Summer Fun 2012
And the hits just keep on coming

Movie madness: 10 must-see summer flicks — from vampire-hunting prez to Jane Fonda's hippie ways

Movie madness: 10 must-see summer flicks — from vampire-hunting prez to Jane Fonda's hippie ways

Well now this is weird: It’s not even Memorial Day yet, and we movie fans may have already seen the biggest hit of the summer. Indeed, judging from the disappointing grosses for Dark Shadows and Battleship, it looks like some of us may be more interested in seeing that hit again and again, rather than buying tickets to anything else.

But don’t start singing “Summertime Blues” — yet – because there really are some promising pictures on the horizon. Maybe they won’t all be blockbusters – maybe one or two might never make it past the art-house circuit – but that doesn’t mean they won’t be worth the price of admission.

 Don’t start singing “Summertime Blues” — yet – because there really are some promising pictures on the horizon.

 And I’ve come up with a list of the 10 titles (arranged by release date) that I’m looking forward to most eagerly. 

Mind you, I’m basing my high hopes entirely on what I’ve read (reviews by respected colleagues, hype-laden feature stories), seen (intriguing trailers, previous films by the same filmmakers and film stars) and heard (mostly during interviews I’ve watched or conducted). At the time I’m typing these words, I haven’t yet seen a single one of these summer releases.  As Ving Rhames so memorably said in Striptease: “Call me a dreamer.”

So remember: There are other upcoming films that might turn out to be much better than any of the ones that appear on this purely (or, if you prefer, impurely) subjective countdown. And, of course, your mileage may vary.

Men in Black 3

Opens: May 25

Marquee Allure: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Men in Black 2).

The Pitch: To save the life of Agent K (Jones), his long-time taciturn partner, and protect the planet from humongous disaster, Agent J (Smith) travels back in time to seek help from… well, a much younger, but no less taciturn, Agent K (Brolin).

The Attraction: OK, I’ll admit – just the reteaming of Smith and Jones would be enough for me to fork over the dough for a first-run admission ticket. (Maybe at a bargain matinee, but a first-run admission ticket nonetheless.) But c’mon: You mean to tell me the prospect of Brolin channeling Jones for the better part of 90 minutes isn’t enough to draw you to the megaplex?  

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Opens: June 8 (Limited Release)

Marquee Allure:  Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Chace Crawford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen, director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies).

The Pitch: After her husband asks for a divorce, a conservative Manhattan lawyer (Keener) seeks respite from stress by taking a road trip to upstate New York with her teen children (Olsen, Wolff) – and introducing them to her long-estranged mom, an unreconstructed hippie (Fonda) who’s never met her grandchildren.

The Attraction: Beresford – an Australian-born filmmaker whose other credits include Breaker Morant, Crimes of the Heart and the partly-filmed-in-Houston Mao’s Last Dancer – usually can be relied upon for intelligent grown-up entertainment. And, yes, I’m curious to see how Fonda handles a role that calls for some wink-wink allusions to her well-known political leanings. Also – and I can’t deny it – the 74-year-old actress is still pretty easy on the eyes.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Opens: June 22

Marquee Allure: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted).  

The Pitch: A fanciful mix of historical fact and horrific fiction, adapted by screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith from his own novel, based on the provocative premise that the 16th President of the United States had a lifelong secret sideline as a beheader of bloodsuckers.

The Attraction: While I recently interviewed Walker – who plays the title role – for Cowboys & Indians magazine, the 29-year-old up-and-comer disarmed my skepticism by insisting that, no, the movie isn’t a comedy. Or at least not an intentional one.

“The only joke is in the title,” he said. “After that, we completely commit to it. And it becomes a drama-thriller about our greatest American hero.”

So what was more difficult – being a credible Abraham Lincoln or a persuasive vampire killer?

“That’s a very interesting question,” Walker replied with a chuckle. “But look, once you get used to being Abraham Lincoln, killing vampires is easy. Because, hey, you’re Abraham Lincoln. So you just look at vampires and say, ‘OK, they’ve got to go.’”

The Amazing Spider-Man

Opens: July 3

Marquee Allure: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, director Marc Webb ([500] Days of Summer).

The Pitch: Remember Spider-Man? Seriously, it was just 12 years ago – you must remember Spider-Man. Well, anyway, this movie is a reboot of that one...

The Attraction: And while I think the whole idea of a 12-years-later reboot is kinda-sorta premature – after all, they waited for 16 years after Batman (1989) before we got Batman Begins (2005) – I’m really curious to see just how easily director Webb shifts from rom-com to comic book. (Especially since that rom-com was so damn good.) And the trailer does look cool.


Opens: July 6

Marquee Allure: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bichir, director Oliver Stone.

The Pitch: Two hunky entrepreneurs (Kitsch, Johnson) share a successful marijuana-growing business, and a jaw-droppingly beautiful woman (Lively), while living the good life in Laguna Beach. And then the ruthless chief of a Mexican drug cartel (Hayek) makes them offer they can’t refuse. But they do refuse it. Nothing good comes of this.

The Attraction: Have you seen the trailer for this bad boy?  Director Stone hasn’t done anything that looked so down-and-dirty, wild-and-crazy, freaky-and-deaky since the second Clinton Administration. I am so there on opening weekend. (Unless I can scam a pass to a preview screening.)

The Dark Knight Rises

Opens: July 20

Marquee Allure: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight).

The Pitch: And speaking of Batman…

The Attraction: Director Nolan promises a satisfying closure for his Caped Crusader trilogy – and after Inception, I’m ready to believe he can make good on any promise — though I seriously doubt that means bad guy Bane (Hardy) will destroy The Dark Knight (Bale). I mean, if they really snuff Batman, how can they expect to do another reboot in a decade or so? Remember: These dudes don’t have a Robin in the wings to take over. 

Killer Joe

Opens: July 27 (Limited Release)

Marquee Allure: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist).

The Pitch: Based on the 1993 play by Tracy Lett (winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County), this Texas noir drama finds Texas-born hunk McConaughey cast as a part-time hit man who agrees to help a financially strapped drug dealer (Hirsch) collect on his mother’s life insurance policy. The dealer can’t make the $25,000 down payment for the termination? No problem: He’s got a sweetly virginal sister (Temple) to give the hit man as collateral. At least, she’s virginal until…

The Attraction: Killer Joe got slapped with an NC-17 rating. The producers appealed – but refused to make cuts. The appeal was rejected. So they’re releasing it – independently – anyway. Consider the possibilities. (And check out the director’s credits. Not shabby.)  

Red Hook Summer

Opens: Aug. 10 (Limited Release)

Marquee Allure:  Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, director Spike Lee.

The Pitch: A sullen young African-American (Brown), used to a comfortable life in Atlanta, plunges into a stint as a fish out of water when his mom drops him off for an extended stay with his grandfather (Peters), a flamboyant minister at Brooklyn’s inner-city  Lil' Peace of Heaven Baptist Church.

The Appeal: Director Lee returns to Brooklyn – the setting of She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crookyln, Clockers and He Got Game – which would be reason enough for a trip to the megaplex (or, more likely in this case of this indie release, the art-house). But Lee also returns on a screen in a signature supporting role: Mookie, the neighborhood motor-mouth who’s still delivering Sal’s Famous Pizza. I really want to see how that’s possible, seeing how Mookie was responsible for that place burning down in Do the Right Thing.

The Expendables 2

Opens: Aug. 17

Marquee Appeal: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Pitch: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot a lot of guns and kill a lot of people.

The Appeal: Dammit, they didn’t find a way to fit Steven Seagal into this one, either. And it’s still an exclusive boys-only club: No femmes fatale get to join in the butt-kicking. (Maybe Shannon Tweed is too busy with her domestic chores these days?)

But never mind: The first Expendables (2010) was an unreasonably enjoyable hoot, and this sequel adds Van Damme and Norris to the line-up for additional amping of the testosterone level. Only the most lactose-intolerant action-flick fans could resist cheese that looks this tasty.


Opens:  Aug. 29

Marquee Allure: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition).

The Pitch: In this reportedly ultra-violent filmization of Matt Bondurant’s acclaimed The Wettest County in the World, three rural Virginia brothers (LeBeouf, Hardy, Clark) thrive as bootleggers during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, their success attracts the attention of a vicious lawman (Pearce) and his brutish underlings, who shoot first, and second, and seldom bother to ask questions afterwards. The brothers, not surprisingly, respond in kind.

The Attraction: For those of you who have always wanted see Shia LaBeouf go all bad-ass on folks – and you know who you are, so don’t try to be coy – this period piece should redefine the term “guilty pleasure.” Also worth considering: Film critic Jeff Wells – a.k.a. Mr. Tightass N. Grumpypants – got down from his high horse at Cannes long enough to diss Lawless  (one of the contenders for the top prize there) as “a better acted, more finely photographed and much more violent upgrade of an early '70s Roger Corman film.”  Hey, sounds good to me.

Joe Leydon will be on Great Day Houston, on Channel 11, Tuesday at 9 a.m., to talk about the best summer movies.

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Josh Brolin, from left, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black 3
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Jane Fonda in Peace, Love, Misunderstanding
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The Amazing Spider Man
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A scene from Savages
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The Dark Knight Rises