It goes without saying that summer is big business for Hollywood. Almost every weekend a studio releases a big-budget tentpole picture that they are hoping will be a runaway hit. Regardless of the buzz, not everything will succeed. For every Avengers, if 2012 is a good indicator, there are several Battleships. So what will bomb this summer? Your guess is as good as mine. I think that The Lone Ranger has the potential to be a disaster, even with Johnny Depp involved. And do we need another presidential terrorist film with White House Down? I’m on the fence about many of the other big movies being released, but I will tell you what I am most excited to see over the coming few months.
10) Epic (May 24) Most of the animated films being released this summer are sequels or prequels but Kudos to Twentieth Century Fox for taking an expensive chance on relatively unknown entity about the fight for everything green on Earth. While the Ice Age pedigree does nothing for me, I am impressed with and look forward to what looks like an excellent animated pic.
9) World War Z (June 21) I loved the book but I’ll admit that the movie so far looks nothing like the images in my head during that read. That being said, Brad Pitt’s huge special effects extravaganza could be a frightening thrill ride worth going on.
8) The Hangover Part III (May 24) Loved the first. Hated the second. This time around they are forgoing the whole wake up with no memory of events transpired theme and instead they are simply going back to Vegas for another wild and crazy adventure. Everything I’ve seen about this makes me think it could be great. I’m pretty sure I said that about the second film too though so only time will tell.
7) Your’e Next (June 7) This little indie about a family that receives a brutally scary home invasion has received a lot of notoriety for scaring audiences at film festivals world-wide. Since I haven’t seen a good scary movie in several years - I’m hoping this one can deliver the goods.
6) The World’s End (August 23) Writer/Director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead) re-teams with his acting cronies Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for this tale about five friends trying to recreate an epic pub crawl from their youths, all during an alien invasion. Wright is quickly turning into one of my favorite filmmakers and I’m fairly certain this one will become another underground hit.
5) This is the End (June 12) And yet another end of the world movie? Keep em coming if they look this fun. Here James Franko, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and countless other comedians/actors play themselves as they try to survive the end of the world. All it took was watching the red-band trailer and I was hooked. There are some great looking comedies coming out this year but this one looks like it might be the best.
4) Kick Ass 2 (August 16) Kick Ass was the perfect combination of comedy and action. While there is a new and largely untested writer/director at the helm, the cast is what is getting me most anxious. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz are back as Kick Ass and Hit-Girl but joining the street heroes is Jim Carey as Colonel Stars and Stripes. This one could turn out to be a stinker, but I am holding out hope for something big and fun.
3) Elysium (August 9) If writer/director Neil Blomkamp can make District 9 on a shoe string, then I can’t wait to see what he can pull off with a tentpole budget. Set in the year 2154 in a world where the wealthy live on a space station while the rest of humanity fight it out on a dying planet, Matt Damon attempts to equalize the two worlds. This could be a huge sci-fi epic.
2) Pacific Rim (July 12) Yet another potential sci-fi epic is Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth) film about a giant alien attack that forces humankind to build gigantic robots in order to fight them off and save the planet. What the film lacks in stars it more than makes up for in sheer grandiosity.
1) Man of Steel (June 14) Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, Superman was my favorite hero. After the second film, the franchise went downhill fast and could not recover with 2006’s mediocre return. This time is different though. A new beginning, new story and a fresh new perspective makes this look like the film to beat this summer. While largely unknown, I believe the talented Henry Cavill will impress his critics and 300 director Zack Snyder along with producer Christopher Nolan could bring us a Superman film for the ages.
Cloud Atlas Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use Available on DVD and Blu-ray This new, extremely ambitious project from the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Perfume) tells several unique stories taking place in the past, present and future, all with the same centralized theme: slavery and freedom. Some of the stories are epic, such as the one about the human fabricant from New Seoul, and some are less inspired. But as a whole, the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat and your brain racing as you try to figure it all out. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and others each play multiple characters, male and female, making the movie seem more like an intimate play than a big-budget extravaganza. I’ve seen the movie 3 times now and I still don’t really get it - but I still really want to. Thankfully there are some great special features here to help clear up some of the confusion. B+
Dexter: The Seventh Season Not Rated but full of violence, sex/nudity and bad language Available on DVD and Blu-ray After the sixth season I was sure this storyline was going downhill, but the hit Showtime series was rescued in a big way with this latest twisty, nerve-racking season. Now that Dexter’s sister has discovered his secret of being a sadistic vigilante, she tries to help him cure himself of his disease rather than ignore or turn him in. Unfortunately, he has a Russian mafia leader (played by the terrific Ray Stevenson) who wants him dead and his boss thinks he might be the Bay Harbor Butcher. A ton of shocking surprises set up what will hopefully be a legendary eighth and final season. A-
The Verdict Rated R Available on Blu-ray Twentieth Century Fox is re-releasing several old classics this week on Blu-ray, including The Great Escape, Viva Zapata!, Brubaker and a collection of films by Henry Fonda on DVD, but my favorite from the bunch has to be The Verdict. This influential 1982 Sidney Lumet courtroom drama provides Paul Newman one of his most complex roles as an ambulance-chasing attorney who must take a trial to court when the stakes become higher than he planned. The film feels dated, but the performances are red hot and the new high-def transfer looks and sounds great. A-
Mama Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements Available on DVD and Blu-ray When two girls go missing in the woods for a long period of time and are then found, they go to live with their uncle and aunt. Unfortunately, the spirit in the woods that has practically raised them comes along and haunts the newly-formed family. In order to better sell the project to audiences, the film is first billed as ‘Guillermo Del Toro Presents’ even though it looks like he had very little to do with the actual production. Instead, a very capable director, Andy Muschietti, does a fine job at delivering a very creepy movie that overdoes the CG a little too much, but still provides chills-a-plenty. Of course it helps to have two-time Oscar nom Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) heading up the talented cast. While its certainly not as scary or eccentric as some of Del Toro’s actual projects, this one will make most horror fans happy. B
Jack Reacher Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material Available on DVD and Blu-ray This much-anticipated first film based on the famous character from the Lee Child book series introduces us to the world of Jack Reacher, played here by Tom Cruise. Jack is a highly decorated former MP and a nomad, moving from town to town, owning nothing but a toothbrush. When a former military sniper is arrested for taking out a crowd of civilians, Reacher rushes in to help the defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) figure out all of the details of the case and if maybe there is more to it than what was originally thought. The story itself is interesting, but the production seems so amateur. The script is pretty lousy, making you think you are watching auditions or rehearsals rather than a polished film. That could possibly be due to some lousy casting or bad performances, but it just didn’t feel like a Tom Cruise movie. To make it worse, the pacing was slow and the music was terrible. The only thing holding the project together was Cruise, who really tried admirably to create this new franchise. If only it didn’t show like a made-for-television Friday night special. C-
30 Rock: Season 7 Available on DVD NBC has a habit of allowing sitcoms to go down in flames rather than letting them end on a high note. They did it to Friends, we are in the process of watching it happen to The Office, and now 30 Rock. I’m not going to say this final season is bad by any means. It has a lot of little laughs and every once in a while a huge guffaw, but it has lost so much steam. Still, I’m glad I got to experience the show and was able to appreciate it for all its silliness and time-wasting ability. B-
Pain & Gain Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie Directed by Michael Bay (Transformers) Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use
Apparently based on a true story, Pain & Gain tells the story of three moronic but ambitious body builders in Florida who jump head first into a kidnapping and extortion scheme that goes terribly wrong. Unlike my slam on the recent home entertainment release of Gangster Squad, this story is apparently mostly true. I’m sure liberties were taken and blanks were filled in with a lot of comedy, but these events did actually take place. That three incredibly buff guys with not one brain between them could get as far as they did is staggering.
Billed as a low budget film by tentpole director Michael Bay (the movie is estimated to have only cost $25 million to make), Pain & Gain still looks like a bloated budget Hollywood picture. The supporting cast, including Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub and Rob Corddry, turn in solid and believable performances, in spite of the subject matter. I am especially impressed though with Wahlberg and Johnson who pretend to be the way many on the outside believe them to be in real life. This is a brave feat and they dig into their roles with everything they’ve got.
What works best here is the extreme amount of comedy, even in the face of disgusting human behavior. For instance, after a grisly crime, they stop to pump biceps, as if drawing power and emotional strength from the iron. It’s as funny as anything I’ve seen this year, although I’ll admit that not everyone in the theater was laughing as hard as me.
The biggest problem with the film is that it is far too long at 130 minutes. I expect that length from a big action film or an even a short epic, but for a crime comedy it is far too excessive and it shows. If this film were directed by almost any director other than Bay, I can guarantee the movie would be easily missing 20-30 minutes.
I also found there to be some little, almost unnoticeable inaccuracies. I remember an old story about how David Lee Roth used to ask for no brown M&Ms in his technical guide, not to be a diva but to make sure the specs were followed precisely for safety reasons. I feel the same way here. If there are little tiny things wrong factually, how much liberty was taken by the filmmakers in the making of their “true story.” Since its not a well-known tale then perhaps I’ll never know. But I still have my doubts on how much is fact and how much is fiction. B
Silver Linings Playbook Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity Available on DVD and Blu-ray Easily one of the most entertaining films of 2012, Silver Linings was also a huge award winner and the first film since 1981’s Reds to get nominated for all four acting categories at the Oscars (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver). This romantic comedy about mental illness, football and ballroom dancing seems like a longshot at success, and its box office wasn’t great at first, but word of mouth spread and the film went on to win Lawrence an Oscar and gross $131 million domestically with much more worldwide. The subject matter can be a bit crude, but the film works so well that even the most prude could enjoy. A
The Revisionaries Not Rated Available on DVD The Texas State Board of Education is largely responsible for selecting our nations textbooks due to shear volume and this documentary explores some of the crackpots making the decisions. The film is good at exposing many problems the board has in its deliberate inclusion of religion into public school but it also comes across as a very biased picture that tries to belittle any interviewee or viewer who believes in intelligent design vs evolution. Great credibility is given to one of the lobbyists who states that including intelligent design into science texts is like giving voice to those who believe the world is flat. The problem is that this is nowhere close to accurate. Last I checked, evolution is a theory. So is intelligent design. Until its called the Law of Evolution, both should be written about and discussed and those that feel so strongly about their atheistic or agnostic beliefs should be more tolerant of those who think the opposite. At the very least this film will yield great discussions, but overall I just can’t recommend it as a great piece of open-minded media. C+
Only the Young/Tchoupitoulas - Double Feature Available on DVD Oscilloscope has made a very unusual move in releasing two very highly regarded documentaries from 2012 into an attractive double feature package. Tchoupitoulas follows a young inner-city black pre-teen and his friends as they spend a night exploring the magical city of New Orleans. Only the Young follows a trio of skater punks in Southern California who try to stay good kids as they struggle through school, poverty, maintaining friendships and heartbreak. While they are very different, the two stories are also very much alike in that they bring back the hope of innocence and dreams in our youth, while at the same time breaking down stereotypes that haunt them. And since both films are just over an hour in length its easy to take an evening to explore them. A
Not Fade Away Rated R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content Available on DVD and Blu-ray Sopranos creator David Chase delivers the story of a young wannabe rock star in this coming of age tale meant as a love-letter to Rock and Roll. It’s well enough acted and manages to keep your interest but it also feels like we’ve seen it many times before. Still, if you are a fan of The Sopranos and its star James Gandolfini, you will most likely be very happy with the pic. B-
The Guilt Trip Rated PG-13 for language and some risqué material Available on DVD and Blu-ray Barbara Streisand makes so few movies that you would think she was very particular about the scripts she chooses. Unfortunately she chose this very mediocre story of a mother going on a road trip with her inventor son, played by Seth Rogen. Overall the actors appear to be uninspired by the material and while there are some funny parts here and there, the trip seems to go nowhere. C-
Gangster Squad Rated R for strong violence and language Available on DVD and Blu-ray We all know that the phrase “based on a true story” can be exaggerated but Gangster Squad just might be the worst abuse of that moniker that I’ve ever seen. That being said, this overly-stylish little gangster movie about the notorious Los Angeles kingpin Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and a group of cops that take him on is a nice bit of mindless entertainment, but nothing more. Overall, the performances are uninspired even though the actors look like they might have had a fun time filming. The one positive note is that it makes me want to revisit one of my favorite crime dramas, The Untouchables, which I will most likely do this coming weekend. C+
Promised Land Rated R for language Available on DVD and Blu-ray Matt Damon and John Krasinski co-write and co-star in this little indie about a natural gas salesman (Damon) who goes into a small American town in order to convince them to allow his company to tap into their resources only to find opposition from a young out-of-towner (Krasinski) who is determined to thwart his every effort. There are a lot of surprises here, especially given the subject matter, that lend to a very entertaining experience that is slightly less educational and preachy than it looks from the outside. Hal Holbrook lends a nice voice to the film as a local who is not convinced of the company’s sincerity while Rosemary DeWitt plays the single girl in town forcing the two leads into a very unconvincing and contrived love triangle. Damon and Krasinski are both terrific as the commercial arch enemies. So while the film might look like a green-skewed message movie, it ends up just being an interesting story with a good cast and some nice twists. B+ The Central Park Five Not Rated Available on DVD and Blu-ray Documentarian Ken Burns, famous for his award-winning stories about American history, tackles a great injustice played upon five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were arrested and convicted for raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. They spent between 6 and 13 years in prison until evidence proved them innocent. As expected from Burns, this is well-made doc that will both infuriate and possibly reconfigure your paradigm about our justice system. It flat out made me angry and helpless at the same time. A
Trance Starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language
A young UK art auctioneer (McAvoy) gets entangled with a group of criminals (led by Cassel) when he protects a hugely valuable piece of art from being stolen by the crafty gang. After the foiled heist and a bit of torture, they force him into hypnotherapy by a beautiful young therapist (Dawson) to try to remember where he might have put the painting once they realize that an injury sustained during the robbery has left him with amnesia.
I was shocked to see a Danny Boyle film released with such little fanfare. After all, he is one of the most respected directors of our time and his films are usually so enjoyable. This one saw very little attention and they didn’t even hold a press screening, which gave me a bad feeling about what I was about to watch.
The good news is that while the film has no chance of becoming a hit - it is still somewhat interesting. Boyle has a signature style that captures your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end. The bad news is that the subject matter isn’t nearly as enticing as you think its going to be after the first act.
The performances here are all solid and really showcase the actors’ talents. I’m convinced that Boyle has a real gift for getting exactly the right performances from his casts and this film is no exception. In addition, his pacing is phenomenal. Yes the production feels a little ADD, but what a way to dress up a movie.
That being said, the story itself is where the film suffers. I love the idea of art theft, but the movie is really about hypnotherapy and the twist that leads to the third act (for which I can’t disclose). Unfortunately, by the time the third act came around I lost empathy for all of the characters and just wanted to see how they’d survive or meet their doom. I wasn’t cheering for anyone. When that happens, you are ultimately taken out of the picture and, in my opinion, just wasting time. C+
Django Unchained Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity Available on DVD and Blu-ray In Django Unchained, a freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) helps the man who freed him (Christoph Waltz) with some bounty hunting in exchange for a hand in getting back his wife from a notorious slave owner (Leonardo DeCaprio). If you’ve been in a box and aren’t familiar with writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s unique style, then fair warning - his films can be offensive to some. If you are a fan of his work or just enjoy edgy movies - then you should love his newest western. It is incredibly violent but still extremely fun to watch. The jokes will hit you from all sides as will a few blood splatters. I found this to be about as entertaining as you can get and was excited to see the film take home a couple of Oscars for both Screenplay and a supporting actor trophy for Waltz. A
Jacob Unrated but contains graphic violence and language Available on DVD and Blu-ray Local Houston area film maker Larry Wade Carrell writes, directs and stars in this terrific little indie horror B-movie about a mentally disturbed man (Dylan Horne) who goes on a killing spree when a tragedy occurs with his loving young niece (Grace Powell). Sure its a genre movie with a low budget, but its great to see how good a local project can get with limited dollars and only one star (Michael Biehn) in the credits. The overall production is more than decent and the pacing of the story makes it one you should check out when reaching for your next horror film. B Future Weather Unrated Available on DVD Yet another good little indie is this film by Jenny Deller about a brilliant young 13-year-old girl (Perla Haney-Jardine) whose mother abandons her leaving her only $50 to fend for herself. With a reluctant grandmother (Amy Madigan) to care for her and a caring school teacher (Lili Taylor) to inspire her, she become a responsible adult much sooner than she should. Sure its a little Lifetime-y, but if you are in the mood, this is a well-acted, well-written story that most will find engaging. B
Repo Man: The Criterion Collection Rated R Available on DVD and Blu-ray Alex Cox’s cult classic about punks, capitalism and an alien invasion is getting the Criterion Collection in this loaded set. In a career-making performance, Emilio Estevez is a young hoodlum who starts repossessing cars to make a few bucks when he attempts to take back a car with a hefty reward and something deadly in the trunk. The film is a crazy and sometimes incoherent mess, but it sure is interesting and keeps you on your toes. If you are a fan you will love this set which includes a new 2K digital transfer, a collectors book and more special features than I’ve ever seen on a single disc. B-
Hyde Park on Hudson Rated R for brief sexuality Available on DVD and Blu-ray Late last year when I heard Bill Murray was going to be in a biopic about President Franklin D. Roosevelt I immediately thought that one of my favorite actors would be the talk of the town come awards time. Boy was I wrong. This little indie about the indiscretions of the great leader has some potential, but rather than living up to that potential, it turns into one of the most dreadfully boring movies in recent memory. The movie comes in at 94 minutes but the thing plods along so slowly that you are lucky if you fall asleep and unlucky if you try hard not to and succeed. The performances are merely adequate and while the production itself is quality, the directing by veteran Roger Michell (Notting Hill) is just painful to sit through. C- Planet Ocean Available on DVD and Blu-ray From Yann Arthus-Bertand (Home) comes this spectacular straight-to-video documentary about the ocean with a story that is unique among its green-themed colleagues. Visually stunning, the film is intended to drum up support for a movement, but rather than just say “look how pretty our planet is - please save it” this doc goes into scientific details that are much intended for a more educated and open-minded audience. Exploring the natural mysteries of the ocean as well as its relationship to humans and commerce, the movie will end up making you feel much more intelligent than before you sat down to watch it, and without the preachiness of other recent nature docs. This film was presented to the leaders of the Rio+20 conference in June 2012 and is sure to be a staple in science classrooms around the world. A John Dies at the End Rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content Available on DVD and Blu-ray When a new street drug emerges that allows its users to travel across time and dimensions starts to have some undesirable side effects, two college dropouts attempt to save mankind from a very weird invasion. Normally I would have never even watched a film like this but seeing Paul Giamatti as an actor and executive producer piqued my interest. Unfortunately, I found the film to be overly bizarre and hard to follow. Also, I am convinced that the filmmakers were trying too hard to make a cult classic that they forgot to create an enjoyable experience. It seemed to me that much of the humor was completely random and that current street drugs might have taken part in the actual writing of the project. Ultimately it feels like a student film that got lucky enough to have an A list actor show up on the set. C-
Ginger & Rosa Starring Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks and Annette Bening Directed by Sally Potter Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices - sexuality, drinking, smoking and for language
Ginger and Rosa are two teenage girls growing up in London during the 1960s, trying to figure themselves out as well as the world around them. In the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis, as well as family strife at home, Ginger must come to terms with her lousy choice in friends and her less than ideal parents.
In spite of coming in at only 90 minutes, this little indie feels oh so long, mostly due to its extremely uncomfortable subject matter. For half of the film you wonder where they are going with the story and then the second half you wish they hadn’t gone there. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think its safe to say that this movie takes its audience to a pretty miserable place.
That being said, its not a horrible film just because its not an entertaining one. Elle Fanning is budding into an exceptional actress and if she keeps turning in these kinds of performances she just might beat her sister Dakota in the race to win an Oscar. The rest of the cast, even while playing very ugly characters, also turn in great performances.
Ultimately this film is about loss of innocence as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Not maybe in the way these stories are traditionally told, but definitely in regard to a naive teenager coming to the realization that adults lie and scheme and also make huge, huge mistakes that manage to drag down everyone around them.
The biggest warning I must give here is that you must be in the mood for a film such as this. Personally, I wasn’t, and it made a huge difference in my overall enjoyment, making it more of an intellectual exercise rather than a great or even decent movie-going experience. C+