X-Men: First Class


X-Men: First Class

You can tell it's the 60s: they're playing chess on an actual chessboard.

(2011) Superhero (20th Century Fox) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Alex Gonzalez, Zoe Kravitz, Matt Craven, Lucas Till, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, James Remar, Rade Serbedzija, Ray Wise, M. Ironside, Bill Milner, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn. Directed by Matthew Vaughn

It is a failing of humanity that the things we don’t understand, we tend to fear and the things we fear we tend to destroy. This is what leads to genocide, and that kind of hatred and malevolence can have unintended consequences.

Erik Lensherr (Milner) is the son of Jews who have been taken to a concentration camp, displaying great power over magnetism when angered. A Nazi scientist (Bacon) notices this and determines to find out how he can use Lensherr as a weapon for the Third Reich. In order to force Lensherr’s co-operation, he executes his mother in front of him.

After the war, the adult Lensherr (Fassbender) goes on a rampage, hunting down Nazis who had anything to do with his torture, with emphasis in particular on the scientist who now goes by the name of Sebastian Shaw. His powers still only manifest when he’s angry but he’s not yet grown into the powerful mutant he will become.

Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is graduating from Oxford and has become an expert on human mutation, o much so that he is approached by Agent Moira MacTaggert (Byrne) of the Central Intelligence Agency to give expert testimony to the higher-ups of the CIA, including a skeptical agency chief (Craven). It seems that MacTaggert has been chasing Sebastian Shaw as well, and witnessed the telepathic powers of his associate Emma Frost (J. Jones) and the teleportation powers of Azazel (Flemyng), one of the associates of the Hellfire Club that Shaw runs. Xavier brings along Raven Darkholme (Lawrence), a young orphan his family adopted. When Xavier’s scientific presentation fails to impress, he reveals that both he and Raven are mutants; he a powerful telepath and she a shape-shifter.

They are taken charge of by an eager, jovial section chief (Platt) who has built a facility for the study of mutants, only without any mutants. That changes when one of the scientists working for them, Hank McCoy (Hoult) turns out to have hands for feet and has animal-like powers. He discovers a kindred spirit in Raven, who like Hank longs to be normal-looking (Raven in her natural appearance has blue skin, golden eyes and brick-red hair).

During a government attack on Shaw’s boat, the government is foiled by Azazel and Riptide (Gonzalez), a mutant who can generate tornado-like windstorms. Shaw, Frost, Azazel and Riptide escape on a submarine that Shaw had built inside his boat despite the efforts of Lensherr who arrives mid-fight in an attempt to murder Shaw, who recognizes his old pupil.

Xavier rescues Lensherr from drowning and recruits him to be part of the government team. Lensherr really isn’t much of a team player, but his growing friendship and respect for Xavier keeps him around. They realize that since Shaw has a mutant team that can easily wipe out even a military attack, a mutant team of their own will be needed. Using Cerebro, a computer that enhances Xavier’s telepathic abilities and allows him to “find” mutants, he and Lensherr go on a recruiting drive, allowing him to find Angel Salvadore (Kravitz) – a stripper with wings, Darwin (Gathegi) who can adapt to any survival situation, Banshee (C.L. Jones) who can project sonic blasts that allow him to fly and also act as sonar, and Havoc (Till) who fires lethal blasts out of his chest.

Shaw finds out what Xavier and Lensherr, who are now going as Professor X and Magneto (suggested by Raven who’s going by Mystique, while McCoy is Beast), are up to and orchestrates an attack on his new recruits, killing one and recruiting Angel to his cause. Shaw, who sees the mutants as the next step in evolution, is up to no good – he is the one who has through subtle and not-so-subtle influence in both the Soviet Union and the United States, created the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes of starting World War III, from which he and his fellow mutants would rise from the ashes to rule the world. Xavier and his X-Men (a play on G-Men bestowed on the group by MacTaggert who is their CIA liaison), must stop it despite the group’s youth and inexperience.

Vaughn, who has done the superhero thing before with Kick-Ass (he was originally supposed to direct the third X-Men movie but dropped out because he didn’t think he could finish it in the time allotted by the studio) and is also the man behind Stardust, one of my favorite movies of recent years, does a pretty spiffy job here. He has a great visual eye and has done this as essentially a James Bond movie from the 60s with superheroes. It’s a brilliant concept that he doesn’t always pull off but manages to enough to make the movie interesting.

One of the main reasons the movie works is the chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence. These are three talents rising in the industry – Lawrence already has an Oscar nomination for her stellar work in Winter’s Bone – and all have enormous potential to be stars. McAvoy plays the contemplative Xavier with an even keel, rarely raising his voice or seemingly getting excited but that doesn’t mean he isn’t emotional; it is amusing to watch him trying to pick up girls with his line about mutations at various Oxford pubs.

Fassbender is much more intense as Magneto, making the pain of his childhood palpable but well-covered by layers of anger. His need for revenge has driven him to hate all humans, wanting to forestall another Holocaust-like fate for his fellow mutants. The leadership of the CIA and the military will certainly not assuage his paranoia much.

Lawrence does Mystique as a troubled soul, whose power is wrapped up in deception but yet yearns to be perceived as normal. She develops an attraction for Magneto despite Beast’s obvious crush on her, and she is very much attached in a sisterly way to Xavier.

The movie goes a long way into showing how Xavier and Magneto went from the best of friends to the most implacable of foes. It also depicts how Xavier was paralyzed and shows the founding of his school where the X-Men would eventually be based. While Wolverine and an adult Mystique make cameos (both very playfully done I might add), the mutants from the first trilogy of the X-movies largely are absent.

Fox has made no secret that they plan to make a new trilogy starting with this one. The question is, will I want to see the next one? The answer is a resounding yes. While the 60s atmosphere that was created was rife with anachronisms (the miniskirt, which is clearly worn by several characters and extras during the film, wasn’t introduced until a few years after the Crisis for example and the soundtrack is rife with music that wasn’t recorded until afterwards either), the feel of the Bond movies is retained and that makes the movie special.

The action sequences (particularly the battle with the Russian and American fleets with the mutants that ends the film) are well done. As summer superhero movies go, this is definitely a cut above, although lacking the epic scope of Thor earlier this year. It certainly is a promising reboot of the franchise and continues the run of quality Marvel films that we’ve been getting over the past five years. Hopefully Fox will continue to follow Marvel’s lead and keep the quality of this franchise high.

REASONS TO GO: Great action sequences and good chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence.

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t capture the period as well as it might have.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some partial nudity and a few mildly bad words, along with some action sequence that may be too intense for the youngsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fassbender and McAvoy both appeared in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” early on in their careers but haven’t appeared together in the same project since.

HOME OR THEATER: The action sequences are huge and need a huge canvas.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Outlander

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New Releases for the Week of June 3, 2011


June 3, 2011

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

(20th Century Fox) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng. Directed by Matthew Vaughn

The saga of the X-Men gets an origin story as we see how the friendship between Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr dissolves into bitter rivalry. We’ll also see the very first mission of the mutants, as they attempt to avert Armageddon during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. An all-new cast reboots this franchise.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

(IFC) Werner Herzog, Dominique Baffier, Nicholas Conrad, Carole Fritz. Ace documentarian Werner Herzog takes us inside a place few humans have ever seen – the Chauvet Cave in France. Here we are allowed to see, in stunning 3D, the most ancient cave art discovered to date, drawings dating back 30,000 years. The filmmaker had to get special dispensation to take his 3D cameras into the caves, and it is unlikely permission to film inside the caves will ever be granted again in order to preserve the environment of the site.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Drama

Rating: G

Hobo with a Shotgun

(Magnet) Rutger Hauer, Nick Bateman, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith. An angry homeless guy armed with a lawn mower and the titular shotgun decides to clean up the streets of a hopelessly corrupt city. This started out life as a faux trailer on some editions of the Grindhouse DVD.

See the trailer and a link to rent the movie at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: NR

Midnight in Paris

(Sony Classics) Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody. An American family moves to Paris for business reasons. Once there, they fall under the spell of the City of Light, and learn that lives different than our own aren’t necessarily better. This is the newest from Woody Allen and it has been getting some of the best box office receipts for the acclaimed director in more than a decade.

See the trailer and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and smoking)

Four-Warned: June 2011


Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. GREEN LANTERN (1.0)
2. SUPER 8 (1.3)
3. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (1.5)
4. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2.3)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. TROLL HUNTER (1.0)
2. BUCK (1.2)
3. IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT (1.6)
4. BEAUTIFUL BOY (1.8)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JUNE 3, 2011

BEAUTIFUL BOY (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. A family comes to grips with the tragedy of their son shooting up his school before killing himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Stars the great Michael Sheen and the trailer is really compelling, by the way.
BEGINNERS (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A young man comes to grips with the passing of his father through a relationship with a woman whose joie de vivre brings to mind his late dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 This is based on the director’s own relationship with his dad.
THE LAST MOUNTAIN (DADA) Genre: Documentary. Activists try to save a West Virginia mountain from being destroyed by a coal mining corporation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer looked both intriguing and inspiring.
LOVE, WEDDING, MARRIAGE (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A high-strung marriage counselor attempts to save her parents’ marriage at the expense of her own. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 A decent cast but Mandy Moore playing high-strung could be too much for my nerves.
MR. NICE (MPI Media Group) Genre: Espionage Comedy – Maybe. The remarkable story of Howard Marks, a man of many hats. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Don’t know very much about this movie but the cast (including Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis) is strong.
REJOICE AND SHOUT (Magnolia) Genre: Musical Documentary. A glimpse at the more than 200 year history of gospel music from its beginnings as slave songs into the influential celebratory sounds that it has become. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles June 17). RATING: 3.8 Not really my cup of tea.
SUBMARINE (Weinstein) Genre: Dramedy. A young British adolescent tries to rekindle the romance between his feuding parents while trying to get laid himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of the more acclaimed movies to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Superhero. The origin story of Professor X, Magneto and the Xavier School for Gifted Children – the X-Men with an all-new cast. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Kind of flew under the fanboy radar the past year but only now beginning to generate a positive buzz.

JUNE 8, 2011

ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. An elephant, unhappy performing in a circus, is taken by an understanding owner by various steps back into the wild. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles June 24). RATING: 3.2 After seeing Water for Elephants, this might be a balance for circus life.

JUNE 10, 2011

BRIDE FLIGHT (Music Box) Genre: Drama. Three women fly to New Zealand from the Netherlands to meet as mail order brides and remain there for 50 years, the lives of all three entwined. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 A terrific looking trailer although it sounds a little on the soap opera side.
THE CHAMELEON (LLeju) Genre: Thriller. The return of a kidnapped boy to his home brings more questions than answers and opens up a deeper mystery. Release Strategy: Limited.RATING: 2.9 A great cast (including Ellen Barkin) and the extra added attraction of a true story.
JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER (Relativity) Genre: Family. A young girl wants to turn her drab and dreary summer into the best ever – with the help of her eccentric aunt. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 Even though it has one of my favorite actresses in it (Heather Graham) the trailer looks just hopelessly awful.
JUST LIKE US (Cross Cultural) Genre: Comedy. A documentary about Arabic stand-up comedians from around the world. Release Strategy: New York City, Los Angeles and Washington DC (Expands June 17). RATING: 2.9 It’s always a good time for cross cultural understanding.
ROAD TO NOWHERE (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A filmmaker making a movie about an actual murder casts an actress with a disturbing resemblance to the victim and in doing so opens the door for intrigue and connection to the original crime. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles June 17). RATING: 3.0 Sounds a bit like the all-time classic thriller Laura.
SUPER 8 (Paramount) Genre: Horror Action. A group of young amateur filmmakers in 1979 capture a train derailment on film and discover there’s more to it than met the eye. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Spielberg and J.J. Abrams; need I say more?
THE TRIP (IFC) Genre: Comedy. Two British comedians go on a road trip to review restaurants and try to make each other laugh. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A hilarious trailer makes me want to see this much more than I would have ordinarily.
TROLLHUNTER (Magnet) Genre: Found Footage Horror. A group of young Norwegian student filmmakers find and follow a government-sanctioned troll hunter as he hunts down the dangerous creatures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Saw this at the Florida Film Festival and was completely blown away.
VIVA RIVA! (Music Box) Genre: Crime Drama. A small time African criminal scores a big cache of black market gasoline and unwittingly opens up a big can of worms. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Sounds fascinating…I’m always interested in African cinema.

JUNE 15, 2011

KIDNAPPED (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A dysfunctional family living in an exclusive gated community in Madrid find themselves fighting for their lives when their home is invaded by brutal masked men. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.4 The movie is said to have been filmed in only a few shots, giving it a very real time feel – which seems kind of gimmicky to me.

JUNE 17, 2011

THE ART OF GETTING BY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A high school senior who has managed to avoid doing any real work his entire life meets a girl who sees more inside him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 An interesting trailer but not enough to really pique my interest much.
BUCK (IFC) Genre: Documentary. A real-life “horse whisperer” and authentic cowboy is called upon to fix people with horse problems which turn out to be mostly horses with people problems. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 The trailer was incredibly moving and makes me hope against all odds that this will play in Orlando.
GREEN LANTERN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Superhero. A brash test pilot is given a powerful ring that he is meant to defend the universe with – assuming he can get his own act together first. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.0 I’ve been chomping at the bit to see this movie ever since it was first announced.
MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family Comedy. A house painter with dreams of arctic exploration receives a penguin who multiplies into many whom he trains to performRelease Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Based on an award-winning children’s classic.
. MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (Cohen) Genre: Comedy. An illiterate handyman is taught how to read by a little old lady, opening his mind to the possibility that he might be an intellectual after all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Gerard Depardieu is one of the most charming actors in history.
PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. As print journalism begins to be supplanted by the internet, the most venerated newspaper in America struggles to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Raises some very valid questions about the media in the 21st century and beyond.

JUNE 22, 2011

IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT (Oscilloscope) Genre: Documentary. An unprecedented look at the radical ecological terrorist group and one member in particular. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 When do the ends justify the means?

JUNE 24, 2011

A BETTER LIFE (Summit) Genre: Drama. A Hispanic father tries to protect his son from the harsh realities of living in an American barrio, all the while fighting to obtain a future better than his own. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 A compelling look at the American Dream from the director of About a Boy.
A LITTLE HELP  (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. A woman whose husband dies suddenly is comforted and aided by her mother and sister – and finds herself being drawn to her sister’s husband. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Sounds a bit soap opera-esque on the surface but the trailer looked pretty interesting.
BAD TEACHER (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A teacher who hates her job and is just killing time until she can marry a rich substitute teacher discovers an incentive program that will pay her enough for the boob job she needs to snare her prey. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 Looks Apatow-esque but not as effortlessly funny.
THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST (Big Indie) Genre: Comedy. A couple moves to New York City to get their five year old daughter into an exclusive private school and uses sexual blackmail and plagiarism to do it. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 Neil Patrick Harris is one of my favorite comic actors.
CARS 2 (Disney*Pixar) Genre: Animated Feature. Mater gets mistaken for a superspy while he accompanies Lightning McQueen on an International Grand Prix. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.9 Cars was never one of my favorite Pixar releases and this one looks to be one of their weakest movies in a long time.
CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (Abramorama) Genre: Documentary. During the late night talk show host’s contractually enforced TV/Internet/Radio performance ban following his “Tonight Show” exit, he toured the country with a sometimes angry stand-up act, captured here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A very revealing look at a performer not only filling a void in his life but exorcising a few demons in the process.
LEAP YEAR (ANO BISIESTO) (Strand) Genre: Drama. A young journalist in Mexico City embarks in a sado-masochistic affair and in the process leads her down a very dark path. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles July 1). RATING: 2.4 The prurient interest is appealing but looks to be a film pushing the envelope of Mexican cinema.
NAMES OF THE LOVE (Music Box) Genre: Comedy. A beautiful liberal tries to literally seduce right wing men into seeing things her way. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 The kind of political lobbying Bill Clinton would have loved.

JUNE 29, 2011

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (DreamWorks) Genre: Science Fiction. Sam Witwicky discover the Space Race of the ‘60s held a dark secret in regards to the Transformers and their hated Decepticon rivals. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX). RATING: 2.3 Really didn’t like the last installment in the series but must admit the trailers for this one have looked much better.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Beginners, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Green Lantern, A Better Life, Bad Teacher, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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.