By now you’ve probably seen a tentative list of all the treats the big studios have in store for your summer movie-going calendar. Sure, there are some interesting items snuck into the cracks and crevices of that schedule, but you could be forgiven if your overriding impression is that of a Hollywood-fed menu comprised primarily of the usual crop of increasingly desperate-seeming sequels, second-tier comic book adaptations and even a slew of earnest and obvious-sounding indie comedy-drama-dramedies. What’s a grownup to do when the appetite for superheroes, tired genres and other presold titles becomes sated? (Hard to imagine it could happen, I know, but anything is possible.) One answer is, of course, to look a little closer at that slate. If you don’t give much more than a cursory glance, and then only at features like that IMDB list, you could easily walk away with the notion that comic books rule the landscape, and the truth is they just might. But IMDb’s list is incomplete; it concentrates only on the big-ticket items, most of which you’ve already heard of. For every weekend which a list like the one on IMDb makes seem limited to the usual blockbuster, sequel, crass comedy or some combination of all of the above, there may be as many as three or four other smaller-budgeted films, perhaps just as worthy or unworthy as the Hollywood titles of your attention, only minus the gargantuan advertising budget that gets them top billing on a sexy site like IMDb. In attempting to schedule my drive-in trips and other movie indulgences of the summer I was a bit let-down while perusing the upcoming roster of hot-weather treats. But an examination of what might be playing at smaller venues and art-house alternatives cheered me up a little, if only because the choices suddenly became much broader and not everything seemed tied to computer-generated explosions and groups of supposedly lovable bastards getting lost in foreign countries full of funny-looking people ready-made to be laughed at.
So what are the titles that bubble up from the bog, or at least from the impressions of the upcoming movies as dictated by our responses to the barrage of advertising we’ve been subjected to so far? Stephanie Zacharek, in acknowledging that she is as susceptible to the “siren song of the summer movie trailer” as anyone, also handily points out that reviewing one’s hopes and dreams based on a swift-moving preview is hardly the same as reviewing the movie itself; a return to her column, or this blog, over the summer will undoubtedly reveal the gorge-sized gap between anticipation and bitter reality. Even so, I’m willing to go out on a shaky limb and proclaim, as Stephanie did, my desire to see a certain number of summer films based on what little I know of them so far. The list of upcoming summer releases made available at Movie Insider has been far more valuable and complete than the IMDb list in putting my list together, so hopefully there will be a title or two among the following that you may not have heard of or otherwise been hammered on incessantly about. (“Buzz dating back to February says that The Hangover Part II is HILARIOUS, but let’s all act like it’s a real sleeper just like we did when the furiously promoted first chapter came around a couple years ago, okay??!!”) Here then is my list, which I have arbitrarily limited to 10. There may be 11 or 13 movies I’m willing to admit looking forward to, but I’m only going to tell you about 10-- less mess to clean up afterward that way. (And yeah, I’ll probably see Thor and Cars 2 and Harry Potter 7.5 just like you will—but not The Hangover Part II-- please— or Transformers: Dark of the Moon, thank you.) And just for the fun of daydreaming, my number 11 is a cartoon adaptation that doesn’t actually exist, but the prospect of it looks so loony and subversive and genuinely demented that I really wish it did— may the actual dog days be chased away by a real release that has a fraction of the inspiration of the two-minute faux trailer attached to this one.
Hard to believe that I’m looking forward to a movie directed by Lars Von Trier. But his Antichrist was a brilliant act of sustained disorientation and unbearable sadness; it’s the first film of his I’ve ever responded to with anything other than disgust. In that spirit, anything goes, and if Melancholia approaches anything close to a degree of Antichrist’s power, well, let’s just say our Memorial Day weekend is likely to have a much different echo to it once the fireworks have subsided.
BRIDESMAIDS May 13
Directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) from a script co-written by Kristen Wiig, who stars with Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and Jon Hamm, this one (based on the trailer) looks like a potential belly buster. It’ll be nice to see Kristen Wiig take center stage after so many years of virtual walk-ons and support for talent often not nearly as incandescent as her own. The movie promises character-based comedy with that post-Farrelly Brothers raunch factored in, and it’ll be interesting to see how the rare Apatow production centering on the XX chromosome set plays out, for the characters on screen and the audience. I’m betting big.
TRUE LEGEND May 13
Michelle Yeoh is featured in another big summer movie—she’s a voice in Kung Fu Panda 2-- but this martial arts thriller, directed by legendary fight coordinator Woo-ping Yuen, is her first appearance on U.S. screens since the less-than-auspicious The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Any chance to see Yeoh on the big screen should be seized, especially in this milieu, but True Legend also features Asian stars Man Cheuk-Chiu, Xun Zhou, Andy On and the late David Carradine in one of his last screen appearances. Truth be told, I’d see it on the strength of that ‘70s-inspired poster alone, but my anticipation is also based on what I hope will be a good movie to go along with that great design.
THE TREE OF LIFE May 27
The cinephile’s must-see movie of the summer. It’s hard to pass up any opportunity to see a visually resplendent Malick picture on a big screen, but this movie being positioned as a big Memorial Day ticket appeals to my sense of the perverse as well. It’ll feel good saying “One for The Tree of Life instead of one for The Hangover Part II.”
SUPER 8 June 10
The trailer stirs up lots of mixed feelings for me, running the gamut from intrigue at the mysterious premise to a shudder of recognition at perhaps one too many awestricken actors gazing into a blinding bright light, one presumably interstellar in origin. Scratch Mission Impossible III and Abrams' track record is a pretty good one, so there’s reason to hold out hope here, all reservations being tied to hopes that the Spielberg echoed here has more to do with Close Encounters of the Third Kind or A.I. than with War of the Worlds.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN July 15
I would love to be able to take my 11-year-old daughter, who is half-Japanese and fascinated by all aspects of Asian culture, to see this picture, which marks the return of director Wayne Wang and is based on Lisa See’s lovely novel about two young Chinese women who develop a secret code as a way of dealing with the often brutal realities of the society’s attitudes and norms imposed upon women. Co-scripted by Ronald Bass (who wrote Wang’s adaptation of The Joy Luck Club), the movie could turn out to be, based on evidence of the trailer, either splendidly moving or a soggy period retread of Joy Luck’s broadest sentimental indulgences.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER July 22
I’m a big proponent of Joe Johnston’s clean-cut classical style in pictures like October Sky and Hidalgo and the snap-crackle-pop he brings to big, brash entertainments like Jumanji and Jurassic Park III. His involvement alone makes this potential Marvel tent pole the #1 superhero movie attraction for me this summer. Even better, Captain America’s gee-whiz period sincerity (it’s set during a comic-book World War II, when the only thing worse than a Nazi is a zombie Nazi) harkens back to Johnston’s successful navigation down a similar path in 1988’s The Rocketeer. With any luck, this could be the summer’s happiest surprise.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES August 5
If one is compelled to play the game, then it seems to me adding a chapter to the convoluted saga of the Apes series which ruled the box office and the imaginations of many a teenage sci-fi geek in the ‘70s is a far better prospect than simply “rebooting” the series most beloved entry, the way Tim Burton did several summers ago. Just the retro look of the logo of this sixth part (fifth sequel) is enough to give those grown-up sci-fi geeks (among which I of course include myself) a shiver of delight. The possible pitfalls are plentiful, but I would dearly love to see another real Apes movie thunder across a summer movie screen, echoing the legacy of Pierre Boulle, Franklin J. Schaffner, Charlton Heston, Roddy MacDowell and Kim Hunter in silly triumph all the way.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK August 12
This remake of the chilling 1973 TV movie which starred Kim Darby has mighty memories to fill, as well as the legacy of a Movie of the Week nearly on par with The Night Stalker. The new version is being shepherded by Guillermo Del Toro, so the things that go bump in the night under the stairs in this version should be guaranteed ghastly. Katie Holmes fills Darby’s shoes, a less daunting task than the one faced by Haillee Steinfeld during the Christmas holiday, but Holmes has yet to prove the potential she often showed in the pre-Cruise days. All that said, this R-rated horror movie probably stands the best chance of being the summer’s top creepshow attraction.
AMIGO August 20
Director-writer John Sayles returns to the epic political canvas of Lone Star and Matewan in this tale of a culture clash between Filipino citizenry and American soldiers in 1900. This kind of chewy social drama is right up the alley of the famously independent filmmaker, but he’s just as often been undone by the gap between the quality of his material and his ability to find the most cinematic manner in which to express it. But his track record promises at least an honorable alternative to the other, shall we say, um, flashier manifestations of war and cultural schisms offered by the typical CGI-driven fare of the season.
And now number 11, the movie I truly wish was coming out this summer. But maybe it’s already in its finest form right here: Rose McGowan is BOOP…