Given the plethora of superhero movies dominating cinema schedules over the next few months, one person not heading to his nearest multiplex is director Ridley Scott. Scott recently complained about the excess of such movies saying he “can’t believe in the thin, gossamer tightrope of the non-reality of the situation of the superhero.” Already underway is the assault on cinema screens by all kinds of superheroes and vigilantes.
Assassin’s Creed opened New Year’s Day, visualising the popular computer game on the big screen. Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch whose memories are unlocked enabling him to experience the adventures of his ancestor’s as he travels through time and space. The next installment of the Underworld franchise Underworld: Blood Wars, is released on 13 January with Vampire death dealer Selene fighting off adversaries on all sides. Xander Cage returns a week later (I wasn’t aware he’d gone away!) in the appropriately titled xXx: The Return of Xander Cage and stars Samuel L. Jackson. The onslaught doesn’t give up in February as we ask will it really be the final chapter for Resident Evil as Alice (Mila Jovovich) makes a final stand against the undead. Hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns in the imaginatively titled John Wick: Chapter 2 on 17 February soon to be followed by X-Men spin-off Logan (Hugh Jackman) on 3 March. As if that wasn’t enough five ordinary teens band together as the Power Rangers to fight off an alien threat to obliterate earth on 24 March. With Trump in the White House many will hope they don’t succeed!
For cinema goers like Scott, who prefer narratives based on reality and would rather be submerged in a vat of flesh-eating popcorn than watch any of the above – don’t despair. A stimulating alternative is available so, while Callum Lynch explores his family tree on one screen, in a parallel universe not too far away Martin Scorcese’s latest movie showing. Silence is the epic adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel in which two catholic missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) go in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson), lost in Japan at a time when christianity and their presence is forbidden. While some applaud this as a masterpiece other viewers claim it slow and over-indulgent.
Should you prefer movies based on actual events then three very different movies open in January. The overly sentimental Lion tells of five year old Saroo who gets lost on a train travelling across India and is separated from his family by thousands of miles. Saroo survives alone in Kolkato before being adopted by an Australian couple. Now 30 years old, Saroo (Dev Patel) sets out to find his long lost family. Hankies at the ready.
In contrast, Natalie Portman stars as the iconic Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in Jackie. This is Pablo Larrain’s first english-language film and is an intimate portrayal of the first lady following the assassination of her husband, President John F Kennedy. With its focus firmly on the first lady it will be interesting to see how this compares to Parkland (2013) and Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). Elsewhere Director Mel Gibson focuses on WWII with his latest movie Hacksaw Ridge, released late January. This is the incredible true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an army medic who believed war was justified but also held the belief that killing was wrong. Doss, during one of the bloodiest battles of the war, saved 75 men without shooting or carrying a gun and was the only American soldier to fight on the front line without a weapon. Truly inspiring.
Chinese director Zhang Yimou, whose breathtaking visual style was seen in his earlier films Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Curse of the Golden Flower, tells the story of an elite squad battling for humanity along China’s most iconic structure – The Great Wall. The first english-language movie for Yimou stars Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe and is due for release mid-February. Also scheduled for release just prior to Valentine’s Day is the Jamie Dornan/Dakota Johnson sequel Fifty Shades Darker in which shadowy figures emerge from Christian Grey’s past to destroy the couple’s happy future. The original cast from Fifty Shades of Grey are joined by Oscar winner Kim Basinger and James Foley.
Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie return in Danny Boyle’s much anticipated sequel T2: Trainspotting late January. The original cast (Ewan MacGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle) reunite for Renton’s homecoming twenty years later. A forced homecoming is the subject of Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed new drama Manchester by the Sea. Lee (Casey Affleck) discovers his lifestyle suddenly ruptured by the death of his brother, Joe. Returning home he is faced by his estranged wife (Michelle Williams) and the discovery that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son.
Without doubt the movie of the moment, with numerous Golden Globe awards and BAFTA nominations, is the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical rom-com La La Land. With it’s exuberant song and dance journey through the love affair between a wannabe actress and a jazz pianist, La La Land is a paean to the glory days of the movie musical and the golden age of Hollywood. This is Hollywood escapism, fuelled by young love, hope and dreams and with an all-singing and dancing Gosling and Stone – what more could you ask for?
If nothing here rocks your boat then fall back on two re-released classics from Marty ‘the Master’ Scorcese. Gangster classic Goodfellas returns to cinemas in a 4D print on 20 January followed by ‘You lookin’ at Me?’ Taxi Driver on 10 February.
La La Land re-engages audiences with musicals, romance and the golden age of cinema. It is obviously too early to say if it will be regarded a classic by future generations, a point I raise to highlight the enduring appeal of the musical. In 1952 MGM released Singin’ In The Rain starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’ Connor and newcomer Debbie Reynolds. No one could have imagined that over five decades later Singin’ In the Rain would be regarded as one of the greatest musicals ever made. Much of the films appeal was the effervescent performance by a 19-year old girl who would become one of Hollywood’s much loved stars. The poignant loss of actress Debbie Reynolds on December 28, 2016 was all the more tragic in that her death occurred the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, known by millions of Star Wars fans as Princess Leia. Throughout 2016 we lost many beloved entertainers of stage and screen but their artistry and unique talents will be remembered in the incredibly talented body of work they leave behind.
I’m sure there will be much to enjoy during 2017. Enjoy whatever you do, whether it be watching movies, concerts or television.