Summer 2011 has been solid, if unspectacular – both for us moviegoers and for “them,” the studios. We've had enjoyable, quality-leaning popcorn fare like X-Men, Thor and Super 8 – and there's still hope for Cowboys & Aliens and Harry Potter, among others. Meanwhile, “they” have had dependable, albeit predictably subpar, blockbusters in Pirates 4 and The Hangover Part II, with shoo-ins like Transformers, Zookeeper and Captain America yet to come. It's all rather ho-hum in the end – and worth raising the question: With summer 2012's almost weekly barrage of event movies and guaranteed megahits, is summer 2011 the appetizer to its entree (er, the iPhone 4GS to its iPhone 5)? Here's why we ask.
Superheroes The Dark Knight Rises: Add up all the excitement over every movie this summer, and it still wouldn't equal that of the Dark Knight sequel, more than a year before its release. Even a minor casting tidbit can generate major traffic for movie sites and send the twitters atwitter – and such immeasurable buzz is how excitement is gauged these days. It's just part of what makes The Dark Knight Rises the most anticipated movie of next summer, if not all of 2012. (7/20/12) The Amazing Spider-Man: The completely overhauled franchise seems a risky proposition for Sony/Columbia: The budget isn't really changing all that much, but the names (Andrew Garfield's isn't exactly household) and storyline are, with the focus shifted toward Peter Parker's younger days. Still, moviegoers aren't going to turn down a superhero flick of this magnitude during summertime, and it's not like we're talking about a Spider-Man musical or something. (7/3/12) The Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and others from the Marvel universe – with Geekus Christ himself, Joss Whedon, behind it all? It's orgasmic for comic-book nerds, sure, but make no mistake: Even the most casual moviegoers have been excited since the announcement of this Ocean's Eleven of superheroes. Not bad for the FIRST. MOVIE. OF. THE. SUMMER! (5/4/12) Adaptations Battleship: We're a little uneasy about the whole board-game-adaptation thing, but Monopoly: From Boardwalk to Broke this isn't. It's Peter Berg directing, a $200 million budget, and, well, battleship scenes. Plus, we get to see Rihanna try to act, Brooklyn Decker try to act again, and female moviegoers try not to squirm at the sight of Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard in their tight naval uniforms – and perhaps out of their tight naval uniforms. (5/18/12) Dark Shadows: Another Burton-Depp-Bonham Carter collabo, another roughly billion dollars for the studio. But Warner Bros. isn't alone in its rabid anticipation: Fans have more than approved the gothic-even-in-PG-movies Burton for this gig, an adaptation of the dark 1960s soap of the same name that deals with vampires, of the non-Twilight ilk. With Depp as the beloved bloodluster Barnabas Collins and Seth Grahame-Smith, who knows a thing or two about making bloodplay fun (read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), responsible for the script, there's high hopes for Shadows – and confidence from fans. (5/11/12) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: It's hard to believe that it's been almost 150 years since Abe Lincoln's assassination, and we're seeing a movie about his days as a vampire hunter before his biopic; at this point, it's also more exciting. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith's bizarro Lincoln novel of the same name (he also co-adapted the screenplay), Vampire Hunter looks to be one of the most original – even though its story isn't – offerings of the crowded season; it's certainly got the most self-explanatory title. Expect bloody, gory fun. Lots of it. (6/22/12) Snow White and the Huntsman: The first of roughly 200 opportunistic modern-day takes on the ol' Grimm bros fairy tale (we can thank Tim Burton' Alice in Wonderland for the oh-so-slight uptick in greenlit fairytale movies) coming your way, Huntsman promises to be the darkest of the bunch – you know, death, revenge and stuff. And while that's not necessarily quite enough for us to get overly excited, Universal had millions at “Snow W--”. The fact that it stars Kristen Stewart in the title role is icing. (6/1/12) ="">
="">="">Animation Madagascar 3: All the main players are back for the third installment in this DreamWorks cash cow, and there's no reason to think fans' excitement – or the movie's resultant box office – will wane whatsoever. One little twist, however (and frankly, one of the weirder indie-mainstream marriages in ages), that those who don't fall in the target demographic might find interesting: Noah Baumbach, of angsty, artsy drmedies like The Squid and the Whale, wrote the screenplay! (6/8/12) Brave: There's an all-encompassing keyword attached to Brave – one that piques excitement, promises quality and Oscar nominations, and instantly drums up hundreds of millions of virtual dollars at the box office: Pixar. The studio's first fairy tale epic promises darker undertones than we're used to seeing, and tells the story of a Scottish warrior heroine. And did we mention it's Pixar? (6/22/12) Ice Age: Continental Drift: More of the same from this verrrrry outdated (get it? Ice Age? Sorry.) franchise, with some J. Lo-voicing action thrown in, because she was relevant again when this thing was filming. Ice Age might not seem worthy of a mention on our list – not many people penciled it in to their iPhone calendars when it was announced a couple years ago – but for its built-in blockbuster powers, we had to. Oh, and it's in 3-D! Don't see much of that very much these days. (7/13/12) Sequels* The Bourne Legacy: It lost Damon and Greengrass, but the Bourne franchise soldiers on with truly two of the most sensible replacements imaginable: Oscar nominees Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) as star and director, respectively. That is just about the least amount of drop-off conceivable after losing the aforementioned titans – and they may even bring something to the table that Damon and Greengrass couldn't. Be excited. (8/3/12) MIB 3: This could best be summed up thusly: No one (except perhaps Columbia Studios and Will Smith's team of accountants) was itching for a third Men in Black installment, especially a full decade after the previous MIB – but the relative lukewarm excitement towards it trumps the hell out of any of this summer's threequels (or fourquels or fivequels). Granted, about 75 percent of said lukewarm excitement is due to the fact Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement is in it, but still. (5/25/12) *Also see: The Dark Knight Rises, Madagascar 3 and Ice Age: Continental Drift
Miscellaneous The Dictator: No one knows what this thing is about – Paramount's synopsis doesn't provide much insight: “the story of a heroic dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed” – and that's rather refreshing. We do know that it re-teams star Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles (oh, and Megan Fox), so it's fair to expect something controversial and envelope-pushing, something between R-rated sociopolitical satire and, well, Borat. And that's nice to see nestled between superhero movies. (5/11/12) Ted: Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane brings his boundary-pushing brand of humor to the big screen for the first time as writer, director and voice star of Ted. In the live action/CG-animated comedy, he tells the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a grown man who must deal with the cherished teddy bear who came to life as the result of a childhood wish…and has refused to leave his side ever since. If that all sounds press release-y, it should. But we're sold. (7/13/12) Prometheus: What started as a quasi-prequel to Ridley Scott's Alien turned into ... something else. The plot is being kept heavily under wraps, but everything that is known (i.e., a cast including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender; a script co-written by Lost's Damon Lindelof; and Scott's penchant for BIG movies) is confidence-inspiring. The probability that Prometheus is at least heavy on outsize sci-fi-ness only helps. (6/8/12) Also... What To Expect When You're Expecting: It's been a New York Times bestseller for almost three decades now – why NOT make it into a movie?! Who cares if it's essentially an instructional book?! Cameron Diaz and the recently cast J. Lo star in what is more or less a Mother's Day gift and a male punishment. (5/11/12) Rock of Ages: The Tom Cruise-starring musical you keep hearing about, based on the Broadway hit of the same name and directed by Adam Shankman, who did the same thing with 2007's Hairspray. It's Tom Cruise's last shot at a return to pre-couch-jump stardom. 'Til Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. (6/1/12) I Hate You, Dad: The obligatory summer “comedy” from truly the most consistent box office star in the world, Adam Sandler. Should be eh-mazing, again. (6/15/12) Jack the Giant Killer: The Usual Suspects team of Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie reunite for this quasi-take on Jack and the Beanstalk. Which means it'll probably be different from their last collaboration, Valkyrie. Which means it'll probably be good. (6/15/12) Here Comes the Boom: See I Hate You, Dad, above, and replace “Adam Sandler” with “Kevin James.” And subtract “the most consistent box office star in the world.” (7/27/12) Total Recall: This one exciting for us fans of the somewhat unappreciated Schwarzenegger sci-fi original. Colin Farrell plays the Ahnold part, with Underworld's Len Wiseman directing. As for the tri-boobed prostitute, we have a lot of casting ideas, but that's a whole other feature. (8/3/12) G.I. Joe 2: Cobra Strikes: The Rock slides into this mother of all unwarranted sequels – from the guy who directed the mother of all unwarranted biopics, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. And it'll still be a blockbuster! (8/10/12) Southern Rivals: The blockbusterist comedy is saved for last in summer '12. Two of the genre's biggest names, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, play political enemies in this one. It remains to be seen what kind of effect this will have on the presidential election a few months later. (8/10/12) The Expendables 2: Sly Stallone won't be returning to the director's chair for this one. Everything else is seemingly identical to the original – maybe even the plot. (8/17/12) ="">
The ability to play violent, fictionalized versions of American presidents is quickly becoming Benjamin Walker's calling card. According to Variety, the up-and-coming actor best known for his starring role in the on and off-Broadway hit 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' will next take on the nation's sixteenth president in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Vampire Hunter recasts the American Civil War as the result of Lincoln's deeply personal crusade to rid the world of vampires. (Apparently Bill Compton survives this purge.)
Walker closed the deal with 20th Century Fox for the upcoming summer tentpole after emerging as the frontrunner among a number of high-profile actors screen-testing for the role, including Adrien Brody, Josh Lucas, James D'Arcy and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
Grahame-Smith is also set to script Vampire Hunter, with Russian vampire-movie veteran Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) in the director's chair, alongside his co-producer, the legendary Tim Burton.
Intrigued? Wary? A little of both? We are too. There's no question that the plot of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a little zany, but we're glad to see the vampire genre moving back in the direction of farce. Then again, we won't have a better sense of the tone Bekmambetov and Burton are aiming for (cinéma vérité?) until we get a trailer sometime next year.
Luckily, we won't have too long to wait: Vampire Hunter will begin lensing in 3D this March ahead of a June 22, 2012 release. Is this going to be the summer's biggest flop? An out-of-left-field blockbuster? We'll start taking your bets now.
So we have this adaptation of a fairly popular book that had all of Tinsel Town atwitter thinking it’ll be a big blockbuster. The book revolves around an alternate history of one of the United States of America’s (God Bless Her in all her glory) most iconic Presidents and re-imagines him as....a vampire hunter. Ok, I’m cool with that. Abe Lincoln was pretty bad-ass, let's make him more bad-ass in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I think the movie is a great idea, but now 20th Century Fox started to handpick actors that are auditioning and all I can think is... Brit's? You’re seriously considering hiring a British actor to pay Abraham Mother Fucking (that’s his true middle name, look it up) Lincoln?
The shortlist includes the fine red-blooded American actors Timothy Olyphant, Benjamin Walker, Adrien Brody, and Josh Lucas. The Brits they are considering are James D’Arcy and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. You really can’t get any more British if your last name is Darcy. I’m not an Anglo-phobe by any stretch of the means. I love Doctor Who. But this is Abraham Lincoln. You just can’t have someone that isn’t American play the part. It’s not like we’re trying to shove one of ours to be James Bond, are we?
The best choices here are Timothy Olyphant and Benjamin Walker. Olyphant because he is such an ass kicker in his own right, he would simply kill the role (and we mean that in a good way). Walker, because he has experience playing a kick-ass Presidents (he debuted as Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) so he knows how to walk the walk.
No word on who's the current front runner, but Fox will have to cast up soon enough; the film needs to be in production soon to meet its June 22, 2012 release date.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.