Sunday, January 14, 2018

My Favorite Sam Peckinpah Movie

It's always the violence that people seem to remember Sam Peckinpah films for, the shootouts in "The Wild Bunch," the assaults in "Straw Dogs," and that chattery head of Alfredo Garcia in the burlap bag.  That's certainly what I expected when I when I first saw my favorite Peckinpah film, so I was caught completely off guard by a gentle, mostly non-violent revisionist western comedy, made with several members of the same crew from "The Wild Bunch."

"The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is a mythic tale of the American West, that begins with Jason Robards, playing the title character, betrayed and stranded in the endless desert.  It's only by great luck, and perhaps spiritual intervention, that he manages to find water and survive.  Hogue decides to exploit his good fortune, lays claim to the source of the water, builds a stagecoach stop, and soon flourishes as a businessman.  However, his successes are short-lived, as the world is quickly changing around him.  The era of the iconic cowboy and the isolated Western frontier is coming to an end.  

While I certainly appreciate Peckinpah's more intense crime and western films, I find it very difficult to connect with any of the characters.  "Cable Hogue," however, is a film where I sympathize with just about everyone, because ultimately they're all just trying to get by.  Peckinpah assembles a collection of unapologetic oddballs, miscreants, and outsiders, but they're all very likeable ones.   It's a hard world that they inhabit, where the cinematography emphasizes the bleakness of the landscapes rather than the vastness, and nearly everything looks weathered and worn.  Humanity, however, proves irrepressible.  The first segment of the film is devoted to the lone figure of Cable Hogue battling his way through the desert, withstanding a sandstorm, and bargaining with a distant God.  HIs survival feels hard-won and miraculous at the same time.      

Hogue is probably my favorite Jason Robard character.  He's an ornery old vagabond with few social graces, who delights in being a little wicked, and showing his visitors the real, unvarnished West.  In short, he's about as perfect a stand-in for Peckinpah as you could wish for.  Hogue befriends an itinerant preacher, Joshua (David Warner), falls in love with a prostitute, Hildy (Stella Stevens), and eventually makes peace with Bowen (Strother Martin), one of the men who left him in the desert to die.  Peckinpah treats Hogue as emblematic of the Old West, a more unsavory character than the more civilized townsfolk are comfortable with, but an admirable man in his own way.  The more time we spend with Hogue, the funnier and more endearing he becomes.  Hogue may be unsophisticated, but he has enough wits to impress the local banker into giving him a loan.  He may be crude, but his affections for Hildy are genuine and well-intentioned.  

I was initially expecting a very different kind of film, and it was such a pleasure to discover that "Cable Hogue" was such a light-hearted comic piece.  It's offbeat and subversive, as you'd expect from Peckinpah, but also warmly sentimental and good-natured.  There are only a few instances of violence, mostly played for laughs or pathos.  And while this is certainly not the picturesque, sanitized Old West of Hollywood's classic Western era, neither is is the more nihilistic, cynical world of "The Wild Bunch" and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia."  Our heroes are rough-edged, but still hopeful and spirited to the end.  Peckinpah puts aside any fancy editing tricks, save for a fast-motion lark or two, in favor of sunny romantic reveries and old-fashioned comedic pratfalls.  Music plays a big role in the film, with a soundtrack full of folksy tunes from Richard Gillis, plus a duet sung by Stella Stevens and Jason Robards.    

Sam Peckinpah westerns may be known for their harshness, but this approached proved not to be incompatible with a brighter outlook on life.  And though the film's depiction of the frontier is far from nostalgic, there's still a great sense of affection for it.  Like "Little Big Man" and other revisionist Westerns of the late 1960s and early 1970s, "Cable Hogue" could seek to change our perceptions of the  American West while also paying its respects.      

What I've Seen - Sam Peckinpah

Ride the High Country (1962)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
Straw Dogs(1971)
Junior Bonner (1972)
The Getaway (1972)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
The Killer Elite (1975)
Cross of Iron (1977)
Convoy (1978)
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Friday, January 12, 2018

Trailers! Trailers!: Upcoming 2018 Edition


It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but I'm itching to put down some preliminary thoughts on some of 2018's most prominent would-be blockbusters. As always, all links lead to Trailer Addict.

Avengers: The Infinity Wars - Thanos looks different than I'd imagined. More pink. Anyhoo, the best part of the trailer is inevitably the hints of all the different crossovers finally happening: Thor meeting the Guardians, and the "Doctor Strange" crew coming across Bruce Banner. I also like some of the new looks for various characters. Black Widow has gone blonde, and Vision has gone very human, which I take to mean that they're going to step up his romance with the Scarlet Witch. And my guess is that he's the most likely to get killed off. The callback to Nick Fury's dialogue practically guarantees that somebody significant is finally going to kick the bucket. Oh, and they finally got the theme music in there! Praise Tony Zhou!

Alita: Battle Angel - The big question is, would this have looked any better if James Cameron were directing it instead of Robert Rodriguez? We know that he was going to use a heavily CGI enhanced Alita, but would he have gone with the gigantic eyes that everyone is so obsessed with? As for the rest of the trailer, it looks like the filmmakers are adapting the same storyline that was used for the anime version of "Battle Angel Alita" way back in 1993. The casting is excellent - I'm looking forward to Christoph Waltz as Dr. Ido and Mahershala Ali as Vector in particular. However, after the recent failures of "Ghost in the Shell" and "Death Note," the big question is how well the story is going to translate. And we shouldn't forget that Neill Blomkamp already borrowed a big chunk of "Alita" for "Elysium" a few years ago.

Ready Player One - The Comic-Con teaser was fantastic, the absolute highlight of the whole con. The trailer can't hope to live up to it, but does provide some new details and help us to get a better idea of the shape of this thing. We finally have our first look at the Oasis avatars, which are pretty spiffy, and some of the other characters. Ben Mendelsohn and Mark Rylance are always good to see in anything. However, I can't deny that what got me the most excited was the shot of the Gundam. Along with the "Akira" motorcycle, it looks like some significant anime IP is going to be represented in the film's giant fanservice melee. There's also a new shot of Chucky and a closer one of the Iron Giant, who reportedly plays a big part in the finale. I have no idea if this thing is going to be good or bad, but I'm itching to see what it's all about.

A Wrinkle in Time - I'm rooting for this movie, not just because I love the book, the director, and most of the stars involved, but because it's been made very clear to me that it is vital to have a kids' fantasy movie like this with a non-white female lead. And thankfully, it appears that it might be a good one too. I think the costuming and makeup on Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Witch are a little too much, but the rest of the film just looks gorgeous. I'm slightly worried about the blockbuster-ization of the story, which seems to involve a big action finale that didn't exist in the book, but that was bound to happen with any major studio adaptation. Also, keep in mind that there are several other books in the "Time" series if this one does well.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - The biggest reason that I want to see this is because Juan Antonio Bayona has taken over directing duties, and his films have all been very solid. I also find it gratifying that after four movies, we're finally going to be actively rooting for the dinosaurs this time around. The plot involves rescuing the hapless dinos stranded after the last movie, as an active volcano is threatening their island. Alas, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly are still writing this thing, which doesn't inspire much confidence that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard's characters will be much improved.

Ocean's 8 - Yes. Yes to all of this.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Fate of Fox Animation

It's too early yet to say what's going to happen in the historic acquisition of the 21st Century Fox entertainment assets bt the Walt Disney Company. All sorts of regulatory and legal hurdles have to be cleared first, but I'm pretty certain that the deal is going to go through eventually. And Disney being Disney, they're going to clean house and we're going to see some of the Fox divisions closed, reorganized, or downsized the way we did after the Lucasfilm acquisition. There's a significant likelihood that we might see the axe fall on FX programs, the more adult-oriented "X-men" movies, and more.

However, right now the most vulnerable looking piece of Fox is Fox Animation and the Blue Sky Studios, which has been responsible for twelve feature films over the past fifteen years. This includes the "Ice Age" and "Rio" movies, as well as titles like "The Peanuts Movie," "Epic," and their recent "Ferdinand." Disney already has two major animation studios, PIXAR and Walt Disney Animation, and several smaller ones. Are they going to keep Blue Sky actively producing features, or will they see their future slate cancelled the way that LucasArts did? Currently in the works are a pigeon buddy comedy called "Spies in Disguise," an adaptation of Noelle Stevenson's "Nimona," and a new Chris Sanders picture, "Call of the Wild." There's plenty more in development too.

One might be tempted to write off Blue Sky as a minor player, but they've been around since the 1980s and made some significant contributions to the early development of computer animation. Ironically, their predecessor company, MAGI, worked on the graphics for Disney's "TRON." Blue Sky operated independently for roughly a decade, creating animation for commercials and live-action films before they were acquired by Fox. Shortly afterwards, they won an Oscar for "Bunny," the lovely 1998 short directed by Blue Sky founder Chris Wedge. The win would give them the opportunity to pursue work in features, starting with the first "Ice Age" movie in 2002.

It's worth remembering that not too long ago Disney was really the only producer of big budget animated features in the pre-CGI age. The growth of Blue Sky, along with Dreamworks, Illumination, Sony, Warners, Laika, and all the rest has done a fantastic job of fostering competition and renewed success in the American animation industry. We're seeing more feature animation produced now than at any point in history. And, sure, we didn't really need five "Ice Age" movies, or even three, but I did love the recent "Peanuts" movie, and "Horton Hears a Who" remains the least objectionable Seuss feature by a wide margin, and I've been happy to see Blue Sky continue to be ambitious and stretching themselves. Their output has been more interesting than what Illumination Entertainment or Sony Animation have been doing lately, certainly.

And now Scrat and company are going over to the Magic Kingdom, along with the rest of Fox's IP. "Ice Age" is still a valuable brand, and I expect that we'll still see it pop up in some form or another over the next few years. It would translate very easily to a television series, for instance. However, after five movies, the latest of which only made an anemic $64 million domestically, I don't think we'll be seeing more theatrical features for a while. Even if Disney weren't part of the equation, "Ice Age" clearly needs a break. There's not much else that's done well for Blue Sky recently either, with "Ferdinand" posting especially disappointing numbers over the holidays. Still, the studio is far from creatively out of juice, and I want to see them have the chance to keep doing good work.

Meanwhile, Disney is also getting some of the old Fox Animation library titles like "Ferngully: The Last Rainforest," "Raggedy Ann and Andy," Don Bluth's "Anastasia" and "Titan A.E." and to the immense displeasure of Ralph Bakshi, his early features "Wizards" and "Fire and Ice." And over on the television side, Disney will also also have rights to "The Simpsons," "Futurama," "Bob's Burgers," "King of the Hill," "Family Guy," "Archer," and a lot of other adult-oriented programming that is very lucrative and completely antithetical to everything family-friendly that Disney stands for. But that's a post for another day, I think.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

My Most Anticipated Web and Television Programs of 2018

"Sharp Objects" - HBO and director Jean-Marc VallĂ©e are teaming up for another miniseries, this one based on the Gillian Flynn murder mystery "Sharp Objects."  Marti Noxon is writing, producing, and showrunning.  Amy Adams will star, along with Patricia Clarkson and Elizabeth Perkins.  After the success of "Big Little Lies" last year, I was hopeful that we would see similar female-centric projects in the same vein, and this definitely fits the bill.  The premiere is currently slated for mid-to-late  summer.   

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" - The Coen brothers are making their first series.  They will direct, write, and produce a six-episode western anthology for Netflix.  James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root, and Ralph Ineson  are among the confirmed cast. Tim Blake Nelson too, playing Buster Scruggs, a singing cowboy.  Episode titles and synopses were released last summer.  My current favorite is “The Mortal Remains,” described as "about the five very different passengers on a stagecoach of mysterious destination."

“The Romanoffs” - A good chunk of the creative team of "Mad Men" is working on the new series about modern-day descendants of the Russian royals for Amazon.    The cast currently includes Isabelle Huppert, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, John Slattery, and Aaron Eckhardt.  It's being described as an eight-episode anthology series, but otherwise details have been scarce.  I don't need them though, because with this kind of pedigree, "The Romanoffs" definitely already has me curious.

"Tong Wars" - And what has Wong Kar-Wai been up to?  He's directing an epic crime series for Amazon, that begins in 19th century San Francisco Chinatown and ends in the 1970s.  Paul Attanasio is writing the scripts.  There hasn't been much news about this one since Amazon ordered it to series in September, and with no cast yet announced, this will probably be one that shows up very late in the year if at all.  There's no doubt, however, that this is one of the most ambitious programs currently in the works.

"Altered Carbon" - There are quite a few head-turning science fiction projects currently in development.  The most likely one to premiere next year is the ten-episode adaptation of  "Altered Carbon," which takes place in a dystopia where human consciousness can be digitized and transferred into different bodies.  It's going to be one of the most expensive Netflix series, mostly due to extensive use of CGI.  Joel Kinnaman will star, and "Game of Thrones" favorite Miguel Sapochnik is directing the pilot.     

"Doctor Who" - The prospect of a female Doctor Who played by Jodie Whittaker really has me intrigued.  Along with the introduction  of a new showrunner Chris Chibnall, this definitely marks the start of a new era for the long-running series.  But along with onscreen changes, I'm also curious to see how the audience is going to react.  "Doctor Who" has one of those extensive fanbases that can be a hotbed of drama.  And there's no more dramatic development that's come along to this franchise in ages.    

"Roseanne" - I'm happy to hear that the revival of "Will & Grace" has been doing so well, but the show was never one of my favorites.  I'm a big fan of "Roseanne," however, and await its return with trepidation.  This could be trainwreck, like the final season of the show, but the opportunity to look in on the lives of the Conners again is irresistible.  Nearly everyone is coming back, including John Goodman and both Beckys.  No word yet on Johnny Galecki, who has commitments to "Big Bang Theory."  

"Young Justice: Outsiders" - I've become something of a connoisseur of short-lived superhero cartoons.  "Young Justice" was definitely one of the better ones, a soapy teen drama with way too many characters by the second season, but it carved out its own niche in the DC animated universe, and maintained a strong continuity with the rest of the franchise.  And the nice thing about animated shows is, of course, that the creators can pretty much pick up right where they left off in 2013 without much fuss.  

"True Detective," Year Three - I didn't end up watching the second series after hearing all the contentious reactions to it.  Consensus was that it suffered from being too rushed.  However, I have considerably more hope for the next attempt.  First, Nic Pizzolatto has gotten significantly more time to work on scripts, and David Milch joined the creative team.  Also, Mahershala Ali will be starring, in his first big role since his Oscar win.  With "Fargo" benched for the foreseeable future, this is my next best bet for a high-end crime series.    

"The Americans," Finale - I didn't mind at all that the last season of "The Americans" got slower and more contemplative.  This is a very different show that it was when it started, and the world has changed too.  "The Americans" is more relevant and more powerful television now than it has ever been.  And I'm very excited to see how the endgame is going to play out, especially since the show's creators have demonstrated time and again that they don't pull their punches.    
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Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Baby Driver" And "The Big Sick"

Still playing catch-up.  Bear with me.

I've been a big fan of Edgar Wright's work so far, and was very upset when his "Ant-man" gig fell apart.  So I was rootingfor "Baby Driver" from the start, especially when I learned what a personal project it was for Wright.  And as one of the few original films of last summer, it was an irresistable underdog right out of the gate.  And so it pains me to have to declare that this is one of Wright's least successfully executed films.  Oh, there are parts of it that are brilliant, with ideas and images and bits of sound design that are pretty close to perfect.  Unfortunately, he couldn't sustain this over a whole feature.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man who works as a getaway driver.  He has tinnitus and listens to music constantly to drown out the noise, so everything in his life is synced to different songs.  The various heists he works are handled by Doc (Kevin Spacey), who Baby is in debt to.  His life is going fine until Baby falls for a waitress name Debora (Lily James), and agrees to work a heist involving the unpredictable crew of Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx).  The real star of the picture, however, may be the soundtrack, which drives every major set-piece of the film.  

At first, the gimmick of Baby's constant soundtrack works beautifully.  The opening car chase set to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms" is a breathless delight, and I love all the little ways that Baby's environment visually matches song lyrics and instrumentation when he goes out to get coffee to "Harlem Shuffle."  But the concept starts wearing thin by the time we get to a shootout set to "Tequila," and is run completely into the ground by the time we reach a poorly conceived finale set to "Brighton Rock."  And then there's the coda, which is one of the most oddly incompetent pieces of filmmaking I've seen this year.  I have to wonder if Wright might have run out of time or money or if there was some accident with the footage.

And it's such a shame because Ansel Elgort and Lily James are both so enjoyable here, and there are so many clever little moments that are representative of Wright at his filmmaking best.  I love the post office visit with Doc's nephew (Brogan Hall), and the Paul Williams cameo, and just about everything with Baby's foster father Joe (CJ Jones).  I'd estimate about sixty percent of this movie is flat-out fantastic, but the rest is subpar enough that I can't in good conscience call it a good movie.  I am, however, gratified to know that "Baby Driver" has done well enough at the box office that a sequel may be a possibility.

And now for something completely different.

"The Big Sick" features Pakistani-American comic Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself at the beginning of his standup career.  He falls in love with a white American girl named Emily (Zoe Kazan), but keeps the relationship a secret from his immigrant parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff), who want him to marry a Pakistani woman.  The situation becomes complicated when Emily winds up in the hospital with life-threatening infection, and Kumail meets Emily's parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano).  The story is based on the real events of Kumail's early relationship with writer Emily V. Gordon, and works as both a romantic comedy and family melodrama.       

Kumail Nanjiani has been a familiar face for a while now, appearing in smaller roles in various sitcoms and movies.  I know him best as the host of "The X-Files Files" podcast.  As a Pakistani entertainer, the roles offered by Hollywood were limited, so of course he had to go and write himself his own leading man part.  And it's quite a charmer.  Nanjiani has a pleasant screen presence, and he wisely takes a backseat in many scenes to more veteran performers like Kher, Romano, and Hunter.  However, when he's front and center, he proves more than capable of carrying the film by himself.  There's a wonderful honesty to his performance, and his willingness to let the audience see such a personal chapter of his life up close is commendable.   

The film is divided up into fairly discrete parts - Nanjiani with his family, Nanjiani doing stand-up, and Nanjiani with Emily and later her parents.  And even when the going gets tough, there's not much crossover between one part of Nanjiani's life and any of the others.  My one major quibble with "The Big Sick" is that the stand-up segments are considerably less interesting than what's going on in the ones with Nanjiani's various relationships.  I wish more time could have been spent with the Nanjiani family, particularly as it's such a rare positive depiction of a devout Muslim family.  The film even takes a very even-handed approach to depicting arranged marriages, which is fascinating.   

Judd Apatow apparently helped shepherd Nanjiani and Gordon through writing the script, which unfolds in a very genuine, and frequently amusing manner.  It's great to see a film like this that feels so off the beaten path, combining bits of immigrant narratives, medical crisis dramas,  and modern romance in ways that seem very novel, and yet clearly true to life.  I'm glad that Nanjiani and Gordon decided to share it with us, because it's definitely a story worth exploring, and nobody was closer to the material or more qualified to bring it to the screen.  
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Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Top Ten Episodes of "Orphan Black"

I've written up some lopsided lists before, but this is one of the most extreme.    Eight of the ten picks below are from the first two seasons, which I found significantly better than the latter three.  However, it's a mistake to write those latter seasons off completely, as several major characters only came into their own late in the series run.

Picks below are unranked and ordered by airdate.  Moderate spoilers for the first two series ahead:

"Natural Selection" - It's so much fun to watch Sarah flying by the seat of her pants, trying to step into Beth's shoes after stealing her identity.  Confronted with one crisis after another, the audience learns new information along with Sarah, and it's fun trying to puzzle out what's going on.  Looking back, it's also interesting to see what a different kind of show "Orphan Black" was at the outset, far more grounded and serious about its central mysteries.   

"Effects of External Conditions" - Our introduction to Helena, who was immediately one of my favorite characters.  Her impersonation of Beth, and Alison's impersonation of Sarah, also cemented for me that Tatiana Maslany's performances were orders of magnitude above anything I'd ever seen in a genre program. The clones-playing-other-clones trick was something that the creators wisely limited to only a few times a season, and it was never as effective as the first time they did it.

"Variations Under Domestication" - Alison's first big episode sees her trying to figure out whether Donnie is her monitor, while also hosting a party for her neighbors .  Alison's comedic turns were always highlights for me, and the show got a lot of mileage out of poking fun at her suburban life.  Here, turning golf clubs and glue guns against her husband tells us so much about how Alison operates.  Also note that this is the first time that Vic has an unpleasant altercation in the Hendrix garage.

"Endless Forms Most Beautiful" - Honestly, this episode is a little pat in the way that it ties everything up.  However, it introduces Rachel, who would quickly become another of my favorites, and it starkly underlines one of the major themes of the show by revealing that the clones are considered intellectual property by their creators.  In a series that manages some really creepy moments, this is one of the best.  Also, I did not see the Aynsley storyline playing out the way it did.  

"Governed as It Were by Chance" - Helena certainly knows how to make a good entrance.  After Sarah's latest investigation into Rachel's background goes sideways, her storyline and Helena's converge in the most violent way possible.  I love that at this point, after several weeks of seeing Helena as the victimized prisoner of Henrik and his flock, the show can still use her as this terrifying force of horror and mayhem at the drop of a hat.  Maslany's reactions to her as Sarah really sell it.    

"Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things" - Another darkly funny Alison episode, centered around Sarah's visit to Alison and Vic's rehab center on Family Day.  However, it's Donnie who turns out to be the real star here, when he finally learns the truth about the monitoring program and decides to confront Dr. Leekie.  This leads up to another shocker of an ending that I didn't see coming.  And after this point, Donnie would officially become the Clone Club's best comic relief.

"Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done" - The episode where Donnie and Alison have to bury a body in their garage and fend off a nosy Vic.  This is one of my absolute favorites, because it's when the Hendrixes really become a team, both in crime and in comedy.  And in subsequent seasons, when things started going off the rails, they remained dependably fun to watch.  This episode also pulls off a clone impersonation that I didn't see coming, which sets up the end of the second series.  

"By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried" - There are a lot of big reveals in the second finale, but I like the episode best as a Rachel episode.  After toying with being sympathetic all year long, here she suffers a terrible loss and we see her really commit to her villainy.  Cosima also gets one of her rare early spotlights where she gets to do more than just be a source of exposition or further a romantic subplot.  And one of my biggest disappointments is that we never got more Marion after this.    

"Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method" - Krystal, despite being introduced so late in the show, was a great clone character.  Here, she's being investigated by an undercover Felix.  This allows Jordan Gavaris to use a different accent and Tatiana Maslany to embrace her inner bimbo, and it's a delight.  It's also a pretty good Rachel episode, where there's a major development in the ongoing subplot about her recovery.  I think furious, in-recovery Rachel may be my favorite Rachel.    

"To Right the Wrongs of Many" - The last series of the show was only middling, but they found a great way to end it.  Sarah is in danger of winding up right where she started, except that she's gently reminded that now she has a support network of loving sisters to lend an ear.  The show's special effects wizardry, allowing for the multiple clone sequences, was never utilized better than in the big family bonding scene.  And who Helena names the babies after, tickles me to no end.  
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Least Anticipated Films of 2018

The start of any cinematic year is a time of promise.  With every title yet unseen, there's not a confirmed stinker anywhere.  Alas, bad movies are inevitable and 2018 will have no shortage of them  So below, I'll discuss some of the most distressing titles that have somehow found their way to the slate of upcoming theatrical releases.  Please keep in mind that  I sincerely hope that I'm wrong about all of the movies in this post, and that they beat the odds and actually turn out to be decent cinema. But if past years are any indication, it's likely this will be the last time you see discussion of any of these titles on this blog.

Let's start with the horror films, which include another "Purge" movie, another "Insidious" movie, and a "Conjuring" spinoff called "The Nun."  There's also the very late sequel to 2008's "The Strangers," and a film based on the Slender Man internet creepypasta meme.  Eli Roth is also making a comeback next year with two films.  I'm trying to stay optimistic about the more kid-oriented "The House With a Clock in its Walls," but I can summon up no enthusiasm for his impending "Death Wish" remake starring Bruce Willis.  Good grief, I can't think of worse timing for the resurrection of the "Death Wish" franchise.

There are a lot of animated films from smaller studios hoping to break through next year.  I'm reserving judgment on most of these, because occasionally a no-name studio will put out something decent, but I'm writing off a few obvious bad eggs based on their credentials.  From the people that brought you "Space Chimps," we have "Gnome Alone."  From the people that brought you "Norm of the North," there's "Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad."  Compared to these, "Sherlock Gnomes," the sequel to "Gnomeo and Juliet," doesn't look that bad.  Oh, and while I'm happy that Genndy Tartakovsky is still getting work, do we really need a "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation"?

Speaking of unwelcome sequels, brace yourselves for "Fifty Shades Freed," "Mama Mia! Here We Go Again" and "God's Not Dead 3."  I suppose I shouldn't begrudge the Madea fans "Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral," but really now.  I also have some very strong doubts about "The Girl in the Spider's Web," being billed as a sequel to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," especially since the source material seems pretty shaky.  It really feels like the opportunity for this franchise to take off has come and gone.  I'm still holding out some hope (perhaps unwisely) for "X-men: The Dark Phoenix," and "Creed 2," even though Sylvester Stallone has way too much creative control here for comfort.

And now we come to the films from floundering talent that Hollywood may be willing to give more chances, but I'm not.  While I enjoy Melissa McCarthy on occasion, her collaborations with husband Ben Falcone have been reliably terrible.  So "Life of the Party" is getting a hard pass.  Illumination Entertainment has a lousy track record and made a mess of "The Lorax," so I have zero faith in their ability to adapt "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  And then you have "The War With Grandpa," a kids' film from the director of "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," and "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever." I don't know how Robert De Niro agreed to be in this thing, but his recent string of comedy roles hasn't exactly been inspiring either.

There are also a ton of iffy-looking remakes on the schedule (Did we really need another "Valley Girl"?), several long-gestating projects like "The Happytime Murders" and "The Meg" that I never thought would see the light of day, and three of my least anticipated superhero films of all time: "Ant-Man and the Wasp," "Aquaman," and "Venom."  However, there are enough talented people involved with all of these that I'll leave them as question marks for now.  

It's not all doom and gloom though.  Look out for my lists of my most anticipated  films of 2018 in a month or two, after Sundance.  And I'll have my list of my most anticipated web and television programs of 2018 up in a day or two.
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