Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 Film Preview

As a nerd, I have a love-hate relationship with anticipation. It’s easy to get excited about an upcoming project, be it a movie, a book, a video game, or whatever. Frequently, when you’re really excited about something, it’s not hard to see the entire film in your head before you even get a trailer. More often then not, the final product in no way lives up to the movie you saw in your head. That initial disappointment is hard to get over and often leads to the most excited film of the upcoming year being your most hated of the next. I call it “The George Lucas Dilemma.” Frequently I find myself more excited for seeing a movie, then the actual movie itself, if that makes any sense.

Having said that, 2012 sure is shaping up to be an exciting year. I’ve manage to put together a very long list of upcoming releases this year I’m looking forward too. The latest entries in beloved franchises, auteur filmmakers returning to beloved previous projects and areas, tantalizing indies starring new and old talent both in front of and behind the camera… There’s certainly a lot of expectations riding on all of this and a bigger chance then ever to be disappointed. But why focus on the negative? Let’s talk about WHY we’re excited for so much the forthcoming year has to offer us!

Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2012:

1. The Avengers

This is a movie I’ve literally been wanting to see since I was about seven years old. Not only has Marvel been building up for “The Avengers” over the last four years with their series of uniformly pretty good movies, not only was it a massively ambitious undertaking to bring all these stars and budgets together to make it happen, but this is the world’s first superhero team-up movie. The first time we’ve had a group of pre-established superheroes coming together on the big screen. This is a momentous occasion by itself.

Yeah, Joss Whedon writing and directing is a sign of concern. He’s good with ensemble and Whedon’s dialogue is still usually pretty sharp, but his tendency for melodrama and contrived bullshit hasn’t done a lot to endear him to me in recent years. Hopefully, Marvel will keep him on a strong leash. (And I don’t think they’ll let him murder Captain America in the third act or anything. Agent Coulsen on the other hand…) We also still don’t have an official plot description, which is mystifying. But, whatever. “The Avengers” is a once in a life-time nerd movie event.

2. Prometheus

As excited as I am for “The Avengers,” it’s really running neck-and-neck with this one. I adore the original “Alien.” It’s hard to deny the qualities of the Cameron’s sequel and, hell, I even like “Alien 3.” But I generally believed that most of the sequels have strayed from the dark, chilly, sci-fi-gothic tone of the original film. So, Ridley Scott returning to the franchise he helped create is massively exciting.

Of course, Scott and Fox have been ambiguous about how much of an “Alien” prequel this actually is. (Though the trailer makes the connection fairly explicit.) Yet this is somehow more exciting, since it means the movie is reaching for far more ambitious, cosmic levels. The rumors of space gods promise to make the Lovecraftian undertones of the original even stronger, which is exciting in and of itself. The cast is fantastic as well, with newly minted big stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender top-lining.

Really, the only thing here that can even slightly dim my anticipation is the fact that Ridley Scott hasn’t made a really exciting movie in over a decade… And that it’ll probably be rated PG-13.

3. John Carter

There are two reasons this one has me so interested. First off, I’m a sizable fan of the source material. I like a lot of early pulp writing and Edgar Rice Burroughs was often the most imaginative of his contemporaries. Honestly, it’s a bit of a shock that the Barsoom novels have never been adapted for the screen before.

The second reason is that this is Pixar director Andrew Stanton’s live-action debut. That’s right, kids, there’s such a deficit of good directors in mainstream Hollywood that they’ve started recruiting from the best animation house in the industry. Following in Brad Bird’s footsteps, it’ll certainly be interesting to see if the mastery of sci-fi imagery Stanton showed in “WALL-E” will carry over into live-action.

Beyond that, I do have a lot of reservations about this one. The trailer isn’t very good and reminds me way more of “Conan the Barbarian ‘11” then any high profile project should. The mid-spring release date seems to suggest a lack of faith from Disney in what could be a summer tentpole. The supporting cast is top full of Hollywood’s best heavies, including Bryan Cranston, Willem DeFoe, Mark Strong, and Thomas Hyden Church, but lead actor Taylor Kitsch is still unproven in my book. What I’ve seen of Kitsch doesn’t impress me at all, either. So this movie, like “Green Lantern” from last year and many films before that, is the most likely candidate for “Film I get excited for even though it’ll probably be completely mediocre” for this year.

4. Django Unchained

I’m pretty much a Quentin Tarantino apologist at this point. I’ve loved everything he’s done so far. Even “Death Proof,” even “Jackie Brown,” even “Four Rooms.” Yeah, the guy is increasingly consumed by his fetishes these days and I’m not just talking about the foot thing. The guy only makes movies about movies, filled with lots of meandering dialogue scenes, random tonal shifts, and increasingly heavy-handed themes and social commentary. His films are pulp comic book experiences. Love them for what they are. I do.

Anyway, QT finally making a western is a pretty big damn deal. Considering the guy’s obvious love of Sergio Leone and spaghetti westerns, it probably should have happened a lot sooner. And like “Death Proof” was his unique take on the horror genre (in that it totally wasn’t), this is shaping up to be a singular take on the oldest American genre, with its deep South setting and a plot will probably do to slavers and racism what “Inglourious Basterds” did to Nazis and fascism. And the cast is, as you’d expect, incredible. Yeah, I’d rather it star Idris Elba then Jamie Foxx too, but Leonardo DiCaprio playing a by-all-accounts total bastard villain is something to look for too. If it’s anything like Christoph Waltz’ turn in the last film, I suspect Leo might finally win his Oscar for this one. For me, it’s always exciting to see what Tarantino will pull out next from his very deep bag of tricks-stolen-from-other-movies.

5. Cloud Atlas

If you recall, my most anticipated film of last year was the Wachowski Brothers’ “C.N.9.” You might have also noticed that movie totally didn’t get made. I guess the world just wasn’t ready for the sci-fi gay American solider/Iraqi insurgent assassinate George W. Bush love story. Some day.

Instead, the Brothers turned their attention to adapting David Mitchell’s epic sci-fi novel, which I have not read. The story, which involves different generations over six different eras, from 1850 New Zealand to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, is exactly the kind of wildly ambitious concept I’d exactly expect the Wachowskis to tackle. It’s such an ambitious concept that it’s actually going to take three directors to get made. The “Run Lola Run” guy, Tom Tykwer, will be handling parts of the film as well. The cast is as huge as the story is, including Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, and, groan, Halle Berry. Yes, it will probably be much more low key then any the director’s previous films, (Like I said, I haven’t read the book but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t feature lesbians, wire-fu shootouts, or race car fight scenes), but this is still some pretty exciting stuff here.

6. Dark Horse

Todd Solondz’ deeply neurotic tragi-comedies are my sort of thing. His movies tend to be hilarious but only in the darkest, like-suicidal-staring-into-the-abyss, dark way. This latest seems to be deconstructing the “Outsiders fall in love and save each other!” cliché. While the premise might promise a softer, friendlier Solondz, I doubt anyone will make it out of this movie unscathed.

That’s not the only reason I’m looking forward to that. First off, the male end of the romance is an over-weight, adult age, collector of toys. Complete disclosure here: Those words could also describe me. The female end is Selma Blair, reprising her role from Solondz’ highly underrated “Storytelling.” (Second clue that this is going to be a deeply fucked-up love story.) The idea of people being ostracized within their own families is another theme the director has visited before to great success. Maybe more exciting then any of those things is the fact that Christopher Walken is in the movie. Walken and Solondz, a match made in neurotic, twitchy, weirdo heaven. Mia Farrow is cool, too.

7. The Iceman

Michael Shannon really came around this year. After working for years as a recognizable character actor, playing supporting roles in big movies, this year he’s received considerable praise and possible Oscar buzz for “Take Shelter.” He was also cast as the villainous General Zod in the upcoming new Superman movie.

However, this movie has been cooking before any of those and I’ve been a fan of Shannon since “Bug,” another underrated little flick. In this one, Shannon is perfectly cast as infamous mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski. This is exactly the kind of role almost guaranteed to win Shannon the Best Actor Academy Award he so obviously deserves. He’s propped up by a neat supporting cast including Chris Evans, comeback-ready Winona Ryder, and Ray Liotta, who is unsurprisingly playing a crime boss. Really, the only question mark here is director Ariel Vromen, who I’ll admit to not being familiar with at all. Also, that the IMDb list this with a 2013 release date, which seems surprising since filming’s all ready started and this seems likely to be picked up for a 2012 end-of-the-year award season friendly release date.

8. Skyfall

I think I was one of, like, ten people who liked “Quantum of Solace” as much as “Casino Royale.” Basically, I love Daniel Craig’s James Bond and his films have really reignited my fandom of the series in general. It seemed like this movie wasn’t going to get made for a long time but MGM has finally worked out their financial problems and the project is back on track.

Sam Mendes follows in the footsteps of Mark Foster as a director better known for drama chosen to handle the latest movie in this big action franchise. I’m honestly a little disappointed that the movie is dropping the Quantum storyline, which was primed to be the modern equivalent of SPECTRE. (I’m also disappointed that the movie isn’t called “The Property of a Lady.”) However, the newest storyline that promises to explore M’s dark past is pretty interesting. So is the supporting cast, which includes villainous Javier Bardem, Ralph Finnes, and a sexy young Ben Whishaw as the new Q, a character I can’t wait to see incorporated in the gritty, down-to-Earth rebooted series.

9. The Master

I recently converted to the church of Paul Thomas Anderson after finally catching up with “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood” on video, two movies which were as exactly as brilliant as everyone said they were. This is the movie the Church of Scientology doesn’t want you to see! (Well, the other other one anyway.) Being a fictionalized account of L. Ron Hubbard’s rise to infamy, riches, and self-appointed sainthood, that’s not surprising. Scientogists are notoriously cagey when people are actually honest about what a diabolic organization they really are and how big of an asshole its founder was.

The movie had a protracted preproduction. Universal balked at the projected 35 million dollar budget, even though they frequently spend much more then that on movies from much less respected filmmakers. The script, which featured experimental images like a grown woman reverting back to a baby in the womb, themes of incest, polygamy, and graphic sex, was also apparently a factor. Despite all that rushing around, the movie is getting made, kept Philip Seymour Hoffman in the titular role, traded up from Jeremy Renner to Joaquin Phoenix, and added Amy Adams and Laura Dern too. The script has apparently been greatly rewritten, which I hope means it hasn’t lost any of the blatant Hubbard bashing or any of the aforementioned weird stuff. I was really looking forward to that. (Another movie with an IMDb listed 2013 release date, even though it’s all ready wrapped filming and seems like another favorite for this year’s Oscar season.)

10. Parker

So here’s the other movie I’ve placed on my list that’s pretty much guaranteed to not be very good. Once again, my interest and faith in the source material is the main in here for me. Donald Westlake’s gritty Parker character, always written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark, has been adapted to the screen numerous times before, but never under the character’s actual name. (Point Blank and Payback, both fine films, are probably the best known adaptations.) Jason Statham probably isn’t the perfect pick to finally bring Parker to life under his actual name, too young, too pretty. But Statham does well playing remorseless, amoral protagonist. Ruthless career criminal is a character type he’s certainly excelled at before. Adding additional grittiness to the cast is Nick Nolte and Michael Chiklis. The idea of seeing Statham going toe-to-toe with washed up, D-list action star Daniel “Jean Claude Goshdarn” Bernhart has its own trashy appeal as well.

There are a few things that give me pause here. Taylor Hackford, a director best known for “Ray” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” doesn’t seem like the ideal choice for this kind of film. Jennifer Lopez appears to be playing the love interest, which comes off as bizarre to me. The script has apparently reimagined Parker as having a moral code of some kind, which is total bullshit.

However, the thing that the film most has going for is also its biggest issue of concern. Jason Statham’s films are increasingly samey. He had like four movies come out last year and I honestly don’t think any of them were really worth seeing. I’m worried this film will be just another one of his movies. If the movie is as good and interesting as it could be, it would be just the thing to take Statham off his Segal-like path of playing the same character in direct-to-video films of increasingly diminished quality. And if it sucks, we still have Darwyn Cooke’s excellent comic book adaptation.


Other movies worth discussing from this year:

The Amazing Spider-Man
This series definitely needs a reboot, after Sam Raimi’s films fell into saulky nonsense. I like Andrew Garfield as Peter and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, as well as the slender, agile looking new costume. But do we really need another origin story? The overly moody trailer doesn’t point towards this being the sarcastic, wise-cracking Spidey of the comics that has never really been adapted to the big screen before. And the design for the Lizard is typical Hollywood bullshit.

I think we horror fans have given David Cronenberg a lot of rope when it comes to his recent, non-genre product. And he used all of that rope to cast Robert Pattison in his newest movie. The story certainly shows lots of opportunity for social satire and critique but, short of Pattison sprouting a meat-gun or turning into a fly monster mid-way through, I think I can say this is the first Cronenberg movies I have absolutely zero interest in seeing.

The Dark Knight Rises
I love “Batman Begins” and just about hated “The Dark Knight,” for reasons well documented on other parts of the internet. I’m very cautious about this one, even if it does have Talia al Ghul and Anne Hathaway in a leather catsuit. I’m not a fan of Bane at all and even I think turning him into a mumbley-voiced, pain-gas huffing terrorist is probably too much of an adaptational change. And if Christopher Nolan actually kills Batman, his head is even further up his ass, “Inception”-level 5 style, then I previously thought.

Dark Shadows
This movie couldn’t be Tim Burton-ier if he gave Barnabas Collins scissorhands. Burton’s increasingly workhorse like direction and his insistence of sticking Johnny Depp in a fright wig in everything has made me dismiss most of his more recent project. So why do I have a feeling that this adaptation of the cult supernatural soap opera is going to be pretty badass? Could be because it perfectly fits Burton’s style but he’s dialed down his cartoony visuals from what we’ve seen so far? The fact that, if the movie is anything like the show, it’ll be filled with a lot of classic horror trappings? Or maybe it’s just the awesome cast that actually features people other then Depp and Helena Bonham Carter? For whatever reason, I’m kind of really looking forward to this.

Dracula 3D
You’ve really got to dial back your expectations with Argento these days. His previous experiment with period-set gothic horror was notoriously bungled. The film preview that’s leaked to the internet shows a lot of 3D eye-gouging and Dracula turning into a giant praying mantis. Argento seems to be falling back on his all-to-typical-for-these-days reliance on gore and sex. Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing is cool but Asia Argento as Mina promises another really creepy nude scene. Considering the story, we’ll be lucky to get through this movie without seeing Asia in a(nother) rape scene.

The Expendables 2
I didn’t like the first “Expendables” very much, even though it was the best idea for a movie ever. My main point of complaint? The incoherent, shaky-cam direction that made all of the action scenes impossible to watch. First thing first, Sly fired himself from the director’s chair and hired Simon West. West’s last movie, “The Mechanic,” wasn’t a great film, but it did feature some pretty intense action and perfectly balanced, clear, steady direction. You actually knew who was shooting and/or punching who! The action star dream cast of the first movie has been pumped up further with the addition of personal favorites, Jean Claude Van Damme and motherfucking Chuck Norris, not to mention Bruce Willis and Arnie actually appear to do something in this one.

Alfonso Cuaron is a good filmmaker and his last sci-fi film, “Children of Men,” was actually great. So it’s nice to see him returning to the genre. The story involves a single female astronaut repairing a descending satellite and is essentially a one-woman-show. Pretty cool stuff, right? But any anticipation I had for this one was sunk with two words: Sandra. Bullock. I hate her. A lot. Her presence ruins what was otherwise a sure deal.

No One Lives
Ryuhei Kitamura’s films are usually visually energetic, if not always good. His last American horror film, “Midnight Meat Train,” received a muted reaction from even hardcore horror fans, but I loved it. His newest film has the juicy premise of a pair of criminals kidnapping a teenage girl, only to discover she’s a prolific serial killer. It’s the kind of switch-a-roo premise that reminds me of “Hard Candy,” a movie I adore. Really, the only thing that gives me pause about this one is that WWE, as in the wrestling company, is distributing it. (The same can be said for decent-looking, post-apocalyptic flick, “The Day.”)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D
The first two Leatherface movies are stone-cold classics and the rest of the franchise is pretty much uniformly shit. It’s been made clear that nobody but Tobe Hooper really understood Leatherface or his family for the fascinating characters they are. So why bother with another sequel, much less one in gimmicky 3D? Well, first off, the series is out from under the crushing wings of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dune factory. Secondly, the script was apparently good enough to lure Bill Moseley and Gunnar Hensen back, if that’s worth anything. Finally, the storyline involves both a carnival ground and a female protagonist that is supposedly a little twisted herself. Mark me down as cautiously optimistic for this one.

Other upcoming releases I don’t feel like talking about include:

Brave, Bullet to the Head, The Bully Project, Chronicle, Detention of the Dead, Djinn, Don’t Go in the Woods, The East, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Frankenweenie, G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter, Haywire, The Innkeeper, Intruders, Jack the Giant Killer, Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, John Dies at the End, Killer Joe, Livid, Lock-Out, Lords of Salem, Luna Mesa, Maniac, Men in Black III, Moonrise Kingdom, Nero Fiddled, ParaNorman, Piranha 3DD, The Raven, Secret World of Arrietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Silent House, The Tall Man, Terror of Dracula, Violet and Daisy, The We and I, The Wicker Tree, The Woman in Black, World War Z, Wreck-It Ralph

Let’s hope the world doesn’t end so we’re all around to actually see all of those.

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