Originally, I thought I would end my Summer Movie Preview at "Part Two," last month. But given that summer is the time for sequels, the saga lives on for another blog.
The lowdown: Another screen version of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale,” with Colin Farrell as a sucker who falls for the fantasy of newly programmed memories, only to find himself a heavily targeted spy in another life.
Why see it? This version of “Total Recall” is likely to boast some of the most impressive special effects of the summer, making the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle look like a lo-fi indie film by comparison. In a summer chockablock with comedies and superhero sagas, this may be the closest thing we have to an adult action flick.
Why skip it? Because it probably won’t hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s gaudy, delirious 1990 “Total Recall,” an idiosyncratic cult classic. This new rendition, directed by Len Wiseman of “Underworld,” seems to look, think and move like most action movies. It took six writers to conceive the story and screenplay, and still some of the dialogue in the trailer is cringe-inducing.
The lowdown: Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy play a psychologist and physicist on a quest to debunk the world of psychics, mediums and paranormal. Their skepticism is put to a violent test when they encounter the world’s most (in)famous psychic, played by Robert de Niro.
Why see it? The movie arrives on our screens at a time when paranormal activity is a zeitgeisty pastime for countless amateur ghost sleuths. If the movie treats the subject matter with at least a modicum of realism, it could be a memorable Hollywood depiction of the culture of the supernatural. Elizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones round out the appealing cast.
Why skip it? Most of the early reviews have been, well … let’s just say frighteningly bad. The trailer gives away the whole picture, as usual, and I can’t say I’m pleased with the sensationalistic, over-the-top nature of the narrative’s progression.
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN
The lowdown: Dramatizing the days leading up to the French Revolution, director Benoit Jacquot’s impassioned drama centers on the relationship between Marie Antoinette, her dedicated servant, and an adulterous duchess.
Why see it? I’ve already seen this one, and I recommend it highly. This observant love triangle simmers with sexual and class divisions, as big, repressed emotions chafe against a cosseted, enclosed culture. Jacquot shoots the epic events of the storming of the Bastille from the perspective of the cloistered monarchy, rarely leaving the gilded milieu and rendering the drama as an intimate chamber piece. Diane Kruger is a mercurial and intense Marie Antoinette, and as her servant Sidonie, Lea Seydoux’s lead performance is heartbreaking.
Why skip it? There are occasional, short-lived stretches of historical tedium in “Farewell, My Queen,” but this film is a winner. Only audiences staunchly opposed to the generic requirements of the costume drama will find reasons to gripe with this rich, expertly directed mood piece.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
The lowdown: This documentary chronicles an affluent couple as they construct a mansion inspired by Versailles – only to witness their bank accounts dwindle and their empire collapse thanks to the recent economic crisis.
Why see it? The timeshare maven and his shopaholic trophy wife at the film’s center are emblematic of the attitude of greed and excess that Occupy and other progressive groups have decried as the catalyst for the Wall Street crash. They are the epitome of the one-percent, and for most of the moviegoing public, their descent into a reality of fast-food takeout may feel like sweet justice. It looks like a highly entertaining doc, at any rate, and I’ll have a full review of it next week on this site.
Why skip it? Because it’s awfully easy to have an opinion on this film based on its trailer, which gives away its central “twist” – that David and Jackie Siegel’s luxurious reign will come crashing down like a dictator’s palace in the middle of revolution. After seeing the trailer, you’ll feel you’ve seen the movie. Hopefully, there will be more nuance and fewer broad strokes in the final product; I’d like to care about these people, not simply mock them.
THE BOURNE LEGACY
The lowdown: The fourth installment in the “Bourne” series is an original story, extrapolated from Robert Ludlum’s best-selling series, with Jeremy Renner replacing Matt Damon in the lead.
Why see it? Somehow, I’ve not seen any of the previous “Bourne” titles, but this franchise has been lauded for its exemplary direction, captivating (and realistic) editing of action sequences and intelligent, literary plotting. There’s no reason Tony Gilroy, director of the underrated thriller “Michael Clayton,” wouldn’t be able to continue the series’ winning track record. He’ll have a mouthwatering supporting cast to help him along the way, including Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and Stacy Keach.
Why skip it? Perhaps Matt Damon knows something we don’t: He has refused to do another “Bourne” film without Paul Greengrass, who directed him in the second and third entries. The onus is on Gilroy to prove him wrong, and unlike the previous titles in the series, he doesn’t have an immaculately written novel to base his action on.
The lowdown: Zach Galifianakis plays a naïve director of a North Carolina tourism center whom two area CEOs prop up as a candidate to defeat a rival, long-term congressman played by Will Ferrell.
Why see it: The timing is right for an election-year comedy, one that skewers and satirizes the political process and the obsequious boobs that will do and say anything to get themselves elected.
Why skip it: Unfortunately, I don’t believe “The Campaign” is that movie. It looks safe, apolitical and stupid. It’s customary to include the movie’s funniest bits in the trailer, and if that’s the case here, we’re in a lot of trouble. The crowning moment in the trailer is Ferrell accidentally punching a baby instead of kissing one. Cause, you know … politicians kiss babies all the time in 2012. I didn’t laugh once; then again, I haven’t been age 14 in a really long time.
The lowdown: Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play a husband and wife who attend a weeklong counseling session (led by Steve Carell) to reignite the passion in their 30-year marriage.
Why see it? The humor and pathos appear to be warm, inviting and relatable regardless of your age or marital status. These are real people, with real problems, in an identifiable universe resembling the one we live in, which is more than can be said for most Hollywood movies. Also, Jones and Streep are two titans of the silver screen who rarely lend their talents to inferior product.
Why skip it? “Hope Springs” is a title that’s been used twice before, and indeed, there is a whiff of familiarity to the material. Let’s hope it doesn’t pander to its largely senior audience to the extent that “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” did earlier this year.
The lowdown: A socially awkward, thirty-something toy collector meets a woman – the “dark horse” of her family – and tries to form a relationship while struggling with the fact that he still lives with his overbearing parents.
Why see it? You wouldn’t know it from the stupifyingly vanilla trailer, but “Dark Horse” is the latest film from Todd Solondz, an art-house provocateur whose distinctive, intriguing oeuvre includes “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Storytelling” and the masterpiece “Happiness.” All hopes are on Solondz’ ability to rescue what looks like god-awful material (that he wrote himself, it must be said). At least the cast, including Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow and Selma Blair, looks more than capable.
Why skip it? If Solondz’ name wasn’t attached to this project, I would be reveling in the possibility of skipping it. I would make an appointment to skip it. The dialogue sounds forced, the caricatures grotesque, and the tone of the trailer offensively buoyant, with lousy pop music underscoring scenes rife with middlebrow clichés. Say it ain’t so, Todd.
THE EXPENDABLES 2
The lowdown: In a sequel to the 2010 smash hit, a cast full of tough guys from cinema’s past return in a story that … seriously, does anyone care what the plot is?
Why see it? If you wish your action movies were more like the ones from 1985, this is your movie. “The Expendables 2” is populated by people that haven’t opened a movie on a thousand screens in decades – straight-to-video staples like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren, along with Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis and a certain former governor of Cal-ee-for-nee-a.
Why skip it? There is probably a reason these millionaires haven’t been making millions in years, toiling instead on late-night pay cable and dollar-bin DVDs. “The Expendables” franchise is the farthest thing from “art” on the cinema screen these days, and brains need not apply to enjoy them.
The lowdown: A young outcast who can commune with the dead joins forces with a ragtag group to save his town from zombies, ghosts and disruptive grown-ups.
Why see it? “ParaNorman” is an animated film, inevitably in 3D, that is rooted in horror-comedy iconography, at times looking like a “Beetlejuice” or “Ghostbusters” for pre-teens. It’s the second of several supernatural movies to open this summer, so it seems to be riding a popular wave. The voice talent includes Anna Kendrick, John Goodman, Casey Affleck and even Elaine Stritch.
Why skip it? The animated film that works both for children and adults is an increasing rarity with which even Pixar has begun to struggle. “ParaNorman” doesn’t look to be in that class; the jokes will kill with youngsters but may leave their parents slapping their foreheads.
The lowdown: Three soul sisters form a Motown group in the 1960s, only to find their close-knit family dynamic frayed by fame, drugs and men.
Why see it? Given that “Sparkle” is Whitney Houston’s first feature film in 16 years – and, of course, her last – is reason enough to see “Sparkle.” Director Salim Akil wisely cast actual musicians to enhance the authenticity of the project. Houston contributed new music to the film, as did Jordin Sparks and Ceelo Green, who costar.
Why skip it? To paraphrase that old David Spade bit from “Saturday Night Live:” I liked this better the first time … when it was called “Dreamgirls.” The story looks like pure, rote formula, packing fewer surprises than a sunset. And the title “Sparkle” conjures up “Glitter,” that woebegone Mariah Carey vanity project, a movie to which no film should aspire.
The lowdown: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bike messenger in Manhattan whose latest, suspicious package finds him in trouble with a dirty cop. Fast-paced bike-and-car chases ensue.
Why see it? Freshly minted as an action star following “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Gordon-Levitt looks believable as the in-over-his-head protagonist, and it’s always nice to see Michael Shannon in a supporting role. Moreover, the film’s very concept is a creative one: I don’t recall another picture in which the hero was limited to bike transit for its entirety, zipping around cars, making gravity-defying wall jumps and accomplishing escapes that would make most daredevils envious.
Why skip it? Director David Koepp has written some quality films for other directors, including “Carlito’s Way,” “Jurassic Park” and “Mission: Impossible.” But his track record as a filmmaker is comprised of movies that are seen and quickly forgotten – like “The Trigger Effect,” “Stir of Echoes” and “Secret Window.” He’ll need to step up his game for this one.
The lowdown: A group of college students attempt to prove that the supernatural only exists in our minds, but their experiment unleashes negative entities from the other side.
Why see it? It takes a lot to make me scared watching a trailer, but looking at this one, even on a small window of my computer screen, in broad daylight, with the lights on, managed to give me chills. It’s quite an effective tease for a film that doesn’t look particularly original.
Why skip it? You’d think it was Halloween weekend already with the number of paranormal films opening in August. “The Apparition” mines territory similar to “Red Lights,” and it will need to be not just scary but intelligent (“Paranormal Activity” is a strong model for this) to transcend the trend.