Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movies Spotlight – Upcoming 2015 Films – February 2015

Last year was an interesting year for film. For most of 2014, it felt like it was a fairly weak year, aside from a few bright spots (Sundance hits Boyhood and Whiplash, the surprisingly great The Lego Movie and Wes Anderson’s wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel). Even the summer movie season felt underwhelming, with many disappointments. Edge of Tomorrow was probably the best summer blockbuster (May-July – the typical summer season for big movies), but it did not find its audience and was a commercial disappointment (to go with all the critical disappointments). Really, only Marvel succeeded with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, bookending the summer coming in early April and early August, respectively. But then awards season rolled around and suddenly we were treated to lots of very good films (Gone Girl, Interstellar, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Calvary, and Nightcrawler), turning 2014 into a fairly great year for movies. Especially given that most of the year’s best films came from original narratives (at least original in film form).


2015 is a whole different story. It is shaping up to be the year of the blockbuster sequel. That may sound negative and depressing, a whole year defined by sequels and tent poll films, but honestly I am very excited (as are many of us, I imagine) to see most of these films. Among the sequels/reboots are: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Spectre (the latest installment in the Daniel Craig James Bond films), Ant-Man (continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if he is a new character to cinema), Mission: Impossible 5, Fantastic Four, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.


Disney starts the year off in March with their live-action Cinderella (which looks fairly good). Turning their classic animated films into live action films seems to me to be in response to other studios doing their own adaptations of the stories. I think Disney would probably be happier to not make these live action films, but I guess there is money to be made and they probably think they can do them better. So far, none of them has been very good, by Disney or any other studio. Cinderella looks like it might be, however, as it seems to feature the classic style and grace of the original animated film with a modern vibe to make it more accessible for today’s audiences.


There is not really that much else of interest in March. Well, I am curious about Chappie. It does look like a mix between RoboCop and Short Circuit; but despite the disappointment of Elysium, Neill Blomkamp is still one of the more exciting filmmakers making sci-fi films right now. It was just announced that he is making a new Alien film to be released 2017. Based on the concept art, it looks like it might be really great.


In April, Furious 7 starts off the month, promising to deliver yet another boring formulaic and generic action film built on impossible car stunts. I did enjoy Fast 5, but the rest of the series is not really worth anyone’s time, aside from the pure spectacle of it all. The rest of the month seems just as uninteresting as well. Child 44, however, could be an exception. It is a new thriller from Daniel Espinosa (who directed Easy Money and Safe House) and features a great cast, including: Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Repace, and Gary Oldman. The other exception is the British sci-fi import Ex Machina (which I think very well might be the best film to open prior to the summer season).


And then, finally, in May things kick off. The month starts off with one of 2015’s two biggest films Avengers: Age of Ultron. For some critics and filmmakers, it seems easy to dismiss superhero/comic book films as mindless entertainment and not engaging art (like say the films nominated for Best Picture Oscars) and there are many, many examples of bad superhero/comic books movies. Yet, when they are done well, they bring great storytelling and spectacle to the masses, and have their own artistic charms as well. When brilliant filmmakers have passion for the material, they are going to make great films that everyone will see (not just a few). Joss Whedon is one of these brilliant filmmakers. On The Avengers, he was handcuffed a bit by coming to the project a little late in its creative process and needing to fulfill Marvel’s story structure – he still made a wonderfully entertaining film. With Age of Ultron, Whedon has created the film in whole, carefully crafting the story, action set pieces and character arcs. I cannot wait to see it.


Also opening the month of May is Far from the Madding Crowd, a potential Oscar contending drama starring Carey Mulligan, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Michael Sheen. The film is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of Denmark’s greatest auteurs. He made the 2012 drama The Hunt, which I highly recommend. In terms of other non-blockbusters, Cameron Crowe’s new film Aloha comes out later in the month. It boasts a very strong cast with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, John Kransinski, Jay Baruchel, and Alec Baldwin. There is some trepidation regarding whether or not the film will be any good, given its tumultuous production, but there is no denying that based on its cast alone it sure has the potential to be really fun.


After Avengers: Age of Ultron, May also offers the blockbusters Mad Max: Fury Road and Tomorrowland. The latest iteration of the Mad Max series, with Tom Hardy taking on the title role, looks absolutely bonkers, but in all the best ways. It looks aesthetically magnificent, and I want to see it just for its grandiose set-pieces. Tomorrowland sounds like a terrible idea conceptually. Disney taking one of their theme park areas and adapting it into a feature film. And yet, the film looks very interesting. Disney hired Pixar veteran Brad Bird (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) to write and direct the film and Damon Lindelof (Lost and The Leftovers) to co-write it. That is a solid creative team. The film stars George Clooney and Britt Robertson (who is looking to have a breakout year). Tomorrowland very well could be one of the summer’s best films.


 In June, there are a few highly anticipated films, namely: Jurassic World and Inside Out. Universal Pictures hired indie filmmaker Colin Trevorrow to write and directed the film that they hope will jumpstart one of their biggest franchises that stalled out a bit with two poor sequels. They also made a great choice in casting Chris Pratt (fresh off his breakout film role in Guardians of the Galaxy) as their lead. Jurassic World hopes to recapture the magic of Steve Spielberg’s original. Inside Out is Pixar’s first of their two films slated for 2015 (the other is November’s The Good Dinosaur). It looks to be a good family film, mixing comedy and drama well, while engaging not only young audience members but also their parents (something that feels rare in family films).


July keeps the sequels coming with Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, and Minions; but, the more interesting films are maybe the reimaginings of Peter Pan and Poltergeist. Joe Wright, who is a fine British director, makes his first big studio film with Pan – an adaptation of the Peter Pan story that finds Hook as a younger man who aligns himself with Peter and Tiger Lilly to take on the villainous pirate Blackbeard (played by Hugh Jackman). Assuming Warner Bros. wants this to be the beginning of a new franchise, I imagine that things go wrong for Hook leading him down the dark path to becoming the famous villain Captain Hook we all know. Poltergeist was one of the scarier films of my childhood. Remaking it, as it is with remaking any other classic film, seems a tall order and unnecessary. Yet, this new Poltergeist looks quite good. It is directed by Gil Kenan who made the wonderful animated Halloween film Monster House and produced by horror master Sam Raimi.


July does also have a couple big films that could be very good. The final film in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase II is Ant-Man. Its production troubles seem to have marginalized it for many fans (the original writer-director of the film, Edgar Wright, left the project due to creative differences with Marvel), but it still has a great cast with Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. Plus, Marvel has yet to miss during its splendid Phase II run. The film I am most looking forward to in July, however, is Trainwreck, the new R-rated comedy from Judd Apatow. The film stars and is written by stand-up comic Amy Schumer (who is maybe the funniest person in America right now). The film has an outstanding cast of comedians and great actors, including: Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Mike Birbiglia, Randall Park, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, and others. It should serve as Schumer springboard into the mainstream. I think Trainwreck will be 2015’s best comedy.


August has a few smaller films that could prove to be big hits, like: Goosebumps, Straight Outta Compton and Regression; but I am most interested in its two blockbusters. Opening the month is the reboot Fantastic Four, directed by Josh Trank (who made the fantastic small superhero film Chronicle). Fox has stated that they want this new Fantastic Four franchise to exist within the same universe as their X-Men films (whether or not that is actually the case, we shall see). The film looks very good, a big change from the utter terribleness of the past two Fantastic Four films Fox made. Fox did a great job casting the films with some of our brightest young stars (Miles Teller of Whiplash, Kate Mara of House of Cards and Michael B. Jordan of Fruitvale Station). The other is the reboot of the remake of the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., an action spy adventure set during the 1960s. Stylish British director Guy Ritchie is writing and directing (and it seems like a really good fit for him) and he has a great cast with Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, and Hugh Grant.


Sundance this year produced some great films that very well could contend for Oscars next February. I want to look at five films from the festival that stood out. First the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. This drama features strong performances from its young cast (Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Oliva Cooke) and is very Oscar friendly dramatically and narratively. James Ponsoldt’s new film The End of Tour features a breakthrough performance by Jason Segel (at least in terms of him being recognized for his dramatic skill as well as his comedic skill – although, I would argue that it was already clear from his great work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Segel very well could be among the Best Actor nominees. Brooklyn, John Crowley’s new film, is another potential Best Picture nominee. It is a period romance dramedy about Ellis Lacey, a young Irish woman who must decide if she want to remain in Ireland or make the move to America permanently. And finally, Sundance’s most fun film was Dope, a coming-of-age story about three friends growing up in Inglewood. It feels like a Boyz n the Hood for a new generation. Dope is slated for a June release, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is slated for July and The End of Tour will likely see Fall/Winter Releases.


2015 seems like the year of massive blockbusters, but there are some original films form some of our greatest current auteurs coming later in the year. Danny Boyle is directing a biopic about Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Quentin Tarantino has a new western The Hateful Eight, Sunday’s multiple Oscar winner (including Best Director and Best Picture) Alejandro G. Inarritu is also making a western of sorts with The Revenant (the film I think is the way-too-early Best Picture frontrunner), Terrence Malick has a new stream of consciousness wandering narrative Knight of Cups, David O. Russell is again reteaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro for Joy, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga directs the child-soldier narrative Beasts of No Nation, Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi with The Martian, and Denis Villeneuve gives us a new mystery thriller with Sicario. Lots of great stuff to look forward to – I also want to mention Justin Kurzel’s new dark adaptation of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard; it looks incredible.

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