The summer movie season is underway, officially starting with the release of The Hangover 2 over the Memorial Day weekend.
It’s a summer that will be dominated at the box office by sequels, prequels, comic book and novel adaptations, with some original works scattered about. But that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as recent years will show that summers and sequels/prequels/comic book adaptations/etc now seem to go hand-in-hand.
Even looking ahead to next year, sequels to Men in Black, Madagascar, G.I. Joe, and The Expendables, as well as the 3rd installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, along with reboots of Superman, Spiderman and Total Recall are expected.
And although the summer movie season isn’t officially christened until the Memorial Day weekend annually, 2011 has already brought us Scream 4, Fast & Furious 5 (aka Fast Five,), an adaptation of the Thor superhero comic, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Kung Fu Panda 2, and, of course, the aforementioned summer movie season kicker, The Hangover 2.
If you’re like me, this apparent trend leaves very little to actually get excited about, making navigating these thus far mostly uninspired waters, much less of the kind of thrill the summer movie-going experience used to and ought to be.Of course, this is just one man’s opinion, and your anticipation for what’s on the horizon may exceed mine. There’s always something for everyone, if you’re willing to look for it.
A “Colorless” Summer?
I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention the dearth of African-American talent this summer, both in front of and behind the camera. It seems like the cry heard around the world every year – this lack of, shall we say, “color,” on the big (and small) screen. Nothing’s changed much this year. The usual suspects are noticeably absent; and when I reference “the usual suspects,” despite the plural, I’m really talking about Will Smith, who has been absent from movie theater screens since 2008’s Seven Pounds. Although, he’s certainly been busy managing his children’s careers and successfully creating potential black leading stars of tomorrow.
We’ll next see Will in 2012’s “threequel” to the Men In Black franchise.
Behind the camera, black directors who’ve had some summer movie success, like Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray and Tim Story, are all absent this year; although each has a project in the works at some stage of development, and we’ll certainly be talking about those as progress is made.
So with all of the above in mind, we have roughly three months until fall announces its welcome and the so-called Oscar movie season begins. What are some of the titles we should look out for from now until September?
X Men: First Class
This past weekend saw the release of X-Men: First Class, essentially an origin story for the superhero collective; a film that both film critics and audiences seemed to agree on, with movie review aggregator site, RottenTomatoes.com, currently indicating that 149 out of 172 critics gave it a thumbs up, and 88% of the audience liked it. Although Zoe Kravitz and Edi Gathegi co-star in the film, both are peripheral characters, with stories that are secondary to the main plotlines involving the beginnings of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), the relationship that develops between the two, and eventual fallout that separates them – a tale that of which we see the future in past X-Men movies; movies that I consider superior to this year’s prequel, specifically the first 2 – X-Men in 2000 and X2 in 2003 (the best film in the franchise thus far, in my opinion).
This weekend, any anticipation you’ve had for wunderkind producer/director J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, will be quenched (hopefully), when the film opens nationwide. The movie has already been compared to the brand of awe-inspiring, story-driven spectacle cinema its revered superstar producer Steven Spielberg gained fame for – many of them released during the summer.
Set in 1979, in a fictional small town in Ohio, the movie centers on a group of teenagers who discover the presence of an alien life-form, after witnessing a train crash, while making a home movie with their Super 8mm film camera, creating disorder in their little town.
Early reviews from press screenings have been stellar, making it one of this summer’s most anticipated movies.
On Friday, June 17th, another superhero comic book comes to life on the big screen, and in 3D, when Ryan Reynolds’ Hal Jordan dons the power ring and joins the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps, in Warner Bros’ release of Green Lantern.
Look for Angela Bassett as Dr. Amanda Waller, a scientist. For those unfamiliar with the DC Comics universe, her character, nicknamed “The Wall,” and “The White Queen” and more, is considered an anti-heroine. She doesn’t possess superhero abilities but is exceptional in a number of skills, notably being highly trained in military tactics and espionage, amongst others.
Also worth noting, Michael Clarke Duncan is in the movie as well; not physically, however. He provides the voice for the towering, brutish alien, and the primary trainer of new Lantern Corps recruits, Kilowog.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Further out, looking at the July 4th weekend, all eyes will likely be watching for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, the 3rd film in the franchise. Shia LaBeouf returns with the ensemble cast of characters that includes singer/actor Tyrese Gibson, in what will surely be another loud, explosive, spectacle-driven film from director Michael Bay, based on the trailers we’ve seen so far.
However, that same weekend, there will be some counter-programming for those who prefer a more subtle brand of cinema, but still very much within the mainstream, as Larry Crowne also opens. The film centers on a middle aged man (played by Tom Hanks), forced to reinvent himself and find a new career, as he navigates the second act of his life. Of note, Taraji P Henson, Cedric The Entertainer, Pam Grier and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who co-starred with Boris Kodjoe, in the failed NBC action/drama Undercovers), all have roles in this dramedy, which also stars Julia Roberts.
Harry Potter / Captain America / Cowboys v. Aliens
Rounding out the month of July, these 3 films will challenge Transformers 3 for that month’s box office crown: the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, opening July 15th, Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22nd), and Cowboys Vs Aliens (July 29th). All 3 based on stories that originated in printed form – book, comic, and graphic novel, successively.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
The month of August really belongs to 20th Century Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel and origin story set in the present-day that tells the story of how man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to advanced intelligence in apes and the beginnings of a war for supremacy.
James Franco leads an ensemble cast that also includes rising black British actor David Oyelowo, who some may recognize from the 2006 Oscar-winning film (Best Actor for Forest Whitaker), The Last King of Scotland.
Oyelowo will also feature in another August release, and what may be the season’s most polarizing film, playing a preacher in the big screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help, which stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone, and Octavia Spencer, with supporting roles from Cicely Tyson, Aunjanue Ellis and others.
The film, like the book, will explore the tenuously symbiotic if strained relationship between black maids and their white employers in the 1960s American south. It also represents what I believe will be the best possibility for an Oscar nomination by a black actor/actress this year (in Viola Davis and/or Octavia Spencer).
Reactions thus far across the Black blogosphere have been tepid at best. Many have already dismissed the film as yet another gussied-up, innocuous tale set in America’s turbulent, racially-charged past, told specifically from a white person’s perspective. Some are not looking forward to seeing black actresses in subservient roles, harkening back to the earlier years of cinema in which those kinds of parts comprised much of what was available for actresses of African descent. See the “Mammy” archetype for context.
Having read the book on which the film is based, I can say that while the above concerns are certainly warranted, this is actually a rare instance in mainstream/studio cinema history that places the black maid/white employer relationship under a microscope in which we get to see events unfold from the maid’s POV at least partly, and are given a much more complex representation of her. In essence, she isn’t a 2-dimensional stereotype here. There are a lot of scenes for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to chew on, and whether or not the film succeeds in translating their characters to film remains to be seen. As the saying often goes, the book is usually better than the movie.
So, you’re encouraged to see the film, and judge for yourselves. Your expectations may be met, or you could be pleasantly surprised. But, at least, you’d be able to talk about it, armed with vital information.
The Help will be in theaters on August 12th.
And, closing out August, and what would effectively be the end of the summer movie season, will be Zoe Saldana in French super-producer Luc Besson’s revenge thriller, Colombiana, directed by Olivier Megaton. The yet-to-be-rated action movie stars Saldana as a young woman who grows up to be a stone-cold assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents in Bogota, hunting down those responsible for their deaths.
When I initially heard about this film going into production last year, I had my doubts about Saldana’s ability to really embody the part and carry the film; but after watching the 2 1/2-minute trailer that debuted early last month, I had to start reconsidering my stance because I was impressed with what I saw in those few short minutes, and I’m even more curious to see how this looks and feels when it opens on August 26th. It’ll be Saldana’s first true attempt at determining whether she alone can deliver box office gold.As with most of Luc Besson’s films, Colombiana should do well in foreign markets; though I expect its performance in USA theaters will be watched closely.
And that just about wraps up this summer 2011 movie preview! Of course, there are a lot more films scheduled for release than I’ve listed here.
In my next post, I will dig a little deeper, and instead emphasize alternate summer fare; mainly independent and foreign films that tell stories by and/or people of African descent that may or may not be coming to a theater near you (all will see limited releases), but you should know about and look out for.
Till then… happy summer at the movies!
Tambay Obenson is editor of Shadow And Act on the indieWIRE Network, which can be found at http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact.