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Summer Movie Preview 2010
Posted By: Sam, on host
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010, at 12:16:22

April 2 - Clash of the Titans

Remakes aren't as bad when the originals were based on ancient mythology anyway.
All the same, I have yet to see any CGI beasts that even come close to eliciting
the pure psychological terror of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion creatures.
There's something concrete about stop-motion, something horrifically unnatural
about the jerky, deliberate way they move. CGI looks more like light than

Nonetheless, I'm a sucker for this kind of fantasy, and this film looks like it
might be about eight times better than "300," which means it will be
practically worth seeing.

April 23 - Best Worst Movie

This probably won't be playing in many theaters, but it sounds like one to watch
for on video: "A look at the making of the film Troll 2 and its journey from
being crowned the 'worst film of all time' to a cherished cult classic."

I'm still waiting for the Sinbad of the Seven Seas retrospective, but this
will tide me over.

April 30 - A Nightmare On Elm Street

I have to admit, the prospect of Jackie Earle Haley taking on Freddy Krueger
is a really, really intriguing idea. But come on. This is yet another
situation where the essence of a memorable movie character is completely tied
up in the actor who originated the part. Sure, other people can come along and
try their hands at it. But it's like being the best Elvis impersonator who has
ever lived, or ever will: you're still not Elvis.

Whatever happened to the good old days, when studio would trot out tired sequels
to terrible franchises, instead of tired reboots of terrible franchises?
Batman Begins and Casino Royale were great movies, but their net contribution
to the world of entertainment dwindles as each new reboot is unleashed.

May 14 - Robin Hood

Here's another of those remakes I can excuse. Robin Hood is a legend;
it is the nature of a story like that to be told and retold in different forms
and in different eras. This version of it could go either way: it's directed
by Ridley Scott, written by Brian Helgeland, and stars Russell Crowe. I like
all three of those people, but Helgeland is unreliable, and Scott has an
unfortunate track record with ancient history.

May 21 - Shrek Forever After

The marketing materials are calling this the final chapter. Why? The franchise
is still making ridiculous amounts of money. Oh, I know: the next one will
be Shrek Begins.

May 28 - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I thought while playing the game that this would make a pretty good movie.
The director is Mike Newell, who made one of the two best Harry Potter films.
Where his film particularly excelled was in the richness of the world, which
hopefully he'll bring to Prince of Persia. But what's Jake Gyllenhaal doing
in the lead? This role should have gone to someone with some psychological
substance and a face with a few lines of experience. Gyllenhaal is not the
kind of guy who would be a prince of Persia. He's more the kind of guy that
somebody would hire to play a prince of Persia.

I have a bad vibe about this. It feels like the kind of movie that looks fun
until Roger Ebert posts his one-star review (or, even more foreboding, a
three-star review). Then the disparaging comments will start showing up on
the message boards. Then everybody will have forgotten it a week later.

Here's hoping it doesn't go like that. Because there's no reason the Prince of
Persia mythology shouldn't make for a really great movie.

June 4 - Marmaduke

The only surprising thing about this movie is why nobody thought to make it
before now. I'm sure it's too much to hope that this movie will beat the odds
and actually be good, especially since the last horrible-looking dog comedy,
Marley & Me, turned out to be a wonderful and surprisingly human drama -- so,
so much more than the rampant canine misbehavior in the previews suggested.

Personally, I think an improvement would have been to go with the title a
certain friend of mine inadvertently suggested via a typo: Marmaduck.

June 11 - The Karate Kid

Here's another one of those remakes that never should have been attempted.
Despite my uneasiness over the recent rash of reboots, though, I still have to
admit that Star Trek was a good movie, however wrong it was to make it in the
first place. I suspect The Karate Kid will be another example of that. The
trailers look good, and I love Jackie Chan -- but Pat Morita IS Mr. Miyagi.
Anybody else would just be pretending.

But I also think that even if it's good, it will be quickly forgotten. The
thing about the original movie is that it *wasn't* just another cheesy 80s
movies. It had a certainty of tone, an elegance, and dignity that made it a
great film. Today, we remember it in the same sequence of thoughts as things
like Goonies, Explorers, and so on, but it was better than that. It was better
than its campy sequels, too, which didn't help its memory. This is the rare
childhood pleasure that holds up when you go back to it as an adult.

There's approximately a 0% chance that an update of the story will be able to
recapture the certain magic that the original had. But that doesn't preclude a
workable entertainment. Here's hoping.

June 11 - The A-Team

And AGAIN, another remake! I know we have this sequel/remake rant every year,
but I swear it's worse now than it ever was. Again, though, the trailer looks
better than I could have hoped for. The film seems to be going in the only
sensible direction for something like this: a sort-of parody of the original
material. If the movie isn't taking itself seriously, it doesn't matter if it
fails to do justice to the source material. It helps that the original show
was pretty campy anyway.

I'm also interested that the director is Joe Carnahan, who briefly looked like
a guy to watch back in 2002, when he made the smart and exciting Narc as well
as the best episode of The Hire. But he hasn't really done much since.

June 18 - Jonah Hex

Megan Fox and Josh Brolin star in this based-on-a-comic-book saga of zombies
in the Old West. I'm not really familiar with this.

June 18 - Toy Story 3

Pixar has had 10 winners in a row for me, and the last three have become three
of my favorite films. Toy Story 3 looks like a step down, but it's always
hard to tell with Pixar -- their trailers don't tend to look very good. One
disappointing thing, though, is that the movie seems to have some scatological
humor in it. I'd always appreciated how the Pixar films were better than that.

I'm also not looking forward to the next Pixar films being sequels, rather
than the wonderful new stories and worlds they've been introducing to us
throughout the decade. But hey, Toy Story 2 was one of their best movies to
date, and I'm not counting Pixar out until they give me a reason to.

June 25 - Knight and Day

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in an action comedy where nothing is as it seems?
It's not hard to see shades of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this idea, a movie which
also didn't sound good but turned out to be a lot of fun. But you can't swim
against the current by copying somebody else who beat the odds and made it.

That said, the director interests me: James Mangold, who has yet to make a
classic but churns out consistently great genre work: his horror thriller
(Identity), his western (3:10 To Yuma), his romantic comedy (Kate & Leopold),
and his cop flick (Cop Land) are all better than anybody should have expected.
He's also got a solid biopic in the bag, namely Walk the Line. In fact, if
Knight and Day isn't his eighth good movie, it'll be his very first bad one.
So I am cautiously optimistic, despite not being particularly enticed by the

June 30 - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

New Moon's crazy box office performance won the franchise the right to compete
in the crowded summer marketplace. This is not my thing, but I recognize that
and must also recognize that these stories have something in it that carries an
undeniable appeal towards a certain audience. If you are not in that audience,
as I am not, it is perhaps too easy to pick it apart. Rant and rave all you
want about these stories being simplistic or banal or whatever, the fact is
that they inspire an incredible passion in many, and that is an achievement
that deserves some kind of respect.

That said, the New Moon movie was still a big steaming pile of garbage,
featuring the three most insufferably boring characters ever conceived in
all of fiction.

July 2 - The Last Airbender

M. Night Shyamalan's filmography is almost a perfect bell curve, peaking with
The Sixth Sense and declining, slowly at first and then more rapidly, ever
since. The problem with his weaker films is not his actual directorial work,
which remains outstanding, but the writing. Because of that, The Last
Airbender stands a reasonable chance of bucking the trend: this is his first
movie based on someone else's story. He still wrote the screenplay, but
that might be okay.

It's also a genre change for him. This film, based on the anime series
"Avatar: The Last Airbender," is more of a fantasy action movie than a
thriller; it'll be interesting to see what Shyamalan does with it.

That said, I'm not very optimistic. I was a die hard Shyamalan apologist
for a long time. I liked The Village a lot, and even found Lady In the Water
to be passably entertaining despite not really working. But even those films
I recognize as being rungs in a downward spiral, and I don't know that he can
break such an unwavering pattern. Historically, when directors lose it, they
never get it back.

But I hope he does, because his three best movies are three of my all-time

July 16 - Inception

If you see one movie this summer, see Inception. Why? Christopher Nolan.
This guy has not only never made a bad movie, he's never made a merely "good"
movie. Par for the course is a masterpiece that I am convinced will be seen
in 50 years as M and Metropolis are seen today: the very best that thrillers
and science fiction have to offer.

One of the things that make his movies so great is the way they delve into
the psychological tension in their characters. Even his two superhero movies
aren't just action flicks with capes. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is
constantly posing impossible mental and moral games and wearing Batman down by
forcing him to, essentially, *collaborate* in his evil schemes: the Joker sets
up the crimes of murder and mass destruction, but in such a way that it's
Batman who determines how they play out.

Inception looks sort of like Nolan's foray into the territory occupied by
Dark City, another great masterwork of psychological science fiction. It's
about a futuristic world where technology can penetrate into people's dreams
and gather (or possibly implant, I dunno) ideas. What better way for Nolan to
continue his exploration of the human mind in genre fiction?

Besides all that, the look of the movie is incredible. The trailers show a
huge and absolutely gorgeous world, a sprawling nightmarish cityscape.
Although the humanness of his stories play just fine at home (provided your
home is relatively free of distractions that would kill the atmosphere his
movies tend to build), the spectacle of The Dark Knight and now probably
Inception warrant a trip to the theater.

July 16 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Why is this movie deliberately invoking the mysterious and wonderful world of
the Fantasia segment by the same time? Yes, I know both it and this movie
were based on a poem by Goethe, but be honest. Disney is not releasing a movie
called The Sorcerer's Apprentice because the poem is a big popular hit.

This is another Disney-Bruckheimer collaboration (Pirates of the Caribbean and
National Treasure were others) and as such cannot be written off yet. But only
a severe dearth of imagination can explain the transplanting of the story to
modern day New York City. I don't understand the point of modern day fantasy
in the first place. Fantasy is a genre that can take you anywhere, even
to places that don't exist. Why go to the trouble of *inventing magic* if
all you're going to do with it is to tell the story of some random kid in
the Big Apple?

I suppose the theory is that audiences will be able to relate to the story
better if it's about a regular person in a regular place. Just think. If
Lord of the Rings had been set in L.A. instead of the confusing foreign land
of MiddleEarth, it might have made real money.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little, and I admit it can be fun to speculate that
magic might exist in *our* world. But this is the great fallacy that plagues
and cripples the fantasy genre, both in books and in movies. Fantasy is
seen as a childish escape from the real world. In fact, it is a genre that
can explore the reality of the human condition in a way no other can.
By taking humanity and stripping it of its familiar environment, we
automatically focus on what remains the same. Whether we're in MiddleEarth,
Narnia, Xanadu, or a galaxy far far away, people still live, love, learn, lust,
grow, desire, achieve, fail, fight, sacrifice, and honor. And isn't that
something? Moreover, we can examine whole cultures, societies, and political
structures in isolation by mirroring them in a fantasy world and stripping out
the baggage we bring with us. If I tell a story about "America," "China,"
"Capitalism," "Communism," "Nazis," "Jews," or what have you, your
preconceptions will get in the way of what I'm trying to say. But if I call
these things something else and set the story in some fantasy world (and do a
better job disguising what I'm saying than a certain movie with blue cat
people did), you'll be forced to think about the story on its own terms.

Back to The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The original story is not ambitious,
but it does say a surprising amount about human nature. I'm expecting the
movie, despite being considerably fleshed out, to say a lot less.

But will it be a reasonably fun ride on, say, the level of the National
Treasure movies? I hope so, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

July 23 - Dinner For Schmucks

One of the funniest movies ever made -- well, maybe squeaking into the
top 150 or so, but that's still remarkable -- is a little French movie
called The Dinner Game. It's about a guy who competes every week with his
friends to see who can invite the biggest idiot to dinner. At dinner, they
let the idiots make fools of themselves, and whichever one has the best idiot
wins. The movie never actually makes it to the dinner, though: one guy picks
out an idiot, and the compounding progression of errors, mishaps, and madness
that ensues makes him regret it. The closest American equivalent I can think
of is What About Bob? But I didn't think that movie was as funny as it
could have been, so never mind.

At any rate, this is a great premise for a comedy, because a well-written
idiot can elicit our laughter and sympathy at the same time.

Dinner For Schmucks is a remake of the French film, and I am not optimistic
about it. I can't imagine an American remake letting the comedy emerge
organically from straight performances, as it does in the French film. I dread
that it will try to punch up the jokes, whether by hamming it up or throwing in
slapstick or artificially inflating the stakes.

July 23 - Salt

Angelina Jolie plays a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy. I don't know
what to think here; this could easily go either way. The director is Phillip
Noyce, who has a mixed track record, both in terms of quality and genre.
But even his failures are interesting, so I'm curious to see how this turns out.

July 23 - Ramona and Beezus

Remember those Beverly Cleary books? Maybe you don't, but they (along with
the books of Judy Blume, which were similar) were of interest to me for some
of my elementary school years. Presumably since I'm a guy, the character of
Henry Huggins was the one I identified with, but Ramona Quimby was the one
that caught on. There was even a television series in the late 80s, so the
IMDb tells me, called "Ramona." But I'm a little surprised a feature film
hadn't been made before.

What concerns me is that movies about kids for kids these days tend to be much
too modern and hyper to do justice to the children's literature of the past,
even the relatively recent past. The trailers for the recent Nancy Drew movie
felt almost sacrilegious to me, and I've never even read a Nancy Drew book.
I haven't seen any trailers for Ramona and Beezus, but I can't imagine a
modern summer movie tapping into the subtle flavors of the Cleary books.

July 30 - Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Talking cats and dogs continue their war from the earlier film. Watch for
a series reboot in two or three years.

July 30 - Beastly

From the IMDb: "A modern-day take on the 'Beauty and the Beast' tale where a
New York teen is transformed into a hideous monster in order to find true
love." Neil Patrick Harris stars.

As my earlier rant suggests, I don't think I've ever been excited by a
modern day transplant of a fantasy story, although it does interest me that
the great fairy tales can survive the transition. Fairy tales are very special
sorts of stories -- pure distillations of storytelling building blocks that
our minds instinctively respond to. Those building blocks can be tied to any
characters in any place or time and still work.

This is not true of most stories. Set Apocalypse Now on the Death Star, and
you might get a good story, but you won't get Apocalypse Now. Likewise,
Star Wars isn't Star Wars on the streets of Manhattan, and the Godfather isn't
the Godfather in the jungle.

But my interest in how modern day fairy tales work doesn't translate to an
interest in *seeing* them work. The 1946 and 1991 versions of Beauty and the
Beast are two of the most enchanting films ever made. Prediction: this
version will not be.

July 30 - The Adjustment Bureau

This Philip K. Dick adaptation stars Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Terence
Stamp. It's the first directorial effort by the screenwriter George Nolfi.
This is the second movie this summer that brings Dark City to mind. I'm
interested. The only problem is that Philip K. Dick stories are notoriously
difficult to adapt into film.

July 30 - Morning Glory

Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams squabble behind the scenes of a morning
talk show. Director Roger Michell's background is mostly in drama (Notting
Hill is a conspicuous exception), and Ford has not been good at picking
scripts recently. McAdams, however, is pure charm.

August 6 - Step Up 3-D

I was not a fan of the first movie, but I liked the second much better.

This might be a justifiable use of 3D. For the most part, I find 3D an
annoying distraction from, you know, that thing called the story. But the
Step Up movies have stories that are worth being distracted from. You see
these movies for one reason and one only: to see the dancing. That being the
only purpose, I can see how the 3D might offer a better appreciation for it.
The obvious reason is that we might get a better sense of the space that the
dancers are moving around in, but there's another reason, too. With 3D, you
can't do quite so much rapid-fire cutting, lest audiences be disoriented and
get nauseous. Takes have to be longer and steadier. That, too, will
enable a better appreciation of what the dancers are actually doing.

That said, Step Up 2 did a pretty good job of not letting the editing get in
the way. What a weird world, when the art of dance is better showcased in
a cheesy cheapie like Step Up 2 than in the otherwise brilliant Chicago.

The only thing I don't know -- and this might be key -- is if Step Up 3-D was
originally shot in 3D, or if it was shot in 2D and "converted" to 3D afterwards.
In the latter case, it's a virtual guarantee that it will look horrible.

August 13 - Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

Edgar Wright, the director and co-writer of the British genre riffs Hot Fuzz
and Shaun of the Dead is back with what looks like another in the same spirit.
The IMDb summary is funny on its own: "Scott Pilgrim must defeat his new
girlfriend's seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to win her heart."

August 13 - The Expendables

About 15 years ago, a movie web site I used to read posted an April Fools joke.
It was a "coming attractions" scoop about a new movie called "When Things
Go Boom!" and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis,
Steven Seagal, and Jean Claude Van Damme in an all-out action extravaganza.
I hated that joke. I hated it because it sounded like it would be the best
(read: worst) movie ever, and it was depressing to know that it would never
actually exist.

And yet, here is The Expendables. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone
(who made a great comeback with his surprisingly good revivals of Rocky and
Rambo), it stars Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve
Austin, and Mickey Rourke, and apparently has cameos of other action lumaries.
Most of the missing faces were asked but turned the project down for some
reason (like Van Damme, Seagal, and Wesley Snipes), but nonetheless, how can
this not be the best action movie ever?

Okay, easily. But you know what I mean.

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