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Kieran’s Critic’s Pick: Hesher (May 13, Limited)
You simply can not get away from Natalie Portman at the moment; she has won a Oscar, is having a baby, been criticised by Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee for endorsing single parenthood (despite the fact she is engaged) and been in a lot of films recently: Black Swan, Thor, No Strings Attached, Your Highness and The Other Woman.
Yet here, she’ll take passenger seat to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who leads the cast of Hesher as the titular character. JGL is on his way to becoming a major star after exposure in Inception, although this film would be more reminiscent of (500) Days of Summer. Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super) is also in the film directed by newcomer Spencer Susser. Susser wrote the script with David Michôd who is making a name for himself after directing the critically well received crime drama Animal Kingdom.
Hesher premiered at Sundance last year, so its arrival is overdue. Hesher is a loner who ends up both as the mentor and tormentor to a young boy T.J. (Devin Brochu) suffering from grief. Hesher could be the perfect antidote to anyone suffering from Blockbuster overload and needing some indie counter-programming.
Directed by Spencer Susser
Written by Spencer Susser, David Michôd (screenplay), Brain Charles Frank (story)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Devin Brochu
7. The Tree of Life (May 27, Limited)
“There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace.” Those are the first words we hear in the trailer for Terrence Malick’s highly anticipated The Tree of Life. We don’t know too much about the film, but we do know that Malick – who also penned the script – pulled from his own life experiences for inspiration.
Many greet the film with anticipation all thanks to Malick’s pedigree. The highly acclaimed – yet still Oscar-less – director’s last film was 2005’s The New World, which left most viewers disappointed. The film has been awaiting release for what seems like forever, and hopefully this can return Malick back to the praise he received for The Thin Red Line.
The film is also being hyped up as a major Oscar contender. The summer release doesn’t help that at all, but remember that Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker took seven Oscars – including Best Picture –despite debuting in U.S. cinemas in the summer.
This could also be Malick’s first film to score an acting nomination with the Academy. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt lead the film in what look to be some excellent performances. It’ll also give us a look at up-and-coming talent Jessica Chastain, who stars in a bevy of other films this year. The Tree of Life hits American cinemas in limited release on May 27 after premiering at Cannes. ~Julian
The Tree of Life
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain
Julian’s Critic’s Pick: The Help (August 12)
This film derives from Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name, which takes place in the 1960s South and focuses on three female leads, maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) and college graduate Skeeter (Emma Stone), who fight against the racial injustices of the time.
With that story, it’s certainly not a big blockbuster in the vein of Transformers: Dark of the Moon or any other tentpole. On the other end of things, the light tone of the trailer certainly wasn’t promising and probably turned quite a few people off, but character-driven dramas often surprise. It’s also worth noting that the sweetness of the trailer – for whatever reason – has grown on me since I’ve first seen it.
Despite what some studios assume about audiences, people do enjoy superbly acted dramas about characters they can relate to, so this film might find unexpected box office success. Additionally, the three leading performances might make a huge splash when Oscar season rolls around.
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Tate Taylor (screenplay), Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Starring: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone
6. X-Men: First Class (June 3)
In 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men started the rebirth of mainstream superheroes by treating the source material seriously. Singer is now back with the series after X2: X-Men United, this time as a producer and story co-writer. Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass) is finally directing an X-Men film after walking after from X-Men: the Last Stand and leaving it to the vile paws of Brett Ratner. Vaughn was also seen as a potential director for Thor.
X-Men fans are looking for a hero to wash out the bitter taste of the third X-Men movie and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender take on the roles of Charles Xavier and Magneto as the X-Men are founded in the ‘60s amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Hellfire Club manipulating events and Magneto fighting his own personal demons after surviving the Holocaust.
Vaughn was able to assemble a top-notch cast including veteran Kevin Bacon, TV stars January Jones (Mad Men) and Rose Byrne (Damages), Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence, up-and-coming actor Nicholas Hoult (Skins). The major risk for this film is that it has so many characters and factions that the filmmakers are trying to have theircake and eat it too. For film purists, X-Men: First Class is the only superhero film that will be released solely in the glories of 2D. ~ Kieran
X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Jane Goldman, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jamie Moss
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
The final piece of the puzzle to be introduced for next year’s The Avengers, Captain America will mark the final second-tier Marvel superhero to make it to the big screen after Thor and Iron Man. Chris Evans, who has superhero experience playing The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” films, takes the lead and hopes he can bring an all-American charisma to this superhero period film that has a slight flavor of “Indiana Jones.” Veteran Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, The Wolfman) helmed the project.
World War II is underway and Steve Rogers is a sickly and scrawny guy deemed unfit for military service, that is until he becomes involved in an experimental procedure that tests a super-soldier serum on him. Voilà, Captain America. Evans is joined by British actress Hayley Atwell (The Duchess) as love interest Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl) as “Bucky” Barnes with Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Neil McDonough and Toby Jones in smaller roles. Dominic Cooper will play a young Howard Stark.
The most inspired casting, however, is Hugo Weaving as crazed Nazi Red Skull, a move that definitely ranks atop all of the summer’s superhero casting decisions in my humble opinion. If the dozens of other summer blockbusters haven’t worn me down by then, “Captain America” sits surprisingly atop my list of superhero films to look forward to this summer and that seems to be the general consensus here at PA as it narrowly defeated the other three. Perhaps the appeal of “Captain America” is that it’s safest: no aliens, no Norse gods and not too many potential characters/story lines.
America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Jack Kirby, Joe Simon (comic)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci
Steven’s Critic’s Pick: The Hangover Part II (May 26)
Most major studios understand that when you have a hit comedy on your hands, you should never press your luck with a sequel, but I’d ignore that adage too if my comedy became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever. What does that say for the quality of The Hangover Part II? Not so sure, but from the looks of it, the idea was stick to the formula, up the ante.
Most of my fellow Player Affinity writers were unimpressed by the 2009 original and are staying clear of sequel like there’s a tiger in the bathroom. I thought it was an innovative execution of a tried formula with fresh faces and talents. The lack of freshness will be the first obstacle to overcome as Galifianakis and Cooper specifically have had quite a run of success in the last couple years. The expectation will be that this second film will be bigger and funnier but that’s asking a lot, too much really. I’ll be happy to be pleasantly entertained.
This adventure takes the gang to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. In déjà vu fashion, the gang takes out Stu’s younger future brother-in-law out for the night and they manage to wake up with various things they don’t remember including a replica Mike Tyson tattoo for Stu, no hair on Alan’s head and a monkey. Not exactly original, but we’ll see if the characters and the “mystery” can be enough to make the formula work at least one more time.
Hangover Part II
Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong
4. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Aug. 26)
Del Toro watched a TV movie and was absolutely horrified by what he saw. So
much so that he is now remaking this TV movie, albeit not as director: that
responsibility goes to newcomer Troy Nixey.
This 1970s TV horror film is titled Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. The original still remains terrifying and downright chilling, while this bigger-budget remake promises to be even scarier. The trailer alone has made me jump many times while sitting in the movie theater. The effects will be a major improvement over the original film and this movie is guaranteed to go down as one of the scariest of 2011.
The plot follows a little girl who is sent to live with her father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes) in a creepy, mansion-like house. As it turns out with most houses in this genre, especially these days, this house is home to a group of monsters who want the little girl for themselves.
There’s a little cause for concern as the film was bumped from this past January to August, but Del Toro’s name and its obvious creepiness as indicated by the phenomenal teaser have it still up there as one of our most anticipated summer films. ~Derrick
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Troy NixeyWritten by Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison
Derrick’s Critic’s Pick: Final Destination 5 (Aug. 12)
Call me crazy for wanting to see this movie, but I have absolutely and completely dug every single “Final Destination” movie. That includes the last one, which many people hated. I find them to be extremely fun slasher flicks where death itself is the killer.
This new (and fifth) entry in the franchise is one of my personal anticipated films of the summer season. I want to see it more than any of the blockbuster superhero movies, which includes even “Captain America.” As always, the film will focus on a group of survivors of some horrible incident they should have died in and death will now claim them back. The incident this time is a collapsing bridge. No trailer has been made available at this point, but the film was moved up from late August to Aug. 12, so there’s studio confidence in it.
Final Destination 5
Directed by Steven Quale
Written by Eric Hessierer
Starring: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Tony Todd
3. Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
Putting aside my unchecked admiration for genre-blending diversions, this quasi-comic inspired adaptation still looks like one fun summer flick, offering at least a bit more creativity than your average blockbuster fare. Iron Man and its successor were big summer hits courtesy of director Jon Favreau, and now slipping out of the franchise that brought him fame we will see if he can handle action films of the extraterrestrial variety.
Daniel Craig leaps onto extraterrestrial aircraft, shoots it out with bar thugs and points those baby blues at Olivia Wilde like the badass he is, joined by a gruff Harrison Ford as a tough-as-nails Colonel who must team with Craig’s mysterious Jake as well as the great Sam Rockwell as a character known only as Doc, reteaming with Favreau after Iron Man 2.
Cowboys & Aliens takes place In 1873 Arizona, beginning with Jake awaking with no memory of his past and a mysterious, futuristic shackle around his wrist. After wandering into town he learns he is a criminal wanted by many including Ford’s Colonel Dolarhyde, but such fussin’ and feudin’ have to be put on hold after aliens lay waste to the dusty village and Jake’s artifact could be the one clue to the invaders’ defeat. The buzz for this movie has been substantial since it was teased at Comic-Con last year, but also seems to have easily broken out of its fanboy origins with the star power and spectacle allure. ~Simon
Cowboys & Aliens
Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Roberto Orci
Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
Simon’s Critic’s Pick: Crazy, Stupid, Love (July 29)
Even though it exists in a genre that has done no favours to audiences in recent years, sometimes the cast alone of a romantic comedy can pique interest and inspire hope if not spur expectations. Steve Carell leads here and the now the “former” The Office star has been a solid comedic force having starred in an astounding seven $100 million-plus movies since 2003. Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei also star in this dramedy directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who previously scribed Bad Santa and wrote/directed the Jim Carrey dark comedy I Love You, Phillip Morris just last year.
In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Carell stars as Cal Weaver, a man whose life crumbles around him when his wife (Moore) announces their marriage will be coming to an end. Devastated, he sulks in bars where he happens to meet a bona fide lady’s man (Gosling) who takes him up as a wingman and shows him the life he had been missing. Love, however, is a funny force and begins to make a mess of things (though possibly a good mess) for all those involved.
As I alluded to, it is difficult not to be excited for this movie based on the cast, and Ficarra and Requa are fantastic auteurs when it comes to black comedy, though it seems as they explore a different tone altogether (as does Tangled and Cars 2 screenwriter Dan Fogelman), which frankly makes me even more curious.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Written by Dan Fogleman
Starring Steve Carrel, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows Pt. 2 (July 15)
It's hard to imagine a cinema landscape where there is no new "Harry Potter" film on the horizon, but with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 fast approaching, we'll have to start getting used to the image. Picking up where "Part 1" ended, Harry, Ron and Hermione continue their quest to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, mystical items linked to the immortality of Harry's nemesis Voldemort. Armed with the Elder Wand, Voldemort escalates his attempts to kill the titular wizard, all roads leading back to Hogwarts, where a final showdown will decide the outcome of both the wizarding and human worlds.
For many, "Part 2" signals the end of their childhood. If you've never read the books (like myself, don't hate), "Part 2" is the end of an era. For 10 years, the "Harry Potter" franchise has helped alter the face of blockbuster franchises as well as demonstrate how films can actually get better from the third film onwards (when most franchises burn out). If "Part 1" represented the heart and soul of the franchise's characters, "Part 2" is looking to be the knock out dogfight (hardcore and casual) fans alike have been waiting for.
The just released trailer showcases staggering wizard fights, dragons and Hogwarts getting ripped apart. If the trailer is to be believed, "Part 2" will be the most action oriented of the eight "Potter" films, looking to turn this now legendary franchise out to pasture with a huge bang.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes
1. Super 8 (June 10)
The only thing more perfect than director J.J. Abrams’ track record is the brilliant marketing of his newest film, Super 8. The moment the first teaser debuted in front of Iron Man 2 last summer and sent chills up and down the spines of unsuspecting audience members. And the full trailer only heightened everyone’s expectations.
The film follows a group of kids in a small Midwest town in the 1970s. They make movies for fun, but the fun is gone when their camera captures a horrific train accident. Soon, some very strange things start happening: Dogs disappear, people are captured and buildings are destroyed. There appears to be a creature on the loose, and these kids are determined to find it.
As is usually the case with Abrams, specific details of the plot are still under wraps, but after Star Trek, we have no real reason to doubt him. The presence of Steven Spielberg as a producer only enhances the film’s credibility. The period setting gives it a unique look and feel.
But the reason Super 8 is our most anticipated movie might relate more to the fact that it—like Inception last year—is original. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from this film. It’s not a sequel or remake and it’s not based on a comic book, novel or TV show. Super 8 is its very own entity, and in a season full of formulaic blockbusters, something out of the ordinary like this is always worth treasuring. ~John
Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring: Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich
Other Summer Movies to Note
Mr. Popper's Penguins (June 17) - Jim Carrey stars in this adaptation of the popular book featuring both live and CGI penguins that turn his apartment into the South Pole and make his professional and personal life a living ... freezer.
Larry Crowne (July 1) - Tom Hanks directs, co-writes and stars in this romantic comedy about a middle-aged man whos is laid off from his department store job because he doesn't have higher than a high school degree. When he enrolls in a speech class, he begins to form a relationship with his teacher, played by Julia Roberts.
Zookeeper (July 8) - Zookeeper stars Kevin James as said zookeeper for the Franklin Park Zoo, who one day learns that his animals can talk and they have broken their silence in order to help him land the woman of his dreams.
Friends with Benefits (July 22) - Have you gotten over No Strings Attached yet? Well like it or not, here comes round two of the fuckbuddy comedies. This one stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as two friends who decide using each other for sex is to their benefit.
The Change Up (Aug. 5) - A new addition to the body-switching comedy genre, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds play a married man and the other a perennial bachelor who share a piss in the same magic fountain one night and wake up the next day to discover they're in the other's body. Hi-jinx ensue.
Conan the Barbarian (Aug. 19) - A remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, "Conan" stars Hawaiian-born actor Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis) as the titular Cimmerian in this swords-and-sandals tale of merciless vengeance. Stephen Lang (Avatar) co-stars as does fan favorite Ron Perlman, G.I. Joe actress Rachel Nichols and Rose McGowan.
Fright Night (Aug. 19) - The 1985 horror comedy gets a remake from Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) starring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) as a teenager who believe his neighbor (Colin Ferrell) is a vampire responsible for a series of deaths. He enlists his favorite TV show host (David Tennant of Dr. Who fame) to help him stop the menace.
Apollo 18 (Aug. 26) - Moved from this past April to next January back to the end of summer, Apollo 18 uses the found footage horror technique in this space thriller that theorizes as to why we never went back to the moon after the 17th Apollo mission. You guessed it, some kind of creature or paranormal lifeforce.