R0BTRAIN’s Badass Cinema: Summer Movie Musings

 Hey folks! Welcome back and first things first, I‘d like to offer an apology. I’ve been so busy with projects and work that it’s been fairly tough to get any writing done, and even my Badass list took way too long to get through this year, and I’m truly sorry. I’m hoping in the upcoming months that things are going to settle down after a while, and allow me to can get back in the swing of things with this column, because I truly love writing when I’m in the right mindset. It’s just been tough to talk about movies when life gets in the way. Still, 2011 has been a fun time at the theater when I’ve had time to go, with some fun action flicks (The Mechanic¸ Drive Angry) and at least one truly great film (Rango).

There have been some disappointments, especially Sucker Punch, but on the whole I don’t feel like 2011 has filled theaters with the movie dumps that tend to go on before the summer finally hits.
Then again, I think it’s the summer months that have me kind of worried this year. The season is just around the corner, but I can’t remember the last time I went into the big movie months with this many question marks. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of movies I’m looking forward to, but unfortunately the movies I would consider “sure things” are pretty few and far between. I hate having trepidations like this when there are so many big pictures on the way, but it’s hard to get 100% excited when you know you could be walking into one letdown after another.

For example, Marvel is gearing up for 2012’s The Avengers, but this year’s building blocks are anything but in the bag. I’ve heard positive things from recent Thor screenings, but so far the ad campaigns haven’t filled me with a ton of confidence, and I hope this movie doesn’t have the same sort of problems that Iron Man 2 had when it tried too hard to get us ready for The Avengers without doing enough to flesh out its own story. Also, Chris Helmsworth looks the part, but I’m not sold on the movie’s effects or costumes, and don’t get me started on post 3-D conversion.

In the same boat, Captain America’s director Joe Johnston seems to be on similar ground as his best film, The Rocketeer, but this is also the man that brought us The Wolfman, so who knows how good this could be. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what Joe Johnston’s second best movie is. Jumanji maybe? Jurassic Park III? Perhaps lightning will strike twice with Johnston going back to the ‘40s, and Chris Evans seems to be going all in here, but I just don’t know for sure.

Even PIXAR, who has been unassailable in the last few summers by giving us new classics such as WALL-E and UP, is offering up a sequel to what I consider their worst movie in Cars 2. It’s not that Cars was even a bad movie, but it just doesn’t have the emotional pull of anything else they’ve ever put out, including A Bug’s Life. With that said, I still have enough confidence in PIXAR that I’ll go see the movie, and I would love to be wrong here, but I’m nowhere near as excited as I was for last year’s Toy Story 3.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 would seem like a surefire hit, but I know 2010’s Part 1 had a lot of detractors, and you just never know if a series is going to be hitting on all cylinders or suffering from fatigue when the final curtain goes up. Return of the King and Return of the Jedi managed to the close their finales on a high note, but The Matrix Revolutions still looms large as a closer that completely dropped the ball. I’d even mention Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End in the same breath, but as we now know, that film won’t be the last of the Pirates movies. Of course, if this year’s Pirates of the Carribean: On Stanger Tides ends up being even worse, then that may have the distinction of being the final nail in that series’ coffin.

X-Men: First Class will hopefully end up doing for the X-Men franchise what Batman Begins did for Caped Crusader’s series, which was seemingly dead after the Joel Schumacher’s rubber suited rampage. I love what I’ve been hearing about the movie from director Matthew Vaughn, who compared the movie to an oldschool Bond picture, only with super powers, yet I can’t help but be wary. This franchise’s last attempt at a prequel/spinoff with X-Men Origins: Wolverine was one of the few examples where the video game adaptation actually ended up a 1000 times better than the movie it was based on, and do I even have to mention Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand? Perhaps the less said about it the better.

I’m really hoping that Green Lantern will end up better than its initial teaser trailer let on. I’m in love with the idea of an intergalactic superhero movie, and combining the comic book film with a space opera sounds like an absolutely epic experience. Unfortunately, the film’s first trailer seemed to focus more on Ryan Reynolds hamming it up in front of the camera rather than showing us a rousing adventure. Rumors have spread saying that WB has been having problems with the film’s effects, which would account for why the film hasn’t shown more of its space sections up to this point, but also, will they be done on time for the film’s release in June? Recent batches of footage are much more encouraging, showing the possibilities of how odd and wild this universe could be, but I feel like this film has a big target on it at the moment. I know Warners’ wants this film to do for them what Iron Man was able to do for Marvel, but if the studio doesn’t step up its campaign soon, they could end up with another Jonah Hex or Catwoman on their hands.

As for Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, I’m probably going to go see it (you know you are too), but my expectations probably couldn’t be any lower. The spectacle of the last film probably couldn’t be matched by 18 summer blockbusters, but if you didn’t check your brain at the door the experience was the cinematic equivalent of an ice-cream headache. The movie was just too much, too often, and in terms of actually caring about what was going on onscreen (and the clarity of its action for that matter), the film got schooled in the same year by blockbuster brethren Star Trek, District 9, and Avatar. I’m sure in director Michael Bay’s mind, bigger is better, but if he could actually display some real human emotion this time out, we could in for a good time we wouldn’t have to feel guilty about afterwards.

So what do we actually have to look forward to this big movie season?

Well thankfully, I think we’re going to have two choices that are going to save the summer for us. Each film has an awesome pedigree of hungry directors shepherded by Steven Spielberg himself, the man perhaps most responsible for creating our annual blockbuster season and turning it into a loud, joyful art-form. Everything I’ve seen from these two pictures has made me desperate to see them, but the wonderful thing is, I’m fairly confident that each is going to actually live up to their hype.

First up is Cowboy and Aliens, which at the beginning of the year was the movie I was most looking forward to. Sure, perhaps Iron Man 2 didn’t live up to all our expectations (even though it was still quite good), but I feel like director Jon Favreau had a relationship with Marvel Studios that may have cracked a bit under the weight of Marvel’s plans for The Avengers, rather than just letting Favreau take the reins of the movie and letting him create something memorable the way he was able to with the first Iron Man outing. With that, I get a sense that Favreau is REALLY out to make something huge here; a film that will truly establish who he is as a director.

I’m really excited because it seems as if Jon Favreau is a guy that has been slowly putting together the building blocks of a great career, and been fairly successful at each step from Made to Elf to Zathura. With Iron Man he finally received some well deserved recognition and really made us take notice because I don’t think any of us expected Iron Man to be as successful as it turned out to be. Now I think he wants to step out of the shadow of the Marvel machine and create something that he feels is even more from his own voice. Listening to him speak at Comic-con last year, the director seemed so full of passion for this project, invoking John Ford when it came to speaking about the movie’s Western sections, and how he was committed to shooting the movie on film and in 2D rather than shoot a Western on digital or post-convert the picture.

With producers such as the aforementioned Mr. Spielberg, as well as veterans Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and a cast that includes Indiana Jones and the current James Bond, I just feel like this is a picture that can’t lose. I want this to be for Favreau what Raiders of the Lost Ark was for Spielberg; an adventure tale that combines the look and feel of an oldschool popcorn flick with the sensibilities of modern storytelling. I can’t help but feel like this is going to be something special and the next step for Favreau in what is going to be a long and fruitful career making movies just like this one.
I also get a very similar feeling when it comes to everything I’ve seen from J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. Abrams is another figure that I believe is really destined for greatness, which is something that I’m fairly certain he’s already come close to in his career. Mission: Impossible III was a movie that got a fairly raw deal when it came out because of its association with Tom Cruise, but to some degree it’s also a movie that’s actually gained in reputation with the passage of time, which is something I can’t really say about the other movies in the franchise.

With Star Trek, J.J. Abrams seemed to establish himself as a miracle worker; bringing a dead series back to life and giving Trek a level of mainstream success it’s never had before. Even I wasn’t ready for just how fun and energized the film ended up being, and hopefully it means that the series will continue to grow even further, building on this new version of a universe that many of us already had a deep affection for. It’s with all that momentum and Hollywood swing that Abrams rolls into this summer, and I simply can’t wait to see what he has in store for us.

At the beginning of the year I couldn’t decide what to make of Super 8, but ever since the movie’s Superbowl ad I can’t get this film out of my head. Where Spielberg and Lucas mined their geek loves into the most beloved films of their time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Abrams is taking his love of the pictures from that era (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Star Wars, Raiders, The Goonies) and bringing them back through his own voice, complete with Spielberg and Amblin logo in tow. Like Star Trek before it, I’m hoping Super 8 brings not only a wave of nostalgia, but manages to make this type of movie new again by having Abrams channel his vision through his love of those films.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this type of movie in theaters, or it’s at least been a long time since we’ve seen a good one. We’ve seen film makers try to ape Spielberg and fail over and over again, but Abrams is a good enough film maker to know his own strengths and how to establish a movie’s heart rather than just rely on spectacle, which has always been the key to “The Beard’s” best offerings. It also helps having what looks like a great cast, including Friday Night Lights‘ Kyle Chandler and a game group of youngsters. Everything about this movie feels right, and I can’t wait to see what Abrams has for us.

Alright folks, that’s it for this week. Hopefully, I’ll talk to you guys soon.

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