June Film Preview: Summer Movies Rising

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) guides Daniel (Jacob Lofland) through the ranks in 'The Free State of Jones.' photo: STX Entertainment.

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) guides Daniel (Jacob Lofland) through the ranks in ‘The Free State of Jones.’ photo: STX Entertainment.

It’s June! The sun’s shining, children are smiling, the good life is about to start anew.

Wrong! This is summer in Film-Land, which means you’ve a boatload of sequels to get through before the fall sequels start showing up. Here’s a sampling of a few, listed by release date. A smattering of what’s playing at local independent cinemas follows.

June 3

Me Before You Poor Will Traynor, he had everything; looks, money, position… mobility. At least he did until he lost control of his motorcycle and wound up paralyzed. Though his family rallies around him, he finds he just can’t accept life in a wheelchair and decides to go to Dignitas in Switzerland (the assisted suicide group). Horrified, his mother makes him promise to wait six months so she can show him all the reasons that life is worth living. Can you guess the rest of the movie if I tell you the family hires a young woman (who just happens to be beautiful) as his nursemaid? It sounds like something brought to you by Nicholas Sparks, instead it’s from a 2012 novel by British romance writer Jojo Moyes. Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin star, with Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, Matthew Lewis, and Joanna Lumley. I’m sure it’ll have its moments, but the real drama will be seeing whether the film goes with the ending of the novel in which … but no, I just can’t.

 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Andy Samberg plays “Conner4Real” a rapstar whose latest music release is an epic fail. Desperate to stay on top of the celebrity heap, Conner reforms his old boy band group “The Style Boyz.” Samberg has co-written the script with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone who also serve as co-directors. I probably don’t need to add that Judd Apatow is a producer. But Popstar really isn’t about the behind-the-camera people, it’s the cast: a who’s who of SNL alumni. Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Tim Meadows, and Joan Cusack. Plus there’s Sarah Silverman, Will Arnett, Imogen Poots, Martin Sheen, James Buckley and celebrity cameos from Adam Levine, Snoop Dogg, Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Seal, Pink, Questlove, DJ Khaled, and Jimmy Fallon.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Once upon a time (or waaaay back in the 80’s) there was a silly Saturday morning cartoon TV show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about four shelled reptiles living in the sewers of New York City. Because of exposure to some toxic sludge, they mutated into pizza-eating, crime-fighting heroes named after Italian Renaissance masters. It was all pretty goofy and colorful and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. Well say goodbye to all of that. This 3D live action film replaces the quirky humor with CGI explosions and stunts. The turtles have been given a tsunami’s worth of testosterone and the bright, Day-Glo colors have been washed over with dark, angry hues. I’ve read the movie’s synopsis but I still can’t figure out the plot and, to tell you the truth, judging from the trailer it all looks kinda creepy. The film features Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Tyler Perry and, inexplicably, Laura Linney.

June 10

The Conjuring 2 2013 saw the release of the first Conjuring, a horror film about real life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren called to Rhode Island to help a family being haunted by demons and spirits. It cost $20 million and made $318 million so you had to know there’d be a sequel. This time the Warrens travel to merry olde England to help a single mother whose home is filled with malicious devils. Both the Rhode Island incident and the British one are based on actual events. The Warrens are probably most famous for their connection to what became known as The Amityville Horror. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as the Warrens who, as self-proclaimed “demonologists”, have managed to get pretty far peddling what the Brits call “a load of old bollocks.”

 

Now You See Me 2 A sequel to the 2013 surprise hit about a bunch of magicians (oops, sorry, “illusionists”) who, in the middle of their stage shows, rob banks and give money to the audience. I remember liking the original a lot for it’s skewed viewpoint and offbeat sense of fun. I was a bit disappointed, however, that a few of the magic tricks (oops, illusions) were done with CGI. I mean, what’s the point? Magic tricks are amazing because they’re real … or rather because they make the unreal seem real. But then again, if Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy—a ventriloquist and his doll—could be a hit on radio, then movies about magicians who don’t actually perform magic is par for the course. Judging from the trailer, this sequel unfortunately looks to be a CGI spectacular with not a whole lot of real-life illusions going on. But there is a knockout cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco return from the original and joining them will be Daniel Radcliffe.

June 17

Central Intelligence Can you buy Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as an overweight bullied high school geek? Well, if you want to enjoy this action comedy that’s part of the premise you gotta swallow. After those horrible school years, Johnson has become the most lethal agent at the CIA. Home for his class reunion, he meets up with Kevin Hart, former high school BMOC and now mild-mannered accountant missing the halcyon days of his youth. Johnson convinces him to help out on his latest assignment—busting an international crime cartel. Amy Ryan and Aaron Paul also star, with Rawson Marshall Thurber directing a script he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen.

 

Finding Dory In real life, it was 13 years ago that Pixar released Finding Nemo about a clownfish, Marlin, crisscrossing the Great Barrier Reef to find his lost son. But in this sequel, Finding Dory, it’s only six months later. Dory, you may remember, was the regal blue tang fish with short-term memory problems who helped Marlin in his quest. In this movie, Dory suddenly remembers she grew up in Morro Bay, California and sets off to locate her parents. Ellen DeGeneres is back as Dory, as is Albert Brooks playing Marlin. Also included in the festivities are Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Willem Dafoe, Vicki Lewis, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, and Sigourney Weaver.

June 24

Free State of Jones Say hello to the first Oscar-Bait movie of the season. It’s based on an episode from America’s past that, truth be told, is heavily clouded over with controversy. There’s lots of different versions running around, but here’s a précis of the legend that the movie will propound. In the midst of the Civil War, Jones County in Mississippi seceded from the Confederacy, proclaiming it was rejoining the Union. A few years later, a Jones farmer named Newton Knight led several fellow farmers and local slaves in an armed battle against the boys in gray. Jones County became a mixed-race community and Knight married a former slave. Los Angeles show biz types, who love to make films about white people saving black people and then congratulate themselves for it, are already drooling! Gary Ross wrote the screenplay and directs a cast which includes Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali, and Brendan Gleeson.

 

Independence Day: Resurgence Oh look, here’s another sequel! And a very postponed one at that. It’s been 20 year’s since the original Independence Day, a record-breaking sci-fi action film in which aliens attacked the earth and it’s monuments—you’ll remember the famous shot of the mothership hovering over, and laser-beaming, the White House. Of course what with aliens being, by their very nature, godless heathens there was no question our side (aka humanity) would win. So here’s what’s going on this time: Using alien technology recovered from the battle, earthlings have built a gigantic defense shield around the planet. But before those nasty aliens died they sent out a distress signal across the universe. It may have taken 20 years for the message to reach HQ, but vengeful aliens are coming … and they are pissed! Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner return from the original, with newbies Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Sela Ward, and William Fichtner. Writer/director Roland Emmerich (Dean Devlin was a co-writer) has said this is the second installment of an ID trilogy. Let’s all set our watch for 2036 so we can find out how it ends.

Hollywood Theater

Xanadu Come children, gather ‘round the digital fireplace app and let Grandpa tell you that yes, back in the day there really was something called “Roller Disco” a late 70’s/early 80’s craze which spawned not one but two movies. One of them, Roller Boogie, is all but forgotten … and willfully, no doubt, by it’s star Linda Blair. But as Yoda says in Empire Strikes Back, “there is another,” and that would be Xanadu. Originally conceived as a low-budget flick meant to cash in on the roller disco fad, for reasons no one really understands it began attracting big name talent and wound up starring Olivia Newton-John, just coming off of her white-hot success in Grease, screen legend (and Pittsburgher) Gene Kelly and featuring a score by Electric Light Orchestra. Such high hopes! Until it opened to some of the worst reviews in film history, (although the ELO soundtrack went double platinum.) It was so bad it inspired John J. B. Wilson to invent the “Golden Raspberry Awards” given yearly to the worst efforts limping out of Hollywood. But life’s funny and times change and since it’s 1980 debut, Xanadu has become a huge cult favorite … even going so far as to spawn a campy 2007 Broadway musical version. I’d explain, or rather try to explain, the plot but you’d never believe it. (June 10-12)

 

Logan’s Run Did you know that it’s the 40th anniversary of the dystopian sci-fi flick Logan’s Run? You know what?—me neither. But the fine folks at Hollywood Theater did and they’re celebrating with this 40th birthday party. In case you weren’t around 40 years ago (and if you follow the logic of Logan’s Run you wouldn’t have been) life in the year 2274 is pretty much everything you could dream. There’s no war, no strife, no pain … just a bunch of young, good-looking folks gamboling in the sun. The nasty truth, however, is that when you turn 30 in this utopia you are put to sleep … forever. Some 29-and-counting folks are naturally unhappy with this arrangement and try to escape. Michael York plays a guy named Logan whose job it is to run after them and kill them. But somewhere along the way he meets and falls in love with Jenny Agutter … and they bump into Peter Ustinov—the only person they’ve ever met over 30. He explains that the world wasn’t always like this and Logan decides to bring the truth to the people—with the expected results. Imagine—people over 30 being erased from the culture? Thank God that never came to be! The Hollywood, btw, is encouraging “Logan’s Run-inspired dress.” Sounds like fun! (June 23, 8 p.m.)

Pittsburgh Filmmakers

Hairspray It’s time for a Roof Shindig. That’s what Filmmakers is calling their screening of this 1988 John Waters film. The movie, in case you’ve lived your life under a rock, is about Tracy Turnblad, a young girl from Baltimore who dreams of staring on a local after-school teen TV dance program as well as dating the show’s heartthrob lead… and she’s not about to let her poverty or girth stop her! Ricki Lake appears as Tracy, with Sonny Bono, Ruth Brown, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, and, of course, the legendary Divine. The Shindig starts at 6 p.m. and takes place on top of the Theater Square Garage downtown; admission is free and there’s food, drink, local musicians Beauty Slap and HEAF. The movie starts at sundown. 667 Penn Ave., Cultural District.  (June 15)

 

Dark Horse I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m crying even as I type this. This classic underdog, er … underhorse story is a British documentary, directed by Louise Osmond, taking place in a small village in South Wales in the early 2000’s. With the local mines closed and the town suffering, a barmaid at a local pub heard about a racehorse being sold and talked villagers into entering into a horse racing syndicate and purchasing the animal. Eventually 23 people joined the enterprise, each contributing £10 a week. They bred that horse and named the resulting foal Dream Alliance. Because of his nothing beginnings and the inexperience of the syndicate, nobody in the racing world gave Dream Alliance much attention … until he started to win races. Lots of races. Eventually he won the 2009 Welsh National. But that’s just the start of the story. The rest is … oops, can someone pass me the Kleenex? (Opens June 24. Regent Square Theater.)

Row House Cinema

The Fifth Element Well goodness gracious, if it isn’t one of the strangest films from 1997! It was written and directed by Luc Bresson who, in the 90’s, was a director on the rise with La Femme Nikita and The Big Blue. His star seems to have dimmed a bit thereafter (although he did write the screenplay for Taken.) It’s almost as if he never recovered from the critical drubbing The Fifth Element received. This wacko story takes place in the 23rd century where Bruce Willis, once a decorated army general, is now driving a cab. Little does he know there’s a giant ball of alien fire heading toward the planet. Even less does he know that he’s the only human alive who can stop it. Milla Jovovich appears as a sort of intergalactic supermodel; it’s up to Willis to get her and a blue singer (not “blues” singer but a blue alien who sings) into the same room at the same time and the magic rocks inside the diva’s stomach will – oh why bother? The movie’s a mess, narratively speaking, but the art direction is pretty groovy. Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, and John Neville also star. (June 3-9)

 

Stand By Me Who knew, when this film was being put together in 1986, it would turn out to be the beginning of some of Hollywood’s biggest careers? Rob Reiner made his directorial debut a few years earlier with This is Spinal Tap, but established himself as a major feature film director with this movie based on Stephen King’s novella “The Body.” Four young boys learn that a local kid has been hit by a train and set off into the countryside to find the body. Demonstrating he certainly had an eye for talent, Reiner cast Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell in the leads. The film also features Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, and John Cusack in a coming-of-age tale where each of the kids begins to understand the bigger world and his place in it. King still considers the film to be the first good movie version of any of his work. (June 17-23)

Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh based writer and critic