Here it is, Part One of our mammoth summer preview. It may seem like we moviegoers have more options than usual this summer. One thing’s for sure: In June, at least, we’ll be treated to more original ideas than I would usually expect to open in the entire summer period. Many of the films previewed below are small or modest, with intimate narratives and few bankable stars.
Is this a genuine trend, or have the studios just waited until July for all their money-hemorrhaging spectacles? Find out next week when we tackle Part Two. In the meantime, here’s a look at titles you can look forward to in June.
FRIDAY, JUNE 8
The lowdown: In this prequel/sequel/spin-off thingy to the Alien franchise, director Ridley Scott returns to the interstellar environment, this time in 3D, for a horror fable about space travelers contemplating the creation of mankind.
Why see it: I happened to catch this film last week, and it features the most innovative use of 3D technology since “Hugo.” Scott, who has felt a bit hamstrung in earthbound dramas of recent years, handles the film’s horror theatrics with the inspiration of an auteur just out of film school. And there’s no beating Michael Fassbender as the voyage’s detached android companion.
Why skip it: Poor, poor logic. You were so present in the first half that your complete absence in the second half is palpable enough to send the titular spacecraft hurtling through a continuum of meretricious nonsense. Slithery things enter and exit as many orifices as Scott and his screenwriters can conjure, hoping that you’ll be so entranced by the whiz-bang production values that you won’t notice how deeply the story plunges off the deep end.
The lowdown: Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, who helmed the respectable 2003 drama “The Return,” touches a series of sensitive nerves in this ensemble drama about a dying man and the future of his inheritance.
Why see it: See, some art-house options do exist amid the oncoming flood of summer escapism. A pensive movie for adults, “Elena” has received some of the best reviews of the season, with a 91 percent average on the film-critic aggregator Metacritic.
Why skip it: Its wintry textures suggest a movie that should have screened four months ago, and dying-man dramas are a tough sell. None of this will deter me; this looks like one of the most interesting openings of the month.
Rock of Ages
The lowdown: A hit Broadway musical gets the cinematic treatment courtesy of “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman. A small-town girl and a city boy meet against the big-haired backdrop of the 1987 rock scene in Los Angeles.
Why see it: It's one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, with a transformed Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti and many others celebrating an era of excess with a wink, a smile and a soundtrack full of hits from Def Leppard, Journey, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Poison and more. It was filmed partially at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale.
Why skip it: Perhaps that soundtrack full of hits from Def Leppard, Journey, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Poison and more. I know, I know … arena rock and hair metal hold a lot of nostalgia for some people, but as far as I'm concerned, these genres can remain dead and thoroughly dezombified. Maybe the stars will breathe new life into the songs, but there's a possibility that this adaptation will be a complete train wreck.
That's My Boy
The lowdown: Thirty years after impregnating his comely teacher at 13, a broke and poorly behaved deadbeat reestablishes contact with his now hedge-fund-operating son.
Why see it: Another summer, another movie with Adam Sandler as a growth-stunted man-child with a funny voice and a perpetual five o'clock shadow. Andy Samberg is hardly more appealing as his son. If these sound like reasons to skip the film, I'm sorry—these are the nicest things I can say about the trailer.
Why skip it: Because you have more than one brain cell. Honestly, single-celled mitochondria should be the movie's target demo. And if you need another reason to avoid it? Vanilla Ice costars as “Himself.” Yeesh.
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding
The lowdown: Following a tumultuous divorce, an uptight mother takes her two daughters to her mother’s hippie commune in upstate New York, where cultures clash and love awaits for all parties involved.
Why see it: The cast is mouthwatering, and full of the kind of indie-cinema character actors who always turn in A+ work, even in projects that slant toward Ds and Fs. Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan and Rosanna Arquette don’t just take any roles that are thrown at them.
Why skip it: Director Bruce Beresford has staked his reputation as a maestro of the middlebrow. If the humor is too broad, with dated flower-power clichés and some of the eye-rolling platitudes that turn up in the trailer, it will lose me.
The lowdown: In Scotland, a princess defies the custom of her land, decimating her male competitors in archery … but at a cost.
Why see it: One word: Pixar. The trailer didn’t look that amazing, until I noticed that the golden hit-makers of kid-friendly, adult-approved animated cinema were behind the production. The theme of a woman excelling in a world of men may become a rallying cry for impressionable girls.
Why skip it: Maybe because “Cars 2” was a money-grabbing suckfest? I wouldn’t let it deter you, though; it’s an original idea from Pixar, and few of those have ever been less than stellar.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The lowdown: The plot is basically right there in the title, isn’t it? In between being a lawyer, statesman, Great Emancipator and our 16th president, Honest Abe apparently spent some time slaying the undead.
Why see it: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is based on a 2010 novel, and with a name like that, a cinematic adaptation is an inevitability. In fact, I imagine there didn’t need to be a novel so much as those four words scrawled on a cocktail napkin for a studio to swipe it up. It looks like a lot of fun, vampiric trendiness be damned.
Why skip it: There’s revisionist history and then there’s sheer ludicrousness. Obviously, if you’re looking for a serious treatment of Abe Lincoln, you should wait for Steven Spielberg’s December biopic “Lincoln.” Also, expect this flick to be louder than a next-door demolition.
Safety Not Guaranteed
The lowdown: Three journalists go undercover to spotlight a man who posted a classified advertisement seeking a partner with whom to travel back in time.
Why see it: It's the summer of Mark Duplass! At least the fourth film to open this year featuring the talents of the scruffy, thoughtful mumblecore star, “Safety Not Guaranteed” offers Duplass' meatiest part since his self-directed “The Puffy Chair,” playing the scary/funny/strange “time traveler.” The trailer for this film looks charmingly bizarre, and early reviews have been fab.
Why skip it: The poster and TV spots for the film play up the fact that it's from “the producers of ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’” which means nothing, really—the director is the film's creator, and he's an untested filmmaker named Colin Trevorrow, whose first feature film this is. Like some of the other summer indies, there's a risk of “Safety Not Guaranteed” falling under the weight of its own quirk.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
The lowdown: With an asteroid set to bring about Armageddon in three weeks, no one has anything to lose, and Steve Carell’s schlub protagonist finally takes the opportunity to pursue his longtime crush.
Why see it: It’s a pretty inspired idea to capitalize on the 2012 doomsday hysteria in the unexpected form of a romantic comedy. This is the funniest trailer I’ve seen so far this summer.
Why skip it: The territory is not totally unfamiliar, however; in 1998, Canadian director Don McKellar also made a love story set on the final days on Earth, and it was funny, beautiful and heartbreaking—a tough act for anyone to follow.
The lowdown: Dumped by her boyfriend weeks before their wedding, a young woman attempts to reboot her life before turning 30 in this comedy.
Why see it: The underrated damsel of many of a low-budget, lo-fi independent film, the radiant and droll Greta Gerwig finally lands a leading role in a major motion picture, and I couldn’t be happier about it. She looks more than comfortable in a film that addresses pre-middle-age anxieties and jilted singledom from a female perspective, still a rarity in the male-dominated Hollywood system.
Why skip it: Then again, in light of the recent spate of hard-R, adventurous female-centric projects from “Bridesmaids” to “Girls,” “Lola Versus” had better have its own original voice, lest it be buried in the movement du jour.
Your Sister's Sister
The lowdown: Invited to stay at his female friend's island getaway after the death of his brother, a man develops feelings for his friend's sister—feelings which come to a head when the friend pays a visit.
Why see it: This has been one of the hottest properties to emerge from last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Watching the trailer, it's easy to see why (but don't watch it; it gives away too much, as trailers are wont to do). It looks like a funny, warm and dynamic character study for the adrift among us, starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Why skip it: Mark Duplass yet again?! This Duplass overkill is curbing my enthusiasm a little bit, but I have high hopes for this one. I wouldn't miss it.
The lowdown: The career difficulties and romantic adventures of a male stripper entrepreneur, played by former model Channing Tatum.
Why see it: Tatum may finally have landed a role of complex dramatic substance, and the casting of Matthew McConaughey as an older male stripper is inevitably appropriate.
Why skip it: Director Steven Soderbergh’s name usually inspires confidence, so he must have seen something in the material, but the trailer elicited nothing but a shrug of indifference from me.
The lowdown: In his feature-film debut, “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane directed this comedy about a boy’s teddy bear who comes to life … and remains alive, and annoying, well into the boy’s adulthood.
Why see it: This one looks positively uproarious, full of hilarious sight gags, special effects, inside jokes and one-liners. It will be liberating to see McFarlane working in an R-rated format.
Why skip it: TV comedy writers don’t always translate well to the big screen—think of all those “SNL” sketches stretched to their breaking point. If “Ted” degrades into a hodgepodge of random jokes and pop-culture references, like “Family Guy,” it may not work as a live-action feature.
People Like Us
The lowdown: A prickish man with financial and relationship woes reevaluates his life after finding out this newly deceased music-producer dad fathered a daughter from a different mother.
Why see it: Here's another one I've had the chance to see already. The excellent ensemble—including Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde—commit themselves fully to challenging and sometimes achingly moving material under the sensitive direction of first-timer Alex Kurtzman. The movie astutely chronicles how easily offspring absorb their parents' traits and especially their flaws—and why we should continue to love them despite those flaws. And the film's music references are great, too.
Why skip it: There's an air of inevitability in the narrative, wherein even the surprises aren't very surprising. The more the movie progresses, the more Kurtzman indulges in cliches, and the overly sentimental music undercuts the material. And if you are going to enjoy “People Like Us,” you'll have to do so in spite of a certain detail that rings so false it almost makes the story's plausibility collapse.