With the first fourth of the year already behind us, we're finally starting to move away from start-of-the-new-year schlock, and into late spring/early summer, which means one thing: big budget action flicks. However, while the likes of "Star Trek" and "Wolverine" are just about certain to storm the box office, this list isn't populated entirely by typical big budget summer fare, and the number one choice is going to surprise most people, because I've only posted one or two things about my #1 most anticipated film of early summer. Without further adieu, the 12 to keep an eye over the course of April, May, and June....
12. Cheri (June 26th - Limited) - Think that summer movies are filled with too many explosions and not enough witty banter and pretty dresses? Then "Cheri", starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates, might just be your cup of (very sophisticated) tea. Set in 1920s Paris, the plot centers on Cheri (Rupert Friend...that's right..."Cheri" is a man), the son of a courtesan, must deal with the end of his relationship with an older woman (Pfeiffer) who educated him in the ways of love. Even if the movie sucks, it will still be worth a look for those of us who can't fathom how Michelle Pfeiffer still looks sexier than most "hot" 20 year old starlets (I'll take Madame Pfeiffer over that Lady Gaga wench any day, thank you very much).
Anticipation Meter: 6/10
11. The Brothers Bloom (May 15th/29th?? - Limited) - The twice delayed "Brothers Bloom" has finally secured a solid release date...so the marketing says. Let's hope that's a good thing, because I've been curious to see Rian Johnston's crime/spy/thriller/comedy for a while now. Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffallo play the titular brothers, who team up with their explosives expert (Rinko Kikuchi from "Babel") and a New Jersey heiress (Rachel Weisz) for one last con. Plot details have been (thankfully) kept relatively under wraps, despite the repeated delays, which is good, because "Bloom"'s plot seems like the sort of well-executed spy-farce packed with plot twists and double crosses (just like the delightful "Duplicity"). It will also be interesting to see Weisz, Brody, and especially Kikuchi (who irritated me to no end in "Babel") try their hands at comedy. Hopefully the casting risk pays off...
Anticipation Meter: 6.5/10
10. Angels and Demons (May 15th - Nationwide) - After the debacle that was "The Da Vinci Code", this prequel-turned-sequel has to be a step up...right? With Tom Hanks' hair looking considerably less awful (it's still an eye sore, however) and a plot more suited for a summer blockbuster (running around! assassins! car chases! explosions!), "Angels and Demons" has the potentially to transfer to the big screen much more smoothly than its predecessor, because it doesn't rely on a bunch of (mostly fake) facts to create the suspense/plot twists. Oh, and a quick message to the Vatican from one Catholic to another: regardless of whether you boycott this movie, people (yes, Catholics too...and probably lots of them) will still see this movie, so stop bitching about it, and go back to preaching the gospel and helping people. Also, will someone in the Vatican (anyone will do...most of you guys in there are superbly educated) please get the pope up to speed on condoms? Thanks.
Anticipation Meter: 6.5/10
09. Up (May 29th - Nationwide) - Perhaps the marketing team for "Up!" should be fired. With all the fantastic reports from test screenings, it seems odd that the trailers feel so...limp. The humor doesn't stick, and animation aside, it looks like a giant step below "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E" in terms of sophistication. Even the one or two clips released online aren't terribly impressive (one is downright "blah"). Is it just a case of bad trailers and seeing clips out of context, or does Pixar have another "Cars" on their hands?
Anticipation Meter: 6.5/10
08. The Soloist (April 24th - Nationwide) - Another delayed project from 08, this one is particularly note worthy for being a former Oscar hopeful. Directed by "Atonement"'s Joe Wright, "The Soloist" tells the true story of LA reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) who stumbles upon a blind cello prodigy (Jamie Foxx). Lopez decides to write a story about the prodigy, and tries to help him achieve his dream of playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Thrown into the mix is Catherine Keener, playing yet another semi-likeable bitch (you're awesome Ms. Keener, but it's getting old), this time in the form of Lopez's co-worker. The trailer screams "schmaltz", so here's hoping that someone as skilled as Wright can make the story moving, without resorting to shameless heartstring-tugging. It should also be interesting to hear Wright collaborator Dario Marianelli's score; music for modern day stories isn't exactly his forte, so I'm interested to hear what he comes up with.
Anticipation Meter: 6.5/10
07. Terminator: Salvation (May 21st - Nationwide) - It's awkward to admit, but I've never seen any of the Terminator movies completely, though I do know a solid amount about the plot details. However, judging by the trailer, "Terminator: Salvation" has plenty of unresolved plot threads from the Terminator saga that will engage series fans, while also offering a basic overarching plot to draw in neophytes (humans vs. robots, apocalyptic setting, fate of mankind at stake, etc...). While the cast boasts Christian Bale as John Connor, the person I'm most interested to see is the as-yet-unrevealed Serena, apparently something of a villain, played by the always delightful Helena Bonham Carter.
Anticipation Meter: 7/10
06. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 29th - Nationwide) - Just like with "Angels and Demons", I wasn't terribly fond of the predecessor to "Revenge of the Fallen". The first Transformers movie felt largely inert, with annoying attempts at comedy, and a surprisingly sluggish, action-free set up (though the big finale, ridiculous though it may be, was pretty spectacular). Hopefully, with all of Michael Bay's "characters" (I use that term very, very lightly) set up, he get stop trying to be a serious filmmaker and get right to the good stuff: big-ass robots beating the hell out of each other. With the addition of a slew of new Transfomers (both good and bad) ranging from a speedy tiger-like contraption, to a stadium-sized one who makes all others look like flies, "Transformers 2" has all the potential to be the biggest, loudest, dumbest, and certainly most explosion-filled sequel of the year. If done right, it will be the perfect summer action flick: a fun and exciting spectacle that allows you to check your brain at the door and enjoy the ride.
Anticipation Meter: 7/10
05. Star Trek (May 8th - Nationwide) - I've never been much of a "Star Trek" follower either, and for the longest time I didn't give a damn about JJ Abrams' reboot of the classic sci-fi show. And then that 2nd trailer came out. I've been excited ever since. With special effects slick enough to give "Transformers 2" a run for its money, and stunning worlds and action sequences, "Star Trek" seems to have done the impossible: updated a campy TV classic into a modern, relevant sci-fi epic.
Anticipation Meter: 7.5/10
04. State of Play (April 17th - Nationwide) - It's no easy task having to condense a complicated TV miniseries into a 2 hour movie, but judging from the trailers, director Kevin Macdonald and crew may have done just that. When a young Washington DC clerk/assistant is shot in a dark alley, it sets off an investigation not only from the police, but by a very determined reporter as well (Russell Crowe). Turns out, the young woman was having an affair with Crowe's former friend, a current senator (Ben Affleck) who's been investigating a suspicious company. As the case is dragged on further, Crowe and his fellow reporter (Rachel McAdams) start to hunt for the truth, even when the police, and their own boss (Helen Mirren) tell them that they should keep their noses out. All of it leads to "something" that's infinitely more complex and connected than anyone ever suspected. Hollywood has been in short supply of political thrillers that manage to be intense without relying on a car chase every five minutes, and "State of Play" might just be the movie to fill that void. With its stellar cast and gripping source material, it could be a nice late-spring surprise (the fact that it's being released around the same time as 2005's well-executed "The Interpreter" seems like a good sign as well).
Anticipation Meter: 8/10
.03 Wolverine (May 1st - Nationwide) - The comic book movie has enjoyed something of a renaissance this decade. First it was the success of the Spiderman franchise, and then Christopher Nolan's brilliant, brooding reinvention of Batman. On the flip side, there were the X-Men movies, which, while successful, never really got to the same level as the previous two series. The first two were incredibly fun, yes, but at times too cheeky, and overstuffed with characters, many of whom were teenage brats. By the time Brett Ratner's "X-Men 3" rolled out in 2006, the franchise seemed a bit stale. In a surprisingly smart move, 20th Century Fox decided to drop the cast of regulars (save for Hugh Jackman of course) to focus on the origin story of the quintessential X-men mutant: Wolverine. Jackman, though about a foot too tall, is still the perfect fit for Wolverine, and with a movie entirely dedicated to his character's story, he should have more room to shine. The reports that Jackman and director Gavin Hood wanted to make the film more dark and less family friendly are also encouraging, just as long as Hood and crew don't completely leave out the sense of fun (judging by some of Liev Schreiber's one liners, it would seem that the humor is intact). But if you're afraid of suffering from seeing too much Wolverine, there will be plenty of other fun characters to make things go "boom". There's Schreiber's Sabretooth, who becomes Wolverine's arch nemesis, John Wraith (Wil. i. am) who can become invisible, Emma Frost (Tahya Tozzi) who has control over ice, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), who's something of a gravity defying, twin blade whirling ninja, and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), who has the power to charge inanimate objects with energy, which can turn even playing cards into deadly weapons. So while this may be Wolverine's story, don't expect Jackman to hog the screen the whole time; he'll have plenty of on-screen company to keep things interesting.
Anticipation Meter: 8/10
02. Away We Go (May 29th - Limited) - The cheap, "Juno"-riffic poster aside, Sam Mendes' immediate follow-up to the so-so "Revolutionary Road" is a dark drama/comedy for adults, that, even if it's only half as good as its trailer, will still be a winner. Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are going nowhere in their lives until Verona suddenly becomes pregnant. Seeing no point in sticking around their dilapidated house, the couple sets out across America to try and find a suitable place to start their family, while encountering family members and friends along the way. The cast alone is enough of a reason to see it (Krasinski, Rudolph, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and queen-of-the-scene-stealers Allison Janney), but the fact that it's written by Dave Eggers (who wrote the tragic, yet sometimes painfully funny A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and his wife is an added plus. The man has a way with dialogue, and with Mendes behind the camera, we could have something really special on our hands.
Anticipation Meter: 9/10
01. The Limits of Control (May 1st - Limited) - "Away We Go" may have the funniest trailer of the year so far, but nothing comes close to matching "The Limits of Control"'s trailer in terms of sheer intrigue. Part independent drama, part bizarre espionage tale, it's hard to elaborate on the plot, because the trailer gives so little away, all while making you think, "I HAVE to see this movie!!" Though Isaach De Bankole, as the guitar playing main character, may not be a household name even among art-house theater goers, there's plenty of other big names to round out the ensemble: Bill Murray, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, "The Visitor"'s overlooked Hiam Abbass, and Tilda Swinton, sporting some costumes 10 times more bizarre than anything she's ever worn on the red carpet. Perhaps what makes the film so intriguing, stellar cast aside, is that it is a small film that still looks very polished, but without looking like it has compromised any of its individuality. And these days, that's hard to come by, which is why even seeing the trailer for films like "The Limits of Control" is enough to make you realize that, yes, there is still room in Hollywood for creativity to grow freely.