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Summer Blockbusters

Summer Blockbusters 2018

So far, 2018 has been a stonker of a year for film—read on for the most anticipated upcoming summer blockbusters releases this year.

Major production companies and indie production houses across the board have already presented cinema-goers with an incredible slate of films so far this year. Marvel’s Black Panther alone served to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time, racking up over $1 billion at box office. So, what does summer 2018 have in store?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 

Dinosaur fans rejoice! The second in the Jurassic World franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, will hit theaters come June 22. This time around, the story follows Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) on a mission to rescue dinosaurs from Isla Nublar under the false impression that they will be saved from extinction. It’s not until later on that they learn that scientists want to genetically mutate these rare creatures in order to turn them into living weapons.

Hereditary 

Set the be the scariest film of the year, Hereditary first debuted at Sundance festival in January of this year and has received major critical acclaim at advanced screenings ever since. When the grandmother of the troubled Graham family passes away, dark family secrets slowly unravel. Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff, Hereditary is set to hit theaters June 8.

Sorry to Bother You 

Starring Lakieth Stanfield from the wildly successful Get Out (2017), Sorry to Bother You is a comedy that follows telemarketer Cassius Green, who discovers that sounding ‘white’ over the phone is the secret to his success. A film with a stark underlying comment on one of the biggest political discourses in America today, this film is likely to become one of the biggest summer blockbusters to date. See it in cinemas from July 6.

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade is comedian Bo Burnham’s first foray into directing, and will hit the big screen from 13 July. This slice-of-life movie follows teenager Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she tries to survive the last week of an abysmal eighth grade year before finally heading off to high school. Already causing a stir in the movie scene, this highly anticipated film is a wonderfully frank look at the life, anxieties and worries of a 13-year-old in the internet age.

Crazy Rich Asians

Based on a novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians follows economics professor Rachel Chu as she accompanies her partner to Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding. It is not until she lands in Singapore that she discovers her boyfriend comes from an extremely wealthy family and she is unwittingly thrust into the world of Asia’s rich and finest. This romantic comedy will be released in America August 17.

Further reading: Ocean’s Eight Confirmed for Release This Summer

Ready Player One

Ready Player One: Spielberg Revisits His Roots

Spoilers ahead, read at your own risk!

He was the fantastical curator of our childhoods; countless classics of his filled our screens (and our hearts) such as Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). These blockbusters—whose glimmering themes opened up new realms of cinematic possibility—carved him out to be one of the most prolific directors of all time. Steven Spielberg is now back with his new motion picture, Ready Player One (2018) and let’s face it…it’s awesome! This is the sort of rip-roaring adrenaline adventure that gave him his name and, unsurprisingly, audiences are eating it up like candy. 

A treasure trove of pop-culture

Ready Player One is based on Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel of the same name, which has since become a worldwide sensation. The film adaptation is set in 2045 in Columbus, Ohio (a slight variation from the book) where the overpopulated world is on the brink of chaos. Our protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X Men), lives within a decaying vertical trailer park: a modern-day shantytown that looks every bit as bleak as it sounds. The downtrodden citizens of Earth are looking for salvation, which they find in the comfort of the OASIS—a virtual reality to plug into. In this vast cyber world, anything and everything is possible. You can be whomever you want. For any filmmaker, this is an unmissable opportunity to get creative. Where will you transport your viewers when the sky’s not even the limit?

In the opening scenes, we discover the true definition of “no boundaries”. The screen erupts in an explosion of action as a race between thousands of cars commences through the streets of New York. During this time, a DeLorean—driven by Watts’ avatar Parzival—outmaneuvers a Tyrannosaurus rex (a not-so-subtle reference to Spielberg’s own work). The scene begins a feature-length-long game of spot the pop-culture reference, with characters and objects bombarding the audience from every angle. Familiar entities like the A-team van, Lara Croft, Mechagodzilla and a thundering King Kong are just the tip of the iceberg in this fandom extravaganza. The OASIS itself is a visual marvel, a feat of technical genius. Although the world has been created using CGI, it doesn’t feel overly gimmicky.

The plotline of the film is relatively straightforward, which, compared to the franticness of the frames, is a relief. We follow Watts/Parzival as he battles against other players to find the elusive “golden Easter egg”, the discovery of which will lead him to inherit the fortune of the game’s creator—James Halliday (Mark Rylance). This geeky gazillionaire—who resembles a mismatch of Steve Jobs, Einstein and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988)—poses as a sort of ghostly mentor to Watts.

Knowing that the one to succeed him and run the OASIS will be charged with a great power, Halliday crafts a number of challenges to decide the victor. Of course, there are evil competitors in the race for the golden Easter egg. After all, the film would lack urgency without them. The villain in Ready Player One comes in the form of the businessman Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who satisfies our palates for a textbook sci-fi bad guy. Watts/Parzival must complete the tasks before Sorrento manages to do so. He’s joined by his fellow avatars Art3mis—Samantha in the real world (Olivia Cooke); Aech—Helen in the real world (Lena Waithe) and the rest of the ‘high five’ gang.

Fandom within the film revolves around the 80s and 90s: when Halliday and the digital universe came of age. Some of the pop-culture references are obvious, while others are clearly designed for hard core fans to study as they skim the film frame-by-frame upon its release on DVD. The cast do an exceptional job at portraying passionate gamers, with Sheridan and Cooke making a charming duo. Rylance provides the definitive performance as Halliday; playing the role of an awkward genius seems to agree with him somehow.

Just a few niggles

There is a huge build-up during the length of the feature that leads to a little bit of an anticlimax. While all loose ends are neatly tied off, there is a distinct lack of resolution. After obtaining the golden Easter egg, Watts and his fellow teammates decide to close the OASIS for two days a week to encourage people to experience the world outside. However, there is no real indication that he intends to use his riches to tackle the supreme poverty around them. While there is a snifter of hope that things may improve, we are also left to ponder the possibility of the world reverting back to how it was. Would it not have been more poignant to scrap the OASIS program entirely, realise that the physical world needs saving and that human interaction is more precious?

Similarly, although the action in the film is pertinent to the storyline, it occasionally comes at the cost of character development. While there are some touching moments between the hero and heroine, these quickly dissipate as a result of a sudden chase or shootout. 

What the critics are saying

Being Spielberg’s first science fiction release since War of the Worlds (2005) and considering his reputation, expectations for the film have been decidedly high. On the whole, the movie has received terrific critical reviews: PostTrak reported that filmgoers gave it an 82 percent overall positive score and a 65 percent “definite recommend”. Jonathan Pile from Empire commented: “Spielberg has seemingly done the impossible: balancing sugar-rush nostalgia with an involving story to create a pure, non-cynical, cinematic ride that recaptures the magic of his early films.”

Recent reports have shown that Ready Player One is now the second biggest movie release of the year in terms of the global box office, with its worldwide total currently residing at $523,718,18. The blockbuster has prospered particularly overseas in China where it has earned $163 million thus far.

Recapturing the magic

Watching Ready Player One is like playing witness to somebody recapturing their youth. There is a distinct sense that the director has tried to evoke the magic of the films in his “golden era”. There are several comparisons that can be made to his earlier work. For instance, Spielberg was known to identify with fatherless boys during the beginning of his career (Finding Neverland (2004), Hook (1991), Catch Me If You Can (2002))—being an orphan, Watts is no exception to this rule. Although there are sinister moments, Ready Player One makes a point of not taking itself too seriously. This ambitious project by Spielberg is pure unabashed nostalgia—although you don’t need to be a pop-culture nut to enjoy it. Never in such a long time has a film felt as though Spielberg was revisiting his roots.

Further reading: Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures TV Series in Development

Fans of Academy Award-nominated Hidden Figures (2017) rejoice; entertainment news site Variety has reported that a TV series inspired by the film is currently in development.

According to Variety, the TV series, which is currently in the early stages of development, is to appear exclusively on the National Geographic channel in a bid to produce more scripted fare. Producing alongside the major channel will be Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping from Chernin Entertainment. Chernin and Topping were the original executive producers of Hidden Figures.

The film was based on a book by the same name written by author Margot Lee Shetterly. Hidden Figures tells the true story of the black female mathematicians who were crucial to the success of the NASA American space program in its early years—despite the challenges they faced because of the color of their skin.

The slate for the film boasted an all-star cast including Tarahi P.Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as the film’s protagonists.

Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars this year including Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.

Further reading: ‘Black Panther’ to Break Saudi Arabia’s 35-year Cinema Ban

Black Panther

‘Black Panther’ to Break Saudi Arabia’s 35-year Cinema Ban

 Marvel’s Black Panther (2017) is to break Saudi Arabia’s cinema ban by opening the first cinema in the country for 35 years later this month.

The news comes after a deal was made with the world’s biggest cinema chain, AMC, who have planned to roll over 40 movie theaters throughout the Kingdom throughout the next five years.

Saudi Arabia had cinemas back in the 70s, but its powerful conservative clerics had them shut down for religious reasons.

The move looks to contribute to the Vision 2030 initiative—unveiled by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—to bring entertainment to Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 aims to help expand the Saudi economy by reducing its current reliance on oil, providing more jobs and encouraging Saudis to spend their money in their native country rather than abroad.

Black Panther will have its own gala premier on April 18 in Riyadh, the country’s capital and will show for five days following the event. The 620-seater cinema theater is a converted symphony hall located in the King Abdullah Financial District.

AMC’s chief executive Adam Aron said of the theater venue: “We think it’s going to be the prettiest movie theater in the world. It’s a dramatic building.”

An inside source told Reuters that the cinemas would also not be segregated by gender as is usual protocol in the nation’s public places. This move demonstrates an exciting time for the country as more liberal policies are being unrolled.

Saudi’s culture minister Awwad Alawwad said, “The restoration of cinemas will… help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation.”

Oscars 2018

The Oscars 2018: Our Predictions

As the 90th Academy Awards ceremony approaches, general murmurs of possible nomination candidates have begun to circulate within the entertainment community. The Oscars 2018 awards ceremony itself will take place on March 4, with the crème de la crème of film stars guaranteed to be in attendance. From January 5, members have been able to cast their votes online. Here, we offer our predictions and compile a list of worthy contenders for the Oscars 2018. Meanwhile, we’ll speculate which dark horses could throw a spanner in the works for the front-runners.

2017 has certainly been an interesting year for Hollywood—to put it lightly. With scandal plaguing the headlines, the spotlight has been solidly fixed on tinsel town and its residents. So what has this meant for film and cinema? Well, a great deal as it so happens. Numerous accounts of sexual misconduct that began with Harvey Weinstein have meant that topics of gender, inequality and power manipulation are top of the agenda. Since the first Academy Awards in 1929, only four women have ever been nominated for the Best Director Oscar: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1975), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003) and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2010); Bigelow is the only female director to win. This translates to a ratio of one female to 88 male directors. We believe that women—in front of and behind the camera—will have more of an opportunity to prove themselves this award’s season (although it begs the question: why has it taken so long for such an alteration to occur?). A crop of female-led and female-centric films has burst onto the scene (and about time too), which could dramatically change the landscape of the Oscar Awards. With models of directorial excellence exhibiting such as Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017), one could assume that the lists may appear different this year—or be confounded if they don’t.

Furthermore, the scathing criticisms surrounding the Oscars that emerged last year may return with a vengeance—the #OscarsSoWhite campaign springs to mind. In 2016, the Academy was condemned for the lack of ethnic diversity shown in their decision-making. Others have directed their blame at the film industry itself. According to The Guardian, “During this century, minority actors have secured only 15 percent of the top roles (as identified by billing, critical esteem and box-office takings).” But the sharp writing from Jordan Peele’s Get Out—set in ‘post-racial’ America—surely cannot be ignored this season, right?  What we can say without any hesitation is that the Oscars 2018 will be like no other.

 The unspoken rules of Oscar nomination

Over time, the Academy has revealed certain trends in their nomination picks—whether conscious or not. We have labeled these trends in decision-making as the ‘unspoken rules’.

  • Films released early in the year are often ignored or forgotten
  • Horror films are almost never nominated (according to IMDB, the last horror film to win an Oscar was The Wolfman in 2010)
  • Technical achievement is ranked higher than storytelling
  • First time directors don’t usually triumph
  • Those that were unjustly snubbed in the past stand a better chance of receiving a nomination in the future

 Our Oscars 2018 predictions

 The Sure Bets

  1. The Post (2017)
  2. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
  3. Dunkirk (2017)

I don’t think anybody could dispute that Dunkirk deserves a place at the nominee’s table; especially taking into consideration the meticulous shooting, awe-inspiring score and groundbreaking performances that were involved in bringing it to the screen. Both critics and home-viewers alike have hedged their bets and surmised that it will be nominated for Best Picture for the Oscars 2018 ceremony. The technical components alone make the film a masterpiece to behold and could well tip the scales in director Christopher Nolan’s favor. In the past, avid fans of Nolan have felt duped at the considerably low recognition the director has received. While Inception (2010) and Memento (2000) received Oscar nominations, it is astounding that this giant in modern-day cinema has never received a win. Perhaps Dunkirk will present a more palatable genre for the committee to swallow.

Others threatening the top spot include Steven Spielberg’s The Post, Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name. Spielberg has long been recognised as a man who knows how to tell a damn good story—The Post is no exception. While Spielberg’s ode to journalism plays out beautifully, the titan reputation of the director may in fact lead to his dismissal in order to make way for other directors. Meanwhile, Call Me by Your Name brings something completely new to the table. The coming-of-age love story sees a sensuality that is so very rarely projected onto the big screen. Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar, 2014) gives a truly remarkable presentation of the young protagonist, Elio; a naive and cosmopolitan character who struggles with his sexual identity. Surely this exceptional young talent will be in with a shot for Best Supporting Actor?

The dark horses

  1. Shape of Water (2017)
  2. Mudbound
  3. *Get Out (2017)—our top pick

While some films seem solidified in the nomination’s list, there are always a few surprises. These dark horses may just steal gold—they certainly have the clout for it. Shape of Water, is one such film to watch out for and may just sneak into the nominations list. Guillermo del Toro’s aesthetic is immediately recognizable in this tale of an unlikely relationship between the mute, Eliza (played by Sally Hawkins) and a sea creature who resides in the lab in which she works. Much like his dark fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), del Toro weaves an imaginative story that is surprising and hopelessly romantic. The music subtly nods to that of the 60s era in which it is set, and the visual effects alone should certainly receive a large amount of credit.

Netflix has been trying its damnedest to make its break with its first Oscar nomination, and before now, has failed to do so. But could this year finally see a breakthrough? Screenwriter and director Dee Rees’ latest screen adaption of Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound (published in 2008), is starting to gain some traction. As the title suggests, Mudbound plants us right in the middle of the muck in the rural Mississippi delta. The film’s musical score by debut film composer Tamar-kali has received considerable praise for its authentic Southern tone and synchronization with the movie’s climactic scenes. The blues-tinged notes helps to make the story feel all the more soulful. What really gives Mudbound the dark horse status, in our book, is the phenomenal performance by superstar Mary J Blige. Rees was apparently so sure of her casting decision, that Blige was not even asked to audition. We think it was right on the money in sight of her memorable portrayal of Florence Jackson, matriarch of the Jackson family.

One of the most deliciously surprising movies released this year was Get Out. Not much could have prepared audiences for Peele’s darkly satirical social thriller. Get Out could well be the film to deviate from the Academy’s trend of overlooking the horror genre (although it encapsulates elements of several genres). If nominated, it would also contradict the Academy’s tendency to avoid first-time directors, with the film being Peele’s solo directorial debut. Rather than simply being a narrative filled with scare tactics, this clever deconstruction of society peeks under the genteel façade of American suburbia and reveals what ugliness lies beneath. Daniel Kaluuya’s gripping portrayal of the main character steals the show, which justly earned him a win for Best Actor at the Golden Globes. The performances of his costars Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford also add to the Stepford Wives-esque feel that the movie radiates. While racial alienation lies at the heart of the storyline, let’s not gloss over the genius way in which Peele decides to express this message. While it is uncertain whether Get Out will manage to win Best Director, Best Actor or Best Picture, it’s certainly got our vote.

The Overlooked

A few wondrous feats of cinema inevitably fall through the cracks when awards season comes around. Sometimes they didn’t manage to flourish at the box office or were simply outshined by more recent arrivals—but we believe they still deserve recognition. Stronger (2017) is one such example. The film is based on the true story of Jeff Bauman’s struggle to cope with the amputation of his legs after being wounded in the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. But Stronger massively deviates from the all-too-familiar formula of the “true story”: the ultra-Hollywoodized narrative where the protagonist triumphs over all obstacles unscathed, finishing with a life lesson for the spectator. Technically, the film does slot neatly into the group; however, David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, 2013) directs Bauman’s account in such a way that marks it head and shoulders above the other films within its category. There’s a real commitment to exhibiting Bauman’s perspective: his struggle with PTSD and his detachment from the hero status he earns himself. It seems highly unlikely that Stronger will make the cut on this occasion but it is worth a view for sure.

Are you excited for the Oscars 2018 awards? Give us your thoughts on our predictions—are they accurate?

Catch up on last year’s Oscar nominations: 2017 Oscar Nominations