Synopsis: This chilling prequel, set before the haunting of the Lambert family, reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.
Release Date: May 29, 2015
Thoughts: Though 2010’s Insidious had a healthy share of moments that scared the ever-lovin’ beejeezus out of me I was less impressed with the 2013 sequel that relied heavily on cheap scares and had so many plot holes it should have come with a promotional slice of Swiss cheese. With original director James Wan (The Conjuring) off working on another film, writer Leigh Whannell moves into the director chair for this third installment designed as a prequel. This may turn out to be a good thing because it gives us a chance to spend more time with the most interesting character of the first films…psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, A Nightmare on Elm Street) as she helps another family rid themselves of some nasty demons. Hopefully Whannell learned from the missteps of the last film…though you’d never know it from the conventional looking teaser. Still, I’m willing to read another chapter in Whannell’s terror tale.
Synopsis: A single mother moves her three children into the haunted house not knowing of the house’s bloody history.
Release Date: January 2, 2015
Thoughts: Though rarely mentioned in the same breath as multi-sequel franchise films like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween, the Amityville series of films never reached the same level of success as its slice and dice cousins. The original 1979 tale of the New England house of horrors may be famous by name but is nearly unwatchable now…not even worth a chuckle at its earnest urge to scare. The first sequel (Amityville II: The Possession) remains the best of the bunch with terror that feels a little too real while the last six films (this reboot would be the 12th outing) have all gone directly to video…many deservedly so. It’s been 10 years since an Amityville film has lit up a theater marquee and while this effort looks like it will contain your typically standard bunch of scares, never underestimate the power of a fright flick that plays on your fears of what goes bump in the night.
Synopsis: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Release Date: April 10, 2015
Thoughts: As we move ever forward with technology the realities of human-like artificial intelligence are coming into a sharp focus. Recent films like The Machine and Autómata have brought renewed cinematic attention to the leveraging of our resources in creating the perfect machine…machines that might just turn out to harm us. Not that the man vs. machine plot is anything new but Ex Machina looks to turn the tables on some tired conventions by pondering who the real enemy is. Featuring the trio of intriguing stars Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina), and Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) and scripted/directed by Alex Garland (Sunshine), the dynamite first trailer for the stylish sci-fi shows nice promise for a genre in need of a jolt.
Review: For a while, it seemed like the age of Keanu had passed…not that anyone really noticed. Lampooned endlessly for his surfer dude line readings and tendency to make even Shakespearean dialogue sound like he was ordering at Burger King, if you look over his credits over at IMBD you’ll see an impressive list of work that spans various genres and A-List directors. As of late, Reeves has been doing some more work behind the camera only coming out occasionally for films like the troubled 47 Ronin in 2013.
So it was with mild trepidation that I ventured into an early look at the latest Reeves opus to hit the big screen, a dark revenge action flick that pulls no punches and lands nearly everyone it throws. While it’s not the revisionist career-defining moment for Reeves (that most surely came with The Matrix) it’s a wake-up call to those who thought his career was on life-support.
These revenge dramas are all the rage as of late, buoyed by the endless Taken films that even by the first sequel had already felt played out. I was nervous that John Wick would fit into that category of trashy style over substance trifles but what we have here is a film with grit, muscle, blood, and bone…and a sophisticated one at that.
I’m usually not a fan of movies that open with the ending and then flashback but John Wick starts off with such an unexpected bang that it’s a forgivable sin. Recently widowed Wick hasn’t even had time to clear out his wife’s side of the bathroom counter before two important things enter his life. The first is an adorable pup intended as his companion and the other is a Russian mobster’s son that takes a liking to Wick’s classic car. When Wick loses more than his prized car, he retaliates by using the skills he employed in his younger days as a killer for hire.
Part of the fun of John Wick is Derek Kolstad’s script which lets us peek behind the curtain at a society of professional killers (like Adrianne Palicki’s wicked Ms. Perkins) that may be deadly assassins but who also live by a code of honorable ethics. If one of their own breaks this code, there’s hell to pay — just one of the many pleasures the film offers up to action hungry viewers. As John goes after the son of former employer now city kingpin (Michael Nyqvist, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) the bullets fly and limbs break in several gloriously staged sequences of ultra violence.
Co-directed by Reeves’s sometime stunt double Chad Stahelski (along with fellow first time director David Leitch) , the film has an appealing slate of bad guys/gals that all take their turn putting out John’s, um, wick. Playing out against some well-designed set-pieces lit by a neon glow, the film feels more alive the as the bodies pile up. Unafraid to spatter blood all over the walls and our lead actor, the filmmakers wisely resist the urge to let the film drift into camp territory. There’s no extraneous dialogue or character development happening here — it’s an efficient film at every turn.
A clear audience-pleaser if the screening crowd I saw this with is any indication, John Wick is a nice fall surprise for those naysayers that wrote off Reeves a decade ago, serving as a nice reminder that the actor can still pick a winner.
Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to The Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.
Release Date: May 1, 2015
Thoughts: Summer 2014 isn’t quite a distant memory yet (though with the paltry offerings it very well should be) but audiences are already looking toward the treasures that 2015 has to offer. First on most every “must-see” list is this sequel to the super-duper big time hit of 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers which sees the whole gang in front of behind the camera reunited to drum up some more box office gold for Walt Disney and Marvel Studios. Like The Dark Knight, I wonder if the bar has been raised so far that the sequel won’t be able to reach the same heights…but never count dependable writer/director Joss Whedon out because it’s clear he knows what he’s doing. The countdown to May 2015 has officially begun with this nifty little tease at what deadly force The Avengers are about to face…I know I’ll have that dang Pinocchio tune in my head for days now.
Synopsis: A look at the mysterious relationship between Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his teenage bride Effie Gray.
Release Date: November 2014
Thoughts: A film about an art critic from the Victorian era and his child bride? Wake me when it’s on Netflix…but wait, look at the cast! Is that Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) in a wig with hints of the Bride of Frankenstein and Cruella De Vil? Interesting. And is Julie Walters (Brave) getting a mean streak toward poor Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) as our titular character? Hmm. I’m awake now but still need to be sold… Oh, so Thompson not only co-stars in the film but wrote the screenplay as well…and it’s being compared favorably to Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day? Well then…you have my attention. Though I may need to be roused during the film, I’m on board to make some time for this one.
Synopsis: The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Thoughts: Representing the first animated collaboration between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Marvel, Big Hero 6 has the potential to show off the best of what two proven franchise starters can do when they put their creative talents together. Based on a comic book of the same name, it’s interesting that you can clearly see the Disney influence reflected in the look of the film and also a clear indication that this is a Marvel adventure through and through. I’ve had zero exposure to the source material so I can’t tell you how much of a fan base this is coming in with…but Disney had a whopper of a hit last year in the same time period (Frozen) and Marvel hasn’t stumbled yet. Expect big things for this big hero.
Synopsis: Art dealer Charles Mortdecai searches for a stolen painting that’s reportedly linked to a lost bank account filled with Nazi gold.
Release Date: January 23, 2015
Thoughts: The literary anti-hero Charles Mortdecai makes his long-awaited big screen debut in a film that seems perfectly pitched to be a Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger) vehicle. My own personal qualms with the intriguing actor taking on some less than worthy projects aside, I have to say that this might be the right balance of quirky comedy and action mayhem that Depp has long sought with frequent collaborator Tim Burton (Dark Shadows). Here he reteams with his Secret Window director David Koepp (Premium Rush) and I hope the results are as promising as they appear to be.
Synopsis: An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.
Release Date: December 19, 2014
Thoughts: I tend to forget how much I enjoy the work of writer/director Mike Leigh. A filmmaker interested in the unconventional life, he’s provided great roles for some of our most dependable actors over the years. From exploring the class system in Secrets & Lies to his bouncy biopic of Gilbert and Sullivan in Topsy-Turvy, Leigh’s films are long but rarely feel like you’ve been seated more than a few minutes. His newest picture features the always dependable Timothy Spall (Room on the Broom) as painter J.M.W. Turner, a landscape artist known as ‘the painter of light’ during the Romantic period. Sounds like stodgy stuff but in Leigh’s hands I wouldn’t be surprised to see this lauded as one of the better pictures of the year.
Synopsis: Young Thomas is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits. His first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement while the Spook is away.
Release Date: February 6, 2015
Thoughts: In this day and age where movies are saturating the cinemas week after week, I’ve taken to not paying much attention when a film gets its release date moved in order to steer clear of getting lost in the wake of another. Still, with a film like Seventh Son it’s hard to ignore the smell of turkey from this wizards and witches saga based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. Some chalk up its long delay to the dissolution of a partnership between Warner Brothers and the production company Legendary Studios but I think it’s because the film looks positively goofy. I can’t for the life of me understand why Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) and Julianne Moore (Non-Stop) consented to this; though both actors have made some off-the-wall choices in between more celebrated works as of late. The day of reckoning for all will come in early February; I hope we have other things to distract us that weekend.