I don't know what it feels like anywhere else, but in LA, it definitely feels as if summer's arrived. You'd think there wouldn't be a difference here, but there is. That thing that is summer, that thing that isn't quite scent but can still be felt in the air, the thing that makes you want to open a grill and murder some cow -- it's arrived. Ever since Jaws took his first bite, that meant another thing too -- something that might make summer's arrival even more prevalent in this town: movies. Event movies. Big things that go boom on summer nights. It's the season where superheros come out from their fortresses of solitude, where pirates plunder, and where things you never heard of before -- like Jason Bourne -- suddenly become your favorite.
Of course, it's also where crap loudly flushes for two-and-a-half painfully 3D hours -- crap you probably paid 15 bucks for. But 'tis the season. Part of the fun is dispensing with that 15 bucks to take a risk and find out if what you're walking into will be the best or worst thing ever, and then being a part of the national conversation about it. All the while, studios stake millions and millions on movies they hope to high heaven you want to see. Well, do you?
The season's becoming thicker and thicker around the gut -- so much so that a billion-dollar franchise (Pirates of the Caribbean) is nearly an after-thought. But Hollywood needs (the term "needs" is relative here) that cash, as profits are down near 20 percent this year at this point compared to last. So the Summer season's movie waistline is growing -- by some counts, it's already started -- at least this Friday with Fast and Furious. But by the typical Hollywood calendar, the escapism extravaganza will arrive with a hammer the first Friday in May (that's the 6th) with Thor. A movie I thought sounded ridiculous, stupid, and ill-founded when it was announced a few years ago but that now I'm dying to see. Such is the way. So let's sneak into Summer's closet, peek into the Target bags, and spoil our Summer presents. These are the movies of Summer 2011.
The superhero movie phenomenon is now over 10 years old. What started with X-Men in July 2000 has now found its way to Thor in 2011. The well apparently isn't dry, but the bucket's dipping deeper. Thor is not the name-checked hero Spider-Man, Batman, or Superman are. He's no man at all. But some kind of god thingy. This outing treats him as something a bit more vague so as to not alienate the audience by way of actually implying he's something of an alien, but whatever -- it looks badass. The CG on Thor's home of Asgard is stunning and beautiful. There's something appealing about a guy that just armors up and takes things down with a hammer...and Natalie Portman is really, really attractive. So all in all -- in. I have a feeling that, when it's all said and done, this could be Marvel's most epic production and one of their richer movies. Kenneth Branagh directs, and Anthony Hopkins takes an assisting role to bring the gravitas with the requisite action kick-assery. Plus, it's set up for not just later in the summer, but next year, for maybe the biggest blockbuster mind-bleep ever, The Avengers.
Open: $68 million.
Gross: $215 domestic, $600 worldwide.
This is an interesting bit of counter-programming to the other wide release of the week -- a graphic novel-based future vampire religion-themed shoot 'em up called Priest. While Thor is risky in that he has a lower recognition than some of his cohorts, Priest is straight gone off the map. It looks intriguing, but I'm calling bomb on it and saying Bridesmaids is the one to catch for the week. Judd Apatow produces this one, perhaps feeling as if he had something to prove after Katherine Heigl said he and his Knocked Up boys were sexist. Props are due because it's an outright female movie with a parade of talent at the forefront, but it's not a goopy rom-com. Bridesmaids is the first lead role for SNL's Kristen Wiig, and she cowrote. That alone is enough to sell a ticket if you're into her brand of zany. She plays the not-all-together slacker type who now must woman-up to cover the bases for a with-it friend's wedding as her maid of honor. Sure, the plot might sound a little trite, but the movie promises a lot of raunch and debauchery that's usually left to the fellas. And it just looks funny.
Opens: $21 million.
Grosses: $80 million domestic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (5/20)
Or "Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: How Much More Money Can We Make?" Disney had an interesting problem on their hands. While the previous three Pirates movies brought in billions, they took egregious steps down in quality on the way there. Could it be that the three-hour confusing bore that was At World's End killed the franchise? Or was there enough goodwill left for Captain Jack Sparrow? That question gets answered on May 20th, as Johnny Depp goes gallivanting for the fountain of youth sans boring plotlines involving the East India Trading Company or Orlando Bloom. Jack's front and center now, with Penelope Cruz at his side and Ian McShane on his tale as Captain Blackbeard. Even if the goodwill is lost, and even if Disney doesn't make their billion, nothing will be lost if we're treated to a good Pirates movie once again. But if it does pass Go and collect hundreds of millions of dollars, there's already two more Pirates flicks in the works. Will history repeat itself? Oh, Rob Marshall, the director of Chicago and Nine, directs this time out. So the movie should be gorgeous...but will it be engaging?
Opens: $100 million.
Grosses: $300 million domestic. $850 million worldwide.
The Hangover Part II (5/27)
The Hangover Part II threatens to do what few have done before -- catch lighting, for a second time, in the bottle. The Hangover was a surprise monster hit in 2009, and a sequel was commissioned even before its release. The movie, which takes the Wolfpack to Thailand, has been fraught with some controversy due to leaks of surprise cameos, at one point including Mel Gibson (until members of the cast and crew protested) and allegedly Bill Clinton. One thing we're guaranteed is a monkey. The Hangover Part II could be doomed to the place where Airplane II, Caddyshack II, and other attempts to re-tell a classic joke with poor delivery lie, or, like its predecessor, it could surprise everybody and be hilarious. The trailer seems to indicate the latter. But hey, is Zach Galifianakis going to forget how to be funny in two years? Doubtful.
Opens: $55 million.
Grosses: $200 million domestic.
Art House and Kid's Table Alert: Kung Fu Panda 2 will also come out on the 27th and make enough money to buy Omar Gaddafi out of power. I was underwhelmed with the first one, but it's well-liked and I imagine I'll see it anyway. It is a panda doing karate, for Pete's sake. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life also starts rolling out Memorial Day weekend. It stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and could be the movie of the year. What's it about? Apparently everything. Sean Penn is the grown son of Pitt who reflects on his fractured relationship with his father in childhood, but the trailer promises that this movie has grander designs, with beautiful imagery of things like star-bursts and budding plants. Apparently there's also dinosaurs. Maybe it's a summer movie after all.
X-Men: First Class (6/3)
Remember when I said that X-Men was due for the superhero craze we're on? First Class is the fifth film in the franchise and definitely not the last, as a sequel to Wolverine is already in development. What we get here is a back-to-square-one movie after The Last Stand obliterated the franchise in the present sense. Instead, we're transported to 1962 where most everyone's still alive, Professor X can still walk, and Magneto's just starting to get pissed off. From the looks of the trailers, the X-Men, who aren't even X-Men yet, get roped up in '60s politics and have some fixing to do with a little something called the Cuban Missile Crisis -- and it looks awesome. Kevin Bacon stars as the bad guy (besides those damn Russians), Sebastian Shaw (which I think means something to comic book fans), so that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game can now be played with mutants. Matthew Vaughn directs, and his Kick-Ass was like someone infiltrated my brain, so let's hope there's enough gas in the X-Jet for one more groovy outing. Bonus Kennedy points.
Opens: $65 million.
Grosses: $190 million domestic. $550 million worldwide.
Super 8 (6/10)
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the star of this movie. He's a first-timer, a kid named Joel Courtney. He was as wide-eyed and enthusiastic about being in this movie and breaking into the biz as I am to see it. As unjaded and sincere as it appears to be. This is a dangerous thing, when I convince myself that a new movie will become my favorite of all time, but...Super 8 will be my favorite movie of all time. It harkens back to an age (called the '70s and '80s) when summer didn't just mean noise at the theater. When movies about monsters and aliens were also about characters and families and girls and small-town Americana. Before computers made every special effect less special and more glossy cartoons, before they employed the use of camera angles and quick edits that made everything flashy, yes, but about as coherent and jarring as a roller-coaster. My great hope is that this movie, directed and written by J.J. Abrams (LOST! STAR TREK! FRINGE!) and produced under Steven Speilberg's tutelage as an homage to his classic flicks of back in said day, will present the thrill and rush and bit of awe that made that cliched adage that actually does describe summer movies as "thrilling rollercoasters!" apt again. It concerns a kid (Joel Courtney) who makes movies with his buddies in a small Ohio town on a super 8 camera in the '70s. One day, that film catches a fantastic train wreck, and the contents of that train then start doing strange, magical, E.T./Close Encounters-ish things to the town. One film review cliche this film won't be? A train-wreck. And it might bring hope back to the movies. Okay, did I sufficiently oversell?
Opens: $45 million.
Grosses: $225 million domestic. $500 million worldwide.
Green Lantern (6/17)
Pains me to say it, but of the super-hero hubbub this summer, I think Lantern might be the one to get lost in the shuffle. Plainly said: it doesn't look good. The effects are shoddy. The suit is high-tech Photoshop. The action looks unstaged and bland. Which is all shocking to say, considering it's directed by Martin Campbell, who excells at this thing and in a practical kind of way. He's got Casino Royale, GoldenEye, and The Mask of Zorro under his belt. Then there's Ryan Reynolds playing the guy with the green ring charged to protect Earth from all sorts of intergalactic evil. He deserves a role like this, but it could be, at the end of the day, that it shouldn't have been this one. Or it could blow us all away. After the underwhelming response to the trailer, Warner Brothers went back to work. They've got a lot riding on this, trying to get into the DC catalogue trying to rival Marvel's success. But for as cool a concept as Green Lantern is (he can fly and make any object he wants with his power-ring), it's all in the delivery.
Opens: $60 million.
Grosses: $185 million domestic. $575 million worldwide.
Kid Alert: Mr. Popper's Penguins is also released on the 17th. It stars Jim Carrey and penguins. Guess what! I'm 25 and I think that sounds cool. If I was 10, we're in zomg!!! territory. But where most human's bodies are 60% water, mine is 60% movies, and I thought this was coming out in December. Does anyone else even know it exists? It could be a classic! This generation's Jumanji or Mrs. Doubtfire or something like that. It's based on a children's book, and did I mention it's got Jim Carrey and penguins? But maybe I'm just missing all the Nick Jr. ads.
Cars 2 (6/24)
Cars shmars. Sorry. Cars is probably the weakest link in Pixar's chain of awesomeness, which still means it's probably made out of titanium to most other movie's aluminum, and the plot a Bond-inspired romp around the world sounds fun, but this just doesn't rev my engines (harhar) like some of Pixar's other efforts. It'll make a billion dollars and sell twice as many toys, though. For anyone else that isn't all about cars, Cameron Diaz's Bad Teacher also drops on the 24th, which shows the super hottie being bad and doing bad things in an R-rated raunch-a-thon featuring Justin Timberlake. But not not those kinds of bad things. But maybe. Anyway, guess that's why we have to see it.
Opens: $75 million.
Grosses: $250 million domestic. $750 million worldwide.
Transformers: Dark of The Moon (7/1)
I hear if you watch this movie while listening to Pink Floyd's album you get an even bigger headache! Apparently this one's supposed to right all the atrocities that were wrong with Transformers 2, which still made enough money, I think, to cover America's 14 trillion-dollar deficit. It will also do so in brain-shattering 3D. I hate to admit it, but the effects look pretty spectacular, and I've got me a soft spot for Shia LaBeouf. Here's hoping for the best, but at least Michael Bay is aggressively trying to go out with the biggest bang possible. Plot? Oh yeah. See, there's these robots and... [JOSH SUDDENLY EXPLODES IN SLOW-MO...]
Cars 2 Trailer
Opens: $120 million.
Grosses: $350 million domestic. $800 million worldwide.
Alterna-viewing: Universal drops some counter-programming in the form of a Tom Hanks dramedy called Larry Crowne, which costars Julia Roberts, about a dude who's laid off and goes back to college to find his way. It's Hanks' first writing and directing effort since That Thing You Do. I saw a lot of it in the process while it shot at Paramount, and it seems delightful. JOSH SUDDENLY EXPLODES IN SLOW-MO... no? Not this time? Oh, sorry.
Horrible Bosses, The Zookeeper (7/8)
Hollywood basically takes a week off to allow Transformers some room to dominate. But Kevin James tries to repeat the "wow, did we really do that, America?" success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop as a Zookeeper who can suddenly talk to animals (it'll probably be huge), while Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman go for a little water-cooler humor in Horrible Bosses. This one could be a nice sleeper hit; it's got talent out the whazoo including Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrel, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day, to name a few.
Zookeeper Opens: $40 million
Grosses: $125 million domestic.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (7/15)
This year, no one will care that I was born because the last Harry Potter movie ever comes out on my birthday. But that's cool, I probably won't remember either. Emotions, magic, and box office will be running too high. Also, if anyone does want to celebrate my birthday, Disney is brave (dumb?) enough to release a sweet, classically animated Winnie The Pooh feature on the 15h as well.
Opens: $135 million.
Grosses: $315 million domestic. $1.1 billion worldwide.
Captain America: The First Avenger (7/22)
Marvel's other big bet of the summer is an old-school patriotic romp where a muscle-bound super-man in red, white and blue takes on damn Nazi's in World War II. But will the world and a jaded America take up the flag and go waving? I hope so. Joe Johnston, who once directed The Rocketeer (which still rocks my socks) and story-boarded action sequences for Raiders of the Lost Ark, is behind the lens on this one, with an earnest and ripped Chris Evans taking on the noble duty of throwin' some shield at some fascist punks. Score. (The trailer didn't impress me as much as Thor, but we'll see.) Oh, Friends With Benefits also comes out on the 22nd, which stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as well, fwb. And it's definitely not that Ashton Kutcher movie with Natalie Portman. Nu-uh. No way...
Opens: $52 million.
Grosses: $185 million domestic. $345 million worldwide.
Cowboys & Aliens (7/29)
How jam-packed is Summer '11? Well, in any other year, a movie starring James Bond and Indiana Jones might be the biggest thing to hit. Oh wait, in '89 it was (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). This year, the original concept, action-adventure, alien-shoot-'em-up had to be released in the 7th inning stretch of the season to find breathing room. But that's all well and good; it could take the pressure off the project, which trailers show might be taking itself more seriously than expected but still promises a lot of entertainment bang for the buck. Jon Favreau, who directed both Iron Man movies, might have another franchise on his hands.
Opens: $62 million.
Grosses: $210 million domestic. $675 million worldwide.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (8/5)
Summer screams "last call" with this strange prequel that's set nearly in the present day and stars James Franco as the scientist who unwittingly unleashes a strain of more highly intelligent and aggressive apes on mankind. I guess Fox must be hoping someone really wants to see this. Inevitably, somebody will, though, and the movie might win on the tone that's currently presented in its marketing, which is that of a cerebral horror movie, not a franchise barrel of monkeys.
Opens: $37 million.
Grosses: $135 million domestic. $400 million worldwide.
Universal counter-programs with The Change Up -- a comedy in a summer thick with 'em that has Ryan Reynolds (a swinging single) and Jason Bateman (a bored family man) doing the "Freaky Friday" and switching positions -- another one with good potential that could redeem Reynolds if Lantern falters.
30 Minutes or Less (8/12)
Summer closes on this one -- a comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson about a pizza delivery guy that's forced to rob a bank by a couple of d-bags. It looks hilarious as Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to the mad-cool Zombieland. I'm totally in.
Opens: $28 million.
Grosses: $120 million domestic.
So this summer, put all that in your pipe and smoke it. And try and not pass out from heat or entertainment exhaustion. Stay hydrated. Don't wear socks with sandals. Always wear sunscreen. Dispose of all your trash in the proper receptacles. Please turn off all cell phones and pagers. And stop gobbling up my advice -- see what Tinseltown has to offer. If it doesn't pan out, there's always next year, but here's hoping. See ya in the comfy seats.