Monday, May 02, 2011

Summer 2011 Movie Preview; R.I.P. Sidney Lumet

I can already feel it: the heat rising up in waves, the yearning for ice cold lemonade, and the odor of artificial butter wafting through the air. Which can only mean one thing: the summer movie season is almost here!

Per usual, we have an overgenerous helping of superhero flicks and sequels to look forward to this year, and your guess on their quality is as good as mine at this point. I can't say there's any movie in the offing that I'm especially excited about, but here are a handful that I'm at least mildly interested in seeing.

THOR (May 6)
Ok, the previews for this look super-cheesy. But Kenneth Branagh still has a special place in my heart, and I'm curious to see what he does with this genre. Let's hope the result is more "Henry V" than "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Also, dude who plays Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is smokin'. I swear it's his smile I find engaging, not his pecs. Well, not just his pecs, anyway. (By way of comparison, pecs aren't enough to interest me in Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern.)

What better time for the famously unprolific Terrence Malick to release his new film than, uh, the beginning of summer? Maybe it's smart counter-programming to the likes of "Thor" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 4." Malick is one of those directors most people find either profoundly poetic or stupefyingly boring; some, a bit of both. Maybe I fall among the latter, as the word that always comes to my mind to describe his films is "hypnotic." Anyway, all I know about this one is that Sean Penn spends a lot of time somberly reflecting on his childhood in the '50s, when his dad was Brad Pitt. Oh yeah, and there are dinosaurs.

Michael Fassbender as a young Magneto and James McAvoy as a young Xavier? Yes, please. Who cares that neither of them looks remotely like his later-in-life counterpart (well, the chameleonic Fassbender can look sort of like anyone, but Ian McKellen is a stretch) - both are terrific actors, and dishy to boot. Also featuring January Jones as Emma Frost, Jennifer Lawrence (of "Winter's Bone" fame) as a young Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as a young Hank McCoy/Beast, and Rose Byrne and Kevin Bacon as...other people. New director Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Kick Ass") takes the helm. He's gotta be better than Brett Ratner, right?

The trailer makes the movie look like it's trying too hard to please (cute dog + Christopher Plummer being all twinkly, draw your own conclusions) - but damned if this little dramedy about a 70+ year old man (Plummer) who comes out of the closet after discovering he has terminal cancer and embraces a new philosophy of carpe diem, much to the bemusement of his son (Ewan McGregor), doesn't look perfectly charming. Also stars the lovely Mélanie Laurent ("Inglorious Basterds") as McGregor's love interest.

SUPER 8 (June 10)
J.J. Abrams has piqued a fair amount of interest with his teaser of a...teaser, which, as with "Cloverfield," works off the premise that less is more. I'm guessing the movie involves...aliens? And yummy-yet-dependable Kyle Chandler as a local deputy and Elle Fanning as one of three wide-eyed kids who witness something strange...probably involving aliens. This could be a bust, but Kyle Chandler's described it as having the vibe of early Spielberg, in which case, I'm in.

The end is near. Having been vaguely disappointed by nearly every HP film adaptation except for "Order of the Phoenix," I'm not sure why I'm looking forward to this one. But I am, and I still plan to see it - for closure, if nothing else. If the book marked the end of an era, the movie puts a seal on it.

While Chris Evans does nothing for me (again, pecs ain't everything), I like the retro feel I'm getting from the film's trailers - it takes place during WWII, yes? Looks solidly entertaining, if nothing groundbreaking. And who doesn't love Tommy Lee Jones playing a gruff military type?

Really, how can you not want to see a movie that's called "Cowboys and Aliens"? Though the studio execs are apparently freaking out because they didn't intend or expect the movie to be treated as a joke. Ok, suits, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt: maybe it works as a straight-up action/adventure flick, and I'll try to view it as such. However, I reserve the right to laugh at any unintentional comedy.

Romantic comedies aren't so much my thing, and I can't say the premise for this one looks particularly fresh or promising: smooth playa (Ryan Gosling) coaches chump (Steve Carell) how to pick up the ladies, only to find himself falling for a girl (Emma Stone) who doesn't fall for his game - wasn't this movie made already, and wasn't it called "Hitch"? That said, I do love Steve Carell, Emma Stone, and most of all, Ryan Gosling, so I will see this one if the reviews are decent.

THE HELP (Aug. 12)
Adapting a best-selling novel to film can be a dicey proposition, and "The Help" will have to strive especially mightily to overcome Hollywood's natural tendency to give more screen time and better lighting to more famous white actors at the expense of lesser known actors of color. Because to do that with *this* movie would be to undermine the entire premise of the book (which I haven't read yet, but plan to before the movie comes out). Not that Hollywood isn't entirely capable of doing that. However, assuming they don't, I think I'll enjoy seeing Emma Stone interact with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.


I'm extremely behind in paying my respects to the late, great Sidney Lumet, and must admit I'm not really equipped to do it properly. Of his films, I've only seen "12 Angry Men" and "Network" (which, admittedly, were among his very best), and parts of "Dog Day Afternoon." "The Verdict" and "Murder on the Orient Express" are somewhere on my Netflix queue, and "Serpico" and DDA ought to be. But even if I had seen his entire oeuvre, I doubt I could improve on A.O. Scott's wonderful piece - not an obit so much as an insightful, persuasive, if slightly depressing analysis of the place Lumet occupied in cinematic history, as the natural link between Elia Kazan and Martin Scorsese. Read and enjoy.