Tuesday, April 28, 2009

World's Greatest Summer Movie Preview!

Here it is, the world's greatest summer movie preview. I look over some of the more notable summer flicks coming our way, discuss the buzz on each one and give my own opinion of what I think its prospects are.

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (May 1) -- This flick would seem to have everything going for it. It's a spinoff of the most popular character from the "X-Men" franchise, starring Hugh Jackman as the feral hero with razor-sharp claws, unbreakable bones and a mutant healing factor that combine to make him virtually indestructible. Anticipation for it has been through the roof. And yet the buzz is worrisome. An unfinished version of the film was leaked online recently, and there's been a lot of chatter about how the studio didn't have much faith in director Gavin Hood, who'd only helmed small art films before this. The fact that they're declining to show it to critics in many markets, including all of Indiana and Ohio, is never a good sign. On a personal note, I've read part of the origin comic of Wolverine that this movie was based on, and I'm not a big fan.
The Buzz: Shaky, but probably will still have a huge opening weekend.

STAR TREK (May 8) -- The trajectory of "Star Trek" is the opposite of "Wolverine." It started out somewhat down, with people mocking the idea of another Trek movie -- and not just any Trek movie, but with the original character roster of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhuru, Checkhov and Scottie. They're just being played by younger, mostly unknown actors. It's a risky move by director J.J. Abrams, who's mostly worked in TV and whose last attempt to reinvigorate a film franchise with "Mission Impossible III" didn't exactly work out. And yet audiences at geek conventions have gone nuts for the preview footage they've seen. Personally, it looks a little too jacked up for my taste -- Trek movies have always had action, but it was subservient to the characters and plot. I fear this is an iteration of Trek tailor-made for the ADD set.
The Buzz: Looks like an action-packed reboot of Trek for Generation Y. They will beam it up.

ANGELS & DEMONS (May 15) -- This one is interesting. It's a sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" based on the best-seller by Dan Brown. But it's based on a book that actually came out before "Da Vinci" -- the filmmakers have simply jiggered the timeline around. And the film version of "Da Vinci" was widely considered a failure, at least in the U.S. But it did boffo box office on the foreign market, so we're back for another go with Tom Hanks as a professor who gets tangled up with ancient secret societies. I've read the book, and it's a page-turning potboiler set inside Vatican City, with enemies of the Catholic Church killing clergymen in the most gruesome fashion. I have a suspicion that this may be the rare sequel that is superior to the original.
The Buzz: Has a lot of competition from huge films before and after its release date; may get lost in the crowd.

TERMINATOR SALVATION (May 22) -- It's not good when the thing most people associate with your movie is an expletive-laden, egotistical rant made by the star, which became a downloaded audio sensation on the Web. Personally, I find it hilarious that Christian Bale was so maniacally serious about his "process" as an actor in a movie about killer robots from the future. This is the fourth "Terminator" movie and the first without the Governator. Audiences haven't exactly gone wild for the current television incarnation of "Terminator" sans Schwarzenegger, so they may not be dying to see a movie without him. Plus it's not helpful that the new movie and TV show exist in parallel universes, where each uses the same characters without regard to what the other is doing. Still, we've only seen glimpses of the apocalyptic nightmare where machines rule the earth, with Bale as the leader of the scrappy human renegades. For me, I've never been a big fan of director McG -- I don't think I really need any other reason than the fact that professionally he goes by the name some beer buddies probably gave him. But on top of that, he directed those awful "Charlie's Angels" movies.
The Buzz: I don't think it'll be very good, but there's still life in those robot servos. Audiences will show up.

UP (May 29) -- Pixar Animation has never made a bad movie; the worst of them, like "Cars," have merely been very good. But there's no denying their movies have grown more esoteric of late, with corresponding dips in their box office performance. "Wall-E" was their finest motion picture since "Finding Nemo," so I have high hopes for "Up." It's an unlikely tale about a crotchety, kid-hating old man (voiced by Ed Asner) tying a horde of balloons to his house to float it halfway across the world. When I first heard the concept, I thought it was for one of the award-winning shorts that always precede a Pixar feature film. Can they really sustain so fanciful a concept over a 90-minute movie? And centering on a character who essentially despises the movie's target audience? We'll see.
The Buzz: Who am I kidding? You know it'll be great.

LAND OF THE LOST (June 5) -- To people of my generation, "Land of the Lost" was similar to "Speed Racer" -- a 1970s TV show you watched religiously without quite ever knowing why. It certainly wasn't very good, with its weird setup of some folks who jump through a portal to a bizarre universe where dinosaurs roam and slow-moving lizardmen called Sleestaks rule. So I guess I'm relieved that this is being made as a comedy vehicle for Will Ferrell. I'm not sure I'd want to see a super serious "Land of the Lost" -- that would be almost as stupid as making straightforward "G.I. Joe" movie ... oh wait, they did! That comes out Aug. 7.
The Buzz: Will Ferrell's always worth some yuks.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (June 12) -- Most people who know me have heard my John Travolta story -- how he built a home in the smallish Florida town where I was working, and I spent two years unsuccessfully trying to get an interview with him. I negotiated with his PR people, showed up at events I heard he might attend, even sneaking onto the fly-in community where he lived, parking my car on the tarmac and trying to deliver a hand-deliver letter (before being intercepted by some very large security guys). Travolta's career always seems to be either in the toilet or cresting a new wave of revitalization. He's currently up, with his last three films ("Bolt," "Hairspray" and "Wild Hogs") all taking in more than $100 million at the box office. I'm not so sure about the premise of this film: Remaking a 35-year-old flick that wasn't a big hit in the first place. Travolta plays an ex-con who takes a subway train hostage, with Denzel Washington as the dispatcher who must foil him.
The Buzz: Two fiftysomething stars in a remake of a movie few people remember. What's not to love?

THE PROPOSAL (June 19) -- There are some people who would sooner undergo a proctology exam than see another Sandra Bullock romcom. But I have to say this one actually looks pretty good. She plays a nasty boss who forces her younger assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her so she can retain her U.S. visa status. Interesting to see Bullock paired up with a romantic partner who's nearly 15 years her junior.
The Buzz: The trailer is pretty hilarious; did they blow all the best jokes in it?

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (June 24) -- To paraphrase Roger Ebert, I hate, hate, hated the first "Transformers" movie. Granted, it was about robots both heroic and villainous from outer space. But I've never seen a big blockbuster with some incoherent a plot. I literally found it hard to follow what was going on at any given moment. And the transformers were hard to tell apart from each other. And just to stack things up further against the sequel, it's coming out only two years after the first one. Movies with budgets as big as this generally take years of preproduction and up to a year of post to do the computer effects. By my reckoning, they must have written the script in about 17 minutes.
The Buzz: It couldn't possibly be worse than the first one, could it?

PUBLIC ENEMIES (July 1) -- This one looks really promising. It's loosely based on the exploits of Indianapolis' own John Dillinger, the most notorious bank robber of all time. Johnny Depp, the quirky character actor-turned mega movie star, should be a hoot as the fun-loving, bank-busting Robin Hood of the 1930s. Christian Bale plays the grim fed on his tail. And it's co-written and directed by Michael Mann, a master of mood ("Heat," "Last of the Mohicans," "Manhunter," "The Insider"). I have a feeling this is going to be the breakout hit of the summer.
The Buzz: The "Untouchables" for the next generation?

BR√úNO (July 10) -- In what is essentially a sequel to "Borat," comedy renegade Sacha Baron Cohen takes another one of his weird, irony-proof characters and sets him up against unsuspecting Americans in a quasi-documentary. It's basically a one-joke concept -- clueless foreigner with a shaky grasp of English commits all sorts of politically incorrect atrocities to see how regular people will react. In this case, it's an outrageously gay German model who does things like perform a striptease and make-out session with another man in front of 15,000 blue-collar Arkansans who thought they were going to see a cage fighting show.
The Buzz: Get ready for another round of squirm-inducing comedy with a hidden message about American culture.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (July 17) -- Whenever somebody asks me why I think the "Lord of the Rings" books are vastly superior to the "Harry Potter" franchise, my response is, "At least Tolkien didn't write the same book over and over." As good as some of the "Potter" movies have been, it's frustrating to a non-fan to shell out to see what is the same basic premise repeated ad nauseum: It's a new year at Hogwarts wizard school, there's a new strange professor, Harry and the gang must confront a shadowy threat that eventually turns out to be the work of the evil lord Voldemort, and all the grown-ups conveniently disappear in time to let the kiddies face the bad guys. The one redeeming factor about "Half-Blood Prince" is that it supposedly reveals Voldemort's full backstory, which we've only heard bits and pieces of. Anything that moves the chains plot-wise is a step in the right direction, in my spellbook.
The Buzz: It's "Harry Potter" -- another $250 million, minimum.

JULIE & JULIA (Aug. 7) -- One of the few summer movies that isn't a sequel, a remake or based on a comic book or video game. From writer/director Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep plays cooking icon Julia Child and Amy Adams plays an anonymous government worker who decides to plow through every recipe in Child's classic cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." In a quirky move, their characters' stories progress a half-century apart, so the two never actually meet. Sounds tasty to me.
The Buzz: This may be the sleeper hit of the summer.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Aug. 21) -- Is it me or does it seem like Quentin Tarantino is making movies that would only appeal to Quentin Tarantino? His weird fetish for trashy '70s exploitation flicks is not shared by me or about 99 percent of the movie-going public. So this remake of an Italian cheapie seems destined for the same video discount bin and "Death Proof" and "Jackie Brown." Brad Pitt plays the leader of an all-Jewish squad sent in behind Nazi lines during World War II to wreak havoc and spread fear amongst the Germans. OK, right off we've got Brad Pitt cast as a Jew, so the movie is already a stretch.
The Buzz: Face it: "Pulp Fiction" was as good as it was ever going to get.


  1. The best thing about Tarantino's movies recently have been the parts he didn't do, namely the music and credit sequences. I think Pulp Fiction was a case of serendipity in filmmaking that didn't necessarily have much to do with Tarantino's talents or lack thereof.

    IMHO, Harry Potter films are just vehicles for fans to feel closer to their beloved imaginary universe, and are unremarkable otherwise (except for the third film, for which Cuaron actually created an interesting vibe. But I don't hold out hope of anything like that for the last few films.

    I am looking forward to pairing Depp and Bale in Public Enemies, though. Bale always stuck me as more suited to the stick-in-the-mud roles.

  2. Actually, "Reservoir Dogs" remains my favorite Tarantino movie. I don't think I've really liked anything since "Pulp."