Review: Tusk

TUSK-TRAILER Review contains mild spoilers.

Imagine, if you will, sitting next to your friend idly as he’s scrolling through his phone. He turns to you and grins, “Hey, check out this video of an anteater eating out this guy’s asshole.”

“What?”

He insists, “just watch.” Call it boredom, call it morbid curiosity, or maybe just call it an inexplicable desire to witness something wild, but for whatever reason, you lean in and watch. Unsurprisingly, the video is exactly as described – an anteater eating out some guy’s asshole.

Your friend guffaws at your reaction. “Ugh! That’s sick! Why would you show me that?!” Then you pause and realize, were you wrong to expect anything other than that anteater eating out that man’s asshole?

And that’s kind of what it’s like to watch Tusk. Or more specifically, what it’s like to watch beloved geek filmmaker Kevin Smith talk excitedly about making Tusk, before actually sitting down and watching the lurid, unpleasant thing unfold before you.

The conceit of Tusk is based on an episode of Smith’s weekly podcast, wherein  Smith and his co-host found a joke posting on Craigslist by a man claiming to offer free room and board to any interested tenant, provided he/she is willing to dress up in a walrus costume and entertain him for a few hours every day. Inspired, or rather high off his ass, Smith excitedly began to wax about crafting the post into a horror film, wherein the tenant in question is sewn into the walrus suit and forced to perform for the old man. The director then took to Twitter to ask fans to tweet either “WalrusYes” or “WalrusNo” in regards to whether or not he should write and direct the movie. In a reaction entirely unsurprising for the internet, “WalrusYes” overwhelmingly won out. Tusk was born. Or rather, spawned.

The film follows Wallace (Justin Long) a podcaster with a silly porn mustache who gets his jollies making fun of humiliating viral videos of others. An attempt at meeting and interviewing one of these others leaves him stuck in Canada without a show. Wallace soon discovers a man (Michael Parks) advertising free room and board to anyone willing to hear stories of his many adventures, among them a story of how he was once saved by a lone walrus while lost at sea. Shortly after Wallace arrives, the old man drugs him, cuts off his legs, cuts out his tongue, and sews him into a makeshift walrus costume, so the old man might relive the glory days with his old walrus companion.

And yeah, that’s about it. There’s really not much else to say about Tusk other than it is exactly as Smith himself advertised, with one small exception. He has described the film to be in a similar vein to the old Hammer horror pictures of the 50s and 60s, yet Tusk plays more like a stoner’s riff on Hitchcock’s Psycho, deliriously stumbling along the line between serious and ironic while succeeding at neither approach. It isn’t funny, it isn’t scary, the performances are earnest in all the wrong places, and the characters are all awful, awful people. Picture a bad episode of South Park, then remove all self-awareness, social commentary, and humor, and you’ve just about got Tusk.

Like Psycho, Tusk sees Wallace’s allies, in this case his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and co-host (Haley Joel Osment), fly to Canada in search of the missing Wallace. They are met by French-Canadian Inspector Guy Lapointe, played by a lazy-eyed, prosthetic-nosed Johnny Depp in an insufferable performance that seems to stretch the already paper-thin premise into an obnoxious bore. Depp, meandering from line to line in search of a chuckle, reminds us all just how far from grace the actor has fallen in recent years. Meanwhile, the image of a howling, screeching Justin Long in a plastic-y walrus costume is painfully brandished into my memory.

The truth is, Tusk should not be a movie. It really has no right to exist as anything more than a joke on the podcast it was birthed on. It is cruel, unfunny, depraved, and all-around useless as a film. And I guess that’s how the once-proud voice of a generation of independent filmmakers regards his career these days. Just a joke on a phone to be shown to a friend for a laugh.

1/10

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Ryan’s Most Anticipated of 2014

So excited was I for 2014’s potential slate of films that I’d actually had a draft of this list written up back in July. Several release date changes, new additions, and comprehensive rewrites later, and here we are at my final list of eagerly-awaiteds. And I haven’t settled for just ten.

15. Exodus

exodus-christian-baleAs an atheist, formerly a COFC (Child of Forced Christianity), biblical films have often rubbed me the wrong way. In part, it’s people’s cultish fanaticism, the outdated lies the church feeds to gullible geriatrics, and the sick way it lends its “seal of approval” to certain films dealing in its scripture. It’s also why I’ll likely be skipping Darren Aronofsky’s Noah – the director spoon-fed me enough Christian tripe in The Fountain to last a lifetime.

Yes, I am an atheist. Happily, so is Ridley Scott.

So it seems Exodus is aiming for something a bit deeper than propaganda. The smartest religion-based films all have a sense of spirituality about them, not in a pandering sense, but to appeal to the similarities we share as a species. Our fears, our hopes, our desires, these emotions transcend organized religion and speak to each of us on a personal level. Scott, who handled even the most heavy-handed Christian themes in last year’s Prometheus admirably, should be able to strike that cord with a more universal tone. On top of that, Christian Bale will almost certainly prove a fantastic casting choice as Moses.

14. Maps to the Stars

file_177163_1_map-of-the-stars1I prefer director David Cronenberg when he’s making hard-edged mystery movies like A History of Violence over winking, meta works like eXistenZ, but the director’s latest film dealing with, according to star Julianne Moore, “the pursuit of fame at any cost,” has me intrigued. And already the signs of Cronenberg’s trademark meta-ness are there – this is the first film the 70-year old Canadian filmmaker has ever shot in Los Angeles, a film being produced by the very people he’ll be criticizing.

Maps to the Stars began as a screenplay by Bruce Wagner, who turned it into the novel “Dead Stars” after the project fell through, then re-adapted it into a screenplay when it was picked up again. The New York Times described Wagner’s novel as, “Stomach-turning, sick-making, rancid, repugnant, repellent, squalid, odious, fetid, disgusting.” Sounds right up Cronenberg’s alley.

13. 22 Jump Street

16-22-jump-streetI’d forgotten just how much I loved last year’s 21 Jump Street until I bought and re-watched the film on a whim during Black Friday. It is a truly hilarious movie, one of the funniest I’ve seen in a while, with its self-aware sending-up of the action genre. The film also did some really clever stuff portraying the generational gap between this and last decade’s high schoolers, which spoke to my funny bone more than even the passing years ever could.

Its sequel presents a similar premise, with Schmidt and Jenko (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) heading to college to find and bust up a new drug ring. I love the fact that the film unabashedly revels in the absurdity of its new title, being named as such simply because the cops now occupy the church across the street. My only concern is that the original screenwriters aren’t present, but luckily its directors are, so hopefully 22 Jump Street won’t fall victim to the typical comedy sequel pitfall of, you know, completely tarnishing the original film (ahem, Hangover).

12. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Andy-Serkis-as-Caesar-in-Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was easily the best Apes film since the 1968 original, effectively relaunching the dormant franchise by going back and telling the backstory behind the simians’ takeover of Earth. It was smart about paying homage to the series’ legacy, while doing enough of its own thing to justify its own existence. One of the best surprises of the year was hearing the familiar, “Get your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” followed by Caesar’s bellow of, “NO!” All I remember thinking was, “oh shit!”

Now it’s four years later, and the hyper-intelligent apes have been training and populating the forest where James Franco left them. The humans are now contemplating war against the apes to take back their land. How will the apes continue developing their speech? Will they start using obscenities? Have they perfected their British accents yet? Either way, with some likely incredible effects work from WETA and a motion-captured Andy Cerkis, let’s hope newbie Apes director Matt Reeves can keep this fire stoked.

11. The Expendables 3

expendables-2-logoTo call the Expendables films a guilty pleasure would imply some sort of guilt. I am completely, totally, unabashedly in support of Stallone’s biennial teaming of the best and boldest action stars for one big, fun ass-kicking session. And this time around the roster additions are even more impressive: Wesley Snipes, Jackie Chan, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Antonio Banderas round out an already outstanding ensemble of action veterans.

Behind the camera is Red Hill director Patrick Hughes, an interesting choice, one which matches Stallone’s desire to inflict the series with new blood. Let’s just hope the casting of several pretty-boy nobodies won’t take the focus off the more established actors who better deserve the pat on the back. Let’s also hope this isn’t the last we see of Stallone’s franchise; with stars like Nicolas Cage (sought out for this installment, eventually replaced by Kelsey Grammar due to scheduling issues), Kurt Russell, and several other action greats who’ve still yet to enter the fray, it’d be a damn shame for Stallone to retire the team without giving them their time to shine.

10. A Million Ways to Die in the West

amwtditw2Last year’s Ted proved Seth McFarlane wasn’t just a capable showrunner, but a capable film director as well, seamlessly translating his self-referential, gross-out, 80s-referencing, gut-bustingly funny brand of humor to the silver screen. I can’t wait to see what he does with his latest, a parody of the western genre featuring a mess of celebrities in either major roles or cameos (Liam Neeson!). It’ll be a true test of McFarlane’s abilities, seeing if he can’t handle the bigger budget and star-studded cast. But with the way he gracefully took it on the chin during his  unfairly reviled Oscar hosting gig, I have no doubt McFarlane can pull it off. And hey, it can’t be any worse than the current state of his familiar animated cartoon show, which has long outstayed its welcome.

9. Maleficent

maleficent-watch-first-trailer-movie-angelina-jolieWith Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland pushed back to 2015, I’ve turned to another film for my classic Disney fix – this retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of its antagonist, starring Angelina Jolie in a role she is absolutely perfect for.

The film should prove an intriguing re-invention of the timeless Disney mythology. The spindle, the thicket forest, it’s all there thanks to production designer-turned-director Robert Stromberg, who also worked on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a film which certainly can’t be faulted for its design. There’s also Beauty and the Beast scribe Linda Woolverton and DC Animated writer Paul Dini on scripting duties, both of whom are sure to bring something special to the film.

On top of that, the character herself was the stuff of my childhood nightmares. There’s just something  innately terrifying about her appearance on a very primal level, and the film’s trailer already showcases a doozy of an exchange between her and Aurora:

“Don’t be afraid!”

“I am not afraid.”

“Then come out!”

“Then you will be afraid.”

*shivers*

8. Gone Girl

gone-girlLately I feel as though I’d been unfair to the subject of my first full blog-based review, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I should’ve better appreciated the film’s atmosphere, its slick mystery plot and unique character portrayal. I very much hope to be better singing Fincher’s praises on his next novel adaptation.

Fincher, whose talents are probably better suited here than on Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake, will direct the story of a man searching for his lost bride from a script by the novel’s original author Gillian Flynn. I haven’t read the novel, but the promise of neo-noir-like themes of deception and paranoia between the couple intrigues me. It’ll prove interesting to see how Flynn chooses to adapt her novel’s way of revealing plot points entirely from the perspective of its leads (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike). And on a side note, Affleck himself has been making some very smart career choices lately (Runner Runner excluded), so I have to give him credit for really growing up in a big way. This is definitely a film I’m watching out for.

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmdofpIt wasn’t until very recently that I began to truly appreciate what director Bryan Singer had done on X-Men. Yes, I’d reasoned, the 2000 film rejuvenated the comic book movie. Yes, it spurred studios to begin taking pulp properties seriously. Yes, it balanced an effective ensemble. It also spawned a series that still hasn’t quite mined the heart of its source material, a series filled with blaringly obvious metaphors and thinly-drawn characters (read: walking sets of powers) in its earliest installments.

Now, I see and appreciate what Singer was doing. His films aren’t about the script or the characters. They’re about the staging, the gravity he lends to the proceedings, the real-world application he brings to the pulp, and the spot-on casting of these actors. With that in mind, I’m even more excited for Days of Future Past, which will not only unite the cast of Singer’s films with their younger, equally brilliant counterparts from First Class, but also boast a script that’s been toiled over by First Class’ Matthew Vaughn and Simon Kinberg. It all feels like one big culmination of everything the series has been building up to.

A dystopian future spurs Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to travel back in time to fix the past and save the present; I like this idea that out of ultimate despair, out of complete hopelessness, comes hope for the future. I also like the idea of Professor X meeting himself at a very different time in his life (as in the above image), comparing and contrasting the two Xs. Days of Future Past’s trailer provides a dark gravity the series hasn’t seen since X2, and could easily wind up being the best of the series.

6. A Walk Among the Tombstones

liam-neeson-filming-a-walk-among-the-tombstones-3Two Liam Neeson-starrers will grace the silver screen in 2014. The first is February’s airplane heist thriller Non-Stop from Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra, which looks to be along the same silly, fun lines as the first Taken. The other is this, the long-gestating adaptation of Lawrence Block’s 10th Matthew Scudder detective novel about a retired cop investigating the rape and murder of a drug dealer’s wife. And while Taken sold me on the prospect of more action-centric Neeson vehicles (which even he doesn’t take seriously), it’s great to see such a talented dramatic actor bringing his considerable gravitas to something a bit more…well, serious.

The adaptation, to be helmed by writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) has been heavily praised by Block himself, who wrote, “I couldn’t be happier about either the star or the writer/director, both of them genuine artists and brilliant professionals. My book’s in good hands.” You rarely hear such a ringing endorsement from the author of an adapted novel these days, so I fully expect to enjoy my walk this Fall.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

capwsThe second Captain America faces an uphill battle. It must make up for time lost after the all-too-humble characterization seen in The First Avenger, better expanding on Cap’s authoritative voice as written in The Avengers. It must balance the blockbuster thrills of team-based conflict involving newcomers Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while still depicting the more intimate inner turmoil of Rogers (Chris Evans), a man out of time who has lost both a lover and a best friend, forced to face a world he no longer recognizes. It must take audiences through the tragic arc of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), another sorely underdeveloped character in First Avenger. Most importantly, it must convince audiences that good-guy Rogers is as interesting a character as Batman or Iron Man. Indeed he is, in the comics anyway, which is why I’m happy to see the excellent Ed Brubaker-written Winter Soldier arc being translated to the silver screen. With “Community” directors Anthony and Joe Russo taking over for the safe, mechanical direction of Joe Johnston, Winter Soldier looks to be the smarter, edgier political/spy thriller to better tap into the heart of what Cap is all about. And finally, a suit that looks great and lets Cap’s ears breathe.

4. Interstellar

interstellar_lead-449006It’s a former Spielberg project back on track thanks to the Nolan brothers, and it’s just as shrouded in mystery as when it was last buzzing about. A 2008 draft of the script by Jonah Nolan suggests ties to black holes and alternate planes of existence, a fascinating prospect which should prove to be smart sci-fi material for director Christopher’s first venture into the genre.

I like Nolan as a filmmaker, but despite what Batman fanboys hailing him as god’s gift to cinema will tell you, he really isn’t at his best directing action. It’s the suspense, the intrigue, the sheer storytelling ability showcased in Memento and The Prestige that make Nolan special. Those abilities seem to have suffered a bit after the overwritten Inception and the underwritten Dark Knight Rises, both of which experienced overblown hype that may very well have gone to the director’s head. Still, with admitted influences in sci-fi greats Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, Nolan’s own space odyssey has potential to be something truly special.

3. The Hobbit: There and Back Again

the-hobbit-there-and-back-again-postponed-until-december-2014-129368-a-1362124090-470-75There’s not much praise I haven’t already heaped on Peter Jackson and his team for their outstanding work bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to life. The third and final installment of the trilogy will be their last-ever outing to Middle-Earth, making for all the more reason to be excited for the epic, bittersweet conclusion to Bilbo and the Dwarves’ saga.

As such, the storied Battle of Five Armies of the novel is sure to be the most epic of Jackson’s entire Middle-Earth saga. It’s a lofty expectation, given that these Hobbit films haven’t quite taken the world by storm in the same way the Lord of the Rings trilogy did. But they are a nice throwback to those films, showcasing a great mythology worthy of praise for WETA’s brilliant design work alone. Something tells me Jackson’s Tintin sequel and whatever other New Zealand-based projects the director has planned after ending his tenure with Tolkien just won’t compare.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

josh-brolin-sin-city-a-dame-to-kill-forDéjà vu…Robert Rodriguez’s highly-anticipated follow-up to 2005’s Sin City teased us with an official 2013 release date before the director revealed it was all a ruse to hold that date for Machete Kills. The film, which will take another year for its effects to be completed, will now see release in August, yet the delay has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for the sequel to one of my all-time favorite films. Everything I said in last year’s Most Anticipated post still applies, so there’s little I have to add to what will hopefully jump-start Sin City into a full-blown franchise. And I can’t be the only one who’s praying for Clive Owen to make a surprise reprisal of post-face-operation Dwight for the climax of the film’s title segment.

1. Knight of Cups

knight-of-cups-stillIt’s rare these days for any one film to completely blow me away, but what Terrence Malick achieved in To the Wonder was nothing short of spellbinding. I’m expecting equally big things from his next, a story of Hollywood excess starring two of my favorite working actors, Christian Bale and Natalie Portman, among a cast of equally impressive players.

As is sadly the standard with Malick’s work, the question of whether or not these actors will actually make the final cut is another matter entirely. Malick is notorious for shooting hundreds of hours of footage and constantly changing the focus of the final cut during his films’ lengthy post-production period.

Malick shot Cups simultaneously with his next, an as-yet untitled film about the music industry which starred, among others, Michael Fassbender, who recently expressed doubt he would make it into the final cut. Yet to read Fassbender talk of what a privilege it was to work with Malick regardless is telling enough. Truly, Malick’s meticulousness is the work of a master director, one who has spawned some of the most profound, intensely detailed, meticulously crafted films of the past half-century. As far as I’m concerned, he can take all the time he needs.

Happy New Year all! Expect my 2013 Top Ten list very soon.

Top Ten Most Anticipated of 2013

 

It’s Heraldic Criticism’s belated one-year anniversary, and I’m once again kicking off the New Year with my top ten most eagerly anticipated films of the next twelve months.

You can expect my Top Ten list a bit later, as I still need to watch quite a few movies from 2012. Until then, enjoy my hopefuls of 2013!

10. Gravity

gravityConsider this a placeholder for all sci-fi films coming next year. Of the bunch, Alfonso Cuaron’s (Children of Men) long-delayed Gravity looks to be the most promising. While little is known of the actual plot, Gravity will star George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

 

9. Iron Man 3

iron-man-3-teaser-poster_cmykI was just as shocked as everyone at the more serious, less jokey tone of the trailer for the third Iron Man film and follow-up to The Avengers. But it was almost certainly the right way to go – the ballsy, epic feel aims to prove that serious shit can go down even in these heroes’ individual worlds. Among the film’s many draws are Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the armored avenger’s greatest foe, playing what could easily be one of the most memorable villains in years, and co-writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) providing a healthy change of pace from the meandering Iron Man 2.

 

 

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

First-Look-at-Leonardo-DiCaprio-in-Character-for-The-Wolf-of-Wall-StreetMartin Scorsese’s follow-up to 2011’s Hugo sees the return of frequent leading man Leo DeCaprio for a 90s-set true story about a broker who refuses participation in a mafia-tied Wall Street. To say that the fifth Scorsese-DeCaprio collaboration would be one to watch this year would be a no-brainer.

 

7. The Counselor

ridleyLooking at director Ridley Scott’s body of work over the past decade, I’m thrilled to see him tackling anything other than another hackneyed historical epic. Prometheus proves the director still has it in him to direct a great thriller, and with a script from Cormac McCarthy, it seems he may be able to add another to his already brimming resume. And while I haven’t read the author’s work, both The Road and No Country for Old Men are fantastic. Topped off with an all-star cast, this could easily be one of the highlights of the year.

6. The Wolverine

wolverine_jackman_660If Fox’s recent track record is anything to go by, the mistake that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all but a distant memory. Using the outstanding Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries as inspiration, the new Wolverine solo outing promises to get to the heart of the character like no movie before. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) will helm, citing a strong influence from films like The Outlaw Josey Whales. Spot on. Fox’s original choice to direct was Darren Aronofsky, a tantalizing prospect, but one which suggests a more A-list approach from the studio than in the past. Everything’s looking great, but what would really, truly sell me is the inclusion of the classic yellow-and-black suit in some form, provided it’s not ridiculous. Hey, they made it work for First Class.

5. Saving Mr. Banks

tom-hanks-as-walt-disney-in-saving-mr-banks-first-lookI can still point to Mary Poppins as one of the first films I ever saw, and one that inspired a strong bond between me and classic Disney. Some days, I still find myself humming Step in Time, We Love to Laugh, or Let’s Go Fly a Kite. As such, this Black List script-turned major awards contender is generating some serious buzz. I don’t know much about how the rights to the book were sold, but I’m very eager to hear the “based on a true story” version.

Plus, there’s Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Why not?

 

4. Man of Steel

1man-of-steel-posterI am terrified for this movie. This is Superman’s last chance at being a box office draw, and it’s clear WB have gone balls-out to try to make a movie as A-list as the character deserves. As I’ve discussed, the approach leaves ample room for failure, and yet, a universally reviled movie will be forgotten. Worse yet is the chance that the film will blow and STILL manage to find an audience, guaranteeing an inferior version of the character permeating throughout all Superman media for years to come (see Captain America: The First Avenger).

I’ve been inclined to dismiss the film entirely for reasons I’ve already mentioned – the bizarre casting, WB’s cluelessness of how to handle DC properties, writer David Goyer’s sketchy track record, and most of all, the choice of Zack Snyder to helm. That last one especially – this is a man that not only directed three flops in a row for the studio, but arguably hasn’t made a good movie yet. Or at least one absent of the director’s trademark soulless, thoughtless visual ejaculate better suited to car commercials than the greatest superhero of all time. Top that off with DC Comics’ own misguided reinventions of the character, including a military presence that portrays the character as more Hulk than hero, seemingly being used as a partial influence. Suffice to say, there is more than enough potential for this movie to be dead on arrival.

The latest trailer, while still largely just an HD version of the leaked Comic-Con trailer from last July which I praised, polarizes me. Distracting faux-artsy flair, blinding high contrast, borderline pretentious musical selection…it’s all so completely unnecessary to simply telling a great Superman story. If they go with such a self-serious tone, trying too hard to go beyond the pulp roots of the character, they may very well end up with something even more moody and unpleasant than Superman Returns.

Having said all that, this is still Superman we’re talking about, and isn’t Superman all about hope in the face of certain doom? I’m optimistic for perhaps a more modern silver screen take on the character in spite of my better senses. In the end, this is a movie that will live and die based on how well it tells its story, not its overwrought presentation, looking to be a retelling of the character’s origins from a more grounded perspective, and perhaps treating Superman as if he were a real thing. It’s more important the filmmakers do the character justice and tell a meaningful, compelling story than stage a scene with a sun setting in the background and let the mindless, drooling masses hail it as “visionary.”

There exists plenty of potential for a great Superman series, on par or better than even The Dark Knight. And for what it’s worth, I have no reason to complain just yet. Consider my words more of a defense mechanism brought on by failures like Green Lantern. It’s all still, so to speak, up in the air.

3. The Lone Ranger

MV5BNDczODgyMjYzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ1OTU1OA@@._V1._SY317_Growing up watching Star Wars and playing Cowboys and Indians with Legos kind of gives one a false perception of what a western really is. Case in point, watching The Searchers for the first time after learning of its influence on the latter film, expecting Star Wars in the old west, leaves one bound for disappointment. I’ve since grown to appreciate the genre through films like Unforgiven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I’ve never lost the desire to see a more fun, kinetic (and well-made) western blockbuster. I get a sense that The Lone Ranger may very well be that film.

Here’s another yarn from my childhood – back in 2003, I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in and was suddenly infused with purpose. Film was where I wanted to be, and Pirates had everything I loved about blockbusters and more – an epic feel, great characters, explosive action, memorable writing, solid direction, and a score I’d be humming for years to come. Ten years later, watching The Lone Ranger trailer left me feeling that, maybe, that pure Disney magic I’d felt at seeing such a brilliant, fun, original film had returned.

Many will still scoff at my lofty placement for such a seemingly ho-hum summer tentpole, this grittier reimagining of an old radio hero. And sure, there have been valid concerns over the out-of-control budget and a first draft that boasted werewolves and other oddball supernatural occurrences. I still say the chance that The Lone Ranger delivers on its promise to do for westerns what Pirates did for pirate movies outweighs them. Verbinski looks to have delivered some breathtaking shots, and lines like, “There come a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask,” are already infinitely memorable. Not to mention, the good sense of humor Pirates had in droves appears intact. I’m not expecting a masterpiece, just a fun time at the movies like I first felt all those years ago. Hi-ho indeed.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterEight years after 2005’s revolutionary Sin City, the sequel is finally arriving. It’s high time, given that the stories being adapted for this film also overlap with those of the first. And already, both former players Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan have passed, making perfect continuity with the first all but impossible. By any account, eight years was eight too many.

One of the greatest adaptations of all time, the first Sin City brought comic writer Frank Miller’s magnum opus to life and stood as director Robert Rodriguez’s greatest achievement. The visual style, the faux-noir dialogue, the style, the look…I love just how dark and dour this world is, and how many opportunities for great storytelling it yields. Adapting further tales from the depths of Basin City, A Dame to Kill For looks to be more of the same inspired CGI-based filmmaking, and hopefully not too far from the look of the first as Rodriguez suggests here.

Naturally, Frank Miller’s co-direction and co-writing of the script, which includes two original Sin City stories, leaves plenty of room for question. As great as the writer was in the 90s when the Dark Horse series was at its peak, the man’s work in the past decade has devolved into self-parody at best, twisted abomination at worst. Luckily, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed William Monahan was on hand to rewrite Miller’s draft, so pray A Dame to Kill For is more in the vein of the first than The Spirit.

The fact that the film adaptation didn’t explode into a full-fledged franchise is nothing short of a crime. Depending on how this film goes, let’s hope we won’t have to wait nearly as long for the third.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

hobbit-desolation-smaugNo surprises here. An Unexpected Journey was excellent, a grand return to the kind of epic storytelling we’ve come to expect from director Peter Jackson. Though the trilogy conceit is a bit much, and even Unexpected Journey suffered from a meandering, over-elongated script, the second installment should prove to contain even more titillating moments for fans of the book. Among those will be an appearance from Smaug the dragon, voiced and acted via motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbacht (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And as someone who regrettably skipped through the appendices of Return of the King when I read the book as a kid, I’m also very eager to see more of the Necromancer and how it all ties in to Lord of the Rings. In any case, more is not at all a bad thing.