Summer is right around the corner, which also means summer movies are about to be unleashed onto audiences, young and old, from the first week of May right down to the last week of August. As much as people complain about the lack of quality in the summer movie season, I’ve come to fully embrace its arrival and do find it to be a notch higher than the first four months of the movie year, where most studios try to get rid of leftover scraps. While doing research for this preview, I noticed the highly unusual number of films coming out that look genuinely good. This is not even counting the indies, as the first bunch of Sundance favorites will be making their way to movie theatres in the coming months. The preview I’ve put together here is what I’m looking forward to the most. The list consists mostly of studio fare with a little added indie flavor. I omitted sequels such as “Ted 2”, “Pitch Perfect 2”, “Insidious: Chapter 3”, “Terminator: Genisys”, “Magic Mike XXL” and super-hero movies such as “Ant-Man” and “The Fantastic Four”, even though I’m sure plenty of people will be looking forward to those titles as well. This could have easily been a list of 30 movies but I narrowed it down to the 14 that I found would have the most impact in terms of artful quality.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1st) As much as I feel worn out by the endless barrage of superhero movies we’ve been getting, you just can’t ignore this one. Summer kicks off with what will most likely be the biggest movie of the year at the box office – that is, of course, until “Star Wars” comes out in December. The original 2012 film had enough wit, sly humor, and action that you forgave its shortcomings. All credit must be given to director Joss Whedon, who proved that he’s a true cinematic talent, with “The Cabin in the Woods”. In fact, I wish he would do more of these original gems every once in a while, but alas “The Avengers” keep calling him back, which is not necessarily a bad thing. This time around it’s “The Age of Ultron”, and just by sneaking a peak at the trailer, it seems like our boys – and girls – have one hell of a baddie to go up against.
Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15th) Here’s a summer blockbuster that is truly a labor of love. Director George Miller revolutionized the 80’s with the Mad Max films. Ever since the last one in 1985, “Beyond Thunderdome”, he’s tried to painstakingly get a new one going, all the while winning an Oscar for directing, ahem, Happy Feet. Yep, he was responsible for those cute cuddly little dancing penguins. There won’t be any dancing penguins in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. This is serious stuff, a post-apocalyptic landscape that has danger in every turn. If the trailer didn’t get you pumped up, please check your pulse, and if the image of a buzzed up Tom Hardy kicking ass doesn’t do it for you then the summer movie season just ain’t for you. Screenings have started to roll out for this one and it looks like it’s the real deal.
Tomorrowland (May 22nd) As far as I’m concerned, director Brad Bird has never made a bad movie. His animation record – “Ratatouille”, “The Incredibles”, “The Iron Giant” – flawless. Live action? Only “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”, but what a great action movie. Now with “Tomorrowland”, he’s quite possibly tackling his most ambitious project. Based on a Disney theme park ride and starring George Clooney, not much is known and most plot points have been shrouded in mystery, but what is known about “Tomorrowland” has been shown in the astoundingly thrilling trailer we saw earlier this year. A creative mind like Bird doesn’t usually settle for the plain and simple; his next project after this one is the highly anticipated “Incredibles” sequel. Let’s hope the finished project gives us a blistering, rollercoaster-like high just like every other thing he’s done in the past.
Aloha (May 29th) Poor Cameron Crowe. The release of his most personal film, “Almost Famous”, 15 years ago came with great praise, and the film’s reputation has only grown over the years with a new generation taking its universal themes to heart. But following up that film with “Vanilla Sky” didn’t work out so well. I was one of the few who actually got what he was going for in that movie; most people despised it. And then it only got worse: “Elizabethtown” and “We Bought a Zoo” were career lows that could have easily ruined any other filmmaker’s career. But Crowe is a talent. Not many people can pull off a romantic screenplay like “Jerry Maguire” or “Say Anything” with such elegant ease. Crowe is given another chance with “Aloha”. An all-star cast that includes Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, and Rachel McAdams tries to get Crowe out of his frustrating funk.
Spy (June 5th) Earlier this year I caught “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig’s “Spy”, an irresistible spy comedy that deserves to be a hit at the box office. I seriously haven’t laughed this hard since…”Bridesmaids”? Melissa McCarthy stars as a CIA agent who gets caught up in a whole bunch of trouble when a fellow agent gets assassinated. This is clearly the best work McCarthy has ever done, but the other surprising standout is Jason Statham hilariously mocking his usual meathead persona to sheer perfection.
Jurassic World (June 12th) It’s rather strange how the times and expectations have changed for the Jurassic franchise. After “Jurassic Park III” it seemed like nobody wanted the franchise to continue. Fourteen years later and the box office is now driven, more than ever, by audiences who want sequels, remakes and franchises. The good news is that most of these big Hollywood movies are directed by fresh talent just graduating from the indie circuit. “Jurassic World” will come out with the buzz of a very good trailer behind it and an indie director (Colin Trevorrow) who has shown in the past that he’s got the chops for action. I’m all for this film happening, but I do hope it tackles new possibilities instead of the usual same old. Spielberg did it best the first time around, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work again. Fresh off his “Guardians of the Galaxy” triumph last year, Chris Pratt stars, but where’s Jeff Goldblum in all this?
Inside Out (June 19th) If you’re a true movie fan, you’re certainly itching to see what the animated studio behind “Toy Story 1,2, and 3″, “WALL-E”, “Up!”, “Finding Nemo”, “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” has in store for us this time around. Of all the animated movies coming out this year, none is more anticipated in my books than Pete Docter’s foray into the human psyche. Yes, this is a “kids” movie but it is not squarely aimed at just children. Just like all other Pixar movies, “Inside Out” carries with it adult themes mixed with what seems to be bitingly beautiful CGI animation. Pixar has been on a bit of a slump lately with a few “good but not great” movies, so it’d be a real kick to see them get back on their game with this one, especially if one take’s a look at the brilliant trailer that came out earlier this year. One thing’s for sure, the ambition seems to not be lost with this latest effort.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (July 1st) Four out of the last six Sundance Grand Jury winners have received a Best Picture nomination, which is why close attention must be paid to Alfonso Gonzalez-Rejon’s sophomore effort that justly won the top prize at this year’s festival. The reviews out of Sundance were phenomenal and the buzz has been building ever since. Telling the story of a couple of quirky best friends and their friendship with a fellow classmate dying of Leukemia, the film will likely be compared to last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars” due to its less-than-grim depiction of teenage cancer. But that’s where the comparisons should end. The YA stereotypes we usually associate with these kind of sappy, conventional movies get deconstructed and shattered by Gonzalez-Rejon. What we’re left with is a movie with a unique voice calling out a new generation to artfully confront pain head-on.
Trainwreck (July 17th) I’ve been a big fan of Amy Schumer’s blunt, terrifyingly in-your-face stand-up ever since she started in the comedy circuit. Trainwreck seems to be the perfect vehicle for Schumer to strut her stuff, and Director Judd Apatow also clearly sees Schumer as a major comedy star in the making. Apatow is no stranger in making movie stars out of comedians: Steve Carrell in “The 40 year Old Virgin”, Seth Rogen in “Knocked Up”, Jonah Hill in “Superbad”, and I hope Schumer is next. She’s edgy and ready to break out. In fact, she also wrote the film’s screenplay, which hopefully means it has her bracingly audacious wit all over the pages. Apatow admitted that he encouraged Schumer to add her own “personal wee of fear and neuroses to the script”. If the rave reviews coming out of SXSW for her portrayal of Amy in the film are any indication, she might have also revitalized Apatow’s directorial career after a few duds (“Funny People”, “This is 40″).
Southpaw (July 24th) We’ve all seen the photos of a bulked up Jake Gyllenhaal with boxing gloves roaring victory in the ring. The transformation is tremendous, especially coming off the gaunt, almost unrecognizable work he delivered in “Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal is hot right now, really hot. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “Southpaw” has awards written all over it for its main actor, but will it the deliver the thrill of a knockout? Playing a young boxer that has to care for his young daughter after his wife dies, Gyllenhaal didn’t want to fake the fight scenes. He sparred with real professional boxers to get ready for the role and Fuqua hired an actual HBO crew to shoot the boxing scenes in real time.
Irrational Man (July 24th) Not much is known about Woody Allen’s 45th directorial effort. What we do know is the Woodman’s penchant for hit or miss releases. Allen has just been a hit and miss kinda guy ever since his golden peak in the ‘80s and the vastly underrated work he churned out in the ‘90s. For every dud like “Scoop”, “Whatever Works”, “Hollywood Ending”, and “Anything Else” there’s been a golden nugget like “Midnight in Paris”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” and “Match Point”. This one stars Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone and is rumored to be a much darker story like the aforementioned “Match Point”. The big draw for me isn’t just Allen or Emma Stone – one of the very best actresses out there – but rather Phoenix, whose acting comeback at the beginning of the decade has been nothing short of brilliant. We are seeing a legendary acting career being built right in front of us and it’s exhilarating to watch.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31st) Yes, I know, Tom Cruise. The recent HBO doc about Scientology was not very kind to the 52 year-old actor. Will we be able to separate our biases and enjoy this latest installment of the successful action franchise? Especially coming off the triumph of the last one (“Ghost Protocol”) that almost, just almost, eclipsed the 1996 original? I don’t have an answer; sometimes you just have to let the movie do the talking. In fact, the same thing can be said of Woody Allen, who is no slouch to controversy. The trailer for M:I 5 looks great and the return of the “Ghost Protocol” cast is an encouraging sign. You can also expect Cruise, as usual, to perform his own stunts. The big showstopper has Cruise attached to a plane as it flies 3000 feet in the air. Christopher McQuarrie who directed Cruise in “Jack Reacher” replaces Brad Bird in the director’s chair.
Ricki and the Flash (August 7th) I love Jonathan Demme. He’s one of the few truly great directors that has focused on the female voice for more than 4 decades. “Married to the Mob”, “Something Wild”, “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Rachel Getting Married” are prime examples of that. All are great movies. Hopefully we can add “Ricki and the Flash” to that list soon. Meryl Streep stars as an aging rock star who is given a second chance to make amends with her estranged daughter, who she abandoned many years ago to chase her dream of rock stardom. Fun fact: Streep’s real-life daughter plays the daughter, which marks the first time they’ve worked together since 1986’s “Heartburn”. Another fun fact: Diablo Cody, of “Juno” fame, wrote the screenplay.