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Wednesday, July 3, 2013 02:18 pm

Summer movie guide 2013

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Like a gambling addict who continues to lay large wagers against the house despite mixed results, Hollywood studios keep spending insane amounts of money in the hopes of delivering a film that not only appeals to American audiences but to those overseas as well. If it’s a property that will spawn sequels, all the better. With budgets in the $150 – $250 million range becoming commonplace for big gambles such as these, there’s no margin for error about reaching the widest possible audience. This leads to bland, safe filmmaking and only the strongest of directors are able to craft a distinctive, risky piece of work within this paradigm. It’s possible (see Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films), though rare.

At first glance, there seems to be little in the way of cutting-edge filmmaking on the horizon, however there is some hope. A strong roster of independent movies is set for release over the next two months. They focus on human interest stories instead of gigantic marauding monsters or superheroes. We might even stumble across a movie that takes a narrative chance or two.

What follows are descriptions of 24 movies from the major Hollywood studios set for wide release between the Fourth of July weekend and Labor Day, as well as a list of 10 indies that seem to be the most promising. Here’s hoping that, whatever the budget, the majority of these films deliver more bang for our buck.

1.
Despicable Me 2 (July 3) – The success of the first entry in this series was a welcome surprise for Universal Pictures as the $70 million film brought in more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the U.S. alone. This film brings back the witless super villain Gru (voice by Steve Carell) who’s been recruited by a mysterious group intent on stopping a mad genius from ruling the world. Expect more elaborate visuals, inspired comedic moments and for Gru’s minions to steal the show.

2.
The Lone Ranger (July 3) – With a budget rumored to be a quarter of a billion dollars (!?!) this film is a major risk for Disney Studios, especially after the bath they took on John Carter a mere 18 months ago. However, this speaks to the pull director Gore Verbinski has with the studio, having made the three hugely profitable Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Yet the biggest problem the movie faces was perfectly summed up by my stepson when we saw the trailer for the film recently, which proclaimed it would show us the “rise of an American legend.” He turned to me and said, “Who is this guy again?” We’ll see if younger filmgoers are curious enough to find out.

3.
Pacific Rim (July 12) – Director Guillermo del Toro got Warner Brothers to pony up $180 million for what is essentially a Godzilla film on steroids. Giant reptilian monsters have risen from the depths of the ocean and threaten to wipe out all humanity, that is until giant human-controlled robots are built to combat them. Much carnage and destruction will ensue and surely some filmgoers’ eardrums will be ruptured as well. This will either be the next big thing or a bomb that will result in heads rolling at Warner Brothers.

4.
Grown Ups 2 (July 12) - Adam Sandler continues to sabotage what was once a promising career with this sequel to the 2010 hit. Brain cells will die by the thousands as he reunites with Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider for more inane antics.

5.
Turbo (July 17) – Ryan Reynolds lends his voice to the title character, a snail that tries to realize his aspirations of winning the Indy 500 after a freak accident. I was skeptical about this one but after seeing the imaginative trailer and getting a gander at Turbo’s fellow snails, I think I’m looking forward to this more than my 8-year-old son. With the voice talent of Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins and Michelle Rodriguez.

6.
The Conjuring (July 19) – With Saw and Insidious, director James Wan proved he could deliver effective, low-budget thrills. The recipe remains the same here as two paranormal investigators (Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga) find themselves in over their heads while helping a family fight off a malevolent spirit. Not only has Wan proven himself to be a solid stylist but also very smart, so here’s hoping this turns out to be the horror sleeper of the summer.

7.
RED 2 (July 19) – A sequel to the surprise 2010 hit that focused on the hijinks of a group of retired assassins. This time the crew (Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker) reunite to track down a missing nuclear device. More star power is on board this time out with the addition of Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones to the cast.

8.
R.I.P.D. (July 19) – Ryan Reynolds stars as a cop who’s been killed but winds up in the Rest In Peace Department, a group of undead police officers who fight crime. With Jeff Bridges as the newcomer’s mentor and the other-realm premise, comparisons to Men in Black are sure to follow. Here’s hoping this feature is executed with a bit of flare and humor. Mary Louise-Parker and Kevin Bacon help tote the water here.

9.
The To Do List (July 26) – Straight A student Brandy Clark (Park and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza) sets out to lose her virginity and experience other sexual escapades before heading to college. While this ground has been covered before, the impressive supporting cast assembled by first-time director Maggie Carey, which includes Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson and Andy Samberg, is a good sign that this is more than just another teen sex comedy.

10.
The Wolverine (July 26) – Hugh Jackman reprises his signature role as the quick healing mutant who travels to Japan where he falls in love but encounters a foe from his past that may threaten his chance at living in peace. Here’s hoping this entry in the series is better executed than 2009’s X Men Origins: Wolverine, which was poorly received by critics and fans alike.

11.
2 Guns (Aug. 2) – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star as two government agents who are investigating one another, only to find out they’ve been set up by the mob, who they both happen to be pursuing. Not much buzz surrounding this one, but it will be interesting to see how these two heavyweights interact on screen.

12.
The Smurfs 2 (Aug. 2) – A close reading of a wide variety of religious texts reveal that the release of this movie is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

13.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Aug. 7) – The first film in this series did only marginally well at the box office, which makes the fact that Fox 2000 Pictures would greenlight this sequel somewhat of a surprise. This time out, the title character (Logan Lerman), who happens to be the son of Poseidon, must set out with his other demigod buddies to find the Golden Fleece in order to stop an ancient evil.

14.
Elysium (Aug. 9) – The much-anticipated follow-up from director Neill Blomkamp, who pulled off the remarkable feat of scoring a Best Picture nomination from the Academy Awards for a science fiction film with 2009’s District 9. He returns to the genre with this tale of a futuristic society in which the Haves live in a paradise that orbits the earth while the Have-Nots attempt to survive on a world rife with violence and poverty. However, an injured soldier (Matt Damon) gets the opportunity to visit this restricted Eden to set things right. Much of the movie’s plot has been kept under wraps but one look at the film’s impressive trailer suggests this is far more than the usual empty summer fare.

15.
Planes (Aug. 9) – Pixar seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel here with this tale of Dusty, a crop-dusting plane that wants to win an international aerial race. However, he has to overcome his fear of heights to do so. Is it just me or does this premise sound like it would work with snails as well? With the voice talent of Dane Cook, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Val Kilmer and Brad Garrett.

16.
We’re the Millers (Aug. 9) – Jason Sudeikis stars as a pot dealer who has the opportunity to move a huge shipment of product out of Mexico. As a cover, he hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his wife and two troubled teens (Emma Roberts and Will Poulter) to act as his children, thinking that a family in a Winnebago has a better chance of crossing the border, instead of a single man. Of course chaos ensues, comedy (hopefully) is generated and 44-year-old Aniston takes off her clothes, which will make female viewers hate her even more than they do already.

17.
The Butler (Aug. 16) – Director Lee Daniels (Precious) delivers this biopic of Cecil Gaines, the head butler at the White House who served eight presidents over the course of 34 years. With Forest Whitaker in the title role as well as Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Cusack as Richard Nixon, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Terrence Howard in supporting roles, this may prove to be the most substantial Hollywood film of the summer.

18.
Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16) – More over-the-top bloody violence is sure to be on tap in this sequel to the 2010 comic book adaptation that finds the title hero (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joining a group of citizens who are following in his footsteps by donning outlandish costumes to fight crime. The film already has two strikes against it as Nicolas Cage, who was the best part of the first movie, is not on board while Jim Carrey, who has a significant role here, has come out to decry the violence in the film, saying he’s uncomfortable promoting it. Wonder if he was had similar feelings when he cashed the check for his performance?

19.
Paranoia (Aug. 16) – Liam Hemsworth is a young business exec that finds himself between a rock and a hard place as his boss (Gary Oldman) asks him to spy on his former mentor (Harrison Ford) in order to steal corporate secrets from him. Director Robert Luketic is hoping to deliver a Wall Street for a new age. Even if he falls short of this goal, seeing Oldman and Ford go toe-to-toe will be great fun.

20.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Aug. 23) – Yet another adaptation of a tween lit best-seller that Sony Pictures hopes will strike a chord with young audiences as Twilight did. This epic revolves around teenager Clary Fray (Lily Collins) who finds out she comes from a long line of demon hunters and must call upon skills that are ingrained within her in order to find her mother (Lena Headey) who’s gone missing. We’ll see if this one finds an audience or falls flat like Beautiful Creatures from earlier this year did.

21.
The World’s End (Aug. 23) – Director Edgar Wright reunites with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz) for a comedic take on the Apocalypse as a group of friends get together to recreate a pub crawl from two decades earlier and find out that they are mankind’s only hope in the face of cosmic annihilation. Here’s hoping they find the same freewheeling, ironic tone that made the similarly toned This is the End a success.

22.
You’re Next (Aug. 23) – This low-budget horror film concerns a family reunion that comes under attack by a group of ruthless killers. Things look dire until a member of the clan displays an uncanny and dangerous ability. From cult film director Adam Wingard (V/H/S).

23.
Getaway (Aug. 30) – Racecar driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) is forced to get behind the wheel and do the bidding of a mysterious man who’s kidnapped his wife. Things get even more complicated when a young woman (Selena Gomez) ends up as his passenger. Part Drive, part Jason Statham actioner, this is the sort of film that used to play as the second film of a double feature at the drive-in.

24.
One Direction: This is Us (Aug. 30) – The boy band…in concert…in 3-D. You’ve been warned.

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