2017: Surprises and storylines so far in movies

Welcome to (almost) August.

Well, ok, in the real world. But in the parallel cinematic universe that mirrors our own, it’s probably more accurate to say we’re coming up on the end of April as far as the movie year goes, what with most of the year’s best films to come as the weather gets cooler.

Nonetheless, 2017 has been supremely interesting for movies so far.

We got a 2018 Best Picture dark horse contender almost a full year early in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Following a series of misfires, DC finally gave us a film that is both a critical darling and box office smash in Wonder Woman. After La La Land invigorated the musical last year, Edgar Wright reinvented it with Baby Driver. And, of course, Marvel Studios keeps doing Marvel Studios things. Continue reading →

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Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

Picking out which films we are most excited for at this point in the year is an interesting task.

It’s an opportunity to guesstimate how a movie will turn out based on the footage and information we have up to this point, but by no means do I expect (at least right now) any of these movies to in the running for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars.

The best films in any given year usually spring out of nowhere. At this point in 2016, most audiences and critics knew little – or nothing at all – about “Moonlight,” “Manchester By The Sea” or “La La Land.” At this point those are the frontrunners for the top prize at the Academy Awards. Some of this year’s critical darlings might not even have a distributor yet, though the season’s first big film festival, Sundance, begins in just a few weeks.

So there’s some optimism to be had knowing that the best films of 2017 won’t be listed here (although you could potentially make the case for one or two by year’s end). Instead, most of these are movies that we know have been in the works for a while, have built up some hype, and mostly fall into the category of “popcorn flick.”

This list provides a chance at sucking up to particular franchises and filmmakers as excitement levels are fairly high, before they hit the theaters and we get to see if they meet our expectations.

Check out the trailers, mark your calendars, and revel in the fact that this will easily be the most gushing I do about franchise sequels this year.


10. “The Emoji Movie” – August 4

Ha. Just kidding.


10. “The Belko Experiment” – March 17

Heavily influenced by the gleefully violent foreign flick “Battle Royale,” “The Belko Experiment” explores what would happen if a regular office full of 9-to-5 workers was suddenly forced to participate in a game of kill or be killed against their colleagues.

The film – written by James Gunn, who is always full of surprises – looks like sheer bloody, self-aware fun, in a way that we expected 2014’s “The Green Inferno” to be. If you’re going to hire a babysitter for any film on this list, “The Belko Experiment” would be the one.


9. “Coco” – November 22

coco

Though Pixar has yet to release any footage for its upcoming Día de los Muertos-themed flick, “Coco” will seemingly be the last original offering by the animation giant before a wave of anticipated sequels are released in the next few years. Following in the footsteps of “Moana,” “Coco” looks to explore another culture that is underrepresented on the big screen, that of Mexico.

Though there are little plot details at this point, early artwork for the film suggests a vibrant, engrossing, and totally Pixarian exploration at a holiday that is vastly misunderstood outside of Mexico.


8. “Dunkirk” – July 21

Christopher Nolan has spent the better part of the last 15 years reinventing the Batman story, taking us farther into the cosmos than we might have thought imaginable (“Interstellar”), and creating a legitimate sci-fi masterpiece in “Inception.”

Now he’s turning to history for inspiration, bringing to the big screen the untold story of nearly half a million Allied forces who were staring death in the eye during World War II on the beaches of France.

Harry Styles of One Direction fame joins Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy in what is sure to be another Nolan offering that can only be truly appreciated in IMAX. “Dunkirk” also looks to continue the theme of emotional, ominous scores pervading the directors’ recent works.


7. “Logan” – March 3

Judging from its beautifully made trailer, “Logan” is trying  to single-handedly save the annual period of despair between Oscar season and the summer from being another cinematic landfill of Hollywood excrement.

Hugh Jackman returns in what is presumably (maybe? Maybe not?) the final turn of his iconic incarnation of “Wolverine,” while director James Mangold seems to be fully embracing the newfound potential of R-rated comic book movies in a post-“Deadpool” world. Expect Jackman to unleash a fury like we have yet to experience, balanced with the most vulnerable state we have ever seen Wolverine in.

But if you’re trying to figure out where this fits in the timeline of X-Men flicks, that’s a futile effort. Here’s hoping “Logan” doesn’t concern itself too much with saving it.


6. “Okja” – TBA

lily-collins-movie-set-okja-tom-lorenzo-site-1

If there is one foreign filmmaker that American audiences should turn to as providing the most accessible of unique and wholly original films, it’s South Korean director Joon-ho Bong.

After bringing us the criminally underrated “Snowpiercer” in 2013, Bong returns with what is sure to be another standout vision in “Okja,” in which a young girl tries to prevent a massive creature from being taken by a powerful company, presumably for experimentation. Think “E.T.” with more complex themes, a tonally all-encompassing screenplay, and some Jake Gyllenhaal for good measure.

The best part? “Okja” will be available on Netflix from the onset. So the vast majority of you don’t have an excuse to miss this one.


5. “War for the Planet of the Apes” – July 14

If the franchise reboot “Rise” was “Batman Begins,” 2014’s “Dawn” was its “The Dark Knight, improving on it in nearly every way to provide a thematically complex popcorn movie with memorable action sequences.

The third entry arrives this summer, one in which simian leader Caesar is grasping for whatever semblance of respect he has for the human race. Meanwhile, series newcomer Woody Harrelson’s military commander is hell-bent on annihilating the species in what can only be called a complete encapsulation of the film’s title.

Expect fantastic action, and another motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis that makes an Oscar category for CGI-ified actors all the more necessary.


4. “Alien: Covenant” – May 19

The next entry in the Alien saga, directed by franchise creator Ridley Scott, is the most “high-risk, high-reward” entry on this list. The legendary director has said that this film is going back to the series’ horror roots. It’s also officially a sequel to the polarizing “Prometheus” while taking us closer to the original story of the doomed Nostromo.

The initial trailer promises slimy, bloody mayhem – in other words, the fulfilled promise to the hard-R glory days of one of cinema’s most imaginative (and monstrous) creatures.

But the burden is also on Scott to provide us with answers teased in “Prometheus” so as to more fully flesh out the mythos at large. If all the right notes are hit, this could be the sleeper hit of the year, providing “Rogue One”-esque fan service while also being simply a bloody good time.

The film’s cast is certainly intriguing, as Michael Fassbender returns to join James Franco (?), Billy  Crudup (!), and Katherine Waterston in a role that seems like a throwback to everyone’s favorite Alien asskicker, Ripley.


3. “Blade Runner 2049” – October 6

When a sequel to the 35-year old sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” was first announced, I probably wasn’t the first one to break out in nervous sweating. An extremely long-gestating sequel to a movie that, by many accounts, probably shouldn’t have worked in the first place with its incredibly heavy themes and broody aesthetic? Good luck with that.

Then a director was announced for the job: Dennis Villeneuve, and pessimism turned to heavy-handed excitement.

Villeneuve has established himself as one of the premiere directors in Hollywood, having churned out incredible film after incredible film in recent years, the most recent being critical darling and Oscar contender “Arrival.” He’s shown a propensity for handling complex themes with grace and delicacy, which is precisely what is needed for “Blade Runner 2049,” a film that we can expect won’t connect automatically with a mainstream audience.

The cast of Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, and, yes, Harrison Ford’s return is also compelling.

At the very least, this could very well be the most technically proficient blockbuster of the year, especially with masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins lending his talents behind the camera.


2. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – May 5

The second entry in Marvel’s oddball franchise certainly has high expectations, but this is the film on this list I’m most optimistic about being a critical and commercial hit.

The first “Guardians,” brought to us by James Gunn, was entertaining and endearing to the point of total satisfaction. If Baby Groot isn’t enough to make us want to buy a ticket, there’s also the introduction of Kurt Russell to the MCU that we can look forward to, as well as how Gunn integrates classic rock hits into the spectacle and humor once again.


1. “Star Wars: Episode VIII” – December 15

star-wars

How many spots in the all-time top 10 grossing movies will be filled by a “Star Wars” flick when it’s all said and done? Hell, will the franchise ever reach a point that it’s truly “all said and done”?

It’s too soon to worry about that, but for now we can look forward to a probably much more mature second entry in this trilogy of movies.

Rian Johnson of “Looper” and fame takes the reins this time around, and he’s provided the most minimal of details for his vision: It will begin moments after the end of “The Force Awakens,” with Rey having found Luke, isolated and presumably in a dark place.

Knowing Johnson’s style, that may just be the start of how he intends to break away from “Star Wars” precedent. And, of course, fans will want to see the late Carrie Fisher as the iconic Leia one more time on the big screen.


Five movies we really don’t need this year…or any other year

Because Hollywood is Hollywood, and Hollywood wants money.

 

5.  “A Dog’s Purpose” – January 27

Don’t worry, I can hear you say it. “How dare you not be simply ecstatic about a movie about DOGS?!”

Because a movie that encourages you to mistake a ridiculous premise and (judging from the trailer) a screenplay devoid of substance for canine sympathy doesn’t deserve my attention, nor yours.


4. “The Mummy” – June 9

This one could beat my expectations, I’ll admit. But only because my expectations are for this to be nothing more than a cringeworthy, hypermasculine reboot of a franchise that once upon a time commanded respect.

Can’t wait to read about what stunts Tom Cruise insisted he take on this time, though.


3. “Halloween: The Night Evil Died” – June 23

The only thing more disappointing than this franchise’s willingness to continue chipping away at the legacy of the 1978 horror classic is that subtitle.


2 “Transformers: The Last Knight” – June 23

Why, Michael? Truly, why?


1. “Justice League” – November 17

Remember that one Thanksgiving where your uncles got in a politically-charged argument, ending with plates being thrown, people screaming, and you slipping in the vomit your baby cousin just deposited on the carpet?

Yeah, the DC cinematic universe is, right now, a bigger mess than even that. And the fact that Zack Snyder is still in charge of it all doesn’t create any hope for the future.

 

 

Thanks for reading. Here’s to 2017. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron, a disenchanting and explicitly naiive roadmap for Marvel’s Phase Three

Avengers: Age of Ultron is opening to some fairly lofty expectations. Everyone knows it, what with the first Avengers premiering to nearly universal acclaim, bringing every comic book fanboy’s dream to life while garnering $1.5 billion in the process.

So yes, director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) in some respects set the bar incredibly high for himself. But over the last year, it’s been raised even higher. Last year’s Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings – the noir thriller Captain America 2: Winter Soldier and Star Wars/Dirty Dozen mashup Guardians of the Galaxy – were some of the studio’s strongest outputs to date, and it was up to Whedon to keep the ball rolling.

He stumbles.

And, tragically, he starts with the titular villain, Ultron: James Spader (Boston Legal, The Blacklist, Lincoln), who voices the robotic nemesis, does his job. Whedon does not.

Ultron is scene-stealing, and it’s all thanks to Spader’s trademark verbal flourish, menacing and charming all at once. He would make an excellent Bond villain sometime just with the way he speaks, he’s so ostensibly threatening.

Spader brings Ultron to life – and literally so in a sequence that is gorgeously written and hauntingly brilliant, in the way it’s cinematically choreographed – but unfortunately it’s just downhill from there. Whedon simply can’t balance Spader’s euphemisms with the threat that Ultron poses. He ends up being underwhelming, comic relief more that we’d like. Which is a travesty given how horrifying the trailers built him up to be.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

Loki, a constant highlight in MCU films, is a hard enough enemy to top in himself, but it seems like all the attention Whedon put on making Loki so endearing and mystifyingly brilliant in The Avengers was concentrated elsewhere.

That elsewhere being our heroes, banded together to finish off the remains of Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D., albeit for only a time before cracks start to show. Age of Ultron once again does a great job balancing each hero’s contributions and showing off their abilities in battle and their humanity while not taking down enemies, especially – and invitingly – when it comes to Jeremy Renner’s (The Hurt Locker, American Hustle) Hawkeye, who has an exponentially larger role than he held in 2012’s The Avengers.

As with The Avengers, Whedon again shows his strength in the various little moments between huge action set pieces, as well as within them. The film is expectedly full of hilarious one-liners – heck, the very first bit of dialogue in the movie will make you laugh out loud – and there is even an unexpectedly human romantic storyline between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov. Their relationship is eloquently done, with just enough focus on it to detract from the world around them falling apart.

As awesome as the team is, it’s certainly not as exciting seeing them together on the screen this time around, which was what made the first Avengers so fascinating to behold. To compensate, Whedon goes noticeably darker with his sequel, something increasingly common in the MCU with recent films. The tone is about as consistent as you can be, and definitely puts the film on a different tier than Avengers, but not necessarily a higher tier.

There are some pacing issues too. It takes its sweet time on occasion, testing our patience, and Age of Ultron does have a small case of “How did you get here? Why are you here?” syndrome with some characters.

Be afraid, box office competition.

Be afraid, box office competition.

The plot isn’t exactly as straightforward as it could be, but in the increasingly interconnected and complex MCU web, when is anything ever simple anymore?

The premise is basic. Tony Stark has an idea. The idea goes berserk. Avengers assemble. It’s almost completely predictable, committing one of cinema’s cardinal sins. But Whedon covers his backside with new inclusions.

The bigger of which are the twins, themselves more interesting characters than Ultron ever hopes to be. While what drives Ultron is basically ripped off of Terminator, the motivations behind what drives Wanda and Pietro Maximoff – Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is much more down to earth and also much more sympathetic.

And interesting. Just much, much more interesting. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Elizabeth Olson (Godzilla, Oldboy) do a substantial amount with the limited exposure they have, something to be admired.

The twins also add an interesting new dynamic to the film’s action pieces, along with newcomer Vision. Whedon makes sure to get them their due diligence in what eventually becomes a pretty crowded field of players. Quicksilver doesn’t quite match the glory of Evan Peters’ iteration in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he provides his own standout moment nonetheless.

Welcome to the party.

Welcome to the party.

Much of Age of Ultron’s two and a half hour running time can be attributed to his devotion to each individual hero, Thor’s “side mission” being the supremely weak link; it’s distracting and almost certainly there just to serve as a set-up for future MCU films (I mean, of course).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the growing rift between Captain American and Iron Man is fascinating to behold. We seen the two going at it as they did in Avengers, and they have even more at stake by being at each others’ throats this time around. Get excited, people. Captain America: Civil War should be a good one.

Wait. You're not Thor.

Wait. You’re not Thor.

But enough about plot and intimate moments. We know why we’re all here, why Age of Ultron is going to be filling up movie theaters for weeks to come – the action and spectacle!

Concerning explosions, flying cars and flying punches, this must be said: if you’ve seen the ten or so films in the MCU, you know what you’re getting. The action delivers at times, but in other moments it is mundane, kind of like you know you’ve seen a certain way Cap throws his shield at baddies fifty times before, or how you’ve become so familiar with Iron Man whizzing through the sky blowing up baddies.

At least they’re consistent, right?

That being said, out of the four or five distinct action set pieces, two of them stand out. The finale, obviously, is one of them. Michael Bay should take a few pointers from Marvel as to how to create action with weight and levity. Age of Ultron does an excellent job in his final, destructive act of infusing drama with the punches, actual consequences with each car or building that is blown up. The finale may run a tad long, but it’s something to behold, even though it is barely not just a rehash of Avengers’ New York City piece, with robots replacing alien invaders this time around.

And then there’s the Hulk vs. Iron Man Hulkbuster suit, without a doubt the most high-octane sequence of the film. Everyone wants to see the Hulk go out of his mind, and he does in a memorable sequence that the audience wouldn’t watching on repeat for an hour.

Maybe he should have been the primary antagonist. Avengers: Age of Hulk? No? Okay.

 

In a Nutshell

Whedon brings his strengths to the table with Age of Ultron, but also offers a glance at his weaknesses. If only he’d spent more time exploring the potential of Ultron himself, the film could have been much different.Thanks for the ride, Joss, but it’s time to hand the reins to the Russo brothers to finish off the Avengers’ story.

7.5 / 10

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffallo…ahh c’mon, you’ve seen this lineup before.

Directed by Joss Whedon

2015

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.