by JAMES BRIGHAM
Zodiac (March 2)
I’m anticipating this film to be a semi-fictionalized ensemble drama revolving around the bizarre, unsolved serial killings from California in the 1960’s/70’s. Director David Fincher is a visionary, to be sure, but I’m slightly worried about him going back to the well of gritty, murder story after Se7en. I’m also a little wary of a film being made about a mysterious murderer who is neither in prison (David Berkowitz had been in jail for years by the time Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam was released) nor dead (as Jack the Ripper and the Black Dahlia killer(s) most certainly are by now). There’s something unsettling about knowing the Zodiac killer could be watching this movie with you in the same theatre. Brrr….
300 (March 9)
Zach Snyder delivered something a few years back that I thought would be impossible. He directed an enjoyable remake to one of my favorite movies of all time: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a social commentary / zombie mayhem masterpiece. Now he’s set his eyes on bringing one of comic creator Frank Miller’s works to the big screen with 300: an insanely over-the-top retelling of the small cadre of Spartans who stood against hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the Persian Empire.
Heavily reliant on digital backdrops and CGI, I suspect 300 will deliver a bevy of artistic visuals, both historically based and otherworldly inspired. If the movie contains half the energy seen in the teaser, I’ll be happily screaming along with King Leonidas, as the power of Sparta is declared onscreen.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (March 23)
Say what you will about American pop culture in the 1980’s: the questionable fashion, the lackluster mainstream radio hits, and the vapid mall culture. To be a kid growing up in that decade meant having access to some of the coolest toys imaginable. In my grandiose opinion, the TMNT stood at the top of the heap. Transformers, Hot Wheels, and He-Man were mere scavengers on the toy savannah. The ninja turtles line scoured the land in a mode of fearless bravado, knowing it was truly king of the wilderness.
As I grew up, my awareness expanded and I learned of the turtles’ origin as a small-press, black and white, edgy comic book whose creators just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Knowing that Peter Laird (co-creator and current creative director of the characters) green lit this computer-animated work fills me with glee. I suspect audiences will find a lot to like with this movie as it will seemingly have something for every kind of viewer: the nostalgia driven twenty-something, the bored parent looking to occupy a kid, the hardcore comic collector fan, and the furry lifestylers.
Grind House (April 6)
In a lot of ways, I’m a man out of time. I dig the ridiculously over-the-top action movies with the cheesy music. To see a film plot broken up by a completely unnecessary scene of sexual titillation never really bothers me. And don’t get me started on my love affair with lowbrow, blood drenched, comedic-horror movies. All of this stuff was prevalent in the hey-day of the drive-in in the late 60’s / early 70’s. I missed that era by a wide margin. Too bad, so sad.
Luckily, there are filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez helping to bring back such stories in all their booty shaking, gun toting, car flipping gritty glory. Grind House promises to deliver two feature length movies along with a cornucopia of fictional trailers. Death Proof, Tarantino’s segment, looks to be a slasher movie about a vengeance seeking stunt driver. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is rife with zombies and unusual weaponry (Rose McGowan has a machine gun leg, for instance). Joe Bob Briggs would be proud.
The Simpsons Movie (July 27)
The arrival of the long promised Simpsons movie is imminent, so why am I not more excited? It’s not like I’m one of those people who rants and raves about how bad the show has become. On the contrary, on those rare occasions I do watch, I find it to be nearly as funny as I remember. Maybe it’s just complacency setting in. It’s a fixture now that people expect to always be around and never go anywhere. A movie just seems to be another day in “Simpsons World,” as opposed to a groundbreaking event (like it might have been say, oh, 10 years ago).
That doesn’t mean I’m not anticipating it. I just don’t know how to categorize my interest. I’ll be there on opening day, but I don’t currently foresee being giddy with enthusiasm – at least until Homer does something. Literally. Homer Simpson equals hilarity whether he’s raising a lobster or driving a plow truck.
Next (September 28)
Next has a lot going for it. It’s a sci-fi story based on a work by Philip K. Dick, whose previous stories were adapted into one of my favorite movies of all time (Blade Runner: Director’s Cut) and one of my most beloved movies from 2006 (A Scanner Darkly). Toss in the acting fury of Nic Cage and Jessica Biel as eye-candy and you’ve got a formula that even Dick’s drug using, paranoid mind would have accepted without question. (Or would he?)
Fred Claus (November 9)
This movie’s from the team that brought us Wedding Crashers, a funny flick that managed to crack me up even though I was watching it while drunk at the drive-in. Some would argue that those factors likely contributed to the comedy and traditionally wouldn’t detract from it. To those people I simply say, “Witch! Get out of my mind!”
Vince Vaughn plays the titular role as the overlooked brother of Santa Claus, played by Paul Giamatti. I can already imagine the repartee between these two, and I salivate in readiness. Soon your quotes will become mine, Fred Claus. I will use them endlessly at bars and on road trips to amuse men and women alike. And you can’t stop me.
Beowulf (November 16)
High school English students will no longer have to worry about battling the complexity of ye olde English now that Hollywood has set its sights on a film adaptation of Beowulf. The makers of Cliff Notes must be quaking in their boots. Still, with photo-realistic CGI, direction by Robert Zemeckis, and a screenplay adapted by Neil Gaiman, it sounds like a worthwhile project with great respect for the source material. Unlike that straight-to-video futuristic setting that the Christopher Lambert version reportedly had.
I Am Legend (November 21)
I Am Legend has a long and rich history. Richard Matheson’s novel has been adapted into film twice before. Once as Vincent Price’s helmed The Last Man on Earth in 1964 and then in 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. It’s often cited as a staple of horror and post-apocalyptic fiction.
This modern version has gone through numerous iterations. The most famous of which I remember reading about on Ain’t It Cool News in the late 90’s that was written by Mark Protosevich with Ridley Scott attached to direct with Arnold Schwarzenegger to star. This version apparently never reached development due to spiraling budget predictions. Can Will Smith and the director of Constantine succeed where so many have tried and/or fallen before?
The Golden Compass (December 27)
I just started reading Philip Pullman’s novel (book 1 in His Dark Materials saga) and I’m getting a big kick out of it. The story reminds me more of the tone found in fantasy books like A Wrinkle in Time and less like the high-fantasy seen in works derived from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. It makes me wonder if the studio knew what type of story it was acquiring the rights to, what with the portrayal of a sinister organization in the vein of the Catholic Church appearing.