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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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).


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

The Movies of Fall 2016

small movie theater

Another summer has come and gone for Hollywood and these last couple, slow weeks of the season offers us some time to look back and examine the state of the industry as we transition into the fall.  This summer, unfortunately, is more notable for it’s failures rather than it’s successes.  Little was talked about the enormous success of films like Captain America: Civil War or Finding Dory and that’s only because we expected those movies to do well, and those expectations were met.  Instead the overall trend of this summer was a severe lack of any breakout hits.  Most of this year’s movies either were par for the course, or failed miserably.  We saw some notable flops with Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence, and Paramount’s Ben-Hur, and some underperforming results from previously strong franchises like X-Men: ApocalypseJason Bourne, and Star Trek Beyond.  And then there was the brouhaha surrounding the controversial Ghostbusters remake that just left everyone sour by the end; the media, the audiences, the unfortunately chastised cast members, everybody.  Ghostbusters underwhelming box office is really emblematic of the downside of hype, where too much talk of a movie can often kill it’s chances of having a chance to develop it’s own identity and in turn it makes us the audience grow weary of a film before ever having seen it.  This summer seems to represent a growing trend towards audience apathy, where some of the more reliable pathways towards blockbuster success just don’t work anymore and audiences’ tastes have changed dramatically.  That, or they’re just so sick and tired of sequels, remakes and reboots.  It’s a concern for Hollywood that not only affects the summer, however, as the fall season carries it’s own kinds of pressures.

While not as reliant on blockbuster films, the fall is nevertheless a major season for the industry.  On one level, you have massive movies set to roll out during the Holidays, while at the same time, this is also when Hollywood positions it’s Awards season fare for the best exposure.  It’s an interesting balancing act that Hollywood must do every year; getting the right amount of hype for their tent-pole holiday films, while at the same time trying to prevent their prestige flicks from getting lost in all the shuffle, so that they’ll be remembered by Awards time next year.  We are now about to begin the Fall 2016 season, and like previous years, I will be running through all of the movies that I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I’m certain are worth skipping.  Of course, these are my early predictions based upon the level of marketing and hype I have seen from each film.  I’m not the best handicapper, but I try my best, and my track record is improving of late (all my summer predictions this year proved to be accurate, especially my movies to skip).  In addition, I will also be including the movie trailers for each film I discuss, so you all can witness what I’m talking about and make your own mind up whether each is worth seeing or not.  Hopefully, I will give all of you a nice overview of what to expect in the months ahead; especially if it’s a film that might be flying under your radar.  And with that, let’s take a look at the upcoming movies of the Fall of 2016.



I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a pattern for the next couple of years.  Just like last fall, my most anticipated movie for the season was the relaunch of Star Wars with the incredible The Force Awakens.  Now, releasing exactly a year later, we are getting yet another Star Wars movie that I am completely psyched for.  But, unlike The Force Awakens, which was a continuation of the main saga itself (taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi), Rogue One marks the beginning of something very different for the franchise; and one that is incredibly exciting as well.  This is the first in what will be an endless string of spin-off movies taking place within the same Star Wars universe.  This is a great idea, because I believe that there is so  much more to explore within this franchise world, and these Star Wars Stories offer up so many possibilities.  Of course, there has to be some ties to the original series, and I like the choice of story that they made to start this off with; showing us the history of the Death Star and the rebel spies who were responsible for stealing it’s blueprints away from the Empire.  The cast for this one looks solid, including recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones as the mysterious Jyn Erso, as well as some other notable players like Forrest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn as a very flashy Imperial villain.  Also, the tease of Darth Vader making a return here alone is enough to get me excited for this.  My hope is that Rogue One shows us the limitless potential for more stories in the Star Wars universe and that each one is able to stand on it’s own outside of the main saga.  This could be the start of something very good for both Star Wars and cinema in general, but at the same time, I just hope it stands as an engaging journey on it’s own.


Just as reliable right now as the Star Wars brand at the box office is Marvel’s cinematic universe.  Seemingly indestructible at this point, Marvel is still riding high after the success of the huge mash-up brawl of heroes seen in this summer’s Captain America: Civil War.  So what do they do for an encore?  They introduce a new hero into the universe, that’s what they do.  Dr. Steven Strange has been one of the most high profile characters from the comics to not yet have his own movie, and this year he finally makes his long overdue debut, played by Benedict Cumberbatch no less.  It’s surprising that Marvel would approach such a high profile actor to take on the role, given how they’ve often sought out fresher faces in the past (or ones in need of a new career path like Robert Downey Jr.).  But with the iconic cape on his back and sporting the recognizable beard, Cumberbatch looks very much like he was tailor made for the role and I’m excited to see how well he does.  Doctor Strange is a different kind of character altogether from the rest of the Marvel superheroes; working primarily in the world of supernatural, as opposed to the worlds of science and the interstellar that the other Marvel films exist in.  I think that makes this an intriguing new entry for the Marvel universe, because it offers a different shade within their spectrum of storytelling; making this instantly it’s own thing within their universe.  I like the Inception style visuals that convey the multi-dimensional magic that Strange and his peers command.  This promises to be one of this season’s most visually striking films and hopefully it still maintains that same level of fun and excitement that we’ve come to expect from Marvel at this point.  Let’s hope that this universe still has room for yet another superhero worth caring about.


Disney Animation is enjoying some of their best years right now since their Renaissance heyday of the early nineties.  Of course, Frozen (2013) stands as their juggernaut smash hit, but they’ve also seen success with Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014) as well.  And earlier this year, they made a fortune off of what I consider to be their best film in this post-Renaissance period overall with Zootopia, a movie that is only getting better and more relevant since it’s Spring release.  With this track record, a lot of pressure is put on Disney’s next feature, and I think they’ve got another special one coming in the form of Moana.  This new fairy-tale set within the Polynesian culture looks like a visually stunning treat, and it has the benefit of a great team behind it.  The film is directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, two long time Disney Animation veterans with a legendary track record.  They are the ones responsible for some of the studio’s biggest hits of the past like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), as well as the valiant attempt to bring hand drawn animation back with The Princess and the Frog (2009) which sadly didn’t accomplish it’s goal.  Here, the duo attempt their first CGI animated film, and hopefully it works out for them.  The animation from the trailer looks impressive, as did the little bit of footage that I saw at last year’s D23 Expo.  Having the always entertaining Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as part of the voice cast doesn’t hurt either.  Hopefully, this continues Disney’s hot streak and gives these long time veterans another classic worthy of their legacy at the studio.


Here we have one of the more intriguing new films coming this fall.  There are a number of factors that make this something that I’m eagerly waiting to watch.  One, director Denis Villeneuve’s previous film Sicario topped my list of the Best Movies of 2015, so I’m interested in seeing what he does for a follow-up.  And two, the premise of this one looks very provocative.  Sort of like a darker take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), this is a movie about the struggles of trying to understand recently encountered alien life and finding ways to communicate with them.  The drama from this premise seems to be drawn from the delicate balancing act that the characters must go through in order to speak with the alien race and bridge the language gap, otherwise one misstep could lead to our world’s destruction.  I like the fact that this is a film about avoiding conflicts through an exchange of knowledge and working through differences by avoiding easily triggered misunderstandings.  Like Sicario and some of Villeneuve’s previous work, this is a very visually striking movie.  The alien ships have a unique feel to them that doesn’t seem like they’ve been rehashed from other sci-fi movies.  And like Villeneuve’s other film’s, the tone feels very dark, making this look like another movie that’s going to challenge the comfort level of it’s audience, and in a good way.  With the foreboding alien ships, the threat of destruction if we don’t act correctly, and a neat sense of global scale, this looks like an Independence Day for the smart set.  In addition, it looks like another strong showpiece for actress Amy Adams, who I sometimes feel doesn’t gets enough credit for her talent as a dramatic performer.  Hopefully she’s served well by this movie.


One thing that has pleased me a great deal in the last few years is the resurgence of Michael Keaton’s film career.  Having appeared in the last two Best Picture Oscar winners, the former Dark Knight is an actor once again in demand, and it’s well deserved.  My hope is that this win streak keeps on going and gives him another shot at Oscar gold.  This film may not go that far, but it still looks like an amazing showcase for Keaton’s talents.  This story about the ruthless business man who turned a small California based burger stand into a worldwide franchise called McDonald’s looks like a movie tailor-made for the actor.  Even without his involvement, this is a little known back story to one of the world’s largest corporations that I’m really intrigued to learn more about.  Michael Keaton is not unfamiliar with playing scoundrels on film, but it will be interesting to see if he can pull off the delicate balance between being both loathed and admired within the same role.  This will probably be a more performance driven film than anything, as it does look like your standard biopic fare, so it may not be on everyone’s radar.  But, as someone who’s enjoyed Michael Keaton’s work since childhood, my hope is that this becomes yet another standout role for him and continues his hot streak at the movies.  It’ll also be interesting to see if this will change our collective image of the McDonald restaurant as a whole.  Probably not, but it will be an interesting history lesson nonetheless.



Consider me cautiously optimistic about this one.  Let’s face it, nothing is ever going to replicate the enormous success that was the Harry Potter series.  But, author J.K. Rowling still believes that there is more to explore in the world she has created and that’s the purpose behind Fantastic Beasts.  The question is whether or not we’ll find this new chapter as interesting as the adventures of the boy wizard.  There are some things that excite me about this film.  For the first time we are seeing what the Wizarding World is like across the pond here in America, albeit in a different time period.  This opens up new angles to explore within Ms. Rowling’s universe, and hopefully it’s as intriguing as the many years we spent around Hogwarts with Mr. Potter.  The cast for this one also looks interesting, with Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne playing the key role of Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist searching for creatures of all kinds for his research, as well as other interesting new cast members like Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Kathrine Waterson, Ezra Miller and Ron Perlman all involved.  Rowling also marks her screenwriting debut here, which could be a blessing or a curse for this movie, depending on the result.  Rowling has never written a film script prior to this, which could be questionable, but no one knows this universe better than her, so it could prove to be alright in the end.  Also, director David Yates, who oversaw the last half of the Potter franchise, returns for this flick, so the movie is still in good hands.  This could prove underwhelming given what’s come before, but hopefully it ends up becoming a classic just like it’s predecessors.


The timing couldn’t be worse for this particular film right now.  Believe me, I am very interested in seeing this movie, and may end up liking it in the end.  But, unfortunately this is a movie that has left me and a lot of other people worried due to real life controversies plaguing those involved with the film’s making.  Telling the story of a slave revolt led by a literate slave and preacher named Nat Turner in the Antebellum South, this was a passion project for the film’s director and star Nate Parker.  It’s a little known part of American history that deserves a film to spotlight it for a new generation, especially at a time when racial tensions are on the rise, and that’s something that makes me very eager to see this film for what it is.  I also like the fact that Nate Parker takes his title from the racist silent film of the same name from D.W. Griffith, sort of turning that on it’s head as well.  The only problem now is that the movie has recently been clouded by controversy, and not for the content of it’s story.  Accusations of rape have recently resurfaced around Nate Parker, dating back to his years in college.  Whether these accusations are valid or not, it will still affect the reception of this film and that’s unfortunate.  A movie should be able to stand on it’s own, but as we’ve seen in the past, it’s hard for audiences to unload their already established views on the filmmaker in order to take their work at face value.  A lot of hope was put on this film as an Award season favorite, and now it’s uncertain whether this movie will stand out from the shadow of Nate Parker’s past.  Hopefully the work will speak for itself, but then again, time will tell.


Speaking of movies trying to survive outside the dark shadow cast by it’s creator, we have this war epic made by Mel Gibson.  Gibson hasn’t directed a feature since 2006’s Apocalypto, and this also marks his first directorial effort since his now infamous career implosion, involving anti-Semitic remarks during a drunk driving arrest and his profane leaked phone calls to an ex-lover.  Of course, no one is more to blame for his troubles than Mel himself, but there are many of us out there that wishes the old Mel could find his way back and make great movies again.  This could be that movie, with an intriguing story behind it about the only conscientious objector to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.  Pvt. Desmond Doss’ harrowing story is the right kind of inspiring, non-controversial narrative that can help gain Mel some of his audience back, but is it enough?  My worry is that this might be too conventional a movie for the once risk-taking filmmaker.  I would rather see Mel return back to the hard edge material that he had explored with films like Braveheart (1995) and Apocalypto, but then again, he’s probably not in the situation where he’s allowed to take those chances again; at least not yet.  I want to see Mel come back in a big way, and hopefully a lot wiser.  The movie does look beautiful, and Andrew Garfield looks like a good match for the role of Pvt. Doss.  Let’s hope that this is a movie that withstands the scrutiny of it’s association with it’s controversial creator.


Even the fall season is not exempt from Hollywood’s reliance on remakes and reboots.  Here we have a remake of the John Sturges 1960 Western original of the same name, this time directed by action movie director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).  Now, you’re probably wondering why I don’t show as much contempt for this remake as I did for Ghostbusters.  The simple reason is because the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, of one of my favorite movies no less; Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954).  The fact that it’s getting remade again is less insulting to me, because it’s a story that has been done many times before, and overall was handled pretty respectfully.  But, even still, it is a remake and not an original idea, which still tempers my expectations of this project.  I do like the cast though, with Denzel Washington filling the boots worn previously by Yul Brynner in the 1960 version, and Takashi Shimura in the original Japanese classic.  I also like the presence of the ever charismatic Chris Pratt, still riding high after the success of Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).  The question now is whether or not this remake has anything new to add to the storyline, or for that matter to the Western genre as a whole, which has been pretty dormant in recent years.  If it just comes off as a standard cliched Western, then it’s not going to click with audiences.  But, if it takes a familiar story and characters and experiments a little with the formula, it might make this remake worthwhile.  The Old West is in need of fresh blood, and hopefully good stories stay strong over time.



Oh, what happened to you Dreamworks Animation?  A couple years ago you were one of the leading forces in the world of animation, right alongside Pixar.   With hits like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, you were pushing the medium forward and appealing to audiences of all ages.  But after a string of failures and disappointing returns on some of your marquee franchises, things have been looking grim for you.  Add to this the recent acquisition by Comcast and the departure of your founder Jeffrey Katzenberg from the company, it is now an uncertain time for you.  Sadly, the next thing coming in your future is a movie like Trolls.  This is a film that clearly looks like the product of an animation studio that has given up.  Instead of making movies that appeal to all demographics, Dreamworks is now just aiming for just younger audiences with this way too cutesy film.  Based on the brightly follicled toy line of the same name, this looks like an over-glorified, 90-minute toy commercial and nothing more.  And given the inclusion of a number of recording artists in the film, making up most of the voice cast as well, this also looks like a desperate attempt to sell a soundtrack album in addition to toys.  Dreamworks used to be above this shameless kind of audience pandering and it’s sad to see them reduced to such a state.  I hope that they can someday get back to making classics like Dragons again, because Trolls looks like a deep decent into mediocrity for a once powerful studio.


Hollywood keeps making many of the same mistakes year after year, and one of those is usually their foolish attempt to try to turn a video game into a movie.  Not that I believe it can’t be done; it’s just that none of the many attempts at it has ever worked.  We are once again seeing Hollywood trying to bring a video game to life with Assassin’s Creed, a stealth adventure game from publisher Ubisoft, who are also involved in the making of this film.  I’ll give it this; the filmmakers are putting a lot of effort into this one, with a substantial budget and an all-star cast behind it.  Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen about this movie tells me that it is doomed to fail just like all the adaptations before it.  Not even the talent of Michael Fassbender can save this one.  The action looks generic, the gritty visual design looks cold and this movie also has the disadvantage of trying to replicate a game experience within a 2 hour run-time.  The reason why games like Assasssin’s Creed work is because they allow the player to move through the story at their own pace and absorb the world their characters’ exist in.  A movie can’t do that and I worry that Assassin’s Creed is going to try to do too much with too little.  The director, Justin Kurzel has some talent as a filmmaker, but he’s working in a medium that hasn’t been kind and I worry that this will be yet another cast-off sent to the heap of bad video game movies.


The appeal of this series is something that I just don’t get.  Based on Dan Brown’s collection of pulpy mystery novels, this series centered around the character Robert Langdon hit the big screen first with the maligned but profitable The DaVinci Code (2006), and continued with the less successful Angels and Demons (2009).  Both starred Tom Hanks as Langdon and were directed by Ron Howard, and neither film represented the best work from either.  The movies, like the books, think they are more clever and provocative than they really are, and in the end just end up being boring.  The DaVinci Code in particular was one of the most over-hyped movies in recent history and I still don’t see what all the fuss was about.  Angels and Demons was a tiny bit better, but was still a snoozefest overall.  Here, Hanks and Howard return for a third installment and it looks like just more of the same, which doesn’t bode well.  I highly doubt that three movies in this will be a series that finally takes hold for me.  Honestly, as far as a Tom Hanks picture worth seeing this fall, I would rather go with Sulley.  This merely feels like an obligation for the respectable actor and director, and nothing more than that.

So, there you have my outlook on the upcoming fall season.  I think that it’s pretty safe to say that this will be a season once again dominated by Star Wars hype, but I am hopeful that some surprises will be in store as well.  Of course, I only touched upon a handful of movies that will be releasing in the next few months.  Most of the films that have yet to come onto my radar just yet are some of those small indie movies that usually get their attention around Awards time, and I will hopefully try to keep up with them as best as I can.  Naturally, this season usually is a strong one for the animation medium, so I’m sure that movies  like Moana will perform well.  The same could be said about it’s competitors Trolls and Illumination’s Sing, but I doubt those will get the same kind of love from critics.  Keep in mind, these are just my initial thoughts before the season begins.  A lot of things can change over the next few months, and some of these movies can possibly exceed my expectations, or fall short of them.  If anything, I hope that this preview has been a helpful one to you my readers.  It’ll be interesting to see how your reactions to these films line up or differ from my own.  This crazy year is almost at it’s end, so let’s hope that it finishes strong at the box office and gives us some fresh entertainment that we will want to carry with us onward into the years afterward.

The Movies of Summer 2016

cinerama dome

In the 3 years that I have been writing this blog, I have yet to see a summer movie season that has felt exactly the same overall from year to year.  Some years we see ambitious roll outs from the major studios, and then other years, we see a significant roll back as the production companies decide to hold off on big gambles.  And in recent years, it has become more and more common to see blockbuster movies outside of the summer season.  2016 is no exception.  As I write this, the year has already had 3 different films with opening weekends over the $100 million mark (Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and The Jungle Book) and Summer hasn’t even begun yet.  Couple this with 3 movies already having grossed over $300 million domestic and 2016 is beginning to look like a record breaking year.  This hot streak looks to continue into the weeks ahead, as Marvel gears up their annual summer entry, along with ambitious releases from their competitors (DC/Warner and 20th Century Fox).  Sequels and remakes of course will dominate the field again, but I’m also intrigued to see how some of this summer’s independent fare will perform.  After all, last summer also gave us movies like Ex Machina which while not a huge moneymaker, it still stood out long enough among the big boys to be awarded by year’s end.  That’s usually what makes the Summer season so compelling in the end; not the big tentpoles, but the little surprises, even when they come in huge packages like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Pacific Rim (2013).

As I’ve done before every Summer Movie season, I will be sharing with you my choices for the must see attractions of the coming months, as well as the movies that have me worried and the ones that I know will stink.  While I believe my picks are sound as I write this, keep in mind, I’ve never been all that good at handicapping these things.  In years past, I predicted that Tomorrowland (2015) was going to be a great movie and that Edge of Tomorrow (2014) was going to be a terrible one.  Of course, neither prediction panned out like I thought it would.  At the same time, some of these are safe bets, and others could end up being complete surprises.  I’ll certainly be interested in seeing how this season progresses.  Can Marvel continue it’s hot streak with Captain America: Civil War? Can DC revive it’s image with Suicide Squad?  What could end up being this year’s unexpected hit, or which one will be the most notorious flop?  Time to look over the Summer of 2016 schedule and see what’s ahead.



Let’s begin right where this Summer season launches with the next big Marvel movie release.  The Disney owned studio has dominated this weekend in recent years, with Avengers 1 and 2 opening to record-breaking numbers as well as Iron Man 3 (2013).  This year, Cap gets the prime spot, though of course he’s not alone in this third film in his standalone series.  The impressive cast includes pretty much every Avenger character we’ve seen to date, minus Thor and The Hulk, who will get their own separate movie next year.  Not only that, but this film will also mark the debut of Black Panther into the Marvel stable (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as the triumphant re-introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Universe (here played by newcomer Tom Holland).  With a cast like this, you could just as well call this Avengers 2.5.  But, Avengers moniker or no , this still looks like an amazing film just based off of the trailers alone.  Really, I don’t blame Marvel for wanting to use their entire cast to the maximum even outside of the marquee Avengers franchise. The action scenes look top notch and the cast feels as comfortable in their roles as ever, especially Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.  Certainly, in the wake of the mess that was Batman v. Superman, this will be Marvel’s example of how to do the formula right.  You could learn something from this Zack Snyder; pay close attention.  Hopefully, this won’t be a sign of overkill for the Marvel Studios and that their winning streak will continue as they push forward into their Phase 3 plan.


Speaking of DC Comics, they have their own film for this Summer season.  After the disappointing results of Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad has an opportunity to turn things around in this cinematic universe and they can do that with a movie that hopefully has a lot more fun with it’s premise, instead of feeling like a cynical mandate.  And I honestly feel like this movie has set the right tone needed for DC.  Under the expert hand of director David Ayer (End of WatchFurySuicide Squad feels looser and more geared towards entertainment than other DC films.  The question is whether it can stand well on it’s own, or is merely just trying too hard to copy the vibe off of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  Honestly, if they are trying to be the DC version of Guardians, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.  One thing that gets me excited about this film is it’s cast of characters.  If there’s one thing that DC does have over Marvel, it is their stronger “Rogues Gallery,” and here’s a movie that focuses entirely on just them.  Will Smith appears to be a good choice for Batman villain Deadshot, and it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been excited for any Smith film.  Plus, we are finally seeing the big screen debut of Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a comic book favorite that’s long been overlooked.  Jared Leto’s new take on the Joker also looks intriguing, and I’m happy that he’s doing his own thing with the character and not just rehashing Heath Ledger’s iconic version.  Overall, my hope is that this will become the tone-setter for DC going forward.  If DC wants to get the rest of us excited for their bold plan for a cinematic universe, it better be all of that.


Before Marvel had it’s stellar run, it was Pixar Animation Studios that had the best track record in Hollywood.  They’ve experienced a few pot holes as of late, both critically (Brave) and financially (The Good Dinosaur).  But, they are also riding a wave of goodwill from their beloved Inside Out, which was a dominant force in last year’s box office.  This year, they are releasing this sequel to their 2003 blockbuster hit, Finding Nemo.  It’s been quite a gap in time for this sequel to be released 13 years later, but Pixar has made it work before.  There was an eleven year gap between Toy Story 2 (1999) and 3 (2010), and a twelve year gap between Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).  One of the bonuses for this sequel however is that it’s being directed by Nemo’s original creator, Andrew Stanton.  Unlike the others, which had the reigns handed over to newer teams, Stanton is bringing back his own vision for where the story will go; one that hopefully expands on the world instead of rehashing it.  After his disappointing foray into live action with John Carter (2012) this will be a homecoming for the director and the trailer clearly shows that the trademark Pixar heart and humor is still intact.  Ellen DeGeneres is of course returning as Dory (honestly, it wouldn’t be the same without her) as well as Albert Brooks as Marlin.  New cast members voiced by Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen also look to be welcome additions.  It may have been a long time for Pixar to make a return to the sea to rediscover these characters, but hopefully the wait will have been worth it.


This new entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise should be an interesting one.  After two successful films since it relaunched, this series is now faced with having to redefine itself under new direction.  Director J.J. Abrams helped to bring the Star Trek brand up to date, but he’s been absent for the last few years, bringing that same cinematic magic to the other iconic Sci-Fi franchise, Star Wars.  In his place, Paramount Pictures tapped Fast and the Furious helmer Justin Lin to take over, which is no small order.  Abrams left big shoes to fill, and people worried that a filmmaker of Lin’s ilk might push for too much action in the series and not enough of the excellent character development that the Abram’s films were lauded for.  The stunt heavy trailer didn’t alleviate much doubt among some fans, and the Beastie Boys theme only solidified some of the worries that this movies was heading in a very non-Trek direction.  I for one feel that there’s still a lot to look forward to with this movie.  For one thing, the cast is still intact and true to character.  As long as the movie still keeps the character dynamics that have long been a part of the franchise the same, then I don’t think a little extra action would hurt the series at all.  Plus, the script for this entry is being co-penned by Simon Pegg, who’s also returning to the role of Scotty, and given his admiration for the series as a whole, I think this new direction for the series might turn out better than expected.  There may be a new Captain at the helm, but the Enterprise is still boldly heading into that final frontier the way it should be, and hopefully it will continue to do so.


Speaking of a franchise that has had to constantly reinvent itself, the X-Men franchise gives us their eighth entry this summer.  You would think that a long running series like this would have lost steam by this point, but X-Men is riding strong goodwill right now thanks to the success of their last film, Days of Future Past, which was not only the most critically praised entry in the series, but also the most profitable.  One thing that has helped this franchise out is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair.  Having started the franchise way back with the first film in 2000, Singer made his return with Days of Future Past and has solidified his status as the best fit for the direction of this franchise.  His fourth X-Men film takes on one of the most beloved story-lines from the comic book series, and that’s the arrival of the titular heroes’ greatest threat; the god-like uber mutant known as Apocalypse.  Some fans have complained that the visual representation of the character is too much of a departure from his comic image, but I feel that the look of the character is less important than how he’s used in the final film.  Singer has done well in this franchise before, so I trust his judgment with the changes made to the costumes, as well as to the overall story.  I love the fact that he cast a quality actor like Oscar Isaac to the iconic role (having had a great 2015 appearing in both Ex Machina and Star Wars).  All of the other actors are returning as well, and hopefully their story-lines continue to bear fruit for this long running series.  It certainly appears to have the earth-shattering epic scope attached that’s befitting of the term apocalyptic.



Now, here we have something that on paper should sound amazing. Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation, taking on an adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic.  And to be honest, I’m actually very excited to see this movie regardless, because I feel like this is a movie adaptation long overdue.  The only thing is, I have a couple reservations that keeps me from being 100% enthusiastic about this.  For one thing, though Spielberg has been responsible for some of the greatest movies ever centered around children and child-like wonder, it’s been well over 25 years since he last ventured into this kind of story-telling.  And his last attempt at it was Hook (1991) which felt a little muddled and tonally confused in comparison to something like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982).  Also, the CGI heavy visual presentation makes me worry that the film may not feel authentic in the way it should.  The BFG demands a subdued and magical tone to it’s story, and my worry is that too much CG eye candy might spoil the experience.  But, on the plus side, Spielberg is working from a script by the late Melissa Mathison, who also wrote E.T.  This will be their final collaboration so hopefully it will be a dignified swan song for the legendary screenwriter.  And despite my misgivings of CGI, I will admit the animation of the titular giant does look good (with a voice by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance).  Hopefully after 20 years telling grown up stories, Spielberg can return to seeing the world through the eyes of a child again, and that it will be just as magical as before.


This is a strange direction that this franchise has taken.  A couple years back, you might remember that I added the first film to my “movies to skip” preview.  So, why am I upgrading the sequel into this year’s purgatory?  Because, judging by what I’ve seen in the trailers, this is actually one of the few cases where pandering to fan service may actually be a good thing.  The first film was rightly criticized for taking too many liberties with the premise and visual style of the Ninja Turtles, becoming more of a generic action thriller cash in than anything.  This time around, it looks like the filmmakers behind this actually were taking into account what die-hard fans of this Turtles have been asking for, and they are delivering the goods this time around.  It seems like every element from the popular animated series and toy-line that many people from my generation had grown up with has made it into the film; whether it be the van that shoots out manhole covers from the front to the inclusion of fan favorite minions Bebop and Rocksteady.  My own favorite character, Casey Jones (played by Arrow’s Stephen Amell) is also here too.  The only thing that keeps me from being too excited for this is the fact that it’s still a Michael Bay production.  But, unlike Bay’s Transformers franchise, which just treats it’s fan-base like idiots, this franchise is actually treating it’s fans more seriously and are listening to what they want, and that in the end is a step in the right direction.


It’s been a long eight year gap since we’ve seen Jason Bourne on the big screen.  The series hit a high point with it’s third film, The Bourne Ultimatum (2008), and the finale of that movie felt like a fitting final chapter in the groundbreaking action franchise’s run.  Unfortunately, Universal Pictures wanted to keep the series going, even though it’s star Matt Damon had stepped away.  The result was that we got a Jason Bourne-less sequel called The Bourne Legacy (2012), starring Jeremy Renner in the role of another spy unconnected with the title character, and the overall movie turned out to be a pointless retread of familiar ground.  Now, Matt Damon has returned to the role, but has the franchise already run out of steam to the point where even he can’t bring it back?  My hope is that there is still some juice left in this franchise to make another sequel necessary.  The return of director Paul Greengrass is a good sign, as is the addition of Tommy Lee Jones to the cast.  The only thing is that Ultimatum was such a high water mark and Legacy was such a boring disappointment that I worry that this series should be better left alone than continued.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything left to explore with the character.  And there is so many other Bourne clones in cinemas now, that I don’t think a new one will stand out like the original trilogy did years ago.  But, then again, I may be underestimating what Greengrass and Damon can do, and hopefully this will be one spy worth seeing again.


Remakes are a tricky sell in Hollywood, especially when they take on beloved classics.  This summer, we are getting a modern re-telling of the classic Ben-Hur.  The original from 1959 is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1950’s; an unmatched epic scale production that still inspires filmmakers today.  Certainly one of those inspired by the movie had to be Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) who is taking on the risky challenge of adapting this story himself.  I’ll give him this, it’s a decision that takes a lot of guts to do.  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can truly recapture the wonder and scope of William Wyler’s masterpiece, but it will be interesting to see someone try.  Can this movie work as a remake of the classic film?  Probably not.  Can it do an adequate job of retelling of Lew Wallace’s classic story?  Maybe.  There are some interesting visual ideas seen in the trailer; though it looks like too many other Gladiator wannabes we’ve seen over the years.  The inclusion of Morgan Freeman in the cast also has me intrigued.  Still, I’m sure that too much self-indulgent eye candy may spoil this film’s presentation, especially in the famous chariot race that was so remarkably staged in the original classic.  But, even despite this, I don’t exactly hold Ben-Hur up as this untouchable work of art, so I’m still interested in seeing if any new take on it might turn out something at least interesting.



Now here’s a remake that I have not one shred of faith in.  Let me be clear, I don’t object to the casting of female actors in the roles.  That’s an idea that absolutely could have worked if given the same amount of care as the original.  No, what I object to is the heavy handed slapstick that they’ve added.  The original Ghostbusters (1984) is a masterpiece of character driven, understated, dry witty humor that was perfectly in tune with it’s cast that included Bill Murray and the late Harold Ramis.  This remake seems to think that all they need to get a laugh is to rely on shtick and physical gags.  This is not what made Ghostbusters a classic in the first place.  The original also had the great juxtaposition of genuine scary elements mixed in with the sarcastic one-liners.  This remake almost feels restrained and lazy.  Seriously, they’re lowering themselves down to another Exorcist reference.  The overly used CGI doesn’t help either, because it only adds to the artificiality of it all.  Maybe the cast will try their hardest to be funny, but unless they get the tone right, this remake is doomed to fail.  And I hold the original up in such high regards that I feel any attempt to piggy back on it’s legacy is pretty much doomed to fail as well.  Sadly, with the talent involved, this is going to be a disaster that will hurt and I worry that this will end up tarnishing the good name of a comedy masterpiece.  No, just no.


Here we have a sequel coming to theaters after an extremely long absence; 20 years in fact, almost to the day.  Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was a true phenomenon, breaking box office records and revolutionizing the use of CGI graphics and cinematic scale into the Summer blockbuster for it’s time.  It also spotlighted actor Will Smith, turning him into a bankable star overnight.  At the same time Independence Day was also big and dumb, but in a nice goofy way, just as long as you didn’t take it too seriously.  Unfortunately, over time Roland Emmerich has lost some of the playful goofiness of his earlier work and has now turned into a director that rehashes the same old tricks, only with less of a sense of humor attached.  His movies (like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) have only gotten dumber and too self-important, and sadly it looks like he’s bringing that same sense of storytelling back to the film that made him famous.  Independence Day: Resurgence just looks like all the worst Emmerich tropes all rolled up into one; wooden characters, self-important aggrandizing, and excessive CGI-assisted disaster porn, all without the knowing self-aware humor that made the original tolerable.  The absence of Will Smith is noticeable too.  Sadly, Jeff Goldblum might not be able to save this movie alone.  It’s a big bloated sequel that is perhaps a decade too late and from a director who’s clearly lost his ability to have some clever, winking fun.


Disney seems determined to adapt all of their animated classics into live action and so far the results are mixed.  Some have been excellent (Cinderella), some just okay (The Jungle Book), and others have been outright terrible (Maleficent).  But certainly the one that missed the mark the most was their 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.  The film was a mess of tone and characterizations that felt nowhere close to the spirit of the animated classic, or even the original Lewis Carroll novel.  So, why is it getting a sequel?  Oh yeah, it made over a billion dollars worldwide, despite the poor reviews surrounding it.  Even still, this follow up doesn’t indicate to me a step in the right direction.  Instead it just looks like more of the same things that made the original so disappointing; overused CGI, an unnecessary grim tone, a poorly written script, Johnny Depp doing another weird hammy performance, and a severe lack of insight into what the story is actually about.  The only thing I did like from the original was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and I’m glad to see her return here.  Also, Tim Burton is sitting this one out, with The Muppet Movie (2011) director James Bobin taking his place, which could be helpful.  But, even still, there’s not much hope I see here, even with the addition of Sasha Baron Cohen to the cast, who might be in a ham acting duel with Johnny Depp for most of the movie.

So, there are my predictions for this summer season.  Hopefully, there will be a lot to praise this year, and nothing to overall complain about.  Certainly, the over reliance on sequels during this time of year is discouraging, but when the franchises still enough mojo left in them to be worthwhile (like Captain America and X-Men), I really can’t complain.  This is still the time of year for Hollywood to flex it’s muscles, and given the already stellar start that 2016 has seen, it will be interesting to see if this summer can continue the trend.  It’s really fascinating to see the way that audiences go to the movies now, where these seasons don’t really matter as much like they used to.  A blockbuster can now find it’s audience in the dead of winter, like Deadpool managed to earlier this year.  At some point, we’ll be seeing an opening weekend north of $100 million in every month of the year at this rate.  Even still, the Summer Movie Season has it’s own special draw and hopefully we’ll have a standout on this year.  I’ll certainly be getting my fair share of entertainment as I try my best to review as many of these big releases over the next few months.  But, then again, it’s the thing that never changes for me at the movies whether I’m writing about it or not.  I hope you all find worthwhile entertainment at the movies this summer too and that this guide was helpful overall.

The 2016 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

The Awards season has come to a close and all that’s left is the big ceremony awarding the industry’s biggest honor; The Academy Award.  Like every year, every one (including myself of course) debate over who will win and who we think will win, and often there is little consensus and often times some bitter disputes.  Regardless of who walks away with the award, we all have to agree that history will ultimately prove what’s a good movie or not and that the awards are more or less just fancy get-togethers for industry insiders to pat each other on the back and give out glorified trophies.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.  The only reason why the Oscars become a big deal is because we the public have given it the weight that it has.  Like everything else in life, we want to see every year marked by a definitive champion, whether it is in sports or in this case, culture.  The Oscars have become the industry’s barometer of the status of movie-making, and whether or not you view it as on point or out of touch depends on your own tastes in movies.  This can also lead to the Oscars becoming a hot button issue for social political issues, because of that value we put on it as a touchstone of our popular culture.  Certainly, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign generated in the last month since the nominations were announced wouldn’t be so controversial if there hasn’t been so much value put on the Awards itself by our culture.  Regardless of the validity of the controversy, it will be a perfect tee up for host Chris Rock, who I hope delivers a hilarious routine in response.  Like every year, I will share with you my picks for the awards, including who I believe will win and who I want to see win in the biggest categories.  So, let’s begin…


Nominees: Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies); Alex Garland (Ex Machina); Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out); Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight); and Jonathan Herman, Angela Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

Strangely enough, given the complaint of the lack of diversity in the acting categories, this year’s selection of screenplay nominations couldn’t be more diverse; at least in terms of genre types.  You have your straight forward historical drama (Bridge of Spies), an animated film (Inside Out), an in depth look at the journalistic process (Spotlight), a cerebral sci-fi experience (Ex Machina) and a biopic about rappers (Straight Outta Compton).  Overall, I think that many of these choices are deserving, and I’m pleased that the unappreciated Compton and Ex Machina made the cuts.  As of right now, the clear front runner in this category is the highly detailed and politically charged Spotlight.  While Spotlight‘s status as a Best Picture front-runner has diminished in the last couple months, due to shut outs at the Golden Globes and other early industry indicators, the momentum for awarding it’s screenplay hasn’t, especially after a Writers Guild award win.  Is it deserving of the honor.  I believe that that the work put into it, which must have been years in the making just for the research, helps to make it worthy of the award.  But, at the same time, the movie itself lacked any real drive, which keeps it from being my favorite.  It’s fascinating, yes, but the characters lacked definition and the momentum was shaky throughout.  For a screenplay that resonated more for me, I would say that Ex Machina was the standout in this category.  Straight Outta Compton and Inside Out were both entertaining in their writing too, but Ex Machina was the one that really made me think about it long after I saw it.  It’s a brilliant, understated work from accomplished writer Alex Garland.  So, Spotlight will clearly win, but Ex Machina I think will be my dark horse in this race.

Who Will Win: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight

Who Should Win: Alex Garland, Ex Machina


Nominees: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (The Big Short); Nick Hornby (Brooklyn); Phyllis Nagy (Carol); Drew Goddard (The Martian); and Emma Donoghue (Room)

Here we find the more traditional nominees for Best Screenplay, all classical dramas, with one major exception.  Each is admirable in it’s own right.  I particularly liked Phyllis Nagy’s understated but poignant gay romance in Carol, a screenplay that could have easily sensationalized it’s subject and wisely chose not to.  I also admire Drew Goddard’s The Martian, which managed to make science interesting as well as fun, which is sadly missing in so many Hollywood films today.  Also, a lot of praise is due to Emma Donoghue for adapting her own novel in such an effective way.  But, for my favorite, I would have to go with the odd man out, and that’s Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s The Big Short, and thankfully, this one has emerged as the clear front-runner.  What makes it a stand out is the unconventional presentation of the entire screenplay, taking a dry, heady subject like the factors that led to the Housing Market crash and making it accessible to the audience, while at the same time finding the absurdest humor in it all and being able to tell a story with compelling characters.  It’s a remarkable balancing act that the writing team should be awarded for.  Of all the nominees in this category, and out of all the movies nominated in general, I believe that this will be the one that will gain in stature long after the awards are over, and will probably turn into an important movie in the long run, just based on the way it informs us of such a chaotic time in our history and tries to move us towards seeing that it never happens again.  In addition, it would be a special subversive treat to see the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Night walk away this year with an Oscar to his name.  The Big Short is a brilliant and monumental satire and it will be absolutely deserving of it’s award.

Who Will Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

Who Should Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short


Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short); Tom Hardy (The Revenant); Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight); Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies); and Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

One thing that you usually see happen at the Academy Awards is the awarding of an Oscar to a seasoned veteran after a long drought or a career completely devoid of any previous nomination.  Sometimes it’s done through an honorary award, but other times it comes in the way of a late career win for sometimes a lesser film.  It’s usually known as a “legacy win” and this year that may fall in this category as the front-runner has long been action film icon Sylvester Stallone in Creed.  Now, some people may be put off by the idea of giving Stallone an Oscar, but those same people may not have seen the movie Creed either.  I certainly wouldn’t mind if Stallone won this year; one, because Creed is an excellent movie and deserving of recognition, two, Stallone gives a touching heartfelt performance, and three, it makes for a great story that Stallone would win an Oscar late in his career for the same role that made him an icon in the first place.  Certainly, Stallone could’ve been awarded for worse, and I think an Oscar here is not only deserved, but maybe even due for the man behind Rocky Balboa.  Now, would he be my personal choice.  Sadly, there is a great field behind Stallone this year, and any other year I would say that each of them could win.  Rylance and Ruffalo are both solid in their roles, and Bale give a delightfully twisted performance in The Big Short.  But my favorite would be Tom Hardy, who really transformed himself for his role in The Revenant and delivers what I think to be the most compelling performance overall.  Also, this category is up in the air for me because my favorite performance of the year (Benicio del Toro in Sicario) wasn’t nominated.  Out of the bunch, Hardy would be my choice, but if Stallone does win, I won’t complain either.  It’s his time to be the champ.

Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who Should Win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant


Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight); Rooney Mara (Carol); Rachel McAdams (Spotlaight); Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl); and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Out of all the acting categories in this year’s Oscars, this is the one that feels the least decided.  Many of the early awards have been split this year, with the likeliest front-runners being Kate Winslet and Alicia Vikander.  Vikander has the benefit of being seeing as the “it girl” of the year, having appeared in many high profile projects last year including Ex Machina and Guy Richie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  Finishing the year with the acclaimed The Danish Girl helped to garner her even more attention and the Oscars usually bestow these Supporting awards to fresh new faces like her.  On the flip side, Kate Winslet is a much beloved Hollywood veteran, having been  nominated several times and won Best Actress prior, and her performance in Steve Jobs is one of her most interesting roles yet, making her a viable front-runner too.  It’s a hard one to choose, but I think Alicia Vikander’s blockbuster year gives her a slight edge, though I would love to see Winslet win just so the under-appreciated Steve Jobs gets some recognition.  But at the same time, neither has locked this up and both could even be overcome by a surprise winner here, which any of the other nominees could end up being.  Out of that group, my surprise pick is also my favorite in the bunch, and that’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s gonzo performance in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility; Tarantino has delivered actors to Oscar wins before.  Also, Leigh is a beloved workhorse who’s long gained respect in the industry and her performance is definitely the category’s most unusual and daring.  So, Leigh may not be the odds on favorite, but she would make the most spectacular of spoilers in this open race.

Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Who Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight


Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo); Matt Damon (The Martian); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant); Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs); and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

If there was ever a category this year that was a lock, this would be it.  After so many years of being nominated and walking away empty handed, despite being one of the most successful actors of his generation, Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar this year.  Sometimes people complain that actors who get snubbed for so many years and then finally win usually get it for a lesser performance in a lesser film.  I don’t think that’s this case with DiCaprio this year.  Sure, I wouldn’t call his work in The Revenant to be my absolute favorite performance of his (that would be his incredible performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street), but considering all the other nominees in this race, I would clearly say that he does give the best single performance of the bunch.  It becomes especially apparent that he’s deserving of the award when you learn of all the physical hurdles that he had to go through during the filming of The Revenant, and denying him an Oscar once again after all that passion and pain may be a little cruel in the end.  He’s a deserving front-runner and my own clear choice for the award overall.  Now, is there anyone in this category who could be a potential spoiler, and would they dare come up to accept in the face of the the backlash that could come from loyal DiCaprio fans everywhere.  I would say the only ones who come close would be Matt Damon for his surprisingly charming and humane performance in The Martian, and also Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, just for his beloved standing in the acting community.  But, don’t count on any spoilers.  It’s Leo’s year and it’s been a long time coming.

Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant


Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol); Brie Larson (Room); Jennifer Lawrence (Joy); Charlotte Rampling (45 Years); and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

This is another race that appears to have been locked up already, but I wouldn’t say that it as strongly decided as DiCaprio for Best Actor.  The front-runner here is Brie Larson, who has surprise everyone so far by becoming the unexpected front-runner in a category with so many high profile names.  And, she has certainly deserved the praise since being nominated, because it’s a performance that does stand out among the rest.  Playing a kidnapping victim who has lived in isolation for many years in a locked shed in the harrowing film Room, Larson’s role could not have been easy and it’s a great achievement to see her pull it off in the film.  Her performance was also helped a lot with the support of her young co-star Jacob Tremblay, who sadly wasn’t nominated.  If she wins as she is predicted to, it will be deserved and it hopefully will elevate her status in the industry and lead to more challenging roles that will make good use of her talent.  But, is she my pick for the award.  Though I admire her performance, I would say that the one who left more of an impression on me in this category was actually Cate Blanchett in Carol.  Yeah, it seems a little unfair to choose the seasoned, multiple Oscar winner to once again be the best in the category, but that’s just a sign of how good she is.  Her performance in Carol is more heartfelt and more interesting than all the rest, and that’s a sign of someone who has a full command of their art-form.  Brie Larson may have had the most challenging role, but Blanchett had the more resonant performance, which made it stand out more for me.  Even still, a win for Larson will be well deserved and recognition for an under-appreciated film like Room that deserves more of an audience than it has received so far.

Who Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Carol


Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short); George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road); Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant); Lenny Abrahamson (Room); and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

It’s hard to believe that of all the directors working in the industry today, that the one who’s best positioned to win the coveted Directing award two years in a row is Alejandro G. Inarritu.  But, as early indicators have piled up, that certainly seems to be the case.  Once a maverick, small scale film director of indie darlings like 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006), Inarritu has completely transformed himself as a filmmaker, making far more ambitious projects and delivering the best back to back set of masterpieces since Sidney Lumet made the duo of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976) simultaneously forty years ago.  Having won last year for Birdman (2014), Inarritu has surprisingly emerged as the front-runner again for the ambitious epic The Revenant, and his win would be only the third time in Oscar history that a director has won back to back; the last one being Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).  Is it an honor he deserves.  Absolutely.  The Revenant really is a tour-de-force of direction and one of the most incredible achievements in film-making this year.  I think it helps that Inarritu’s only other credible competition from last year (Ridley Scott for The Martian) didn’t receive a nomination, which makes his road to a win less of a challenge.  The only spoiler that I could possibly see in this category is George Miller for Mad Max.  Miller, like Inarritu, showcased the highest form of film direction seen this year in his movie as well, working under equally harsh conditions, and a win for him could also be an acknowledgement of his cherished legacy.  But, I think it’s safe to say that Alejandro is going to defend his title successfully and become the unlikeliest of two-time winners in Oscar history.

Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant


Nominees: The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; The Revenant; Room; and Spotlight

So, of all the categories at this years Oscars, it’s surprising that the biggest one of them all is also the least predictable this year.  Unlike in years past, when one or two front-runners will have emerged at this point, we don’t have a clear favorite.  Yeah, some of the nominated movies have no chance and are more likely to pick up awards in other categories (Room and Bridge of Spies), but at least half of the nominated movies this year do have legitimate shots at winning this year.  So, how do I think this year’s race will go.  My belief is that the Oscars tend to go for the movie that has the best chance to be a multiple winner in other categories and that has usually been large epic films.  That’s why I think The Revenant will ride the coattails of the assured wins in the Best Actor and Directing categories towards collecting Best Picture.  Is it deserving of that honor.  I think so.  It was my choice for the third best movie of the year in my top ten list, and my favorite film of the year (Sicario) wasn’t nominated, so I have less of an interest in who wins this year as opposed to last year when my favorite (Birdman) was nominated and won.  Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s my absolute pick for the award, because The Martian was also nominated, and I ranked that higher than The Revenant.  Sadly, without a Directing nomination, The Martian is out of the race, but had it had a chance, I would have picked it over The Revenant.  Complaints have also been made that The Martian is too commercial and crowd-pleasing to deserve a win, which is silly because why should the ability for a movie to entertain it’s audience be considered a negative.  As it stands, out of the films that have a chance, I would favor The Revenant and I believe it will win.  Although, The Big Short winning would make an interesting finish to the night, as would a complete curve-ball if Mad Max: Fury Road snuck up and took it.  It’s an unpredictable year and it probably works out for the best that the most suspenseful race is the one that’s saved until the very end.

Who Will Win: The Revenant

Who Should Win: The Martian

So, there are my picks for this years Academy Award winners, as well as my own personal favorites.  In addition, I would also like to run down all my picks for the other awards of the night:

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out (no contest); Best Cinematography: The RevenantBest Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: The Revenant; Best Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant; Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Costume Design: Cinderella; Best Original Score: The Hateful EightBest Original Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre; Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul; Best Documentary Feature: Cartel LandBest Documentary Short: A Girl in the RiverBest Live Action Short: Shok; Best Animated Short: World of Tomorrow

So, those are my picks for this year’s Oscars.  Am I going to be pleased or angered by how it turns out.  Well, because my favorite movie of the year was left out, I have less of a vested interest in who wins the big award, but at the same time, I value some more than others.  And one good thing this year is that unlike the previous year I walked away liking each of the Best Picture nominees; I still don’t get why so many people fell in love with a terrible film like The Theory of Everything last year, and worse yet, that it managed to steal an Oscar away from Michael Keaton.  It was a good year for movies and I’m glad the nominations reflected that.  I just wish that they spread their net further and nominated more deserving films like CreedSicario, and Straight Outta Compton.  Maybe then they might have avoided the controversy that fell their way.  They expanded their number of nominees several years ago for the reasons of being more inclusive, so I don’t get why we were limited to seeing only 8 nominated films this year.  Regardless, I hope that the show itself is worthwhile.  They couldn’t have picked a better host for the ceremony this year than Chris Rock, and my hope is that he doesn’t hold back.  If ever there was a year for the Academy to be grilled and mocked by it’s host, this would be it, and he just might get away with it too.  In time, we’ll probably forget about all the controversy and the films themselves will carry their own legacy far beyond what the awards will actually mean for them.  For me, I just like seeing the process unfold and looking at all the new names that join the ranks of Oscar winner.  It’s why I watch in the end.

The Movies of Fall 2015

theater seating

What a difference a year makes.  In the summer of 2014, Hollywood took a milder approach to their tent-pole releases; relying less on big gambles like The Lone Ranger (2013) and Battleship (2012) and instead focusing on reliable entries like franchise sequels and genre fare.  And with the milder budgeted movies came milder box office, with only Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) exceeding expectations.  No phenomenons, but no catastrophic failures either.  That trend proved to be short lived as the summer of 2015 was a monumental season for Hollywood.  Not only did we have two record breaking box office hits this year with Jurassic World  and Avengers: Age of Ultron (both earning their way into the Top 10 box office hits of all time club), but on the opposite end of the spectrum we saw two monumental flops this season as well (Tomorrowland and Fantastic Four).  Even despite the season’s big failures, there was still a lot for the Hollywood community to be proud of.  The overall box office numbers for the season have been the highest it’s gotten in a long time; maybe even the best season ever.  Universal came out the big winners, led by the record-breaking Jurassic World, and supported by other mega-hits like Furious 7, Minions, and the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck.  We also saw the triumphant return of Pixar with their smash hit Inside Out, which is already high on my best of the year list.  There were also solid efforts from tried and true franchises like this year’s critically praised Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  But what I’m sure Hollywood is most excited about is that this summer proved that people are heading back to the theaters again in huge numbers, helping to drive up these huge box office returns and give the studios confidence as they move forward with what’s next.

Speaking of which, the Fall season of 2015 will be no less ambitious as Hollywood gears up for the Holiday and Awards seasons.  While most of the movies in the next few months will be of the smaller, awards bait variety, there are certainly some big budget contenders that Hollywood is gearing audiences up for; including one that is not only the most anticipated movie of the year, but probably one of the most anticipated of all time (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).   But this season doesn’t just belong to Star Wars alone, though it will be tough to beat once it’s in theaters.  We’re also seeing the conclusion of the mega-popular Hunger Games franchise, as well the continuation and possible redefining entries in long standing franchises like the new James Bond film Spectre and the new Rocky movie Creed.  There are also ambitious new movies coming from some of Hollywood’s greatest current directors, like Guillermo del Toro, Robert Zemekis, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, David O. Russell, and Quentin Tarantino.  With this article, like in years past, I will be highlighting some of the most anticipated movies of this upcoming season and tell you which ones I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, these are just my early predictions based solely on how I’ve responded to the hype and publicity surrounding them so far.  I have been wrong about some predictions before; in fact, one of my movies to skip last year ended up on my best of the year list (Edge of Tomorrow).  Still, I think that some of these choices are pretty obvious and it’ll be an interesting experience no matter what seeing where all the movies fall into place by season’s end.  So, let’s begin.



What else was I going to start this article with?  Yes, there are going to be many excellent movies worth seeing this fall season, some of which might even be better than this.  But no other movie this season is going to have the same hype around it.  This is the big ticket movie of Fall 2015, and possibly of the entire year, whether it delivers or not.  So far though, it has led us to believe that director J.J. Abrams is indeed delivering the goods.  The above trailer is a masterwork of marketing, hitting all the right notes and it does an excellent job of convincing us that yes, Star Wars is back.  The thing that I’m most looking forward to, however, is the fact that for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, we are going to be seeing the Star Wars franchise move forward and not backwards, at least in terms of story.  George Lucas’ flawed prequel trilogy gave us stories that we already knew and in the end never really needed to be shown.  Here, we are getting to finally see the further adventures of the iconic characters from the original trilogy, as well as see the aftermath of the fall of the Empire.  What I also like is that Abrams clearly wants us to know that his Star Wars is hearkening back to the style of the originals, with more practical effects and on-location shooting.  Thus far, all the advertisements have convinced audiences that this movie is going to do right by the name Star Wars and that it will help reinvigorate the legendary franchise.  You know anticipation for this movie is big when the trailer alone has made grown men cry.  And I don’t blame them.  This is going to be a massive hit no matter what, and my hope is that the promise of these trailers comes to fruition.  Just please don’t suck.


Quentin Tarantino has reached that rarefied air of prestige to where every time he releases a new film, it becomes an event.  And the miraculous thing about his new project is that it almost didn’t become a reality.  In late 2013, someone had leaked Taratino’s script online, which promptly led to his decision to shelve the project.  Thankfully, an outcry of fans convinced Tarantino to go ahead with filming anyway despite the leak, and I’m so grateful that he did.  I for one am eagerly anticipating this movie.  Tarantino’s last film Django Unchained topped my list of the Best Movies of 2012, and my hope is that he continues his winning streak with this one too.  Surprisingly, the versatile director has decided to stay within the Western genre, only this time sticking much closer to the genre norms than the more revisionist Django.  But, there’s no worries there since the movie looks to have the same trademark style of all of Tarantino’s movies that he’s made his own.  The movie also looks to have been made up of an ensemble cast of Tarantino all-stars, including regular players like Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern.  All that’s missing is Christoph Waltz; we would’ve had the full set with him in the picture.  But, at the same time, it looks like Taratino’s cast is pretty well rounded without him.  And, to show his support for tradition film photography, Tarantino is not only shooting this movie in 70mm, but he’s also doing it in the Ultra Panavision process, which hasn’t been used in nearly 50 years.  It all makes this an absolute must see for both Taratino fans as well as for fans of cinema of all kinds.


Maybe not as hotly anticipated as the next Star Wars, but this is another franchise entry that still has a lot of people excited.  The Bond franchise is riding high after the success of Skyfall in 2012, and thankfully the same team behind that film (which includes director Sam Mendes and screenwriter John Logan) has returned to create this follow up.  This new Bond movie will also mark Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as 007, helping to cement his status as one of the all time greats in the role.  Few of the other actors who have played James Bond over the years other than Sean Connery can claim to have made more than one great film in the franchise.  Craig already has two (Skyfall and Casino Royale), and hopefully Spectre can live up to that level.  The movie already looks very slick and typically stylish for the franchise.  But, what has me excited about this film is the fact that it marks the full blown return of Bond’s arch nemesis to the franchise; the secret organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the title’s namesake.  And while the cast list doesn’t name the organization’s legendary leader (Blofeld) specifically, having Christoph Waltz fill the role seems only natural.  This probably explains why he’s not in The Hateful Eight, which is completely understandable.  My hope is that the promise of James Bond once again going head to head with his greatest enemy lives up to it’s potential.  Regardless, the Bond franchise has been one of the most resilient in the history of Hollywood, and the same great blend of action, suspense and humor that the Bond franchise has been known for should still make this movie a fun time for all.


This year Pixar is doing something they’ve never done before, and that’s release two films within the same calendar year.  It may seem ambitious of them, but this sort of scheduling happened more out of circumstance rather that pre-planning.  While Inside Out moved forward without delay towards it’s Summer 2015 release date, The Good Dinosaur stalled in development, which led to a complete overhaul with a change in direction and story.  Originally set for release in the fall of last year, The Good Dinosaur was held back a year and will now get it’s release over Thanksgiving weekend.  With a troubled production like this, you would think that The Good Dinosaur is destined to struggle at the box office, but I don’t think that will be the case here.  From the look of the trailer, this movie appears to stand up to the very high Pixar standards, and could very well be one of their most visually impressive films to date.  But, the question is, did they fix the story problems that plagued it before.  Well, while attending the D23 Expo a couple weeks ago, I did manage to get a glimpse at 10 or so minutes of the movie that they screened for us.  It may not of told me what the entire movie might be like, but what I saw did engage me for the most part, and it made me eagerly anticipate seeing what else the film had in store.  I can tell already that this is going to be a visual feast, and hopefully all the story issues have been worked out, helping to make this another worthy entry in the Pixar canon.  Regardless, this movie still has the benefit of riding on all the goodwill generated by the success of Inside Out, and I’m sure it will not spoil that good run either.


Here we have your typical award season fare.  And there are many reasons why I’m excited about this movie.  One, the director Alejandro G. Inarritu made my favorite film from last year, Birdman, so I’m eager to see how he follows that up.  And sure enough, he’s defying expectations by taking on a wholly unexpected and different kind of genre from what he did last.  The current Oscar champ is not wasting any time showing us his versatility as a director as he follows up his dramedy about life on the Broadway stage with a dark and foreboding thriller about survival in the American frontier.  Like Birdman, this film will of course feature some stunning cinematography, and it will be interesting to see if this movie will be stylistically a big departure from what Inarritu has done in the past.  Regardless, the trailer alone makes this one of the more interesting films being lined up for Oscar season.  I don’t know yet if this will be enough to help Inarritu win back to back Oscars come awards time, but even still it’s a movie that I still want to watch and experience.  One thing I hope is that it gives star Leonardo DiCaprio another shot at winning an Oscar.  His performance from the trailer already looks intense and it proves once again why he’s one of the greatest and most versatile actors of his generation.  Seeing him work under the direction of Alejandro G. Inarritu should be interesting, especially when he also gets to act opposite Tom Hardy in the film, which alone could provide a lot of good drama in the movie.  It may be too dark for some audiences to take, but for the rest of us, it’s exactly what we’re looking for this awards season.



On it’s own, The Martian does have a very promising premise.  Depicting the scenario of a lone astronaut left stranded on the planet Mars after he’s left for dead by his fellow astronauts and needing to find a way to survive for years on an inhospitable terrain, this movie has the potential to be a very tense big screen experience.  But, there are a couple red flags that have me worried about it falling short of that promise.  For one thing, this is yet another space themed movie released very close in proximity to other like-minded movies like Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014).  In fact, some have noticed that this new film shares more than a couple similarities with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, including some of the same cast, making it more difficult for this movie to distinguish itself from the others.  Matt Damon, in particular, looks like he just stepped out of that movie and into this one, only this time playing a much more likable character.  In addition, director Ridley Scott’s recent track record has been shaky as of late.  While not terrible, his directing style seems to be lacking some of the edge and originality of his earlier films, and The Martian unfortunately has to follow-up the crushing bore that was Exodus: God and Kings (2014).  That being said, the movie still looks interesting, and hopefully Ridley Scott brings his A-game to this one.  I already like the tone given off from this trailer, especially the line, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”  Here’s hoping that this will be more than just another addition to a growing trend.


Once again, we have a film here that looks great on the surface, but has raised some doubts, only this time it’s by circumstance.  This sea-based adventure film was originally slated to premiere back in March but was pushed back to December instead.  Some saw this as a good sign for the movie as it was believed that the film could potentially be good enough for awards contention and the Holiday season release would keep the movie fresh in people’s minds.  Unfortunately, it seems that in the intervening time the movie has largely been forgotten.  No new trailers have been made and you rarely see any trade ads or movie posters highlighting the upcoming release in the same way that you did earlier this year when the movie was coming out in the spring.  This leads one to wonder if delaying the movie was really such a good move after all and that maybe the move had less to do with how good it is than if it was to get the movie into a more profitable time period.  And even that might not pay off either, because it only gets a week long window before Star Wars is released.  Even still, Ron Howard’s epic still looks interesting and hopefully the shuffling around is not a sign that the movie is in trouble.  Detailing the true life story that inspired the classic novel Moby Dick could be a chilling and edge of your seat film experience, and Howard has proved to be such a versatile director that I have no doubt he can pull a film like this off with ease.  In addition, the cast is also very capable of bringing this story to life, led by current Marvel superhero stars like Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Holland (the new Spiderman).  In any case, I’m just hoping that it will be worth the extra long wait.


This one is troubling on all sorts of levels.  For one thing, it’s another revisionist interpretation of a classic fairy tale (in this case, the story of Peter Pan) that we’ve seen overdone to diminishing returns recently at the box office; Disney’s recent Cinderella being the one exception.  In addition, I don’t see the need for a prequel to the classic J.M. Barrie story.  We don’t need to know about how Peter got to Neverland.  Part of the wonder of the original tale was the mystery behind the boy who could fly.  And thirdly, this looks like another CGI effects laden spectacle that appears to favor style over substance.  It’s pretty to look at, but the story and lines of dialogue seem far too generic.  Not to mention all the performances seem to be all over the place here, and the casting is very iffy as well.  What worries me is the fact that the boy playing Peter Pan is giving a very understated performance (based on the trailer), while all the adults playing the various Neverland characters are all hamming it up; especially Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard.  And really? Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily?  The one thing that works in the film’s favor is that it has a very good director behind it.  Joe Wright hasn’t worked on a film of this scale before, nor has he worked in the fantasy genre either, but he has proven time and again before that he is a capable and really inventive filmmaker.  I especially like the way he incorporates long tracking shots into each of his movies, like the breathtaking ones seen in Atonement (2007) and Hanna (2011).  It’ll be interesting to see if he incorporates one into Pan too, which could help to make this a more interesting film experience as a result.


Biopics are hard films to pull off.  How does one encapsulate a real life person’s story into a cohesive 2 hour film.  Last year proved the different degrees that it can be pulled off; either very well (The Imitation Game) or very poorly (The Theory of Everything).  The pressure to get the story right is increased ten fold whenever your subject is a world famous and instantly recognizable cultural icon like Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and that’s the challenge with this particular film.  On the one hand, the role of the iconic tycoon has been given to Michael Fassbender, who is more than capable of doing justice to the character.  But, Hollywood has already attempted to depict the life of Steve Jobs on the big screen before, and the end result was the disastrous Ashton Kutcher vehicle Jobs (2013).  This version unfortunately has to follow in the wake of that misfire, and it’s very much an uphill climb, with a lot of people holding up this glossier biopic to higher scrutiny.  Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle is creative enough stylistically to make this visually interesting, but it’s still uncertain whether he is the right fit for this material.  One thing for sure is that the movie is right in the wheelhouse of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who has proved mastery over adapting recent history true life stories and making them captivating on the big screen, as evidenced with The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011).  Hopefully the same can happen with the story of Steve Jobs, otherwise the late icon will be saddled with two lackluster movies based on his life.



I’ve already stated my displeasure with Hollywood’s increasing reliance on rebooting and remaking classic films from the past in a previous article.  Most of the time, they are remaking movies that I didn’t care much for to begin with, and then there are remakes like this one that is not only needless, but seems to be disregarding everything that made the first movie a classic in the first place, purely just to capitalize on name recognition alone.  The original, directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, was by no means a masterpiece, but it was still a better than average action thriller of it’s time that had surprising depth of character and a complex message at it’s center about the morals of law and order.  At it’s heart, it was a story about whether or not the bad guys are truly evil in nature and if they’ve just been led to taking drastic and immoral steps as a response to an increasingly cutthroat society; essentially a dichotomy of whether freedom or order is what makes us a good person.  It was also a film that helped turn Keanu Reeves into a star, and gave Patrick Swayze one of his best roles ever.  This film looks to have none of that.  It’s like the filmmakers only wanted to replicate the amazing stunts of the original with updated modern technology and completely ignore the underlying message of the story.  It’s a showcase for extreme sports and nothing else, completely trashing the potential of the story.  That’s the feeling I’m getting from this trailer, with it’s D-list actors giving lifeless performances and it’s generic looking cinematography that instills no style whatsoever.  Please leave the classics alone.


Speaking of another movie that completely misses the mark of what it’s trying to remake, the cult animated series from the 80’s Jem and the Holograms is making it to the big screen already under a cloud of bad buzz.  While this one doesn’t anger me as much as the Point Break remake, because I’ve never had any interest in the original cartoon, I can still understand the hatred that is being aimed at this movie adaptation.  The original series was tailor made for the medium of animation, utilizing sci-fi elements and magic as a part of the show and with the personal journey of the character Jem herself.  None of this has translated over into this movie, which from what I’ve seen in the trailer, looks just like every other cliched rise of a pop band story-line that we’ve already seen done million times before.  It’s almost like the only thing they took from the show was just the title; this could’ve been called anything else, and it would have been exactly the movie.  Putting the Jem name on this only seems like a desperate ploy to just capitalize on name recognition alone.  Because of that, the movie has already received a backlash from fans of the original series, who see this as a shameful exploitation of their beloved show.  And I don’t blame them for feeling that way either.  If one of my favorite shows from my youth was misappropriated into something that doesn’t resemble the original in any way in both style and story, I’d be super pissed too.  It’s a clear example of Hollywood ignoring what fans want and instead giving them what they think they want, which could lead to a very disastrous outcome in the end.


Yeah, I know it’s pointless to complain about a movie that’s clearly aimed at little kids, but do we really need anymore of these?  The first Alvin and the Chipmunks was a pointless adaptation in the first place, so why did we need four in total.  Yeah, the first one made a lot of money, but the nostalgia for this kind of thing had clearly worn off by the time the third movie came around.  Was there anything of value left in this franchise that warranted another sequel?  Suffice to say, I’m not going to be watching this one; ever.  Not on a movie screen nor when it shows up on Netflix.  It just has no value anymore in my eyes.  Maybe some parents will find it as an acceptable diversion to keep their children entertained for an hour and a half, but there are so many other worthwhile films aimed at all audiences that would be better worth their time in the months ahead, like The Good Dinosaur, or the new Peanuts movie which looks surprisingly good despite a lot of people’s worries early on.  Hopefully, this movie marks the end of Alvin and the Chipmunks run, which has contributed very little to both the quality of cinema and also little to the legacy of it’s own brand.  The Road Chip will be nothing more than a waste of time this holiday season and will hopefully be short lived in the theaters.

So, that’s my outlook on the fall movie season, at least with regards to some of the more notable films out there.  There are many more coming out in the months ahead that I did not cover, and I’m sure that there will be quite a few that will be worth your time; or could be forgettable and disappointing.  The great thing about this season is the fact that Hollywood uses it to deliver the stuff that they know will be quality entertainment, helping to keep them fresh in our minds as the year comes to an end and the awards start to be handed out.  But, even some of the movies not up for awards will prove to be big entertainment for all.  Certainly the launch of the new Star Wars will be an event unto itself, awards or no, and plenty more blockbusters will likewise prove to be worthwhile during this season.  What interests me the most are the surprises; the little films that come out of nowhere and surprise us by not only becoming sleeper hits, but also by making their case for end of the year awards and knocking out some of the likelier contenders.  I certainly didn’t have a movie like Whiplash on my radar last year, and yet, it proved to be an end of the year treat that I was delighted to have discovered.  The fall season always has a surprise or two like that and my hope is that 2015 has some as well.  I will be reviewing some of the big films of the season in the months ahead, and it’ll be interesting to see how my end of the year list shapes up.  Regardless, I hope that my preview here has been helpful in guiding your outlook on the upcoming Fall season, and let’s hope that we all have a good time at the movies during the holidays.

The Movies of Summer 2015

City walk theater

Amazing how the summer movie season announces itself very strongly around these last few weeks of Spring.  Maybe it’s just the relatively quiet spring season, when Hollywood usually unloads all of their less interesting fare, but at the same time we’re now talking even more about the coming attractions of next season than what is currently playing.  Recent weeks have brought a lot of hype around movie trailers for next year’s Batman v. Superman, or this winter’s Star Wars Episode VII, and yet no attention is drawn in social media or the press towards movies now in theaters.  There’s no complaint from me on this, however, especially when what’s playing in theaters now is Paul Blart 2.  But, that long dry spell of Spring is almost over and the Summer season once again brings us the movies we’ve eagerly waited all year for; and in some cases decades.   Based off of the recent trend we’ve seen in Hollywood these last couple years, it’s another super hero heavy line-up once again.  Marvel dominates this summer with three separate entries, including one from their marquee Avengers franchise.  But unlike previous years, we’re going to see fewer remakes and more reboots of franchises, with some long dormant names making their returns for a whole new generation of audiences; even with some of their key players also returning.  And naturally with another big movie season about to start, it is also time for me to give all of you my thoughts and predictions on some of the big movies coming out in the months ahead.

One thing that does stick out to me already, after looking over the calander for this summer season, is just how front loaded it is.  The Summer of 2015 is going to start off strong with probably the biggest draws all coming out within the first weeks of May.  There’s no indication this year that we’ll see a situation like we had in 2014, where the summer’s biggest money-maker opened in August (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy).  Some late summer films could surprise, but my guess is that the bigger ones will be the earliest releases this year.  Like my previous previews, I will be looking at some of the most anticipated movies this season and tell you which ones I believe will be the absolute must sees, the ones that have me worried and the ones that are worth skipping altogether.  Keep in mind, these are solely examined by how I’ve judged them based on their potential and the effectiveness of their marketing.  I’m never 100% accurate; I predicted last year that Edge of Tomorrow was going to be worth skipping, and then it ended up on my Top 10 list by year’s end.  Any of these movies could surprise.  It’s solely my own opinion, so take these perspectives as you will.  My hope is that you the reader will get a good sense about what to look forward to in the weeks ahead.  And so now, let’s start this off with the good stuff.



For many people, I’m sure the Marvel films will be the ones that draws the most attention, as well as the highest grosses.  But for me, this is the movie that I’m the most excited about this summer.  Super hero movies are worth getting excited about; don’t get me wrong. But this movie just looks like something new entirely, and that I find exciting.  Deriving itself from elements of The Walt Disney Company’s long history of collaborating with some of the best and brightest in 20th century scientific research and engineering, Tomorrowland seems to be an interesting and fresh concept that we have not yet seen brought to life on the big screen. The movie obviously looks to be inspired by the section of the same name found in Disneyland parks around the world, but at the same time, it doesn’t appear to be a commercial for the theme park either.  What director Brad Bird appears to be doing with this story is use the place “Tomorrowland” as an embodiment of the power of human ingenuity and scientific wonder, basically showcasing a magical place based around the promise and potential of the future, while also using this as a setting for a captivating sci-fi adventure.  It’s very much like Alice in Wonderland (1951) meets 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and in a good way. Brad Bird also has a strong track record going, with films like The Incredibles (2004) and Mission:Impossible 4 (2011) under his belt, so my hopes are very high for this one.  Other films will be crowd-pleasers, but this could be the one that really transports the audience to another world this summer.


Of course you can’t talk about this summer season without talking about The Avengers.  The first film was a phenomenon when it premiered in 2012, quickly becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time.  This movie looks to do just about the same, but time will tell if it can reach the high bar set by it’s predecessor. Regardless of whether or not it reaches this goal, there’s no doubt that this will be one of the summer’s biggest movies.  What I hope more than anything is that it retains much of the entertainment value that the first movie had. This movie marks the end of Phase Two of Marvel’s master plan for its cinematic universe and the beginning of Phase Three.   So far, the big gamble has paid off incredibly well for Marvel and parent company Disney, with only one stumbling block (2013’s Iron Man 3) and a ton of increasingly great standalone features; especially last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  The Avengers series makes a great benchmark for each of the different phases, and my hope is that Age of Ultron continues the trend.  I have a lot of confidence in this film, because the thing that Marvel does best is to build these movies around the characters, and it makes the films all the more interesting when there’s more of them involved.  The returning team still looks solid in this trailer, but it’s the new characters that intrigue me most, including the villain Ultron; with a menacing voice supplied by James Spader.  Director Joss Whedon proved a lot of naysayers wrong with the success of the first movie, and it looks like he’s amping things up in a good way with this follow up; expanding the universe without loosing the characteristics that make it work, which is what all the best sequels should do.


Back in 2011, the Mission: Impossible franchise breathed new life into a waning franchise with it’s fourth film Ghost Protocol, which is arguably the best movie in the series to date.  With that film, Mission: Impossible finally found its character, and can now distinguish itself as a franchise from all the other spy thrillers out there.  Not only that, but Ghost Protocol also brought an impressive sense of scale that had been missing in the series before, such as in the remarkable scene where franchise star Tom Cruise scales the exterior of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. So, how does a sequel top an amazing scene like that; by having Cruise actually hanging onto the exterior of a plane while it takes off, of course.  That’s what excites me about this new Mission: Impossible movie; it’s using what worked in the last film and takes it to the next level.  I also love that they are retaining the same team from Ghost Protocol, while also giving more screen time to series regular Ving Rhames, who was absent for the most part the last time out.  Cruise once again looks like he’s in top form here, and the fact that he still does most of his own stunt work is mind-boggling, especially  when you see what’s coming up in this new film. Ghost Protocol’s director Brad Bird was obviously busy working on Tomorrowland while this was being made, but his replacement here is writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) who’s more than capable of handling the job. This movie also provides a great fix for audiences in the spy genre this year in between Kingsmen and the next James Bond flick.


Some movies sell you on just their potential alone.  This movie however is one that caught my eye purely by how much I like this trailer. This is how you sell a movie.  The visuals mixed with the sweeping, operatic music perfectly displays the over-the-top nature that I’m sure is going to characterize this movie. The Mad Max franchise is another one of those that has sat long dormant for too long, and this movie trailer really helps to proclaim it’s return in a big way.   While Fury Road may not return the series’ original star, Mel Gibson, nor most of the original cast, it does mark the welcome return of it’s creator, Austrailian filmmaker George Miller.  And given the look of this movie from the ad, Miller intends to take the series to the next level, giving it scale unseen before.  Actor Tom Hardy is more than capable enough to fill Gibson’s shoes in the iconic role, and he seems to have good company from the supporting cast, which includes an almost unrecognizable Charlize Theron.  What I hope is that the movie lives up to this trailer.  Sometimes a film company can run the risk of selling a movie too well, and having it’s trailer be better than the movie itself.  The same risk could potentially happen here too, but my hope is that the movie will still have enough surprises in store for us. Despite what happens, I still look at this particular trailer as one of the best in recent years, and that alone helps to peak my interest in this movie.

INSIDE OUT (June 19)

One of the more reliable names during the summer season has been Pixar Studios.  For much of the last decade, their movies have not only clicked at the box office, but have been critically acclaimed as well.  However, recently the studio has succumbed to some of the pitfalls of such an extended win streak.  This has included underperforming sequels ( 2011’s Cars 2 and 2013’s Monsters University) and lackluster stories (2012’s Brave). Not only that, but tougher competition has emerged recently with animated films from other companies rising up to the high Pixar standard.  Even parent company Disney’s own animation studio has seen a resurgence with megahits like Frozen (2013).   So, at this point in time, Pixar needs something fresh and bold to help gain back some of their edge, and this movie looks like the perfect project to do just that.  Directed by Pete Doctor, who’s last film Up (2009) is considered one of Pixar’s best, delivers a unique concept here and does so with a delightful sense of humor that has become a Pixar trademark.  Embodying emotions as individuals living in our minds is a great concept, and I’m intrigued to see how the story works around this idea.  I already like the looks of the characters, and how their designs match the emotions they represent (plus, there’s no more perfect casting than comedian Lewis Black as Anger).  Pixar rarely lets us down, and hopefully Inside Out is yet another gem in their animation crown.



For a lot of people, this is the most anticipated movie of the year.  Jurassic Park (1993) is an all time classic, and the name carries a lot of weight with it.  And from the look of the trailer, it appears that the filmmakers are definitely playing on that sense of nostalgia that audiences have for the original.  It certainly does a good job of recreating the look of the series, only with a grander scale and better CGI effects.  Also, the idea of having a park open to the public in this movie, something that Dr. John Hammond (the late great Richard Attenbourough) dreamed of in the original but couldn’t make happen, is a cool idea to explore in this sequel. The reason why I’m not as enthusiastic about this movie as other people are is because I’ve been burned by this franchise before.  No series has fallen harder in recent years than Jurassic Park has.  The original by Steven Spielberg is nearly pitch perfect and still holds up today. But, it was followed up by two really awful sequels that tarnished the series; The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park III in 2001.  My hope is that Jurassic World can help restore some of the magic that this franchise once had, but nothing I’ve seen in this trailer has really convinced me of that.  Even still, I’m sure it will still be a big hit. Having Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt in the lead certainly is a plus, and the image of him on a motorcycle flanked by raptors is pretty awesome.  But, still, I’m not getting my hopes up too high with this one.

ANT-MAN (July 17)

Marvel Studios’ track record has been incredibly strong, especially with the introduction of new characters into their cinematic universe.  You would think that the first of their Phase Three films would likewise be a welcome addition, but unfortunately Ant-Man comes to theaters this summer with a lot of doubt clouding its arrival. This is primarily due to it’s troubles in development, and not from the strength of the character himself.  During pre-production, Marvel had a falling out with the film’s original writer and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), who left the project over unresolvable creative differences.  Most of the time, a filmmaker shake-up doesn’t bode well for the finished film, especially when his replacement (director Peyton Reed) seems more like a hired hand rather than someone with a bold vision.  But, even with the troubles behind the camera, the one thing that could still bode well for this movie is the cast.  All of the characters are still played by Wright’s choices in casting, and it appears that they’re trying to make the best out of their roles.  I also like the way they visualize the action scenes in this trailer, making Ant-Man’s size changing powers understandable to the average viewer.   But even if it looks amazing, my worry is that too much was lost in the shuffling of filmmakers and that most people are going to end up wondering what might have been if Edgar Wright was allowed to complete his vision for the character.


Let’s be clear, it’s not too difficult to improve upon the Fantastic Four franchise.  The 2005 original and it’s 2007 sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer are both pretty awful.  Also, rebooting the series with a new cast of actors is absolutely necessary, especially when the original Human Torch (Chris Evans) has long abandoned the series in order to don the Stars and Stripes as Captain America instead.  The one thing that keeps me from being too excited about this version, however, is that it’s a movie based on a Marvel property not made by Marvel itself.  The track record for Marvel films set outside of it’s cinematic universe has been shaky; just look at how Spider-Man imploded over at Sony.  Thankfully Fantastic Four is held by 20th Century Fox, which has treated their Marvel licensed characters with a bit more respect and care; especially with last year’s exceptional X-Men: Days of Future Past.   But, even still, the movie is going to be a tough sell, considering how poorly the franchise has been handled up to now. Also, some of the casting choices here seem a little odd (the guy who played Billy Elliott is now playing The Thing!?). Though, after watching the brilliant Whiplash from last year, I now have a lot of confidence in actor Miles Teller playing the role of Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic.  Considering what’s come before, you can only go up after hitting rock bottom.


If there has ever been a franchise that has been stretched to its limits, constantly being rebooted again and again, it would be the Terminator franchise.  This new entry once again tackles the concept of using time travel to stop a war from happening, but this time around, the movie actually takes the series back to its roots; set during the events of the original 1984 Terminator.  This to me seems like a bad way to go with the franchise.  The best thing that a series can do is to move foward and build upon what’s been there before, which is what the 1992 sequel T2: Judgment Day did so brilliantly.   This film looks to be moving the franchise backwards by trying to reimagine the past, which to me seems to be exploiting the Terminator brand purely for nostalgia rather than building upon it’s grander vision. Also, wiping the events of the original out of the timeline just so this plot can happen seems like a bad idea. The only saving grace this sequel has overall is that it marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the series. And let’s face it, without Arnold, there would’ve been no Terminator franchise to begin with.  So, while the premise behind Terminator: Genysis seems a little dubious, it is nice to see the “Governator” live up to his promise of being back.


PIXELS (July 24)

On the surface, this movie looks to have an interesting premise,  where video game characters are used as a weapon by an invading alien race, and the nifty visual effects seem impressive as well.  But let’s keep in mind, this is an Adam Sandler movie we’re talking about, and this ain’t Wreck-it Ralph (2012).  Even when given a bigger budget and broader premise to work with, Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions always seems to disappoint (Bedtime Stories and Click, for example).   And this trailer only tells me that we’re going to get more of the same play-it-safe sophomoric humor from Sandler and Co.  What hurts even more is that it looks like he’s dragged a quality actor like Peter Dinklege into the film as well.  Now, I shouldn’t be the one to tell Mr. Dinklege which movies he can and cannot do, but seriously Peter, you are much better than this.  Spare youself the pain and watch Game of Thrones instead to see Peter Dinklege at his best; or watch Punch Drunk Love (2002) to see Adam Sandler when he actually gives a damn.


The disaster movie genre is one that seems to have exploited all the potential that it has and is no longer able to shock and amaze audiences. This appears to be the case as well with San Andreas.  Based on this trailer, I see this movie as less of a captivating story and more of a showcase for visual effects, which themselves look generic and uninteresting.  Basically San Andreas looks like leftovers from a Roland Emmerich movie, and even a full helping of Roland Emmerich can be an unsatisfying meal.  The only thing that could potentially save this film could be a charismatic performance from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but even he looks like he’s phoning it in based on what’s shown in the trailer.  The disaster genre needs fresh new ideas, and sadly San Andreas just seems to be more of the same.


Remakes have dominated the filmmaking landscape for several years now, and very few of them have actually been any good.  In fact, not a single one has ever managed to top it’s predecessor.  This summer, we get a remake of what is arguably one of the best and most iconic horror movies of the last 40 years.  The original Tobe Hooper directed and Steven Spielberg produced film is a classic and still holds up today, which makes this remake all the more unnecessary.  And by the look of the trailer, this remake is doing exactly what all bad horror remakes have done, which is remove all of the great creepy atmosphere from the original and replace it with cheap jump scares.  My hope is that no one buys into this cash-in of a remake and instead I hope audiences seek out the original classic, which I guarantee you is far scarier than anything that is going to appear in this version.

So, this is my look at the coming attractions for the Summer of 2015. Hopefully there will be a lot of worthwhile entertainment found in the biggest releases of the Summer and hopefully some genuine surprises as well.  But, even though there are the big tent pole releases dominating the cinemas in the weeks ahead, there’s also a good helping of counter-programming out there from independent cinema as well.  Other worthwhile upcoming movies like Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and the Ian McKellan headlined Mr. Holmes also open quietly this Summer amongst the big dogs.  No matter what, there will always be something worth watching during this summer season, because Hollywood puts so much value into these next couple months.  Naturally, the superhero genre will  dominate the box office like it has in years past, but whoever sits on the throne by season’s end is certainly up in the air.  I for one will keep up with all the big releases of the year, with reviews and perspectives coming like they do every week.   Hopefully, this preview has helped you plot out your “to watch” list for the summer and it will be interesting to see how well these movies match our expectations, good or bad.

The 2015 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Oscar win

It’s the Oscars once again, marking the high point of the cinematic year that was 2014.  And once again, it’s a unique year that had a lot of people talking; in particular about who wasn’t nominated.  A lot of complaints rose up this year about the racial make-up of the Oscar nominated field, and just how little to no nominations went to minority talent.  While this led to cries of racism from some in the media, I honestly don’t believe that it was a decision made by design on the Academy’s part.  It unfortunately end up as a result of poor Oscar-campaigning on behalf of actors and filmmakers of different races, as was the case with Paramount Pictures late start on campaigning for their Dr. Martin Luther King biopic, Selma.  While Selma did manage to achieve a Best Picture nomination, it was all but forgotten in all other categories, including what would have been a historic nomination for it’s director, Ava Duvernay.  But, even as this left many upset with the final field of nominees, it doesn’t mean that movies like Selma will be forgotten overall.  The Oscars are a competition based around buzz and publicity.  The movies that make the biggest splash in the marketplace or have the most publicity surrounding it will almost always be the ones that prevail.  But, as I’ve stated before, this is just a yearly acknowledgement of what Hollywood values at the moment.  Great movies will always be great, and a little golden statue is not always the greatest indicator of longevity, although there have been exceptions.  But, even still, an Oscar win carries a lot of weight with it and this year’s field is full of many worthy, and maybe one not so worthy films up for the little golden man.  What follows are my picks for the top Oscar categories, and who I think will win and who should win.


Nominees: American Sniper (Jason Hall), The Imitation Game (Graham Moore), Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten), and Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

I’m going to state this right away here because it will be a running theme throughout this article; The Theory of Everything is a horrible movie and I hope that it comes up empty handed at this year’s Oscar ceremony.  Now, with that said, this is thankfully one category that it has no chance of succeeding in.  As of right now, Writer’s Guild award winner The Imitation Game seems to be going into the race as the favorite.  And despite some of the conventionality of the movie itself, I actually think that Imitation Game‘s script is still worthy enough of the award.  Writer Graham Moore filled his screenplay with enough intrigue and witty dialogue to keep us engaged, and he managed to present a nice, complex picture of an unsung hero of the Second World War.  But, is this movie also my own favorite in the category.  If I had to choose, I would give this award to Whiplash‘s Director/Writer Damien Chazelle.  Whiplash was one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences of the year, and Chazelle’s fiery and explosive screenplay was a big part of that.  I would award it just for J.K. Simmon’s lines alone.  But, unfortunately for Chazelle, this was his first feature film, and that lack of a long body of work may end up costing him in the end.  But, I dare you to find a debut screenplay as expertly crafted as Whiplash.  A potential spoiler here could also be Jason Hall’s script for the controversial by expertly crafted American Sniper, which would also be a deserving choice.  But, in the end, expect to see Imitation Game the winner.

WHO WILL WIN: Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

WHO SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash


Nominees: Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Foxcatcher (Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye), Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness)

Another running theme you will find in this article is my love for the movie Birdman.  It was my pick for the best of the year and I want it to win pretty much everything that it is nominated for.  Now of course that won’t happen, but Birdman is still a strong contender in the race, and this is one category that it’s still very much a favorite it.  Even despite having been worked on by a team of writers as opposed to one singular vision, Birdman‘s script is still one of the most emotionally moving and creative of the year.  The film’s screenplay did earn a well deserved Golden Globe, but it’s loss at the WGA awards has shown that it’s not a lock either.  The WGA winner The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be the movie with the momentum right now.  Giving the award to Wes Anderson here would probably be the consolation prize for his movie, which doesn’t look like a strong contender in any of the other races.  And Anderson has had a strong body of work for many years, so he’s long overdue for recognition from the Academy.  Though, that being said, The Grand Budapest Hotel didn’t quite grab me in the same way that Birdman did.  I liked it well enough, but I also think that it’s not among my favorite Anderson films (that would be something like Fantastic Mr. Fox or  Rushmore).  But, if he wins it here, he’s not undeserving.  I just wish that it wasn’t in competition with my favorite movie.  With all that said, I would expect this to be Wes Anderson’s year, but this could also go to Birdman if the movie has a big night.

WHO WILL WIN: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, Birdman


Nominees: Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Edward Norton (Birdman), J. K. Simmons (Whiplash), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

This is by far the easiest race to call.  It’s J.K. Simmons, unquestionably.  He was the favorite going into this race pretty much from the moment his performance in Whiplash was first seen by audiences.  Thereafter, he has won every award there is.  If he doesn’t walk away a winner at this year’s Oscar ceremony, then it will be the biggest upset in the history of the awards, which I highly doubt will happen.  He is absolutely deserving of the honor as well.  Not only did he deliver what I think is the performance of the year, as the music teacher from hell in Whiplash, but he also is one of the most highly regarded character actors in the business.  He’s been a presence in Hollywood for many years, never quite headlining any particular film but still enriching any project with his workman-like approach to every role, making him one of the most reliable actors around.  His performance in Whiplash would be more than just a legacy award however, because he is indeed the standout in this category.  The only other competition he might have would be Edward Norton’s delightfully quirky turn in Birdman, but even that is a very distant second place.  The others nominated are purely riding the coattails of the selected films, while Robert Duvall is nominated here purely because he’s Robert Duvall.  This is an even money category, and I don’t expect anyone but J. K. Simmons to be up there on Oscar night.  It might be the first award given out too, given that there’s no suspense behind it.

WHO WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

WHO SHOULD WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash


Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Laura Dern (Wild), Emma Stone (Birdman)

The strange thing about the last few weeks of this race has been the deflation of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood as the awards front-runner.  It came into the race looking like the clear favorite, until it began to fall in the Guild races to Birdman.  Now, it looks to be the runner up in many of the categories that it once appeared to be running away with.  The only race that Boyhood has remained strong in throughout the whole race has been this one.  Patricia Arquette has held onto her front-runner status this whole time, and still looks to be unchallenged going into the final stretch.  And she’s not undeserving either.  Considering the nearly 12 year stretch that the movie was in production and that she was able to maintain her focus on her character throughout that whole run (better than the rest of the cast I might add) is really quite an achievement, and is worthy of recognition.  Arquette also has a solid body of work behind her, both on film and TV, so her win here is also a way of awarding her for a solid body of work in the industry.  The remainder of the category is also strong, apart from the obligatory nomination for Meryl Streep in the mediocre Into the Woods.  Emma Stone delivers the best performance of her still young career, and Keira Knightley did valiantly well with a character who could have easily been weak if not performed in the right way.  Laura Dern was the surprise here, and I think her nomination is about as far as the accolades for her performance will go.  But like J.K. Simmons in the Supporting Actor category, this is another race with a clear favorite, and one that I think deserves her place in the spotlight.

WHO WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

WHO SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood


Nominees: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

Now we come to what is probably the most contentious race this year, at least with the acting categories.  It is also the race that pits my favorite movie of the year against one of my most hated.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I want Michael Keaton to win this award so badly.  And yes, a part of that is because I’m a big fan of Batman, and Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader is a big part of my fandom.  It’s also part of the basis of his character in Birdman, which is another reason why I love that film so much.  But, after looking at all the nominees here, I can’t help but think that Keaton’s performance was also the strongest as well.  His performance as washed-up actor Riggan Thompson is captivating and heartfelt, and also hilarious.  You also have to admire an actor who can hold his own in a film made up of long takes.  Unfortunately, as the movie’s stock has gone up in the Oscar race, Keaton’s front-runner status has fallen.  The one taking the lead now is Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of crippled Astro-physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  Now, let me state that while I hate the movie itself, Redmayne’s performance is easily the best thing in it.  I just wish his performance was placed in a better, less pandering film.  What upsets me is that once again Hollywood is falling into the cliche of honoring an able bodied actor for playing a person with a disabilty (and a historical one as well) which is one of the most overused plays in the Oscar-bait textbook.  Redmayne tries, but I still didn’t see his work as groundbreaking either.  Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to fool enough people to rob a veteran actor of his long overdue recognition.

WHO WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

WHO SHOULD WIN: Michael Keaton, Birdman


Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

This has been one of the more surprising categories of the year.  Despite having appeared in a film that has generated little to no buzz this awards season, Julianne Moore has entered this race as the clear front-runner.  Her performance in Still Alice is good, which is not surprising from the usually reliable actress, but is it really that noteworthy.  Something about this race tells me that it didn’t matter what movie Julianne Moore appeared in last year, it just seems like it’s finally her time.  This honor is more of a legacy award and less of an acknowledgement of her actual work in Still Alice, given that Julianne Moore has been a runner-up in so many other races leading up to this.  Hollywood wants to make her a part of the club of Oscar-winners, and she’s not undeserving of that either.  However, if I had to make a choice among the nominees in this category, it wouldn’t be Julianne Moore.  Instead, I would pick Rosamund Pike for her outstanding, and gutsy performance in Gone Girl, a movie that was surprisingly overlooked in most other categories this year.  Pike’s performance was a knockout, playing one of the most psychotic and devious characters I’ve seen on the big screen in a while.  Pike has usually played supporting roles up to now, but she wowed in her first lead role and pretty much ran away with the movie, seeing as how she’s the only one involved who got a nomination.  Perhaps the fact that Rosamund’s character is a little too dark for some audiences might be part of why she’s not gaining traction in this race, but even still, I wouldn’t mind seeing her spoil Julianne Moore’s seemingly unstoppable train to the top award.

WHO WILL WIN: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

WHO SHOULD WIN: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl


Nominees: Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Here is another too close to call race.  It’s down to two visionary, independent filmmakers who delivered us movies based around very different cinematic gimmicks.  One the one hand you have Richard Linklater, who devoted 12 years of his life to crafting Boyhood, which follows the life of a young boy as he grows up in real time over the progression of the movie.  And on the other hand, you have Alejandro Inarritu who crafted a movie made up of long takes all stitched together to make the movie look like it was all done in one long shot.  Both directors did a commendable job with these complex projects, but in the end, only one can take home the award.  For a while, it looked like Linklater was going to be the runaway favorite, having picked up numerous critics awards, and the Golden Globe.  But, when the Director’s Guild made their choice (one that usually almost always coincides with the eventual Oscar winner), the award went to Inarritu.  Now, Inarritu is the one carrying the momentum into the Oscar race, which again makes me very pleased.  Linklater is a talented filmmaker, but I quite frankly have never really gotten into his body of work.  I don’t dislike his movies; most of them are actually really good, including Boyhood.  But at the same time, his style has never wowed me as a viewer the same way Inarritu did with Birdman.  Still, Linklater’s labor of love for over a decade is still hard to ignore.  Although I see Inarritu deservedly winning out in the end, it wouldn’t upset me if Linklater came out on top either.

WHO WILL WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman


Nominees: Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, American Sniper, and Whiplash

Of course we now come to the big award of the night, and once again, it has become a race that’s too close to call.  Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the sprawling, 3 hour long Boyhood would be the clear front-runner, and indeed it is still selected as a favorite in most of the polling.  But, Birdman has been coming on strong in recent weeks, and I think that it has enough to topple Boyhood.  Certainly it’s wins at the Guild awards have helped.  But even with that momentum, Boyhood is still looking like the movie to beat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy splits the top awards again like they did the year prior when 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and Alfonso Cuaron winning Director.  Overall, it basically comes down to these two competitors.  The only potential spoilers could be either the quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel or the controversial American Sniper, and I highly doubt either has the weight behind them to match up to the top two.  I, of course, want Birdman to win it all.  It would be the first time since 2006 that my favorite movie of the year takes home the top award (that being Martin Scorsese’s The Departed).  But, with a race this close it’s hard to say how it will turn out.  If I had to make a guess right now, on the eve of the awards, I would say that Inarritu’s Birdman carries the entire night, picking up the most awards on it’s way to a Best Picture win, leaving Linklater and his film as the runners up.  It’s hard to put down a movie that took 12 years to complete, but unfortunately, I felt that Boyhood was more interesting as a gimmick than it was as a movie.  Birdman was everything I wanted it to be and more, and that’s why I’m rooting for it at the Oscars this year.



So, I’ve shared my thoughts on the big categories, but I think I’ll also quickly run through who I think will win all the other awards as well (of note, these are my picks and not necessarily my favorites, as I have yet to see each and every film nominated):

Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2; Cinematography: Birdman; Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Documentary Feature: CitizenFour; Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1; Film Editing: Boyhood; Foreign Language Film: Leviathan; Makeup and Hairstyling: Guardians of the Galaxy; Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Song: “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie; Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Animated Short: The Bigger Picture; Live Action Short: Butter Lamp; Sound Editing: American Sniper; Sound Mixing: Birdman; Visual Effects: Guardians of the Galaxy

It should end up being an interesting ceremony in the end.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, none of this will really matter.  The Oscars are more of a reminder of how we viewed movies in the previous year, and not about how they will age in the years to come.  Sometimes it is worthwhile to bestow an award to a movie that deserves the spotlight, especially when it’s a small movie that’s demanding to be seen, like Whiplash.  But, great movies find their audiences no matter what and some of last year’s best films were not even spotlighted in this year’s show (The Lego Movie, Gone Girl, Snowpiercer just to name a couple).  But even if it infuriates us every year, we still come back again and again and watch the Oscars religiously.  It’s a part of our culture to celebrate the movies and the Oscars are a big part of that experience.  If there’s one thing that the Academy has done right it’s to make us think that their Award matters, and in the short term it indeed can.  Small movies get that much needed boost after the awards, and most films that come away from the ceremony a winner wear that as a badge of honor.  Hopefully, this year, the awards go to the most deserving people and that the whole affair ends up being an entertaining show overall.  And once it’s all done, it will again be time to start this cycle all over again.  In the end, it gets us talking about movies and that’s what we love the most about Oscar season.