As a child weaned at the entertaining teat of 1980s blockbusters like The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future, I have a soft spot in my movie-snob heart for a good summer popcorn movie.
The key word there is “good,” an adjective that doesn't often describe modern summer movies, most of which are lowest-common-denominator products laden with special effects instead of interesting characters. We're now lucky if one or two transcend mediocrity each summer — last year Toy Story 3 and Inception were the big exceptions. —-
Glancing at this year's summer slate —which opens this week with Fast Five and runs through Labor Day (and which Tim Owens previews here) — very few titles pique my interest. By my count, 13 sequels of one sort or another will grace the multiplex, and another 10 are based on previously existing materialfrom comic books to television shows (The Smurfs!?).
Apparently unique, creative thought is just too big a risk to take for a Hollywood system still adapting to its new, less culturally relevant reality. Yet I'm still holding out hope for a few efforts from pedigreed — or at least competent — filmmakers (Kenneth Branagh's Thor, Jon Favreau's Cowboys and Aliens, J.J. Abrams' Super 8 and Todd Phillips' Hangover Part II) and a pair of projects with interesting actors (Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in X-Men: First Class and James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes). (For the record, Terrence Malick's long-gestating, no doubt anti-summer-movie The Tree of Life is my most anticipated release of the season.)
Surely a couple the aforementioned will rise from the pack and distinguish themselves from the formulaic dross. Right?
ANTON CHEKHOV'S THE DUEL — Arriving seemingly out of nowhere, this film adaptation of Chekhov's novella features, per Film Forum's description, “a brilliant ensemble cast of British actors who strike just the right balance between intrigue and that particularly Russian brand of ennui we associate with Chekhov — but which today might elicit a prescription for Celexa.” Dover Koshashvili, the Israeli director of Late Marriage, guides a multinational cast headlined by Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott and Tobias Menzies. (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Not Rated.) Review coming soon.
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT — Things have been kinda tough for Brandon Routh post-Superman Returns, a hotly anticipated reboot that fell short of expectation mostly due to director Bryan Singer's dour take on the material.Besides small bits in Kevin Smith's tone-deaf Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Edgar Wright's entertaining Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Routh has been almost entirely absent from the big screen. Now comes Dylan Dog, an odd supernatural adventure in which Routh plays a private eye who tracks down monsters in the Louisiana bayou. Peter Stormare —another guy who’s been seemingly MIA in recent years — and Taye Diggs co-star. (Opens wide toiday.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.
FAST FIVE — Universal Picture's unlikely cash cow is back yet again, this time with Rio as its opulent setting and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson added to the action series' longstanding players Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster. Jin Lin, who's guided that last two installments, returns to direct a cast the also includes Ludicrous and Tyrese Gibson, not to mention another fleet of sleek, tricked-out cars. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.
HOODWINKED TOO! — Mike Disa makes his big-screen directorial debut with this animated sequel based on classic fairy tale characters. And what do you know — it's in 3-D, too! A bevy of well-known actors lend their voices (Glenn Close, Hayden Panettiere, Patrick Warburton, Joan Cusack, Amy Poehler, Martin Short, Brad Garrett, Andy Dick and Bill Hader, among others), several of whom were on hand the first time around. (Opens wide today.) —JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.
PROM — The title says it all — though, this being Disney, we get an even glossier take on the subject than we might otherwise get. Joe Nussbaum (Sydney White) directs Katie Wech's screenplay and a cast that includes Aimee Teegarden, Nicholas Braun, Dean Norris, Danielle Campbell and Christine Elise. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: D
WINTER IN WARTIME —Updated for a skeptical age, this new World War II movie comes impeccably groomed in period-attentive tans and grays; is written in non-heroic dialogue to suggest ambiguities in the good-evil dichotomies of war stories past; and is sufficiently hopped-up with thrills to warrant the interest of a U.S. distributor. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Ella Taylor (Rated R.) Grade: B-