There seems to be a generally positive consensus that 2017 was a great year for film. I find it hard to disagree with the majority, personally, I rarely left the cinema in disappointment. Looking forward into 2018 and it looks to be another great year for film, with the tumultuous state of the industry following some pretty horrific revelations last year. As the year develops hopefully we will see the much-needed change in the industry, and along with it some stellar films.
Here is part two of my preview of cinema in 2018 July to September.
It has taken a while, but finally after 46 acting credits and being sprayed in the face with water in the name of comedy, Tom Cruise appears to be showing his age. First came the questionable and sloppy decision to star in Universal’s terrible reboot of The Mummy. Followed by, twice injuring himself on the set of Mission Impossible – Fallout performing stunts. It is admirable that at the ripe old age of 55 Cruise still insists on doing his own set pieces, but much like the Mission Impossible series, there comes a time when enough is enough. Having broken the curse of the trilogy once with the brilliant MI III, where 75% of the films critical success is down to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s villain, Cruise and Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie are trying their luck again with the 6th film in the series. It isn’t that Ghost Protocol (4th) and Rogue Nation (5th) were bad films, but there are only so many times that Ethan Hunt can choose to accept a mission which pits him and his team against the government, his own agency or themselves. Even the trailer eludes to this when trying to sell the film to us:
“How many times has Hunt’s government betrayed him, disavowed him, cast him aside, how long before a man like that has had enough?”
Come July 27th we will see if Cruise can break the curse of the trilogy once more, and we’ll finally get to see more of the moustache that caused this. But please no more Mission Impossible movies (I realize that the request is futile).
July will also see Marvel follow-up Avengers: Infinity War with a much smaller outing with the sequel to Ant-Man. Being Marvel’s smallest hero in both size and budget, Paul Rudd will rejoin with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly who will play a larger role as she takes on the mantle of The Wasp. The first outing for the occasionally minuscule hero proved an incredibly profitable one, leaving behind the tumultuous production which, in 2006, saw Edgar Wright jump on board help finish three drafts of the script only to leave the project over ‘creative differences’ eight years later. Cue Adam McKay coming onboard for rewrites and Peyton Reed taking over in the director’s chair. The result helped to sweep any concerns under the rug, as the film went on to take $500m globally on its modest (by Marvel standards) budget. Therefore the expectations are now much higher for the sequel and given Marvel’s previous reluctance to focus on its female superheroes, it is nice to see that Evangeline Lilly’s, The Wasp will take centre stage here.
On top of these huge blockbusters, we will see the release, of what was, two of the more anticipated premieres at a now underwhelming Sundance. Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and Carlos Lopez Estrada’s Blindspotting will be released on the 13th July and 27th July respectively. Amazon will release Van Sant’s film which received decent reviews out of the festival, choosing to move it from a May release to a more primetime summer slot. Why that decision was made is anyone’s guess, especially considering the current pro-Joaquin atmosphere. Blindspotting which was bought by powerhouse studio Lionsgate will look to double down on the popularity of Hamilton and its star Daveed Diggs by slotting it in alongside those aforementioned blockbusters.
To round out July, The Rock will continue his impervious domination of the box office with the ridiculous looking Skyscraper, a film which ups the ante of his life-saving capabilities by giving him a prosthetic leg. They had me within 3 seconds of the trailer because I have to see the outcome of two moments. Firstly, why is there a helicopter shooting at The Rock, whilst running across a crane which appears to be outside of the films primary location; a skyscraper? Secondly, how will get himself out of the mess that is, leaping from said crane towards, said skyscraper? Oh right, that is already answered in the remainder of the trailer. There is a cable, and it attaches itself to his prosthetic leg. Great.
Denzel Washington will also return as The Equalizer in its sequel, a film which wasn’t nearly as cool as it wanted to be and reminding us once again that Training Day may have been a one-off. For Fuqua that is. I would never fuck with Denzel. Hopefully, the sequel offers more insight into, what I am convinced is, a character devoid of charisma. Pedro Pascal, a.k.a The Red Viper, a.k.a the cowboy named Tequila will also star in what is likely the role of the antagonist. The only positive note is that it will star Ashton Sanders of Moonlight fame in his next feature film.
Oh and a long-awaited sequel will be released, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, see what they did there? One thing I am certain of is that I will not be betting against The Streep getting yet another Oscar nomination, after all, she received one for August: Osage County. And is just a terrible, terrible film.
In August we will finally get an answer to the burning question: who would win in a fight between Jason Statham and a shark, a 70ft one to be precise? The Meg, adapted from the trashy 1997 science fiction novel of the same name will finally see a release this August having been stuck in development hell ever since its release. A book about a ginormous prehistoric shark was always going to be blood in the water for a late 90s Hollywood. After all the year the book was published was when Jurassic Park: The Lost World made a ton of money, Ice Cube got to fight a snake alongside Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda and Godzilla was gearing up to take on Ferris Bueller and Leon just a year later. So why has it taken 20 years to release? Let’s take a brief tour of its torrid history:
- Firstly, it is safe to say that Meg was written for Hollywood, not figuratively, it was actually written for Hollywood. Author Steve Alten only had a manuscript and little confidence until he found an agent who then helped sell it in and soon enough it was optioned by Disney and he had a two-book deal. This was 1997.
- Then Deep Blue Sea went into production and Disney held its breath on the project, a breath which got longer when the film was not as big a hit as hoped. This led to Alten drafting up his own script and taking things into his own hands as Disney dropped the project around 2004. At some point shortly after, the project ended up in the hands of now Oscar winner, Guillermo Del Toro.
- However, Del Toro never really planned on directing, and instead, it ended up at New Line Cinema in a seven-figure deal with Jan De Bont, you know, the guy who did Speed. At this point, it was the furthest in development it had ever been. Now there were numerous hands on the project, Del Toro’s included, and a new script was drafted by Shane Salermo (who has now been tasked with Avatar 2 through 5).
- So confident was the studio that they fast-tracked the project to an $80m 2006 release, and they spent Cannes that year trying to find foreign distribution and the money that comes with it. Storyboards were made, production teams assembled and it looked like it would finally get made.
- Except, it didn’t. The budget blew up, Jan De Bont, a director who hadn’t made a film in 4 years grew tired and the studio ultimately frustrated. In 2007 they dropped it and the rights went back to Alten, who at this point was probably in a hammock sipping pina coladas from his numerous deals.
- Then, silence fell. Until 2015 when the rights were picked up in a co-financing deal between Chinese investors and Warner Bros. Eli Roth then became attached to the project, but even he would end up leaving and the project was hung up once more.
Until now that is. John Turtletaub of Cool Runnings fame will direct a polo-neck wearing Jason Statham joined by Chinese actress and pop star Li Bingbing in a story that revolves around expert diver and former naval captain Jonas Taylor (Statham), who is hired to rescue a group of Chinese scientists who are under attack from a thought to be extinct Megalodon. The book opens with a Megalodon killing and feasting on a tyrannosaurus rex, a subtle bashing of Michael Chrichton’s Jurassic Park. This summer Alten will get another shot at a T-rex.
I will sit here and argue that Peter Jackson does not get as much credit as he deserves as a director. It’s not even that I think he’s one of the best directors alive, but this is the director who six films into his career took on Lord of The Rings, but more importantly, he’s the director that gave us Meet The Feebles. Horribly overlooked in favour of Bad Taste and Braindead, Meet The Feebles is the equivalent of watching The Muppets on crack whilst struggling with PTSD. It’s hard to get a hold of, but its a brilliant piece of puppetry cinema that does not hold back, which is what I hope Brian Henson will do with his new film The Happytime Murders. Set in a world where puppets and humans co-exist, the story revolves around Phil Phillips, a puppet private eye on the trail of a serial killer who murdered his brother and is targeting the cast of an 80s TV show called The Happytime Gang. Described as the ‘Heat of puppet movies’, writer Todd Berger has promised sex, violence and they have been working towards an R-rated puppet movie. I am under no illusion that it won’t come close to the vulgarity on show in Jackson’s film, especially with Melissa McCarthy on board, but one can dream.
One of the more interesting projects of the summer is Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger. The Irish director has crafted a very decent career out for himself. Having caught people’s attention with 2012’s What Richard Did, he followed it up with the quirky Frank. The following year would see him get both the Best Picture and a Best Director nod from The Academy for his film Room, and this August he will finally follow up with his next project. Featuring a cast of great British talent including Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Ruth Wilson and the superb Charlotte Rampling, the film is a supernatural horror film set in the summer of post-war 1947. Gleeson plays a respectable doctor who is called to the estate of Hundreds Hall to look over a maid who has fallen ill. Rampling plays the widowed matriarch, whilst a disfigured veteran (Poulter) and Wilson play her children. At first, he is welcomed in, but soon enough he is drawn into a family mystery and the possible haunting of Hundreds Hall. Gleeson is at the top of his game right now, and it will be interesting to see him square off against the experienced Rampling.
To be honest, I thought we had seen a movie of Slender Man when the Spanish horror film REC came to its conclusion, but apparently not. At once an internet meme, the wiry, abnormally tall and faceless figure also tragically inspired the attempted murder of a 12-year-old girl in Wisconsin, and will now get his very own horror film. Fuck it, who are we kidding, I’ll correct myself, his very own horror franchise (It’s bound to happen). From the look of the (terrible) trailer, the film has something to do with a missing girl, some eerie woodland and your standard ‘must show a holy shit moment’, with a scalpel to the eye. Rather coincidentally, Screen Gems are behind the production here and they also helmed the remake of Rec; Quarantine. They were also behind the remakes of horror films Prom Night, When a Stranger Calls, Carrie and Straw Dogs. So basically; don’t get your hopes up.
If May is the month for Cannes, then September is the month for Telluride (end of August into September), Venice and Toronto. Both Telluride and Venice overlap this year, starting on the same date August 28th. Telluride, over its 40-year history, has always had prominence due to their unwritten rule that every film showing there must be a premiere for North America. Given the timing of the festival and where it is in the calendar this is often quite easy, but it also means that they have premiered films such as Moonlight and Lady Bird before other North American festivals, and a lot of the time these have been global premieres. No small feat for a festival which often operates under the shadow of its younger Coloradan sibling: Sundance. Whilst Telluride might be a more homely affair, Venice brings more of the now outdated ideals of glitz and glamour associated with classical cinema. Tied to the braggadocio of arthouse cinema. Toronto, on the other hand, is one of the most populated film festivals, whose strength lies in its ‘finger on the pulse’ approach to the programmes curation. They are the Instagram equivalent of film festivals, fully understanding how to speak to the millennial filmgoer. All are incredibly important dates on the calendar for filmmakers and are always considered destinations for the must-see films of the year and potential Oscar candidates. At this point in time, much like Cannes, proposed lineups are always going to be mere speculation. But speculate I will.
- High Life, Claire Denis – It is amazing to me that it will be 30 years since Claire Denis made her phenomenal feature-length debut with Chocolat that she would finally make her English-language debut. Not that she has needed to at all, but for a director so revered, it does make you wonder if maybe the door had previously been closed. An idea which in the current climate, would not be surprising. High Life is one of my most anticipated films of the year and here’s why. Firstly, it’s a Claire Denis film, that should be enough. Secondly, it is a Claire Denis sci-fi film. A genre which she has never really entertained and one which intrigues rather than repels. This is also the only reason the film is her English language debut, as she charmingly told Vogue in an interview that: “I had a screenplay which was naturally in English, because the story takes place in space and, I don’t know why, but for me, people speak English — or Russian or Chinese — but definitely not French in space”. Thirdly it stars Robert Pattinson who was last seen in the Safdie Brothers film Good Time and personally being robbed by The Academy of, at least, a nomination for his phenomenal work in it. Oh, and he will be alongside Juliette Binoche, who is flawless in everything. And finally the plot just sounds crazy, and the good kind of crazy. The film follows a group of skilled criminals who trade in facing jail time and capital punishment for agreeing to participate in a likely fatal government space mission, where they will be tasked with finding alternate energy sources and will be part of human reproduction experiments. It’s a fascinating project from Denis and her frequent collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau. I have high hopes. I expect this will arrive at a fanfare in Venice.
- The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine – Korine is oft known as one of Hollywood’s more controversial talents. Having burst onto the scene as the teenage writer of Larry Clark’s Kids, Korine was last seen attacking the Hollywood status quo with the surprisingly commercial neon-lit Spring Breakers. Given his middle finger approach to filmmaking and its cinematic structures, one can only imagine he would light Syd Field’s screenwriting opus with a zippo lighter branded with an anarchist logo, it is not that surprising that he is often held up in the highest of regards by Venice. And this year he will likely premiere his next project, the star-laden Beach Bum. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, our protagonist/lovable rogue, who will spend the running time getting up to all manner of misadventures in what has been described as a ‘hilarious stoner comedy’. Realistically, these misadventures could be anything, it is Korine after all, watching Trash Humpers has taught me that much. Alongside him will be Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Buffett, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher and Martin Lawerence as a character referred to as Captain Wack. It might not seem so, but I am a huge Korine fan, the issue I have is that his strength was lying outside the margins. Embracing Hollywood, in my opinion, is an antithesis to the artistic lens he once had and it showed in the shiny production value of Spring Breakers. I don’t want to hold the door of higher budgets closed to his talent at all, but I was fascinated with how he navigated and bypassed his imposed limitations. Unfortunately, the release of The Beach Bum also appears to signal the door closing on his previously announced project The Trap. A film which would have seen Benicio Del Toro, Idris Elba, and Robert Pattinson all square off as drug dealers and uzi-wielding surfers. Hopefully one day we will get to see that project.
- Beautiful Boy, Felix Van Groeningen – Felix Van Groeningen might not be anywhere near a household name, but that might change after Beautiful Boy is released. At once nominated for a foreign language academy award, the 2012 Broken Circle Breakdown, Groeningen’s next project will bring together Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in a father-son story, as Carell tries to help his son recover from meth addiction. 2017 was a brilliant if unrewarded year for both actors. Carell was highly underrated in Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, a film that I can’t quite understand why was overlooked completely by The Academy. At the same time, Chalamet was recognized and also somewhat discovered all in the same year. Turns in Lady Bird, Hostiles and his brilliant performance in Call Me By Your Name were all evidence that his nomination by The Academy won’t be his last and it is only a matter of time before he walks away with a statue. Which makes it all the more intriguing to see him take the Oscar-baiting role of meth addict so early in his career. If it plays as depressingly as I can imagine a film about a father and his meth addict son should do, I imagine it will be seen first at indie haven Telluride before both actors gaining award buzz in Toronto.
- Black Klansman, Spike Lee – I find it quite sad to think that it’s been too long since Spike Lee made something genuinely good. Chi-Raq was anchored by some brilliant performances, and overall was enjoyable, but the tone of the film felt extremely at odds with the current situation in Chicago and the very reason why it has earned the name Chi-raq. A bold and brave decision to remake Korean classic Oldboy showed that he is seemingly unaware of the cinematic baggage that comes with such a project. He also missed a great opportunity to reinvent his seminal work She’s Gotta Have It and unfortunately showed that he is completely out of touch with the subject matter in 2017. So in 2018, we will all hold our breath again in the hope that his new work Black Klansman is a return to form for one of America’s most seminal filmmakers. It stars son of Denzel (That should be a movie), John David Washington as an African American police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, alongside an interesting combination of Adam Driver and Topher Grace who I can only speculate will play members of the klan. So why might this be the project that elevates Lee back to where he belongs? Well for one, Jordan Peele is on board as an executive producer alongside Get Out producing partner Jason Blum of Blumhouse Studio. He Got Game and Do The Right Thing are high up on my ever-changing best-ever lists, so I have high hopes for this one.
- Mid ’90s, Jonah Hill – The Ringer is probably the best website out there right now, and one of their best modes of output has to be their podcast series: The Rewatchables. In it, they go back and reassess movies that for one reason or another they constantly revisit, for me one of my biggest is Superbad. Within the podcast a question often asked is: who won the movie? Up until 2011, the answer was probably Michael Cera, but since then it has been his co-star Jonah Hill who has started to develop the more interesting career and persona. Moneyball, Jump Street, The Wolf on Wall Street and being a streetwear god as the strange poster boy for Palace Skateboards have all helped elevate Jonah Hill to the status of genuine star. And this year he will help cement that status with a number of projects, none are more interesting than his directorial and writing debut: Mid ’90s. With Kids and This is England as an influence, the project is a coming of age story revolving around a young boy growing up in Los Angeles who is learning life lessons along with his skateboarding friends in the mid-1990s. The boy in question is played by Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Katherine Waterson and Lucas Hedges, another rising young actor sure to win numerous awards in the future. Hill has resisted the urge to place himself in front of and behind the camera, and having worked with directors such as Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Tarantino and Van Sant, hopefully, some of their talents has rubbed off. I expect this to debut at Toronto and given the outpouring of love for Lady Bird, this could garner a similar reaction.
- If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins – Few can argue that Barry Jenkins follow up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight is one of, if not the, most anticipated film of 2018. An adaptation of James Baldwin’s 5th novel, Jenkins has again placed his faith in somewhat unknown leads to tell a Harlem based love story torn apart by racial injustice when Fonny (Stephan James) is wrongly accused of rape whilst his pregnant wife Tish (Kiki Layne) desperately tries to prove his innocence. Very few people have attempted to adapt Baldwin’s novels and it was his debut picture Medicine For Melancholy, not Moonlight, that persuaded the Baldwin estate to allow him to make the film. Jenkins along with filmmakers such as Sean Baker are helping to bring focus to stories outside of the margins to the mainstream spotlight, and in his very short career thus far he has proven that his voice needs to be heard. You only need to look at his recent conversation at SXSW to see how inspiring his Oscar speech ‘would’ have been had The Academy not done it’s best to fuck it up. Seeing as Moonlight premiered at Telluride, it may be the location of choice again this year, but maybe, just maybe the effect of his sophomore effort may bump it up to Venice first.
Aside from the festival big hitters we also have Shane Black’s long-awaited return to the Predator franchise after his smart-mouthed Hawkins was killed in the first instalment. The Predator marks his first directorial entry into the series and if the Predators cast wasn’t strange enough for you, Black has combined the talents of Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Jake Busey (not that Busey, this Busey) and Trevante Rhodes to be led by Boyd Holbrook as a former commando and Predator believer. Led most likely, to gruesome deaths. Thomas Jane also joins them, and was him who let slip the plot:
“We play these veterans from like Afghanistan, Iraq war or whatever. But we’re all fucking crazy so we go to the VA hospital to get our meds. We’re all like shellshocked, PTSD…soldiers. We’re at the VA hospital and we’re in group therapy and of course, somebody flips out and we all get arrested and get thrown onto the bus to go down to the hospital and they throw this other guy on the bus too. And he’s a guy they’ve actually marked to kill because he’s seen a UFO, he’s seen the Predator ships come down so they lock him up and throw him in with us lunatics. They’re going to take that bus, drive it down to a ditch and shoot us all just to get rid of this one guy. But, of course, we take the bus over and we’re all like “fuck that man, let’s go kill these fucking Predators ourselves”.
If it sounds nuts to you, it is probably because it will be, but because Shane Black is involved I cling onto hope that this will make me forget the Alien vs. Predator movies and the not-even-entertaining Predators. if he can sprinkle some of that magic Shane Black wit onto the script, then perhaps he can pull this one off.
Netflix will release another one of it’s 80 original movies with director Gareth Evans of The Raid fame presenting his next project: Apostle. If you were hoping for another Gun Fu outing from the Indonesian based British director you’re probably going to be disappointed. Set in 1905, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travels to a remote island to save his sister from a mysterious religious cult demanding a ransom for her safe return. As he digs deeper it soon becomes clear that there is more than meets the eye on both sides of the deal. Dan Stevens was brilliant in the overlooked film The Guest, and by the sounds of it, he will be channelling similar sinister fervours for this one. Evans is supremely talented behind the camera directing action so it will be interesting to see his take on what could essentially be The Wicker Man on crack cocaine.
Joel Edgerton will also make his sophomore directorial effort in September with his gay conversion film Boy Erased. Adapted from Garrard Conley’s haunting 2016 memoir, Conley will be played by the in-demand Manchester by The Sea alum Lucas Hedges and his parents by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Edgerton will also take a role as the head therapist of the gay conversion therapy program that Conley’s parents force him to attend. It’s hard to imagine this won’t be in the conversation come award time, with Kidman and Crowe looking particularly well positioned for Best Supporting nominations. It releases at the end of September which is good timing for awards consideration.
It wasn’t that long ago that Matthew McConaughey seemed to be the second coming of (acting) Christ. He could quite easily claim the championship belt between 2012-2014, but then it all went a bit sideways culminating with a huge misfire for both actor and studio in; The Dark Tower. This year will be a genuine test of his talent with 3 large projects releasing. The Beach Bum (discussed above), Serenity and White Boy Rick. Serenity will see him team up with Diane Lane, Anne Hathaway and the director of the rather strange Tom Hardy vehicle (ha) Locke; Steven Knight. In the film, McConaughey’s mysterious fishing boat captain past comes back to haunt him, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be what it all seems. With a cast like that at the very least, it will be a solid outing. The third project, White Boy Rick, has McConaughey sporting a mullet opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh as the father of FBI informant Richard Wershe Jr in the 1980s who was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking. This is a huge project for director Yann Demange whose work ’71 was underrated, but it is one thing directing an up and coming actor in Jack O’Connell and a whole other thing directing 3 Oscar nominees and 1 very big Oscar winner.