Friday, May 6, 2011

But Where Has the Rum Gone: A Hello, Mr. Anderson Summer Movie Preview

And so it begins. As you are reading this, film producers are quivering in anticipation as the Summer film season officially begins. With the midnight releases of Thor and Something Borrowed, Hollywood hopes to kick-start an industry that has so far in 2011 failed at just about every turn. It doesn't help that in the first quarter of 2010, ticket sales were helped immensely by the releases of mega-draws Avatar and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland; even by more mundane standards it has been a weak year for the cinema, with most films underwhelming in their opening weekends en route to unsatisfying theatrical runs. Expected juggernauts fell far short, as big-budget films The Green Hornet, Sucker Punch, and Battle: Los Angeles failed to find audiences. Even one of my favorite first quarter films, the Matt Damon/Emily Blunt vehicle The Adjustment Bureau, barely made a profit. Animated films were among the few success stories, as Rango, Hop and Rio have brought in big money, but with generally large budgets and inflated 3D ticket prices, even those numbers are somewhat deceptive. Basically, the only way you could make money from January through April was to have low enough expenses to counteract the disappointing opening weekend, best evidenced by the ability of low-budget Insidious to make a little bit go a long way. The tide seemed to turn last weekend with the explosion of theater patrons to see Fast Five, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise. That change is a good sign for the upcoming Summer season, as many of the films due for release will need much more than I Am Number Four's piddly $54 million domestic dollars to break even. The foreign markets can cover a multitude of sins, but relying on audiences outside the United States just to break even can't be good for morale at the production studios. And so we look ahead to the coming months, with the surefire mix of hits, flops, and everywhere in between.

Okay, I realize that May technically begins almost two months prior to the actual Summer Solstice but hey, I don't make the decisions for the film companies. They want to say summer starts in May to create an artificial starting point for their moneymaking releases? Fine by me. May sees several big releases right off the bat, as some of my most awaited 2011 films come out this month. Thor of course continues the road towards 2012's Josh Whedon-directed Avengers movie, and you can practically hear Marvel Comics murmuring in anticipation as this film goes to release. It wasn't too long ago that comic book movies were automatic suck, and it was thanks to Marvel's recent crop of Spider-Man and Iron Man films that changed that trend. Does that guarantee Thor will do well, or be good? Of course not. The trailers look amazing, but Thor is hardly a universally-loved character, even by comic fans, and who knows how many people will actually go out to see this film? I'm hoping for the best, but that's probably since I'll be seeing it sometime this weekend and don't want to have to justify paying 3D ticked prices for admission to a lousy film.

Also on tap for May is the Judd Apatow comedy Bridesmaids, starring SNL stalwart Kristen Wiig along with former co-star Maya Rudolph. Wiig may not have many big-screen successes to her name (Paul disappointed at the box office and 2010's MacGruber was a legitimate flop), but she is funny as hell and will hopefully become a bigger SNL star than Mike Myers was in his heyday. Bridesmaids looks like the perfect vehicle to a post-SNL career, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth addition to the Disney ride-inspired franchise, and from the previews I've seen will either be the best or worst in the series depending on how everything strings together. Johnny Depp of course looks amazing and hilarious, but it's how the story and new characters come together that will determine how the film ultimately turns out. I couldn't sit through The Hangover, but the sequel The Hangover Part II looks to take everything the first film did and turn it on its head, and the trailers look both hilarious and insane. Hesher and Hobo With a Shotgun are low-budget flicks featuring the last people you would expect (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rutger Hauer, respectively) as ass-kickers. Both look worth the time at any rate.

And that's more than can be said for some of the other films coming out. Something Borrowed comes out at the same time as Thor, but while I like the talents involved (including Ginnifer Goodwin, Colin Egglesfield and Massachusetts native John Krasinski), I can't get over the fact that it seems to be a film championing stealing your best friend's fiancee. That seems completely unnecessary, even if it is based on a bestselling novel. Of a similar nature is Jumping the Broom, which doesn't look too bad, but doesn't appeal to the 18-49 white male demographic, of which I am a proud card-carrying member. Priest is yet another 3D film that ought not to have been produced. It stars the underrated Paul Bettany and Karl Urban but is directed by Scott Stewart (he of the atrocious Legion) and is based on a graphic novel that nobody really knows about. It sure looks pretty, but I'm betting on empty seats come opening night. The Beaver might catch a lot of flak for the controversy surrounding star Mel Gibson, but otherwise the film could actually be pretty good. It does seem to take a good idea too far however, and I simply feel apathetic about spending my money on this when others are more deserving. Kung Fu Panda 2 will be yet another 3D animated film and will make a lot of money, but don't look for another Oscar nomination, as even the first one was barely interesting. The Tree of Life features the return of director Terrence Malick but the trailers just don't look all that interesting to me, with Sean Penn and Brad Pitt doing anything other than making sense of what is going on. Finally, Passion Play commits the cardinal sin of hiring Megan Fox as the love interest of yet another horribly deformed man (in this case Mickey Rourke) in a film that seems like a mix of Black Swan and an acid drop. 


Surprisingly, after a robust May comes a very modest June. Probably the biggest attraction for this month is the sci-fi drama by director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg, Super 8. While I usually cringe at anything bearing Spielberg's name these days (for an extreme example, watch the last Indiana Jones flick), Super 8 seems to hearken back to one of his earlier extraterrestrial films, E.T., and while I feel that particular film is overrated it does have quite a bit of magic to it. Combined with Abrams's ability to weave science fiction to his will, Super 8 might just be one of the more memorable films at year's end. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

June is also host to two more superhero movies from both major comic book publishers, X-Men First Class and Green Lantern. X-Men, an attempt to reboot the franchise and featuring an all-star cast (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones and Kevin Bacon), looks like fun but may suffer from X-Men syndrome, which has seen each successive film suffer in quality. Sure Wolverine was a fun movie, but that was more of a spin-off than an actual sequel. And this new film won't feature Hugh Jackman in the slightest, so that's one more thing for X-Fans to discredit. Green Lantern does look better, starring Ryan Reynolds as fighter pilot Hal Jordan, who by chance becomes the Earth's newest superhero when he inherits the powers to become a member of an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lanterns. Good previews showcasing action and Reynolds's wry wit make the film look like a lot of fun, even if Hal Jordan isn't the most popular hero on DC's roster. As a side note, the most heartfelt trailer I've seen this year is for a film coming out in June, A Better Life. Focusing on an illegal immigrant working as a gardener in Los Angeles while keeping his son away from the street gangs, the film is considered an early contender for the 2011 award season. Check out the trailer and you'll see why.

This month also has one of the worst trailers I've seen this year, for Bad Teacher. Starring Cameron Diaz as an educator who only bothers with her students when it positively affects her, this film looks more like a traditional Apatow film than Bridesmaids, but doesn't seem to contain any of Apatow's inherent charm. This is especially a shame for co-stars Justin Timberlake, Eric Stonestreet and Jason Segel, who deserve better than this crap shoot. Cars 2 is another animated sequel banking on a successful franchise and 3D technology, but appealing to the NASCAR crowd will only get you so far. Besides, actively hiring Larry the Cable Guy is tantamount to having Sasha Grey perform Shakespeare. Jim Carrey returns to family-friendly fare with Mr. Popper's Penguins. Jim Carry, yeah. Okay, fine, I'll give him credit for a good job in I Love You Phillip Morris but that's all he's getting from me.

For as little June brings to the table, July carts it all back with action sequels, hilarious comedies, more superheroes, and animated films from the intellectual properties of yesteryear. There's little doubt that the biggest release this month will be Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the last in the Michael Bay trilogy based on the 1980's toy catalog. I've never seen the first two films, but the trailers for Bay's latest manage to make me salivate, and perhaps I'll go back and watch those films before taking this one in. Dark of the Moon thankfully ditches Megan Fox, though the woman they hired to replace her as Shia LeBeouf's love interest looks to be even less interesting. Still, there seems to be even more insane robot-on-robot action than in any film prior, and that will probably be more than enough to bring in the audiences in record numbers.

By this time, Hollywood is hoping the superhero films aren't entirely played out, as two more comic book films hit the screen. The first, Captain America: The First Avenger, takes place in World War II and features Chris Evans as a genetically-modified super soldier who eventually goes on to found the modern-day superhero team The Avengers. Also starring Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, this is easily my most anticipated film for the Summer, as I've always had a healthy respect for Captain America the character, despite his somewhat conservative leanings. You know Marvel Comics is hoping that this franchise does much better than films like Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, titles that failed to make much of an impact outside of comic book fans. Cowboys and Aliens is also based on a comic series, this pairing of aliens and the Old West in a way that looks good in theory and has legitimate stars in Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. Directed by Jon Favreau, if it even comes close to the charm of the first Iron Man film, it will deserve to be a hit. The final Harry Potter novel couldn't be contained to one film, and so Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 puts the finishing touches on a franchise that has touched millions of readers worldwide. The world of young adult reading will never be the same post-Harry, and the same is true for the films no matter their quality. Larry Crowne and Friends with Benefits are two completely different romantic comedies; the former is a more traditional charmer with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, the other a sex romp a la No Strings Attached with Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, and great supporting roles in Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson. Both look good enough to try opening weekend. Crazy Stupid Love is an ensemble comedy with Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore that looks like it has a lot of heart where similar films would feature coal. And Winnie the Pooh returns a favorite franchise to the big screen, with Disney's old-school animation and voice acting sure to appeal to viewers of all ages.

From an animated film everyone will love to one nobody will, Smurfs takes the old Hanna Barbera series and turns it into a live-action 3D-animated monstrosity, for whose benefit I'm not sure. Parents will probably be tired of paying extra ticket costs to see 3D films with their kids by this point, so at least it probably won't be as popular outside of circles of animation fan boys. For the love of all that is good, will someone please explain to me the appeal of Kevin James? The oft-delayed Zookeeper comes out in July, but with the exception of Rosario Dawson I can't imagine going out to see yet another talking animals film. And Monte Carlo is just another contrived adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper, with teen star Selena Gomez playing both roles in yet another fantasy built specifically for rich white tween girls.

If I'm getting a little punchy at this point, it's because there's simply so much happening this Summer that it's getting difficult to keep everything straight. The month of August is perhaps the toughest month to figure out, as it looks like the two biggest releases are from two franchises that haven't had much in the way of interaction with film audiences in a long time. Rise of the Planet of the Apes came as a surprise in that the last addition to the series was the poor 2001 Tim Burton remake. To actually create an origin story for a beloved series is a risky move (and hiring James Franco to star as someone with many more brain cells than the real deal doesn't scream of strong casting), but the early looks are good enough and will probably result in yet another successful outing for the Apes. The other new film, Conan the Barbarian, stars Baywatch hottie Jason Momoa, and promises sword-and-sorcery action similar to the old-school Arnold Schwarzenegger films of the eighties. However, retconning a popular series after such a long period of time might backfire, and Momoa isn't exactly a proven commodity. Whether the film is successful will depend on how well critics respond to the new setting, and perhaps even an endorsement from the former "Governator" himself.

Among the rest of the month's releases, most notice will probably be held for The Help, the latest adaptation of a bestselling novel, in this case by author Kathryn Stockett about a Mississippi town's inherent racism when it comes to the hired help during the 1960's and a young white woman who dares to defy it. With a constantly-improving Emma Stone out in front, the film looks extremely promising, and while I cringe at an untried director (Stockett's childhood friend Tate Taylor) talking the helm, I can't help but feel optimistic. Forget The Hangover, the funniest comedy of 2011 might be 30 Minutes or Less, with Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery man kidnapped and forced to rob a bank with his friend (Parks and Recreations's Aziz Ansari) or the bomb on his chest will explode. The trailer I caught for this left me chuckling for hours afterwards, and if it comes close to its potential it will be amazing. Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a Guillermo del Toro remake of a 1972 horror film that might upset Insidious as the year's scariest film. Fright Night is another remake, this one starring Colin Farrell as a vampire tormenting Star Trek's Anton Yelchin. The talent is there; the question is whether that will be enough. On the final day of August comes The Debt, a suspense film that tells of a team spies who hunt down a war criminal in Cold War-era Soviet territory. With Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Sam Worthington, it's probably worth seeing on the strength of the acting alone.

I'm not sure if My Idiot Brother is supposed to be The Kids are All Right for hippies instead of lesbians, but at least it has a talented cast including Paul Rudd and Zoey Deschanel. It's hardly the most enticing film I'm expecting, but to be fair that's mainly because I know nothing about the actual plot involved. Final Destination 5 is almost certainly one too many, as a whole new generation of young actors will be killed off in gruesome ways for our amusement. Maybe this will finally be the one to put the last nail in the coffin. Spy Kids 4 hardly makes any sense when the kids from the first three are completely grown up, and probably have kids of their own... OOOOHHHH. The Whisteblower is a classic Rachel Weisz film; important, truthful, and will mainly appeal to The Opinioness. The Change-Up is like Freaky Friday for adults, with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds playing a weathered family man and swinging bachelor respectively, who through a strange twist of fate switch bodies. It could be good, but R-rated comedies are so hit and miss, especially where sex is involved.And as much as a missing tape found of terrifying moon landing footage seems interesting, I'm reminded that when most franchises go into space it's more often than not a bad thing. Such is the case with the repeatedly-delayed Apollo 18, which takes the documentary-style horror film to the big rock orbiting our planet.

There it is! Summer 2011 in a nutshell. Agree? Disagree? Tell me what films you're looking forward to during this blockbuster season!


Anonymous said...

Wait, why wouldn't I expect to see Rutger Hauer in an "ass kicking" role? Huh? Apparently you have never seen 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'...or any other Hauer film for.

Nice write up, except for the whole Hauer thing.


John "Gianni" Anderson said...

I only meant that Hauer is well past his "ass-kicking" prime, not that he hadn't been able to perform that role in the past.

Actually, now that he's scheduled to play Van Helsing in Argento's Dracula 3D, maybe I was wrong about his ability. I'm not afraid to admit I might be.

Anonymous said...

Also, I love The Tree of Life trailer. If I didn't know it was a Malick I'd still want to see it. The trailer doesn't tell you much about the story (a good thing), but it certainly evokes exhileration from this guy. Plus, I heard there are dinosaurs.