05 January 2017

Top Pop Culture Bits to Watch in 2017!

I'm going to try so hard this year. This post. RIGHT NOW to get some shit right. No more thinking X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) will be a cool movie (to be fair, it wasn't all thaaat bad). I'm so nervous. I still get excited for some tentpole films that end up crowding this list. Still, I'm trying real damn hard to tempter my expectations. Let's go through all the Vin Diesel-focused events of 2017 that we can articulate some reasonable expectations with and then sort out the intriguing Paul Anderson and Edgar Wright projects later, okay?

Taboo (01/10)
Evil Lincoln!

I've tried to stay away from much other detail about this creepy story of Tom Hardy returning from the dead to Victorian England and ruining everyone's day, but it's certainly the miniseries to catch in early 2017. Tom Hardy's almost becoming too recognizable to be effective, but there's hardly another actor who can throw himself so completely in a character, even if that character is fairly predictable by now. I bet he'll be an ornery loner who grunts more than speaks! I'm curious how weird this gets - Hardy on FX let loose ought to deliver.

Run the Jewels 3 (01/17)

Fucking A. This came out already. It doesn't really reach the heights of Run the Jewels 2, but the third album by the Killer Mike / El P collabo once had a real shot at becoming an early frontrunner for 2017's album of the year. Instead it may kind of end up as a 2016 afterthought that was moved up three weeks and dropped Christmas Day. Confusing for pundits for sure and definitely sneaking out of many Best of Lists that shot their wad prematurely.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (01/20)
Sorry, Asia Argento

One of my goals here is to showcase some films that no one and I mean no one else is looking forward to in 2017. Hell fucking yeah Return of Xander Cage. xXx (2002) should never be Google searched, but exists in that holy first period of Diesel prominence, and at the time I loved it a whole lot more than The Fast and the Furious (2001). It doesn't give a shit about anything and relishes its own schlock and stupidity, owning that turn of the century XTREME fad to the max, while also showing some shaky sides of the Diesel. Really! No other movie showed its protagonist shaking and shocked at the end of an intense episode like this until Captain Phillips (2003). XXX:RoXC (oh jeez) looks to be the Fast Five (2011)-ification of this universe, and why not? It will almost surely miss the mark and lack all the great characters that have made Fast a billion-dollar franchise. It's also amazing that Diesel used to avoid any and all non-Riddick sequels, but now he's really into revisiting everything. Or he just likes money. I'm not sure if he understands irony at all, but that's part of what makes Diesel great. I'm going to regret hyping this in twelve months.

Legion (02/08) - FX

Of all the X-Men characters, Chuckie Xavier's weird time travelling son Legion is an odd one to focus a television show around, but that's perhaps exactly the point. It's unexpected and therefore unknown and ripe to mix around however Noah "Fargo" Hawley feels like doing. It looks to be an untraditional story at best, but in rough danger of falling apart. The 90s Legion comics were a trip, but decently inaccessible. Keeping the mythology at arms' length is a good play, but I'm most curious how it ties in (if at all) to the junkiest and oldest contiguous franchise out there.

John Wick: Chapter Two (02/10)

Let's go to something that could actually be awesome. John Wick (2014) was a stunningly good original action film, more so that it was actually good rather than anything revolutionary it did. Amazingly, keeping a frame steady throughout a firefight and letting the actors and stunt people rather than the editing do the work results in a sublime movie! Chapter Two loses the David Leitch part of the directing team, but hopefully Chad Stahelski is fine enough on his own. Laurence Fishburne seems like an uncanny Matrix (1999) reunion that's too on the nose to be accidental considering how much sway Keanu has on this thing. It all looks like a really fun mess that will never be what John Wick was, but based on what we got last time, ought to serve us up a nice couple of hours.

The LEGO Batman Movie (02/10)
How come having every villain ever at once isn't
weird or awful in animation?

There's a lot mixing around here. The LEGO Movie (2014) was an absolute blast, and Will Arnett's bombastic little kid's interpretation of the Dark Knight had a lot to do with it. Caught in between campy and serious views of Batman, he could prove to be the best Batman ever. We'll see when the character is on full display here, seemingly a swath of maniacal ego, darkness, and loneliness - but in a fun way! Chris McKay takes over directorial duties, who has an comedic pedigree for sure, although relatively untested in G/PG realm. Hopes are high for irreverence, especially one that pins holes in a superhero year that features the most grimdark Batman ever, Ben Affleck returning for Justice League (2017) just a few months later.

A Cure for Wellness (02/17)

Dane DeHaan is our best young creepy actor, but he's lacked any sort of defining role, or at least a good movie to exist in. Gore Verblinksi is a supremely underrated director, mostly I think because he trades in excessive bombast more than anyone, but also creates films of sincere symbolic depth that generally challenge accepted blockbuster norms, if not structurally than thematically. This seems to trade on all the work he did prepping a failed or at least not by his hands BioShock movie and trades in the quasi-horror and creepiness that Verblinksi films always flirt with. I'm on board.

Logan (03/03)
"You killed my family!" SNIKT

If we discount Legion and LEGO Batman, this is the first and most anticipated superhero movie of the year. You've torn my heart out time and time again superhero movies, but 2017 looks to be even more subversive than 2016. This past year we really only got Deadpool (2016) that made fun of the genre while actually going through it by the numbers. Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) actually did a much better job throwing down and dismantling the formula with a villain that preyed on the hero's perceptions of what movie they were actually in. Anyway, that's a long way of saying that Hugh Jackman's final Wolverine outing (barring Deadpool 2 [2018]) may be his best - a grungy angry Unforgiven (1992) starring a superhero rather than an out and out capes and capers flick. If it even goes that route at all - by all means it could just be a beat-up action film that uses its hero pedigree to sell some tickets. The Wolverine (2013) promised this intimate portrayal, but then largely missed the mark. Hopes are high all around for this, even if James Mangold has had more misses than hits lately.

The Fate of the Furious (04/14)

Listen - I had to. Just read all of this. These films may have topped out actually at Fast & Furious 6 (2013), but what's crazy is how they don't seem afraid to mix up the formula at all. It helps these impeccably similarly titled films to remain distinct. Fast & Furious (2009) was the one that got them back together. Fast Five (2011) saw them heist in brazil. Fast & Furious 6 was them battling their evil-er counterparts in London. Furious 7 (2015) was the spy movie where Paul Walker died. This one is where Dom Toretto is replaced with a mind-controlled clone robot evil brother. Really a pretty simple continuity.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (05/05)
Oh movies are weird.

Comedy and superhero sequels are always tricky, and there's no reason to believe this will work, besides a trailer that is familiar yet different. That's the ultimate bargain. You want to feel the exact same way about a film but have different shit make you feel that way. This is golden for that. My love for Guardians wanes and waxes between cheeky admiration, now overplayed sarcastic character tropes, and then back to a hilarious no frills space romp. With all the pressure in the world this film has thrown up an even bigger middle finger to anyone who cares - from the poster that looks like a Ramones album to a trailer that delivers with characters settled into their roles and really hitting their mark. It'll fail if it goes for more of the same, and the "Hooked on a Feeling" that hits the trailer again feels like going back to the well, even if every single tentpole ever now has a quirky 70s pop song attached nowadays. This needs to rise above its imitators.

Dunkirk (07/21)

I suppose this checks off a list of obvious ones, but even though there seems to be a weird anti-Nolan backlash around the Internet, likely mostly just in contrarian to the universal nerd love he's gotten for so many years, that's not holding me back from getting excited about this. Here's what's not - the general blandness of the trailer, and the acknowledgment that Nolan's films tend to be conceptually intriguing and breathtakingly shot, but in a practical sense bereft of imagination. Creatively daring but practically bankrupt. It's a subtle line. He's never approached a historical epic, though, and I'd love to see what he can bring to the war genre. Harry Styles, though. I may have talked myself out of my anticipation. It will probably look pretty, though.

Blade Runner 2049 (10/06)
Not to mention Ana de Armas in a not "right out
of the shower" role. Presumably.

This is kind of tough. I get the feeling like this is sort of being treated as a big franchise, re-visiting kind of film, although none of that adds up. Blade Runner (1982) was exceptionally unbeloved upon its release, and remains a really really niche film, mostly appealing to sci-fi nerds, film nerds, or people who like to track the influence of giant flaming cityscapes. Denis Villeneuve may be the best working non-Paul Anderson director right now, but the most cash he's ever brought in was for this year's Arrival (2016), which is by far his most accessible film. Handling Blade Runner 2049 seems like something he'd go nuts with, although Ryan Gosling is just about at a career peak and Harrison Ford's late age bankability is strong after he brought back Han Solo. Give the meat to Gosling, treat the material like it's new and this will be good. Pander to Deckard and Scott and this will suck tits. I can't imagine Villeneuve catering and bowing down to studio influences. Right?

So those are all the really obvious choices for 2017. Let's get into some of the smaller scheduled films that could make a splash that will likely actually be much better:

Rock That Body - The cast is like SNL mixed with Broad City and lead by Scarlett Johansson. A summer release comedy with shades of Bridesmaids, which is likely exactly how it got made.
Baby Driver - a non-Cornetto Trilogy Edgar Wright film, which has been taking up his time since his departure from Ant-Man (2015). It's also written by Wright and has a likewise awesome cast, although not many of his regulars. This is really the time to see whether or not Wright is a sustainable non-Simon Pegg director.
Downsizing - a Matt Damon shrinking movie by Alexander Payne. This will do.
God Particle - for some reason this is another Cloverfield movie, which seems to have even less to do with Clover than 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Director Julius Onah is untested, but the cast is sweet and the premise of a vanishing Earth as seen from space is intriguing. Could be another Passengers (2016), could be another Moon (2009). Who knows.
Untitled Paul Anderson Fashion World Drama - this is all you need. Seems kind of Neon Demon (2016)-y, possibly with less eyeball eating (or hell, more!), but this is like the third time I've cited Paul Anderson as our greatest current working director, so there.
Logan Lucky - there's a lot to like here. Steve Soderbergh's coming out of retirement party (we all could have called that), his current muse, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver star as brothers performing some kind of NASCAR heist. 2017 Upcoming It Girl Riley Keough supports, as does Seth MacFarlane in an extremely rare live action supporting role in something he didn't write or direct. Mind-blowing.
Annihilation - Alex Garland's Ex Machina (2015) follow-up features a bunch of chicks who head to the jungle lead by Natalie Portman fresh off her Oscar win. Or nomination. Or sat at home and we all lie about how we liked Jackie (2016).
The Death of Stalin - there's a weird and wonderful cast here, from Timothy Dalton to Steve Buscemi, but I'm intrigued by the subject matter of where and how the CCCP went after Stalin kicked the bucket.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - Luc Besson is riding high after Lucy (2015), even if his ambition was a bit over his delivery, but this looks like a grand original sci-fi tale that's got to remind you of The Fifth Element (1997). Cara and Dane look great and the title's a mouthful, but this will definitely make like $10 million in the States and $500 million worldwide.
It Comes at Night - Joel Edgerton, who is suddenly a good actor, and Riley Keough...again (see what I meant?) in this mysterious number shepherded by A24, who has produced all the good movies lately.
Mute - Duncan Jones gets off the Warcraft (2016) trainwreck and into a more Moon-like bit with Alex "Tarzan" Skarsgård as a mute in future Berlin or something. Everyone involved was once good and has done much shit in the past few years. Let's get back to the good.
Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter - Jody Hill has been busy on the small screen but returns here in what could be a comedy, or maybe a tragedy about Josh Brolin hunting with his son. It will likely be equal parts a bit of both.
The Coldest City - Consider this the other half of John Wick. In between producing Chapter 2 and also sinking into Deadpool 2, David Leitch lends some hopeful action expertise to Charlize Theron in this Berlin Wall spy thriller. Down.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 - S. Craig Zahler, who gave us the brutal yet underrated Bone Tomahawk (2015) gets Vince Vaughn to try his True Detective mode again. If anything, we're intrigued. Also some kind of prison fight.
Landline - Gillian Robespierre does Obvious Child (2014) again, in the 90s, with an awesome cast of actresses, including Jenny Slate again. On board.
Free Fire - this one just got a trailer, which ruled and looks all sorts of incredible. Just a straight no holds-barred gun fight in the 70s. Armie Hammer being a doofus and Brie Larson in between Oscar winning and Captain Marvel roles. I'm in.

So folks, what do you think? What did I miss? I'm not getting excited about Apes or Spider-Man or Jedis anymore. I just can't. What's in your Top 2017 List?

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