Sunday, April 3, 2011

Anticipating Summer Movie Season? I Wish I Was

It's April, which means that summer blockbuster season is just around the corner. It seems to come a little earlier every year, with many big action pictures now crowding the first weeks of May, where they were once expected to wait for Memorial Day weekend, and a few like the fifth "Fast and Furious" movie even braving the tail-end of April. I was all set to write up a list of films I was excited for, but I'll tell you the truth. I'm not really feeling it this year. Maybe it's because I'm getting toward the outer reaches of the age range for the target audience for most of these films. Maybe it's because the inundation of sequels and reboots and retreads is getting me down. Maybe I've just gotten immune to the hype, or I haven't gotten over the endless string of disappointments that characterized last year.

There are a handful of movies that look promising. JJ Abrams' "Super 8," Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens," the Guillermo Del Toro scripted "Don't be Afraid of the Dark," and the "Fright Night" remake should be fun genre popcorn flicks. Festival favorite "Another Earth" could be interesting. Some of the August counterprogramming, like dramas "The Help" and "The Debt" sound all right, but information about them is scarce. I'm rooting for "Winnie the Pooh" with all my might. And if they can keep the juvenile toilet humor in check, I might be convinced to give "Mr. Popper's Penguins" a shot. However there are only three movies that I can say I'm really anticipating, two of them sequels - the final "Harry Potter" and the second "Kung Fu Panda" movie. In both cases, these are films following strong previous installments and doen't feel extraneous or unnecessary, unlike the bulk of the sequels coming out this year. Just looking at the list of upcoming second, third, fourth, or fifth franchise entries is depressing.

Was PIXAR's "Cars" good enough to warrant a sequel? Did we need another "Pirates of the Caribbean"? I guess "Transformers 3" and "The Hangover 2" were inevitable, but who exactly was clamoring for another "Spy Kids"? Or "Final Destination"? Or "Johnny English"? Or "Journey to the Center of the Earth"? Why have prequels for "X-men" and "Planet of the Apes"? Does anyone under the age of thirty even know what "Planet of the Apes" is? Thankfully reboots are scarcer this year, but we're still going to have to put up with advertisements for "The Smurfs" for a couple of months. And I would dearly love for the "Conan the Barbarian" reboot to be wonderful, or even just a good cheesy romp. But it's being directed by Marcus Nispel, whose filmography consists almost entirely of poorly regarded horror movie reboots like the 2003 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the 2009 "Friday the 13th." So I await "Conan" with growing dread.

But wait, I hear you cry. This is the summer of the great superhero showdown, when DC/Warner Brothers and Marvel/Paramount will sending "The Green Lantern," "Thor," and "Captain America" to the multiplexes for the first time to do battle. You love superhero movies! And indeed I do, but my anticipation for all of these titles has taken a dive since last year. The biggest culprit was really "Iron Man 2," which was severely diminished by being rushed into production and used to set up the 2012 "Avengers" movie. "Thor" and "Captain America" may still turn out to be wonderful films, but I worry that their plots will be compromised, and the origin stories of these new superheroes will end up playing more like prequels to "Avengers." As for "Green Lantern," it's still the one that I think is the most promising, but the delays in getting marketing materials out - note the conspicuous lack of a Superbowl ad - is worrying. I haven't seen the new Wondercon footage yet, so I still hold out hope it will come out better than the bad buzz suggests. Oh, and I'd be remiss in forgetting to mention "Priest," another comic book adaptation with Paul Bettany, which looks like a low-rent, monochrome "Judge Dredd."

And then there's the comedic genre, which I have never have much luck with. "Something Borrowed," "Friends with Benefits," "Bad Teacher" "Bridesmaids," "Horrible Bosses" "Zookeeper," "30 Minutes or Less," and "The Change-Up" aren't doing anything for me so far. "Crazy Stupid Love" has the benefit of Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore, while "Larry Crowne" with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts looks cute, but these hardly ping as an event movies. Finally, the art house offers some possible reprieves. Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris," has a stellar cast that hopefully won't go to waste. The long awaited "The Beaver" with Mel Gibson is also en route and the buzz has been pretty decent - well, if you can stop cringing at the mention of Mel Gibson.

But what's the last summer film I'm really anticipating? Terence Malick's "The Tree of Life," which is getting a limited release at the end of May, and could steal some attention away from bigger movies. No matter how you slice it, this one's going to be an event, since pretentious cineastes have been waiting for the film for what feels like ages. Something as artsy as "The Tree of Life" may seem an odd choice for summer viewing, but in a year like this it stands out above the crowd and I'll take what I can get.

This is not to say I'm rooting for any of these movies to fail. I hope that I'm completely wrong about the majority of these titles, that my expectations will be exceeded, and we get a great summer at the movies. I don't want to see a repeat of last year, which left the whole industry miserable. There's only so much schadenfreude a girl should indulge in. But if worse comes to worst, well, there are a lot of films in the fall and winter that I'm looking forward to. And there's always next year, which is already shaping up to be a monster. But those are posts for another time.

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