Summer 2015 movies to watch: 1 down, 10 to go!

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We kicked off the summer movie circus yesterday with Avengers: Age of Ultron which was everything the trailers promised it would be – more superheroes and more action, but also more layered, with some characters taking personal journeys down dark pathways. Bond-style, the action kicks off from the get-go with an exhilarating prologue set-piece and there were plenty of memorable moments right through the movie.

It’s a great start to the summer and there are another 10 movies in my must-watch list from now till mid-August:-

Furious 7 – Well the movie’s been out for a few weeks and is already a worldwide hit. What’s more, the reviews are pretty decent too (Metacritic average score of 67). Will have to catch this soon before it exits theatres. Hats off to horror maestro James Wan, who has directed this ‘emotional’ instalment of the long-running franchise. Eleven years ago, the Malaysian-born director created the micro-budget horror phenomenon Saw, then went on to direct one of the best-reviewed horror films in recent years, The Conjuring. Now, he has succeeded with a completely different genre and is currently rumored to be in the running to direct Warner Bros./DC Comics Aquaman!

Mad Max: Fury Road – This intense R-rated restart of the beloved post-apocalyptic franchise is at the top of my list. The first trailer was epic/ operatic and the final trailer which I caught a glimpse of as I entered the theatre today, tops the first one. From what I’ve seen, the star of this movie is director George Miller. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are all but unrecognizable. In terms of plot, it will be more of the same – brooding loner roams a blasted landscape and crosses paths with a bunch of loonies (see picture at the top of the article) who pay the price for not getting out of his way. Plenty of violence follows. This will not be for the weak-hearted. This is officially my most anticipated movie of the summer.

Tomorrowland – This PG-rated scifi entertainer from Disney is directed by one of my favorite directors, Brad Bird. The 58-year-old has made just 4 films before this – 3 animation classics (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the movie that gave the franchise a new lease of life and provided Tom Cruise with a rare hit in the past 10 years. The movie’s plot is a bit of a mystery, but the trailers are intriguing as is the casting combination of George Clooney and Britt Robertson (Angie McAlister from Under the Dome).

Entourage – I was a big fan of the TV series and although I skipped out after the 5th season, I remain invested in the lives and loves of the 4 friends who rose up from humble beginnings in Queens to the razzle and dazzle of Hollywood. The movie is directed by creator Doug Ellin and will see the return of all the familiar faces plus a revolving door of celebrities who will be playing themselves. It promises to be good fun and should make a nice little killing at the box office much like the Sex and the City film; I’m not so sure that this will play as well overseas as SATC though.

Jurassic World – The Mad Max franchise gets resurrected after a gap of 30 years and the same summer, the Jurassic Park franchise gets restarted after 14 years, this time helmed 29-year-old whiz kid director Colin Trevorrow. Back in 2001, Jurassic Park III suffered due to weak characters (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni and Alessandro Nivola…really?), but this time around we have Chris Pratt coming in hot off the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Bryce Dallas Howard playing the greedy corporate maven. But the stars of the movie as usual, will be the dinosaurs – since T.Rex is now passé, we have the new genetically created Indominus Rex and a pack of Velociraptors that appear to be loyal to Chris Pratt! I am also expecting this movie to deliver the goods because the story comes from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who scripted the two highly acclaimed Planet of the Apes reboot movies and are currently working on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels.

Terminator: Genisys – This is clearly the summer for reviving dormant franchises. The last film in the series, Terminator Salvation was a critical and commercial disappointment (in my view, not much more could have been expected from a director like McG), in spite of having Christian Bale and then red-hot hunk Sam Worthington playing the leads. This time around, there’s a completely new team and the trailers indicate that the story is going to feature a time-travel story retcon, much in the way Star Trek Into Darkness rewrote the story of Khan. This is a risky approach, dangerously close to being a gimmick. Having said that, the trailers and the Entertainment Weekly cover story from January look very cool. I have a lot of respect for the actors – Jason Clark, Emilia Clarke (the dragon queen from Game of Thrones), Jai Courtney and of course, ‘Ahnuld’ is back! This version is directed by TV director Alan Taylor, who has previously done episodes of Game of Thrones.

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Ant-Man – Ah, what might have been if Edgar Wright had stayed on to direct this movie. No less than ‘His Marvelness’ Joss Whedon has said in a recent interview that “Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man was the best script that Marvel ever had’. But it was not meant to be. And now we have this version being released, directed by comedy helmer Peyton Reed, with a script co-written by lead actor and perpetual ‘on-screen loser’ Paul Rudd. I can only hope that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige is the real man in the driver’s seat of this movie, as we all know how well he has shepherded the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) for the past few years. We’ve all been wondering when the big Marvel machine will fail. Let’s hope this isn’t the one. I actually like the trailer.

Fantastic Four – Here’s another iffy Marvel product, although this one comes from rival studio Fox, which continues to hold on to the rights to this Marvel property. I was excited that this reboot is being directed by 30-year-old Josh Trank who made the found-footage superhero film Chronicle a few years ago.  But then the cast was announced and I was felt they were either unappealing or miscast, particularly Miles Teller (one of my favourite young actors) in the role of Reed Richards. Then the trailer came out and my hopes fell further, because it doesn’t really show anything new that we have not seen in the 2005 origin story. Is Josh Trank the real thing or a flash-in-the-pan? Rival studio Disney (which owns Marvel) wants to know because Trank has been signed on to direct their 2nd Star Wars Anthology film due out in 2018.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – With writer-director Christopher McQuarrie in the hot seat this time, the M:I franchise keeps rolling on, nearly 20 years after it hit the big screen. The real driver is producer Tom Cruise, I think. McQuarrie directed Cruise in Jack Reacher which I very much enjoyed, but he is better known as the man who won an Oscar for the screenplay of The Usual Suspects. I also liked his writing on two other Tom Cruise films – Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow, although he has also written his share of flops, i.e. The Tourist and Jack the Giant Slayer. The trailer has Cruise doing his usual death-defying stunts – we’ve seen him hanging from trains and skyscrapers, now he’s holding on to a military transport plane for dear life. It certainly looks like this latest outing will continue to deliver a good mix of intrigue and thrills.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – British director Guy Ritchie went from being the darling of indie crime cinema with his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at the age of 30, to nearly becoming an also-ran who also happened to be the latest husband of Madonna, before redeeming himself with two sparkling large-screen interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, featuring that other comeback artist, Robert Downey Jr. He now turns his attention to a spy series from the ‘60s and hopes to do for it what Brian De Palma did for Mission: Impossible in 1996. On paper, the combination of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in suave 60’s duds sounds appealing; unfortunately, the trailer looks rather boring and the banter seems very forced. It will have been a long hot summer by the time this one rolls in and the buzz will have to be very strong to get paying audiences into the theatres.


Top 10 moments from Avengers: Age of Ultron (spoilers ahead)

Here are my Top 10 moments from Age of Ultron. There is no standout like the “Puny God!” scene from the first Avengers movie, but still plenty that I will look forward to when I watch the movie a second time.

1. The opening battle slo mo shot.

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2. At the party: James Rhodes/ War Machine tells a joke.

3. At the party: Romanoff and Banner have a moment.

4. After the party: Finding out who’s worthy.

5. After the party: “There are no strings on me”.

6. Ulysses Klaue loses an arm; what will he gain? Stay tuned for Black Panther in 2017.

7. Iron Man brings ‘Veronica’ to the Hulk.

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8. Hawkeye’s safe house.

9. The Vision is born…and he’s worthy.

10. The climactic battle: “All of you against all of me”.

Honorable mention: The running joke after Captain America chastises Iron Man for use of a curse word; Iron Man continues to push the boundaries, with statements like “I hope you weren’t playing hide the zucchini!”.

Lots of ‘geek out’ moments for comic book fans. Enjoy!

The McDonagh brothers put Irish cinema on the world map

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Pic: John Michael (left) and Martin McDonagh

In 2008, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh directed his first feature film, In Bruges.

Fourteen years earlier, in his mid-20s, McDonagh had burst onto the British theatre scene writing his first 7 plays in a mere 10 months. Those plays and his later works can be described as dark and bloody comedies, covering everything from exhumed skeletons to patricide to a man searching for his missing hand. In recent years, Mr. McDonagh has come to be regarded as one of the most important living Irish playwrights (although he has lived his entire life in London).

In 2004, he directed a 27 minute short film titled Six Shooter, which went on to win the Oscar for best live action short film.

So when he got around to directing In Bruges, the audience got a 107 minutes of signature McDonagh – sharp dialogue, political incorrectness and a fair bit of violence, all delivered through a hilariously twisted plot. The movie features Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen who have been sent to the city of Bruges by their boss, Ralph Fiennes to await instructions after a botched job. I remember watching this movie the year it was released and being thoroughly entertained by the sheer bull-headedness and audacity of the various characters. Although I haven’t watched it since then, it’s the sort of movie that you don’t mind catching snippets of on YouTube from time to time, like this dinner scene:

Meanwhile, his elder brother John Michael McDonagh had directed his own short film The Second Death in 2000 and then written the screenplay for the Australian biopic Ned Kelly, which told the story of the legendary Irish-Australian outlaw of the 19th century (the lead role was played by Heath Ledger). But he really hit the big time with his first feature film The Guard, released in 2011. This is easily one of the most entertaining crime capers I have seen in recent times. Brendan Gleeson plays an Irish police officer (referred to as Guards or garda in Irish) who chances upon a major plot to smuggle cocaine into the country by sea. He pairs up with an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle) to stop the smugglers who have also murdered his new partner. This description does no justice to the kind of characters we are dealing with – Gleeson is the epitome of political incorrectness, who thinks nothing of being drunk on duty or soliciting prostitutes or stealing drugs from criminals. Check out this classic scene where Gleeson interrupts Dong Cheadle’s police briefing session to say, “I thought only black lads are drug dealers?”

But behind that gruff exterior lies the proverbial heart of gold and a most cunning mind that no criminal can outwit. The criminals are also an entertaining bunch, played by seasoned British character actors Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos from Game of Thrones) and Mark Strong (Kingsman, The Imitation Game, etc.) and after an entertaining cat-and-mouse game, it all ends in a ridiculous shoot-out at the dock where the cocaine has come in.

A year later in 2012, younger brother Martin was back in action with his 2nd film Seven Psychopaths, again a difficult-to-categorize crime drama/comedy featuring Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Colin Farrell plays a screenwriter who ends up on the run from a gang of criminals after his friends unknowingly kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) pet dog. I found the humor in this film a bit forced and too self-referential to the LA film world. A bit of a misstep and I hope Martin McDonagh’s future screenplays will stay firmly in Ireland or within the United Kingdom.

And then last year, John Michael came back to the big screen with his next effort Calvary. This is a real change of pace, as this film deals with serious and sensitive matter of childhood sexual abuse by priests, a raging and controversial topic in Ireland in recent years. Once again, it’s Brendan Gleeson who plays the lead role, this time as a priest who has to deal with a death threat and various spiritual challenges while trying simultaneously to reconnect with his estranged daughter. This is the most complex and multi-layered entry in the ‘McDonagh quartet’ and perhaps the toughest to watch.

John Michael has gone straight back to work on his next film, War on Everyone. Like brother Martin’s Seven Psychopaths, this film crosses the Atlantic and is set in New Mexico. This immediately makes be a bit wary, as I would much rather have the brothers stick to their Irish roots! It also looks like Brendan Gleeson will not be in this film, so that’s a pity as well.

Nevertheless, in less than a decade the McDonagh brothers have together put modern Irish cinema back on the world map, following in the footsteps of Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, The Crying Game), Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Some Mother’s Son) and Kenneth Branagh (although he is rarely categorized as an Irish director). Their films have broken free of The Troubles and have garnered dozens of award wins and nominations with their entertaining blend of humor, drama and that endearing Irish stubbornness.