ENJOY THE MOVIES
Co-created by Stan Lee, Don Rico & Don Heck, Black Widow made her first appearance in 1964's Tales of Suspense #52, published by Marvel Comics. Introduced as an antagonist for Iron Man, Natasha Romanova was a Russian spy who later defected to the United States, becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a member of the Avengers. In 2010, the character (renamed Natasha Romanoff) made her film debut in John Favreau's Iron Man 2, played by Scarlett Johansson. She has since appeared in six Marvel movies, including 2019's Avengers: Endgame, in which she sacrificed herself so Hawkeye could retrieve the Soul Stone, saving her best friend — and all humankind — from the genocidal warlord Thanos. Now, Natasha is getting her own standalone adventure, a prequel exploring the fan-favorite character's origins in surprising & exciting ways.
Taiwanese-born American filmmaker Justin Lin (director of the films Better Luck Tomorrow, Annapolis, Tokyo Drift, and Star Trek Beyond previously) has directed five of the nine films in The Fast Saga already, including its lowest of lows (2009's Fast & Furious) and its highest of highs (2011's Fast Five). With Fast 9, known as just F9 or Fast & Furious 9, the auteur of automotive action returns to the franchise for the first time since 2013's Fast & Furious 6 for what is, arguably, the most ridiculous entry in a series that routinely pushes the limits of logic, physics, and heavy-handed family melodrama.
Dodie Smith's 1956 children's novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians originally introduced the world to Cruella de Vil, a fashion-obsessed heiress who kidnaps a litter of Dalmatian puppies to create a spotted fur coat. When Walt Disney read the book back in 1957, he immediately obtained the rights and assigned Bill Peet (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty) to write the animated adaptation. 1961's 101 Dalmatians was a worldwide box office success, so much so that it was re-issued to cinemas four times: in 1969, 1979, 1985, and 1991. In 1996, Disney released a live-action version, starring Glenn Close as the iconic fashion criminal. Both the animated film and the live-action movie have spawned sequels, but now the franchise's villain is getting her own origin story with Cruella, starring the Academy Award winner Emma Stone.
Over the previous 12 months, I've seen more than 110 new releases, and I'm happy to report that it's been another fantastic year at the movies, despite not being able to actually go to the movies. Throughout 2020, we got to see new work from visionary filmmakers like Spike Lee, David Fincher, Chloe Zhao, Regina King, Lee Isaac Chung, Emerald Fennell, and Oz Perkins, whose dark fairytale Gretel & Hansel is one of the most atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing horror movies of the year. We also witnessed great performances from Viola Davis, Delroy Lindo, Frances McDormand, Chadwick Boseman, Carey Mulligan, Riz Ahmed, Gary Oldman, Elisabeth Moss, and Steven Yeun. And we were left in awe by cinematic art like Mank, News of the World, The Midnight Sky, Emma – works of impeccable craftsmanship by the cinematographers, production designers, SFX artists, and costume designers alike.
A body-penetrating, mind-controlling horror-thriller that exists somewhere between Scanners, Beyond The Black Rainbow, and Upgrade, Possessor is the second feature film by visionary writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, son of David and Carolyn. The Toronto native made his original debut with 2012's Antiviral, about a tech company that sells celebrity illnesses to obsessed fans. With the same gruesome verve as his father David — one of the originators of the body horror subgenre to begin with — Cronenberg's work often explores body modification, infection, technology, and interweaving of the psychological with the physical. With Possessor, he digs even deeper into the "new flesh" to tell a story about identity in this digital age.
Filmmaker Joe Swanberg is best known for his work in the mumblecore subgenre, writing and directing micro-budget films with an emphasis on naturalistic acting and improvised dialogue. His movies, like 2013's Drinking Buddies and 2014's Happy Christmas, are indie comedy-dramas concerned with the interpersonal relationships and the romantic entanglements of people in their twenties and early thirties. Occasionally, however, Swanberg works in the horror genre, as an actor (The Sacrament, You're Next, A Horrible Way to Die) and director (the V/H/S segment "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger," which he also starred in). Now, he's collaborating with Dave Franco on the actor's directorial debut, a film titled The Rental, which combines Swanberg's mumblecore and horror sensibilities with mixed results.
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man." With this sentence, Rod Serling first introduced The Twilight Zone to American viewers on October 2nd in 1959. The influential anthology TV series, which followed in the tradition of other shows such as Science Fiction Theatre and radio programs like Dimension X, blended fantasy, science fiction, and horror with morality tales to explore pressing socio-political issues. Over the past sixty years, The Twilight Zone has inspired countless storytellers, including Gene Roddenberry, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Chris Carter, M. Night Shyamalan, J.J. Abrams, Charlie Brooker, and Jordan Peele. The beloved show's latest progeny is the film The Vast of Night, the feature debut of director Andrew Patterson and also screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger.
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.