December is one of the biggest months for movies outside of
the summer blockbuster season. Awards hopefuls continue to get wide releases
and Disney releases its final two blockbusters. There’s plenty to see for
everyone, so here’s what I’m most excited about this month.
Jumanji: The Next Level (Dec. 13)
Rating: PG-13 Starring: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas
Four friends and two unlucky grandfathers get sucked back
into the Jumanji video game where they must complete a new quest to escape once
Why I’m excited: The
2017 sequel to the original Jumanji was a surprise hit and turned out to be a
pretty entertaining movie. The main cast was a lot of fun as the avatars for
four teenagers. Hopefully they can strike twice with this new sequel.
See this if you
liked:Jumanji, Zathura, Jumanji:
Welcome to the Jungle
Three women who work at Fox News set out to expose the
network’s CEO for sexual harassment allegations.
Why I’m excited: In
what I’m sure will not be a controversial movie at all, Bombshell will
certainly be interesting. I won’t be shocked if this is the beginning of a
series of #MeToo movies that are made over the next few years. But with a
leading cast of Theron, Kidman and Robbie, this looks ready to come out
swinging. And Charlize Theron’s transformation into Megyn Kelly is
See this if you
liked:All the President’s Men, The
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 20)
Rating: PG-13 Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels
The Resistance and the First Order, as well as the Jedi and
the Sith, face off in climactic battles.
Why I’m excited: I’ve loved Star Wars since I was seven years old. The Rise of Skywalker has the not-at-all daunting task of wrapping up a 42-year-long story. The sequel trilogy has been one of the hottest topics in Hollywood over the past five years, so it will be fascinating to see how J.J. Abrams decides to bring the saga to a close.
See this if you
liked: Any Star Wars movie
Cats (Dec. 20)
Rating: PG Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson
On one special night, the Jellicle cats must decide who will
ascend to the Heaviside Layer.
Why I’m excited: Cats
has repeatedly been called one of the weirdest musicals of all time, but it’s
also one of the most successful. The character names are weird, the plot is
weird, and nothing seems to make sense. The movie is already making waves for
the absolutely insane effects of merging human beings with cats and it just all
looks so bizarre that I’m here for it.
See this if you
liked:Les Miserables, Phantom of the
Little Women (Dec. 25)
Rating: PG-13 Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep
Based on the book by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
explores the lives of the four March sisters in post-Civil War New England.
Why I’m excited: Director
Greta Gerwig and stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet were all part of
2017’s incredible Lady Bird, so
bringing this team back together and adding Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl
Streep is a dream.
See this if you
liked:Lady Bird, Pride &
Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility
How many movies have you seen this year? If I listed the 10
highest grossing movies of the year, there’s a 50% chance you saw a Disney movie.
The average American usually sees 5-6 movies in theaters each year and Disney
is becoming an increasingly large portion of those movies. A big question the
movie industry has been considering this year is whether or not Disney has
gotten too big.
Now, I’m a total Disney fanboy. Disney movies were some of
the first movies I ever saw growing up, and I sold my soul to Marvel right
around the time the first Avengers
came out in 2012. But I think it’s important to be able to be critical of
things you love, when necessary.
Disney has dominated the box office in the past few years,
but in 2019 it reached a new level with the acquisition of 20th
Century Fox. Disney movies make up around 40% of tickets sold in the US. Through
the first half of 2019, Disney made more than $2
billion at the box office. The next highest gross was Warner Brothers with
$858 million. That’s a pretty massive jump. And as of October 2019, Disney
holds five of the 10 highest grossing movies of the year (and co-produced a
sixth) – all of which have made more than $1 billion. And that’s WITHOUT Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The fear is that the domination of Disney and
mega-blockbusters will drown out smaller, riskier and more experimental movies.
When certain kinds of movies continue to flop, studios will stop making them.
Plus, expensive blockbusters demand more screens so more people will see them.
That doesn’t leave much room for those other movies to be seen.
So, you may ask, why don’t other movies open on non-Disney
weekends? Well, that’s getting harder to do. Disney has carved out the best opening
weekends for its biggest properties for the next few years. Beginning in 2021,
Marvel alone will release four movies a year. Marvel fans may be foaming at the
mouth at that idea, but when those movies stay at the top of the box office and
on thousands of screens for two or three weeks after opening, that becomes
eight or twelve weekends dominated by Marvel. Then throw Pixar, Star Wars, Fox
and proper Disney movies in the mix and there’s very little room for much else.
But why does it matter if Disney keeps making great movies?
Well…are they? Let’s look at Disney’s billion-dollar movies this year:
Marvel continues to be a critical darling. While
not everyone loves these movies, there’s no denying that Endgame was a generation-defining movie and an incredibly
satisfying ending to the first phase of the MCU. Captain Marvel was a solid new entry for the franchise, even if it’s
not one of Marvel’s best solo films. Spider-Man:
Far From Home (co-produced with Sony) had decent reviews and probably benefitted
from a post-Endgame boost.
4 was a surprisingly solid entry to Pixar’s flagship franchise. After Toy Story 3, most people didn’t think 4 would be necessary, but it justified
its existence and told a compelling story.
And then there’s the two live-action remakes: Aladdin and The Lion King. Did we need these? Absolutely not. Aladdin is by far the better of the two,
developing Jasmine’s character and an acceptable performance by Will Smith as
the Genie. But Jafar’s characterization was disappointing and giving Genie a
love interest was a bizarre choice. At least it made some new choices though. The Lion King stuck so closely to the
original story that it was almost an identical cut. The visuals in the remake were
incredible, but by going all-in on the realism of the animals, we lost all
emotion and expression in their characters.
So how are all these movies dominating the box office if not
all of them are great?
Nostalgia (especially for the 80s and 90s) is king right now
in Hollywood, and all five of these movies using it to their advantage. Aladdin and Lion King are remakes of two of the most beloved Disney movies of
all time. Disney knew audiences would run to the theater to relive these
stories and hear those iconic songs again.
Toy Story 4 drew
on nostalgia from the 25-year history of its franchise, even bringing back Bo
Peep, a character that hadn’t been seen since 1999. The original Toy Story was groundbreaking in both
storytelling and technology and the series is one of a few where each
installment is critically acclaimed.
Even Marvel drew on its own nostalgia. Endgame was marketed as the culmination of an 11-year-old, 22-movie
franchise and a lot of the marketing for both Endgame and Infinity War called
back to the early days of the MCU. Interestingly, Captain Marvel also drew on 90s nostalgia this year with a story set
The Disney train isn’t slowing down either. Disney has 84 release
dates on the calendar through 2023, including 13 Marvel movies, two Avatar sequels, six Pixar movies, more Star Wars, and a host of live-action
remakes and originals.
So is this actually a bad thing?
Maybe? Disney is not leaving a lot of room for other kinds of movies to get the breathing room they need. But other studios have to step up their game and make good content people actually want to see. 2019 has had its fair share of box office bombs, and many of those have been big-name franchises.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
ended the franchise that kicked off the modern superhero movie craze with a
pathetic whimper. Audiences and critics alike hated it. Dark Phoenix is just the beginning, too. Terminator: Dark Fate, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Men in Black:
International, Hellboy, The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep and Charlie’s
Angels are all reboots or sequels to formerly beloved franchises that have flopped
or underperformed in 2019.
There is some good news outside of Disney, though. Joker made headlines around the world
and made a billion dollars for Warner Bros. It:
Chapter Two, while not as successful as its predecessor, was a win for the
horror genre. Zombieland: Double Tap
and the final installment of the How to
Train Your Dragon franchise were also welcomed for both audiences and
And it’s even harder for original stories. Some, like Quentin
Tarantino’s latest Once Upon a Time… in
Hollywood, performed well and others surprised us, like Hustlers. Expectations are different for
smaller movies as well. Us or Booksmart didn’t have to make a billion
dollars to be considered successes.
Does any of this matter?
If you love Disney, then you probably don’t care that much. As long as they keep making Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar movies, you’ll be happy. And I would be too. But there has to be a balance between nostalgia and new stories.
Next year will be interesting for Disney. They’ll kick off the
next phase of the MCU – a soft reboot without Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.,
and will have to figure out the future of Star
The cinematic landscape is changing. One of the reasons I think
the streaming wars have become so heated is because of audiences’ changing
interests in movies. Netflix is now premiering movies that are in the running
for Best Picture at the Oscars. Streaming offers more availability for more
stories to be created and theaters will still offer an experience no home
surround sound can match. I’ll continue to be an advocate for going to see
movies in theaters, but the most important thing is that you watch, no matter
where that may be.
Disney still makes great movies and has a strong brand
identity that audiences can trust. But I challenge everyone to get out of your
comfort zones every now and then and see a movie you don’t know much about. Go
see The Rise of Skywalker in theaters,
but then go watch Booksmart one night
at home. It’s on Hulu. There’s so much out there to satisfy whatever cravings
you have, and there’s plenty of room at the table.
I was a HUGE dinosaur kid. Some of the first movies I
remember watching were the early Land
Before Time movies. My cousin and I loved them so much we would pretend to
be Little Foot and Cera when we would swim in our grandparents’ pool. And before
I discovered Harry Potter, my favorite book series was Dinotopia, a fantasy world where dinosaurs lived on a hidden island
and learned to speak. I could tell you at a very young age that the Triceratops
was my favorite dinosaur and pronounce dinosaur names I had no business
knowing. I. Loved. Dinosaurs.
So it’s strange that I don’t remember when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. It was
released in 1993 and being three I was a little too young to see it in theaters,
but by the time my dinosaur obsession kicked in, it should have been at the top
of my list. I think I may have even seen the second or third movie before I saw
the original. So before Jurassic World
came out in 2015, I went back and watched the original trilogy.
Jurassic Park is a
masterpiece. In a lot of ways, it marked the dawn of the modern blockbuster,
especially due to its groundbreaking visual effects and engaging action scenes.
The main characters are outstanding and entertaining to watch and gave us some
of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.
Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton and
directed by Stephen Spielberg, Jurassic
Park follows a team of paleontologists and scientists as they visit a
remote island where an eccentric, wealthy businessman has figured out how to
bring dinosaurs back to life. I’m sure most of you know the story, but shockingly,
all hell breaks loose.
Let’s start with the visual effects. It is shocking how well
the CGI in this movie holds up. There are plenty of featurettes and
behind-the-scenes videos explaining how they invented the technology needed to
create the dinosaurs, but a combination of real animatronics and
computer-generated models literally brought dinosaurs back from extinction. There’s
a reason why the movie won the Best Visual Effects Oscar that year.
The combination of these two effects are perfectly displayed
in the movie’s most iconic sequence: the T-rex attack. It’s one of the greatest
action sequences in cinematic history. From the moment the water ripples on the
dashboard, we known something big is about to go down. The life-sized
animatronic monster is terrifying and both it and the CGI version are expertly
used so neither looks out of place.
The second most iconic scene uses visual effects in the same
way. When Tim and Lex are on the run from a group of velociraptors, they’re
followed into the resort’s kitchen. Again, Spielberg knew just how much CGI he
could use and where the practical raptors would be better. And the sick triceratops?
100% real. These scenes are still just as tense and exciting today as they were
25 years ago because of the direction and the talent behind the dinosaurs.
Of course, the look of the dinosaurs could only do so much
on their own. The characters’ reactions are crucial in selling the story. And
what a cast Spielberg assembled. Sam Neill is delightful in his transformation
from gruff scientist who hates kids to risking his life for Tim and Lex. Laura
Dern is an icon and gets probably my favorite line of the whole movie: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the
earth.” And has Jeff Goldblum ever had a more iconic role? Dr. Ian Malcolm
is so weird and awkward and cocky, but that Goldblum charm radiates through his
entire performance. Richard Attenborough rounds out the main cast as the goofy
and over-sure John Hammond.
A Spielberg movie isn’t complete with a John Williams score.
In terms of iconic movie themes, no one will ever beat John Williams, and Jurassic Park is one of his best. The
main theme has a beautiful sense of awe and almost a religious respect to it. I’ve
always assumed it’s the music you hear when the gates of heaven open after you
die. Outside of the main theme, Williams captures the mood of every scene
expertly – be it joy, fear, or anything in between.
For me, all these parts – the effects, the cast and the
score – all come together to create cinematic magic in the scene where Alan, Ellie
and Ian see the dinosaurs for the first time. Neill and Dern give the greatest
performances of shock and awe looking at an amazingly lifelike brachiosaurus
while Williams’ score swells into that iconic theme.
Jurassic Park asks
some big questions that are still just as relevant today as they were in the
early 1990s. Corporate greed, capitalism, limitations of scientific
advancement, and the ethics of what humanity can do are all present in the
movie. The entire thesis of the movie can be summed up in Dr. Malcolm’s line: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with
whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” In
today’s world, technology advances at such a rate that we can barely keep up.
Maybe we all need to sit back and think of whether we should do something just
because we can.
Whether you’re seven or 97, Jurassic Park is great at any age. It’s exciting, funny, suspenseful
and has a lot of heart. For a former dinosaur kid, it will always be one of my
all-time top 10.
Cinematic universes are all the rage in Hollywood these
days. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off the current craze in 2008
and truly changed the game when The
Avengers broke all the records in 2012. Since then, most major studies have
tried to kickstart their own shared universe, to varying results.
Most cinematic universes have been spectacular failures. The
DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has sputtered so many times and now they don’t seem
focused on connecting their movies. Universal’s Dark Universe was dead on
arrival with the dismal reception to The
Mummy in 2017. Sony has tried a few times to create a Sony-verse with their
Spider-Man characters. Into the
Spider-Verse was a revelation last year so an animated universe has solid
ground, but it remains to be seen if they’re able to make a live-action one
stick following Venom last year.
The Legendary MonsterVerse has been fairly successful with
audiences, if not critically. Only The
Fast and the Furious franchise seems to gain momentum with each entry, and
this summer’s Hobbs and Shaw was a
successful extension of their universe.
All these shared universes attempt to share characters and tell overarching stories like the MCU and they’ve all attempted to launch since The Avengers. But did you know that there’s been a cinematic universe building since the 1980s?
The NASA Early Space Program Cinematic Universe (NESPCU) has
slowly created a shared universe covering the space race of the 1950s and 1960s.
It doesn’t share the same actors in every installment, and it’s released out of
order, but over the course of four movies, we’ve witnessed the birth of the
space program and the struggles that characters endured in order to reach the
ultimate success of landing on the moon. Welcome to the NASA Early Space
Program Cinematic Universe.
The universe kicked off in 1983 with The Right Stuff, which chronicled the origin of the US space
program, beginning with the first man to break the sound barrier. It introduces
the Mercury 7 – the first Americans to fly in space. The movie follows Alan
Shepherd, John Glenn, Deke Slayton, Gus Grissom, and the other first astronauts
as they train for space flight and shows their lives change dramatically as
they become national heroes.
The story continues with Hidden
Figures (2016), which tells the story of the African American women who
worked as computers that helped calculate the trajectories of the Mercury
astronauts. Hidden Figures works as a
parallel story to fill out the universe established in The Right Stuff and provides a different perspective of the world
we already know, functioning much like how Lion
King 1 ½ tells the story from the original Lion King from Timon and Pumbaa’s point of view. John Glenn and the
other Mercury astronauts make an appearance in Hidden Figures, and the movie shows the important role Katherine
Johnson played particularly in Glenn’s Mercury space flight.
The Mercury program was followed by the Gemini and Apollo
programs as NASA set its sights on the moon. The race to the moon is depicted
in First Man (2018). Deke Slayton,
one of the Mercury 7, was now responsible for assigning flight crews and welcoming
new astronauts, including the entire Apollo 11 crew, Apollo 13 commander Jim
Lovell and others. First Man focuses
on Neil Armstrong’s journey through the astronaut program, including his
command of Gemini 8 and Apollo 11. The Apollo program also suffered a critical
failure that cost the lives of three astronauts, including original Mercury 7
astronaut Gus Grissom, when a fire broke out during the Apollo 1 test sequence.
First Man includes
the climax of the NASA cinematic universe – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
becoming the first humans to step foot on the moon. Their journey is beautifully
displayed in the movie and the pinnacle of human achievement is felt throughout
Apollo 13 (1995)
closes out the NESPCU, opening with a recap of the major moments from First Man – the Apollo 1 fire and the
moon landing. Jim Lovell, a background character from First Man, now takes center stage as he commands Apollo 13 and sets
his sights on becoming part of an elite group of men who walked on the moon.
During Apollo 13’s journey, an oxygen tank failed causing the mission to be
aborted. Instead of landing on the moon, the team circled the moon and was able
to come back to Earth safely, thanks to the ingenuity of the crew and those at
mission control. During the suspenseful reentry, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
are shown visiting Lovell’s house to comfort his wife and mother.
represents closure and continuation of the NESPCU. Four more Apollo flights
launched after Apollo 13, but the movie provides a catharsis and conclusion for
the series. Although the Apollo 13 mission failed, NASA still has the skill and
knowledge to do great things.
While the NESPCU may not be a traditional cinematic universe
with the same actors showing up in each movie, these four movies together tell
a remarkable story. The space race of the late 1950s and 1960s was some of the
most ambitious feats ever attempted by mankind. Throughout the NESPCU, you can
track NASA’s birth, rise, struggles and victories. The space program literally opened
the universe to thousands of new possibilities. Space truly is the final
frontier, and these movies remind us just how hard we worked to get there and
how much further we can go.