Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Where’s the excitement this summer?

Here we are into June. According to the movies, summer started about a month ago with the release of Iron Man 2, which was rapidly followed by Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia. Iron Man 2 was good. The others range all the way from OK to let-me-get-my-hands-on-the-people-who-made-this-thing bad. In short, the first month of the 2010 summer movie season has underwhelmed. The question is will it get any better?

So far, the best things I’ve seen this season have been Nash Edgerton’s The Square and—just this week—Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, neither of which qualify for the big summer movie status. In fact, both are movies that might have done better business at another time of the year. Now, I liked Iron Man 2 and I wouldn’t complain if I had to sit through it again, but that doesn’t mean I’m planning on it. I’m sure there are other things headed our way that I will also like, but apart from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs (again, not mainstream) and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, there’s nothing I’m all that excited about. Worse, there’s nothing I’m hearing other people express excitement about.

Is it possible to get jazzed-up over a big-screen rehash of The A-Team? You’ve got to be really missing the 1980s for this. The cast is reasonable enough. The director, on the other hand, is Joe Carnahan, who was taken seriously about eight years ago with Narc. Of course, that was before Smokin’ Aces (2006).  And what of the same week’s offering of more 80’s nostalgia, The Karate Kid remake? I like Jackie Chan even on those occasions when the movies housing him are moose fellation parties. I think Taraji P. Henson is one of the most under-utliized actresses of our time. I guess Jaden Smith is OK. But couldn’t his producer parents have found someone more interesting to direct than Harald Zwart, the man with gave us The Pink Panther 2 (2009) and Agent Cody Banks (2003)? The truth of the matter is that I’m just not interested in seeing this story retold in the first place.

Looking ahead I see the Next Big Thing is Toy Story 3, which has been being pounded into us with teasers and trailers for what feels like a year now. I’m sure this will be perfectly fine in all its 3D-ified glory. I’m also sure there are some people out there who actually anticipate its arrival. If I was a parent with my eye out for family entertainment I’d probably be beside myself, especially after Furry Vengeance and Marmaduke. But I’m not—and I’m not excited by the prospect of the “perfectly fine.” Maybe I’ll be surprised, but isn’t this exactly the sort of film that works by fulfilling your expectations?

That same week we get Jonah Hex, the latest attempt to bring a comic book to big screen life. The trailer—apart from Megan Fox trying to sound witty—doesn’t look awful. It merely looks busy and noisy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for this kind of movie. But why was this given to the guy whose only previous directorial credit was Horton Hears a Who (2008)? Rumor is that as much as 40 percent of the movie was reshot by Francis Lawrence (Constantine,I Am Legend) after the studio got a peek at Jimmy Hayward’s original cut. On the plus side we have Josh Brolin and John Malkovich and a screenplay by the invariably interesting—and frquently off-the-wall—duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of Crank fame. (Why didn’t they direct?)  This at least moves me into the realm of curious. But excited? Not really.

Since Adam Sandler pretty much tanked with Judd Apatow and Funny People, he’s run back into the arms of director Dennis Dugan, the man reponsible for a number of Sandler’s hits (all the way back to Happy Gilmore in 1996)—a few other movies I wish I could unwatch. The result is Grown Ups. To add to the mix, he’s brought in Chris Rock and Kevin James, but to subtract from it, he’s got David Spade and, you guessed it, Rob Schneider. For some obscure reason, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are also involved. If the trailer is any guide, this is a movie where a peeing-in-the-pool joke is considered the pinnacle of wit.

That same week we get James Mangold’s Knight and Day—an action comedy with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Now, Mangold is a pretty solid director. His resume includes everything from Girl Interrupted (1999) to Kate and Leopold (2001) to 3:10 to Yuma (2007), so it isn’t like he’s restrained by genre. Cruise and Diaz could both stand a hit, and this might be it—if only by default.  The similarly-themed Killers is bound to make this look better than however good it is. Plus, there’s just not all that much competition for anything even remotely like this.

That takes us into July and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. In certain quarters, this is undoubtedly exciting. I am not in those quarters—nor do I personally know anyone who is. I can certainly say that I am not looking forward to it. Then again, I’m not all a-dither about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender—even with its retrofitted 3D. It’s based on a Nickelodeon cartoon series with an apparently rabid fanbase. Whether that fanbase is enough to put this over—or make people forget Shyamalan’s more recent movies—is another matter altogether.

And then comes Despicable Me, another animated comedy with more 3D. This one differs a little in that it’s had trailers in so many different tones that it seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Considering how bad the original trailer was, that may not be a bad thing. It’s all about an evil genius named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) whose plans to steal the moon hit a snag when he runs afoul of three orphan girls. No—the stealing the moon bit to one side—it doesn’t sound very original.

I’m not even going to try to untangle the history of the Predator movies, which have now become so tangled up with the Alien franchise that it’s as bad as trying to decide whether House of Frankenstein (1944) is a Frankenstein, Dracula or Wolf Man saga. So what we have here then is something from Nimrod Antal (Vacancy) called Predators, which seems to have nothing to do with the Alien movies. Instead it drops back to producer Robert Rodriguez’s screenplay for a sequel to the first two Predator movies—something he cooked up in 1994. I feel good about the Rodriguez connection and the fact that it stars Adrien Brody,Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, Laurence Fishburne and Walton Goggins. I’m not so sold on the director, but the rest of it put this into “give it a chance” territory.

Nicolas Cage—even with a brand new wig—in a new Jon Turteltaub picture, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, just screams like an attempt to regenerate the sparks that made the Nationl Treasure  films a hit. Now, before you say there’s nothing wrong with that (and there isn’t) or point out that the story is dissimilar (it is), let me say that my biggest reservation stems from the fact that the trailer looks like it emphasizes the least appealing aspect of the National Treasure films—being effects-driven. We shall see. I’m still not excited, but I’m not appalled by the prospect either.

But the same week gives us Christopher Nolan’s Inception—the one mainstream offering this summer I can truly say I’m excited to see. Of course, it’s only the fact that it is a Christopher Nolan picture that makes it mainstream. A science-fiction thriller that takes place inside “the architecture of the mind” is only mainstream because it has the name of the guy who made The Dark Knight (2008) on it. Otherwise, this would likely be on the receiving end of the same kind of treatment that was doled out to Marc Forster’s Stay (2005). Instead, it’s getting the big push—and this depite the fact that Nolan hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about the plot. He has, however, assembled a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page and Cillian Murphy. I am so there.

Hot on its heels is Philip Noyce’s Salt, which is so thrilled with having Angelina Jolie in it that its trailer recognizes the existence of no one else, even though the cast also includes Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who obviously err by not living on the covers of tabloids. Frankly, even with Noyce (The Quiet American) at the helm, I’m far from sold. It looks so completely like “nothing special” that I’m filled with ennui. I wouldn’t mind being mistaken.

So they dusted off Francis Veber’s Le Diner de Cons (1998) and Americanized it as Dinner with Schmucks and stuck Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in it. The concept is simple enough—there are these dinner parties where your chances of social and professional success are defined by your ability to bring the stupidest person imaginable as your guest. In this case, Paul Rudd finds an unusually fine specimen of the Boobus Americanus in Steve Carell as a clueless IRS agent. Since the concept is so simple why are there rumors that as many as seven writers have worked on this to punch it up? Good question. Regardless, the trailer strongly suggests that seven weren’t enough.

I’m still trying to figure out just why Ramona and Beezus is being touted on the strength of being directed by Elizabeth Allen. The director of Aquamarine (2006) is your selling point? If that’s the case, then this family comedy based on Beverly Cleary’s 1955 book Beezus and Ramona is in more trouble than even the trailer makes it appear. Even the presumption that viewers readily know who the Ramona character is might be a bit of a stretch. All in all, this looks like one of those innocuous little movies with a low-wattage cast that comes and goes and everyone quickly forgets ever existed.

July closes out with Charlie St. Cloud, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and Beastly. I’m slow to look askance at something just because it has Zac Efron in it after last year’s Me and Orson Welles—hands-down the best film of 2009 that no one ever saw—but I can’t say that the prospect of Charlie St. Cloud excites me. OK, in comparison to the CBS Films Beauty and the Beast variant called Beastly, it’s pretty enticing. Why does CBS try to make movies if they’re going to continue to make stuff that looks like a glorified TV show? And, ah, yes, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. I am excited by this, but only because it marks my revenge on co-critic Justin Souther for making me sit through Marmaduke.

The August roster is a mixed bag that starts out with a Will Ferrell comedy co-starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Adam McKay, the man who gave us Step Brothers. This one’s called The Other Guys and places Ferrell and Wahlberg in the realm of the mis-matched buddy cop picture. There’s probably a word for my feelings about the prospect of this, but it’s not “excitement.” And it’s made just that much worse by the fact that the week’s other prospect is Step Up 3D. What a pity that Justin Souther is our Step Up expert.

Ryan Murphy made a pretty terrific film with Running with Scissors (2006), a movie I appreciate more every time I see it, so I’m not in a hurry to write off Eat Pray Love . Like Running with Scissors, this is based on a memoir (by Elizabeth Gilbert), though a considerably different one than the earlier film. It’s poised as a comeback vehicle of sorts for Julia Roberts. She’s certainly in good company here with Javier Bardem, James Franco, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins and Viola Davis. Am I excited? I’ll go as far as officially intrigued.

That’s about where I stand on Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I like Edgar Wright. I think Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest, cleverest film of the 2000s. But then there’s the Michael Cera factor and, while he’s probably perfect for the title role, he’s a hard-sell for me, especially after Paper Heart (2009). Will this story abouit a loser/underdog who has to defeat the seven ex-boyfriends of the girl of his dreams restore my faith in Michael Cera and justify my faith in Edgar Wright? Gee, that’s almost suspenseful enough to ratchet up my interest a notch.

Sylvester Stallone is back as director and star of The Expendables, which also stars Jason Statham and Jet Li. Dolph Lundgren has also been tossed in there, as have Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke—with Bruce Willis and Der Arnold himself in some sort of cameo capacity. It’s almost certain not going to be good in any constructive sense of the term, but if it’s even half as over-the-top absurd as Rambo  (2008), it won’t be hurting for humor.

I nearly nodded off just reading the plot synopsis for Takers—Matt Dillon as a detective out to foil bank robbers. Then I saw that it was a Columbia bargain basement release through Screen Gems and interest cooled off some more. I can’t work up that much enthusiasm for Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang either, despite the fact that I liked the original well enough. Still, on balance, I’ll take Emma Thompson over Matt Dillon.

Great—another artificial insemination romantic comedy! This one, called The Switch, stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. and comes to us from the directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck who brought us Blades of Glory (2007).  Please, just stop. Stop now. This makes me almost look forward to the manic comedy of Lottery Ticket, but not by much. That is until you consider that the same week brings us Untitled Vampire Spoof, which may in fact be the actual name of this latest assault from Messrs. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the culprits behind Meet the Spartans (2008), Disaster Movie (2008), Date Movie (2006) and other cinematic abominations in the same key. This time, they’re apparently going to reference the Twilight movies till they reach the requisite 90 minute running time, call it a comedy and foist it on us.

A possible bright spot for the tail end of August is Alexandre Aja’s 3D Piranha remake called—what else?—Piranha 3D. This is a film that like the original 1978 Joe Dante film appears to embrace its own cheesiness. The cast is peppered with some interesting names—Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss—and Aja’s last film, Mirrors (2008), was at least stylish. Two questions emerge. If Aja’s mastery of English or sense of humor couldn’t detect the unintentional humor in some of the dialogue in Mirrors, why should we suppose he can detect intentional humor here? More to the point perhaps is the question of whether the joke isn’t too thin for a whole movie.

Ah, but it doesn’t quite end there. We also have a rom-com called Going the Distance  with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. The trailer looks just as ho-hum as that sounds. And to top it off we have The Last Exorcism from a director you probably don’t know and starring people you probably don’t know—and coming from the studio that was too classy to release The Midnight Meat Train (2008). The fact that Eli Roth is producing it is no comfort, but the trailer suggests some unintentional mirth may be had.

And those are the summer months that lie ahead. Hopefully, there will be some surprises in there—and a few others from outside the mainstream—but in any sense, this just feels like a summer strangely devoid of much in the way of “events.”

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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33 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Where’s the excitement this summer?

  1. I had a look through the Coming Attractions section of my local cinemas website the other day. Most depressing. The only films I’m at all jazzed about are:

    INCEPTION (July)
    THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP (August)
    THE GHOST WRITER (August)
    HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (November)

    That’s four movies for the entire remainder of the year.

    I guess I’ll be making a dent in that pile of DVDs sitting next to my computer.

  2. Ken Hanke

    THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP (August)
    THE GHOST WRITER (August)

    The former is apparently strictly a TV film here. The latter opened a while ago.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Geez, no mention of MACHETE?

    Machete — which I am looking forward to — opens in September. This overview only goes through August.

  4. Machete—which I am looking forward to—opens in September. This overview only goes through August.
    And, as of yet, has no Australian release date *grumble grumble*.

  5. Me

    Besides Inception I’m looking forward to The Killer Inside Me and Cyrus. I noticed Cyrus is coming to Asheville on July 16. I wish those special showings of Fassbinder’s World on a Wire and that 50th anniversary of Breathless would come through Asheville.

    He’s right The Special Relationship is on tv right now.

  6. Ken Hanke

    And, as of yet, has no Australian release date *grumble grumble*.

    Yeah, but you have wallabies.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Besides Inception I’m looking forward to The Killer Inside Me and Cyrus.

    Except for Micmacs I deliberately stayed out of non-mainstream titles. Personally, I’m dreading Cyrus.

    I wish those special showings of Fassbinder’s World on a Wire and that 50th anniversary of Breathless would come through Asheville.

    The latter might happen, but I doubt the former will. Breathless has a recognizability factor that might get it past the obvious fact that Asheville isn’t — as a rule — a strong market for subtitled movies.

  8. Jay

    Totally agree about Salt and Dinner for Schmucks. Labeling Salt as the female Bourne doesn’t make any sense to me. And people only seem to be looking forward to Dinner for Schmucks only because of who’s in it.

  9. Ken Hanke

    MACHETE was slated for August, but I guess it was too close to THE EXPENDABLES

    I’m not about to call any of the dates past July etched in stone.

  10. Jay

    Totally agree about Salt and Dinner for Schmucks. Labeling Salt as the female Bourne doesn’t make any sense to me. And people only seem to be looking forward to Dinner for Schmucks only because of who’s in it.

  11. DrSerizawa

    Please tell me and you are only kidding and that they aren’t really doing a Hollywood remake of “The Dinner Game”. I can only feel horror at the thought of an Americanized version.

  12. Ken Hanke

    And people only seem to be looking forward to Dinner for Schmucks only because of who’s in it.

    I’m not personally sufficiently taken with either performer to be swayed by their presence.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Please tell me and you are only kidding and that they aren’t really doing a Hollywood remake of “The Dinner Game”.

    I would love to ease your mind, my friend, but it appears that such a remake has in fact been made. You can start actively avoiding come July 23. I, alas, probably do not have that option.

  14. Me

    I know the Fassbinder thing won’t happen because i was wrong in thinking it was going to be shown in other parts of the country. Apparently it was just a one time special showing in NY.

    I’ve heard Micmacs is dreadful.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Apparently it was just a one time special showing in NY.

    Well, it’s nearly four hours long. Theater owners don’t like four hour movies. You know, it is available on Region 2 DVD.

    I’ve heard Micmacs is dreadful.

    So have I. I’ve also heard that it’s wonderful. Think I’ll find out for myself. Considering that Jeunet has yet to make a film I didn’t like, I’ll be surprised if I find it “dreadful.”

    The Ghost Writer in August?

    In Australia.

  16. Mike

    Where is the excitement ANY summer? It’s easily the worst time of year for film nuts, at least in my opinion. If there are four to five (non-art house/independent) movies that I really like between May and September I consider it a good season. I would dread being a film critic this time of year.

    Jeunet is definitely a love him or hate him kind of director but considering I’ve only thoroughly loathed one of this movies (Alien Resurrection which, admittedly, had more script problems than directorial ones) I have complete faith in Micmacs.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Where is the excitement ANY summer? It’s easily the worst time of year for film nuts, at least in my opinion.

    You make a valid point, but even on the sliding scale of expectation, this year feels particularly bland. Even those who dote on movies where “things blow up really neat” seem unenthused.

    If there are four to five (non-art house/independent) movies that I really like between May and September I consider it a good season.

    I’d be good with four or five. I’m not coming up with that large a number. And the “art house” stuff isn’t looking a lot better.

    I would dread being a film critic this time of year

    The rules changed this year, but usually the time to dread is January and February — unless you’re counting the previous year’s releases that are only then making their way to town.

  18. Mike

    I don’t have any problem including previous year’s releases as part of the January/February doldrums. Actually, their late arrival is almost preferable (I say almost because sometimes the wait can be… annoying). That way I don’t have to cram in several movies a week in December because I’m worried everything I want to see will perform poorly and get chased out of town. Also, belated releases of good stuff are always better than the refuse studios often foist on the general public that time of year. This year has, as you mentioned, been an exception but what are the odds that this will spark a new trend?

  19. Ken Hanke

    I don’t have any problem including previous year’s releases as part of the January/February doldrums.

    From a critic’s standpoint, it’s another matter. The studios tend to make sure we’ve seen all those films before voting in critics’ association awards and doing our 10 best list. So we don’t have much to look forward to.

    This year has, as you mentioned, been an exception but what are the odds that this will spark a new trend?

    I’m hopeful, but I’m not even going to attempt a guess.

  20. Me

    This summer so far looks dismal even more than the usu. I thought last summer was one of the better summers in recent memory.

  21. Ken Hanke

    This summer so far looks dismal even more than the usu. I thought last summer was one of the better summers in recent memory

    Well, if you encompass everything that opened from the beginning of May (last year started its summer with Wolverine),you do get:

    Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Julie & Julia, (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, Tetro, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Summer Hours, Whatever Works, Moon, Cheri, Easy Virtue, Goodbye Solo, Everlasting Moments, The Brothers Bloom, Up, and Star Trek.

    That includes the art house and borderline titles, but even mixing those in — from the looks of things — this year, that’s definitely a better summer than this one is shaping up to be.

  22. Me

    I just watched Tetro on dvd and i wish i would have checked that out when it was in town. I forgot how good Coppola, and Gallo could be despite the latter’s bad reputation.

  23. Me

    I forgot all about The Kids Are All Right it looks like it might be worth checking out, hope it makes a comes through.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I just watched Tetro on dvd and i wish i would have checked that out when it was in town.

    Well, you can see it on a bigger screen with an audience on June 29 when the Asheville Film Society screeens it.

    I forgot all about The Kids Are All Right it looks like it might be worth checking out, hope it makes a comes through

    If by that, you mean you hope it makes it here, it is scheduled to.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl.

    That’s fine, you known them all pretty well?

  26. That’s fine, you known them all pretty well?
    I know sometimes I must step out in the light. Better leave her behind with the kids.

  27. Ken Hanke

    I know sometimes I must step out in the light. Better leave her behind with the kids.

    They’re alright. The kids are alright.

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