A look ahead to the films of the new year is always fraught with peril. We anticipated in last year’s “fast forward” movies like “The Golden Compass” and countless sequels and fantasy fare. Most of what we warned you about was either worth a look (“Spider-Man Again,” “Oceans Again” and “Pirates Again”) or very good (“Bridge to Terabithia” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”). Some (“Shrek Again,” “Saw Again,” “300” and “Transformers”) stunk out loud and still made gobs of money.
We also found our crystal ball had a brain fart or two. We absolutely failed to identify some important (“Sicko”) films and some of the late arriving films (“No Country For Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Juno”) that very well could win lauds for best of the year.
As January is already in the box there are some known quantities. Rick, one of the spies from Clearfield, had taken in the newest Rambo movie and gives it a pleasant nod. “Everything a 14 year-old boy wants in a movie,” he says, rating it above average with an extra helping of gore.
A better Rambo movie is likely due in early May. “Son of Rambow” is the story of a sheltered kid who falls in with the class terror, who blows his mind with a copy of the original Rambo movie, “First Blood.” This is about a boy whose creative mind is fired by something as odd as a Sylvester Stallone movie. It looks to be a creative treat and something the average movie-goer may miss.
While Vault was taking in “I Am Legend” (Vault Rating: 6), Mrs. Vault and Kid Vault were taking in “27 Dresses.” Mrs. Vault gives it a 7, but Kid Vault (age 11) was nonplussed (“Well, that sucked.”). To be fair, it was Kid Vault’s first “relationship movie” and it has to be said Kid Vault is a quick study.
What did he learn?
“Well, she hated him at the beginning but liked him at the end and, O.M.G!, she almost dumped him,” says Kid. “And olive green is not a good color for a wedding dress.” Chip off the old block, there.
Some big box office is happening for an N.Y.C. monster flick, “Cloverfield.” Critical reviews are middling but chatter about the queazy, hand-held camera style of the film seems more favorable. If you like monster-stomps-city fare, go on and check it out.
But the best bets in this corner for the early going are a new Woody Allen movie, a Romanian drama and an award winning documentary set in Afghanistan.
Mr. Allen has been steadily clawing his way back into Vault’s good graces even though reviews have been mixed on “Cassandra’s Dream,” in which a woman discovers the power of sexual attraction and lures two brothers into crime. It sounds as if Woody’s pulling a gender reversal of the fabulous “Match Point” (V.R:8) but I’m told the film veers into comedy that does/doesn’t work. Still, it is a Woody Allen film and they’re almost always worth a look.
“Taxi to the Dark Side” is a Best Documentary winner from the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. It examines U.S. policies on torture and the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base. A.O. Scott at the New York Times says the film is not easy going, but is essential viewing.
Vault is close to issuing a new rule: “If it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, it can’t miss.” The long list is impressive. Consider some past winners: “The Third Man,” (V.R:9) “MASH,” “The Conversation,” (V.R:8) “Taxi Driver,” “Pelle the Conqueror,” “The Piano,” “Elephant,” (V.R:8) “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (V.R:8 and currently available on local new release racks) and, most recently, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Set in Ceausescu era Romania, it observes a woman’s attempt to obtain an illegal abortion. Kenneth Turan at the L.A. Times raves, saying it will leave you gasping for air.
Jeez, that was only January. Now that we’re caught up, let’s have a look at some sure-fire blockbusters for the coming year. You’ll get another dose of Harry Potter and another golden oldie, Harrison Ford, returns in his most famous role.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is due out in late November and is sure to rule the day as befits the most popular book-series ever. Meanwhile, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” roars back into our contemporary life in late May. Director Steven Spielberg leads Ford, Cate Blanchett and rising star Shia LaBeouf in this “early 50s” go round.
Following on the heels of other successful family adventures of late is “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Appearing in theaters in a couple of weeks, it is based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black and was originally due out this Christmas. Still, it promises to be the first “big” family movie of the year. The plot follows the Grace family as they move into the Spiderwick Estate and find themselves pulled into another magical world. We wonder if there are any missing wardrobes here. You gotta be careful around those things…
Speaking of which, big money is sure to land in the lap of the second installment of the Narnia series in May. In “Prince Caspian,” the Pevensie children… well… find themselves pulled back into the magical world of Narnia, where a millennia has passed since their first adventure there. “Caspian” is the fourth book in the seven-book series by C.S. Lewis, so maybe the theatrical franchise will compress the literary one. In any event, it’s going to be a splendid fantasy adventure.
And if you haven’t had enough sequels yet, you will by the end of this paragraph. “High School Musical 3” hits the big screen in late October as Troy and Gabriella struggle with the idea of being separated as college looms in their future. Oh, God, can you please make it stop? No, wait: The Hannah Montana in 3D movie is already selling out all over the place. Gives the phrase “to die for” new meaning.
FAMILY AND ANIMATION
By way of animation and family films for 2008, we’ve already covered “Narnia” and “Spiderwick,” but there looks to be loads of offerings. The one that has Vault most excited is “The Tale of Despereaux,” due out in December. We couldn’t imagine a better Christmas present.
“Despereaux” is the 2004 winner of the Newberry Award, given annually to the best in young readers’ fiction. The most charming novel Vault has ever had the pleasure of (Reader, it is a delight to be read aloud with the family.), it is the story of a mouse, a spool of thread and a bowl of soup set once upon a time in a French castle. This film begs a classy animated rendition and we have the highest of hopes going in, which is always touch and go; for great expectations are often dashed. Still, if carried off right, it could be the best picture of the year.
“Vault has high hopes for the charming Despereaux Tilling. Could it be the best family film of 2008?”
Another well loved classic of children’s literature is getting the film treatment in October. The very creative eye of Spike Jonze seems a good fit to bring Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” to the silver screen. We are expecting a lively blend of vocal performance, puppetry and animation. Let the wild rumpus begin!
While we are considering wild things, Vault is curious to see what might come of the Wachowski Brothers’ animated foray due out May 9th. You remember Andy and Larry Wachowski, who brought you the magnificent “Matrix” movies and then followed it up in 2005 with the splendidly subversive “V for Vendetta.” This time they’re taking a crack at … ahem … “Speed Racer,” the 1960s animated series about a young driver and his car, the Mach 5. The Wachowskis have earned our respect so, while this seems an odd stretch, we hope at the very least for something smart and clever.
The classic Dr. Seuss story, “Horton Hears a Who,” is due out in March and the trailers look great. Only reservation here is that Jim Carrey also starred as The Grinch in Ron Howard’s deplorable live action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” back in 2000. Carrey is limited here to a vocal performance as an elephant who protects a dust speck sized world from his unbelieving jungle neighbors. We believe in the power of CGI to do for Dr. Seuss what Carrey and Howard could not.
Other animated efforts to look for are “Foodfight,” a story about what goes on in a supermarket after hours; Dreamworks brings us “Kung-Fu Panda” in June; and Pixar brings us the futuristic story of “Wall-E,” about a little robot with big dreams. According to the trailers, “Wall E” is the last of the ideas sketched out at a famous brainstorming session that resulted in “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” I’d say that was a pretty productive luncheon.
In the live action department, we think the trailers for “Penelope” look suspiciously bad. Christina Ricci plays a this-world princess born with a pig snout. Of course, the remedy lies in the attaining of … say it with me now … true love. Reese Witherspoon and James McAvoy costar and we suspect this film will play better than the low bar set by the trailer.
Jodie Foster portrays an agoraphobic author in the live action family yarn, “Nim’s Island,” due out in April. Foster comes to the aid of her number one fan (Abigail Breslin, a busy girl in the two years since her breakout in “Little Miss Sunshine) who’s father has gone missing on the island of the title. MovieWeb observes is as an “Indiana Jones for girls,” which we’re just fine with.
Coming out closer to Halloween is a potentially inventive animation that plays on the monster movie genre. “Igor” follows the iconic sidekick as he dreams of emerging from his master’s shadow to take first prize at the annual Evil Science Fair.
Oh, and lest we forget, DreamWorks is coming late in the year with a follow up to it’s very funny “Madagascar” from back in 2005. “Madagascar: The Crate Escape” follows Alex the lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the giraffe and the rest as they escape the island of Madagascar and land, plop, in the middle of the wilds of Africa. I don’t know about you, but Vault likes this movie’s chances.
DUMB AND DUMBERER
And now we turn our attention to the sort of film that we refer to as “Dumb and Dumber” films. Vault has always had a great deal of difficulty swallowing the lowbrow humor of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and any number of other Saturday Night Live escapees. But we’ve been softened up by funny films like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Talladega Nights.”
Ferrell, whose toddler daughter, Pearl, starred in this wickedly funny viral video has two coming out this year. You’ve probably already seen the trailers for “Semi-Pro,” a story about the Flint Tropics basketball team. And we loved Ferrell’s cross promotional Pepsi ad during the super-bowl. Plus, Ferrell brings back Woody Harrelson, who still can’t jump, for this one and John C. Reilly for a July romp called “Step Brothers.”
LITTLE MOVIES THAT COULD
“In Bruges” is the first feature length film by Martin McDonagh, whose “Six Shooter” won the best live-action short Oscar last year. That’s all it takes to land an A-list budget and stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. Vault is always keen on first films by promising directors and this one is rumored to be a dark action-comedy. The film opened this year’s Sundance festival and hits limited release this month.
“The Band’s Visit,” also in limited release this month, sounds dull. Obviously, then, Vault is ready for something more. See if you can travel with me on this: An orchestra of Egyptian policemen travel to Israel for a gig and get lost in a foreign city. Reading between the lines, Vault thinks this one has fabulous written all over it. You won’t hear about it or see any trailers or anything, but this one is our sleeper.
One of our very favorite directors, David Gordon Green, has two films coming out within five months of each other. In March, we get “Snow Angels,” another small town story (probably in the south, where Green knows the vibe) about love and loss. In August, we get “The Pineapple Express,” which is listed as an action/comedy about a pair of pot smoking buddies who run afoul of a gang. This would appear to be a break in tradition for Green from his regular themes as espoused in films like “George Washington” (2000), “All the Real Girls” (2003), and “Undertow” (2004). Anything you can get your hands on by DGG is a good bet.
SEQUELS / REMAKES & HEROES
We’ve already covered a few sequels in the land above, but, my-oh-my they come faster and harder every year. It is as if the independent film makers out there are the only ones coming with any original ideas. We’ll talk about hero movies in a bit, but first, here’s a list of sequels and remakes:
“Diary of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D,” “The Dark Knight,” “Untitled X-Files Sequel,” “Punisher: War Zone,” “Saw V,” “Death Race,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Fame,” “Star Trek,” “Fahrenheit 9/11 1/2,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” “Get Smart,” “Mama Mia!” and “Quantum of Solace” (James Bond).
“Diary” is a new run at the again burgeoning zombie movie market by it’s creator, George Romero, and “Day” is his remake of his own 1985 effort. No one has more right to tinker with the formula than Romero, but we have to wonder if he’s actually pumping new flesh onto his wonderfully metaphoric trilogy or just cashing in. Diary comes out February 15 and is reported to be an “origins” movie.
Where “Hellboy” is concerned, Vault again appreciates a new run at what was a real gas of an original. Here’s the plot-line of the original lifted from the IMDb: “A demon, raised from infancy after being conjured by and rescued from the Nazis, grows up to become a defender against the forces of darkness.” Now come ON. If that isn’t a dandy story nothing is. And we are thrilled that director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) returns with star Ron Perlman. Don’t EVEN get us started that del Toro is at the helm of “The Hobbit” and “The Hobbit 2” for 2010 and 2011 respectively. That, friends, is another column altogether.
You are doubtless aware of Heath Ledger’s death just a few weeks ago. His last complete film will be the mid-July release of the newest in the Batman series, “The Dark Knight,” where he portrays a very edgy Joker. Vault has always liked the character of the Batman as a deranged vigilante and such a deranged Joker as we’re seeing in the trailers might be just the way to finally draw out the Batman (Christian Bale) character the way it should be.
“The late Heath Ledger could be in line for posthumous honors for his edgy performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ due out in July.”
It is said Ledger’s Joker is based on his first two appearances in the comic books and his portrayal in the graphic novel, “A Killing Joke.” Ledger is said to have developed his performance drawing upon Sid Vicious and the main character from the 1971 film (and one of our all-time favorites) “A Clockwork Orange.” We anticipate a posthumously award winning performance.
They are bringing back some really old ideas in some of these pictures. “Fame” was probably the first (1980) incarnation of a really good idea that died with “High School Musical.” “Star Trek,” due out for Christmas in its 11th incarnation, is supposed to be a prequel to the original, and that’s an old idea that we can still live with. And two sci-fi yarns, “Death Race” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” were really good to begin with. The only sense we see in either of the latter two is that a reworking might reintroduce some really good old movies to a modern audience the way Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg did with “War of the Worlds” in 2005.
Other “hero movies” include “Iron Man” (May 2), and “The Incredible Hulk” (June 13), both of which look like improvements on the form.
“Iron Man” features Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, an uber-rich inventor with a bad heart and a drinking problem. Vault hears the Iron Man story may take on a trilogy approach where all the cast is locked in for the full ride. The arch-villain here is the far eastern “Mandarin” and the second film in the cycle is supposed to deal with the hero’s alcoholism. Downey, who has dealt with addiction, might be just the ticket in a hero movie with human themes.
In 2003, director Ang Lee took a swing and missed at perhaps the most enduring of Marvel’s heroes, “The Hulk.” His directorial style was interesting, but the back-story weighed down the action. We get a new cast and a new director in a fresh beginning. We have precious little to go on except that the story centers on Bruce Banner’s (Edward Norton) flight from authorities while he attempts to cure the condition that turns him into a monster.
Two unusual hero movies are due out in summer with the June release of “Wanted” and the July release of “Hancock.” Wanted deals with an every-man (James McAvoy) who enters a secret society of assassins. In the trailers, this one comes off as a quasi-hero/matrix reload minus the aliens and costumes. More than anything, we expect a very good shoot-em-up. In “Hancock,” Will Smith joins the fray as a hero that Los Angeles no longer wants… Until he enlists a PR man. Charlize Theron costars with Jason Bateman.
ACTION / THRILLERS
As winter wanes, two decent thrillers are on hand to get us to spring-time. “Vantage Point” looks like the real deal as five viewpoints (Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Matthew Fox, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker) are woven together around a plot to kill the President of the United States. “Jumper,” due out next week, stars Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson in a story about teleportation from director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”).
Most interesting to us about the martial arts actioner, “Redbelt,” due out April 25th, is the credibility brought to the form by writer/director David Mamet and a solid cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays a martial arts instructor who, surprise, is drawn into a competition.
The last thriller we thought to mention comes out in June from director M. Night Shyamalan, who despite recent flops is still welcome in the vault. “The Happening” features Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo in a story about a family on the run in the face of a planet-wide natural disaster.
And for our friends who believe poker is a sport, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburn arrive in late March to elevate cards to thriller status with “21,” the true story of six MIT students who take Vegas to the cleaners by learning to count cards.
CHICK FLICKS / COMEDY / ROMANCE
“He’s Just Not Into You” is probably going to be the chick flick of the year. Set in Baltimore with a cast run over by a herd of beautiful people, this can’t miss. Whether or not it’ll be chick-flick-predicatble is another story. Stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Long, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly.
The Clooney (George, that is) is up to a bit of goofy fun in April with a love story (opposite Renee Zellweger) set in the dawn of American Professional Football. It’s called “Leatherheads” and it stars the Clooney, so it’s a good bet to be better than the average in this formula.
For the historical romance set, late February brings us “The Other Boleyn Girl” starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as sisters competing for the … ahem … heart of Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Girls, girls! Be careful what you wish for.
The wonderful Frances McDormand and Amy Adams costar in March in the promising “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” Set in the late 1930s, McDormand plays an out of work governess who gets swept unexpectedly into the social milieux of a big American starlet (Adams).
Another pretty decent smooch-fest stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere in “Nights in Rodanthe” where our pretty couple wind up together on the storm tossed Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Jim Carrey is back in December alongside Zooey Deschanel in a comedy, “Yes Man,” based on the memoir of British author Danny Wallace about a man who decides to change the course of his life by saying yes to everything. Sounds funny in this corner even if the premise reminds somehow of “Liar, Liar.”
And last, but certainly most interesting, we’d like to highlight “My Blueberry Nights.” Directed by acclaimed international director Wong Kar Wai in his first English language film and starring Grammy award winning Nora Jones who sets out looking for life, love and discovery along the famed Route 66. Expect a breakout performance from Jones, who’s backed by an A-list cast including Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.
“Grammy Award winning singer / songwriter Nora Jones debuts in November in Wong Kar Wai’s ‘My Blueberry Nights.”
We have been head-over for Julianne Moore since her stunning turn in “Magnolia” and we always look forward to what she’s up to. In “Savage Grace” Moore portrays real life socialite Barbara Baekeland who was famously stabbed to death in England by her son in 1972. This one is due May 3.
“Romulus, My Father” comes out February 29th and stars Eric Bana (who we don’t like) and Franka Potente (who we’ve adored ever since “Run, Lola, Run” and “The Bourne Identity”) and centers on the story of a couple which faces adversity in raising their son. Sounds dull, but this is just the kind of vague plot line that one often finds attached to great European dramas: “A woman attempts to do good for others (Amelie).” “A man moves to the countryside and attempts to start a farm (Jean de Florette).” “A boy wants to find his mother (The Italian).” See what we mean?
April 4th brings the limited release of “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” a story about an overworked Parisian mother (Juliette Binoche) who hires a Taiwanese sitter to look after her kids. Her young son forms a special bond with the sitter as they explore their imaginary world in the back streets of the city where they are followed about by a strange red balloon. It says in this corner that director Hsiao-hsien Hou’s mixed-culture film looks to be one of the real winners of the year.
Vault was struck back in 1998 by writer/director Don McKellar’s “Last Night.” Thus, Vault anticipates director Fernando Meirelles’ film using a McKellar screenplay. “Blindness” has some fantastic elements as the population of a town suffers blindness except for the town doctor’s wife. Nice cast including Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal and Danny Glover.
In October, Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) brings “Valkyrie,” Tom Cruise’s latest project, to the screen. Based on the true events surrounding a plot to assassinate Hitler, it also stars Kenneth Branagh, as good a 1-2 bet as you can make. Let’s not judge Mr. Cruise’s movies based on his eminent weirdness, okay? The guy’s a fine actor and he can worship marigolds as long as he keeps making quality films.
THE MOSH PIT
That’s just about it for 2008, but we have a muddle of films that we either know little about or don’t know how to classify. Perhaps some real gems follow.
Director Martin Scorsese followed The Rolling Stones on their “Big Bang Tour” back in 2006 and produced another of his musical documentaries, “Shine a Light.” The film was pushed back from a 2007 release, but if you’ve seen Scorsese’s document on The Band (1978’s “The Last Waltz”) then you know you’re in for a decent rock-n-roll romp.
Ridley Scott is working on an untitled film for release in late October starring Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. It looks to be an espionage thriller about a CIA agent attempting to catch a middle-eastern terrorist leader.
Director Clint Eastwood is working on a November release for “The Changeling,” a story about a woman (Angelina Jolie) who suspects her abducted and rescued child has been replaced by an impostor. Sounds weird, but in the “truth is stranger than fiction” department, the story is based on actual events from 1920s Los Angeles. Sure bet here, because Eastwood don’t make no junk.
Also in November, expect stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton in a fantasy about a man who begins aging backwards from his 50th birthday. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
On December 19th we look for “Revolutionary Road,” director Sam Mendes’ drama about a couple (DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) who try to find fulfillment by breaking conventions in an age of conformity. Sounds interesting in this corner, even though we haven’t much to go one at this point. It is the long range predictions that are the most prone to error. At almost a year from release, one tends to go with a good production company (Dreamworks), director and cast.
Adam Sandler has a Disney family feature called “Bedtime Stories” due out for Christmas. In it, the bedtime stories Sandler tells his niece and nephew begin coming true.
A few notes of interest and you can print this article off to guide you through 2008 and we’ll check back with our “2008 Rewind” next January.
William H. Macy, one of our favorite actors, has no less than ten projects in the hopper this year. The one that most intrigues us is “House of Re-Animator.” Perhaps the most ghoulish horror film in decades was the original “Re-Animator” and we’d be interested to see what the mad doctor does with a deceased President of the United States.
The amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in “Doubt” this year, which centers on a true story of sexual abuse in the clergy.
Our favorite animator, Hayao Miyazaki, has “Ponyo on a Cliff” due out this year, but we wonder whether or not the master’s work will be distributed promptly in America. The story is about a five year-old and his goldfish princess who dreams of becoming human.
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (who have never produced a substandard effort), have the comedy/drama “Burn After Reading” due in September. It deals with two guys who come into possession of secret government documents and what they decide to do with them. Great cast: Pitt, Clooney, Swinton, Malkovich and McDormand, among others.
An unknown release date (i.e: late) for the Kenneth Lonergan drama, “Margaret,” doesn’t dim our expectations for a cast of Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo in a story about a woman who witnesses a bus accident that may or may not have been an accident. One cannot escape comparison to Atom Egoyan’s 1997 masterpiece, “The Sweet Hereafter” which dealt with similar themes.
And last of all is a film we’d like to note that is in pre-production but which we are champing at the bit to see. “The Road,” based on Cormac McCarthy’s chilling novel of a man and his son’s survival in a post-apocalyptic world, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. We’ve never read such a bone-crunching novel and the film has strong possibilities to achieve greatness. Director John Hillcoat merely needs to execute well and his actors (Viggo Mortenson, Charlize Theron and Kodi Smit-McPhee) need only channel what ought to be a spare scri pt.
Here’s hoping anyway. That, my friends, concludes about a month’s worth of research and the tossing out of hundreds of film titles that you can safely ignore. Use this list as a film guide to a better 2008 in the cinema. A toast to 2007 and greetings to 2008. Until 2009, Enjoy!