A Million Ways to Die in the West

Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Seth MacFarlane and Amanda Seyfried star in "A Million Ways to Die in the West." Lorey Sebastian/Courtesy photo


Summer movies: This, that and the other

By From page A1 | May 25, 2014

*Editor’s note: This is a complete version of Derrick Bang’s look at summer movies.

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 “The Grand Seduction”* — This droll Canadian comedy feels very much like the modest charmers that British directors have given us for years. The setting is Tickle Cove, a tiny harbor community (population: 120) that desperately needs to have a town doctor, in order to woo a factory. Ergo, a silver-tongued local (Brendan Gleeson) encourages all his neighbors to spin an increasingly wild series of lies in order to retain the services of a visiting young medic (Taylor Kitsch). “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 “Burt’s Buzz”* — Documentarian Jody Shapiro tells us everything we always wanted to know about the reclusive Burt Shavitz, the genius co-founder and face of Burt’s Bees, as he attempts to maintain a humble life while grappling with his ongoing fame. “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. “Words and Pictures” — Director Fred Schepisi helms an original script from veteran writer Gerald Di Pego, which finds Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche starring as (respectively) a flamboyant prep school English teacher and newbie art instructor. Romance isn’t the only thing in the air; their respective students also engage in a friendly battle to determine whether words or pictures are more powerful as communication tools. 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. “The Rover” — Aussie filmmaker David Michôd’s post-civilization response to the “Mad Max” series stars Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in the grim saga of a hardened loner who heads into the Outback in order to confront (read: murdelate) the skeeves and thugs who stole his beloved car. Violent, much? “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 “Snowpiercer”* — A happy little tale from South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong (“The Host,” “Mother”). In a post-apocalyptic world where almost all life on Earth perished, the few lucky (?) survivors live on the Snowpiercer, a lengthy train that travels around the frozen globe. Alas, the disenfranchised passengers in the rear decide they’re sick of getting sloppy seconds from the elites up front, and… “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. “Yves Saint Laurent”* — Jalil Lespert’s biopic stars Pierre Niney as the famed French designer, in a narrative that traces the late 1950s beginnings of his career to subsequent fortune and name-brand fame. Guillaume Gallienne co-stars as Laurent’s business partner and lover, Pierre Berge. July 11 “And So It Goes” — Director Rob Reiner’s new comedy stars Michael Douglas as Oren Little, a self-centered and thoroughly obnoxious Realtor who hasn’t the faintest idea what to do when his estranged son dumps a 9-year-old granddaughter in his lap. Oren’s solution: Place the kid into the hands of neighbor Diane Keaton. Somehow, I’ll bet the experience thaws Oren’s ice-cold heart. Whacha think? “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. “Life Itself”* — Documentarian Steve James assembled this loving tribute to Roger Ebert, the late film critic who helped revolutionize the way movies are marketed, enjoyed and discussed. James had impressive access to Ebert’s life and memorabilia, and the engaging saga is punctuated by the critic’s friends, colleagues and widow, Chaz. “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. “Mood Indigo”* — Eclectic filmmaker Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Science of Sleep”) teams with French star Audrey Tautou, for this unusual (!) tale about a wealthy Parisian bachelor who falls in love with a captivating woman. Alas, their budding romance turns weird when she succumbs to a mysterious illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs. “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 “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” — One for gore-hounds. The flesh-eating virus that caused so much trouble in this franchise’s first two entries rises anew, this time infecting a group of friends on a bachelor cruise in the Caribbean. (Goodness; what is Sean Astin doing in swill like this?) “Child of God”* — Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel comes to the big screen, with director/co-scripter James Franco also starring as the violent young Tennessee outcast whose effort to live off the social grid turns him into an increasingly depraved animal. In other words, the usual cheery McCarthy narrative. “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. “What If”* — Daniel Radcliffe certainly likes to try new things. Here he plays a medical school dropout who falls in love with an animator (Zoe Kazan, who lit the world on fire with “Ruby Sparks”), but, sadly, she already has a boyfriend. This fractured romantic comedy originally was titled “The F Word,” which perhaps says more than we needed to know… 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. “Love Is Strange”* — Filmmaker Ira Sachs, known for intriguing relationship dramas, unveils a saga ripped from modern headlines: As gay marriage becomes legal in New York, longtime companions John Lithgow and Alfred Molina tie the knot. Unfortunately, this public act results in the loss of employment and income, forcing the men to split up, sell their beloved apartment and seek cheaper housing. “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. Aug. 29 “The Congress”* — A Stanislaw Lem sci-fi novel suggested the bare bones of this odd blend of live action and animation, but director/script Ari Folman takes off in a direction that feels far more like Philip K. Dick. Struggling actress Robin Wright agrees to a most unusual deal: to have her likeness and thespic behavior digitized, to be preserved and subsequently used in all manner of future movies. “Life of Crime”* — Elmore Leonard’s “The Switch” serves as the basis for this larcenous comedy, with Jennifer Aniston starring as the kidnapped wife of rapacious real-estate developer Tim Robbins. Trouble is, he refuses to pay the ransom, which leads to all sorts of complications, double- and triple-crosses. “One Chance” — We’ve been waiting for this one for awhile; it was scheduled for the 2013 holiday season. James Corden stars in this fact-based saga of Britain’s Paul Potts, a bullied misfit who grew up being mercilessly teased for his fondness for opera, and who, as an adult, went public with his “hobby” by singing in amateur talent contests, much to his ongoing humiliation. Then he seized an opportunity to try out for a new TV series titled “Britain’s Got Talent.” Maybe it’ll actually get released this time?! — Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this article at www.davisenterprise.com

Derrick Bang

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