SN&R's summer-movie preview: Not just a season of the hits
Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane share their most anticipated summer films, from major blockbusters to sleeper indies
Ever since the late 1970s, summer movies have been inextricably linked with the Hollywood blockbuster. It is the season of big movies, big budgets and big stars; a time for mindless and monolithic films whose script flaws often vaporize under the euphoric blast of industrial-grade air-conditioning. However, it is also a time for shrewd indie counterprogramming—in 2013, Before Midnight, Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, The Grandmaster, Stories We Tell and 20 Feet From Stardom all debuted in Sacramento between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In that spirit of balance, SN&R film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane have each selected their six most anticipated films: their three “big” ones first, followed by three “small” flicks. Save up that popcorn money—all are due in theaters sometime during this stretch of hot-weather months between the holidays.Ambitious, brainy and flatulently self-indulgent
Guardians of the Galaxy: Perhaps it’s a bad sign that a movie produced by the increasingly formulaic Marvel Studios made my list, and certainly the summer 2014 release slate shows no shortage of sequels to movies I hated on the first go-round. Of course, I never would have believed that something called The Lego Movie would be one of my favorite films of the year so far, and that picture’s irreplaceable vocal lead Chris Pratt stars in corporeal form here. Bonus points: Guardians of the Galaxy is the only film of the summer to feature a machine-gun-wielding CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper (August 1).
Jupiter Ascending: Even at their most flatulently self-indulgent, Lana and Andy Wachowski make my kind of effects-driven blockbusters—ambitious and philosophical explosion factories that are simultaneously heady and brainless. I was one of the few people more gassed than annoyed by their heedlessly insane, three-hour co-adaptation of Cloud Atlas, and this space opera starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis appears to offer another helping of that film’s sublimely twisted mumbo jumbo (July 18).
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: A sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s groundbreaking Sin City has seemingly been promised every year since the original became a surprise 2005 hit, but this time, it is not a drill. I was a fan of the original’s highly stylized graphic-novel visuals and blithe nihilism, but Rodriguez’s career has been on a slow slide ever since, and the sudden delivery of this long-delayed sequel to his career high point comes off as slightly desperate. Still, with returning cast members like Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, and Jessica Alba joined by intriguing Rodriguez newcomers like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin and Eva Green, I can’t wait to find out for myself (August 22).
Boyhood: Richard Linklater’s decade-plus-in-the-making, literal coming-of-age story is not only the most anticipated film of the summer, but also the season’s most fascinating social experiment. An actual record of a child’s physical and emotional growth told in episodic narrative form, Boyhood was shot with the same actors over the course of 12 years. It could be The 400 Blows by way of the Michael Apted Up documentaries in the form of a humane Linklaterian gabfest. Say no more! (July 11.)
The Rover: It has already been four years since David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom anointed him as one of the most promising filmmakers of the decade, and The Rover is his long-awaited follow-up. The trailer makes the film out to be a throwback Australian outback revenger, a more refined take on Wake in Fright with shades of Mad Max, but I have also seen The Rover tantalizingly categorized as science fiction (June 20).
The Immigrant: This is my obligatory hope-and-a-prayer pick, since this turn-of-the-century epic starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix has no set Sacramento release date. However, this apparent riff on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America from perpetually promising director James Gray (Two Lovers) is already playing to raves in New York City and Los Angeles, so there’s a chance it will make its Sacramento debut in a theater instead of via a video-on-demand platform. This spot could also have gone to Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer or Life Itself, the Steve James documentary about Roger Ebert (no scheduled opening date).—D.B.
Bad fairies, aliens and Meryl Streep
Maleficent: I’m looking forward to this one not because I expect it to be good, necessarily—I’m not sure what to expect on that score—but because I’m curious. This penchant for telling old tales from the villain’s side is a stunt that dates back at least to Jane Smiley’s 1991 novel A Thousand Acres (which retold King Lear), and reached its apex with the contemporary Broadway smash Wicked. Disney’s telling of the backstory of the bad fairy from Sleeping Beauty sounds like a clever way to steal a march on the long-rumored movie adaptation of Wicked (albeit without songs). Besides, Angelina Jolie is perfect casting (May 30).
Edge of Tomorrow: Tom Cruise plays a soldier battling invading aliens, who is caught in a time warp that sends him out to fight and be killed over and over again, learning from his mistakes and gradually becoming a better warrior. It’s a high concept reminiscent of both Groundhog Day and Algis Budrys’ classic sci-fi novel Rogue Moon. Toss in Emily Blunt, director Doug Liman and writer Christopher McQuarrie, and this one just might have some IQ to go with the CGI (June 6).
Jersey Boys: I’m curious about this one, too. Will the actors playing the Four Seasons do their own singing (as those in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical did), or will they lip-sync to the group’s actual records? Either way, this promises to be a hip update of the showbiz biopics of the past. I’m also curious to see how director Clint Eastwood translates the hypertheatrical stage show to the screen. And let’s give Eastwood credit: At 83, he’s entitled to rest on his laurels, but he’s still willing to try new stuff (June 20).
A Million Ways to Die in the West: Could this be Blazing Saddles for the 21st century? Writer-director Seth MacFarlane just might be the guy to pull it off. While there are no comic geniuses in the order of Gene Wilder or Madeline Kahn, the cast does have possibilities: Amanda Seyfried, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Christopher Lloyd, Giovanni Ribisi and MacFarlane himself—plus, it’s said, a wagonload of star cameos (May 30).
Wish I Was Here: Scrubs star Zach Braff made a worthy debut as writer-director with Garden State. That was 10 years ago—which suggests that he doesn’t do this sort of thing unless he has something he wants to say. This time (co-writing with his brother Adam J. Braff), Braff plays a struggling actor who decides to homeschool his two kids when his father (Mandy Patinkin) stops paying for their private school tuition. Now there’s an intriguing premise: If you’re 35 and Daddy’s been paying for your kids’ education, who’s the real child here? Josh Gad, Kate Hudson and Braff’s Scrubs crony Donald Faison co-star (July 25).
The Giver: Yet another movie from a young readers’ novel about the plight of an adolescent in a dystopian future—except that Lois Lowry’s 1993 book, for all its awards, wasn’t quite the blockbuster that The Hunger Games and Divergent have been, so the movie probably won’t be, either. Still, with Philip Noyce directing and Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep headlining, it may surprise us at the box office. There’s one yellow flag, though: The 11-year-old hero is played by Brenton Thwaites, who is 24 (August 15).—J.L.