Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Ebert and upcoming movies

Perhaps more than any figure other than Steven Spielberg or possibly Martin Scorsese, Roger Ebert demonstrates the development of American film since 1970. The late sixties and early seventies marked a significant shift in movies - arguably one of only two or three such shifts in the past century of film-making - from the big-studio Hollywood Blacklist era to the more independent, subversive, counter-cultural films that would mark that period; this shift was perhaps clearest in the difference between the Best Picture winners for 1968 and 1969 - Oliver! and Midnight Cowboy, respectively. Ebert started as a screenwriter but soon found that his love for cinema was better served by discussing film, rather than simply creating it. He crafted a voice in appreciating film as an art form, and he influenced countless contemporaries and generations of cinephiles, including me.
Roger Ebert taught me how to really appreciate film. I remember watching Siskel & Ebert most weeks even as a teenager to see which films they would like and which they would find abhorrent and whether their picks would match my own or my expectations of what they would pick and pan. Siskel and Ebert found a balance between the two of them, managing to be intellectual without being pretentious, enjoying films without sacrificing quality, and allowing movies to be movies. Some critics have trouble striking that balance, either being incredibly crusty and hating everything (ie. Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail or Owen Glieberman of EW) or overly effusive, gushing about movies that there is no reason to gush over (sometimes Lisa Schwarzbaum of EW). While Siskel tended at times to be more of a gusher, Ebert was more sparing in his praise and more scathing in his criticism; readers got the sense that Ebert took it as personal offense when a movie was poorly constructed, particularly if it seemed like it should not have been. Whereas Siskel and Ebert's "Two Thumbs Up" was given out more liberally, he kept careful consideration of the brand of "four stars", reserving that for the kinds of movies that really stood out. And, for the most part, it did not matter to which genre the film belonged - Ebert was willing to find enjoyment and value in all genres (if it was there to be found). He found base-level comedies featuring scatological humour and gross-em-out horror flicks hard to enjoy not because of content, but because of quality. Although as a teen, I was mostly an unabashed fanboy and action movie enthusiast - I initially took after my parents' tastes - as I watched more films, I found myself agreeing more and more with Ebert's perspective. It wasn't that I agreed with him because he said it; I agreed with him because he was usually right. Ebert helped me learn a new language and style of appreciating film, particularly in my early 20s when I started to pursue a wider variety of fare. I found myself understanding and appreciating his point of view, even if I did not always agree, and it seemed like Ebert, more than most other critics, was close to a "kindred spirit" in my love of movies. I am sad that he will not be around to review any more movies, but his legacy will carry on - and I am glad to be a part - however small - of that legacy.
With this all in mind, I thought this would be an appropriate juncture to discuss the movies to which I am looking forward over the next few three months, the second quarter of the year. After a particularly uninspired first quarter, there are actually a decent number of movies I would like to see from now until June. The nice thing is that I do not have much of a backlog right now, as the only movies I have wanted to see so far this year (other than the many 2012 releases I have enjoyed in past months) involved dinosaurs from another era: Jurassic Park 3D and A Good Day To Die Hard (which I don't want to see as much as I feel the need to be able to mock openly) (see what I did there?). The next few months feature a mix of intense relationally-driven dramas, sci-fi spectacles, and abstract independent films, all of which attract my attention. Here is my countdown of all of the films in which I have at least passing interest over the next three months, even if it's in deliberate ignorance.

Deliberate Omissions:
20. The Hangover Part III - I've never seen the first two; maybe I should sometime, but now is not that time.
19. This Is The End - Even though the idea of celebrities dealing with the end of the world seems funny, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg tend to be fairly sophmoric in their humour, and I suspect that this effort would probably be more of the same kind of tripe present in Superbad and Pineapple Express. I'll probably pass - though some good buzz might change that.

Wild Cards:
18. Epic (May 24) - It's an animated film, and although it does not come with great expectations (it is, after all, from Fox Animation), it's not one of the endless parade of sequels that have peppered all non-Pixar animation in recent years, so it might be worth seeing. I'll reserve judgment until it's released.
17. The East (May 31) - This indie is a thriller that focuses on people infiltrating a cult-like anarchistic syndicate. It seems like perfect fodder for Netflix in a few months, and Ellen Page is part of the cast, so I might check it out sometime.
16. The Place Beyond The Pines (April 12) - Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper together make this crime drama interesting enough to put on my list.
15. Pain & Gain (April 26) and 14. The Bling Ring (June 14) - Two stories based on very strange real-life events from two very different stylistic directors - Michael Bay and Sofia Coppola, respectively. They could be really engaging, interesting films, or they could be complete flops. I'll wait on these two.
13. Upstream Color (April 5) - The last film made by Shane Carruth, the director and star of this reportedly abstract-beyond-understanding film, was 2004's Primer. That's enough to at least make me want to see this one.

Mild to Medium Interest:
12. 42 (April 12) - I am not usually a fan of baseball films, but this telling of the story of Jackie Robinson could be really fascinating.
11. To The Wonder (April 12) - It seems oddly appropriate that Terrence Malick's latest film was the last film that Ebert reviewed. It seems like in some ways it might be even more abstract than Malick's previous film, The Tree of Life, which I think will be interesting to see. When someone like Malick makes a film, I feel the need to at least see it.
10. After Earth (June 7) and 9. Oblivion (April 19) - Two high-concept science-fiction films about life after a global extinction level event, both of which feature big stars and directors with a need to (re-)establish reputations. Joseph Krosinski directs Oblivion, with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, and M. Night Shyamalan tries to return to form from a decade ago with his story written by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) and starring Will and Jaden Smith. I'll see them both fairly quickly, but who knows if they will be any good; then again, can they be worse than Prometheus?
8. Iron Man 3 (May 3) and 7. Man of Steel (June 14) - Two superhero movies I know I will see, even though neither of these two heroes are particularly interesting to me. Still, I'll give them a shot to see what they do with their respective stories.

Movies I Can't Miss:
6. Monsters University (June 21) - Pixar releasing a prequel to one of my favourite animated movies ever? I'm stoked.
5. Much Ado About Nothing (June 7) - Joss Whedon brings Shakespeare's classic comedy into the contemporary world, with Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. What's not to love?
4. The Heat (June 28) - Director Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids) brings Melissa McCarthy back as a foul-mouthed street cop and pairs her with straight-laced federal agent Sandra Bullock. This looks like it might be even funnier than Bridesmaids; just watch the red-band trailer and try not to laugh.
3. World War Z (June 21) - Brad Pitt faces off against super-fast zombies in this adaptation of Max Brooks' seminal zombie novel. I know it's gone through retooling, and it looks different than the book, but I still need to see it.
2. The Great Gatsby (May 10) - One of the most colourful directors brings one of the most colourful stories of the last century to life. Gatsby is one of my favourite novels to teach, and I cannot wait to see what Baz Luhrman does with the story, especially with Leo DiCaprio at Gatsby, and especially in 3D.
1. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17) - Was there any doubt that this would be my number one anticipated movie? Seriously - Benedict Cumberbatch apparently destroys the Earth and all kinds of awesomeness ensues. And it's an even-numbered Star Trek, which means it's going to be super-awesome. The question I have is not, "will this be a good Star Trek movie?", it's "will this top Wrath of Khan, Undiscovered Country, and First Contact and be the best Star Trek movie?" But there are no expectations at all...man, this movie had better not let me down.

There you have it - my most anticipated movies of the next three months. It seems like there's something interesting being released almost every week in May and June, so I'll have to pace myself. Especially if I want to see Star Trek Into Darkness multiple times. But there's no pressure. What are your most anticipated movies of the next three months?

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