Summer Movie Preview
It's just a jump to the left, and a step to the right. Put your hands on your hips, and let that Hollywood thrust drive you insane, because we're doing the time warp, the superheroes, and action spectacle again.
Summer movie season always feels a little like deja-vu, as studios trot out past winners for another victory lap - and this summer is no different.
Movie fans can expect to see the familiar Lycra-clad silhouettes of Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America and other characters from the comic-book universe. Yet, as we march into the second decade of our new millennium, things are growing a little darker, a little more sophisticated and decidedly more grown-up. From Joss Whedon to Christopher Nolan and Marc Webb, blockbuster directors are trying to bring psychological depth to their stories. Even the uni-dimensional Huntsman from the fairy tale Snow White is now a grieving widower.
Another theme poking through the summer Spandex is time travel. From the new Men in Black outing, which features Will Smith travelling back to the '60s to change the future, to the oddly compelling indie, The Sound of My Voice, which tells the story of a woman from the future trying to find safe haven in Los Angeles, theatres will become a time machine for anyone seeking an escape from humidity, sun and real life. There's also the new film from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine: Safety Not Guaranteed, which explores the idea of a time travel in modern-day Seattle.
Those seeking more adult entertainment needn't worry about getting lost in the toy store, because there's no shortage of counter-programming amid the blockbusters, including a new movie starring Meryl Streep as a wife feeling the boredom of a long marriage in Hope Springs. There are also some juicy documentaries, including Sundance standouts, Big Boys Gone Bananas, and Searching for Sugar Man.
Promising a little something - and a great big something - for everyone, the summer of 2012 could be one of the best in recent memory, especially now that John Carter has already faded in our memories. That said, here's a roundup of the biggies, the indies, the films for kiddies and the must-sees in between.
(The pictures that will define the summer)
The Avengers (May 4) - Can you count to 220 million? Apparently, the producers at Disney can, because they put some hardcore zeros in these superheroes. With one of the biggest budgets of the season, director Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is given a chance to paint a broad comic-book canvas, where not one, but seven, avenging characters get to throw cars and buses across the screen. Teamwork doesn't come naturally to a gaggle of super-sized egos, so there's bound to be some friction between Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the newly cast Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Fortunately, there's always a parental figure in these mixes, and this time, it's Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who keeps the kids in check.
Dark Shadows (May 11) - Although the plot synopsis seems to suggest a mixture between Edward Scissorhands and Blast from the Past, this reworking of the late-'60s TV show from Tim Burton is social satire with a perfect overbite. Johnny Depp plays a vampire who is unearthed 200 years later, only to discover his house has gone to hell. His modern relatives - including Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Moretz - seem a little unfamiliar to the ancient, but then again, microwave ovens are downright alien. Burton's real-life girlfriend, Helena Bonham Carter, spices it up even further as the shrink.
The Dictator (May 16) - Well, it may not be of the usual Hollywood summer blockbuster variety, but this Sacha Baron Cohen movie is the biggest feature to date from the British bad boy who gave us Borat and Bruno. Cohen plays a democracy-loathing dictator - an egotist who hates women, kills his rivals, and hurts children; the dictator isn't meant to be sympathetic - until he winds up in the United States without an identity, money or his beard. Anna Faris, John C. Reilly and Ben Kingsley co-star in what is sure to be one of the most talked-about movies of the season.
Battleship (May 18) - The biggest surprise in Battleship isn't that they tried to make a movie out of a game you can play on paper, but they got heavyweight talent such as Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna to play along. Essentially banking on the dependable alien-invasion idea, the movie trailers bear a striking resemblance to Transformers, as they show a group of humans overwhelmed by futuristic weapons. The only real suspense may be waiting for someone to utter the line, "You sunk my battleship!"
Men in Black 3 (May 25) - Barry Sonnenfeld brings back the boys in dark attire for yet another round of sci-fi comedy. This time, we get the backstory for agent K, the cold, hard veteran played by Tommy Lee Jones in the first two movies, but split this time around between Josh Brolin, as the young K, and Jones as the contemporary K. Will Smith gets to play himself in both time zones, because he's looking to change the course of history by going back in time, and saving agent K from his premature ending in the future. If time travel doesn't turn your crank, remember that these are the movies that also feature talking pugs - a device more dependable than cleavage - but judging from the stills, there's plenty of that, too.
Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1) - Clearly, there are common ideas that float around in the public imagination, because Snow White and the Huntsman is not the first Snow White adaptation we've seen this year, but it's probably the most anticipated, thanks to Kristen Stewart's presence in the lead role. Easily the toughest version of the princess we've ever seen, Stewart strolls around in armour, as she and the depressive huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) try to thwart the murderous evil stepmother (Charlize Theron). First-time feature director Rupert Sanders blends modern psycho-babble with Gothic ingredients to bring more human depth to the fairy tale, but let's face it: Theron as a baddie is always frightfully good. If only she and Julia Roberts could have a grudge match for un-fairest of them all.
Prometheus (June 8) - You simply cannot go wrong with a Ridley Scott science-fiction movie. The man behind Alien and Blade Runner redefined the whole genre from an emotional perspective by bringing grown-up drama to the space western format - and putting strong women front and centre. A genius at making popcorn movies rife with pathos, Scott's latest film has nothing to do with the actual Greek myth about a Titan who gave humans the gift, and responsibility, of fire. Instead, this Alien "prequel" of sorts tells the story of a science ship in search of a civilization that once visited Earth. The rest of the internal gears and springs are a secret, but with Michael Fassbender playing an artificial human and Charlize Theron as the corporate blowhard, this one could stay with you for the rest of the season.
Rock of Ages (June 15) - Tom Cruise plays a hair-metal musician in this screen adaptation of the Broadway musical. Directed by Hairspray's Adam Shankman, this loony tuner can't really go wrong, because even a car wreck with Cruise has popular appeal. Besides, the de facto Scientology spokesman has done very well with roles that border on self-parody, or complete slapstick, as his turns in Tropic Thunder and Magnolia made clear. This one pulls on both facets of Cruise's odd skill set, as he plays the lead singer in an '80s hair-metal band sporting buttless chaps, while wannabes Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta await their big break.
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (June 22) - The last time I checked, the Lincoln Monument did not feature the former president with a wooden stake in hand, but that may be wilful revisionism, if we're to believe this project from Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. Here, the 16th president of the newly unified United States has to fend off pro-South vampires who want the Confederacy to win so they can feast off the veins of slaves without consequence. Who knows, if the movie does well, we could get Abe Meets Buffy sequels and possibly Thomas Jefferson Zombie Slayer.
Brave (June 22) - They gave us talking cars and a cute robot before they handed the starring role to a woman. But we can forgive Pixar for its boyish obsessions, because Brave tells the story of a fearless princess who refuses to marry, despite the urgent protests of her conformist parents. Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters provide the vocal talent.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 29) - As long as everything turns into a backpack, this G.I. Joe sequel has nothing to worry about, because the Adventure Team's gear was always portable - whether it was a parachute or a full remote communications station. But that was during a brief moment in the 1970s, when the Hasbro toy had moved away from guns and war, because killing seemed bad for kids. A generation later, guns, bombs, explosions and violence are back in fashion - and attractive enough to pull in A-list cast members such as Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson.
The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3) - Andrew Garfield steps into the Lycra suit for a whole new round of web-slinging adventures in this reboot of the highly successful franchise that made Tobey Maguire a star. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) says he wanted to find the fine, human edges of the superhero, which is why he cast the English actor from Social Network in the lead. He also cast Martin Sheen, Denis Leary, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans to ensure every aspect of this dark tale had emotional heft.
The Dark Knight Rises (July 20) - Batman and Spider-Man in the same summer just feels a little decadent, but, thanks to rival studios, we're getting a double dose of dysfunctional men in tights battling for box-office supremacy. Spider-Man was always cooler than Batman in the comics, but, thanks to the screen versions, the Dark Knight has come a long way. He ditched the grey unitard and yellow belt for an all-black look, complete with manly embellishments and the coolest vehicles this side of James Bond. Christian Bale is unsurpassed in the role, and, with Chris Nolan back in the driver's seat, this "epic conclusion" to the Dark Knight saga promises more of everything - including a new purring villain in the form of Anne Hathaway's Catwoman. She's certainly no Eartha Kitt, but Marion Cotillard's presence guarantees some exotic accents nonetheless.
Bourne Legacy (Aug 3) - Jeremy Renner wasn't the kind of actor who got offered high-octane action movies until he made Hurt Locker, followed by his recent turn in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. Now he's taking over terrain once occupied by Matt Damon - another actor who chose dramatic roles over action, but made a convincing transition. Tony Gilroy directs Renner as the new Jason Bourne, another spy who was reprogrammed just like Damon's character. Rachel Weisz glams up the frame as the romantic interest, while Joan Allen plays the government chief with a good soul. David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Edward Norton and Albert Finney also star.
Total Recall (Aug 3) - I hope you won't have total recall of the 1990 original starring Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, because this big-budget spectacle looks a lot like the first movie that gave us a blue sky on Mars. No surprise there. The movie is based on the exact same Philip K. Dick source material about an ordinary guy who gets a virtual vacation, which appears to be more than a random holiday code. Suspecting something seditious is taking place inside his own mind, he tries to find the line between the real and the imaginary, with only limited success. Len Wiseman has made a career out of directing the Underworld franchise, but he's certainly no Paul Verhoeven, and this type of psychological science fiction may need the outsider's edge. On the other hand, the ladies enter the fray this time around, with Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel kicking some serious fanny.
ParaNorman (August 17) - Coraline was a box-office smash, so this new stop-action piece from the same production team holds endless promise - especially amid the glut of computer-generated visuals competing for your attention. ParaNorman follows a kid named Norman, and the many ghosts who inhabit his everyday life. Not to be confused with any Sixth Sense, Norman is the sole star of this story, as he saves his town from an ancient threat.
(Smart and quirky independents used to be put in cold storage over the summer months until fall or winter. Now, with fewer mega-budget pictures competing for screens, there's room for smaller, more intimate movies. And that's good news for art-film lovers in withdrawal.)
Big Boys Gone Bananas (May 11, Select markets) - If you ever wondered about the relationship among media, the corporate interest, and the Everyman, this story of one filmmaker's struggle to show his film is startling proof of a rather scary dynamic. Fredrik Gertten made a documentary about Dole, the world's largest producer of fruit and vegetables. The company did not like the film and made every attempt to stop it from playing - including an attempt to have its L.A. premiere cancelled - and filed a hefty defamation suit. The scariest thing of all wasn't the censorship, but the media's willingness to misinform the public through lazy reporting.
Virginia (May 18) - Jennifer Connelly stars as a mentally fragile woman who starts up an affair with the local lawman, only to discover he's married. The plot is achingly familiar, but the execution takes some unexpected turns, thanks to Connelly's comic flourishes and co-star Ed Harris's ability to convey quiet rage.
Moonrise Kingdom (June 1) - Any time Wes Anderson releases a new movie, there is cause to rejoice - and fret a little. Anderson's offbeat comic sensibilities ride the edge of tragedy in the tradition of a John Irving novel, which means this effort - starring Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as parents searching for runaway kids - promises some delicate moments.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (June 15) - Performance art is kind of like the last frontier in the world of creation. It represents the unknown, and, as such, can be scary for the uninitiated. Yet docs about performance art turn out remarkably well, because they can tell the whole story. This documentary follows renowned performance artist Abramovic before her big New York opening, and seems to find the right notes to broach the mainstream - including interview footage with James Franco.
Take This Waltz (June 29) - Sarah Polley's latest directorial effort was shot in Toronto's muggy heat, fully capturing the languid feel of summer lust. Michelle Williams stars as a married woman who becomes obsessed with her neighbour - much to the chagrin of her kind, supportive and endlessly sympathetic husband, played with solid thespian footing by Seth Rogen.
Magic Mike (June 29) - Steven Soderbergh seems to grow more eclectic with each release. Following up the femme-centred Haywire with Magic Mike, Soderbergh teams up with Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer to offer up somesticky man candy. Loosely based on Tatum's days as an exotic dancer, Magic Mike is a more muscular Full Monty.
Searching for Sugar Man (July 27) - One of the biggest buzz titles at this past Sundance Film Festival, this jaw-dropping doc follows the legend of Rodriguez, a little-known folksinger from Detroit who recorded two albums decades ago and then disappeared. Americans never really heard his tunes, but for some reason, they became chart-topping singles in South Africa, where Rodriguez became a legend and an urban myth. Did he self-immolate on stage? Pull out a revolver and squeeze the trigger? It's an incredible story, and one of the feel-good movies of the year. Look for Oscar talk come fall.
Hope Springs (August 10) - Sometimes, grown-ups have all the fun. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones tango through comic and dramatic content as a married couple on the rocks. In an effort to save their 30-year investment in each other, the weary lovers check into a retreat in the hopes of living happily ever after. Steve Carell plays the veteran counsellor, which bodes well for the viewer's future, if not the couple standing centre frame.
Opening dates subject to change; indie releases in some local markets will vary.