Saturday, October 5, 2019

Dear Cinephiles,

Last year, I was invited to serve as a film writer and critic for a new upstart online publication. Unfortunately, the company went under before it had a chance to publish my first piece -- an advanced look at 2018's biggest summer tentpoles. Recently though, I was combing through some of my old writing for a portfolio I'm putting together and I came across this little gem. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out and found myself a little disappointed that it never got in front of the readership that it was supposed to. So, alas, I decided to resurrect it here on my own blog just in case anyone was interested in taking a stroll down Tinseltown's memory lane. (Yeah, I know it's only been a year, but a lot can happen in such a short time!) Anyway, without further ado, here is my 900-word write-up on last year's heftiest blockbusters! Enjoy!


Pumped Up: A Look at This Summer’s Tentpole Films
By Mark Heidelberger

Each year, Hollywood works feverishly to up the ante on the scope and scale of its summer blockbusters, all in hopes of conjuring the next billion-dollar success story. Stars are bigger. Locations are bigger. Visual effects, bigger. Budget, way bigger. And that trend doesn’t appear to be abating with 2018’s crop. Nor does Tinseltown seem to be straying from the tried-and-true tradition of piggy-backing on the coattails of its most lucrative franchises.

Enter the $100-billion gorilla in the room, Disney, with not one but two post-Memorial Day Goliaths set to bash their way through theaters this summer. First to screens is The Incredibles 2, follow-up to the Mouse House’s hugely successful animated 2004 original about a family of superheroes relegated to suburban banality after the government puts the kibosh on their crime-fighting escapades. Produced by Pixar Studios, the kid-friendly sequel is scheduled for wide release on June 15th and is on track for a mega-sized opening of $140 million. At CinemaCon in April, Disney’s global distribution honcho Cathleen Taff noted the teaser trailer had been viewed a record-setting 113 million times in the first 24 hours of release and that awareness of the film was tracking at a remarkable 96%, with 61% of those surveyed expressing “definite interest.” The sequel picks up where the first film left off as the super-family struggles to resume normal lives. Wife Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter) campaigns for the reinstatement of superheroes to active duty while husband Bob (aka Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson) plays stay-at-home dad. Most of the original cast is back, including Samuel L. Jackson as ally Frozone, while Bob Odenkirk makes his franchise debut as new villain Screenslaver, a mysterious media mogul who manipulates the populace through hypnotic messaging. Director Brad Bird also returns to the helm.

For those more into stegosauruses than super-villains, Universal Studios is roaring back with another installment in its second-highest grossing franchise (sorry dinophiles, but Fast & Furious still holds the top title by a cool $100 million or so) as the highly anticipated Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom claws its way onto screens June 22nd. Eschewing the previous installment’s genetic-tampering-gone-bad premise, Kingdom takes place on the now-abandoned Isla Nublar three years after the destruction of the theme park and finds co-heroes Owen and Claire racing against time to save the remaining dinosaurs from extinction as the island’s volcano begins erupting. Joining returning stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are character actors Ted Levine and James Cromwell along with franchise alum Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as dry-witted mathematician Ian Malcolm. Replacing Colin Trevorrow in the director’s chair is J.A. Bayona, who exploded onto the scene in 2012 with Naomi Watts/Ewan McGregor-starrer The Impossible. As for Michael Crichton’s beloved brainchild, which has been regaling audiences for a quarter-century now, there are no signs of tapering, with Jurassic World 3 already announced for 2021 and Kingdom posting an almost unheard-of 99% “want to see” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And lest the studios squander the adrenalized momentum they’ve built up through Independence Day weekend, Disney will be releasing its second foray into summer box office madness on July 6th with live-action superhero sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp. This latest nugget from the ever-expanding Marvel universe, nestled between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, sees Paul Rudd return as the titular, pest-sized protagonist as he seeks to balance home and work life while under house arrest. However, he quickly finds himself pulled into an urgent mission by the doe-eyed Hope van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly), who joins him as alter-ego The Wasp on a quest to defeat a powerful new force while simultaneously uncovering buried secrets about their past. The Peyton Reed-directed flick boasts a star-laden cast (several of whom are returning from the original) that also includes Judy Greer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Michael Douglas, and Hannah John-Kamen as ruthless archvillain Ghost. But expect a targeted marketing deluge to be the real star in turning this tiny hero into a box office giant.

Not to be outdone, Paramount wades into the testosterone-fueled cinematic arena by giving IMF point-man Ethan Hunt a sixth adventure in its stalwart series, Mission: Impossible, to be released nationwide on July 27th. Subtitled Fallout, the Christopher McQuarrie-helmed actioner sees Tom Cruise’s iconic character return in a clock-crunching quest to avert a global catastrophe while being hunted by dangerous assassins (what’s new?) as well as former CIA allies who question his motives. However, the studio is keeping plot details tightly under wraps for fear of fanboys spreading twist spoilers. Starring alongside Cruise is long-time confrere Ving Rhames reprising his role as Luther Stickell as well as Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Wes Bentley, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett. This fresh installment marks a handful of firsts for the Mission movies, including McQuarrie as the first director to return for a second outing and the film being the first in the series to get the RealD 3D and IMAX 3D treatment. While Fallout is on track for a franchise-best domestic opening of $60-plus million, only time will tell whether the filmmakers managed to reinvent the storyline enough to ultimately ensure that this Mission doesn’t fail.

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