One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 29
By Laurence Lerman
The marking of one year since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent national quarantine has also proven to be the time when it finally appears that “the end of the pandemic may be in sight.” That’s something that countless forward-thinking newscasters, talk-show hosts, pundits, columnists and politicos have been insisting for nearly as long as the virus has been upon us.
And just as the previous year prompted us to examine the here and now—the daily updates, the hospitalization and death-rate counts, the ever-changing status of the quarantine (which has taken on as many variations as the virus has mutated variants)—the beginning of Year Two has already proven to be an inspiration for me to look forward to healthier, happier days.
This directive applies to my movie-viewing practices, as well, even as the last year found me looking back at the films of an earlier time (more so than the offerings of the day). So, while revisiting the great works by the lions of European cinema--and mining their illustrious filmographies for ever rarer nuggets--now is the time to get ready for a return to Hollywood.
While the last year saw Hollywood experience a temporary product drought that paralleled the shutdown of the theatrical business, those days now appear to be on the wane. Movie theaters in New York City are slowly beginning to reopen at lower capacities, and the big budget Hollywood fare that took a pass on release in 2020 is being readied for the flickering projectors of theater distribution this spring. And if audiences don’t flock to the theaters, they’ll still be able to virtually enjoy the biggies on their home screens as nearly all the major studios have announced plans to stream their titles within weeks of their theatrical premieres. Disney has been engaging in the practice for months now; Warner followed suit last month.
Of course, whether a big new Hollywood entry debuts in a theater or on a home screen doesn’t speak to the quality of the movie—the at-home launch of the disappointing, though hotly anticipated, Wonder Woman 84 certainly attests to that. And the “Coming Soon” charts feature a healthy a number of Hollywood blockbusters on the way this year—sequels, reboots and all the rest.
Here are 10 of them to consider, listed in release-date order by month (which could very well change, as if you need me to remind you….):
Godzilla vs. Kong (March)
The Godzilla and Kong rebooted franchises haven’t really delivered critically, yet—though the Apocalypse Now-ishness of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island was bizarrely fascinating—but maybe this year’s “Battle of the Titans” will do the trick. It surely can’t be any sillier than those guys in rubber suits wrestling in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla (which is actually kinda beloved in a weird way).
Black Widow (May)
The first of a pair of event movies set in the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU), Black Widow will look into the past of Scarlett Johansson’s spy Natasha Romanov and her Russian roots. Most intriguing here is a turn by the always-game Florence Pugh as another young woman who was reared, just like Natasha, in the Soviet Union’s Red Room training facility to be a “Black Widow.”
Top Gun: Maverick (July)
Tom Cruise’s durability as a franchise player is undeniable, but what kind of life can he pump into a Reagan-era character that he retired (we thought) 35 years ago? This follow-up is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who proved he’s got the eye for action and CGI sequences when he helmed Cruise’s 2013 striking-if-forgettable sci-fi action thriller Oblivion.
No Time To Die (October)
The final installment in Daniel Craig's five-film, 15-year spin as James Bond, No Time To Die will be remembered as the first Hollywood blockbuster to be yanked in response to the pandemic. (It was originally scheduled for release in November, 2019.) The storyline has been kept under tight wraps for more than a year now, a remarkable feat on its own that’s worthy of Bond himself.
Last Night in Soho (October)
One of the few titles on the 2021 slate that arrives without any previous backstory or buzz, Edgar Wright’s latest isn’t a sequel or a reimagining or a reboot. The word is that it’s a “psychological horror” concerning a wannabe fashion designer who somehow “travels” to 1960s London to meet her idol…before things get tricky and dangerous. It stars Golden-Globe winning, newly minted A-lister Anya Taylor-Joy of Netflix’s outstanding The Queen’s Gambit last year, along with British icons Terence Stamp and, in her last on-screen appearance, the late Diana Rigg.
David Lynch’s big budget 1984 version was too weird and the 2000 three-part miniseries was too diffuse, but Denis Villeneuve swings for the fences in his fantastically trippy, hard-science tale. The filmmaker hit paydirt with 2016’s The Arrival and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, so there’s no reason to think he’ll whiff in this latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel.
The second of at least a half-dozen MCU titles coming this year concerns a race of immortal godlike beings who emerge from a zillion years in hiding to protect the Earth from a batch of baddies known as The Deviants. Directed by Chloe Zhao, fresh from her success with Nomadland, this one is based on a lesser-known title in the Marvel Comics canon and boasts a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington and Gemma Chan.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November)
Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard star in a second theatrical reboot of the paranormal comedy franchise, this one promising a return to the continuity of the first two movies. Directed by Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters helmer Ivan, Afterlife features appearances by original GB stars Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and the eternally adorable Annie Potts.
Mission Impossible 7 (December)
Production on this seventh installment in the wildly popular series continued in the UK during the pandemic while under the strictest of guidelines. Christopher McQuarrie returns to direct this Tom Cruise juggernaut, with franchise veterans Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg also on board.
West Side Story (December)
If anyone has the balls or power to take on remaking a bona fide American classic, it might as well be Steven Spielberg, whose magnificent Jitterbug sequence in the otherwise bloated 1979 wartime comedy 1941 has proven that he can handle himself—visually, at least—in the musical genre.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.