Summer Movie Preview: May 2011

We’re back with the summer movie preview, a weekend-by-weekend breakdown of all the movies coming out this summer. I figured out a better way of working these previews out—instead of killing myself trying to crank out all this stuff at once (and probably you, trying to read it), I’ll be posting the breakdowns once a month, the week before each month begins (i.e., the May preview posting before the first weekend of May, and so on). Better, yeah?

Buckle up, kids, this is a very busy summer.

May 6

An Invisible Sign

I’m a little bummed out that all signs (ha, pun) point to this being a not-good movie, since it’s based on a novel by my former (and one of my favorite) writing professor, Aimee Bender’s An Invisible Sign of My Own. Jessica Alba stars as Mona Gray, a math prodigy and general oddball who is an elementary math teacher. 1) Alba is a terrible actress so I don’t trust her to carry this story, 2) I don’t buy Alba as a math prodigy OR an oddball. Though awesome character actor JK Simmons (Juno, Spider-Man) also stars, I have hated that Alba got cast since 2008, when it happened. This is a great book, but it was adapted by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis, the team responsible for inflicting The Wedding Planner on us. Bad writers + bad actress = bad movie. Bummed. Out.

The Beaver

The sad thing about The Beaver, is that it actually looks like it’s probably pretty good Strike that—it’s terrible. The Beaver blows chunks. The premise is silly—depressed middle-aged man (Gibson) goes nuts and starts using a beaver puppet to talk for him—yet director Jodie Foster does find pockets of sympathy here and there. But it’s not enough to save The Beaver from its own ludicrousness, or the permanent double-entendre that is Gibson’s performance. Charming young actors Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) are wasted amid the rampant stupidness of this movie, and the adroitly serious performances by their older counterparts, Gibson and Foster crush whatever charisma they bring to the screen. With a lighter touch (and a different leading man) The Beaver could’ve been something interesting, even special. Unfortunately, it’s too heavy handed and despite Gibson giving a good performance, it’s too much like watching him unravel again to be enjoyable. Am disappointed in Foster. This was a misstep all the way around.

Caterpillar

This is a Japanese arthouse import that won’t reach much further than its initial limited platform. Caterpillar revolves around Lieutenant Kurokawa, a decorated veteran of the Second Sino-Japanese War. He returns home a hero, and also a multiple amputee. With no arms and legs, Kurokawa’s wife must care for him. Sounds kinda depressing but reviews are generally positive. If you’re an arthouse junkie, it might be worth a look.

Daydream Nation

I want to like Kat Dennings (Thor, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) yet I can’t quite get on board with her. And after the horrors of Nick and Norah, I’m even less inclined to deal with Dennings in Daydream Nation. She stars as Caroline, a high school student that gets in the center of a triangle with the class stoner (Reece Thompson, some TV guy) and her teacher (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama). Sounds kinda meh but I do like Lucas and I know I should like Dennings. I’ll get around to it eventually. Just not this summer.

Forks Over Knives

This documentary posits that we’re unhealthier than ever despite all our medical and technological advances, and that the trend can be reversed if we’d all just be all-organic vegans. Um, no thanks. I like my burgers and steaks, thanks. While I think we could all eat healthier, I have zero desire to be a vegan. That’s miserable. Also, this documentary is apparently based on The China Study, a low-cholesterol vegan diet which is controversial and heavily debated. You can decide if this is for you, but I don’t like documentaries that try to convince me of things. Just lay out the facts, philosophies and arguments and let me decide. Don’t preach. Especially when it involves not eating delicious, delicious meat.

Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of To Kill a Mockingbird, first time writer-director Mary Murphy examines the history of one of the greatest novels in the American canon. Harper Lee never wrote a second novel nor gave an interview after 1964. Using interviews, Murphy traces the impact of Mockingbird and Lee, including her virtual disappearing act. I’m not sure I’m going to run out to theaters to see this, but I will definitely get around to it eventually.

Hobo with a Shotgun

Rutger Hauer stars as a hobo who has a shotgun. Why do you need to know anything else?

I’m Not Jesus Mommy

Speaking of preachy…I’m Not Jesus Mommy is basically the worst-case scenario for cloning. Using blood from the Shroud of Turin (because of course, people are just scraping up the Shroud for cloning purposes), a boy is cloned and is raised as the son of a cancer survivor desperate for a child. Though cloned from (allegedly) holy DNA, after he’s born (hatched?), natural disasters and plagues begin afflicting the earth. So obviously you know where this is going. If I want to see a movie about a creepy kid with religious overtones, I’ll just watch The Omen.

Jumping the Broom

I’m not sure this movie is actually any better than Something Borrowed, but in a battle of trailers, Jumping the Broom displays a lot more charm. Jason (Laz Alonso, Avatar) and Sabrina (Paula Patton, Precious) are in a hurry to get married before Sabrina is transferred to China. The rushed nature of their nuptials, however, doesn’t allow much time for their families to get to know one another. Sabrina is from a wealthy family with a convenient Martha’s Vineyard estate, and Jason is from a working-class family that has some reverse-snobbery working for them. The families fight because they’re just so darn different, at least until they discover that they’re not so different after all. Also starring Angela Basset and Loretta Devine, this doesn’t look totally repellent, as far as rom-coms go, thanks to some solid chemistry from a solid cast.

October

Imported from Peru, October is a about a moneylender, Clemente, saddled with a baby he had with a prostitute, and the incursion into his life by his spiritual neighbor who helps him care for his kid. This prompts Clemente to engage in soul-searching and life-changing. Sounds pretty basic, but this is the kind of movie that can be good despite its simplicity. Or it could be horrible, like The Strange Case of Angelica, which is one of the worst foreign films (or any film, really) that I’ve ever seen.


Passion Play

Megan Fox is a stripper with angel wings and Mickey Rourke wants to save her from Bill Murray. This movie bombed at TIFF last September and was originally rumored to be going straight to DVD, but it is actually getting a New York/LA release courtesy of Image Entertainment. It looks really awful, and if this is supposed to convince us that Megan Fox is worth more than her fake face and fake tits, it isn’t succeeding. Oh, and remember how Rourke said he thought Fake Face was a great actress? Yeah, he took it back.

Something Borrowed

Ginnifer Goodwin stars with Kate Hudson (who at this point is contractually required to appear in no less than three rom-coms a year) and Colin Egglesfield (veteran of All My Children) in the adaptation of Emily Griffin’s book about posh New Yorkers planning a posh New York wedding and having a posh New York affair. I could care less about this movie. It’s not that I don’t like romantic comedies—I grew up watching them with my mother and I’m a sucker for these things—it’s just that if Kate Hudson is in it I assume it’s going to be crap. She’s never made a rom-com I’ve enjoyed. I also can’t believe John Krasinski (The Office) is in this, and as the BFF no less. Not even a leading man! Did he run over someone’s cat and this is how he’s making amends? There’s no other logical explanation.

There Be Dragons

Wes Bentley is back! I had such a crush on him in high school. Remember Wes Bentley? The weird neighbor kid in American Beauty? After kicking the drug habit that wrecked his career, Bentley is re-emerging from the rubble with There Be Dragons, which unfortunately for Wes and his career rebirth, looks like it kinda sucks. Following the divergent paths of two friends during the Spanish Civil War, the movie is about the founder of Opus Dei. Which could totally be an interesting movie, and writer/director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) is no one to sneeze at, but look at this trailer and tell me this doesn’t seem like a mess. Because it looks like a mess. At least Bentley has more projects lined up—he’s just been cast in The Hunger Games.

Thor

I’ll admit it, that despite the burgeoning good reviews from critics, I’m still nervous about Thor. It still looks so DUMB. Every time I see a TV spot or a trailer I think, “That looks so DUMB”. I do expect it to be huge, though. I think it will have a massive opening, probably one of the biggest of the entire year, but I wonder about Thor’s ability to sustain momentum. Like, if it’s as dumb as it looks, it’s going to die quickly. I kind of think Captain America will end up with a bigger overall gross, even if it has a lesser opening weekend. Or not. At this point, I don’t know. Critics are going so nuts for Thor, but the man on the street still seems like, “Thor what?” Like no one really gets what this movie is about still and it’s opening. Either way, Chris Hemsworth is about to be a big star.

When Harry Tries to Marry

This could be subtitled, “Haha, Indian people are quaint and funny with their arranged marriages!” Harry (newcomer Rahul Rai) is an Indian-American guy scared of heartbreak after suffering through his parents’ divorce. In order to avoid the same fate, he engages a relative to play traditional matchmaker and arrange a marriage to a nice Indian girl for him. While the arrangements are being made, however, Harry meets Theresa (Stefanie Estes, nothing I’ve ever heard of), a New Yorker and very clearly from the first frame the woman he’s destined to be with. This movie doesn’t look bad, it just looks utterly predictable. I feel like the trailer pretty much lays out the entire story, so why should I bother sitting through two hours when two minutes achieves the same effect?

May 11

City of Life and Death

This is the second movie this month dealing with Second Sino-Japanese War (the other is Caterpillar). City of Life and Death is a dramatization of the Nanking Massacre, a terrible event that occurred in 1937 when the Japanese Army captured the former capital of China. The exact statistics are debatable—the Chinese say there were 300,000 victims but the Japanese offer a much lower number—but the fact is a lot of people were killed and a lot of women were raped over a six week period (it’s also known as the Rape of Nanking, which is also the title of a book detailing the event). Directed by Chuan Lu, one of the best of China’s young crop of filmmakers, City of Life and Death has drawn a lot of praise around the world for its style and brutally honest approach to the subject matter. He’s one to watch on the international scene for sure. This movie will be terribly, terribly depressing. Want to ruin your summer? Go see this and Beautiful Boy back-to-back.

May 13

The Big Bang

Antonio Banderas is in this movie. Tony Flags is not a guy I’ve ever really enjoyed. Never seen the sex appeal, never thought he was that great of an actor. And is it just me or do you hear Puss In Boots every time Tony Flags speaks? So I could care less about this movie. It’s supposed to be a noir-ish tale about a private eye (Tony Flags) hired to find a missing prostitute who seems to have absconded with a fortune in diamonds. Yeah, okay. At least The Big Bang has William Fichtner going for it. I really, really like William Fichtner. This movie actually has a really random cast that includes Sam Elliot, Delroy Lindo and James Van Der Beek. Yeah. Okay.

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids has a comic pedigree a mile long. It’s directed by Paul Feig, a veteran of television comedies including Arrested Development, Bored to Death, Nurse Jackie, 30 Rock and The Office, as well as creating and writing Freaks & Geeks. Comic maven Judd Apatow is a producer and it’s co-written by SNL star Kristen Wiig, who also stars. This movie looks super funny and after a screening at SXSW everyone was losing their shit at how hilarious it was. Though it’s being marketed as “The Hangover for women”, I suspect Bridesmaids is probably a lot better. Not that The Hangover isn’t funny, because it is, but it’s kick-to-the-groin funny where I think Bridesmaids will be a more character-driven comedy with the clashing personalities of the different women creating most of the humor. Maya Rudolph (SNL), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class, Damages), Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls and that unspeakable Mike & Molly) and Ellie Kemper (The Office) also star.

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Another documentary, this time tracing the life of legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who died in 2009. He worked on such films as War & Peace, The African Queen. Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and The Prince and the Showgirl. Widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of cinema, the doc includes interviews with Lauren Bacall, Martin Scorsese and Kirk Douglas, among others, I really want to see this since I got into film through photography and cinematography is a make-or-break element of good filmmaking for me. The doc received huge praise last year following the Cannes Film Festival and is a “should watch” for anyone interested in the history and making of movies.

Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell puts on his serious face for this dramedy about a man who loses his job and his wife in one day. When Nick, a recovering alcoholic, relapses he loses everything and comes home to find his wife has thrown all of his stuff on the lawn. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Nick takes up residence on his lawn, ultimately staging a yard sale to get rid of all his stuff. The trailer is cute but not earth-shattering. It certainly doesn’t look as engaging as Stranger Than Fiction, Ferrell’s other trip into existential serio-comedy. I’ve been looking forward to this one, though, because I do think Ferrell has more range than he usually shows. Also starring Rebecca Hall (The Town), Laura Dern and Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of Notorious BIG and Faith Evans).

The First Grader

Warning: This movie will make you cry. Based on the true story of an eighty-something ex-freedom fighter in Kenya, The First Grader is about Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge (Oliver Litondo, a former Kenya Television Network news editor-turned-actor whose credits include Sheena and The Ivory Hunters), a Mau-Mau freedom fighter who was too poor to afford an education until 2000, when Kenya declared education free for all. And so Kimani enrolls in a class alongside six-year-olds in order to learn to read and write. It looks incredibly saccharine but please. Like it wouldn’t totally have us all in tears.

Hesher

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Hesher, the ultimate layabout loser, is a loner and a misanthrope who lives in a van (down by the river) until he hooks up with TJ (Devon Brochu, Rubber) and his recently widowed father, Paul (Rainn Wilson, The Office). Uninvited, Hesher begins squatting in Paul and TJ’s garage and brings his brand of anarchy to their lives with predictable and ultimately positive results. Hesher premiered at Sundance last year to largely positive reviews, though some stick in the mud critics have loathed it. Natalie Portman co-stars, because when isn’t she in a movie this year.

Priest

Oh Paul Bettany. First choice to play George VI in The King’s Speech yet he ends up in this vampire/comic book/pseudo-religious/post-apocalyptic mess brought to us by Screen Gems, purveyors of fine cinematic crap. Have you seen Legion? Cripes Legion was awful. Seriously one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And Priest looks a whole lot like Legion. I love you, Paul, but you have got to start choosing better projects.

Skateland

Twilight’s Ashley Greene and the revolting Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood) star in this 1980’s set story about a skating rink manager in East Texas. Ritchie (Fernandez) is said manager, the skating rink is his only source of real happiness, and is on the brink of being shut down. His girlfriend (Greene) wants him to be more than he is and has ambitions beyond their small town. There is drama, angst, heartbreak and Eighties music. This opened at Sundance last year to mixed reviews. I say save your $10 and Netflix Adventureland instead. It’s the best 1980’s coming of age movie not actually made in the 1980’s. Also, it doesn’t have disgusting Shiloh Fernandez, but the totally worth it Jesse Eisenberg.

May 18

Louder than a Bomb

Fans of slam poetry unite! Following four spoken-word “poetry teams” in the Chicago area as they prep for the world’s largest youth slam, Louder than a Bomb is a documentary meant to inspire and uplift. Slam poetry is something that is easily mocked, but when it’s good there’s no denying its power to connect language and feeling. By focusing on teenagers who use slam poetry to express themselves, Louder than a Bomb shows that connection and how it can inspire and motivate kids to accomplish something for themselves. Critics have been flipping out for this doc and it’s drawing comparisons to the spelling bee documentary Spellbound. With its affecting message and focus on talented kids, I expect Louder than a Bomb could break out in a similar way.

May 20

Beautiful Boy

This is the most depressing movie I’ve ever heard of. Starring Michael Sheen, Maria Bello and Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, this year’s Red State), Beautiful Boy examines a family coping in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. Gallner plays Sam Carroll, an average college student who perpetrates a school shooting on his campus. Sheen and Bello are his parents, left behind to pick up the pieces in the wake of their son’s crime/suicide. I mean really, when have you ever heard of a more depressing movie? I hate depressing movies because they make so depressed, but I really like all the actors involved, and as torturous as it seems, Beautiful Boy also looks really, really good. I’m going to end up seeing this but probably on Netflix, so I can weep in private instead of in front of strangers at the theater. Because let’s face it—there’s no seeing this movie and not crying.

Earthwork

In 1994 a “crop artist” named Stan Herd made an earthwork sculpture in New York City on land owned by Donald Trump. Earthwork tells that story with John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) as Stan Herd. Earthwork began making the festival rounds back in 2009 and is now getting a limited release due to Hawkes’ increased profile following his Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. Earthwork isn’t an extraordinary movie—it’s pretty standard human spirit stuff—but Hawkes is a phenomenal actor and is always worth watching. And the movie has a nice message about heart and perseverance and the hopefulness of art, so whatever. It won’t kill you if you watch it.

The Lion of Judah

This is an animated kids’ movie about a lamb trying to avoid slaughter before Passover, during the time of Christ. It’s basically a retelling of the Easter story from the perspective of the various animals who participated in it (the sacrificial lamb, a donkey, et cetera). I shit you not. That is the plot. The Easter story as recounted by a sacrificial lamb. It features the vocal talents of Ernest Borgnine and Scott Reeves Eastwood or whatever he’s calling himself these days. (Scott is from Clint Eastwood’s horde of illegitimate children.) So there’s that. Oh yeah, the animation is AWFUL. It looks like one of those celebrity recreation videos they show on Korean television.

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s latest is opening the Cannes Film Festival next week because yes. They love Woody Allen in Cannes. I do not love Woody Allen. I have not loved Woody Allen since 1981. I have zero interest in this movie. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, doucheface Adrien Brody and the French first lady (in her film debut), Carla Bruni Sarkozy. It’s about an engaged couple traveling in Paris and finding out that the grass may not actually be greener on the other side. Or something like that. All Woody Allen movies are the same.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Because we needed a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie? The fourth time out for Captain Jack & Co. brings a new story (something about the Fountain of Youth and mermaids), a new villain (Deadwood’s Ian McShane as Blackbeard), and a new love interest-type-person for Jack Sparrow (Penelope Cruz). The trailer is loud, stuff blows up, Captain Jack is cheeky—par for the course for this franchise. Director Gore Verbinski didn’t return for this installment, instead yielding his duties to Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine). Pirate jazz hands?  I’m not very excited for this but I think it’ll do well. Kids love Captain Jack.

May 26

The Hangover Part II

Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha reunite for a sequel to 2009’s uber-popular The Hangover. Part II looks exactly like Part I, just in Thailand and with a monkey, but damn if this trailer doesn’t make me laugh every time. Galifianakis saying “Thigh-land” cracks me up. I don’t expect this movie to break new ground, but I think it’ll be a huge crowd pleaser. And I do think it will be funny, though Bridesmaids will likely feel fresher. The Hangover Part II will be one of the biggest of the summer.

Kung Fu Panda 2

The best part of Kung Fu Panda 2 is that will be presented at the Cannes Film Festival which means Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (who voices a character in the movie) will be on the Croisette, loved up and glamorous. Other than that, could not care less about this movie. Jack Black is annoying even in voice form, but kids will turn out in droves for this. It won’t best Pixar’s Cars 2, but Kung Fu Panda 2 will be big.

May 27

The Tree of Life

This is the summer’s arthouse hit. Terrence Malick’s fifth film, and the first in six years, wasn’t ready for Cannes last year but it bows this May on the Riviera to sustained hype. Malick is one of the best filmmakers working today, period, and The Tree of Life is being touted as his masterpiece. I have to see it before I make that kind of proclamation, but the trailer footage is gorgeous and a lot of people are touting Brad Pitt’s performance as a strict father as the one that could win him an Oscar. But it’s not Pitt, or co-star Sean Penn, who will be grabbing headlines when The Tree of Life opens. The scene-stealer is Jessica Chastain, who will be catapulted to the top by her performance as the kind mother opposite Pitt’s stern dad. Seriously, mark it down. Jessica Chastain will be in the center of the 2012 Oscar race.

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4 thoughts on “Summer Movie Preview: May 2011

  1. Look at how many movies Jessica Chastain has this year. With that many movies and I suppose she won’t disappoint, it’s hard not to think she’ll grab a nomination at least.

  2. Dee Dee

    Cannot *wait* to see Bridesmaids. Nice to see some truly gifted , but not so well-known or photogenic comedic actressess get their time to shine.
    Mya Rudolph, Kirsten Wiig and two ladies who were part of the casts of Reno 911 and Gilmore Girls respectively are the main reasons Im dying to see this.

    Other than that, I cant see myself spending money on any of these movies besides Tree of Life. I heart Malick BUT, I hope this effort is more focused than The New World which was a meandering meditation more than it was a movie that told a compelling story. More Thin Red Line, less New World plz. K thx.

  3. Emster

    I’m pretty forgiving of Woody Allen films, but I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed by Midnight in Paris. Why does Owen Wilson get to be the Woody Allen stand-in? Such a waste of Michael Sheen and that glorious beard.

    Also, Tony Flags? I think that sufficiently trivializes his career. I salute you, Sarah. But not Tony Flags. He’s terrible.

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