Pop Forecast for Sept. 26: Masterminds, Westworld and more
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan sang. But these days, a guide through the seemingly endless flurry of pop-culture offerings is just what we need. With that in mind, here is what’s on the radar screen in TV, music and film for the coming week.
Big releases on Sept. 30: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Masterminds.
Big picture: Miss Peregrine’s is based an original, bestselling novel, but it’s not so one-of-a-kind. It’s like Hogwarts meets Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Living outside of time and space, its “mutant” school children are known as “peculiars” — from telepathic twins to an invisible boy. (Tim Burton, a man likely raised at a similar school for oddballs, directs the fantastical family drama.) When the young Jake (Asa Butterfield) discovers the school, he is quickly pulled into the role of protector, time traveller and wartime leader — a role once inhabited by his grandfather. It seems peculiars are locked in an age-old war with evil forces, including what appear to be bipedal aliens from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic.
Meanwhile, Masterminds is Ocean’s Eleven meets Guy Ritchie gangster meets Dumb and Dumber — and it’s based on a true story. Zach Galifianakis plays David, a mullet-sporting, clueless armoured-vehicle driver who is conned by a manipulative colleague (Kristen Wiig) into robbing $17 million for a band of brainless bandits (led by Owen Wilson). When David manages the impossible, the police close in, the conspirators take the loot, and he finds a hitman on his trail. (Ah, America, where stupidity and wealth are more than occasional soulmates.)
Forecast: The weirdos win the day at the box office. But if your kids get confused at Miss Peregrine’s reality-bending plot, just tell them the movie is about The X-Men as kids, dressing as old-time carnies to go undercover. As for Masterminds, I can’t be the only one would have preferred to watch a dramedy called Zach Galifianakis’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Honourable mention: Deepwater Horizon. Mark Wahlberg plays yet another blue-collar hero, this time working on the Deepwater Horizon during the infamous oilrig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This is obviously based on a true story, but Hollywood has no shame. Don’t be surprised to find Wahlberg battling an oil-slicked Godzilla by the time the credits roll.
Big events: Westworld (Oct. 2, HBO Canada); Aftermath (Space, Sept. 27).
Big picture: It’s like Disney World meets The Truman Show meets Lost … meets Games of Thrones on steroids. At face value, Westworld is about an Old West-themed amusement park of the future. Populated by lifelike robots programmed never to kill warm-blooded customers, it’s a fantasyland where humans can play out their baser instincts. Shootouts? Check. Brothels? Check. Brothel shootouts? Check. Saloons on every corner? You betcha. But what if the park’s AIs are more than just toys? What if they can feel, and remember the various indignities thrust upon them in the name of entertainment? (Friendly advice: do not screen this series for any future robots in your service; I’ll even be making sure that my toaster can’t see the TV from the kitchen.)
This adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film pulls no punches with the violence, nudity and sexuality. (I am convinced a powerful cabal of 13-year-old boys secretly runs HBO.) Anthony Hopkins portrays Westworld founder Dr. Robert Ford, the Willy Wonka of this deviant chocolate factory. The ensemble cast includes Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton.
Meanwhile, Aftermath is sci-fi drama with a bit of everything. Doomsday meteors. Mass vanishings. Demonic possessions. Plagues. Serpent gods. And that’s just your average Monday in this post-apocalyptic world. It stars real-life couple James Tupper and Anne Heche as Joshua and Karen Copeland, heads of a family trying to survive this Armageddon of Armageddons.
Forecast: This is how the west was won: quality writing, superb acting, a mysterious plot and a massive budget. Westworld is the show we will still be talking about after GOT’s finale. On a side note, other futuristic robot theme parks I’d pay to enter: Tribbles World (those adorable Star Trek furballs! Everywhere!), Modern Family World (where you get to play a Pritchett or a Dunphy!), Shonda Rhimes World (all murder and annoying flashbacks, all the time!), Fraggle Rock World (live Fraggles!) and Glee Westworld (shootouts with robotic glee-club singers!)
Honourable mention: Marvel’s Luke Cage (Netflix, Sept. 30). It’s like Superman meets Boyz n da Hood. Mike Colter plays an ex-con turned reluctant do-gooder with near-invincible superpowers. Tune in to see him cleanup a Harlem, N.Y., beset by violent thugs and gang warfare. He’s not faster than a speeding bullet, but one sure as hell can’t stop him. (First Jessica Jones and now this? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned super-hero masks and alter egos?)
Big releases on Sept. 30: Van Morrison (Keep Me Singing); Drive-By Truckers (American Band); Bon Iver (22, A Million).
Big picture: Van the Man may be 71, but he still seems capable of a wild night in the recording studio. He releases his first collection of music in four years with 12 new originals, plus a cover of Share Your Love with Me.
Meanwhile, the Drive-By Truckers unleash a politically charged rock album on the cusp of a divisive American presidential election. With tracks titles like Filthy and Fried and topics like racially motivated police shootings, the NRA, and people who still want to fly the Confederate flag, this is rare modern music with a message. The veteran alt-country rockers from the south are sure to court some controversy back home (the Dixie Chicks are finally off the hook).
Finally, Bon Iver cheers up (a little) and makes some noise (beyond his usual whispering) on his third album. (Don’t worry, he still sports an epic hipster beard.) Otherwise known as Justin Vernon, the talented songwriter who largely ignored his famous Bon Iver moniker during five years of collaboration with the likes of Volcano Choir and Kanye West.
Forecast: It’s just like the lottery; pick three. (Prediction: Nickelback’s next album will be called Canadian Band and dissect the perils like hockey hair and standing in endless Tim Hortons’ lines, and end with a dirge to an empty 24 of Molson Canadian.
Honourable mention: Pixies (Head Carrier). There’s no head scratching here; the magic is back. A solid return to form from the Bostonian indie-rockers after a false-start comeback album in 2014. Abracadabra!