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Summer Cinema

by Bill Wine

So how do we know the summer movie season is right around the corner? No, it’s not that the weather is getting warmer, although that’s at least a hint. And it’s not because we’ve started seeing trailers on theater screens for the major studio releases that are sure to yell from marquees and dominate the pop-culture landscape from May through August.

Instead, it’s those lengthy titles, many sporting colons and subtitles lest we fail to connect them to their ticket-selling, brand-familiar predecessors. Y’know, Blockbuster 3: Come Back for More.

As the following lineup vividly demonstrates, we remain ensconced in a comic book universe that leaves little room for modest undertakings but basically celebrates the principle that more is more. Well, maybe in the summer that’s true.

So don’t expect much in the way of Oscar bait over the next few months, but do expect the action quotient to rise exponentially until at least September. To that end, here are a couple dozen of the summer’s highest-profile releases, from comedies and dramas to animated flicks and anxiously-awaited sequels. Grab a ticket, grab some popcorn and settle in.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The sequel to the Marvel comic book-inspired science-fiction lark involves the solving of a mystery about protagonist Peter Quill’s parentage.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Sylvester Stallone, Bradley Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Writer-director James Gunn (Slither, Super) returns from the original.

REASON TO SEE IT: The surprise of 2014 was quite a hit. Audiences have been in line waiting for this one ever since.

REASON TO SKIP IT: If you prefer pure, humorless action, this comedic offering isn’t for you.

HIT OR MISS: No reason to think this follow-up won’t recapture their audience.

Snatched (May 12)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedy in which a woman persuades her mother to accompany her on an exotic vacation after being dumped by her boyfriend.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Christopher Meloni, Randall Park, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes and Colin Quinn

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Jonathan Levine has given us The Wackness, Warm Bodies, 50/50, and The Night Before, while scenarist Katie Dippold has written the female Ghostbusters and The Heat.

REASON TO SEE IT: Schumer made quite a splash in front of and in back of the camera in 2015 with Trainwreck and it’s nice to catch up with Goldie Hawn.

REASON TO SKIP IT: If Schumer’s humor is offensive to you, see what else is playing.

HIT OR MISS: The audience may be narrow rather than wide, but there ought to be enough of a turnout for this one to hold its own.

Alien: Covenant (May 19)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A science-fiction horror thriller, this sequel finds the crew of the colony ship Covenant exploring what seems like an uncharted paradise on the far side of the galaxy, but it turns out to be something far more life-threatening.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Michael Fassbender, James Franco, Noomi Rapace, Katherine Waterston, Guy Pearce, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir and Carmen Ejogo

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Ridley Scott, who has been nominated for the Best Director Oscar four times (Thelma & Louise, The Martian, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), also directed the original Alien and the prequel, Prometheus, for which this thriller serves as a sequel.

REASON TO SEE IT: Ridley Scott’s name alone makes this one an attraction.

REASON TO SKIP IT: But Prometheus was a disappointment and this is the follow-up.

HIT OR MISS: Could go either way, but modest returns is the more likely outcome.

Baywatch (May 25)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A beach comedy in which a devoted lifeguard clashes with a new recruit.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Pamela Anderson, Priyanka Chopra, David Hasselhoff, Hannibal Buress and Kelly Rohrbach

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Seth Gordon has directed three bigscreen comedies—Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief

REASON TO SEE IT: If eye candy is the only snack you’re looking for and running in slo-mo floats your boat, pull up a beach chair.

REASON TO SKIP IT: That joke about the one television series that would never become a movie is no longer a joke.

HIT OR MISS: Some things just don’t compute, but there’s an audience that has been waiting for nearly two decades for this undertaking. And I mean undertaking.

The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The fifth installment in the comedic swashbuckler franchise finds Captain Jack Sparrow searching for the Trident of Poseidon and struggling to survive as ghost pirates pursue him.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Kaya Scodelario and Paul McCartney

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Norwegian co-directors Joachim Renning and Espen Sandberg collaborated on Bandidas and Kon-Tiki.

REASON TO SEE IT: You enjoyed the first four, three of which were mediocre and one a notch above that.

REASON TO SKIP IT: You still hate pirate movies, so why bother?

HIT OR MISS: The first four were money machines. No reason to expect a different outcome this time. Although, we’ve been wrong before.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (June 2)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An animated comedy, based on a series of children’s novels, about two mischievous elementary school students who hypnotize their principal and turn him into the superheroic title character.

MAJOR PLAYERS: The voices of Jordan Peele, Kevin Hart, Kristen Schaal, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll and Thomas Middleditch

BEHIND THE CAMERA: David Soren’s second directorial outing follows Turbo.

REASON TO SEE IT: There’s a built-in audience of young readers. Besides, even if they didn’t read it, just try keeping them from a movie with this title.

REASON TO SKIP IT: If you’re not on parent, guardian or chaperone duty.

HIT OR MISS: Animation rarely misses and this won’t either.

The Mummy (June 9)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: This reboot of the Mummy franchise is an action-adventure fantasy in which an ancient, malevolent princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Courtney B. Vance, Jake Johnson and Annabelle Wallis

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Producer Alex Kurtzman’s only previous assignment as a writer-director was on People Like Us.

REASON TO SEE IT: Tom Cruise remains a dependable and popular leading man.

REASON TO SKIP IT: The earlier franchise starring Brendan Fraser did well commercially, but they were lame movies, enough already.

HIT OR MISS: Could go either way, so look for it somewhere in between.

Rough Night (June 16)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedy in which five college friends rent a Miami beach house for a bachelorette party at which a male stripper turns up dead.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Demi Moore and Ty Burrell

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Lucia Aniello, also a co-writer, makes her movie-screen directorial debut.

REASON TO SEE IT: Two reasons: Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Two red flags: a first-time director and a flimsy premise.

HIT OR MISS: Rock That Body was an earlier title. Miss.

Cars 3 (June 16)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An animated sequel in which legendary Lightning McQueen attempts to recapture his lost glory as the world’s best race car.

MAJOR PLAYERS: The voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin and Paul Dooley.

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Brian Fee, who worked in the art department on Cars, Cars 2, WALL-E and Ratatouille, debuts as a director.

REASON TO SEE IT: The first one was stupendous and justly celebrated, the second not great but good and underrated. How wrong can you go?

REASON TO SKIP IT: Disappointment with the first follow-up may keep you away. You tell the kids, I dare you.

HIT OR MISS: What are you, kidding? This is Pixar. Hit. Period.

The Beguiled (June 30)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: This remake of a Clint Eastwood-starring western drama, set in Virginia during the Civil War, involves a Union soldier being taken in at a girls’ school and cared for by a group of women who have been sheltered from the outside world.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence, Matt Story and Addison Riecke

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s résumé includes The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, The Bling Ring and A Very Murray Christmas.

REASON TO SEE IT: The original is a terrific movie.

REASON TO SKIP IT: But Sofia Coppola may not be the right match for this kind of material.

HIT OR MISS: Could catch on as must-see special, but box office is more likely to be modest.

Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The fifth entry in the science fiction thriller franchise based on Hasbro and Tomy toys finds Optimus Prime gone and the humans and Transformers at war.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, John Goodman, Gemma Chan, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Laura Haddock, Sophia Myles, Ken Watanabe and Jean Dujardin

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Michael Bay returns to the director’s chair, presumably for a final time, after directing each of the four predecessors.

REASON TO SEE IT: Fans of the franchise, you may have at it again while the rest of us sit back here wondering just what you see in these clunkers.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Screen a few minutes of footage of any of the first four installments and you’ll instantly see why.

HIT OR MISS: The head-scratchingly loyal audience will show up for the fifth time and make the franchise five for five and still alive.

Despicable Me 3 (June 30)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The third installment in the animated franchise finds 1980s child star Balthazar Bratt attempting world domination.

MAJOR PLAYERS: The voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Jenny Slate, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Trey Parker and Miranda Cosgrove

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Kyle Balda, who co-directed Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, this time co-directs with Pierre Coffin, with whom he collaborated on Minions.

REASON TO SEE IT: The first two were at least OK, so why not?

REASON TO SKIP IT: The first two were only OK, so we don’t need a third. That’s one too many trips to the well.

HIT OR MISS: Could be a modest hit just because of the delight youngsters take in those Minions.

The House (June 30)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedy about a man who convinces his friends to start an illegal casino in his basement after he and his wife spend their daughter’s college fund.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Allison Tolman, Andrea Savage and Michaela Watkins

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Screenwriter Andrew J. Cohen (Neighbors, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) makes his directorial debut.

REASON TO SEE IT: Ferrell and Poehler are pretty dependable comedy talents.

REASON TO SKIP IT: A screenwriter takes a dip in the directorial pool. Pass.

HIT OR MISS: This one will hold its own because of the two stars and the premise.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: Superhero fantasy as alter egos Peter Parker and the title character struggle to find the balance between ordinary high school life and web-slinging superheroics.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Michael Keaton, Donald Glover, Angourie Rice, Jon Favreau, Martin Starr, Stan Lee, Hannibal Buress and Tyne Daly

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Jon Watts (Cop Car, Clown) takes the directorial reins of this Marvel Comics-inspired reboot.

REASON TO SEE IT: Just can’t get enough Spider-Man flicks.

REASON TO SKIP IT: You’ve had your fill of Spider-Man flicks.

HIT OR MISS: Spider-Man has seen his share of successful box office runs, but this one misses.

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: Science fiction sequel about genetically evolved apes who battle an army of humans.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Sara Canning and Ty Olsson

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, The Pallbearer, Let Me In) also directed the previous installment in the latest big-screen series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

REASON TO SEE IT: The first one in the rebooted franchise was good and the second even better. If that’s not a recommendation to see the third one, nothing is.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Nah, there just have been too many of these over the years.

HIT OR MISS: Strong quality control, a characteristic so far, combined with the commercial success of the two predecessors, should find this one packing them in.

Dunkirk (July 21)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A World War II combat thriller about soldiers from England, Belgium, France and Canada surrounded by the German army who were evacuated during a ferocious battle.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles and Jack Lowden

BEHIND THE CAMERA: On visionary, three-time-Oscar-nominated, British writer-director Christopher Nolan’s résumé are The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Batman Begins, Insomnia, Interstellar, Inception, The Prestige and Memento.

REASON TO SEE IT: With Nolan’s track record, anything he does is of interest. And nothing he does qualifies as “anything” anyway.

REASON TO SKIP IT: One knock against Nolan is that his films are too intellectually demanding. So if you’re feeling kind of summer-lazy …

HIT OR MISS: A period war flick doesn’t exactly scream “box office,” but the critically embraced Nolan could be an early Oscar player.

Atomic Blonde (July 28)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A mystery-thriller in which an MI6 agent goes to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan and Daniel Bernhardt

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Stunt man, stunt coordinator and actor David Leitch takes a seat in the director’s chair.

REASON TO SEE IT: Cool title and Charlize Theron.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Stuntman- turned-director? Check, please.

HIT OR MISS: Miss until shown otherwise.

The Dark Tower (Aug. 4)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An action-adventure fantasy in which the Gunslinger roams the Old West in search of the Man in Black (no, not the Will Smith- Tommy Lee Jones kind), hoping to reach the titular location in time to preserve the dying world.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Matthew Mc- Conaughey, Idris Elba, Katheryn Winnick, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley, Nicholas Hamilton and Claudia Kim

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Danish auteur Nikolaj Arcel previously directed A Royal Affair, Truth About Men, Island of Lost Souls and King’s Game.

REASON TO SEE IT: McConaughey and Elba is an interesting combination of top-line stars.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Danish auteur? Who said that?

HIT OR MISS: Somewhere in the middle region of commercial success.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Aug. 18)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An action comedy about the world’s top bodyguard, who must help deliver a new client, a hit man and former enemy, who has to testify at the International Court of Justice.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida and Sam Hazeldine

BEHIND THE CAMERA: This is Patrick Hughes’ third feature film, following Red Hill and The Expendables 3.

REASON TO SEE IT: A decent premise with a few major stars beckons.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Hughes’ résumé is anything but compelling.

HIT OR MISS: Miss seems more late-summer likely.

Villa Capri (Aug. 25)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An action comedy in which an ex-FBI agent and an ex-mob lawyer in the witness protection program have to team up to outrun a mob hit.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Glenne Headly, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley, Joe Pantoliano and Graham Beckel.

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Writer-director Ron Shelton, who was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Bull Durham, also directed Blaze, White Men Can’t Jump, Tin Cup, Cobb, Play It to the Bone and Hollywood Homicide.

REASON TO SEE IT: Shelton has made his share of lively, entertaining movies and this one involves dependable old pros Freeman and Jones.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Outrunning a mob hit and the witness protection program have been done to death.

HIT OR MISS: Look for a quiet takeoff, followed by an acceptable flight.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 2 (May, 2017).
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