20th Century Fox shows off 2017 slate at footage presentation
2016 was a banner year at the North American box office, with grosses totaling a record-breaking $11.4 billion. 20th Century Fox did its part with the little R-rated movie that could, Deadpool, which surpassed all expectations to bring in a whopping $363 million ($783.1 million worldwide) against a production budget of under $60 million.
But 2016 is over, Deadpool’s “like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado” face is behind us (at least until the sequel), and it’s come time for Fox to pony up with a new slate of releases. Four of those they showed off at a footage presentation back in December, and (as long as we’re talking about movies, not politics – gulp) it looks like it’s going to be an interesting year.
First up, hitting theatres on February 17 is A Cure for Wellness, The Ring director Gore Verbinski’s first foray into horror in 15 years. (In the interim, he’s been focusing mostly on big-budget actioners like The Lone Ranger and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with a detour into animation for the critically beloved Rango.) Calling A Cure for Wellness “horror,” though, is a bit of a misnomer.
Instead, there’s a sense of what Verbinski calls “contemporary Gothic” about A Cure for Wellness; the overall impression is less of terror than of creeping, unsettling wrongness. To be sure, the presence of a big, creepy castle doesn’t hurt matters. Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a work-obsessed young executive at a massive company who’s sent to a mysterious “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his wayward boss, who’s become convinced he suffers from some sort of illness. From there, things get weird. There’s the alluded-to history of the castle, a vague tale of fire and corpses that gives the whole thing a fairytale feel—but the violent original fairytales, not the Disney reimaginings. What exactly is the cure being peddled here? What’s the illness all these people think they have? And what if, posits Verbinski, “the cure were worse than the disease?”
DeHaan, speaking about his shooting experience, used the word “torture” a few times—alluding less to any monstrous tendencies on Verbinski’s part than the sheer unpleasantness of what his character goes through. “The way Gore shoots, the shots are so stylized and specific,” DeHaan explains. “He has such a cinematic mind that he will take his time to get the shot right, to get the shot he wants. Which means I will stay in a tortured state for a longer period of time.” The actor (more lighthearted than the subject would imply) references a scene where his character is submerged in water, connected to the outside world only via a breathing tube: “Tied down, tethered, in a tank, with wires. Can’t move. There were hand signals. This means, ‘Hey, something might be up,’ and this meant ‘Get me the hell outta here.’
Frames of reference for A Cure for Wellness include The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Don’t Look Now—movies that mess with their audience’s heads. “We want to do what Jaws did to a day at the beach for the health spa,” said Verbinski. “We want to make it never the same when you go to your masseuse, or you step into the steam bath.”
Or, put simply: “It’s gonna fuck you up.”
Next up from Fox is James Mangold’s Logan, out March 3rd. The latest film in the X-Men franchise, Logan sees the return of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, this time around weary and disengaged from the world around him. Oh, and driving a limo; opportunities for mutant world-saving have kind of dried up ever since, pre-movie, mutants stopped being born. Unlike the previous X-Men movies, which are for the most part sprawling superhero spectacles, Logan is more character-oriented, and darker besides. (We were shown the first half-hour, and in that time I counted Sir Patrick Stewart, returning as Professor Xavier, saying some variation of the word “fuck” no fewer than five times. Bye bye, PG-13 rating! There’s also gorier violence than your average superhero movie and, to complete the blood-cursing-nudity trifecta, a character who bares her breasts.) It’s less X-Men, more Mad Max: Fury Road meets No Country for Old Men, with a dash of Children of Men thrown in for good measure.
“There’s a level of gloss [to superhero movies],” explained Mangold, “a level of CG-arms race that I didn’t want to be a part of. The character’s so interesting, I just thought there was something we could explore. The first idea that occurred to me”—after doing 2013’s Japan-set The Wolverine, Mangold’s first foray in the X-franchise—“was doing Little Miss Sunshine with these characters. And that’s kind of, believe it or not, what evolved into this… I find that the X-Men or Justice League or Avengers movies are always kind of round robin, where each character gets about eight minutes to have a quick personal arc. Set it up with a mini-scene in the beginning, check in at the middle. I was just like, what would happen if you made one of these movies where the imperative was on a huge arc for this superhero character? If anything, you were trying to make a movie pretending you weren’t making a movie about a Marvel character.”
The “these characters” Mangold refers to include Wolverine; Professor X; “glorified truffle pig” Caliban (Stephan Merchant), so called for his ability to “sniff out” other mutants; and new character Laura, aka X-23. It’s that character, played by 12-year-old Dafne Keen, who has the potential to be a standout. Like Olive in Little Miss Sunshine, Laura is something of a misfit…but in a more “mercilessly beat up grown men” way than a “dance to ‘Super Freak’” way.
“I wanted to take the cute stink off Laura,” Mangold said of his casting process. “I didn’t want to turn her into a Kewpie-doll actress… I needed a Spanish-speaking[, …] Hispanic actress to play her. And I needed someone capable of doing an elaborate set of stunts, a lot of which she’s doing onscreen.”
Next up, Fox goes to outer space for Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott’s third foray into the Alien franchise as a director (after the first Alien and 2012’s Prometheus.) Star Katherine Waterston was on-deck at the footage presentation, though there weren’t many specifics she could offer about the film or her character. (Details are being kept understandably enigmatic.) Number one takeaway from the footage and trailer we saw: That shower scene is going to freak a lot of people out.
Specifics about Covenant aside, Waterston spoke about Scott’s tendency for utilizing strong female leads, most notably the OG Ripley from the first Alien. “His attitude is very similar to my own,” said Waterston. “It just seems obvious. There are a lot of cool, complicated women out there. It’s not rocket science!” Though Waterston admits there are “obvious parallels” between her character and Ripley, any intentional references were “never really talked about.” Even the bowlcut Waterston rocks in the film wasn’t meant to bring Ripley’s retro 'do to mind. Waterston recalls her character’s hairvolution: “The haircut was my idea, because I had this goofy bob from Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them]. And Ridley kind of liked it. And I just thought, ‘I can’t be this goofy, flawed witch in space!’ It just seemed really wrong to me. But I’d been hanging out with Ezra Miller on that film, and I really loved his dumb haircut from that movie. When I got this job, I was still shooting that. In the hair and makeup trailer, they were making wigs, just in case we had to do pickups and people’s hair had changed. So, I saw his wig in the corner and I said, ‘Can I try that on?’ And so, I put that on, and I showed it to Ridley, and begged him to let me do it and he did.”
Last up on the release schedule among the films Fox showed off is Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14), sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). (Does anyone else think those titles should have been switched? No? Just me?) When we left off with ape general Caesar (Andy Serkis), he and his cohort were just about to launch a full-scale war against humans. Here, that war is well underway, with the human contingent being led by an ex-special forces operative known as the “Colonel” (Woody Harrelson, by all appearances dialing up the intensity to eleven, Kurtz-style).
Consistently, one of the core elements of Fox’s rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is that, though the apes are our key protagonists, the humans are never portrayed as wholly, objectively in the wrong. Director Matt Reeves says that the Colonel, though his perspective may be different from Caesar’s, “doesn’t lie ever in the film. There is a moment where he talks about, ‘If the humans lose, it will become a planet of the apes.’ And the great thing is that is [because of the] ’68 movie…we know that what he’s saying is true. He’s absolutely right. In the way that great war movies are all about human nature, we tried to make this about human nature. What will you do to survive?”
As with the previous Apes movies, the visual effects appear to be top-notch here, with Serkis once again proving why he’s the reigning king of motion-capture. Another actor joins the mo-cap pack in the form of Steve Zahn, playing new character “Bad Ape.” “When I started this, I really thought it would be challenging for different reasons,” Zach recalled of his mo-cap experience. “I thought that the [technical things] were going to obstruct the way I worked… And then I realized the challenges were the same challenges I had doing experimental theatre in Boston…Suzuki, and comeddia del arte, and very physical puppetry. This is what it felt like. Ironically, as far as film work—and I’ve done a lot—this is the closest I’ve come to doing theatre.”