Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wood's Stock Summer Movie Preview

A couple of weeks ago I was at my brother's house and he asked me what good movies were coming out this summer. I started listing off the usual suspects of big-budget summer tent poles – Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Fast 6 – when he stopped me and said "Isn't there anything that isn't a big loud sequel?"

I wasn't prepared for the question and was uncharacteristically frozen by it. I sat there, slack jawed, for about two minutes trying to think of something, anything, that was neither a sequel nor featured a hero in a cape before I finally just changed the subject by asking about his kids or the weather or some other such subject that normal people talk about.

It was a sad moment, both because I failed to serve what is essentially my sole purpose in a social scenario and also because I had let my perfectly-justified excitement for one of the geekiest years of cinema on record to overshadow some of the great independent, artistic and dramatic works that are forthcoming.

So, with the official start of the summer movie season descending upon us this Friday with the opening of Iron Man 3, I thought I'd take a moment to highlight some of the less bombastic titles heading to cinemas this summer that (in my humble opinion) can't come soon enough.

Here's four movies whose trailers don't feature a single explosion (unless you count fireworks) and one that does.

The Great Gatsby 

Sure the trailer is big and loud with a Jay Z-produced soundtrack and lots of beautiful shirts, but Baz Luhrman's Great Gatsby is still a dramatic dissection of the myth of the American dream, based on the timeless literary masterpiece by F. Scott Fitzgerald that most moviegoers only loosely remember skimming through in their high school English class.

In this third and latest silver screen adaptation, Leo DiCaprio is the titular Gatsby, a man haunted by his past and clinging to a precariously-constructed future. The film is set in the heart of the roaring 20's, in which the privileged are drunk off their own excess and the rest of the world struggles to survive. Topical? Yes much.

As a reminder, Luhrman is the man that gave us the visually indulgent Romeo + Juliet (also starring DiCaprio) and Moulin Rouge, as well as cult classic Strictly Ballroom and polarizing one-movie-that's-really-two Australia. Sink or swim, Gatsby is sure to be bold in style and unique in vision.

Much Ado About Nothing 

First off, if I had one wish it would be that my life could essentially be the trailer for Much Ado: hanging out in black and white with Nathan Fillion and the rest of the Whedon regulars while great music plays in the background. But in the interim, I'll just have to satisfy myself with watching this movie as soon as possible.

After wrapping post-production on The Avengers, geek-extraordinaire Joss Whedon decided to relax by inviting a few of his actor friends out to his house and filming a micro-budget adaptation of Bill Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. If you're a fan of any of Whedon's non-avengers projects (Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, etc) that's probably all you need to hear, but if not then look at this as a modern retelling of a classic story populated by a who's-who ensemble cast of terrific character actors.

To The Wonder 

Terrence Malick is one of those directors – like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino – where you probably already know if you're a fan or not and if you're not sure then approach with caution. I first came across his work with 2005's The New World – part of a week long movie-watching binge as I recovered from a hernia surgery – and then again with 2011's The Tree of Life which featured Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and dinosaurs. To this day I'm not entirely sure what The Tree of Life was about but I've learned that it's best to avoid prescription-strength pain killers when watching a Malick movie.

His latest, To The Wonder, wouldn't be on this list if I didn't think it was worth seeing for the average person. So if you're intrigued, just bear in mind that you should go in with certain expectations. Chief among them being that TTW will likely be missing a lot of the elements that make up a typical film, such as dialogue, or plot.

In fact, it's probably best if you don't think of To The Wonder as a movie at all. Think of it instead as a two-hour art installation. Still intrigued? Then get ready for some of the most hauntingly beautiful imagery you've ever seen.

Before Midnight

I had the chance to see Before Midnight at Sundance but held off to give myself the opportunity to watch its predecessors Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (yes, BM is a "sequel" but come on, spirit of the law here). I'm glad I did, because Before Sunrise more than lived up to the hype and now I'm all but thirsting to see what happens with the characters.

18 years after their chance meeting on a train headed to Vienna (Before Sunrise) and 9 years after reuniting in France, we check back in with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Greece. Expect a lot of walking and talking in exotic locales and a minimalist plot that mostly centers on philosophical discussions of life, love and relationships.


Somewhere in the middle of all the sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations we have this original science fiction concept straight out of the amazing mind of District 9 creator Neil Blomkamp. Much like how D9 told the tale of racial inequality disguised as a humans vs. aliens flick, Elysium uses a dystopian future as an allegory for economic disparity and class warfare.

In Elysium, we find a world in which the wealthy have escaped the dirty, polluted Earth to live in a floating paradisaical space station while the rest of us are left behind to scratch out whatever pitiful existence we can. Matt Damon, bald headed and outfitted with a black market militaristic exoskeleton attempts to crash the party, upsetting the delicate balance in the process.

District 9 was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2010 and gave us Sharlto Copley, a balls-to-the-wall South African who has largely dwindled in lesser projects ever since (see: The A-Team). With Elysium, we have Blomkamp's follow-up and a returning Copley, and I can't wait to see what happens. It also boasts the first on-screen appearance of Jodie Foster since her odd, head-scratching Cecil B. Demille Award acceptance speech, so there's that.

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