Summer 2013 Preview

The blockbuster season is so close you can smell the shrapnel.  Luckily for us movie fans the studios have begun trotting out some of the big tentpoles early ever since the year 2011 when Fast Five broke the mold and opened a week before the typical Summer launch which has been the first weekend of May for over a decade.  The Vin Diesel-led action-sequel turned out to be a roaring success, even besting final grosses of the almighty Thor which kicked off the ‘season-proper.’  Now the studios are realizing audiences will pay to see a big movie any time of year if the anticipation is there.

I haven’t done this for a few years, but I miss the optimism in looking ahead to the movie season rather than the disappointment in looking back.  What movies are on my radar this summer?  Actually quite a heap.  Nearly every weekend has a movie I’m eager to see which is likely a major problem for studios as supply is very high this season and the competition will be fierce.  Hopefully my adoring wife will hold my hand through them all… or most.  I’m sure there will be big winners and major losers in this bunch.  But the real question is: will there be any surprises?  And which am I looking forward to most?

The Dark Horses:

pangPain and Gain (4/26): We have seen a lot of Dwayne Johnson lately.  And he will be around a lot more yet.  With Snitch and the G.I. Joe sequel still in theaters, he’s about to star in an uber-violent action-comedy from Michael Bay about criminal bodybuilders.  Johnson co-stars with Mark Wahlberg, Ed Harris and Tony Shaloub.  The trailers for the film definitely have some personality and signature Bay visuals—tan human beings drenched in sweat (or is that the camera lens), gunplay, car chases and explosions.  But I’m not sold yet.  The film looks a little more niche than expected and may play just as well at home if it’s any good at all.  TRAILER.

greatgatsThe Great Gatsby (5/10): It’s not the first title that comes to mind when I think ‘summer.’  That might be because the studio moved it from its Christmas award season slot last year to May 10th where there will be less… competition.  Right.  The trailer looks visually arresting and I’m surprised to see the film getting a 3D release.  As a film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrrman and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this could be fantastic, but I’m not entirely sure it will break out at this time of year. TRAILER.

This-is-the-End-2013This is the End (6/12): A slew of comedic actors who’ve all shared the screen together in some capacity star as themselves caught up in an apocalypse.  Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Aziz Ansari, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Danny McBride… Yes, they’re all in this movie and they all play their celebrity selves.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the film.  They also wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express.  And Green Hornet… and The Watch… If you are still reading they also wrote Drillbit Taylor (Remember that movie?  Owen Wilson was in it.  No one saw it…)  Their latest movie, looks like an intriguing concept…which could in fact turn out to be The Watch all over again (and that movie was a complete disaster).  But the trailers have me convinced this could be funny… or maybe too raunchy for my tastes.  Sadly this is one of the few comedy choices we have this coming season so we can only hope. TRAILER.

The-WolverineThe Wolverine (7/26): What?? Not in my top ten?? No.  Ever since Director Darren Arronofsky famously dropped out of the this dark prequel/sequel/standalone/spinoff or whatever it is, my anticipation went down.  I want to see it, but I’m not particularly excited.  James Mangold is a capable director.  But Walk the Line and Knight and Day aren’t exactly titles that tell me he was the right choice to revive this installment after the dumping ground that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman has the chops to still deliver a great solo Wolverine movie, and the trailer looks pretty good, but how can a trailer for this movie not ‘look’ good?  TRAILER.

despicable-me-2-picture03Despicable Me 2 (7/3): I have to admit I really enjoyed the original surprise hit featuring the voice talent of Steve Carell.  Will this movie be a simple cash grab or a worthy follow-up?  I don’t know.  Time will tell.  Sequels to animated films generally don’t retain the magic of the predecessors, but I have no doubt that the writers could come up with something truly special.  Or maybe those yellow minions will be incredibly annoying the second time around.  TRAILER.

the-heat-trailerThe Heat (6/28):  Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as hardcore law enforcement?  Sounds like comedy to me.  But will this movie have enough wit in the script or will it be an onslaught of profanity substituted for genuine ideas?  I believe both of these actresses are capable of delivering a very entertaining comedy and would likely make a dynamic pair, but I’m on the fence and entirely not blown away by the trailer. TRAILER.

LonerangThe Lone Ranger (7/3): This actually looks very entertaining, regardless of the naysayers.  This honestly just looks like a fun movie—batty, goofy, action-packed, impressively shot.  But it still has an iffy air about it and so it didn’t quite make my top ten list.  But Johnny Depp as Tonto strikes me as awesome.  Armie Hammer as the Ranger?  Hopefully a star is made out of him.  Plus Gore Verbinski is directing, and if he can recreate the magic of his first Pirates of the Caribbean film, then we may have something here.  TRAILER.

MonstersUMonsters University (6/21): Pixar Studios have been wanting sequels left and right all of a sudden.  It’s been off-putting for me as they typically come up with great original storytelling.  The teaser trailer for this Monsters, Inc. prequel also rubbed me the wrong way portraying monster college to children as a mindless wild party atmosphere (just without the booze).  Then a follow-up trailer filmed as a university advertisement was a bit more daring and original.  I think Monsters Inc was a very solid movie, but I’m not enthused for another.  TRAILER.

AftEarAfter Earth (6/7): My biggest question mark of the season… M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth.  The studio hasn’t been putting his name in the ads.  Why?  Because you probably laughed out loud when you read his name.  The man has been cursed.  At one point in his career everything he touched turned to gold.  Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs.  He was the next Spielberg.  Then… The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender.  Make it stop!  After Earth, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith looks both good and bad.  I don’t know.  I suppose if this wasn’t a Will Smith-starrer I would look the other way.  I don’t see it as a resurgence for Shyamalan, but anything is possible.  Maybe it’s just that southern drawl in the actors’ voices that has me confused.  TRAILER.

world-war-z-trailerWorld War Z (6/21): I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead TV show mainly because of the high production values and searing drama amongst the human cast.  World War Z, which appears to be a very loose adaptation of its novel source, looks like a solid suspenseful ride.  But I have my doubts about Marc Forester directing (not to mention the highly-public troubled production)—he was behind Quantum of Solace and Finding Neverland.  The zombies look like dodgy CGI creations on speed, sort of like I am Legend.  Brad Pitt stars which adds some leading man power, but despite a promising trailer, I have a feeling Forester will deliver a completely digital film that misses the human element, the realism, and the drama.  Will I still see it?  Um, yeah.  TRAILER.

The Top Ten:

1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWN10) White House Down (6/28):  Okay.  I just saw Antonie Fuqua’s version of this movie and it was bad.  But come on.  The trailer for this Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx version looks surprisingly good.  I’m game for another White House takedown movie even if it stars Channing Tatum because Director Roland ‘Independence Day‘ Emmerich is taking it down… and he has a profitable history in doing so.  Hopefully the villains, the heroes, the script, the plot, the visual effects and everything else in between are better than Olympus Has FallenTRAILER.

Fast-Furious-6-Official-Super-Bowl9) Fast & Furious 6 (5/24): Remember how Fast Five came out two years ago and blew away expectations?  I have a feeling returning Director Justin Lin will take it to a whole new level with this sixth installment.  I can’t believe I’m writing these words.  I mean, the awful Tokyo Drift was three movies ago!  Actually, Fast Five didn’t blow me away like everyone else, but I did enjoy it enough to be very excited for the entire cast returning for even bigger action, bigger chases, and even further ridiculousness.  Just don’t try and follow the titles of these movies, because they only want you to be confused.  TRAILER.

elysium-neil-blomkamp8)  Elysium (8/9): —UPDATE: The trailer arrived and it did not disappoint.  In fact, I should be moving this film higher on my list.  It looks great!— I have not seen a single frame of a trailer for this movie, but the production stills have me intrigued enough.  Plus the Oscar-nominated hit District 9 was my favorite movie of 2009, and Director Neill Blomkamp is now back with this new sci-fi action-thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.  What’s it about?  IMDB lists the synopsis as: “Set in the year 2159, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.”  Sounds good to me! TRAILER.

now_you_see_me_xlg7) Now You See Me (5/31): This trailer jumped out of nowhere and arrested me at gunpoint.  Magicians who rob banks, but for what purpose?  Is there something greater going on behind the curtain?  Count me in.  It has the intrigue of The Prestige with the fun of The Italian Job.  Plus the cast is absolutely top notch.  Something good in the script must have attracted them all.  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo.  Ticket.  Bought.  TRAILER.

2_Guns_26) 2 Guns (8/2): An action-comedy in vein of Lethal Weapon starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.  It looks action-packed, but most surprisingly, it looks funny!  I can’t remember the last time Washington ran for some laughs.  This has all the right ingredients for a good-old buddy-action-flick and also looks to be a fresh break from all the comic book heroes and science fiction running amok.  TRAILER.

oblivion201212109117055) Oblivion (4/19): Summer starts very early this year and Tom Cruise is prime set to deliver a sprawling sci-fi actioner about a post-apocalyptic Earth and the aftermath of humanity leaving the planet (which is also the synopsis of After Earth).  Joseph Kosinski directed and the man is a visual talent, but can the story also deliver?  His previous film was Tron: Legacy which I actually enjoyed a lot.  I think Oblivion has grown on my radar the more ads I see for it.  Plus Cruise rarely stars in a bad film, especially his big budget fare.  I’m in.  TRAILER.

three-new-posters-for-pacific-rim-123740-02-470-754) Pacific Rim (7/12): Okay.  I know.  Giant robots versus giant monsters battling to the death.  I know!  But come on.  There’s people inside the giant robots manning controls.  And Charlie Hunnam who is a force to be reckoned with on Sons of Anarchy has what is potentially his big breakout role here.  Plus!—this is a Guillermo del Toro film who is a fantasy genius and he creates incredible creatures and worlds.  He’s the man behind Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Hellboy movies.  I think he’s got us covered.  Pacific Rim looks like Transformers meets Godzilla with hopefully more brains than either of those.  And it looks awesome!!  TRAILER.

ironman3-poster-jumbo-jpg_1621423) Iron Man 3 (5/3): This ‘proper’ season kickoff will be huge.  Iron Man 3 luckily has the advantage of looking like a sequel to The Avengers (which everyone loved, and that film nearly doubled Iron Man’s previous domestic audience) rather than the mild disappointment that was Iron Man 2 three years ago.  New movie.  New director.  New tone.  And it looks like Tony Stark may have a lot to lose this time around.  I swear looking back—did anything actually happen in Iron Man 2?  Now the chips really start to crumble for Stark and it looks like an absolute blast.  TRAILER.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS2) Star Trek Into Darkness (5/17): J.J. Abrams is the new deity of dorks.  But cool people love him too.  So now there really isn’t such a thing as dorks anymore.  Abrams is a genius… yes I’m in that camp.  And no, I haven’t seen Lost.  But his movies get better and better.  Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, and Super 8.  Soon he will deliver Star Wars Episode VII.  But for now let’s talk Star Trek and the upcoming sequel.  It looks amazing and I’ve only grown more fond of Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot over the years.  He did everything right in making Star Trek accessible to a mainstream audience.  The film was action-packed, funny, witty, well-acted, and the nods were everywhere for hardcore fans.  But if you missed them as a casual moviegoer, you still loved the movie!  So how can I not be ecstatic for the new Star TrekTRAILER.

mosposter1) Man of Steel (6/14): As I’m typing this I feel absolutely blown away that Man of Steel is in my number one spot.  I’m not a Superman fan!  I just don’t dig the character.  I don’t dislike him.  I just think he’s not that exciting of a character.  He’s basically indestructible, so where is the fun in that?  But Christopher Nolan is producing.  Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen is directing.  And the trailers look… amazing.  I’m honestly still skeptical, but I can’t deny that I’m most interested to see how this one turns out.  Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Henry Cavill (as Clark Kent)… that’s a solid cast.  The visuals looks great.  The emotion looks in place.  The story and themes seem to be just right.  It has that Nolan-feel.  Maybe that’s it.  We had this same anticipation experience back in 2006 when Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was set to usher in a new era for Superman.  The movie was a box office disappointment (only because Warner Bros spent way too much on the film because it performed exactly the same as Batman Begins the year prior) and people went from worshiping the film to outright hating it over the years.  I don’t know how people keep repeating these phases in moviedom.  The same thing happened to Indiana Jones 4 and Terminator 3 and Prometheus… and okay I’ll stop there.  But I really think Nolan and Snyder will deliver a Superman movie that finally makes me a fan.  TRAILER.

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Safe House

And now for a most novel idea in motion picture plotting: The CIA and other foreign government intelligence are corrupted by several bad bad bad agents.  These agents are so bad that they’ve killed innocent civilians to cover up their own double dealings and double crossings within these agencies.  Pure genius!

I’m hooked, right?  Right?

Enter Ryan Reynolds working for the CIA as Matt Weston, a young housekeeper of a ‘safe house’ designed for suspected terrorist interrogations.  He’s never even seen live field duty because he spends his time monitoring empty rooms while waiting for an interrogation party to come his way.  He also lives with a French lady friend who knows nothing of his secret government occupation.  Matt dreams of getting out of the watchdog business and into some real field work, but his mentor, operative David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), instructs him to be patient.

His days of tossing tennis balls against a bare wall come to a halt when suspected double-agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) finds himself captured by the American government.  These armed men attempt to torture Frost for information on his recent shady activity involving the interception of a very important flash drive.  Frost keeps hush and smiles for more abuse.

Suddenly the safe house is breached.  Cue the large shootout.  Everyone dies except for Frost and Weston.  Weston, not knowing what to do, trusts the hierarchy above him, and attempts to transport Frost to the next safe house.  Things don’t go as planned and Weston must attempt to figure out why Mr. Frost is wanted dead by so many people if he wants to stay alive himself.

As swiftly stylized and edited as Safe House can be, almost completely mimicking a Tony Scott film, writer David Guggenheim and director Daniel Espinsosa (both first-timers) find little excitement in developing a ho-hum story.  They are preaching their ‘ideas’ as though they haven’t been sitting stale in a fridge for several weeks.  Instead, Safe House best functions as a Bourne copycat, resorting to the now-standard slice-and-dice editing style that replaces the need for believable fight choreography.

Not to say that action in Safe House is bad—it’s not.  In fact, it can be particularly thrilling.  But why?  The filmmakers have given us a Denzel Washington thriller that unwisely focuses on a boring Ryan Reynolds-played character who offers nothing in the way of audience attachment.  Since he’s not remotely interesting, and his motives for ushering around Washington’s dangerous character are purely a means of furthering the narrative, we only have the great Denzel to root for.  And I’m sorry to say it, but his villain/anti-hero fence walking never had me convinced that he was anything but a hero, despite fractured motives.  I won’t even get into his age issues—as good as he still looks for late 50s, I don’t buy him snapping necks like Bourne and dodging machine gun fire from multiple assassins.  He and Liam Neeson should think about Expendables 3.

The film is also saddled with supporting actors in Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepherd.  These names have side-splitting talent, and wouldn’t you know they’re wasted on one-note characters?  Perhaps Gleeson gets a little more to do here, but ultimately this megawatt cast has been assembled to deliver by-the-numbers action and story that is only elevated by the fact that we have these actors that are far better than the material would have you believe.

If I’m making Safe House sound awful, I apologize.  It’s not.  Since I recognize that I’m continually veering into negative-town here, I will attest I didn’t have a bad time at the film.  It’s adequately shot, very violent, gritty, just not for any particular engaging reason.  The movie gets a pass because the actors elevate it and make it plenty watchable, even if it’s plenty forgettable.  Ignore the ads.  Safe House is plenty safe, but you won’t have a bad time.

 

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The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington strays from his recent Tony Scott thrillers (Deja Vu, Pelham 123) to participate in an odd post-apocalyptic tale (yes, another one of those).  While I think much of the audience interested in this film already knows what Denzel’s “Eli” character is protecting as he wanders through what’s left of Earth’s wasteland following a nuclear fallout, I will refrain from revealing the big mystery.

With “The Road,” “Terminator Salvation,” “2012,” “I am Legend” and even “Wall-E,” audiences have seen the end of the world quite a bit lately.  “The Book of Eli” fits right in.  While this film deserves to be stronger than it is, the Hughes Bros. (absent for a decade) deliver a gutsy, expensive mainstream movie.  The set design is amazing–you can definitely tell lots of studio money went into this one.  The action sequences are sharp, bloody, and stinging.  Some of the flick feels a little generic, but I expected as much.  While it won’t be the post-apocalyptic film to remember, it is a challenging and consistently entertaining film with the likes of Denzel Washington (in a refreshing out-there movie for him, even if he often settles back into “Man in Fire” mode) and Gary Oldman (back to his smarmy evil best).  The action delivers, and while the message of it is certainly obtuse, “The Book of Eli” is a daring offering considering its subject matter.

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The Taking of Pelham 123

the-taking-of-pelham-1-2-3Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day’s work for dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) into a face-off with the mastermind (John Travolta) behind the crime (IMDB).

Tony Scott’s attempt at remaking 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” surprisingly fails, when in reality with all this talent involved, it should be sizzling. Not that there’s much you can do to improve the other classic film, but giving it a modern spin with scenery chewing actors like Denzel Washington and John Travolta should be one of the most exciting films of the year. Not to be. Scott’s infamous MTV editing that overwhelmed “Man on Fire” and “Domino” is on display here once again, the dialogue is trashy, and the director also seems to have little faith in the suspense of the story. Truthfully there isn’t much, unlike the original, and so Scott splices some ridiculous crash sequences (which really feel quite stupid) in between Travolta’s rantings.

That brings up Travolta, a talented actor and sometimes entertaining villain (Face/Off, Broken Arrow) and other times not so much (Swordfish). But what seems a perfect vehicle for him, turns out to be one of his most ham-fisted performances in quite some time. His constantly whiny bad guy, Ryder, seems to lack any shred of intelligence, and his dialogue in this thing is often unbelievably campy. While Denzel Washington has a settled in, humbled performance that doesn’t require much, Travolta is rather hilarious and doesn’t play well in generating any tense moments.

This new “Pelham” is not the wild ride and sparring match-up it should have been. I typically like Tony Scott’s work (True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Spy Game) and even much of his maligned work (Man on Fire, Domino, Deja Vu). But “Pelham 123” is a ludicrous bore that has none of the suspense of the original, and wants to be a popcorn actioner when it should be an intense thriller. A major disappointment. I encourage anyone interested in this film to check out the original film first.

-MJV & the Movies

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