Interesting times (refer to the ancient Chinese curse) require powerful curatives. Alcohol isn’t always an option but, thankfully, the movies are. To be able to hide away in a cool, dark room armed with sweet ’n’ salty snacks and get lost for two or more hours in deep sensory experience, to become completely immersed in story, sound and vision, is to be refreshed and maybe even reborn. The movies have always provided escape and shelter from the doldrums, the blues and, in some cases, the blue meanies (unless you’re watching Yellow Submarine or Across the Universe).
For some cosmic reason, summer seems to be the meanest season, and if one follows astrology, or Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, this one looks to be particularly nasty. Thankfully, Hollywood has responded with a slew of big and bad action/adventure blockbusters and a couple of feel-goods. Recent upgrades to 3-D technology take our escapism to new heights, and some familiar faces on the big screen — heroes and outlaws and their fellow archetypes — all conspire to right the world’s wrongs and restore hope to humanity. Roll credits. That’s entertainment.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking
If you’re hoping for a silly, nostalgic ’80s TV tribute, you might be disappointed: this is not a film for A-Team purists (is there such a thing?) but rather a smart adaptation of the zany television comedy about a motley crew of mercenaries for hire, updated for this era. Director Joe Carnahan — who produced The Fourth Kind and wrote Smokin’ Aces — has said he was never interested in making the “easy, breezy Cover Girl” version of the cult TV show. B.A. Baracus (previously played by Mr. T) in the film has traded his signature bling for knuckle tats, as all the characters have been necessarily made over to fit with current culture trends, although the beloved van remains. First-rate direction and a strong cast (Liam Neeson as the team’s leader, Hannibal, and hottie-of-the-moment Bradley Cooper as Faceman) should make for a satisfying, glossy, action flick tinged with humor, but not at all cheesy.
Rated PG-13 for bullying, martial arts action violence and mild language
Yet another ’80s redux. This time the “kid” is a fish out of water in China, not Cali, and is quickly falling in love. Likely to be the feel-good flick of the season, the 2010 Karate Kid stars Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s offspring Jaden (who already has a few years of karate training under his belt) as a “tweener” with typical adolescent issues who is lucky enough to connect with a kung fu master (Jackie Chan) as he’s facing down some bullying by the local badass kids.
Toy Story 3
The franchise that launched Pixar’s reign as the king of animation hits theaters once again with big expectations — and word is, it does not disappoint. The story and script alone spent three years in process, finally polished to a happy sheen by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). It goes something like this: Master Andy has (gasp!) grown up and is moving away to college. Why he still has possession of Woody and Buzz, et al, is anyone’s guess, but his toy friends are relocated to a day care center where they are no longer such a big deal. From the trailers, it looks as though we still have the pleasure of a Randy Newman soundtrack and some of the best storytelling for kids and their elders to enjoy together, now in 3-D. With its “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” messaging, maybe it should be required viewing on Capitol Hill.
Not yet rated
When movies are adapted from comic books, as Jonah Hex was, producers usually aim for a PG-13 rating to keep it as inclusive as possible. But when you cast Josh Brolin and Megan Fox as love interests in a blockbuster Western with supernatural overtones (a near-death experience leaves Hex with one foot in the afterworld), the content necessarily bleeds into R territory. At press time, there was still no official announcement as to a rating decision, but betting men would probably put their money on the tamer of the two — better box office draw, especially since the purportedly imbecilic, cliché-ridden dialogue will probably see big numbers in the first weekend of its release only. Which raises the question: are intelligence and originality really necessary components of blockbuster flicks? Shouldn’t smoking-hot stars and a soundtrack by Mastodon be enough to justify a ticket, a popcorn and a soda? Not to mention John Malkovich as the villain. As long as they run the air conditioning full-blast for this one, it’s all good.
Knight and Day
Not yet rated
At first glance it looks like a big yawn. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz — who cares? But give it another look, because there is actually some potential for this witty, big-action spy thriller to, at the very least, entertain you enough to keep your grubby fingers off your smart phone touch screen for a couple of hours. Cruise is a secret agent who kills a bunch of people (a slightly different role for him, and who doesn’t enjoy a handsome killer?) and Diaz is an everygirl (sigh) caught in an undercover cluster. The absurdity alone could coax some laughter, and neither of them is a stranger to action/comedy so it will be pro.
Rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity
Really? Male rear nudity aside, the chances of this film being funny are about as good as Rob Schneider giving up. Kevin James almost lost his credibility as a highly underrated comic genius after Paul Blart: Mall Cop; Chris Rock should know better; and Adam Sandler’s so much better in a dramatic role. The only one in this tired ensemble who is remotely capable of garnering a laugh at this point is David Spade. If you’re young, you won’t care; and if you’re middle-aged, you’ll be embarrassed or depressed. If you’ve never seen any of these comics in a movie, together or apart, then give it a shot — otherwise, save your money for a root beer float.
Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality
Apparently, we’re not over vampire love, especially the teen variety. The third installment in the Twilight franchise is going for the jugular by asking music video director David Slade to take a stab at it. Not entirely new to the genre (Slade directed 30 Days of Night), he may be the right director to give it the edge it needs. Eclipse finds its protagonist, Bella, faced with more compelling teenage decisions, this time being forced to choose between her two leading men: Edward and Jacob. Girls: Be sure to wear waterproof mascara. Guys: Don’t forget to cut the bottom out of your Kleenex box.
The Last Airbender
Not yet rated
Based on the wildly popular Nickelodeon animated series, Airbender is a pretty big departure for M. Night Shyamalan, who wrote and directed what is shaping up to be the best movie of the season. Trailers for Airbender reveal an epic action/fantasy film à la the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (There is talk of a trilogy for Airbender, too.) The story revolves around an "avatar" who has the unique ability to manipulate the elements: fire, water, air and earth. In classic good vs. evil fashion, he finds himself playing with fire in order to save the world. Having roots in anime comic books makes the storyline weird by default, but whatever doesn’t fly via the narrative will likely be redeemed with dramatic effects and breathtaking visuals viewable in Real D and 3-D. Probably too intense for little kids.
The Kids Are All Right
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol.
Summer seems like an odd time for this indie release about a middle-class lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) whose children are curious about their biological father and commence to track him down. When they do, it turns out he wants to join in the family fun.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout
The chemistry couldn’t be better: much-anticipated follow-up to acclaimed blockbuster (The Dark Knight) from celebrated director Christopher Nolan, plus dependable and likable actors (Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page) and a premise that, while under lock and key, appears from trailers to hint at quantum physics, intrigue and potential global disaster. Maybe not a lot of escapism value, but sort of fascinating. Expectations are high. Here’s hoping Nolan’s deal with the devil is still a go.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language
Walt Disney Studios turns another of its animated classics into live action in what will likely be a crowd-pleaser for most ages. Crafted by the same folks who created the National Treasure franchise, it’s more summertime good vs. evil, starring Nicholas Cage (finally looking cool again) as an ancient magician. The apprentice, Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League), is a college student who is chosen by Cage to train as a magician. Lightweight matinee fare, but probably worthwhile.
Dinner for Schmucks
Not yet rated
Hollywood remakes of foreign films can be risky business, and as much as we love Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, it’s anyone’s guess if the humor won’t get lost in translation. Based on a hilarious French film from the ’80s, it involves a bunch of suit-and-tie types who throw a party to see who can bring the dumbest guest. It may be one of the more promising comedies of the season, or it might fall flat on its face, and we don’t mean slapstick.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug reference
A dorky romantic comedy that doesn’t star Zooey Deschanel (too bad) but does, predictably, star indie nerd throb Michael Cera and is, possibly even more predictably, based on a comic book series. (Because, what isn’t these days, and who else but comic book writers could come up with this stuff?) Cera, a bass player in a rock band, falls in love with pink-haired Mary Elizabeth Winstead and soon discovers he must defeat her seven ex-boyfriends in order to win her heart and escape death. Plenty of ironic mustaches and colorful Cons in the audience.
Eat, Pray, Love
This year’s Julie and Julia could mark the comeback of Julia Roberts, or at least see her in the type of role that suits her best. Based on the bestselling book about a middle-aged writer who copes with middle age and divorce by pilgrimage to Italy, India and Indonesia following a spiritual awakening. Like the book, it could wax a bit New Age for some people, which would be its only downfall. Originally rated R, filmmakers fought hard and won a PG-13 rating.
Not yet rated
Supposedly, producers are creating both a PG-13 and an R version to screen before they decide which way to lean. Violence is likely to win, as well it should. When you set out to make a movie as badass as this, with a cast (Jet Li, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke and cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) that could double as a defense strategy for the West Coast, there will be blood. Sly Stallone literally broke his neck to make this film, which can be summed up thusly: muscular men blowing stuff up in order to rescue a dewy damsel in distress.