ENJOY THE SHOW
Actor and screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan changed the horror landscape when their low-budget sleeper hit Saw became a cultural phenomenon in 2004. After the massive success of their feature debut, the Australian filmmaking duo continued to collaborate on a series of horror films, including Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013). In 2015, while Wan was behind the wheel of Furious 7, Whannell made his directorial debut with Insidious: Chapter 3, which he also wrote. His next feature, the kinetic cyberpunk sci-fi actioner Upgrade, ended up as my favorite movie of 2018. Now, the talented writer / filmmaker tackles his biggest project yet with a modern retelling of The Invisible Man, inspired originally by H.G. Wells' 1897 novel and James Whale's classic 1933 film of the same name.
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in September of 1992. A psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was seduced by the Joker into becoming his crazed, mallet-wielding partner-in-crime. 24 years later, the fan-favorite villainess made her big-screen debut in 2016's Suicide Squad, portrayed by Margot Robbie (seen in Bombshell, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, I, Tonya). While that movie, about a team of supervillains saving the world, was an incoherent and aggressively dull mess, Robbie's memorable performance all but guaranteed that we would see the character on-screen again. Enter Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, in which Harley leads her very own girl gang into battle against a Gotham City crime lord.
South African filmmaker Richard Stanley made his feature directorial debut in 1990 with Hardware, a post-apocalyptic science fiction flick about a self-repairing cyborg that goes on a rampage. His second film, 1992's Dust Devil, is a kind of supernatural Spaghetti Western about a shape-shifting, hitchhiking serial killer. These low-budget genre movies, while commercial failures, showed potential and made it possible for Stanley to work on his dream project – an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau for New Line Cinema (in 1996). What was meant to be the filmmaker's big break became his undoing. After years of developing the script, Stanley was fired a few days after principal photography began and replaced by John Frankenheimer. The filmmaker retreated, quite literally, into the wilderness and left Hollywood behind.
Over the last 12 months, I've seen more than 125 new releases — that's over ten days in total spent watching movies — and I'm happy to report that it's been another exceptional year at the multiplex. This year, we got to see vital new work from visionary filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho, Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig, Quentin Tarantino, Jordan Peele, Lulu Wang, and Shin'ichirô Ueda, whose zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead is one of the most unique and refreshingly original horror movies of the year. We witnessed great performances from Awkwafina, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Eddie Murphy, Florence Pugh, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez, and Adam Sandler. And we were all left in awe by stunning cinematic art like 1917, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and The Lighthouse – works of impeccable craftsmanship by the cinematographers, production designers, and costume designers alike.
Co-written and directed by filmmaker J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the third entry in this current Star Wars trilogy featuring Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. It ends the trilogy also featuring Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). The film is the final episode of the nine-part Skywalker Saga, which began in 1977 with George Lucas' iconic Star Wars, later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope. Over 40 years later, the sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance comes to a satisfying end with a movie that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.
Perhaps best known as the writer & director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, filmmaker Rian Johnson got his big start in 2005 with the neo-noir mystery Brick. A hard-boiled detective story in the vein of The Maltese Falcon, Brick won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and paved the way for his sophomore effort, 2008's The Brothers Bloom. The caper comedy-drama, about two sibling con artists, was inspired by Bogdanovich's Paper Moon and David Mamet's heist-thriller, House of Games. For his third film, Johnson continued taking innovative approaches to familiar genres with the twisty, multi-layered 2012 sci-fi Looper. Now, the filmmaker is paying homage to the works of Agatha Christie with Knives Out, a black comedy whodunnit influenced by classic mystery films like Murder on the Orient Express and The Mirror Crack'd.
In 2011, Mike Flanagan wrote, edited, and directed his first feature, the low-budget indie horror Absentia. After the success of his Kickstarter-funded indie film, Flanagan got the opportunity to adapt his own 2006 short, Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, as a feature. The Blumhouse-produced Oculus made $45 million at the box office on a $5 million budget, signifying Flanagan as a unique up-and-coming voice in the genre. Then in 2016, the Salem, Massachusetts native cemented himself as a genuine horror auteur with the releases of Hush, Before I Wake, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, all three of which he wrote, edited, and directed. A year later, Flanagan was called up to the majors, first adapting the Stephen King novel Gerald's Game as a Netflix Original Film and, shortly thereafter, the critically acclaimed 10-episode series The Haunting of Hill House, based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 book. Now, the seasoned filmmaker takes on Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of King's 2013 novel of the same name, which is a sequel to his 1977 bestseller, The Shining.
Formed in 2011 by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, along with their executive producer Chad Villella, the filmmaking trio collectively known as "Radio Silence" has been working in the horror genre for nearly a decade. They made their initial debut in the 2012 horror anthology film, V/H/S, with the segment known as 10/31/98, in which a group of friends in search of a Halloween party stumbles upon an actual house of horrors. In 2014, the collective delivered their first feature, a found-footage take on Rosemary's Baby titled Devil's Due, before contributing two segments to the 2015 horror anthology film Southbound. Now, Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett are back in feature mode with the film Ready or Not, a black comedy thriller about an eccentric wealthy family bound by a deadly, time-honored tradition.
After eight movies so far, the Fast and the Furious franchise (which launched in 2001) gets its first spin-off as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (most recently in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Skyscraper) and Jason Statham (from the Crank movies and The Meg) reprise their roles (first introduced in Fast & Furious 6) as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde), from a screenplay by Drew Pearce (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Iron Man 3) and longtime Fast & Furious scribe Chris Morgan, the film delivers on the over-the-top action, on-the-nose scripting, and off-the-charts charisma that the series has been known for.
Co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, Disney’s 1994 animated movie The Lion King won Academy Awards for original score (Hans Zimmer) and the original song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (by Elton John & Tim Rice), as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. In 1997, the stage production made its Broadway debut, winning six Tony Awards; 22 years later, it still remains one of Broadway’s biggest hits, recently marking its 9,000th show. The beloved Disney classic also inspired two direct-to-video follow-ups – The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998), and The Lion King 1½ (2004) – and two television series, Timon and Pumbaa and The Lion Guard. Now, after the critical and financial success of 2016's The Jungle Book remake, director Jon Favreau is utilizing the same photorealistic computer animation technology to re-tell the story of The Lion King for contemporary audiences in an immersive way.
Serving as both an effervescent epilogue to the weighty and momentous Avengers: Endgame and a thrilling prelude to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-Man: Far From Home is an exceedingly fun, action-packed cinematic spectacle that – like its titular web-slinger – is propelled by heart, humor, and heroism. In the aftermath of Endgame, which reversed Thanos' dusting actions and brought Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – and billions of others – back to life, Peter continues to mourn the death of his mentor, whose heroic sacrifice made his return possible. When a new threat arises while on a class trip, however, Peter must set aside his grief and step up to become the hero Tony Stark always knew he could be.
Pixar's original Toy Story (1995) movie was a major milestone in filmmaking. It was nominated for three Oscars (Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Song; Best Original Score), and two Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical; Best Original Song). Director John Lasseter won a special achievement award from The Academy "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film." Made by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, Toy Story was a massive commercial success, launching toys (of course), video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, and two fantastic sequels — Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Now, after creating the perfect animated trilogy, Pixar & Disney are extending – and perhaps concluding – the franchise with Toy Story 4, a very weird, melancholic epilogue to the series and to childhood itself.