Wow, is it summer already? Seems like it was only yesterday that I was scoffing at the chances of “300” conquering the box office and trumpeting the surefire success of “Redline.” How time flies.
Given that the beginning of the summer movie season is just about here, let’s take a look at the ungodly amount of films that’ll be opening over the course of the next four months and see what looks good, what looks awful, and what will top the box office whether it sucks or not.
I Smell Sequel!
Ho-hum: another summer, another several-month stretch where Hollywood comes down with its annual case of “sequel-itis.” It’s not as though anyone’s surprised when a successful film spawns a sequel, of course, but, really, people, we’re looking at a summer with 13 – count ‘em – 13 different sequels hitting screens.
Now, obviously, we’re just as excited about some of them as you are. Personally, I’ve been psyched to see “Spider-Man 3” since the closing credits started to roll on “Spider-Man 2”...and that was before I knew we were gonna be experiencing Venom, the Sandman, and the return of the Green Goblin! You also can’t go wrong with a Harry Potter flick, so bring on “The Order of the Phoenix,” I say. My excitement’s less profound with “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” but, still, I’d like to see how the trilogy wraps up. I’m similarly semi-excited about “Ocean’s Thirteen”; it’s not like I have to see it, but I probably will, mostly because the cast always seems to be having so much fun doing the “Ocean’s” flicks. After an underwhelming start to the franchise, I’m hoping to find “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” stepping up to the quality that the first family of superhero teams deserves, much as I’m praying to see Bruce Willis provide a definitive finale to John McClane’s legacy with “Live Free or Die Hard.” Although there’s at least one sequel I wouldn’t go see if there was a free screening in my living room – stand up, please, “Hostel 2” – there are several hitting theaters that I didn’t necessarily see coming but I’m still curious about; “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” will probably be silly slapstick fun, while the mere thought of “28 Weeks Later” is enough to make any fan of British zombie movies giddy. And although it’s odd to imagine a sequel to a Jim Carrey flick without Jim Carrey, you really just can’t dismiss “Evan Almighty” when it’s Steve Carell playing the title role.
In closing, I’d just like to go out on a limb and predict that my general indifference to “Shrek the Third,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Rush Hour 3” will in no way prevent them from being tremendous hits.
I know, it’s ballsy, but I gotta be me.
The Events of the Summer
No film season is complete without a few films that are designated as “must-sees” before a single frame of them has even been filmed, and summer 2007 is no exception. Obviously, there are a few in the above list, but there are quite a few standalone flicks as well, and it’s pretty much a neck-and-neck race as far as which is the most anticipated: “The Simpsons Movie” and “Transformers.” For me, it’s the former rather than the latter…but, then, I’m just slightly older than the generation who swore by those toys that were more than met the eye; not that I’m not curious to see how the animated series translates to live-action, but, frankly, I’m much more psyched to find out if the writers of “The Simpsons Movie” can pull a rabbit out of their hat and come up with a flick that’s better than, say, the last three or four seasons of the show.
It’s worth nothing that there is, at least, a distant third place entry in the field, made all the more distant by premiering as late as any film can make it into theaters and still technically be considered a summer film: Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween,” scheduled for release on August 31st. Is there anyone who isn’t perversely curious about this flick? It’s probably going to suck…at the very least, there’s no way in hell that it’s going to touch John Carpenter’s original…but Zombie’s got a creative vision, you have to give him that. Plus, he’s got Malcolm McDowell playing Loomis, and if that’s not perfect casting, I don’t know what is.
Comedy Tonight…Well, Ostensibly, Anyway
Honestly, I think you have to add the ellipses and caveat when you’re dealing with a season that includes “Delta Farce” in its lineup of film releases. I mean, it stars Larry the Cable Guy, for God’s sake; I know people who don’t even think he’s functionally literate, let alone funny.
Fortunately, however, we’ve got “Knocked Up” to help turn the tide; the team of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have a completely empty column when it comes to comedic failures…and if you doubt it, consider that the four times they’ve worked together have been on “Freaks and Geeks,” “Undeclared,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” This’ll be one of the best comedies of the summer…the anti-“Delta Farce,” if you will…and it’s a bonus that, come August, we’ll also be privy to “Superbad,” a teen comedy which Apatow and Rogen also wrote, as well as the geekfest of “Fanboys,” in which Rogen makes a cameo. I’m also extremely curious about “The Ten,” which was written, directed and produced by David Wain, and “Wedding Daze,” which was written and directed by Michael Ian Black. Yes, friends, it’s a “Stella” kind of summer, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Lastly, in the field of “I’m quite excited about this” films, we have “Hot Rod” bringing up the rear; that it stars Andy Sandberg, a.k.a. one of the few truly funny people left on “Saturday Night Live,” is what’s got my attention, but I’m entering with trepidation about the fact that Sandberg didn’t actually have a hand in writing it.
“Good Luck Chuck” gives Dane Cook his second opportunity to team up with a hot chick (this time, it’s Jessica Alba) who helps take the attention away from the fact that the film isn’t very funny, and as “The King of Queens” rides into the sunset, Kevin James tries again to make it on the big screen in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” You have to give James credit; last time, he co-starred with Will Smith, and now he’s teamed with Adam Sandler. The guy’s taking a slow and steady path, scoring co-stars who have the Midas Touch at the box office; he might just make it in Hollywood after all…if only as the chubby friend. (Hey, at least it’s steady work.)
“The Comebacks” will probably be just another dumb sports comedy, but David Koechner plays a football coach, so count on him offering up at least a few exclamations and facial contortions that’ll result in belly laughs. “The Ex” has been re-titled and had its original release date bumped, which aren’t generally good signs, but any film that stars Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Charles Grodin, Donal Logue, and Amy Poehler is one that’s worth giving the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about “I Could Never Be Your Woman,” even if it does star Michelle Pfieffer, Paul Rudd, Henry Winkler, Fred Willard, Jon Lovitz, and Tracy Ullman; director Amy Heckerling has too many failures on her track record, and the plot description – Ullman plays Mother Nature, who fiddles with the romantic fates of four individuals – sounds designed for a straight-to-video special. Robin Williams leaves Heckerling’s record for comedic crapola in the dust, though, so there’s nothing in the way of excitement surrounding “License to Wed.” We also have to ask why Cuba Gooding, Jr., would sign up for “Daddy Day Camp” when he must surely know that people will think it’s a sequel to Eddie Murphy’s “Daddy Day Care” and get pissed off when they discover it isn’t.
Out of curiosity, how old would it make you feel if I told you that Robert Downey, Jr., is playing a principal in “Charlie Bartlett”? Pretty old, right? Yeah, me, too. But speaking of my favorite actors, “Martian Child” brings John Cusack back to the screen, and…what’s this?...his sister Joan is in it, too? But that never happens! “Death at a Funeral,” directed by Frank Oz, looks like it could be a bit of dark hilarity, but the lack of a big name in the cast won’t do it any favors at the box office; conversely, “You Kill Me” is filled with recognizable faces – Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Kinglsey, Tea Leoni, Bill Pullman, and Luke Wilson – but probably won’t get a fair shake theatrically because it’s being distributed through IFC Films.
And as far as “The Salon,” all I will say is that there’s an ongoing joke in the comic-strip version of “The Boondocks” which suggested that the appearance of Vivica A. Fox in any film is a sure sign that it’s going to be awful…and, friends, Ms. Fox has the lead role in “The Salon.” Make of that what you will; I’m just saying, is all.
Ooooooo! Scary! (And Thrilling, Too!)
Stupid “Saw.” Now everybody’s convinced that horror flicks are a cheap and easy way to box office billions, whether or not you’ve got a good script or a good cast to work with. Fortunately, we’ve got a reasonable mix of this sort of dreck alongside several very interesting looking thrillers with solid ensembles.
“Captivity” stars Elisha Cuthbert (who’s probably just about at the tail end of being able to coast on that whole “I used to be in ‘24’” thing) and Daniel Gillies as a couple who find themselves locked in a cellar while a madman attempts to drive them, well, mad. There’s no truth to the report that Gillies was overheard muttering, “This thing sucks; thank God I’m in ‘Spider-Man 3,’” but it is possible that, after “Bug” opens, Harry Connick, Jr., will be saying, “Damn, I wish ‘Will & Grace’ was still on the air.’” I love William Friedkin as much as the next guy, but my hopes just aren’t very high. “The Strangers,” starring Scott Speedman, doesn’t look much better, but after those “Underworld” films, he’s probably just glad to be in something besides a werewolf flick…especially since that genre’s getting ready to get a bad name via the oft-delayed “Skinwalkers” finally arriving in theaters.
Whether we actually need another remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a subject for debate, but “The Invasion” has a cast that makes it worth seeing. (Insert some perverse joke about invading Nicole Kidman’s body here.) “Mr. Brooks” is an unknown quantity, but a cast that consists of Kevin Costner and William Hurt playing two different sides of the same guy, as well as Demi Moore, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger (“C.S.I.”), and a dramatic turn from Dane Cook has my curiosity piqued. “1408” sounds good, too, with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. But “I Know Who Killed Me,” starring Lindsey Lohan? This is, I’m pretty sure, where I’m supposed to make a joke like, “It should’ve been called ‘I Know Who Killed My Career: Me.’”
For the Kiddies
Oh, please: all you should really care about is, “When’s the new Pixar flick, ‘Ratatouille,’ coming out?” And the answer is, “On June 29th.” For a while, it didn’t even matter who helmed the company’s flicks, because they’d never struck a bum note, but after “Cars,” it might help matters to discover that Brad Bird, writer/director of “The Incredibles,” has returned to the Pixar stable for “Ratatouille,” and, yep, he’s written and directed this one as well. He’s also snared plenty of excellent voice talent as well, including Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Brian Dennehy, Ian Holm, and Peter O’Toole.
But, then, there’s “Underdog.” I loved the cartoon, but the second I saw that poster with a live-action dog, I said, “SUCKS.” I don’t care if Jason Lee’s providing the voice of our hero and…well, I care a little bit that Peter Dinklage is playing Simon Bar Sinister, because that’s arguably the best casting I’ve ever heard of in my entire life. But a live-action Underdog? Idiocy. It can’t possibly be any good…can it?
If you’re not the horrible elitist that I can be about animated films, though, there may well be a few other releases worth your time. Sony is banking on kids not being completely sick of penguins yet, pitching “Surf’s Up,” which takes a look at the unfortunately-fictional Penguin World Surfing Championship and includes the voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jon Heder, Zooey Deschanel, Jeff Bridges, James Woods, Diedrich Bader, and Jane Krakowski.
Let me just say, though, that if you’ve got a young daughter, keep her far, far away from the feature-length animated “BRATZ” film. Do you want your kid to point to a heavily-made-up, trashily-dressed cartoon character and say, “I want to look like that”? I can’t be alone on this.
…And The Rest
“Lucky You” may well have the most ironic title of any of the summer’s releases, having found itself from scheduled release date to scheduled release date. It’s finally going to see the light of day on May 4th, but outside of the members of the Drew Barrymore fan club, does anyone care anymore? And the fact that “The Flock” stars Richard Gere but hasn’t gotten a tenth of the promotion of his higher-class flick, “The Hoax,” doesn’t exactly bode well, either.
I’m calling a chick-flick alert on “Georgia Rule,” and here are my top six reasons: it stars Jane Fonda, Lindsey Lohan, and Felicity Huffman as its female leads, then fills out the cast with Dermot Mulroney (“The Wedding Date”), Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride”), and Garrett Hedlund (“Troy”). ‘Nuff said. “No Reservations” seems to be shaping up the same way, since it stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a top chef whose life changes when she becomes the guardian of her young niece. So here’s the deal: let the girls go see these two films, and the guys can go check out “Rescue Dawn” (Werner Herzog’s Vietnam War movie) or “The Last Legion,” another trip to ancient Rome.
On the fantasy front, there only two entries of note. The first, “Penelope,” uses the words “off-beat fable” and “Reese Witherspoon” in its description, which, funnily enough, are five words that’ll almost always keep me out of a theater. Thankfully, the other, “Stardust,” is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, whose mere name in the credits is enough to inspire me to buy advance tickets for the first showing.
Teens might not be the only ones interested in checking out “Nancy Drew,” though their parents will probably have to offer the explanation that “she’s kind of like Veronica Mars” to sell them on it. “Gracie,” a flick about a teenaged soccer player, looks interestly enough, but “D.O.A.: Dead or Alive” looks like “Charlie’s Angels” meets “Mortal Kombat,” and sounds completely awful…and, with the exception of Jaime Pressley looking hot and Eric Roberts chewing scenery, it probably will be. And although it’s not aimed at teens per se, I’m expecting the publicists for “Hairspray” to find some way to use a line in their ads that suggests “if you liked ‘High School Musical,’ you’ll love ‘Hairspray.’” Unfortunately, if they don’t also emblazon it with a sticker that says, “Now with added Travolta,” I’ll end up sorely disappointed.
Finally, for the art theater crowd – and we saved this for last because, frankly, you folks probably aren’t reading this website right now, anyway – you’ll want to investigate “Away From Her” (Julie Christie plays a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease) and “The Golden Door” (picture it: Sicily, the early 1900s). “Becoming Jane,” which stars Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, seems tailor-made for next year’s Oscar race; “Trade” is the not-exactly-uplifting tale of sex trafficking, and it seems like it has a chance at some awards as well, provided the subject matter isn’t too harsh. On the more humorous side of the summer’s smaller films, “Eagle vs. Shark” might be trying too hard to be the next “Napoleon Dynamite,” and “Clubland” seems to be striving to capture that “Muriel’s Wedding” crowd…but, okay, for the latter, I’m probably just generalizing because it’s from Australia.
So there you go: that’s summer 2007 in a nutshell. A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of reasons to spend your hard-earned money on movie tickets…plus “Delta Farce,” “Hostel 2,” “Skinwalkers,” and, almost certainly, “Underdog.”
But, man, I really want to be wrong about “Underdog.”