We’ve had a surprisingly good run of movies over the past couple of months (I even kind of liked X-Men: Apocalypse), so we were bound to hit a dead zone – in this case, June. Coincidentally enough, a month without an official superhero movie.
JUNE 3, 2016
The Big: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows vs. Me Before You vs. Popstar: Never Stop Popping
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – While we might be tired of Michael Bay as a director for obvious reasons, as a producer, his TMNT series actually seems to have achieved some popularity and even begrudging fan support. The new film (now under director David Green (replacing Jonathan Liebesman)) features franchise favorite characters such as Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman, Krang, as well as Bebop and Rocksteady and appears to be playing towards nostalgia the right way with a kid-friendly tone, a bright design, and a sense of liveliness and fun. Even the reviews are more positive than the first one, earning a 36% positive – 4.7/10 average review on Rotten Tomatoes, which is higher than the original‘s 22% positive – 4.2/10 average review.
Me Before You – Who likes paralysis and romance? Throw in British people and shockingly not have Richard Curtis and you have… Me Before You. Based on a popular airport novel, Me Before You would have probably done incredibly well at the box office in February. You have the romance for Valentine’s Day plus the annual winter depression playing into the dour-ish subject matter. But in the middle of June? It will probably be a turnoff. Summer just started, most people probably don’t want to think about horrific medical problems and suicidal thoughts. While The Fault In Our Stars, which was released around the same time two years ago, dealt with similar subject matter, at least the characters looked like they were finding fun in their mortality. This seems more about the two characters’ desperate attempt to latch onto reasons not to end themselves. Reviews are mixed with special praise given to its two leads – Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, who played one of the two returning dwarfs in The Huntsman: Winter’s War – so maybe I am underestimating its appeal.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – It’s been nearly a decade since Andy Samberg’s first vehicle (2007’s Hot Rod, no pun intended), but he has proven himself as one of the strongest Saturday Night Live cast members of the 2000s. (His starring role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, among other accolades.) During his tenure on SNL, he was on the forefront of recognizing the potential of using the Internet to bring in fans and gain attention by introducing the digital shorts to the long running sketch comedy show.
With Popstar, Samberg joins with his long time collaborators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who together make up The Lonely Island. While Samberg might have become the face of the group, Schaffer and Taccone have similarly been responsible for some of the most memorable SNL moments of the past ten years, including the songs Boombox and I’m On a Boat. Popstar, which is written by the three, stars all three, and is directed by Schaffer and Taccone, is their first attempt at reaching out to the big screen. The trio continues showcasing their love of the music business with this mockumentary about a self-indulgent rapper (Samberg) whose newest album flops. Industry/celebrity satires are hit or miss, and ones centered around the music industry tend to be among the least commercially successful (e.g. Get Him to the Greek, the brilliant Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), but the movie is currently sitting at a remarkable 78% positive – 6.8/10 average review on Rotten Tomatoes.
JUNE 10, 2016
The Big: Warcraft vs. Now You See Me 2 vs. The Conjuring 2
Warcraft – What should be the biggest movie this week but will probably have an opening weekend less impressive than its two co-new releases and end up being one of the biggest bombs of the year; It has a $160 million budget and an expected opening of $25 million. Most people probably recall the brand Warcraft, and how for many years it was the definitive MMORPG. However, it’s been a long time since that game was anywhere near the heights of its popularity. In addition to its falling recognition, it has the problem of being a fantasy film. Big budget, tent pole, franchise fantasy films rarely work (e.g. The Golden Compass) because they never take the time to establish all the various elements of the universe, thus establishing a mess of rushed storytelling, confused character motivations, and poor attempts at world building. (Of course, one cannot necessarily blame the filmmakers. They probably try to put everything they can into the film, only to have the studio cut it down to a more manageable level, which costs it its depth. Even director Duncan Jones is already promoting the 40-minutes longer, Director’s Cut. ) In addition to these problems, the film lacks notable lead actors, has broody main characters that look like goofy CGI monsters, and while it looks visually impressive, its style doesn’t look remarkable enough to carry the day.
The most disappointing thing about Warcraft is that it took director Duncan Jones out of the picture for nearly five years. He was establishing himself as one of the best moderately budgeted sci-fi filmmakers up to this point with Moon and Source Code. Instead of a worthy follow up to the 2011 Jake Gyllenhaal time travel thriller, we get what will probably be another failed fantasy franchise. Then again, interviews with Jones have had him discussing his future plans, and he appears to have definite plans to return to that realm as soon as he’s done trying to sell this turkey. It’s currently sitting at 21% positive – 4.4/10 average review on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now You See Me 2 – Why isn’t it Now You See Me Again? Or Now 2 See Me? The surprise magician hit of 2013 comes back with a sequel that features the Four Horsemen planning yet another heist. Most of the original cast is returning (Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher is the most notable difference), and Harry Potter joins the fray too. However, original director Louis Leterrier (who apparently, stupidly opted for The Brothers Grimbsy instead) has been replaced with John M. Chu from Jem and the Holograms and G.I. Joe: Retaliation “fame.” While it’s far from certain, doubtful even, that this sequel will work – I kind of hope it does. The first film had a light and fun energy with decent enough characters that developed into a good ensemble, and the idea of a franchise about heist-committing magicians is actually unique enough to be appealing – a dorkier Ocean’s 11 or The Fast and the Furious.
The Conjuring 2 – People like horror movies, and The Conjuring grossed over $130 million domestic in 2013 when released in July. This film retains many elements of the first one’s success with returning director James Wan and returning stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. For all the money and effort spent on it, Warcraft really comes across like the loser this week.
JUNE 17, 2016
The Big: Finding Dory vs. Central Intelligence
Finding Dory: The sequel to one of Pixar’s biggest hits of all time – 2003’s Finding Nemo – Finding Dory hopes to recapture what made that movie so beloved. Will it? Probably. Pixar has built an inherent trust among audiences of all ages, and Nemo is still considered one of its crowning achievements. And while its original audience is 13 years older now, they probably still have fond memories of the nautical tale, and children are always being born.
Central Intelligence: Maybe I should copy and paste my comments about Ride Along 2 from the January Movie Preview. The only real difference seems to be that this movie begins with Dwayne Johnson de-aged and covered in CGI fat. I’m sure it’s supposed to be funny, but the CGI fat looks so unrealistic that it takes away from any humor in the situation. It’s one of the worst examples of the uncanny valley I can remember in recent years. Yet its more interesting than anything else in the trailer.
JUNE 24, 2016
The Big: Independence Day: Resurgence vs. Free State of Jones
Independence Day: Resurgence – One of the most interesting box office battles of the month is whether the long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo can maintain its dominance for a second week in a row, or whether it’ll be bested by the long-awaited sequel to Independence Day. For as much as we criticize Independence Day and all the world-destruction movies that followed in its wake, the 1996 hit still remains a benchmark for the genre. And, as much as we all hate to admit it, the trailers for this one make it actually look fun in all the best and worst ways – but precisely the ways you want an Independence Day sequel to be. Roland Emmerich, who has been on a string of critical and even commercial failures since ID4 (e.g. Stonewall, White House Down, 2012) might have finally recaptured what made him such a renowned figure, for good or will.
More importantly, if last year’s Jurassic World proved anything, it’s that mediocre sequels driven solely on 20-year-old nostalgia can do ridiculously well. Jurassic World is the fourth highest grossing movie of all time – both domestically and worldwide. Think about that, and now think about just how many fond memories remain from that feature? Not many. And this sequel actually has Jeff Goldblum, which already gives it an edge on the dinosaur flick. If Captain America: Civil War doesn’t remain at the top of the box office for 2016 (especially now that Rogue One is imploding in on itself), this one definitely has the potential to be the biggest hit of the year.
Free State of Jones – While I appreciate the concept of alternative programming to these cinematic juggernauts, audiences might not want to enter July 4th with a Civil War drama tackling issues of race and rebellion. Jones would definitively have some legitimate box office potential if released in September, October, even November to capitalize on the heated emotions of the Presidential Race. But placing it the middle of summer? Probably not the best time. Of course, who knows? It’s probably the first mass-released adult drama of the summer (Me Before You skews younger) and has that playing field completely clear until The Founder in August. Sometimes it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The Small: The Neon Demon vs. Swiss Army Man vs. Wiener-Dog
Finally, a week this year with smaller films worth commenting on.
The Neon Demon – Drive/Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn returns to theaters with another complicated-yet-beautiful looking movie, The Neon Demon. Its reception at Cannes was mixed, with the film receiving boos as well as some positive remarks, but Refn is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does this time.
Swiss Army Man– Daniel Radcliffe continues his foray away from the world of Hogwarts and into increasingly stranger movies with Swiss Army Man. Co-starring There Will Be Blood‘s Paul Dano, a quality actor who has never reached the heights he deserves, Swiss is about Dano’s character trying to travel home with a corpse played by Radcliffe. It’s one of those gimmicks that can either work incredibly well or play itself out after 10 minutes thus leaving us trapped in the theater for a boring hour and a half. Time will tell. Though it has been dubbed the “farting corpse movie” from various sources, so…
Wiener-Dog – His first movie since 2011’s brilliant Dark Horse, Happiness filmmaker Todd Solondz returns with Wiener-Dog. Adopting a quasi-anthology format he has adopted in other films such as Storytelling and Palindromes, this film consists of four stories all centered around a single dog. The cast consists of art house favorites, including Greta Gerwig (playing Dawn Weiner, a character first established in Solondz’ first film Welcome to the Dollhouse), Brie Larson, Julie Delpy, and Kieran Culkin. However, the plot description of “the story of a single dog and the many different people she touches over her short lifetime” virtually ensures that this movie will be emotionally ravaging, hopefully in the best Solondzian fashion.
So that’s June. The two big movies in contention are Finding Dory and Independence Day: Resurgence, and one’s feelings towards those movies almost certainly depends on one’s emotional connection to the first in each series. I have none with either. And it’ll be until the end of the month before anything small comes out that looks particularly interesting. With that, I guess I have a Netflix queue that could use some culling.