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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Matt Damon stars in the upcoming sci-fi action movie "Elysium."

Five movies to look forward to in 2013


Despite having a terrible Roland Emmerich disaster movie named after it, 2012 ended up being a pretty spectacular year. The past twelve months delivered stacks of great movies, some memorably fun ones and only a few stinkers – though I've done a pretty impressive job of pushing most of those out of my brain (what was "Gone?").

Now, it's time to look ahead. 2013 hasn't even begun yet, but it's already got a line-up of films building buzz and getting people excited. Let's take a quick peek at the five movies I'm most looking forward to debating with fellow film fanatics next year.

"Elysium"

I loved 2009's "District 9." Director Neill Blomkamp's debut feature was everything I want science fiction to be – smart and imaginative while also crafting some wildly entertaining action. It invigorated the chunk of your brain that likes to think and be challenged, while at the same time tickling the brain wrinkles that like watching people in robo-suits catch missiles and do other awesome things. And to think it all started as a failed video game movie (as though there's any other kind).

After several months and a surprisingly quiet development period, Blomkamp is ready to reveal his sophomore effort: "Elysium." No footage has yet to be revealed, but we do know it's another sci-fi project with a political subtext – rich people live in space, poor people are stuck on a ruined Earth. "District 9" star Sharlto Copley is even returning, though this time as the villain to Matt Damon's heroic future renegade. If "Elysium" manages to have a fifth of "District 9's" wit and energy come this August, it'll be a success.

"Gravity"

Director Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" is one of my favorite movies of all time. Every time I get sad about the state of cinema, I pop in that 2006 modern sci-fi masterpiece and remember why it is that I love watching lights flicker on a screen at 24 frames per second (nice try, Peter Jackson, but 48 fps isn't happening). It is genius, and if you disagree, I will probably challenge you to fisticuffs – unless you're really strong, which in that case, you'll probably just get a strongly worded letter.

Besides a brief short in "Paris, Je T'aime," Cuaron's laid pretty low since "Children of Men," but now his follow-up has arrived in the form of "Gravity." The film follows two astronauts, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, as they attempt to get back to Earth in a damaged space station. There's been no official footage released yet, but the early buzz is fascinating, with rumors of groundbreaking CG and long-take camerawork in play. Cuaron already set the bar monumentally high with his brilliant one-take shots in "Children of Men." If he manages to surpass that with "Gravity," he might have another masterpiece on his hands.

"Upstream Color"

I've already written in this column in the past about the confusing glory of Shane Carruth's "Primer." The extremely low budget time travel drama does a lot with a little, and though putting the pieces together isn't easy, Carruth's labyrinthine story is worth the effort. The software engineer-turned-filmmaker has stayed out of the spotlight since "Primer's" premiere in 2004; he helped out with the time travel mechanics in "Looper," but other than that, he's just been piecing together funds for projects.

That time away has now resulted in "Upstream Color," a romantic sci-fi thriller. Little is really known about the project, and the movie's two cryptic trailers haven't provided much help. And that's totally fine with me. I look forward to solving the mystery of "Upstream Color" ... though probably after a few showings.

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation"/"Pain and Gain"

Call it the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson guilty pleasure double feature spectacular. Within less than a month in early spring, America's favorite wrestler-turned-actor will take his considerable charisma – and even more considerable biceps – and invade cinemas twice with "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and Michael Bay's "Pain and Gain."

The former is a sequel to 2009's miserable "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" but with an almost entirely new cast and a new director. Buzz was high when it was originally supposed to come out this past August, but after a delay to add 3-D (and reportedly more Channing Tatum), it's finally coming out this March. I'm willing to forgive its tardiness if it delivers on the flying ninja mountain battles the trailer promises. And that dubstep remix of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

The latter is director Michael Bay's pet project, a real life crime story about a duo of Miami bodybuilders (The Rock and Mark Wahlberg) who get involved with some petty kidnapping for a quick buck, but things take a turn for the worse (as they always do). Bay's lost what little film nerd credit he had with the "Transformers" series, but "Pain and Gain" still looks like a ton of pulpy fun, and it honestly looks like the movie Bay was born to make.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is The Rock has a lot cooking this spring, and it all smells delicious.

"Pacific Rim"

I'm very wary of fanboy bait. "Sucker Punch" was supposed to be the most awesome thing ever made (Ninjas! Robots! Ninja robots!), but that just ended up being a nerd's fever dream, fueled by Pixi Stix, Mountain Dew and a complete misunderstanding of feminism. That's why my excitement for Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" is a little reserved. It's giant robots fighting giant monsters, which should be a combo on the same level as chocolate and peanut butter, but if it's not done smartly, it could a combo similar to chocolate and dentists.

Luckily, del Toro is an inventive visual director, and he has a solid connection into what audiences want and like without trying too hard. The first trailer didn't entirely sell me, but I'm still excited to see how "Pacific Rim" turns out. After all, if worse comes to worst, it's still robots fighting monsters.

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