And it just doesn’t stop. If part two in this three-ring play was packed with well hyped product, July just keeps the receipt treats coming. We’ll see the rise of a new superhero, the return of two others, a musical based on the best selling act Sweden ever produced, and yet more Will Ferrell funny business. Toss in the return of a beloved sci-fi franchise, the standard animated awfulness, and a couple of independent winners. With only one month left to go, the suits seem prepared to pull out all the stops. Luckily, this also appears to be the last of it.
Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan
(Sony; US theatrical: 2 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 2 Jul 2008 (General release); 2008)
Mr. Independence Day is back, and he’s bringing his broad comedy ‘B” game this time around. Smith may be more comfortable battling spacemen, extraterrestrial illegal aliens, or giant mechanical spiders (not to mention middling reviews), but this latest seasonal outing shows some weird signs of wear and tear. After spending the last few years going for a more serious vibe (especially in The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend), playing a drunken, washed up superhero seems like a step back. After looking at the uneven trailer, one is reminded of ‘80s action comedies where stunts and spectacle frequently replaced wit and invention. The premise does have potential, and after the underrated The Kingdom, director Peter Berg can clearly handle the scope. Yet it will be interesting to see where Hancock winds up come bead counting time. After all, a true Caped Crusader is back and battling for cinema space in two weeks.
Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man
(Sony Classics; US theatrical: 4 Jul 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 29 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
Good for Josh Peck. While anyone familiar with his work on the incessantly popular Nickelodeon series thought he would probably be stuck in slapstick dork mode forever, he’s carved out quite a serious cinematic resume. Now there is this Sundance sensation, a coming of age tale co-starring Oscar winner (and paycheck casher) Ben Kingsley. It got heavy buzz and a standing ovation during the festival. Quite a feat among the indie elite.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, John Alexander, Luke Goss
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 22 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
With the recent announcement that he will spend four years in New Zealand helming two Hobbit films under Peter Jackson, this mid-season sequel to his excellent comic book effort becomes a very important film for Del Toro. It will do two things: prove his mantle as a member of the blockbuster brigade, and indicate if the genius of his artistry-aided geekdom (as seen in the sensational Pan’s Labyrinth) will translate over into popcorn territory. If either element fails, or merely underachieves, get ready for the unbridled backlash. Hellboy has always been a hard act to sell. It’s an indication of Del Toro’s vision that he managed to take a marginal, off the radar character in the graphic novel world and make him a solid member of the genre giants. With an epic scope, lots of monsters, and a returning Ron Pearlman as our bright red demonic hero, all appears ripe for a major hit.
Eddie Murphy, Gabrielle Union, Ed Helms, Elizabeth Banks, Judah Friedlander
(Fox; US theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 18 Jul 2008 (General release); 2008)
The Outer Circles
Eddie Murphy still deserves a shot at center stage, right? The Oscar nom for Dreamgirls and the pre-loss embarrassment known as Norbit shouldn’t diminish his popcorn potential, should it? Granted, his last live action family film was the awful Haunted Mansion, but all that Shrek money counts for something. So maybe there’s a chance this sci-fi comedy about a human-looking (and acting) spaceship manned by miniature aliens will work. It is co-scripted by Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum Bill “New Crow” Corbett. Of course, former child actor Brian Robbins’ name on the directing credits doesn’t inspire much confidence. He helmed Murphy’s misguided make-up fest in all its racially insensitive glory. It’s clear that Tinsel Town thinks he’s still ‘got it’. With at least four projects currently in the works—including a Brett Ratner helmed remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man - we’ll be seeing more of the former funny man on the big screen, not less.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (Limited release); 2008)
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D
First, the famous Jules Verne tale gets an unnecessary update. Then the thriller elements are removed to make the movie more family friendly (read: kid co-stars). Last but not least, the optical gimmickry of technologically improved depth and dimension is added. Now, the studio is shunning the 3D tag, pointing out that the movie will play perfectly well in 2D. Even with Brendan Fraser in the lead (as well as executive producing) this still seems doomed.
The Dark Knight
Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Eric Roberts, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 18 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 21 Jul 2008 (General release); 2008)
The Dark Knight
Along with the return of Indiana Jones, this is probably one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer, for several solid (and a couple of very sad) reasons. As the hype begins to build—fueled by a fabulous viral campaign—the death of Heath Ledger will get all the column space. But what many may forget is how wonderfully original and authentic Christopher Nolan’s first take on this material really was. While Bryan Singer bobbled the Superman makeover, the maverick behind such masterpieces as Memento and The Prestige retooled Batman into a figure of many intriguing psychological facets. With Christian Bale back as one of the best Bruce Waynes ever, and the combined efforts of two classic villains (Ledger’s Joker will be joined by Harvey “Two Face” Dent) Nolan’s more realistic and recognizable take on the fantastical material seems destined to be another comic book classic.
Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 18 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (General release); 2008)
What a way to counterprogram. As the guys line up to see action and spectacle, the gals can sit back and drink in the amiable ABBA goodness. Direct from Broadway (where it more or less started the jukebox musical trend) and given a magnificent Mediterranean gloss by UK theater director Phyllida Lloyd (the movie is set in Greece), the simple story of a girl looking for her father pre-nuptials sounds like a song and dance, gender reversed version of Lace (or Lace II, more specifically). Still, the presence of the pure pop confections of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and a vampy, vocalizing Meryl Streep (who actually has some rather impressive pipes) means we are in for some sunny cinematic sizzle. How a series of non-related tunes get turned into a narrative will make for a major suspension of motion picture disbelief, but that’s what the musical does best, right?
Andy Samberg, Jeff Daniels, Cheryl Hines, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth, Patrick Warburton
(Fox; US theatrical: 18 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
CG monkeys in outer space! How cool is that, right? Well, after desperately trying to find some information on this film, a trailer was located—and it’s as bad as one imagines. Relying on the standard dated riffs and pop references that destroy most animated fare, we get primates talking like smart-alecky teens, and lots of nods to already overdone cultural cues. Someone still thinks animals plus anarchy equals success. Must be a lower form of mammal.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Xzibit, Billy Connolly
(Fox; US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
X-Files: I Want to Believe
It’s been ten years since the last time we saw Fox Mulder and Dana Scully wandering around a frozen landscape, taking on alien oil infused insects and the typical Chris Carter conspiracies. A decade is a long time between movies, and with the TV series no longer a part of the pop culture landscape, a mythology heavy entry may fly over the heads of most film fans. Still, there is something inherently intriguing about what Carter brings to his projects, an old school love of The Night Stalker and everything ABC Movie of the Week that really resonates with an older demo. While it would have been nice to have a Millennium movie, seeing as that series was way ahead of its time, another heaping helping of extraterrestrial scheming will have to do. Of course, the plot is hush-hush. The only clue comes from IMDb: ex-agents Mulder and Scully reunite to investigate a case of missing women in rural Virginia. Interesting.
Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott
(Sony; US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 29 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
It’s Apatow time once again, and after the underperforming plop of this spring’s Semi-Pro, star Ferrell could really use his production cred. Reilly may also be reeling from the drubbing his brilliant Dewey Cox took last December, but with a premise as ripe as this one (two middle aged men must learn to live together as the title relatives), all could be re-righted rather easily. Besides, Adam McKay is also on hand to guide the goofiness, and his indelible imprint on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and the nimble NASCAR classic Talladega Nights guarantees that something good should come out of this. Still, there are those who wonder if the dipstick “dude” era of onscreen comedy has finally reached critical mass. After all, Cox, Drillbit Taylor, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall more or less failed to meet expectations. Ferrell and friends could be the sub-genre’s savior. They could also be its final creative coffin nail.
Ice Cube, Keke Palmer, Tasha Smith, Matt Craven, Glenn Plummer
(Dimension Films; 2008)
Fred Durst? The dude from Limp Bizkit? Directing a movie with Ice Cube? About the first girl participant in Pop Warner football? What? Is this one of the signs of the Apocalypse, or the approaching Rapture? Well, not really. Durst has made another film before this - the more or less unseen The Education of Charlie Banks. At least this time around, sports take the place of personal introspection. Still, Fred Durst? Ice Cube? Huh?
Hannah Bailey, Colin Clemens, Geoff Haase, Megan Krizmanich, Mitch Reinholt, Ali Wikalinska
(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 7 Nov 2008 (General release); 2008)
A documentary that supposedly shows what life in a real Indiana high school is all about? A controversy in which the director admits that certain scenes may have been ‘scripted’ to amplify the drama? A public gullible enough to believe both stories and still make the fact film a hit? Heck if MTV is any indication, a so-called reality show look at the life of adolescents doesn’t have to be remotely authentic to win over viewers.
Henry Poole Is Here
Luke Wilson, George Lopez, Radha Mitchell, Morgan Lily, Adriana Barraza
(Overture Films; US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (Limited release); 2008)
Henry Poole Is Here
Best known for his work in music videos, and a couple of interesting thrillers (Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies) director Mark Pellington returns to the big screen with a more personal film. Reviews have not been kind, though many have pointed out the film’s fervent view of faith, belief, and God. Some see lead Luke Wilson as the weak link, and in a time where stars and spectacle drive ticket sales, none of this sounds winning.
Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Ben Whishaw, Matthew Goode, Greta Scacchi
(Miramax Films; US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 3 Oct 2008 (General release); 2008)
The classic British TV series (based on the beloved Evelyn Waugh novel) gets a post-modern update courtesy of Kinky Books/Becoming Jane helmer Julian Jarrold. Not much is known about this production (apparently, filming has just finished), but the cast looks stellar. Of course, the original will be hard to beat. It launched the career of Jeremy Irons, and featured dozens of noted UK thespians. How a blockbuster bleary crowd will react to such stuffed shirtiness is anyone’s guess.