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Summer Movie Preview 2014

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What to watch and what to watch out for
05/01/2014

Weather can ruin a lot of things, but it cannot touch the summer movie season. Every year, from the first weekend in May until the second-to-last weekend in August, without fail, summer blockbusters arrive one by one. Even if you’re not into inflated-budget studio films in which robots, monsters or aliens level entire American cities, summer is still for you; it is the only time for reliable comedies, and it practically overflows with those slightly magical coming-of-age indie films.  

But if your brain is still fried from the winter, you might need some help. That’s where I come in with this summer movie preview. I’ve broken down the films into five major groups: movies to mark on your calendar, movies with upside, movies with something to prove, movies to be skeptical of and small movies to put on your radar.

Summer Movie Preview 2014 photo 1

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Movies to mark on your calendar  

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2) – It’s not getting raves, but it’s the first summer movie and fans and critics are so far liking this more than the first rebooted chapter starring Andrew Garfield. Concerns about villain overcrowding affecting the script are legitimate, but the entertainment value appears wickedly high.  

Neighbors (May 9) – This comedy pits frat boys (Zac Efron, Dave Franco) against new parents (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a war of getting even when the two become neighbors. The movie has gotten excellent reviews since it premiered at South by Southwest.  

X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) – Bryan Singer, who directed the first two “X-Men” movies, got together the original “X-Men” cast with their younger selves from “X-Men: First Class” for the biggest “X-Men” movie yet. The story involves Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) traveling back in time to stop an event that will lead to the destruction of mutant kind.  

The Fault in Our Stars (June 6) – Adapted from the best-selling novel, this movie features new “it girl” Shailene Woodley (“Divergent”) as a teenager with cancer who falls in love with a fellow cancer survivor. The script comes from the writers of “(500) Days of Summer” and last summer’s coming-of-age hit “The Spectacular Now.”  

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Boyhood (July 11) – This indie project is something film nerds like myself have been following for a long time. Richard Linklater filmed this movie over the course of 12 years to capture the physical growth of a boy and his family. This groundbreaking effort has gotten outstanding reviews at festivals thus far.  

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11) – The 2011 summer hit “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” surprised everyone, and buzz is high for the sequel, even though we’ve yet to see much. The story supposedly involves the human survivors of the simian virus battling Caesar (motion capture Andy Serkis) and the apes.  

Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1) – Marvel Studios’ summer film comes in unusual, irreverent form with this take on a lesser-known comic about a ragtag group of intergalactic “heroes.” Chris Pratt (“Parks & Recreation”) makes his action hero debut along with Bradley Cooper voicing a CGI raccoon and Vin Diesel voicing a tree alien whose only line is “I AM GROOT!”    

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Movies with upside  

Godzilla (May 16) – A reboot of the infamous Japanese kaiju necessitates some skepticism, but the trailers have been mind-blowing in scale, and director Gareth Edwards’ under-seen “Monsters” offers proof that this version, starring Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson could turn the “cheesy monster movie” stigma around.  

A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30) – Seth MacFarlane earned carte blanche with “Ted,” but can he strike gold with a comedy Western, a genre that typical falters at the box office? Don’t expect “Blazing Saddles,” but a cast with Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Silverman among others hold promise.  

Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) – Tom Cruise and sci fi go hand in hand these days. He plays a soldier in the future who relives his death on the battlefield again and again. Eventually he teams up with Emily Blunt, and each day they train harder and harder to change the outcome of the battle. This high-concept action film could get confusing fast or be fascinating – at least the talent is there.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13) – Hiccup and his dragon Toothless won over audiences with charm and sweeping 3D sequences, but that was four years ago. The film will surely be a box-office smash with very few animated movies out this summer, but can DreamWorks deliver a quality sequel?  

Deliver Us from Evil (July 2) – Last year we got a rare mid-summer horror hit in “The Conjuring.” Proven horror director Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) and stars Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez and Olivia Munn are all good signs this film based on the account of an actual NYC police officer could offer a similar change of pace.  

Jupiter Ascending (July 18) – “The Matrix” directors Andy and Lana Wachowski deliver this ambitious sci-fi/fantasy tale about an ordinary Earth woman (Mila Kunis) fated for greatness and swooped off on an adventure by a genetically engineered Channing Tatum. A film with this much imagination will either be a franchise-starter or a total failure.  

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Aug. 22) – At long last, Robert Rodriguez got around to a “Sin City” sequel almost a decade in the making. It looks like from the teaser that he hasn’t skipped a beat, but we still don’t know much about this movie. On the other hand, it’s star-studded and the buzz will surely grow.    

Summer Movie Preview 2014 photo 3  

Maleficent

Movies with something to prove  

Maleficent (May 30) - A “the story you didn’t know” version of a Disney film through a villain’s eyes has lots of geeky promise, especially with pitch-perfect casting in Angelina Jolie. Yet after the disappointment of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and mixed reaction to “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” this rich CGI fantasy world movie has something to prove.  

22 Jump Street (June 13) – Yes, the first one was hilarious, and I like directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller enough to trust in this sequel to some degree, but when was the last time you saw a great comedy sequel? They are so rare, that it’s hard to put high expectations on this movie.  

Jersey Boys (June 20) – Movie adaptations of hit musicals are usually awards-season material, so what’s “Jersey Boys” doing in the summer? The music sure is catchy, but the bigger question is can Clint Eastwood bounce back? He hasn’t made an excellent movie in some time now.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27) – With Shia LaBeouf gone and Mark Wahlberg now the face of the franchise, is this the “fresh start” fans wanted or the same big, loud, dumb Michael Bay routine with new actors? These films have always been technically impressive, but the plots have been garbage. And as much as I loved Dinobots as a kid, I’m not sure how that they’ll work in an actual story.  

Get On Up (Aug. 1) – Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) will try and change up the pace of the summer once again with this James Brown biopic. How impressive that star Chadwick Boseman can play baseball legend Jackie Robinson and the king of soul? He’s a true talent, but as much as the good pieces are in place, this is more likely than not another by-the-numbers music biopic given the August release.  

Let’s Be Cops (Aug. 13) – Fans of TV’s “New Girl” will delight to see Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Nick (Jake Johnson) on the big screen in this comedy about two friends who score authentic police uniforms for a party and soon realize they can get away with impersonating officers. It’s a shot in the dark, but this could be a surprisingly funny comedy.    

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Blended

Movies to be skeptical of  

Blended (May 23) – Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore reunite for the third time, but considering “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates” were actually charming, the cliché doesn’t quite work here. Anyway, Sandler’s films have been awful of late, so the only hope is that he’s gone for more heart given the family tone of this story of a single dad and mom whose families are stuck together on an African vacation.  

Hercules (July 25) – Dwayne Johnson is one of few worthy to take on the lion mantle of Hercules on the big screen, but Brett Ratner is far from the ideal director for an epic fantasy action film (movie geeks despise the man). The teaser trailer looks good, but manage your expectations.  

Sex Tape (July 25) – The team behind “Bad Teacher,” including stars Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz, in the story of a husband and wife whose sex tape goes viral. When the whole reason your movie has a plot is because of “the Cloud,” there’s reason for concern, as easy to enjoy as “Bad Teacher” was.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Aug. 8) – People were very sensitive and accusatory when word of this reboot first broke given the way producer Michael Bay described it, and with Megan Fox as April O’Neil, few plan to take this reboot seriously.  

The Giver (Aug. 15) – My 7th grade self would’ve been all over this adaptation of the Lois Lowry novel with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep in supporting roles, but it seems the only reason this classic dystopia film got on the fast track is because of “The Hunger Games.” Expect people to take a critical lens to this adaptation.  

The Expendables 3 (Aug. 15) – The old action stars are back with the familiar faces and new ones in Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Mel Gibson as the villain. “The Expendables 2” turned out to be a good bit of fun, but how many times can you ride these old dogs?  

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They Came Together

Small movies to put on your radar  

Chef (May 9) – Actor/director Jon Favreau pulls together an exciting cast in one of those indies so full of names (chief among them Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson) you wonder if it’s really an indie. After losing his job for being too avant garde, a chef (Favreau) starts up a food truck.  

The Double (May 9) – Jesse Eisenberg stars in British director Richard Ayoade’s take on Dostoevsky’s novel about a man whose doppelganger suddenly comes into his life and he’s more outgoing and charismatic. The film has gotten respectable reviews since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.  

They Came Together (June 27) – David Wain (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “Role Models”) crafts a biting satire on romantic comedies starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. Does it get better? The film received strong reviews at Sundance.  

Begin Again (July 4) – Mark Ruffalo plays a troubled music exec and Keira Knightley a singer/songwriter who could turn his career around. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green also star. From the director of the musical movie “Once.”

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Wish I Was Here (July 18) – Zach Braff has yet to repeat the achievement that was “Garden State,” and while critics have not been impressed with his latest, fans at Sundance took a liking to this story of a dad who decides to home school his children and their adventures in the process.

Magic in the Moonlight (July 25) – Woody Allen’s newest film stars Emma Stone and Colin Firth and involves a swindle of some kind. We don’t know much else as of yet, but as with any Allen film, it could be amazing or a total waste of time.

Happy Christmas (July 25) – Joe Swanberg, whose last movie, “Drinking Buddies,” was a Chicago favorite, revealed his latest movie at Sundance, about a 20-something (Anna Kendrick) who crashes in Chicago with her brother and sister-in-law and their young child and shakes up the family dynamic.

Love Is Strange (Aug. 22) – John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a gay couple of nearly 40 years who after finally getting married, are forced to live apart when one is fired from his Catholic school job. Early festival reviews are glowing.

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