Summer is almost here! For many people, that means fun in the sun, but for those of us at Cinefantastique – who prefer foggy moors or the darkness of outer space – the season means horror, fantasy, and science fiction films rolling into theatres on a weekly basis. I recently made a guest appearance on the Chronic Rift podcast, talking about upcoming genre films; if you note a certain lack of enthusiasm in my voice, the reason is that, unfortunately, Summer 2010 does not promise many captivating genre films on the level of last year’s STAR TREK reboot. However, among the rocks and mud Hollywood is shoveling into onto screens, we are sure to find a few golden nuggets. Take a listen to the podcast below, or check out our capsule previews.
NOTE: Technically, the first day of summer (June 21) is still over a week away, making this article a preview. However, Hollywood – true to form – launched the season early; exactly how early is subject to debate, when you consider that the big-budget effects-filled spectacle CLASH OF THE TITANS hit screens in April. For our purposes, we are back-dating to May 7, the release date of IRON MAN 2 – a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that should fit every one’s definition of a “summer move.”
BEST WORST MOVIE
A hit on the festival circuit last year, this documentary about the TROLL 2 phenomenon is getting a limited theatrical release in several calendar houses around the country. The idea of fashioning a tribute to an obscure schlock film from the 1980s hardly sounds appealing, but BEST WORST MOVIE turns out to be an extremely amusing look at the experiences ofa small-town dentist, whose patients discover, to their dismay, that decades ago he appeared in a movie, one that is now embraced by some camp enthusiasts as the “worst movie ever made.” Whether or not the description is warranted, it leads to a strange sort of celebrity for the former actor as he and his co-stars (along with TROLL 2’s director, who insists against all evidence that the movie is really good) travel around the country to several revival screenings, where they are welcomed like a stars. Funny stuff. Click here for a list of theatres screening the film.
BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR
In case you haven’t heard, BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR is one of those movies that, almost inexplicably, becomes embraced because of – rather than in spite of – its cinematic ineptitude (which includes laughably bad CGI that wouldn’t pass muster in a kid’s videogame). The difference between BIRDEMIC and its camp movie precursors is that, whereas REEFER MADNESS, PLAN NINE, TROLL 2, and others of their ilk took years, even decades, before their badness was recognized for its entertainment possibilities, BIRDEMIC has been embraced right out of the gate. Picked up by Severin Distribution, writer-director James Nguye’s 2008 debut effort – basically a riff on Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS – has been screening to enthusiastic crowds for several weeks, eliciting derisive howls in cities across the country, and it is now expanding its reach to Canada and the U.K. (Let’s hope this doesn’t hurt international relations any.) The no-name cast includes Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, and Colton Osborne. Somehow, THE BIRDS’ Tippi Hedren was persuaded to make a cameo appearance. If you want to check when BIRDEMIC is coming to your town, click here for our list of theatrical play dates.
Warner Brothers releases this sequel to 2001’s CATS AND DOGS – which was a bit of a dud, despite what sounded like a sure-fire premise for a fun, family-friendly fantasy-comedy. This time out, Bette Midler, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Alec Baldwin, and Paul Rodriguez star for director Brad Petyon, working from a script by Ron J. Friedman & Steve Bencich. This time the plot involves a temporary truce between fueding canines and felines, who team up to stop a rogue cat with plans for world domination. In 3d.
Release date: July 30.
Universal Pictures releases this animated fantasy film about a trio of orphans who charm a deplorable villain into abandoning his attempt to steal the moon. Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, and Sergio Pablos directed, from a screenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Jason Segel, Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett Julie Andrews, and Danny McBride supply the voices.
Release date: July 9.
Warner Brothers releases this science fiction thriller from writer-director Christopher Nolan. Plot details have been kept under tight wrap, but the film is supposedly set within the “archtecture of the mind”: The poster’s tagline is “Your mind is the scene of the crime,” and advance word suggests the story is about a heist to steal technology that allows access into people’s dreams. Nolan has reassembled many of the behind-the-scenes collaborators who worked with him on THE DARK KNIGHT, so hopefully we will be seeing a film of similar quality. Of this summer’s films, this is the one we find most intriguing. Leonardo DiCaptrio, Ken Watanabe, and Ellen Page lead the cast.
Release date: July 16
IRON MAN 2
Released on May 7, Paramount Pictures’ sequel to the summer blockbuster of 2008 is not quite up the original, but it is still droll entertainment. Unfortunately, it plays into the fascist undertones often apparent in superhero stories, which suggest that certain people are just…well – better than everyone else, and if the weak majority of fools would just get out of the way and let the few wise ones work unfettered, then the world would be a better place. Fortunately, the film stops short of fully endorsing this idea: te plot, such as it develops, leads Stark to finally accept assistance from a sidekick (in the form of Don Cheadle’s Colonel Rhodes), suggesting he realizes that he learns to put his ego in the back seat in favor of serving the greater good. Read more here.
Warner Brothers releases this feature film adaptation of an obscure comic book character. The plot has the U.S. government hiring the titular bounty hunter (Josh Brolin) to confront a terrorist (John Malkovich) who is threatening to a Hellish apocalypse. Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Aidan Quinn, and David Patrick Kelly co-star for director Jimmy Hayward, working from a script by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, based on a story developed with William Farmer, inspired by the DC comic book character created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga.
Release date: June 18.
THE LAST AIRBENDER
Paramount Picutres releases writer-director M. Night Shymalan’s live-action feature-film adaptation of the Emmy-winning animated series AVATAR (no, it has nothing to do with the James Cameron film). Planned as the opening chapter in a trilogy, THE LAST AIRBENDER, focuses on Aang (Noah Ringer), the titular “last airbender,” who can control one of the four natural elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water). He is also the “Avatar,” who embodies the world, making him capable of controlling all of the elements, in the service of bringing about world harmony. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone co-star; the latter must be having the biggest weekend of his career, with THE TWLIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE opening on the same day.
Release date: July 2.
Lionsgate releases this attempt to offer up horror in the mode of BLAIR WITCH and/or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – which, is to say, disguised as actual footage of a real event. Shot under the title of COTTON, the film involves minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who allows the exorcism of a young woman (Ashley Bell) to be filmed by a documentary crew. Daniel Stamm directed, from a script by Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland. Eli Roth served as producer.
Release date: August 27.
The newly restored version of METROPOLIS, German director Fritz Lang’s silent science fiction classic, continues its tour of art house across the country. Touted as the precursor to BLADE RUNNER, METROPOLIS is cinema’s first example of a science fiction extravaganza, using elaborate miniatures and other special effects to depict a futuristic city engaged in a class conflict between the rich, living in their lofty skyscrapers, and the workers, toiling in machinery rooms down below. Director Lang himself thought the scenario (by his wife, Theo Von Harbou) was somewhat simplistic, yet the film’s visual power has retained its reputation as a classic. Unfortunately, the restoration does not so much fix problems as simply make the film longer; in fact, some of the additions make little sense, and it is easy to see why they were excised in the first place. Still, this is a historic film from one of cinema’s greatest practitioners, and any excuse to see it again on the big screen is a good one.
Check out our list of play dates for the film.
The latest surreal confectionery from supreme stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet (fully titled Micmacs a Tire-Larigot ["Non-Stop Madness"] in its native France) is currently in limited theatrical release from Sony Pictures classics, in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco. The story follows a young man, orphaned as a child, who is hit in the head by a stray bullet, then hooks up with a salvage artist who creates an underground home in a dump, filled with magical tools and sculptures crafted from discarded junk. Eventually, he sets his sights on the manufacturer of the bullet, setting in motion a series of outrageous schemes to bring accountability to the high and mighty living in the lap of luxury while remaining indifferent to the pain and suffering caused by their product. Jeunet’s remarkable visual sense if very much on display, turning what is essentially a comedy cpaer into cinefantastique by virtue of its fanciful way of looking at the world, creating stylized landscape of the imagination. Unfortunately, the shifts from satire to spoofery while often effective, undermine some of the poignancy of the story. Read our complete review here.
NANNY MCPHEE AND THE BIG BANG
Universal Pictures releases this sequel to NANNY MCPHEE (2005), a sort of riff on MARY POPPINS, about a magical nanny who works miracles with difficult children (although she does not fly with an umbrella). Having written the screenplay (based on the books by Christianna Brand), Emma Thompson takes the title role, supported by Ralph Fiennes, Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Maggie Smith. Susanna White directed.
Release date: August 20.
Dimension Films releases this 3-D remake of the 1978 cult classic, originally produced by Roger Corman and directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS). Sadly, the film was not shot in 3-D; it is being added in post-production (just like CLASH OF THE TITANS, and we all know how well that one worked out). This time around, an earthquake unleashes swarms (schools?) of prehistoric piranhas, who make life miserable for folks living near the local lake. Elisabeth Shue stars as the sheriff trying to contain the situation, with support from Jerry O”connell and Dina Meyer, with appearances from Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, and Richard Dreyfuss. (Get it? Dreyfuss was in JAWS – don’t you feel yourself falling out of your chair with laughter?). Directed by Alexandre Aja, from a screenplay he worked on with Josh Stolbrg, Pete Goldfinger, and Gregory Levasseur. (What? No credit from John Sayles, who wrote the original?Aja still has fans based on HIGH TENSION, but one wonders who far they will follow him into the junkyard before finally giving up.
Release date: August 27.
20th Century Fox releases the latest installment in the PREDATOR franchise. Robert Rodriguez produced the film, with Nimrod Antal directing from a screenplay by Alex Litvak & Michael Finch, based on the concept by Jim and John Thomas. Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Adrien Brody, and Laurence Fishburne lead the cast of elite warriors and killers from Earth, who are alien-abducted to a planet where they serve as game for the Predators. When you stop and think about it, only the very first PREDATOR movie was any good, and the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films were just nonsense, but this premise is good enough to raise hopes, and the trailer does generate a buzz of excitement.
Release date: July 9.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
Walt Disney Studios releasedthis big-screen adaptation of the popular videogame on May 28. Jakey Gyllenhaal is the titular prince, a rogue who teams up with a princess (Gemma Arterton) to prevent an evil villain (Ben Kingsley) from unravelling time itself. Under Mike Newell’s direction, the film is not great, but it is much more fun than one had any right to expect. The screenplay even throws in a few clever allusions to the Gulf War and the missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Read our full review here.
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
Screen Gems releases the fourth film based on the popular video game about zombies resulting from some evil corporate malfeasance. Considering that we have already been through RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004) and RESIDENT EVIL EXTINCTION (2007), you have to wonder what’s left. Well it involves our old champion Alice (Milla Jovovich) on a mission to protect survivors from the walking dead, while also hatching a plan to destroy the Umbrella Corporation. Back in the director’s chair for the first time since the first RESIDENT EVIL (2002) is Paul W.S. Anderson, who nevertheless contributed the scripts (as he does again here). The supporting cast includes Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Spencer Locke, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Kacey Barnfield, and Boris Kodjoe. Music by tomandandy. Cinematography by Glen MacPherson.
Release date: September 10, 2010.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
Universal Pictures releases this fantasy-action-romantic-comedy. When titular Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls in love with a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in hand-to-hand combat, fant-asia style. Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, and Brandon Routh fill out the cast for director Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), working from a screenplay he co-wrote wtih Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Release Date: August 13.
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
Paramount Pictures released this fourth installment of the computer-animated franchise on May 21. This time the story has the titular green ogre making a deal with Rumpelstilskin in order to escape the drudgery of his married life and return to the glory of his earlier days. Unfortunately, Shrek ends up in a weird alternate reality, in which he and Fiona have never met, and he realizes he must restore the life he gave up. The premise – essentially the final act of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE expanded to take up the entire running time – sounds as if it has promise, but the film itself is lacking in big laughs, which arrive mostly when Puss N Boots shows up – not so much a shadow of his former self, but a balloon, fattened up from too much easy living.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE
Walt Disney Studios releases this live-action fantasy film, which seems to have precious little to do with its animated namesake, the Mickey Mouse sequence from 1940’s FANTASIA (an adaptation of Paul Dukas’s orchestral work, itself based on Goethre’s poem “Der Zauberlehrling”). It’s all about a sorcerer (Nicolas Cage) who is facing off against an evil nemesis (Alfred Molina), so he finds an apprentice (Jay Baruchel) to aid in the conflict. Monica Belluci, Robert Captron, Toby Kebbell, and Alice Krige fill out the cast for director Jon Turtletaub, working from a screenplay by Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard and Matt Lopez, derived from a screen story by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal.
Release date: July 16.
Warner Brothers released this nifty little science fiction-horror film from director Vincenzo Natali (CUBE) on June 4, in head to head competition with summer’s big guns. Even if the film failed to overpower its big-budget competition, it served up intellectual satisfaction for fans who want something more than just another monster movie. SPLICE truly is this year’s MOON (2009) – maybe not the most entertaining science fiction film of the summer, but definitely the summer’s best cinematic science fiction, one that takes its premise and uses it to thought-provoking ends. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and make the effort.
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
George A. Romero’s sequel to DIARY OF THE DEAD got a limited platform theatrical release on May 28, after making its VOD debut in April. It’s not up to the standards of his previous efforts (including the ground-breaking NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), but at least Romero’s old themes and ambitions are on display, as he puts the genre elements in the service of making some points humanity’s inability to find common ground during a crisis.
TOY STORY 3
Walt Disney Studios releases the latest installment in Pixar Animation’s blockbuster franchise. This time, Andy is off to college, and the question is: Will he throw his old toys away or keep them as collector’s items? Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back as Woody and Buzz Lightyear; the of the voice cast includes Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Cusack, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, R. Lee Ermey, Don Rickles, and Ned Beatty. Lee Unkrich directed, from a screenplay by Michael Arndt (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE).
Release date: June 18.
TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE
Summit Entertainment releases the third film in the TWILIGHT SAGA (and isn’t it funny that the feel the need to use “The Twlight Saga” in the title, as if fans won’t know that ECLIPSE is part of the franchise?). Anyway, the film focuses on the love triangle between human high school girl Bela Swan (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). David Slade (who helmed a considerably different kind of vampire movie with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT) directs from a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer . Coincidentally, co-star Jackson Rathbone is also in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE LAST AIRBENDER, which opens the same day; we know the TWILIGHT films are proven box office winners, but is ECLIPSE really ready to go head-to-head with one of Hollywood’s powerhouse summer blockbusters?
Release date: July 2.
You can keep up to date with theatrical releases, home video, and other events in our Coming Soon section.
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