Tag Archives: Previews

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.

The 2018 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

This year’s Academy Awards follows up what many would consider one of the most tumultuous in the history of the industry.  Forget about the winners and losers at the box office, what really shook the walls of Hollywood was the far reaching scandals that dominated much of the headlines.  Numerous careers, including some high profile power players in Hollywood, were destroyed overnight and for a lot of them, it was for a good reason.  2017 was a year of reckoning for Hollywood after many years of trying to keep things under wraps and just moving on like it’s nothing.  No doubt it has left a deep impact on the entertainment business, and there were plenty of casualties along the way (for good and bad), but the conversation needed to be made and change had to happen.  This Oscar’s, we will hopefully be witnessed to a more aware and responsible Hollywood, and the controversy will certainly be touched upon over the course of the evening, as previous award shows this season have shown.  It remains to be seen if those same feelings manifest in the way that the Academy voters have cast their ballots this year.  There certainly are a number of movies nominated this year that hit on topical social issues, like Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Steven Spielberg’s The Post, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, and most certainly Jordan Peele’s Get Out.  But what I find fascinating about this line up of Best Picture nominees is how it demonstrates clearly something that  discussed in last week’s article, which is the growing divide between old Hollywood and new Hollywood.  In the 9 nominees, you can see choices that represent the previous held notions of what traditionally makes up an Oscar film (Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Post, Phantom Thread) and choices that contradict the traditional notions (Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards).  As a result, we now have one of the least predictable Best Picture lineups in recent history, and as last year has shown, it’s anybody’s race.

As in previous years, I will be taking a look at the top categories of Adapted Screenplay, Orignal Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Actor, Actress, Director and Best Picture.  I will argue my choices for who will likely win and who I would like to see win, which sometimes lines up.  And with that, let’s take a look at this year’s nominees.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: James Ivory (Call Me by Your Name); Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green (Logan); Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game); Dee Rees and Virgil Williams (Mudbound); and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist)

This is the perhaps the most interestingly diverse category at this year’s Oscars; at least in terms of the movies represented.  You have a historical, literary adaptation in Mudbound, a memoir adaptation that is loosely tied to it’s source and might have well been an original screenplay if it weren’t based on real life like Molly’s Game, a farcical retelling of the making of the worst movie ever with The Disaster Artist, a tender queer romance with Call Me by Your Name, and even a comic book adaptation with Logan.  While many of these nominees are commendable for a variety of reasons, and I’m especially happy to see a little love sent The Disaster Artist’s way after being snubbed in other categories, this category is leaning very clearly towards a particular favorite.  Call Me by Your Name has emerged as the front runner and it’s hard to argue.  It handles it’s subject matter in such a delicate way and gives it a universal resonance for today that I don’t think it would have had at any other time.  Couple this with the fact that the script was written by a living legend in Hollywood who has yet to win an Oscar.  89 year old James Ivory is best known as one half of the Merchant Ivory team that made a name for itself creating lush period dramas that were particularly popular with Oscar voters in the past, such as A Room with a View (1986), Howard’s End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993).  Though retired from directing, Ivory still managed to craft an exceptional screenplay with a tender love story between two men at it’s center that really feels remarkably in tune for our times.  I still find it subversively delightful that someone close to 90 years of age sat down and wrote out the now notorious “peach scene” into a script.  It’s a long overdue honor for a legendary filmmaker and deserving given how well it hits a cultural nerve for today’s audiences.

Who Will Win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name

Who Should Win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Jordon Peele (Get Out); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (The Big Sick); Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water); Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

This category more or less falls into line with the usual suspects as opposed to this year’s adapted nominees.  Though diverse in genre, all the movies here have one thing in common, which is that they are all personal creations from each of their creators.  Whether they are semi-autobiographical like The Big Sick or Lady Bird, or making a bold statement like Get Out or Three Billboards, or is a passion project from an acclaimed auteur like The Shape of Water, each one has a clear personal story attached to it.  This is also the category where the Academy is likely going to make it’s own acknowledgement of the cultural issues of the day.  With that in mind it’s likely that Three Billboards and Get Out are the movies that have the best chance of winning in this field.  But, which issue wins out in the end.  Get Out delivers a daring message about race relations in America that takes left turns that you probably would’ve never expected and is certainly on a structural aspect the most original script in this bunch.  But Three Billboards tackling of sensitive issues like sexual abuse, freedom of expression, and gender discrimination make it a far more timely film in this category.  While Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is delightfully un-PC and thoroughly original in concept, his handling of these touchy issues is somewhat less graceful, and it makes me think that Jordan Peele has the edge here with his more on-point Get Out.  And while I do admire the work that both men put into their writing, my own personal preference goes to Greta Gerwig’s more subtle work with Lady Bird.  With her screenplay, Gerwig delivers one of the most natural feeling character studies in recent memories.  All the other nominees are driven more by their well designed plots, but Gerwig paints a portrait, transporting us into her character’s lives and letting us feel at home with them.  It’s the least “movie” script of the bunch and that’s why I like it the best of the bunch, even if it’s chances are slim.

Who Will Win: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Who Should Win: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Allison Janney (I, Tonya); Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread); Mary J. Blige (Mudbound); and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

The Supporting Actress category is an interesting line-up this year because of the pedigree involved.  Usually this award is distinguished by a collection of up-and-coming talent or by standout performances from seasoned veterans.  This year is interesting, because apart from previous winner Octavia Spencer, the category is filled with first time nominees who have been noteworthy in places other than the big screen.  Lesley Manville, a mainstay in her native England both on stage and in indie dramas, delivered a standout performance in Phantom Thread, managing to even upstage Daniel Day-Lewis at some points remarkably.  And R&B recording artist Mary J. Blige managed to earn an acting nod for her tender work in Mudbound, while also getting a Best Song nod at the same time (an Oscar first).  But, it’s a pair of two acclaimed TV veterans that are leading the pack this year; Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf.  Allison Janney, a multi-Emmy winner for her work on The West Wing series has emerged as a front runner, playing the very rough edged mother of Tonya Harding in I, Tonya.  It’s a showy performance that allows Janney to chew as much scenery as she desires and still feel genuine to the role.  There’s no doubt that Allison makes the best out of the role and she is a delight to watch in the movie; especially when she’s interacting with a pet parakeet on her shoulder.  However, it’s Laurie Metcalf’s more reserved performance as another cinematic mother that won me over more this year.  Her performance as the over-bearing, but dedicated mom to the Saoirse Ronan’s titular character in Lady Bird is a beautiful representation of every nuanced acting ability that Metcalf has honed on television ever since her early Roseanne days and forward.  While it is a close call, I think that Allison Janney’s more bombastic performance probably appealed more to Academy voters and that’s while she’ll win, although Metcalf’s long esteemed body of work might make a good case for her as well.

Who Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Who Should Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World); Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water); Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project); and Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

The most striking thing about this category was the surprise inclusion of Christopher Plummer for his performance as J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World.  For those who followed industry news last year, it was widely publicized that Ridley Scott re-shot multiple sections of his movie in order to remove disgraced actor Kevin Spacey from the role of Getty and replace him with Plummer instead.  Even more amazing was the fact that it was done only a month away from the film’s premiere date.  So, it is quite shocking to see such a late addition to a movie earn recognition from the Academy.  I like to think that Plummer is just that good of an actor, but I think his nomination has more to do with the story behind his casting.  Even still, he is highly unlikely to win this year.  For right now, early predictions put Sam Rockwell at the head of the pack, with his acclaimed but also controversial role as a racist cop seeking redemption in Three Billboards.  Rockwell is a highly respected actor in Hollywood, having worked in a variety of beloved roles over the years, without ever getting recognition from the Academy.  This year seems set to rectify that, but controversy over the movie’s handling of his character has raised questions leading up to the rewards.  The character’s problematic racism is never really addressed in a meaningful way in the film, and that’s making a lot of critics unsettled with honoring it with an Oscar win.  But, I would argue that it’s a fault of the screenplay and not the actor, who still delivers a strong, nuanced performance.  But, as much as I like Rockwell, my personal favorite is Willem Dafoe in the criminally underappreciated The Florida Project.  I want this beautiful, little seen film to have some recognition, and Dafoe’s exceptional performance as a downtrodden hotel manager is the only shot it has.  Rockwell will probably still be victorious, but a surprise win for Dafoe would delight me to no end, and would be very much deserved.

Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); Margot Robbie (I, Tonya); Meryl Streep (The Post); Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water); Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

One question has undoubtedly arisen ever since the beginning of this year’s Oscar season; can anyone beat Frances McDormand for Best Actress?  Perhaps the biggest lock of this year’s nominees, McDormand looks almost certain to win her second career Academy Award in this category; the first of course for her now iconic performance in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, Fargo (1996).  And it is a win that she by all means will have earned.  From the first moment we saw the trailer for Three Billboards, it was clear that this was a role tailor made for Frances to knock it out of the park, and that she did.  She perfectly balances the emotional toil that her infuriated maternal figure goes through along with the laugh out loud “give ’em hell” in-your-face personality.  It’s hard to balance comedy and tragedy in a single role, and Frances McDormand does it so effortlessly.  Among the other nominees, I can’t see any other that quite rises to that same level, despite all of them being very good.  Margot Robbie’s very physical performance as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding is a definite standout, and any other year, she would be a runaway favorite.  Another strong contender is Sally Hawkins who delivers a passionate and completely wordless performance as the mute female lead of The Shape of Water.  Her character is probably the most nuanced of the group, because there are so many layers of performance that she has to work through, and she makes a tremendous transformation in the process.  But, it’s hard to ignore the force of Frances McDormand’s work this year and I believe that the Academy will feel that same way.  She is a beloved part of the acting community and her performance in Three Billboards is without a doubt one of the greatest of her esteemed career, almost guaranteeing her a second career award.

Who Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread); Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out); Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.); Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour); and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)

 On the surface, this would look like another category that appears locked up, but maybe not as much as Frances McDormand for Best Actress.  For right now, the favorite to win is Gary Oldman for his role as legendary British national figure Winston Churchill.  The chameleon like actor has made a name for himself playing a wide variety of roles where he completely disappears into character and can play just about everyone and everything.  His performance as Churchill is no exception, and frankly shows the actor at his very best.  Even through the heavily applied make-up to transform him closer to the famously rotund world leader, he still gives off a commanding presence helping his performance feel authentic and true to the real person.  He chews the scenery in the best way possible and has a magnetic pressence in every scene he is in.  It’s hard to believe that such an esteemed and multi-faceted actor like Oldman is coming into this Awards with only his second nomination ever (the first being for 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).  It feels like this is both an acknowledgement of his whole body of work thus far, as well a honor given to the strength of the performance itself.  The only thing that I can see spoiling Gary Oldman’s win is a possible upset by young, up-and-comer Timothee Chalamet.  The Academy does love honoring a breakthrough performance every now and then, and Chalamet’s heartfelt work in Call Me by Your Name feels like something that appeals to the Academy.  It’s not the first time that the Oscars went with a newcomer over an established veteran who was long overdue (2014’s Best Actor category for example, where Eddie Redmayne won over Michael Keaton).  But, despite how strong and deserving Chalamet may be in this category, it seems unlikely that the Academy will miss this oppurtunity to honor Oldman with a long overdue award.  Chalamet still has a long career ahead of him, and a nomination this year itself is going to lead to a lot of bigger and better things.

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Who Should Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water); Jordan Peele (Get Out); and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)

This is a difficult category for me to make a personal choice for.  The front-runners, Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro, are two of my favorite working directors and they just so happened to direct my top two favorite movies of last year.  It’s also remarkable that it took the Academy this long to finally give them a nomination despite their exceptional bodies of work even before this year.  Nolan in particular was often seen as the poster boy for being criminally overlooked by the Academy after snubs for his acclaimed work on The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010).  The category this year is especially significant for being filled with many first time nominees, with only Paul Thomas Anderson being the one who has been here before.  Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both received deserved nominations for their first ever films as directors, but this is a year where that still favors more established creators.  Guillermo del Toro seems to have the edge with his previous wins at the Golden Globes and Driectors Guild, both clear bell-weather precursors to an Oscar win.  But, I think that Christopher Nolan’s work in Dunkirk could manage an upset victory in the end, because his film is probably the best showcase of the craft of directing in this category.  Dunkirk is a tour de force of filmmaking from beggining to end, showing off really the pinnacle of what the medium of film can do with so many in camera tricks accomplished without the aide of visual effects.  Given that the category of Directing is voted upon for the most part by other directors, it would seem hard to ignore what Nolan accomplished with Dunkirk.  But, even still, Del Toro has already built up a steady lead with his wins so far, and if he wins, it is not undeserving either.  The Shape of Water is a purely Del Toro film, carrying all the trademark elements that he has refined throughout his celebrated career and it would be very pleasing to see the Academy recognize that as well.  Regardless of who wins, it will be a deserving honor for one of the industry’s best talents working today.

Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

BEST PICTURE

Nominees Call Me by Your Names; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a significantly different year than what we saw at the last Oscars.  It seemed like the Best Picture of 2016 was without a doubt going to be the heavily favored La La Land, until it wasn’t.  That unpredictable result seems to have cast a shadow over this year’s nominees, because everyone now seems weary of picking an outright favorite now that it’s possible that anything can win.  There are some that are certainly rising to the top more than others, but it seems like every week since the nominations were announced there is a new front runner emerging.  To complicate things, people are also trying to make sense of this year’s race by returning to previous established notions of the Academy.  Some say The Shape of Water is the favorite because it has the most nominations, but recent years have shown that not to be a guarantee.  Three Billboards won the SAG ensemble award, and because most Academy members are actors, it must be the favorite, but that’s not always true either.  Then there’s Get Out, which some people might think has a definite chance because it’s message is timely and the Academy likes to make a have something to say about the current political climate.  But, as I wrote in last weeks article, the Academy has a strange way of changing it’s attitude towards previously conceived notions of itself and going in a wildly different direction than we expected.  That’s why there is no clear front-runner this year and this is really an Award up for grabs.  My own choice of course would be the movie that I picked as my favorite of the year, Dunkirk, which could possibly sneak in there and win too, despite the fact that it would appear the safest choice in the group.  It helps to have a lot of other wins in the lower categories too, which could help Dunkirk, but the movie that is in better position to sweep through multiple awards is The Shape of Water.  A win for that too wouldn’t upset me, because it was my second favorite film of the year, and it would be a deserved victory for genre flicks, which the Academy tends to ignore.  But, we at this point have no choice but to guess which way the Academy will go.  My guess is that Del Toro’s certain win for Directing will help carry The Shape of Water past the goal line, but anyone’s guess right now is as good as mine.

Who Will Win: The Shape of Water

Who Should Win: Dunkirk

In addition to looking over the top categories of the year, here is my quick rundown of the remaining categories at this year’s ceremony, with my picks:

Best Animated Film: CocoBest Cinematography: DunkirkBest Costume Design: Phantom ThreadBest Sound Mixing: Dunkirk; Best Film EditingDunkirkBest Sound Editing: DunkirkBest Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes; Best Make-up an Hairstyling: Darkest HourBest Production Design: The Shape of Water; Best Original Song: “Remember Me” from CocoBest Musical Score: The Shape of WaterBest Documentary: Faces PlacesBest Foreign Language Film: The SquareBest Documentary Short: Heroin(e); Best Live Action Short: DeKalb Elementary; Best Animated Short: Dear Basketball

So there are my picks for this year’s Academy Awards.  At the end of a tumultuous year that we witnessed in Hollywood, it seems only fitting that the year end Awards accolades should also reflect that same kind of level of uncertainty.   What pleases me is that the Academy is making an effort to really broaden it’s perspective and favor some not so easy choices for awards consideration now.  I don’t think that movies like Get Out or Lady Bird would’ve ever made the cut in previous years, and the embrace of more genre flicks like The Shape of Water is a good sign of the Academy waking up to broader cinematic voices.  Even with all that said, my personal favorite is unfortunately the most typical “Oscar-friendly” film in the bunch.  Dunkirk certainly falls into the historical epic category that the Oscars have always fawned over, but it’s a changing world and something like it, which would have been a clear front-runner before, now seems to be almost too safe.  Regardless, the Academy is making the right move in bringing in more diverse voices into their membership, and that is helping to make it possible for more daring and groundbreaking movies to get the recognition they deserve.  Whether or not this year is a reflection of change in the Academy, we’ll have to wait and see, but even still, there will be a lot of deserving winners at this year’s Awards. There’s not a single movie in the Best Picture category that I didn’t like, which is a good sign, and 6 of the 9 made my top 10 list for last year.  I hope that my favorite film can pull through and win, but I’m used to seeing that not be the case.  And usually it won’t matter in the end, because great movies live on forever, while Oscar wins usually tend to be forgotten.  The Oscars are more or less a grade card for the industry over the previous year in film, and with that, it acts as a fascinating documentation of where our culture stands at the moment, and provides a fascinating snapshot of Hollywood that we can look back on years from now.  That’s why I love the Oscars so much as a film history buff, and it’ll keep me coming back to it year after year.

The Movies of Early 2018

With 2017 coming to a close, I find that something interesting has happened over the course of the last year in the film industry.  I’m not talking about the rampant sexual abuse scandals that have come to light, nor the fact that Disney is buying up everything in Hollywood.  No, what fascinated me this year is how we’ve seen a dramatic change in box office patterns from season to season.  The summer, traditionally the biggest box office period of the year, saw it’s worst season in a decade this last year.  But at the same time, we saw record breaking numbers happen in what is traditionally the off season, particularly the spring.  Riding the wave of surprise hits like M. Night Shaymalan’s Split, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and the second chapter of the John Wick franchise, late Winter and early Spring of 2017 gave the year an enormous head start that helped to soften the blow of the disappointing summer.  Couple this with a strong March, which is typically a strong month for early box office, we soon learned that the first quarter of the year no longer is a dumping ground for Hollywood’s leftovers, but instead could be a season that could hold it’s own against the rest of the year.  And looking ahead at the releases coming up at the beginning of 2018, I think that it is worth it to take a look at what’s to come just like I have for the last few years with Summer and Fall releases.  So, this is my first ever look at the movies of Winter and Spring 2018.  Considering that the next four months leading up to Summer covers two seasons, I’m calling this Early 2018, since that covers the entire block of releases into one category.

Like previous previous that I have written, I will be taking a look at the movies that I think are the Must Sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  I have also included links to trailers above each preview, allowing all of you to get a sense of the movies being discussed.  Keep in mind, these are just my early impressions, based on my level of anticipation for each movie.  I have been known to handicap some movies incorrectly based on first impressions before, so don’t feel like these are absolute infalible opinions.  Pretty much I am basing my thoughts on how well these movies are being marketed, as well as my own personal enthusiasm for what they are bringing to the table in the cinemas this upcoming season.  So, with all that established, let’s now take a look at the films of Early 2018.

MUST SEES:

READY PLAYER ONE (MARCH 30)

No director has shaped pop culture more in the last half century than Steven Spielberg.  The creator of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993) has left so many cultural touchstones behind that have become sacred to film nerds and casual viewers all over the world.  But, the couple decades have found Spielberg working more comfortably in a different field of cinema, that being the historical dramas, which also display his remarkable talent as a filmmaker.  Many of his fans do appreciate his recent work, but many also want to see the Spielberg of old return and deliver a rousing, blockbuster adventure the likes of which they had grown up with.  And while he tried to return to that mode slightly with 2016’s The BFGReady Player One seems to be a far more ambitious return to form for Spielberg.  This inter-textual, nostalgia heavy action thriller is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Ernest Cline (who also co-adapts the screenplay), and it’s no surprise that Cline’s novel pays tribute to all things pop culture; from movies, video games, television, you name it.  So it’s only fitting that this ode to our childhood nostalgia should be brought to the big screen by one of the architects of so much of our childhood.  It’s certainly been a while since we’ve seen something this playful from Spielberg, and my hope is that the legendary director lets loose with this one.  Releasing mere months after his most recent flick The Post (which was remarkably shot, edited and released after he finished shooting Ready Player One) it really shows just how unparalleled he is as a film-making machine.  If anything, One is a movie that not only demonstrates a return to the director’s playful side, but also a thorough acknowledgement of the impact he has left behind on all of cinema, and my hope is that it will be a rousing celebration of both in the end.

BLACK PANTHER (FEBRUARY 16)

Of course, I can’t spotlight an upcoming release calendar without talking about what Marvel Studios has for us next.  After making his memorable debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016), King T’Challa of Wakanda (better known as the superhero Black Panther) finally gets his own movie, and it looks to be yet another jewel in Marvel’s crown.  Marking their first ever Winter release, Marvel has taken great care to make their first film centered on a black super hero as worthwhile as it possibly could be.  One very promising aspect about this movie is that Marvel gave the reigns over to director Ryan Coogler, who delivered an astonishing reboot of the Rocky franchise with his critically acclaimed Creed (2015).  Despite being new to the super hero genre and to big budget film-making as a whole, Coogler looks to have delivered some already impressive results based on what we’ve seen from the trailer.  I’m very interested in seeing how well star Chadwick Boseman does at the center of this movie.  His performance in Civil War was one of that movie’s highlights, so it’ll be interesting to watch him perform now that he’s in his own movie.  He’s also got the support of a stellar supporting cast including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, The Hobbit’s Martin Freemanas well as some fierce looking foes played by Coogler’s reliable regular leading man Michael B. Jordan as well as Andy Serkis (appearing on screen in person for once, without motion capture).  Black Panther is also given the coveted position of being the final lead up to Marvel’s long awaited Infinity War, which launches the summer season in May.  Given the stellar year that Marvel had in 2017, Black Panther should continue the hot streak that the studio is currently enjoying, as well as give us a long awaited premiere for a super hero who that is long overdue.

A WRINKLE IN TIME (MARCH 9)

For a long time, fans of the beloved sci-fi YA novel by author Madeleine L’Engle have wanted to see a big screen treatment that did justice to the source material.  After many years of development, Disney is finally making that a reality with their mega-budgeted adaptation.  Directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma), the movie has an ambitious visual look to it, and features an impressively diverse cast.  Of course DuVernay has given a role to her longtime patron Oprah Winfrey, playing an immortal god-like celestial (you think she might be typecast) alongside Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and sitcom star Mindy Kaling.  Add to this Star Trek’s Chris Pine and newcomer Storm Reid, and you’ve got a talented group adding many colorful characters to this beloved story.  It will be interesting to see how well DuVernay does with the source material, given it’s sometimes very perplexing details about time travel and multiple dimensions.  Some fans of the novel might be put off by the changes made to the story in order to modernize it and bring it into the present day.  Ava DuVernay is still an impressive emerging talent in the field of direction, and I’m sure that she’ll surprise a few people with her work here.  What pleases me about the assignment that she’s been given here is that it’s another sign of a very welcome change in the industry.  Following in the footsteps of last year’s Wonder Woman, A Wrinkle in Time is yet another example of giving a massive budget to a female director and seeing it pay off.  My hope is that many more women are given the reigns of blockbuster features in the future because as Ava DuVernay and Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins have demonstrated, they are just as capable of delivering the goods as any of their male contemporaries.

ISLE OF DOGS (MARCH 23)

Wes Anderson’s style may not be to everyone’s tastes, but their is no doubt that he is one of the most unique filmmakers of this generation.  With a visual style all his own, he has managed to tell a whole variety of stories over his career, including a soap opera about an affluent dysfunctional family (The Royal Tenenbaums), an absurd adventure with an underwater explorer (The Life Aquatic), a love story between two naive preteens (Moonrise Kingdom), and a colorful murder mystery in a luxurious resort (The Grand Budapest Motel).  While most of his films are eccentric and over the top, he has mostly managed to fulfill his visions in the live action medium,  But what is surprising is how well his style translates over into the animated medium.  His 2009 animation debut, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was my pick for the best film of that year, and I am pleased to see him return to animation once again with next year’s Isle of Dogs.  Working with stop motion, Anderson’s style continues to offer plenty of eye-catching treats, and I’m pleased to see his take on Japanese culture.  There are definite reverential calls to the works of Japanese masters like Kurosawa and Ozu in Anderson’s film here, but it still feels distinctly like one of his own movies.  Again, he still fills out the voice cast with an impressive line-up, including some of his returning regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum, and also debuts his first collaboration with Bryan Cranston, who plays the lead dog here.  My hope is that this becomes yet another classic from Wes Anderson, and at least I hope it stands well alongside Mr. Fox as part of his efforts in animation.  No doubt, this movie will stand out amongst all other movies this Spring given that it’s a Wes Anderson flick, which are unlike anything else you usually see on the big screen anyway.

LOVE, SIMON (MARCH 16)

This one of course interests me because of the subject matter.  Love, Simon gives us the coming of age tale of a closeted gay teenager struggling with finding a way to open up and embrace his sexuality.  While this has been ground treaded upon before in many independent films, here we’re finally seeing a major studio (Fox, and now by extension Disney) actually bringing this story to the mainstream, which is a very positive sign of the times.  While there is only bits of the story we can gather from the trailer, what pleases me about what we’re seeing from this movie is the very realistic depiction of the anxiety that young gay people go through as they try to work out how to live openly.  I myself understand it all too well, as it took me an extra long time to finally come out to my friends and family.  What few films have actually shown is that the hard part of coming out is not the fear of how society will treat you, nor how your family will respond, but the fact that once you make the announcement to the world, everything about your life will change; including how other people will act around you as well as the new expectations that will be laid upon you.  And this is a change that some gay people face more than others.  Not every queer individual is from the same mold, and those who struggle the most are the ones who don’t fit the expected definitions of a typical gay person.  It’s that fear of dramatic change that hung over me the longest time, even though it turned out in the end that I had nothing to fear, as things changed very little.  That’s the kind of narrative that I hope Love, Simon tackles, because it’s an issue that’s worth attention.  The movie already looks to have a clever spin on things, including a funny montage of an alternative reality where straight teens come out to their families.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (MARCH 23)

On the one hand, I should be pleased that the woefully underrated Pacific Rim is getting a sequel.  And for the most part, the results look good in this trailer.  The visual effects are about on par with the first movie, and the designs of the Jaegers and Kaiju monsters look to be unchanged.  The movie also has returning cast members like Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Rinko Kikuchi as their selective characters from the first film, and the addition of Star War’s John Boyega as the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie is also inspired casting.  My one worry about this is that the movie is being made without the guiding hand of it’s original creator, Guillermo Del Toro.  The visionary director’s film was such a breath of fresh air in the summer blockbuster field, and helped Hollywood steer away from Michael Bay style mayhem that was sadly starting to clutter and carry the sci-fi action thriller genre down.  But, with Del Toro not behind the directors chair this time, I worry that the movie is going to lack the charm and cleverness that made the original stand out.  Pacific Rim was so distinctly the work of it’s creator, and it will be hard to capture that same kind of balance of action and humor that is so essential to his style of direction.  My hope is that the franchise has strong enough legs to carry on without Del Toro behind the wheel, and that Uprising serves as a welcome companion to the classic original.  Hopefully it does not devolve into a mess of special effects and bland characterizations like so many other summer blockbusters and uninspired sequels fall into.  If it does, it will be a waste of something special that came before it.

ANNIHILATION (FEBRUARY 23)

Speaking of my worry of good things being wasted, here we have the second directorial effort of screenwriter turned director Alex Garland.  Garland has been one of the most heralded Sci-Fi writers of this generation, having written such acclaimed scripts for 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), and Dredd (2012).  In 2015, he made his directorial debut with the beloved Ex Machina, which showed that he indeed was just as talented behind the camera.  But, the thing that made Ex Machina work so well was it’s restraint, featuring more psychological tension as a motivating factor in the story rather than any bombastic action sequences.  It was thriller more for the mind than the eyes.  With Annihilation, his second feature, he’s exploring a scenario of evolution run amok within a dimensional anomaly.  This unfortunately looks to be more of an action driven movie than Ex Machina was, and my worry is that this is going to make this movie less captivating as a result.  Ex Machina left us chilled through the sheer brilliance of it’s expertly paced tension.  Maybe it’s just the way the trailer is edited, but it looks like the movie is positioning itself to be more of a fast-paced action thriller, which would be quite the dramatic shift for a director like Garland.  Maybe he can pull it off, but I feel like I’m going to miss the subtlety of his previous work.  Also, I worry that this could become one of those style over substance kinds of movies, as the visuals seem to be the highlight of this trailer, with little details given about what exactly this is all about.  Here’s hoping that Alex Garland continues to display his best qualities as a director and doesn’t turn into a one it wonder like so many promising cross over artists before.

THE 15:17 TO PARIS (FEBRUARY 9)

There’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood is one of the finest film directors we’ve ever seen.  His natural, uncluttered style is something that most other filmmakers try to emulate, but few are actually able to accurately copy.  But, Eastwood over time has fallen into periods of complacency as a director, though his skills behind the camera has never wavered.  Recently, he’s become most comfortable with adapting stories ripped straight from the headlines, sometimes with mixed results.  His American Sniper (2014) proved to be a remarkably well crafted war flick, but his recreation of the “Miracle on the Hudson” news story, Sully (2016), was far less captivating and was perhaps a little too soft of a human story to devote a feature length movie to.  Here, Eastwood tells the story of the thwarted terrorist attack on a French commuter train, where three off duty American soldiers risked their lives to stop the attack.  The story itself is not undue for cinematic treatment, but I feel that it’s still too fresh a story to devote a serious retelling without more perspective involved.  Also, here Clint Eastwood makes the risky choice of casting the real life people in the same roles, recreating their traumatic experience, alongside a cast of other actors.  Now, it is undeniable that these men are true heroes, and should be praised as such.  But, they are also not professional actors, and the trailer kind of hints at their somewhat awkward attempts at giving a performance in this film.  Hopefully, Eastwood is a good enough director to get great performances out of anybody, but my worry is that he may have sacrificed the effectiveness of the story by honoring the heroes too much in putting them in their own movie.

RAMPAGE (APRIL 20)

Honestly, there are only two ways for this movie to go; it could end up being really, really stupid or really, really awesome.  History is definitely not on it’s side, because there has been nothing but bad luck that has fallen every movie based on a video game to date.  Based on the classic arcade game of the same name, this movie has a giant gorilla, wolf and alligator battle each other in an urban setting, leaving unimaginable destruction in their path.  It seems like the least likely candidate for a big screen adaptation considering the simplicity of it’s premise, and yet the makers of this movie have somehow found a way to do it.  It still looks like generic monster movie mayhem that leaves little impression, but the movie does have some saving graces in it.  First and foremost, it does feature Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the lead, who as we have seen has managed to bring charm and charisma to even the most thankless of roles.  This movie also re-teams him with the director of the surprisingly non-sucky disaster flick San Andreas (2015), so this new collaboration could prove to be just as unexpectedly effective.  Chances are it won’t, but it may prove to be a movie just silly enough to be entertaining.  And if it succeeds at that, it will be light years better than pretty much every other video game movie that has ever been made.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

FIFTY SHADES FREED (FEBRUARY 9)

It’s unbelievable that we’ve been subjected to three of these movies, let alone one.  What makes me cringe even more than the subject matter is the audacity of the marketing campaign to proclaim that this is the “final chapter of the worldwide phenomenon.”  This is no Hunger Games.  It’s just a smut filled soap opera that treats it’s audience like idiots, while at the same time being brain-numbingly stupid as well.  Not since Twilight (2008) have we seen a studio so shamelessly exploit the popularity of it’s equally dumb source material in the laziest ways possible, just to titillate their target audience in the most blatant way.  There are no redeeming qualities in this series (except maybe in Dakota Johnson’s sometimes self-aware performance) and the only blessing we have now is that it is going to disappear from the cinemas forever after this trilogy caper.   But even still, I pity anyone who chooses this as a Valentine’s Day date movie.  This kind of shallow romanticism between two beautiful but naughty white people is becoming really boring fare at the box office.  Seek out something far more romantic like last year’s The Big Sick, which did such a better job of conveying romance on the big screen.  This one, and the others that came before it, are to romance what Transformers are to action; all gloss, no shine.

PETER RABBIT (FEBRUARY 9)

Don’t you hate that feeling when you see Hollywood take a beloved literary classic and try to jazz it up and make it hip and modern for what they think a contemporary will find more appealing.  That’s the feeling that I believe a lot of fans of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a mischievous rabbit are feeling right now as they see what Sony Pictures have done with Peter Rabbit.  This adaptation looks and feels nothing like the original story and instead portrays the classic character as party animal who rises up as the champion of his woodland friends.  The movie clearly misses the point of the original story, which is the hubris of the mischievous, over-confident rabbit, whose bad habits leads him into trouble with the fearsome Mr. McGregor.  Here, the movie puts him and McGregor (played by Domhnall Gleeson) at odds with hi-jinks more at place within a Home Alone movie.  This is clearly a movie aiming solely at younger audiences who obviously have little connection with the original story, and it just makes the whole thing exploitative as a result.  This story is beloved by people from many generations, and to see this film exploit the story for a lame set of pratfalls and sophomoric humor is quite the insult to their childhood memories.  Not to mention that the animation itself is really terrible, sacrificing charm for realistic textures, which add nothing to the appeal of the character.  This is why some stories are better left on the page.

RED SPARROW (MARCH 2)

There are a variety of factors working against this movie.  One, the femme fatale spy thriller genre seems to have fizzled out pretty quickly.  Everything we’ve seen from this short lived cinematic trend has been underwhelming and feeling like desperate The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) wannabes.  And given the disappointment of last year’s Atomic Blonde, it’s a sub-genre on it’s last legs, the like of which Red Sparrow seems little capable of redeeming.  Second of all, Jennifer Lawrence seems to be all wrong for this role.  She’s capable of holding her own in action flicks like The Hunger Games (2012) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), but for her to take on the role of a Russian ballerina turned rogue assassin, it seems like a bit of a stretch even for her.  The movie also looks very uninspired as a spy thriller, seeming far too derivative of visuals from better movies like Dragon Tattoo.  One thing that makes me see this movie as a wasted opportunity is the fact that the plot seems so similar to the comic book origins of Marvel’s Black Widow character.  I wonder if this script might have been served better if it had been re-purposed as an origin film for the popular Avenger, giving fans of the character the stand alone film that they’ve been longing to see.  Regardless, this movie carries little interest for me, and will probably leave the theaters quickly leaving the minimalist of impressions.

So, there you have my outlook on the upcoming months ahead.  It’s clear that the months of January, February, March and April are quickly becoming their own thing within Hollywood’s yearly cycle more than they ever have been before, and are no longer considered just an afterthought by the industry.  2018 is especially giving us a promising start to the year with what I have spotlighted in this article.  I especially want to see what Steven Spielberg has up his sleeve with his ambitious Ready Player One.  Also, Marvel’s Black Panther looks to keep their hot streak alive with it’s very impressive production.  It’s also neat to see so many movies coming from top tier talent like Clint Eastwood, Wes Anderson, and Alex Garland this early in the year, showing that we don’t have to wait until years end to see some prestige film-making.  My only hope is that the early part of the year doesn’t end up carrying the burden of leading into a disappointing summer, like what happened last year.  Let’s hope for the industry’s sake that 2018 marks a positive year for the industry in general, through all seasons.  In any case, I hope my guide has been helpful and that some of you will discover some worthwhile movies to watch in the months ahead.  It’s great to know that we no longer have to wait until the Summer and the Fall to see the best that Hollywood has to offer.

The Movies of Fall 2017

Another summer season for Hollywood is now in the books.  And with it, another indication of the kinds of trends that are defining the industry at this moment.  In general, there is a concern that box office is down across the board, as this was one of the quieter summer seasons on record.  But, at the same time, this was critically one of the most celebrated summer seasons in recent memory.  There were some critically panned turkeys this Summer, but there was a stretch near the middle of the summer where most of the new releases were getting the kind of glowing reviews that are normally reserved for Oscar season.  Certainly, we got that with Christopher Nolan’s new epic scale masterpiece, Dunkirk, but other recent releases like War for the Planet of the ApesBaby Driver, and a host of well received superhero films all managed to deliver both critically and at the box office.   But, what this summer also revealed was the changing tastes of the average movie goer.  Previous stalwarts of the industry like Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers showed serious signs of fatigue this year, as both franchises produced their lowest grossing entries yet.  The same was also true for marquee names like actor Tom Cruise (The Mummy) and Ridley Scott (Alien: Covenant).  What’s even more surprising though is the resilience of the Superhero genre.  At a time when serious concerns were being raised about Comic Book adaptations loosing their luster and impact, the genre not only bounced back, they had a banner year.  Marvel continued their hot streak with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, but I think everyone was more surprised by the fact that DC not only finally got one right this year, but also won the summer with their acclaimed cinematic debut of Wonder Woman.

With the summer over, it is now time to look ahead at the very anticipated fall season, with it’s own expected high expectations.  Here we have more tent-pole features, along with many anticipated independent oddities, as well as your usual Oscar-bait fare.  Like I do every year, I will be taking a look at a sampling of this Fall’s upcoming releases and choose among them what I think will be the must sees, the ones that have me worries, as well as the ones to skip.  A few of them are to be expected, but there are a few others that might surprise you.  I also want to stress that this is just my opinions based on my early impressions of these films based on their levels of hype and effectiveness of their marketing.  I have gotten some of these wrong before, but regardless, I try my best at handicapping the months ahead.  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the Movies of Fall 2017.

MUST SEES:

STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI (DECEMBER 15)

Once again, Star Wars is the year’s most anticipated release.  And with good reason.  The success of both The Force Awakens and Rogue One has propelled the franchise into the stratosphere these last couple years, and in many ways it was all just a warm up for this.  If history has proven anything, especially when it comes to Star Wars, it’s the middle chapter that becomes the most intriguing part of the story.  Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is still widely considered to be the crown jewel for the Star Wars franchise, and many believe that it’s still the high water mark for the series as a whole.  Just like how The Force Awakens took considerable inspiration from the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, many speculate that The Last Jedi will act as the spiritual successor to Empire; helping to raise the stakes and take the ongoing story into darker territory.  Whether or not it does that is the question, but there is still much to be excited about with this upcoming episode.  One, we see the return of Mark Hamill in the role of Luke Skywalker; not just relegated to a last minute cameo like he had in The Force Awakens, but a full integral role in this film.  We also will see the late Carrie Fisher in her final film role, with her scenes completed just shortly before her tragic untimely death last year.  And the further adventures of our new favorite characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Poe will be enough to make us all eager to see this.  Also, the fact that acclaimed director Rian Johnson (Looper) is given charge of this new chapter is also a positive sign, because he seems to be a perfect fit for this franchise.  Let’s just hope that all involved are able to deliver something special, and not be detered by the enormous pressure to live up to what has come before.  As long as the journey is worth it, we will always continue to return to that galaxy far, far away.

THOR: RAGNAROK (NOVEMBER 3)

And just like Star Wars, we have yet another Marvel feature to be excited about for the holidays.  The third entry in the Thor franchise sees the God of Thunder facing a challenge of a different kind, and that’s being stripped of everything that has made him what he is.  As we see in the trailer, he is cast out of his homeland, Asgard, by a powerful new enemy, Hela the Goddess of Death, who manages to destroy Mjolnir, the hammer which gives Thor much of his power.  In ancient Norse, the term Ragnarok literally means “the end of all things” and you would expect a film with that for a title would take on an apocalyptic and somber tone.  But, that’s not Marvel seems to have done.  Instead, Thor: Ragnarok is more colorful and humorous than any film we’ve seen in the series to date.  And this approach exemplifies exactly what has made Marvel so resilient as a film company.  It’s their ability to defy expectations, anticipate changing audience tastes and alter course when needed, all the while still going full steam ahead with their Cinematic Universe plans.  After complaints were made about the more somber second entry in the Thor series, 2013’s The Dark World, Marvel seemed to take that to heart and re-imagined what could have been a darker film into something much lighter.  Not that this film is going to feel out of place in the series.  If anything, it’s the shot in the arm that the series needed.  I like where this series is going with it’s more colorful direction.  Seeing Thor and the Hulk working together also has a lot of potential in the story.  And the addition of Cate Blanchett as the Goddess Hela is also worthy of the price of admission itself.  And if there’s anything clear we can see from this film so far, it’s that it’s far truer to it’s comic book origins than anything we’ve seen before from this series.

COCO (NOVEMBER 22)

Pixar, once the most dominant name in animation for over a decade, has fallen on hard times recently.  Sure, most of their movies still deliver at the box office, but they are not quite the critical darlings that they once were.  Many people have claimed that their abundance of sequels in recent years has ended up diluting the brand and alienated audiences.  It doesn’t help that the recent Cars 3 was one of the summer’s biggest flops.  So, how does it look for Pixar’s future going into their next feature.  The answer, so far, looks pretty good for them.  If there is one thing that Pixar still excels at, it’s the quality of their animation, and their new film Coco is quite a beauty.  Using the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos as their inspiration point, Pixar has crafted a very visually appealing film, both in it’s more subdued moments and in it’s more spectacular moments.  I got to glimpse some more extended scenes from this feature at Disney’s D23 Expo, and what I saw made me confident that Pixar has another winner on their hands.  The visual designs of the Land of the Dead alone are spectacular and I can’t wait to see them fully explored in the finished film.  The coming of age story for the young protagonist, Miguel, also is something that will give the movie a strong heart at it’s center.  My hope is that the failure of Cars 3 doesn’t loom large over this film, because I want Pixar’s brand to carry the same weight that it once did again.  There was a time when every new Pixar release became something to look forward to.  Hopefully, Coco will be the kind of Pixar movie that will make us excited once again to see what they’ll have for us next; even if it is a sequel to The Incredibles (2004).

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (SEPTEMBER 22)

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait too long for this.  The first film in this series, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), was a fun, irreverent surprise that kinda snuck under the radar and quickly became a cult hit.  This sequel seems to be doing what the best kinds of second chapters do and that’s to broaden the world in which these characters live in.  What I liked so much about the first movie was it’s world building.  Director Matthew Vaughn, taking his cue from Mark Millar’s comic series, presented this interesting look into this secret organization of suave, well-dressed killing machines and did so in a very exhilarating and tongue-in-cheek way.  It plays upon all the spy movie tropes, and manages to hilariously poke fun at them too.  This sequel takes it a step further, and introduces the Kingman to their counterparts across the pond; the American Statesmen.  This opens the door for so many possibilities for this franchise, both in terms of action and humor.  Vaughn, who has yet to make a movie that I didn’t enjoy watching on some level, did such a great job with the first Kingsman, and I’m very happy that he stuck around to create this follow-up.  I especially love his cast choices for the Statesmen; with Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, and Jeff Bridges seemingly perfect for these good-ol-boy archetypes.  Returning cast members Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth also look to be a lot of fun here.  And I’m really intrigued to see how Julianne Moore functions as the new big baddy for the Kingmen.  As long as it retains the same level of fun as the first Kingsman, I am definitely on board for this sequel.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (NOVEMBER 10)

This, for anyone wondering, is the little indie film that has me the most excited in the coming months.  There are plenty of other films from independent filmmakers with strong pedigrees that are coming in the months ahead, like Darren Aronofsky (Mother), Alexander Payne (Downsizing), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck), Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), and even an untitled one from Paul Thomas Anderson; many of which could end up on my best of the year list.  But this is the one that sticks out to me looking at the upcoming release calendar.  For one, it’s the third feature film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, whose last couple films, In Brudges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012) have been some of my favorite movies in the last decade.  Secondly, McDonagh’s style is so unique, in the way he builds his characters and constructs his plots, that it makes everything he does so unexpected.  I also enjoy the way he uses humor in his movies, often taking it to the extremes in terms of taste and use of graphic imagery.  Lastly, this premise seems so well suited for his sensibilities, and I am intrigued to see where he takes it.  With a grieving mother becoming so dissatisfied with the actions of law enforcement looking into the murder of her daughter that she in turn becomes a menace to society herself seems like a story that is ripe for so much humor and drama combined.  Frances McDormand especially looks to be in her element as the mother in question, and much of the best stuff in the trailer is seeing her be as pushy and offensive as possible.  McDonagh hasn’t let me down yet, and I hope that he has delivered another quirky masterpiece this Fall.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (OCTOBER 6)

Sometimes a movie should just stand on it’s own, instead of sparking an ongoing franchise.  What made Blade Runner (1982) such a beloved film over the years was the fact that it was unlike anything else we had seen before or since.  Ridley Scott’s futuristic neo-Noir is still regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever made and has over time been regarded as one of the best films ever as well, to some.  Needless to say, making a sequel 35 years after the fact would seem to be a big risk to take, and yet that’s what we’re getting in little over a month.  Thankfully, the movie has a solid team behind it.  It’s being directed by Denis Villeneuve, who after making Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016) back to back, is on somewhat of a hot streak and this kind of project seems to be in capable hands with him.  The film also stars heavyweight like Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto in new roles, while also bringing back original star Harrison Ford to reprise his iconic role as Rick Deckard.  Also, Ridley Scott is helping to guide the project along as producer, giving the whole thing his seal of approval.  And yet, even still, there is a worry that this film may not live up to the lofty expectations that it’s predecessor has set.  It’s hard to make a sequel to what many regard as a masterpiece, especially so many years after.  Blade Runner was also a product of it’s time, and it’s going to be hard to take it’s visual and tonal aesthetic and make it appeal to a whole different generation.  But then again, maybe I underestimate the talent behind this project.  My hope is that this is a long awaited sequel that doesn’t reflect badly on it’s predecessor and ruins 35 years of legacy that it has built up.  At the very least, it does already look very pretty, but then again most copies tend to be.

JUSTICE LEAGUE (NOVEMBER 17)

This should have been the movie that was going to be the most anticipated release of the year.  But, due to a mismanaged launch of the DC Cinematic Universe, there is a lot less certainty surrounding this flick.  Thankfully, Justice League is coming off the the heels of the critically acclaimed box office smash that was Wonder Woman, DC’s first real winner in their Cinematic Universe plan, and people are finally now hopeful that things are turning around for the League.  Unfortunately, this is still a Zack Snyder-directed feature, and his previous flick Batman v. Superman proved to be a low point for DC.  Yeah, I know that Joss Whedon was brought in late to do re-shoots after Snyder dropped out for personal reasons, but for the most part, this will still be the work of one of Hollywood’s most divisive filmmakers.  The pleasing thing to see in this movie is a more humorous tone with the character interactions, coming especially from Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash.  I also like the renewed focus on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, which is not surprising seeing as how she has single-handedly saved the DC Universe this summer at the box office.  But, at the same time, the trailers might be showing us all the humor there is in the film, and the rest will still be the messy Zach Snyder overkill that sunk BvS.  The visual aesthetic still seems too dour for a comic book movie, and there’s still a heavy presence of over-the-top CGI mayhem.  But, Wonder Woman indicated that DC might have learned some lessons and that hopefully extends over into Justice League.  Given that a lot is riding on this new film for everything that is to follow with DC comic adaptations going forward, let’s hope that those lessons took hold, and quick.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (NOVEMBER 10)

On the surface, this looks like a film that seems to have it all.  A prestigious director, a dream all-star cast, lavish production value, and a literary source that is acclaimed as one of the greatest novels of it’s kind.  But, at the same time, I feel like this movie almost seems to be too good to be true.  This may be due to the very awkward way that it is being marketed.  Establishing all the main characters in one long shot is an interesting visual idea, but the use of pop song to underscore the trailer (Imagine Dragon’s Believer) comes off as a little bit pandering.  It’s as if the makers of this film are worried that younger audiences won’t find anything interesting about this Agatha Christie mystery.  The movie also has the disadvantage of being a remake, or at least not the first go around with this material.  Sidney Lumet directed a famous Oscar-winning version back in 1974, with an equally impressive all-star cast as well.  So, Kenneth Branagh’s new version in general has the handicap of being seen as too old-fashioned and too familiar to ever appeal to modern audiences.  And yet, even still, this has some potential to be a worthwhile film in the end.  Branagh is no slouch as a director, and he has assembled a great cast here; including Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, and Penelope Cruz just to name a few.  And the production values do seem top quality from the trailer.  I just wish that the marketing behind it didn’t have to resort to deceptive pandering tricks in order to bring a wider audience.  The mystery is good enough on it’s own to warrant attention.

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (SEPTEMBER 22)

Sometimes there is such an issue as too much of a good thing.  In the last couple of years, Warner Brothers Animation and the Lego Company have defied expectations, and have crafted not one but too movies around the plastic toy bricks that have defied expectations.  Both The Lego Movie (2014) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017) have hit their mark, and become instant classics as both comedies and as animated adventures.  Now, we are getting our third Lego feature and it hopes to carry on the goodwill that it’s predecessors have already built up.  But, there lies a problem.  Is this too much too soon for the Lego franchise?  It was only a couple months ago that we got the Lego Batman Movie, which doesn’t give us a lot of time to digest on that before the next course comes in.  The other problem is that unlike Batman, the rest of the world is not as familiar with the Ninjago brand from Lego.  This movie could have an identity problem as some audiences could be confused as to how this film fits in with the other two.  So far, the Lego franchise has benefited from it’s clever sense of humor and exceptional animation style, but unless this new feature adds anything new to the mix, it may end up leaving audiences cold and tired of the franchise as a whole.  And that’s not good for a series that was just beginning to win over a lot of new fans.  My hope is that it lives up to the two previous Lego movies, but if not, it will be a prime example for Hollywood to not count all their chickens before they’re hatched.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (DECEMBER 25)

You just know from looking at a movie that it’s not going to live up to the sum of it’s ambitions.  That seems to be the case with this overblown musical retelling of the life of circus founder P. T. Barnum.  Barnum is a fascinating figure, but I don’t think that this lavish, reverential musical is the way to put the controversial showman into perspective.  Also this musical just feels too overproduced for it’s own good.  This kind of musical is the thing that would have worked a decade ago in the wake of such film musicals as Moulin Rouge (2001) and Chicago (2002), but now seems to be out of style once again after the success of La La Land (2016).  What La La Land did was to modernize the classic musical, and work it into a contemporary story of lost love and broken dreams set against the backdrop of unforgiving life on the outskirts of Hollywood.  It subverted the genre while at the same time reinventing it.  The Greatest Showman seems to be a holdover from a pre-La La Land era that showed up a little too late to be relevant on it’s own.  Ironically, it shares the same songwriters as La La Land, which may be the only thing going for it.  Otherwise, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot here that could turn out to be interesting.  We know that both of it’s stars, Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron can sing, but it might be a musical that wastes their good talent.  Also, given that Circuses are on the outs right now, with Barnum’s own show closing shop after a century, this is not the ideal time for this movie.

FLATLINERS (SEPTEMBER 29)

Here’s a movie with no illusions as to what it will eventually be; it just looks dumb as hell.  And not in a redeeming way.  A remake of a rather forgettable 1990 thriller from Joel Schumacher, this movie seems purely intended to bring in the millennial crowd and throw a bunch of jump scares their way.  Setting aside the ridiculous premise, this movie just seems indistinguishable from many other like minded thrillers, and like so many of them thinks that it is more thrilling than it actually is.  The presence of good actors like Ellen Page and Diego Luna in the cast doesn’t help much either, because they both look disinterested here.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a paycheck role for most of the cast.  It’s the kind of movie that just gets made by Hollywood in order to keep this forgotten title and premise alive (ironically speaking) and out of some cinematic purgatory.  The original may have some cult following, but I doubt any of those fans are clamoring for an update to the original.  It was silly then, it continues to be silly now.

DEATH WISH (NOVEMBER 22)

Speaking of ill-advised Hollywood remakes, we get this new take on a 70’s Charles Bronson action thriller.  The original Death Wish was a product of it’s time, when inner-city crime was viewed as a nationwide epidemic, fermented by unfair economic divisions and widespread corruption on the part of law enforcement.  In that era, the late 1970’s, it was conceivable that a character like Paul Kersey would emerge, taking the law into his own hands when the old law could no longer be trusted.  But, that was then; this is now.  In an era when gun violence and tensions between cops and civilians are dominating the headlines, this kind of premise of an honorable vigilante is not just dated, but discouraged with good reason.   Remaking this movie now is not just a bad idea, it’s kind of reckless.  The last thing we should be doing is romanticizing the idea of this kind of character, because doing so can lead to many other people thinking that they need to enact their own sense of “justice” their own way, and that’s the kind of thing that can lead to some very bad consequences.  For the most part, it just looks like the film was made to exploit an old franchise and give a starring role to Bruce Willis that fits his own patented persona.  But, given how times have changed, this isn’t the kind of story that will play just as well in our current state of affairs.

So, there you have a brief outlook at the months ahead.  What excites me the most is seeing how the Oscar race shapes up by years end.  There are a lot of usual suspects from some of our most acclaimed filmmakers, but the ones I enjoy the best are the little surprises that come out of nowhere.  I’m sure that no one expected a little seen indie that was dumped into theaters in late October last year called Moonlight would walk away as Best Picture the following Spring.  I’m sure the Academy itself didn’t even expect that.  It’s unexpected things like that which makes the Fall movie season so interesting.  It’s where everything comes into focus and indicates to us just how the year will be defined cinematically.  So far, the year has been pretty good, if not record breaking at the box office.  The Spring proved to be surprisingly strong, and despite a sluggish start with duds like Alien: Covenant and The Mummy, the Summer also gave us a lot to be happy about.  I’m sure one thing that will talked about for a long time is how Wonder Woman broke all the rules of Hollywood and set a new high standard for DC in the competitive Super Hero market, but also opened the door for female filmmakers in general, showing that they are just as capable of delivering spectacular results with bigger budgets.  My hope is that the Fall season continues to deliver solid entertainment that’s well in line with what has come before.  2017 may have seen a dip in box office, but that’s not a sign of bad quality.  It’s been a good year in general from an entertainment standpoint, and my hope is that the rest of the year doesn’t let us down.

The Movies of Summer 2017

With a week to go before the Summer movie season gets underway, it makes sense to look over the year so far to see what the upcoming months will have to follow up on.  This year’s Winter and Spring movie seasons have been remarkably strong, both critically and financially.  Usually associated as being Hollywood’s dumping ground, we saw the early months of 2017 marked with some surprising quality efforts from unlikely places.  We got a shocking twist upfront when M. Night Shaymalan finally made a movie that everyone liked with Split.  Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame made a remarkable directorial debut with his controversial thriller Get Out, which earned raves upon release that are usually reserved for Oscar nominated fare.  The Lego Batman Movie gave us even more hilarious fun with it’s plastic brick built world.  There was also solid thrills in movies like John Wick 2  and Kong: Skull Island and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was given an effective sendoff in the acclaimed Logan.  Ironically, the movie I liked the least from the first half of this year ended up being the highest grossing overall; the still loathsome Beauty and the Beast remake from Disney, which has grossed over a billion worldwide as of this writing.  Overall, it’s a solid start to the year, and one hopes that the upcoming summer season, where Hollywood makes room for their big guns, manages to keep the momentum going.  Like years before, I will be looking at the months ahead and tell you which movies are my Must Sees, the movies that have me worried, and the ones that I recommend you skip entirely.  Keep in mind, these are just my initial thoughts about the movies based on my expectations and how I respond to their marketing.  There could be some surprises and/or disappointments out there, and I admit that I’m not the best handicapper.  So, with that, let’s look at the Summer of 2017.

MUST SEES:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (MAY 5)

Let’s start this look at the summer by spotlighting how it’s going to begin.  Again, Marvel Studios is showing that they own this opening spot in the month of May, which has been so lucrative for them before with blockbusters like both AvengersIron Man (2008), and Captain America: Civil War (2016).  This year, they are launching the Summer with the sequel to one of their absolute best films.  Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a surprise hit when it debuted, taking a relatively obscure comic and turning it into a phenomenom thanks to a stellar directorial effort from James Gunn and star making performances from it’s cast.  The same team returns intact to take on another adventure, and the trailers are promising us more of the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Guardians stands out from the rest of the Marvel field and it’s strengths are worth elaborating on in a sequel, including stuff like hilarious banter between the characters, colorful worlds to explore, and a world-class retro soundtrack.  I’m especially excited to see the new faces added to the mix, especially the perfectly cast Kurt Russell as the father of Guardian member Peter “Star-Lord” Quill.  Making a sequel to such a beloved first outing is going to be difficult no matter what, with everyone’s expectations now up so high.  I have faith that James Gunn, Christ Pratt and the rest can pull off something special with this.  Even if it’s not as good as the first, most of us will still appreciate it if it at least leaves us entertained.  And one thing’s for sure, that Baby Groot is going to be everywhere this Summer, so buy those toys now before they’re gone.  Marvel’s win streak should comfortably continue with these Guardians in place.

DUNKIRK (JULY 21)

Christopher Nolan’s name at this point in his career is synonymous with the word “epic.”  Every film he makes now is big in scale and scope, and it’s to his credit that he continually focuses his vision onto many varied subjects, giving solid diversity to his body of work.  He revolutionized the super hero genre with his Dark Knight trilogy;  he explored the cosmos with Interstellar (2014); and he even delved into the endless possibilities within the human mind with Inception (2010).  With his newest film, however, he’s doing something very different, and that’s giving us a historical account of a harrowing event from World War II.  The Siege of Dunkirk is an interesting subject for Christopher Nolan to take on, though one that you would hardly expect.  The real life story is not one that’s about conflict, but instead about survival.  Half a million British soldiers were surrounded by German forces, trapped in the titular coastal town with the sea as their only window of escape.  Miraculously, most of the soldiers made it to safety in one of the greatest rescue efforts in modern history.  The scale of the event is probably what drew Nolan to the project, providing another opportunity for him to work with large format cinematography such as IMAX, which he’s used to great effect before.  My hope is that, like most of his other films before, he manages to balance the human emotion amidst all the spectacle.  More than anything, I’m just intrigued to see a director of his caliber working within this kind of genre.  This is sure to be one of the most epic scale war films ever made, and my hope is that it also stands as one of the best.  Anytime Christopher Nolan stands behind the camera, it signifies something eventful; something which few directors can do nowadays.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (JULY 7)

I know that a lot of you out there are probably sick of Spider-Man movies by now, especially now that it’s going into it’s second revival after the previous one fell flat.  But, the truth is, this may actually be the first “real” Spider-Man movie we’ll have seen on the big screen; not one that’s made by outside studio forces, but a true honest to goodness adaptation of the comics from Marvel themselves.  After getting the rights to the character back from Sony in a profit sharing deal, Marvel has quickly worked the webslinger into their Cinematic Universe, and he managed to already delight audiences again with his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War.  Now, with his own film, Marvel is making the smart decision to not go all the way back to the beginning and start with another origin story, instead choosing to create a new story with an already established Spider-Man.  Tom Holland returns, and he looks to be just as charismatic here as he was in Civil War.  It works to the films benefit that here we’re finally seeing an actual teenage Peter Parker that’s truer to the comics than the late-20’s actors who have stepped into the role before.  The inclusion of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony “Iron Man” Stark is also a great inclusion for this film.  But, what makes me most excited is the casting of Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture.  What a casting coup for Marvel, managing to to get cinema’s first Batman and having him cross the aisle, away from DC, to play a Spider-Man villain.  That alone is worth seeing, and Keaton looks so perfectly menacing in the part.  Overall, it should indeed be a very welcome homecoming for Marvel’s friendly neighborhood webslinger.

DETROIT (AUGUST 4)

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have had a pretty good and lucrative collaboration over the last decade.  They both won Oscars for their landmark war drama The Hurt Locker (2009); a historic win in Bigelow’s case.  They then followed that up with a comprehensive historical account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), an acclaimed and cntroversial film in it’s own right.  Now, the two have turned their attention to another interesting subject; the 1968 riots that tore apart the city of Detroit during one of the most heated periods of the Civil Rights movement.  Bigelow’s intense, documentary like style could be a great fit for this subject, putting us right into the thick of the event, helping us to see what it was like to live through such a moment in time.  Not only that, but with the tumultuous time that we are living in now politically, and with tensions between civilians and law enforcement growing even higher, this could be a very timely history lesson as well.  My hope is that Bigelow and Boal applies their no-nonsense style of story-telling to this subject and gives us a captivating and intense experience, allowing us to see an unfiltered look at American history.  The inclusion of Star Wars‘ John Boyega as a central character also looks promising, as the up-and-coming actor is due for a quality lead role outside of the big franchsie.  Historical films usually are a hard sell during the summer; especially ones that take on such a touching subject matter.  But, this one looks to be in some capable hands.

BABY DRIVER (JUNE 28)

Another director who manages to garner attention every time he puts a new movie out is Edgar Wright.  After a disappointing development cycle on the movie Ant-Man, where he famously parted ways with Marvel over creative differences, Wright returns with a new spin on the heist genre.  Instead of relying on his usual collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to fill out the cast, he’s instead going in a different direction, working with a largely American cast and focusing far more on an action style rather than a comedic one.  Sure, it’s still carries some of Wright’s trademark sense of humor, but what this movie is also showcasing is an added sense of creativity in the action set pieces.  This is Edgar Wright moving beyond the realm of parody and finding new footing in the high octane action world; an area that he may actually prove to be a natural at.  While he is trying new things, my hope is that some of Edgar Wright’s trademark visual flair, which he refined throughout his Cornetto trilogy, manages to translate over, and this stylish trailer has me believing that it did.  The supporting cast in this film also looks impressive, with Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm making an impression as two seasoned criminals, and Kevin Spacey as always commanding the spotlight whenever he’s on screen.  Hopefully the fresher faced leads (Ansel Elgort and Lily James) can hold their own against these veterans.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see Edgar Wright work out of his element in a promising new field of film-making.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

WONDER WOMAN (JUNE 2)

To be honest, I am cautiously optimistic about this one.  Sure, DC has been not very effective in launching their ambitious cinematic universe.  Batman v. Superman; Dawn of Justice was a convoluted mess, and Suicide Squad, while not a terrible film, did alienate DC even more from comic book fans with it’s messy execution.  Now, with Justice League on the horizon, DC desperately needs a solid hit in their stable, hitting the mark with both fans and critics.  And believe me, a lot of us want this to go well, because Wonder Woman is a superhero you don’t want to see cinematic-ally ruined.  On the plus side, Gal Gadot’s appearance as the titular hero in Batman v. Superman was one of that movie’s more positive aspects, and it did make me interested in seeing a full feature devoted to the character.  The trailers so far have done a fine job showing off the spectacle of Wonder Woman’s world, from the sumptuous locals of her island paradise home to the murky war zones of Europe during the Great War.  My hope is that the film manages to escape the studio interference that plagued it’s two predecessors and manages to define itself by it’s own merits.  This will be the first time that a female superhero has been featured in her own film, something that DC managed to do first before Marvel, so a lot is at stake with how well this feature performs.  Again, DC’s track record of late has tampered down many of our expectations, but hopefully this will be the film that finally rights the ship for DC.  Otherwise, the Justice League they’ve been so eager to form will be doomed before it even starts.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (MAY 26)

Fourteen years ago, Disney did the unthinkable and managed to turn a film based on one of their theme park attractions into a box office and critical success.  Largely thanks to Johnny Depp’s charismatic performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, we had one of the unlikliest of franchise born.  Unfortunately, it’s a franchise that also has lost a lot of it’s luster.  The two follow-up sequels (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, which were shot simultaneously) did succeed at the box office, but were considered too convoluted in their plots to be considered better than the first film.  2011’s On Stranger Tides brought the franchise even lower, feeling unnecessary and frankly rather boring as a whole.  Now, Captain Jack returns for what might be one final gasp to save this tired franchise.  There is some hope behind this film project.  Acclaimed Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who won raves for their sea based adventure Kon-Tiki (2012), have taken over the reigns of this franchise, and have promised to put more emphasis on in camera stunts over CGI extravagance.  The casting of Javier Bardem as the villainous Captain Salazar is also a good thing, and I’m pleased to see Geoffrey Rush returning as my favorite character in the series, Barbosa.  On the other hand, Depp’s schtick as Jack Sparrow may have worn out it’s welcome over the years, and it might be time to put the character finally to rest.  I hope that this is an adventure worth taking, but my worry is that it’s one ride that no longer thrills.

ALIEN: COVENANT (MAY 19)

Ridley Scott has certianly never been a director to rest on his laurels.  Even into his late 70’s, he is still continuing to churn out film after film, working in all sorts of different genres.  His new feature finds him on familiar ground, returning to the franchise that he helped to launch back in 1979 with the iconic Alien.  In 2012, he tackled the franchise again, only this time exploring the origins behind the titular monster with Prometheus.  Prometheus received a mixed reception from fans and critics, some calling it too self-indulgent and not exciting enough to carry the Alien franchise into another chapter.  I for one was okay with the movie; it was neither a franchise highlight, nor was it one of it’s lowpoints.  It was a perfectly serviceable sci-fi picture.  Scott returns now with what is possibly meant to be the linking piece between Alien and Prometheus in Alien: Covenant.  My worry however is that after the two previous films, is there anything left for Scott to explore with this franchise.  It seems like this movie is just retreading the same things we’ve seen before; watching each of the cast members being picked off one by one by the dreaded Xenomorph.  It was terrifying in the first Alienwhen Scott was breaking new ground, creating genuine scares that would influence a whole generation.  Now, with too many tools at his disposal, I don’t know if Scott can do that again.  At least he was able to let the atmosphere make Prometheus stand on it’s own.  With Covenant, it just feels like we’ve seen this all before.

CARS 3 (JUNE 16)

It pains me to have to put low expectations on something from the Pixar studio, but I am less optimistic about their entry this summer.  Truth be told, I thought the first film in the Cars franchise was a pretty good flick.  Not Pixar’s best, but still a pleasing feature with a unique visual aesthetic.  Unfortunately, Cars 2 holds the distinction of being Pixar’s first real failure.  After a decade of nothing but glorious raves for all their movies, Cars 2 was panned across the board as both visually and narratively lackluster.  The main problem is that it took the focus away from the first film’s central character Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and shifted it to the obnoxious supporting character Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), putting him into a nonsensical spy movie plot.  It seems that the filmmakers recognized the faults of the previous movie, and have sought to right the course of the series by putting Lightning McQueen back into the spotlight, but is it really necessary any more.  It felt like his character arc was complete in the first film, so I don’t see what more they need to do with this franchise.  My guess is that they’re going for a “one last hurrah” kind of story-line with this one, which to be honest may not be so bad for this series.  It makes more sense than Mater the Spy from Cars 2.  My hope is that Pixar doesn’t drop the ball with this one like they did the second time around, but again, maybe this is a franchise that’s better left off the track.  For a studio as groundbreaking as Pixar, their efforts are placed elsewhere than trying to put a new coat of paint on a busted old car.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (JUNE 23)

For some crazy reason, Michael Bay’s increasingly moronic and over-stuffed Transformers franchise still manages to keep going.  Sure the franchise made a little improvement with the last film by swapping out Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, who is far more likable, but that was the only positive in the bloated mess that was Age of Extinction (2014).  The franchise now reaches it’s fifth entry, and I am struggling to find anything left worth caring for in this series.  The franchise resembles the original source cartoon and toy line very little now, and it still annoys me that the Transformers themselves are little more than supporting characters in a movie that’s supposed to be about them.  What we’ve gotten instead is Michael Bay throwing every cinematic indulgence that fits his fancy, and it makes all of his movies (especially these ones) nothing but convoluted messes.  What astonishes me about this one, however, is that he managed to wrangle in Anthony Hopkins for a role in the movie.  Hopkins, who is arguably one of the greatest actors of his generation, is too good to be in something like this, so I don’t know what kind of magic Michael Bay worked to bring him on board.  It might just be interesting to see how Sir Anthony does in this feature, but if it means that I’ll have to sit through nearly three hours of Michael Bay overkill just to get to his scenes, I don’t think it will be worth the effort.

THE MUMMY (JUNE 9)

In another desperate attempt to formulate a cinematic universe on the level of Marvel’s multi-franchise success, Universal Pictures has dug into their collection of movie monsters to build a collective universe around, to not as expected results.  Their first attempt was the very bland Dracula origin story, Dracula Untold (2014), which released to indifference with audiences and critics.  Now, it’s the Mummy’s turn to generate some heat in order to make their universe plans come to fruition.  The makers of this film did manage to land Tom Cruise is a key lead role, as well as Russell Crowe in the role of Dr. Jekyll (yeah, Jekyll meets the Mummy; wrap your head around that logic), but it doesn’t make the film feel any more interesting.  Like Dracula Untold, this movie just feels more like a studio mandate than an actual interesting story worth telling.  I think that it is worth revisiting The Mummy as a story again, but when it’s tied to this cynical cash grab attempt by a studio, it feels less exciting overall.  I would rather see something artistic done with the Mummy character, like a period piece or a more straight-foward horror remake.  This just feels bland, boring, and a waste of time.

THE EMOJI MOVIE (JULY 28)

Proof that not every cultural fad needs to be turned into a movie.  Now, truth be told, people scoffed at the idea of The Lego Movie (2014), and that film turned out to be a classic.  But, what benefited Lego was a witty script that did a brilliant job of entertaining while never feeling like a feature length commercial, effectively just turning the product into a cinematic tool rather than a marketing one.  This, however, looks to be nothing like that.  I’d say that The Emoji Movie has more in common with the recent Angry Birds movie from 2016, which felt like a rushed film project made to purely capitalize on a cultural craze while it was still popular.  I honestly don’t know where they can go with this project, and the trailer only indicates to me that all this movie is going to do is present a trivial story with a steady string of obvious visual puns.  Of course, visual puns are what emoji’s are all about, but no one wants to see a feature length film that does that.  Better to delete this unnecessary film out of any and all conversations in the future.

So, there you have my outlook on the Summer months ahead.  I’ll be sure to give you my thoughts on the big titles as the season goes along, starting with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which I plan to review next week.  Hopefully all my must sees are worthy of the hype surrounding them, but also I would like to see a few of the ones that worry me exceed my expectations and end up being better than I anticipated.  I’m pretty confident about where all these movies stand, but there have been years in the past when I’ve been way off.  In any case, my hope is that the movies this summer not only perform well, but actually stand out as exceptional cinematic achievements as well.  We’ve already seen some strong showings from the opening months of this year, so 2017 is already off to a good start.  I absolutely want to be dazzled by Marvel’s expanding cinematic universe with Guardians and Spider-Man, as well blown away by Christopher Nolan’s unparalleled vision with Dunkirk, and be genuinely entertained by new efforts from the likes of Edgar Wright and Ridley Scott.  At the same time, my hope is that some of the smaller fare this summer manages to shine through as well.  It’s always worthwhile to see the next Ex Machina (2015) or Swiss Army Man (2016) shine through amidst all the noise of the summer season.  In any case, I hope all of you have as much fun at the movies this Summer as I will.  Let’s hope that all of us won’t be disappointed in the end.

The 2017 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

With the contentious year of 2016 behind us now, we finally come to this final week of Awards season, with the Academy Awards handed out on Sunday; putting a final statement on the year that was, cinematically speaking.  There was some good things to come out of this awards season.  After two years of controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in the artists and films nominated for the top awards, this year’s Oscars ended up being one of the most diverse in recent memory.  Four of the nine Best Picture nominees centers on characters of color, and each of the acting categories features at least one non-white actor among the nominees; three alone in the supporting actress category.  There was also the interesting inclusion of Mel Gibson, recognized in the Best Director category for his film Hacksaw Ridge, after years of being shunned by the rest of the Hollywood community for his previous toxic behavior.  But, if there has been a dominant story throughout this whole Awards season, it would be everything La La Land.  The Damien Chazelle directed musical has steamrolled through this season, seemingly untouchable in it’s front-runner status from the moment it first premiered.  When the nominations were announced in January, La La Land made history by tying All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) for the most nominations ever at 14 total.  Depending on how the ceremony goes in a couple days, the movie could have a viable shot at breaking the record for most wins as well, although that could be a tall order for such an independent film.  Like previous years, I will share my picks and thoughts over the top categories of screenwriting, acting, directing, and Best Picture, and tell you who I believe will win, and who I think should win.  So, let’s shine up those Golden Boys and look at this year’s nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water); Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Mike Mills (20th Century Women)

I should point out that one of my picks for the worst films of 2016 is represented here (The Lobster) and thankfully it has no shot in winning, so we can quickly dismiss that one.  This category basically comes down to three top choices.  Taylor Sheridan is currently one of screenwriting’s rising stars, with his nominated script for Hell or High Water coming hot off the heels of his celebrated work on last year’s Sicario (2015).  His screenplay for High Water is a beautifully restrained portrait of the underbelly of the modern American frontier, and features some of the year’s most memorable characters as well.  But, Sheridan’s script is overshadowed this year by the more favored films that are also vying for dominance in the Best Picture category.  If this category is any indicator for how the night will go, Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for La La Land could ride the sweeping wave and add to that movie’s stellar awards total.  But, that’s only if La La Land has the momentum on it’s side, and that could be dying down after too much hype from the last month or so.  If La La Land doesn’t win this category, then the most likely winner would be Kenneth Lonergan for his tone perfect screenplay for Manchester by the Sea.  Lonergan is a highly regarded screenwriter, but he’s never won up to now, so this might be his long anticipated victory year.  And it would be a deserving win, because I don’t think any other script this year was as precisely tuned and full of sweet surprises.  If anything stands in La La Land’s way, it will be this veteran’s long overdue triumph.

Who Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Who Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Eric Heisserer (Arrival); August Wilson (Fences); Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures); Luke Davies (Lion); Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

This is an interesting category this year, because every screenplay here ended up becoming a nominee for Best Picture.  And with La La Land and Manchester by the Sea dominating in the Original category, this one is far less predictable.  August Wilson took the unenviable task of re-imagining his stage play for the big screen with Fences, but the end result proved to be surprisingly effective.  Eric Heisserer’s Arrival is the most cerebral of the nominees here, but it’s also the one that is perhaps too restrained for it’s own good.  Luke Davies’ Lion is emotional, but inconsistent.  And the Hidden Figures screenplay is an engaging, if perhaps too conventional for this category.  Which leaves the screenplay for Moonlight, which very much looks like the front-runner here.  The only thing that might stand in it’s way is the often unconventional structure of it, and the fact that it leaves a few things unresolved by the end.  But, judging it against the others, it’s those imperfections that make it the far more exciting script in this category.  No other screenplay here or in the other category is as daring as Moonlight.  It’s subject matter is unique and relevant, and it features some of the most elegant character development we’ve seen all year.  The fact that it doesn’t restrict itself to conventional screenwriting standards helps it to stand out from the bunch, and that’s why it is deserving of the award.  The story behind the script also helps to elevate it’s status, as it was a passion project for many years for director Barry Jenkins, who poured years into the writing of this screenplay.  It’s the little indie movie that could, and the kind of success story that Hollywood loves to award.

Who will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences); Naomie Harris (Moonlight); Nicole Kidman (Lion); Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures); Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Of all the acting categories this year, this is the one that is pretty much a lock.  Viola Davis, a much beloved actress of film, theater and television is almost certain to win this award on Oscar night, and it will be an award that’s very well deserved.  Her performance is heartbreaking and powerful in the film Fences; more than holding her own against Denzel Washington and then some.  But, her front runner status here has become somewhat controversial because many people view her role in Fences as more of a lead role rather than a supporting one, making it seem unfair to relegate her to the supporting category.  It’s a complaint that I see a lot of validity to, because not only is putting her performance in the supporting column here minimizing a performance that honestly could hold it’s own in the Best Actress category and give Ms. Davis an even higher honor for the year, but putting her in this category makes it unfair for the other nominees, whose performances are more traditionally of the supporting kind, and likewise feel much smaller to hers by comparison.  But, that’s Oscar politics for you.  The studio submitted Viola for the supporting actress category because they believe it will give her an easier road to victory, and it looks very much like that will be the case.  Of all the remaining nominees, the one performance that could spoil Davis’ night could be Michelle Williams for her short but sweet performance in Manchester by the Sea.  The always reliable Williams has one scene in particular that is particularly emotionally raw and captivating, and any other year it would have assured her an Oscar win.  But, if Viola Davis doesn’t win this year, it will be the night’s biggest upset.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Who Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight); Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water); Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea); Dev Patel (Lion); Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

This category is also facing the same complaints as the supporting actress category.  Dev Patel’s nomination for the film Lion seems oddly placed in the Supporting category, especially since he is the lead in that particular film.  However, unlike Viola Davis in the Supporting Actress category, Patel is not a favorite in his own field, despite giving a deserving performance.  The category as a whole is actually a pretty competitive one.  Jeff Bridges may be the least likely to win, mainly because he’s the only past winner, and the performance is more or less a parody of himself (albeit a great one).  I’m really happy to see one of my favorite character actors, Michael Shannon, nominated this year, as he is often criminally under-appreciated in Hollywood.  And Lucas Hedges delivered a solid, star-making role in Manchester by the Sea, though a win for the first timer is highly unlikely.  No, the winner this year is looking more and more likely to be Mahershala Ali for his standout performance in Moonlight.  Ali, who has had a solid year overall with starring roles on critically acclaimed TV shows like House of Cards and Luke Cage, and supporting appearances in movies like Hidden Figures, has the momentum based on a body of work to back up his performance in the movie.  The acting in Moonlight is solid from top to bottom, but it’s Mahershala who stands out as the drug dealer turned surrogate father for the film’s main character.  Even though it is brief, his presence is felt throughout the film, even when he’s not there anymore.  Hollywood loves these kinds of powerful performances, and it’s enough to make Ali stand out from the field.

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert (Elle); Ruth Negga (Loving); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Emma Stone (La La Land); Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

The odds makers are looking at Emma Stone as the favorite in this category.  Her singing and dancing performance certainly shows her versatility as a performer, and it’s that kind of varied role that the Academy responds very strongly to.  At the same time, in between the singing and dancing, Emma doesn’t really do any more stretching as an actor.  The character is more or less close to her own persona, or at least the kind of character she usually plays in most movies.  I thought she showed more passion in her nominated performance from Birdman (2014) a couple of years ago.  Not to say she is terrible in La La Land, nor undeserving.  I’m just not so certain about her front-runner status.  Certainly, it’s better than Meryl Streep’s nominated performance.  Sometimes the Academy honors Mrs. Streep for some especially stellar work, and then other years, it seems like she’s shoehorned in just so they can throw more glory her way.  The latter seems to be true this year, especially considering other actresses like Amy Adams were left out.  But, even despite my gripes, Emma Stone looks to benefit from the momentum that La La Land is enjoying this awards season.  Of the nominees here, I think the strongest performance actually came from the most reserved nominee, Ruth Negga, whose tender performance in Loving is one that sadly has gone unheralded.  Another thing I would like to see is veteran actress Isabelle Huppert receive an award, given her very challenging role in the French thriller Elle.  Tough call, but my wish is to see underdog Negga come away a champion here, even though it looks like a near lock for Stone.

Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Who Should Win: Ruth Negga, Loving

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea); Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge); Ryan Gosling (La La Land); Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic); Denzel Washington (Fences)

At the start of the race, Casey Affleck looked like a clear favorite in this category for his pained and emotional performance in Manchester by the Sea.  And it’s a front-runner status that I completely agree with.  Of all the nominees, Affleck gave the best performance of the year.  It’s rich, heartfelt, and feels 100 percent authentic, which is a hard trick to pull off even for the best actors out there.  Unfortunately, Casey’s personal life has gotten him into trouble recently, and it’s the kind of controversy that casts a dark cloud over the fine acting that he does.  With accusations of abuse leveled on him only weeks before the awards, it has led many to believe that the Academy might shun his nomination and vote for another nominee in order to avoid any blow-back their way.  But, if they do so, I think it would be the wrong move.  Affleck’s work should stand on it’s own, and if it is indeed the best performance of these nominees, then it should be recognized as such.  It wouldn’t be the first time someone with a questionable personal life has been honored by the academy (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen).  But, it appears that the once sure thing for Affleck is now fading away, and one of the other nominees now has a better shot at winning.  My guess is that veteran Denzel Washington has the best opportunity to come away a winner here; picking up his third career Oscar, and sharing one alongside Viola Davis in the same film.  Ryan Gosling could also sneak in, if La La Land‘s night goes better than expected.  But, one of two things is more likely; either Casey manages to win despite the controversy, or he loses to a beloved Hollywood icon like Denzel.

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge); Barry Jenkins (Moonlight); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Like many years before, this category usually lines up with the winner of the Best Picture category, and with La La Land favored so heavily, it also seems reasonable to think that it’s director, Damien Chazelle, is favored here as well.  If he wins, he would be, at age 32, the youngest Best Director winner in Oscar history, beating out Norman Taurog (Skippy) by a couple months.  That’s quite an achievement no matter what way you look at it.  His direction on La La Land is also the most audacious of the bunch; combining nostalgic old Hollywood musical numbers with a very small scale love story.  Those musical numbers alone show his great talent as a filmmaker and his willingness to take chances.  However, his direction is also the most inconsistent of the ones nominated.  While some of his direction choices are bold, there are just as many others in that film that could have been better, and it keeps La La Land from truly soaring like it should.  Of the other nominees, the other top contenders who could reasonably unseat Chazelle are either Lonergan or Jenkins.  Gibson, whose troubled personal life has kept him at a distance from Hollywood, should take this nomination alone as a positive sign of his recovery.  Lonergan’s direction on Manchester is beautiful in it’s straight-forwardness, but he’s more likely to be honored for his screenplay, which better represents his genius.  Jenkins on the other hand displayed beautiful, lyrical direction with his Moonlight, and it represented some of the best film-making of the year.  Audacious, but without the pitfalls that plagued La La Land.  Still, it’s unlikely Damien the boy wonder is going to come away empty handed here, and in turn, he will make history.

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight

At this point, with momentum that has carried it all the way through the awards season without dissipating, it’s no longer a question of can La La Land can win the top award, but rather how big of a win is it going to have.  It already tied the most nominations in history.  My prediction is that it will fall short of the record number of 11 Oscars (held by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), but will still win close to 9 or 10 total, which is still a staggering number in any year.  Of course, it will fall under the complaint of being an ego stroking film about Hollywood that the Oscars always seem to fawn over, but that’s the Oscars choice to make.  At least for the Academy, La La Land has proven to be a success with all audiences, so they have that cover.  But when compared with the rest of the nominees, does it really stand that much taller.  I have to say, the Oscars fared pretty well this year with their nominations.  There’s not a single film in this category that shouldn’t be there, and four of the nine nominees were on my best of the year list (Manchester, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, and La La Land).  But, La La Land is not my favorite of the bunch, and if I were to choose from these nominees, I would give the award to Manchester by the Sea.  It was my third favorite film of last year, and since my #1 and 2 are not in this category, Manchester gets it by default.  It’s also the most consistently strong of the nominees, but it’s strongest chance of succeeding will be in the screenplay field.  Of the remaining nominees, the very beloved Moonlight probably has the closest chance of sneaking past the La La Land onslaught and pulling the upset; but it’s chances are minimal.  Plan on seeing La La Land walking away the big winner in this Oscar ceremony.  It’s really only a matter now of knowing if the Academy decides to spread the wealth a little more during the ceremony, or just heap all the praise onto this musical hit, giving it a more prestigious place in movie history.

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Manchester by the Sea

So, there you have my picks for the top awards of this years Oscars, as well as my predictions based on how the odds look at this moment.  Like years before, I also have my rundown of all the remaining categories on the Oscar ballot:

Best Animated Feature: ZootopiaBest Cinematography: La La Land; Best Film EditingLa La Land; Best Production Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Star Trek BeyondBest Visual Effects: The Jungle BookBest Sound Mixing: La La LandBest Sound Editing: Hacksaw RidgeBest Costume Design: La La LandBest Original ScoreLa La LandBes Original Song: “Audition” (The Fools Who Dream) from La La Land; Best Foreign Language Film: The SalesmanBest Documentary Feature: 13thBest Documentary Short: 4.1 MilesBest Live Action Short: TimecodeBest Animated Short: Pear Cider and Cigarettes

So, there you have my predictions and thoughts on this year’s Academy Awards.  In general, I am pleased with the nominees this year.  Some of my favorite films like A Monster Calls and Deadpool were left out, but it’s understandable given those two films more genre based roots.  While La La Land’s pack-leading momentum is not at all surprising, the sheer force of it has been kind of odd.  How did this independently made, small scale, sugary sweet musical with only two lead roles filled with actors not known for their singing and dancing get this close to being a record shattering Oscar favorite.  Some of the explanation may come from the Academy’s sometime ridiculous infatuation with it’s own industry, which also led The Artist  and Argo  to victory.  But, I would also argue that the current political climate in America today is also a motivating factor in La La Land’s success.  With a city and industry reeling from a disappointing result in last year’s election, and an uncertain future lying ahead for everyone, La La Land became a pick-me-up movie that both Hollywood and the country at large needed.  It is movie as medicine, and though the film itself is bittersweet in it’s tale of underdog artists struggling to balance life with their dreams, it nevertheless filled that gap that people everywhere wanted to fill after the struggles of 2016.  So, it will remain to be seen how much La La Land will take away from this year’s ceremony; and if the Academy will be generous to leave some for the rest.  In any case, it really won’t matter in the end, because if it wins 10, or 14, or no Oscars, La La Land as well as all the other winners at this year’s Awards will always be around and hopefully audiences in the future will view both winners and losers as worthwhile entertainment and see that, cinematically speaking, 2016 wasn’t such a bad year.