Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Summer Movies 2014: This, that and the other (short version)

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May 21, 2014 |

Editor’s note: The following is a shortened list of Derrick Bang’s look at summer films. For a complete list, visit DavisEnterprise.com.

By Derrick Bang

Enterprise film critic

I got a bad feeling about this summer’s movies, after witnessing the clumsy way Godzilla stomped through his new big-screen adventure. Adam Sandler’s “Blended” did little to assuage these fears, nor did Jon Hamm’s unlikable lead performance in Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm.”

Judging by some of the subsequent titles, my concern seems justified. And then some.

A sequel to “21 Jump Street”? Yet another “Transformers” epic? Another entry in the geezer “Expendables” series, and the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Seriously?

OK, so the news isn’t entirely bad. I can’t entirely fault a summer season that offers a new Woody Allen film, and what sounds like a fresh charmer from Helen Mirren, and an edgy two-hander by director Roman Polanski, and a new romantic ballad from the filmmaker who brought us “Once.” All is not lost.

We also can take comfort in a few serious dramas, along with faithful adaptations of several popular young-adult novels. Although I do have a question about the latter: Is it just me, or has this genre — likely in the wake of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” — become really, really depressing?

All that aside, variety definitely is the spice of life, with this upcoming summer cinema season. Whatever your taste, you’ll be intrigued by at least a few entries on this list.

Sadly, though, many of the indie/arthouse/foreign titles below don’t yet have playdates in our Sacramento Valley. I’ve marked them with an asterisk (*); if they don’t turn up here in the next few months, keep an eye out for them later in the year. Or, failing that, on home video.

Onward!

May 30

“Maleficent” — If Elphaba can be re-imagined in the stage play “Wicked,” then surely Disney can do the same with the evil witch in “Sleeping Beauty,” right? Well … maybe. No doubt Angelina Jolie will be marvelously malevolent in the title role, and Elle Fanning seems a solid choice for Princess Aurora. But previews make this look less like “Sleeping Beauty,” and more like Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” — Director/co-scripter Seth MacFarlane attempts to out-do Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” in this Western spoof, which finds a cowardly farmer (also MacFarlane) forced to face a notorious gunfighter (Liam Neeson) after unwisely falling for the man’s wife (Charlize Theron).

June 6

“Edge of Tomorrow” — A high-concept sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day.” Tom Cruise stars in this opulent adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, “All You Need Is Kill,” as a ground-based soldier who gets caught in a time loop during the last day of his battle against Earth-invading aliens. Our hero becomes more adept each time he cycles through the same scenario … but to what end?

“The Fault in Our Stars”The can’t-miss summer romance, as far as tween readers are concerned. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star as Hazel Grace and Augustus, the young protagonists of John Green’s popular young adult novel, who meet at a cancer support group and embark on what surely seems a doomed relationship. Expect to bawl all the way through.

June 13

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” — Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and the entire voice cast return for this new adventure, as Hiccup and Toothless uncover a hitherto hidden realm of wild dragons and riders: fresh enemies who threaten everything back home, on the island of Berk. Dean DeBlois is once again directing and scripting, so we can hope…

“22 Jump Street” — Like, the first one wasn’t bad enough? Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as hapless cops Schmidt and Jenko, who, having endured a second round of high school hijinks, now find themselves planted undercover at a local college. God, give me strength…

June 20

“Jersey Boys” — The popular jukebox musical comes to the big screen under the guiding hand of director Clint Eastwood, with original stage book authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice on board as scripters. A fresh young cast essays the title roles in this music-laced depiction of the rise, success and bickering-laden fall of the 1960s rock group, The Four Seasons. In our post-“Glee” universe, this should be a solid hit.

“Third Person”* — Writer/director Paul Haggis (“Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby”) uncorks another interlocking narrative, this one concerning three couples in three cities: New York, Paris and Rome. The high-power cast includes Liam Neeson, Kim Basinger, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Adrien Brody.

June 27

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” — Big robots. A fresh cast (Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz). The usual dumb, noisy action from director Michael Bay. Hard to believe the world needs a fourth entry in this CGI-laden franchise, but one can’t blame Paramount for chasing those lovely worldwide box-office results. Even so … major yawn.

July 2

“Begin Again” — Irish writer/director John Carney, who brought us 2006’s charming “Once,” returns to the same milieu for this I’m-sure-it’ll-be-delightful saga of a frustrated music business exec (Mark Ruffalo) who meets and champions a fresh-faced singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) who hopes to make it in Manhattan.

“Tammy” — Another broad Melissa McCarthy vehicle, which features our favorite plus-size actress as a hard-luck gal who loses her job, dumps her unfaithful husband, and then embarks on a road trip with her hard-drinking, potty-mouthed grandmother (Susan Sarandon). The supporting cast is noteworthy — Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates — but McCarthy’s recent starring efforts have been a serious case of diminishing returns.

July 4

“Venus in Fur”* — Director Roman Polanski uncorks this intriguing adaptation of David Ives’ erotic, two-character stage play, about a determined actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) who attempts to persuade a director (Mathieu Amalric) that she’s absolutely perfect for his next project. Word is, this is one of Polanski’s best efforts yet.

July 11

“Boyhood”* — Writer/director Richard Linklater’s newest film is fascinating merely for the way it was put together, via a gimmick that bests Michael Apted’s “…Up” documentary series. “Boyhood” was filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same cast, allowing us to watch the life experience of young Ellar Coltrane as he literally grows up before our eyes.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — Back in the early 1970s, it became something of a joke (albeit a money-making one) when producer Arthur P. Jacobs released each new entry in the original “Planet of the Apes” series, ultimately tapping out at five. Well, here we go again, with the third installment of what began with Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the original, as Caesar and his genetically evolved ape companions face off against human foes, to determine which will become Earth’s dominant species.

“A Long Way Down”* — Nick Hornby’s books have turned into some great films, most notably “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy.” This may be one of the most darkly droll, with Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Sam Neill and Aaron Paul starring in the saga of various strangers who meet on a London roof on New Year’s Eve, each intending to commit suicide … and then mutually agree to abandon that plan. Temporarily, at least.

July 18

“Jupiter Ascending” — Still smarting from the underwhelming receptions to “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas,” Andy and Lana Wachowski return to mind-blowing sci-fi with this ambitious saga of an average young Earth woman (Mila Kunis) who, after being saved by space-faring bounty hunters, learns that she is intergalactic royalty … assuming she can live long enough to secure her birthright.

“Wish I Was Here”* — Director, co-writer and star Zach Braff crowd-funded this dramedy, which features him as a wannabe actor and ill-prepared father and husband. When circumstances force him to home-school his two children, the experience proves transformational. (Doesn’t it always?)

July 25

“Hercules” — Thud and blunder time again, with Dwayne Johnson starring in director Brett Ratner’s action-oriented nod toward classic myth. Having completed his famous “12 labors,” ol’ Herc gathers a band of mercenaries in order to stop a civil war and return the rightful king of Thrace to his throne. Could this possibly be anything but a joke?

“Magic in the Moonlight”* — As always is the case with a new Woody Allen film, little is known beyond the cast, which includes Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden and Hamish Linklater. The story, set in the 1920s, concerns an Englishman (Firth) who is summoned to expose a possible swindle in the South of France.

“A Most Wanted Man”* — Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final completed film, based on John Le Carré’s best-seller and ripped from today’s terrorist-laden headlines, concerns a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who hits German and American intelligence radar when he shows up in Hamburg’s Islamic community, insisting that he should inherit his father’s shady fortune.

“Sex Tape” — Married couple Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz, looking to put some spice back into their relationship, make a sex tape of themselves … and then accidentally send it to friends and family members. Can they erase every copy before it gets viewed by the recipients? Director Jake Kasdan (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” “Bad Teacher”) goes for vulgar, lowest-common-denominator humor, and this should fit that bill.

Aug. 1

“Guardians of the Galaxy” — The next phase of the inter-connected Marvel Comics projects features a lesser-known team of galactic criminals and misfits led by American space pilot Chris Pratt, wanted for having stolen a precious item desired by bad guy Lee Pace. All eyes are on the non-human characters, notably the hulking Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Done properly, this should be a lot of fun.

Aug. 8

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” — Director Lasse Hallström (“The Cider House Rules,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) helms this adaptation of Richard C. Morais’ droll novel, which concerns an Indian family that moves to France and establishes a restaurant directly across from a Michelin-starred establishment run by Helen Mirren. Can’t wait.

“Lucy” — French action filmmaker Luc Besson, returning to the roots he established so well with “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional,” stars Scarlett Johansson in this vengeance-laden saga of a drug mule who accidentally absorbs some of the contraband, only to discover that she has “evolved” into an enhanced warrior determined to get back at her captors. Should be very, very violent.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” — Like, all the other animated and live-action versions weren’t enough? (Sigh.) When New York City is caught in the embrace of Shredder and his malevolent Foot Clan, salvation rests with the outcast Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello … with an assist from “fearless reporter” Megan Fox. Whose presence in this project, I hasten to add, is not a good thing.

Aug. 15

“The Expendables 3” — Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and the others are back, this time to wage war against a former team mate (Mel Gibson) who has turned into a very, very bad guy. (Sounds like type-casting, right?) Additional cameos are reported to come from Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer.

“The Giver” — Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning 1993 children’s book is brought to the big screen by director Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American,” “Salt”), with Brenton Thwaites starring as Jonas, the young man selected to become the “Receiver of Memory” in a futuristic, seemingly utopian society that has eliminated pain and strife by diminishing human emotion.

Aug. 22

“If I Stay” — Gayle Forman’s 2009 young adult novel, adapted by director R.J. Cutler and scripter Shauna Cross, features Chloë Grace Moretz as a young woman whose promising musical career at Juilliard is shattered by a horrific car accident. Now in an out-of-body experience, hovering over her hospitalized, comatose self, she must decide whether to fight for survival, or surrender to whatever the afterlife offers.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”Finally, the long-awaited sequel to the audacious 2005 adaptation of graphic novelist Frank Miller’s ambitious series. Miller and Robert Rodriguez co-direct, as they did before, with the action again taking place via a lurid blend of live action and red-hued animation. The massive cast includes Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and lots, lots more.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this article at www.davisenterprise.com

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