Monday, April 29, 2013

Summer Assemble! A Summer Movie Preview

May is almost here, and with it the start of 2013's exciting Summer movie season. This is the time of the year when Hollywood launches its tentpole releases, trying to catch little kids while they're not in school and young adults with free time on their hands. This year, it couldn't come soon enough, after much of the first quarter has seen its theaters full of mediocre, tepid or just plain awful fare. While a few titles have manages to stand out - most notably The Croods, Mama, Warm Bodies, and 42 - much of what we've been subjected to so far hasn't really lived up to even modest expectations. When I put up my Worst of the Year "winners" at the end of December, there's a very good chance that January through April will represent a good part of the ten titles, with execrable films like A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack the Giant Slayer, Bullet to the Head and Movie 43 being early favorites.

But while there won't be another Avengers movie this year to mitigate any potential disasters at the box office, there's a lot to get excited for in 2013. This summer may not be as heavy with comic book adaptations (Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises were major contributors to the bottom line in 2012), but there's a much larger variety of action, drama, science fiction and comedy that even what at first look like obvious misses possess some potential for redeeming value. And so I present to you the best and worst that your summer at the movies has to offer! Enjoy.

When J.J. Abrams' Star Trek was released in 2009, it did what many thought was impossible: it had rejuvenated a struggling franchise through a reboot and succeeded in recasting the iconic characters from the 70's show with young actors like Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto. Four years of goodwill later, and Abrams and crew are at it again with Star Trek Into Darkness, taking one of the weakest aspects of the first film (the bland antagonist) and performing a serious upgrade by adding Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch, whose character is shrouded in so much mystery and darkness (sorry) that even when we know the character's name (John Harrison), we're certain it's a ruse of some sort. With a great cast and a proven sci-fi director at the helm, Star Trek Into Darkness might be not only the most anticipated film this summer, but for the entirety of 2013 as well.
But while the new Star Trek is so awaited, it doesn't start off the summer madness. That honor goes to Iron Man 3. Shane Black's film is less a sequel to the dismal Iron Man 2 and more of a follow-up to last year's Avengers flick, and Robert Downey Jr. and everybody else looks more than happy to open up the season's festivities with remarkable action and comic book geekery...The Great Gatsby was supposed to be released last year, but was pushed to the summer for a variety of reasons. Baz Luhrmann might not appeal to everyone as a director, but his brand of imagery seems perfectly suited to the roaring 20's of Fitzgerald's universe... Following the unexpected success of Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6 races into theaters with more or less the same cast, premise and style. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the last installment was so well received. Still, I'm hoping the actors can gel perfectly just one more time, because this is probably it... After the debacle that was The Hangover Part II, you can be forgiven for never wanting to give Todd Phillips any more of your money. And yet the aptly-named The Hangover Part III looks funnier, more inventive and less formulaic than its predecessor. If this is it, we can all hope that the franchise goes out on a high note... There are a ton of good independent movies coming out in May. Potential favorites include Eli Roth's disaster/horror Aftershock; black-and-white dramedy Frances Ha starring Greta Gerwig; Richard Linklater's romantic sequel Before Midnight; coming-of-age tale Kings of Summer, which could turn into this year's Moonrise Kingdom; What Maisie Knew looks at divorce through the eyes of a child caught between two parents and is based on the novel by Henry James; finally, Julianne Moore leads an all-star cast in the comedy-drama The English Teacher.

But while there's a lot to like this month, there are definitely a few titles that miss the mark, perhaps none more so than Now You See Me. In it, Louis Leterrier directs an all-star cast (that includes Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman) in a story in which magicians wage a war against corporate greed. No, you read that correctly. After the abject failure of the magic-themed The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I wonder how long this one will last in theaters... After Earth leaves me feeling two ways. On one hand, I generally like Will Smith and all things science fiction. And co-starring with his son Jaden might bring out a level of performance we haven't seen since The Pursuit of Happyness. On the other hand, I REALLY don't like director M. Night Shyamalan... For each new trailer I see of action-oriented animation flick Epic, I grow a little more weary. It's as though the filmmakers didn't know what age range of child they wanted to appeal to most, so they're trying for everyone. Instead, they'll probably get no-one... It would be nice for Craig Robinson to become a star, but I'm not sure flicks like Peeples are the way to go about it. It co-stars David Alan Grier, proving that the notorious D.A.G. is in fact still among the living... Aaron Eckhart once again tries the action route as a targeted former CIA operative in Erased; it's just too bad this same story has been done better dozens of times over... The East is yet another take on the theme of corporate greed as it tells the story of a disaffected group determined to make the morally guilty pay, and the investigative spy sent to infiltrate the group. It stars Brit Marling, Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard... Greetings from Tim Buckley might appeal to music fans, but most people likely won't be paying attention to this biopic of musician Jeff Buckley, and I don't think they'll be wrong to do so.

I spent much of the last two years dreading the release of Man of Steel. Director Zack Snyder showed a flair for visuals and little else when he botched up Watchmen, and his pet project Sucker Punch proved to be a misogynistic, dead-on-arrival disappointment. After years of launching utter crap at his audiences, how could his Man of Steel POSSIBLY be good? Well, don't ask me how, but somehow Snyder seems to have done it. The casting looks perfect, the action appears amazing, and if rumors can be believed, the story is really something to behold. Perhaps this is natural maturation as a director, or perhaps it has something to do with tutelage from Christopher Nolan, but Man of Steel has quickly become one of my more anticipated movies this summer.
Pixar also releases their followup to last year's Brave in the prequel Monsters University. While the production company has usually had more success with original material, they have had mixed results with franchise fare (Toy Story has done well, Cars not quite). But Monsters University was one of their more popular early releases, and while we all know how it will turn out in the end, it still ought to make for very good family viewing... Roland Emmerich releases the second "terrorists attack the White House" story this year in White House Down. With a bigger budget and bankable stars (Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx), not to mention Emmerich's penchant for explosions, this is almost a must-see... The Heat would be considered a bland buddy cop comedy, were it not for stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Tack on Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and we should be in for a raunchy, hilariously good time on June 28'th... How does Joss Whedon follow up his insanely popular and lucrative turn on last Summer's The Avengers? Oh, by directing a black-and-white modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing that he filmed at his house with a bunch of his favorite actor friends. He can do that now; he's Joss frickin' Whedon... Sofia Coppola's latest indie outing The Bling Ring stars Harry Potter's Emma Watson as a member of a real-life teenage group of thieves who robbed Hollywood homes from 2008-2009. Watson alone makes this look fun, though Coppola has made her fair share of great films as well... Director Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) returns to the supernatural with Byzantium, a sexy vampire tale starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. You had me at "sexy vampire"... Since horror worked so well for Ethan Hawke last year in Sinister, he returns to the genre with The Purge. In it, a family is under siege on the one day of the year in which crime is legal. It's a brave concept, and one I'm interested to see how it turns out.
Even if it wasn't for the much-publicized problems plaguing the set of World War Z, I'm still not sure I'd be all that excited about its release. The "zombies" look like swarming ants, the special effects don't impress, and there doesn't appear to be a viable story anywhere in the trailers that I've seen. Expect a disjointed mess when it (FINALLY) hits theaters... The Internship - starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson - could be funny, but its tale of struggling salesmen making an unlikely push as interns to work at Google feels like it should have come out a few years ago, when people still cared about The Wedding Crashers... This Is the End has a number of Hollywood comedic actors (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) playing themselves and trying to survive the apocalypse. Unfortunately, the low-budget spoof of disaster movies doesn't look all that funny, and frankly it should have come out last summer amid all the 2012 madness... Speaking of Robinson, he plays the devil in Rapture-Palooza, another apocalyptic comedy that doesn't look good enough to have wasted Anna Kendrick's time... It seems like the only good reason to see Brian De Palma's Passion is for the chance to see lesbian encounters between Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. I'm not sure that qualifies as "good enough"... Stuck in Love has an interesting (if unbalanced) cast, but doesn't seem to possess anything akin to focus. A bit more control by first-time director Josh Boone might have been in order... Syrup just looks dumb. In fact, pretend that I never even mentioned it, and you'll be fine.


There are quite a few good movies coming out in July, so what does it say that the one I'm most looking forward to is an animated sequel? Despicable Me 2 takes great characters (and the excellent actors that accompany them), and pits them into a situation that doesn't at all feel the same as their previous adventure. The Minions as well have become iconic in the brief period since 2010, and if the trailers are any indication, their randomly hilarious antics will blend beautifully with the main story. By the way, that revolves around retired super-villain Gru (Steve Carrell) being recruited by a secret organization to battle a new bad guy. The Minions make it a must-see, but to be honest I'd probably have checked it out regardless.
Ten years ago Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp teamed up on a project that not only was widely successful but made swashbuckling popular again. That movie was Pirates of the Caribbean, and it spawned three sequels and encouraged millions of people to visit the popular Disney theme park ride. While they're tempting fate in trying to do the same thing with westerns in The Lone Ranger, I can't help but feel that the chances are good for a new franchise, especially one that will star the eminently-talented Armie Hammer... While Guillermo del Toro might not be popular enough right now to make Pacific Rim a true blockbuster - its stars are giant robots fighting giant monsters - he's artistic enough to make it worth watching in my opinion. Just keep an eye out for an actual story somewhere in all that SFX... After Red was such a surprise hit three years ago, it's interesting to see stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren return as elite special agents who just happen to be members of AARP in Red 2. The people behind the scenes have changed, which is a good thing when the weakest part of the first Red was how quickly the excellent premise unraveled in the final act... Hugh Jackman returns to adamantium-clawed stardom with The Wolverine, which seeks to make up for the disappointment that was his last X-Men spinoff. Everything looks good from here, though it's important to note that the character is still owned by 20'th Century Fox - not Marvel - and so failure is still a viable option... The Way, Way Back is a clever-looking coming of age movie with a great, risk-taking cast and an incredibly sweet trailer... A cross between Men in Black and Hellboy, R.I.P.D. likely won't have many viewers but stands out with an insanely clever concept (dead lawmen policing evil souls that escaped judgment), and a scene-chewing Jeff Bridges... Paranormal horror film The Conjuring is from James Wan, who directed the incredibly scary Insidious. So yeah, that's enough reason to go see it.
The Smurfs was largely a success when it was released in 2011 thanks to a distinct lack of competition. That won't be the case this summer, so hopefully sequel Smurfs 2 will be the last time we're subjected to the demonic spawn of Hanna-Barbera on the big screen... Not that DreamWorks' animated Turbo looks that much better, combining the racing mythos of NASCAR with the absurd slowness of tiny snails. DreamWorks has always skewed on the kiddie side, though, so at least their grasp for popularity makes more sense than, say, Pixar's Cars 2... Grown Ups was one of Adam Sandler's all-time hits, and now most of his cast (minus Rob Schneider) returns for sequel Grown Ups 2. There's at least more potential for laughs here than in many of the year's comedies, but not by much... V/H/S was something of a cult hit when it came out last year. I'm still not sure that qualifies for such a quick sequel with V/H/S/2, but as found-footage flicks are cheap to make, there's really no reason for them to stop... Formerly known as Imogene, comedy Girl Most Likely does feature the talented Kristen Wiig in its lead role, but I need to see more before I can make a qualified judgment on whether it's worth my time.


Often August is considered the dumping ground of the summer, possibly because families are busier getting their kids ready for school than they are going to the movies. Certainly, some have lived up to the hallowed tales of what a summer movie should be, but they're often few and far between. Elysium looks to be one that bucks that trend. The second film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, it's a hard-hitting science fiction title with serious political messages. While District 9 showcased the inequalities and injustices of immigration and refugee status, Elysium promises to do the same with class issues and health care. The cherry on top is star Matt Damon, who is cheerfully back in his action wheelhouse. In all, Elysium ought to be one of the better science fiction tales this year, and even has an outside chance of being remembered a la District 9 when the award nominations are announced in the winter.
Three years after blue-collar superhero flick Kick-Ass was a modest box-office success, we're finally getting a sequel that brings back the titular hero (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the foul-mouthed teen Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). Kick-Ass 2 promises plenty of bloody violence, foul language, and an almost-unrecognizable Jim Carrey in one of his better-looking roles... Another sequel to a movie based on a popular book series, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters doesn't exactly roll off the tongue but still looks like a whole lot of fun. It's got decent special effects, an interesting story and Nathan Fillion, so it might just do no wrong... Little has been seen for it yet, but The World's End is the final part of Edgar Wright's "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy, which began with Shaun of the Dead in 2004 and Hot Fuzz in 2007. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the story of an epic pub crawl gone insane ought to be smart and hilarious, just as their fans expect... There's not a ton to love about 2 Guns, which stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as undercover agents forced to work together for their continued survival. While the concept isn't exactly fresh, it does have an air of excitement about it, much as Washington had in his last team-up action movies (with Chris Pine in Unstoppable and Ryan Reynolds in Safe House). That alone might be worth a late-August trip to the theater... There are a few indies popping around at the end of the summer that either look mediocre or that we haven't seen anything of yet. Paranoia is the strongest of the lot, as it has a strong cast (Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford and Amber Heard), and is based on the novel by Joseph Finder.
3D concert movies are becoming obsolete almost as quickly as they became relevant. After the financial success of Justin Bieber's Never Say Never, Hollywood kept pumping out these biographical/musical shows to audiences, but quickly saturated the market with Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry and even the cast of Glee, and the audiences just aren't showing up anymore. I've been in theaters with teenage girls when the trailer for One Direction: This is Us has been shown. Their response has been almost universally lackluster and dismissive. If teenage girls don't care about music group One Direction's new movie, why should the rest of us?... We're the Millers stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudekis and is directed by the man who helmed 2004's Dodgeball. Whether that makes it something you'll want to watch, I don't know... Disney's Cars spin-off Planes was supposed to be a direct-to-DVD release, but someone liked it enough to make it a full theatrical showing. Little kids will like it, but nobody else... Sequel/prequel 300: Rise of an Empire has no Gerard Butler and replaces Zack Snyder behind the camera with the inexperienced Noam Murro. I can't see how this doesn't end badly... The only trailer I've seen for Hong Kong martial arts flick The Grandmaster has nothing more than a rain-obscured street fight. It's not even that GOOD a rain-obscured street fight. I'll wait and see... Meanwhile, Aubrey Plaza's The To-Do List looks to get rid of all the forward momentum she had gained with last year's Safety Not Guaranteed... The Colony is a science fiction story starring Lawrence Fishburne that looks as though it should be airing on the Syfy channel instead of theater screens... Little has been seen from Closed Circuit and Getaway, two thrillers coming out in August. The first stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, and with a strong cast behind them it will likely be the better of the two. Getaway meanwhile has Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, and is NOT a remake of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name.

That, in no uncertain terms, is how this summer's movies will shake out. There is much more I'm looking forward to this year than in years before, and I really hope that what I think will be the good movies live up to their potential while the supposed "bad" movies surprise me even a little bit. What about you? Anything you're especially hoping to see this summer? What are you most looking forward to seeing in your free time in the next few months?

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