Samuel Brace casts his eye over the second half of 2016 with four movies to look out for…
Here we are guys. We are nearly halfway through 2016, a year that has been pretty tepid on the cinematic front. We’ve had some absolute stinkers, some surprising hits and a few excellent hangovers from last year’s awards season. But life is about looking forward, and there are some fascinating films/movies on the way, features that are — at the very least — worth keeping an eye on, and at the most, are wonderful excuses to jump up and down with perpetual excitement. But don’t worry, gang, I’m not going to tell you what to care about, just what to be aware of. Just a careful nudge in the direction of films that won’t necessarily be world beaters (some will) but that could be pertinent to cinematic conversation in 2016’s latter half.
The Neon Demon
Let me preface this by saying that I love Nicolas Winding Refn. I think he’s a genius and that he makes beautiful films, aesthetically and thematically. So this is no doubt my most biased of choices here, but it’s not here without good reason. Refn is one of few directors with any name recognition that still cherishes the art of film making. And art is the key word here. From such films as Fear X, Valhalla Rising, Drive, Only God Forgives etc etc, his pieces always play with the form. His use of colour, lighting and sound are very unique to him, easily setting him apart from many of his colleagues. Refn’s continued choice throughout his work to use silence instead of excessive dialogue has become his trademark. His characters say more with a stare than they ever would with a monologue.
The Neon Demon, his latest feature, will be brought to us by Amazon Studios this summer and debuts at this year’s Cannes film festival. From the trailer just released, it promises to be a gruesomely attractive affair. His tale of the world’s lust for beauty and the depths people will go to attain it, looks to be an engrossing one. And it seems certain to straddle him once more between the worlds of indie arthouse and popular mainstream, for the first time since Drive — putting him in a rather unique position. Refn is important, to cinema, and to the future of film. He is indeed a rare breed, especially in the mainstream. So with casting the likes of Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Elle Fanning, it should help attract those that would likely not have otherwise tuned in. We are at a point in culture where the art of cinema is dying. Movies are what we make now. So this writer is certainly routing for Nic Refn’s latest film, and not only because his sensibilities are so intrinsically aligned with those of the Danish director.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Well obviously. Star Wars is back and as popular as ever. Episode VII won back fans that had burned out their eyes after the prequels, and won over younglings who were entirely new to the saga. Whatever problems you had with The Force Awakens, it cannot be argued that it did exactly what it needed to do and has gotten the world excited for Star Wars again. But of course, this being 2016, Disney aren’t going to just let us wait a couple of years for the sequel. In a world where shared universes are what’s hip, it’s not surprise to see Star Wars follow the same suit. More movies are coming, and they will be coming fast, connected but not connected. Anthology movies, flicks set in the Star Wars universe providing one off experiences at a particular moment in time. Is this too much? No, not if they continue to provide a quality product, and if the trailer for the first ‘Star Wars Story’ offering is anything to go by, the trend of quality will be continuing for a little while longer at least.
That first offering is of course Rouge One. A film set just before A New Hope, about the rebels’ mission to steal plans for the original Death Star. Perfect. While fans thoroughly enjoyed the something new but also something kind of familiar vibe from The Force Awakens, we’ve all missed and have been yearning for that classic era vibe. That point in the Star Wars saga that we long time fans had grown up watching. Well the news is good, as this is exactly what Rouge One will be delivering. We knew the time and place of Rogue One of course, but seeing it with our own eyes in that first trailer was truly something. A modern HD take on those old costumes, vehicles and weapons… oh how glorious. A trailer can never tell the whole story for sure, but you can only judge on the evidence available… and on the evidence available, Rogue One look awesome. What will be most interesting of all however, and why I really wanted Rogue One on this list, is to see how much people will truly care for a feature film SW product outside of the trilogy. Oh, it will be successful monetarily for sure (barring some hideous reviews) but how successful? How will it fair with other 2016 hits such as Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman, and Deadpool? Will people care? Surely it can’t compete with Episode VII… I can’t wait to find out.
Now that we are stewing in the aftermath of Batman v Superman — the movie that almost never looked great and turned out not to be great and no was surprised because obviously — we are left staring down the barrel of the next DC Extended Universe feature, which of course is the villain team up flick, Suicide Squad. This film raised eyebrows at first, the Joker and a bunch of B list no named no bodies didn’t encourage much enthusiasm. But the truth is, as soon as the teaser was released, this film was always going to have a greater chance at finding success than BvS. A Zack Snyder film about Batman fighting Superman would always fall back on style over substance, the visual over the story, the big named heroes and there one hundred percent name recognition. Suicide Squad however was never going to have that luxury. Apart from the Joker, the mainstream audience doesn’t know these other people; therefore the creative’s behind the scenes would be forced to craft a film that had to rely on character. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, a film like this would never be able to pick up a bunch of weird looking supers and just throw them at each other, hoping for fireworks. Suicide Squad would have to be smarter than that. BvS didn’t have to be smart, it didn’t have to do anything… and so it didn’t.
This is what we are seeing with the footage we have so far. Yes, the visuals looks awesome; bright, vibrant, quirky, all the right things that have indeed encouraged excitement, but more importantly than what’s on the surface, the trailers have shown what looks to be a film. A film — yes, with action and spectacle — but a film that cares more about the people inside that spectacle, showcasing to us (the audience) why this might be interesting and pertinent to that all important shared universe we have become so besotted with. So the film looks good, better than BvS ever did at least. Will it be? Nothing is ever certain. But it has a chance, and it also has the chance to show us things we are unsure of. Like what the DC universe could like without Superman, with a smaller, not world ending plot line, and with characters that can’t entirely ride on the coattails of past incarnations. Also, this little outing will be very valuable in determining what a Batman flick starring Affleck without Snyder could comprise of. This together is intriguing; it elicits anticipation, giving it a worthy place of mention here today.
Video game movies suck. No matter the IP tackled. No matter the vision held, the final product flatters to deceive. Yet, we try and try again to buck this most frustrating of trends. Why? I don’t really know, video games have gotten to a point in terms of narrative that a feature film adaptation seems absolutely superfluous to requirements; games don’t need films to make them somehow legitimate — as I have written before here. But Hollywood is always desperate for ideas, always ravenous to grasp at a product with any name recognition at all, so I suppose it is no surprise that the popular video game series Assassin’s Creed is getting the big screen treatment. AC isn’t exactly known for its tight storyline and gripping characters, but the tale of a man forced into a virtual reality simulator to relive the memories of his assassin ancestors is certainly engaging — and pretty unique in the cinematic landscape. On paper it could make a pretty cool film but so could many of the video game movie efforts that came before it.
The Assassin’s Creed film however, does seem to shave a decent shot at success. Casting the likes of Michael Fassbender in the lead — one of Hollywood’s biggest talents — is certainly a good move, as is bringing in his Macbeth director Justin Kurzel to helm proceedings. Kurzel is a very visual director, with a fantastic eye for the beauty of the environments his characters find themselves in. Anyone who watched Macbeth (by no means a masterpiece) will have seen for themselves the artistic touch he can bring to a project. At the very least Assassins Creed’s sword and sandal battles should be beautiful to behold, as should the realised historical settings. Will the film be a tight narrative affair however? For that we will have to wait and see. AC can easily become convoluted, but this particular effort does seem to have all the right tools in its proverbial tool box. I for one am looking forward to seeing how the balance between sci-fi and historical adventure is blended together. And the success of Assassin’s Creed is important. If it flourishes and achieves what so many others have failed to do, it will be a landmark for video game adaptations, showing that it can be done and will of course open the floodgates for many more to come. But if it falls like those that have come before it… while it won’t signal the end for this most unfruitful of cinematic ventures, it will prove once again that video games are probably just better off left alone. Video games don’t need movies. But this one could be cool, at the very least not awful. Look out for it come December with cautious optimism. Perhaps the game will be changed.