Logan: Jackman signs off Wolverine on a high note

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Hugh Jackman debuted the Wolverine character in 2000’s X-Men, which also kicked off the sustained and successful run of Marvel characters on film. Seventeen years later, he is retiring the character in Logan, the third standalone Wolverine film and the 7th time he has played the clawed mutant (besides 2 cameos).

What’s different this time and why is everyone praising the film? Director and screenwriter James Mangold was given a lot more freedom by the studio, which included allowing it go violent/ R-rated, in keeping with the nature of the character (we can thank 2016’s Deadpool as well, which gave Fox the confidence to approve an R-rated comic book film, realizing it wouldn’t affect box office income).

The result is a very satisfying film, filled with plenty of blood-soaked violence and more importantly, with vulnerable characters who we care about. The first hour and a half is so engaging that one doesn’t realize the time going by. We are introduced to aged and decrepit versions of the invincible characters we have known since 2000. Professor X (played by 76-year-old thesp Patrick Stewart) now in his 90’s and is losing his mental faculties, spends most of the day in a drug-induced stupor. Wolverine’s healing ability is fading (he’s over 140 years old, in case anyone’s still counting) and he has been reduced to earning his living as a limo driver  (driving an uber cool Chrysler stretch)! With no new mutants born in the past quarter century, the X-Men have died out and have become a sort of urban myth, good enough only to feature in comic books. We also meet an intense, mute child Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen, daughter of British actor Will Kean and Spanish actress Maria Fernandez Ache), who is on the run from a bunch of heavily armed bad guys, led by the cybernetically enhanced Pierce (played with great flair by a charismatic Boyd Holbrook). What we get when they all come together is a road trip/ chase movie, featuring a good mix of action, poignancy and some dry humor.

Wearing its R-rating on its sleeve, Logan allows Wolverine fans to see him in his famous ‘berserker rage’ mode more than once. But he’s not the only one. The scene in the first act in which Laura explodes into action and reveals her capabilities is shocking in its violence and intensity. Even Wolverine is stunned. There is another great ‘armrest gripping moment’ at a casino when we get a glimpse of why Charles Xavier’s mind is classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

At the other end of the spectrum, I really liked how the second act brings our heroes in touch with regular people, in this case a family who invites them to dinner. This reminded me of a similar scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron in which we find that Hawkeye has an entire family hidden away on a ranch. I feel that this sort of interlude helps to humanize the superheroes and brings the audience closer to them.

The third act was the weakest part of the movie for me, simply because it featured the obligatory action showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, with not much else. Perhaps the only unpredictable part of this formulaic sequence was what would happen to Wolverine at the end.

Before watching the movie, I had read all about how it plays out like a Western. Mangold has previously directed an excellent Western called 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the 1957 classic. Even his 1997 breakout film Cop Land can be seen as a sort of modern-day Western with Stallone’s quiet, unassuming sheriff unexpectedly coming up trumps in a final showdown against the corrupt cops living in his town. True enough, all the visual cues in Logan are straight from a Western – the characters look weather-beaten and a lot of the action takes place in sunburnt, dusty locations. And of course, there is the overt reference to the famous 1953 Western Shane, the purpose being to establish the parallels in the relationship between the gunfighter and the boy in Shane and Wolverine and Laura in Logan. Frankly, I thought that this part of the script was a bit heavy-handed, especially when the girl spouts the entire dialogue from the closing moments of Shane, having watched it just once in a hotel room previously.

I also had my usual issues with that ‘home video’ look of night time scenes because of the use of digital cameras, which tend to capture a lot of information (very useful in low light conditions), but can create a ‘flat’ look devoid of texture. DP John Mathieson has used the Arri Alexa camera which is very popular and usually produce a very film-like effect, especially when combined with Panavision lenses (like you see in Mad Max: Fury Road or Rogue One), but am not sure what low-light combo was used here and why some of the night scenes look so terrible. Given that the film takes so much inspiration from Westerns and from Shane in particular, how cool would it have been to have shot it in real film to mimic the glorious Technicolor of Shane.

Considering that the movie is set in 2029, there isn’t much that appears futuristic about it. The only indications are the driverless trailer trucks on the highway and the reference to tigers being extinct.

Overall, it’s a very powerful movie and a wonderful way to end a trilogy, especially one that started so unpromisingly with the universally panned X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The X-Men films spin off into new directions now, with new teams coming up in Josh Boone’s X-Men: The New Mutants and Joe Carnahan’s X-Force. There will also be another entry called X-Men: Supernova in Bryan Singer’s continuing series featuring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence as the younger versions of Prof X, Magneto and Mystique. But it looks like this is the end of the road for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s characters…and they should both feel proud of signing off with a bang.


Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 3

So, we now come to 2017, which also has 5 Marvel properties lined up, 2 from Fox and 3 from Disney. Given how far away these dates are, what we know in terms of cast, crew and plot is very limited for some of the titles.

Untitled Wolverine Sequel. Releases in March 2017 – Fox kicks off very early in the year with James Mangold most likely returning to direct Hugh Jackman in this follow up to 2013’s The Wolverine which was set in Japan. It’s very early days, so we don’t even know which comic book storyline will be used as a basis for the plot. Hugh Jackman will be 48 when he films this, so I wonder how many more years he can keep this up. It will be his 8th time on the screen playing this character since 2000 (not counting his cameo in X-Men: First Class) and just as Disney/ Marvel will eventually have to find a new actor to play Robert Downey Jr., Fox executives will be thinking about how to keep Hugh Jackman looking ageless, particularly considering that Wolverine’s role requires a lot more shirtless scenes than any other Marvel superhero!

Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Releases in May 2017 – One of the most memorable movie sequences for me this year was the mid-credits sequence featuring Groot dancing to MJ’s I Want You Back. This once risky venture is now the biggest box office hit of 2014 (at least for a few weeks more until the next Hunger Games sequel comes out) and it’s a bit of a pity that audiences will have to wait 3 years for the sequel. Although Age of Ultron also releases 3 years after The Avengers, they had standalone Captain America, Thor and Iron Man movies to fill the gap in between. No such fillers for GoTG, so no telling if interest in the characters will wane due to the onslaught of Marvel and DC movies in the interim. I would expect Marvel to keep Groot and Rocket top of mind through their TV cartoon properties and older fans will be keen to see the ongoing quest by intergalactic baddie Thanos to find all the Infinity Stones. There may also be an opportunity to set up Marvel’s future intergalactic superheroes such as Captain Marvel (whose solo movie is scheduled for 2018) and perhaps even Nova (since the Nova Corps were featured in the first movie).

The Fantastic Four 2. Releases in July 2017 – This release depends a lot on the performance of the first movie scheduled for Aug 2015. The actors would be locked in for the sequel, but the director Josh Trank is unlikely to be available as he would be prepping a Star Wars spin-off film for Disney (there is even a conspiracy theory that Disney hired Trank so that he wouldn’t be available to Fox for the sequel).

Thor: Ragnarok. Releases in end July 2017 – In Norse mythology, Ragnarok refers to their version of the apocalypse, so that could mean Asgard’s very existence is threatened by Loki’s machinations (after all, he was sitting on the throne at the end of Thor: The Dark World). But in Marvel comics, Ragnarok has another meaning as well; in the Civil War story line, Tony Stark created a cyborg clone of Thor called Ragnarok. It’s difficult to say which of the above cues the script will take or if it will be something completely new made up for the movies. Either way, Kevin Feige has said this movie will be a watershed event for Thor and the Marvel universe. Do keep in mind that Marvel comics has recently launched a new Thor title with a woman wielding Mjolnir, while the old Thor is still around but no longer worthy of picking up the hammer. There’s no telling if this story element will find its way into the movies.

Black Panther. Releases in Nov 2017 – The Black Panther was the first black superhero in Marvel comics and was created in 1966; the character and the name were inspired by the formation of the Black Panther party in the US that year. Of all the releases in faraway 2017, this is the one which appears to have a clear course charted out, starting with the Avengers sequel in 2015. Eagle eyed fans got terribly excited when they saw a familiar face in the trailer of Avengers: Age of Ultron last month. The face was that of famed motion-capture actor Andy Serkis (who has played Gollum, King Kong and Caesar the ape).

It’s a face rarely seen in its human form on screen. It was known that Serkis was advising James Spader on his mo-cap performance as Ultron, but no one expected to see Serkis himself acting in the film. He appears on screen for just one second, but the character has such a distinctive look that fans were immediately able to recognize him as Ulysses Klaw, a recurring super-villain in the Marvel pantheon. Klaw’s destiny is bound to the rare metal vibranium which is found only in the African kingdom of Wakanda, which of course is where Prince T’Challa, aka Black Panther comes from. So Klaw’s appearance in 2015 will bring Wakanda into the Avengers storyline which will then lead to the Black Panther popping up in Captain America: Civil War in 2016 and finally to this solo outing in 2017. He will be played by Chadwick Boseman who after several years in TV shows, produced a breakout performance as baseball player Jackie Robinson in the film 42 last year. This year, he played another American legend (James Brown) in the little seen but highly acclaimed Get on Up. Frankly, I think it’s poor casting for Panther, because Boseman has African-American features whereas T’Challa should have been played an African, one with a bigger build. But Boseman is a good actor, so I hope he will do the role justice. The film’s concept art released by Marvel during the announcement a few weeks ago looks spot-on.

Based on current popularity, I have no doubt that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will make the most money at the box office in 2017. Black Panther too will get a good run, provided his introduction in the previous year’s Captain America: Civil War is handled well. I think the Thor franchise with Chris Hemsworth could end with Thor: Ragnarok and if it is positioned as the last solo outing for this character, then there could be a big crowd at the theatres. I really don’t know how FF2 will fare, as the outcome of the first FF reboot next year is still a question mark. And the Wolverine sequel will do reasonable but not spectacular numbers.

Previewing the ‘Super Summer of 2015’: Part 3

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the movies that are scheduled for release during the ‘super-summer of 2015’. It seemed to be a case of Disney vs. the Rest of Hollywood, as the Mouse House had scheduled 5 big releases during the period 13th March to 31st July, 2015.

One studio that was missing from the roster was Sony Pictures; well yesterday, news came through that Sony has just put a stake in the ground for Summer 2015. They have signed on Hugh Jackman for a lead role in Chappie, the scifi/ comedy directed by Neill Blomkamp. Mr. Blomkamp has already directed two films which may be described as ‘socially-aware scifi’; he received a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination for his debut feature District 9, but he got the sophomore blues with Elysium this summer, which came across as standard Hollywood scifi fare, and was seen as a critical and commercial disappointment. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back with Chappie, which is based on his 2004 short film Tetra Vaal about a robot policeman designed for deployment in Third World countries. For Manga afficionados, please note the distinctive ‘rabbit ears’ on the robot, which are an homage to the helmet design of the cyborg Briareos Hecatonchires in the Japanese anime Appleseed.

Universal Pictures already had Jurassic World parked in the middle of June 2015 and they have now added Minions on July 10th. This is a spin-off from the Despicable Me films, is directed by Pierre Coffin and is sure to be a mega-hit.

In my earlier post, I had mentioned that Paramount was bringing back the Terminator franchise in July 2015. I had forgotten to write about another big film they are releasing that summer which aims to establish the studio as a player in the animation business. After tasting success with Rango in 2011, Paramount decided to create its own in-house capability with the setting up of Paramount Animation. Consequently, they decided not to renew their distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation; all DWA films will now be distributed by Fox for the next 5 years. This created an interesting situation; Fox already has an animation unit, which had built its success over the last 10 years around films produced by Blue Sky Animation, which Fox owns. Blue Sky was set up in 1987 by Chris Wedge, one of the pioneers of CGI animation (he created the CG effects for Disney’s TRON in 1982). Along with partner Carlos Saldanha, Mr. Wedge directed Ice Age in 2002, the first of a string of hits for Blue Sky/ Fox, which included the Ice Age sequels, RobotsHorton Hears a Who!Rio and this year’s ecologically themed Epic. With Chris Wedge starting to look around for new things to do, Fox decided to hedge their bets and get into bed with DWA. Soon after the Fox-DWA deal was announced came the news that Paramount Animation had hired Chris Wedge to direct their big-budget live-action/ CGI-animation hybrid, Monster Trucks. So Paramount and Fox have effectively traded their animation partners.

Paramount is looking to start a “Transformers-like franchise” with Monster Trucks, which is being released on 29th May 2015, smack in the middle of the ‘2015 super-summer’, probably going up against the 2nd weekend of Star Wars Episode VII. I wonder at the irony of Chris Wedge following up on the green-themed Epic with a film built around large, noisy, heavily polluting vehicles! He has experience with this sort of subject matter, having directed Robots in 2005, so let’s see if he can work the magic for Paramount.

I expect at least one more big release to be announced by Paramount for the summer of 2015, as also by Sony and Warner Bros. I also expect Star Wars Episode VII to announce its full title and its exact release date soon. I assume the release date will be May 22nd, 2015 to coincide with its ‘traditional slot’ on Memorial Day weekend.

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.

My year-end movie list

It’s that time of the year again when Hollywood rolls out their award contenders as well as some big-budget feel-good blockbusters.

There are 7 movies which are on my must-watch list, another 5 which I will watch, either because they will be Oscar front-runners or because they come from big names, but am not necessarily interested in the subject matter or actors involved. And there are 3 high profile releases which I have no interest whatsoever in (but will probably end up watching anyway at some point). I have also thrown in two films under the heading Guilty Pleasures!

I’m going to start with the 3 big ones which I am not interested in:-

  • Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 – I have watched the entire series so far. I really enjoyed the first film, but I feel the acting and actors have increasingly looked more suited to a daytime soap than a big-screen film…nothing against it, but not really my cup of tea. And I am now thoroughly irritated with the Kristen Stewart approach to acting which mainly consists of furrowing her brow. No doubt, being the last in the series, the film will have a monster opening weekend. Stephanie Meyer fans can next look forward to the film adaptation of her scifi novel, The Host in March 2013.
  • Life of Pi – I am a huge fan of Ang Lee’s work, but have no interest in a story about a boy named Pi stuck on a boat for 227 days with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. I don’t see the point at all and the trailer did nothing to help me change my mind. I can understand that Ang Lee would want to push his own boundaries just as he did when he directed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hulk, so I hope for his sake that the film is at least a critical success if not a commercial one.
  • Frankenweenie – I had already covered this in a post soon after the trailer came out. I have watched every single Tim Burton film, except the latest Dark Shadows and his animated 2005 film Corpse Bride, but I haven’t really enjoyed one of his films since Sleepy Hollow back in 1999. And I find his stop-motion animation style too creepy, unless taken in small doses like in Beetlejuice.

Then come the 5 obligatory viewings:-

  • The Master – I have no real interest in this story of a man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who creates a quasi-religious cult and has a troubled relationship with his most fervent disciple (Joaquin Phoenix). Having said that, I had no real interest in the story of a man who discovered an oil field and had troubled relationships with his son and with an over-zealous preacher, but 2007’s There Will be Blood remains one of my all-time favourite films, so I am certainly going to give Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest effort a fair chance, not to mention that it is most likely to win the Best Picture Oscar in February.
  • Cloud Atlas – I was so looking forward to the return of the Wachowski siblings, but was quite underwhelmed by the trailer. This hard-to-describe novel by David Mitchell was always going to be a challenge for any one director, so the producers hired a team of 3 directors, i.e. the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer to bring it to life. I hope that audiences are able to decipher the plot consisting of 6 nested stories beginning on a Pacific Island in the 1850’s, progressing to a distant post-apocalyptic future and then concluding back where it began. All of this spread over 3 hours with each actor playing multiple characters across the nested stories. I so want to like this movie, but something tells me The Wachowskis will continue the search for their first hit since the Matrix trilogy.
  • Les Miserables – Musicals have never been my cup of tea, but they are so few and far between these days that there is always a big buzz when a Moulin Rouge or Hairspray or Chicago is released. I’ve watched them all, but wouldn’t care for a repeat viewing of any of them. In this case, I certainly can’t say “No” to a film starring Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter…and directed by Tom Hooper (director of The King’s Speech and the outstanding 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams)!
  • Silver Linings Playbook – I am not a Bradley Cooper fan and his presence in films like the Hangover series have done nothing to improve the situation, but I am intrigued by the buzz from this film which won the People’s Choice Award at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. I absolutely loved director David O. Russell’s Desert Storm-set action-comedy Three Kings from 1999, but haven’t seen his critically acclaimed boxing drama The Fighter from 2010. This film represents a change of pace, a dramedy, somewhat similar to his I Heart Huckabees from 2004.
  • Killing Them Softly – New Zealander Andrew Dominik has directed just 3 films in his career. The first was Chopper in 2000, which introduced the world to a certain Eric Bana. Then in 2007, he released The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford starring Brad Pitt to great critical acclaim. He now reunites Brad Pitt in this crime-thriller which is already generating awards buzz, having been nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Guilty Pleasures

  • Jack Reacher – After the embarrassment of Rock of Ages this summer, Tom Cruise returns to a more comfortable setting in this screen adaptation of crime novel One Shot, one of a series of novels by Lee Child featuring former Army Major Jack Reacher. Having said that, I cannot imagine what the studio was thinking when they cast the 5’7” Cruise to play a character described as being 6′ 5″ tall with a 50-inch chest and having ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. Why even bother to call it an adaptation of a Jack Reacher novel and risk upsetting the hard core Reacher fans? Anyway, I am a big Tom Cruise fan, so I count this film as a guilty pleasure.
  • Taken 2 – In early 2009, Liam Neeson had his biggest career hit as a leading man, playing former CIA operative Bryan Mills who creates mayhem among East European human traffickers after they take his daughter. There is nothing as enjoyable as a good old-fashioned action thriller where the good guy takes apart the bad guys one by one. Fans have been looking forward to seeing more of Neeson’s character, so writer-producer Luc Besson has come up with a new adventure, this time the bad guys specifically target Bryan Mills’ family in revenge for the people he took out in the first movie.

And finally, the 7 movies I am really looking forward to:-

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A few months ago, Peter Jackson delighted his fans with the announcement that he had shot enough footage of The Hobbit story to produce 3 films, not the 2 as originally planned. The films are adapted not just from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, but also depict incidents from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings books and from Tolkien’s companion-piece publication The Silmarillion, hence the over-abundance of available material and the opportunity to feature characters from LOTR like Galadriel and Legolas. The build-up to the release of the first film has been perfect, with the release of a number of photos of the 13 hobbits comprising the Company of Dwarves and recently the release of an iPad App with lots of goodies. I expect/ hope this will be the biggest box office hit of the fall season and also that it will be as critically acclaimed as the original trilogy. The latest trailers with their four different endings are superb.
  • Django Unchained – I raved about the Django Unchained trailer when it first came out. It’s a new Quentin Tarentino film, not much more needs to be said.
  • Skyfall – I am really looking forward to seeing Daniel Craig chug a can of Heineken in the upcoming Bond film…and of course, eager to see if they can get the Bond franchise on track after the mess that was Quantum of Solace. I am looking forward to some of the gritty storytelling that director Sam Mendes put on show with Road to Perdition back in 2002 (interesting bit of trivia here – Road to Perdition featured a then-unknown Craig playing the cowardly son of mob boss Paul Newman).
  • Lincoln – Daniel Day Lewis brings his famous method acting chops to play the great American President. I expect to see the full bells and whistles which we have come to expect from Spielberg, hopefully it doesn’t become another Amistad. I was surprised at Lincoln’s nasal voice after years of hearing him portrayed with a deep sonorous voice. There has been a fair bit of internet chatter about the voice, which is apparently historically accurate. I think a lot of viewers will really have a problem with this, but hopefully the rest of the movie will be engaging enough.
  • Argo – It’s interesting that Ben Affleck, an actor I have taken such a dislike to, has directed two of the most gripping films in the last 5 years – Gone Baby Gone and The Town, both set in his native New England. This time around with Argo, he goes across to Iran for a fact-based drama-thriller in which he also acts (and looks quite good in that beard, by the way).
  • Hyde Park on the Hudson – I am a sucker for period dramas – Downton Abbey being my current favourite – and there has been steady buzz building up about this FDR biopic, featuring funnyman Bill Murray as The President and directed by Roger Michell of Notting Hill fame.
  • Flight – This is Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away in 2000. It features Denzel Washington as a pilot who becomes a hero after safely landing a flight in distress, but the subsequent investigation reveals that he may not be a hero after all. Denzel does this sort of role very well (remember Courage Under Fire?) and I am hoping Zemeckis has not lost his edge after making only motion-capture pictures for the past decade.
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac’s beat-era cult classic finally gets the big screen treatment, directed fittingly by Brazilian ‘road movie expert’ Walter Salles, famous for the touching Central Station and the delightful Motorcycle Diaries. On the Road features a great cast of actors including Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams and oh…Kristen Stewart. Well, if I needed a good omen on that last one, it could be the fact that Kristen Stewart played a very short and sweet role in her last road movie Into the Wild. Hopefully the same will be the case here.

Altogether, there is an incredible array of award-winning directors and actors on show in the next few months. Looks like I will have to watch multiple movies on some weekends if I am going to fit in 17 movies from now till end-December!