(Or films that star at least one robot)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens | JJ Abrams | USA
So the film that is so anticipated it is almost not worth mentioning. We await with baited breathe to see if JJ Abrams has the skills to live up to the George Lucas space opera classics. Most directors wouldn’t have the arrogance to think they could compete with the guy who created not only Jar Jar Binks, but the irrepressible Howard The Duck. Abrams has a promising record after revamping Star Trek and he has managed to fill the cast with a great mix of old and new. All the keys players from the original trilogy are back on board and the newbies are a who’s who of future star’s. Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, who previously starred together in Inside Lleweyn Davis, are fantastic additions. I can imagine Driver playing either a charismatic Hans Solo type or a bad-ass Sith, or both! Let’s not forget Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, John Boyega, and Game of Thrones favourite Gwendoline Christie. Don’t get too excited though, as this won’t be with us till the end of the year.
Tomorrowland | Brad Bird | USA
Like Pirates of the Carribean before it, Tomorrowland is inspired by a Disneyland ride. It is directed by Brad Bird, a man famous for working on The Simpsons when it was at it’s best. He also wrote the screenplay for Batteries Not Included, directed one of my favourite animated movies, The Iron Giant, and on top of that, two great Pixar movies (The Incredibles and Ratatouille). Having struggled for years to get his 1906 San Francisco earthquake project off the ground he moved onto Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which featured some great set pieces but lacked the genuine warmth we have come to expect from him. Step up Tomorrowland. The trailer hints at a world in chaos and introduces us to a young female lead who seem’s to have the ability to access another world. Is it just me or does the other world look a lot like the place Russell Crowe dreams of in Gladiator when his mind wanders? She will be joined by George Clooney (playing a former boy genius inventor) as they attempt to find a way to reach this new world.
The Martian | Ridley Scott | USA
You owe us a good’un Sir Ridley! The Riddler has churned out his fair share of dud’s in recent years, with promising projects spluttering out by the time they reach the big screen. There was Cormac McCarthy scripted The Counsellor, a sloppy Alien prequel, and most recently Exodus: Of Gods of Men which managed to make some headlines but for all the wrong reasons. The Martian is based on a best selling novel and the film will star Matt Damon as an astronaut who has only gone and managed to get himself stranded on Mars. It has been described as Robinson Crusoe on Mars and Damon is by a stellar cast including Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ned Stark (or Sean Bean to the uninitiated). Hopefully the stripped back premise will draw the best from Scott.
Ex Machina | Alex Garland | USA/UK
Alex Garland’s directorial debut looks very promising indeed. The writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and The Beach steps into the director’s chair for a good old fashioned science fiction drama in the mould of Silent Running or the more recent Doug Jones movie Moon. Put it this way, I, Robot this ain’t. Domhnall Gleeson (who has previous in this kind of thing having once played a robot of sorts in Black Mirror) stars as the wide eyed innocent stepping into Oscar Isaac’s futuristic yet isolated scientific man cave. Rising star Alicia Vikander plays the part of Ava. Ava essentially seems to be the robot from the Bjork video All Is Full of Love with the added smarts of Siri. Just from watching the trailer you get the sense that Vikander has really got a handle on finding the balance between appearing suitably robotic whilst offering enough to suggest there may be a soul within. Rumour has it she prepared for the role by studying the work of England football sensation Peter Crouch.
Chappie | Neill Blomkamp | Mexico, USA
Based on an idea seen in his early short Tetra Vaal, Neill Blomkamp sticks with what he know’s by returning to Johannesburg and casting Sharlto Copley as the titular robot. Chappie, South Africa’s answer to Johnny 5, is kidnapped shortly after being created and brought up by a rag tag bunch, including one of his makers (Dev Patel) and a couple actors who will be familiar to fans of bizarre South African rap group Die Antwoord. Jeopardy arrives in the form of retired soldier Vincent (Hugh Jackman with a mullet) and Sigourney Weaver, who are against the use of artificial intelligence. Vincent sets out to kill poor innocent Chappie after discovering that the robot is learning to think, feel and make bad art. Blomkamp likes to weave socio-politics into his films (District 9 = Immigration, Elysium = Private Healthcare) and there is certainly plenty to explore here. The set up has similarities with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and only time will tell whether Vincent’s ‘robo-phobia’ is warranted.
Jupiter Ascending | Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski | USA
The Wachowski siblings are back with a blockbuster space opera and their first original screenplay since The Matrix trilogy. Curiously the film was due for release last summer but was shunted back to 2015 just weeks before release. The official line from the studio was that this was to give the film makers time to finish the sheer mountain of special effects required, but since then other sources have suggested that poor test screenings led Warner Brothers to fear they would perform badly in a financial quarter that featured another risky blockbuster (Edge of Tomorrow). There’s nothing quite like the thought of a throng of accountants frantically discussing fiscal quarters to build up the hype around a movie. The film itself stars Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones who is down on her luck and working as a caretaker. Now you might be thinking that such a profession is unlikely for someone sporting the name Jupiter and rightly so, as she is interrupted from her janitorial duties by a genetically engineered albino wolfman named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) who informs her that she is in fact the heir to planet Earth. Another alien, Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), is not best pleased with this development as he wants Earth all for himself. Drama inevitably ensues (hence the need for all those special effects). The film makes the list for the quirky character names alone.
The Phoenix Project | Tyler Pavey | USA
A brooding low budget indie film in the vein of Primer from first time director Tyler Pavey. The trailer cranks up the tension as four scientists work on an elaborate machine they hope will reanimate dead organisms. Now if there is one thing we all know as seasoned film goers it’s that nothing good can come from bringing dead things back to life. The film was funded with a Kickstarter campaign and if it manages to find an audience could be one of the success stories of the year. Everyone likes an underdog.
High-Rise | Ben Wheatley | UK
One of Britain’s most exciting directors brings the work of one it’s most legendary writers, JG Ballard, to the big screen. To top it all off it stars the man who made Thor so much fun in the form of Tom Hiddleston. The director, Ben Wheatley, has been at the helm of some of the most interesting film’s to have come out of the UK in the last decade (Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England), and High Rise feels like the ideal project for him. Details of the production have been kept under wraps but we do know that the novel is set in a self sustaining futuristic high-rise where the community live in luxury. What could go wrong? Rather a lot it would seem. Living in isolation from the outside world results in the community dissolving into clans, spawning a class system where minor disputes escalate into extreme violence at a moments notice. This is definitely one to watch.
Midnight Special | Jeff Nichols | USA
Not much is known about Midnight Special but the latest from Jeff Nichols should receive plenty of attention after the success of his last film Mud. Staring Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst and Nichols regular Michael Shannon (Mud, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter), the story follows a boy with an “extraordinary power” who is on the run with his father from the government and a dangerous religious cult (led by Sam Shepherd). The director has suggested the film will be set almost entirely at night (which explains the title), that it will have an old fashioned chase feel to it, and best of all, he has cited Tremors and Starman as big influences.