Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer 2017 movie preview

With Memorial Day come and gone, it’s time for the summer movie season to start ramping up in earnest, notwithstanding the odd “Guardians of the Galaxy” here or new “Alien” movie there. At first glance, this summer looks like more of the same old, same old: superhero flicks, franchise reboots, and franchise sequels nobody asked for. But look a little closer and there’s a lot to be excited about, including several films centered on strong female protagonists—at least five of which were also directed or co-directed by women. That shouldn’t be remarkable in this day and age, but it is. Here’s hoping that the films are also good - and almost more importantly, successful - so we can have more like them.

In order of release date, these are the ten movies I’m most looking forward to this summer:

How has it taken this long to make a Wonder Woman movie? Fortunately, early buzz suggests it was worth the wait, with newcomer Gal Gadot fulfilling the promising spark she showed in the otherwise-deadly-dull “Batman vs. Superman” as the Amazonian princess turned savior of humanity. Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) directs, and Chris Pine co-stars as Diana’s guide to WWI-era Europe (and, I assume, her love interest).

Based on a true story of a female Marine who finds a comrade for life in a military working dog named Rex, this movie seems perfectly poised to tug hard on the heartstrings. But who can resist a loyal dog who literally saves lives on the battlefield? In any event, there’s good reason to hope the movie won’t overindulge in cheap sentiment with Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who also directed the documentary “Blackfish,” at the helm.

This fever-dream of a tale about a wounded Union soldier who’s taken in by a girls’ boarding school in the Deep South, only to wreak hormonal havoc (and eventual violence) among his caretakers, was already previously made into a movie over 45 years ago, starring Clint Eastwood in his prime. Nonetheless, something inspired Sofia Coppola to take her own crack at it, and her efforts have been rewarded with a best director prize at Cannes. The film stars Nicole Kidman as the school’s headmistress, Coppola regular Kirsten Dunst as a teacher, and Elle Fanning as one of the smitten pupils, with Colin Farrell taking the soldier’s role originally played by Eastwood.

From the trailers, the film looks less like a riff on the Scottish play and more like a cross between Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights. Adapted from a Russian novel by Nikolai Leskov, it centers on a young, unhappily married woman in 19th century England who finds forbidden love and, through it, a terrifying kind of agency. It was well received at the Toronto International Film Festival and, despite its period-piece trappings, looks like a timely expression of modern feminist rage.

DUNKIRK (July 21)
Christopher Nolan tries his hand at WWII drama in depicting the Miracle of Dunkirk, in which hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, hemmed in by the German army, against steep odds were safely evacuated from the French coast. Shot in IMAX and featuring a top-notch cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy, this will probably be the major prestige release of the summer.

Charlize Theron as a (literally) kick-ass spy in post-Cold War Berlin? With action sequences directed by one of the stuntmen-turned-directors behind “John Wick”? Yes, please. Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, the movie received a rapturous response at SXSW earlier this year and by all accounts will be exactly the shot of pure cinematic adrenalin we need to wake us up from the midsummer doldrums.

DETROIT (Aug. 4)
Gotta hand it to Kathryn Bigelow: she does not shy away from fraught and sensitive historical subjects in her choice of movie material. Her follow-up to “Zero Dark Thirty” focuses on the 1967 Detroit riots—specifically, the Algiers Motel incident—and, if she stays true to form, will probably be grim, tense, and tautly paced but tonally restrained, and will likely eschew easy black-and-white moral politics (no pun intended). It will likely also be, despite or perhaps because of those qualities, must-see viewing.

Taylor Sheridan, acclaimed screenwriter of “Sicario” and last year’s “Hell or High Water,” makes his directorial debut with a crime thriller starring Jeremy Renner as a Fish & Wildlife Service agent who discovers the dead body of an American Indian girl and Elizabeth Olsen as the FBI agent who’s called in to investigate her murder. The film screened earlier this year at Sundance and in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, where it won a director prize for Sheridan. It’s being distributed by the Weinstein Company, which could portend either very good or very bad things for its Oscar potential.

No, I haven’t read any of the books, so I’ve got no axe to grind or fears to be allayed. Even if the movie can’t possibly do justice to the sprawling Stephen King series, I’m willing to take my chances on a futuristic, science-fantasy/Western-noir mash-up starring Idris Elba as a post-apocalyptic Childe Roland and Matthew McConaughey as his relentless pursuer, the Man in Black. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair”).

Young Russian ballet dancer falls in love and follows the object of her desire to France, where the pair join a modern dance company headed by Juliette Binoche. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, this premise might not sound particularly summer-movie-ish, but there's nothing like a bit of Juliette Binoche to act as a classy antidote to all the bang, boom, and popcorn grease. (Also, I admit I’m a total sucker for dance movies - the good, the bad, and the ugly.)