In Bruges


Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell enjoy the magic that is Bruges.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell enjoy the magic that is Bruges.

(2008) Crime Comedy (Focus) Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clamence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Jeremie Renier, Elizabeth Berrington, Zeljko Ivanek, Mark Donovan, Anna Madeley, Jean-Marc Favorin, Rudy Blomme, Thekla Reuten, Inez Stinton, Ciaran Hinds, Theo Stevenson, Sachi Kimura, Eric Gordon, Stephanie Carey. Directed by Martin McDonagh

My wife is fond of saying that your sins will find you out. She used to say that to our son when she knew he was hiding something from us. With a mom’s unerring nose for a kid’s transgressions, she’d sniff out whatever it was that he was keeping from her. Sometimes, it’s a pity that our mums can’t be with us even as we get older to steer us right.

Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) have been ordered to Bruges to cool their heels after botching a job. Of course their chosen profession is contract killing, so who would think of looking for them in a sleepy little tourist town like Bruges, the best-preserved medieval town in Belgium?

The skittish Ray could care less; he’s bored out of his skull and haunted by the results of his sanctioned but unintended mayhem. Ken on the other hand is a little more worldly; he is quite content to sit back, do some sightseeing and enjoy the magic that is Bruges. He knows that in time, his employer will call with instructions and the best thing to do is lay low and make as few waves as possible.

Ray, being Ray, is more interested in hanging out in the pub, finding himself a girl and getting his bones generally jumped. After getting more than a little tipsy one night, Ray and Ken run into a location set for a Dutch movie being filmed in Bruges, with a dream sequence starring Jimmy (Prentice), who prefers the term “dwarf” to “midget.” Ray also meets a beautiful local named Chloe (Poesy) whom he flirts with. She finally agrees to go out to dinner with him.

Meanwhile, their employer Harry (Fiennes) is getting more and more frustrated that he can’t contact his men since they are always out when he calls. He leaves a profanity-laced message with Marie (Berrington), the very pregnant receptionist who happens to be the co-owner of the boutique hotel the men are staying at. When Harry finally gets in contact with Ken, he gives the man instructions that the worldly killer may not want to follow, but at this point, Ken may not have a choice.

The top three leads – Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes – are three tremendous talents who by themselves individually would entice me into the theater. All three together, well now you’re talking. Gleeson in particular has developed into a marvelous actor who gives a memorable performance nearly every time out. His trademark “gruff with a heart of gold” rough about the edges sorts translates well for Ken.

Farrell has that innate Irish charm that has served him well in both major high-profile projects and smaller independent-minded ones like this one. While Farrell has been somewhat less active in the cinema recently, this one shows him at the apex of his game. His Ray is young and less experienced, virtually jumping out of his skin and bored to tears, failing to see what’s right in front of him. Yet Ray is truly a tortured soul and his sins are just about to catch up with him, but the question becomes is it too late for redemption. Farrell’s soul-searching is particularly poignant and you virtually watch him crumble before your very eyes in one unforgettable scene.

Finally, Fiennes who has Schindler’s List and The Constant Gardener on his resume of award-winning performances doesn’t have a whole lot to do here but makes every scene he is in memorable. He’s one of those actors who makes every line count and uses every nuance in his arsenal to make his character remarkable.

Eigil Bryld’s cinematography is understated, effectively so. Bruges is already fairytale-like in appearance; he uses the town’s charm to his advantage. Carter Burwell’s score is, as always, well-suited to the atmosphere. Although early in his career he tended to be a bit too jazzy for my taste, he has become in my opinion one of the more reliable film composers working today.

Bruges itself is a character in the movie, and its charm is the movie’s charm. I wasn’t that familiar with the town before seeing this movie; now it’s a place I’d like to visit someday. I suppose that would characterize me as more of a Ken sort than a Ray, but history and architecture are two passions of mine. Movies like this one can make a particular place come alive and excite your imagination. Who knew that Bruges would end up on my bucket list?

The movie was sold as a black comedy and it really isn’t when it comes right down to it. This is more of a crime drama with a bit of farce but the tone is black nonetheless. In point of fact, I’m not sure if the writers and director were quite sure what this movie was intended to be, so it turns out to be neither one thing nor the other. My expectations going in from what I’d heard about it weren’t met so I came out disappointed when I saw it initially, but the truly odd thing is when I revisited it recently (I first saw it in theaters back in ’08) is that my opinion of it revised upwards to a near-mediocre score to the much more enthusiastic score you see below.

There is a great deal of charm in the movie and some wonderful performances in it. I think if you go in without the very high expectations I went in with you might wind up enjoying it more than I did. It is definitely worth seeing regardless, if not for Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes but for the irresistible appeal of Bruges itself.

WHY RENT THIS: Tremendous, compelling performances from Farrell, Fiennes and Gleeson. Bruges might just enchant you. Dreamlike surreal quality in some scenes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wobbles between crime caper and black comedy.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is some explicit violence, a surfeit of profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Both Gleeson and Farrell were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances here; Farrell eventually won the award.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a gag reel, a montage of all the copious cursing done in the film called F***ing Bruges, and a five minute-plus boat trip through the canals of Bruges, further cementing the magic of the place.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.4M on a $15M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seven Psychopaths
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Art of Getting By

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Waking Ned Devine (Waking Ned)


David Kelly doesn't like his wardrobe.

David Kelly doesn’t like his wardrobe.

(1998) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, James Nesbitt, Susan Lynch, Maura O’Malley, Eileen Dromey, Brendan Dempsey, Paul Vaughan (voice), Adrian Robinson, Robert Hickey, Paddy Ward, James Ryland, Fintan McKeown, Kitty Fitzgerald, Dermot Kerrigan, Jimmy Keogh, Matthew Devitt, Rennie Campbell. Directed by Kirk Jones

Once in a while, movies come in from left field that are sweet, gentle, and good-natured. They make the viewer feel like he or she has become, for two hours, part of a family or a community. These movies generally look at the foibles of life with a little bit of a wink and a wry smile. There is a sense of reality about them, or at least reality as we wish it were.

Movies like that are worth seeking out and embracing with both arms. Waking Ned Devine is such a movie. With the Isle of Man subbing for Ireland, the movie engenders such a feeling of warmth you’ll swear you’ve had a drop of the most heavenly whiskey west of the Emerald Isle.

Aging roustabout Jackie O’Shea (Bannen) has discovered that someone in the tiny town of Tulaigh Morh (i.e. Tullymore) has won the jackpot in the Irish lotto. He, his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (Kelly) and his long-suffering wife Annie (Flanagan) set out to ingratiate themselves amongst the townsfolk to find out who the lucky winner is.

And a charming lot the townsfolk are, for the most part. There’s Finn (Nesbitt), a pig farmer who has a deep, abiding love for the lovely poet Maggie (Lynch) who returns his love, only she can’t stand the smell of him. There’s the amorous store clerk, Mrs. Kennedy (O’Malley), and certainly not least, there’s the vicious Lizzie Quinn (Dromey), a mean-spirited cross between Lizzie Borden and the Wicked Witch of the West, only less friendly. She’s the type of woman who rides a wheelchair not because she’s disabled, but because she likes rolling over other people’s feet.

Jackie, Michael and Annie rule out the townsfolk one by one until they figure out who it is: Ned Devine (Keogh), a fisherman who lives in the remotest section of town. Trouble is, when they go to visit Ned, they discover that the shock of the lottery win has stopped his heart.

Therefore, the three perpetrate a bit of a scam; to convince Jim Kelly, the representative of the Irish Lottery (Dempsey) that Jackie is Ned Devine, and claim the winnings for themselves. Unfortunately, the early arrival of Kelly (signaled by the unmistakable sound of the poor man’s hay fever) puts their plans in a tizzy and the less, ummmmmmm, untruthful Michael is forced to assume the role of Ned. However, when Kelly explains that he has to verify Ned Devine’s identity with the townsfolk, and that the amount of the jackpot is several MILLION pounds instead of a few hundred thousand as they expected, they must involve the entire town. Some are willing than others.

The acting is so good you can’t tell that anyone is acting. These all seem like real people who have wonderfully rich lives. Every character has character, and there’s a sweetness about the movie that hits every charm button you may have. It’s a shame that Bannen passed away in a traffic accident a year after the release of this movie; he makes the most charming rogue that I have seen onscreen since Darby O’Gill.

The term “feel-good movie” is tossed about in reviews and on daytime shows without regard, but this film defines it. The movie not only feels good, it makes YOU feel good about watching it. It’s the kind of movie you won’t be able to avoid telling your friends about, and it’s one you’ll almost certainly want to own once you’ve seen it. If you need a pick-me-up after the world has kicked you around some, Waking Ned Devine is tonic for the troops.

WHY RENT THIS: As Irish as a pint of Guinness. Makes you feel toasty-warm inside.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very dry sense of humor.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some nudity, a bit o’ foul language and some mature thematic elements.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: UK and European distributors shortened the title to Waking Ned because they felt it was snappier and more user friendly. The US and Canada were the only territories to keep the original working script title.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $55.3M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brigadoon

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The Legend of Hercules

Aftermath (2012) (Poklosie)


You can't beat Ireneusz Czop's performance with a stick.

You can’t beat Ireneusz Czop’s performance with a stick.

(2012) Drama (Menemsha) Ireneusz Czop, Maciej Stuhr, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Danuta Szarflarska, Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Zuzana Fialova, Wojciech Brzezinski, Danuta Borsuk, Andrzej Mastalerz, Anita Podderbniak, Magdalena Gnatowska, Ryszard Roncziewski, Zbigniew Konopka, Elzbieta Romanowska, Lech Dyblik, Jaroslaw Gruda, Zbigniew Kasprzyk, Robert Rogalski, Maria Garbowska. Directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski

We really don’t know what darkness lurks in the hearts of our neighbors. Even in the nicest, most bucolic towns there can be absolute horrors beyond imagining. Some people will go to the most extreme of measures to keep those secrets hidden.

Franck Kalina (Czop) has flown to Poland from Chicago. His destination is a pretty remote one; to get there he has to take a plane, a train, a bus and then walk the rest of the way. He is there to visit his brother Jozef (Stuhr) who runs the family farm.

Franck has been in America nearly 20 years and has been estranged from his brother at least for that long but when Jozef’s wife Jola shows up at his door with their kids and without explanation, he returns to the land of his birth to get to the bottom of things. There he finds Jozef has been essentially ostracized by the town. Why? Because he’s unearthing old Jewish tombstones that were repurposed by the Nazis during World War II as flagstones, pavement and other uses. He can’t really explain why he’s doing it other than it seems right; there’s nobody left to look after them.

Franck soon becomes embroiled in the controversy as the incidents escalate from rocks thrown through windows to anti-Semitic graffiti on their barn to physical violence directed against Jozef and his dog. Only the retiring village priest (Mastalerz) and a kindly medic (Fialova) seem to have any sympathy for them at all. Franck’s dogged determination to discover what the reason is for all the hatred over stones for people nobody can remember leads to a shocking discovery.

This movie took nearly a decade to secure the financing to make it to the screen. The movie is inspired by a real incident in the village of Jedwabne during the Second World War. The controversial non-fiction book Neighbors by Princeton scholar Jan Gross (which was denounced as anti-Polish and inflammatory) about the subject inspired the filmmakers to make Aftermath. Even now the events are a sore subject with the Polish people; even reviews of the film in American newspaper have inspired some passionate posts both pro and con; some look at the filmmakers as brave men who have become the first Poles to directly acknowledge the events in Jedwabne and in other places like it in the Arts. Others have condemned it as furthering vicious slander against the Polish people.

This is an incredibly moving film which is on one level the bond between two very different brothers. Franck is taciturn and confrontational but at the same time he didn’t have the decency to return home for the funeral for his parents. Jozef is stubborn and unforgiving but has a curious soft spot for the underdog. Both men, surprisingly, are what I’d call environmental anti-Semites. They habitually refer to Jews as “Yids” and often say things that convey their low opinion of Jews in general and Polish Jews in particular. Franck even intimates that the troubles Poles have getting decent jobs in the U.S.is due to Jewish interference.

They do make the unlikeliest of righteous men but yet they are. It works making them so un-heroic in many ways. These aren’t American action heroes who use their fists to get themselves out of sticky situations; they get beat up and they often seem to go out of their way to avoid conflict but who can blame them – at every turn they are attacked verbally and physically by the townspeople and the new rector (Radziwilowicz) arrived to replace the retiring priest for some odd reason is stirring the town up to do so.

Czop and Stuhr deliver raw, honest performances that depict the brothers as deeply divided and unsure how to bridge the gulf between them until this common cause unites them. They are dogged more than brilliant and stubborn more than compassionate. Perhaps the problem that some conservative Poles have with the film is that none of the Poles in the movie come off as good guys.

This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart. It tackles the issues of hatred, greed and suspicion in the real world and it does so in a real world way. While I saw this movie at the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival, there are no living Jews in the movie until the final scene – and yet the ghosts of the Jewish dead in the Holocaust hang heavy over the film itself. This is the kind of movie that will leave you speechless and is much worth seeking out if you can find it (the official website has a list of theaters playing the movie if you want to click on the picture above and find out if it’s playing near you). It is another contender in what is turning out to be a very strong year for independent films as one of the best of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Czop and Stuhr deliver powerful performances. Raw and emotional.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too intense for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some disturbing images and thematic content. There’s also a little bit of violence and some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Received the Yad Vashem Chairman’s Award at the 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival for excellence in depiction of the Holocaust.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/19/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Schindler’s List

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Attack

Rashomon


Toshiro Mifune gets the point.

Toshiro Mifune gets the point.

(1950) Drama (RKO) Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijiro Ueda, Noriko Honma, Daisuke Kato. Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa is considered one of the grand masters of cinema and the greatest director to come out of Japan ever, possibly from all of Asia as well. Rashomon is one of his masterpieces, a movie that is as relevant today as it was the day it was made.

It is based on two short stories; one, the titular Rashomon is used as a framing device; a priest (Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Shimura) are taking shelter in the half-ruined Rashomon Gate during a deluge of a rainstorm. A commoner (Ueda) joins them. The first two are feeling a little depressed and mystified after witnessing a trial earlier that day. The commoner asks them to explain what is bothering them.

The second short story, In the Grove (both were written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa by the way) depicts a nobleman (Mori) and his wife (Kyo) set upon by the notorious bandit Tajomaru (Mifune) who lures the nobleman into a trap with the promise of swords he’d discovered, surprising him and tying him up. He then lures the wife to the same grove by telling her that her husband has fallen ill. Once he has her there, he rapes her in front of her husband.

That’s when things get interesting. All we know is that the husband gets murdered but during the course of the trial, the story changes significantly depending on whose telling it. The bandit, who proudly proclaims that he did the nefarious deed, has a reputation as a fearsome killer to uphold. The wife, shamed by her actions but even more so by her husband’s reaction to her dishonor, claims she did it. The husband, speaking through a medium (Honma) has his own version which makes him look truly victimized. And there is a surprise witness at the end who has a completely different story, albeit one possibly tainted by their own self-interest.

This is a story about the human condition and asks the basic question asked by philosophers and theologians from the beginning of time – is man basically good or intrinsically evil? Kurosawa uses an ingenious method of storytelling in order to explore the question and refuses to spoon-feed the audience a definitive answer. You are left to decode the truth for yourself.

The acting is over-the-top in places and is definitely more in the Eastern tradition. Mifune stands out as the arrogant bandit who becomes inflamed by desire for the beautiful young noblewoman. Mifune, one of the most respected actors to ever come out of Japan, was better known for his samurai persona in films like Yojimbo and Seven Samurai as well as the American television mini-series Shogun but most experts agree that this is one of his most compelling performances. Mifune modeled the body language and movements of Tajomaru on that of lions, footage of which he studied intently before taking on the part.

The cinematography is breathtaking. Kazuo Miyagawa, the cinematographer for the film, developed with Kurosawa several lighting techniques that made the forest look incredible with diffused lighting through the trees as well as the pouring rain which was made more visible by adding black ink to the water in the rain machine.

Kurosawa also used different styles of filmmaking for the three distinct portions of the film. For the framing narrative at Rashomon Gate, it’s fairly standard straight-on camera angles. For the trial sequences, the camera is set low, looking up at the actors. For the grove sequences, the camera is often high, looking down on the action and turning the audience into observers.

This is one of my mother’s favorites and one of mine as well. It is a movie that bears up under repeated viewings – it is so rich in detail and so amazingly layered and full of depth that you are constantly discovering new things each time you see it. Rashomon has appeared on a number of best lists, including 22nd on Empire magazine’s top 100 films of World Cinema of all time and has influenced directors from Woody Allen to Christopher Nolan to Alfred Hitchcock. Simply put, it is an amazing achievement that everybody who considers themselves a film buff or even a casual film junkie should see at least once, if not more often.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the great classics of cinema. Is the kind of movie you’ll be thinking about for days after seeing it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You don’t like foreign movies or you don’t like movies period.

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes may be a little bit more than the youngsters can handle. There is also a depiction of a rape and a murder.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This film is often cited as the reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars. The category didn’t exist when Rashomon was released so the film was given an honorary award instead.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The recently released Criterion Collection includes interviews with director Robert Altman on the influence of Kurosawa on his own films as well as with surviving members of the cast and crew talking about the film and it’s impact.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Outrage (1964)

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Looking for Palladin

Priest


Priest

Amtrack announces new economy seating for those unwilling to pay full fare.

(2011) Sci-Fi Horror (Screen Gems) Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet, Lily Collins, Steven Moyer, Brad Dourif, Christopher Plummer, Alan Dale, Madchen Amick, Dave Florek, Joel Polinsky, Josh Wingate. Directed by Scott Stewart

Conscience can be a tricky thing. We are often called to do what our conscience demands and that can be at odds with what those around us say is right. The person following their conscience is either a hero or a sociopath, depending on your point of view.

The world is at peace. The great Vampire War is at last over, thanks to the Church and its warrior Priests. The surviving vamps and their human familiars have been exiled to heavily guarded reservations, their great hives deserted. The Church is in charge de facto, making productivity and work an article of faith. There is no need of the Priests any longer.

That is, until one such Priest (Bettany) gets a visit from Sheriff Hicks (Gigandet) from the frontier outpost near where the Priest’s brother Owen Pace (Moyer) was working at reclaiming the desert and making it fertile again. He and his family were attacked by vampires, the first such attack in ages. His sister-in-law Shannon (Amick) died in the attack and their daughter Lucy (Collins) kidnapped. The Priest asks permission to leave the city and deal with this but Monsignor Orelas (Plummer) forbids it. The Church’s authority and ultimate control derives from the population believing they’re safe from the vampire threat. Should the Priest leave it could erode the Church’s mandate.

Nonetheless the Priest leaves, travelling to the Outpost on one of the Church’s high tech motorcycles. He arrives to find his brother on death’s door, begging the Priest to rescue Lucy. The Priest hangs around long enough to bury his brother, then takes off with the Sheriff, who is sweet on Lucy, to find the missing girl.

In the meantime, Monsignor Orelas has assigned the Priest’s former crew including a Priestess (Q) who may have a case of hero worship evolving into romantic feelings for him, to find the Priest and bring him back dead or alive. The Priest heads to a nearby reservation to find the vampires missing and guards dead. Only a few familiar and weaker vampires remain. The remaining vamps attack at nightfall and the Priest dispatches them but it’s obvious something very sinister is afoot.

The Priestess catches up with the Priest and Sheriff in an abandoned hive but they are all surprised to find a Hive Guardian – a kind of vampire-infected dog – still guarding the Hive. The Priestess confesses that she’s not there to take the Priest back but to join him instead. The trio discovers that the Hive was recently populated and signs point to a train that is headed into a nearby town.

Behind all the chaos is Black Hat (Urban), a former priest infected by the vampires. He kidnapped Lucy mainly to draw out the Priest – the Black Hat blames Priest for his fall from humanity. The two are going to go mano a vampo before the end, the train headed on a collision course for the unsuspecting city and the corrupt church that rules it.

Stewart’s last movie was Legion and that was another CGI-heavy movie with spiritual overtones that starred Bettany. There the similarities end – in fact, this film has more in common with the John Wayne classic The Searchers (whose plot it pilfered virtually verbatim) than with his last picture. Stewart has a tremendous visual sense; the cityscape is dreary, visually influenced by Blade Runner with its dreary aesthetic. Outside the city are gigantic statues a la Lord of the Rings. The outer frontier is barren wastelands straight out of the westerns of John Ford with a little bit of Mad Max thrown in.

Bettany goes the Clint Eastwood – what is it about would-be action stars that they think they have to grunt their lines through a larynx as squinted as their eyes – route and is at least credible, although I don’t think Vin Diesel or Jason Statham have anything to worry about for now. Maggie Q has a pretty decent action pedigree of her own and while she’s no Michelle Yeoh, she holds her own.

Karl Urban is one of those actors that doesn’t come to mind when thinking of great character actors, but when you think about his most recent performances you realize you can’t think of a bad one. This isn’t one of his finest moments but it still resonates; even the campy one where he conducts the invisible orchestra as his vampires wipe out a town; like most of the best moments in the movie, it’s seen on the trailer.

There are some pretty nice action sequences, particularly the fight in the hive and the climactic battle aboard a moving train. Unfortunately, the movie is played so flat it actually lacks energy; you walk out of it feeling curiously numb, as if you’d just taken a sedative. That’s not a feeling you want to leave an action movie with.

There’s enough to give the movie a bit of a recommendation, but not to urge you to go out of your way to seek it out. The visuals are great and although Bettany’s Eastwood impression doesn’t do the movie any favors, he is at least visually a presence. There is far worse out there and probably much worse to come. There is also much better out there and certainly much better to come.

REASONS TO GO: Some very nicely realized action sequences. Art direction is magnificent; the setting is imposing and combines the Wild West and science fiction genres nicely

REASONS TO STAY: Bettany’s channeling of Eastwood is distracting. For all the grand settings the film is curiously passionless.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images as well as some scenes of violence and ghoulishness.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gerard Butler was originally cast in the lead role.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the grand vistas are more effective on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Something Borrowed

New Releases for the Week of May 13, 2011


May 13, 2011

If you give your confession to this Priest, you'd best say your prayers.

PRIEST

(Screen Gems) Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Steven Moyer. Directed by Scott Stewart

In a future where man has won a savage war with vampires thanks in no small part to the warrior priests of the Church, a single priest has discovered that the vampire menace is returning and that his niece has been kidnapped by a particularly violent and sadistic ex-Priest who is now a vampire. Disobeying direct orders, he goes into the wilderness to rescue his kin, pursued by his former fellow priests. If this sounds like it’s based on a comic book, that’s because it is.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language)

Bridesmaids

(Universal) Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Jill Clayburgh. From producer Judd Apatow comes this comedy about a lonely and broke woman whose best friend is about to get married. Of course, she has to be the maid of honor but she has no idea what she’s getting herself into, particularly with this group of bridesmaids who would drive Dr. Phil into a violent rage.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, and language throughout)

Everything Must Go

(Roadside Attractions) Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Pena, Stephen Root. A salesman who has passed the peak of his career washes his sorrows away with booze and loses his job because of it. When he gets home, he discovers that his job isn’t the only thing he lost; his wife set all of his belongings out in the yard and changed the locks. With nowhere else to go, he is forced to have a yard sale, gradually realizing the more he lets go of his things the more free he becomes.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

2011 Summer Movie Preview


Usually, this is where I wax poetic on the nature of summer and the joys of sunshine and lollipops, but this is different. This is serious.

Let’s be clear here. This is threatening to be the most amazing summer in the history of the movies. There are more potential $300 million box office films here than…well, ever. We’re talking sequels of blockbusters, highly anticipated franchise makers and event movies of the highest order.

The 2010 summer was disappointing to say the least. While Inception and Toy Story 3 did extremely well, there were an amazing number of flops and movies that didn’t live up to expectations both in terms of quality and box office. The year overall was disappointing in terms of box office but also in attendance. Bumps from 3D and IMAX upcharges helped the bottom line somewhat, but the audience is shrinking due in large part to competition from internet streaming and on-demand video. The first part of this year has continued that trend up to the point this was being written.

The movies will be coming at us from comic book superheroes and bestselling young adult novels. We’ll see comedies, science fiction and action movies cheek by jowl with romantic comedies, horror flicks and adventure movies.

Marvel and DC Comics will be well represented with Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern. Hollywood’s sequelitis remains strong with Hangover II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Final Destination 5. Remakes will abound with Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night 3D. We’ll have science fiction (Cowboys and Aliens), horror (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), fantasy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and romantic comedies (Larry Crowne, Something Borrowed) up the yin yang.

We will be seeing (or hearing) such stars as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Steve Carell, Kevin James, Jodie Foster, Cameron Diaz, Mel Gibson, Owen Wilson, Shia LaBeouf,  Jack Black, Colin Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston displaying their craft either vocally (in animated features) or the old fashioned way onscreen.

So if you have Crazy Stupid Love for the movies, tell your Horrible Bosses or your Bad Teacher you’ve been Kidnapped and take a day at the multiplex. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark while contemplating The Tree of Life. Better still tell them you’re going to Monte Carlo with The Zookeeper to capture Mr. Popper’s Penguins on Super 8 for display at the Cannes Film Festival next year. Hmmm…Maybe not; that kind of stuff is just for Beginners.

MAY

The summer season kicks off with the first big blockbusters and runs through the big Memorial Day weekend. Some of the biggest movies of the year are settled here, looking to be the first to get the big summer box office bite and get their season off to a roaring start. May has become Marvel month – nearly every year for the past several, a movie from Marvel Studios featuring one of their comic book icons has come out in May.

May 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

RELEASE DATE: May 20, 2011

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Judi Dench, Roger Allam, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards, Gemma Ward

STORY: Captain Jack Sparrow has a map to the fabled Fountain of Youth. In order to get there, he will need to get through the English government, the machinations of Angelica, a woman with whom he shares a past, and the legendary Blackbeard, most feared of all the pirates.

PROSPECTS: Depp has made Sparrow an iconic figure in the 21st century and this has become one of Disney’s biggest moneymaking franchises. It has been four years since the last movie and absence generally makes the heart grow fonder.

OBSTACLES: This is the first film in the series that wasn’t directed by Gore Verbinski. The last movie was panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Depp received a letter from a schoolgirl asking him to help her start a “mutiny” in her classroom. He showed up at her school in full Jack Sparrow regalia and talked her out of it.

HANGING TEN

THOR

RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Samuel L. Jackson, Adriana Barraza

STORY: Thor, the arrogant and prideful Norse God of Thunder, reignites an ancient and devastating war through his recklessness. For his lack of humility, he is cast out of Asgard by his angry father Odin, the Allfather. He is sent to live amongst the humans and there discovers not only what true heroism is but what true love is. This will be put to the test when his wicked half-brother Loki sends down a monster so heinous and so powerful that the entire world is threatened.

PROSPECTS: While Marvel fans haven’t warmed to this as much as other Marvel films, there is nonetheless anticipation building for it since Marvel first announced it nearly three years ago.

OBSTACLES: This might be the toughest sell of all the Marvel heroes to a general audience.

FACTOID: Chris Hemsworth won the role over his brother Liam.

THE HANGOVER PART II

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Gallifinakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Liam Neeson, Bryan Callen, Jamie Chung, Sondra Currie

STORY: The boys are celebrating the impending nuptials of Stu in Thailand. After what happened in Las Vegas, they opt for a bachelor brunch – sedate and well-planned in advance. As you can guess, it turns into an absolute disaster; best laid plans and all.

PROSPECTS: Not only was the first movie a big hit, it was also a comedy classic. This is one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, particularly by comedy fanatics.

OBSTACLES: Can they capture lightning in a bottle a second time?

FACTOID: Mel Gibson was initially to have a cameo in the movie as the tattoo artist but protests from the cast and crew put the kibosh on the idea; Cooper got his pal Neeson, with whom he worked on The A-Team, to do the part instead.

KUNG FU PANDA 2

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh

STORY: A new villain has unearthed an unstoppable weapon that threatens to wipe out China and destroy Kung Fu forever. It is up to the Dragon Warrior – Po the Panda and his friends the Furious Five to journey across China and prevent this from happening.

PROSPECTS: Animated features, particularly the well-hyped ones as this one is, have become money-making machines for the studios. The first KFP was a major hit for DreamWorks.

OBSTACLES: I don’t know. Every kid on the planet gets grounded for the summer?

FACTOID: This is director Jennifer Yuh’s first feature-length direction effort. She previously worked as a story artist on the first Kung Fu Panda as well as other animated films.

ROGUE WAVE

THE TREE OF LIFE

RELEASE DATE: May 27, 2011

STUDIO: Fox Searchlight

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Hunter McCracken, Dustin Allen

STORY: The life of a Midwestern family from the 1950s through modern times is centered on the relationship between eldest son Jack and his sometimes mercurial father.

PROSPECTS: The trailer showed some stunning imagery that has elements of fantasy and science fiction in the mix. Star power of Pitt and Penn doesn’t hurt.  

OBSTACLES: Director Terrence Malick can be an acquired taste. The trailer also reminded me of The Fountain whose box office fate was not a good one.

FACTOID: Originally, Heath Ledger was cast in the role eventually played by Brad Pitt, but passed away before shooting started.

SURF’S UP

May 6, 2011

MOTHER’S DAY (Gigapix) occurs when a sadistic mom and her two bank robbing sons take over a birthday party held at their former home inhabited by new residents who took over when it was foreclosed upon. SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Brothers) stars Ginnifer Goodwin as a maid-of-honor whose best friend is marrying her old flame. However, after a night of drinking and partying, the maid of honor sleeps with the groom…which is a serious breach of etiquette I do believe. Kate Hudson and John Krasinski also star. JUMPING THE BROOM (TriStar) is an ensemble romantic comedy in which two families from opposing economic backgrounds clash at a wedding between the two families. In the cast is Angela Bassett, Mike Epps, Paula Patton, Gary Dourdan and Loretta Devine.

May 13, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS (Universal) stars Kristen Wiig as a maid-of-honor to her best friend who must navigate the challenging waters of modern matrimony with a gaggle of often contentious and occasionally unusual bridesmaids to lend support or otherwise. Fellow SNL veteran Maya Rudolph co-stars in this Judd Apatow-produced comedy. THE FIRST GRADER (BBC Films) is based on a true story about an 84-year-old man in Kenya who decides to take advantage of a free education the new government is offering. This sparks outcry in the community despite the fact he fought for Kenya’s liberation and was incarcerated in a prison camp because of it. This is playing in limited release only. PRIEST (Screen Gems) envisions a future where men have triumphed over vampires thanks to the Church and her Warrior Priests. When one discovers a new vampire army is being amassed, he must fight not only them but the Church itself to save his niece. Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Christopher Plummer star.

May 20, 2011

THE LION OF JUDAH (Animated Family Films) is a Christian animated feature about a stable full of barnyard animals who seek the King who was born in that very stable thirty years previously to intercede on behalf of a lamb who is to be sacrificed at the village festival..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

IRON MAN 2 (Paramount) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $312.4M Total: $622.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER (DreamWorks) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $238.7M Total: $752.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $90.8M Total: $335.2M Verdict: Flop.

BABIES (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $7.3M Total: $9.5M Verdict: Broke Even.

ROBIN HOOD (Universal) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $105.3M Total: $321.7M Verdict: Flop.

SEX AND THE CITY 2 (New Line) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $94.4M Total: $288.4M Verdict: Made Money.

MACGRUBER (Universal) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $8.5M Total: $9.3M Verdict: Flop.

LETTERS TO JULIET (Summit) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $53.0M Total: $79.2M Verdict: Made Money.

JUST WRIGHT (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $21.5M Total: $21.6 Verdict: Made Money.

JUNE

June doesn’t always have the big super blockbusters that the months preceding and following do, but this is the month Pixar traditionally releases their annual movie and this year once again is no exception. With most kids getting out of school at this point, family films become more plentiful this month – a trend that will continue up through Labor Day.

June 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

GREEN LANTERN

RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Tenney, Jay O. Sanders

STORY: A brash test pilot is given immeasurable power from a cosmic ring wielded by a force of knights dedicated to protecting the universe.

PROSPECTS: The buzz has been huge on this ever since it was announced. With new Batman and Superman films in the wing for 2012, this is the movie that the suits at DC are hoping will propel their properties into motion picture profitability much as Marvel has become a box office draw.

OBSTACLES: The cosmic setting for the Green Lantern is not unlike that of Thor which opens a month earlier. GL is less known than properties like Wonder Woman and The Flash and the lack of familiarity for non-comic book fans might hurt it at the box office.

FACTOID: The screenwriters were inspired by the comic book arc “Emerald Dawn” which explained the origins of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in greater detail than was done in the comics previously.

HANG TEN

CARS 2

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Disney*Pixar

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Vanessa Redgrave, John Ratzenberger

STORY: As Lightning McQueen is participating in the prestigious World Grand Prix, Mater is getting haplessly involved in a spy plot.

PROSPECTS: C’mon, it’s Pixar. They could probably make an entertaining movie out of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

OBSTACLES: Most of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs from the original are gone, including the late Paul Newman who in many ways was the soul of the first movie..

FACTOID: This will be the first John Lasseter-directed Pixar film not to have a score by Randy Newman.

SUPER 8

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Zach Mills, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths

STORY: Young amateur filmmakers capture a train wreck near their Ohio home in 1979 and soon realize that something far more sinister may be afoot.

PROSPECTS: Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams together? Think of E.T. meets Cloverdale and if that’s indeed an accurate summary this could be the biggest non-surprise surprise hit of the summer.

OBSTACLES: There are some derivative elements in the plot summaries I’ve seen.

FACTOID: This was the first Summer 2011 to get a teaser trailer, shown way back in the summer of 2010.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz

STORY: The origins of the Xavier School are explored and the story of how Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto) went from being close friends to mortal enemies.

PROSPECTS: An all-new X-Men with an all-new cast and director Matthew Vaughn at the helm. While the buzz here isn’t as intense as it is with some of the other superhero films, the trailer did get some fanboy praise. Fox is betting that fans will connect with the younger actors in the X-Men roles.

OBSTACLES: The last film in the series was excoriated by fans, critics and box office alike although the Wolverine stand-alone did enough business to warrant a sequel.

FACTOID: Bryan Singer, who was on board the first two X-Men films, returns to the franchise as a producer.

ROGUE WAVE

A BETTER LIFE

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Summit

STARRING: Demian Bechir, Jose Julian, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio, Carlos Linares, Nancy Lenehan, Isabella Rae Thomas

STORY: A father tries to provide opportunities for his son that he himself never had, while attempting to keep him away from immigration officials and East L.A. gangs.

PROSPECTS: The trailer looks very stark and gritty; this could be one of those sleeper films that makes a splash come awards season.

OBSTACLES: No stars and a mostly Hispanic cast are going to be tough sells for theater owners who have blockbuster summer releases taking up screens.

FACTOID: Director Chris Weitz previously directed About a Boy and Twilight: New Moon.

SURF’S UP

June 3, 2011

BEGINNERS (Focus) stars Ewan McGregor as a man who has never been able to commit to a relationship finally finding one worth committing to – which brings up memories of his late father (Christopher Plummer) who after his wife of 44 years passed away, came out of the closet to lead a fulfilled life. Better late than never. SUBMARINE (Weinstein) is an off-beat coming-of-age film in limited release that wowed audiences at Sundance earlier this year. A teen yearns to lose his virginity and get his parents crumbling marriage back in order, two tall orders indeed.

June 10, 2011

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER (Relativity) is based on the children’s book series and features a bored young girl who enlists her feisty Aunt Opal into helping her have the best summer vacation ever. TROLL HUNTER (Magnet) is a movie I saw at the Florida Film Festival (see review here) that has elements of The Blair Witch Project with a sense of whimsy as a group of student filmmakers follow a government-sanctioned hunter who is authorized to keep trolls from leaving their designated areas in the wild.

June 15, 2011

KIDNAPPED (IFC) shows a family’s bickering in their new condo shattered by the arrival of three masked men demanding their valuables and that they empty their bank accounts. Although this is listed as a wide release, chances are it will only see a limited distribution.

June 17, 2011

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (20th Century Fox) is based on a classic children’s book about a man who dreams of exploring the Arctic writing actual explorers, one of whom impulsively sends him a penguin. Once the penguin turns out to be a pregnant she and gives birth to a dozen beaked birds, Mr. Popper determines to train them to dance and take them out on the road as performing animals.

June 24, 2011

BAD TEACHER (Columbia) stars Cameron Diaz as a less-than-enthusiastic teacher who wants to find a rich husband. When the opportunity presents itself, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants – including actually teaching her students. CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (Abramorama) chronicles the time just after the late night talk show host parted ways with NBC and took his act on the road, which turned out to be as cathartic for him as it was entertaining for his audiences.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TOY STORY 3 (Disney*Pixar) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $415.0M Total: $1.1B Verdict: Blockbuster.

KNIGHT AND DAY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $117M. Domestic Gross: $76.4M Total: $261.9M Verdict: Made Money.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (Summit) Budget: $68M. Domestic Gross: $300.5M Total: $698.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

JONAH HEX (Warner Brothers) Budget: $47M. Domestic Gross: $10.6M Total: $10.9 Verdict: Flop.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $61.0M Total: $91.4 Verdict: Made Money. 

THE KARATE KID (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $359.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.

GROWN UPS (Columbia) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $162.0M Total: $271.4M Verdict: Hit.

MARMADUKE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $33.6M Total: $83.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.

WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions) Budget: $2M. Domestic Gross: $6.5M Total: $12.5M Verdict: Hit.

JULY

With the Independence Day holiday weekend kicking off the month, July is almost always one of the most anticipated months of the studio schedule. Smack dab in the middle of the summer, the schedule this month is normally packed with some of the year’s most anticipated movies and this year that trend will most certainly continue, as you can see below.

July 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Julie Walters

STORY: The confrontation between Lord Voldemort and Harry finally occurs and the Wizarding World will never be the same. Heroes will rise…and heroes will fall.

PROSPECTS: It is inconceivable that this won’t blow effortlessly past the $300M mark. It is the last entry in a franchise that has spanned ten years and eight films; many have grown up with these characters, making this one of the summer’s definite must-sees.

OBSTACLES: There aren’t many, but the first part of the movie was dark and depressing; some might be discouraged from seeing the second.  

FACTOID: Most of the events of this movie including the climactic battle scene take place over the course of a single day.

HANG TEN

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey

STORY: The Space Race of the 1960s turns out to have been motivated by the discovery of Transformers technology on the moon.  

PROSPECTS: The first two Transformer movies have generated well over a billion dollars in domestic box office alone. The fanboy base for these movies is still hella strong.

OBSTACLES: The last movie was roundly panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Gabriela Cedillo, an extra on the set during filming in Chicago, was critically injured when rigging from a snapped cable crashed through the windshield of the car she was driving and struck her in the head. The studio made arrangements to pay for her medical care.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera, Abigail Spencer

STORY: A mysterious stranger with no memory of his past and a strange shackle on his wrist may hold the key to survival for a town in the 19th century Arizona territory that is being attacked by aliens from outer space – which may be the key to understanding why they are so distrustful of foreigners.

PROSPECTS: A terrific trailer has started Internet buzz circulating, and the cast is a winner. Who wouldn’t want to see James Bond and Indiana Jones in the Old West facing down aliens?

OBSTACLES: The title inspired guffaws often when I saw the trailer at the multiplex. Despite a big time behind-the-scenes talent list (director Jon Favreau, producers Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmann and Damon Lindelof) the property is still based on a fairly obscure graphic novel.

FACTOID: This is the second time Harrison Ford has played opposite James Bond – the first was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with Sean Connery in 1989.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Neil McDonough, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Derek Luke

STORY: Steve Rogers, the original 97-lb weakling, volunteers for the Army at the beginning of World War II only to be rejected and humiliated. Undeterred he volunteers for a secret government project to create a super soldier, one who will lead the Americans to victory over the Nazis  – unaware the Third Reich has a super soldier of their own.

PROSPECTS: A very nice looking trailer places the Marvel Universe in a location they haven’t been to heretofore – at war. Director Joe Johnston has been successful with period comic book fare before (see The Rocketeer).

OBSTACLES: Cap as a superhero is a little bit on the bland side, much like Superman. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers come up with a way of making him less of a recruiting poster and more relatable to audiences.

FACTOID: This will be the fifth movie based on a comic book for Chris Evans, including both Fantastic Four movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Losers.

ROGUE WAVE

HORRIBLE BOSSES

RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Charlie Day

STORY: Three friends with overbearing bosses who are unable to quit their jobs and must simply take the abuse concoct a plan with the help of a fast-talking con man to rid themselves of their nemeses permanently. The problem with the best-laid plans is that they’re only as good as the minds dreaming them up.

PROSPECTS: A hysterical trailer and the buzz going around is that this might be as good if not better as The Hangover. This could well be the type of role that will do the same for Bateman as The Hangover did for Bradley Cooper.

OBSTACLES: It’s flying underneath the radar to a very large degree. In an economic climate where so many are unemployed, there might be some push back for a comedy about people who hate their jobs.

FACTOID: Director Seth Gordon is best known for his documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

SURF’S UP

July 1, 2011

LARRY CROWNE (Universal) is about a man who is downsized and decides to attend the local community college to fill up some time. Joining a cast of eclectic oddballs (doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a network TV show?) he finds the last thing he expected to – love. With Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starring, this is probably a slam dunk too. MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) finds four high school grads in a case of mistaken identity while on a graduation trip to Paris being given the opportunity to live the high life. I’m just surprised this didn’t make it to ABC Family.

July 8, 2011

ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) stars Kevin James as a zookeeper much beloved by his animals and who has absolutely no luck with the ladies, so he decides to leave the zoo for a more glamorous job. The animals decide to take matters into their own hands…er, paws.

July 15, 2011

WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) returns Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood into a traditional animated style as they try to find Eeyore a new tail. It looks awfully charming and it would certainly be a shame if it got lost amid all the high-profile releases of the summer.

July 22, 2011

In FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) two people running from bad relationships decide to make it purely physical despite an obvious attraction to one another. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star. ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Searchlight) posits the discovery of a second Earth where all of us have doppelgangers. On this Earth, a young physics student and a well-known composer are bound by a terrible tragedy. This Sundance favorite is due for limited release.

July 24, 2011

LIFE IN ONE DAY (National Geographic) is the results of a call for ordinary people to submit videos of what was going on in their lives and around the world on a specific day – July 24, 2010. Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald assembled the footage.

July 29, 2011

CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers) stars Steve Carrell as a 40ish husband and father whose good life disintegrates when his wife asks for a divorce and cheats on him. A friend of his, a playa in the prime of his career, takes him on as a wingman and protégé, leading to unexpected results. THE SMURFS (Columbia) brings the blue-skinned Belgian creatures (who always reminded me of the Keebler Elves) to the big screen as an evil wizard chases them out of their village and into Central Park in New York. This live-action/animated hybrid is being filmed in 3D, yet another reason for you to have nightmares about little blue things lurking in the dark.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

INCEPTION (Warner Brothers) Budget: $160 Million. Domestic Gross: $292.6M Total: $825.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

DESPICABLE ME (Universal) Budget: $69M. Domestic Gross: $251.5M Total: $543.1M Verdict: Blockbuster.

THE SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE (Disney) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $63.2M Total: $215.3M Verdict: Flop.

CYRUS (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $7.5M Total: $9.9M Verdict: Flop.

SALT (Columbia) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $118.3M Total: $293.5M Verdict: Made Money.

PREDATORS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $52.0M Total: $127.2M Verdict: Hit.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (Paramount) Budget: $99M. Domestic Gross: $73.0M Total: $86.4M Verdict: Flop.

CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $85M Domestic Gross: $43.6M Total: $112.5M Verdict: Flop.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (Paramount) Budget: $150M Domestic Gross: $131.8M Total: $319.7M Verdict: Broke Even.

AUGUST

The last month of the summer season tapers off as the heat keeps people at the beach or indoors, but there is almost one or two last gasp blockbusters. Horror movies seem to do really well this month, as the final days of summer are replete with leftover blockbusters from the months before and less hyped movies hoping to sneak up on audiences and win the reward of box office gold.

August 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

RELEASE DATE: August 5, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson

STORY: Scientists searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s instead discover their formula mutates the ape test subjects, granting them intelligence.

PROSPECTS: The last film in the series made $360M worldwide, so there is certainly an audience out there.

OBSTACLES: This film is minus Tim Burton, Mark Wahlberg or any real name star, although Franco has a certain amount of name value following his Oscar nomination this year.

FACTOID: Originally conceived as a sequel to Planet of the Apes (2001) but when director Tim Burton and star Mark Wahlberg passed, the studio decided to reboot the franchise and lay the foundation for future sequels.

HANG TEN

CONAN THE BARBARIAN

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Said Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Bob Sapp

STORY: A barbarian from the lost tribes of Cimmeria must save all of Hyboria from a supernatural evil, fighting evil wizards, fearsome monsters and fierce warriors along the way.

PROSPECTS: Director Marcus Nispel has had some B-movie successes. This is the franchise that established Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action star 30 years ago.

OBSTACLES: The works of Robert E. Howard haven’t really had a great deal of box office success to date. Momoa is as unknown as Schwarzenegger was but is he as good?

FACTOID: Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, previously voiced the barbarian in videogames and direct-to-video animated features.

FRIGHT NIGHT

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Anton Yelchin, Colin Ferrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing

STORY: A high school senior discovers that his next door neighbor is a vampire – and nobody will believe him, even when people begin disappearing.

PROSPECTS: A remake of a seminal 80s horror flick that featured Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell, an updated version might sell.

OBSTACLES: Not many remember the original, and the market is overcrowded with vampire movies that aren’t making money if they aren’t named Twilight.

FACTOID: Marti Noxon, who wrote many of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes, wrote the screenplay.

FINAL DESTINATION 5

RELEASE DATE: August 12, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Emma Bell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, Jacqueline MacInnes-Woods, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, David Koechner, Courtney B. Vance, Tony Todd

STORY: A young man has a premonition that a disaster is going to occur and manages to save some of his friends when it actually happens. But then death stalks them and takes them in complicated ways…yes, it’s the same damn movie!

PROSPECTS: Why mess with success?

OBSTACLES: Aren’t we tired of this yet?

FACTOID: Todd returns to the franchise after missing the last installment.

ROGUE WAVE

APOLLO 18

RELEASE DATE: August 26, 2011

STUDIO: Dimension

STARRING: Cast unavailable

STORY: The scrubbed moon landing actually took place and here is the found footage to prove it – and also the reason we never went back to the moon.

PROSPECTS: The concept is very compelling; the director of Wanted produced this.

OBSTACLES: The found footage sub-genre might be running out of steam. Also this has been bounced around the release schedule by Weinstein, never a good sign (although Weinstein is notorious for doing this, even with their best films).  

FACTOID: The astronauts who were scheduled to be on the actual Apollo 18 were Richard F. Gordon Jr., Vance D. Brand and Harrison Schmitt, who was eventually moved up to the Apollo 17 mission, the last manned landing on the moon as of now.

SURF’S UP

August 5, 2011

In THE CHANGE UP (Universal) a steady family man and an irresponsible single man change bodies as they wish they had each other’s lives. They’re about to find out why they wish they didn’t. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds star. DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) stars Juno Temple as a girl who gets into trouble in her high school and is sent to a remedial class, where she embarks on an extraordinary friendship that will help her define who she really is.

August 12, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS (Columbia) features Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery boy who has a bomb strapped to his chest by a vicious criminal and must rob a bank within 30 minutes or the bomb will go off. Did I mention that Danny McBride plays the vicious criminal? Yeah, it’s a comedy. THE HELP (Disney) is based on a New York Times bestseller and stars Emma Stone as a would-be journalist in the Mississippi of the 1960s who decides to write a piece on the African-American maids in the area, igniting a controversy and helping a town discover its soul.

August 19, 2011

SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension) introduces some new Spy Kids, this time with their unwanted stepmother (Jessica Alba) as the spy. With a maniacal would-be megalomaniac trying to rule the world through the control of time on the loose, you can bet it will be the kids who once again save the day. Sigh. ONE DAY (Focus), opening in limited release, stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as two friends who meet every July 15th for more than two decades as we watch their friendship ebb, flow and change over the years, seeing the world change and them with it – until they realize the love they’re both searching for is right in front of their eyes.

August 26, 2011

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (FilmDistrict) is a remake of a 1973 horror film in which a young girl moves into a mysterious mansion only to find that there are creatures already inhabiting the house – and they aren’t very nice or very friendly. OUR IDIOT BROTHER (Weinstein) stars Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Elizabeth Banks as a trio of sisters who are constantly exasperated by their un-ambitious brother (Paul Rudd) whose honesty plays havoc with his relationships – and theirs.

August 31, 2011

THE DEBT (Focus) is a taut thriller about a trio of retired Mossad agents whose mission to capture a Nazi war criminal in 1966 may not have been as successful as others were led to believe – and who must now deal with the consequences of that mission.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Universal) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $31.5M Total: $47.7M Verdict: Flop.

THE OTHER GUYS (Columbia) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $119.2M Total: $170.4M Verdict: Flop.

THE EXPENDABLES (Lionsgate) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $103.1M Total: $274.5M Verdict: Hit.

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $29.1M Total: $93.3M Verdict: Made Money.

EAT PRAY LOVE (Columbia) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.6M Total: $204.6M Verdict: Hit.

THE LAST EXORCISM (Lionsgate) Budget: $1.8M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $67.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PIRANHA 3D (Dimension) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $25.0M Total: $83.2M Verdict: Hit.

THE SWITCH (Miramax) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $27.8M Total: $49.8M Verdict: Made Money.

GOINGTHE DISTANCE (New Line) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $42.1M Verdict: Flop.

Excited? I know I am…there is a highly anticipated movie nearly every week this summer, and sometimes more than one, each one hoping you’ll buy a ticket and ensure more sequels for summers to come. There are whispers that Summer 2012 may even outdo this year – we’ll have to wait and see what takes shape. However, the Fall and Holiday season is going to be no slouch either – with new installments in the Twilight and Paranormal Activity series, sequels to Sherlock Holmes, Happy Feet and Mission: Impossible, a spin-off in the Shrek universe starring one of the most beloved characters in that franchise and not one but two Spielberg films, it’s going to be a busy season at the box office then as well. You can catch a more detailed preview at the end of August. In the meantime, the air-conditioned comfort of the multiplex beckons – so what are you waiting for? Buy your ticket, hit the concession stand for an ice cold soda and hot buttered popcorn, settle back in your stadium seat and let this summer’s blockbusters take you out of your world and into a place of pure magic.