2016 movie trailers: The Witch, Green Room, Hail Caesar and Sing Street

Here’s 4 more films worth catching in the next 3 months.

The Witch, releases Feb 2016: A settler family in the early 17th century America believes it is under attack from witchcraft and black magic.

This was one of the breakout films of the Sundance Film Festival last year, apparently a genuinely frightening film that relies on atmosphere and suspense rather than monsters or gore. This falls into the very narrow category of horror that I watch, like The Others (2001) and The Orphanage (2007). Since 2013, we seem to be getting 2-3 of these high quality blood chillers each year – The Conjuring, It Follows, The Babadook, Berberian Sound Studio and Bone Tomahawk. This is production designer Robert Eggers’ directing debut and his ensemble of new faces are a perfect fit for the bleak New England landscape.

Green Room, releases April 2016: A murder takes place during a punk rock concert, leaving the band trapped in the secluded venue.

A bit unusual for me to be highlighting two horror films in the same year, let alone in the same post! Interestingly, both films are released by up-and-coming specialty distributor A24; I’ve really liked some of the recent films they’ve picked up like The Rover, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, The Spectacular Now and Locke. The cast includes Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart.

Hail, Caesar!, releases Feb 2016: A fixer is called in the solve the kidnapping of a famous actor in 1950’s Hollywood.

This is my most anticipated film of the first quarter. I am excited about the Coen brothers’ return to high-concept comedy in the vein of Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother, Where Are Thou?. All of them featured George Clooney and clearly this combination works very well. The trailer for the film has been around for a while, but they’ve just released a new one that features a ridiculous exchange between Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich; it’s hilarious if you like that sort of thing. Ralph Fiennes has a wonderful knack for comedy as he so ably illustrated in The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014. Josh Brolin plays the studio fixer who has to find missing studio star played by Clooney. Also in the film are Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill and Scarlet Johansson in a mermaid suit. ‘Nuff said!

Sing Street, releases in the UK in April 2016: A young Dublin boy starts a band and moves to London in the 1980s.

Irish writer-director John Carney is back telling stories about musicians; Once (2007) scored some rave reviews and won an Oscar for Best Song; Begin Again was one of the best feel-good movies of 2014, also Oscar nominated for Best Song. In Sing Street, Carney takes us to the 80’s for a coming-of-age story of an Irish kid who forms a band to escape troubles at home and impress a girl. I’m expecting something feel-good and nostalgic like Pride (2014) which was set during the same period. The trailer promises music from The Cure, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and A-ha, which is another good reason to watch it.


2016 movie trailers: Race, Money Monster, The Wave and Triple 9

As we countdown to the Oscars, the movie business marches on with a bunch of new trailers released in the past few days. In between the serious fare of the awards season and the big-budget movies of the summer, there’s time for entertaining films of different genres.

Race, releases Feb 2016:  The inspiring story of legendary American athlete Jesse Owens’ achievements at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

I think of this movie as a close cousin to 42, the 2013 film which tells the story of Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball. Both feature relative unknowns playing iconic sportsmen who had to fight the color barrier on their way to fame. Race is directed by Stephen Hopkins who started his career in the horror, scifi and action genres. In 2004 however, he directed the delightful TV movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers; so he certainly has the chops for delivering an entertaining biopic. The trailer is a bit too melodramatic for me. I wonder if I am being swayed by recent real-life stories like Spotlight and Steve Jobs in which subtle music, unobtrusive camera work and underplayed dialogue heighten the sense of verisimilitude. Having said that, I guess it’s the done thing for sporting films to feature histrionics. Strong supporting cast includes Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and Carice van Houten.

Money Monster, releases May 2016: A Wall Street-set hostage thriller from Jodie Foster, featuring two of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Two of Hollywood’s most glamorous exports, Julia Roberts and George Clooney work together for the first time. This tense-looking thriller is the 4th directorial effort from award-winning actress Jodie Foster. With so much star power in front of and behind the camera, one can be sure of a high quality production. Foster has been hit-and-miss as a director, but you can be sure that Roberts and Clooney, along with intense young actor Jack O’Connell will dial up the on-screen fireworks. Finding the right time to release it may be the bigger challenge. Originally scheduled for April, it now finds itself being sandwiched between big budget comic films in May. Not the best time to reach older audiences, who will be its primary target. Also, the strange name may confuse audiences.

The Wave, worldwide release across 2016: A disaster movie made in Norway.

Disaster movies are a genre mostly restricted to Hollywood studios, which have the budgets for the visual effects and the distribution muscle to recover the investment. How cool then to see this coming out of the Nordics, better known for crime thrillers and intense personal dramas. Directed by the wonderfully named Roar Uthaug, this film comes to international markets after riding a wave (ha ha!) of success in its home country Norway and being its official nominee to the Oscars in the Foreign Film category. Worth watching because Uthaug has now been tapped to direct the remake of Tomb Raider.

Triple 9, releases Feb 2016: A heist movie starring Kate Winslet as a Russian mafia moll and an ensemble of powerhouse actors.

If you’re looking forward to seeing Gal Gadot make her debut as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman in March and you can’t quite remember her from the Fast and Furious films, then you can catch her in this crime thriller next month. This is a surprisingly star-heavy cast for a genre film – Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anthony Mackie play cops while Kate Winslet chews up the scenery as the mafia baddie who blackmails a bunch of corrupt cops to pull off a robbery. I have enjoyed Australian music video director John Hillcoat’s previous gritty efforts – The Road and Lawless. I think I will like this one too, but it’s with a small distributor so I don’t expect it to be big at the box office.

The big stars come out to play this summer

It’s not often that we get all the stars to appear in the box office sky during the same summer, but 2013 looks like it’s going to be one to remember.

Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum (twice), Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Bruce Willis and Matt Damon will all grace the silver screen during the 5 month period beginning April.

Even more exciting for me is that so many of them are appearing in science fiction or superhero genres.

Technically, I don’t yet consider Channing Tatum to be an A-list box office star, but who am I to argue against a guy who had three 100 million dollar hits last year? I don’t know if the man can anchor an action movie all by himself, but he won’t have to worry about that in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, releasing at the end of March. He’s going to have Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson for company. This film was delayed by a year for conversion to 3D. I guess it will be a modest box office hit…at least, the fight scene on the cliff looks really cool.

A week later, in April Tom Cruise returns to the scifi genre in Joseph Kosinski’s follow up to TRON:Legacy, called Oblivion. The trailers look good (in fact, each new one has been better than the last), the poster looks good, there’s a supporting cast of solid character actors and the screenplay has been co-written by Oscar winner Michael Arndt…yes, the man who has been hired to write the new Star Wars movie.

In the first week of May, Robert Downey Jr. puts the red and gold suit on again for Iron Man 3. This time, action screenwriting god Shane Black is in the director’s chair and one of my all time favorite cinematographers John Toll (Oscar winner for Braveheart and Legends of the Fall) is the DP…Mr. Toll is primarily an outdoor scenery specialist, so I was initially surprised to see him in the hi-tech metal world of Iron Man. But the trailers indicate that Tony Stark is going to be stripped down to the essentials and on the run, so that probably explains the choice. By all accounts, this promises to be yet another hit for Marvel.

A week later, Leo DiCaprio is back on screen as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the 1920’s set literary classic The Great Gatsby. Mr. Luhrmann is a bit of a hit or miss director, but always a good bet for visual spectacle, so this will be a closely watched effort. If he gets it right, then it will be one of the few summer releases that will still be talked during Oscar nominations season at the end of the year.

In June, we get to see Will Smith and Jaden Smith reunite on screen; the last time was 7 years ago in The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith junior is all grown up now and will probably get as much screen time, if not more, than papa. This is Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan’s first venture into the world of science fiction, and since most of the world still seems to hate director M. Night Shyamalan, I think this is another hit-or-miss star vehicle this summer.

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Brad Pitt tries to save the world from a zombie apocalypse in World War Z, the movie (non-)adaptation of the Max Brooks’ breakthrough book. Although the movie is a big departure from the book, the direction in which scriptwriter Matthew Carnahan (brother of director Joe) has taken the film actually bodes quite well for its box office prospects. It looks like out and out action, with some pretty hard hitting zombie attack scenes. This is director Marc Forster’s big chance to redeem himself after the Bond misfire Quantum of Solace.

Channing Tatum is back in the 3rd week of June with White House Down…another case of 2 similarly themed movies hitting the theatres in the same year (Olympus Has Fallen releases in mid-April with Aaron Eckhart as President and Gerard Butler as his saviour). In White House Down, the prez is played by Jamie Foxx…somehow with both the White House action films, I feel that the actor playing the President is cooler than the Secret Service guy trying to save his life.

The July 4th weekend brings in a very high risk blockbuster – Gore Verbinski’s Lone Ranger, where the big star Johnny Depp doesn’t play the lead character but his sidekick Tonto instead. The trailer looks like fun, but Westerns have been box office poison for many decades and it will be interesting to see if Mr. Depp’s charisma is good enough to keep this expensive film afloat. The director and the star have a great working relationship from the 3 Pirates of the Caribbean movies they worked on together. Mr. Verbinski also brought a very edgy sensibility into a Wild West setting in the Oscar-winning animation film Rango a couple of years ago. So, perhaps this will indeed be the Western that bucks the trend.

In the last week of July, we get to see our 2nd Marvel hero of the summer with Hugh Jackman returning to the screen for the 5th time (not including his cameo in X-Men: First Class) as Wolverine. Director James Mangold has directed some great movies in the past like CopLand, 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line; when the script is good, he is great at portraying strong silent lead characters. That’s just what The Wolverine needs after the horrible mess left by its predecessor X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The source material for the new movie is the much beloved 1980’s mini-series from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, set in Japan. As in the case of Iron Man 3, it appears that there will be a ‘back to basics’ approach to this film, which can only bode well for the outcome.

In early August, Denzel Washington appears in a rather low key film called 2 Guns alongside Mark Wahlberg. Denzel’s most successful films have usually had him share on-screen time with a strong partner or adversary, so the formula is at work here again. Icelandic actor turned director Baltazar Kormakur is still new to the Hollywood game, so I don’t expect too much interest in this Action-drama entry at the tail end of the summer.

And finally, to round off the summer, Matt Damon appears as a shaven-headed buffed up mercenary in Neill Blomkamp’s Elyisum, alongside Jodie Foster. I am really waiting to see this film, as it’s a follow-up to the outstanding District 9 and is sure to have a strong undercurrent of socio-political commentary, besides some kick-ass special effects from Peter Jackson’s WETA.

So there you have it…the most star-struck summer in many years. There are too many variables at this stage to say who is going to come out on top of the heap. Of course, on top of all that, we will also have to keep an eye out for Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim which are guaranteed blockbusters in spite of not having any A-list stars on board. The only big name missing from the list above is George Clooney, who is busy directing and starring in The Monuments Men and acting in the risky scifi space thriller Gravity, both of which will come out at the end of the year.

Preparing for the Oscars – George Clooney’s performance in The Descendants

I usually do a hurried catch up of Oscar nominated films as we get closer to Oscar night.

Unfortunately I have not yet seen The Artist which is likely to be a big winner in a few hours.

But last night I got to watch The Descendants and it was a hugely satisfying experience. This is the 3rd consecutive great film from Alexander Payne (4th by some counts, but I was never a fan of Election). As I mentioned on my Facebook update this morning, The Descendants is a film about life and death, love and loss…filled with interesting characters the viewer can instantly relate to.

This is a George Clooney film almost all the way. As a viewer, we are allowed to see how his character, lawyer Matt King, privately deals with the grief of his wife’s impending death while having to put up a brave front for his two daughters for whom so far he has only been a “back up parent”. There are good performances from the actresses playing his two daughters, especially Shailene Woodley playing the older daughter Alexandra. The only odd note came from Alexandra’s slacker boyfriend who starts off as an obnoxious socially insensitive teenager and then mysteriously transforms into a quietly supportive extended member of Clooney’s family. Also a notable performance from Robert Forster as Matt King’s father-in-law. I last saw Forster in his acclaimed performance as Max Cherry in Quentin Tarentino’s Jackie Brown back in 1997.

Another key character in the story is Hawaii itself. Director Payne and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael expertly use the landscape, music and the people to enhance the mood and the story line. One of the memorable scenes has Clooney running down the curving road from his house all the way to the house of his family friends to question them on his wife’s alleged affair. Another moment has Clooney speaking with one of his cousins while in a bar with his family…the cheerful background song from a trio of live performers contrasts with the storm of emotions running through Clooney’s mind when he learns that his wife’s lover will profit enormously from a land deal which Clooney is just about to close which will make most of his extended family into millionaires.

What makes the movie a winner was the fact that in addition to being an exploration of metaphysical themes, it had a genuinely engaging plot line.

Clooney’s on-screen personas tend to be clustered at two extremes – we have the confident, capable characters like Bill Tyne (The Perfect Storm), Danny Ocean, Michael Clayton, Jack (The American) or Ryan Bingham (Up in the Air) and we have the goofy, bumbling characters like Everett (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Harry Pfarrer (Burn After Reading) and Lyn Cassady (The Men Who Stare At Goats). Both of these personas work very well for their respective movies. Sometimes he tends to combine elements of both, as he did successfully in Out of Sight and with disastrous results in Leatherheads. In The Descendants, Mr. Clooney has successfully vaulted over the accumulated baggage of those previous roles and given us a real and completely believable character…one which I hope will bring in Oscar gold later today.