Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Director Report Card: Spike Jonze (2002)


2. Adaptation.

Describing anything as the most original something in however many years is a loaded statement. Because, really, who decides such things? Yet “Being John Malkovich” was surely a candidate for most original something in however many years when it came out. That must’ve been a hard act to follow. That successor was an adaptation of “The Orchid Thief,” a non-fiction book Charlie Kaufman had been hired to adapt in 1997. The project mutated into something very different as he wrote it though. It’s hard not to imagine Jonze being attracted to the script, wanting to re-team with his “Being John Malkovich” scribe on a project that pushed into meta territory in a challenging, funny way.

Because “Adaptation” isn’t really about telling the story of “The Orchid Thief,” a tale of a rogue botanist hunting a rare orchid in Floridan swampland. Instead, it’s about Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Kaufman – fat, balding, greatly lacking confidence and social skills – attempting to adapt Susan Orlean’s book. His struggles with his self-doubt, trying to find a way to tell a story about flowers without betraying the book’s spirit. At the same time, Charlie’s far more confident twin brother Donald also decides to pursue screenwriting. When Donald’s high-concept thriller script receives studio attention, Charlie has a crisis. He decides to collaborate with his brother on adapting Orlean’s story. This also means confronting Susan, who Charlie has fallen in love with.

In concept, “Adaptation” sounds like the most narcissistic, self-indulgent bullshit imaginable. A movie about screenwriting, in which the real screenwriter is the main character? That’s some Guy in M.F.A. nonsense right there. Or, at least, it would’ve been from anyone other than Charlie Kaufman. “Adaptation” is about exactly that, the struggles of turning one person’s work of art into another work of art. Kaufman, however, casts his net even wider. “Adaptation” is also about evolution, of something changing form. Animals changing to survive, a book becoming a movie, people changing. This mostly emerges through the fictional Kaufman’s struggles to do something new, to change how he sees screenwriting and movie making.

You know, maybe I’m giving Kaufman too much credit. “Adaptation” probably wouldn’t have worked without Nicholas Cage either. Years before he became a walking internet meme, Cage was an occasionally great actor. “Adaptation” sees the actor casting aside his action hero theatrics and returning to his twitchier, earlier days. Cage’s Kaufman is a ball of neurosis. “Adaptation’s” first scene showcases Kaufman’s neurotic faults, attempting to build himself up only to tear himself down again. His mind is frantic and unfocused, terrified of appearing badly and barely able to function. Cage successfully directs his trademark manic energy inward, creating an image of Charlie Kaufman as someone practically torn apart by the war in his head.

It might not seem like the kind of performance you’d expect from the star of “Con Air” and “Ghost Rider.” Then again, “Adaptation’s” central gimmick allows Cage to show off too. He also plays Kaufman’s fictional twin brother, Donald. Donald is the inverse of Charlie. Where Charlie is anxious, Donald is overly confident. While Charlie struggles to impress women, Donald easily talks to girls. Charlie is eager to create a new kind of screenplay. Donald takes a screenwriting course and happily learns the standard rubric to Hollywood screenwriting. Despite the characters looking the same, Cage easily makes Donald a distinct character. His body language, spoken words, and personality creates two separate, compelling characters.

“Being John Malkovich – which “Adaptation” partially takes place during the filming of – gently ribbed Hollywood culture. “Adaptation” turns away from the egos of actors and focuses on the triteness of hacky screenwriting. Donald’s hit script is “The Three,” a cop-chases-serial-killer thriller. The script has the bonus of a totally asinine twist, its hero, villain, and damsel all being revealed to be the same person. It’s naturally well received by talent scouts. Yet “The Three” also reflects on “Adaptation.” When Donald is describing a story about one person with multiple personality, it’s during a conversation with his brother. Donald is, of course, totally fictional. Meaning, when writing that scene, Kaufman was having a conversation of sorts with himself. That same conversation features Charlie asking his brother how he’ll pull off the story’s logistic, a question that writer of “Adaptation” also surely asked himself.

If Jonze and Kaufman happily sacrificed John Malkovich’s ego in their last film, “Adaptation” proves it was nothing personal. Kaufman does it to himself here. He writes himself as pathetic, a word he uses to describe himself repeatedly. The fictional Kaufman is fatter and balder than the real deal. The real Kaufman has a wife and daughter. The fictional Kaufman is too afraid to even talk to a woman. “Adaptation” roasts its writer the hardest by repeatedly depicting Charlie’s masturbatory habits. He builds erotic fantasies off the smallest interactions. By the time he’s jerking off to Susan Orlean’s jacket photo, the character seems to be bottoming out. Yet this reflects on the struggles of the creative minds. In order to complete any project, a writer has to fall in love with his story. “Adaptation” literalizes this choice.

“Adaptation” was going to receive a lot of attention, as the highly anticipated follow-up to a well received movie. It was also going to get a lot of attention because it co-stars Meryl Streep, that beloved mainstay of award season. I’ve said some not-so-nice things about Streep before, as I’m constantly baffled and exhausted by the Academy’s undying love for her. Yet I’ll admit she’s really good in “Adaptation.” Early on, a character says Orlean projects sadness. So she does, as Streep hides an inner turmoil behind a smiling face. Streep sacrifices a bit of ego too, as (the fictional) Orlean’s quest to be passionate about something leads her down some less than dignified paths.

Streep, naturally, was nominated for an Oscar for “Adaptation.” So was Nic Cage and Kaufman’s script. Chris Cooper, however, was the films only nominee to win. Cooper plays John Laroche, the titular orchid thief. It’s a flashy part, on the surface. Laroche is repeatedly described as a colorful character, a man with very Floridian dentistry and a ranting personality. Cooper happily hams it up during these sequences, creating a memorably colorful character. Yet the scenes exploring Laroche’s background, especially his loss, realize the power of Cooper’s performance, showing a man capable of great passion and insight despite what he’s been through. The supporting cast also features a great appearance from Brian Cox as notorious screenwriting guru Robert McKee.

I’ve talked a lot about Charlie Kaufman in this review, which is unavoidable given “Adaptation’s” subject. What about the director? Donald Kaufman and Robert McKee both make references to crossing genres, blending different tones of story into one. Spike Jonze’s direction accomplishes this visually. “Adaptation’s” visual design leaps from frantic to still. Long montages, showing the history of life on Earth, contrast with shots of Kaufman sitting at his computer. Kaufman’s erotic fantasies are brightly lit, while his home life is dreary and dark. His frantic creative process is displayed in quickly assembled scenes, cutting back and forth between people and places. Historical sequences, about Darwin and orchid thieves throughout history, are brought to life with accurate details. In other words, Jonze is perfectly on the script’s level.

Like “Being John Malkovich,” describing “Adaptation” as a comedy is tricky. The laughs are often tinged with a deeply melancholy side, while the film veers closer to thriller as it nears its conclusion. Yet “Adaptation” is extremely funny at times. Charlie’s blunt dismissals of Donald’s hacky story antics always lead to a clueless response from the brother. The peak of Donald’s odd hilarity is when he describes a chase scene in “The Three,” a battle between technology and… Horse. Other, small lines become laughers. Such as Laroche’s excitement upon meeting Kaufman at the end or an agent bragging about his sexual conquest for no reason.

The narrative switcharoo “Adaptation” performs in its last act is well known. Early on, Charlie dismisses Donald’s storytelling, with its emphasis on car crashes, drugs, sex, violence, and characters learning important life lessons. He hopes to avoid these things. After asking Donald to collaborate with him on the film’s script – the script of the film you’re watching – “Adaptation” immediately begins to feature these things. Some dismiss this turn as being too clever, the movie becoming the ouroboros it namedropped earlier. And maybe it is a meta bridge too far. But I fucking love it. It rewards the viewer for paying attention earlier in the film, bringing events full circle, and certainly leads to a highly memorable conclusion.

Taking its metaficitonal tight-rope walk all the way, “Adaptation” was not credited simply to Charlie Kaufman. Donald Kaufman is listed as co-writer. The film is dedicated to his memory and concludes with a quote from his script, “The Three.” (Amusingly, Donald’s “The Three” would practically become a real movie, with shoddy pseudo-Christian thriller “Th3ee.”) Jonze and Kaufman’s mastery of tone, along with the phenomenal cast, makes every tricky move “Adaptation” makes land successfully. It’s brilliantly provides insight into the creative process while commenting on screenwriting conventions, all while being consistently hilarious and moving. [Grade: A]

Monday, January 15, 2018

Director Report Card: Spike Jonze (1999)


I first discovered Spike Jonze as a director of music videos. Many music video directors endeavor to create little movies but Jonze truly embraced that. He brought wildly imaginative ideas to the format. Some of them were fairly elaborate, like inserting Weezer into "Happy Days" or making the Beastie Boys the stars of an old cop show. Others were seemingly simple, such as having Sofia Coppela perform a gymnastic routine, an extreme close-up of a man on fire, or - in maybe the greatest music video of all time - Christopher Walken dancing through an empty hotel lobby. Sometimes, the song wasn't even the true attraction of the music video, as in the clip for Daft Punk's "Da Funk," which uses the song as the backing track for a short film about a dog-man trying to find love in the city.

So when Jonze made the transition to feature films, he brought that imagination and surreal humor with him. He's only directed four movies so far but each one has become something of a modern classic, showing the director's obvious unique outlook and raw talent. Half of Jonze's films have been collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who I will be talking about a lot too in the next few days. Despite my completest urges, I am not including Jozne's feature-length skateboard videos, as I have no interest in the sport and no idea where to locate them.


1. Being John Malkovich

I don't know how they did it. Charlie Kaufman was a screenwriter whose only prior credits were a string of failed TV shows. Spike Jonze was highly regarded as a music video director but had never mounted a feature film before. The two came together to create a very strange film, an absurdist comedy about inhabiting the mind of John Malkovich, a well respected character actor that was hardly a box office draw. Not only did they get this bizarre movie made but it went on to become a huge success, making back its budget at the box office and being nominated for three Academy Awards. Nineteen years later, the movie is considered a classic and Kaufman and Jonze are highly regarded filmmakers.

Craig calls himself as a puppeteer but “unemployed” is a more accurate description. His pet shop owner/animal psychologist wife, Lotte, encourages him to find work. He gets a job as a file clerk at an office building, working on the 7½ floor. While attempting to seduce Maxine, a co-worker, he uncovers a small door behind a cabinet. Crawling into the door, Craig suddenly finds himself inhabiting the body of famous actor John Malkovich. A few minutes afterwards, he's spat out in a ditch alongside the New Jersey turnpike, left feeling elated. Craig and Maxine turn this into a business. Things get more complicated from there.

“Being John Malkovich” is, ultimately, a story about taking control. The film begins with one of Craig's puppet, in close-up, performing the Dance of Despair and Disillusionment. Craig is desperate to take control, made obvious by his interest in puppetry. Those skills eventually allows him to take control of Malkovich. He then redirects the actor's entire career towards his dream: Of being the greatest puppeteer in the world. It turns out, another force is conspiring to take control of Malkovich. After traveling inside the actor, Lotte discovers transgender desires. She wants to radically redirect her life. When she falls in love with Maxine, and she is rejected, she becomes violent. Maxine does a lot of underhanded things for fame and fortune. It's after Lotte and Maxine let go of their desire for control, and submit to love, that they find happiness. Craig's desperate need for control, over his own life and everyone else's, is his undoing. He's ultimately left without any control at all.

The film's visual design is also concerned with two aspects of life: Birth and death. Jonze fills the movie with images of doors and tunnels. Doors – the one leading to Malkovich's mind, the elevator doors in the office building – represent an exit from one world into another. The tunnel leading into Malkovich's mind is directly compared to the birth canal. Craig and Lotte's apartment is crowded and dark. Womb-like. So is the room where the secret society has tracked Malkovich's development, which is painted in fleshy reds. The film ends with a pregnancy. “Being John Malkovich” is a movie obsessed with the details of bringing life into the world.

It's also obsessed with how life leaves the world. For all the doors that open in “Being John Malkovich,” they also close. After entering the actor's mind, the door leading to the tunnel closes on its own, with a sense of finality. The first images in the movie are of closed curtains on a stage. Like a curtain call. As in, the end. The cabal responsible for the tunnel into Malkovich's brain have done it all in order to avoid dying, to stay young and live again. All of us are trying to find ways to avoid death, to take control over our lives, tying into the film's ultimate theme of control. 

Wrapped up inside all these heavy themes is a quirky take on celebrity obsession. This is, after all, literally a film about people crawling into a famous person’s body. Oddly, Charlie Kaufman’s script doesn’t really address obsessive fandom very much. The main characters have heard of Malkovich but don’t seem to be big fans of him. Most of the people who pay to crawl inside his head just want to be someone else, not Malkovich specifically. So why did Kaufman pick a moderately well known character actor as the subject of his strange story? Probably because it’s funny. The title, and the premise built around it, is such a specific and absurd notice. It makes for a good joke.

Any jokes about celebrity status are strictly at the expense of Mr. Malkovich himself. Even by agreeing to star in this movie, John Malkovich showed that he had a good sense of humor about himself. Yet the script delights in tearing down his public persona as an intellectual performer. He’s friends with Charlie Sheen and the two talk about being high all the time. He uses his fame to have sex with strange women. He bitches about towels and is constantly assumed to have started in a jewel thief movie. One comedic highlight has a beer can being tossed at his head. Malkovich, the character, is ultimately brutalized by the story, loosing his very soul over and over again. Perhaps there’s some irony in the most famous person in the film’s universe being the one with the least control. Malkovich, the actor, shows zero ego as he totally takes the piss out of himself, playing a slightly manic and tormented (and presumably exaggerated) version of himself.

The movie’s absurdist sense of humor peaks during three phenomenal moments, honestly three of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in any movie. What happens when John Malkovich crawls into his own head? The actor’s ego completely overtakes the world, spilling into a hilarious, surreal nightmare of mirrors within mirrors. Later, we see the opposite of Malkovich’s self-obsessed inner-universe. Maxine and Lotte chase each other through Malkovich’s subculture, the character’s repressed memories playing out in the background. This makes really dark memories – the Primal Scene, humiliated at school, humiliated by lovers, moments of debased self-agony – comedic contrasts to the story’s climax. Lastly, there’s a flashback told from a chimp’s perspective, a moment hilarious strictly because of how unexpected and how oddly sincere it is.

Yet despite being really, really funny, “Being John Malkovich” is ultimately revealed as a deeply sad movie. The characters are deeply human, consumed by flaws and making many mistakes. A sense of melancholy floats over the film as it approaches its ending, human lives falling apart due to selfishness. The film makes sure to root its villain’s motivations in understandable failings. “Being John Malkovich” even becomes a thriller of sorts, guns being fired and characters’ lives being endangered. All of these tonal shifts mix together successfully, Jonze and Kaufman’s film managing to be about many different things all at the same time.

Beyond Malkovich himself, a really talented cast is assembled. John Cusack covers himself in stubble, becoming almost unrecognizable. Craig begins the film as a pathetic anti-hero. He seeks romance with a woman woefully out of his league. He’s a dreamer, hopelessly attempting to be taken seriously in an art form mostly confined to children’s entertainment. Yet, the moment he gets a ounce of power, Craig transforms into a scumbag. He immediately uses the Malkovich door as a way to win over Maxine. Soon, he’s threatening his wife, locking her up, and tormenting her. What he does to Malkovich amounts to psychic rape. He is punished accordingly. Cusack understands this aspect of the character but maintains a certain level of vulnerability.

“Being John Malkovich” was a surprising film upon its release in 1999. Another surprising aspect of the film was Cameron Diaz’ performance. Diaz, at the time and still really, was mostly confined to comedic roles as bubble-headed blondes. As Lotte, she plumes her abilities and gives a fantastic performance. (She also uglies up, playing into a well-known technique for glamorous actresses to get critical attention.) She’s funny in a really sincere way, never laughing at Lotte’s changing desires or understandings. The character eventually becomes the unlikely hero of the movie, despite a short-lived veer towards the homicidal.

One of the film’s most critically acclaimed performances, the only one to receive an Oscar nomination, is one of its most inscrutable. Catherine Keener is hilarious as Maxine, a deeply sardonic woman that can cut anyone down to size with a few words. She has no time for Craig’s bullshit, at least at first. Yet the character’s willingness to go along with his scheme, once he takes over Malkovich, is a harder to read. As is her eventual redemption. I guess that Keener’s performance is still so strong, despite the character getting the rockiest characterization, is a testament to her skills.

What a fantastic surprise that “Being John Malkovich” would become a critical and box office success. A movie this fucking weird, I figured this would’ve been confined to strictly cult status going forward. Instead, the movie was rightly recognized as an innovative masterpiece and became a widely loved classic of sorts. It’s director and screenwriter weren’t dismissed as one-off weirdoes, but instead rightfully received as mad geniuses. In short, it’s a really good movie that I like a lot. Malkovich! [Grade: A]

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Last Bangers n' Mash Episode

Well, the time has finally come. JD and I have made the decision to end regular production on the Bangers n' Mash Show. There's a lot of reasons for this. Most boil down to burn-out and general feeling that the show has never been and will never be as popular as I wanted it to be. JD and I have been struggling with getting regular episodes out for most of the last year. Our heart really hasn't been in it recently. Thus, the decision to call it quits.

For the most part. In the episode, we explain that we'll continue to produce the occasional on-off special, like the Phantom Awards - which are coming soon! - and convention reports. Maybe a Nerd Vomit every once and a while.

As for the last episode, we mostly spend it talking about the various things we wanted to get to but didn't, the origins and history of the show, our experience making it, and thanking the fans. Really, that last part is essential.

To any Bangers n' Mash listeners here, thank you from the most sincere corner of my heart for the years of support. 


Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Film Preview:


I'm going to be thirty this year. That's a terrifying thought to me, one of those goddamn millennials, forever stuck in a state of arrested development. I'm beginning my third decade on this planet and I feel like there's still so much I haven't accomplished, still so many things I've screwed up. I can feel myself getting older. I have aches and pains that weren't there before. I'm tired all the time. The hours slip away and there's always so much to do.

Even as my latest existential crisis mounts, one thing has never abandoned me: The movies. I feel myself getting older in that regard too. It's getting harder to muster enthusiasm for the constant cycle of blockbuster cinema. (Not like that will stop me from seeing them...) Yet that's just one part of the spectrum that cinema offers me. Films from all corners of the country and world beckon to me, each one offering new possibilities and experiences.

I haven't spent nearly thirty years looking up at the big screen for no reason. I love the movies and, more often than not, they give that love back. So here's ten (plus many more) movies I'm excited for in 2018. Some will disappoint, some will impress, some will probably disappear without getting made. But there's always that chance that a new favorite will emerge. So here's to this year.


My Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018:


1. The Nightingale

In 2015, “The Babadook” blew me away, a terrifying and emotionally cathartic horror film that still hasn't been topped. Since then, I've been eagerly anticipating director Jennifer Kent's follow-up. And it sounds fucking amazing. Set in Tasmania in 1825, it follows a woman going on a hellish journey through the countryside, seeking revenge for her family with the help of an Aboriginal tracker.

Kent has described the movie as a brutal story, dealing with Australia's historical treatment of native people and women.  It sounds exactly like the uncompromising and emotional rending story Kent specializes in and I can't wait.



2. The Incredibles 2

And I've been waiting even longer for this one. Pixar and Disney began making unnecessary sequels to their films a while ago, with the Mouse Factory rolling out “Wreck-It Ralph 2” this year as well. Meanwhile, the only one of their films that actually cried out for a continuation remained a stand alone story.

After Brad Bird's trip to “Tomorrowland” failed to divert audiences, he finally returned to his widely beloved superhero family. The sequel will supposedly pick up right where the original left out and focus primarily on baby Jack-Jack. I have no idea if this long awaited follow-up will live up to the original. In fact, considering Pixar's diminishing returns lately, I suspect it won't. Yet the chance to see these beloved characters again is still so exciting.



3. Isle of Dogs

The last time Wes Anderson made a stop-motion directed movie, it was during a slight slump in his career. Anderson's second animated feature is coming off two of the best films of his entire career. Besides, “Isle of Dogs” has a much more interesting story than an adaptation of everyone's sixth favorite Roald Dahl book. Described as an extended homage to Kurosawa, set in a futuristic Japan, it's set on an island inhabited by intelligent dogs who are making their first tentative contact with humans in years. The trailer, gorgeous in that particular Wes Anderson-esque way, promises a quirky, dryly funny, immaculately designed, and softly melancholic experience. Whatever the outcome of this one, I'm sure they will remain good dogs.



4. Summer of '84

“Turbo Kid” appeared to be another nostalgia-baiting, tongue-in-cheek, throwback horror movie. Instead, it was a hilarious, creative, and weirdly touching genuine cult movie item. Now the same trio of directors – Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell – have returned with a follow-up.

“Summer of '84” sounds like it will have a darker relationship with eighties nostalgia. About a group of adolescents who discover their next-door-neighbor is a serial killer, the film sounds like an especially dark take on the kids-on-an-adventure movies. This couldn't be more timely, since “Stranger Things” and “It” has led to something of a revival of this subgenre. The premise also reminds me of one of my favorite Purple Stuff Podcast episodes, which might actually be the primary reason I'm excited for this.



5. Love Child

There's no guarantee the next two entries on my list will actually come out in 2018. Considering both haven't even started filming yet, it's actually really unlikely. But this wouldn't be the first time something on my Most Anticipated list wouldn't come out for several more years. If they even come out at all.

So what's “Love Child?” It's the latest film from Todd Solondz, everyone's favorite purveyor of extreme neuroses, suburban misery, and blackly comical sexual depravity. It sounds like “Love Child” will have plenty of all three. It's a modern retelling of the Oedipal story, concerning an eleven year old boy with an unhealthy fixation on his mother, who convinces another man to seduce his mom and murder his abusive father. Penelope Cruz and Edgar Rameriz are set to star, while the key roles of the boy and the dad remain uncast. This is exactly the type of super disturbing psychological disorder that Solondz can spin into deeply humanistic and highly troubling gold.



6. Freak Shift

I'm touch and go on Ben Wheatly, really enjoying some of his films and being underwhelmed by others. His most recent film, “Free Fire,” didn't really work for me. His next project, which also hasn't started filming, sounds one-hundred percent like my kind of shit though. Wheatley has boiled the premise down to “Women with shotguns fighting giant crabs,” which is really enough to sell me. To be more specific, it's set in the future and follows a misfit team of cops hunting monsters underground. Fifties sci-fi, Paul Verhoeven, “Hill Street Blues,” “Doom,” and 2000 A.D. have been cited as influences. Alicia Vikander and Armie Hammer will star and I'm super pumped for it.



7. Apostle

Gareth Evans' “The Raid” series already seems primed to be the defining action films of our time. Evans' next movie sounds like it will similarly mine a simple premise for maximum intensity. Set at the turn of the century, it'll follow a man rescuing his sister from a doomsday cult. Considering cults are a source of fascination for me, that sounds pretty cool already. Adding to my anticipation level is that Dan Stevens, hopefully returning to “The Guest” territory, will be starring. Sounds all around bad-ass.



8. Aquaman

Following the underwhelming response to “Justice League,” DC Comics' cinematic universe is still struggling to obtain their biggest rival's level of success. Nevertheless, I keep getting drawn back. There's an obvious reason for that. Simply put, Aquaman is my favorite superhero. I never thought, in a thousand years, that he would ever be getting his own movie. And yet here we are.

Despite WB/DC's less than stellar track record, there's even some reasons to suspect “Aquaman” will be good! Jason Momoa's cool dude-bro take on the character was a highlight of “Justice League.” Director James Wan has promised “funderwater adventure” and compared the tone to a classic swashbuckler story. Considering Wan's background in horror, I wonder if the Trench or some other aquatic monstrosity will appear. Mostly, it's absolutely mind-blowing to me that characters like Mera, Black Manta, Ocean Master, Vulko and Queen Atlanna will actually be appearing on the big screen. Here's hoping for the best.



9. The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

You know, I've never seen “Eastbound and Down” or “Vice Principals,” though both on our my long list of TV shows to catch up with. However, I'm a big fan of creator/director Jody Hill's “Observe and Report,” essentially a rewrite of “Taxi Driver” as a mall-set comedy. Hill is returning to features with the exquisitely entitled “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter.”

The film's premise can't help but resonate with me personally. It follows a teenager forced to tag along with his weirdo dad on a hunting trip. Oh boy, I can relate to that concept a little too well. Considering how delightfully fucked-up Hill's antiheroes usually are, I'm preemptively declaring “Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter” the movie about my dad, though presumably with less cocaine and Foghat. Probably.



10. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Here's another sign that we are inching ever closer to the apocalypse. “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is actually coming out. I'm not even that big of a fan of Terry Gilliam but this movie's release is a momentous occasion. I'm sure you all know the story about how Gilliam has attempted to make this film at least three times over the last twenty years, only for production to be canceled due to disastrous circumstances.

Somehow, the stars have aligned and the director has managed to finally completely film a movie with this title. The premise has mutated quite a bit over the years – it's now a meta story about a filmmaker making a movie about Don Quixote, instead of the time traveling adventure originally pitched – but it's still amazing Gilliam got as far as he did. The cast is solid too. Adam Driver and Olga Kurylenko are the leads, with Jonathan Pryce playing Quixote.

There's already been at least one lawsuit to halt the current production but that seems to be resolved now. Assuming the hard drives the production company is keeping the film on don't explode or the Toddler-in-Chief doesn't start World War III, we may be watching this legendarily delayed motion picture by this time next year.


Other Upcoming Films of Note:


Alita: Battle Angel
Speaking of long delayed projects! James Cameron has been talking about adapting this relatively obscure anime to film since the mid-nineties. Since he's too busy in “Avatar” land for the foreseeable future, Cameron passed the project onto Robert Rodriguez. We've already seen a teaser trailer and “Battle Angel” looks weird, imaginative, and dynamic in its action. American adaptations of anime rarely turn out well but this has the potential to be one of next summer's biggest surprises.

Anna and the Apocalypse
Just when I think the zombie genre is entirely burned out, here comes a new take on things. “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a horror/comedy set at Christmas, a combination that always appeals to me. It's also a musical. How's that for a combination of styles? The film has already played the festival circuit and the buzz has been highly favorable thus far.



Avengers: Infinity Wars, Black Panther, and Ant-Man and the Wasp
The Marvel machine marches on. Despite generally enjoying the superhero studio's output, I'm finding it difficult to get too excited for their 2018 slate of films. “Black Panther” looks cool but the good trailers are only do so much to counteract my lack of knowledge of the character. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is probably the Marvel film I'm most looking forward to this year, as the first “Ant-Man” was a lot of fun and I'm hoping the sequel explores the psychedelic microverse some more.

Lastly, there's “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” a massive event movie acting as the culmination of the first ten years of Marvel's movies. Between the gargantuan hype and the enormous cast, I see no way for this film to be anything but disappointing. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Bumblebee
With the underperformance of last year's “Transformers: The Last Knight,” it seems like control of the robot franchise is finally being wrestled away from Michael Bay. “Bumblebee” is not a straight-up reboot but a eighties-set prequel, so presumably it won't be totally divorced from the nonsensical mythology of Bay's films. However, in the film's favor is Travis Knight, who previously directed “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a fantastically imaginative film. Combined with a decent cast, and we've got a shot at a “Transformers” movie that isn't totally hateful garbage.



Godzilla: Monster Planet
Toho continues to take their 21st century Godzilla series in new directions. The follow-up to “Shin Godzilla” will forego a theatrical release, going straight to Netflix. It also, in another series first, will be animated. At first, the idea of an animated Godzilla movie struck me as fantastic. That could allow the already imaginative series to go to even wilder places! The premise, a far future sci-fi tale of humanity returning to an Earth ruled by kaiju, sounded just right. But then I saw the trailer, with that ugly cell-shaded quasi-CGI animation, and all that enthusiasm dried up. Hopefully it'll be better than I'm thinking.

Halloween
The latest attempt to reboot the “Halloween” franchise has more going for it than previous iterations, I'll give it that. John Carpenter seems to be more involved, beyond just rubber stamping the use of his characters, and may even compose the music, which would be really cool. I'm only familiar with David Gordon Green's stoner comedies but his more down-to-Earth films suggest he at least knows what he's doing. Say what you will about Blumhouse but they know how to get casual audiences excited for horror movies.

It's the story details that concern me about the latest “Halloween.” It's yet another reboot, in a franchise that doesn't really need anymore of those. The idea of Jamie Lee Curtis coming back is neat but the film risks the chances of simply being a retrend of “Halloween H20,” one of the better sequels. And now Nick Castle, the original Michael Myers, is reprising the role. So we're going to have a senior citizen Shape? I'm really not sure where they're going with this one.



The Happytime Murders
“The Happytime Murders” is a project that Brian Henson has been developing since 2008. It sounds like the film is finally coming out this year. Described as a sex, violence, and drug filled murder mystery that just happens to be about muppets, the film has cycled through several stars during its long developmental process. The latest actor to come aboard is Melissa McCarthy, who has a bad habit of destroying clever comedies with her overly broad mugging. That's what is keeping me from being more excited about this bonkers sounding project.

Hard Powder
Liam Neeson remains the reigning king of the Dadsploitation movie, to the point that his latest entry into the genre almost sounds like a parody. In “Hard Powder,” Neeson plays a snowplow driver seeking revenge for the murder of his son, eventually running afoul of a local crime boss. If that sounds like a typical Dadsploitation flick, keep in mind that Hans Petter Moland is directing. Moland previously made “A Somewhat Gentle Man” and “In Order of Disappearance” (the latter of which this is a remake of), both of which where somewhat sarcastic riffs on the crime genre. I'd love to see Neeson poke fun at his own image a little.



Hold the Dark
I'm very disappointed that Jeremy Saulnier, director of “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room,” didn't include a color out of the title of his latest film. In seriousness, the director sounds like he's bringing his particular brand of intense action to the man vs. wilderness genre. The film is about Jeffrey Wright searching for a missing child in the Alaskan winter, amid rumors that wolves are killing local kids. Sounds dark and intense, which is right up Saulnier's alley.

The House That Jack Built
Lars von Trier, Europe's most irrepressible provocateur, previously made “Nymphomaniac,” a five hour long movie following the history of a woman's sexual misadventures. He follows that up with “The House That Jack Built,” following the history of a man's life as a serial killer. I can't help but think of the two as companion pieces. Something about society encouraging women to be sexually submissive and wanting men to be proactive and violent. This one will presumably not be five hours long though. Matt Dillion is the titular Jack. No word on who is playing the house he builds. 



I Think We're Alone Now and Piercing
It's a good year for willowy blonde waifs having tense, solitary confrontations with men. First off is “I Think We're Alone Now.” The film follows Peter Dinklage as a recluse who welcomes the apocalypse, as a chance to have more alone time. Elle Fanning will presumably play the woman who disrupts his isolation. Yes, I'm expecting either Tiffany or Tommy Shondell to make an appearance.

After that is “Piercing,” which has Mia Wiaskowska playing a prostitute who turns the tables on an abusive john. Which reminds me of “Hard Candy.” I love switcharoo stories like that.

Incident in a Ghost Land
Pascal Laugier exploded onto the indie horror scene with “Martyrs,” a movie which managed to be more disturbing than any American torture horror films while actually being about something. Laugier followed that film up with “The Tall Man,” an uneven thriller derailed by a frustrating twist. Since then, Pascal has been pretty quiet. “Incident in a Ghost Land” is his first feature in seven years. The premise sounds like its mixing a home invasion story with something weirder. Hopefully Laugier hasn't lost any of his spark over the years.



The Kid Who Would Be King
Another director we haven't heard from in a while is Joe Cornish. “Attack the Block” was an impressive debut. Despite being attached to a few other things, Cornish has been picky with his folow-up. He finally returns with “The Kid Who Would Be King.” Sadly, the premise doesn't strike me as especially interesting. The film is described as a family/fantasy flick following a band of teenagers taking down a medieval menace. Not the most unique set-up. Hopefully Wright brings something special to the table.

The New Mutants, Deadpool 2, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix
With Disney speeding ahead the corporate oligarchy by just flat-out buying their competition, the future of Fox's “X-Men” series is in question. The buy-out couldn't have come at a more awkward time either, as the studio has three mutant themed super-flicks on the horizon. First up will be “The New Mutants.” I have zero attachment to the four-color version of this team but the promise that the film will be more horror movie than superhero movie – a promise the trailer seems to uphold –  definitely has me intrigued.

Next up is “Deadpool 2.” I don't object to anyone finding the character or his film annoying, but I was a big fan of the first “Deadpool.” The sequel is introducing some cool new characters and seems to be moving even further into the meta direction. The year caps off with “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” I was one of the few people to really like “X-Men: Apocalypse” and am looking forward to the series going in a more cosmic direction, though this is clearly the least interesting X-film in 2018.



The Predator
For his follow-up to the amazing entertaining “The Nice Guys,” Shane Black is returning to the franchise he had a previous hand in. It's true that the “Predator” series has never had as much momentum as its sibling “Alien” franchise. The plot details we've gotten about Black's film sound like a very different take on the series. Apparently, it'll be set in the suburbs and prominently feature a young kid, played by Jacob Trembley. I won't say I trust Black implicitly but I imagine he can probably cook up an interesting take on the “Predator” formula.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
Full Moon has been pumping out “Puppet Master” movies for the better part of twenty years. While I have a certain fondness for the earlier entries, the majority of the films are terrible. “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich,” a studio-backed reboot, offers something the franchise hasn't seen in a long time: An actual budget. It's pretty sad that this will be the first time in years that a “Puppet Master” movie won't have to rely on stock footage and visible rod puppets. In addition to that, “Brawl in Cell Block 99” and "Dragged Across Concrete's" S. Craig Zahler is writing the script, suggesting this may be an extra-brutal entry in the series. The cast is inspired too, with Barbara Crampton returning to the series and Udo Kier playing Toulon, the puppet's creator.



Rampage
Out of all the video games that could've gotten film adaptations, “Rampage” would not have been my first pick for an adaptation. A game solely devoted to giant monsters wrecking cities and eating toilets doesn't offer much in the way of plot. But I guess the Rock's star power can get anything greenlit. The trailer makes “Rampage” look like a lot of fun, actually. The film seems to embrace the tropes of the kaiju genre and will feature three-way combat between a giant albino ape, a huge wolf, and a crocodile. It'll probably be dumb as hell but hopefully it's fun too.

Ready Player One
Watching the trailers for “Ready Player One” feels like eating at a buffet that only serves chocolate cake. I love chocolate cake but too much of it makes me sick. Here's a movie that will throw together Chun-Li, Freddy Krueger, King Kong, the original Gundam, Chucky, the Iron Giant, Tracer, the Battletoads and probably many more characters I adore. But stringing together a bunch of random pop culture references does not make a compelling story. From what I've read, this is a memo the book's original author did not get. Steven Spielberg has woven less than grand source material into gold before. The trailers for this make it seem like he's embracing the most excessive tendencies of modern day blockbuster filmmaking. If this results in anything worth while, beyond some cool cameos and neat effects, is yet to be seen.



Slaughterhouse Rulez
I'm very fond of Simon Pegg but there's no denying that his films made without Edgar Wright tend to be less than swell. “Slaughterhouse Rulez” has Pegg re-teaming with director Crispian Mills. The two previously made “A Fantastic Fear of Everything,” a movie I actually thought was alright but many people disliked. The film's premise, about a fancy prep school thrown into chaos when a portal to Hell opens up outside, sounds highly amusing. Pegg's main boy, Nick Frost, is joining him on this ride. That's a lot of things in this one's favor. For me, anyway.

The Widow
Neil Jordan has quietly been on a good run with his last few films. I loved both “Ondine” and “Byzantium” but neither were very widely seen. For his latest, Jordan has assembled a strong cast. Isabelle Huppert plays a widow that strikes up a friendship with two teenage girls, played by Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe. The film is classified as a thriller, so someone presumably has less than friendly intentions in mind. The combination of that cast and Jordan is enough to peak my interests.


Further films I'm looking forward to in 2018 include:

The Art of Self-Defense, Damsel, Destroyer, Domino, The Endless, Gags, Hellboy, Hotel Artemis, The Irishman, Jin-Roh, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mandy, The Meg, My Abandonment, Nosferatu, Outlaw King, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Poor Agnes, Proud Mary, Revenge, Ruin Me, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Thoroughbred, and Tully.