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Summer Movie Preview 2014
Posted By: Sam, on host
Date: Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 11:40:34

April 18 - Transcendence

Wally Pfister, the great cinematographer behind most of Christopher Nolan's
movies, takes the director's chair for this futuristic sci-fi thriller about
a nerdy genius (Johnny Depp) who uploads his mind to a computer. The trailer,
which tells entirely too much of the story, makes it come off looking like a
high-gloss Lawnmower Man (the movie, not the short story), which is not a
welcome association. But then you have Morgan Freeman looking somber and
foreboding. He's there to reassure us that this spells the end of the human
race as we know it. Did I say reassure? Doesn't matter what Morgan Freeman
says -- when he says it, it's reassuring.

Honestly, the movie looks all right so far, even if there are few signs of
potential greatness. I'm just nervous about any story of people escaping
into or out of computers, unless they're unabashedly fantastical, like the
original Tron. And I kind of thought we got over our instinctive fear of
computers that turned this into such a prolific subgenre in the late 80s and
early 90s.

April 18 - Heaven Is For Real

Director Randall Wallace is not a prolific filmmaker, but his last two,
Secretariat and We Were Soldiers, were both solid. This one, starring Greg
Kinnear, is based on a book written by an evangelical preacher, which in turn
was based on real events in his own life and that of his son.

April 18 - Fading Gigolo

I mention this just because it's such unusual casting: John Turturro and Woody
Allen co-star together in this story about a guy who makes an unorthodox
career choice (with Allen playing his manager), then finds it a more
complicated affair than he anticipated. Woody Allen rarely stars in movies he
does not also direct, but this time it's Turturro at the helm. I like Turturro
as an actor and greatly anticipated his Romance & Cigarettes, as every
indication was that it was a work of insane genius. It turned out to be just

April 25 - The Other Woman

Romanticized revenge tales always make me uneasy, striking me as a morally
treacherous breed of escapism. The revenge stories that stick in our
collective consciousness all tend to have the hero (anti-hero?) dangerously
on the brink of destruction, whether or not he completely succumbs in the end.

But in this, three women discover the same man has cheated on them all and
spend the rest of the movie merrily getting back at him for it. Whether or not
he deserves the abuse (the trailers suggest he does), imagine how queasy we'd
feel if the same story were told with the sexes swapped around?

April 25 - Brick Mansions

If you've seen the French parkour thriller District B13, well, this is a remake
of that, starring the late Paul Walker. Parkour can be electrifying on screen,
as the opening of Casino Royale demonstrated. District B13 was similarly
dazzling but ultimately a mixed success. Did anybody actually care about
those characters?

May 2 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The appropriately named director Marc Webb continues his Spider-Man reboot with
this numbered sequel. If the film transcends its genre, which in my mind
remains fun but in a more and more transient way, the reason will most likely
be Emma Stone, whose infectious presence on screen is worth more than any
costume or special effect.

May 2 - Belle

The IMDb: "An illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is
raised by her aristocratic great-uncle." With Downton Abbey having revitalized
the costume drama (though Jane Austen seems never to go out of style), the door
seems to be open for projects like this. It's an interesting story, one that
should thrive in the costume drama, which works best when it can play off the
tension between the human spirit and rigid social conventions. If it's done
right, it'll be remembered come awards season. If not, it'll quietly

May 9 - Chef

The IMDb notes that this story about "a chef who loses his restaurant
job [and] starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise"
serves as an "apparent metaphor for director Jon Favreau's dismissal from
the Iron Man director's chair." Curiously enough, the film also stars Robert
Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. With them in the spotlight, and charismatic
players like Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo, and Garry Shandling
for support, I can imagine this being good fun.

May 16 - Godzilla

It's hard to imagine this not being an improvement on the goofy Roland Emmerich
Godzilla film. Then again, it's hard to imagine this being great on its own
terms. The problem with Godzilla is that he's particularly Japanese, arising
as he does from Japanese culture at a specific crucial point in Japanese
history. Borrowing him to use in a generic, more globally accessible monster
movie misses the point and -- well, I won't say such an enterprise can't ever
result in a good movie, but it won't quite replicate the character's original
appeal, either. So why call your generic monster Godzilla in the first place?

But there is some interesting gravitas in the cast and crew, ranging from
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), the improbably great Elizabeth Olsen, and
writer Frank Darabont.

May 16 - Million Dollar Arm

Disney's "based on a true story" inspirational sports tale stars Jon Hamm
scouting the Indian Cricket League for promising baseball pitchers. Disney has
the sports underdog formula down like a science, which means two things: it'll
probably be pretty decent, and it'll probably not stand out from its fellow
genre members. Hamm seems like a good choice for something like this, even if
it underutilizes his talent for subtle complexity.

May 23 - X-Men: Days of Future Past

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return to the X-Men franchise, of course with
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in tow. The film also marks director Bryan Singer's
return to the franchise as well, which suffered some short term damage upon his
exit. The recovery started without him: X-Men: First Class was excellent.
Let's see if this series can keep from folding in on itself again.

May 23 - Blended

I'm not generally an Adam Sandler fan, but I have to admit I fell for 50 First
Dates. This is also a romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore and for that reason
alone will be noticed by fans of that film and/or The Wedding Singer. Since
those days, the heyday of the romantic comedy has come and gone, replaced by
other comedy fads, but my guess is that if these two can recreate their
on-screen chemistry, audiences will happily return to the fold.

May 30 - Maleficent

I am the target audience for re-imagined fairy tales. But when am I going
to get a good one? Snow White and the Huntsman was stunning to look at but
ultimately flavorless and forgettable. The best part was Charlize Theron
as the villainess. Attempting to tap into the appeal of a great villain,
as that film did, is exactly what Maleficent is doing. But even if Angelina
Jolie knocks it out of the park, the film isn't going to work unless its
heroine and her story are equally as compelling.

June 6 - Edge of Tomorrow

Soldiers, aliens, time warps, Tom Cruise -- it all sounds like a movie you've
seen before, though you can't quite put your finger on the title. Right?
So here we go again.

But the director is Doug Liman, who has two incredibly fun summer movies
in his filmography: Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity. If he can
do that again, I'm there.

June 13 - How To Train Your Dragon 2

Loved the first movie, but I'm not sure if I can get excited about a sequel.
DreamWorks has actually pulled off solid animated sequels before, such
as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Shrek Forever. But even if I love this, I think
I will miss the joy of discovery I felt watching the original.

June 27 - Transformers: Age of Extinction

What, another one? No thanks. Seriously, Michael Bay needs to go away.

July 4 - Tammy

Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon team up in a road movie. Last year's
The Heat was a success thanks to the comedic chemistry between its two leads.
The producers are surely hoping to recreate that camaraderie with Sarandon
in place of Bullock. But this doesn't feel as inspired a pairing to me.
Bullock and McCarthy worked well together because their screen personas were
natural foils for each other. Sarandon might have too much of an edge, and
her comedic chops aren't as polished in any case. Maybe this will surprise me,
but I don't think it's the slam-dunk The Heat was.

July 11 - Fast & Furious 7

Paul Walker's swan song reunites him with his fast and furious co-stars Vin
diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Jason Statham, surely a seamless addition to this
world, plays the villain. The incredible popularity of this franchise
bewilders me, but at least, with the fifth entry, it finally got to a film
I quite liked.

July 18 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Similarly improbably, I also very much liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes,
which looked like a quick cash-in remake but turned out to be entertaining all
on its own merits. But I'm not sure that that film's pre-apocalyse story will
necessarily lead to a satisfying post-apocalypse sequel. It's somewhat
analogous to the Terminator franchise, which started out great with the threat
of global annihilation always looming but took a downward turn once that threat
became reality. I'm optimistic, but very cautiously so.

July 25 - Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis are back with another visually compelling science fiction film.
They're directing this time (whereas Tom Tykwer helmed Cloud Atlas), and it
stars Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. No plot summary ever does justice to a
Wachowski film, but the trailer well might. Looks good to me.

July 25 - Hercules

We already had a Hercules movie this year, and nobody liked it. This Brett
Ratner film, starring Dwayne Johnson, is likely to have more personality, but
personality isn't always a good thing. Still, I'm a sucker for mythological
fantasy and will catch up with this sooner or later, more likely than not
hating myself for it afterward.

August 1 - Guardians of the Galaxy

This next chapter in the Marvel franchise will be a test of sorts: can Marvel
movies still make a lot of money without an iconic hero in the foreground?
Comic book fans, of course, know these characters inside and out, but it
takes a broader audience to make a comic book movie successful; these heroes
are the least known of the Marvel roster to date.

It sounds like I'm being a doubter, but in fact I'm not. Marvel has managed
to build its brand such that, increasingly, Marvel itself is the big star of
its movies. It's also worth noting that the Marvel franchise has pulled off
this kind of feat before: it's thanks to the first Iron Man film that that
character is popular and well known today, whereas previously he was a
second-tier hero little known outside of his devoted comic book fan base.

I hesitate to predict whether I'll like it or not -- my success rate on Marvel
films so far is about 50-50. But I'm optimistic that the film itself will
be successful, despite the inevitability that sooner or later Marvel is going
to release a dud and drop the bottom out of the superhero fad.

August 8 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I suppose this franchise is a product of my generation. Maybe I was just a
couple years too old for it, but still, not far off. And even at the time,
I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. I realize, though do not
comprehend, that I am stepping on some cherished childhood memories by saying
so, but how can stringing all those particular adjectives together in front of
the word "turtles" not be a blatant joke? They're teenagers. Who are mutants.
And ninjas. And...turtles. But the franchise doesn't treat itself like a
joke, however tongue-in-cheek it is in tone. I can't get around that.

But let's set aside my non-fandom and accept the premise that this is an
important generational staple. Does anybody want a new movie about it now?
And even if you think so, who thinks Jonathan Liebesman, the guy behind Battle
Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, is the guy to do it?

August 8 - The Expendables 3

Here, on the other hand, is the kind of franchise trash more my style. Neither
of the earlier Expendables movies were good, per se, but as one with nostalgia
for the days when Schwarzenegger and Stallone were action movie kings, I
enjoyed seeing Every Action Star In the World dogpile into one series and make fun
of each other. Highlight so far? Chuck Norris playing the Internet meme
version of himself in episode 2.

The problem is that the series doesn't do enough of this: too much of it is
played straight, as if we should take it seriously and forget that what it
really is is a glorious amalgamation of references to our recent action movie
heritage. Still, I'll be watching The Expendables 3 to see what kind of fun
they can have with Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas,
and the usual returning cast members.

August 22 - Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Sin City was trashy but glorious and inventive with its striking visuals and
attitude. It's probably also Robert Rodriguez's best film. With any luck,
this will be more of that. There is reason to think it might be: rather
than a cash-in sequel made in the wake of a success, this is simply another
adaptation of more of the Frank Miller stories that the original was based on.
It ought to work.

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