Summer Movies Don’t Have to Suck
The phrase "summer movies" will never not mean broad, action-driven crowd-pleasers to me: I counted the days until Batman (June 23, 1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (July 3, 1991), and Jurassic Park (June 11, 1993) were released. For every Dark Knight there are 10 Prometheuses — and that's just among the films that are actually trying to be good — but the hype and anticipation of summer movies remains a fun spectator sport. (More fun than sports, anyway.) Here, 10 from Memorial Day weekend and after for which I have, as the song says, high hopes.
IT MIGHT GET LOUD — sci-fi/action
X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) — So far, three out of four X-Men pictures have delivered the goods. This time-traveling epic melds the cast of the first three (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, etc.), set in "the not too distant future," with the 1960s company of 2011's X-Men: First Class (Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, what do you want from a movie, anyway? Peter Dinklage? Done.) Based on a beloved storyline from the Uncanny X-Men comic book, this one has the X-Men of a bleak future in which mutant-human warfare has scorched the Earth dispatching Wolverine back to the Nixon era to do a little history-tinkering. Why do we care? Because Bryan Singer, who directed the first two, has returned. There's a severe risk this thing could be an overcrowded, incomprehensible mess, but Singer has earned some faith. Even his Superman Returns was an interesting failure, a surprisingly gentle, muted blockbuster. At least it wasn't another cookie-cutter spandex-and-CGI multi-platform-synergy deliverable. Confidence: 70 percent.
Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) — Eerily youthful 51-year-old Tom Cruise's second humans-vs.-alien invaders flick in two years has a Groundhog Day–like premise: Each day, his character perishes in battle trying to defend Earth, then wakes up, memories intact, to live that day and fight that fight again. If we're to sit through the same battle scene several times, please let it be briefer and more bracing than the ones in every Marvel movie. The film is based on a Japanese novella by the superior (if syntactically suspect) title All You Need Is Kill. In the trailer, Cruise and Emily Blunt bound around in suits of powered armor like the kind Robert Heinlein wrote about in Starship Troopers. Cruise's late-career retrench as an action star has been working for him, mostly, and director Doug Liman is a veteran of troubled productions that emerged as solid popcorn flicks, namely, The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. (Also Swingers, lest we forget, baby.) Bill Paxton is in this, too? I'm there. Confidence: 60 percent.
Snowpiercer (June 27, limited release) — After a too-successful attempt to reverse global warming ushers in a new ice age, the remnants of humankind live aboard a massive train that never stops moving, and where a rigid class system is enforced. "Absurd!" says you. "Fable-like," says I. The South Korean–American coproduction, based on a French graphic novel and shot entirely in Prague, marks the English-language debut of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who made 2006's fine allegorical creature feature The Host. It'll be a worldly picture, if nothing else. Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton are all in it, along with two of The Host's stars, Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung. Already a hit in South Korea, where it was released in August 2013, the picture sounds like a modern Soylent Green, or a smarter riff on 2013's disappointing Elysium. Confidence: 80 percent.
Lucy (August 8) — Six years into the glorious reign of Marvel Studios and still only vague, noncommittal rumblings about a Black Widow solo flick? Screw that. After Under the Skin — the best thing that's sauntered into cinemas this year — we are living in the age of Scarlett Johansson. Here she stars as a drug mule who gains superpowers after a bag of whatever she's smuggling ruptures inside her body. Quality control is nonexistent with writer-director Luc Besson, who has become the David O. Selznick of sleazy action flicks, writing and producing the Taken trilogy, among others. Here, the director of La Femme Nikita and Léon: The Professional returns to the big chair, shooting in Paris, New York, and Taipei, in one of the world's tallest buildings. I have a feeling he and Johansson will bring something out in one another. Confidence: 60 percent.
LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL — comedies
They Came Together (June 27) — Talk about kicking a genre while it's down. This fifth collaboration of director David Wain and star Paul Rudd sends up romantic comedies, positioning Rudd and the up-for-anything Amy Poehler as lovers and rivals. The script is by Wain and Michael Showalter, who wrote the inexhaustibly hilarious Wet Hot American Summer together. Among the cast of comedians — Bill Hader, Cobie Smulders, Ed Helms, Ken Marino — famous scowlers Christopher Meloni and Michael Shannon should really shine. Confidence: 80 percent.
Let's Be Cops (August 13) — If any movie on this list could make Godzilla seem highbrow, it's this bro-y farce about two 30-year-old frat boys who dress as policemen for a costume party before Wackiness Ensues. Why, then? The bros are Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson, who've already proven their comic chemistry on TV's New Girl. Rob Riggle is here, too, along with a lot of groin-injury jokes, presumably. Come the sweltering, skull-softening dog days of August, you'll be begging to fork over your $12. Q: Can I explain why I'm more excited for this than for 22 Jump Street? A: Not really; Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill fatigue, maybe. Confidence: 50.001 percent.
The Trip to Italy (August 15, limited) — A road movie about two past-their-prime Brits wining and dining their way through the sun-dappled Italian countryside? Only if they're Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, reuniting with director Michael Winterbottom in this second course to 2011's The Trip. (Like that film, this was a BBC series whittled to feature length for a theatrical run.) If The Trip is a reliable harbinger, they'll keep the annoying foodie-talk to a minimum and the simmering mutual antagonism — and perhaps the dueling Michael Caine impressions — turned up to 11.
THE METHOD RHYTHM — dramas
Night Moves (May 30, limited) — Who knows why co-writer–director Kelly Reichardt repurposed the title of a great Arthur Penn detective movie from 1975 for her drama about environmental activists plotting to blow up a dam? Her brilliant, languorous western, Meek's Cutoff, was the spiritual photo-negative of the "summer movie," thoughtful and unresolved. This one has at least a whiff of a thriller engine, which could be a good thing or a less-good thing. Stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard. Sold. Confidence: 80 percent.
Boyhood (July 11, limited) — Writer-director Richard Linklater re-teams with his Before trilogy confederate Ethan Hawke for this story of a kid's shifting relationship with his divorced parents (Hawke and Patricia Arquette). In 2002, Linklater cast seven-year-old Ellar Coltrane and shot scenes with him every summer through 2013, allowing us to watch Coltrane grow into a young man before our eyes. Has no one has used this gimmick in a fiction film before now? Not on this scale, apparently. I'm glad a filmmaker as sensitive and reliable as Linklater got there first. Confidence: 95 percent.
A Most Wanted Man (July 25, limited) — Who better to direct a twitchy John le Carré adaptation set in post–9-11 Hamburg than Anton Corbijn, the photographer-turned-filmmaker who got U2 to not-smile for album covers for decades? His prior existential thriller, 2010's The American, was a lean, chilly gem that hearkened back to the morally ambiguous suspense pictures of the '70s. Besides featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances (the film was shot in 2012), the film features Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, and Daniel Brühl. Confidence: 85 percent.
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