Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Musings & Stuff's Snarky Summer Movie Preview Part 1

The summer movie season is nearly underway.  A time where brain cells are freed and lulled in a state of submission.  Where the big movie studios offer their biggest, their noisiest, and more expensive offerings.  Like all franchises, I will put this is installments to make it easier to read, write, and with the hopeful intrigue for further visits.  Let's peruse the slate of this years selection:


MAY 3rd

Typically, a big title opens up the summer movie season in an attempt to start the battle of the numbers game in the right direction.  Last summers The Avengers was the opener of the season and like magical, tick-tocking clockwork, Iron Man 3 gets the mantle this year.  Picking up on the adventures of Tony Stark, following the mega-spectacle events he experienced as part of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 will certainly be one of the biggies of the year.  Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) takes over director duties from Jon Favreau (who helmed the first two installments.)  The teasers and full-tilt media blitz campaign underway seem to highlight a darker turn for the hero, once and again portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr.  This time he's sparring against The Mandarian (Ben Kingsley.)  Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall join the franchise alongside returning co-conspirators Gwyneth Paltrow (as love interest Pepper Potts) and Don Cheadle (as James Rhodes / War Machine.)  While the last Iron Man left something to be desired as it more than anything else felt like a soggy cog in the glut of the construction of The Avengers-- an ailment of sorts that plagued all the Marvel productions-- there's a certain interest that perhaps the third installment will get back to the frothy star vehicle charms that made the first Iron Man refreshing in its slippery self awareness.  

Black seems like a novel choice for tentpole captain.  After a successful screenwriting career in the early 1990s (Lethal Weapon), his star faded out in light of his bombastic offerings only to be redeemed with the indie satire Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which happened to also revive Downey, Jr.'s career.  That oddball, off-kilter match worked wonders the first time out, hopefully it can remain even under the less irony-filled machinations of comic book blockbustering.  Then again, this being the first film after the ultimate mega-ness that was The Avengers, there's a nagging thought that the entire Marvel universe may not have a plan of its own on a micro-character level or a macro-universe level.  Each offering since Iron Man 2 (including The Avengers) have felt similarly like elongated commercials for the next thing...where, exactly is it all heading?  I suppose there won't be a definitive answer until the disparate franchises start to dwindle in popularity.  Both Iron Man films prior have grossed north of $300 million so finality may a long way in coming.

Also opening: Things We Lost in the Fire and Oscar-winning In a Better World director Susanne Bier debuts Love Is All You Need, her romantic comedy starring Pierce Brosnan.  Olivier Assasyas (Carlos) has Something in the Air, a French drama that made the film festival rounds last year.  Finally, What Maisie Knew, a family drama starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard and Steve Coogan, a modern adaptation of the Henry James novella of the same name opens from the directors of The Deep End, Scott McGehee and David Siegel.

 MAY 10th

The second week of May will likely see a second weekend of Iron Man 3 perched atop the box office leader board, but it also will be the unleashing of Baz Luhrmann's latest, the eagerly anticipated The Great Gatsby.  The film has already been picked to headline the Cannes Film Festival, much like Luhrmann's 2001 masterpiece Moulin Rouge!.  Purely coincidentally, both films were once earmarked for an Oscar-qualifying release the year prior to which it opened so the famously snail-paced director could further tinker with his mad passion projects.  Typically a six month delay is a foreshadowing of problems, but Luhrmann is a fussy and dreamy auteur, one of the such that big studio release date establishing shots seem like a setup for failure.  Is it so much to hope that his 3-D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is a similarly candy-colored masterpiece as Moulin Rouge!...after all we've waited patiently, and even sat through the laborious Australia.  Whatever the eventual outcome, this looks positively juicy and even the most anti 3-D filmgoers (myself included) must certainly be hopeful and anticipatory for what a visual master like Luhrmann can do with it...I have a sense it might be too much of a thing, of the sort that might literally burn retinas.  Regardless of sight unseen silliness, Luhrmann's Gatsby looks perfectly cast with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and Carey Mulligan as Daisy.

This is the fourth screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, a novel that many feel is one of the greatest American books of all time.  In the same sense, the great notion is that the delicate prose which consists of more mood than plot is a killer undertaking to the screen.  The first adaptation came just two years after the book was published in 1926 with Warner Baxter playing Gatsby, the second film version, a loose retelling came in 1949 with Alan Ladd in the lead.  The third, and most (in)famous stab at the work was in 1974 with Robert Redford in the lead and Mia Farrow as Daisy-- directed by Jack Clayton and written by Francis Ford Coppola, the film was, when released, a hopeful rightful telling of the Fitzgerald novel.  Instead it was was a mere window dressing display-- literally as the Oscar winning costume designs became high fashion fodder.  Luhrmann, on the outset, seems an ideal candidate to be jell the mood and the atmosphere of the 1920s Jazz Age without getting too bogged down by semantics.  Regardless, his Gatsby will be ravishing eye candy even if it too proves to just mere window dressing.

After the Easter-time fun that was the sexist and awful Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, the multi-hypenate talent is just producing Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, a comedy that posits Craig Robinson meeting his future in-laws.  Kerry Washington plays his fiancee in a role that hopefully netted a strong paycheck and David Alan Grier plays her disapproving father.  I'm assuming hilarity ensues.  This one is written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism (screenwriter of ATL and Drumline), and while I personally feel awful about dumping on a film directed by a woman since that still seems to be an issue today, I do have an issue with Mr. Perry.  For someone with his influence, brand name and knack at attracting top drawer casts, it seems dumb, if not incontrovertibly irresponsible that he isn't backing stronger material with healthier, more grounded opportunities for his predominantly African American community.  Wouldn't it be something if Mr. Perry presented the next film from Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) or Dee Rees (Pariah) and expanded from the stereotypically pits that consist of his career.  Surely, a smart, enterprising production from those gifted filmmakers would be a more resourceful use of his abundant cash flow than a seemingly tired, sitcom-ready, re-tooling of The In-Laws.  And surely Kerry Washington, an actress of immense strength, is deserving of something richer as well.  Just a thought...

Also opening: Eli Roth stars in the horror film Aftershock about a group of travelers who after surviving an earthquake in Chile discover that was the just the surface of the problems that arise, Spring Breaker Selena Gomez co-stars.  Twilight heartthrob Kellan Lutz co-stars with one-time Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke in the crime drama Java Heat, while the documentary Venus & Serena chronicles the careers of the Williams sisters.

MAY 17th

Iron Man 3 will get its first real combatant for master of the summer bragging rights with Star Trek Into Darkness, which unveils two weeks later.  The second film in the J.J. Abrams reboot continues the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and introduces a new baddie, played by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and the whole gang returns.  No quibble here-- I enjoyed the first Star Trek (2009), even as I laughed incessantly at the murmurs that it might have made its way in to the Best Picture line-up that year.  I do worry for the newly rebuilt franchise in the mere mindbending reality that Abrams is new man in charge of Disney's Star Wars revamp.  More so than the somewhat amusing twist of the star wars of the franchises themselves, but what will become of Star Trek once Abrams has settled elsewhere?  Flares, everywhere flares!

Tired of the bombast?  This weekend also offers two counter-programming options with the limited releases of festivals favorites Frances Ha and Stories We TellFrances Ha is a black and white comedy from Noah Baumbach starring mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig which was was previously gushed about with hopeful expectation here, while Stories We Tell is a non-fiction film from director/writer/actress Sarah Polley...further gushing.

Also opening: The French offering Augustine, South Korea's entry for the 2012 Oscar race Pieta and the comedy Populaire starring Romain Duris and The Artist's Berenice Bejo.

MAY 24th

Memorial Day Weekend always promises huge returns and this year is no different with two long in the tooth franchise offerings as well as a big CG animated film.  The cleverly titled Fast & Furious 6 promises to thrill the imagination, and deliver what audiences truly crave in the third 2013 film to feature The Rock in as many months.  You can go ahead and have a triple feature of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Pain & Gain and Fast & Furious 6 to (and I'm no scientist) but likely achieve the same sensory effects as a night of binge drinking.  Suffice it say, the franchise now in its twelfth year of destroying cars and brain cells is in no way of shrinking.  2011's Fast Five became the biggest film in the series, and for merciful heavens, a seventh installment has already been given the green light.  Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return for another inconsequential mission involving such and such...

...but what will win the Memorial Day Weekend frenzy as The Hangover Part III will unveil as well as the gang return to Las Vegas in what is promised to be the last in series.  Good sport and already on to better things Bradley Cooper returns with Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis for more shenanigans in Todd Phillips now trilogy of excessive drinking and drug abuse.

Epic, the new animated film Chris Wedge (director of Ice Age) is May's only true family offering.  A story of a teenage girl who finds her shrunken and transported into a deep forest battle with funny looking creatures and such.  Amanda Seyfried, Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz and Beyonce are the vocal talents.

For those looking for substance amidst all are the car crashes and bong hits, Focus Features will release Alex Gibney's hot button documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.  The film, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, details the creation of Julian Assange's controversial website.  For those unfamiliar with Gibney's work, he is the Academy Award winning documentarian of Taxi to the Dark Side, Casino Jack & the United States of Money, Client 9: The Rise & Fall of Eliot Spitzer and the illuminating Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.  He recently directed the Catholic Church sex crimes documentary Mea Maxima Culpa and is firmly ingrained in the Michael Moore flash in the pants showboating, but in his case, typically picks fascinating topics to explore, ruminate and pointedly shit on.  Even if We Steal Secrets proves less than insightful, it should prove engaging.

Finally comes something I'm almost fearful to write too much about.  When it was announced that director Richard Linklater was continuing his cherished Before... chapter with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprising their roles as lost in love-mates Jesse and Celine, my heart skipped a beat.  When Before Midnight opened to rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, I was inconsolable in rapture.  But these films are special, and once a decade (or more accurately, nine years) wonders that are fragile, magical and like reuniting with lost friends.  I shutter to think to much about it...I just want to savor it.  Thankfully, Sony Pictures Classics seemingly has faith in it, to the point that they are releasing the latest on the mighty holiday weekend along side the bombast-- it was a strategy that worked nicely for the studio two years ago with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  Beyond that, I'm not linking to a trailer or anything further because I want to know as little as possible and just rekindle the spark with my old friends.  Can't wait!!!!

MAY 31st

The major studios will give you a chance to breathe the final week of May-- it might prove a good weekend to catch up on a sure to be expanding Before Midnight- just a thought!  However a few sparse, if noteworthy less blitzy movies will arrive on the scene.  Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans) directs Now You See Me is a slight of hand thriller with a bang up cast headed by Jessie Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fischer, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine.

Intriguing looking thriller The East will open in limited release from Sound of My Voice director Zal Batmanglij from a script by Batmanglij and co-star Brit Marling.  The anti-establishment drama unleashed a spooky trailer several months ago that interestingly teases with a premise of a anarchic cult terrorizing the one-percenters.  Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Patricia Clarkson round out the cast.  The film premiered at this years Sundance Film Festival where it earned good early notices.  Marling has made a specialized career for herself writing and starring in tiny oddities like Another Earth and Sound of My Voice.  Both of those films captured a severely limited audience and mixed critical reception but I feel deserve bonus points for their ambition, style and verve.  The East, on the outset, looks perhaps like a slightly more accessible and more brash melding of the ascetic previously worked on.

Also opening: Ethan Hawke's horror entry The Purge, the coming of age comedy The Kings of Comedy as well as the thriller Shadow Dancer starring Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker James Marsh.

What do you think of May's cinematic offerings?  Check back for more of my snark summer movie preview.

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