As we come to the close of 2016, I remain shell-shocked by the divisive presidential election and its aftermath.
In the world of cinema, I’m somewhat stunned to see that two of the year’s best movies—The Nice Guys and Kubo and the Two Strings—outright bombed in theaters, and that two other equally entertaining and expertly crafted bits of escapism—Star Trek Beyond and The BFG—were painted out to be flops because they performed below expectations.
Mostly I remain awestruck by the enormity of the year’s celebrity death toll. Among the departed are a legion of legendary artists and titans of film, television, music, prose, sports, and politics. Be them longtime matinee and jukebox idols and TV icons, or supporting character actors, or stalwart news broadcasters, or superb sportsmen and patriots, they all loomed larger than life, yet seemed congenial and familiar enough that they felt like extended family. The rapid-fire succession of painful obituaries in 2016 caused a year-long heartache that urged the brain trust of this website to declare early on, in not-so-delicate terms, “Good riddance, 2016.”
In concurrence, simply ponder the void in the music industry: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sir George Martin, Keith Emerson, Vanity, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, John Berry, Phife Dawg.
Try to recount the collective characters of Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Van Williams, Margaret Whitton, Ron Glass, Robert Vaughn, Alexis Arquette, Kenny Baker, Richard Libertini, Patty Duke, Garry Shandling, George Kennedy, Abe Vigoda, George Gaynes, Ken Howard, Doris Roberts, Burt Kwouk, David Huddleston, and Anton Yelchin.
Remember the Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Golfing king Arnold Palmer; astronaut and Senator John Glenn; First Lady and former actress Nancy Reagan, respected directors Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger), Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws), Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Beaches, TVs Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley), and Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate); celebrated cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind); and authors Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel, Pat Conroy, and Edward Albee.
I didn’t even name them all, but if the editors of the upcoming Oscar broadcast do their homework, the “In Memoriam” roll call will be excruciating. So, yeah, “Good riddance, 2016.”
Beyond the staggering list of the departed, 2016 showed the first hint of what Steven Spielberg talked about in 2013, when he predicted an eventual “implosion” of several expensive tent-pole movies would force the studios to rethink their budgets and oversaturated production/release strategies. Spielberg could not have anticipated then that one of his own pictures would be among the imploded duds, but his costly Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG was a surprise disappointment for the director and for Disney (this is their first collaboration). For the record, BFG is whimsical and visually wondrous in grand Spielbergian fashion, with none of the painfully saccharine traits of Hook or the cutesiness of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; time will tell, but this one deserves to find a loyal legion of fans on home video.
Yet Spielberg and his big friendly giant aren’t the only ones smarting from 2016, as there were plenty of other notable bombs to shake up the status quo.
Fox’s way-too-late Independence Day: Resurgence without Will Smith was a bad idea from the beginning, so it’s no surprise this budget-busting CGI-infested follow-up didn’t get many folks excited (plans for a third Independence Day movie are in limbo).
Disney’s belated Alice in Wonderland sequel Alice through the Looking Glass was made without the vision of director Tim Burton and suffered from a weak story (much of the plot of this second Alice novel was already used in the previous movie); it didn’t get anywhere close to matching the original’s billion-dollar global gross. Uncharacteristic for a Disney movie this year, the reviews were harsh.
Universal/Legendary’s very expensive video game adaptation Warcraft was a staggering bomb stateside—and I’m sure this title marks the shortest trip ever from opening weekend cinemas to the five dollar DVD bin—but don’t discount the movie’s huge box office haul in China, and therefore don’t be surprised if we see a Warcraft 2 simply because it will do gangbusters business overseas. Same reason why there’s going to be a Pacific Rim 2.
A big and lavish Tarzan update was asked for by nobody, and though it maybe wasn’t as catastrophic a failure as Warcraft or “ID4-2,” it didn’t make Warner Bros the sort of money they scored with the one-two DC-Comics punch of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.
More on these two DC pictures in a bit, but first we must mention another embarrassing casualty of 2016—Sony’s female-centric reboot of Ghostbusters, which didn’t exactly suck but certainly stifled enough fan goodwill from the get-go by being a reboot instead of a sequel that it never really stood a chance (not helping matters are the cold hard facts that: a) the script just isn’t clever or funny in any of the ways that made us fall in love with the 1984 original; b) the 1984 original is more beloved than critics and even its own mother studio give it credit for; and c) the studio and filmmakers basically called anyone who objected to the reboot a misogynist, and that’s definitely not the way to win back smoted fans).
Another thing I cannot quite comprehend about 2016 is the glaring disparity of critical praise heaped upon Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange compared to the excessively harsh critical drubbing of both Warner/DC offerings Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. I enjoyed both Civil War and Doctor Strange, and feel both movies are solid B-plus entertainments (especially Civil War for course-correcting the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offering up a proper Avengers sequel), but I can’t quite swallow the films’ respective 90% and 91% aggregate Rotten Tomatoes scores alongside the 27% dealt to Batman v Superman and the 26% rating for Suicide Squad. Bad critical reviews for big expensive movies can be brutal, but never before 2016 has film criticism seemed more like a blood sport. And, for this, “Good riddance, 2016.”
Reading the vitriol unleashed upon BvS:DoJ and SS, I had a nagging suspicion that these movies couldn’t possibly be as bad as the say (they’re not). While both Warner/DC movies have their tonal issues (and aren’t very much, you know, fun), you can’t tell me these movies don’t even rate a measly 30%. These pictures, problematic as they admittedly are, have a gargantuan scale and a magnificent production design which alone ought to earn any other similar picture an extra twenty percentage points (and, to boot, the soundtrack for Suicide Squad is the most eclectic assortment of classic and contemporary songs so far assembled for any superhero movie).
My most nagging question as we close out 2016 is this: In these days of proven false news, of “journalists” admittedly accepting remunerations for favorable political press, is it too far of a stretch to imagine a billion-dollar movie-studio empire can buy some extra critical sugar for their movies while also making it worth a critic’s while to disproportionately shit-talk a competitor’s movies? I won’t name names, of course, and this is only sheer speculation anyway, but if such a marketing and publicity cheat were possible to rig, you’d only have to figure which of the rival mega-corporations would be more willing—and have the budget—to orchestrate such a fraud, in order to make sure their movies were given extra-rave reviews but also that the other mega-corporation’s movies were buried in bad press. In the paraphrased words appropriated by Superman III’s Ross Webster, “It’s not enough that I win; everybody else must lose.”
If that’s the new thinking in Hollywood, well then, “Good riddance, 2016.”
Bring on 2017, and may some of my most anticipated movies please, please, please live up to expectations.
By God, we’re getting a sequel to Blade Runner—titled Blade Runner 2049—from the director of Arrival and Sicario, produced by original director Ridley Scott, co-written by one of the original film’s screenwriters, and, yes, featuring Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard.
This just better be all kinds of awesome.
Speaking of Sir Ridley Scott, he’s directing the follow-up to Prometheus titled Alien: Covenant, and this one is reported to be dark, scary and very gory.
We’re also getting a third Wolverine flick, elegantly titled Logan, and this one will be a violent, hard-R-rated affair. (Thanks, Deadpool!)
Director Luc Besson returns to high-style space opera with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and here’s hoping it’s more like his film The Fifth Element and less like a movie the trailer reminds me of—the Wachowski’s sci-fi clunker Jupiter Ascending.
Director Matthew Vaughn returns for his first sequel to one of his own flicks in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I really enjoyed the first one, and especially loved how it was unafraid to be so hardcore.
From Marvel, we’ll see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and the re-re-booted Spider-Man: Homecoming. All three event movies scream “can’t miss.”
We’re finally going to get a bright and cheerful DC superhero origin story in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but then odds are Zack Snyder’s Justice League will revert to the dour and schizophrenic tone of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad. Or, maybe not (the trailers for both look extremely promising).
Also on the 2017 slate: Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2(!); John Wick: Chapter Two; and trilogy capper War for the Planet of the Apes.
On the horizon, though far less exciting, are a fifth Transformers flick from Michael Bay that is sure to deaden many brain cells while fattening Paramount’s pocketbook. Same for Disney with a third Cars flick from Pixar, as well as a live-action musical remake of Beauty and the Beast, and a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (an iffy proposition considering Johnny Depp’s star isn’t as shiny now as it was when Captain Jack Sparrow last set sail). And, if you’re still counting, we’ll be up to the eighth Fast and Furious installment with the release of The Fate of the Furious. (What, no “F8” in the title?)
Finally, come this time next year, we’ll be lining up for Rian Johnson’s as-yet-untitled Star Wars: Episode VIII. Hot rumor has it the film will be subtitled Forces of Destiny, as Disney has apparently registered this title with all relevant agencies, though fan scuttle suggests this name is more suited for a videogame. With the theatrical release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just days away, I have a feeling we’ll be finding out any moment now…
Stay tuned. And Happy Holidays!