Sunday, July 22, 2018

OP-ED: Is Sci-Fi Fading Out Into The Stars?

Source: MGM Pictures

It's been a while but I'm back!!! I want to begin by extending a thank you to all of those who have been patiently waiting for a new write to be posted and fortunately that time has arrived!

I freely confess to being a big sci-fi fan for as long as I can remember. Star Trek was the first show/series that I followed intently (and still do to this day), followed by other great sci-fi series of the time- Star Wars, Buck Rogers (the television series), Battlestar Gal├íctica, and Dr. Who just to name a few. Science Fiction was often used as a clever means to address social issues of their respective times which used aliens or monsters in place of singling out certain groups of people or countries. I still believe, as many fans did back then, that a solid sci-fi story, complimented with solid directing and good performances, can stand with any other genre there is. But most recently, based on this philosophy, I’m somewhat stifled by what appears to be a lack of interest by the movie going public in some recent sci-fi films that, in my opinion, deserve a lot more credit then they received during their run in cinemas.

The Star Wars films have been a glowing exception to this philosophy due to the masses that adore the franchise to no end. With that said, surprisingly, even the Star Wars franchise has been susceptible to this downward trend. Solo, the latest chapter in the “Star Wars Story” series of films, was marred with headlines about it’s alarming under performance in the box office. There are varied theories addressing the reason behind the disappointing numbers but I was certainly taken aback hearing this news- especially when it turned that out that I really enjoyed the movie! Earlier this year we had Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, which I found to be a very solid, original sci-if adventure that had the distinction of being a good stand alone film- something of a rarity in today’s franchise heavy Hollywood. While the movie did take number one at the box office it’s opening week, it was by no means a “hit” grossing a modest $32 million in Domestic ticket sales against a $40 million production budget.

Equally shocking to me was the lukewarm reception to last year’s Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original 1982 classic starring Harrison Ford. Some argued that the film suffered from the time gap between the first and second film (35 years), but I found that to be irrelevant. Blade Runner 2049 was a solid film on its own merit, let alone a strong follow up to the original. Domestic earnings for the film came in at just over $92 million on a budget of $150 million. Once again this was an example of good, well devised sci-fi film being overlooked by the masses.

I could certainly go on with more examples of sci-fi films not meeting their box office expectations (notably 2016’s Star Trek Beyond)  however there’s no need. The point seems to be that audiences are not getting excited about sci-fi films as they once did. Superhero films have certainly taken a stronghold on the film industry as demonstrated by the staggering earnings each successive film produces- even some of the "disappointing" earnings for these movies would be considered a major success for films of other genres. I profess to be a devoted member of the superhero followers but it does disturb me to think that their success is also the cause of other genres suffering as a result. Hopefully Hollywood still has it's share of devoted sci-fi film makers who are determined to bring us another stellar, groundbreaking hit that could reinvigorate out interest. Way back in the 1950's sci-fi films had a lot of popularity which slowly faded until hits like 2001: A Space Oddity and Star Wars brought it back to the forefront. We will just have to continue to look to the stars and hope.

Thanks for checking out my latest write up and be sure to leave your comments to share your thoughts. Until then, I'll catch you after the credits!!!


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Opinion: The Shape Of Water Was An Eerily Beautiful Romance, But It Was Not The Year's Best Picture

Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Like most movie lovers I make a point to see the Academy Award Best Picture nominees each year. While the selections tend to be hit or miss from year to year I generally enjoy the Academy's choices and finish watching each film with some semblance of understanding why they were worthy of the nomination. This year was no exception, a worthy list of well made films which ultimately led to Guilllermo Del Toro's romantic fantasy The Shape Of Water taking home the Oscar. Even though I felt that the film was very well made and very enchanting, to me it was also a distant second in comparison to the powerhouse movie that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Today's vision of Hollywood, and film making in general, is very much a philosophy of "the bigger, the better". The more action, more effects, more star power, the better. The Shape Of Water politely contained all of those elements- great special effects (particularly the creature), top level acting from the likes of Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer to name a few names, and various levels of fantasy and adventure throughout. But every once in a while a movie comes along that is based on two simple, yet very powerful standards of movie making- a great script enhanced by great acting.

 These standards certainly applied to Three Billboards- there is no grand spectacle taking place, no over the top stunts, and no eye catching visual effects. There is however razor sharp dialogue that is masterfully delivered by each actor in their respective parts. The story, written by the films director, Martin McDonagh, is so engaging that the central issue surrounding the film, the unsolved murder of  Mildred Hayes' daughter, is never actually witnessed in the movie but is so vividly depicted by the words and actions of the characters within the story that, as the movie watcher, the feelings of pain and suffering are very prevalent and very real. The main character of Mildred Hayes is played by Best Actress award winning Frances McDormand. Her resume thus far has already been one of astounding, wonderful performances, but this one maybe the best to date. Mildred Hayes is a character operating on numerous emotional levels ranging from anger, to sadness, to wicked determination and callous defiance- McDormand excels at each and everyone from beginning to end. Woody Harrelson is also spectacular as the troubled Sheriff William Willoughby who serves as the focal point of Mildred's protest of her town's law enforcement and their inability to find her daughter's killer. McDormand and Harrelson are the stars of the film but that is not to say that the supporting cast is not also stellar- Sam Rockwell won the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as the misguided deputy Officer Dixon, and Peter Dinklage also gives a great performance as  James the ever optimistic "friend" of Mildred's, always pining for her affection.

It would be easy to keep listing great performances by each great actor in the film, but I don't want to veer too far off of the point of the article. That point being Three Billboards is a film that did not need anything more than what was provided on screen and yet was certainly one of the most engaging films I have seen in a while. This is most impressive when considering it did not contain many of the elements that are considered essential components needed to make a film successful in today's world of cinema. Films of this caliber and quality don't come along all that often and it's a shame that the Academy did not see things the same way.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Must See List For 2018 (Part II)


Welcome Back! I hope you enjoyed part one of my must see list for this year (if not, you can locate part one on the main page to start there). No sense in waiting any longer to finish up- so here we go!!!

10) Mission Impossible 6: Fallout (Release Date 7/27/18)- Ethan Hunt and his Mission Impossible Force (I.M.F.) team are back in action to save us from evil forces determined to bring death and destruction to the free world. *Truth be told- at the time of this writing the details of the actual plot for this entry have not come out just yet, but since this is the sixth entry in the franchise it's not much of a guess as to what will transpire*
Reason I'm Excited: While I had mixed reactions to the first two entries of Mission: Impossible, the following three have been outstanding, I believe the last entry, Mission Impossible : Rogue Nation, was probably my favorite entry so far. With that being the case I am eager to see a good thing keep coming and having writer/director Christopher McQuarrie return from part five is great assurance.

11) Equalizer II (Release Date 8/10/18)- Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua are together again to tell the continuing adventures of Robert McCall, a quiet, but dangerously skilled man who lives by a code of honor that brings harm to those who commit injustice to the innocent.
Reason I'm Excited: The first film released in 2014 flew a little under the mainstream radar but was surprisingly good (not a shock when you take into consideration the lead actor and director on the project). Unlike a lot of sequels that simply try to capitalize on the success of the previous film, I believe this sequel will retain most of the good qualities that came from it's predecessor. 
Source: Fan Made/Columbia Pictures

12) The Predator (Release Date 8/3/18)- Shane Black, screenwriter of the 1987 original Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, returns to the franchise to write and direct a film that will serve as a direct sequel to the 1987 film.
Reason I'm Excited: Each Predator film following the original was fair at best but never really aspired to the levels of suspense and originality of the first one. Now with Shane Black, who not only wrote the screenplay for the original Lethal Weapon but also starred in the first Predator as "Hawkins", has returned to try and make this entry as poignant as the original. It's too early in the process to get more details on the plot and characters of the newest entry but all indicators point to this being a winner. 
Source: 20th Century Fox

13) Venom (Release Date 10/5/18)- Based on the villainous character from Marvel's Spider-Man universe, this story focuses on Eddie Brock, a journalist who comes into contact with an alien "symbiote"organism that consumes his body and turns him into "Venom", a vicious, brutal enemy of Spider-Man who also offers himself as hero to people he deems "innocent" by his standards.
Reason I'm Excited: Usually these standalone, spin-off films from bigger franchises don't hit the mark, however there are many reasons to be excited about this one. Aside from Venom being one of the best Marvel villains in their universe, we have Tom Hardy taking on the lead role and Reuben Fleischer at the helm as director (most famous for 2009's Zombieland and 2013's Gangster Squad). We also have some A-list co-stars such as Woody Harrelson and Michelle Williams joining in. Additionally, there's a continuing rumor that the newest incarnation of Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) may make an appearance in this film which would be spectacular. One last thing to be excited about- we will finally be able to put the terribly disappointing previous screen version of Venom, played by Topher Grace in 2007's Spider Man 3, behind us!

Source: Columbia/Sony Pictures

14) First Man (Release Date 10/12/18)- I know what you are saying by now... finally a film on the list that's not a sequel in a franchise! I understand your feelings, and let that be a reference point as to what film studios believe is the formula that keeps people buying tickets to go to the movies.
With that rant out of the way, let's get back to this film which is a biopic piece about Neil Armstrong, the famed astronaut who would become the first human being to walk on the moon in the year 1969.
Reason I'm Excited: I have always loved movies as a medium to educate people about the past and this one appears to be stacked with talent and creativity behind the cameras. Ryan Gosling will play the lead with Claire Foy and Jon Bernthal supporting. Damien Chazelle (famous for directing 2016's La La Land and 2014's Whiplash) will serve as the director and James R. Hanson, author of the novel that the film will be based on, serves as a co-writer. 


15) Halloween (2018) (Release Date 10/19/18)- Four decades after her nearly fatal confrontation with masked killer Michael Myers, Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) returns to face him one last time with the hopes of surviving as she did so many years before.
Reason I'm Excited: The Halloween franchise is another property that was diluted by countless sequels over the years. What makes this entry so enticing is the confirmation that John Carpenter, writer and creator of the original Halloween in 1978 is back as a co-writer, executive producer, and musical composer. We also have Nick Strode, the original actor to portray Michael Myers, back in costume to once again wreak havoc on Laurie Strode and the innocent citizens of Haddonfield Illinois. The film is currently in production so plot details have not really been released at this time but there is a strong sense that this will have strong ties to the first two entries in the series which is what fans (like myself) would love to see.
Source: Universal Pictures

16) Creed II (Release Date 11/21/18)- Michael B. Jordan will reprise his role as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, from the wonderfully successful 2016 film Creed. Adonis will return in this new chapter to fight Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the man who took father Apollo's life in a match 30 years ago. As before, Adonis will be guided and trained by boxing's greatest mentor, Rocky Balboa.
Reason I'm Excited: Anytime there is another chapter in the story of Rocky you can count on me being all in. That aside, 2016's Creed was a excellent extension of the Rocky franchise and this entry was written by Stallone himself which should make for an intriguing spin on this new direction. Finally, I think we all excited by the idea of Dolph Lundgren returning as Ivan Drago as an added layer to the great cast already in place from the previous film.
Source: Fanmade-officialslystallone

16) Aquaman (Release Date 12/21/18)- Jason Momoa was introduced as the famous DC hero Arthur Curry, The King of Atlantis, in 2017's Justice League and now is given his own solo film. This adventure will introduce us to the underwater world of Atlantis as well as the evil villain Black Manta, whose goal is to destroy Atlantis and become the supreme ruler of the seas.
Reason I'm Excited: A few things excite me about this upcoming hero film. First, Mamoa was one of the clear highlights of Justice League and the chance to see him in a standalone film is very enticing after what we've seen so far. Next, this is the first superhero film from director James Wan (best known for 2015's Fast & Furious 7, 2004's Saw (I), and the two Conjuring films from 2013 & 2106 respectively). With the overall success of his films to date he has the makings to be a perfect fit for telling Aquaman's story. And, last but not least, this latest entry in the DC films universe is the next chapter in a "new approach" to the DC heroes. Following the mixed reactions to 2016's Batman v Superman and 2017's Justice League, Warner Brothers expressed interest in making DC films as more standalone adventures for their heroes in place of emphasizing the need for a connected universe, similar to the current Marvel universe from Disney/ Marvel Studios. Wonder Woman  is technically the first chapter in this new approach and that was a fantastic finished product. If Aquaman follows in that vein then DC fans are in for a wonderful future.

Source: Warner Bros.

17) Bohemian Rhapsody (Release Date 12/25/18)- A biopic feature telling the story of singer Freddie Mercury and the world famous rock band Queen. The story will tell of the events from their beginnings then leading up their appearance at Live Aid in 1985.
Reason I'm Excited: As I had mentioned in my write up for First Man, I am always interested in these biopic films that share the stories of the past and offer us a glimpse of people and events that were such big parts of our history. There have been reports of issues between the film's star, Rami Malek (playing Freddie Mercury), and director Bryan Singer. After conflicts continued Singer was released from the project and Dexter Fletcher (notable for 2106's Eddie The Eagle) was tapped to finish the production. The film is currently in post-production with original members of Queen heavily involved in the creative process which should make this a memorable movie experience.

Left: Freddie Mercury/ Right: Actor Remi Malek as Freddie Mercury

*Please note that all of the release dates posted are tentative dates for U.S. release and could possibly change*

 If you have movies that you are looking forward to this year that weren't on my list please share them with me in the comments section at the bottom so we can talk about those as well. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and until next time.... I'll catch you after the credits!!!


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Must See Movie List For 2018 (Part I)


Welcome to 2018!! My apologies for being slightly delayed however scheduling conflicts caused me to prepare my first post for the new year later than anticipated. With that being said I thought the best way to ring in the new year would be to share with you a list of movies I am most looking forward to seeing this year. Since the list is somewhat long I decided the best way to write this up is to release the list in two parts, so this first entry will list my anticipated films for the first half of the year and then I will follow up with the remainder on another post.

I'm sure this list will adjust and/or increase as the year goes on but for now this is the hit list with a quick synopsis of what the film is and what about it that has me fired up to see it. Also note that release dates are always subject to change but the dates posted are accurate to date.

 Here we go!!!

1) The Post- (slightly belated since it released on Jan. 12) This dramatic powerhouse film based on real events has greatness written all over it. Set in 1971, The Post tells the tale of the battle between the U.S. Government and the press, specifically the Washington Post, following the leakage of secret documents that disclosed the depth of the government's involvement with the Vietnam war.
Reason I'm Excited: Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks headlining with Steven Spielberg in the director's char - can count me in.  

2) Black Panther (Release Date: 2/16/18)- Following up from his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), must take his place as King of the secret city of Wakanda following his father's death. In addition to taking his place as King T' Challa must also fight the evil forces that look to take his throne as well as bring harm to the free world.
Reason I'm Excited: This character's debut in Civil War was definitely one of the highlights of the  Marvel film series so far, and the chance to have the accomplished director Ryan Coogler (director of 2015's Creed) give his take on a solo film offers the opportunity to make this one of the best Marvel films period.

3) Annihilation (Release Date: 2/23/18)- A biologist (played by Natalie Portman) signs up to explore an unknown phenomenon that has manifested itself in the depths of the forest. Upon entering this unknown abyss the scientists, potentially facing great danger, can only hope that they will safely return with an understanding of a new way of life as we know it.
Reason I'm Excited: I'm always a sucker for a great sci-fi story and if the screenplay is nearly as solid as the book series that the film is based on then this could be the top sci-fi film of the year.

4) Red Sparrow (Release Date 3/2/18)- A  ballerina is recruited by Russian Intelligence to become a spy well trained in the deadly arts. Upon completing her training, her first assignment requires her to target a high level CIA agent- an assignment so dangerous that it could be her first, and if not careful, her last.
Reason I'm Excited: On the surface there wouldn't seem to be anything that makes this film stand out from other, similar, films that have come before it (La Femme Nakita, Point Of No Return for example), but having Jennifer Lawrence in the lead  makes me believe this entry will stand out against the films that have come before it.

5) A Quiet Place (Release Date: 4/6/18)-  A family of four live in a home out in the woods in order to maintain absolute silence at all times. The need for silence is essential because sounds of any kind can attract an unknown evil that could easily slaughter them at any moment.
Reason I'm Excited: While this may fall into the realm of sci-fi (unknown since we are not certain what the evil predators actually are), the concept seems refreshingly original from the typical horror/suspense films that studios seem to pump out on the regular year after year.

6) Solo: A Star Wars Story (Release Date 5/25/18) - Following the success of the first non-trilogy Star Wars film, Rogue One, this entry will tell the story our favorite space smuggling scoundrel, Han Solo, and the events leading up to his fateful meeting at the Mos Eisley Cantina  that we saw in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Reason I'm Excited: Aside from my general interest in Star Wars I am intrigued to see Director Ron Howard's contribution to the Star Wars saga. The screenplay is written by Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens) and his son Jon which is added assurance this has the makings of a great entry in the franchise.

Source: Unknown (fan made- but cool looking!)

7) Deadpool 2 (Release Date 5/18/18)- Ryan Reynolds is back in action as the famed Marvel character Deadpool. This time around the super sarcastic, fouled mouthed masked hero takes on more evil and mayhem and comes face to face with his arch enemy Cable (played by Josh Brolin).
Reason I'm Excited: The first outing was a romping good time, not only fueled by Renyolds' fantastic portrayal of the lead character, but also by the fast paced directing of Tim Miller. Miller has been replaced this time around by David Leitch, but as long as they maintain the spirit of the first film this should be another great ride.

8) The Incredibles 2 (Release Date 6/15/18) - Disney/Pixar's greatest super hero family returns to the big screen for another big adventure. In this entry Mr. Incredible must learn to be not just a great superhero but also be a greater stay-at-home Dad with baby Jack-Jack while Mrs. Incredible tries to save the world from the forces of evil.
Reason I'm Excited: After a 14 year hiatus the Incredibles are back! The first film was great fun for all ages and we are fortunate to not only have the original cast back, but writer and director Brad Bird has also returned. This insures that this has the makings of a solid sequel but it will be intriguing to see how the audience reaction will be after such a long gap between the first and second film.

9) Ant-Man & The Wasp (Release Date 7/6/18) - Paul Rudd returns is back as Scott Lang, a.k.a. The Ant-Man. In this follow up to the 2015 original, our hero rejoins with Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp (played by Evangeline Lilly), on a mission that will reveal secrets from their past.
Reason I'm Excited: It's hard to not get excited for every entry from Disney/Marvel Studios since they have had a considerably successful string of films in their shared universe. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the original film and all indicators point to this being equally enjoyable.

This is where I will end part one of my list of anticipated films of 2018. Be sure to check out part two when it releases and send some comments on films you would like to see this year!! Catch you guys after the credits!