Officially, it may be that today is only the first day of spring, but the movies -- so far as the studios are concerned -- have their own idea of time. That's to say that they're officially in the countdown to summer mode. This year, it appears that summer -- that time when the studios unleash what they fervently hope will be the Really Big Pictures -- starts on May 20 with the release of Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, or possibly even on May 6 with Kenneth Branagh's Thor, though that's a more dicey proposition.
Actually, everything is on the dicey side with the studios this year. Most of what they've lined up consists of sequels or spin-offs -- or in the case of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the second half of the movie. The box office is down overall, and the cherished (at least by studios) idea that any old animated movie aimed at kids and in 3D will sell tickets went down in flames along with Mars Needs Moms. Since then, all the studios are antsy about their pending animated releases. It seems that a day doesn't go by that I don't get a "new character pose" from Disney for Cars 2 in my e-mail, which, I hate to tell them, is doing nothing to raise my zero-level interest in the movie.
There's no question that we're starting to see better movies than we were getting in the (literally) dead of winter. Since March we've gotten Gore Verbinski's Rango, George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau, Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids, and Greg Mottola's Paul -- all of which are definitely a huge improvement over what's been showing up. (I haven't seen Limited or The Lincoln Lawyer.) I've heard good things about Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre and Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, but neither have been locked in with local bookings yet. Jee-woon Kim's I Saw the Devil has also gotten some solid reviews, and it is booked for April 1 (at The Carolina). Plus, David Kaplan's utterly charming Today's Special (I saw a press screening on Friday) is slated to open on March 25 at the Fine Arts.
At the moment, the path leading to the summer season is pretty much etched in stone for mainstream titles. The biggest changes and additions we can expect are in the realm of the art and indie titles, which are rarely handled in a wide release manner where a title "everywhere" on the same day.
This coming week portends two art titles on the local level -- Today's Special and Sofia Coppola's Somewhere -- and two mainstream titles -- David Bowers' (Astro Boy) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. Apparently the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/diary_of_a_wimpy_kid -- did well enough to warrant a sequel. The theoretical big title of the week, of course, is Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. It's certainly the film I've heard more people express curiosity about -- albeit not always in a positive sense. Personally, I'm not a fan of the "visionary" Zack Snyder, and the trailer not only looks too much like a video game for my taste, but the plot sounds like one. Even so, I can't deny that I'm more than a little interested in seeing it.
April opens with one art title as noted, I Saw the Devil, and three mainstream ones -- Tim Hill's Hop, James Wan's Insidious, and Duncan Jones' Source Code. Being brutally obvious about it, Tim Hill's last two films (Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties and Alvin and the Chipmunks) were -- well, utter rubbish. This may be better -- or not. While the trailer suggests a pleasingly snarky tone with Russell Brand providing the voice of the Easter Bunny, the who business of a live-action James Marsden beleagured by a chatty rodent is uncomfortably close to Alvin and the Chipmunks.
I'm not a big admirer of the Saw movies, which were started by James Wan and Leigh Whannell back in 2004 -- http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/saw.php -- but I did like their Dead Silence (2007) -- http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/dead_silence -- so I have some hopes for Insidious. I'm assuming it's opening wide -- or at least fairly wide -- but it's from a new distributor FilmDistrict, so that might be a little iffy. The most interesting title for April 1, though, may just be Duncan Jones' first film since Moon (2009), Source Code. It's undoubtedly more mainstream, but that isn't always a bad thing. James Gunn's (Slither) comic book super-hero satire, Super with Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon, comes out that weekend, too, but isn't slated to open locally till April 22 (though it makes its first local bow at ActionFest).
Come April 8 we have Joe Wright's Hanna with Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Eric Bana. Yeah, the trailer looks on the silly side with its tale about a 16-year-old super assassin (Ronan), but Wright is a talented filmmaker and the cast is better than you'd expect. There's also David Gordon Green's Your Highness with the ever-irritating Danny McBride as a character McBride himself describes as someone who "gets stoned and kills dragons." Yes, well, the film also stars Natalie Portman, James Franco, Zooey Deschanel, and Justin Theroux. And if you didn't get a sufficiency of Russell Brand in Hop, here he is in TV director (Modern Family) Jason Winer's remake of Arthur. Brand has the old Dudley Moore part, Helen Mirren stands in for John Gielgud, and Jennifer Garner has the Liza Minelli role.
On April 15, Wes Craven's Scream 4 comes out, assuming anybody's all that interest in that franchise and has forgiven Craven for My Soul to Take last year. (Really, there are many much worse movies than My Soul to Take -- and Craven's made some of them.) That day also sees the animated Rio from the folks who brought us the Ice Age movies. The trailers are bright and noisy and the studio is praying that Mars Needs Moms was only a fluke. And then there's Soul Surfer -- a fact-based drama about a one-armed surfer girl (AnnaSophia Robb) from Sean McNamara, who gave us Bratz (2007) and Raise Your Voice (2004). It looks very earnest indeed, though they really ought to take out the scene where Ms. Robb pulls the arm off her Barbie doll post-Rango with its one-armed Barbie torso. Though listed as "limited," Robert Redford's historical drama The Conspirator with Robin Wright, James McAvoy, and Tom Wilkinson is booked to open at The Carolina that day.
April 22 is a heavy week -- at least in terms of quantity. The aforementioned Super comes to Asheville, for starters and it's not wanting for company. Apollo 18 from Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallago purports to reveal the "real reason" we stopped going to the moon -- nasty aliens apparently did in the last astronauts that went there. The film lists no cast, so it's apparently meant to be taken as "real" a la Paranormal Activity. Expect a rash of people who actually will believe it's true. We also get Robert Pattinson's latest effor to de-Twilight himself in Water for Elephants. It's based on a best-selling book, which might give it a boost. I remain skeptical that the world is waiting with bated breath for Pattinson in a romance with Reese Witherspoon playing a woman married to Christoph Waltz as a sadistic ring-master. The trailer does suggest a runaway giraffe scene and that might be a plus,
After the lackluster response to his most ambitious (and interesting) film to date, For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry retreats to the critic-proof, audience-proven realm of Madea's Big Happy Family that same weekend. Let's be honest, the ad campaign spoofing other movie posters is pretty clever, but you know what this is and what to expect. In its favor, it cannot be as dismal as Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. It's also almost certain to also better than Born to Be a Star, which is another of those Adam Sandler produced things starring his friends and hangers-on that Sony apparently puts up with to keep Sandler happy. This one stars Nick Swardson (last seen giving a fake sheep CPR in Just Go with It) and was directed by Tom Brady, who gave us The Hot Chick (2002) and The Comebacks (2007).
Now assuming that the report that Steven Soderbergh's Haywire is opening on April 22 (it was listed for August) and assuming it goes wide (there's no indicaton it won't), this thriller about a double-crossed freelance covert operative (Mixed Martial Arts' Gina Carano) out for revenge might be of some interest. Certainly, the cast -- well, apart from Carano and Channing Tatum -- is intriguing in that it includes Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Bill Paxton. The fact that it was written by Lem Dobbs, who wrote Soderbergh's Kafka (1991) and The Limey (2001), is also a plus.
April 29 looks pretty grisly from here. We get Justin Lin's Fast Five, the latest in the seemingly endless Fast and the Furious franchise. This time, it's not just Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, but Dwayne Johnson has been added to the mix. That, however, looks pretty good up against the Disney release Prom, which stars people I never heard of and was made by Joe Nussbaum, who, unfortunately, I have, since I saw Sydney White (2007). It seems to be about a group of kids getting ready for prom. Who would have guessed? And then there's Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, an animated sequel to the animated Hoodwinked (2006). I didn't care for the first one -- http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/hoodwinked.php -- though others did, so this may have its adherents. Note, however, that Hayden Panettiere has replaced Anne Hathaway as the voice of Red Riding Hood.
The bright spot on April 29 may be Xavier Beauvois Of Gods and Men, which is down to open at The Carolina that day (art titles have been known to shift, mind you). This drama about a group of trappist monks having to decide whether to stay or flee their monastery in Algeria when threatened by fundamentalist terrorists recently won the Best Film Cesar (sort of the French Oscar), snagged best Foreign Language Film from the National Board of Review, was nominated for a BAFTA and Independent Spirit award. For those who don't think a big fight between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson is the ne plus ultra of cinema, here is some respite.
That brings us to May 6 and Kenneth Branagh's Thor, which may qualify as the first summer movie. The idea, of course, is that this is this year's Iron Man movie. Well...maybe. Problem is that Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek) is no Robert Downey, Jr. Then, Branagh seems a curious choice for director. Presumably, all that Shakespeare makes him a natural for those Norse gods (see also Anthony Hopkins as Odin). We'll see. The trailers have been less than overwhelming to this non-comic book fan -- and haven't been helped by the fact that all the eye-liner makes Thor look like he's from the realm of Maybelline.
It has some company, too, There's Luke Greenfield's rom-com-dram Something Borrowed with Kate Hudson. Let's be honest, Hudson hasn't exactly been lighting up the box office of late. Her last starring vehicle, Bride Wars (2009), wasn't a hit and was pretty awful, too. I can forgive Greenfield for The Animal (2001), because I liked The Girl Next Door (2004), but nothing about this excites me. I can't say that TV director Salim Akil's Jumping the Broom -- from faith-based producer/actor T.D. Jakes -- is all that enticing, though it would be nice if it did something for Paula Patton's career. Frankly, I'm holding out the most hope on May 6 for Rubber (down for an opening at The Carolina), a film about a killer tire. I'm not making that up and from the early reviews, it's a lot more interesting than that sounds.
May 13 offers us Paul Feig's Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig (who also co-wrote the film), Maya Rudolph. and Rose Byrne. It, of course, purports to be a comedy -- about two women battling over a friend's wedding. I like Wiig and Rudolph, and the trailer looks painless, but I can't say it's exciting. I figure there's a good chance that Priest is actually funnier, even if that isn't the idea. Paul Bettany stars as the titular Priest, who defies the Church to track down some vampires who kidnapped his niece. Remember the last time Bettany got together with director Scott Charles Stewart? The result was Legion -- http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/legion -- and it wasn't prettty.
And that takes us to May 20 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opening the summer floodgates in earnest. Now, bear in mind, there could still be shifts on some of these, and there will doubtless be some art/indie titles that will crop up during this time, so I'm not claiming this is all a done deal.