Rogue One, the first Star Wars spinoff movie announced today, has me intrigued. The title hints that it may focus on X-wing pilots, which presents all kinds of interesting storytelling possibilities. And it could have a woman as the lead character, which may demonstrate that Disney is trying to expand the franchise’s appeal to a wider audience. While we have yet to see whether any of these movies will actually be good, I’m impressed thus far with Disney’s handling of the property. They seem to be making real efforts to create a movie universe that could be just as interesting as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has worked out quite well for them.
I’m excited to see what director Neil Blomkamp does with the Alien franchise. District 9 is one of my favorite science fiction films of the last few years and an Alien movie could be a great showcase for his gritty, shakycam-fuelled sensibility. And if his movie chooses to ignore the mess that came after Aliens, even better. Based on some of the concept art that Blomkamp previously shared on his Instagram feed, we could get to see the return of Ripley and a grizzled Corporal Hicks. I’m also taking bets on what role Sharlto Copley will play and whether his character will survive until the end of the movie.
A few brief thoughts on my year at the cinema:
- Guardians of the Galaxy was the best popcorn movie of 2014. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about whether Marvel could make a decent movie based on a third-tier comic book title, but they demonstrated that a strong script, stunning visuals, and charismatic actors can elevate the most obscure source material into a blockbuster. It still seems odd to me that we now live in a world where Chris Pratt is an action hero, but odd in a good way.
- I liked Birdman, but it didn’t leave me enthralled. I could appreciate its technical prowess and it has some genuinely funny moments, mostly thanks to Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. I’m just not sure that’s enough to justify the raves it has received.
- I still need to see Boyhood. Don’t tell anyone.
- I wish I could have liked Interstellar more than I did.
- Best movie that came out of nowhere: The Babadook.
- My favorite time at the movies this year was seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s fussy movies usually leave me cold, but this story within a story about the final glory days of an Eastern European hotel is probably his best work. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as the hotel’s solicitous manager and the plot concerning a stolen painting is zany while maintaining a dark and melancholy undertone. It’s a movie that rewards repeated viewings because of Anderson’s careful attention to detail and because of the many hilarious moments delivered by the cast. It makes me want to spray myself liberally with some L’air de Panache and take a holiday.
Horror films work best when they reflect the mundane through a looking glass darkly. The Babadook, a finely honed and nerve-wracking movie from Australian director, focuses its looking glass on a hallowed fixture of domestic life: the relationship between mother and child. We meet Amelia (Essie Davis), a young widow who is still grieving the death of her husband several years past. Her grief is made even more excruciating by the circumstances of his death, which I won’t detail here because it’s a crucial plot element. She does her best to care for Samuel (Noah Wiseman), her young and rather high-strung son, but a toxic combination of resentment and loss have placed her on the knife’s edge of a nervous breakdown.
One night, Samuel asks his mother to read to him from a mysterious storybook that he found on his shelf. The book depicts, through a series of pop-up images, a menacing character named Mr. Babadook. Babadook’s likes include top hats, hanging from the ceiling, and driving people to commit murder and suicide.
Amelia quickly decides that this is not appropriate reading material for a 7-year-old, but the damage is already done. Samuel soon begins hearing voices and, in one particularly harrowing scene, has a full-blown meltdown brought on by visions of the Babadook. And then Amelia begins seeing a cloaked figure creep into her bedroom at night. Before long, they are both trapped in their dimly lit home by their own fear and insomnia as the Babadook lurks in the shadows.
For a debut feature, The Babadook is remarkably self-assured. Kent doesn’t introduce any extraneous details or waste time establishing the story. She has created a sleek cinematic engine emitting a disquieting thrum that grows steadily louder. It’s one of the best movies of the year and I’m expecting great things to come from Ms. Kent. The movie is playing in only a handful of theaters, but is readily available on iTunes and Amazon.
Stephen Hawking wants to play a villain in a future Bond movie. Of course, you know what this means. This means that I’m kicking off my Official Campaign to Be Stephen Hawking’s Henchman in As-Yet Undetermined James Bond Movie. I would be perfect as the guy who sits behind Hawking and glares menacingly at a bound and gagged Bond while Hawking provides a detailed explanation of his plans to destroy the Earth in a re-creation of the Big Bang. I would be willing to work for scale and call Hawking “Boss” if the script calls for it. I could even provide comic relief after Bond inevitably escapes and a furious Hawking instructs his pet cybernetically-enhanced gorilla to dispatch me.
It’s unlikely that anyone will make a (pretty good) movie about my life, so this may be my best shot at getting my name in IMDB. Anybody know a good agent?
It appears that the only thing that could snap me out of my extended blogging absence is the first trailer for the next Star Wars movie. As I frequently note, trailers can be deceptive indicators of a movie’s true quality, but this brief preview does its best to hit all the classic Star Wars motifs. We see glimpses of a desert world (Tatooine, perhaps?) as well as a menacing Sith-like figure, X-wing fighters skimming the surface of a body of water, and a magnificent shot of the Millennium Falcon evading a squad of TIE fighters. The trailer does a nice job of sparking speculation about the rest of the movie. Does the Empire still exist? What are the Sith up to? Who are these young whippersnappers featured in the trailer?
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next December (or perhaps the next trailer) for answers. In the meantime, here’s your fix:
Interstellar tries so hard to say something profound about humanity’s place in the universe and our ability to overcome our more self-destructive impulses, but some silly plotting and overwrought dialogue pull the movie into the gravity well of mediocrity. The movie is set on a future Earth that is slowly dying. Crops are failing around the world and dust storms regularly plague the countryside. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, an ex-pilot and farmer who discovers a gravitational anomaly that leads him to a secret NASA project to save humanity. nASA has discovered a wormhole to another galaxy and has already sent several manned missions to assess the region for human habitability. It now wants to send another mission to check on the scientists from the original mission and determine whether colonization is possible. Cooper is asked to join the mission. Because life is all about just showing up.
The movie does explore some truly interesting ideas regarding time dilation, black holes, and artificial intelligence. At times, I felt like I was watching an updated version of 2001 (a movie that I love). But then the story crumbles in the third act, taking the tone of a late-night, pot-fueled bullshit session between philosophy majors. I’m not sure why so many science fiction movies succumb to this kind of New Age faux profundity, but it completely takes me out of the story. My eyeballs are still sore from the rolling. The movie is worth seeing for the spectacle, but I’m still waiting for the true successor to Kubrick’s masterpiece.
Movie trailers are notorious for overpromising the entertainment value of the final product, so I’m hesitant to make too much of this new trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road:
But it looks really good. The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2, for the Aussies and purists out there) is one of my favorite movies and one that I can watch numerous times and still thoroughly enjoy. This trailer seems to capture the choreographed mayhem and post-apocalyptic punk sensibilities of that movie. The fact that director George Miller minimized the use of digital effects for his action sequences also nudges the needle of my internal Pop Culture Anticipation Gauge from WARY to EXTREMELY CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC BECAUSE IT COULD STILL SUCK.
Like I said, the movie could turn out to be a complete mess. But Fury Road is now one of my more eagerly anticipated blockbusters of 2015 (alongside the Avengers sequel).
I finally saw Her, the movie that traces a romantic relationship between a nebbish Joaquin Phoenix and an artificial intelligence voiced by Scarlett Johannson. The movie itself is terrific, filled with great performances and quietly beautiful moments. I was also struck by director Spike Jonze’s vision of a future Los Angeles. He shows us a dense city teeming with skyscrapers (many of which have been lifted from present-day Shanghai) where people can take the subway to the beach and hang out in rooftop parks. Everything is clean and well-lit and inviting. It’s a future where the hipsters have won. It’s one of the most optimistic visions of the future I’ve seen in a movie and it has stuck with me for the past several days. So many movies portray futures where everything is fucked and that can be entertaining, but I want to settle down in Spike Jonze’s utopian L.A.
Disney unveiled the cast for Star Wars: Episode VII yesterday, confirming rumors that many of the original stars (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker) will reunite as everyone’s favorite former rebel scum. The cast also features a number of actors with lower profiles, keeping with the spirit of the first movie. Other bloggers have noted that the cast is heavily tilted towards men and it’s a fair point, although Disney has responded that at least one more female role has yet to be cast. I’m pretty sure that the Star Wars galaxy is populated with plenty of interesting women with stories to tell, no matter how far away it is.
I’m also taking bets on how long it will take the Internet to produce hybrid Star Wars–Girls slash fic featuring Adam Driver’s character in really uncomfortable sex scenes.