One of the funny things about summer is you never know what’s really going to be any good, let alone great. The studios may try to slam you over the head with endless advertising trying to make you think they know what’s in your best interest to see, but that’s all a matter of publicity. This Memorial Day weekend saw the opening of two hugely anticipated sequels in the likes of Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 and Movie Review: The Hangover Part II. While one was furthering proof of Hollywood artistic bankruptcy, the former was not the smash hit it should have been, or at least not yet. However, with the months of June and July about to bombard us, we can only keep our fingers crossed that something worthwhile is thrown our way. Let’s see what bones Hollywood is throwing us this June.
Having a weekend all to yourself must be nice for some film openings. When it comes to the case of X-Men: First Class, however, it may be the best thing for director Matthew Vaughn. Rebooting a franchise essentially from scratch has to be a far from easy task. Having four credited screenwriters is also typically a recipe for disaster. Yet the word-of-mouth for this beginning level of superhero mutants is nothing but positive thus far. Currently sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes shows great news for Twentieth Century Fox. Fingers crossed that even clocking in at 132 minutes can’t stop James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and January Jones from escaping the critically mauled X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I have faith in the power of director Vaughn after Layer Cake, Stardust, and Kick Ass (his last superhero action foray). Let’s just see if the word-of-mouth holds true.
This weekend we find two very different pieces of filmmaking, each featuring a mostly nubile cast. One is destined to become one of the year’s most nostalgic blockbusters while the other will undoubtedly die a quick box office death. When the name of J.J. Abrams is attached to a project you know you’re in for something grand. After giving us the best Mission: Impossible film of the whole franchise yet (III), and one of the best reboots ever with Star Trek, we finally get to see what Abrams can bring to the big screen working from a totally original idea. It also can’t hurt to have someone by the name of Steven Spielberg as your right hand man on a project either.
Meanwhile, there’s Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer for anyone with children, or even a pulse, should strictly avoid. When the biggest name in your cast can’t even act (Heather Graham), you know you’re headed for one of the summer’s most bummer movies. Just because author Megan McDonald’s book series plays like a fem-centric Diary of a Wimpy Kid doesn’t mean director John Schultz will be able to work any magic into the film when his last directorial efforts include: Drive Me Crazy, Like Mike, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, The Honeymooners, and Aliens in the Attic. My condolences to anyone who gets dragged to this when Super 8 is playing in the next theater.
Counter-programming is sometimes the only way to go. On one hand, you get your geek squad all fired up and on the other you give the rest of the family something see. The Richard and Florence Atwater 1938 classic children’s book Mr. Popper’s Penguins has screamed to be made into a movie for more than 70 years, and it’s finally getting the big screen treatment. I just wish it wasn’t getting a big 3-D treatment with what’s sure to feature an abundance of poop jokes going splat in Jim Carrey’s face as the TV commercials seem to indicate. I read this book countless times growing up and it makes me hang my head in shame that this is the best we finally get.
Not to mention that director Mark Waters has one solid hit under his belt with the superb Mean Girls. You can’t help but wonder if maybe it was the Tina Fey script and cast that were the magic ingredients holding everything together on that one. I guess we get to see either way, right? Although it’s also from Sean Anders and John Morris, the writing duo behind Sex Drive, She’s Out of My League and Hot Tub Time Machine… Maybe I shouldn’t be quite as worried now as they’re also getting some help from Jared Stern who contributed to the scripts of Bolt and The Princess and the Frog. I have absolutely no idea what to think now but honestly kind of can’t wait for better or worse (probably most of the latter though).
On the flip side of things comes the second big superhero flick with Ryan Reynolds getting all CGI in Green Lantern. Hal Jordan (Reynolds) finally gets to strut his computer-animated green suit of abs as the titular character with Blake Lively as the love interest, and Peter Sarsgaard as the villainous Hector Hammond. Director Martin Campbell certainly knows how to helm an action film what with treating us to two Bond films in Goldeneye and Casino Royale, two Zorro flicks, and Vertical Limit. I’ve also heard surprisingly good things about his Mel Gibson vehicle Edge of Darkness. Now let’s just hope that the four credited screenwriters have cobbled together a consistent tone and all will be well for Warner Bros. after some incredibly iffy trailers and TV spots.
I think this one may work out to be either the big surprise of the summer or one of the biggest failures as DC has always had a sketchy past when it comes to wining Hollywood features. They’re better known for their share of Superman III and IV, Supergirl, Swamp Thing, Batman & Robin, Catwoman, and Jonah Hex’s, then they are for Richard Donner’s and Bryan Singer’s Superman films or any of Tim Burton’s or Christopher Nolan’s Batmans, or even Watchmen for that matter. Maybe it’s about time they were headed for an about-face, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Another Hollywood epidemic seems to involve witnessing couples either falling in love on and off set or falling out of love while filming, right? What about when the lead couple in a new film are already ex-lovers? Thus is the case for Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher. Kasdan hasn’t made a movie since the criminally underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story but between, Orange County, and his work on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, here’s hoping the meshing of Apatow regulars and some supporting players from The Office can help bring the funny. Also from The Office are screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. Only problem with that is their last feature film was the reviled Year One. Here’s hoping Kasdan has better luck with things than Harold Ramis was able to. I’m sure Kasdan’s indie background is on his side here however; let alone the film featuring the always welcome presence of Jason Segel!
And finally, there’s a wee movie you may have heard of going by the title of Cars 2. John Lasseter returns to the director’s chair of his own Pixar Studios in a sequel to the last film he directed for them. Aside from some random producing credits, co-director Brad Lewis is a literal newcomer to the field. With Pixar and Lasseter himself behind him you have to have faith in the noob. This Pixar film also only credits one person with the screenplay in Ben Queen. Looks like Brad Lewis isn’t the only first timer at work here. Originally Lasseter wasn’t set to direct but maybe he was brought on to make it totally work ala Brad Bird on Ratatouille. I have to admit I was originally worried about this one because Cars is my least favorite Pixar film, even if it’s been its most commercially successful. But the more I’ve heard about the project the safer it sounds as Lasseter is promising a full out Pixar spy flick as opposed to just another Cars outing. If this thing is at least as good as either Rango (2011) or Kung Fu Panda 2, I’ll be exclaiming, “dad gum,” myself.
So with June wrapping up rather nicely, it’ll be interesting to see how well the box office does with this past Memorial Day breaking all kinds of records. While The Hangover Part II in no way deserved the kind of money it’s making, you can’t help but think audiences are suffering from their own kind of memory loss when they have the exact same (and ultimately better and funnier) version sitting in their home video libraries. But that was bound to make tons of cash whether it was a worthy follow up or not. Meanwhile, hopefully Kung Fu Panda 2 can keep its legs and keep itself in the game. There’s no accounting to taste when it comes to picking something to see over the weekend, and thankfully June has plenty to offer before July comes roaring in.
Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Relativity Media, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, and Columbia Pictures