In 1973, a military expedition takes a group of scientists and representatives of a mysterious organization called Monarch to an island in the Pacific that harbors many secrets. The giant ape is brought back to the screen as part of a cinematic monster universe, following Godzilla (2014). This 3D adventure keeps its tongue firmly in cheek while delivering its monstrous thrills, which are considerable. Huge, terrifying beasts, well-staged action sequences and a sense of humor that fits hand in glove with its retro approach and Vietnam War symbolism. A terrific cast, with John C. Reilly a stand-out as a pilot who’s been stranded since WWII.
2017-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly. Music: Henry Jackman. Cast: Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard), John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell… John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins.
Trivia: Together with Terry Notary, Kebbell also provided Kong’s motion-capture performance. Michael Keaton and J.K. Simmons were considered for roles.
Last word: “I honestly went away [from a meeting with Legendary] and I was, like, not thinking about it. There is no version of this movie that I can make. And then somehow, this idea popped into my head of choppers and napalm, and searing sunsets, and ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘King Kong’. Like, a Vietnam movie mixed with a Ray Harryhausen film. There are so many interesting thematics associated with that, beyond the genre mash-up of Kong punching helicopters out of the sky. [In 1973] we were putting satellites into space for the first time, and looking down on the world and mapping the world, and it felt credible that we could discover something like [Skull Island]. I loved the idea that the 70s was a split between science and myth in my mind.” (Vogt-Roberts, Den of Geek)
It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2017 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.
* The Comedian – Robert De Niro gets a chance to redeem himself after appearing in far too many bad comedies. Directed by Taylor Hackford; Danny DeVito has a supporting part.
* Split – … and this is M. Night Shyamalan’s chance to redeem himself after far too many convoluted, bad horror movies. This one has James McAvoy as a kidnapper with 24 personalities.
* The Founder – Early reviews of this drama following the early days of McDonald’s say the movie may not be a masterpiece, but Michael Keaton is aces in the lead.
* The Lego Batman Movie– Will this spin-off to The Lego Movie (2014) be as surprisingly enjoyable as the original?
* Fifty Shades Darker – Will this sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) challenge its audience more than the original did? The trailer doesn’t look too promising.
* John Wick: Chapter 2 – Keanu Reeves returns for more action. February really is a month for B-movie sequels.
* A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski delivers a horror thriller, his first since The Ring(2002), and it is set in the Swiss Alps.
* Tulip Fever – Alicia Vikander stars in this drama set during the tulip craze in The Netherlands in the 1600s. Also has Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis and Cara Delevingne in the cast. Directed by Justin Chadwick, who made The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) look so good.
* Logan – The world seemed a bit tired of all the X-Men movies, but then came the trailer above for James Mangold’s next Wolverine movie, and now we’re all excited again.
* T2 Trainspotting – Danny Boyle’s long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting (1996) reunites the old cast. Opens January 27 in Britain.
* Kong: Skull Island – The big ape is discovered during a military mission to Skull Island. The first two trailers look great. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston.
* Beauty and the Beast – The live-action version of the 1991 animated classic. Guaranteed to be a box-office hit judging from the online interest in the trailers. Stars Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor and Dan Stevens.
* King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Guy Ritchie’s version of the oft-filmed legend. The trailer makes it look brutal. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur.
* Ghost in the Shell – This manga adaptation has Scarlett Johansson in the lead as “The Major”.
* Going in Style – The trailer promises no fireworks, but I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to watch Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Ann-Margret at work.
* The Fate of the Furious– The eighth film in the franchise adds Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron to the cast. The trailer is quite explosive.
* The Lost City of Z – Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam star in James Gray’s film about a real-life explorer who disappeared while searching for a city in the Amazon in the 1920s.
* The Circle – A thriller about a big tech company, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
* Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This sequel comes with a fun trailer that promises more of the laughs and thrills that made the original a hit.
* Snatched – Goldie Hawn returns to the big screen after a 14-year absence, playing Amy Schumer’s mother in a raunchy comedy.
* Alien: Covenant – Ridley Scott returns with this sequel to Prometheus, a film that (judging from the trailer) seems firmly grounded in the Alien universe.
* Annabelle 2 – A sequel that hopefully will improve on the lackluster first film. Lights Out director David F. Sandberg has his work cut out for him.
* Baywatch – The film adaptation of the cheesy 1990s TV show aims for babes, laughs and a few thrills. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are in the leads.
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – The fifth chapter in this franchise. Javier Bardem joins the usual gang.
* Wonder Woman – The DC films have largely been disappointments so far after Man of Steel (2013)… but this one could change that. The trailers have us all excited.
* The Mummy – Universal aims to create a monster universe the way Marvel and DC have created cinematic universes out of their superheroes. This one looks exciting, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in the leads… but I was hoping for scary.
* Cars 3 – Pixar’s least interesting franchise is beloved by children; this chapter promises to be a little darker in tone.
* Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Colin Firth returns as a dapper agent in this sequel, and he’s joined by several other big stars. Will bigger equal better?
* Transformers: The Last Knight –The fifth movie in this franchise, and Michael Bay shows no sign of wanting to change it for the better. Audiences will show up anyway.
* The Beguiled –Sofia Coppola directs this Western, which is set during the Civil War and has Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the cast.
* Spider-Man: Homecoming– Tom Holland introduced his Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and here comes a stand-alone movie that looks like a lot of fun.
* War of the Planet of the Apes – The third film in this series pits Caesar against an aggressive colonel played by Woody Harrelson. The trailer is no disappointment.
* Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan delivers a historic epic depicting the famed WWII evacuation of Allied soldiers. As expected, it looks amazing. One of the summer’s few major blockbusters to be grounded in real-life events.
* The Dark Tower – An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that combines Western with sci-fi. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.
* The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, about a bodyguard who has to deliver a client to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator.
* Villa Capri – Another action-comedy starring an unlikely duo, this time Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in a story that looks very much like Midnight Run (1988).
* It – Stephen King’s novel was turned into a miniseries in 1990, but here comes the film adaptation. Bill Skarsgård plays the terrifying clown Pennywise.
* American Made – Doug Liman joins forces with Tom Cruise for a thriller about a pilot who becomes a drug smuggler. Based on a real-life story.
* Flatliners – A remake of the 1990 movie, which starred Kiefer Sutherland. He’ll make an appearance here as well. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
* Blade Runner 2049 – The highly anticipated sequel has Denis Villeneuve directing. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard.
* The Snowman – Tomas Alfredson is directing this adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestseller, with Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson in the leads.
* The month also has fresh sequels in the Insidious, Friday the 13th and Saw franchises. If there’s anyone out there who still has confidence in them.
* Thor: Ragnarok – The third film in the series stars Thor and the Hulk, you know, the guys who were too busy to make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War… Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will also show up.
* Justice League – The DC universe’s answer to The Avengers, uniting its big heroes. Zack Snyder has a lot to live up to.
* Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Branagh’s all-star remake of the 1974 classic will feature himself as Poirot.
* The Darkest Hour – The story of Winston Churchill’s early days in World War II. Gary Oldman plays the Prime Minister, Joe Wright is directing.
* Star Wars: Episode VIII – Rian Johnson is directing this film, which will likely devote some time to give Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) a dignified farewell.
* Jumanji – A remake of the 1995 movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black.
* Downsizing – Alexander Payne directs this drama-comedy, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig.
Marvel embracing women – Superhero films are generally speaking not known for giving women good roles. But the times are changing. In the first tweet above, the “Marvel Mamas” have assembled, featuring among others Tilda Swinton and Lupita Nyong’o from the upcoming Doctor Strange and Black Panther. It was also confirmed that Oscar winner Brie Larson will be Captain Marvel in the studio’s first female-led blockbuster.
The return of King Kong – One of the trailers I found most exciting, purely for its popcorn value, was Kong: Skull Island, which premieres next spring. Starring Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson, the trailer is very intense and militaristic, looking like a Vietnam War allegory where the soldiers make the mistake of underestimating their enemy. I’m certainly rooting for Kong.
Warner’s damage control – Batman v Superman was indeed a failure, generating a lot of bad reviews and unsatisfying box-office numbers. The experience jolted Warner who must have had a sit-down or two with director Zack Snyder, trying to figure out how to make Justice League, the DC equivalent to Marvel’s The Avengers, look more appetizing. A sizzle reel showed that the answer is more humor, and it highlighted Ezra Miller as The Flash in particular. But the real buzz was generated by the first trailer for Wonder Woman, that looks genuinely entertaining, DC’s answer to the Captain Americafilms.
The Brits are coming – Eddie Redmayne charmed audiences by handing out wands at his Fantastic Beasts panel, which was hosted by Conan O’Brien. Harry Potter fans had every reason to be excited; the new trailer for the film looks great. Benedict Cumberbatch was in San Diego for panels on both Doctor Strange and Sherlock and surprised fans who were waiting outside Hall H:
Aliens nostalgia – Comic-Con is not just about the future. This wonderful panel reunites the cast of Aliens (1986), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Amazing to see James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Gale Anne Hurd, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser and Carrie Henn (all grown up now!) together again, reminiscing. This is still a total masterpiece to me.
… and there was politics – Alec Baldwin appeared at the panel for the animated comedy The Boss Baby, where he said that he has one brother at the Republican convention, supporting Donald Trump, and another outside the RNC, protesting the billionaire. Politics really has the Baldwin brothers feuding each other. The Trump supporter is most likely Stephen; the protester must be William. Not even Comic-Con can escape this horrifying period in American history.
Twentysomething Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer), who wouldn’t dream of having a relationship, is assigned to write an article on a sports doctor (Bill Hader). Comedian Schumer’s first movie script is a treat in the hands of Judd Apatow who’s shown a knack for creating films that are funny, heartfelt and has roles for women that break typical Hollywood moulds. This is especially true here where Schumer plays a role that’s been traditionally reserved for men, which is weird since she’s hardly playing a female freak of nature. On the contrary, she’s utterly believable and engaging. Hilarious and sweet at times, with excellent supporting performances and a nice turn by Hader as the leading man.
2015-U.S. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel. Directed by Judd Apatow. Screenplay: Amy Schumer. Cast: Amy Schumer (Amy Townsend), Bill Hader (Aaron Conners), Brie Larson (Kim Townsend), Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, John Cena… Ezra Miller, Norman Lloyd, LeBron James, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick.
Last word: “It was [Apatow’s] encouragement and his confidence in me that gave me this faith that I could maybe write a movie. I wrote one and it was about what was going on with me at that time in my life — and then more life happens. It’s kind of evolving all the time, and Judd said, ‘Why don’t you write about what’s going on with you now? Why don’t you write a real personal tale?’ So I did. It’s really just a lot of stuff I was learning about myself at the time I was writing. A lot of it’s very autobiographical, especially the family stuff.” (Schumer, Biography)
The same day I’m writing this review I read about a 38-year-old physician in Sweden who was sentenced to prison for having abducted a woman. His plan was to keep her captive as his sex slave for years in a bunker that he had built, but his scheme fell apart after six days when he had to make an unexpected visit at a local police station. One easily becomes fascinated with cases like this; it’s hard to understand how men like that function on the surface in society. Abductions like that have been used as fodder for thrillers. Room, however,is different.
When we first meet Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), we know nothing about them. As they’re celebrating Jack’s birthday, we realize that the shabby place where they live, referred to by Jack simply as “room”, is a prison for them. At least for Joy, because Jack doesn’t know anything else; he has no idea that there is a whole world outside. “Room” doesn’t have any windows, except for a skylight, which shows heaven, the place Jack thinks he came from. There is another person in their lives, called “old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), a brutal man who buys them supplies and comes for nighttime visits with Joy that Jack don’t really understand. Shortly after Jack’s birthday, Joy decides to tell him the truth about the world outside “Room”… and of her plan to get out.
Driven by tension The first part of the film, which is based on a Booker-shortlisted novel, is driven by tension. We quickly understand what happened to Joy seven years earlier, who Jack’s father is and what their situation looks like. The filmmakers explain how it is possible that they haven’t escaped before and what happened the time Joy tried to do that. The filmmakers present “old Nick” in a clever way, first as an unseen monster, then stripping him of everything until what’s left is an ordinary man, showing how a sex criminal of this kind can be anyone. I won’t reveal what happens next, but the film’s second half takes a different turn and can no longer rely on the same kind of tension – but we are still compelled to follow what happens to Joy and Jack because their new circumstances aren’t so easily accepted either. What hooks us in an unforgettable way is the relationship between the young woman and her boy. It is established early on as playful and loving and remains truthful and gripping for the entire story. It couldn’t have been done without the extraordinary performances by Larson and young Tremblay. Neither of them is a newcomer, especially not the former, but this was a solid breakthrough for both. Nothing in their acting and how they work with each other looks false. They’re matched by Joan Allen as Joy’s mother, whose life was shattered seven years ago. The film is an opportunity to explore an extreme situation through the eyes of a child, and it is done with a sense of imagination and innocence, perfectly illustrated by cinematographer Danny Cohen who captures the intimacy that exists in “Room” in spite of the circumstances, and the overwhelming impressions of the world outside to a boy who’s only seen trees or cars on TV before. The very different mental states of mind that Joy and Jack struggle with in the film’s second half are brilliantly conveyed; angst-ridden and moving, those scenes show the complexity of a newfound freedom that has its own walls.
Director Lenny Abrahamson got some attention for his comedy-drama Frank (2014), a film that has Michael Fassbender walking around wearing a papier-mâché head. Room is also a thoroughly original experience that isn’t too artistically pretentious to cheat us out of a highly satisfying emotional payoff.
Room 2015-Canada-Britain-Ireland. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Gross, Ed Guiney. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay, Novel: Emma Donoghue. Cinematography: Danny Cohen. Music: Stephen Rennicks. Cast: Brie Larson (Joy Newsome), Jacob Tremblay (Jack Newsome), Joan Allen (Nancy Newsome), William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus.
Trivia: Shailene Woodley was allegedly considered for the lead.
Oscar: Best Actress (Larson). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Larson). BAFTA: Best Actress (Larson).
Last word: “You have to find a way of translating the events and the situation into language [Tremblay] can understand and that was safe enough for him and protect him from the darker aspects of the story. And also, bringing him to the right point in each scene and helping him through it. If you’re watching the rushes, you’d hear me talking to him all the way through scenes, which shows even more what an amazing actor Brie is that she can tune that out and still be there, and not only tune it out but sometimes help me. ‘Come on, Jake, just turn around a little bit. You know how you’re supposed to sit back like that?’ and then she’d slip right back into the full emotional intensity of whatever she was doing.” (Abrahamson, Coming Soon)
The ad above pretty much sums up the schizophrenic nature of the Academy Awards, which airs live on ABC this Sunday. It’s a spot that wants to be young and cool, with a smart-mouthed Chris Rock. That stands in contrast with the nominations this year that largely snubbed worthy performances by African-American actors. We’re used to that (remember theSelma controversy last year?), but the nominations sparked a fierce debate that made the Academy, under Cheryl Boone Isaacs, change rules in order to create greater diversity among academy members. The new rules faced heavy resistance from many members who will not get to vote in the future, even though they are exactly the kind of member the Academy would like to promote – women and minorities.
In other words, not a simple discussion. Time will tell what the new rules will do for the Oscars. Meantime, we need to make predictions. First of all, allow me to rank the Best Picture nominees according to my humble taste:
* Song – “Til It Happens to You” by Lady Gaga and Diane Warren from The Hunting Ground.
* Original Score – Ennio Morricone has been nominated for many Oscars, and it looks certain that The Hateful Eight will finally give him one for an individual score; he has previously been awarded an honorary Oscar.
* Film Editing – Margaret Sixel’s editing is a key component that propels Mad Max: Fury Road forward.
* Cinematography – It may seem incredible, but Emmanuel Lubezki looks certain to pick up his third Oscar in a row for his amazing work on The Revenant.
* Adapted Screenplay – The Big Short. There’s no question that Charles Randolph and Adam McKay deserve Oscars for having turned Michael Lewis’s book into an entertaining and relatable script.
* Original Screenplay – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight.
* Supporting Actor – By no means an obvious category. Yes, Sylvester Stallone will likely win for Creed, and that’s what I’m betting, but Mark Rylance could still pull off a surprise with Bridge of Spies.
* Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant. Not even a charging bear could stop him.
* Director – It’s not impossible that George Miller will put up a fight for Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s more likely that Alejandro González Iñárritu wins his second Oscar in a row for The Revenant.
* Picture – This should be a battle between the two masterpieces of the category, Roomand The Revenant. Experts and bookies view it more as a fight between the latter and The Big Short. The winner? The Revenant.
Time flies, and the Golden Globes are already coming up. The show will be on NBC this Sunday and Ricky Gervais is coming back for another stint as host. In this promo, he’s being his usual self. I’m sure his monologue will be funny, and hopefully outrageous. Possibly, Chris Rock will choose the same approach on Oscar night.
Now here’s my predictions – category by category.
Motion Picture (Drama): Spotlight.
Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical): It’s down to The Big Short and The Martian, but I believe that the latter will prevail.
Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has no problem meeting women, and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the sexiest he has ever hooked up with… but his addiction to Internet porn becomes a problem. The star’s directing debut is all the more impressive because he manages to make a romantic comedy exploring the allure of porn both compelling and charming. Serious and relevant, but also smart, with a light touch in spite of some dark aspects. Gordon-Levitt is perfect as the young guy who finds porn to be pleasure on a whole other level; Johansson and Julianne Moore are also very good as two women who challenge him in different ways.
2013-U.S. 90 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ram Bergman. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jon Martello), Scarlett Johansson (Barbara Sugarman), Julianne Moore (Esther), Tony Danza, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly… Brie Larson. Cameos: Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Last word: “The idea of it had a long gestation period of several years since I was thinking of different versions of how to do it, what kind of movie could it be. I knew I wanted to tell this story about how people objectify each other and how the media impacts that, but how exactly to tell that story could take any number of shapes. It was actually while I was working on ’50/50′ with Seth Rogen and his whole posse that I thought of doing it as a character-based comedy. Then I thought of, ‘Well, alright, what kind of version of ’Don Juan’ would that be?’ My first thought was this sort of East Coast machismo guy with the gym body and shiny hair and stuff and that made me laugh. When it made me laugh, I was like, ‘Well, that’s a good sign.'” (Gordon-Levitt, Coming Soon)
THEY THOUGHT THE STREETS WERE MEAN. THEN THEY WENT BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL.
Best buddies Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum) are assigned to an undercover unit that infiltrates high schools, but as they hunt for drug dealers they also grapple with the overwhelming emotions of being teens again. A completely irreverent take on the 1987-1991 TV show that relies heavily on silly jokes, a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a very familiar (albeit heartwarming) message about male bonding. The Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs directors’ first live-action film has a midsection that drags, but is a lively ride featuring two very likable performances by the two stars.
2012-U.S. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Cast: Jonah Hill (Morton Schmidt), Channing Tatum (Greg Jenko), Brie Larson (Molly Tracey), Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis… Ice Cube.
Trivia: Several 21 Jump Street stars appear in cameos, including Johnny Depp. Followed by 22 Jump Street(2014).
GET THE HOT GIRL. DEFEAT HER EVIL EXES. HIT LOVE WHERE IT HURTS.
22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls in love with a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who has a mysterious past, but in order to date her he must defeat her seven evil exes. Director Edgar Wright knows how to maintain one’s interest and this flashy comic book movie has charming performances (especially by the ever likable Cera), a few laughs scattered here and there and above all a very playful visual style in the fashion of old video games. However, the movie as a whole is a wearying experience; the last half-hour is a bit of a drag.
2010-U.S.-Britain. 112 min. Color. Directed by Edgar Wright. Graphic Novels: Bryan Lee O’Malley. Cast: Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Kieran Culkin (Wallace Wells), Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson… Jason Schwartzman. Voice of Bill Hader. Cameo: Thomas Jane.
FOR SOME, 13 FEELS LIKE IT WAS JUST YESTERDAY. FOR JENNA, IT WAS.
Jennifer Garner took the leap from TV and Alias to the big screen, playing a hip 30-year-old magazine editor who wakes up one day and has become who she was at the age of 13. Ever seen that one before? Yeah, this is Big (1988)for a new generation of moviegoers; it’s a charming and very slight little comedy that relies heavily on 1980s nostalgia. The part where the mind of a 13-year-old figures out how to revitalize a magazine is hard to believe in, but the actors are likeable; Garner is quite funny and Mark Ruffalo is good as her childhood buddy, now a photographer.
2004-U.S. 97 min. Color. Directed by Gary Winick. Cast: Jennifer Garner (Jenna Rink), Mark Ruffalo (Matt Flamhaff), Judy Greer (Lucy Wyman), Christa B. Allen, Andy Serkis, Kathy Baker… Brie Larson.
Trivia: Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger were allegedly considered for the lead role.