Ten Films To Look For In 2014

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Even though next year promises to be a mega-tsunami in terms of mind-blowing cinematic genre releases, this year won’t be a slouch. Superheroes, sequels and some original productions all look promising. These are are some of the most anticipated releases for 2014. Of course, some of them may wind up being major disappointments, while other films that weren’t even listed may turn out to be some of this year’s best. We’ll see…

10. Robocop

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Yes, many genre fans are ripping this remake of the 1987 classic a new one. They point out the production problems and hate the monochromatic look of the redesigned Robocop suit. But in the end, at least from the trailers, it looks pretty badass. A lot will depend on if director José Padilha can deliver the action and somehow repeat the dark humor from the original and maybe add some humanity. (Release Date: Feb. 12)

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans reprises his role as Marvel’s capamman out of time, Steve Rogers/Captain America. This sequel takes a decidedly different slant than its World War II-based predecessor. Now set in modern times, the film takes on more of a spy thriller vibe as Steve struggles to adjust to the new world and is embroiled in a plot that involves the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and his old partner, the deadly Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). (Release Date April 4)

8. The Hobbit: There And Back Again

Unless Peter Jackson plans on directing The Silmarillion, this is his final Middle Earth installment. Even for those that aren’t fans of Jackson’s interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, this final film in The Hobbit trilogy is an event to celebrate. Now once and for all, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf comrades have their final confrontations with the evil orcs and the dragon Smaug. (Release Date: Dec. 17).

7. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

First of all, the trailer for the newest Spider-Man flick looks amazing (pardon the pun) with all the spectacular (ahem) action scenes involving our favorite Wall-Crawler (Andrew Garfield) fighting Electro (Jamie Foxx). However, can this movie avoid the curse of other superhero sequels that have too many supervillains? Along with Electro, there’s a mechanized version of the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and the most intriguing villain of the bunch: a rebooted Green Goblin (either Chris Cooper or Dane DeHaan). (Release Date: May 2)

6. Interstellar

interSteven Spielberg was supposed to direct this movie about scientists and explorers sent on a mission to study a newly discovered wormhole. However, he let it slip through his hands and now acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has taken over. The teaser trailer released last month perfectly captured that feeling of humanity desiring a new challenge and to push past our limitations of space travel. Given Nolan’s track record for thought-provoking and titillating fare, Interstellar should be one of the year’s best films. (Release Date: Nov. 7)

5. Guardians Of The Galaxy  

This superhero/space opera mash up from Marvel Studios is one of the most anticipated upcoming releases. From the casting (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord) to the fact that the studio and director James Gunn had the gumption to include Rocket Raccoon and Groot, a talking tree, in this film, Guardians Of The Galaxy has to be seen. It can be the next big sci-fi hit or the new Howard The Duck. Hopefully it won’t suffer the fate of other misunderstood films that failed recently in the box office like John Carter and Pacific Rim. (Release Date: Aug. 1)

4. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

The 2011 reboot/prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was an unexpected surprise hit with audiences and critics. Prior to its release, few predicted that it would reinvigorate the Planet Of The Apes franchise. This sequel takes place eight years after the 2011 film after a plague has decimated humanity and given genetically enhanced apes a chance to take over the world. Humanity’s remnants led by Gary Oldman head into a fateful confrontation with their competitors, who are led by the now-embittered chimp leader Caesar (Andy Serkis). (Release Date: July 11)

3. Godzilla

Our favorite kaiju finally gets the top treatment godzillathat he deserves from Hollywood! Forget that bastardization that came out in ’98 with that wimpy reptile and that geeky Ferris Bueller dude! After all these years, director Gareth Edwards and the producers have promised this take will be the Godzilla film that we’ve been waiting for; where the behemoth is an indestructible force of nature and is treated as one. Toss in Bryan Cranston, one of the best actors around, scenes of chaos and destruction, and this has the potential to be a bonafide classic. (Release Date: May 16)

2.Transcendence

First-time director Wally Pfister, who worked as a cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s films presents this cautionary film that capitalizes on our fears of A.I.s.  Johnny Depp stars as a scientist trying to create a true A.I. but is mortally wounded by an anti-tech group. Before dying, his consciousness is uploaded into a computer and the world’s first A.I. is born. There is a chilling aspect in the trailer released for Transcendence as the A.I. begins to take over the world. Think of it as an updated version of Colossus: The Forbin Project but with the A.I. being able to control matter itself. In a film calendar flooded with sequels and reboots this original work stands out. (Release Date: April 8)

1. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Finally, a big-screen adaptation of one of the greatest comic book stories ever done. In a post-apocalyptic future, mutants face extinction at the hands of out-of-control Sentinel robots. In desperation, one mutant time travels to the past to prevent the mutant holocaust. Director Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men film franchise in this followup to X-Men: First Class. The key cast members from that film (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence), plus those from Singer’s era of X-Men films (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman) return in an all-star lineup. Bryan Singer and company are promising a major epic, and from what has been seen, it looks like Singer will deliver a high-quality superhero film that could be one of the best ones yet. (Release Date: May 23)

Bear in mind that the release dates are subject to change, even to the point of a film or two being pushed back a year. Other highly anticipated films include Big Hero 6 (Disney Studios presents its first animated film based on Marvel Comics superheroes),  edgeEdge Of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise stars as an inexperienced soldier who repeatedly dies fighting aliens and is continuously resurrected into his past with more combat knowledge each time), The Giver (A teenager in a future perfect society finds out that to achieve perfection his world gave up on humanity), Home (Dreamworks Animation effort about a girl who befriends a misfit alien that is part of an Earth invasion force), How To Train Your Dragon 2 (One of Dreamworks Animation’s best films about a boy and his pet dragon gets the sequel treatment), The Hunger Games: Mockinjay, Part 1 (the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy is getting the Harry Potter and Twilight treatment and is being cut into two parts), I, Frankenstein (delayed from last year, it stars Aaron Eckhart as the title character in modern times fighting for humanity), Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis attempt another comeback with this sci-fi action piece starring Mila Kunis), and Welcome To Yesterday (a found-footage film about young adults discovering time travel and its disastrous consequences).

José Soto

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Looking Ahead To Next Summer’s Films

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Even though summer doesn’t officially end for another couple of weeks, the summer movie season is basically over. Gone now are the blockbuster genre releases. It’s been a mixed bag frankly for this summer. Many of this year’s summer movies were entertaining but were riddled with plot holes or had pacing issues. So without the glow of a recent movie release, we fans can only look forward to next summer’s planned schedule. These are the movies to get excited about as we count down the months.

spideyThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 After successfully rebooting the Spider-Man movie franchise, Marc Webb returns to direct the latest Spider-Man movie, which features Jamie Foxx as Electro, Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn and Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone also reprise their roles as Spider-Man and Gwen Stacey. May 2

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of the best reboots that reinvented the Planet Of The Apes franchise with a captivating yarn about an ape with enhanced intelligence. Andy Serkis, who stole the last film with his mo-cap performance of Ceasar the super-intelligent ape, returns as apes and humanity battle for dominion of the planet. July 18

Edge Of Tomorrow This was originally called All You Need Is Kill but some marketing genius probably thought the new title was catchier. Anyway, Tom Cruise stars as an alien-fighting soldier in the future who is forced into a time loop where he is killed over and over again. June 6

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Godzilla Director Gareth Edwards hopes to banish those dreary memories from the last American take on the giant Kaiju. The director promises that the iconic monster will be presented as a true destructive force of nature; plus there will be epic monster battles! May 16

The Good Dinosaur Even though the film’s director was recently removed, Pixar’s latest offering sounds terrific. Some of the studio’s recent releases weren’t too impressive but this one may be one of their better efforts. May 30
UPDATE: We just learned that The Good Dinosaur has been delayed until Nov. 2015. Bummer.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Will this Marvel film be their version of Star Wars or next year’s Pacific Rim? The clip we had on our Facebook page that was taken down was very intriguing and the brief glimpses of Rocket Raccoon captured our attention. Aug 1

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Dreamworks has proven lately that they are an animation studio to be taken seriously. The original film about a Viking boy and his pet dragon was a surprising, rousing success and the recent teaser of the sequel looks just as enthralling. June 20

Jupiter Ascending The Wachowskis, famous for The Matrix films, are looking for a big comeback. This film, which stars Mila Kunis as a futuristic cleaning lady who has a great destiny, may or may not be that coveted comeback vehicle. Too soon to tell. July 25

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Having decimated the Transformers film franchise, Michael Bay is now aiming his sights on the ’80s’ other big toy phenomenon. Only he isn’t directing the film, however it stars Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  Aug 8

Transformers: Age Of Extinction The fourth film in the reviled, yet popular franchise already sounds better than the others since it doesn’t feature Shia LaBeouf, but it’s still directed by Michael Bay. Let’s hope the shaky-cam is under control. June 27

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men film franchise with an epic tale involving time travel that bridges many of the franchise’s most popular characters like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy) and Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender). May 23

 

Remaking Sci-Fi Films

People have been grumbling lately about remakes or reboots and their validity. The common gripe is that many of the remakes are unnecessary and don’t offer anything new. The new version of Total Recall is a topical example. For producers they offer, in theory, a way to bring in new audiences without trying to explain what happened in the original films and supposedly improve on the original films’ concepts. In the case of Total Recall, it’s hard to justify the remake having nothing to do with Mars and all of its outlandish mutants. But that’s for viewers to decide.

While there are some remakes that are outright duds (still cannot forgive anyone involved with the tepid Rollerball remake), some are actually excellent and outshine the original (the 1986 remake of The Fly comes to mind). Whether or not the reboots/remakes are good or add anything comes down to the talent and vision behind the scenes. But that’s not a guarantee. Look at Tim Burton’s remake of Planet Of The Apes which was a big disappointment. It had the talent but somehow it didn’t gel together. Gone was the original’s poignant social commentary although the makeup was better. OTH, years later, Rupert Wyatt, a virtual unknown, helmed the surprisingly great Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and the film functioned as any good reboot should: it kick started the dormant franchise. Another film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, will be out in 2014.

  

When successful, reboots/remakes take the franchise into a new direction and sometimes make viewers forget about the validity of the originals. Going back to The Fly, director David Cronenberg’s remake reinvented the film’s premise with  updated science and the result was terrifying. The main character Seth Brundle had his gene sequence rewritten and was morphed into a sickening human/insect hybrid that spat acid. Consider that in the original where a human’s head was transplanted onto a fly, while the human body ended up with the insect’s head; it’s obviously hokey. But the original film was very well done for its time and the horrifying reveals at The Fly’s end still work.

Unfortunately there are many remakes that are DOA. Last year, two remakes of ’80s classics (Conan The Barbarian and Fright Night) were box office failures. That wasn’t necessarily a reflection on the films’ quality. A lot had to do with marketing and when they were released. Both films were dumped into the tail end of summer when the fervor for movie going dies down. Some remakes are failures just because they are so poorly executed or the changes made to them are unpopular. Fans quickly catch on and without their support the films will die a quick death in theaters. Look at the American remake of Godzilla. Diehard fans complained about how the giant behemoth was re-imagined. Gone was his distinctive radioactive fire and force-of-nature quality. Then there are the various remakes of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. While the 1978 version was successful the ones that followed (Body Snatchers and The Invasion) produced shrugs from viewers. The same thing happened with The Thing. John Carpenter directed a superior remake of Howard Hawkes’ 1950s classic but it was remade again last year and was quickly forgotten. Other remakes are bonafide hits but reap scorn for various reasons. Case in point Steven Spielberg’s remake of War Of The Worlds and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. More often than not, remakes turn out to be unremarkable and are quickly forgotten. The list of such films is long and includes The Island Of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and Invaders From Mars.

We shouldn’t automatically dismiss remakes (as some have done with the new Total Recall). There is always the chance that they will present new ways of looking at a film’s concept and take it into a new direction. They help keep franchises alive or revive the popularity of the originals. The bottom line is that with Hollywood, which is prone to run out of ideas quickly, the easiest thing to do is to recycle old ideas that worked in the past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Lewis T. Grove

Inheritors

In the Planet Of The Apes film series, humanity’s simian relatives have inherited the Earth in the far future. It’s a fascinating premise, that humankind currently the dominant life form will one day be supplanted. This goes back as early as with H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine, where that book’s narrator time travels to the distant future to find that humans no longer exist.

However with The Time Machine and the Apes films, the future rulers of the Earth are related to us. In the case of Wells’ story, humanity evolved into two distinct species the predatory Morlocks and the cattle-minded Eloi. But is this what will happen? Who is to say that our evolutionary branch will continue to dominate the world? For all we know, the eventual rulers will be based upon other animal species currently sharing the world with us. Or they could be something else. Let’s look at some candidates in a post-human world.

Rodents

There’s a good case to be made that some kind of rodent will dominate the world. They are a hardy species able to survive in just about in every environment. Rats are notoriously difficult to eradicate since they are very intelligent and durable. It’s easy to imagine a world where rodents become the dominant species. In Dougal Dixon’s book After Man: A Zoology Of The Future, a future Earth is presented where  rodent dog-like species called the falanx and bear-like bardelots are the top predators. Rodents have also filled other ecological niches in this future world. So it’s easy to imagine how a sentient rodent species could arise from this environment further along into the future.

Insects

This is harder to imagine but not impossible. What impedes insects from becoming dominant life forms is the environment. Earth’s gravity and atmosphere prevent insects from ever growing very large. Over 400 million years ago in the Devonian Era insects grew into monsters because of Earth’s higher oxygen content and temperatures. If such conditions were to be repeated and if there aren’t any competitors then it’s conceivable that insects could rule the land again and from there possibly lead to sentient insects. The potential for insect intelligence already exists with social insects like bees, wasps and ants. The latter are excellent candidates with their complex social hierarchies. Compared to bees and wasps, ants are very common and one species, the driver ant in EastAfrica, is a true terror capable of killing small animals. Phase IV was a movie released in 1974 that was about a newly evolved species of ants that developed a hive intelligence and began supplanting humanity. It may be far-fetched given humanity’s resilience and other competitors but given the right conditions then the opportunity is there for the insects.

Artificial Intelligence

Pretty cut and dried, the Singularity arrives in a few decades or so, Skynet comes online, etc. Humanity is enslaved or exterminated by sentient computers and robots. There is no Neo or John Connor to the rescue. Who knows what the computers do after we’re gone? Maybe they find Earth too confining or completely strip its resources and leave for the stars. Afterwards the microbes that survive will eventually yield to complex life millions of years later. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the new top life forms will be.

Marine Mammals

Dolphins and whales come to mind but despite arguments about the level of their intelligence one important factor impeding their capability for social and technological advancement is their inability to manipulate their environment. They lack appendages that allow them to handle objects. Perhaps if some cetacean evolves to return to land they can develop ambidextrous hands. But that could happen instead to the pinnipeds, namely seals. As with the insects, much depends on environmental factors. A flooded Earth will do.

Reptiles

There could be a second age of reptiles that leads to new kinds of dinosaurs. It’s happened before so it can happen again. Only this time the reptiles or neo dinosaurs evolve into a sentient species. There are several sci-fi stories that present advanced dinosaurs with technology. Harry Harrison’s alternate history book trilogy West of Eden is a good example. In Stephen Baxter’s Evolution, readers are introduced to sapient dinosaurs. Star Trek: Voyager had an episode in the third season called “Distant Origin” that featured a reptilian alien race that turned out to be dinosaurs that left Earth millions of years ago. Of course no such beings have been found in the fossil records…yet. Then again dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years and they included bipedal forms with complex claws but never developed sentience as far as we know.

The Rest

Other candidates include birds. They had their chance when the dinosaurs died out but mammals beat them to the punch. As with cetaceans their lack of manipulating limbs could’ve hindered them.  Perhaps an evolutionary throwback that reintroduces hand-like claws might do the trick. Pigs are reputedly very intelligent as are elephants. But with elephants they are on the verge of extinction, seeing them taking over is difficult. Pigs are versatile creatures  but lack manipulating organs unless their flexible snouts evolve into trunks giving them a chance. The list goes on, many animal species can be candidates for evolving into a sentient, sapient race. Frankly, there are many variables that can’t be completely accounted for so we’ll just stick with our imagination for now.

Lewis T. Grove

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Brings New Life To The Apes Series

More than a prequel, more than a remake or even a reboot, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning, moving and cautionary tale of man and his hubris which ultimately causes his downfall.

Strictly speaking the film is a remake of the fourth film of the original Apes series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it completely changes the reason why the main character of the chimpanzee called Caesar is intelligent. In the original, for non-fans, the reason for Caesar’s intelligence and ability to speak is because his parents were super intelligent apes who time traveled to the modern era. It makes perfect sense in that film’s logic only it never explains why the other enslaved apes are nearly human in appearance and intelligent.

In this film, the reason for Caesar’s rise is due to genetic engineering and therein lies the movie’s mantra about mankind’s folly and the unexpected consequences of actions both good and bad.

Dr. Will Rodman (played with compassion by James Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. He develops a retrovirus and administers it to a laboratory chimp with exciting results since she quickly shows signs of human-level intelligence. Unfortunately she is killed but not before giving birth to a baby chimp. Unwilling to have the baby infant put to sleep, Rodman sneaks  him home. Soon he discovers that the chimp (that is then named Caesar) has inherited and surpassed his mother’s uncanny intelligence.

Years pass and Rodman is trying to perfect the retrovirus as he raises Caesar and administers the cure to his ailing father (John Lithgow) who also forms his own bond with the ape. Sadly this bond brings out Caesar’s primal and protective nature which causes him to be removed from Rodman’s home and imprisoned in an ape facility. The cruel treatment he and other apes receive from the handlers there hardens Caesar against mankind and foments a simian revolution.

Before long a new version of the retrovirus is developed in Rodman’s company that can be administered as an inhalant. However, while this new strain boosts simian intelligence it turns out to be lethal to humans. At the same time, Caesar builds alliances with the other imprisoned apes (one of which is a sympathetic friendly orangutan called Maurice, who is naturally smart)and is able to escape from the facility. Caesar steals samples of the new virus and uses them to liberate his own kind. The results are one of the most thrilling and rousing uprisings seen on film.

One can’t help but root for the apes while at the same time be taken aback by their brutality and sheer power. Of course, it’s a story that speaks out against the way animals are treated not just by the medical/scientific community but how we as a species view our fellow creatures in zoos, as pets and in the wild.

Kudos should go all around to everyone who made this film possible from the actors (Franco, Lithgow, Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton, etc.) to writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver to director Rupert Wyatt (these three have reinvigorated the Apes saga in one fell swoop) to Weta Digital. Yes, you can tell in many scenes that CGI is being used, which makes one wonder if real-life apes could’ve been used in many scenes, but honestly it doesn’t take away from the story. That is a sign of a truly great film. Take the original Planet of the Apes, King Kong or Jaws. We know that the filmmakers in those days used dated f/x to bring their creations to life but the audience doesn’t care since they’re so caught up in the storytelling.

Special accolades go to Andy Serkis for his performance capture of Caesar. As with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films he really brings his creations to life. He and the filmmakers make Caesar the main protagonist as he is transformed from a gifted child prodigy to a tortured prisoner to finally a heroic liberator and leader who despite his hardships holds onto a sense of decency. Serkis deserves at least a special Oscar for his work in this movie.

Viewers don’t have to be fans of the previous films to enjoy this cinematic triumph, which skillfully throws in many references to the series including a Charlton Heston cameo and his famous line from the original film “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!” The line is followed by one of the most powerful one-word replies heard on screen. There are many ways the story can be continued and this film is peppered with many suggestions of potential sequel ideas.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a must-see for any film lover, it’s not only the best film of the summer but also one of the year’s best.

José Soto