Now that The Avengers has whetted the public’s appetite for over the top Summer movie season fare, it’s time to turn our attentions to the rest of the dog days of 2012 with our preview of the biggest titles to come out this year. And what better place to start with the remaining month ahead of us?
Dark Shadows (Friday) – Burton and Depp’s latest honeymoon has been prematurely met with trepidation by those who two outings ago were already saying “Burton’s throwing some make-up on Depp? Aren’t we done with this yet?” I was not one of those people and actually thought Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride made 2005 a standout year for the director. Even the lackluster Sweeney Todd still had a lot going for it and did not prepare me for the slap in the face that the insultingly bad Alice in Wonderland would be. But I’ve given it a lot of thought and have decided to forgive them for taking their Disney-sized paycheques and running with that one and to share my optimism for Dark Shadows.
What I hope sets this one apart from the previous film is a passion shared by the director and star for the source material. I’ve never watched the Dark Shadows series but by all accounts it’s ripe with camp and humour, two things Burton has excelled at in the past. As the trailers have made clear, they’re going for a lot of laughs with this one, and assuming they haven’t given away the best jokes, they’ll get plenty. Even though it has a PG-13 rating, I don’t get the sense that it’s trying to hit the largest possible demographic the way Alice was, so hopefully we’ll get more of the kind of quirkiness that made films like Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! work so well.
On top of the laughs we’ll also be treated to visuals far more designed than you would normally see in a comedy. After a ten year hiatus from working with long time collaborator Rick Heinrichs, Dark Shadows marks a reunion with the talented production designer who I believe had a lot to do with establishing Burton’s style early in his career. Bringing a Gothic 18th century vampire into the tacky 70’s seems perfectly suited to their shared design sensibilities. This is actually the first time Burton has taken on fanged nightwalkers (the one in The Nightmare Before Christmas doesn’t count), nor has Depp played a vampire before, which is pretty surprising when you think about it, though I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that vampires are ‘so hot right now’. So never mind the naysayers, Dark Shadows looks like a good humoured romp with lots to please the eye and should be a fun one to kick off the summer with. (Noah Taylor)
Battleship (May 18th) – Although greeted with the typical big box office and middling reviews from an early overseas release that most summer blockbusters get anyway, director Peter Berg’s Battleship could end up being one of those summer movies that oddly endures if it just ends up being a big budgeted action extravaganza designed for audiences that only want to watch things go boom.
There’s also a lot more riding on Battleship’s success than one might think, especially for budding star Taylor Kitsch who probably still hasn’t gotten over the sting of John Carter’s failure, and who also has to worry about overexposure with a high profile role in Oliver Stone’s Savages later this summer. Kitsch isn’t the only one who needs to worry. This is director Peter Berg’s first big screen outing since Hancock several years ago. Liam Neeson has a supporting role here in a genre even he admits he’s getting too old for, and for singer Rihanna, it could mark the beginning of a potentially lucrative big screen career.
Also with a lot riding on this is the owner to Battleship’s branding rights, Hasbro Toys. Based on a board game bearing little resemblance to the film, this sci-fi epic about an alien entity engaging with ships at sea for control of the Earth could spin off a whole new line of toys and a Transformers-styled franchise to add to Michael Bay’s feather in the toymakers crown.
Judging from the film’s numerous divisive trailers, it would be hard to say if audiences are willing to go along with 131 minutes of rampant explosions and PG-13 styled high seas carnage, but there actually aren’t any other brainless options for that particular brand of audience this summer. A May release seems more of a risk for this film, because by June or July, Battleship could be just what audiences needed.
The Dictator (May 16th) – After audiences almost collectively rolled their eyes at prankmeister general Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous outing Bruno, The Dictator seems like a welcome retreat to fictionalized comedy instead of outward embarrassment to a bunch of unsuspecting rubes.
Even more of a mockumentary than his previous outings thanks to the use of an actual cast of heavy hitting comedic actors (including John C. Reilly and Anna Faris), Cohen looks to throw himself into the role of General General Aladeen, a despotic dictator from the fictional Republic of Wadiya who has been called upon to defend his rule to an increasingly flummoxed United Nations.
Despite moving away from punking random celebrities and notables, Cohen stays close to the Borat and Bruno wheelhouse by once again teaming with director Larry Charles for a star studded affair of people who seem to be in on the joke. The biggest battle the film faces, is ultimately Cohen himself, who’s become a divisive figure among the press and general public. Following his numerous in-character appearances as Aladeen, the reaction seemed more lightly amused and slightly bored than outraged or curious.
Still, there’s a lot to be admired in Cohen’s go-for-broke style of performance art that probably makes Andy Kaufman smile with glee from the great beyond. So few people have gotten this far from continually trying to piss people off, and there are few comedians as physically and mentally conditioned as well as Cohen. And if this fails, at least he has a Madagascar sequel to fall back on later this summer.
Men in Black III (May 25th) – Even though an entire wall-crawling franchise has come, gone, and been re-booted since the last Men in Black movie was in theatres, 2002 still doesn’t feel that long ago to me. Since this late entry may seem somewhat obscure to younger audiences, I’m banking on MIBIII aiming over the heads of those who don’t remember when Will Smith was the king of July 4th openings or don’t know most of the lyrics to the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ theme song by heart. While I’m not anticipating a maturation of Toy Story proportions, they must have at least taken into consideration the fact that those who fell in love with the original film did so 15 years ago… let’s just hope the concept has aged as well at the two leads.
The element added to mix this one up a little is time travel, a totally plausible addition to the reality of the MIB universe. Josh Brolin looks perfectly cast as the young Agent K, I expect his Tommy Lee Jones impression to the steal the show and am curious to see which of the two gets more screen time. We can also look forward to laughs from supporting cast members such as Jemaine Clement and the hilarious Bill Hader as Andy Warhol; a part I sincerely hope extends beyond the scene shown in the trailer. According to IMDB, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Tim Burton all appear in it as well, but I’m guessing their images will just be used in that old gag where we see all the famous people who are really aliens.
It’s easy to be skeptical about this sequel given the strength of the last one, but here are some more names that give me faith in it: music by Danny Elfman, screenplay by David Koepp (Jurassic Park) and Etan Coen (Tropic Thunder), shot by Bill Pope (The Matrix), production design by Bo Welch (Edward Scissorhands) and produced by Steven Spielberg (Eagle Eye). The sci-fi comedy genre is always fun one that doubles its chances of success: if you don’t like the jokes, hopefully you’ll get a kick out of the action and special effects, if you don’t like those, then maybe you’ll get a laugh from J and K’s odd couple dynamic or the absurdity of the much used ‘neuralizer’. The very least we can hope for is something a little more inspired than the film’s theme song, Back In Time (Huey Lewis’ lawyers are looking into it). (Noah Taylor)
Also out in May:
An all-star cast (including Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Dennis Quaid, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lopez, and Matthew Morrison) head up what can only be an intensely loose adaptation of Heidi Murkoff’s how-to series of What to Expect When You’re Expecting books, which looks to hold the same kind of can’t miss appeal as the loose Steve Harvey adaptation Think Like a Man tapped into. Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) directs. (May 18th)
Paranomal Activity mastermind Oren Peli, lends his name as a writer and producer to special effects supervisor Bradley Parker’s directorial debut Chernobyl Diaries, a not-entirely-found-footage styled film about a group of “extreme tourists” who get more than they bargained for on a trip to the famed nuclear disaster site. Look for this one to clean up if horror and suspense starved audiences aren’t wary of the microbudget feel. (May 25th)