[2 July 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We take another trip to a certain simian world, we have another experience with an annual government authorized night of lawlessness, and we get our second sighting of a mythic Greek muscleman.
After earning an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy became the “big girl” of post-modern comedy. Her turn in Identity Thief was tolerable, her work with Sandra Bullock in The Heat much better. Now it’s time to test the waters with little more than a premise and a larger than life personality. In this film, McCarthy is the title character, a down on her luck drone who decides to take a road trip with her goofy, alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon?). Interestingly enough, this is a family affair, with McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone directing and co-writing the script with his bride.
Two years ago, writer/director Scott Derrickson took some eerie Super 8 footage, a desperate crime novelist (Ethan Hawke), and a monster known as Bughuul and created the intriguing horror film Sinister. That film was a surprise hit, landing the filmmaker a chance to make his next project, this tale of a police detective on the trail of a demon-related crime spree. It sounds promising. The trailers show both the standard scary movie ad campaigning, as well as those silly “night vision” spying on frightened audience members. The bad news then? It won’t be screened for most critics. Ouch.
Apparently, every generation needs its own E.T. And Goonies. And Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mac and Me, and Explorers. For anyone too young to remember those films, this is the movie for you. It takes equal parts from all these efforts, places them in a blender, and then adds the “novelty” of the found footage experience to make it all seem contemporary and up to date. Sure, it’s still a slightly saccharine stranger in a strange land story, but even those who know their Spielberg from their Raffill will enjoy its combination of wonder and workmanlike storytelling.
Once was a phenomenon in 2007. It earned critical acclaim, sizable box office returns (for an indie film) and an Academy Award. It has since been turned into a Broadway musical which won eight Tony Awards. So naturally, film fans have been wondering what writer/director John Carney would do for an encore. Well, his Zonad came and went with little fanfare, but his latest, starring Ruffalo as a down and out music exec, and Knightely as a struggling singer/songwriter that inspires him, treads familiar territory. Critics are calling it enjoyably manipulative. Hopefully, that’s a good thing.
No other film critic has been idolized like Roger Ebert. Before this generation of cinephiles, he was seen as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who partnered with his Chicago rival Gene Siskel for a successful PBS movie review show. Somewhere along the line, he went from darling to deity, as this documentary on his life and influence suggests. There’s been no other member of the critical community whose received this kind of adulation and by all accounts, the film is outstanding. On the other hand, where’s the documentary for Pauline Kael? Vincent Canby? Heck, for Ebert’s equally adept partner, Siskel?
Considering the complicated collection of failed reboots and proposed reimaginings this property went through, it’s stunning how good Russell Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was. With fans still smarting over Tim Burton’s unfairly demonized deconstruction of the sci-fi franchise, Fox really needed something to salvage the series. Now comes the second installment in the continuing clash between the last bastion of humanity and super intelligent Simians. Wyatt didn’t return but Matt “Cloverfield” Reeves is onboard, and by all accounts, he’s crafted a winner. Early reviews are rapturous, indicating a long life for this once struggling speculative movie material.
Has Rob Reiner made a good movie in the last decade? Sure, some like the pairing of Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List, but before that there was nothing but junk (Rumor Has It… ? Alex and Emma? The Story of Us?) and since then, well, let’s just say Flipped and The Magic of Belle Isle didn’t set the box office on fire. Here we get a RomCom for the Geritol set, with Michael Douglas (70) asking Diane Keaton (68) to help him deal with a granddaughter he never knew he had. Sounds corny and contrived. Actually, it sounds like late period Reiner.
This could very well be the movie of Summer 2014, if not the year. Fringe auteur Richard Linklater got the idea of making a “real time” movie about growing up and decided to try and make it happen. He gathered up two acting friends (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and hired a newcomer, Ellar Coltrane, to play the child. Then, over the next 12 years, he filmed random scenes meant to chronicle the boy’s ever-changing life, following him from age six through 18. Already the owner of several festival awards, this could be the film that finally lands Linklater the Oscar he so richly deserves.
“I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.” That’s the origin of comedian Gabriel Inglesias’ stage nickname. Of course, many of you already know this, but for those without Comedy Central or access to a Walmart, the Latino stand-up’s rise in the ranks will seem sudden. Of course, it will come as no surprise that he’s been working his craft since the late ‘90s. Like Kevin Hart, who went from stage to solo concert film to superstardom, Inglesias appears poised for a mainstream breakout. It may all depend on how well this movie does, and if he can translate his act into consistent commercial film roles.
This movie is a mystery. The storyline features two aging ex-brothers-in-law who decide to head back to their home country of Iceland and “reclaim their youth”. Considering the subject, many critics who’ve seen the film as it played the festival circuit have complimented the movie for not being condescending or “cutesy” about its geriatric leads. In fact, a few have pointed out that directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz treat the subject of growing old with realism and bite. For the arthouse crowd, this sounds like a winner. For the rest of the moviegoing populace, there’s always the next tired tentpole on the horizon.
Four strangers—Brosnan, Collette, Poots, and Paul—meet on a London rooftop where they’ve all gathered to commit suicide. Sharing their similar desperation, they make a pact to wait and see before taking the tragic leap. Eventually, we learn the reasons behind each characters desire to die. Loosely based on Nick Hornby’s novel, this dark comedy has an interesting premise and some excellent performers. On the other hand, the narrative does tend to glamorize issues like depression and terminal illness. Director Pascal Chaumeil is an unknown quantity on these shores, so we’ll have to see if he can match his approach to Hornby’s vision.
Nicolas Cage. Still paying off his IRS debt. That’s about all you need to know about this film. Seriously, no other well respected actor has taken out his financial issues on fans as pseudo-successfully as Cage, considering he can still wow us with a performance (David Gordon Green’s Joe), every once in a while. Here, he’s a criminal who gets in Dutch with the Russian mob. Naturally, this means a war, with Cage’s side winning. He tries to go legit. The former life drags him and his new pseudo family in. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Hopefully, Cage gets square with Uncle Sam and gets back to being awesome.
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all decided that our love life was a bit too bland and that we desperately needed to spice things up. In the old days, we took pictures. Around the early ‘80s, the camcorder was introduced into the boudoir and the sex tape was born. Considering how numb we’ve become to the whole homemade porn ideal, it’s amazing no one thought of making a movie like this before. Here, our harried couple (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz) create a private piece of smut that is accidentally uploaded into “the Cloud”. The rest of the film sees them trying to get it back. Hmmm…
Oh Disney… defiant as ever. Even after the blisteringly bad reviews it received for this nauseating non-Pixar knockoff (“based” on the world above Cars, but not much more), the Masters of Marketing know a hot toy store shelf product when they sell it. So it’s back to the digital drawing board for more racial stereotypes and aimless animation. This time around, our hero Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) turns from racing to firefighting, and ends up being befriended by a whole new group of fly boys and girls as well as ground-bound ATVs. As long as it convinced kids to buy their action figures, right?
The first film in this now burgeoning horror franchise had a fantastic future shock premise and a really lame, standard home invasion thriller execution. This time around, original writer/director James DeMonaco has decided to open things up a bit, showing us the annual legal crime spree from the outside in. While an angry father heads out into the night to seek vengeance on the man who killed his son, a group of ragtag “victims” try to avoid becoming statistics. The two end up together, fighting the anarchy in violation of unwritten Purge rules. There is some promise here. There are also the same problems which plagued the first film.
A molecular biologist discovers something while studying the human eye which could change our perceptions of science and God. Really? What? Well, that’s apparently the rub on this celebrated indie effort from the filmmaker responsible for the enigmatic parallel planet drama, Another Earth. Early reviews suggest that writer/director Mike Cahill has managed a rare combination of narrative and knowing debate on Evolution vs. Creationism. As a small film, this will more than likely get lost in all the popcorn hubbub, but for those seeking a more thoughtful approach to sci-fi other than giant robots beating the crap out of each other, I Origins might serve the purpose.
Fans of Michel Gondry have wondered for the last few years where their favorite eccentric visionary went to. Granted, he tried his hand at a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster and then a weird experiment featuring young non-actors on a city bus, but what cinephiles want is the same man who made The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Be Kind Rewind. Supposedly, this is the return to form they are looking for, a wild and surrealistic adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth of the Daydream and featuring Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, and Gad Elmaleh.
Usually, the coming of age film is reserved for individuals trying to get out of high school, not adults locked in an arrested development that still sees them clueless and childish at age 30. Zach Braff believes differently. His latest self-made starring vehicle (with a lot of help from Kickstarter) features the actor as a struggling performer / husband / father still trying to find his “identity” in his confusing and chaotic life. Now, age doesn’t always provide personal perspective, but this seems to be a bit on the indulgent side. You’re married, have children, and still don’t know your purpose in life? Who knows, maybe Braff can pull it off.
It’s the Rock to the rescue, especially after the mediocre mythologizing of the famed strongman at the hands of Renny Harlin a few months back. Heck, we’d take the muddled Mr. Olympia facade of Steve Reeves over Kellan Lutz any day. Sadly, the choice of director here, Brett Ratner, doesn’t bode well. Peplum needs someone who can moderate between the needs of the narrative and the inherent cheese in the genre. Ratner doesn’t appear to be that man. Still, Dwayne Johnson is incredibly charismatic onscreen and audiences adore him. This will be popular, if not particularly memorable.
Scarlett Johansson as a superhero? Whodathunkit? Well, how about The Avengers, where the stunningly beautiful actress has been kicking villain booty as Russian assassin Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff. Well, Luc Besson wants to cash in on her action heroine cred, and so he’s come up with another of his patented genre knock-offs. This time, our heroine is a drug mule accidentally infected with the product she is supposed to smuggle. Suddenly, instead of ten percent of her brain, she can access all 100 percent. Car chases and beatdowns ensue as our lead levitates objects, instantly memorizes anything she wants, and psyches herself out of any pain or discomfort… OK.
Woody Allen. Late period Woody Allen. Late period Woody Allen working in Europe. Late period Woody Allen working in Europe for a film set in the Roaring ‘20s. If that’s not enough to make you shrug your shoulders over the former amazing auteur’s annual cinematic statement, nothing will. Apparently, Colin Firth is a magician hired to discredit a psychic, played by Emma Stone. Complications ensue. Allen has been on a bit of a role recently. He won an Oscar for Midnight in Paris and helped Cate Blanchett bag another Academy Award, as well. Still, this sounds like standard Allen placeholder piffle.
John le Carre is the grand old man of the British espionage thriller. From The Spy Who Came In from the Cold to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, he’s developed a literary canon unmatched by most in his field. This latest adaptation, by music video genius Anton Corbjin, features one of the final performances of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and centers around a German agent and his secret, underground anti-terrorism group. Constantly clashing with local police, tensions rise even further when an Eastern European immigrant is brutally beaten. To say anymore would be giving away the storyline’s secrets.
We liked this better when it was called Foxes. Or was that Little Darlings? Whatever. The plot here finds two besties—Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen)—making a pre-college pact to lose their virginity over one sun-dappled Summer at the beach. Naturally, they both fall for the same fertile hunk and their friendship status is tested. The notion of girls going gonzo for a little pre-secondary school sex was a ripe post-feminist subject back in the ‘70s and ‘80s (see the aforementioned references). Now, it sounds a bit… trashy? Let’s just hope it’s more smart than slutty.
Joe Swanberg is back with another potentially endearing mumblecore subgenre film. This time around, Anna Kendrick is his younger sister, coming to live with him and his doting wife (Melanie Lynskey). Naturally, the newcomer detonates a psychological bomb within the less than nuclear family, causing strife between the formerly happily marrieds. With his acting profile (Proxy, The Sacrament, You’re Next) threatening to dampen his work behind the lens, it’s good to see Swanberg back and in control of his content. When he’s good, he’s very good. When he’s mediocre, he still finds intriguing things to say about his subjects.