Friday, May 1, 2015

A Look at Summer 2015

After four months, it seems that there's no chance for 2015 to match up with the amazing track record or top quality of 2014's output of movies. We have already begrudgingly lived through a season of okay to terrible films, with each one often receiving a limp reception and poor low box office returns. Sure, there are some films that are genuinely good and/or made over $100 million here in the States but nothing that comes close to the bliss delivered last year by the likes of The Lego Movie. Will the next season be any different?

Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the summer months of 2015.

May 1, the first weekend of summer, of course has to have a superhero movie in the prime position. Marvel will gladly wipe away the stain left over last year by Sony and will experience boffo business with the highly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, though I'm excited for the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the premiere appearances of comic book cyber-beings Ultron and Vision, I'm honestly a bit tired of it after a deluge of trailers, teasers, and extensive marketing. Heck, I may even forgo seeing it this weekend and do something else. For example, instead of possibly being numbed out by another CGI romping-stomping battle, I could finally see a dream boxing match played out live with a much more rowdier crowd. Since this movie will kill all major competition, only a couple of limitedly released films dare to come out alongside it. Far From The Madding Crowd is the pick of this liter, sure to bring in the British fiction lovers to the art theaters. The fourth adaptation of the famous Thomas Hardy novel and helmed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt), Cary Mulligan stars as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge play her would-be suitors. Welcome to Me is sure to lay a big egg, preferably from a paper-mache swan. Kristen Wiig is a great comedic actress but her indie comedies tend to be poison for general audiences (ex. Girl Most Likely). With a plot involving a self-financed cable show and Wiig's character being stricken with a personality disorder, this one looks to be another failure. Then, there's what I expect to win my award for Most Accurate Title of the Year: the Swedish comedy The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

May 8 has Hot Pursuit zooming into theaters. Reese Witherspoon stars as a pocket-sized police officer who's on the run with a federal witness (Sofia Vergara) from corrupt cops and drug cartel goons. Gee, I wonder if police captain John Carroll Lynch ends up being the bad guy? This movie has been exhaustingly promoted all over the place, despite the end product largely being destined to be a video rental at best. However, it will certainly draw in the female demo for the weekend and easily make back its $27 million budget. That's it for wide releases; except for Warner Bros., no one else dares to fight the second weekend of The Avengers 2. That just leaves us with the limited releases, which there are plenty of this weekend. Maggie is the much hyped zombie flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he plays a brooding father who must decide what to do with his soon-to-be-brain-eating daughter (Abigail Breslin). The D Train has Jack Black and James Marsden attending their high school reunion, which is sure to be disappointing in both the actual event and the movie itself. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is the second feature length documentary to focus on a Sesame Street performer. Let's just hope and pray Spinney doesn't experience a campaign of controversy post-release. 5 Flights Up will draw in the blue hairs, as Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton try to deal with their long-term marriage and selling their Brooklyn apartment. Speaking of Brooklyn, the documentary The Seven Five takes a look back at Michael Dowd and his group of corrupt cops as they proceeded to nick from drug dealers during the 80s.

May 15 gives us both our first major rated-R movie and the first sequel/reboot/whatever of an 80s property of the season. Mad Max: Fury Road has been promoted like a Zach Snyder film: visual pomp and circumstance, ballistic action, and little to no exposition of the story. Additionally, a severe shortage of Tom Hardy; I love Charlize Theron and her getting a lot attention in the adverts but the lack of Max is pretty baffling. Despite these misgivings, I'm anxiously awaiting for this to be a total blast. While the boys get to watch George Miller play with his old toys, the girls get to share the experience of watching Pitch Perfect 2. The first entry was a refreshing musical-comedy and made Anna Kendrick a true star with audiences. Unfortunately, even with Elizabeth Banks stepping into the director's chair, I expect this sequel to be a profitable disappointment, aka the next Legally Blonde 2. Banks, her crew and the returning cast really do need to go all out in order to break the curse of the comedy sequel. Of the limited releases, Good Kill is the one that stands out the most, largely due to its subject matter. Ethan Hawke stars as a soldier who slowly starts to unravel due to his day-to-day job as a drone operator. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, whose last film was the mega YA flop The Host. Also out: French crime drama The Connection has Jean Dujardin going against the same drug cartel that drove Popeye Doyle nuts; Animals follows a junkie couple as they spiral downward; and Blythe Danner gets to find elderly romance in I'l See You In My Dreams.

May 22 may produce a film to knock The Avengers 2 off its perch but both major releases are questionable at best. Poltergeist is the ill-deserved remake of the 1982 horror classic. The film's marketing has already spoiled all its re-imagined set pieces: the living clown doll, the famous television scene, and a lame take of the bathroom freakout. The scares being shown are more laughable than terrifying and even with its expected PG-13 rating, it will most likely be less gory than the original. Finally, it's directed by Gil Kenan (who?), the guy whose last film was 2008's City of Ember (huh?). The better alternative for the weekend should be Tomorrowland but I just can't get excited for it. Disney hasn't really played up anything from the picture other than its CGI money shots and I have the sneaking suspicion that the kids in the audience will be bored stiff by Brad Bird's adult-like look at sci-fi. Unless Space Mountain shows up at one point, I kinda expect this to be another live-action bomb for Disney. In limited release is what may possibly be the last ever animated film produced by Studio Ghibli, the melancholic ghost tale When Marnie Was There. I really hope the studio can still chug along but whatever lies in the future, I'll at least be sure to give this potential send-off a standing ovation. Shamelessly trying to cash in on the Magic Mike fever, Chocolate City has plenty of Black beefcake on display. The oft-putting rom-com Love at First Fight arrives from France after winning 3 awards at the Cesars, including Best Actress for Adèle Haenel's performance as a warrior-in-training looking to join the army. And for those who want something more extreme, the documentary Sunshine Superman looks at Carl Boenish and the creation of BASE jumping.

May 29 says hello to Aloha, the latest hipster cloy-fest from former acclaimed writer-director Cameron Crowe. Bradley Cooper stars as a hot-shot defense contractor who is sent off to Hawaii to survey the development of a new weapon, only to come into contact with a rookie Air Force pilot (Emma Stone) and a former flame (Rachel McAdams). From the overacting Alec Baldwin to the presence of another one of Crowe's manic pixie dream girls, I really have no hope of this being a fair feature. I rather lump myself in with the lunkheads and experience San Andreas, where Dwayne Johnson tries to rescue his family members from a deadly earthquake. Shockingly not visioned by Roland Emmerich (Brad Peyton is behind the wheel instead), it's just another case of disaster porn. Plus, the trailers already seem to give all of the best parts, as is often the case with action flicks these days. Heading into the indies: Results has Colbie Smulders and Guy Pearce as friendly personal trainers who get more than they bargained for with an unsociable millionaire (Kevin Corrigan). A product from this year's Sundance Film Festival, it earned some minor raves and shocked many filmgoers there due to it being directed by the guy who gave us Computer Chess and allowing Pearce to use his natural dialect. Barely Lethal allows child actor Hailee Steinfield to be in the lead role again but it's plot of a teenage assassin faking her death in order to experience high school is really shallow. And Gemma Arterton stars as Gemma Bovery, a peculiarly named Englishwoman who moves into the same town set in Gustave Flaubert's famous novel Madame Bovary and who slowly begins to follow the same path as the tragic heroine.

June 3 is the first Wednesday premiere of the summer. You would think that this prime slot would go to a major blockbuster or a top grade property. No and no. Instead, Warner Bros. gives us Entourage, the concluding chapter to the HBO television series that went on forever, produced nothing of true worth, and left a sour aftertaste with nearly everybody. Unless you are a total bro and have been waiting for four years now for the continuing adventures of an untalented actor and his loser friends, steer clear.

June 5 continues the streak of questionable fare. Insidious: Chapter 3 identifies itself as the second sequel of the horror franchise but is actually a prequel to the original film. Why didn't they just call it Chapter 0? Comic book companies and Japanese video game developers do that all the time. Anyway, confusing titling aside, screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell takes over from his friend James Wan as director this time around, spinning the same ole story of a child being haunted by supernatural entities and Lin Shaye's Elise Rainier being one of the few who can stop it. I was fooled by Chapter 2 and I refuse to be fooled again with this one. The expected winner of the weekend, Spy reunites writer-director Paul Feig with Melissa McCarthy for an espionage farce. Sans a female co-star here, McCarthy headlines as a CIA desk worker turned operative after her fellow spies are all compromised. I believe that McCarthy can make the material work and bring some warmth to it but the marketing for this film has been truly icky, constantly pushing out fat jokes and showcasing the star in an ugly American outfit. The lineup of limited releases are headlined by two music biopics. Love & Mercy recounts the artistic triumphs and painful personal life of Brian Wilson, dually played here by Paul Dano and John Cusack. It also goes the The Theory of Everything route of storytelling, balancing out Wilson's musical history with how he met his future second wife Melissa (Elizabeth Banks) and the arduous struggle to remove Wilson from the grasp of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Meanwhile for latin music fans, Gloria, the Gloria Trevi film previously set to come out in February, finally has its turn in the spotlight.

June 12 is another one-movie-weekend, as Jurassic World gets to open to a rapturous public. Unlike many cynics and people who were spurned by the lackluster non-Spielberg sequels, I actually think this kooky sci-fi action will be a nice throwback to the Michael Crichton age of blockbusters. Plus I like to see more Chris Pratt movies. If you balk at Hollywood films and rather indulge on the art and indie, you too get a big treat this weekend as the two U.S. Grand Jury Prize winners of this year's Sundance premiere. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was the talk of the festival, with its requisite indie film tropes and cinephile baiting, but I'm still not convinced. I still stick to my word for now that it will end up being another Spitfire Grill. I rather by shocked and moved by The Wolfpack, a documentary on how a large group of siblings were locked inside a NYC apartment by their strict father and could only find solace through movies.

June 19 allows us to ingest Inside Out. It's been over two years since Pixar released a brand new feature and it has been getting quite a shellacking before and since then. Disney Animation has been reborn with colossal successes while Pixar's "sequels only" strategy lead to poorer receptions and heavy criticism. This original and colorful take on the emotions of a human being could be their ticket out of Disney's doghouse. Many commenters have already theorized what will happen in the story from its trailer (spoiler: the human family may become smaller) and expect this feature to tap into the same poignant themes that once made a Pixar film a soothing treat for the soul. From Sundance to its surprisingly wide release this weekend by Open Road Films, Dope could be the sleeper hit of the summer. Relishing both the modern internet age and the nostalgic feel of the 90's, the film follows a geeky African-American teenager as he tries to survive in the toughest section of L.A. after a wild night at a drug dealer's party. Several more Sundance films come out as well but to smaller markets: The Overnight has Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling spending the night with new neighbor Jason Schwarztman; Infinitely Polar Bear allows Mark Ruffalo to have another acclaimed role as a struggling father trying to take care of his two daughters after a mental breakdown; and The Tribe, a distressing, hard-to-watch, possibly misogynistic Ukrainian film about a deaf-mute teenager in a boarding school. Then, there's The 11th Hour. Dear lord, you need to at least check out the trailer for this Kim Basinger thriller because it's hopped up on goofballs. It features a CGI ghostly vision talking in Basinger's ear, a baby-stealing little person, and an evil prostitution ring.

June 26 doesn't really offer up anything substantial other than audience bait. Ted 2 continues the adventures of the talking teddy bear as he's now trying to have a baby through dubious means and prove to the Boston court that he's a true human. The main reasons why I think this will be a disaster: Seth MacFarlane wasted all of his good will with his awful western last year, the removal of Mila Kunis, and the fact that the trailer shows that MacFarlane is just reusing all of his old jokes. While that movie will play for the raunch hounds, Max will have plenty of families packed into its seats. Not to be confused with the 2002 movie about Adolf Hitler's brief art career, the simple-named flick is a simple tale of an angst-ridden teen taking care of the PTSD-suffering canine Marine of his late soldier brother. The movie literally goes full-on "Lassie Mode" in its last act, as the two buddies battle evil army vets. So cheesy, I might have a heart attack. The Outskirts also receives a wide opening yet no media has been released for it. It's just another below average teen movie where the female nerds get back at the mean girls plaguing their school. Just wait for its eventual premiere on ABC Family, if ever it comes out. The two most interesting limited releases of the weekend are Big Game, a cult film wannabe where President Samuel L. Jackson teams up with a young Finnish hunter to fight off terrorists, and Batkid Begins, a fluffy documentary on the most famous Make-a-Wish project ever.

July 1 is the big movie premiere date for the Fourth of July weekend and for the first time I can remember, the female-appealing film is far and away more intriguing than the requisite male-driven blockbuster. Magic Mike XXL has Channing Tatum returning to his popular role as the titular stripper god. Missing the rush of performing, he embarks on a trip to Myrtle Beach for a convention of strippers. The trailer was a mega-hit online and on the talk shows, often playing nearly every day for a week. Steven Soderbergh isn't directing this sequel but quite frankly, none of the female viewers really care about this detail. So while the women get to enjoy their female gaze for once, the men instead have to chew on one of the most least anticipated movies of the summer. Terminator Genisys has been the butt of many jokes since its inception and title reveal. The time-traveling nonsense, B-movie level casting, the presence of a much older Schwarzenegger, and the fact that the franchise doesn't really resonant with modern audiences has Paramount and Skydance quaking in their boots. It may do very well in the international markets but here in the States, it needs to be a really great picture in order to be in the black.

July 10 will be ruled over by Minions. The true stars of the Despicable Me films and beloved by children across the globe, the cute yellow creatures get their time to shine with an origin story. Unfortunately, Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment don't have faith in an animated tale done completely in the gibberish language of the Minions so Sandra Bullock is thrown into the picture as as a Gru stand-in, here named Scarlet Overkill. The Gallows is a, oh no, found footage horror movie where a group of teens are terrorized by the curse of Macbeth. Seriously, the characters try to put on a show in order to pay tribute to a local theater tragedy, only to experience the same result. Will most likely flop and not even play well in Peoria. Self/Less may have Tarsem Singh as its director but the sci-fi mind bender of Ben Kingsley implanting his soul into the body of Ryan Reynolds looks very boring. The Bronze, which was ruthlessly booed at Sundance this year, may find its audience in its limitedly released run starting this weekend but the only podium I see it standing on is the "Dog of the Week".

July 17 finally lets everyone get a chance to put Ant-Man under the microscope. Many hardcore nerds are still angry from the sour exit of Edgar Wright but Marvel has been trying their hardest to spin the support for it. Meanwhile, Trainwreck has been getting bigger and more positive notices from the media largely due to the recent popularity of its star/co-screenwriter Amy Schumer. The long-time stand-up comedian has a chance to be the breakout star of the year with this Judd Apatow feature; having the story be partially based on her own life also helps. Woody Allen churns out another one of his romantic dramedies with Irrational Man, given a limited release this weekend before its eventual expansion in the weeks to come. Famed documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer follows up his widely acclaimed film The Act of Killing with its sequel, The Look of Silence. Already a festival favorite, the sobering doc continues the examination of the Indonesia genocide through personal accounts. And Ian McKellen re-teams with his Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon for Mr. Holmes, a somber look at the legendary sleuth during his dying days.

July 24 will have teenage girls flocking in full force, as Paper Towns comes to theaters. Adapted from a book by John Green (The Fault In Our Stars), the film has Ira Wolff spending a fruitful night with childhood crush Cara Delevingne, only for her to go missing the next day, leaving a handful of breadcrumbs for him to solve the mystery. I really don't get the appeal of this story, as I find it really, really shallow and stupid. The poster further doesn't help matters; how can I take this movie seriously when Wolff has a dumb blank expression and the art design makes me think of Get Smart? I may instead go see Pixels and feel really, really bad about myself. Adapted from a short that went viral, Adam Sandler and his comedic cronies must save the world from an alien invasion of 8-bit arcade characters. I don't expect it to be any good but the video game aspect is way too tempting. Jake Gyllenhaal went total method for Southpaw, a boxing drama devised by Kurt Sutter. Looks interesting but the trailer spoils the entire plot. In limited markets, The Vatican Tapes is, you guessed it, a found footage horror movie directed by Mark Neveldine of Neveldine/Taylor fame. Even if it was renamed to "The Devil Inside 2", no one will go see it. Strangely, the movie is listed in some places as having a running time of 68 minutes! Also, there's Smosh: The Movie. Yep, those two guys who have been YouTube-popular since 2005 finally have a feature film, one that is surprisingly being back by Lionsgate. Too bad that it was written by the guy who created the bro-tastic Blue Mountain State and features a plot ripped straight out of Road Trip.

July 29 has just been marked on the calendar as the premiere date for a new movie. Vacation, a modern remake of the classic road comedy, swaps out the prickly Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo for the more likable Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, though Helms himself is actually playing the grown-up Rusty. The film is being directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the two men I stupidly gave the Best Screenplay award to one year, only for them to return to the big screen with an absolutely dreadful film that no one thankfully bothered to check out.

July 31 is the weekend where Guardians of the Galaxy started its impressive march last year. Taking over it this year will be Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. I can't really say anything for or against this movie; I've not seen any of the sequels beyond the second and I just don't really care for the further adventures of Ethan Hunt and his spy crew. Having Christopher Quarrie as its director is an interesting development though. Aussie actor Joel Edgerton steps in front and behind the camera with The Gift, a basic thriller where he terrorizes his former high school chum Jason Bateman and his wife Rebecca Hall. In the documentary department: Best of Enemies looks at the intense televised relationship between conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal, while A LEGO Brickumentary (former known as Beyond the Brick) finally comes out to show us the power of the popular Danish toy. Also, looking to start awards talk, Sundance favorite The End of the Tour looks at the brief friendship between author David Foster Wallace (Jason Siegel) and journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg).

August 7, ugh, gives us Fantastic Four. Dogged by its casting decisions, lack of production details, ponderous teaser trailer and marketing missteps, the film could be this year's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in that it will earn a lot of money despite horrendous reviews. Or, director Josh Trank can ultimately make this no-star reboot a bonafide success, thus allowing 20th Century Fox to retain its rights to the Marvel characters. We will just have to wait until the first notices hit the web and all of the nerd rage is unleashed. Masterminds is the ultra-forgettable comedy of the month, as Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, and Owen Wilson plan a $17 million bank heist. Ricki and the Flash might have a stupid title but it's written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jonathan Demme. Plus, it has two big gimmicks: Meryl Streep playing an aging rockstar and a tale where she wants to reconcile with her estranged daughter, played by Streep's real-life daughter Mamie Gummer. Getting a big push into wide release by Lionsgate surprisingly is Shaun the Sheep Movie. Stop-motion animated films sadly don't do well at the American box office but considering the lack of animation this season, the glowing acclaim of the film abroad, and the popularity of the clay character, Lionsgate is willing to risk it. The art theaters only have two features this weekend, both based on books: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, and Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, based on the titular book. The latter film is a bit troubling for myself, as it features no voice actor in the cast of Arab descent.

August 14 has Guy Ritchie reviving another old property with The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. This modern take has Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illyan Kuryakin, as they go on some frivolous mission. Neither actor can draw a crowd so the marketing has chiefly focused all on the sheer amount of old-school style and sexiness Ritchie brings to it. Even with this approach, I don't see it paying off its $75 million budget. I'm more looking forward to Straight Outta Compton, a biopic of the groundbreaking gangsta rap group N.W.A. I'm crossing my fingers super-hard that Universal Studios doesn't get cold feet and push the release date, given the current new stories and the film's intensive look at the group's controversial single "Fuck the Police". And then, there's Underdogs. I am so tired talking about this film that I give up. It has no chance of doing well.

August 21 delivers Sinister 2. This time around, a mother and her twin boys are the ones to be haunted by Bughuul and his collection of 8mm films. I like seeing Shannyn Sossamon in big movies again but this ho-hum sequel will quickly disappear from everyone's attention span. It's only wide-release competition is American Ultra, an action-comedy written by Max Landis (Chronicle, Wrestling Isn't Wrestling). Here, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart get to re-enact the final act of The Guest, as a shadow group piledrives into a small little town in order to capture Eisenberg. The only indie making any waves so far is Learning to Drive, a pacifying dramedy where Patricia Clarkson tries to move on from a divorce by driving around NYC with Indian instructor Ben Kingsley.

August 28 ends the season, as per usual, with a bunch of duds. Hitman: Agent 47 is the unwanted sequel/reboot of the semi-popular video game franchise, with Rupert Friend stepping in for Timothy Olyphant as the titular assassin. With its unknown director and allowing Skip Woods to remain on as a screenwriter, no one will be walking away from this feature happy. Regression is a cookie-cutter thriller from Alejandro Amenábar (Abre Los Ojos, The Others). Starring Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson, its plot of a police detective investigating a strange cult makes it well suited for a Redbox movie, not as a widely released film. There's also something called We Are Your Friends, where Zac Efron tries to woo Emily Ratajkowski and become a L.A. DJ. Prepare for a ton of dubstep and plenty of wub-wubs. And finally, after a year of dreadful Christian films and rapidly diminishing returns, War Room is being buried away here. Brought to us by the crappy Christian auteur Alex Kendrick, the film looks to feature multiple stories, all crescendoing with all of their participants becoming warriors of God. I'm not kidding.

My Top Picks of Summer 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Jurassic World
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
4. Trainwreck
5. Inside Out
6. Straight Outta Compton
7. Dope
8. When Marnie Was There
9. Ant-Man
10. Minions

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly had a hard time determining their release time frame. Also, there is a possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed.

I hope your movie experiences will be as good as mine, but probably less cynical.

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