[1 July 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Dead policeman battling demons, giant monsters taking on equally elephantine robots, true crime, documentaries, and lots more CG kid fare. That’s what July has in store for us, including a return of a certain masked man and his faithful ‘Indian’ companion.
It’s an insane idea, actually. Who, in the wide expanse of post-millennial culture, was clamoring for a return of the famous masked man, his faithful Indian companion, and a bunch of old school Wild West vigilantism? Apparently, someone put this bug in superstar Johnny Depp’s ear, and as the idiosyncratic actor would have it, he wanted to play Tonto, not the title hero. No matter, as the movie has been made and is poised to perplex a population unfamiliar with Clayton Moore, Jay Silverheels, or the character’s early radio origins. In their place will be an amazing act of cinematic chutzpah, a surreal exercise in Western revisionism that will either flop or soar like a silver bullet.
Hits don’t come any bigger than Despicable Me. Made in France for a mere $69 million, it raked in nearly ten times that amount worldwide, mandating a sequel (and in the case of the beloved yellow creatures called The Minions, their own offshoot movie). Now the follow-up has arrived, and it’s guaranteed to please the under-age set with its sophomoric approach to humor and narrative. Nothing that made the first movie so memorable remains. In its place are numerous fart jokes, a penchant toward stereotypes and ethnic exaggeration, and a dulling sense of déjà vu. The original was just that. This is nothing more than a calculated cash grab.
Here’s a warning to all of you anticipating this latest from Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. This is not The Descendents good. Not even close. As a matter of fact, a similarly styled film from a few years back, Adventureland, did more with its coming of age story than this angry, often unfunny mess. Sure, Sam Rockwell shows up every once in a while to save things from going completely south, but when your idea of raucous comedy is Allison Janney acting like a loud drunken whore or your notion of drama is someone having an affair, you’re getting Screenwriting 101 at its worst. This should have been so much better.
At some point in every stand-up comedian’s career, they fancy themselves Richard Pryor (or to update it a bit, Eddie Murphy). They see the long lines of fans wanting to witness their verbal histrionics and think, What better way than a concert film? Captured during a sold out show at Madison Square Garden, it’s now Kevin Hart’s time to play laugh rock star. The diminutive comedian, who made a name for himself in movies and TV, has also had quite a lot of success on stage. This bigger arena, filmed for posterity by Leslie Small and Tim Story, offers the comic a chance to connect with a wider audience.
Big Star remain a model for all indie pop combos to come. They earned their ‘legendary’ reputation long after the founders had split and settled in as musical myths. Now, after the deaths of leading lights Alex Chilton (in 2010) and Chris Bell (way back in 1978), the group is poised to be discovered by those without a working knowledge of their catalog, their career, or their continuing influence. This documentary, part overview and part all star rock ‘n’ roll celebration, hopes to turn Big Star’s status from cult to commercial behemoth. Early reviews suggest it can do just that.
Apparently, this movie will focus on a writer who can work out the problems of his popular literary characters but has difficulty dealing with the intricacies of people in the real world. Greg Kinnear is the star, with Jennifer Connelly plays his put-up ex. Add Lily Collins as his older daughter and Nat Wolff as their romantically tormented teen son and you’ve got all the makings of yet another been there, done that indie cinema experience. Maybe movie novice Josh Boone can bring something new and original to this otherwise tired motion picture trope. Judging by the trailer, one thinks not.
Vikings have been making a comeback of sorts over the last few years, appearing in everything from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising to various Capital One commercials. Here, we have another tale of family fraught with issues and one son searching for the other to help save the clan. Apparently, this minor movie has none of the scope or majesty of others on the subject. Similarly, some have complained that gore and bloodshed has replaced character and narrative drive. Whatever the case, those who are interested can check it out once it hits theaters and VOD. Others can make do with Hagar the Horrible.
Something surreal has happened to this proposed tentpole picture since it was announced a few years back. It has somehow managed to go from a Summer 2013 must-see to a potential flop in the making. Some blame the studio, Warner Bros., for not settling up with co-producer Legendary Picture before the latter went off to seek greener financial pastures. Others site the nonstop “Godzilla Meets the Transformers” comparisons. For us, the trailer sells it. Director Guillermo Del Toro usually delivers when it comes to epic spectacle and who isn’t ready for some Kaiju on giant robot action? Here’s hoping the predictions of doom and gloom are wrong.
Who is the wisest man currently working in Hollywood right now? If you said Rob Schneider, you should probably get your head examined. Yet your comment would be partially correct, as the former SNL star decided against repeating his role in this terrifying trainwreck of a sequel (or perhaps, pal Adam Sandler didn’t ask him back—insert your own conspiracy theory here). Apparently, the new plot revolves around a return to small town living and the last day of school. Yawn. Whatever. Who cares? Since the last movie made a bunch of green, it makes sense of the studio to try and repeat its success. That’s the only thing that makes sense, here.
After some terrific buzz on the Spring festival circuit, this hot button issue film (the subject: child molestation) finally hits American shores, giving fans of TV’s Hannibal a chance to see Mads Mikkelson outside his role as the famous psychiatrist cannibal. The story reads like every adult’s worst nightmare. A man is accused of being sexually inappropriate with a small child. The growing social lynch mob comments on our current clime of guilty until (never) proven innocent. Many have praised the film for its sympathetic approach and ambiguous conclusions. Here’s hoping it’s more thoughtful than tawdry.
Last year, the horror anthology V/H/S struck a chord with fright fans looking for some old school omnibus shivers with a twist. In the case of that film, and its far superior sequel, the gimmick was that tired cinematic trick: the found footage approach. Indeed, all four shorts here are captured in that calculated “you are there” POV, but unlike other pretenders to the aesthetic throne, this time it really works. The best stories come in the middle, with the minds behind The Blair Witch Project breathing new life into the zombie subgenre while the director who made The Raid: Redemption delivers one of the best Satanic cult tropes ever. The rest is just as good.
Winner of the audience prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this is based on a true story of the last days of a seemingly innocent man who was brutally murdered by two San Francisco transit cops in 2009. The feature film novice responsible here (Ryan Coogler) felt compelled to make this movie after seeing the viral video of the shooting shortly after it happened. Audiences have come away devastated by what is, by all accounts, an already known conclusion, but that hasn’t stopped such revered reactions to the film. Thanks to research and interviews with those involved, Coogler chronicles the final hours of victim Oscar Grant in a memorable, meaningful way.
Getting by on an unique premise (the first film focused on a group of over-the-hill ex-spies going toe-to-toe with their mindless modern counterparts) and some significant star power (Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Dame Helen Mirren), RED was a surprise hit in 2010. Now we have the sequel which substitutes a couple of additional famous faces (Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a Cold War theme for the previous movie’s shoot ‘em up histrionics. Also MIA is previous director Robert Schwentke, having been replaced by Galaxy Quest‘s Dean Parisot (though the former is still part of this Summer’s strategy, as you will soon see).
Yes, this is where Robert Schwentke landed instead of being on the set of RED 2. Although it sounds an awful lot like the Joe Piscopo/Treat Williams horror comedy Dead Heat, it’s actually based on a comic book series. (What isn’t these days?) The story centers on an dead policeman who is recruited by the undead law enforcement agency known as the Rest In Peace Department (R.I.P.D.—get it?). Their job: to protect the living from bloodthirsty evil demons who refuse to move on to the afterlife. Jeff Bridges stars with Ryan Reynolds. Schwentke can deliver the action. The rest of the movie seems kind of iffy.
James Wan is quickly becoming the Master of Post Post-Modern Horror. He got his start with the highly influential Saw, and through Dead Silence and Insidious, he’s proven that he can work in both gore and the tenets of traditional terror. This is another old school scare fest, the filmmaker offering up the based on a true story situation of the Perron family who, after moving into their dream house, face off against some particularly disturbing spirits. Enter The Amityville Horror investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who try and figure out what’s going on. The trailer is terrifying, and with Wan’s reputation, that’s all we need to know.
Family films today are almost a guaranteed moneymaker. Even something as sloppy and innocuous as Epic can make more than $225 million at the box office. Apparently, parents all over the world need a regular dose of the electronic babysitter to keep their wee ones happy, and are willing to pay for the privilege. In this weird idea for a movie, we get a slow poke snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who gets sucked into a race car, allowing his DNA to be fused with nitrous oxide. Suddenly, he’s a speed demon ready to emulate his Indy Car hero. Huh? Yeah, it makes no sense, but kiddie films don’t need to. All they need to do is make money, and one imagines this one banking a bunch come release date.
In May of this year, the buzz around Cannes centered on two things: 1. the ultimate winner of the Palm d’Or, the lesbian themed Blue is the Warmest Color, and 2. how critics absolutely hated the latest from Drive‘s Nicolas Winding Refn and his collaborator, actor Ryan Gosling. Apparently, this uber violent crime film, involves boxing, drug dealing, and revenge. From the plot synopsis posted all over the web, this sounds seedy and sensational. For many, Refn’s neo-noir from 2011 was a refreshing change of pace from the normal thriller dynamics. In this case, it looks like he might have gone a bit overboard, al though we are willing to give him and his movie the benefit of the doubt.
As we said in our piece about the potential flops of Summer 2013, Bombs Away, this movie seems wholly unnecessary. Haven’t we already been through the origins of this character, considering there was even a movie named X-Men Origins? Apparently, a star the size of Hugh Jackman needs to be paraded around every once in a while outside of the standard drama/comedies genre, lest international audiences forget why they keep paying to see him act. In this case, the famous mutant travels to Japan where he must learn some important life lessons. Yes, again. Anyway, since the fans are clamoring and there’s money to be made, old iron claws is back.
Some of us haven’t been interested in a Woody Allen film in quite a while. This one, however, has an intriguing premise (a high society woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown heads out to LA to stay with her lower class sister and her friends), a great cast (including Cate Blanchett and Andrew Dice Clay), and a trailer that sells the potential in both quite well. Sure, the American auteur recently scored Oscar gold with Midnight in Paris, but this looks like the kind of movie that can make even a lapsed fan sit up and take notice. We have.
For fans of Aubrey Plaza, this must be some manner of godsend. The Parks and Recreations actress, also known for her work in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Portlandia stars as a high school senior who is desperate to lose her virginity before heading off to college. R-rated hijinx ensue. Writer/director Maggie Carey (making her big screen debut) is married to funny man Bill Hader and she cut her teeth on such outsider comedy venues as Funny or Die. This could bode well for what is otherwise a standard teen sex coming of age comedy.
Groan. Really? Really? Do we really need a repeat of the undeniable awfulness that was the first Smurfs film? Do we really require Hank Azaria to return as that hapless wizard Gargamel, complete with an accent that suggests Bela Lugosi by way of Harvey Pekar and a bevy of cat pee and vomit jokes? Apparently, the ADD-inspired cash flow from the under eight crowd says “Absolutely!” and so director (if you can call him that) Raja Gosnell is one again putting Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays through their purely for a paycheck paces. Sadly, this represents comedic genius Jonathan Winters’ finally onscreen work (as the voice of Papa Smurf).