and the Oscar-winning Joker (2019), DC is on a much stronger footing than it was in the pre-Justice League (2017) days, and we can all thank the lasso-wielding super heroine herself for that.  With Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot both returning, they look to continue the franchise with far more goodwill on their side, and it certainly looks like they are amping things up to even more epic levels.  The movie still sets itself up in the past, filling in the gaps between Diana Prince’s introduction to the outside world during the Great War and her time helping form the Justice League.  In particular, this movie takes us into the year 1984, which will no doubt exploit some of the current 80’s nostalgia that our culture seems to be indulging in at the moment.  The vibe of the trailer definitely reflects this, with an epic cover of New Order’s Blue Monday, but there’s still a lot of cool stuff to see for anyone whose a fan of the movies and the comics.  The introduction of two of Wonder Woman’s most iconic foes, Cheetah (played by Kristen Wiig) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) gives this movie a lot of exciting possibilities and it’s clear that Patty Jenkins is really upping the scale of the production as well.  I especially love Jenkin’s confidence that she has in her vision now.  After clashing so much with the Warner executives on the first film, it’s clear that this time she’s been given more free reign, and I’m excited to see what she can do with it.  Had we lost Wonder Woman in addition to a Black Woman movie this summer, it would’ve been really devastating, so thankfully she only had to make a short side-step and still give us something to look forward to much sooner.

MULAN (JULY 24)

Here is the movie that I mentioned that also made my Spring 2020 preview.  Of course, it didn’t make it’s original late March opening due to the lockdown orders falling a mere week before it was scheduled to start.  The lockdown was so unexpectedly abrupt in fact that Mulan had already had it’s red carpet premiere.  There are actually critics reviews that are floating online for a movie that is having to sit on the shelf at the moment over no fault of it’s own.  I am not one of those critics that got an advanced screening, so if this movie does make it to theaters, I’ll still be seeing it fresh.  In my original preview, I categorized this as one of my “movies that have me worried” picks, which is mainly due to my dissatisfaction with most of Disney’s recent live action remakes.  But right now, I am far more willing to be excited for this movie, just because Disney is still committed to a theatrical release for it, and it just might be the thing we need in order to be happy going to the movies again.  It may not change my mind much with regards to how I feel about most live action remakes from Disney, but given that this movie was indicating to us that it was trying harder to be it’s own thing rather than just a “cut and paste” copy is a pleasing sign.  I am intrigued by the supernatural element that they’ve added to this story, which in a way actually makes the animated original seem more grounded, and that had a talking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy in it.  It’s gambling a little bit more with it’s story, and I see that as a good sign.  My hope is that they balance that with a compelling script and strong performances, and avoid all references to the original movie that will feel shoe-horned in.  If there was a chance for Disney to prove that they’re not just coasting on nostalgia, this would be the movie to do just that.  For Disney’s sake, let’s hope that moving this to a late July release will be exactly what was needed, because it’s all Disney has on the schedule until November.  Hopefully Mulan has what it takes to combat the disadvantages it’s been saddled with and bring honor to it’s Disney family.

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN (AUGUST 7)

If there was ever a certainty in cinema, it’s that animated films for the whole family almost always prove profitable.  That will no doubt be put to the test as another Spongebob Squarepants movie hits the big screen.  Spongebob is a decades long popular character whose made the jump to movies before.  And the timing for this movie couldn’t be more advantageous for him.  Though he also had to have his original release date pushed back from it’s original Memorial Day weekend opening, the move wasn’t too far up the calendar and in fact it puts Spongebob in a time of the year where he might not only thrive, but dominate as well.  With Pixar, Dreamworks, and other family oriented competitors off the table, this Nickelodeon produced feature has all the summer to itself to draw in crowds of kids and their parents back into theaters.  The movie is noteworthy for changing the aesthetic look of the series, going from hand-drawn 2D to CGI 3D, while still maintaining a consistent style.  I like how the animation still feels hand-crafted in a way, retaining a hand-drawn feel despite being rendered through a computer.  Most kids won’t even care, but from an animation stand-point, it is a bold artistic choice, and that’s saying something for a Spongebob Squarepants movie.  The sense of humor it retains from it’s television series will no doubt be a breath of fresh air after the months held up in our homes, and it’s lighthearted tone might help give us the pick-me-up that we all need after this crisis.  I’ll also very much enjoy seeing anything that has the audacity to cast Keanu Reeves as a “sage” brush.  If anything has a chance of turning a profit in this very much starved Summer movie season, it’s probably going to be the family friendly Animated feature, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just as long as it does make us feel good about going to the movies again.

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (AUGUST 21, 2020)

Speaking of Keanu Reeves, here’s another light-hearted feature starring the veteran actor that might just be what the doctored ordered for this summer.  After nearly 30 years, the third film in this series re-teams Reeves with his co-star and longtime real life friend Alex Winter.  Apparently the movie had been in the works off and on for years, with the script coming from the same writers of the original, even with the wildly different career trajectory that Reeves and Winter took.  Winter all but quit acting to become a prolific TV director while Reeves has gone on to become on of the biggest action movie stars in the world.  But this return to their stoner comedy roots seems to be the best thing for right now.  Reeves is at a point in his career where he’s not only riding a high with the John Wick franchise, but is also able to reflect back and poke a little fun at himself.  And the genuine chemistry that he has with Winter doesn’t seem to have dissipated over the years, and they both look to be very enthusiastic about this project.  The only question is, can it bring in not just long time fans, but also cross-over audience appeal.  I imagine that the movie most likely won’t be a huge expense for any studio if it makes it’s way into theaters (big if), and it could do audiences a lot of good not only in seeing these characters appear  together once again, but also in regenerating interest in the original movies as well, hopefully steering a whole new generation towards discovering them for the first time.  We’ll have to wait and see if the movie does make it to the big screen this summer.  This could honestly be one of those late summer surprises that catches us by surprise.  And if not, it’s at least will have been a worthwhile try for two longtime collaborators seeking to see if they are able to once again Face the Music.

THE GREEN KNIGHT (MAY 29)

I imagine that when movie theaters do open their doors once again (hopefully) that the timing will still leave them with little choices in big new releases; especially with the next scheduled blockbuster being Tenet in mid-July.  So what we are likely going to see in the first few weeks are either re-releases of blockbusters from years past, or small indie films like this one to help fill that void.  This film in particular would be a strong contestant, because even given it’s independent pedigree, it nevertheless looks ambitious.  Coming from indie darling David Lowery, who as made films as wildly varied as the avant garde A Ghost Story (2017), to a Disney remake with Pete’s Dragon (2016), to Robert Redford’s swan song The Old Man & the Gun (2018).  Now he genre hops again by adapting the Arthurian legend of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” with this equally weird vision.  Coming from the always provocative A24, this movie is exactly the right kind of weird theatrical experience that can carry word of mouth throughout the year, like the studio had benefited from in their remarkably strong 2019 slate, including Midsommar, The Lighthouse, and Uncut Gems.  I’m very interested to see what Lowery does with this literally ancient story and give his own voice into this genre that will really set a new standard.  It’s about time that we see the medieval fantasy genre given a fresh new look, and from a director who is proving to be as unconventional as any we’ve seen in quite some time.  It’s the right kind of movie to help fill that gap in time before theaters can enjoy the benefit of blockbuster entertainment again, and who knows, it might become something of a main attraction in it’s own right.

I know it’s not much, but these are the movies that stand out the most among the ones still scheduled for the truncated summer movie season.  Hopefully, we’ve flattened the curve to a point where we can safely gather in theaters once again and enjoy movies on a big screen, the way they are meant to.  It’s not really a question of if the theaters can reopen (most are managing to cope with the prolonged shutdown, even with the financial hit), but more about whether we can return to normal again.  Hollywood may be facing the reality that it’ll take some time for movies to make up the box office grosses that they’ve done in years past.  There is no doubt that because of the shutdown, 2020 will be one of the lowest box office years on record.  And even when business is reopened, we may be facing the unfortunate reality that movies like Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, and Mulan may still under-perform.  I certainly hope that this isn’t the case, and that audiences do return in strong numbers, albeit still following the recommended safety guidelines in order to prevent any further spread.  I for one will only see the movie Tenet for the first time on a big IMAX screen and no where else.  My biggest worry is that the studios will be left with no other choice than to premiere their blockbuster films solely on demand, like Trolls World Tour just did.  Hopefully, we don’t get used to a new normal, and that the theatrical experience will endure long after this crisis is over.  Summer 2020 is mostly a loss, but what we’re going to see afterwards is a jam-packed Fall 2020 and a hopefully unaltered 2021 schedule.  It’s unusual having to change the way I preview the upcoming movies based on what’s happened, but it is what it is.  I’m just thankful that there’s going to be any movies coming this summer at all.  Let’s continue to remain optimistic, and when the time has come, please remember to support your cinemas.

The 2020 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Quite a departure from years past, this year’s race towards the Academy Awards has been greatly accelerated.  This has been due to a far more truncated season than normal.  Usually the Oscars are given a month long window to allow for plenty of campaigning and preparation, with the actual ceremony taking place on either the last week of February or the first week of March.  This itself was truncated even more than it had been before, as the Oscars would sometimes even take place almost as far into the year as Spring Break.  But, this year, the Oscars are reeling in the time frame even more by giving the Oscars it’s earliest ceremony date yet; coming in only a week after the super bowl.  From nominations to ceremony, the window for the studios to make their final push is at it’s most narrowest, and as a result, no real front runner has emerged; at least with the biggest award of the night.  The guild awards have given us some indication about how the rest of the night might go, but the biggest award is still anyone’s guess.  History has shown that the movie with the most nominations is the one that usually stands as the front runner, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years, and given that the most nominated movie this year (Joker) is also the most divisive one among critics and fans, probably tells us that the trend will not turn around any time soon.  But then again, this is the same Academy that awarded the heavily derided Green Book (2018) Best Picture last year, so I guess you really can’t put anything past them.  Like I have for the last several years, I will be sharing my picks for this year’s Academy Awards along with my thoughts on the top awards.  These will include my choices for who I want to see win and who I believe will win.  It’s an interesting year, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out this Sunday.  So, without any more delay, let’s take a look at the nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees:  Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917); Rian Johnson (Knives Out); Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood); Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han (Parasite)

Out of all the nominated categories this year, this one is the most wildly diverse, as far as genre types go.  You’ve got a war movie, a whodunit, a divorce drama, a showbiz flick, and a class satire.  Interestingly enough, this category is entirely filled with screenplays written by the directors of each selective film.  Though Sam Mendes’ inclusion here is deserved, his work is far more likely to be spotlighted in the directorial category (which I will get to later).  Three of the other nominees are represented here for screenplays that clearly display their own unique style.  Though not recognized elsewhere, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out screenplay is a wonderful example of breathing new life into a long dormant genre, and his nomination is also a nice vindication after his tumultuous tenure in the Star Wars franchise.  Noah Baumbach’s portrayal of a family coming apart through divorce is one of the most impressive, stripped down examples of writing that I have seen in recent years, with his Marriage Story script managing to capture so much honesty in how real people manage to navigate through a break up.  And then you have Quentin Tarantino delivering a screenplay in the way that only he can.  It may be one of his most meandering plots, but it’s also what makes the movie so fun to watch, as it becomes a window into the past, in which Quentin is clearly wanting to have fun with.  Much the opposite is Bong Joon Ho’s scathing indictment of class divisions with his film Parasite, which surprises with it’s ever changing plot twists that make it impossible to know what’s going to happen next.  It’s hard to know what the Academy likes better here.  Tarantino’s nostalgic script is likely to please older Academy members who lived through his recreation of Old Hollywood, but since he’s a two time past winner, his chances are slimmer this time.  And though I absolutely got absorbed into Baumbach’s no frills style of writing, it might be a little too quiet a movie for the Academy to honor.  That’s why I think Bong Joon Ho gets the edge here, and his win would certainly be historic for as the first ever winner from South Korea; and a rare foreign language win in a screenplay category.

Who Will Win: Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite

Who Should Win: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit); Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Joker); Greta Gerwig (Little Women); Steve Zallian (The Irishman); Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes)

This should be one of the most interesting categories to watch on Oscar night.  For one thing, it could be an indicator for how the night might play out, if either Joker or The Irishman takes this award.  While both screenplays are outstanding adaptations of their source materials, I believe that the Academy might actually view them as a bit too conventional for this year.  Instead, the choice may actually go to something a bit more groundbreaking.  And in this case, the front runner that has emerged is one that couldn’t have delighted me more.  My favorite movie from 2019 was undeniably Jojo Rabbit, which masterfully took it’s source material, the far more seriously crafted novel Caging Skies, and turned it into this delightfully goofy and satirical comedy about love overcoming hate.  Taika Waititi’s script is a masterwork in balancing tone, managing to still convey the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, while at the same time managing to have silly sight gags and hilarious one-liners in the same vein as a Mel Brooks or Charlie Chaplain comedy.  From top to bottom, this is one of the most delightfully eccentric screenplays in a long time, and is deserving of being honored by the Academy.  the only other screenplay that could stand in it’s way is a win for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation for Little Women.  Indeed, the fact that she breathed new life into a book that has been re-adapted many times is quite impressive, and in any other year that didn’t include Jojo Rabbit, I’d say that Gerwig would be the undisputed front runner here.  She may indeed come away victorious, after her perceived snub in the Best Director category, with this award as a consolation.  But, I think with his recent victory at the WGA awards that Taika is well on his way to winning this award, and it will be one that will leave this critic very delighted indeed.

Who Will Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Who Should Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Florence Pugh (Little Women); Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell); Laura Dern (Marriage Story); Margot Robbie (Bombshell); Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)

Out of all the acting categories, this one looks to be the most open.  With a SAG and a Golden Globe win already under her belt, Laura Dern has emerged as the front runner, with her celebrated turn as someone that I think members of the Academy are quite familiar with; a divorce lawyer.  Dern is Hollywood royalty, and she has been a celebrated actress for many years, so she has the weight of a distinquished career as a boost to her claim for the award.  Her performance in Marriage Story is a strong one, although I’d say of all the nominated performances in the movie, it’s the one that impressed me the least.  Though she is the front runner, I’d say that she hasn’t locked down the award like we’ve seen in the other categories, and this is the one that could be the surprise of the show depending on how the Academy votes.  So what challenge does she face.  Kathy Bates and Margot Robbie are not the strongest contenders here, so it comes down to Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh.  If Jojo Rabbit has a surprisingly good night, it might help boost Johansson (who’s a two time nominee at this year’s Oscars), and she would be deserving of the award.  Her character in Jojo is certainly a standout, and a wonderful showcase for Johansson’s talents in both comedy and drama.  But, if there was one that I think stood out even more, it would be Florence Pugh’s star making turn in Little Women.  In a movie full of heavy hitters (including Laura Dern), Pugh stands out, and does a remarkable job of giving a character not well liked within the original book a much more sympathetic and richer interpretation.  Also, given the year she had with leading performances in movies as diverse as Fighting With My Family and Midsommar, a win here would give Florence a solid vindication of her status as a top tier actress.  So, even though Laura Dern may be headed towards her long overdue Oscar, I wouldn’t count out a possible upset by Pugh either, which itself would be deserved.

Who Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Who Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes); Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood); Al Pacino (The Irishman); Joe Pesci (The Irishman); Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

Talk about a stacked category.  Every nominee here is a legendary movie star, with an enviable body of work across the board.  Even still, one has emerged as a front runner in this race, and not surprisingly, it’s the one guy who has yet to win his own award.  Brad Pitt has been nominated several times throughout the years, but has never managed to get the golden boy thus far.  That looks to change, as Pitt has swept through all the other awards this season and collected quite a few honors.  Unlike the other supporting category, I think this one is pretty much a lock for Brad.  It helps that he also has been accepting the award at each show by cracking a few jokes, both at his own expense and at those of his peers; all good natured.  The Academy likes honoring someone who can delight audiences, and Brad has been playing that part well, which is very much in line with the tone of his character in Tarantino’s movie.  Even still, is he deserving of the Award?  Though I enjoy his performance very much in the movie, and would be delighted to see him win the Award, it wasn’t the performance that impressed me the most out of this category.  Honestly, I was more blown away by Tom Hanks transformation into Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is an impressive feat for an actor not known for doing imitations in his performances.  And I also have to spotlight the duo from The Irishman.  Al Pacino and Joe Pesci deliver two of the best performances of their legendary careers in the Scorsese epic, which is really saying something.  Though Pacino is working comfortably in his wheelhouse as Jimmy Hoffa, it’s Pesci who becomes the movie’s true revelation, playing against type as a reserved, methodical mafia don.  If anything, I’d like to see the Academy honor Pesci just for coming out of a lengthy retirement and delivering a new performance that strong.  Though Pitt will likely win here, and be deserved, I would still like to see one last honor go to a legend of Joe Pesci’s caliber.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Who Should Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Charlize Theron (Bombshell); Cynthia Erivo (Harriet); Renee Zellweger (Judy); Saoirse Ronan (Little Women); Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

Out of all the categories, this is one of the most unexpected, with regards to who has emerged as the front runner.  After a long hiatus out of the spotlight, Renee Zellweger reemerged with a near unrecognizable transformation into legendary actress Judy Garland, with a performance that included the actress performing her own singing, which is no small feat given the kind of person she’s playing.  What’s surprising is not the fact that she has managed to be nominated for her performance, but the fact that she has dominated all the Awards so far.  The movie itself has not exactly been embraced by the critical community, who saw it as very unremarkable and conventional by biopic standards, although every has praised her performance.  Given that Zellweger has not headlined a new film in a while, it’s a shock that this kind of performance would bring her back so strongly, almost entirely unchallenged through awards season.  Is it an indication of a weak year for female performances.  I would say no, because her fellow nominees also delivered strong work.  Cynthia Erivo’s nomination marks the only representation of a person of color in the acting categories, and though like Zellweger’s Judy her film has been described as too conventional, she is still being praised for her own performance that elevates the rest of the movie.  Johansson’s performance in Marriage Story may very well be the best one, because of the emotional rawness of her acting.  While most of the nominees in this category come across as better than average for their conventional stories, Johansson delivers a performance that captures the most broad spectrum of emotions; delivering a character that feels so natural and relatable that you forget about the fact that it’s an actor reading from a script.  At the same time, Johansson’s performance may be too realistic for an Academy that values complete transformations like the one that Renee made into Judy.  It also helps that she’s playing a icon, which the Academy also seems to love honoring, as if vicariously honoring honoring that person as well.  So, even though I think that Scarlett delivered the most impressive performance out of this field, it is most likely that Renee Zellweger’s transformative turn will be the victorious one.

Who Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Adam Driver (Marriage Story); Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory); Joaquin Phoenix (Joker); Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes); Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

The story of this category is less about who is nominated than it is about who wasn’t nominated.  The biggest snubs of this Awards season came in this category, with big contenders like Robert DeNiro and Adam Sandler noticibly left out.  The exclusion of Sandler in my opinion was the most egregious of them all, and I feel that it’s going to be one of those exclusions that the Academy is going to be kicking themselves for in the years ahead as the movie Uncut Gems will likely only grow in esteem.  With those noticible exclusions, it has made the race a far more predictible one, as one performance in particular has stood out.  From the moment Joker hit theaters, all anyone could talk about was how bold and groundbreaking Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as the iconic comic book villain was.  Much in the same way Heath Ledger had done a decade prior, Phoenix transformed himself both in body and persona to become this dark and twisted embodiment of undistilled evil.  Though the movie Joker has many detractor, you’ll find fewer people finding faults with Phoenix’s performance, which has been praised across the board.  And out of all the categories at this year’s Oscars, it’s the one that I find the most consensus with.  Phoenix will likely walk away with his first Oscar for his performance here, and it will be absolutely deserved.  If Sandler had been nominated, I feel like the race could have been tighter, but since that performance was left out, it’s all Joaquin and no one else.  I’d say the only possible challenger here would be Adam Driver for his likewise outstanding performance in Marriage Story, but he is clearly a distant second when stacked up against Phoenix.  It’s interesting that out of all the comic book characters that have dominated the box office over the last decade, the only one that the Academy has seemed to respond to has been the Joker, with the late Heath Ledger and soon Joaquin Phoenix both being honored for playing the role in their own ways.

Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite); Martin Scorsese (The Irishman); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood); Sam Mendes (1917); Todd Phillips (Joker)

Again, it’s another category marked by a noticible exclusion; namely the absence of a female director.  Given the strong showing of women directors this past year, it is unfortunate than none were recognized in this category, with Greta Gerwig being the most notable snub.  At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the five men nominated this year should be left out either.  Phillips may be the odd man out here, give that his movie is more driven by the strength of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and not by his style of direction, which some have argued as being too derivitive.  The inclusion of two of the most influential filmmakers of all time is hard to overlook, as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese delivered two of their most celebrated films to date.  In my mind, Scorsese’s The Irishman was one of the year’s most spectacular triumphs, encapsulating all the things that have made his career so legendary into one spectacularly crafted epic. But, whether it’s the fact that he’s a past winner and that there is a lingering anti-Netflix bias within the Academy, The Irishman sadly has not gained a lot of traction beyond the nominations.  So, it comes down to Bong Joon Ho and Sam Mendes.  Bong certainly displays a unique style that spans across so many tonal shifts within his movie, which probably will delight many Academy members.  But, if you were to look at a movie from a purely film-making standpoint, it’s hard to bet against Sam Mendes for his work on 1917.  Not only is he recreating a time period and a war setting, but he’s also shooting the entire movie to look like it’s all one unbroken shot.  It may not have the unpredictable-ness of Parasite, but 1917 is still a tour de force of what can be done with effective staging and unparalleled cinematography (done by the likely Oscar winner Roger Deakins), and Sam Mendes vision is film-making at it’s most grandest.  Though I have a soft spot for Scorsese’s Irishman, I feel like Mendes is going to ride that Director’s Guild win all the way to another Oscar.

Who Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Who Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: 1917; Ford v Ferrari; Jojo Rabbit; Joker; Little Women; Marriage Story; Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Parasite; The Irishman

And so we come to the big award of the year, and like many in recent years, it’s a hard one to predict.  The lack of a heavy front runner to steamroll through the competition in the vein of a Titanic (1997) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) makes this category a far harder one to handicap.  Given the complicated voting system that the Academy works with, and the larger number of nominees, there is a larger chance that really any of these nominees could emerge victorious.  Likely it will be down to a select few, especially the ones also nominated in the Directorial category.  The spreading around of Awards for the likes of Once Upon a Time… in HollywoodMarriage Story and Joker makes it less likely that those will win the top award, as their acting wins will be their high points.  Ford v Ferrari and Little Women most likely will pick up techincal awards and little else.  Sadly, The Irishman is the one that could sadly go home empty handed out of all these movies, which is a real shame given how good it is, but it’s also another indication of the Academy’s bias towards Netflix.  I for one, would love Jojo Rabbit to be the surprise sleeper and possibly spoil the race with an unexpected win, but it’s chances are slim.  In the end, it will come down to SAG winner Parasite and Golden Globe winner 1917.  A win for Parasite would certainly make history as the first foreign language winner for Best Picture, something which the Academy snubbed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (2018) of that honor at last year’s Oscar.  Unfortunately, it’s almost assured win in the International Film category might hurt it’s chances for Best Picture as it often has for other films.  In the end, I think 1917 is going to follow Sam Mendes almost certain Best Director win to a victory of it’s own, which would not be undeserved either.  Though my heart is with Jojo, I see this as a close race between Parasite and 1917, with 1917 having the slimmest of edges.  Thankfully, unlike last year’s Green Book debacle, all of this years nominees are actually deserving of recognition here, and it will be a satisfying win no matter who gets it.

Who Will Win: 1917

Who Should Win: Jojo Rabbit

As for all the remaining categories, here is my quick rundown of my picks for each one:

Cinematography: 1917; Film Editing: Ford v FerrariProduction Design: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Costume Design: Jojo RabbitMake-up and Hairstyling: Joker; Original Music Score: 1917Original Music Song: “I’m Going to Love Me Again,” RocketmanSound Mixing: 1917Sound Editing: 1917Visual Effects: Avengers: Endgame; Documentary Feature: American FactoryDocumentaty Short: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl); Animated Feature: Toy Story 4; Animated Short: Hair LoveLive Action Short: Nefta Football ClubInternational Feature: Parasite

So, there you have my picks for the 2020 Academy Awards. Though the Awards are still a big deal for the industry, it’s become less reliable as an indicator of a movie’s staying power. What we’ve often seen is a progression where a movie will hit at just the right moment to ride that Oscar buzz wave towards a victory and then by the time the next awards season rolls around, that past winner is most likely completely forgotten about. The only winners that endure are the ones that are so good they last far beyond the awards themselves, or are the ones that are notorious for being unpopular winners. The Awards are far more of a barometer for the state of the industry at this particular moment in time than it is about how well the movies will stay in the public consciousness afterwards. If a great movie doesn’t win the award, it’s not a death sentence. Awards are fleeting, but a great film will always find it’s audience no matter what and a little golden statue has no effect on that at all. Still, for history’s sake, I still hold a lot of interest in the award itself. Thankfully this year all of the Best Picture nominees are movies that I at the very least enjoyed. Sure, I have my favorites, but if any one of the nine ends up winning, I will be content with that choice. There will certainly be a contingent of people out there who will likely raise hell if their movie doesn’t win, but just like every year before, we air our grievances and just move on to thinking about the movies that will be up for the Award next year. In all, I hope it’s a satisfying ceremony this Sunday, and that whoever wins will hopefully receive a warm reception. It may be the same old process every year, but for those of us who love film and the historical legacy it leaves behind, this is still an event we wait all year for and hope that it works out the way we want it to. Movies don’t need these awards in the long run, but a little reward at the end of the year never hurts either.

 

The Movies of Early 2020

This is a week of remembrance for everyone.  The decade is about to come to a close, and we are about to enter the uncertainty of the new era that faces us ahead; the 2020’s.  We already know a bit about what lies on the horizon cinematically, but much of the talk today is about what movies defined the last ten that we have lived through.  Looking back on just this year alone, we saw a record smashing year at the box office; mostly on the Disney side.  At the same time, more of a shake-up was happening on the distribution front, as both Apple and Disney launched their streaming services just in time for the holidays.  All the while, Netflix was upping their game by putting out an ambitious front of their own, releasing sure to be Awards season favorites with The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes.  All in all, 2019 was a relatively strong year for film, which is going to make my year end list all the harder to compile next week, given that I’ll have to leave a lot of good stuff out.  I don’t know exactly where to rank the last year in relation to the decade itself either, but it was certainly up there.  For one thing, no matter what format you see it in (either streaming or on a big screen), it’s great to see a huge outpouring of new films coming from all corners of the industry.  Some are even taking bolder chances on themes and content, although there are some negative aspects to what the studios are putting out as well, particularly when it comes to molding these films for the international market, including censorship in some places.  There will be plenty of time to debate these things later, but for now I’m looking ahead at the immediate future, and seeing what awaits us in the months ahead.

Like all my past previews, I will be looking at a certain selection of films from the upcoming Winter and Spring months, and tell you which ones are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones to skip.  Each of these choices are based on my own level of anticipation for these movies, based on my responses to the effectiveness of their marketing, and just the general buzz that they carry with them.  Keep in mind, my predictions are informed, but not always accurate, as there are plenty of movies that can either take me by surprise or completely disappoint.  I also have included movie trailer embeds for context, so that you can see for yourself what movies I’m talking about, and perhaps help you form an impression of your own about the movie.  So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at the movies of the first season of the new decade in 2020.

MUST SEES:

NO TIME TO DIE (APRIL 10)

Good old double-O.  For a while this series was in limbo with regards to where it’s future might lie.  It seemed like the series couldn’t quite live up to the series high-point of Skyfall (2012), as the follow-up Spectre (2015) didn’t perform quite as well.  At the same time, this generation’s James Bond (an absolutely amazing Daniel Craig) was expressing doubts about returning for another feature, raising speculation about who might step into the role next.  Add to this a loss of a director (Danny Boyle) halfway through pre-procuction, and we have a lengthy five year gap between bond movies.  But, somehow things came together, and EON Productions managed to talk Craig into returning for one more film (his fifth overall as 007).  Now we finally have a new Bond movie to get excited for, and in a rare Spring release.  Craig, despite having now played the character over a 14 year period (the longest of any actor in the role, including Moore and Connery), still looks to be in top form here, picking up right where he left off, and though this will likely be his swan song as the character, he certainly doesn’t look like he’s taking it any easier.  It’s also going to be an interesting experience as this will be the first Bond film with an American in the directors chair; Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame.  In addition, the returning cast also brings a wonderful sense of continuity and teamwork to the series, and the addition of another double-O agent played by Lashana Lynch might offer some hints about where the future of the series might lie.  As long as the action is up to the already high standards that the series has set, with it’s special blend of nail-biting tension and sly humor, we should all expect this welcome return of Mr. Bond to be one hell of a fun ride, hopefully leaving us shaken, not stirred.

ONWARD (MARCH 6)

You can always rely on Pixar to deliver something entertaining.  Though the gimmick that the movie revolves around isn’t all that breakthrough (re-imagining modern society through an alternate reality; this time with fantasy creatures), the story it’s trying to tell still looks like it’s right up their alley, and likely to be as heartwarming as most of their other films.  This movie is likely going to hinge on the chemistry between the two leads, two elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.  Certainly that’s the thing that the trailers have been pushing forward the most, which is refreshing in comparison to other like-minded animated films.  Most other animation studios want to sell you on the gimmick, while Pixar knows that they need to sell us on the story first.  There will certainly be plenty of jokes to be had with all the sight gags in this look at a modern suburban twist of classic fantasy tropes, but unless the story at it’s center doesn’t hook us in, the rest will feel hollow.  I do like how much of the focal point is on how the brothers deal with their father only appearing to them as a pair of legs, leading to a strange Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) vibe to much of the trailer.  Not quite the thing you’d expect from a Pixar film, but they are a studio constantly known for subverting expectations and finding that special element that tugs at our heartstrings by the end.  This is also a rare Spring release for the studio, so it will be interesting to see how well they perform outside of their normal mid-summer window.  No doubt with an intriguing premise like this one, an impressive voice cast by Pixar standards, and plenty of visual splendor typical of the studio’s lofty standards, this will almost certainly be another movie from the animation giant that will work it’s magic on all of us.

BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN (FEBRUARY 7)

When Suicide Squad released in the summer of 2016, it received a decidedly mixed response.  While the movie had it’s fans, many more criticized it for it’s uneven execution and clearly compromised vision, which was only compounded by the already reviled response to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) earlier that same year; putting DC in a precarious place.  But, if there was anything to take away as a positive from Suicide Squad, it was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn, which received almost universal praise.  Given that DC’s film slate has been on better footing recently, now is a good time to spotlight Robbie’s Harley Quinn even more, this time as the center of movie itself.  Birds of Prey gives us Harley Quinn separated from her relationship with the Joker (no longer played by Jared Leto) and setting out on her own, and becoming more of an anti-hero on her own (sometimes demented) terms.  Robbie is also more invested personally in this project, acting as the films producer as well, so this movie is going to grant her the creative freedom to tell Harley’s story the way she wants to, which should be exciting to see.  The titular team behind her is also great to see, as many of them are iconic DC heroes in their own right like Black Canary and Huntress, making their big screen debuts here.  It will also be interesting to see Ewan McGregor taking on the role of famed Batman villain Black Mask here.  DC’s been on a role recently, and though this is a follow-up to one of their more flawed outings, it is thankfully bringing that movie’s best element to the forefront and taking her to new, and better heights.  Let’s just hope that Harley has what it takes to keep DC’s momentum going.

ANTEBELLUM (APRIL 24)

Here’s an intriguing idea for a movie that I still don’t think I’ve completely comprehended fully yet.  I love that even though this movie trailer has provocative imagery within it, no doubt touching upon the horrors of slavery in the American South, we still don’t know what it all means.  Is there a time travel element to this story? Multiple Dimensions?  Is it all inside the protagonist’s head?  Everything is left thankfully vague, but it still is there to be provocative, which could make for a gratefully unique horror thriller.  We’ve already seen Jordan Peele successfully work themes of race and class divisions into his films, so it will be interesting to see it done here in a perhaps more somber and shocking way.  Peele’s films always have a running current of humor underneath all the horror elements, so it will be interesting to see if a more earnest and deadly serious take on the subject might work too.  Even without the sci-fi elements that will almost undoubtedly be explored in more detail within the film, there is a lot of horror to draw from in the real history of slavery in this country, and it could provide some really gut-wrenching moments in this movie.  I usually don’t find much to like in the genre of horror, since so much of it is recycled and not all that scary.  This movie at the very least has an interesting premise and potential based on it’s themes that could transcend the tropes of the genre, and provide a thriller that truly does crawl under your skin and takes you to some really dark places.  After all, there was no bigger hell on earth to millions of enslaved Americans than the Antebellum South.

DOLITTLE (JANUARY 17)

Hollywood has had a rocky relationship with the character of Doctor Dolittle.  The classic literary character first made his big screen debut in the 1967 movie musical, which nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox with it’s poor box office.  Many years later, Eddie Murphy would step into the role as the physician with a talent for talking to animals, but it would be in an adaptation that strayed as far away from the original source material as possible; carrying over only the name and the concept.  Now, we are getting perhaps the closest to a faithful adaptation of the original books as we’ve seen yet.  For one, it takes the character back to his Victorian roots, and it also delves far more into the globe-trotting exploits of Doctor Dolittle that were a major part of the books.  I for one am interested in this new adaptation for a variety of reasons.  One, this marks Robert Downey Jr.’s first big screen project after his epic departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it will be interesting to see him tackle a very different kind of character after leaving such a mark as Iron Man.  Two, from the trailers, I get this earnest, non-cynical vibe coming from this film, which reminds me a lot of the excellent Paddington movies, which are some of the best examples of family entertainment we’ve seen from the last decade.  And third, the movie includes a remarkable supporting cast playing all the animals.  If the movie can balance all these elements together, we might finally have a Dolittle movie that actually does justice to the character as he was originally conceived.  Earnest and inspiring films that appeal to all ages are hard to come by these days, so my hope is that this movie helps to fill that void perfectly.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

MULAN (MARCH 27)

Let’s face it; Disney’s recent trend of remaking their beloved animated classics hasn’t been their most shining jewel in their cinematic crown.  Yes, movies like Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Lion King (2019) are box office hits, but they have been heavily panned by critics (like myself) for being just tired retreads of vastly superior films and are creatively bankrupt as a whole.  The one positive that I can say about the upcoming remake of Mulan is that it has some potential.  For one thing, I do like the fact that it’s taking itself much more seriously than most of the other Disney remakes.  It’s doing away with the musical score and more comedic elements in favor of a more down to earth retelling of the Chinese legend.  I know that some die hard fans are bemoaning the absence of wise-cracking Mushu in this film, but I think that the Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon of the original would feel very much out of place in live action.  Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) seems to very much want to make this a epic adventure in the same vein as epic movies from Chinese auteurs like Zhang Yimou and John Woo, but with a bit of that Disney flair that helps to link it back to the Disney original.  And that’s what a Disney remake should be; something that compliments the original rather than try to copy it.  These movies should be their own thing, and Mulan seems to be on the right track.  But at the same time, I worry that Disney will try to force feed too many references to the original film that could squander this movie’s chance of standing on it’s own.  Also, the movie’s star Yifei Liu has received backlash (not unwarranted) for her pro-Beijing stance on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which could hurt Mulan’s chances for success.  Let’s hope that this is a movie with honor, and not with disappointment.

THE CALL OF THE WILD (FEBRUARY 21)

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to make an ambitious retelling of Jack London’s classic adventure novel for the big screen.  And having Harrison Ford on board doesn’t help either, especially when he’s playing a grizzled frontiersman in the far north.  But where this movie starts to lose me is when it presents it’s featured canine.  For some odd reason, the filmmakers decided to forego casting a real dog in the role, and instead use a fully CGI hound instead.  This unfortunately becomes very distracting in the trailer, as the dog behaves in a way that a cartoon dog would, with facial expressions and exaggerated physicality.  That’s all fine if you’re making an animated movie, but this is a live action film with real actors and sets, and the mixture just doesn’t feel right.  I guess it’s no surprise that the movie is the live action directorial debut for Chris Sanders, who has worked up to now in animation (Lilo & Stitch over at Disney, and How to Train Your Dragon over at Dreamworks), so this  was probably his call because it’s a process of characterization that he’s more comfortable with.  It probably could be worse, like the uncanny valley animals in Disney’s Lion King remake.  I just believe that we’re going to have a hard time connecting with the story in this film, because that animated dog is going to pull us right out of the movie.  Maybe this is the filmmakers way of avoiding the controversy that may arise with regards to animal treatment, much like what happened with the movie A Dog’s Journey (2019) and it’s alleged mistreatment of it’s canine actors.  Even still, authentic animals in movies do make a difference, and there are ways to make movies work without endangering them.  The Call of the Wild could have found that balance too, but it seems to have gone to the other extreme, which itself is very distracting.

THE NEW MUTANTS (APRIL 3)

Here’s a movie that may be the most uncertain of the year.  The fact is, it’s very possible that this movie may not even get released at all.  This was perhaps the most affected film in the merger of Disney and Fox, as the movie was a product of the now defunct X-Men franchise that had run through the Fox Studio since the year 2000.  With Disney owned Marvel now back in charge of the X-Men characters, there was no place anymore for this horror themed take on the characters, and the movie was left in limbo with regards to it’s future.  Just to show you how long this movie has been stuck in cinematic limbo, the above trailer is from two years ago.  And in that time, the movie has been set for release multiple times and then pulled from the schedule at the last minute with no explanation.  Basically Disney owns a finished movie that’s not theirs and they have no idea what to do with it.  It can’t be a part of Marvel’s Phase Four plans, because that’s going to involve an entire reboot of the X-men characters, and this one is still tied with the old franchise.  So, despite it looking like the movie might finally see the light of day this April, it may come with zero buzz and quickly disappear from the multiplex, with Disney hoping that we’ll quickly forget about it and move on, with at least some modest box office.  That, or Disney might just dump it onto Hulu.  It’s too bad, because there is potential there, and the film has a fine cast of young actors like Split’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Game of Thrones’ Maise Williams, and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton.  Sadly, mega-mergers carry it’s own set of casualties during their process, and New Mutants is one of the more noteworthy ones we’ve seen out of the big Disney/Fox deal.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (JANUARY 17)

I don’t think it was ever possible, but I feel like this movie needs more Michael Bay in it.  After taking an extra long break in the series, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the Bad Boy franchise, and is anybody really excited for this?  Sure, both Smith and Lawrence are in their element as these characters, and they do still have great chemistry on screen together that they haven’t been able to replicate elsewhere.  But, what also made the movies work before was the over-the-top flourishes that Michael Bay added to the series.  The original 1994 Bad Boys was Bay’s first theatrical film, and showcased many of his best elements as a visual story-teller, which he would subsequently lose and over-indulge in with future films.  The overblown sequel, Bad Boys II (2003) is almost so ludicrously over-the-top, that it somehow works in spite of itself.  Unfortunately, while this new movie does have fun banter between the two leads, it also lacks the Bay flourishes, instead coming across like a Bad Boys wannabe.  It’s hard to say what effect this may have as a whole on the experience, but sadly, the visual element coming from this trailer feels a bit flat by comparison.  Love him or hate him, Michael Bay has a visual style, and Bad Boys was one of the better uses of it.  Let’s just hope that Smith and Lawrence can pull things together and carry the series one more time.  They clearly look like they enjoy working together, so hopefully that translates into a fun time as opposed to another rehashed franchise that should have been left alone.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (FEBRUARY 14)

After nearly making my Movies to Skip page from last fall, Sonic the Hedgehog was pushed back several months after what can be called the most disastrous trailer launch in recent memory.  Paramount faced immediate backlash after they premiered the original theatrical trailer last summer, which featured a horribly off model CGI version of Sonic.  This prompted the studio to do a complete, eleventh hour redesign of the character, which no doubt led to plenty of computer animators working long overtime hours in order to fix the clueless filmmakers’ initial mistake.  I do feel for those animators, because they didn’t need to do all this extra work in the first place since the director and the studio clearly don’t know what they are doing with this movie.  It’s another cliche-ridden cash grab on the nostalgia market, much in the same vein as Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs have been; ignoring all the past character lore and development in favor of a G-Rated romp that’s cheap and dumbed down to appeal to mass audiences.  The new redesign of Sonic is a vast improvement, a tribute to the overworked CGI artists who deserve better recognition, but it still can’t save this project from it’s innate blandness.  Even Jim Carrey’s casting as Doctor Robotnik feels off, as it’s just another zany character that feels like he’s tired of playing.  And given the horrible track record movies based on video games already have, I don’t think there will be much this movie can do to out run it’s inevitable failure.

TROLLS WORLD TOUR (APRIL 17)

It’s been a sad, slow decline for Dreamworks Animation.  The house that Shrek built was once the second most powerful Animation studio in the industry, dominating much of the 2000’s and putting both Disney and Pixar on notice.  But the 2010’s were far rockier for the studio, as they struggled to maintain an identity.  They started off strong with movies like How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and Megamind (2010), but numerous under-performers like Rise of the Guardians (2012), Home (2015), and The Boss Baby (2017) have tarnished the studio’s once glorious sheen.  Now, after seeing their founder Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving to start his own streaming platform called Quibi, Dreamworks almost appears to be throwing in the towel and just using their talents to hit a specific target audience; little children.  Trolls (2016) was the biggest clue to this new direction, a candy-coated musical aimed at children that not surprisingly was their only box office hit of the decade.  With Trolls World Tour, they appear to be further heading down that road, with another uninspired, mass-appeal product solely created to sell toys.  It wouldn’t be as egregious if Dreamworks was occasionally taking more risks like they used to.  In the same amount of time, both Disney and Pixar have upped their game, delivering provocative and engaging movies like Zootopia (2016) and Coco (2017), which while still appealing to children, were also able to deliver profound messages at the same time.  Trolls World Tour is just another diversion that kids may enjoy in the moment, but will eventually grow out of over time, and that’s a sad direction for Dreamworks Animation to take.

UNDERWATER (JANUARY 10)

It doesn’t take much to imagine what the pitch meeting was like for this one; it’s going to be Alien (1979), but at the bottom of the ocean.  I guess it’s not surprising that 20th Century Fox, the studio behind the Alien franchise took the bait and green-lit this film.  The movie looks to be following the Alien formula to the letter, and that’s what makes this trailer so frustrating.  You know exactly where it’s going.  I almost feel that the movie might have been better served if it strayed away from the sci-fi elements, and just became a survival film instead.  It may not be all that breakthrough, but a movie focused on survivors in a crippled deep sea research station could have provided some interesting moments.  But, no, we get monsters instead.  I find the cast here an odd mix too.  Never thought I’d see a movie with actors as diverse as Kristen Stewart and T.J. Miller sharing the screen.  In Stewart’s case, this movie almost feels like a step backwards in her career, as she’s been choosing more challenging roles lately.  For Miller, this is definitely par for the course.  And given that this movie comes out on January 10, it marks the first ever wide release of the new decade, which I hope is not a bad omen of how the next ten years will play out.  I imagine this will be a quickly forgotten film that hopefully has no lasting impact on the 2020’s.  Most movies dumped off in January usually are, and this one is just another in that chain of shame.

So, that’s how the start of 2020 will play out in the months ahead.  In comparison to years past, it’s a relatively light slate.  No Marvel, no projects from prestige filmmakers.  Given how ambitious 2019 was, this is understandable.  2020 is saving it’s heavy hitters for later in the year.  For now, I am looking forward to the return of James Bond to the big screen, with Daniel Craig putting in one final turn in the role, which he put a firm stamp on.  Likewise another Pixar film is always welcome to see.  There are also plenty of movies that could end up surprising out there.  The early Winter and Spring months have become more fertile ground in recent years to find surprises that might have otherwise been lost in the Summer and Awards season shuffles.  And speaking of Awards season, most of those last minute entries are going to expand nationwide in the following month, so there will still be plenty of quality entertainment to be had for the early part of the year.  Now that I have laid out what to look forward to in the first part of the next year, I’ll be spending much of January looking back at both the previous year, as well as the entire past decade.  You’ll see my two top ten lists in the upcoming weeks, with the 2019 Top Ten coming up shortly.  With all that said, I hope my preview has been a helpful one.  There’s a lot to look forward to, as well as a few disasters you might want to avoid.  And as always, have a happy new year and enjoy your time at the movies.

The Movies of Fall 2019

As the summer season comes to a close, a diagnosis of the state of the industry becomes more understood.  And what we’ve learned from the past three months is that one singular studio is dominating all the others; Disney.  With 4 of the top 5 box office grosses this year coming from The Walt Disney Company, they are clearly the undeniable champ of the summer movie season.  Though part of their continued dominance may be due to the fact that they are the only studio with the properties that are capable of bringing people out to the theaters.  Otherwise, most people are opting to stay home and stream their movies on their TV.  Other studios have been struggling to find the next big property that can compete against the Disney juggernaut, and they are coming few and far between these days.  Universal saw healthy results with their Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs and Shaw, but their Illumination Animation release, The Secret Life of Pets 2, disappointed.  Warner Brothers barely got any traction with Detective Pikachu.    And Sony had to share a piece of the pie with Disney over their big hit, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which probably led to the un-amicable split that both companies made to their contract last week.  The change has been dramatic to the industry when it comes to what we can see at our local cinema, and it either comes down to huge tent-pole productions that only make a profit if they have the backing of a noteworthy brand (which is increasingly becoming monopolized by a single studio), or if it’s a small indie film that costs little and manages to find a modest profit after finding an audience.  Everything that used to fall into the middle is heading to streaming instead, and this could very much change the power dynamics in Hollywood for years to come.

But, with Summer behind us, it’s now time to look in the months ahead, which is Awards season. There are plenty of movies that we already know will be strong contenders for year end awards, but the fall festival, which includes Venice and Toronto, could offer up even more surprises that haven’t even been put on the radar yet.  In addition, we also have those holiday tent-poles to look forward to as well.  Like I’ve done in years past, I’ll be taking a look at some of the most noteworthy upcoming releases for the Fall movie season.  They’re broken up into the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I insist are worth skipping.  It’s all based on my own response to the early buzz these movies are receiving in addition to how well the marketing is doing it’s job in promoting these films.  I could be wrong about a few of these, but I feel pretty confident about my choices here, and I welcome any surprises that might prove my first impressions wrong.  So, let’s take a look at the movies of Fall 2019.

MUST SEES:

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (DECEMBER 20)

This one is a no-brainer.  Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year (excluding those from Marvel Studios) this is a movie that you could say is 40 years in the making.  Albeit, there have been several gaps in between, some as long as a decade or more, but Rise of Skywalker, the ninth mainline film in the entire Star Wars franchise, purports to be the final chapter in this ongoing story that began all the way back with A New Hope in 1977.  This “Skywalker Saga” includes the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, and after The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, this will be the end of this sequel trilogy that began after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm.  One of the things that I have loved the most from these current films is that they’ve given one final go-around for the original cast that started it all, and this upcoming is no exception either.  Not only are we getting the final screen performance from Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa (taken from unused footage from Force Awakens) but we also get the return of Billy Dee Williams in the role of Lando Calrissian.  Apart from that, there seems to be a concerted effort on director J.J. Abrams’ part to bring everything full circle before the final chapter closes.  The nostalgia heavy trailer from last week’s D23 Expo seen above showcases moments from across the entirety of the series, and I believe that it’s setting us up for a film that both wraps up it’s own story-line, while also paying tribute to all the mythology that has come before it.  It’s going to be difficult to bring a franchise this important to cinema to a satisfying close, but from what I’ve seen so far, it appears that both J.J. and his cast and crew have definitely got their hearts in it.  And considering the implications as seen from the trailer, showing the revelation of “Dark Rey,” this is series that still has a few surprises left to reveal.

THE IRISHMAN (NOVEMBER 27)

I know that this is breaking my tradition of spotlighting movies coming soon to theaters, but considering how much bigger of a chunk Netflix is contributing to the industry these days, and also because a Netflix movie topped my best of the year list for 2018 (Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma), I figure that it’s about time to include the streaming giant on this preview as well.  This is also due to the fact that a Netflix original just so happens to be directed by Martin Scorsese, whose new film The Irishman looks so promising.  Here we find the legendary filmmaker in familiar territory, telling the story of a cross-section between politics and the criminal underworld, which seems like a natural for the man behind Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995).  In fact, the movie even includes many Scorsese regulars in the cast, including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, with Al Pacino acting for Scorsese for surprisingly the first time ever.  Scorsese may not have created the mafia film, but he certainly matured it and made it his own, so it’ll be interesting to see him return once again to this kind of movie.  It’s also an interesting story of speculative history; showing us the death and disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) from the point of view of the man who allegedly pulled the trigger on him (DeNiro).  Hopefully, the Netflix connection doesn’t cloud the reception of this movie like it did for Roma last year.  Netflix is almost daring the Academy to ignore them this time, given how much pull the Scorsese name carries.  I always love to see what Scorsese has in store with every new movie, and whether it’s in theaters or streaming on Netflix, it will absolutely be a must see.

JOKER (OCTOBER 4)

Speaking of Scorsese, here we have a movie that owes a fair amount of it’s inspiration to the legendary director.  The movie looks to tell the backstory of the iconic villain from the pages of the DC comics, and it’s tone, look and even plot are all very Scorsesian.  It even has Robert DeNiro in a key supporting role, making the connection all the more apparent.  But, it all feels like a good fit for the clown prince of crime.  This is another in a smart, upward trend for the once struggling DCEU, where they are focusing instead on individual movies rather than building towards a cross-over event.  After the delightful Shazam, DC goes dark once again, which is really the only way to capture the menace of the Joker.  From the excellently constructed trailers, we get a real good sense of how much actor Joaquin Phoenix is pouring himself into this role.  He is already standing on the shoulders of great performances that have filled this role before (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) but Phoenix seems to bringing something even different to the role, which is this underlying sadness to the character.  Here we see a man driven to the edge by a steady stream of hardships and heartache, and through all that, we see the monster underneath boil up to the surface.  Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) comes very much to mind in this regard, but there’s also a fair amount of The King of Comedy (1983) at play here too.  How much this all plays into the DC mythos is unsure, and director Todd Phillips assured that this was going to be a very different Joker story than we’ve ever seen.  But, regardless, I think it will be worth seeing just for how unnerving and powerful Joaquin Phoenix’s performance might be.

KNIVES OUT (NOVEMBER 27)

After spending time in the Star Wars universe, director Rian Johnson returns to familiar ground with an earthbound murder mystery, with a sly sense of humor thrown in.  While the story itself may seem pretty basic for it’s genre, the cast assembled is something to behold.  Even in just the central family you have heavy hitters like Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer just to name a few.  Plus, we get an investigative detective played by none other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.  These are the kind of ensemble casts in movies that garner their own attention, and it’ll be interesting to see how Rian Johnson utilizes them in his film.  This kind of movie seems more in line with the films he made in his early career like Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008), so it’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact the work he did on Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) left on his directorial style.  Is he no longer in touch with his old techniques, or is he still capable of delivering on something less grand in scale but still distinctly his own creation.  My guess is that the plot of this movie is less consequential to the overall appeal of the film than the interactions between the actors.  And it will be interesting to see Johnson also work is a broader comedic style, since his films have tended to be a bit more on the grittier side up to now.  This is where the Star Wars influence may have been helpful to him as a director, because it’s allowed him to play around in different genres that he otherwise would have had a more difficult time transitioning into.  Regardless, this film still looks like a fun romp that uses it’s impressive cast well.

JOJO RABBIT (OCTOBER 18)

If there is one type of movie that I especially enjoy seeing it’s a satirical comedy, especially one that takes a very politically incorrect spin on a subject.  This one, from the demented mind of Taika Waititi, tells the story of a young boy in the Hitler’s Youth army during the height of Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend just so happens to be a happy-go-lucky version of the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi).  Given the touchy subject of fascism and nazis, I applaud Taika for not holding any punches.  I’m of the belief that figures like Hitler and all his Nazi followers should be mocked rather than feared, because it robs them of their power.  I think people tend to be drawn to things that are not politically correct and that has been what has allured many people towards embracing more fascist ways of thinking in recent years, because it’s seen as more rebellious towards a politically correct society.  With this film, which shows the absurdity behind the Nazis and their ilk, Taika is in a way reclaiming politically incorrect humor for the anti-fascist side, and I think that is something absolutely worth celebrating.  This movie has all the sly, unforgiving humor of a Mel Brooks comedy, and like Brooks, Waititi seems very determined to put Nazis and fascists in their rightful, diminished place.  After all, the movie’s tagline is that it’s a satire that “goes to war on Hate.”  And just seeing Waititi in his Hitler costume alone is enough to put a smile on my face.  My hope is that Taika delivers the kind of comedy we need right now to effectively bring politically incorrect humor back to where it should be; in the service of combating hatred and injustice in the world.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

FROZEN II (NOVEMBER 22)

Let’s face it, one of the main reasons why Disney is a dominant force right now in entertainment is because of the surprise successes of movies like Frozen (2013).  The original was almost unstoppable at the holiday box office when it first released, and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the show-stopping number, “Let it Go”, someplace around you for months on end.  So, why am I worried about this one.  Well, it has to do with the expectations of having to recapture something that big for a second time, which sequels rarely do.  I had mixed feelings when it came to the original (admired the artistry, but was disappointed with the narrative), so my expectations are not astronomical.  But, I do admire the fact that this movie helped bring confidence back to Disney animation, which has led them to making more daring and ultimately satisfying animated films like Zootopia and Moana (both 2016).  An underwhelming sequel could unfortunately shoo people away from Disney animation, or even worse, make Disney become complacent again by retreating back to safe and predictable.  There are some positives to note about what I’m seeing in the trailer.  First of all, there seems to be more focus on telling Elsa’s side of the story, which is a good change of pace because I felt that she was the best character in the first Frozen, and was underutilized in favor of her more obnoxious sister; sorry Anna fans, but I could’ve used less of her in the movie.  Also, there seems to be more peril and adventure at the heart of this movie, which could help make it an exhilarating sit.  I just hope that they don’t rely too heavily on Olaf related slapstick.  Disney Animation needs to keep being daring, and it would help to see that in what is now their most bankable franchise.

AD ASTRA (SEPTEMBER 20)

On the surface, this should be a must see film.  A space-based adventure film with an intriguing premise, an all star cast, and an impressive looking production; all this seems like a movie that I would get easily excited for.  So, why am I not.  I think one thing that might be affecting my reception of this movie is the space film fatigue that we seem to be recently experiencing.  These types of movies started off strong with Alfonso Cuaron’s epic Gravity (2013), and continued on with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) and Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015).  But with the underwhelming reception given to Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018), it almost feels like the genre has crested and is beginning to wane again.  I feel like I’ve seen this movie before, and yet it’s completely different than any other one that’s been made.  I hope there’s more to it than just a ticking time clock towards stopping annihilation.  At least the trailer does leave some room for unknown secrets to be revealed.  But, the movie has to overcome the fact that it’s on the back end of a cinematic trend and it’s not really distinguishing itself right out of the gate.  Brad Pitt has recently been giving us some good leading man roles, and I certainly feel like he’s coming off some of his best work yet in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Hopefully we see the best of him in this role too.  And hopefully the movie gives us more in a visual sense than just another Space Odyssey wannabe.  We’re hungry for originals, and this could be that promising new thing, or it could just be more of the same.

DOCTOR SLEEP (NOVEMBER 8)

It’s always daunting to make a sequel to a beloved film, especially one that comes nearly 40 years after the original.  Working in Doctor Sleeps favor is the fact that author Stephen King himself wrote a book sequel to The Shining first, before there was even talk of a movie sequel.  With Doctor Sleep being a best seller, Warner Brothers now had the licence to revisit the property, but even with that, there are still risks with regard to how well that may play with The Shining’s die hard fans.  For many, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is an untouchable masterpiece.  Now, I feel that a sequel is possible if given the right approach, and Stephen King himself obviously found a story that satisfied him.  However, what worries me is just how much this movie adaptation of the book seems to be reliant on Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  For one thing, Kubrick’s film deviates wildly from the book, which caused a now famous rift between the director and the author.  This could lead to some narrative issues with Doctor Sleep, and I worry that referencing another film too heavily will only reflect badly on this new one as a result.  I will say that the casting of Ewan MacGregor as a grown up Danny Torrence seems pretty right.  And the director, Mike Flanagan has been responsible for some of the best recent horror films as of late, including some King adaptations as well.  But, he has rarely treaded on sacred ground like this, and it’ll take a lot of careful film-making to make this movie a worthy companion piece to the original Kubrick classic.  This movie must stand well enough on it’s own, otherwise all work and no play makes Doctor Sleep a dull movie.

GEMINI MAN (OCTOBER 11)

Director Ang Lee is one of this generation’s greatest filmmakers, and a remarkably versatile talent who seems to effortlessly jump from genre to genre.  But, if there is one area that he seems to struggle with, it has tended to be action movies.  He created a great artistic spectacle with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), but his adaptation of the Hulk (2002) was a muddled mess.  Now he finds himself working in the genre again, on a film that languished in development hell for over a decade.  Based on the marketing so far, this movie looks to be far from Ang’s artistic comfort zone.  It sadly comes across as another generic action flick, but relying very heavily on it’s hook; the de-aging effect on star Will Smith.  A few years ago, this might have been a breakthrough special effect, especially when the movie was in it’s earlier stages of development, but given that Marvel has already been using this technique for several years now (to sometimes impressive effect), it just no longer has the same impact.  Considering that the movie is hinging so much on this one gimmick, that Will Smith is facing off against a younger version of himself, makes me worried that it’ll ultimately be a let down.  I hope that Ang Lee’s skills as a filmmaker helps to elevate the material and makes this a movie that transcends it’s genre.  But, thus far, all we’ve got to go on is that somewhat uncanny valley image of a de-aged Will Smith, and for many, it’s either off-putting or not impressive anymore.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (NOVEMBER 1)

You know we’ve been down this road before.  Every time they reboot the tired Terminator franchise, it ends up leading to a movie that further sinks the series into irrelevance.  This time, series creator James Cameron is said to be more involved, and that this one is truly the authentic sequel to the last great film of this series, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992).  However, we were also told that Cameron gave his approval to the last film in the series, Terminator: Genysis (2015), and that film was a convoluted mess that completely wrecked havoc on the franchise’s already complicated timeline.  I highly doubt this will be the movie that rights the ship.  Sure, it is nice that Linda Hamilton is returning to the role of Sarah Connor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presence also helps to bring a sense of continuity (he’s also the only consistently good thing in this series).  But, the dour and uninspiring trailers don’t fill me with a lot of confidence.  It just seems like the franchise is regurgitating the same old cat and mouse chase element from all the other movies, with the heroes being hunted down once again by the same shape-shifting robots.  It was a novelty back in the late 80’s and early 90’s; now it just feels generic.  As much as James Cameron wants to keep this franchise going, I feel like it’s better to give it a rest and not try so hard to fix continuity that no one really cares about anymore.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (OCTOBER 18)

If you weren’t sick of the Disney remakes already, here’s a sequel to their live action adaptation of Sleeping Beauty.  The first Maleficent (2014) was seen by many as the movie that started off this recent trend of remaking Disney’s animated classics, and it was also the one that started the trend of making them inferior to the original.  Despite a strong performance from Angelina Jolie as the titular dark fairy, the movie took the absolute wrong angle with the story by turning the iconic villain into something of an anti-hero.  Maleficent’s appeal as a villain is her almost operatic sense of maliciousness, and the fact that her villainy knows no bounds.  But by turning her into a sympathetic character in the first Maleficent, especially with making her the reluctant guardian of Princess Aurora, the movie undermines everything that made her iconic in the first place.  And now, Disney believes there is more to this story to tell, and it almost feels like they are completely disregarding their own character development between films.  Apparently, Maleficent breaks bad again here, really for no other purpose other than it’s what we associate her most with.  If you’re going to change a character like this all of a sudden, Disney, at least be consistent.  There’s a reason why people love Maleficent so much as a character, and it’s not just because of her iconic look.  She is “Mistress of all evil” for a reason.  There are times when a revisionist spin on a tale is appropriate, and then other times it spoils the appeal of what made the story so magical in the first place.  And I don’t like seeing the menace of Maleficent become so diluted in these movies.

MIDWAY (NOVEMBER 8)

Usually I look forward to a epic scale war picture, but it also depends on who the film is coming from.  Unfortunately, this one is from one of my most disliked filmmakers; Roland Emmerich.  The action film director has been on a downward slop over the last decade, and the fact that he wants to tackle a subject like the Battle of Midway makes me especially worried.  The World War II battle is an important turning point moment in the Pacific theater of the conflict, and it’s very much worthy of an epic scale production to bring it to life for modern audiences to witness.  However, it appears that Emmerich is just falling back on his impulses for spectacle rather than emotional involvement.  There are a lot of Pearl Harbor (2001) vibes going on with this movie based on the trailer.  The over-reliance on CGI, the unnecessary melodrama, and also the fact that it looks so uninspired.  Spielberg revolutionized the genre by putting the audience right in the middle of the action with Saving Private Ryan (1998) and more recently Christopher Nolan showed how to create scale without reliance on visual effects which helped to convey authenticity in Dunkirk (2017).  Emmerich’s track record with historical epics is not exactly encouraging.  He did make The Patriot (2000) nearly 20 years ago, which was cliched but effective, but since then 10,000 B.C. (2008), Anonymous (2011) and Stonewall (2015) have shown just how irresponsible he can be when working with history in his films.  What worries me the most is that the movie will end up dishonoring the memory of those who fought in the battle just so that he can indulge his unsubtle and bombastic tastes as a filmmaker.

So, there you have my outlook on the closing months of the year 2019.  Most likely, we are going to see the Disney company finish out strong like they have all year, riding on the sure bets of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen II.  But there is still plenty of room for surprises.  I certainly don’t know what to expect from the awards race just yet, as many of the films that should emerge as front-runners at year’s end haven’t even been given set release dates yet.  Also, the emerging influence of Netflix will play a major factor, as they are about to debut an ambitious release schedule in the next few months, with The Irishman standing out as the premier attention getter.  Netflix will also see their first real challenge to their supremacy in the streaming market once Disney+ launches in November.  It will be interesting to see how streaming content will evolve once these two media giants begin to go up against each other, and how that may affect things at Awards time as well as at cinemas across the world.  Even so, there is still no shortage of exciting new releases coming in the months ahead.  I especially can’t wait to see how Star Wars wraps things up with their epic conclusion to the series.  Also, considering that I live in Los Angeles, where films are legally bound to screen for eligibility in Academy Awards consideration, I’ll still have the opportunity to watch all the Netflix movies on the big screen, which will give me the chance to judge effectively how they stack up with theatrical release films.  In the end it shouldn’t matter, but if it came between watching a movie in a theater or on my TV for the first time, I will always choose a theater first.  So, I hope that my preview has been helpful in spotlighting some noteworthy films that might interest all of you in the coming months.  Let’s hope that our holidays are full of fun times at the movies, no matter which way we end up watching them.

The Movies of Summer 2019

The summer is once again just around the corner and once again it begins a little early this year.  Marvel, no doubt not wanting any spoilers to spill out onto social media ahead of time, have pushed ahead their release of Avengers: Endgame, just like Infinity War did last year with it’s worldwide release.  This has risen a debate as to whether it constitutes being called a summer blockbuster or not.  I put it on my Early 2019 preview because it does technically fall in the spring, but at the same time, it no doubt is going to be the movie that sets the bar high for the summer season ahead, just like it predecessor had last year.  The rest of the summer season looks to be the same general mix of hotly anticipated tent-poles that we’ve come to expect, both in a good and bad way.  Sure, some of our franchises are going strong, but at the same time, there is little variety left in the Summer season.  It’s pretty much just dominated by action movies and animated films, and that’s it.  The comedy genre has strangely disappeared from the box office over the last decade, with once big names like Judd Apatow, Will Farrell, and Adam Sandler no longer producing movies meant to become big box office hits.  This may be an indication of the waning draw of movie theaters in general, and that is slightly backed up by the fact that more medium sized movies, such as comedies, are moving into streaming instead.  That leaves just the tent-poles and the independents to make up the platter of choices at the summer box office.  So, for the most part, this is a summer season of mostly sequels, apart from one notable entry that I’ll get to.  Most of this summer’s box office winners are pretty easy to pick out, but there could still be a fair share of surprises in the months ahead.

Like year’s past, I will be spotlighting several films from the months of May, June, July, and August that I believe will be stand outs for the season, and tell you which ones are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that should be skipped.  I judge my picks based on my feeling of the effectiveness of it’s marketing, the potential it has based on it’s elements, and also just through my own personal enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the film.  I am not always 100% accurate in choosing these things, but I try the best I can to make an educated guess as to how well these movies will perform.  So with that all said, let’s take a look at the movies of Summer 2019.

MUST SEES:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (JULY 26)

Now if there was ever a movie to stand out from the crowd this summer, it would be this movie.  Quentin Tarantino has a knack for making movies that exist entirely within their own category, essentially just being classified as a Tarantino flick in the end.  In the past decade, Quentin has moved out of his comfort zone of slick, urban crime stories, and dabbled in a bit of historical fiction, starting with his first stab at a war film with Inglorious Basterds (2009) and then he followed it up with a couple of westerns (Django Unchanged and The Hateful Eight).  With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino returns a little closer to the present, but still presents a pastiche of a time gone by.  In this case, it is Hollywood circa late 60’s, with the Manson Family Murders as a backdrop.  It’s unclear whether or not the murders themselves are going to be a focal point of the plot, though Sharon Tate and Charlie Manson are characters in this particular story.  Then again, Tarantino has been know to play loose with real history for the sake of entertainment, so there’s no way of knowing what he’s up to here.  And that is kind of what makes this movie so fascinating.  Tarantino has a wild imagination, and I’m very excited to see how it will be used in this time period.  We do know for sure that it centers around the two character played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (as a jaded actor and his body double), and that they run into a variety of characters who populated Hollywood during this period of time.  Given how well Tarantino used these two leading men in films past, it’ll be really interesting how well they work together this time around.  Also, Taratino took the impressive step of actually recreating the look of 1960’s Hollywood Boulevard on the actual street itself, going so far as to change entire storefronts.  I even saw one of these live myself, when they were shooting a scene in front of the Cinerama Dome on Sunset.  Given my own appreciation for classic cinema and Hollywood history, this is a movie I am very eager to see.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (JULY 3)

It’s a very good time to be Spider-Man right now.  Coming off of his critically acclaimed reboot with Spider-Man: Homecoming, he contributed a key ingredient to the success of Avenger: Infinity War, including giving the movie it’s most heart-breaking moment.  After that, two spin-off ventures enjoyed their own level of success.  Venom managed to surprise many critics by surviving lukewarm reviews to become a box office hit, and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse wound up winning an Academy Award.  So, it’s safe to say that there is excitement for this main franchise film.  Tom Holland, who has won universal acclaim for his take on the webslinger, returns, along with much of the supporting players, and the movie takes the interesting angle of having leave the comforts of his New York home for what he believes will be a relaxing vacation, until things naturally go awry.  The plot itself is pretty straightforwardly laid out in the trailer, but there’s one that it conveniently leaves out.  This movie has the prime position of being the first Marvel Universe film after Endgame, but as most people know by now, Infinity War left Spider-Man’s ultimate fate in question.  We know that he lives again in Far From Home, but exactly how remains to be seen, as goes for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury who’s also in the movie.  And how does Jake Gyllenhall’s Mysterio fit into all of this?  No doubt Endgame will clear up a lot of questions, but It’s a good thing that the marketing for this movie has been very careful to not spoil anything major.  Everyone’s ready for another Spider-Man, and no doubt after Avengers, the excitement will be even more dramatic.

TOY STORY 4 (JUNE 21)

Pixar may have the most enviable library of films imaginable in the history of animation, but their crown jewels have always been the franchise that put them on the map first.  Toy Story is one of the most important movies ever in the history of animation, sparking a revolution of computer animation into the medium.  And since then, it has followed up that success with two equally beloved sequels.  Now, nearly 25 years after the original’s premiere (with gaps in between movies equaling near a decade in length) a fourth entry into the Toy Story franchise is arriving this summer.  At first, I was hesitant to see any more of this series, especially after the near perfect note that Toy Story 3 (2010) left on, but the more I’ve seen of this movie in the subsequent trailers these past months, I feel a little more encouraged by what Pixar has in store for us.  For one thing, I am happy to see the return Bo Peep to the cast, complete with her original voice actress (Annie Potts) returning as well.  Also, having Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and all the other regulars returning is a good sign (including what is likely Don Rickles last performance).  Another pleasing sign is the animators taking full advantage of the advances they’ve made with animation since the original films.  For the first time, Toy Story is widescreen, and the scope feels much bigger as a result.  I can already tell this is going to be a very visually pleasing movie to look at.  The only question remaining is if Toy Story 4 can still reach the lofty emotional heights of it’s predecessors.  The nostalgia heavy feel of the trailer suggests that Pixar is attempting to reach that, so it will remain to be seen if that actually holds true in the final movie.  Given Pixar’s track record, it seems reliable to think so.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM (MAY 17)

Keanu Reeves career is something of a miracle when you think about it.  Every time you think that you’ve think he’s about finished, most likely after a string of embarrassing failures, he somehow manages to find that project that immediately revitalizes him.  And he keeps doing it over and over again.  No one has shifted gears in Hollywood better than him in the last 30 or so years.  And though Speed and The Matrix are iconic films in of themselves, I feel that the movies that have best displayed Mr. Reeves talent has been the John Wick movies.  Perhaps it’s how his deadpan delivery mixes so perfectly with the almost cartoonishly over the top violence in these movies that just makes these movies so fun to watch.  The first two John Wick’s are some of the most cleverly constructed and well choreographed action films in recent memory.  There’s just something about how well they mix the graphic with the absurd that just hits the right spot.  Now, the franchise has a chance to do something that no other Keanu Reeves film has; make a complete and satisfying trilogy.  Parabellum picks up right where the others left off, and it shows from the trailer that there’s no need to stray too far from a working formula.  My hope is that the movie continues to stay well paced as the other two films, and that it keeps coming up with fresh spins on the various action set pieces.  It could run the risk of becoming repetitive, but that was the same worry that followed Chapter 2, and that movie ended up defying expectations.  It is interesting to see Halle Berry joining in this time, and the movie could certainly earn her some helpful cred in the action film arena, much in the same way it did for Keanu.  It’s hard to tell if this marks the end of the road for John Wick as a character (probably not), but if it is, let’s hope he goes out with a bang louder than any of the million gunshots he fires in all these movies.

THE LION KING (JULY 19)

Disney is not one to shy away from a trend in the market, and this time, the trend is one of their own making.  The studio has seen unprecedented success with the live action adaptations of their animated classics.  But, though the movies are financial success, critically they have received a lukewarm response, especially when compared to those of their predecessors.  The biggest complaint usually levied at these films is that they add nothing of value and usually replace what worked in the original with something dramatically inferior.  But, since they still make a lot of money, Disney is in no position to slow down assembly line.  This year alone has three such remakes; one, the already disappointing Dumbo from Tim Burton, and the other the worrisome Aladdin coming in May (more on that later).  However, the one that does have the most potential is also the one that just so happens to be based on Disney’s biggest animated hit ever.  And a big reason to be hopeful is because this one is in the hands of Jon Favreau, who already brought The Jungle Book successfully to the big screen.  Though I had a mellow opinion to the adaptation of Jungle Book, I felt it was a shortcoming more attributed to the story and not the visuals, which were stunning.  Now, Favreau is taking the groundbreaking digital technology used on that film and is applying it to The Lion King.  I hesitate to say that it’s a live action remake, because everything in this film, from characters to setting is rendered in a computer, but it’s as close to life like as the medium will get.  Also, the cast for this movie is insanely impressive, and I’m especially happy to see the return of Jame Earl Jones to the role of Mufasa.  My hope is that they’ve fleshed out the story in the best way and made it deserving of the legacy of the animate classic.  With all the ingredients we’ve seen so far, it seems very likely that this lion will roar.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (MAY 31)

A couple years back, one of the most exciting new movies that was coming to theaters was the brand new re-imaginging of Godzilla in 2014.  After the train-wreck that was the 1998 Roland Emmerich Godzilla, here we had a remake that took it’s cue from the original Japanese monster movies, and had a sense of it’s importance to cinema history.  Unfortunately, the Gareth Edwards film was a little on the boring side, focusing too much on it’s bland human characters and not enough on Godzilla himself.  Even still, the updated Godzilla was well-received and was begging for a better film to take full advantage of him.  The shared universe film Kong: Skull Island (2017) did a much better job of balancing character and monster fights, which gave more hope for what we’d see next for the King of Monsters himself.  The first glimpses we’ve seen so far from this follow-up seem intriguing; the heavier focus on the monsters is a good sign.  The only nagging question is, are there too many monsters in this movie.    Godzilla: King of the Monsters has an all-star cast of all cinema’s most famous kaiju, including the big lizard himself as well as Rohdan, King Ghidorah, and even Mothra.  Each of these monsters are deserving of a solo film of their own, as they’ve had in the past.  Putting them all in one movie might be overkill, and not enough time will be devoted to each one as a result.  I hope that everything will balance out, and hopefully the human characters won’t be as bland this time around as well.  I like the addition of Stranger Thing’s Millie Bobby Brown to the cast, and seeing Ken Watanabe return as well is a pleasing sign, since he was one of the best things about the 2014 Godzilla.  More monsters probably means more action, but we may learn that we should be careful what we wish for.

ALADDIN (MAY 24)

Speaking of wishes, leave it to Disney to also give us a remake of Aladdin.  Strangely enough, I was hopeful for this remake, given that the story does lend itself well enough to the live action medium; especially with the many adaptations of The Thief of Baghdad in the past.  And then we got that first glimpse of Will Smith as the Genie, in all his creepy CGI enhanced, blue-skinned glory.  Now, thankfully, we’ve seen that he doesn’t stay that way throughout the entire movie, but it was enough to turn many people off and make people start to dread what’s coming.  For me, it just signified my worst fear, that this movie is trying too hard to match the original, meaning that it’s going to lean heavily on CGI enhancements that will look very out of place and unnecessary.  The best of these live action remakes from Disney are the ones that stray furthest from the originals and try to be their own thing; and also are more visually subtle.  In this trailer, there are some interesting visuals, but they are limited to the impressive sets and costuming.  Everything computer enhanced so far has this element of detachment from the rest of the film, and that could be a problem.  My hope is that the finished product looks better within the context of the movie itself.  Truth be told, I do think that the casting of Will Smith as the Genie is a good one for the movie.  It’s close to what the Broadway show has done with the character, changing the Genie into a Cab Calloway-style jazzy showman.  Will Smith fits that mold easy, and considering there is no way you could replicate what Robin Williams did in the original, portraying the character this way is the best they can do.  It’s also interesting that Disney gave this project to Guy Richie (of all people) which is thinking a bit outside of the box, but hopefully not too far.  I’m wishing this movie turns out alright in the end, but it has all the warning signs of another remake that carelessly undermines the quality of the original.

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU (MAY 10)

This movie could go all sorts of ways.  For one thing, it could bring the Pokemon characters into the mainstream like never before, or it could end up disappointing legions of fans that span several generations.  The casting of Ryan Reynolds in the title role is a positive sign, given the goodwill that he’s earned through the Deadpool movies, but at the same time I feel that he’s putting his reputation on the line here as well.  This movie could very well not be as funny as the trailers make it out to be, and Reynolds input could reflect badly on him if fans are not pleased with the results.  The Pokemon fan community is a fairly devoted one, so they are going to be taking this movie fairly seriously, seeing as this is the first foray for the characters into the realm of live action.  And most movies that have been based on either Japanese anime or video games of any kind have not fared well at the box office, so this movie has a lot of bad history to overcome.  That being said, the animation is fairly solid on both Pikachu and all the other Pokemon.  It hits the right balance between looking true to the original designs, while also fitting in well with the live action setting.  And the animation does match Ryan Reynolds voice pretty well so far; we’ll just have to wait and see if it still remains funny throughout.  As of now, this movie could end up being a mixed bag, and likely someone will not approve of this movie whether it’s the loyalists who say it’s not faithful enough or the causal view who might come out of the movie not understanding it at all.

ROCKETMAN (MAY 31)

The showbiz biopic is a tough shell to crack sometimes, and that is becoming all the more apparent nowadays.  Last year, we were treated to Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen biopic, which is a textbook example of how not to make a movie about a famous rock band.  Despite winning it’s 4 undeserved Oscars (except maybe Best Actor), Rhapsody was a cliche ridden mess that trivialized the real drama behind the story of the band and instead just ended up glorifying them instead, making the film feel false as a result.  A movie suffers when you let the subjects depicted micro-manage how they want to be portrayed, because the movie runs the risk of being too sanitized.  This upcoming biopic of the life of Elton John comes right on the heels of Rhapsody, and it even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher (who was brought on to salvage Rhapsody after it’s scandal ridden and unprofessional original director was fired).  John is involved as a producer, but he’s a little less guarded about his personal turmoils than the surviving members of Queen are.  Also the spot on casting of Taron Egerton is a good sign.  My hope is that this translates into a more interesting movie as a result, but it also looks like the movie doesn’t have a dramatic focal point to hang onto either.  One of the biggest problems with a lot of biopic is that they try to tell too much of a person’s life story, from childhood all the way up the present, when in reality it should pick out a single crucial moment in a person’s life that defined who they were.  From the look of the trailer, it seems like they are sticking to the former.  Hopefully, they can mine enough from this formula to make a worthwhile biopic, and not just another Bohemian Rhapsody.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

DARK PHOENIX (JUNE 7)

Back in 2000, X-Men was a breakthrough film for the fledgling genre.  Here was a super hero movie that took it’s characters and their stories seriously, and helped to ground it in a way that made those concepts work cinematicly.  Cut to nearly 20 years later, the super hero genre has gone on to conquer Hollywood, but for the X-Men, things have been not so fortunate.  Series’ icon Hugh Jackman has already hung up his claws as Wolverine, and the last entry in this inconsistent franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) left audiences cold and unsatisfied.  Now, the series itself is obsolete, as the Disney/Fox merger brings the entire Marvel cast of characters under one tent, and Marvel chief Kevin Feige has already stated that a complete overhaul is coming.  So what happens with this final entry in the series.  Well, nothing good from what I hear.  News has spread about terrible test screenings leading to expensive eleventh hour re-shoots, and the evidence shows in the trailer.  The cast looks like they’ve already checked out, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.  It’s just sad to see this once influential come to an end with a film that looks so fatigued.  Sure, the X-Men films have weathered through some bad movies in the past, but this is the definitive end.  There is no way to salvage this with a better follow-up, so if this is the end of the road, too bad it’s one plagued with so many problems.  One can only hope that it’s better than the trailers make it out to be, but unfortunately it looks like this Phoenix has no chance of rising.

UGLY DOLLS (MAY 3)

You know of those movies that are clearly designed to sell you on something else, with the actual movie plot treated as an afterthought?  Ugly Dolls seems like a quintessential example of that.  The thing in question it’s trying to pawn on us the audience of course is the pop infused soundtrack, which includes many chart-topping names, who also conveniently make up the voice cast.  It’s clear that the focus is put more into the songs and not so much in what is going on in the story.  This is sadly an all too common occurrence today, especially with animated movies.  Dreamworks even fell into that trap when they made their movie Trolls (2016), which was a soulless, cliche ridden movie with a great sounding soundtrack featuring Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick.  And like Trolls, it’s clear that the movie is also trying desperately hard to push a toy line on younger audiences as well.  The only difference is that Ugly Dolls doesn’t have the same level of high quality animation that Dreamworks has built itself up with.  Instead we get animation that barely looks passable and has this off-putting featureless quality to it.  This will not have the same cross over appeal that other toy based animated movies have enjoyed, like The Lego Movie for example, an I’m hard pressed to think that this album that it’s trying to push on audiences is even going to take off itself.

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (JUNE 14)

The original Men in Black was a breath of fresh air when it first came out back in 1997.  Twenty years later it’s still fondly regarded, but most everything that has come after is not so much.  The sequel is widely regarded as one of the worst ever made, especially considering that it ret-conned the original’s beautifully poetic ending out of existence just so they could bring Tommy Lee Jones back, and the second sequel, made over a decade later, only muddled things up more, only not to as extreme an extent.  Now, Men in Black is trying to reboot things entirely by shifting focus on a brand new team.  Bringing in Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson is a good move, since they had incredible chemistry together in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), but I don’t think that’s going to be a saving grace for this franchise.  This movie looks like it’s falling into the same pitfalls as the other failed films, which began to favor CGI enhanced eye candy over practical effects, and goofy humor over character driven comedy.  Also, there’s just no replication for the on screen chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith; it was just a perfect match because they balanced each other out.  Hemsworth and Thompson seem almost too similar in these roles, with the one defining difference being their gender.  That’s not enough to bring new life into this franchise that has long seen it’s star dim into darkness.

So, there you have my outlook for the upcoming Summer season.  For the most part, it’s what you would expect.  Of course Marvel is going to dominate, no matter what the ripple effect from Avengers: Endgame will be across it’s cinematic universe.  Pixar is gearing up it’s brightest star for another go around with Toy Story 4.  And I’m especially excited to see what Quentin Tarantino has up his sleeve with his ode to the groovy years of Hollywood.  But, one thing that will be interesting about this summer is whether or not audiences are going to express any fatigued with regards to franchise film-making, which is growing ever more prevalent in theatrical releases.  Is it a sign that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are starting to affect the theater business as a whole.  Streaming is starting to corner the market on those mid-range movies that usually sprouted up once and a while and surprised at the box office from time to time.  Now, those movies are a rarity.  Now, the only movies making profits today are super hero movies and horror flicks, and the former usually has to reach the billion dollar mark now to be considered profitable.  It’s only a matter of time before we start to see audiences either grow tired of these large scale tent poles, or if they continue to embrace them.  I wish there was more variety in the market, and that movies of all sizes were available for viewing on the big screen, but if the market is moving one way, then it’s likely to change the industry in general for a long time.  But then again, that’s just my tastes as a film-goer.  If streaming is the only way to get a mid-range movie made nowadays, it’s probably a good thing, just so that those movies can exist at all.  Anyway, I hope this preview is helpful for those wanting to know what’s on the horizon.  At the very least, my hope is that everyone finds something new to love at the movies this summer and in the months thereafter.

The 2019 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

So, we come to this moment once again.  The Award season comes to an end this Sunday with the 91st Academy Awards, honoring the films of the previous year.  In many past years, you often find the Awards reflecting the mood of the industry as well as it’s response to the state of the world given the choices that the Academy makes when the awards are handed out.  But the interesting thing about this year’s Oscars is not the external turmoils, but rather the internal ones.  The last few weeks have been nothing short of a nightmare for the planners of this year’s Oscar ceremony.  In a seemingly endless string of bad PR and short-sighted tinkering, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) not only has to enter this year’s Awards ceremony without a host for the first time in over 30 years, but also with many industry professionals bitter over the Academy’s attempts to remove them from the spotlight.  It’s been a frankly terrible year all around for this year’s lead up to the Oscars.  First, the Academy received immediate blow-back from professionals and audiences alike when it was announced that they were considering the addition of a “Popular Film” Oscar.  The idea was swiftly sidelined, but not entirely shelved, which may become an issue in years to come.  Then, the decision to have comedian and actor Kevin Hart be the host for this year’s ceremony fell apart once decade old homophobic jokes were unearthed, forcing Hart to recuse himself in order to not be a distraction and deal with the fallout on his own.  Then, just this last week, the Academy made it’s most egregious error when it decided that four of the categories would not be aired live on television, and would instead be handed out during commercials, which was universally condemned across the entire industry.  The Cinematographer Guild (one of the affected categories) was even threatening a boycott.  So, needless to say, this year’s ceremony is coming to us already hobbled by it’s own self inflicted wounds.  That’s not to say there might not be some pleasant results that’ll come Oscar night.  Regardless of how the night goes, the movies will live on and whatever wins will still enjoy the glow of victory.

Like years past, I will be giving my personal picks for this year’s Oscars, as well as giving my detailed thoughts on the primary categories.  Those categories of course are Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, as well as both Adapted and Original Screenplay.  In addition, I will share which movies I believe will win the Oscar, as well as the ones that I believe should win.  Because I want my choices to come from an informed place, I have made the best effort to watch all the nominees in each of these categories; including the obscure short subject ones.  So with all that said, lets take a look at the nominees.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Nominees: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters (A Star Is Born); Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman); Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?); Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk); Joel and Ethan Coen (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)

This year’s nominees for adapted screenplay are an interesting mix of faithful adaptations as well as movies adapted in the loosest possible sense of the word.  Barry Jenkins, who won previously for the movie Moonlight (2016), delivered a very reverential interpretation of the beloved novel by James Baldwin, which has long been appreciated in literary circles, but had never been given a cinematic treatment before.  Though it’s heartfelt and perhaps Jenkins’ best work yet as a screenwriter, his status as a past winner unfortunately lowers his odds of repeating.  The same for the Coen Brothers’ Buster Scruggs, which is perhaps too episodic for the academy’s tastes, and their nomination was the one surprise inclusion here.  The A Star Is Born screenplay does the impressive feat of taking an already familiar story that’s been remade multiple times already throughout the years and makes it feel fresh again, mainly due to it’s very resonant themes that remain relevant today.  But, the familiarity does leave the movie with few surprises as well, which holds the script back a bit.  One of the more pleasant surprises was the charmingly witty Can You Ever Forgive Me? screenplay from Holofcener and Whitty.  But, the screenplay that outshines all of these is the multifaceted one for the movie BlacKkKlansman.  Spike Lee and his co-writers created a screenplay that has to accomplish multiple jobs; taking the real life story of Detective Ron Stallworth from the account from his own memoirs, and making it work as both a detailed police procedural while also addressing the larger issues of it’s subject and drawing those connections to the turmoil of today.  Lee, always the provocateur, likes to make pointed political statements with his movies, and while it’s definitely there in BlacKkKlansman, it’s also reserved to the point where it doesn’t overwhelm the already fascinating story.  He even manages to surprisingly work some humor in as well, especially given the subject matter.  Lee, who has yet to win any Oscars, is long overdue, and this is certainly his best shot yet, and it’ll be well deserved.

Who Will Win: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee; BlacKkKlansman

Who Should Win: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee; BlacKkKlansman

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Nominees: Paul Schrader (First Reformed); Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly (Green Book); Alfonso Cuaron (Roma); Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (The Favourite); Adam McKay (Vice)

For this category, the real contenders should really only boil down to two of the year’s best.  Unfortunately, this is where Hollywood has unfortunately put it’s blinders on, and given chances to some movies that really shouldn’t belong in this category.  I’ll say this right now; I thought Green Book was the most overrated film nominated for Awards this year.  It’s depiction of race relations in the deep south during the 1960’s is so patronizing and surface level that it almost trivializes the real horrors that were commonplace in that time.  It’s a movie solely made for white Hollywood liberals; exactly the kind of movie that they like to pat themselves on the back for to show that they’ve made real progress on addressing racial divides, when in reality it does the minimalist of effort.  And sadly, it’s the screenplay that most likely to win, because that’s the target audience that the Academy voters represent.  The same applies to the politics of Vice, though there is more creativity in Adam McKay’s script, despite it being much less focused than his winning screenplay for The Big Short (2015).  Okay, with my rant over, I believe that the Oscar should really go to the equal parts classy and subversive screenplay for The Favourite.  As much as I do love Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical work for Roma, it’s The Favorite that resonates even more, especially for the mean spirited jabs that are thrown between Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.  It’s a screenplay that also continually throws surprises at you and doesn’t just follow a predictable line.  More to the point, it’s the most subversive of the nominees here, throwing conventional expectations of lavish period dramas out the window as the characters grow more vicious, perverse, and nihilistic towards one another.  Let’s just say that it goes places that you never thought a movie of it’s type would ever go, and that was exactly what made it such a joy to watch. Considering that it’s also from a first time published screenwriter (Deborah Davis) is also impressive, given how daring it is.  And that’s the thing that I want to see the Academy honor, a movie that actually takes chances rather than one that plays by the book like, well, Green Book.  Sadly, because Green Book is preaching to an already convinced choir, it will probably rob a real original like The Favourite from getting it’s true reward.

Who Will Win:   Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly; Green Book

Who Should Win: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara; The Favourite

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams (Vice); Emma Stone (The Favourite); Marina de Tavira (Roma); Rachel Weisz (The Favourite); and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

This year’s supporting actress nominees represent a very strong field.  Amy Adams again proves she is one of the industry’s most versatile talents, but her time as an Oscars bridesmaid is likely going to continue further.  Marina de Tavira’s nomination was one of the most unexpected and pleasing surprises of this year’s awards, and her passionate portrayal of a recently divorced mother is another of the many beautiful things about Roma.  And then there is the amazing, dynamic duo of Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite, who again are just incredible to watch as they try to outwit each other in the film.  But, if there was ever a category this year where there has been a clear front runner from the beginning, it is veteran actress Regina King for her remarkable portrayal of a strong willed mother in If Beale Street Could Talk.  Even with the impressive ensemble cast that gives so much life to Beale Street, King is the true stand out.  Her character feels so down to Earth and yet larger than life, especially when she takes it upon herself to set things right and make a normal life for her pregnant daughter once again after her loved one has been wrongfully imprisoned. Regina King also is very well beloved in the industry, having been a stalwart performer for over 20 years in various critically acclaimed films such as Boyz In the Hood (1991), Jerry Maguire (1996) and Ray (2004).  Surprisingly, she has never been nominated until now, so this is a long overdue honor for her, and the fact that she’s going into the ceremony as a heavy favorite is not at all surprising.  She’s been a hard worker her whole career and this is the Academy finally giving her that recognition.  But it’s more than just a career award.  The performance, a beautiful mix of strength and compassion, is well deserving too, even in a strong field such as this one.  And considering that Beale Street was regrettably snubbed in so many categories, it’s still a relief to know that it will get it’s due recognition with King’s noteworthy performance.

Who Will Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Who Should Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Nominees: Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman); Mahershala Ali (Green Book); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?); Sam Elliott (A Star is Born); Sam Rockwell (Vice)

The supporting actor category is likewise also pretty well decided at this point.  Unfortunately, it’s for that movie Green Book which I already explained my dislike for.  However, if there was one Oscar to go to that movie that I’d be okay with, it would be the one in this category, going to Mahershala Ali.  His performance as famed musician Dr. Don Shirley is the one redeeming thing about the movie, and he would not be undeserving of the honor.  In a role that could have easily slid into caricature like the rest of the film, Mahershala brings a strong sense of stature and, as he constantly asserts within the film, a level of “dignity.”  And it goes a long way to elevate the movie as a whole, though it doesn’t quite salvage the whole thing.  In addition, the timing couldn’t be better for Mahershala’s, given that his role on the HBO series True Detective has been winning him extra acclaim throughout awards season congruently; something which also benefited Matthew McConaughey’s road to Oscar five years ago.  The only road block in Mahershala’s way is the fact that he already won the same award two years ago for Moonlight, and some Academy voters might want to spread the wealth out a little more to some of the first timers in this category.  That would exclude last year’s winner Sam Rockwell who also is nominated here for Vice.  And Adam Driver’s career is still fairly young and there will likely be many more nominations in his future.  The best opportunities for an upset belong to veteran actors Richard E. Grant and Sam Elliott, who are both beloved performers but have remarkably been overlooked for so many years.  My own favorite here is Sam Elliott, who managed to be the scene-stealer in a movie with heavyweights like Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.  And he has one of the best crying moments on film that I have seen in a long while.  So, I expect Mahershala to become a two time winner, but a long overdue Oscar for Sam Elliott would make me very happy.

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Who Should Win: Sam Elliott, A Star is Born

BEST ACTRESS:

Nominees: Glenn Close (The Wife); Lady Gaga (A Star is Born); Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?); Olivia Colman (The Favourite); Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Here we come to what is without a doubt the most competitive category of the night.  Every name here has a great case to make for the award, and all together they represent just how strong of a year this was for movies centered on women.  As of right now, the odds would tend to favor Glenn Close, a veteran actor whose career spans decades and multiple Oscar nominations, but has never won the Award once in all that time.  Here she has perhaps her best shot ever, with a boost from her long career as a respected performer.  She does, however, face a strong competition from Lady Gaga, who broke through many industry expectations to show that she could indeed pull off a serious dramatic role.  Gaga is still guaranteed an Oscar win this year for her inevitable victory in the Best Original Song category, but the goodwill she’s built up this last year with A Star is Born helps to give her a strong chance here as well.  Melissa McCarthy likewise changed my perceptions of her as she took on an uncharacteristic dramatic role and excelled at it, and in a less competitive year, this would have been a significant turning point nomination for her.  Yalitza Aparicio deserves much credit herself as a first time film actress who manages to hold her own in a movie as grand and epic as Roma, especially when director Alfonso Cuaron put her through so much rigorous situations during the shoot.  However, my “favorite” of the bunch actually comes from The Favourite.  Olivia Colman gives the most daring performance in this category, portraying a cranky, self-indulgent brat of a monarch and still managing to find the humanity underneath.  She shifts from vulnerable to terrifying in such unexpected ways in a way that is both hilarious and tragic.  The chameleon like British actress, more than anything, created the most interesting “character” of the year in her film, and that is why I feel she is most deserving of the Award, but if it is indeed Glenn Close’s time, then it will still be a well deserved honor given to one who shouldn’t have had to wait this long.

Who Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife

Who Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

BEST ACTOR:

Nominees: Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born); Christian Bale (Vice); Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody); Viggo Mortensen (Green Book); Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Less competitive than the Actress category, but still not decided enough to have a clear front runner, the Actor category itself is also a fascinating one this year.  Basically it comes down to two performances where the actors went out of their way to become the real life subject that they were portraying.  Christian Bale, who has made a living becoming an actor so method that he literally transforms his body for a role, put on 40-plus pounds in order to play former Vice President Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s Vice.  Likewise, Rami Malek had to perfect a British accent even through extra large prosthetic teeth in order to portray beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury.  The strange thing is that both of these dedicated performances appear in movies that are not really deserving of them.  Vice was an unfocused mess that is only elevated by Bale’s exceptional and unflinching transformation.  And Bohemian Rhapsody is a cliche heavy, trivial paint by numbers biopic of one of the most unconventional rock bands of all time; not to mention it’s production was plagued by the incompetence of it’s now scandal ridden director, Bryan Singer.  And yet, despite the disappointments that both films turned out to be, they did feature the two best performances by an actor this year.  It only depends on which one the academy values more.  Christian Bale’s performance may be the more divisive of the two, because his portrayal of Cheney may be seen as too humanizing for some of the more liberal Academy members and too mean-spirited for some of the more conservative members.  That in turn could lead to an advantage for Rami Malek, since he’s portraying a universally beloved icon.  I’m inclined to go with Christian Bale’s performance, just because of the immense amount of work he put into it, but Malek’s performance is pretty transfromative itself, and incredibly entertaining.  In the end, it will be interesting to see who ends up winning, especially considering the fact that it’s the performances that will stand out and not the problematic movies that they came from.

Who Will Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Who Should Win: Christian Bale, Vice

BEST DIRECTOR:

Nominees: Adam McKay (Vice); Alfonso Cuaron (Roma); Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War); Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman); Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

The interesting thing about this category is how much it influenced the momentum for the race towards Best Picture.  Without Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly getting expected nominations for their respective films A Star is Born and Green Book, it effectively reduced those movie’s chances of getting the big award of the night.  Thank God in the case of Green Book.  But, what’s interesting now is the mix of movies in this category which are very much driven by their respective directors.  Spike Lee gets his long overdue recognition in this category after being overlooked in years past for movies like Do the Right Thing (1989) and Malcolm X (1992).  Pawel Pawlikowski surprised everyone by getting this nod over more higher profile names. And Yorgos Lanthimos earned his first nomination here for his genre busting, uncompromising work for The Favourite.  But, let’s be clear, this is Alfonso’s award to lose.  He has picked up every directing honor so far this year, so his victory at the Oscars is all but certain.  And there’s no arguing against it; he flat out showed the best work as a director this year.  Roma is an absolute stunning demonstration of a film director at the height of his power.  The movie is both intimate and epic, and the real joy of watching it comes in catching all the details that Cuaron puts into his frame.  The fact that it also comes from a personal, semi-autobiographical place really shows just how much dedication he put into this movie.  This decade has been especially kind to Mexican filmmakers already, with Cuaron’s colleagues Alejandro G. Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro also winning in years past, as well as Cuaron himself previously winning for Gravity (2013).  Considering that Roma is perhaps his best work yet gives him even more of an advantage here.  Alfonso has certainly risen to a point where anything he makes, even something as personal as Roma, becomes a showcase for all the amazing things you can do with the medium of film, and it’s enough to make his almost certain win here just as deserved as anything else.

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

BEST PICTURE:

Nominees: A Star is Born; BlacKkKlansman; Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; Green Book; Roma; The Favourite; Vice

This particularly light field offers some interesting insight into the evolving state the Academy is finding itself in.  For one thing, you do see some progress in recognizing movies that come from a different point of view and challenge the establishment of the Oscar norms.  BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther both show the much needed focus on minority voices in cinema starting to take a hold in the Academy, and Black Panther itself makes history as the first Super Hero film to ever get recognized in this category; a huge win in itself for Marvel Studios and for comic book fans everywhere who have long wanted to see their beloved characters get their due recognition.  However, you do see the Academy also clinging to their out of touch ideas of what constitutes an “Oscar worthy” film.  That’s apparent with the nominations for Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, despite both movies being very polarizing among critics and audiences.  The fact that those movies got a nomination here instead of more daring films like If Beale Street Could Talk and Eighth Grade shows that there is still much more work that needs to be done to bring the Academy in line with what’s really cutting edge now.  But, even with that, the signs of change are being reflected in the remarkably strong chances that Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma has at winning the award for Best Picture.  A foreign language film has never taken the top award at the Oscars, but Roma could be the one to break that barrier.  The one road block that it could face is the Anti-Netflix attitude that some Academy members still have.  If Roma does in fact win, it would be one step towards establishing Netflix as a major studio force in Hollywood, which could move the industry further away from theatrical runs and more towards streaming content, which could be very disruptive for many.  And though I still value and prefer the theatrical experience, Roma was still my favorite movie of last year, so it’s the one I want to see win.  The odds certainly are favoring it right now, but it will be interesting to see if the Academy is ready to open that Pandora’s Box that a win for Netflix might bring to the industry.

Who Will Win: Roma

Who Should Win: Roma

And here is my quick little rundown of all the remaining Oscar categories, which I am very happy to note will not be short-changed at this year’s Oscar telecast anymore:

Cinematography: Roma; Film Editing: BlacKkKlansman; Production Design: RomaCostume Design: Black PantherMake-up and Hairstyling: ViceOriginal Music: If Beale Street Could TalkOriginal Song: “Shallows” from A Star Is BornSound Mixing: RomaSound Editing: A Quiet PlaceVisual Effects: Avengers: Infinity WarDocumentary: Free SoloDocumentary Short: Lifeboat; Animated Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseAnimated Short: Weekends; Live Action Short: Detainment; Foreign Language Film: Roma

So, there you have my picks for the 91st Academy Awards.  The one thing that is apparent from this year’s nominees is the movement towards change.  The Academy may have made small steps towards recognizing things like genre pictures and films made by people outside the Hollywood elite, especially those of color whose work have too long been ignored.  It will also be interesting to see if Netflix’s presence at this year’s awards may have a ripple effect on the industry as a whole.  Yes, they are disrupting the traditional theatrical format that the industry has relied on since it’s inception, but at the same time Netflix is making some of the most daring movies out there, with Roma being the most prestigious one to date.  Sure, we are all going into tomorrow’s awards ceremony with the knowledge of how much the Academy has messed up the preparation, but you’ve got to remember, it’s just a show in the end.  The Award carries so much significance on it’s own that in time we will forget all about the acceptance speeches and what was everyone wearing that night.  Becoming an Oscar winner carries a lot of weight for how that person will continue to work in the future, whether it be taking the goodwill from the award to advance a higher profile on the things that matter to them or to use it as a certification to continue doing more daring things in the years ahead.  The one big worry is that the Academy is going to put too much stock in trying to make itself more “popular” which will make them make changes that really don’t help in the long run.  The future for the Academy may be to break away from it’s long history on broadcast TV and follow the Netflix example of streaming directly to it’s audience.  That way they wouldn’t have to worry about things like ratings anymore.  It will remain to be seen if the Academy keeps trying to tinker in the wrong way with their ceremony, but at least for this year that will not be the case.  It may be a rocky road to the Oscars, but in the end, the movies will outlast what happens tomorrow and hopefully the ones most deserving will come out on top.

The Movies of Early 2019

If there was ever a reason to take the early months of the year seriously as part of the release calendar for Hollywood movies, this last year clearly showed it.  Not only did the winter and spring months of 2018 provide the two highest grossing movies of the year (Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War), but it also was instrumental for spring-boarding the entire box office for the year into record breaking numbers.  Often viewed before as the dumping ground for movies too small or problematic to be considered tent-poles for major studios, the early quarter of the year now yields just as many blockbusters as it’s long-established brothers of Summer and Fall have over the years.  In some ways, it’s now the fall season, once dominated by the likes of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, is now the part of the year that’s struggling to keep up.  What’s most interesting about the early part of the year now is that it’s benefited greatly from strong performances by the horror movie genre.  Last year saw incredible success from critically acclaimed thrillers like Hereditary and A Quiet Place, both of which performed much better than their summer and fall equivalents.  This was also the case the year prior with Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out (2016), which immediately stood out in the month of February where there was no other movie like it to compete.  That’s probably why the early part of the year is being looked at as a great place to take chances and make movies shine in a box office period that is less crowded.  Like last year, I will be looking at the most anticipated movies coming to theaters over the early part of this next year, including the ones that I believe are must sees, the ones that have me worried and the ones that I’m sure are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, these are just my impressions based on my excitement level for each one and what I believe are their strength and weaknesses based on the effectiveness of their marketing.  I’m not always right in this regard, and some of these could turn out to be surprises; good or bad.  So, with that, let’s look at the films of early 2019.

MUST SEES:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (APRIL 26)

Because of a last minute date change from last year, I couldn’t include Avengers: Infinity War in my early 2018 preview, even though it should have belonged there in the long run.  Thankfully, Marvel opted to schedule it’s followup, Endgame, for the same end of April release which makes this a lot easier this year.  Avengers: Endgame no doubt wants to make sure that it receives the same worldwide roll-out that Infinity War did, and with it, making sure all the plot secrets are revealed across the world at the same time.  This was especially necessary for Infinity War, as it left audiences with the most talked about cliffhanger since The Empire Strikes Back (1980).  Now, Endgame comes out a year later giving us a resolution to that story.  Because of the shocking development at the end of the movie where (SPOILERS) Thanos (Josh Brolin) wipes out half of all life in the universe with the full power of the Infinity Stones, anticipation is high with audiences deeply interested in knowing what comes next.  We know that what happened is likely to be reversed, but the question is the how?  How is it all going to play out?  The trailer leaves us with even more questions that will likely make this a harrowing story by itself.  Why is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) alone in space?  What happened to Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to make him go rogue?  How did Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) get out of the quantum realm?  Some argued that the movie didn’t need any marketing, because of how effective that cliffhanger was, but it’s a good sign when the trailer shows us just enough without spoiling what happens next.  There is little doubt that this is going to be another gem in the Marvel Studios crown, the only question is how big of a boost will this one get after where Infinity War left us, and can it live up to that moment?

GLASS (JANUARY 18)

Speaking of super heroes, here we have a long awaited follow-up to one of the greatest deconstructions of the genre that’s ever been put on screen.  M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) was a brilliant look at how the tropes of comic book characters and their stories could play out in a real world setting, and it delivered a plot twist by the end that rivaled even Shyamalan’s famous Sixth Sense finale.  Unfortunately, Unbreakable couldn’t come out of it’s predecessor’s shadow, performing underwhelmingly at the box office, and after making Signs (2002), Shyamalan descended into a creative spiral where he was forced to try to replicate the Sixth Sense success again but failed time and time again, falling into self parody.  Thankfully, he ended up partnering with Blumhouse Productions, and their mutually beneficial collaboration resulted in his first runaway hit in over a decade, with the surprisingly tense and effective Split (2017).  What even amazed people more is that with a end credits cameo from Bruce Willis, we found out that Split was in fact a back door spin-off of Unbreakable and that Shyamalan was intending to do something that I’m sure he has long wanted to do but never could, which is to revisit this narrative once again.  I picked Unbreakable as my favorite film of the year 2000, and it thrills me to not only see a continuation of this story, but to also feel excited for a Shyamalan movie once again.  We are finally seeing him in his element again, with a story that best fits his style of film-making, and even better, he managed to assemble all the same players again.  James McAvoy, who was amazing in Split, is joined by Unbreakable’s Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, whose villainous Mr. Glass gives the movie it’s title.  I really hope that this one lives up to the legacy of both the movie and of Shyamalan’s best work, because Unbreakable is an underrated masterpiece, and I’m glad that it now has the sequel that it’s long deserved.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (MARCH 8)

As if we didn’t have enough super hero movies to be excited about, here is another from the unstoppable force that is Marvel Studios.  Here, we get another groundbreaking effort from the team , which sees their first film ever to headline a female lead; that being the titular super being.  Benefiting greatly from the star power of Oscar winner Brie Larson, Captain Marvel is a major addition to the Marvel roster who is sure to make a huge splash this spring at the box office.  Seeing how well DC’s Wonder Woman performed with it’s own super heroine, this should be another example of the viability of a female driven action film that can compete just as effectively as those starring male super heroes.  Also, given how important Captain Marvel is to the overall Marvel canon, it’s long overdue to see her join the roster and make an impact on the MCU in general.  Especially given the mess that Thanos left the universe in, it’s going to be exciting to see her make her debut in the role of a savior; which is heavily hinted at in Infinity War’s post credits scene.  This movie sets that confrontation up well by showing her backstory, as well as her place in the story overall; setting it in the 1990’s, where she encounters some familiar faces of the past.  Chief among them is a still green SHIELD agent named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, again), and the movie not only looks to be an origin tale for her, but him as well.  The movie also introduces us to the Skrulls, some of the most legendary bad guys from the comic books, and their shape-shifting powers could offer up some intriguing story possibilities not just for this film, but for all the Marvel movies both past and present.  Captain Marvel on the big screen has been long overdue, and it’s exciting to see Marvel finally give her the spotlight she deserves.

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (FEBRUARY 8)

When the first Lego Movie premiered in 2014, it was the surprise of the year.  What could have easily slipped into a cheap cash in and a shameless commercial for the product it’s based on, Lego Movie instead proved to be a remarkably smart, funny, and even heartwarming animated treat.  This was accomplished in no small part to the excellent work of writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, two of the greatest humorists to have emerged in the last decade.  Sadly they are not directing this sequel, but they did contribute to the screenplay, and the last time they contributed to a screenplay that was not their own film, it was the incredible Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.  Apart from the directorial change, everything else about this movie seems to be in tact.  The cast returns, including Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks as the two leads, as well as Will Arnett in his scene-stealing role as Batman.  Chris Pratt even gets to play two roles this time; his original character Emmitt, and a gritty newcomer named Rex Dangervest, which is an amalgam of all the other characters Pratt has played in other movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Jurassic World (2015).  My hope is that the movie finds new and clever was to play around in this Lego world than it has before, and not just be a rehash of the original.  There is strong precedent for the movie to work, as the spin-off Lego Batman Movie (2017) was also a delightful romp.  It is hard to make a sequel to a movie that should have never have worked in the first place, because at this point the novelty is gone, and now people expect that it to be good.  Given the people involved, I can see this matching it’s predecessor, and hopefully maybe even surpass it.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD (FEBRUARY 22)

Dreamworks Animation has had a shaky couple of years, with box office numbers considerably lower than their hits of years past.  Not only that, but the shifting around from studio to studio has also led to a downgrade in their once powerful brand.  Now, it seems they have found a home with Universal Studios, and their first collaboration with their new distributor is a third installment from arguably their greatest series to date.  The first How to Train Your Dragon (2010) was an instant classic when it first released, and is widely regarded by many (including myself) to be the high water mark for Dreamworks.  The 2014 sequel even defied expectations, and was widely regarded as just as good as it’s predecessor; something most animated sequels rarely do.  And even with the changing tides of the animation industry, How to Train Your Dragon is still seen as a valuable property.  So, it makes sense that Dreamworks would once again revisit their beloved franchise, hopefully as a way to regain some of their lost mojo.  The addition of a love interest for the film’s mascot dragon, Toothless, seems to be a smart way to add extra narrative spark to this story-line, and the courtship scenes shown in the trailer are wonderfully silly.  Also, a dragon hunting villain voiced by F. Murray Abraham makes another exciting addition.  Even with all the new elements, the touching relationship between Toothless and his human keeper Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) still remains at the heart of this trilogy, and it looks like it’s going to come to a touching and emotional end as this is likely the finale to their story.  Let’s hope that Dreamworks sends this series out strong, as it has been the crown jewel of their studio so far.

MOVIES THE HAVE ME WORRIED:

DUMBO (MARCH 29)

You already know from my reviews that I have mixed feelings about Disney’s recent trend of remaking all their animated classics.  Some are good (CinderellaPete’s Dragon) but most are bad (Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent), and this year we got three more.  This summer will see remakes for Aladdin  and The Lion King, but before them, we are getting a remake of one of the studios most legendary and beloved classics.  Perhaps the trickiest of remakes to get right, the beloved Walt-era masterpiece Dumbo is getting it’s own update, and the one responsible for pulling it off is Tim Burton.  Giving this project to the likes of Burton is a mixed bag.  He is an incredible visual artist, and from the trailer, we can see that this is an exquisitely produced, visually interesting movie; playing well to his strengths.  However, the last time he was tasked with updating a Disney classic, it was the unappealing Alice in Wonderland (2010).  With Alice, Tim Burton made a movie that had all the visual excess that he is known for, but with none of the restraint or focus, and it resulted in a very disappointing experience overall.  Dumbo is a more emotionally driven story, and one hopes that Tim Burton can find a more consistent tone that is faithful to the original, while still making good use of his visual style.  On the plus side, the movie does team Burton up with Michael Keaton, who haven’t worked together since Batman Returns (1992), and I’m excited to see those two collaborating again.  The trailer also gives off a Big Fish (2003) vibe, which is good considering that’s one of Burton’s more subtle and effective features.  Let’s hope that he does the original justice, because if he doesn’t, this could be a movie that faces some severe fan backlash.

SHAZAM! (APRIL 5)

Another series that has a lot to prove is the DC Extended Universe.  After many years of playing catch up to Marvel, DC has found a small bit of success lately with Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  Now while I did enjoy Wonder Woman a great deal, Aquaman left me a bit underwhelmed, despite some moves in the right direction.  But, in trying to catch Marvel, DC also runs the risk of over-correcting, and look like they are just playing copycat.  That could be the downside of their next film, Shazam!, which brings to the screen one of DC’s more lighthearted, comical characters.  After years of being criticized for it’s grim and dark tone, the DCEU is starting to lighten up, favoring a sense of humor and brighter colors that feel much more Marvel like that what they made before.  This is where they run the risk of making too much of a heel turn.  Shazam! looks like a comedy dressed up as a super hero story, with the Tom Hanks movie Big (1988) providing heavy inspiration, which could play well on it’s own.  But remember, Marvel has many more years experience with these kinds of movies.  Shazam! could end up being too silly to be taken seriously as a part of DC’s attempts to salvage their franchise.  And given how Aquaman couldn’t overcome it’s own shortcomings even despite the attempts to change it’s tone as a part of the universe, makes me also doubt that Shazam! can do it too.  The casting of Zachary Levi could work for the character though, since he has the build and the personality to pull the character off.  I also like the chemistry between him and the best friend character, played by IT’s Jack Dylan Grazer.  Hopefully this is more of a step in the right direction for DC, which even after some positive movements is something they still desperately need.

HELLBOY (APRIL 12)

Is it really too soon to reboot this franchise?  I ask because the original duo of features directed by Guillermo del Toro still stand up pretty well even a decade later.  I understand wanting to bring this franchise back, but the sad thing is that this looks like a complete do over with a new cast, director and story-line; throwing away all that the other films had already established.  Couple that with the fact that it seems like only Hellboy himself made the transition over, as beloved sidekicks like Abe Sapian are left out this time.  The movie has Stranger Things alum David Harbour taking on the role after original Hellboy Ron Pearlman.  Harbour is a good choice to play the iconic hero, and this is his first lead role in a major studio film as an actor, which is a great development in his career; one in which the stalwart actor has justly earned.  He has big shoes, or hoves, to fill as Ron Pearlman left such an iconic mark on the character, one in which he seemed destined to play.  I hate to think that this movie is scrapping all the story and continuity of the Del Toro films to begin anew, so whatever they have planned for this franchise, let’s hope that it lives up to what we’ve seen thus far.  It appears from the trailer that the new film maintains the same sense of humor, and I like the addition of Ian McShane in the mentor role that was previously filled by the late great John Hurt.  And there are some interesting visuals on display in the trailer, which take their visual inspiration from Del Toro’s own unique style.  I hope that it’s a revival worth celebrating, and not just a cash grab to capitalize on a property in the middle of this super hero era that we are currently experiencing.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (FEBRUARY 14)

Some movies just take longer to become a reality than others; but eventually the longer they take, the less likely they are able to work as well as they were supposed to.  Alita: Battle Angel has been a pet project of filmmaker James Cameron for nearly twenty years.  Even while he was completely immersing himself in the world of Avatar (2009), he still had this one developing quietly in the background.  Eventually, with the Avatar sequels taking up most of his time as a director, he was left with the reality of not being able to bring this movie to the screen himself, so the project was passed along to another, with Cameron overseeing as producer.  Robert Rodriquez, an equally ambitious and experimental filmmaker when it comes to visual effects stepped in to finally bring the film to the big screen, but even with his help, the movie still faced numerous delays, and was pushed back several times on the release calendar.  It’s now ready to make it’s way to the theaters this February and the only obstacle that remains in it’s way is; do people still care?  There’s no doubt that this is going to be a visually stimulating movie, with the motion capture technology that James Cameron pioneered with Avatar being used to create a life like version of the titular heroine.  Again, the technology used could be a blessing and a curse, because though the results are impressive, it runs the danger of falling into uncanny valley territory.  The movie does have an impressive cast to help things along, including Oscar winners Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connolly, and Mahershala Ali.  Only time will tell if the wait was worth it for this one.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

CAPTIVE STATE (MARCH 29)

Every now and then we get these heavy handed political allegories that often loose control of the message once the narrative turns more convoluted and unfocused.  Prime example was the disastrous Elysium (2013), which had some of the laziest, socially conscious sermonizing that I’ve ever seen put on film.  It can be done well, like the brilliant Snowpiercer (2014) from Bong Joon-ho, but that one benefited from a grounded in reality concept that made the political subtext more palatable.  Captive State however rehashes the same old alien invasion plot-line that’s become old hat as a commentary on modern society.  The only variation that it offers is that this is a world where Earth has been long colonized by a tyrannical alien invader, which has imposed strict societal control on all earthlings.  That’s the general take that I get from the trailer, and though it may be different in the final film, I can pretty much speculate exactly where the story is going to go.  I have no problem watching a movie with a political allegory; even a movie such as this which goes against my own political beliefs, just as long as the story is still engaging.  Sadly, Captive State looks like just another in a long line of wannabe grand statements that wants to reveal the world for what it really is, and yet still compromises itself to be a standard action thriller just like all the rest.  I’m pretty sure there will be very few surprises with this one.

WONDER PARK (MARCH 15)

One of the things that especially defines an underwhelming animated feature is the way that some stretch a premise to the point of breaking.  A light weight story always spells doom for bad animated films, and Wonder Park looks to fit that bill exactly.  Here we find a young girl who builds model theme parks and rides as a hobby, but looses interest once she is hit with tragedy.  Later she finds that her park has come magically to life and she must rebuild it in a metaphorical journey to also rebuild her own self-esteem.  I can already tell where this story is going to go, and I already don’t like it.  These coming of age stories are already old hat in animation, mainly because pretty much every studio has done it before.  Also, as seen in the trailer, the movie relies too heavily on slapstick and innuendos, which is a clear sign of lazy writing for an animated film.  I’m sure that it may end up looking pretty, but again, this is a medium where Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks have pushed the medium to new heights.  Wonder Park just has this sub-par feel to it, like one of those films you would see from an upstart studio trying way to fit in with the big guys.

A DOG’S WAY HOME (JANUARY 10)

One of the most hilariously inept trailers that I have seen in a very long time, the above advertisement gives away pretty much the entire movie in it’s short 2 1/2 minutes.  That’s not a good sign already that your story only offers little over two minutes to explain every plot point, even the ending.  Basically a poor man’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993),  A Dog’s Way Home is another in this strange new shared universe franchise of talking dog movies.  This one comes to us from the same people who made A Dog’s Purpose (2017) an equally lightweight and vacuous dog movie.  This is exactly the kind of movie that you’d expect to be dumped off in the month of January, as it seems to only be marketed to a small segment of people who are avid dog lovers.  And believe me, I love dogs too; it doesn’t change my belief that this is going to be a terrible movie just like it’s predecessor.  At the very least I did get a laugh at the fact that the entire movie’s plot is given away by the trailer, indicating to me that the marketing team behind this film doesn’t care much for it either.

So, there you have my look at the upcoming winter and spring films of 2019.  Just like years past, it looks like Marvel will once again dominate at the box office, and this could especially be a record breaker for them which says a lot.  With the completion of the Avengers story-line with Endgame, plus the premiere of Captain Marvel, the mighty Marvel machine is not even close to slowing down.  I’m also especially excited to see Shyamalan’s return to the genre after such a long hiatus with Glass.  There could be a few surprises in there too, though most likely from movies that I left out of this preview.  Independent movies, which seem to do well no matter what time of the year it is, will almost always be worth watching and the current slate of streaming films that are beginning to make a splash on platforms like Netflix and Amazon, with Disney+ and Apple just about to widen the playing field more in the coming year.  What’s great is that blockbusters are no longer confined to certain parts of the year, but are in fact found in every month now.  That was evident by Black Panther’s record breaking run this year in the month of February.  Perhaps Hollywood is seeing now that these early months no longer need to act as a dumping ground for their trash, but fertile area to really make their movies shine with an uncrowded market.  It’s something that we’ll likely see exploited more in the years to come, and I’m just happy to see movies worth getting excited about coming out sooner rather than later in the year ahead.  So, let’s celebrate the New Year and have a good time at the movies in 2019.

The Movies of Fall 2018

The Summer of 2018 has passed us by, and looking back on these last few months, we see many interesting results that give a different perspective on the movie industry right now.  For one thing, this summer was a period of both great success for the film industry, but also great turmoil.  On the positive side, box office reached record highs this summer, bolstered by the likes of Marvel’s Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, as well as the record-breaking Incredibles 2 and the monstrous Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  But, this was also a summer of huge shake-ups in Hollywood that is likely going to effect the way movies are made in the future, and also with how they are seen.  The continued rise of Netflix is putting pressure on the movie theater industry, and this summer we saw the beginnings of a whole different look for Hollywood.  The enormous merger of Disney and Fox cleared it’s biggest hurdle and will become a reality in the next year, increasing the likelihood of a competitive on demand to take on Netflix with a catalog of properties bolstered by two major studios.  To combat the rise of streaming only content, movie theaters embraced the idea of adding subscription plans to their ticketing service, though the company that pioneered the concept, MoviePass, has barely made it through this summer intact and will likely crash and burn in the near future.  This is an industry in transition, and it’s fascinating to watch this happen in real time, with sweeping changes happening much faster now than any era before.  It only makes the next few months ahead even more exciting as Hollywood’s evolution continues to unfold, and especially with Awards season about to begin.

Like previous previews I’ve written in the past, I will be spotlighting movies coming out in the fall months ahead that fall into three categories: the must sees, the movies that have me worried, and the ones that are worth skipping.  These are my own preconceptions of the following movies, based on my own level of enthusiasm for each movie based largely on how well they are being sold, and also based on my own thoughts regarding my interest in their potential.  I’m not always the best handicapper, so these aren’t predictions for how well these movies are going to perform both critically or at the box office.  Some of these could turn out to be incredible surprises, or crushing disappointments.  Or, they could end up being exactly what I thought they’d be.  So, with all that, let’s take a look at the Movies of Fall 2018.

MUST SEES:

FIRST MAN (OCTOBER 12)

Of course, with any Awards season, you will see a big push from the major studios to put their own prestige film into the race, and that leads to new additions to one of my favorite genres in filmmaking; the historical epic.  This tried and true genre of film has always wielded some of the most impressive movies from Hollywood over the years, if not always awards contenders.  This year, Universal and Dreamworks look to make their claim with this space based epic centered around the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.  Movies that have centered around the glory days of the space race have done generally well over the years, from The Right Stuff (1983) to Apollo 13 (1995).  But, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Hollywood to make a movie about the original moon landing of the Apollo 11, in addition to portraying the roles of the men who accomplished it, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.  Finally seeing this story make it to the big screen is one thing, but it’s also interesting that the movie is coming from director Damien Chazelle.  Only on his third feature, the still young director is coming off of his success from directing the musical La La Land, which is quite the jump of genre.  I for one am intrigued to see how well he handles the shift.  He does have a great eye for visuals, and some of those shots of the moon landing do look impressive (which will be especially true for the select scenes shot specifically for IMAX).  I also like the fact that it seems that he’s going for a first hand perspective here, showing all the details from Armstrong’s point of view, especially with all the scary potential for catastrophe that this mission could’ve faced.  Chazelle’s carrying over his La La Land leading man, Ryan Gosling, who seems like a perfect fit for the private, reserved Armstrong.  I love when Hollywood shoots for something big and important, and this ode to mankind’s giant leap will hopefully be a worthwhile one.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 (NOVEMBER 21)

Disney has rarely returned to the well with sequelizing their animated features; at least in theaters.  But, when they do, it’ usually for a film that’s deserving of a follow-up.  Such is the case with this sequel to their surprise hit, Wreck-It Ralph (2012).  The original had a lot of fun with playing around with the concept of characters from one video game jumping into another, and they made good use of all the cameos from gaming icons to fill out the background of their movie; including the now iconic Villain support group scene.  But, as we see in this trailer, the makers of Wreck-it Ralph are not just going to repeat the same old formula.  They are instead opting to expand Ralph’s world further, bringing him out of the arcade and into the world wide web.  The idea could run the risk of dating this sequel in our present, unlike the appeal of the  first which drew on our nostalgia for video games of yesteryear.  But, it seems like Disney is doing something clever here, by putting the jokes squarely on themselves.  With a sequence devoted to Ralph (once again voiced by John C. Reilly) and his companion Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, also returning) taking a trip to Disney’s own website, the movie has a great opportunity to create some hilarious meta-humor.  Key among them is the now much talked about sequence involving Vanellope meeting the Princesses.  I watched the entire sequence at the D23 Expo last year, and I can tell you there is a lot more there that most people haven’t seen yet, and it’s all hilarious.  It will also be interesting to see how the movie addresses the down side of the internet as well, which can’t be avoided and might prove to be a strong antagonistic story point.  New characters played by Taraji P. Henson and Gal Gadot also look to add some extra flavor to this universe, and I’m eager to see if this sequel is able to live up to it’s predecessor and possibly even surpass it.

AQUAMAN (DECEMBER 21)

In the wake of what has become of Zack Snyder’s DC Universe, culminating in the disappointing Justice League from last year, it seems that there is little to be hopeful for in the house that Superman built.  And yet, there’s something about this Aquaman trailer that has me excited.  I think that the most pleasing thing about it is that it is very colorful.  Gone are the muted, drab colors of the Snyder films, and instead we get a look at the undersea world that is full of bold, bright colors that create this lush visual canvas of the undersea world.  And then there is Jason Momoa’s performance as the titular superhero.  Easily one of the highlights of Justice League, Momoa clearly loves playing this role and his sense of fun is infectious.  It helps to believe in the integrity of the character you are playing, especially when it’s a character that has long been mocked as ridiculous in comic book circles.  From this trailer, it’s clear that Jason Momoa loves this character, and that he wants to make him not only stronger, but kind of a badass as well.  It’s also clear that director James Wan wants to meet the challenge of this film as well.  Known mostly for horror flicks like The Conjuring (2013), Wan is branching out into new territory with Aquaman, and it seems like he’s doing so by embracing the comic book elements fully.  Many of the scenes in the trailer look like they could’ve come right off the pages of a comic, including some rather epic shots both above and below the waves.  And another great sign of Wan’s appreciation for the medium is in how well he has translated Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta, to the big screen.  Most other filmmakers would have done away with Black Manta’s bulky helmet, but Wan brings it to life in all it’s glory, knowing very well that it’s iconic and it defines the character.  Let’s hope that like Wonder Woman, this Aquaman movie helps to elevate it’s titular hero, and brings the DC universe back to where it should be.

BOY ERASED (NOVEMBER 2)

It wouldn’t be the Fall season without a little Oscar-baiting fare thrown in the mix.  And while some are your usual independent, socially conscious drams that usually will not be widely seen by the public, there are some that are noteworthy and are worthy of spotlighting, even if they don’t end up getting the big awards.  This film in particular appeals to me for obvious reasons.  One, it’s another in a very positive trend in Hollywood of embracing movies that tackle LGBT themed issues and bringing them to a wider audience and making them mainstream.  Two, it’s the first “Hollywood” film to ever address the very real problem of queer youth being forced into gay conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice perpetuated by religious fundamentalists that is akin to psychological torture in some cases.  It’s something that we haven’t seen dramatized in a mainstream film before and I think that it’s about time that some light is shed on this issue.  The movie is written and directed by actor Joel Edgerton, who also plays the pastor in charge of this conversion camp, and he seem to have brought a very passionate and human perspective on this subject, both critiquing the practice while at the same time trying to understand the people who are a part of it, both with the victims and the perpetrators.  I love the fact that the movie seems to be as interested in the story of the parents as well as the boy at the center of the film (played by rising star Lucas Hedges).  It shows that their struggle is just as complex, and it’s smart on Edgerton’s part not to make religion itself the boogeyman of this movie, but instead show how people can be easily misguided in pursuit of their faith.  I hope that this movie presents a compelling examination of this all too real problem, and gets a real conversation started on the matter.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS (DECEMBER 19)

It’s always a big risk to make a sequel to a classic movie, especially when a good many years or decades have passed in between each movie.  Disney is now planning to do just that with one of their most iconic films, following up on the original which was made a whopping 54 years ago.  The original Mary Poppins (1964) is a universally beloved classic, with fans spanning several generations.  Making a sequel to a movie like this is certainly a risk, but it seems like Disney is doing their best to honor that legacy while at the same time making this movie stand well enough on it’s own.  The casting of Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny is a smart choice.  She has the same manner of cadence to her performance as Julie Andrews from the original, and Ms. Andrews has already blessed the choice of casting with her seal of approval.  I also like the change in time period for this film, as we find Mary revisiting the Banks children grown up into adulthood and with children of their own.  It’s a time period that has already gone through two world wars, which would put Mary’s advice and expertise into a different perspective altogether.  While this movie hasn’t hinted at any musical sequences yet, it’s likely that we’ll hear a bunch of new songs here, and it helps that Emily Blunt is a talented singer in her own right, and will be backed up by Broadway icon Lin-Manuel Miranda as her co-star.  The movie also has an impressive supporting cast, including Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw, plus it will also see iconic veterans joining in like David Warner, Angela Lansbury, and yes even Dick Van Dyke.  It may never be able to top the original, but with a top notch production like this, it can at least work as a fine complimentary piece to it’s legacy.

MOVIES THE HAVE ME WORRIED:

VENOM (OCTOBER 5)

One of the pleasing things about the brokered deal between Sony and Disney to share custody of the Spider-Man franchise was that it helped to bring organization to the often out of control series and helped the character effectively integrate into the already established MCU.  The result was a fresher, younger webslinger played by Tom Holland, who made great appearences in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, while also starring in his own acclaimed Spider-Man: Homecoming.  A peaceful solution benefited both parties.  However, it seems like Sony still wanted to make the most of their exclusivity with the Spiderverse characters, and they continued to push through projects that were already in development before Spider-Man made his return home to Marvel Studios.  The first of these is this movie that centers around the fan favorite Spider-Man villain, Venom.  Unfortunately based on this trailer, Sony seems to still be stuck in their Amazing Spider-Man universe plans that should’ve been given up once the character was recast.  It’s unclear if this movie even exists in the same universe, which could be problematic if fans are clamoring for an eventual meet-up between the character, which might not happen.  Also, the CGI heavy trailer also doesn’t give us much to grab onto either.  The one bright spot is the casting of Tom Hardy in the titular role.  It helps to have a quality actor in the role, and his muscular build is closer to what’s required for the character, especially after how miscast slim Topher Grace was as the character in Spider-Man 3 (2007).  Hardy is also no stranger to playing comic book heavy’s, given his iconic work as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  I hope he gives enough of a good performance to make this movie worth the effort, otherwise Sony is only going to complicate things further with an already dissatisfied fanbase who wants to see all their superheros coexisting together.

CREED II (NOVEMBER 21)

When the first Creed hit in 2015, it defied many expectations.  It revived the long dormant Rocky franchise and not only did it become a box office hit, but it even earned Sly Stallone himself an Oscar nomination for his return to the iconic role.  Now, we are getting a sequel, which is not at all surprising as the story was open ended enough to warrant one, and the first movie itself was a continuation of the Rocky storyline itself.  The downside, however, is that this movie is being made without the visionary behind the original, director Ryan Coogler.  Coogler of course made history this year with his blockbuster film Black Panther over at Marvel, which made him unavailable to direct this sequel.  One would have hoped that MGM would’ve held out a little longer to allow Coogler more time to bring his input into the sequel, and continue the story his way.  But, that’s not what happened, and this new Creed comes to us from an entirely different team.  Stallone apparently is more involved behind the camera this time around, including having a pass at the script.  It’s not too much of a worry, since Stallone did write the original Rocky (1976) himself, but his track record with the rest is a little shaky.  On the plus side, the entire cast returns, including Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, and the movie does venture into the territory that we all expected this story to go, with Jordan’s Adonis Creed taking on the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, who’s also reprising his role).  It works thematically, because the first film was all about the young boxer rising out from under the shadow of his famous father, and this movie allows him to confront the other demon that haunts his family’s name; the tragic death of Apollo Creed.  I hope that the movie lives up to this potential, but without Coogler’s crucial involvement, I have my worries.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (NOVEMBER 16)

It appears that Hollywood just can’t get enough of J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.  Seven years after the final film in the Harry Potter franchise premiered, the universe that Ms. Rowling created still has enormous legs, and that was enough to convince Warner Brothers to invest in this spinoff series that unlike the Potter films does not come from a literary source.  The Fantastic Beasts franchise marks a departure for the acclaimed writer, as she takes upon the duties of screenwriting herself.  The new films are set within the same world, but centers on different chatacters as well as a puts it in a different time and place; specifically America during the Roaring 20’s.  The first film was honestly just okay; neither anything spectacular, nor a complete disaster.  To be honest, it was a better franchise launch than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), and we saw how that franchise improved over time, which bodes well for the potential that this Fantastic Beasts can possibly have.  But, what we’ve seen so far from this follow-up makes me worried about the direction that the studio is taking with the franchise.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) did well at the box office, but not spectacular, which was enough to cause concern at Warner.  So, already, they are drawing heavily from the Potter well again.  The Hogwarts school features very prominently in the trailers, which tells me that the studio desperately wants to remind audiences that this takes place in the same world as the beloved and profitable franchise.  This unfortunately lessens the chances of this franchise being able to stand apart on it’s own, and possibly might even make it feel superfluous and unnecessary as a result.  The franchise should be allowed to be it’s own thing, and I worry that studio interference might cause it to suffer as a result.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (NOVEMBER 2)

Speaking of movies plagued by behind the scenes interference, we have this high anticipated musical biopic about one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  The first major problem that this movie faced was the firing of it’s original director, Bryan Singer.  Singer’s departure was originally described as due to creative differences, but it’s since been hinted that the studio removed him from the project because of personal issues, many of which are not pretty damaging.  Whatever the case, actor Dexter Fletcher stepped in and directed the remainder of the film, though Singer still gets the full credit because of DGA rules.  The other behind the scenes issue that’s come to light is the alleged micro-managing that the surviving band members have been conducting during the making of this movie.  This includes their insistence on downplaying significant parts of their history, including front man Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality and his tragic battle with AIDS, which ultimately led to his untimely death.  This issue in particular led to actor Sasha Baron Cohen abandoning the role of Mercury early on, because he felt it was disrespectful to the icon’s memory.  All these backstage problems could potentially result in a disjointed and underwhelming film, which would be a shame given the subjects involved.  That being said, what does look promising is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury.  Even if the rest of the movie suffers, it’s still likely that he will be a powerhouse in the role; potentially even Oscar worthy.  My hope is that the movie lives up to it’s potential and that all the problems behind the scenes doesn’t effect the power of this story and the image of it’s iconic subject.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (NOVEMBER 2)

Disney has been pretty hit or miss with their live action fantasies.  The ones that usually end up being the worst are the films that stress production design and costuming over story and emotion.  This retelling of the Nutcracker story, popularized in the Tchaikovsky ballet, looks like yet another over-produced mess in the same vein as Alice in Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014) and Beauty and the Beast (2017)all style and no substance.  The even more insulting aspect is the fact that the subtitle indicates that Disney expects this to do well enough to spawn a franchise.  I highly doubt that this will happen since I feel very little enthusiasm out there for exploring the world behind the story of the Nutcracker.  Even quality actors in the cast like Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either, because all of them look lost and confused in the above trailer.  One sign of things being a little off is the fact that Disney had to switch directors halfway through production, with Joe Johnston taking over from Lasse Hallstrom.  That’s almost never a good sign, and as we saw with Solo: A Star Wars Story earlier this year, a change in the director’s chair won’t always fix a troubled movie.  I could be wrong, and this movie could turn out to be a visual, charming feast, but given the baggage that this movie is bringing along with it, we’re more likely to get sour berries than sugar plums this holiday season.

THE GRINCH (NOVEMBER 9)

You would think that Hollywood would learn that some stories are better told with brevity.  Dr. Seuss’ classic 1957 storybook is not a very long read, and was translated perfectly through animation by Chuck Jones with his 1966 holiday special, which ran at a very tight 25 minutes in length.  That would prove to be just the right amount of time with this story, because any attempts to bring it to feature length have proved disastrous.  Ron Howard’s 2000 film was an outright mess of a movie, filling the gaps inbetween Seuss’ text with a bunch of random filler that didn’t add anything  worthwhile and in some cases, particularly the crude humor and painfully unfunny schtick from Jim Carrey, were insulting to the tone of the original book.  But, that was live action; you would think that it might work better in animation.  Unfortunately, Illumination Animation’s upcoming adaptation looks like it’s straying even further from the source material.  Not once in the trailer do you hear anything  remotely close to Seuss’ distinctive, rhythmic style of writing, and instead recasts the iconic character into the same kind of situations that you would find in the studio’s marquee franchise, Despicable Me.  Illumination’s track record with Seuss adaptations, Horton Hears a Who (2008) and The Lorax (2012), has been pretty shoddy, so my guess is that this new take on the Grinch will likely fall under the already low bar.  I didn’t think you could do any worse than the 2000’s Grinch, but it appears that Illumination found a way.

ROBIN HOOD (NOVEMBER 21)

Did we really need another retelling of the legend of Robin Hood?  It was less than a decade ago that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe took their shot at this age old story, and it failed miserably as well.  I would think that it could possibly work if the movie offered an interesting new spin on the tale, like Guy Ritchie take on Sherlock Holmes (2009).  But, sadly, this looks as generic as anything else in this tired genre.  Even Guy Ritchie couldn’t breathe new life into the medieval swashbuckler recently, as was the case with last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), which this new Robin Hood bears an uncanny resemblance to in tone.  The one saving grace that could come from this movie is the cast, including rising star Taron Egerton in the title role, as well as convention breaking Jamie Foxx in the role of Little John.  But they will have to overcome quite a lot to pull this movie up in a time when audiences are frankly tired and disinterested in this kind of movie now.  There is such a thing as adapting a story that is too familiar, and the truth is there is nothing new that Robin Hood could bring us that we haven’t already seen a million times before.

So, there you have my outlook for the upcoming fall season in cinema.  Mostly, I focus on the expected blockbusters, but what is really special about the next few months is the unexpected surprises that emerge without much fanfare.  These are usually the movies put up for Awards consideration late in the season, and they usually don’t get talked about much until they suddenly appear on everyone’s radar.  More than likely, what might end up being the big awards favorite of the season is one that I would’ve never thought to have singled out for this preview, because it has either not been fully advertised yet, or it’s one that I don’t full know how to judge just yet.  It’s no surprise that the last few Best Picture winners have never shown up in any of my previews, and that’s because their momentum really ramps up further down the line.  Even still, with the movies I’ve spotlighted here, I hope that it helps make some of you aware of what to expect in the months ahead.  One interesting thing I noticed is the lack of a major entry from either Star Wars or Marvel, two of the brands that have dominated this season as of late.  For now, Marvel is keeping things tightly guarded until next year when Captain Marvel and the next Avengers are released, and Star Wars already filled the annual quota with Solo earlier this summer.  So the victors of this fall season will be very different than in years past; good news for DC and Aquaman.  Regardless of the results, I just hope that everyone has a great time at the movies in the next few months.  Whether it’s the weather or the elections that get you down in the following days, the warm embrace of a good movie is enough to lift us up, inspire us, and make us embrace the things that we love.

The Movies of Summer 2018

You’re probably thinking that this is a little early for my yearly summer preview.  We’re in the middle of April and the official start to the Summer movie season is still two weeks away.  Well you can thank Marvel for that.  Probably as a precaution to stay ahead of spoilers as they roll out their movie worldwide, Marvel decided to move up their premiere date for Avengers: Infinity War a week earlier than their usual first week of May window.  So, the summer’s most anticipated film, and probably the most anticipated movie of the year (let alone the decade), is now scheduled for the last week of April, which is usually a dead zone for movie releases.  Of course, Infinity War will change that easily with what is expected to be a record breaking weekend, but unfortunately, it changes my own schedule for articles on this blog.  For one thing, do I even still consider Infinity War a Summer movie at all, or a late Spring one?  Considering that the whole month of May is considered part of the Summer season according to Hollywood, I guess one extra week doesn’t change much at all.  Regardless, Marvel is going to build upon a year that they have already dominated up to now.  Black Panther now stands as the third highest grossing movie of all time, as well as the highest grossing super hero movie in general, which is all the more remarkable considering that it opened in February.  It once again shows that with the right amount of planning and hype (and a little luck) any part of the year can produce a record setting blockbuster film.  Even as Black Panther’s run is starting to finally settle, other movies are filling it’s place with some solid box office performance.  Recent hit A Quiet Place is demonstrating once again the consistent working model of low budget, smartly crafted horror movies generating strong box office returns.  Really, the only disappointments so far have been sequels like Pacific Rim: Uprising and reboots like Tomb Raider, which doesn’t bode well for an upcoming Summer season chock full of the same.

Like previous years, I will be breaking up this preview into three categories; the movies that I believe are must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones to skip entirely.  I will give my thoughts based on my own preconceptions of the movies based on the effectiveness of their marketing, as well as just my overall enthusiasm regarding each one.  Remember, I don’t always have the best batting average when it comes to handicapping these movies, so some of these movies may turn out to be better than I anticipated, or worse.  My hope is for the better.  I will also embed trailers to each film to give you a little visual sample of what I’m writing about as well.  So, without any more delay, here is my outlook for the movies of Summer 2018.

MUST SEES:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (APRIL 27)

Like I stated earlier, the decision to move this movie’s release up a week creates a debate as to whether it is a Summer release or not.  Because I still want to spotlight this movie, I’m going to still classify it as a Summer release film, one because it’s Marvel, and two, we were already pushing the boundaries before by including the month of May.  And this isn’t just any Marvel movie; this is “THE” Marvel movie.  The one that all the others before it were leading up to.  The whole purpose of having the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe was to eventually have that one day when all the various pieces would come together as one into a single, giant sized event.  We got part of that with the first two Avengers flicks, but those team-ups will seem small when compared to this.  This movie is going to have every single established character that has appeared in the last 18 films made by the studio all sharing screen time together, and that alone makes this a historic production.  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and also the Guardians of the Galaxy, they are all here.  Needless to say, this is a movie that we’ve long awaited.  From the moment Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up in Tony Stark’s compound and told him about the Avenger Initiative in the first Iron Man (2008), there has been a plan in place at Marvel Studios, further reinforced by the introductions of the all powerful Infinity Stones and the mad Titan searching the cosmos for them, Thanos (Josh Brolin).  Every Marvel movie up to now, even the recent Black Panther, has laid the groundwork for Infinity War to happen, and this comes as the culmination of 10 years worth of planning and execution that has yielded one of the most prolific franchises in movie history.  Let’s hope that this movie lives up to the unprecedented level of anticipation that proceeds it, and given Marvel’s record so far, it’s hard to think that they won’t have something special ready for us this year.  They are clearly confident enough to give it to us a week early so let’s assemble Avengers.

DEADPOOL 2 (MAY 18)

Speaking of Marvel super heroes, it’s time to revisit the “merc with the mouth.”  Deadpool 2 comes quickly on the heels of the surprise hit from 2016, with Ryan Reynolds once again returning to the role that he has made all his own.  The first Deadpool was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was starting to grow stale at the time, with it’s irreverant sense of humor and constant fourth wall breaks that really turned the super hero film on it’s head.  My hope is that the same crazy spirit that lifted the first movie will carry over into the second.  The trailers are already doing a good job of selling the humor in the new film, with jabs taken at everything from the X-Men franchise, to cinematic universes, to even The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005).  Creative differences led to the original director Tim Miller leaving this project, but the reigns were given over to the team behind the thrilling John Wick franchise, so hopefully the movie is able to maintain a level of fun that feels consistent.  One major plus for this movie is the inclusion of the character Cable (Josh Brolin once again, who’s about to have one hell of a Summer season), who looks to be a great foil for Deadpool to work his looniness off of.  As I’ve written about the movie before in past reviews, Deadpool was a shot in the funny bone that the superhero genre desperately needed at the time, and it’s success has been definitely earned.  A sequel is definitely not out of the question, since there is so much more to lampoon in the genre going forward, and DP is sure to have plenty more adventures to come, which should become interesting once Fox is incorporated into Disney, and Deadpool has the opportunity to finally mingle with all of Marvel’s other characters, whether they like it or not.

INCREDIBLES 2 (JUNE 15)

Sticking with this Summer’s notable streak of super hero movies, we finally have the long awaited sequel to Pixar’s Oscar-winning classic, The Incredibles.  Incredibles 2 comes to the big screen after a 14 year gap, the longest so far in Pixar history, narrowly eclipsing Finding Dory’s 13 years.  Pixar takes their time to revisit their past successes, but when they do, it usually is worth the wait.  The positive thing going for this sequel is that it sees the return of director Brad Bird to the world of animation, after a decade long side track into live action film-making which garnered mixed results; the thrilling Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) and the underwhelming Tomorrowland (2015).  Here he gets to revisit the narrative that turned him into a household name in the first place, and share the continuing adventures of the super powered Parr family.  A lot of fans have said for a long time that if there was ever a Pixar movie that was deserving of a sequel, this was the one, and thankfully the studio has finally got around to it.  The premise seems to be a worthy follow-up to the original, with both Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl trying their best to live a normal domestic life while at the same time trying to save the world as super heroes do.  This time around, we find Mr. Incredible left with the responsibility of running the household on his own, which should lead to some very funny situations, especially with baby Jack-Jack’s out of control powers becoming a problem.  Couple that with new villains and returning allies like Samuel L. Jackson’s ultra-cool Frozone, and this should be as thrilling a ride as the original was.  Let’s just hope that even after 14 years, this movie is still able to find the heart that made the first one so endearing, which shouldn’t be too hard as Pixar is renowned for it’s ability to constantly play to the best of our emotions.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (JULY 27)

Stepping away from super heroes for a moment, let’s take a look at another franchise that has shown some remarkable legs for so many years.  This sixth entry into the Mission Impossible franchise returns Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt back into another harrowing mission to save the world, only this one might be his last.  Cruise has always demonstrated a sense of fearlessness in most of his movies, often choosing to perform his own stunts most of the time, and the Mission Impossible movies are where he likes to show off his skills the most.  And Tom Cruise need to return to favorable ground after the disaster that was The Mummy last year.  The series has recently seen a bit of a resurgence thanks to the success of critically acclaimed entries like Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015).  Fallout seems to be closing up this second trilogy by picking up right where Rogue Nation left off, and seeming to hint that many of the dangling story-lines surrounding Mr. Hunt are about to be closed for good.  It’s hard to say if this is Tom Cruise’s last go around, but he certainly looks to still be in top form again here.  It’s clear that these Mission impossible movies are his favorites among all the action films he’s made, and in particular, he really likes to use them as a showcase for some truly insane stunt work.  It’ll be hard to top climbing the Burj Khalifa or riding on the outside of real plane on take off from the previous films, but Cruise notably did break his ankle for real on one stunt for this movie, showing that he indeed is not willing to slow down.  His regular team mates also return, including Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, though notably the film is missing Jeremy Renner (who was probably busy on Infinity War).  Thankfully, Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill seems to be filling this gap effectively.  Let’s hope that even after 6 total films that this is still a mission worth accepting.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (JULY 6)

Now it’s back to super heroes again.  What can I say, Marvel is having a banner year with Black Panther and Infinity War, so it feels right to feel optimistic about anything they put out right now.  The first Ant-Man overcame a troubled production that saw the departure of it’s original director, Edgar Wright, and ended up becoming a modest success in the end.  Though far from Marvel’s best work to date, Ant-Man still managed to do just enough right in order to warrant a sequel.  It’s a bold move to make this their follow-up to Infinity War for this summer, but hopefully it’s a sign that Marvel has confidence in their little hero.  One notable thing about this sequel is that it finally introduces the Wasp into the Marvel universe, played here by Evangeline Lilly, who is a long time fan favorite from the comic books.  Paul Rudd of course returns as the titular Ant-Man, and his character was no doubt boosted by his very beloved cameo in Captain America: Civil War (2016), which introduced his Giant Man phase in spectacular fashion.  Not much else is known about this movie apart from what the trailer has shown us, but it looks like they are playing around with the size changing mechanics a whole lot more, which could be interesting to see play out.  I also like seeing Michael Douglas returning in the mentor role of original Ant-Man Hank Pym, and the revelation that the original Wasp is also going to factor into the story, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is also something worth getting excited about.  Without a troubled production this time around to weigh the release down, Ant-Man and the Wasp is hopefully one more Marvel sequel that builds upon an already good thing.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (MAY 25)

What’s there to really worry about with a new Star Wars movie.  The world’s most popular film franchise is enjoying a Renaissance period right now, with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi all becoming enormous box office successes.  And this new film is focused on one of the series’ most popular characters, delving finally into his mostly mysterious backstory.  So, why am I worried about this one.  Well, sadly this movie has been plagued by nothing but bad press for the last couple of years; pretty much from the time the movie started production.  The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), were let go after a creative dispute over the tone of the movie with Lucasfilm worrying that it strayed too far from the Star Wars formula.  The casting of relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich in the iconic role of Han Solo also left many people scratching their heads, since he doesn’t really look or sound anywhere close to Harrison Ford.  Couple this with many expensive 11th hour re-shoots and many people are worrying that this might be the movie that derails the resurgence that the franchise has enjoyed these last couple years.   The prospects don’t look good for the movie, but then again the Star Wars name will still help it make a lot of money.  It’s the worry that the movie may tarnish that same name in the process that still hangs heavy over it.  The plus side is that veteran director Ron Howard is helping to guide this movie past the finish line, and the film does have an impressive cast besides Ehrenreich that will be interesting to watch, like Woody Harrelson and Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke.  Most people are excited to see a return to the big screen for fan favorite Lando Calrissian, with Donald Glover filling Billy Dee Williams big shoes.  It remains to be seen if this movie can pull off a comeback and continue the Star Wars hot streak, but more than any film in this series before, this is the one that has to clear the most roadblocks.

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (JUNE 29)

The sad thing about sleeper hits in Hollywood is that it makes studios believe that they can turn what little success they got into bigger success by franchising something that wasn’t really built for a franchise.  The first Sicario (2015) was a brilliant and taut thriller that ended up making it’s way to the top of my best of the year list for that year.  But, it was a movie that was more about it’s characters than the subject matter and the setting, that being the border drug war between Mexican cartels and the Feds of the United States, and the movie concluded on such a perfect note that any more to the story would have diluted the power of everything that came before.  But, it appears that Sony believes there is more to mine out of this property, and have manufactured a sequel without the original director (Denis Villeneuve) and with far more emphasis on the action set pieces.  My worry is that the movie is going to forget what made the original so perfect, which was largely the level of restraint that Villeneuve utilized to maximize the impact of the brief action sequences, and instead just turn this into another generic and bloated action movie that contains lots of violence and no soul.  Then again, there are some positives that do still intrigue me about this sequel.  Despite loosing the director, the movie does retain the original screenwriter (Taylor Sheridan), who since writing Sicario has been on a role with other acclaimed scripts like Hell or High Water (2016) and Wind River (2017).  Stars Josh Brolin (again) and Benicio del Toro are also returning, and Del Toro’s return is crucial, because his character from the original is one of my favorite movie characters in recent memory.  Hopefully, this is more than just a studio cash grab and that it’s able to live up to it’s exceptional predecessor, but even still, we’ve seen Hollywood indulge too much in a good thing before, and ended up spoiling something special in the process.  I just don’t want to see that happen to Sicario too.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (JUNE 22)

A couple years ago, I also included the first Jurassic World in my “worry” list, believing that it was going to be just another lame studio reboot of an already diminished franchise.  Surprisingly, I found myself actually liking the movie in the end.  While it was no where near as good as Spielberg’s 1993 original classic, it was still the best Jurassic Park sequel that we had yet seen, and it did spectacularly well at the box office, becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time.  So, naturally there is going to be a sequel, as Universal is striking while the iron is still hot.  But, given how much Jurassic World was already stretching the franchise thin by rehashing already overused tropes that were already established in previous films, it really leaves you wondering what else the franchise still has left to offer.  The trailer unfortunately shows a whole bunch of story-lines being crammed together; a volcanic catastrophe, dinosaurs getting sold at auction, genetic experimentation gone wrong, and it just makes it look like this movie might turn into one confused and jumbled mess.  The already thinly drawn characters from World are returning, but Chris Pratt’s star power could help make his scenes at least enjoyable.  Also I cringe at the pandering inclusion of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm as a means of tying this film in with the original.  At least the studio brought on a legit good director to guide this sequel with J. A . Bayona, who made my top film of 2016 (A Monster Calls).  My hope is that he can bring something worthwhile out of this, but considering that I’m getting some strong The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) vibes from this trailer (which is the worst film in the series), I am once again worried about where this franchise is headed.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (AUGUST 3)

This is an unusual Summer release.  If you’ve been reading my blog these last few years, you’ll know that I have mixed feelings with regards to Disney’s recent frenzy of live action remakes of their classic animated films.  I liked Cinderella (2015) and Pete’s Dragon (2016) quite a bit, and I tolerated most of The Jungle Book (2016), but I hated Maleficent (2014) and absolutely loathed last year’s Beauty and the Beast.  So you can understand why I might be a little weary of a live action movie centered around Winnie the Pooh.  Now, to be fair, this is less of remake and more of a re-imagining.  The story shows the titular Christopher Robin now fully grown up and with a family of his own being revisited by Pooh after who knows how many years.  There could be some interesting story possibilities to mine out of this scenario, especially with how different Christopher must seem to Pooh as an adult and how that might clash with the bear’s view of the world.  The danger is that, like most of Disney’s other recent remakes, the filmmakers might end up mining too much from the original animated cartoons hoping to capitalize on our familiarity instead of forging new ground and creating something original that can stand on it’s own.  The fact that this is a more or less original story is a positive sign, but there’s not much else that this trailer is telling us.  The movie can’t just rest on a saccharine sweet reunion between old friends; there should be some pathos there as well.  I’m not going into this movie expecting to hate it, but it’s got to show me that there’s a justification for a new take on Winnie the Pooh on the big screen.  Some reverence for the past is fine, and I like the fact that they retained long time voice actor Jim Cummings in the role of Pooh, but like most other movies, it’s best when we are treated to something new.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (JULY 20)

Seriously, a sequel to Mamma Mia (2008).  The original was already one of the most critically panned musicals to come out in the last decade; why bother making another?  Sure it has a fan base, but not a very big one.  Not only that, but the sequel leaves out one of the biggest drawing factors of the first movie, which was Meryl Streep in the headlining role.  Her character is deceased this time around, leaving a big hole in an already sunken pit.  If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of this musical or movie.  What may have played well on the stage died horribly in a lamely executed film adaptation, even with Meryl’s participation.  Without her returning (at least in a lead role), what else is there to be excited for in this film.  The real kicker though is that it’s clear that the filmmakers are so devoid of new directions for this story that they are just going back in time and showing us the origins of Meryl’s character, played by Cinderella’s Lily James in flashbacks.   I was probably never going to see this movie at all to begin with, but my hope is that even those of you out there with any bit of curiosity will take a long look at this sequel and recognize that it is a studio cash grab and nothing more.  At a time when movie musicals are struggling and needing a La La Land (2016) like reinvention, the last thing we need is a franchise that’s just rehashing old tracks like an overused karaoke machine, which this movie very clearly is.

ALPHA (AUGUST 17)

Not only does this movie have the disadvantage of having one of the most overplayed movie trailers in the last year, due to the fact that it’s release has been pushed back numerous times, but it also has to put up with the controversy surrounding it’s casting choices.  Hollywood is already facing backlash in many instances of white-washing their films by casting white actors in roles meant for minorities, and here we have a big budget studio film that again falls into that same misguided territory.  The movie is set thousands of years ago during the last ice age, and shows the beginnings of what would be the domestication of canines as companions for early humans.  The premise could be intriguing, but you can’t help but be distracted by the fact that the human characters, who are supposed to be indigenous tribal people, are all being played by Caucasian actors.  Now, the movie could get around that fact by placing their setting in a prehistoric Eurasian context, but the inclusion of creature that are native to North America like buffaloes indicates that this casting is clearly out of line with real history, and again shows Hollywood’s reluctance to extend representation to Native performers in many mainstream films.  Even apart from this controversy, the movie just looks bland, especially compared to other recent survival in the wild films like the more visually interesting The Revenant (2015).  The fact that the studio has had trouble finding an appropriate release date shows that there isn’t much to hope for with this one.

TAG (JUNE 15)

I originally thought that this trailer was a joke, like that fake Crocodile Dundee reboot staring Danny McBride that turned out to just be an ad for Australian tourism.  But, no, this is an honest to goodness real movie, and I honestly would rather watch another Crocodile Dundee.   We’re seriously so devoid of new ideas that Hollywood is now making an action comedy based around the game of tag.  Sure, the cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, and Hannibal Buress is impressive, but I just can’t get over the lameness of the premise.  It’s not a good sign when the movie’s tagline states, “we’re not kidding” showing that even they know that this is a hard sell.  The trailer doesn’t give me a lot of confidence either.  It seems like they are trying to aim for a Wedding Crashers (2005) or The Hangover (2008) kind of vibe here, but those movies had more of a grounded reality to them to make their hi-jinks funny.  Here, you have to swallow a lot of disbelief to think that a game of tag has these kind of stakes to it.  And yeah, I know that it’s supposed to be based on a true story, but even with that, this look less like a fun romp and more like a ploy for cheap laughs.  I’m far less inclined to believe that this movie will tag me with a surprising amount of laughs, and I’ll more than likely want to avoid the game altogether.

So, there you have my look at this Summer’s upcoming releases.  Surprisingly, this is kind of a soft field for what is typically a packed season.  It’s like everyone is steering clear of big hitters like Infinity War and Incredibles 2, with large gaps of several weeks filled with not much other than smaller indies and standard studio fillers.   The month of August in particular is devoid of any real buzz-worthy tent-pole films, which is surprising given how recent movies like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Suicide Squad (2016) have shown it to be fertile ground too.  Is this a sign that Hollywood is not as enamored with the Summer months like they used to be, considering that blockbuster films are now appearing in all parts of the year?  It might be more likely that this Summer season is just a little less full than past years, as it’s been shown that packing a blockbuster into every week of the season isn’t going to necessarily generate record breaking results.  Next year could be very different, depending on what moves the studios make based on this year.  The unexpected success of Spring and Winter films is certainly having an impact, and parts of the year that looked like the only place to gain box office traction once may not be seen as such in today’s market.  But, even still, a monster production like Avengers: Infinity War is still going to set many Summer season box office records without any doubt, and several other films this Summer, like Incredibles and Jurassic World will also likely hit it big.  So, even though it starts earlier than usual, thanks to Marvel, this should still be a typically strong summer, and I’m happy to have shared my thoughts with you about it, even as they come earlier than normal.  Here’s to sun and fun at the movies these next few months.