What, so far, has been the narrative of the 2014 summer movie season? Already, we’ve spent some time with old superhero friends (The X-Men, Spider-Man), went all Groundhog Day with Tom Cruise (The Edge of Tomorrow), laughed with some bros (Neighbors, 22 Jump Street) and wept with cancer-stricken kids (The Fault in Our Stars); however, has there been a significant undercurrent in the heat-filled season? Sequels and prequels and reboots continue to be in vogue, as does Disney’s continuing mission to recycle from their former glory (Maleficent), yet it seems the narrative throughout the season has been the lagging box office and sense that perhaps the industry just held court for 2014 for the sake of eyes drifting to the World Cup and an expected tentpole massacre headed for summer 2015. But, why balk, there’s still a month left of play and the month of August could sneak some surprises on us that transform the cinematic impression. We’re in the dog days of summer, and as the temperatures stay at searing highs, the air-conditioned wisps of the cinema seems all the more inviting. Welcome as we survey the most anticipated movies set to arrive in the month of August, from the biggest to weirdest – and maybe an awards player or two. Here are the Top 10 films we’re most looking forward to.
10) THE GIVER
Based on the acclaimed 1993 young adult novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver tells the story of seemingly utopian future free of suffering. Underneath the idyllic prism lies a harsh reality where nothing is quite what it appears. Young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) discovers the secrets and becomes a target. The premise sounds all the more familiar, a la The Hunger Games and Divergent, however The Giver predates those franchises and helped inspire them. Jeff Bridges plays the title character, a mystery man of intelligence who knows the painful truths of this seemingly perfect, “colorless” community. Meryl Streep goes icy as the zealous protector of control. Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift and Odeya Rush co-star in this sci-fi chiller directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Quiet American) from a screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – With a premise completely in vogue with young adult audiences, respected source material (the novel won the 1994 Newbery Medal) and an A-list cast, it’s somewhat surprising that buzz for The Giver appears rather muted. Could YA fatigue be the culprit? (Divergent, while successful this past spring, hardly made the same dent that The Hunger Games did.) Perhaps, the dystopian nightmares of the contemporary world are more bracing than anything that could be developed in fiction at the moment. Whatever the case, The Giver and its distributors (The Weinstein Company) certainly are hoping for a late summer success story. Noyce, at any rate, has proven himself an artful action director.
Release Date: August 15th
9) TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
It was thirty years ago this past May that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a Mirage Studios comic book, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The original concept – that of four crime-fighting, ninja-trained turtles – was intended as a single-issue parody of popular comics of the mid-1980s including Marvel’s Daredevil and Frank Miller’s Ronin. Who’d-a-thunk that the intended one-off joke would have become a major industry in its own regard, spawning movies, television shows, comics, and videogames. And really, who’d-a-thunk that not one, not two, not three, but five movies would follow. The fifth and latest comes courtesy of Michael Bay, which should delight or horrify, given your perspective (and certainly explains the overall Transformers-y look of the trailer) and director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles.) The story this time – well honestly, who cares – Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello (voiced by Johnny Knoxville, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard, respectively) are all here to kick some butt and Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) is the Big Bad (of course he is). Megan Fox appears as reporter April O’Neil and Whoopi Goldberg, Will Arnett and William Fichtner chew the scenery.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Look, I highly doubt that many are expecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be any good, but for the sake of nostalgia (and after thirty years, the series has earned its place) and all the eight-year-old boys and girls who feverishly devoured the syndicated cartoon series (though no longer an eight-year-old, I raise my hand proudly), the turtles are genuinely and usually welcome. Then again, there’s absolutely no way this thing is any good, right?
Release Date: August 8th
8) WHAT IF
Quick, what was the last romantic comedy you watched in theaters? Not so easy to answer, is it? In fact, the genre has been so dried up lately, that when one arises it feels akin to eyeing a rare, endangered bird (there was great article recently written about the death of the romcom in L.A. Weekly.) How did that happen? Was it all the bad Katherine Hiegl vehicles or have we all just become too jaded to marvel at the notion of romance on the silver screen? Perhaps we’ve all become cold and dead inside. As such, What If seems like something to champion and protect if for nothing else than for preservation of one of the greatest and most enduring genres in all of cinema. Basically, it’s a revamped When Harry Met Sally, where Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan play budding young 20-somethings who try to be…just friends. Michael Dowse directed from a screenplay by Elan Mastai based on the play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis and Rafe Spall round out the supporting cast.
Buzzometer: 4/10- The trailer seems full of all the tropes and clichés that made the romcom so dormant in the first place (bad boyfriends, scummy best friends, toasts revealing true feelings, trips abroad to foul up romance), but Radcliffe and Kazan (grand-daughter of Elia) are charming talents and the film earned a generous response when it premiered nearly a year ago at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. Plus, Kazan plays a character named Chantry, how impossibly adorable is that? One caveat – it’s a shame distributor CBS Films changed the original title The F Word to the more generic What If, endangered birds need something to stand out.
Release Date: August 1st (limited)
7) THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
The hipsters may balk, but the grandmothers will likely come in swarms to The Hundred-Foot Journey, a new fish-out-of-water culinary comedy that stars Helen Mirren as a haughty proprietor of a Michelin-starred French restaurant in the south of France. The story unravels when a displaced Indian family moves next door and opens up a buzzy restaurant, you guessed it, one-hundred feet away. Manish Dayal (90210, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) plays the young culinary wunderkind who stirs Mirren’s steely glare. Think The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel meets Chocolat. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (who so happened to direct Chocolat) and written by Steven Knight (Locke) from the best-selling novel by Richard C. Morais.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – Again, no one’s winning any cool points with The Hundred-Foot Journey, but this kind of gently stirring, quasi-xenophobic trifle has the ingredients for box office glory just like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Heck, food porn helped turn Jon Favreau’s Chef into an arthouse crossover hit earlier this year. Plus with the added regality of Mirren and producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, it would be silly to write it off at all. It may even incite awards talk (Chocolat earned five Oscar nominations in 2001 including one for Best Picture.)
Release Date: August 8th
6) LOVE IS STRANGE
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play George and Ben, a longtime NYC couple who after being together for decades tie the knot and are faced with a new, unforeseen burdens to come in this comedy-drama that charmed audiences at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Ira Sachs, director of the critically acclaimed and Indie Spirit Best Feature nominee 2012 feature Keep the Lights On, also wrote the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias. The problems arise shortly after marriage when George is fired from his job and couple is forced to sell their apartment and live separately with various family members and friends. Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock) and Harriet Samson Harris (Memento) co-star.
Buzzometer: 4/10 – The premise sounds noticeably low-key, but if Sachs imbues Love is Strange is the same measure of humanity and emotional clarity as he did with the quietly devastating queer love story Keep the Lights On, the film may be able to catch on as a smart, late-summer alternative. The reviews coming out of Sundance were quite strong (the film currently holds a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 91 Metacritic score) and the film has since impressed at the Berlin Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival, and if it breaks out, Sony Pictures Classics may have an awards run as well. Plus, if you’ve ever wondered what a romantic relationship between Doc Ock and James Franco’s father in Rise of the Planet of the Apes might look like, this is pretty much your only option in that department.
Release Date: August 21st (limited)
5) THE ONE I LOVE
In our modern age of mass consumption, few movies have the ability to surprise, what with most film trailers giving away the whole show and Twitter there to spoil everything else. With that in mind, it’s all the more novel when a movie like The One I Love comes along. When it caused a bit of a sensation premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, critics stalled and wrote with caution about Charlie McDowell’s debut romantic puzzler starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass as a married couple experiencing a rough patch. There’s a twist, it appears, which some have equated to a mix between David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman, and happily it’s gone mostly unspoiled for this unassuming tale of a couple trying to revive their dormant romance at a weekend retreat. The logline appears like generic Sundance favorite, but the promise of something weird and reflective afoot gives the film a biting pulse. McDowell, the son of Oscar winning actress Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell, directs from a script by first time scripter Justin Lader. Ted Danson, McDowell’s stepdad, co-stars.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Sundance sensations should always be measured with a degree of caution – there’s way too many examples of Park City hits (anyone fondly remember Happy Texas or Hamlet 2?) that fade away upon release, but the wit and confidence displayed in the trailer gives way to a promise that Radius/TWC made a smart distribution purchase. Matched with on-the-rise actors like Moss (who revealed definitive dimension outside of Peggy Olsen with her outstanding Golden Globe winning work in Jane Campion’s 2012 mini-series Top of the Lake) and Duplass (co-director of indie hit Cyrus who’s hitting strides in acting with gently nuanced turns in recent films like Zero Dark Thirty, Your Sister’s Sister and Safety Not Guaranteed), this has the potential to break out of the arthouse.
Release Date: August 15th (limited)
4) SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR
It’s taken nearly ten years, numerous casting displacements and at least one release date postponement, but director Robert Rodriguez and graphic novel maestro Frank Miller are finally bringing Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to theaters. Based primarily on the second book in Miller’s Sin City series and posited as a prequel and a sequel to the 2005 feature, the film focuses on the stories “A Dame to Kill For,” “Just Another Saturday Night,” and original stories “The Long Bad Night” and “The Fat Loss.” The film bring back characters such as John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Nancy (Jessica Alba), Gail (Rosario Dawson), Dwight (played now by Josh Brolin, a plastic surgery device is being deployed to explain why the character doesn’t look like original portrayer Clive Owen anymore) and Marv (Mickey Rourke.) New characters include Ava Lord aka “The Dame to Kill For” (played by Eva Green) and Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) Prepare for a stylish, absolutely lusciously violent neo-noir thrill ride. It may turn notable simply because of Green, whose career has spiked due to high caliber performances even in strictly B-list affairs like 300: Rise of an Empire, Dark Shadows and the Showtime series Penny Dreadful. She created a bit of a controversy earlier this summer when her character poster was deemed too hot for the crusty prudes of the Motion Pictures Association of America.
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Rodriguez and Miller have such extreme and devoted fanbases at this point that even if Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doesn’t quite deliver in the same ultra-cool kinetic fashion as its predecessor, they will come out in droves. However, a nine year dry spell for an oddball (and ridiculously violent) franchise may be an obstacle in the marketplace, especially after years of relentless teasing (including actors like Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp being courted during phases of the film’s long production cycle – the filmmakers hadn’t seen The Tourist at that point, so perhaps we all dodged a bullet there.) Yet the relentless, hyper cool finesse of the Sin City stories are striking and almost always interesting, even if they leave you cold.
Release Date: August 22nd
3) GET ON UP
The last time director Tate Taylor collaborated with actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the result was the 2011 blockbuster The Help, a film that opened in early August and eventually received a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Universal Pictures certainly hopes the same may be true for Get On Up, Taylor’s more ambitious movie that tells the story of the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown. Chadwick Boseman (who earned his biopic bonafides as legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson the film 42) portrays Brown in a film that chronicles his rags to riches true life story. Spencer plays his Aunt Honey and Davis (old age make-up and hairstyling in tow) portrays his runaway mother. Dan Aykroyd, Fred Malamed, Craig Robinson and Jill Scott co-star. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) wrote the screenplay, with a story by assist from Steven Baigelman.
Buzzometer: 7/10- Universal is obviously hoping for crowd-pleasing awards player here, akin to something like Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005), but that’s counting chickens before they’re hatched. What the film has going for it is nearly little competition in the form of other movies vying for the smart, more adult movie-going demographic. This has been successful the last couple of the years for films like Lee Daniels’ The Butler and, yes, The Help in premiering in the largely desolate forest that is the month of August and coasting on decent critical applause and generous box office. The trailer looks lively and slicked with the sort of professionalism expected for a show like this, but actors like Spencer and Davis have both made careers out surprising audiences even in the most expected of showcases. If the soul is here, expect Get On Up to screech all the way to the Dolby Theater next spring.
Release Date: August 1st
But what goes inside the head inside that head? An unusual question from an unusual movie. Michael Fassbender plays the title characters, a mysterious band leader. Adding to his mystique is that he always wears a fake, oversized head covering his face, a sign of true chameleonic performing. Domhnall Gleeson, now filming on a galaxy far, far away, plays a budding musician who joins Frank on his adventures and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an icy band mate in this absurdist comedy from Lenny Abrahamson that caused a stir at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Frank was penned by The Men Who Stare at Goats writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan and is loosely based on the late British comic Chris Sievey’s character Frank Sidebottom.
Buzzometer: 7/10 - Oddball premises will only get you so far in this town, but the Fassbender’s unerring commitment and integrity as a performer is Frank‘s chief selling point. If he nails the characters, which reviews from Sundance suggest he does, this could be a late summer charmer with mainstream appeal. Plus, the trailer’s low-key but bent humor suggests something a little more beneath the paper mache surface. Just as Frank narrates his facial expressions, this looks to plant smiles on the faces of the willing for something weird.
Release Date: August 15th (limited)
1) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
A rag-tag group of misfits join forces to defeat a villainous foe and save the world. Sounds the logline for any comic book adaptation, but Guardians of the Galaxy may be Marvel’s most adventurous premise to date, with an offbeat premise, a trailer soaked with 80s-era tunes and introducing a quirky group of interstellar weirdos to the join the cinematic universe of The Avengers. Chris Pratt, already a geek magnet for his voice turn in the 2014 sensation The Lego Movie, famously buffed up to play American pilot Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), a thief who finds himself heading the Guardians of the Galaxy. Avatar alum Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, an alien assassin, WWE wrestler Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, a beefed up warrior – there’s also Groot, a tree-like humanoid (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket, a genetically engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) who round out the team. Slither director and Dawn of the Dead writer James Gunn directs the film and co-wrote the adaptation with Nicole Perlman. Disney and Marvel hope all get “hooked on the feeling.”
Buzzometer: 9/10- Marvel’s cinematic universe really is just about all-consuming at this point. For better or worse, they’ve pretty much taken over the cinema and things don’t look to change anytime soon. However, Guardians, perhaps even more so than the first Iron Man or Thor, has to be looked at as a risk for the studio. It’s an odder (and seemingly more humorous) cosmic affair with characters untested for the movies. But really, this is an easy clincher for a best of August show at the box office, one that’s underlined by strong early reviews. Rotten Tomatoes states: “Guardians of the Galaxy is just as irreverent as fans of the frequently zany Marvel comic would expect — as well as funny, thrilling, full of heart, and packed with visual splendor.” Plus you have to admire Marvel for their scheduling tenacity and for their ability to get acclaimed talent even in minor showcases (Guardians features supporting performances from the lofty likes of Glenn Close and John C. Rielly.)
Release Date: August 1st
OTHER FILMS TO LOOK FOR IN AUGUST:
- ABOUT ALEX- The Big Chill for Millennials as old friends Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield, Maggie Grace and Jason Ritter re-connect after the recent suicide attempt of a bestie. (August 8th- limited)
- CALVARY- Sundance hit from the director of The Guard. Brendan Gleeson plays a priest who must battle the dark forces around his this drama. (August 1st- limited)
- THE CONGRESS- Robin Wright goes meta (and animated) in Ari Folman’s bizarre Hollywood tale. (August 29th)
- THE EXPENDABLES 3- They’re back! And this time they’ve brought on Han Solo for more nostalgic mayhem. (August 15th)
- FIFI HOWLS FROM HAPPINESS- Mitra Farahani’s documentary about queer artist Bahman Mohassess, dubbed the “Persian Picasso.” (August 8th- limited)
- IF I STAY- Chloe Grace Moretz must make lots of hard choices after waking up from a coma. (August 22nd)
- LET’S BE COPS- Aptly titled R-rated comedy starring Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. (August 15th)
- LIFE AFTER BETH- Don’t you just hate it when your girlfriend un-dies. So is the fate for Dane DeHaan when gal pal Aubrey Plaza turns into a zombie. (August 15th- limited)
- LIFE OF CRIME- Jennifer Aniston plays the kidnapped wife of a wealthy man in this adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel. (August 29th- limited)
- THE TRIP TO ITALY- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reteam in the sequel to the 2011 trifle The Trip. (August 15th- limited)