Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Film Preview

Optimism can be a dangerous thing. I know 2016 being a shitty experience is an internet meme by this point but, if any year earned that reputation, it was the one that just ended. There's absolutely no reason to expect 2017 to be better. Myself and many others have been joking about how lucky we'll be to make it to 2018. But joking in that way that suggests we're actually terrified about what will happen.

Despite these massive reservations, one can't help but hope the next twelve months are better then the twelve we just lived through. A lot sure can change in a year and there's always that chance things could change for the better. Thus is the definition of optimism.

While many things are uncertain, it's easy to be optimistic about movies. A lot of good ones came out last year and, hey, it looks like a lot of good ones are coming out this year! I always think a lot on what films I'm most anticipating in an upcoming year. How exciting a film is in general and to me personally is just the beginning. So, for my entertainment and your's, I present the top ten most anticipated films of 2017, plus a bunch others.

The Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017:

1. Okja

Bong Joon-ho returning to the world of socially relevant science-fiction is already a big deal. “The Host” and “Snowpiercer” were both pretty great movies. With “Okja,” Joon-ho looks to take target at massive corporations.

That's cool but what's really exciting about “Okja” is that it's a monster movie. The film follows a young girl and her massive monster best friend, fleeing the multi-national company pursuing them. What kid wouldn't want a giant monster as a best friend? In addition to that firecracker premise, Bong has assembled a fine cast for this film. Tilda Swinton returns from “Snowpiercer,” with Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Choi Woo-shik appearing in the film. Together, that's what it takes to top my list. (Interestingly, this is one of two films that will premiere on Netflix to make my list this year.)

2. The Masterpiece

In 2016, I exposed myself to “The Room” and quickly became a convert to the peculiar cult of Tommy Wiseau's brain-melting accidental art film. To watch “The Room” is to have a thousand questions blossom in your mind. Wiseau's motion picture is such an enigmatic experience that even an entire book written about its production, “The Disaster Artist” from Wiseau's co-star Greg Sestero, raises just as many questions as its answers. In other words, the making of “The Room” is ripe for a movie adaptation itself.

I have my concerns. “The Masterpiece” - a likely ironic but ultimately fitting title – is being directed by James Franco, whose previous directorial credits have been divisive. While I enjoy Franco and frequent on-screen buddy Seth Rogan's previous flicks, I'm curious if their touch will be the right one for this story. Having said that, Franco himself is pitch perfect casting to play Wiseau. Also among the cast is Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Jacki Weaver, and about a dozen celebrity cameos including Wiseau and Sestero themselves.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II

I am a fan of the Marvel machine. Some feel their films are too uniform. Maybe. I'd argue that they make some of the most consistently satisfying blockbusters around. Even those that poo-poo that comic company's cinematic success tend to agree that “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a massively entertaining film, hilarious, with an immediately lovable cast of characters, cool sci-fi visuals, and a groovy soundtrack. Even when making a multi-million dollar blockbuster, James Gunn maintained his quirky sense of humor and deft mixture of tone.

It was an enormous hit so, of course, they are making a sequel. No shit I'm excited to see Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Peter Quill, and all their other friends and enemies. Just getting to play again in the weirdest corner of the MCU is exciting. The latest teaser trailer is fantastic and “Vol. II” looks to introduce other far-out Marvel characters, like Mantis and Clea

4. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, as all of his previous features have been varying degrees of great. “Baby Driver” is his most mysterious project yet. Coming together  after the “Ant-Man” fallout, we still don't know very much about the film. It's about a youthful getaway driver involved in a botched bank robbery. Wright has described the film as practically being a musical, relying heavily on an eclectic soundtrack. Considering Wright's films have always featured lots of awesome music, the director fully embracing his musical leanings is likely to lead to some awesome stuff. If nothing else, Wright's track record is impeachable.

Also, am I the only person who feels compelled to sing this title as “Baaby Driveeeer?!

5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Number five is one of the biggest question marks on this year's top ten. Another Netflix premiere, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is being directed by Stacie Passion. A relatively unknown, Passion's previous credits include two episodes of “Transparent” and a little seen feature named “Concussion.” That's not the reason I'm pumped for this one.

First off, it's an adaptation of my favorite Shirley Jackson novel, a wonderful tale dripping in gothic atmosphere and familial dysfunction that should lend itself to film fantastically. Secondly, the film adaptation has assembled a fantastic cast. Taissa Farmiga and Alexandra Daddario, a cult actress in the making and the goth siren of the moment, star. Crispin Glover is perfectly cast as Uncle Julian with Sebastian Stan appearing as the enticing Charles Blackwood. Passion is an unknown factor but she would have to work to screw this up.

6. Aftermath / Why We’re Killing Gunther

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the reigning icon of eighties action cinema, has yet to re-establish himself following his stint as governor of California. It's not been for a lack of trying. If anything, Arnold's most recent output has been highly interesting, playing with his aging image. He has two projects coming 2017 and both are exciting. The first of which is “Aftermath,” previously called the more interesting “478,” a fact-based drama/thriller about a bereaved father blaming an air traffic controller for the death of his wife and child, holding him captive. This seems to continue Arnold's continuing development as a serious leading man, following in the footsteps of films like “Sabotage” and “Maggie” that actively engaged with his age.

His second 2017 release hearkens back more to his eighties heyday. “Why We're Killing Gunther” casts Arnold as the greatest assassin in the world. Gunther is so good that a league of other hitmen, frustrated by his success, align to off the master killer. The premise is fun and the supporting cast, including Cobie Smulders and Hannah Simone, is pretty good. Both project's directors – actor turned director Taran Killam making his filmmaking debut with “Gunther,” Elliot Lester of forgotten films like “Blitz” and “Nightinggale” on “Aftermath” - restrain my hopes a little, admittedly.

7. The Shape of Water

In the early 2000s, monster movie visionary and attuned understander of the eccentric Guillermo del Toro was briefly attached to a remake of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” del Toro said his vision for the film would've played up the romantic subtext of the original, focusing more on the relationship between the monster and the girl. Like seemingly every attempt to remake that classic, del Toro's version would eventually fall apart long before going in front of the cameras.

A decade and a half later, del Toro has seemingly found a way to return to some of this material. Set during the Cold War era, recalling “The Devil's Backbone” and “Pan's Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water” is a dark/fantasy romance between a female janitor at a government facility and the amphibious male creature they're experimenting on. Doug Jones, of course, will play the creature. Sally Hawkins, a wonderful actress whose has been better served by smaller films, plays the janitor. The loaded supporting cast includes Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins. Sounds awesome!

8. Based on a True Story

Some of Roman Polanski's best films revolve around obsession, insanity, and dysfunctional sexuality. See such classics as “Repulsion,” “Cul-de-Sac,” “Bitter Moon,” and “Death and the Maiden” for proof of that. He's returning to this territory with “Based on a True Story.”

The plot concerns a writer's-blocked author – always a sweet spot for me – who has a face-to-face encounter with her obsessive stalker. And who is playing that stalker? Eva Green, who plays crazy and enticing extremely well. That's enough for me to want to watch this one right now. Emmauelle Seigner, Polanski's latest girlfriend, plays the troubled author while Olivier Assayas adapts his own novel for the screenplay.

9. Wonder Woman

Warner Brothers' attempt to launch their own DC Comics cinematic universe has been, let's say, rough so far. There's no need for me to regurgitate the (mostly deserved) critical bashing that befell “Batman V. Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” The studio has gone into serious course correction mode, doing everything they can to convince people that their upcoming massive team-up movie, “Justice League,” won't be a dour, ponderous, sloppily plotted murder-fest. I hope that movie is good but I can't hold too much faith in Zack Snyder's version of these characters at the moment.

But what of the long anticipated feature film about Wonder Woman, the most famous female superhero of them all? That teaser trailer was pretty great. Gal Gadot was one of the few bright spots in “Dawn of Justice,” though it's still undetermined if she can carry a feature. The talent lined-up for the film – director Patty Jenkins getting her second chance at a superhero movie, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen among the supporting cast – certainly suggest this could actually be good. The period setting is a cool idea and, hell, Etta Candy is even in the movie. Yet, considering their past failures, it's hard to get too enthusiastic about what WB/DC is doing. Hopefully this will turn the tide back in the studio's favor.

10. Pottersville

“Pottersville” wins the prize for my favorite premise of all of next year's upcoming films. The film stars Michael Shannon – gee, I must like this guy – who accidentally spurns Bigfoot-mania after a drunken rampage in a gorilla suit, granting considerable media attention to his small town.

A goofball riff on our cultural obsession with cryptozoology would probably be enough for me but “Pottersville” packs its cast full of other, wonderful performers. Thomas Lennon plays a monster-hunting reality host, which sounds hilarious. Ron Perlman is in the movie, hopefully as a real Bigfoot. Also appearing are Christina Hendricks, Ian McShane and Judy Greer.  I know jack-all about director Seth Henrikson, who only has a short and a documentary to his name, but I'm willing to roll the dice on this one.

Other Upcoming Films of Note:

Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049
Two Ridley Scott films are receiving sequels this year, of varying degrees of anticipation depending on your point of view. The first of which is “Alien: Covenant,” from Scott himself. I initially overrated “Prometheus” because I still believe that individual scenes in that film are great, even if its script is a mess. For “Covenant,” a more direct prequel to “Alien” has been promised. The teaser poster and trailer do not play coy with the xenomorphs. I'm enough of a nerd of the franchise that a new “Alien” film is a big deal, even if “Prometheus” was divisive and Scott's attachment is far from a guarantee of consistent quality.

The second sequel is “Blade Runner 2049,” which is probably the more exciting project for most fans. Listen, I like “Blade Runner.” Dennis Villen is a talented filmmaker. Ryan Gosling is a natural heir to Harrison Ford's title. However, considering how beloved the original is, what a nerd culture touchstone it's become, I can't picture this sequel being anything other then a massive disappoint. Even if it does turn out pretty good.

Cars 3 and Coco
Pixar looks to be getting morbid this year. The trailer for “Cars 3,” always considered the most disposable of Pixar's franchises, suggests the kiddy series may be moving into a darker territory. Perhaps aging with its audience the way “Toy Story” did? Pixar's second feature is “Coco,” a film set in the world of Dia de los Muertos. We still don't know much about that one, though I reason it'll be more memorable then “The Book of Life.” And is it unreasonable to hope that a film about the afterlife, even a relatively colorful one, be mildly spooky? We shall see.

Death Wish
A “Death Wish” remake has been kicked around for years, with names like Sylvester Stallone and Joe Carnahan being kicked around at separate times. I am a fan of those stupid, offensive movies. However, in a post-George Zimmerman world, I really question if a “Death Wish” remake is in good taste. Perhaps if it was made as an indictment of vigilantism and stand your ground laws – much like Brian Garfield's original book – it could work. Unfortunately, the remake is being directed by Eli Roth, a filmmaker whose political statements seem closer to trolling then thought out philosophies. Bruce Willis is playing Paul Kersey, suggesting the film will likely be a forgettable vehicle for a long past his prime action star who can rarely be called upon to give a shit anymore.

Alexander Payne has made some wonderful films. “Downsizing” promises to return Payne to his satirical roots, the same tone responsible for his previous classics like “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.” He's lined up an impressive cast, including Christoph Waltz, Neil Patrick Harris, and *gasps* Udo Kier! My problem lies in the premise. “Downsizing” sounds like a satirical spin on “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” in which Matt Damon seeks to improve his life by shrinking smaller. Which is, I don't know if you agree, a terrible premise, the kind of high concept buffoonery you expect more from latter day Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy then Alexander Payne. I'll be happy to be proved wrong.

Ghost in the Shell
Hollywood is still finding a way to turn a Japanese anime into a film that is both commercially successful and critically popular. “Ghost in the Shell” clearly doesn't have the mass appeal of something like “Dragon Ball” or “Speed Racer,” being darker, more violent, and more cerebral.  (Not to mention the whitewashing controversy, which it still hasn't overcome.) Honestly, the only reason I think a live action “Ghost in the Shell” got a green light is because a gun combat heavy, quasi-philosophical sci-fi action film starring Scarlett Johannson as a barely human protagonist is a proven formula at this point. There's no expectations for this to be great, considering director Rupert Sanders previously credits are less then inspiring. Having said that, the trailer does have some trippy visuals in it and I do enjoy watching ScarJo murder people, so I'll give it a chance at some point. (“Death Note” is another anime getting a live action adaptation in 2017, though Adam Wingard's latest has way less money floating on it.)

Ingrid Goes West
The only reason “Ingrid Goes West” didn't make my top ten is because I know nothing about director Matt Spicer, being unfamiliar with his previous shorts. Because I love the film's premise. The film stars Audrey Plaza as a mentally unstable young woman, obsessed with a social media star played by Elisabeth Olsen. Naturally, preconceived notions and fantasy collide when Plaza tracks down Olsen, in a foolish attempt to befriend her. It's the perfect concept for our Instagrammed, Twittered times, with those themes of obsession and fantasy especially appealing to me. Hopefully, the finished film will balance twisting insight into a sick mind with dark laughs as much as I hope it will.

As a culture, we reached peak creepy clown in 2016. The idea, having leaked into reality, is now stale. The creepy clown has burned out any edge, surprise, or unnerving quality it once had. After all, the whole point of the psycho clown is that something that appears innocent is actually malevolent. Evil is now the default mode for clowns, stripping the premise of all its punch.

So what hope does a remake of “It” have? Not too much, though Stephen King's door stopper of a  novel still has a number of fruitful ideas left unexplored on-screen. (Probably not the prepubescent sewer gang bang though...) The images we've seen of Pennywise suggests this “It” will be beholden to the Tim Curry starring TV version. Which is disappointing, as there's no way Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise can top Curry's iconic take on the sinister clown.

John Wick: Chapter 2
“John Wick” was basically ninety minutes of Keanu Reeves shooting motherfuckers in the face and it was awesome. The premise was simple – retired hitman taking revenge for his dead dog – but the execution presented a surprisingly rich world. A world we're sure to see more of in “John Wick: Chapter 2.” From the looks of it, the dog will live this time and might even get in on the ass-kicking. The original was such a clever surprise that I'm eager to see where a sequel might take us. “John Wick: Chapter 1's” directing duo split in two, with Chad Stahelski directing this one and David Leitch handling “The Coldest City,” an espionage flick starring Charlize Theron that also has some whoop-ass potential.

Kong: Skull Island
There's multiple reason I'm looking forward to “Kong: Skull Island.” First and fore most, I'm all in for a King Kong movie that doesn't follow the story's usual outline. This won't be a movie about people traveling to Skull Island, capturing Kong, taking him back to New York, the ape going on a rampage and tumbling from the top of the Empire State Building. “Skull Island,” instead, will focus on the island's dangers and Kong raising hell in his home land. The trailers have been seriously impressive, Kong himself looks great, the cast is solid, and I'm digging the war movie aesthetic this is going for. My only concern is the lack of dinosaur action thus far. It's not Kong unless he breaks a T-Rex's jaws, all right?

The Lego Batman Movie
The Batman movie we deserve and the one we need right now. A feature film devoted to Will Forte's hilarious take on the Dark Knight is really enough but there's other reasons to check out “The Lego Batman Movie.” The other voices drafted for this is great, including the pitch perfect Michael Cera as Robin and Rosario Dawson as Batgirl. If the trailers and merchandising is any indication, it'll be loaded with in-jokes and call backs to some of Batman's most obscure and bizarre enemies. You guys, Crazy Quilt is going to be a Batman movie. That's huge. The trailers have also been fucking hilarious, making this seem like a win-win situation.

I'm a causal fan of the “X-Men” series at best. At first, I figured there was no way Fox would make an R-rated Wolverine movie. Yet apparently that is actually happening, allowing Wolverine to gorily dismember his enemies and drop as many fucks as he wants. The post-apocalyptic setting, a loose adaptation of Mark Millar's bizarre “Old Man Logan” story arc that leaves out the incest Hulk brood, is pretty cool. Hopefully, this will allow the mostly misbegotten Wolverine solo franchise a chance to grow and improve. With this likely being Hugh Jackman's final go-around as the mutant hero, it'll be nice for him to go out on a high note. At the very least, I'm sure Hugh is looking forward to actually drinking water again.

Ellen Page continues to test my fandom of her. Instead of making more awesome shit like “Super” or “Hard Candy,” she continues to produce films that have personal importance to her or some such shit. “Mercy” is easily the most Ellen Page-y movie Ellen Page could ever star in, about a lesbian love affair forming on death row, co-starring Page's real life BFF Kate Mara. Page also has a remake of “Flatliners” and a lame sounding zombie movie called “The Third Wave” coming out in 2017, neither of which raise my hopes very much.

I've been following Lucky McKee's career for quite some time and, usually, with great enthusiasm. “May” is, after all, one of my favorite films. However, I'll admit, McKee's most recent efforts have underwhelmed me. “All Cheerleaders Die” was disappointing and I even felt his “Tales of Halloween” segment could've been better. McKee is moving out of the horror genre with “Misfortune.” The film is described as a neo-noir story, inspired by “The Treasure of Siera Madre,” about a group of friends coming upon a bundle of stolen money and pursued by a white collar criminal it belongs to. John Cusack stars in the film, presumably as the bad guy. Cusack's involvement can't help but remind me of “The Bag Man,” one of many mediocre films he's appeared in recently. I'm hoping for the best but the premise and cast doesn't instill me with the greatest confidence.

The Mummy
Numerous sources have been happy to dismiss Universal's plan to reboot their classic monster movies into a Marvel style, interlocking cinematic universe. This overlooks that Universal did the crossover thing long before anyone else did, with “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” leading to a whole series of rally films. I'll admit the studio's current strategy of slotting A-list talent – Tom Cruise in this one, Johnny Depp in “The Invisible Man,” Javier Bardem in “Frankenstein,” possibly the Rock in “The Wolfman” and Scarlett Johansson in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” - is a better idea then their previous try of casting relatively unknowns in the lead parts.

What concerns me more is Universal's plan to re-purpose these classic horror films as big budget blockbusters. The new “Mummy” will presumably prioritize effects-driven thrills over atmospheric scares. Casting Tom Cruise in the heroic lead and the globe trotting trailer really makes this look more like a “Mission: Impossible” film then a monster movie. The aforementioned trailer, when it has sound anyway, features some cool visuals but the verdict is far from out on this one. (I'll give Universal some credit for not saddling this film with a cheesy subtitle, like “Rise of the Monsters” or something like that.)

Power Rangers
Of all the cheesy things from my childhood that I love, “Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers” is a nostalgia property I have the most difficulty justifying. The appeal of giant robots fighting ludicrous monsters is evergreen but the baseline elements of the show were strictly for the kiddies. That lack of general quality actually makes the show a good basis for a cinematic reboot. It'll be easy to improve on the source material is what I'm saying.

Yet what I've seen of 2017's “Power Rangers” makes me wonder if screenwriter John Gatins and director Dean Israelite haven't strayed too far from the source material. Making the Rangers outcasts or juvenile delinquents? Sure. They are “teenagers with attitude,” after all. Making Rita Repulsa a sexy alien villainess? Okay, I can roll with that. The abstract designs of the Zords and Alpha-5? I actively dislike that. The trailer showing such an obvious debt to “Chronicle” and playing coy with the superheroic elements? This annoys me. At this point, I'm hoping what we've seen is better then it looks and that the overqualified supporting cast knocks it out of the park.

The Snowman
Tomas Alfredson fucking loves snow. “The Snowman” is another chilly thriller from the Swedish director,  starring Michael Fassbender as the detective investigating a young woman's disappearance. “Let the Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” were both quite good so that's enough to raise my interest in “The Snowman.” I'm willing to bet money on the likelihood of the film containing a shot of the main character melancholically looking at a snow covered field.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
With this being our third cinematic Spider-Man in three years, it's hard for me to muster much excitement for another Spider-Man movie. Yeah, Tom Holland made the most of his screen time in “Civil War,” largely walking away with the movie. Marvel themselves directing Spidey's cinematic future creates hope for a franchise faithful to the character's root, though we can't forget that Sony still has some influence here. (Considering Iron Man's extended role in the film, I sort of wish they had called it “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” instead.) The trailer shows plenty of humor and action, so I'm sure this will be an improvement over the troubled “Amazing Spider-Man” series. But I'm keeping my excitement on the down-low until then.

Thor: Ragnarok
Of Marvel's Avengers, Thor seems to be the least liked. I've enjoyed both of the films so far but, no doubt, they have the least exciting stories of Marvel's adventures. Enter Taika Waititi, the eccentric genius behind modern cult classics like “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Search for the Wilderpeople.” If that sizzle reel Waititi showed at Comic-Con is any indication, “Ragnarok” will boost the already funny “Thor” series' humor to higher levels. Bringing in characters like Hela, Valkyrie, Skurge the Executioner, Grandmaster, and the Hulk certainly raises my expectations.

Under the Silver Lake and How to Talk to Girls at Parties
You'll have to excuse my confusion. It turns out John Cameron Mitchell and David Robert Mitchell are not the same people. The first Mitchell is best known for making “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” This year, he has “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” coming out, an off-beat, sci-fi tinged Neil Gaiman adaptation starring Elle Fanning.

The other Mitchell, who previously made the excellent “It Follows,” has “Under the Silver Lake” lined up for 2017. This movie is an L.A.-set crime thriller starring Andrew Garfield that we still know little about. I'm looking forward to both movies so the odds of me continuing to confuse the two Mitchells throughout the year is very high.

People have been talking about remaking “Suspiria,” Dario Argento's most iconic shocker, for years now. Such a mission has always struck me as a dog's errand, as any remake is destined to be unfavorably compared to the iconic original. Emulate Argento's colorful direction too faithfully and you'll be criticized for copying too closely. Stray too far from Argento's film and you'll be criticized for abandoning the spirit of the original. It's a no-win scenario.

Nevertheless, they keep trying. At least they're getting an Italian to remake it, as Luca Guadagnino of “I Am Love” is behind the camera. Guadagnino has pulled together an A-list cast for the remake, including such notable names as Dakota Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Mia Goth, Tilda Swinton, and the original's Jessica Harper. It's even keeping the seventies setting. So maybe 2017's “Suspiria” will be good but I don't envy anyone with the job of topping Dario Argento.

T2 Trainspotting
When was the last time Danny Boyle was interesting? The rebellious young filmmaker of “Trainspotting” and “Shallow Grave” has long since shifted his focus to Oscar bait like “Steve Jobs” and “127 Hours.” So the director sequelizing the film that made his name is less elating then it perhaps should be. Boyle apparently intends on ejecting most of the material from Irvine Welsh's sequel novel, “Porno,” which seems like an odd decision. I am looking forward to seeing the cast and characters again but I'll be surprised if Boyle can recapture that youthful energy with “T2.”

Yet more movies I want to see but don't feel like writing about:

Annihilation, The Beguiled, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dunkirk, Get Out, God Particle, Hostiles, It Comes at Night, Kill 'em All, Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, The Little Hours, The Lovers, Mom and Dad, Mute, My Friend Dahmer, Salty, Star Wars: Episode VIII, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, War for the Planet of the Apes., When We First Met, Wonderstruck, and Kathryn Bigelow and Paul Thomas Anderson's untitled new projects.

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