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We're already into July, but the summer is just heating up. June was dominated by family films, with Shrek Forever After, The Karate Kid and Toy Story 3 as the movies that topped the box office. As great as those films are (especially Toy Story 3), summer is supposed to be about the live-action blockbusters be they action films, fantasy adventures, sci-fi thrillers or star-studded comedies. Well, that's exactly what July 2010 is all about. Time to bring it on.
The Last Airbender
Many people complain Hollywood never creates anything original: everything is a remake, a reboot, or based on some beat-to-death idea. Yet something looks refreshing about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, an action adventure sourced from a popular Nickelodeon show just a few years old.
Shyamalan campaigned with studios for a year to create the classic good-verses-evil tale after being introduced to the story by his seven-year-old daughter. On the Early Show, the director cited his interest in having an epic anthology along the lines of Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.
Similar to the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender, the adaptation follows Aang (Noah Ringer), the last Avatar able to control all the elements - earth, wind, fire, and air. Aang and his comrades use their abilities to protect the world from the seceded Fire Nation.
The film marketing is anchored in the success of the television show, family friendly PG rating and visually pleasing special effects rather than on the back of its young stars or the strength of its director. The film will debut on 1000 less screens than its competition, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, but ought to fair well with the male audience and families over Independence Day weekend.
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone
-- July 9 --
Robert Rodriguez produces a reboot of sorts of the classic Predator films. Thankfully, this time the Aliens have been left out of it. In this version, a group of elite killers (black ops, mercenaries, Yakuza) which includes Danny Trejo, Laurence Fishburne and two skinny white guys (Adrien Brody and Topher Grace), find themselves on a strange planet inhabited by predators. Yes, multiple. It appears these elite killing creatures wanted Earth’s best to enhance their hunting skills. Now it’s a game of kill or be killed.
I can’t vouch for director Nimrod Antal’s credibility as Armored and Vacancy were only so-so, but the latter was better than the former from what I gather, so a horror-bent project should elicit more optimism. Plus, if Rodriguez likes him, I’ll take his word, especially when it comes to gory alien stuff a la Planet Terror.
The trailer backs up the fear-factor element. Big-name stars are also encouraging as it usually means the script is solid. The trailer is also cautious about exposing the predators, which is part of what made the original so compelling, so if that translates to the film, it could be good.
Universal debuts its new animation company Illumination Entertainment (I think they’re the last major studio to equip themselves in this way) with Despicable Me, which they’ve been pumping out promos for going on more than a year now. Universal has only given us a little each time, so “Despicable” doesn’t feel overexposed quite yet.
Steve Carell voices Gru, a diabolic monument-stealing super villain whose attempt to steal the moon has some major roadblocks including his arch nemesis and three little orphan girls who somehow end up in his care.
A familiar yet original concept, Despicable Me appears to mash the superhero/villain concept with the displaced babysitter movie. The trailer is fun, action-packed yet also cute and Carell voicing a bad guy with a Russian accent is a great change of pace for the comedian. As the only entirely original family/animated film this summer, it deserves attention and should be far enough away from Toy Story 3 to perform well, but only if it can defeat its horribly cryptic title.
Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Written by Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos and Cinco Paul
Starring (voices): Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Jason Segel
The Kids Are All Right (limited release)
There is no denying that Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are two of the most adored actresses among avid moviegoers. If you're a fan of both, then you're likely in for a treat with The Kids Are All Right. The two Academy Award-nominated actresses play a lesbian couple whose children (Josh Hutcherson of Zathura and Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland) are confused as to who their biological father is. They decide to find out the whereabouts of their father, and sure enough, they find him (Mark Ruffalo).
“Kids” was a huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival this past year. It has been acclaimed not only for its performances but also for its heartwarming script. The film has tons of Oscar buzz (especially for Bening) and could actually go all the way to win the top prize.
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Written by Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska
-- July 14 --
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Say what you want about Nicolas Cage’s hair, but the man himself is certainly prolific. In addition to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage has eight pending credits listed on IMDB. Typically a solid box office draw, Cage will face considerable competition from Christopher Nolan’s post-The Dark Knight effort Inception, out the same weekend. In fact, Disney gave “Apprentice” a two-day head start on Inception by releasing it Wednesday July 14, in hopes that will make a difference.
In the supernaturally themed adventure from Walt Disney, master sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Cage) ropes an unsuspecting college dork (Jay Baruchel) into a love triangle involving his ancient nemesis Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) and their mutual love interest Veronica (Monica Bellucci). Preposterous, larger-than-life special effects-laden shenanigans ensue.
The original trailer emphasized the over the top mannerisms of Cage, the action and wizardry, and the introduction of the villain. Recent trailers, however, focus on the stupefied fish-out-of-water character Dave Stutler (Baruchel) and his May-December bromance with Balthazar Blake. Given the success of the previous Jerry Bruckheimer and Cage pairing, National Treasure, there is little doubt the movie will perform some magic at the box office.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Monica Bellucci
-- July 16 --
It's not really fair to call this The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan's new film as he made plenty of great films before The Dark Knight that were a bit more like this one. The public should know that, because this is not going to be typical blockbuster fare though that’s certainly what Warner Bros. and its marketing cronies have been going for, pumping TV stations with promos and loading the Internet with all kinds of trailers, clips and featurettes. Perhaps the goal is that people will come in with enough knowledge to get what’s going should they otherwise spend the whole film doing just that.
Inception is shaping up to be some mind-bending science fiction/mystery and most of us won’t get it no matter how hard we try. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this film about "freelance dream thieves" who can enter people's thoughts in attempt to steal their ideas. This proverbial “last job” for DiCaprio’s character involves “inception,” which is actually implanting an idea in someone’s mind. The film feels like reality-altering science fiction and a mix between two of my favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dark City.
The cast is sparkling with DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Nolan regular Michael Caine, among others. Expect theme-laden filmmaking and for it to feel like someone actually stole your mind when you leave the theater.
-- July 23 --
With the Bourne trilogy finished and the Bone series on hiatus we need to look every which way for an action espionage thrillers fix. Salt hopes to offer this as a contemporary thriller set in Washington D.C. and New York.
Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer who is accused of being a KGB Sleeper Agent assigned to kill the President of the United States. She has to prove her innocence and stop the real assassin before the CIA and FBI can arrest her; or is there any truth to the allegations?
Salt was originally going to star Tom Cruise; so it had a bit of a rewrite to allow Jolie to take over the leading role. She has proven herself as an action star in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wanted and an awards contender in Girl, Interrupted and Changeling. She wants to start a new female spy franchise and it’s always fun seeing a woman kicking ass.
Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) join Jolie in the action, so Salt has some serious acting talent behind it.
Hollywood veterans Kurt Wimmer and Brain Helgeland have written the screenplay, both have made written good films like The Recruit and L.A. Confidential and flops such as Ultraviolent and The Postman. But the director Philip Noyce rarely makes a dull one, making the best Tom Clancy adaptations, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and the powerful Australian film Rabbit Proof Fence.
The trailer makes the film look a little like Alias, which would certainly be fun, and considering recent events on the East Coast Salt may still have some themes for today. Salt could be a surprise hit of the summer, but it will be debuting against the second week of expected hit Inception.
-- July 30 --
Dinner for Schmucks
Paul Rudd and Steve Carell star in this awkward buddy comedy of sorts. A man (Rudd) is trying to impress his employers who hold a dinner every so often with one purpose: bringing supposed morons to the meal so that they can make fun of them. With his "mouseterpieces" and his belief in a psychic played by The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis, Carell's character seems like the perfect candidate for such a dinner.
The film is based on French filmmaker Francis Veber’s comical farce Le Diner de Cons, or in English, “The Dinner Game.” Jay Roach, veteran comedy director (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) helmed the adaptation.
Carell and Rudd, two unique comedic actors, worked together in Anchorman and the low-brow comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, demonstrating some good natural chemistry. Comedy hasn't been so hot this year, but “Schmucks” definitely looks to change that.
Charlie St. Cloud
Director Burr Steers and actor Zac Efron reunite after the success of 17 Again with an adaptation of the Ben Sherwood novel The Death and the Life of Charlie St. Cloud. This is the tale of Charlie St. Cloud (Efron), a university-bound student who promises his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) that he will play baseball everyday with him until he goes to Stanford. But when Sam dies in a car accident, Charlie has to overcome his grief and ends up playing baseball with Sam’s ghost and as such the town thinks he’s mad. Charlie’s situation is further complicated when he meets Tess (Amanda Crew) and he is torn between his vow to his dead brother and moving on with his new love.
Efron clearly wants to break away from his reputation as being a teenage heartthrob, having already starred in Me and Orson Welles. This time, veterans Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta join him in another low-key film.
Charlie St. Cloud is clearly serious in tone and was written by Lewis Colick (October Sky) and Craig Pearce (Romeo + Juliet), with Sherwood acting as a producer. But the style and story does seem to have some similarities to The Lovely Bones, which was met with a lukewarm critical and commercial reaction.