The summer movie going season seems to get an earlier start every year. Hollywood once followed the school calendar to coordinate releases, which meant a bumper crop of product was unleashed during a six-week period, mostly from June’s end to early August. Then studios got the bright idea of spreading out the blockbusters, first opening earlier in June, then eventually followed by May premieres. This season has already seen audience stampedes for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2), Neighbors (May 9), Godzilla (May 16) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23), although things got going even earlier with the April 4 kickoff of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is still kicking around the multiplexes.
Several aspects of the 2014 cinema summer remain the same: The season is still front-loaded with what the studios fervently believe are sure things, followed by an August dumping ground in which 17 movies will see wide release patterns to grab what’s left of the dog-day dollars.
Aside from that impending logjam, it’s interesting to note the movies that are not on the summertime slate, such as the annual Pixar-Disney animated moneymaker. The anticipated adaptation of the hotsy 50 Shades of Grey novel, once scheduled for Aug. 1, has been pushed to February 2015. And The Fast and Furious 7, which was set for July 11, will now be released in April 2015, an understandable accommodation for rethinking and reshooting the sequel following co-star Paul Walker’s November death.
So in a schedule that seems lighter than usual on die-hard movie franchises and family-geared flicks (the 2013 dance card offered a glut of animated features that dueled at the box office), this summer’s movie program hopes to strike a balance between original works and audience-friendly projects. Here’s a chronological rundown of what to expect.
Edge of Tomorrow (June 6). Didn’t Hollywood already do this in Groundhog Day? In this futuristic entry, a combat-shy soldier (Tom Cruise) is killed during an extraterrestrial attack yet somehow gets drawn into a time loop that forces him to keep reliving the incident as he attempts to rewrite his own history. Didn’t Hollywood already do this in Groundhog Day? This is another one of Cruise’s periodic dips into the sci-fi pool (Minority Report, Oblivion, War of the Worlds) that ensure the star’s leading-man bankability (he turns 52 on July 3) — or at least until he’s asked to appear in an inevitable Expendables sequel. Didn’t Hollywood already do this in Groundhog Day?
The Fault in Our Stars (June 6). Author John Green’s 2012 best seller is translated to the big screen in this young-adult romance involving a terminal cancer patient (Shailene woodley) and an amputee (Ansel Elgort). Expect a four-hankie workout for the teen demographic, which should respond in huge numbers for a weepie that could be in the same mega-league as Love Story and Titanic.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13). The 2010 animated blockbuster, which managed to incorporate action, comedy, a last-reel shock and lots of heart, has led not only to this sequel but also a third stanza down the road. Everybody’s back behind the microphones, too, including Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, America Ferrara and soon-to-be-ex-talk-show host Craig Ferguson, plus newbies Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou.
22 Jump Street (June 13). Jonah Hill follows up his Academy Award-nominated turn in The Wolf of Wall Street by going back to his comedic roots, as he co-headlines with Channing Tatum as undercover coppers for this second helping of slob-comedy antics. The 2012 21 Jump Street (based, of course, on the 1980s TV police procedural with Johnny Depp) was a box-office sleeper, so the sequel smartly doesn’t tamper with the low-jinks formula, this time with Hill and Tatum going covert at a college dorm.
Jersey Boys (June 20). Credit director Clint Eastwood for making one wise casting call for his movie adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical smash: He snagged John Lloyd Young, who earned a 2006 Tony Award for his incarnation of falsetto songbird Frankie Valli. This R-rated telling of the Four Seasons’ rise on the music charts and their run-ins with mobsters might seem an atypical venture for Eastwood, but he’s always harbored musical inclinations; Eastwood has scored several compositions for his movies, as well as guiding the 1988 passion project Bird, his biopic on jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Plus, at age 84 (on May 31), nobody’s going to tell this grizzled auteur what he can’t do.
Think Like a Man Too (June 20). This sure-thing sequel to the 2012 sleeper farce, based on comic Steve Harvey’s bestselling rumination on the differences between men and women, has even more marquee power now thanks to the steady popularity of Kevin Hart, whose stand-up concert movie Let Me Explain did to-the-moon box-office business last summer, followed by his winter smash Ride Along with Ice Cube. (He was in Grudge Match, too, not that anyone remembers.) Relocating this flick’s attractive cast (including Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Gabrielle Union) for more battle-of-the-sexes action in a Las Vegas setting should hopefully mine more laughs than last autumn’s bland Last Vegas could muster.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27). Director Michael Bay’s robot reboot also gives annoying actor Shia LaBeouf the boot, much to the relief of his many non-fans, as Mark Wahlberg takes the leading role. The crunching special effects remain this franchise’s drawing power, even though it’s painfully obvious after three movies that Bay (an apparent stockholder for the Hasbro toy line) is unable to choreograph the on-screen carnage without it becoming a hyper-edited visual blur of incomprehensibility. Director Guillermo del Toro handled it all much better in last summer’s sci-fi spectacle Pacific Rim.
Deliver Us from Evil (July 2). In one of the summer’s few horror entries, a cop (Eric Bana) teams with a priest (Edgar Ramirez) to battle demonic forces. Director Scott Derrickson also guided 2012’s twisted Sinister, a high point in recent sicko cinema.
Earth to Echo (July 2). Kids help out a troubled alien in this sci-fi family flick, which was made by Walt Disney Studios, then strangely sold off to Relativity Media for distribution. This is a good thing? Relativity will surely have its hands full trying to secure screen dates during the crowded Independence Day marketplace.
Tammy (July 2). Melissa McCarthy has enjoyed several years as a reliable scene-stealer for Identity Thief, The Heat and Bridesmaids. Now she makes her bid for leading-lady stardom in this tailor-made road-trip comedy; she co-wrote it with her husband Ben Falcone, who also makes his directorial debut, so the blame game won’t go very far if this R-rated vehicle fails to take off. The premise features McCarthy as cuckolded spouse Tammy, who winds up traveling to Niagara Falls with her alcoholic granny, played by Susan Sarandon. (Alison Janney, by the way, plays Tammy’s mom; there’s an 11-year age difference between the ladies.) McCarthy and Falcone both have sizable improvisational chops so they should be able to bring the funny. Still, what’s Nia Vardalos been up to lately?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11). When 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went bananas at the box office, 20th Century Fox quickly green-lighted this follow-up. Andy Serkis, the go-to guru for motion-capture performance roles, again handles the physical incarnation of leading ape Caesar, with his emoting enhanced by computer-generated technology. Rise star James Franco is not involved with this party, although he can always fall back on his General Hospital gig.
Jupiter Ascending (July 18). The Wachowski filmmakers, Andy and Lana (formerly Larry, but now enjoying life as a transgender), get spacey again with this expensive sci-fi adventure featuring That 70s Show’s Mila Kunis as Windy City janitor Jupiter Jones, who learns that she’s destined for greater immortality in our universe — much like Keanu Reeves’ Neo character discovered for himself in The Matrix movies masterminded by the Wachowskis. As a bounty hunter who must protect the comely custodian, Channing Tatum adds some beefcake to the otherworldly proceedings.
Planes: Fire and Rescue (July 18). The instant sequel to last summer’s animated hit from Disney. Planes cost $50 million to make and grossed $220 million in worldwide revenues, which isn’t too shabby for a movie that was originally tabbed as a straight-to-video item until it was rerouted to multiplexes. Dane Cook and Stacy Keach return to the microphones for this second helping, which also boasts a story credit by longtime Pixar honcho John Lasseter.
The Purge: Anarchy (July 18). The instant sequel to last summer’s lucrative shocker, which earned a massive $89 million on a paltry $3 million budget. Returning writer-director James DeMonaco offers another riff on his creepshow premise that involves the legalization of all criminal mayhem, including murder, for a 12-hour-only shift. Makes you think, doesn’t it? This installment deals with a young couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) experiencing auto woes on Los Angeles’ mean streets just when the annual purge commences, as they try to avoid becoming two more fatalities.
Hercules (July 25). Dwayne Johnson, in an acting stretch, plays the mucho macho muscleman in this swords-and-sandals spectacle guided by Rush Hour auteur Brett Ratner. It’s hard to gauge if audiences are pumped for such epics: The Legend of Hercules grossed about 11 cents when it briefly visited multiplexes last January. Johnson follows a cinematic conga line of previous Hercs, including bodybuilders-turned-thespians Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Kirk Morris and Alan Steel.
Magic in the Moonlight (July 25). Writer-director Woody Allen’s annual summer gift to art-house exhibitors is this romantic comedy set on the French Riviera during the 1920s, with Emma Stone as a bogus psychic who predicts complications for Colin Firth as an English investigator. There aren’t many writer-directors like Allen still around who can claim they were also a guest panelist on the old What’s My Line? game show.
Sex Tape (July 25). The title tells all in this raunchy comedy with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal as longtime marrieds who jazz up their connubial bliss with some videocamera hanky-panky between themselves, then discover the perils of iCloud storage when their neighbors stumble onto it. The supporting cast includes Rob Lowe, and given his instances of tabloid history, he could have also served as this film’s technical adviser.
Get On Up (Aug. 1). This James Brown biopic from The Help director Tate Taylor and co-producer Mick Jagger features an electric performance by Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, following his acclaimed turn as baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42. Lurking on the fringes is Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd as a talent agency head.
Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1). A hot-shot space pilot (Chris Pratt) joins forces with a band of alien zanies in this spinoff from the endless Marvel Comics superhero universe. It’s the summer’s biggest question mark, as well as a litmus test for the Marvel brand’s popularity, especially when the movie was teased at the tail end of last autumn’s Thor: The Lost World, in a head-scratching clip involving Benicio del Toro as a bizarre collector that only made sense to Marvel die-hards. Some of these guardians will be computer-generated effects, such as loose cannon Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper, perhaps with a nod to Howard the Duck) and Vin Diesel as a walking, talking tree, plus expect the obligatory cameo and wisecrack from Marvel maestro Stan Lee. ’Nuff said.
Lucy (Aug. 8). In what sounds like the plot for yet another Marvel Comics escapade, a drug mule (Scarlett Johansson) for Taiwanese mobsters derives super powers (including enhanced braininess) from the experimental narcotics that were implanted in her body, then she starts banging the appropriate heads to exact payback. Gallic action specialist Luc Besson (The Professional, The Family) wrote and directed this slam-bang soufflé, which takes a thematic page from his influential La Femme Nikita.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Aug. 8). Producer Michael Bay orchestrates this umpteenth reunion of the campy kiddie fave, with hubba-hubba Megan Fox leading the human cast as they interact alongside the computer-animated martial-arts crimefighters. Nostalgia fans might be the best audience to get any kicks out of this oft-played shell game, however.
The Expendables 3 (Aug. 15). This threequel earned headlines when top dog Sylvester Stallone publicly dissed Bruce Willis, his old Planet Hollywood comrade, for skipping this installment. (Willis allegedly wanted more bucks.) Newbies such as Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford offer fresh marquee bait, however, while this stanza will offer a lighthearted variation of the geezers-Geritol-and-guns formula as the stars spoof their own Jurassic-era iconic images as cinema’s last action heroes. A hoped-for PG-13 rating might also broaden the tentpole’s target audience.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Aug. 22). Here comes the long-delayed follow-up to the stylized 2005 noir entry, which featured the then-unique aspect of cast members emoting in front of green screens, with effects dropped in during post-production. Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke are back for more hardboiled mayhem in a quartet of separate stories, which are presented mostly in sharp black-and-white visuals, although this time there will be plenty of three-dimensional elements that will pop off the screen, such as bullets, babes and dead bodies. Again sharing the directors’ chairs are Frank Miller, the creator of the Sin City graphic novels, and Robert Rodriguez, now aligned with the El Rey cable network. And don’t fret about the notion that some characters that may have previously expired in the 2005 edition are in harness once again. Didn’t Hollywood already do this in Groundhog Day?
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