Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Movies Spotlight – 2016 Movies – May 2016

So what have I seen so far in 2016? The answer is not much, really. Most of my movie-watching time has been spent on the endless catching up on the classics of the past (and revisiting my favorites). There is seemingly an infinite amount of films from the past I am curious to see. Also, my desire to go to the movies has waned a bit. Watching most things at home is just as pleasurable, basically because it is easy. (Here is a link to all my reviews for reference).

But what have I seen – well… twelve films. That is it. Let me just go through them quickly: Loved Captain America: Civil War. We do not get too many massive blockbusters that have characters and story arcs that resonate emotionally while also keeping the promise of fun and entertainment. The airport fight scene is wonderfully joyous. Suddenly, I am just as interested in the new Spider-Man and Black Panther films as I am Thor 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Marvel, once again, hit homeruns with their casting for these new characters. Deadpool is a riot. Ryan Reynolds does the best work of his career. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is disappointing (big surprise). Zack Snyder has so much visual talent; he just struggles with story and character. He really needs to bring on people to help him craft and structure his future DC films. I am, however, interested to see what Ben Affleck does with his solo Batman film.

The Jungle Book was far better than I would have ever imagined it could be. I even enjoyed its use of 3D. Disney’s other early release, Zootopia was also surprisingly good. I thought it was there “B” animiated project for 2016, with Moana being their “A”; but, Zootopia is funny, sweet and has a good message for children. It is a very good family film.

My favorite indie film so far this year is The Witch, Robert Eggers’s period horror film. It is a beautifully made and acted film that is scary and hits all the right aesthetic beats. I doubt there will be a better horror film this year. Anya Taylor-Joy is a star in the making. I also really enjoyed Hush on Netflix. It is a great horror/thriller from Mike Flanagan (who also made Oculus). 10 Cloverfield Lane was a fun thriller highlighted by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Making something work when in most takes place in one room is very tough. Midnight Special, from Jeff Nichols, is also a thematically interesting sci-fi drama. Very strong performances from his cast.

All the Way, which just debuted on HBO, is a good period drama about LBJ’s first year as President of the United States following President Kennedy’s assassination. Wonderful performances from Anthony Mackie and Bryan Cranston. Hail, Caesar! the new quirky comedy from the Coen Brothers is good, but probably one of their weaker efforts. It reminds me of A Serious Man (which I liked a lot more). And finally, Ricky Gervais’s new comedy on Netflix Special Correspondents is probably his worst project to date. Even his biggest fans can skip it.

There three films I missed in theaters earlier this year that I am very much looking forward to seeing at home. First, Sing Street, the new musical from John Carney about a young boy who forms a band to impress a girl in 1980s Ireland. I loved Once and also enjoyed Begin Again (more the second time I saw it). Second, Everybody Wants Some, the seemingly thematic follow-up to Dazed and Confused from Richard Linklater. The film looks like a fun, cool hangout which a bunch a guys playing college baseball. And third, Green Room, the new horror/thriller from Jeremy Saulnier (who also made the intense Blue Ruin). Saulnier, along with Mike Flanagan, Adam Wingard and Ti West, has really rejuvenated the American indie horror film.

Now, what am I most excited to see for the rest of 2016? Let me start with the blockbusters. Rogue One, the new Star Wars one-off from Gareth Edwards (who also made Monsters and Godzilla), looks fantastic. I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, but it is still somewhat bogged down in being an origin story for its new characters and paying so much fan service (I think Episode VIII is going to be much stronger). Rogue One may fall into the same trappings, having to introduce us to a bunch of new characters and hopefully it will not fall back on characters we do know (like Darth Vader, Han Solo and so on) too much (or at all), but it looks like a great action thriller. Ben Mendelsohn as the villain is going to be incredible; he very well might be our best character actor right now. I love the Harry Potter films; they are among my very favorite adventure genre films. That said, I was out on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for most of its preproduction. I just was not into the casting choices and I feel like it is generally a mistake to go back in time (because, ultimately we know what happens in the end, which reduces the stakes – I mean, how bad can the events of this new series be if we have never heard about them once during Harry Potter?). But the latest trailer has me all the way back in. It looks good. Doctor Strange has a phenomenal cast, but the teaser trailer did not grab me at all. In fact, the Inception-like elements of it felt like a big letdown, lazy. I hope it turns out well in the end. I imagine D23 will give us a new, and hopefully better, trailer. Suicide Squad has had a few great trailers and Margot Robbie looks brilliant as Harley Quinn. Will DC and Warner Bros. get this one right? Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are both back for Jason Bourne the Bourne sequel that no one knew they wanted until they saw the teaser. I hope Alicia Vikander has more to do they talk at monitors though.

Disney has some great animated films upcoming too (and their remake of Pete’s Dragon, which is totally random. I grew up with that film on a VHS my mom made recording Marry Poppins and Pete’s Dragon off the TV, but I never thought anyone saw it as essential or a major Disney project. Disney is also remaking Mary Poppins incidentally). Their Walt Disney Animation Studio release is Hawaii-set Moana, from Ron Clements and John Musker (who also directed/wrote The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules). The voice cast features Hawaii’s own Auli’I Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. Their Pixar release is Finding Dory, which is both awesome and disappointing. Awesome because everyone like Finding Nemo and the same creative team is making this sequel. Disappointing because I think we all want Pixar to focus on original projects like last year’s fantastic Inside Out (although, their “B” film The Good Dinosaur was poor by Pixar standards).

Hollywood has a few very good looking films as well this Fall/Winter. Passengers sounds amazing on paper. A sci-fi film from Morten Tyldum (who also made Headhunters and The Imitation Game) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (who will hopefully have the best chemistry of all, as they are maybe our two most likable stars right now). It is about a man who prematurely wakes up from cryogenic sleep, years too early, during space travel. Instead of facing his life alone, he decides to wake up another passenger. I like everything about this film. I hope it is great. Robert Zemekis is back with a new film, which is generally a good thing, a very good thing. Allied stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard and is about spies during WWII (I am 100% in). The Girl on the Train looks like a potentially superb thriller (even if Tate Taylor is doing his best David Fincher impression). This also has a great cast, highlighted by Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson. Out right now is Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. I am a big fan of Black’s films (as a writer: Lethal Weapon and The Last Boyscout; as writer/director: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 and now The Nice Guys). He really just makes the same film over and over, but I am not tired of it yet. His LA detective stories, his plots that are really about something else, his great dialog, and his very funny humor.

The best films from 2016, however, seem to be the prestige indies coming this Fall/Winter. The Light Between Oceans, the new drama from Derek Cianfrance starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, feels like the way-too-early frontrunner for best film of 2016. The trailer showcases the heartbreaking drama and incredible performances of the film. Ang Lee’s new drama, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, very much looks to take its place as a definitive narrative on the Iraq/Afghanistan War and the soldiers who come home from the horror faced over there. Sundance favorite The Birth of a Nation (I assume very specifically titled as a comment on the D.W. Griffith film) should make a big awards season impact. Nate Parker, who writes, directs and stars in the film, seems to have emerged as 2016’s brightest new talent. J.A. Bayona’s family film A Monster Calls also promises to be aesthetically and thematically just right (like a better version of Steven Spielberg’s summer release The BFG), feeling akin to Pan’s Labyrinth.

There are also a number of films that do not yet have trailer that sound potentially great. James Ponsoldt (director of Smashed, The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour) has a new sci-fi drama due out starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Martin Scorsese has long been working on a period drama called Silence about priests in Japan. It stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver. Terry George (director of Hotel Rwanda) is finally making a new film, the drama The Promise with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. Denis Villeneuve (director of Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario) has a new drama called Story of Your Life with Amy Adams. Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash) returns with a musical called La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and J.K. Simmons. Jeff Nichols (releasing another film this year) just won a ton of acclaim at Cannes for his new romance drama Loving. And, Kenneth Lonergan’s new drama Manchester by the Sea was also a darling of Sundance, many naming Casey Affleck’s performance as an awards season must.

Much like last year, the blockbuster season/summer releases feel a little disappointing and all the best stuff will come out in the Fall/Winter – even the best blockbusters still to come do not come out until November (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and December (Rogue One).