Friday, April 25, 2014

Summer movie preview: 2014 edition

It's that time again: just past halfway through April, when Entertainment Weekly posts its annual gallery of photos of "50 summer movies we can't wait to see", which also happens to be a list of "every movie coming out this summer". I'm a little more choosy than EW and the other sites that are already touting the upcoming summer slate (Alex Pappademas' tongue-in-cheek dictionary of summer terms is worth a quick read, as is Grantland's round-up of picks, pans, and predictions), but I figured that it was about time to put my own entry into the mix. But I'm not worrying about being authoritative or exhaustive; I'm just previewing the movies I'm interested in and why they pique my interest for now.

I wrote about 3/4 of the way through last summer about my "blockbuster fatigue", and I think I have finally overcome it in time for the new blockbusters this year, as I have avoided almost every big movie release since last summer save for Catching Fire and The Lego Movie. That's right, I still haven't seen Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or Frozen - just let it go. In any given summer, there are between a dozen and fifteen movies released that I want to see at some point for various reasons: favourite filmmakers releasing something new; my fanboy tendencies that bubble up with each new round of comic book movies; or the general cultural zeitgeist. Here are my thoughts on some of the movies that may capture my attention - if ever so briefly - this summer.

The preamble

I tend to see between five and seven movies in theatres between May and August, with four or five of those belonging to the "blockbuster" variety. In 2013, those blockbusters were: The Great Gatsby; Iron Man 3; Pacific Rim; Star Trek: Into Darkness; and World War Z, with Much Ado About Nothing and The World's End also taking my attention as smaller independent films. In 2012, it was The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight Rises, with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom filling the indie places. 2011 was a surprisingly active summer for me, with nine trips to the theatre (seven blockbusters and two indies) despite a dearth of good material; Of course, I saw most of those movies at our now-demolished local cheap theatre, of which my city now is completely and unfortunately bereft. I could go back through every year back to 1993, but I'll spare you the gory details, as I have established my pattern, and thus my point. After the summer rush, I tend to check out the remaining movies I missed at home during the fall lull, though there are occasionally a couple that somehow escape my attention beyond that time until I finally see them at some point or forget about them entirely - or at least until the sequel is released (2013's Despicable Me 2, Elysium, and Man of Steel are prime examples of this).

As the summer season starts, I usually have a good idea which movies will fit into each category for me: the movies (either blockbusters or indies) that I can't wait to see; movies that can wait for the small screen at home; the "wild card" movies that I might see in theatre if the climate is right (ie. it has critical and commercial appeal and I'm not tired of going to movies; money is rarely a factor, though it probably should be); and the movies I will avoid at all costs. The funny thing is that I rarely end up deviating from those categories; although some people might consider it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, I think it's usually the case that I know myself and movies well enough to know what I will end up seeing. With those categories (loosely) in mind, I have grouped my preview this year with those expectations in mind.

The must-see movies

There are actually only two movies coming out this summer that I am really excited about, with several others that I know I will see just to see them on the big screen. Here are the five that I expect to see in theatres, for whatever reason.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2) - Okay, so it looks overstuffed with plot and villains, and that always makes me nervous, but this seems like one to see on the big screen. I'm not expecting much, which is perhaps the best place to be, as it's not likely that I'll be disappointed. I really enjoyed the first film in this rebooted series, and at the very least, it can't be worse than Spider-Man 3 - I hope. Besides, I have to start off the season with a big superhero epic, and the next one doesn't come for another three weeks.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) - Despite the return of the director (Bryan Singer) and the cast from the original two movies, I'm more than a little skeptical and dubious about this movie's prospects. Days of Future Past is one of my favourite storylines from the X-Men comics and the 90s Fox cartoon series, and I just don't see how making a movie of that story will do it any justice. But at the very least, it can't be worse than X-Men: The Last Stand - I hope (that phrase seems familiar...). So, it looks like this summer season will start with movies that I feel the need to see, but that I'm not really expecting to be that great. At least I have higher hopes for...

The Fault in Our Stars (June 6) - For a particular portion of the population (ie. Nerdfighteria), this is the blockbuster of the summer. John Green's lauded young adult novel might be the surprise hit of the season, as it seems to have the perfect combination of buzz, young stars (particularly Shailene Woodley, fresh off Divergent), intuitive counter-programming (being released against Tom Cruise's sci-fi shooter Edge of Tomorrow), and teen girl appeal (essential for those repeated viewings). We'll be seeing this one as soon as we can, although we will have to remember to bring a box of tissues, as my wife has already wept at the trailer repeatedly; all right, I know I'm going to be a mess, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug 1) - Now we're talking! It's probably no coincidence that the most inspired superhero movie this summer is coming from Marvel itself, rather than from one of the studios (Sony and Fox) who are so desperately hanging on to Marvel properties (hence the constant releases in the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, lest they lose their cash cows to Disney). GotG looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm really excited to see how they will build the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (other than Thor, which didn't entirely work, IMHO). Sure, it's going to be a CG bonanza, but I think it has the potential to be really funny, dark, and ultimately character-driven. This is really the only blockbuster that I really have high hopes for this summer, and it's easily the answer to the question, "if you could only see one movie in theatres this summer...".

The Expendables 3 (Aug 15) - This one is mostly a product of a friend's obsession with the franchise, so I'll likely end up seeing it with him sometime on opening weekend. The first two were surprisingly enjoyable, and this one has me intrigued with the new additions: Banderas, Grammer, Ford, Snipes (!), and bad guy Mel Gibson. It seems like the perfect "last gasp of summer" action movie, and I at least know that it will be entertaining.

The movies I will wait to see

There are always a few movies that I know I will watch eventually, but that just don't likely merit the cost of a trip to the theatre. These are those movies for this summer (although one or more might bump up into the "must-see" bracket).

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13) - The first entry in this franchise was funny and very entertaining, but I rarely see non-Pixar animated movies in the theatre. I'll wait until the fall for this one.

A Most Wanted Man (July 25) - This spy thriller is based on a John Le Carre novel, but the real reason to see it is that it is Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film (Mockingjay isn't really a "film", per se - it's more of a movie event, so I don't fully count it the same way), and his performance looks incredible just from the trailers.

Get On Up (Aug 1) - A James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Jackie Robinson in last year's 42 (which I have yet to see), this looks like it could feature some incredible performances, as well as a fantastic soundtrack. This could be the counter-programming move of the summer, as there often ends up being one late July or early August release that gains momentum to dominate the last month of the season (see: The Help, Signs, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Either way, it's likely going to be worth a watch.

TMNT (Aug 8) - This movie has had bad press from the beginning, whether it was the involvement of Michael Bay, the title (just "Ninja Turtles" for awhile), the alteration of the Turtles' origins (aliens?), the casting of Megan Fox as April O'Neil (which, surprisingly, I don't terribly mind, as I think they still could have done much worse), or the Turtles' facial design. I know it has the potential to be terrible, but I also know that I'm still planning to see it sometime, regardless of how poorly it is received. 

The Giver (Aug 22) - This movie started with a lot of the right moves - casting Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, for example - but it has seemed less and less appealing the more that has been revealed about it, whether it's the change in the age of Jonas (12 to 16) or the use of color in the entire film (seeming to negate a very important detail in the character's development in the book). I know I will still watch it, since this is a book I have taught and would teach again, even if just to see what they do with it.

The wild cards

These movies have my curiosity, but they could have my attention under the right circumstances. Here are my wild cards for this summer - and there are a lot of them this year!

Godzilla (May 16) - This movie has two things going for it: Godzilla and Bryan Cranston. It could be great, or it could be terrible. I don't particularly want to find out for myself if it's the latter, so I'll wait to see how it's received.

Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) - Tom Cruise's bread and butter for the past fifteen years has been high-concept sci-fi films, such as last year's enjoyable (though lightweight SF) Oblivion. This one has Cruise as a soldier with an exoskeleton who has to keep reliving the same day with Emily Blunt as the token younger female with whom he will probably end up falling in love. I'm actually surprised that this has a summer release in North America, but I suppose that Cruise's work is more for the overseas markets, anyway. Either way, there's really no other big epics releasing in June that I want to see, so I may find my way to seeing this one.

22 Jump Street (June 13) - While I did not see 21 Jump Street, the presence of Lord and Miller (Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) as directors makes me want to go back and watch it to see if I should be intrigued by this one.

Jersey Boys (June 20) - Clint Eastwood directs this biopic musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I'm always interested when Clint is behind the camera.

Tammy (July 4) - Melissa McCarthy in a raunchy comedy has been a recipe for success for two years now (Bridesmaids and The Heat), and this one has potential, with McCarthy and her husband as writers and McCarthy sharing the screen with Susan Sarandon, who plays her grandmother, on a road trip. Even though The Heat wasn't as funny as Bridesmaids, it was still worth seeing, so I imagine this one will be too; the only question is whether I'll wait or see it in theatres.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11) - Rise of the PotA was the surprise hit of 2011 thanks to the presence of Caesar, the sympathetic protagonist, and his kin. The sequel focuses more on the apes, replaces James Franco with Gary Oldman, and raises the stakes with a global virus - all of which point to an improvement on its surprisingly enjoyable predecessor.

Jupiter Ascending (July 18) - A number of critics are predicting that this will be the flop of the summer, and I'm not sure I disagree. $200 million can buy you a lot of special effects, but it can't buy you plot, character, or a comprehensible trailer. This is an audacious project from the creators of The Matrix (which conveniently omits that they were also responsible for the sequels to the Matrix), and I'm not sure that it's up to the rigors of a summer release; it seems that it would have been much better positioned as a spring or fall release with low expectations, like The Fifth Element or The Chronicles of Riddick. Then again, it will make most of its money overseas anyway, so it probably does not matter. Either way, it might be entertaining, even if just to see how bad it truly is.

Lucy (August 8) - French action director Luc Besson uses Scarlett Johansson as his action star, which could be a very good use of both her acting talents and her experience as the continually under-used Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The movies I will avoid at all costs

So, I have only two must-see movies, another three that I'll end up seeing in theatre, another five that I will see at some point, and eight (!) wild cards, for a total of eighteen movies that pique my interest in some way going into the summer. I am certain that a few of those will fade out of sight as they are released, as will the two or so dozen other movies to which I am ambivalent. But there are a few movies that I will actively avoid at all costs; these are the five on that list this summer.

Blended (May 23) - Say what you want about Adam Sandler, but he knows how to play to his strengths and make money. Just not out of my pocket.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30) - I'm not a huge fan of Seth MacFarlane's comedy, but this looks to be especially crass and unnecessary.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27) - Even dinobots couldn't make me see this.

The Purge: Anarchy (July 18) - Really? People pay to see this?

Hercules (July 25) - They tried this once with The Rock as The Scorpion King. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

That's my preview for the summer at the theatre. What is on your radar for the next few months?

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