A Fight Between an Ant and a Dinosaur: Summer 2015 Box Office Predictions

White_Background-930x310The yearly tradition continues. I try to predict exactly which blockbusters will make the most amount of money at the summer box office. We live in a world where blockbusters are no longer synonym with summer, but most of them still come out between May and July.

Before we get into my predictions, let’s take a look at how I did last year. Nine of the ten movies I predicted ended up in the top ten, albeit in a fairly different order than mine (the one movie I didn’t foresee being a hit? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I feel like I made three big mistakes last year: I underestimated the power of Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy, I overestimated the popularity of How to Train Your Dragon 2 (which I predicted would be no. 2, and ended up barely making the top 10), and I bought too strongly into the “Melissa McCarthy is a movie star” narrative. Tammy wasn’t the hit I predicted it would be, but neither was it a huge bomb (it made 87 Million and the studio made a profit).

Anyway, lessons learned, and without further ado, my predictions for what will be the highest grossing movies of Summer 2015…

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Release Date: May 1
Studio: Disney/Marvel
Predicted Box Office: 550 Million
The question is not whether or not Age of Ultron will end up being the biggest grosser of the summer, but whether or not it will be the biggest grosser of the year. It will get some tough competition later in the year when Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 are released, but the summer will most definitely belong to Marvel. Age of Ultron already made 201 Million at the international box office on its opening weekend, so…   

2. Minions
Release Date: July 10
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 350 Million
It’s no secret that the little yellow Minions are the reason the Despicable Me movies are as massively successful as they are. Universal certainly knows that’s the case, and thus, they’ve decided to cut straight to the chase and make a movie all about these creatures. Personally, I don’t care about the Minions. They feel a little too manufactured for my taste (like the filmmakers created them because they knew they’d be cute), but children LOVE them, and it’s no doubt in my mind that Minions will be a huge hit this summer. Can it make more money than Despicable Me 2? Grossing more than 370 Million dollars will be tough, but not out of the realm of possibility.

3. Jurassic World
Release Date: June 12
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 300 Million
Nevermind the fact that the trailers make the movie look like a stupid CGI mess. People love Jurassic Park (as well they should), and children love dinosaurs, and people love Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it will more than likely make parents try to get their children to experience how awesome it is to see dinosaurs on the big screen. This movie could suck, I just don’t see what could make people stay away from it.

4. Inside Out
Release Date: June 19
Studio: Disney/Pixar
Predicted Box Office: 250 Million
The first original Pixar film since BraveI’m not entirely sold on the trailer, but then again, many underwhelming trailers preceded wonderful movies during Pixar’s heyday. The only problem is that Inside Out has practically three weeks to make as much money as it can before Minions comes out. The Pixar name brand, the Disney marketing machine, and the fact that there aren’t that many Animated movies competing this summer are all factors that will help Inside Out be a healthy hit on the level of other Pixar movies.

5. Ant Man
Release Date: July 17
Studio: Disney/Marvel
Predicted Box Office: 200 Million
If I learned something from doing this last year, it’s that you should never underestimate Marvel Studios’ ability to get people into the theater. Ant-Man doesn’t seem like a huge money-maker, but if Guardians of the Galaxy topped the box office last year, then this can certainly make 200 Million, right? The fact that Ant-Man‘s biggest competition (in terms of release date), Warner Bros’ Pan was pushed back to October has paved the way to yet another huge Marvel hit.

6. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Release Date: July 31
Studio: Paramount
Predicted Box Office: 180 Million
Ghost Protocolthe fourth installment in the series, was a huge hit and re-invigorated the franchise, but it had the advantage of coming out in the Fall, without other gigantic blockbusters premiering all around it. People are already talking about the crazy death-defiant stunts Tom Cruise performed for this one. I don’t think Rogue Nation will match Ghost Protocol, but a mix of good buzz, love for Cruise, and love for the franchise should make this one a pretty big hit.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road
Release Date: May 15
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 175 Million
If it were up to my corner of the internet, this would be the most successful movie of the year. Everyone is flipping out about the latest movie by the director of Happy Feet Two. Just kidding. I’m a little more reserved than most, but I do think this has the potential to be a completely crazy experience. The excitement for this movie reminds me of the buzz going into Godzilla and Pacific RimThis is based on a pre-existing property, so it should do better than Rim, but with an R-rating, this is far too violent and not as kid friendly as either of those movies. I am not confident about my prediction, but I see the potential for a big hit.

8. Spy
Release Date: June 5
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Predicted Box Office: 150 Million
I know I was burned last year. I guess this will be the movie that will define whether or not Melissa McCarthy is a bona fide movie star. The reviews coming out of South by Southwest were great, with most critics saying this was McCarthy’s best comedic work yet. 150 Million would make this a pretty big hit, and even then, it would’ve made less money than the two previous McCarthy-Feig collaborations (Bridesmaids and The Heat). If this movie is as funny as people are saying, then it will have legs, and might end up making much more than this.

9. Magic Mike XXL
Release Date: July 1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 150 Million
Magic Mike broke 100 Million. Fifty Shades of Grey opened huge. I’m just saying, there’s a lot of ladies that want to see some sexy shit go down in a movie theater. I am certain this will be a hit. I just don’t know how much money it’s going to make. Forget it, Terminator GenisysMagic Mike will win the July 4th weekend.

10. Ted 2
Release Date: June 26
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 150 Million
I know. I’m surprised too. But the failure of A Million Ways to Die in the West aside, Seth McFarlane is still a lot of people’s idea of hilarious humor. And I don’t know if you realize (I certainly didn’t remember), just how big a hit Ted was a couple years ago. 218 Million dollars! I don’t expect this to be as big a hit, but going by the drop between the first two Hangover movies, Ted 2 should end up with at least 150 Million.

Wait, But What About…
What do I think will happen to other high-profile titles? Well, like I said above, I think Terminator Genisys will probably bomb. The same goes for San Andreas (even though The Rock’s star power only seems to be rising). Fantastic Four should make a decent amount of money, but not enough to crack the top ten. Disney isn’t really pushing Tomorrowland that well, which makes me think it’ll do Super 8-type business (something around 120 Million). I also expect Paper Towns and Pitch Perfect 2 to be huge hits, just not quite huge enough for the top ten.

Advertisements

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Bright Star (2009)

Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 12.44.43 a.m.

This week in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, our friend Nathaniel, whose website The Film Experience is celebrating the work of Jane Campion this month, asked us to watch the director’s latest theatrical feature (which came out an unacceptable six years ago! – I know she made Top of the Lake in the mean time, but such a brilliant filmmaker ought to be more prolific). I’m talking, of course, about Bright Star, the biographical romance between Romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the young woman he was engaged to in the years leading up his death.

Although calling Bright Star a biographical film does’t feel quite right. It is, indeed, based on the lives of two historical figures, but Campion is not nearly as interested in the fact of the matter -and certainly not on the story of Keats as a great poet- as she is in the ideas behind Keats’s poetry, and in making a movie that reflects those ideas. The result is a movie that – if you’ll pardon the cliche- feels like a poem. Or at least the best parts of the movie do.

The most impressive thing about Bright Star is that it doesn’t convey the experience of falling in love by reciting Keats’s poems, but through strictly visual mediums. The production and costume design by longtime Campion collaborator Janet Patterson make this a world of real people living real lives, and not just actors putting on corsets (which tends to be a problem with period pieces). And with the many authentic textures provided by Patterson, cinematographer Grieg Fraser, a virtuoso when it comes to using light, more than excels at the job of making this movie look beautiful.

He does such a good job, in fact, that this was probably the hardest “Best Shot” I had to pick in a while. Not only are there so many beautiful images in Bright Star, but there are so many beautiful images that also happen to be encapsulations of the universal aspects of falling in love. I hate to cheat, and I hate ties, but I think I can only do justice to Fraser and Campion’s work if I pick two shots this week.

Plus, my two picks kind of play off of each other. The first shot comes from a scene not too long after Keats has moved to the same house as Fanny’s family. He goes into his room, and knowing that Fanny’s room is on the other side, he playfully knocks on the wall. He puts his head against the wall, trying to be as close to Fanny as possible. On the other side of the wall, Fanny hears the knock, and runs across the room towards the wall. She knocks back, and presses her ear against the wall. She waits for Keats to respond, and we can see actress’ Abbie Cornish’s face go through the excruciating pain of having to be patient when you are in love. Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 12.35.17 a.m.

The second shot occurs not long after Fanny and Keats share their first kiss. Here, we get the perfect visualization of Fanny’s newfound happiness. She sits on her bed like a teenager, and she closes her eyes as she lets the power of nature (sunlight and blowing wind) wash her body with the love she is feeling. Everything about this shot is beautiful. Fanny’s striped costume, Patterson’s interpretation of a of the Regency equivalent of a teenager’s bedroom, the flowing curtain, the light patterns on the wall, and of course, the feeling. Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 12.41.04 a.m.

Left in the Cold: A Review of Claudia Llosa’s ‘Aloft’

Aloft

Despite the mostly unfavorable reception, I had been looking forward to Claudia Llosa’s Aloft ever since it premiered more than a year ago at the Berlin Film Festival. I am Peruvian, Llosa is by virtually all metrics the most celebrated director in the history of Peruvian cinema, and Aloft is her first English-language movie. Berlin is the festival that saw her come into the spotlight as an international auteur, premiering her first film Madeinusa and awarding the Golden Bear to her sophomore film The Milk of Sorrowwhich went on to also be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards. All the rumblings about Aloft‘s quality (or lack thereof) had me waiting for the movie’s American release.

Reading the criticism that came out of Berlin makes me believe the movie has been re-edited since its February 2014 premiere, perhaps at the request of distributor Sony Pictures Classics, which was very quick to acquire the movie for distribution (it acquired the movie at least six days before it premiered at the Festival). Re-edits between Festivals and commercial releases are not unusual, though. Inglourious Basterds and Nebraska are two of the most recent examples of movies that got a relatively cool reception at Cannes and went on to have successful theatrical runs after they were re-edited. I don’t know what the original cut of Aloft looked like, and whether or not the new edit is an improvement; I can only say that the version I saw (at the Tribeca Film Festival) was, sadly, not very good.

Like Llosa’s previous movies, Aloft centers around the scars of traumatic events in its characters’ pasts. The movie is told in two timelines. In the past, Jennifer Connelly stars as Nana, a woman who is doing everything she can to save the life of her young child, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the future, Cillian Murphy plays Ivan, Connelly’s other child, who is approached by a journalist (Mélanie Laurent) who wants to do a documentary about Nana, who became a holistic healer and moved to a remote camp in the Arctic Circle.

There are two things that disappointed me about Aloft, which is very economic in its dramatics, if a little too dour for my taste. The first, is that once it becomes clear exactly how the two timelines relate to each other (from a character, not a structural, point of view), the explanation for Nana’s transition into a life of mystical medicine, and the ardent resentment that Ivan feels for his mother ends up being rather unsatisfying. It all boils down to a tragic incident that sticks out like a sorely melodramatic thumb and clashes with the movie’s muted, verite filmmaking.

Without going into detailed spoilers, I would say that my main problem here is that the movie’s emotional crux relies too much in the psychology of a small child. Getting into a child’s mind is a very hard thing for filmmakers to do, especially when it comes to prestigious dramas. The most successful movies about children tend to be more expressionistic, either bending the world around them to the rules of childhood imagination (like Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are), or using them as a springboard to visualize the anxieties of parent-child relationships (like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook). Aloft‘s Ivan barely seems like a character to me. The only thing that I know about him, is that he is angry.

It’s hard to sympathize with an angry child no matter how cute he is (The Babadook understood this, and used it to its advantage beautifully), and it’s especially hard to sympathize with Ivan, when his anger seems to have been designed to create conflict for the movie’s central relationship. A conflict that, truth be told, is not really explored in a meaningful way. There are many scenes in which Connelly talks to young Ivan, and shares philosophical tidbits about life being tough, in the type of broad speeches that you usually find in middlebrow cable dramas. There is not enough time spent in making the audience understand what the relationship between Nana and Ivan is, because despite them sharing many scenes, there is virtually no communication between them.

The lack of communication brings me to the second thing that I didn’t like about Aloft: the movie’s ending, which comes abruptly, and reveals how shallow its characters really are. Nana is a healer, and the movie is about wounds of the past, but at the end, it’s not entirely clear what wounds are being healed, if they’re being healed at all. The movie’s final images, of a falcon soaring over the icy landscape let us know our characters have found a bittersweet, but ultimately freeing resolution, but we have no idea what said resolution is.

Ambiguity doesn’t work unless it can rest on strong pillars. Fausta, The Milk of Sorrow‘s protagonist, made many frustrating decisions, but she was also a very interesting character. The symbolism wasn’t always subtle in Llosa’s previous movies, but it was effectively built around characters with truthful stories. The characters in Aloft exist only to serve the movie’s tragic plot. They feel hollow. Nana’s cries of desperation become laughable.

Aloft is a disappointment, but the ball is still on Llosa’s side of the court. Some of the best living directors have had tremendous troubles, and disastrous results, when they’ve ventured into English-language productions. Llosa should take comfort in the fact that, despite My Blueberry NightsWong Kar-wai is still a magnificent director. I’m still looking forward to what she does next.

Grade: 4 out of 10

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: 9 to 5 (1980)

Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 6.00.00 p.m.This week in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, the wonderful Nathaniel from The Film Experience made us watch the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, which turned out to be a much more subversive movie than I had anticipated. And I was, in fact, anticipating a light farce with flashes of second wave feminism ideology. I just didn’t think the movie would be so clever and daring when it came to turning these women’s fantasies of standing up to their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss into reality.

9 to 5 star the golden triumvirate of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton (in her acting debut). For the most part, the movie looks like your standard early eighties movie. The one sequences (or sequences) that stand out visually -and from which I picked my Best Shot- come in the form of three fantasies in which the ladies, one by one, dream about how exactly what they would do to their boss if they had the opportunity to give him a taste of his medicine. These are all funny sequences, but the brilliance comes in that the fantasy element allows the filmmakers to literalize some of the more abstract ideas of feminist theory and connecting them to pop culture.

Thus, the first fantasy sequence has Jane Fonda hunting down the boss with a loaded rifle, casting actor Dabney Coleman in the role of victim that is usually reserved for young teenagers in slasher films. The second, and most overtly feminist of the three, has Dolly Parton riding in on horseback into an office where Coleman is her secretary, and Dolly gets to say and do all the kind of sexist shit that female subordinates have had to put up with all these years. You know, the kind of sexist shit that a cowboy would say.

My Best Shot comes from the third sequence, in which Lily Tomlin casts herself as Snow White -the Disney Princess being one of the quintessential images of conservative womanhood- and gets help from cartoon woodland creatures to put poison in Coleman’s coffee. It’s not as overtly violent as the other fantasies, but it points out at the ingenuity with which women have used their bodies and behavior in order to get their way. It’s weirdly empowering to see a Princess -that acts unequivocally like a “good” Princess- use her charm to kill a man. And because I’m a sucker for acknowledging the fourth wall, my favorite shot comes when Tomlin looks at the camera as if offering the coffee to the audience. Yes, she’s talking to you guy watching and enjoying this movie. Have you thought that maybe you might be a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot? Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 7.14.54 p.m.

2005 Project Batch 8 aka Tarantino Edition: Domino, Hustle & Flow, and The Devil’s Rejects

dominobanner
The 2005 Project continues. This time, I decided to do something a little different, as my research on the popular critical opinions of ten years ago landed on Quentin Tarantino’s list of his favorite movies of 2005. QT’s favorite movie was Sin City, which I’ve already written about (shocking that his favorite movie was the one in which he was a guest-director, isn’t it?), but here is a look at his other three favorites. I can’t find the original source of this information, so a little part of me thinks these may not be his real favorites, especially since, once put together, they look like a very obvious list of “movies Tarantino would like”. Anyway, here are my thoughts…

dominoposterDomino (Directed by Tony Scott)
It took a lot of people -myself included- way too long to realize that, out of the two Scott brothers, Tony was the more interesting auteur. While Ridley has made a career out of coasting on the goodwill of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, Tony was at the forefront of pushing a certain filmmaking style to its limits. And ‘Domino’ seems to be the culmination of said push.

If you thought Michael Bay movies couldn’t be more chaotic and mindless, it’s because you haven’t seen this movie. Based on the true story (“sort of”) of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (who Tony Scott was friends with), ‘Domino’ is a piss-yellow pastiche of schizophrenic editing, unnecessarily complicated plot, and hyperactive cinematography. Judging from this film, Scott doesn’t believe there is a scene that wouldn’t benefit from more shots, more cutting, more sound effects, more everything. If it sounds like too much, it’s because it is. Watching ‘Domino’ is exhausting.

I kind of admire Scott going all-in on such an aggressive aesthetic, but there is practically no way of defending ‘Domino’ as a good movie. Personally, I can’t handle its suffocating style, and the content of the movie doesn’t help. Supposedly, Scott hired screenwriter Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) to pen the movie after reading his script for ‘Southland Tales’. Those who have seen ‘Southland Tales’ will know it to be one of the most incoherent movies ever made. ‘Domino’ has very little to envy ‘Southland Tales’ as far as incoherence is concerned.

The story of a badass female bounty-hunter sounds like the premise for a movie with at least attempts at some feminist undertones, but ‘Domino’ seems too interested in giving male audience members a boner (be it through “tits”, or be it through violence), that I can’t really find an alternative reading. But believe me when I say that ‘Domino’ is such a bonkers movie that I tried to like it. At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t.

hustleandflowposterHustle & Flow (Directed by Craig Brewer)
I’m conflicted about ‘Hustle & Flow’. On the one hand, director Craig Brewer does a pretty fantastic job of immersing us in the world of these characters and the poorer parts of town during an unbearably warm Memphis summer. Brewer is a longtime Memphis resident, so that might have something to do with this. He crafts a movie that is almost always entertaining, and very committed to its main character and its themes of redemption on the face of impossibility.

The most memorable part of the movie, for me, is Taraji P. Henson’s performance. She has become a huge star playing a smart music executive in Fox’s ‘Empire’, but in her breakthrough role, she plays a shy pregnant prostitute who gets a small glimpse of a more fulfilling life. The expression on Henson’s face is priceless, as if the character were feeling these feelings for the first time in her life.

It’s a moving performance, that is nonetheless undercut by the blatant misogyny of the piece. The story of Henson’s characters (and the other prostitutes, if I’m being honest) is much more interesting to me than DJay’s. Terrence Howard was nominated for this role, but it’s hard for me to sympathize with a character and a movie that seem to think (at least on one level) that this man can’t achieve his dream because all these women are keeping him down.

The refrain of the song that is supposed to be DJay’s masterpiece basically says that “It’s hard out here for a pimp” because his money situation will result in a “whole lot of bitches jumping ship”. There are a couple of moments when we see the true ugliness of the relationship between this pimp and his women, but for the most part, he is sacrificing himself for his makeshift family. It’s a well made and well acted movie that nonetheless rubs the wrong way.

devilsrejectsposterThe Devil’s Rejects (Directed by Rob Zombie)
Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ is a movie that is simply not made for me. Despite having a very dark and very stupid sense of humor that I really appreciate (the scene with the film critic is fabulously absurd), the movie doesn’t really apply that funny bone to its thrills and its carnage.

Sure, this is a movie about despicable people being despicable to one another (and I have to commend a movie so boldly twisted that it asks us, without any irony or redemptive arch, to sympathize with a group of serial killers), but the problem here is that Zombie pays too close a tribute to the exploitation movies of his youth. The obvious comparison when talking about homages to the 70s is Tarantino, who is a guy that, for all his flaws, knows how to create interesting characters and good stories within the stylistic frames of the B-movies he likes. Zombie skews so close to his inspirations, that his movie is similarly limited.

Limited in what way? Well, horror movies are not known for having good characters, and this one is no exception. Why lose time developing personalities when the characters are going to be killed off? It makes sense, in a practical way, and thus ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ ends up being a particularly gross movie with much appreciated touches of dark comedy. Which isn’t too bad, but it’s a pity, when you consider how much more interesting it would be if Zombie’s sense of humor and his thirst for extreme violence were better integrated. There are moments in this movie that made me laugh, and moments that made me quiver, but there were no moments that made me do both.

‘Cannes’ Hardly Wait… Looking Forward to the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

cannes2015

Cannes is the closest thing we have to a cinematic Olympics (Oscar doesn’t count, because he’s not really international, if we’re being honest). All the most interesting and exciting auteurs from around the world coming together to premiere their newest films? Sounds like a dream! That is why, after the Official Selection was announced this morning, I couldn’t do anything but obsess over the selected titles and try to find out all I can about them.

Looking at the films in competition, two trends emerge for this year’s festival. First, we have lots of established foreign directors making their English language debut. Second, there is an unprecedented (in recent years) lack of Latino or African films among the seventeen selected movies. We’re dealing here with fourteen European or American titles, and three East Asian ones (two Chinese, one Japanese). Also, only two of the directors are female, and only the three Asian auteurs are people of color.

It’s a pity that we have such a seemingly conservative Cannes selection after a very whitewashed Oscar season earlier this year. In any case, this might be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t dealing with a list of extraordinary films here. Only time will tell if they’re any good, but in the meantime, here are the seventeen films in competition (with commentary from yours truly).

Dheepan (Directed by Jacques Audiard)
The official press release saw it fit to point out that “Dheepan” is only the working title of French auteur’s Jacques Audiard newest film. In case you don’t remember, Audiard is the man behind Rust and Bone, the Oscar-nomianted A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skippedwhich I’ll be watching for the 2005 Project pretty soon. This new film deals with Sri Lankan immigrant working as a caretaker in Paris. That sounds a little bit like French mega-hit The Intouchablesbut considering Audiard’s previous work, as well as the fact that the protagonist is a Tamil warrior, this will probably be a more challenging film.

A Simple Man (Directed by Stéphane Brizé)
To be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of Stéphane Brizé, and this seems to be his first time premiering a movie at Cannes. He is one of the four French directors in this year’s competition. He has been directing features since 1996, and as far as the movie is concerned, I only know that the original French title (Le loi du marché) translates literally to “The Law of the Market”.

Marguerite et Julien (Directed by Valérie Donzelli)
Donzelli is the third French director, and one of the only two females, in this year’s competition. I know Donzelli’s previous film, Declaration of Warwhich was a very memorable autobiographical movie about a couple dealing with their child’s terminal illness. I’m assuming this new project deals with Julien and Marguerite de Ravalete, who were executed in 1603 after being charged with adultery and incest. Period pieces are my jam, so I’m really excited about this one.

The Tale of Tales (Directed by Matteo Garrone)
Here we have the first international auteur making their English debut this year. Garrone, who won the Grand Prize of the Jury for the crime saga Gomorrah in 2008, seems to have been inspired by the Pentamerone a seventeenth century Italian fairy tale collection by Giambattista Basile. The very international cast includes Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, and Vincent Cassel.

Carol (DIrected by Todd Haynes)
I don’t know what to say except that I’m very excited. After all, I’ve already named Carol my most anticipated movie of the year. And how could I not, when the brilliant Todd Haynes hasn’t directed a feature since 2007’s I’m Not ThereThat’s seven years! And I know he made the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce in the meantime, but come on! A 1950s lesbian drama starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle “Coach Taylor” Chandler? Bring it on.

The Assassin (Directed by Hou Hsiao Hsien)
I don’t want to lose cinephile cred, but I’m unfamiliar with Mr. Hou’s work. That will change soon, though, since I’ll be watching Three Times for the 2005 Project. What I do know about Hou is that he is considered the foremost contemporary example of “slow cinema”, so I wouldn’t expect too many thrills from this movie despite the pulpy title. Apparently this is the story of a 9th century assassin who must kill the man she loves, with beautiful actors Qi Shu and Chen Chang starring as the couple.

Mountains May Depart (Directed by Zhang-ke Jia)
Jia won the Screenplay award in 2013 for his anthology of violence A Touch of SinIf it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jia’s latest is another anthology film: a triptych set in the 1990s, present day Australia, and 2025 respectively.

Our Little Sister (Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)
After watching the beautiful Like Father, Like Son, I’ve been dying to see any of Koreeda’s other movies (some of which are supposed to be even better). Based on the one film of his that I’ve seen, I’d be excited for anything the director would want to de next. The movie is based on the manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida, and it sounds like the perfect fit for as humane a director as Koreeda.

Macbeth (Directed by Justin Kurzel)
We’ve been hearing about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy for a while now. Kurzel is not the kind of big name that usually makes the competition line-up, but the involvement of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard seems to have helped the film secure a slot. I’ll probably watch this, if nothing else, for the promise of seeing Fassbender and Cotillard sharing the screen, but I must say upfront that Macbeth is my least favorite of the Shakespeares I’m familiar with.

The Lobster (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
The second international auteur making his English-language debut is Yorgos Lanthimos, most famous for directing the absolutely crazy, but also amazing Dogtooth. His latest movie promises to be equally insane, focusing on a dystopian future in which you either find a partner or you are turned into an animal forever. If that weren’t enough, check out this all-star cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, and my imaginary girlfriend Lea Seydoux.

Moi Roi (Directed by Maïwenn)
This stars Vincent Cassel, and seems to focus on a couple’s relationship through the years. What I really want to talk about is the fact that somehow no one saw it fit to let me know that the woman who played the blue opera singer from The Fifth Element had found success as a director! Maïwenn is the second of the two female directors in this year’s competition, and from what I’ve heard about her previous film Polisseshe’s supposed to be a very good one.

Mia Madre (Directed by Nanni Moretti)
Cannes favorite Nanni Moretti is not making his English-language debut, but he is working with John Turturro in this movie about a filmmaker (Margherita Buy) trying to finish a movie while her mother is dying. According to this Hollywood Reporter review, it’s supposed to be a sober drama undercut by the comedy of the relationship between the two lead actors.

Son of Saul (Directed by Lászlò Nemes)
Nemes joins a select group of filmmakers who have premiered their first feature as part of the official Cannes competition. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but this must bring tremendous pressure, as I’m sure a lot of people might be extra hard on the movie, expecting it to justify its inclusion in this line-up. As for the plot, IMDb makes it sound pretty dour: “In the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son.” Does this mean the man takes the body of the dead child as his son? Because that sounds like the kind of magic realism that is often found in Eastern European cinema.

Youth (Directed by Paolo Sorrentino)
Fresh off the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, Sorrentino is not making his debut, but nonetheless working in the English language in his latest movie, which stars Michael Caine as a retired composer and conductor. This is the only of the selection that has released a trailer so far, and based on that first look, this looks very much like a Sorrentino movie, and Michael Caine looks very much like a Sorrentino favorite leading man Toni Servillo.

Louder Than Bombs (Directed by Joachim Trier)
The last of the filmmakers making English-language debuts is Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier. I haven’t seen his movies (I know, I know!), but I hear they’re both terrific. There doesn’t seem to be a reliable description of what this one is about, but it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, and David Strathairn. Not a shabby cast at all.

Sea of Trees (Directed by Gus Van Sant)
Is it too bad if I’m already tired of the McConaissance? I blame True DetectiveThat show exhausted me, although if anything might re-spark my interest, it could very well be this two-hander between McConaughey and Ken Watanabe, starring as two men that meet in the Aokigahara, also known as the Japanese Suicide Forest.

Sicario (Directed by Denis Villeneuve)
For some reason, I seem to be incapable of getting excited about a Villeneuve movie despite not having seen any of them. They just don’t seem like movies I’d enjoy. Consider this one, which does star the lovely Emily Blunt, but is described as the story of a FBI agent on a mission to take down a Mexican cartel. The fact that it’s a female in the lead intrigues me, but if you want your movie about American fighting (or rescuing) foreigners to excite me, it better be a very, very nuanced take on the conflict.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Taxi Driver (1976)

Screen shot 2015-04-13 at 10.14.59 p.m.

It’s not that I don’t like Taxi Driver. I do. But sometimes a movie is so widely praised and universally beloved that, even if you do like it, not exactly seeing the greatness of the thing still makes you feel like you’re not part of the group. I’ve read the raves, and I think I get what’s going on in Taxi Driver, but because I don’t love it, I think I just don’t “get” Taxi Driver. But since Nathaniel picked this beloved classic as this week’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” subject, I decided that searching for the one shot that encapsulates the movie might be the kind of experience that would finally make Taxi Driver click for me. Did I succeed? Well…

To me, Taxi Driver is the tragic story of a man who is pushed out of the system, and a system that cannot (or is not interested in) finding a way to help the people who are being crushed within it. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader are not the first ones to craft such a narrative. There is Büchner’s Woyzeck, and more closely related to the decadence of 1970s New York you have Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. In Büchner’s play, Woyzeck is a sort of Cassandra figure, who constantly shows signs of the toll his life is taking on him, but nobody listens to. In Albee’s play, Jerry describes in excruciating detail the horrors of his life as an outcast New Yorker.

Because it was directed by one of the most celebrated directors of our time, and one of the few who is known precisely for being a huge cinephile, I expect Taxi Driver to provide an inherently cinematic way of dealing with this narrative. There is certainly ambiguity to how we should feel about Travis Bickle and his deadly crusade. I believe that the filmmakers intended him to be a tragic product of the system, but you mostly see the results neglect has had on Travis, and not the neglect itself. We hear he can’t sleep after coming back from Vietnam, but we are never sure if the world around him turned him this way, or if something was broken inside of him all along.

With those thoughts in mind, I found a moment that presents an alternative way of looking at the movie. Is Scorsese maybe trying to turn the mirror in our direction? There is a moment when Travis goes to the movies by himself. First, he finger-shoots the screen a couple of times. Then, he sits back and watches the movie, but he puts his hand in front of his eyes, as if they were blinds through which he is watching the screen. It’s voyeurism, and he’s the audience. It’s one of the moments in the movie that comes closest to finger-pointing. To turning to the audience and telling us that if we don’t see what turned Travis into such a piece of work, it’s because we don’t want to look at our own flaws. We don’t want to look at him, but we can’t stop looking. We delight in Travis’s tragedy. We don’t want to save him, we want him to die a bloody death at the end of the movie. I mean, it does make for better cinema.
Screen shot 2015-04-14 at 12.10.41 a.m.