Look, we're not really tentpole people, but we checked out the schedule for summer 2010 and expected to at least find some enjoyable popcorn blockbuster, but it's one of the slowest summer seasons on record.
For example, 2011 boasts "Pirates of the Caribbean 4," "The Hangover 2," "Captain America," "Thor," "X-Men: First Class," "Green Lantern," "Battleship," and "Cars 2" while 2012 brings us "The Dark Knight" sequel, "The Avengers," "Men in Black III," "Spider-Man 3D," "Star Trek 2" and a rebooted "Godzilla." Not to say a lot of these films will be good, but they're certainly at least huge, some of pretty decent interest and at least likely bountiful for the economics of films. This year? Apart from a few rare projects, there's not a lot out there. Which is why we've isolated five films we absolutely cannot wait for this season, with another ten we caution you about spending your money on.
5 TO SEE:
Probably the one movie this summer we'd consider a must. From the success of "The Dark Knight," Chris Nolan was able to nab a blank check from Warner Bros., resulting in this, a $200 million mind-tripper about a corporate thief who steals secrets by entering the mind of his victims. The cast is crackerjack good, with Leonardo DiCaprio supported by Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy and Michael Caine, but we're most excited to see Nolan returning to his puzzle-box motif employed in each of his movies before "The Dark Knight," where perception and conventional chronology is challenged. Some of the secrets of "Inception" have been revealed, but unlike most summer blockbusters, most of us are looking to stay as unspoiled as possible.
"The Other Guys"
We're not necessarily going to start praising Will Ferrell as a defacto genius, especially considering, like most SNL talents, he really only has two or three actual characters in his repertoire, but we will honor the Ferrell-Adam McKay trilogy, which proved to be the most concise critique of American Bush-era over-achievement in the studio system over the past decade. Here, McKay is working with a full deck, and normally we'd be happy to accept Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (who's better at comedy than drama, with his constantly confused furrowed brow and forever-cracking voice of anger) as the leads in a parody action film. But we'd also be ignoring the potential in seeing their ineptitude mirrored against Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, guys who still take on star vehicles, but seem to understand they probably work best in small doses. Throw in perennially-underestimated Michael Keaton as chief of police and Steve Coogan as a villain and there's a strong recipe for something a little stronger than your average action comedy.
"Toy Story 3"
Has there been such a thing as a perfect movie trilogy? We'd argue Kieslowski's "Three Colors" is up there, while the 'Bournes', the 'Lord of the Rings' and the 'Godfathers' all come close. All being well (and Pixar have only failed us once, and even "Cars" had its charms in places), we may have another come the end of June, with the third "Toy Story" film hitting theaters over ten years since the last entry. With a plot involving every one's favorite playthings being separated from Andy, their now college-bound owner, it promises a lump in the throat at least as big as that resulting from "Toy Story 2." But we're also promised more than enough of the world-class gags and action that the series and studio are known for; word from early screenings is predictably strong. We're a little bummed out we have to wait another two years for a Pixar original ("Cars 2" follows next year), but we'll more than take this in the meantime.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"
Regular readers know we've been looking forward to this one more or less since its announcement, but our excitement only grows the closer we get to release. Brian Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series (which also comes to an end this summer with the sixth volume) improved with every installment, and in Edgar Wright, we think they have the filmmaker best suited to balance the source's absurd comedy and breakneck action. The cast, toplined by Michael Cera but also featuring the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin and Aubrey Plaza, are impeccably well-suited to the roles (we're on the Cera train now, it should be said), Wright looks to have pulled out all the stylistic stops, and the soundtrack (produced by Nigel Godrich and featuring new music by the likes of Beck, Broken Social Scene and Metric) looks like it will be a strong memory when we discuss our favorite movie music at year's end. Whether or not it makes any money is another question, however...
"Get Him To The Greek"
As Aldous Snow in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Russell Brand stole most of his scenes and made us fall for a lecherous, drug addicted rock star. His return to the big screen as Snow in “Get Him to the Greek” should provide another sleeper hit courtesy of Nicholas Stoller, who penned 'Forgetting' and 'Greek.' In the film, Snow is setting up for a return to mega-stardom with a performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, but not before tormenting record company intern Jonah Hill, here playing a wannabe high roller trapped in the wave of Snow's excess. As comedic matches go, we like the juxtaposition of the jittery, slightly coke-y Hill and the mellow, flighty Brand, and the Judd Apatow trademark (he's onboard as a producer) has a high rate of success, so we're definitely hoping this one is another strike (even if we've heard a lot of cool reactions to it so far).
Hey, Don't Say We Didn't Warn You:
"Shrek Forever After"
There seems to be a kind of desperation that has set in with marketing this, the fourth film in the abysmal "Shrek" franchise. Even though it's called "Shrek Forever After," commercials and trailers are proclaiming it "Shrek: The Final Chapter," as if to hammer home the point that there won't be another one of these unfunny bores in a couple of years. Except that, you know, there'll be a "Puss in Boots" movie (based around Antonio Banderas' Zorro-like feline) next November. So as much as we'd all like to never see these annoyingly "edgy" fairy tale characters (among them Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Justin Timberlake) again, you can't stop a gravy train, and we find it hard to believe this is the end of the road for Shrek. Huzzah.
"Sex and the City 2"
We think it was Jeff Wells who said that the original film was like a Taliban recruitment video. So of course the trailer shows us that the foursome is headed to the Middle East, with Dubai re-imagined as some commercial-ready cesspool of vanity and materialism, the perfect vacation spot for the absolute worst humanity has to offer. We've heard the defenses of the show, and we've sampled it, and the damn thing is only a vapid, illusory peek at the life of people who care little about anyone other than themselves. Hey, that kinda makes it sound like "Entourage." Morality aside, the first film was as TV-ish as movies get, and it looks like this next installment, which seems aimed towards gay male stereotypes more than actual women, looks like something that, even while firing on all its supposed cylinders, would never ever ever be worth a $10 ticket.
"The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"
In theory, we wouldn't necessarily be against this. Yes, it's based on a video game, but Mike Newell's a reliable hand, we like most of the cast (Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell) and the first of Jerry Bruckheimer's "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the best adventure movies in recent memory. But it just looks... so... soul-crushingly boring. The trailer's packed with CGI seemingly lifted from the climax of "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," half-hearted banter (including a performance from Gemma Arterton seemingly digitally lifted from "Clash of the Titans" and exactly replicated) and no clear sense of any kind of plot. The early reviews are, at best, mediocre, and the photography by John Seale looks, well, brown. It seems like the best we can hope for is that it'll be better than "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
"The Last Airbender"
At this point it does seem like piling on, but M. Night Shayamalan has really done it to himself. We weren't a fan of him initially as he was making dry suspense thrillers where nothing happened until the third act, but then he went and made the nervous cry for help that was "Lady In The Water." We honestly expected him to float into obscurity after that, but instead he made the hateful, nihilistic "The Happening," which, in fairness, allowed events to finally occur onscreen in the first act. Of course, it also showcased Shayamalan's complete inability to work with actors of any kind, and it exposed his general lack of humor. Taking on a massive action tentpole with quasi-mystical content seems like trouble, even more so when you take in to account Shayamalan directed kids in the lead roles. We're sure he'll provide his share of action money shots, but once someone starts speaking, we expect it will be like a fish on land gasping for air.
This movie just seems like a heap of bad news. First, star Josh Brolin, in the lead role of B-grade D.C. Comics anti-hero and Civil War soldier Jonah Hex, admitted that the script was pretty awful (and he was pretty indifferent about signing on at first). Then there were extensive, studio-mandated reshoots. And then there was the fact that the studio just released the trailer, a few short weeks before the movie's June release. (This is to say nothing of original directors and screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor leaving before filming started, to be replaced by one of the co-directors of "Horton Hears a Who"). Oh and the contents of that trailer? A jumbled mess that had us thinking more "Wild Wild West" than the edgy supernatural western we're guessing it's supposed to be.
"The Karate Kid"
Nepotism is an ugly word, and yet we've got to bring it up here in regards to this ill-fated remake starring Jaden Smith, the mumbly, effeminate son of world's biggest movie star Will Smith. The young brood, who has a pencil-thin physique and a bulbous forehead, is stepping in the shoes of Ralph Macchio in this strict cash-in where a young Los Angeles transplant faces bullies in China with... well it can't be karate, so it must be kung-fu, right? Ah, Hollywood's Yellow Fever strikes again, making all Asians and Asian lifestyles interchangable, so long as an American gets to be the lead. Speaking of which, poor Jackie Chan has to play second banana to the Fresh Prince's little xenomorph for the director of "One Night At McCool's" and "The Pink Panther 2?" This seems like a karmically inappropriate place for one of the screen's greatest martial artists and physical comedians to be, no?
A lot of the heat that's long surrounded director Joe Carnahan comes from the intense you-are-there appeal of his cop thriller "Narc." Unfortunately, "Narc" — which can truly lay claim to having the best Ray Liotta performance yet — is sandwiched between two terrible, desperate-to-be-cool crime films that showcase the real Carnahan. In the beginning, he started out with one of the billion '90's Tarantino knockoffs in "Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane" which, charitably, didn't look like the work of a director that would work again. And "Smoking Aces" is one of those hyper-stylized action comedies where almost every line is delivered in finger quotes, a film that presents loads of colorful caricatures and promises balls-to-the-wall violence only to feature only one genuine gunfight sequence amidst too-clever chit-chat. In addition to showing a strong penchant for indulging in ugly violence and misogyny, Carnahan has difficulty getting projects off the ground, so when he finally ended up with this gig, where it looks like he's directing a cast that only met yesterday, it was both sides' eighth choice. Not a promising situation.
Every time Adam Sandler looks like he's coming to some kind of self-realization about the kind of shitty movies he makes (by starring in things like "Funny People" and "Punch Drunk Love"), he jumps right back into some four-quadrant monstrosity like "Grown-Ups." His semi-autobiographical role in the aforementioned Judd Apatow film was the best performance of his career, brutal in its honesty, and yet here he is re-teaming with fellow mediocrities Rob Schneider, David Spade, Kevin James and Chris Rock for a story, if you can call it that, about five childhood friends who are brought back together; like "Couples Retreat," basically a good excuse for a holiday. Making full use of the ancient comic conceits Fatty Fall Over and Old People Kissing = Gross, we'd wager there are more laughs in "Hotel Rwanda" than there will be in this. We weep for you, Maria Bello.
"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"
Yes, there's some minor interest due to the choice to hire "Hard Candy" director David Slade (as well as hiring Howard Shore to compose the score), but really, we can't muster much enthusiasm after the sullen bore of "New Moon" (Is it us, or is Summit modeling their directorial choices on the new-director-every-entry "Alien" franchise?). The only thing that could get us excited: if there's more of Michael Sheen as the queeny vampire prince (or whatever he was). He was pretty funny. There should be more of him and less strapping shirtless teen werewolves. Not that he'll save it, but hey, at least it'll be a tiny bit more tolerable.
"Eat Pray Love"
Julia Roberts is perfectly cast as the embodiment of Elizabeth Gilbert’s first-world problem-riddled protagonist, whose meltdown after a failed marriage takes her gallivanting all across Europe and Asia to “find herself.” Insert lustful shots of Italian dinners, Zen moments with Monks and a few sex scenes with Javier Bardem and James Franco and you have yourself the typical melodramatic goodies served to ladies. We couldn’t even get past chapter 5 of the self-indulgent novel after Oprah convinced us it was a ‘must-read’ and one can only assume the film, even with pretty shots and food porn, will fall short of compelling cinema.
- Gabe Toro, Oliver Lyttleton, Drew Taylor, Danielle Spielster