McGinnis: Summer movies feature (a few) fresh ideasWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the release of “The Dictator” on May 16, the young summer movie season has reached one of its major milestones: the first wide release not based on an existing franchise.
Sure, Sacha Baron Cohen — the twisted mind behind “Borat” and “Bruno” — is kind of a franchise in his own right. But at least the movie he’s releasing features original characters and situations. In modern Hollywood, that is damn risky filmmaking.
It’s not hard to understand the motivation behind the trend toward the familiar. During the summer months, Hollywood has more money on the line than at any other time. The studios feel it is far too important a season to risk precious screen space on an unknown commodity. So, in addition to the countless sequels that are produced, we see movies draw inspiration from almost any already-successful resource imaginable.
This summer will have multiplexes filled with flicks sired from novels, comic books, self-help books, fairy tales, musicals, toys, freakin’ board games (Dear Universal: “Battleship?” Really? Love, Jeff) and more. A look over the movie schedule sees it filled with more shameless name brands displayed than if a UFC fighter drove a NASCAR racer down Broadway with Mr. Peanut in the passenger’s seat.
With this in mind, let’s take a second to recognize the exceptions to the rule: movies being released over the next few months that, if nothing else, are trying to do something different.
May 25: “Chernobyl Diaries.” Oren Peli, the director of “Paranormal Activity,” wrote and produced this new shocker directed by Bradley Parker, an effects wizard who directs for the first time here. The movie focuses a group of tourists visiting the site of the nuclear disaster only to find (dramatic pause) that something strange is happening.
June 8: “Prometheus.” Is it or isn’t it? Ridley Scott’s new space epic was originally conceived as a prequel to his seminal 1979 thriller “Alien,” but apparently during the course of its development the film veered into its own path, completely separate from its source material. So can we really say this is still part of a franchise, or is it something original? The question can only be properly answered when the film is released.
June 15: “That’s My Boy.” Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg as father and son. There’s your high concept. By the way, according to the plot summary, Sandler’s character became a father by impregnating his teacher when he was 13. Ha ha, isn’t statutory rape hilarious? In any event, this’ll probably draw Sandler’s usual big audience, while those of us who remember that the guy can actually be good in movies (“Punch Drunk Love,” “50 First Dates,” etc.) will have to wait for next time.
June 22: “Brave.” Even more than Cohen, the artists at Pixar have become a brand name, so to say that “Brave” is a work unsupported by a franchise would be inaccurate. That said, it is a very promising original story, the only one coming out of Pixar in a while (its previous films were “Toy Story” and “Cars” sequels, and the next is a prequel to “Monsters, Inc.”), so it will be a treat to see the company tackle a new universe.
June 29: “Magic Mike.” What’s great about director Steven Soderbergh is that you never quite know what he’s gonna do next. His last (“Haywire”) was a well-received action flick starring MMA star Gina Carano, and here, it’s a low-budget comedy starring Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer as male strippers. Seriously. While the concept alone (supposedly based on Tatum’s own experiences as a stripper) may appeal to many young female fans, Soderbergh’s direction and the script by Reid Carolin may reel in others, as well.
July 13: “Ted.” “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane finally gets to work on the big screen, directing and co-writing the story of a teddy bear who comes to life when his young owner makes a wish. But when the kid is grown up (and played by Mark Wahlberg), the bear (voiced by MacFarlane) is still around. The concept isn’t blindingly original, really (sounds kinda like a cross between “Toy Story” and the awful “Drop Dead Fred”), but MacFarlane’s oddball humor will hopefully make it something new and fun.
July 27: “The Watch.” Well, now here’s a fine how-do-you-do. Originally this sci-fi comedy starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn was called “Neighborhood Watch,” and featured a poster with the familiar sign riddled with bullet holes. Then, the Trayvon Martin tragedy suddenly made it the single most tasteless ad campaign in America. So, a quick change of title and a quick recall of posters and presto! The film’s really about dads defending the Earth from aliens, anyway, so it was a good move shifting away from such blatantly offensive imagery. Will the movie be able to stand on its own merits?
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.