This summer movie season. Yeesh.
Between high-profile disasters ("Suicide Squad"), predictable pratfalls ("Ben-Hur") and an extra large popcorn bucket's worth of sequels that no asked for (anyone remember "Alice Through the Looking Glass"?), there was something for everybody — if that something you were looking for was disappointment. Even the few highlights ("The Nice Guys," "Popstar," "Pete's Dragon") were dimmed by the fact that nobody saw them.
But hey, you know what they about hope springing eternally. So we turn our eyes toward the fall and Scary/Serious Movie Season. From sci-fi thrillers and wizarding returns to the latest projects from Clint, Ang Lee, Robert Zemeckis, Mel Gibson and Warren Beatty (wait ... Mel Gibson and Warren Beatty? They're still alive?), the fall actually has something for everything – if that something, this time around, is very promising material.
Here are the movies that’ll be getting you out of the autumn chill and into a comfy theater chair this fall.
I don’t know director Derek Cianfrance, but judging by his last two films – the 2013 drama "The Place Between the Pines" and his latest family drama, "The Light Between Oceans" – I’d bet his favorite foods are sandwiches, his favorite cookies are Oreos and his favorite Dave Matthews Band song? "The Space Between," obviously.
I joke now, because laughs tend to be hard to come by in Cianfrance’s stern, serious dramas (he made his debut with the ultimate feel-bad love story "Blue Valentine"), and one imagines laughs will be in short supply in "The Light Between Oceans," the tale of a couple who discover a baby lost at sea and adopt it as their own, only to eventually meet a woman who may be the baby’s true mother. But I do expect some great performances and some major chemistry, especially since stars Michael Fassbender and newly crowned Oscar winner Alicia Vikander are a couple in real life – and actually fell in love filming this project. You can probably also expect to make an ocean of your own with tears during the movie, so maybe bring a Kleenex … or five. Or just the whole box.
In "The Witch," young star-in-the-making Anya Taylor-Joy was menaced by a baby-snatching witch. In the new thriller "Morgan," however, it’s Taylor-Joy who gets to do the menacing, starring as a teenage genetic experiment who’s growingly not pleased with being grounded by her scientist parents (including the esteemed likes of Kate Mara, Toby Jones, Paul Giamatti, Rose Leslie and Jennifer Jason Leigh). One imagines things will go great, and they’ll be all sitting down happily for a family dinner in no time.
The thriller also comes from Luke Scott, son of prolific director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator," The Martian"), so hopefully genetics have shined on him brighter than they appear to for the movie’s sure-to-be-doomed crew of scientists.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A family looking for a new start moves … wait, you’ve already stopped me? You already know that they move into a cool, big old house? And that creepy stuff starts happening? Probably with little kids? And you already assume that the trailer dubiously says that it’s based on a true story? Oh… OK. Well, this preview blurb was easy.
Yes, "The Disappointments Room" looks like a horror flick you’ve seen many, many, many times before, and it comes from D.J. Caruso, a director whose biggest hit, "Disturbia," was sued for basically being an overt rip-off of Hitchcock’s "Rear Window." But the movie does have that really odd, kind of awkward title going for it. So that’s … something.
Coming off "American Sniper," one of his most commercially successful directorial efforts (it was the highest grossing movie of 2014, beating the likes of "The Hunger Games" and "Guardians of the Galaxy") as well as one of his most controversial, Clint Eastwood sets his eyes once again on his favorite topic: heroism and its complications.
In "Sully," he shoots that theme through the prism of pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and the 2009 emergency plane landing on the Hudson. The trailer admittedly inspires a lot of comparisons to Robert Zemeckis’ "Flight," but it also inspires a lot of hopeful feelings that the fall awards season rush is probably beginning here, with a great cast (American treasure Tom Hanks plays Sully), a legendary name behind the camera and a very intriguing true life story. Just one thing, Clint: If you need a baby for scene, please use an actual baby this time.
Miss the crazy psychopath erotic thrillers of the late ’80s/early ’90s, like "Fatal Attraction" or "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle"? Saw J. Lo’s "The Boy Next Door" last year and wished for something with a few more actual thrills and a few less hilarious cookie-related come-ons? "When the Bough Breaks" might fit your oddly specific bill. The thriller follows a couple (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) whose hopes to finally have a baby go awry when their surrogate mother (newcomer Jaz Sinclair) starts threateningly obsessing over dropping the surrogate from her title … and adding "wife" while she's at it. Pro tip: It’s probably best to keep any pet rabbits far away from the situation.
It’s been a pretty solid year for kids movies, with the likes of "Pete’s Dragon," "Kubo and the Two Strings" and "Zootopia" all scoring high marks (to say nothing of the box office triumph that was "Finding Dory").
"The Wild Life" … does not look to hit those high marks.
The animation, at least from the trailer, looks pretty stiff and empty (count how many flat shots there are of just a character talking directly to screen with a still background), the 3-D emphasis feels like a relic from the "Avatar" days of early 3-D enthusiasm, and the jokes seem pitched to the very young in the crowd (let’s just say I don’t think Daniel Defoe had a tapir shaking its butt in mind when he wrote "Robinson Crusoe," this movie’s, uh, loose source material). But it’s also the first kids movie to come out in almost a month, so parents, prepare yourselves; you’re probably going to have to see this.
Months before its official release, "Blair Witch" already pulled off the biggest shock of the year when it revealed that it was not a simple found footage horror movie called "The Woods" but actually a secret sequel to the founding father of modern found footage horror movies. But can the movie itself provide surprises equal to its marketing? That’s the big question remaining. With Adam Wingard ("You’re Next," "The Guest") in charge, however, one leans toward the answer being a blood-curdling yes.
The charmingly clumsy Bridget Jones returns in a quest to discover the father of her baby. Is it every mom’s celebrity crush, Colin Firth? Or is every mom’s other celebrity crush, Patrick Dempsey? Either way, we all win — if by we, I mean "sons looking for a fun, enjoyable comedy to take my mom to because I’m such a delightful child." Bigger news than Bridget Jones’s return, however, is the return of Oscar winner Renee Zellweger, who’s had a six-year hiatus from the big screen after committing the irrevocable Hollywood actress sin of turning 40. It’s good to have you back, Renee.
"Hillsong - Let Hope Rise" is a concert film that follows the popularity and growth of the Australian Christian rock band. Now, as of now during this faith-based movie surge of recent years, there has yet to be a single good or even simply recommendable entry ("Risen" was the closest, and it was still mostly a bore). Perhaps "Hillsong – Let Hope Rise" can end the draught. Let us pray.
Divisive director Oliver Stone takes a hack at the most famous and important hacker of our time: Edward Snowden, played here by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – or, judging by his voice, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s very sleepy twin brother.
Once you get past JGL’s distracting voice – perhaps it plays better in the full version with the character behind it rather than just a short montage clip – "Snowden" looks quite good. The cast is solid (including Shailene Woodley, recently freed from her "Divergent" prison), and Stone seems to be having fun behind the camera as opposed to some of his more dull recent works ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" comes to mind). It looks intriguing – but can it be more so than "Citizenfour," Laura Poitras’s essential Oscar-winning documentary that was there for the real story and plays like a crackling thriller in its own right? Can it still bring something new? That’s really the biggest code for "Snowden" to crack.
Does the world need another "Magnificent Seven" – especially considering the original was already a Western remake itself of the classic "Seven Samurai"? If it stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt – plus the always underrated Peter Sarsgaard in mustache-twirling villain mode – why the heck not? The movie, directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "The Equalizer") looks like a fun, guns-blazing Western actioner, and as a bonus, the screenplay comes co-written by Nic Pizzolatto, the guy who wrote the first season of "True Detective." On the other hand, he’s also the guy who wrote the second season of "True Detective." Here’s hoping the former was working the typewriter for this one.
Of all the major studios, Warner Bros. is one of the few that doesn’t have a huge animated movie focus. That changed with "The LEGO Movie" back in 2014, and now the relatively newborn Warner Animation Group has its sophomore effort: "Storks," a story of baby-delivering birds trying to deliver one last baby to its rightful human family.
The trailer seems manic and loud and crazy and full of commotion … and also really quite funny, with a voice cast led by Andy Samberg, Key & Peele and Jennifer Aniston plus a co-directing credit for funnyman director Nicholas Stoller (the "Neighbors" movies). Considering the barren time between big animated movies (no, "The Wild Life" doesn’t count), Warner Bros. is probably birthing a big hit with this one – with hopefully the big laughs to match.
There’s a sad chance that you may have forgotten about Lupita Nyong’o, the talented actress whose devastating Oscar-winning turn in "12 Years a Slave" won her praise and the globe’s adoration. Since then, however, she’s only been on screen in "Non-Stop." Yes, she was in "The Force Awakens" and "The Jungle Book," but only as a voice; you haven’t actually seen her on screen in two years, which is a shocking shame.
Luckily, "The Queen of Katwe" should change that. Nyong’o plays the mother of a young Ugandan girl (portrayed by Madina Nalwanga) who becomes a chess superstar with the help of a friendly local teacher (David Oyelowo, "Selma"). It’s a story certain to be inspirational – and based on the talent involved and the release date, perhaps awards-worthy as well.
How do you take a story of capitalist greed gone wrong and turn it into a story of American heroism and patriotism? I’m … not particularly sure, but that looks like exactly what director Peter Berg ("Lone Survivor") appears to be doing with "Deepwater Horizon," an action drama about workers trying to escape the BP explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ll admit I was more interested in this project when it was J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call," "All Is Lost") at the reigns. But Berg, despite the overall quality of his movies ("Battleship" ... shiver), is an accomplished visual director, and the cast (Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich) is rock solid. As for the story, it makes sense to push the patriotism angle in the advertising; it’ll be interesting to see what story the movie itself ends up telling.
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night suddenly wondering whatever happened to the guy who made "Napoleon Dynamite"? Yeah, me neither, but now you know: He's made "Masterminds," a strange comedy about a strange bank heist starring … wait a second, this all sounds very familiar. So familiar, it’s almost as though I wrote those exact same words last summer when this Lorne Michaels-produced comedy was originally supposed to come out.
Well, time hasn’t made "Masterminds" look any less strange. But while usually delayed release dates are a bad omen (to be fair, most of the reason for the push was because of the studio, Relativity, threatening bankruptcy), thanks to the year that’s passed, we’ve seen how awesome Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon can be on the big screen. And after the latter’s truly scene-stealing turn in "Ghostbusters," I’ll follow her anywhere – and I guess that means "Masterminds."
This summer’s X-Men entry wasn’t what most people would conventionally call "good," so I suppose we’ll see what Tim Burton’s version of kids with superpowers in a mansion can do. The cast is good enough – the perpetually underappreciated Eva Green, another performer I’ll follow pretty much anywhere (and have paid the price) plays the titular Professor X stand-in – and I’m always rooting for a Burton return to form. But while the first trailer had its off-kilter charms, the more I see – heavy CGI overload, dense YA fantasy book plotting involving time loops and evil monsters – the more concerned I get. Here’s hoping we don’t go 0-for-2 on "talented kids in mansions" blockbusters this year.