So April came and went with little in the way of standouts. The Jungle Book earned remarkable amounts of commercial and critical acclaim, while I’d probably rank Midnight Special in my top movies of the year (along with Hail, Caesar!). Beyond that? Nothing much. I guess everyone expected more from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; who’d have thought it would have been torpedoed by The Boss just two weeks after its release? But at least we got a brief sojourn from superhero movies, which brings us to May.
MAY 6, 2016
The Only: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Captain America: Civil War – And we’re back in the throes of superhero movies with yet another predictable gigantic success, Captain America v. Iron Man. Disney/Marvel are throwing everything they can to bolster the profile of what ostensibly seems like Avengers 3. Sure we don’t have Thor, The Hulk, or Nick Fury, but we have “the reasons why Avengers: Age of Ultron mattered” Scarlet Witch and Robot Wearing a Cardigan, fan favorite Ant-Man, newcomer Black Panther, and of course, the “homecoming” of Spider-Man. It’s a movie that promotes itself, but the 30 original TV ads help.
The biggest wild card in predicting the success for this movie has always been Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though the reason has changed slightly. While it was always a concern that the earlier film would be so huge and dominating that would take the wind out of the sails of yet another a superheroes fight flick, the new question that emerged was whether the negative critical and audience response of the DC film would sap the energy out of upcoming genre features. Apparently not. Early reviews have been fantastic (including on this site) and pre-sales have also been terrific. I guess that’s what happens when you actually take the time to build up these characters and audience trust, instead of relying on name recognition alone.
MAY 13, 2016
The Big: MONEY MONSTER
Money Monster – For over a decade, George Clooney and Julia Roberts were two of America’s biggest stars. Powerhouses at the box office and in the gossip rags. Years ago, a thriller starring both of them would have not just been a major release, but possibly even poised for awards season based on their names alone. In 2016? It’s used as a buffer the week after Captain America: Civil War. But let’s face it, neither of these actors are anywhere near the height of their popularity. Clooney might have had the biggest success of his career with 2013’s Gravity, but he was among the least important parts of that movie. The last movie that was distinctly Clooney to break $100 million domestic was Ocean’s Thirteen (the only part of the Ocean’s trilogy to not co-star Julia Roberts). Sure, he’s been doing good work over the past decade (The American, Hail, Caesar!, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, to name a few), but box office success has mostly eluded him. Julia Roberts has similarly entered a stage of her career where she’s still certainly a name, but far from a draw. (Plus she’s one-quarter of the bill of 7% positive Mother’s Day, sharing it with Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, and that actress from Tomorrowland who was supposed to be a much bigger star by now.)
I’m even willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt that it might be good. Jodie Foster is a solid director, and there’s often something inherently enjoyable about conspiracy theories that turn out to be true. However, adult thrillers have a tendency to disappoint at the box office (as can be seen with one of Robert’s latest films, 2015’s The Secret in their Eyes) and the release date tells us a lot. Sure, it might be pitched as ‘alternative’ programming to the Marvel juggernaut, but years ago, it would have been allowed to stand on its own. Of course, the horrible title doesn’t help.
The Small: HIGH-RISE vs. THE LOBSTER
High-Rise: On a personal note, High-Rise is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Based on one of my all-time favorite books (High-Rise by J.G. Ballard, whose adaptations also include Crash (the good one, from David Cronenberg) and Empire of the Sun (one of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films)), I have a lot of hope for what this movie can be. If it stays true to the source material, it can easily fall into the Fight Club / American Psycho echelon of amazing existentialist catastrophes. It has a lot to live up to, but I believe that the remarkable director Ben Wheatley can pull it off. The casting (led by Tom Hiddleston, but also including Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, and Stacy Martin) is similarly terrific. While the studio is releasing it VOD earlier than its release, which definitely shows a lack of confidence in its box office potential, I still reckon it has potential for cult status.
The Lobster: I am fond of smaller dystopian movies, and am always interested when one actually gets a primarily theatrical release without major stars, a major director, or overly popular source material. The Lobster falls into this category. Although its leads are ‘names’ Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, neither of them guarantee exclusively theatrical releases. The concept is also intriguing – a society where people must find love or be transformed into animals and sent off into the wasteland – and, best I can tell, wholly original. For an additional plus, The Lobster has gotten fantastic early reviews and is presently sitting at a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.
MAY 20, 2016
The Big: THE NICE GUYS vs. NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING vs. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE
The Nice Guys: From writer-director Shane Black (of Lethal Weapon; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; and Iron Man 3 fame), The Nice Guys is another of my most highly anticipated movies of this year. Is it because I’m drawn to 20th century private detective period pieces? Possibly. But the red band trailer was one of the most memorable trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It did a great job at showcasing Black’s unique voice and visual flair, the chemistry between leads Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and the genuinely funny humor based on the interplay between the characters and their reactions. It also reminds us how rare is it for there to be a comedy not based in the man-child mold? Speaking of which…
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: Although Neighbors 2 is sold as the more straight comedy, I didn’t find any of its trailers or clips nearly as amusing or clever as the material from The Nice Guys. Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of the first Neighbors movie. Like many modern comedy films constructed in the Judd Apatow vein, I found it to have okay characters and acting but not much in the way of actual laughs or bemusement. The new movie will probably be more of the same as the original, except with the lower return on the investment that naturally comes with comedy sequels (read my article on that subject here). Of course, it’s better doing it now, than trying it 15 years down the line. Isn’t that right Farrelly Brothers? (Read my article on THAT subject here.) This movie might be amusing for fans of the first one, but I doubt it’ll do anything new or interesting with the premise.
The Angry Birds Movie: Talk about striking while the iron is hot.
MAY 27, 2016
The Big: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE vs. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
X-Men: Apocalypse: And we close out the month the same way we began, with a ginormous superhero property. Admittedly, the X-Men franchise has found new life since being damaged seemingly irreparably by Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Following the end of the original trilogy, the series had absolutely nowhere to go until First Class and Days of Future Past became the best offerings ever from the 16-year-old franchise. (I stick with First Class as my favorite.). The series is also responsible for three spin-off movies, which have ranged from the terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine is probably the worst superhero movie of the past 20 years) to the okay (The Wolverine) to the incredible (this year’s Deadpool). With Apocalypse, you have a great returning cast with Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Nicholas Hoult (as well as Jennifer Lawrence, even though she clearly wants nothing more to do with Mystique); the rebooting of classic X-Men characters like Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Angel who were destroyed in X-Men: The Last Stand; and a great actor playing a great villain in Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse.
So why my lack of enthusiasm over the new movie? Could it be exhaustion from the genre, or could it be that the movie itself looks lacklustre? X-Men: First Class had the benefit of rebooting the franchise with fresh eyes through Matthew Vaughn, who brought levity and humor to the proceedings. X-Men: Days of Future Past was far more about the relationship between Magneto and Professor X than it was about the Sentinels, and the interplay between Fassbender and McAvoy gave the film an emotional weight that deepened the other films in the series. (The energy provided by Hugh Jackman as younger Wolverine and Evan Peters as Quicksilver also helped.) Yet the trailers for this latest film lack the uniqueness that the previous two films had, which breathed fresh life into this series. Apocalypse disappointingly looks like yet another “if we work together as a team, we can protect the Earth from Generic Destruction Man.” It’s nice that Singer has finally warmed to the idea of the X-Men finally getting their traditional costumes, but overall nothing about it stands out, which is essential for superhero movies today.
Alice Through The Looking Glass – I guess it was inevitable that Tim Burton’s terrible Alice in Wonderland movie would get a sequel after breaking $1 billion worldwide (mostly thanks to 3D surcharges). (On a personal note, I consider Wonderland among the worst movies ever made – and not in the Internet hyperbole of everything being the best or the worst ever, but in a thoughtful, honest “that movie did everything wrong” way.) So here we are, six years later. Thankfully Burton is gone (replaced by The Muppets/Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin), but unfortunately Johnny Depp is returning. Depp, who used his portrayal of the Mad Hatter to obliterate most of the good will he still had left. (He would later squander the rest of it in Kevin Smith’s Tusk.) But overall, the Wonderland (or Underland) developed by Burton was too ugly, uninspired and just plain lame to want to return. However, it will be interesting to see these two high profile movies battling it out opening weekend.
So that’s May. Definitely a strong month with at least four major movies and a bevy of interesting-looking smaller ones. Captain America: Civil War most certainly wins for the big movie while I have hopes for High-Rise and The Nice Guys. And from there, onto June where we learn whether the goofy looking Warcraft is yet another video game movie coming too late to capitalize on the popularity of its source material, whether the love of Finding Nemo will transfer to seeking out Dory, and whether Independence Day: Resurgence can pull a Jurassic World and become a success powered primarily on nostalgia.