Big budget films make summer sizzle
Summer is back, and before things start to get too sweaty and sunburn-y, it's a good idea to find out what the air-conditioned, darkened-room options are at your local movie theater.
Of course, there will be plenty of money-grubbing sequels — starting early with “Fast & Furious 6” and “The Hangover Part III” on May 24.
This year seems to have a few more original ideas than usual (for summer, at least), like the strange “Now You See Me” (May 31) — about Vegas magicians who rob banks and give the money to their audiences — and “The Purge” (May 31), about a future where the government stops enforcing all laws (even murder) for 12 hours a year. Then there's “This Is the End” (June 12), which begins the apocalypse at a party at James Franco's house, with Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Emma Watson and just about every other young, funny actor in attendance.
The most-anticipated movies include “World War Z” (June 21), the adaptation of the zombie-world-war novel that Brad Pitt has been tinkering with for a long time, and “Man of Steel” (June 14), the summer superhero blockbuster with the best prescreening buzz. Then there's “The Lone Ranger” (July 3) with Johnny Depp — a franchise so old and unlikely that its resurrection might just work.
— Mike Machosky
The following is a look at this summer's major releases by Bill Goodykoontz, the chief film critic for Gannett News Service:
“Epic” (PG): Mary Katharine (Amanda Seyfried), a teenage girl, manages to get in the middle of a battle between good and evil in a deep forest in director Chris Wedge's animated film. Big-time cast, including Beyonce, Pitbull, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson and Steven Tyler.
“Fast & Furious 6” (PG-13): Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham? It's like a testosterone festival here. Throw in the screaming fast cars, and you see why they keep making these things, and why fans keep flocking to them. Director Justin Lin is back. Start your engines.
“The Hangover Part III” (R): The first one was hilarious. The second one ... wasn't. So what'll it be the third time around? Everyone's back, including Ken Jeong, who has become the unlikely hero of the franchise.
“Now You See Me” (PG-13): Talk about intriguing: A group of illusionists pulls off bank jobs during performances and gives the money to its audiences. The FBI is, ahem, interested. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Woody Harrelson.
“After Earth” (PG-13): Most of us go to the park with our kids. Will Smith makes movies with his. He and his son, Jaden, star in a film by M. Night Shyamalan (remember him?) as, well, a father and son stranded on Earth after humans have had to escape it.
“The Internship” (PG-13): Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play two salesmen left behind by the digital age. Somehow, they score internships at Google, where a younger, smarter group awaits. Can they survive? More importantly, can they rekindle the “Wedding Crashers” magic eight years later?
“The Purge” (R): In the future, the government establishes an annual 12-hour period in which all crimes are legal, even murder. An intruder breaks into Ethan Hawke's home, and he must fight back.
“This Is the End” (R): During a bash at James Franco's house, the apocalypse begins, so he, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Emma Watson, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Michael Cera and pretty much every other young-to-youngish comedy star must face mortality or something. Who cares? It'll be profane and, with any luck, funny.
“Man of Steel” (PG-13): Much anticipated, with Henry Cavill as Clark Kent and that other guy with the red cape. With the “Dark Knight” series played out, all eyes turn to director Zach Snyder's film for hope (and that's overstating it only a little). With Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon and Laurence Fishburne.
“Monsters University” (G): Is nothing safe from the prequel treatment? Pixar's summer offering is a look at when Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) met at the college where they learned their trade and developed their hesitant friendship. The first one's underrated; maybe this one will live up to its standard.
“World War Z” (R): Director Marc Foster's take on Max Brooks' novel has been kicking around a while, getting worked and reworked, which is not a great sign. But c'mon, Brad Pitt in a zombie movie? How can you not want to see this?
“The Heat” (R): Paul Feig, who created “Freaks and Geeks,” directs Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as two misanthropic FBI agents paired together to take down a drug lord. If it's anything like “Bridesmaids,” in which Feig directed McCarthy, then good.
“White House Down” (not yet rated): Channing Tatum gets turned down by the Secret Service from his dream job of protecting the president (Jamie Foxx). While he takes his daughter on a tour of the White House, a paramilitary group takes over the place. Well, sounds like someone has a chance to prove his mettle.
“Despicable Me 2” (PG): Steve Carell returns as Gru, the animated would-be super-villain, who wound up adopting three girls in the first film. He's joined by Al Pacino and Kristen Wiig for the sequel. The first one was fun. No reason to think, with those additions, this one won't be, too.
“The Lone Ranger” (not yet rated): Armie Hammer (the best thing about “J. Edgar”) stars as John Reid, a lawman who dons a mask and becomes, well, you know. But the big draw is Johnny Depp as Tonto. Directed by Gore Verbinski, who worked with Depp on several “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. One of the most-intriguing movies of the summer. Which doesn't mean it'll be one of the best.
“The Way Way Back” (PG-13): Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote and directed a film about a teenager (Liam James) who learns about life one summer through his relationship with an offbeat amusement-park employee (Sam Rockwell). With Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney. Good notices from Sundance.
“Grown Ups 2” (PG-13): The original was one of the worst movies of the past 10 years, basically Adam Sandler goofing around with buddies Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James, and charging audiences for it. Naturally, there is a sequel.
“Pacific Rim” (PG-13): The idea of an alien invasion being fought off by giant robots controlled by humans sounds, um, stupid. But Guillermo del Toro co-wrote and directs, so we'll give it the benefit of the doubt.
“Turbo” (PG): Ryan Reynolds provides the voice of Turbo, a snail who wants to win the Indy 500. Sounds cute. Also with Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudolph, Snoop Lion, Richard Jenkins and the ubiquitous Ken Jeong.
“The Conjuring” (not yet rated): The story sounds pretty generic. Paranormal investigators help a family, get caught in a terrifying case, blah blah blah. But it stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson and was directed by James Wan, who also directed “Insidious.”
“R.I.P.D.” (PG-13): Must be ghost-story week. Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Bacon star in a comedy about a recently killed cop who joins a team of undead police officers in the Rest in Peace Department. R.I.P.D. Get it?
“RED 2” (not yet rated): Bruce Willis returns, along with Helen Mirren (yay) and John Malkovich as retired assassins who once again must use their specific skills, which, as you might guess, involve shooting people. Mary-Louise Parker is also back (yay, again), and Anthony Hopkins is added to the mix. The first one was fun. Kind of wonder if there needed to be another one, though.
“The Wolverine” (not yet rated): Hugh Jackman extends his claws again as the complicated Marvel comics superhero. Wait, you say, didn't we see this in 2009? That was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and it wasn't very good. This one's bound to be better.
“The To Do List” (not yet rated): Maggie Carey writes and directs a comedy about a young woman (Aubrey Plaza) who is sexually inexperienced, so she makes a list of things to do before going off to college. Plaza's always welcome, and Carey's husband, Bill Hader, is also in the film.
“The Smurfs 2” (not yet rated): Why? Because it's there. Because there was a first one. Because Katy Perry provides the voice of Smurfette, who gets kidnapped in this one and must be rescued. Because the first one made more than $142 million.
“2 Guns” (not yet rated): Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play a DEA agent and a Naval intelligence officer who have to investigate each other but learn they've been set up by the mob.
“300: Rise of an Empire” (not yet rated): Themistocles takes on the invading Persians. Ah, history once again used as a vehicle to see buff men in loin cloths and sandals. But when “300” made $210 million, you figured there'd eventually be another one.
“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” (not yet rated): Logan Lerman returns as Percy, son of Poseidon. He's a high-school demigod whose adventures are chronicled in Rick Riordan's novels. This time he's in search of a Golden Fleece. The first film was fun.
“Elysium” (not yet rated): Matt Damon gets all buff to play a man living in 2154 who must try to break into Elysium, a space station in which life is perfect. He lives on Earth, which has fallen into ruin. Jodie Foster is determined to keep the likes of him out of Elysium. It's Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to “District 9.” With this cast and that pedigree, hopes are high.
“Planes” (not yet rated): Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) is a crop-dusting plane who wants to compete in a race but is, alas, afraid of heights. Disney's big summer offering includes the voices of Val Kilmer, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Brad Garrett and John Cleese.
“We're the Millers” (not yet rated): Jason Sudekis plays a marijuana dealer who has to create a fake family to bring in two tons of the drug from Mexico. He ends up with Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter, which isn't bad, as fake families go.
“Kick-Ass 2” (not yet rated): Aaron Taylor-Johnson returns as Kick-Ass, a sort of low-rent superhero who is assisted by the deadly, profane Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). The first one was great good fun. Jim Carrey climbs aboard for this one as Col. Stars and Stripes, whose name you have to love, at least.
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (not yet rated): Lily Collins plays Clary Fray, a teenage girl whose mother (Lena Headey) disappears. Clary learns she is a descendent of a secret group of half-angel warriors. Based on the popular book series by Cassandra Clare.
“The World's End” (not yet rated): Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite as friends who get together for the 20-year anniversary of a memorable pub crawl and who suddenly become mankind's only hope for survival.
“You're Next” (not yet rated): Brutal horror film directed by Adam Wingard about a family gathered at its remote estatelike home for a wedding anniversary. Then masked killers start attacking.
“Closed Circuit” (not yet rated): Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play lawyers and former lovers who join the defense team of an international terrorist. Ciaran Hinds and Jim Broadbent are also in the film, directed by John Crowley. Good cast, interesting idea.
“The Getaway” (not yet rated): Ethan Hawke plays a race-car driver whose wife is kidnapped. The culprits force him to follow a series of commands. He's helped by a hacker played by Selena Gomez.
“One Direction: This Is Us” (not yet rated): The incredibly popular group launches a million more teenage screams with this documentary directed by ... Morgan Spurlock. You know, the “Super Size Me” guy. That's a good sign; maybe he'll include some of the tabloidish things we've been hearing about the guys in the band.
Other summer movies
These films are being released in bigger markets this summer and will probably make their way to Pittsburgh at some point:
“Before Midnight” (R): Nearly two decades after “Before Sunrise,” writer-director Richard Linklater concludes his trilogy about the on-again, off-again relationship between an American man (Ethan Hawke) and the French woman (Julie Delpy) he met on a train.
“The Bling Ring” (R): Director Sofia Coppola's latest was inspired by the true story of a group of California teens, including Emma Watson, who robbed the houses of famous tabloid fixtures.
“Blue Jasmine” (PG-13): Woody Allen has been cagey about the details of his next film. What we do know: The cast — Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard — is stellar, and, after a handful of European-set films, the auteur is back on American soil.
“The East” (PG-13): Brit Marling teams once again with writer-director Zal Batmanglij for this thriller about a spy embedded among a group of anarchists that wages war on companies that have nefarious aims.
“Fruitvale Station” (not yet rated): Drama based on the true story of a man named Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) and his interactions on the last day of 2008. With Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray and Octavia Spencer.
“Girl Most Likely” (PG-13): “Bridesmaids” proved Kristen Wiig's talent for portraying rock-bottom-bound characters with just the right mix of comedy and emotion. This time around, she's a failed playwright forced to move in with her mother (Annette Bening) and younger brother.
“The Iceman” (R): Michael Shannon portrays Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer responsible for more than 100 murders who led a double life as a suburban family man.
“I Give It a Year” (not yet rated): Frequent Ali G collaborator Dan Mazer wrote and directed this British comedy about a mismatched husband and wife trying to make it to their first anniversary.
“The Kings of Summer” (R): Two best friends and one oddball interloper decide to escape their stifling parents and live in the woods for the summer in this feel-good feature. Stars Nick Offerman, Moises Arias, Nick Robinson and Alison Brie.
“Much Ado About Nothing” (PG-13): The cast — Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg — may look familiar to Joss Whedon's army of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans. Despite populating the film with his usual collaborators, the writer-director defies predictability with a black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare's romantic comedy.
“Stuck in Love” (R): This might be the “Crazy Stupid Love” of 2013, starring Greg Kinnear as a recently divorced writer struggling with his single status, just as his kids and ex-wife grapple with their own relationships, both within and outside the family.
“Passion” (R): Veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma directs this remake of the French film “Love Crime,” a steamy thriller about a rising star at an advertising agency (Noomi Rapace) who gets double-crossed by her boss (Rachel McAdams).