By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 4, 2011 at 6:51AM
So, yeah, we reached our character limit, so part two of the summer preview follows. It only gets worse from here on out. While we live in hope that some of these films will be pleasant surprises, especially in the first few entries, they all come with great big buyer-beware stickers. Check out the first part here, and read on for part two. And again, check back tomorrow for our indie, arthouse and foreign picks.
21. “The Hangover Part II”
“Wait, “The Hangover Part II” half-way down your list?” you ask. “That can’t be right. The original was a beloved, bawdy comedy, that launched its leads onto the A-list, and made $200 million in the U.S. alone. The sequel has everyone back together, plus Paul Giamatti, Jamie Chung and, uh, Nick Cassavetes (who replaced Liam Neeson, who replaced Mel Gibson), and Todd Phillips is directing again. There’s even a monkey this time out. What’s not to like?” Well, quite. The thing is, from what we’ve seen so far, “The Hangover Part II” seems like a rushed, soulless retread of the original, almost beat-for-beat. You liked Ken Jeong’s gonzo cameo as crime lord Mr. Chow? Good, because he’s back, with an extended role. You liked Mike Tyson? Good, he’s along for the ride as well. And instead of a baby and a tiger, the trio have to deal with a monkey. Because everyone loves monkeys! We’d like to be wrong, but this things reeks of speedy cash-in from across the room.
When? May 27th
22. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
Potentially unpopular opinion: this writer is not just a fan of the generally well-liked first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, but he also doesn’t hate the second and third in the series. They are, by no stretch of the imagination, good movies. But they do have more good ideas in their heads than most tentpole movies, and, while they’re chronically overstuffed, they don’t quite deserve the hateful reputation that they’ve developed in the four years since 'At World’s End' hit theaters. But even as apologists for the trilogy, we just can’t get excited about the fourth installment, 'On Stranger Tides.' Yes, they’ve dumped franchise weak links Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and added Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, the best voice in Hollywood. But so far, it all looks rather tired, and new helmer Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) has somehow managed to shoot the film in a way that makes it look like the cheapest $200 million movie ever made. We’d like nothing more than to think that this will refresh the franchise, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’ll leave us never wanting to see Captain Jack Sparrow again.
When? May 20th
23. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
If his figuratively and (more than likely) literally half-baked performance hosting the Oscars taught us anything, it’s that James Franco can play “lackadaisical asshole with scant regard for the rest of humanity” like no one else. So it’s apt that he’s the ethically questionable scientist in this “reboot”/prequel to a dead franchise that last reared its ugly head in Tim Burton's 2001 mirthless remake of the Charlton Heston classic. World’s dumbest title aside, director Rupert Wyatt showed promise with his last picture -- the underseen "The Escapist" -- and everything thus far appears to avoid the inherent camp factor for a film about rampaging chimpanzees. Ignoring its cinematic Darwinian forbears, though, its plot appears to be worryingly plagiarized from "Deep Blue Sea" (hapless scientists attempt to cure Alzheimer’s by experimenting on potentially crazy animals; potentially crazy animals proceed to go crazy) and it’s trading on the promise of WETA’s special effects work on "Avatar," which as always, appear stellar if somewhat randomly deployed (ZOMG! That monkey just looked across the room!). Don’t expect fireworks, but in the unlikely event that this does spawn sequels, might we suggest a more succinct title for the next installment? Something like "Ape Shit" will do.
When? August 5th
24. “The Change-Up”
The body-swap genre has been a profitable alley for Hollywood ever since the original “Freaky Friday,” so it’s surprising that it’s never been given a filthy, R-rated spin. That’s exactly what “The Change-Up” hopes to do, pairing Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as a frustrated father/husband and a dickish bachelor who swap places after pissing in a magical fountain. Or something. Some would argue that having on board “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin and “The Hangover” scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, three figures who’ve had some success with the genre, is a good sign. To them, we’d remind them that Dobkin’s only other film since ‘Crashers’ was the near-unwatchable “Fred Claus,” and that Lucas and Moore getting sole credit for “The Hangover” was one of the worst ever WGA arbitration decisions, considering that the truly memorable moments in that film came from the invention of Todd Philips and his co-writer (for the record, Lucas and Moore’s other films include “Rebound” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”.) The recent red-band trailer suggests something noxious, full of the kind of Maxim Magazine misogyny that plagues the genre -- hey, women apparently go to the toilet! Who knew? There are a few good lines in the trailer, and we’re always pleased to see Bateman, but we’re not holding our breath for this one.
When? August 5th
25. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Every year brings at least one tentpole that leaves us shaking our head at its gigantic success, but few of them were as truly wretched as 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Setting something of a new low in terms of the emptiness of its spectacle, it’s a film that even its director, Michael Bay, admits is a piece of shit. So, while he might have promised an uptick for the third installment, and while the latest trailer certainly demonstrates some impressive eye candy, you’ll forgive us if we’re not yet returning to Bay like an abused wife. While some high-calibre supporting cast members may have been added in the form of John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, the script is still by Ehren Kruger, who’s just the worst, and it seems even more dour and plot-free than the second, the Spielbergian boy-and-his-car charm that made the first film slightly more bearable long since absent. Not that it’ll stop it from making a billion dollars, of course.
When? July 1st
26. “Final Destination 5”
We'll be honest, had the title actually remained "5nal Destination," it probably would've been in the top 10 of this list. It takes some serious groin to have that kind of irony and humility, but nobody could ever be allowed to have that much fun, not even the second unit director of "Avatar" that's currently at the helm. Shot in 3D, this entry promises a return to "form," and recent tweets from writer Eric Heisserer (which means a guy who "heissers") describes a death by Lasik that we'll "love" and "a LOT of character development," which will probably involve more characters eager to talk about their incredibly general emotions and text-book family issues. Director Steven Quale and the rest of the team seem to be distancing themselves from the previous campfests and are returning to its "darker" roots, which contradicts their casting of comedian David Koechner. The mad-libs plot remains the same -- "(insert good-looking low-paid actor: Nicholas D"Agosto) is about to die on a (insert anything you can stand or sit on), but has a premonition of the event and manages to save his friends from the disaster. However, death is still after them, killing them in ways such as when (insert the funny character or the smart character) dies in a (insert something very convoluted)." Given the ridiculous premise, we're not really sure why the filmmakers are getting on their high-horse and rejecting its inherent silliness, but we digress. Look for the teaser with "Priest," if you dare, and be warned -- if you see this one, they'll shoot 6 and 7 back to back.
When? August 12
27. “Mr Popper’s Penguins”
In spite of having a title that sounds like bestial sex act involving amyl nitrite, “Mr Popper’s Penguins” is in fact a contemporary adaptation of the 'beloved' children’s book about a businessman whose life is thrown into disarray when a nest of penguins take up residence in his inner-city apartment. Oh, the hilarity! Despite the capacity for fiction at young audiences involving penguins to court controversy – the apparently pro-gay marriage “And Tango Makes Three” recently topped the American Library Association’s “most-challenged” list – expect this to be a decidedly safe, family values affair. It’s a shame that Carrey feels the need to periodically check back in with family audiences, even after the protracted release date debacle surrounding “I Love You, Phillip Morris”. And quite why original helmer Noah Baumbach exited the project is up for speculation (perhaps there wasn’t enough scope for Mr Popper to complain about the shallowness of his existence and scream at his penguins about their vacuous South Pole lifestyle whilst listening to a Dinosaur Jr. album), but we’re saddled with the serviceable but bland Mark Waters, who, to us, will always be the less talented brother of “Heathers” scribe Dan, in the director's chair. So don’t expect much.
When? June 17th
28. + 29. “Jumping the Broom” & “Something Borrowed”
Counter-programming can be a powerful thing. With four-quadrant pictures relatively thin on the ground, timing, say, a horror flick against an animation can reap lucrative rewards. That’s the thinking behind this pair of romantic comedies, which both land in theaters on the same day as Marvel’s blockbuster hopeful “Thor.” They’re targeting slightly different markets -- “Something Borrowed" being a Kate Hudson film with all that entails, while “Jumping the Broom” is going for the African-American family audience that Tyler Perry’s had such success with in the last few years. Both have performers we like -- the former with Ginnifer Goodwin and John Krasinski, the latter with Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine. But neither promised more than your average romantic comedy from the trailer, and early reviews suggest that they’re actually less than even that -- both films are united in being called mean-spirited, unlikeable and charmless by the trades. So, yeah, you’re basically better off waiting a week for “Bridesmaids.”
When? May 6th
30. “The Help”
The novel on which this film is based was a massive success, considering it was author Kathryn Stockett’s debut. “The Help” tells the story of a young journalist, Skeeter (Emma Stone), and her attempts to write a book about the black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the ‘50s. There’s some real acting talent present with the great Viola Davis as the older, grieving Abilene and, to a lesser extent, Bryce Dallas Howard as the villain, Hilly Holbrook. And Octavia Spencer, a little-known television actress cast in the role of Minnie, the tough, fast-talking maid who goads Hilly into taking on her vendetta against the maids, looks to be a real find and the part is showy enough for an Oscar nod. So, with the amount of talent on board, the film seemed to be a surefire awards contender, with Stone becoming the new “it” girl for 2011-12. Then, the trailer hit. It’s not bad (well, it's pretty bad), it’s just not Oscar material. Director Tate Taylor has only made one poorly-regarded film before this, “Pretty Ugly People,” and we hope it doesn’t show in the acting or the storytelling. Stone feels a little out of place as the nerdy, shy Skeeter, but the other three female leads nail their parts from what we can see. We don’t like to put too much weight on a trailer, as DreamWorks could just be marketing to the lowest common denominator, but without its debut a couple of weeks ago, this film would probably be much higher on this list.
When? August 12
31. “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World”
To think that Robert Rodriguez was once the poster boy for indie filmmakers everywhere seems like a baffling alternate reality. But those “El Mariachi” Miramax salad days are a long, long way behind him, exemplified by the very existence of this fourth installment of the “Spy Kids” franchise. In true four-quel style, none of the gang you remembered from the first three movies are all here, plus it also threatens Jessica Alba in a prominent role and a “new generation” of photogenic tots to take up the lofty Spy Kids mantle. Anyone unlucky enough to have stumbled across the nightmarish hellscape that was “Spy Kids 3-D”, though, has likely got the sweats already. It was a pornographically bad, brain-aneurysm-inducing headtrip, boasting a mind-boggling plot dreamt up on a late-night peyote bender in Vegas with the graphics card of a Sega Saturn and Sly Stallone channeling a recovering stroke victim. Worse, it was only a gateway drug for the Rodriguez kiddie terrors yet to come (“The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl”, anyone?), and has set the stage for this bottomless-pit of flagitious anti-cinema. Let’s just put an end to all of this now, shall we, before “Agent Cody Banks 3: Cody Does Guantanamo” gets touted about Tinseltown?
When? August 19th
32. “Conan the Barbarian”
When you work the beat in Hollywood, you really start to get a vibe about movies long before they come to fruition. So when every somewhat-major director passed on relaunching a property as beloved as “Conan” with direct-to-DVD merchants Nu Image, the writing was on the wall. And when the job fell to studio whore Marcus Nispel, a man who already molested two much lower brow properties (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th”), we had to give up all hope that this wouldn’t be the smelliest clam in Fuckhouse City. Little-known Jason Momoa, currently seen doing the exact same thing on HBO's "Game of Thrones" fills the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in desperate 3D as he battles paycheck-chaser Stephen Lang in, from what we’ve seen, the type of sets you’d use for “Dungeon Siege” cosplay. If it'll be worth seeing, it'll only be to find out if there's a scene where Ron Perlman breaks character and pleads for Guillermo del Toro to give him a call.
When? August 19th
Maybe time has made us look on it with more sympathy, but while the film around him wasn’t very good, we remember Kevin James being a rather sweet, likable presence in his big-screen breakthrough opposite Will Smith in “Hitch.” Since then, however, he’s fallen into the dark church of Adam Sandler, and become a fully-fledged movie star thanks to his fatty-fall-over antics in films like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Grown Ups.” The summer sees him go into a genre that’s equally profitable, the talking CGI animal flick, as the titular animal-carer, whose charges (voiced by the likes of Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Jon Favreau, Cher, Judd Apatow, Maya Rudolph and Nick Nolte) help him woo the woman of his dreams (Rosario Dawson, continuing to slum it). It all looks pretty rote, especially with Sandler vet Frank Coraci at the helm, but what’s interesting is that Sony has only released a brief teaser so far, despite the film only being two months away; you’d have expected to have been bombarded with ads before “Rio” or “Rango.” Are they confident enough in the appeal of James and animals that they don’t need to give it the hard sell? (The film was picked up by Sony from MGM and moved into the summer after successful test screenings.)
When? July 8th
What happened to Paul Bettany? Once the right hand man to Russell Crowe in a pair of Oscar-nominated flicks, he's now following up his "angels with automatics" crap pile "Legion" with another genre mashup: a 3D vampire action film. Set in an alternate world where man and vampire have been battling for centuries, Bettany plays the titular Priest who sets out to find his niece who has been kidnapped by bloodsuckers. Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Christopher Plummer are also dragged into this dreck, that reunites Bettany with his "Legion" director Scott Charles Stewart. And if that doesn't put the fear of God into you, then you were lucky enough not to see "Legion." Bettany is a good actor when he's got a script to work with, but a note to his agents: don't hand him any more scripts with the words "apocalypse" or "post-apocalypse" in it. Fans of the graphic novels, if such things exist, may line up to see things go whoosh past the camera but we're still wondering how this thing got a Summer release date because it reeks of January to us.
When? May 13th
35. “Monte Carlo”
Tweens have as much right to have movies targeted to them as any other demographic. Of course they do. And sometimes the films aren’t too painful -- Mark Waters, for instance, delivered two genuinely entertaining examples, in “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls.” But generally speaking, the genre is a wasteland, and “Monte Carlo” unfortunately looks no different. Following three teens -- Disney Channel star Selena Gomez, “Gossip Girl”’s Leighton Meester, somehow managing to find a project more vacuous than “The Roommate,” and some other girl we’ve never heard of, as they head on a dream European vacation, only to swap places with a British heiress rather than being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, “Taken”-style. It’s the usual wish-fulfillment bullshit, and, while it might be sprinkled with some pretty-looking European locales, it also seems to be stuffed with the kind of shopping-and-shoes materialism that made us want to cut up our credit cards after last year’s “Sex and the City 2.” Bizarrely, Nicole Kidman is a producer on the film and, even more bizarrely, one of our favorite composers, Michael Giacchino (“Star Trek,” “Up,” “Let Me In”) is doing the score. Did he owe director Thomas Bezucha money or something?
When? July 1st
36. “Apollo 18”
Studios love the found-footage genre. They’re super-cheap to make, they can get away without dealing with those diva-ish stars, and they seem to consistently put the willies up audiences, from “The Blair Witch Project” to “The Last Exorcism.” So it was only a matter of time before the genre headed to space, and that time has come, thanks to “Night Watch” and “Wanted” director Timur Bekmambetov, who’s serving as producer here. Purporting to show the surviving footage of the supposedly cancelled final mission to the moon, and starring the two runners-up of the 2008 Bill Paxton Look-A-Like competition, the film only went before cameras at the start of the year, aiming for release as soon as March, and has since been shunted around the release schedule like a foster child with a fondness for arson -- first to the dead season of January, and now to the last weekend in August, traditionally one of the slowest days of the year. The trailer released a while ago was pretty awful, suggesting a film that mostly involved two guys wrestling inside a capsule. Even if you’re a fan of the genre, it seems like it might be worth clinging on til October, and “Paranormal Activity 3.”
When? August 26th
37.“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer”
The surprise success of Fox’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and its speedy sequel was bound to unleash a string of copycats, and Relativity have the first of them on the way with this ludicrously-titled adaptation of the popular kid’s book series by Megan McDonald, which focuses on the titular third-grader and her obnoxious little brother Stink. It’s directed by John Schultze, who’s made something of an niche for himself with other films aimed at very young audiences like “Aliens at the Attic” and “Like Mike.” It’s hard to begrudge the film’s existence, as it’s targeted entirely at 5- to 9-year-olds, but put it this way: we’re glad we don’t have any 5- to 9-year-olds. It’s also notable for providing Heather Graham, the one-time star of “Boogie Nights,” with a career low worse than that film where she spent most of the time having bondage sex with Joseph Fiennes.
When? June 10th
38. “The Smurfs”
An early sign that the Mayans were onto something, this live-action version of “The Smurfs” arrives a full year before the promised apocalypse. Somewhere in a high-security prison, there must be a disgruntled cineaste doing weights and throwing lead darts at a picture of director Raja “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” Gosnell for his myriad crimes against humanity, of which this film is only his latest offense. Of course, this adaptation takes the blue critters out of their medieval quasi-Amish incestuous paradise and plants them in modern-day New York for no particular reason; with a variety of performers, including poor, poor Hank Azaria as villain Gargamel, debasing themselves as they wait for their cheques to clear. And why not? The success of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and Gosnell’s own “Scooby Doo” has proved there’s an audience for this sort of thing, even if the final products usually end up resembling what Hannah Arendt once called “the banality of evil”. The screenplay seems to be trading heavily on the ingenious conceit of substituting an expletive in a sentence with the word “smurf,” so here’s an early prediction using the same hilarious technique: “The Smurfs” will be a cinematic experience worse than being smurfed in the face by Peter North covered in blue body paint.
When? July 29th
Oliver Lyttelton, Cat Scott, Sam Price, Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Christopher Bell, Cory Everett