By: Daniel Reynolds
The month of May, in a lot of ways, is the best month of the year. Some reasons: we here in Canada get a tremendous long weekend (May 2-4), the weather finally officially (for real this time) gets better, and the movies get into some big time fun.
Now, before we jump into my picks for the month, a disclaimer: while I’ll stump for the small indie movie here, and the foreign film there, I’ve also got room in my movie-going heart for the blockbusters. Yes, I can acknowledge that the assembly line-style of film development is crushing the life out of a certain middle-class type of filmmaking. And I can acknowledge that there are already enough movies based on comicbooks (even if I happen to like some of the source material).
But I can also acknowledge that it takes a lot of talent, effort and coordination to successfully produce a well-made, crowd-pleasing, blockbuster film. It’s something. When done poorly we’re left with hot garbage like Batman & Robin or one of the Transformer movies. When done with an eye towards quality, well I think you can see where I’m going with this…
Winner: The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Why bother to fight it? As imagined by Joss Whedon, The Avengers: Age of Ultron is the nexus of the Marvel film universe. All the other talking (plot) points – be they of Thor, Captain America or the Guardians of the Galaxy – ultimately orbit around the events of this film. And it’s quite the conversation. Apparently, Age of Ultron‘s got a darker (think Empire Strikes Back) bent to it, with more troubling consequences. It’ll also set the stage for the next five years of Marvel films we’re going to see. No pressure.
Runner-up: Far From the Madding Crowd
This is a real, real soft runner-up, mostly because most films are not crazy enough to counter-program against the 600-point gorilla of the film schedule. Still, Thomas Vinterberg is a solid director (he made The Hunt) and the cast here is filled with talent (though your Carrie Mulligan mileage may very; mine’s pretty low). I’m sure it’ll be a nice movie to take your mother to, assuming she’s not an Avengers lady.
The Avengers hangover carries on to the following week with the most intriguing release looks to be a.. wait, that can’t be right. A zombie film? Ah, but this is not just any zombie film. Maggie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (and his gloriously dyed hair) as a father hellbent on saving his infected daughter (Abigail Breslin) while in the throes of, yes, a zombie apocalypse. It sounds tired, but I don’t know, Arnold has a way of at least making things interesting.
Runner-up: Lambert & Stamp
From all appearances, this looks to be a talking head (no, not those Talking Heads) documentary about the two managers behind the world famous band The Who. Since I enjoy some of The Who’s music, and I don’t know much about these Lambert and Stamp characters, I figure there’s probably some enjoyment to discover in the doc. Then again, it’s more lionizing of the 60s, the mod scene, old white rockers, and, yes, just plain old white men. Be advised.
Winner: Mad Max: Fury Road
Speaking of lionizing old white men, with Mad Max, we’ve got a bit of a two-for-one. In front of the camera, it’s the return of the original Road Warrior. Naturally, for this film Mel Gibson is out and Tom Hardy is in. And the stakes (and visuals) appear to be even more bonkers than the last two films in the trilogy (released way back in 1981 and 1985, respectively). Behind the camera it’s, hey, George Miller, the 70-year-old creator of the entire Mad Max series. He’s been on a weird (and rewarding) pig and penguin odyssey for the last couple of decades, but I’m excited to see what he’s got left in the tank.
Runner-up: Good Kill
Full disclosure: I was more interested in John Maclean’s Slow West here (a western with Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn), but it appears to not be coming out in Canada as of yet. Second option: why not go check out Andrew Niccol‘s Good Kill? It’s got a modern setting (a drone pilot grapples with the ethics of his job) and a good cast (Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood and, um, January Jones). And in Niccol, it has the man who wrote The Truman Show and directed Gattaca and Lord of War, which is nice. (Just ignore the rest of his filmography.)
One day Brad Bird will get his proper due as one of the best filmmakers working today. You may know him as the man behind some of the magic at Pixar (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and Tom Cruise (the invigorating Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). But his best film, The Iron Giant, exists on a continuum all its own. The risk with Tomorrowland, like IG before it, is a total lack of a reliable brand. Bird is working with recognizable things again (wild sci-fi technology, a young person on a journey of discovery, George Clooney), but after that it remains to be seen if people will flock to his vision of the future. Here’s hoping.
Runner-up: Welcome to Me
Release dates are all over the place for Kristen Wiig’s latest staring vehicle, Welcome to Me, but it looks like Toronto will get it here. I’m not sure where the hell to go with this one. Watch the trailer – it looks really weird. I’m reminded of Tom McCarthy’s book “Remainder” about a man who receives a big cash settlement due to a personal injury case and sets about spending his money recreating that (and other) moments with his funds. The book was unsettling and this movie is giving me similar vibes.
Where have you gone Cameron Crowe? Right up until 2000’s Almost Famous, you were a cultural touchstone responsible for writing and directing those aforementioned middle class dramatic/comedic/romantic films we don’t see as often anymore. You mattered. And now, with a decade lost to Orlando Bloom, Pearl Jam and a freakin’ zoo, what is left to say? I hope Aloha is good, because it would be nice to have peak-Crowe back in our lives.
Runner-up: San Andreas
The Rock plays a chopper pilot who’s gotta get across a California that’s been wrecked by a massive earthquake. Alexandra Daddario plays the daughter. OK, fine, whatever.
May’s Bonus Limited Screening Pick: Phoenix
Phoenix is something of a 2014 film; it premièred at TIFF last September and rolled out across the globe over the past eight months. While the film’s post-WWII/Holocaust setting is – not to be glib – about as tired a setting as Maggie‘s zombie apocalypse world, it’s got a dynamite hook. Phoenix tells the story of a disfigured concentration camp survivor (played by Nina Hoss, last seen here in A Most Wanted Man) who goes looking for her husband. No big deal, right? Ah, but her husband may have been the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. That, my friends, is a humdinger. It returns to the Bell Lightbox this month and I am into it.