A few weeks back I wrote a Summer Movie Preview in which I tried to pin down the studio films that looked the most promising this summer. That piece was met with mixed approval – some thought I should have included more big name blockbusters. It was indeed a mistake to leave out the new “Godzilla”, which finally gives Bryan Cranston a long overdue leading role in movies and looks like it could erase the bitter aftertaste of that god awful 1998 films starring Matthew Broderick. What were they thinking? Also “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” could either kick ass or put out a real stink bomb. Given that director Bryan Singer is back and he made the best X-Men film to date (X2) I have high hopes for this new one. Otherwise, I do stand by everything else that I selected. I have seen “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ and it is in fact not very good. Also does anyone actually expect anything good to come from “Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “The Expendables 3″ and “Hercules”? I doubt it.
I’ve written a follow up to that first article but this time focusing on independent and foreign fare coming out in these dog days summer. I have seen a big chunk of these, whether at film festivals or advanced press screenings, while other promising fare I have yet to catch up with.
“The Double” (May 9th).
Jesse Eisenberg goes insane when a doppelganger of his appears at his work. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine), “The Double” is a dark comedy that, despite fizzling out at its end, has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time. Ayaode’s depiction of a future society is both bleak and humorous and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A dark comedy served black.
“Neighbours” (May 9th).
This indie and Hollywood partnered comedy is as good as the advanced buzz makes it out to be. Why? Well not only because it is one of the most outrageously hilarious things I’ve seen in quite a while, but also because of the way director Nicholas Stoller shapes his characters as not just merely stereotypes, but – shock – actual fleshed out human beings, which you rarely see in these sort of comedies these days. This has the potential to become a huge summer hit à la “The Hangover” or “The Wedding Crashers”.
“The Immigrant” (May 16th).
I loved James Gray’s “Two Lovers” which featured Gwyneth Paltrow’s last truly great performance and an always incredibly tense Joaquin Phoenix. In “The Immigrant”, Gray teams up with Phoenix once again, but this time with mixed results. The pacing is at times awkward and the story never really sets off. It is a shapeless and unsatisfying film, but has lots of passion and exquisite performances. I wouldn’t count Gray out just yet, he still has lots of talent and in the smaller moments of this film he really just takes your breath away.
“Tracks” (May 23rd).
The biggest applause I saw any movie get at the Toronto Film Festival wasn’t for “12 Years A Slave” or “Gravity”, but actually for John Curran’s “Tracks”, which is based on true events. In 1975, Robyn Davidson set out on a 1700 mile journey through the Australian outback with 3 camels and her faithful dog. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and she’s great. So is Adam Driver as the pushy photographer that follows her through this journey. This is a very by the books account of the story, but it gets the job done.
“Night Moves” (May 30th).
A much anticipated film for cinematic enthusiasts would be Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, a film about eco-terrorism that strips down the genre conventions and ends up giving us the bare bones of its topic. I deeply admired Reichardt’s past films (“Wendy and Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”), but this one works because it moves along at a faster pace than the aforementioned. There are tense, gripping moments in “Night Moves”, and its performances – notably those of Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard – contribute to the film moving along admirably well.
“All Is by My Side” (June TBA).
Directed by John Ridley, “All Is by My Side” or, as people here tend to call it “The Jimi Hendrix Bio-Pic”, is a flawed mess of a movie that features a great performance by Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. I wouldn’t call this a Bio-Pic since it only covers a year in the life of Hendrix, but an important year nonetheless: 1966. That’s when Hendrix moved to London and found fame. However, there isn’t enough material in this one year to justify such a long, stretchy film. The bright spot is Benjamin, who’s phenomenal as Hendrix and sometimes makes you forget that it’s actually an actor playing the legendary guitarist. Will he get an Oscar nomination or any critics awards for this? Probably not, but he does prove he’s a fabulous actor.
“Snowpiercer” (June 27th)
Director Joon-Ho Bong became a household name in the indie circuits after making 2009′s great “Mother”. As the director of Snowpiercer, it’s his first foray in English language film. Harvey Weinstein fought an infamously long and hard battle with the director about the final cut of the film. Bong wanted a 2 and half hour cut, whereas Weinstein wanted it closer to 2 hours. They finally settled for the longer cut, but with the film getting weaker distribution in the U.S – They were both wrong. The film is indeed half an hour too long, but highly ambitious and fascinating, especially in its first 100 or so minutes, which are just really hard to describe. I won’t ruin anything but here’s a movie set in an apocalyptic future that will likely garner a cult following in the years to come.
“Life Itself” (July 4th).
Also known as “The Roger Ebert documentary”. I’ve read good press about it since its successful bow at Sundance earlier this year. Most critics have praised it as a very emotional journey and what I do know about the film is how unprecedented it is in its depiction of the final days of Roger’s life. Cameras were there in the final weeks with the approval of Ebert. Director Steve James is just the man to direct it, Ebert discovered -and was the first critic to back up- his landmark “Hoop Dreams” at Sundance exactly 20 years ago.
“Magic in the Moonlight” (July 25th).
The new Woody Allen movie. Given that the prolific director usually makes one film a year these days, you don’t always get a “Midnight in Paris”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Match Point” or a “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Sometimes you get a dud, like “Scoop” or “To Rome with Love”, which is why I’m not too sure what to expect with this new romantic comedy starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone and shot in the French Riviera.
“The Rover” (June 13th).
This looks amazing. Selected in Official Competition for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “The Rover” is directed by David Michod, who made 2010′s intense Aussie drama “Animal Kingdom” which gave Jackie Weaver her first ever Oscar Nomination and was a surprising worldwide success. Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson star and, if the trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very special here.
“Begin Again” (July 4th).
When “Begin Again” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year it began the biggest bidding war of any movie at the festival. Harvey Weinstein eventually got the last word and bought out everyone, and for good reason. “Begin Again” is a sweet and caring musical comedy that will be a big audience pleaser when it comes out this July. Directed by John Carney, who made “Once”, this is a movie that might not have the simple acoustic magic of “Once”, but is so consummately made that you forget all about its feel-good predictable trappings. With Harvey backing this one up, who knows maybe Oscar will call?
“A Most Wanted Man” (July 25th).
The last Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. It could be a memorable one too. Add in Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams and you might have something interesting going for your movie. The screenplay is based on a John Le Caree novel about a Muslim that gets caught up in the international war on. The director is Anton Cobijn (“Control”,” The American”) a true original if there ever was one