Monday, August 26, 2013

And Now For Something Slightly Different (Maybe): The Summer Movies of 2014

Last week I commented here that the summer of 2013 was par for the course as recent summer fare has gone (sequels, superheroes, zombies, Pixar, comedy of the same types from the same people). Looking ahead it struck me that
With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicking off summer 2014, and followed up by more superheroes (X-Men with Singer at the helm again, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Michael Bay-produced Turtles), more Transformers and Fast and Furious and Expendables, more remakes of old properties (Godzilla, the Planet of the Apes), more sequels to animated hits (another Planes movie is on its way), and even more comedy from the very same actors and directors (Melissa McCarthy will be back in her directorial debut Tammy, while Jake Kasdan, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel reteam in Sex Tape), [one should] expect much, much, much more of the same this time next year.
Still, I did notice four major releases that seemed as if they might be just different enough to warrant comment.

Edge of Tomorrow
Due out next June is Edge of Tomorrow. While the film has Tom Cruise playing a "space marine" type battling aliens and dealing with time travel, which sounds like typical enough summer fare. Still, this harder type of science fiction has been more of a gamble than superhero adventures. Even more striking, the movie is based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill--not a form to which Hollywood has paid much attention in the past.

I certainly have my reservations about this one. I'm not a particular fan of Doug Liman's work (Swingers, The Bourne Identity), and even viewers more favorably disposed toward it were disappointed in his principal attempt at science fiction, 2008's Jumper. Additionally, I'm generally dubious about Hollywood efforts to make Americanized versions of Japanese properties. While I haven't read the original Hiroshi Sakaruzaka novel, anyone who has watched much animè knows that a very great deal of what we see there is not easily brought into line with Hollywood conventions, or the tastes of the American mainstream.

I am not holding my breath for a masterpiece, but the results may be interesting nonetheless.

Coming out in July is Maleficent, a live-action version of the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty (1959) told from the point of view of the villain, the sorceress who put the princess in that other tale under a spell. Of course, it is not an unprecedented concept. The Shrek series made billions with an unconventional spin on familiar fairy tales, and we have seen quite a few live-action releases on the same theme these past few years as well, like 2011's Red Riding Hood and Beastly, and last year's Mirror, Mirror--with the fantasy adventure Snow White and the Huntsman last year becoming one of 2012's bigger hits, enough so that a sequel seems to be on its way.

It does not seem a sure-fire hit, but there could be a good-sized audience for this one nonetheless.

Jupiter Ascending
The week after Maleficent, the Wachowski siblings' Jupter Ascending hits the big screen. Their standing is largely based on the first Matrix film, which, fourteen years later, seems almost to belong to another era.

The opprobrium which greeted the Matrix sequels (excessive in my view), and the critically and commercially underwhelming responses to Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, may make fans doubtful, while the fickleness of general audiences regarding space opera hardly needs elaboration here. Additionally, the descriptions of the film I have seen so far seem unlikely to win them over--Mila Kunis as a janitor named Jupiter Jones with the same "perfect genetic makeup" as the Queen of the Universe, who has accordingly seen her as a threat and sent Channing Tatum to kill her. Is this going to be an all-too-rare bit of retro-science fiction-al, galactic empire fun, or the kind of hokey mess that will remind us all why these sorts of films are so rare, before winding up the object of an enthusiastic cult in love with its mix of oddness and badness?

Either way, it sounds like a longshot with critics and audiences, even if I find myself hoping that it's one that will pay off.

Fifty Shades of Grey
The last of the four movies listed here is also the most idiosyncratic of the lot, the film version of Fifty Shades of Gray scheduled for release in August 2014.

Again, I do not know the source material. However, it is the case that Hollywood has not scored a real, full-blown blockbuster on the basis of a sexual theme since the early '90s. This book does have a large built-in audience, much of which can be persuaded to regard the movie's release as an event, so it might be a hit--but I doubt that it will be as successful a film as it has been a book (arguably, the "adult" equivalent of the Harry Potter phenomenon). Indeed, even if it does connect with audiences I doubt it will make its year's list of top ten earners, and will probably be hard-pressed even to make the top twenty.

And that, of course, assumes the movie's actually getting made on time. So far, there has not even been official word on the cast, which makes it seem quite plausible that the release will be bumped to some later date.

The Late Summer Box Office (The Weekend of August 23-25, 2013)
Seasons and Years in Review
The 2013 Summer Movie Season in Review
A Note on Independent Film
The Decline of the Sex-Themed Blockbuster
Reflections on the Jason Bourne Series

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