by HELEN GEIB
Well, thank goodness that’s over! Reviews were weak and so were box office receipts in July, but August promises to be back to the multiplex month. Hollywood is offering a full slate of populist fare starting with the last of the summer tent-pole special effects extravaganzas and Meryl Streep as Julia Child, continuing through to the season’s last big kids’ movie and Quentin Tarantino’s latest, and finishing up with two sequels to popular horror films.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – Thanks to G.I. Joe, I finally know what it feels like to be part of the target demographic for a big-budget summer movie nostalgia trip founded on a comic book/line of action figures/after-school cartoon. Yes, it’s true. I was an avid fan of the cartoon and comic books at an impressionable age, and would undoubtedly see this movie even if I wasn’t a total sucker for special-effects laden, high-adrenaline, goofy Hollywood action movies. Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, and Christopher Eccleston are among the many familiar names in the cast, a mix of rising stars and stalwart character actors. The film was directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy and less promisingly, Van Helsing).
Julie and Julia – It’s not only her fans that are looking forward to seeing Meryl Streep’s impersonation of Julia Child. Streep stars in one half of Julie and Julia as Child c. 1950 discovering her affinity for French cooking, and Amy Adams stars in the other half as blogger Julie Powell, who 50-odd years later recorded her experiences with making every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film was written and directed by the prolific Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Bewitched, etc., etc.). Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina play the women’s husbands.
A Perfect Getaway – Two couples on vacation in Hawaii are terrorized by a killer in this thriller written and directed by David Twohy, best known as the writer-director of cult favorite Pitch Black and its sequel The Chronicles of Riddick. Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, and Kiele Sanchez star.
Shorts – The latest family film from writer-director Robert Rodriguez (the Spy Kids series, Sin City) features a slew of cute kids plus James Spader as the villain of the piece. Whoever writes the “coming soon” page for the IMDb reported becoming much more interested in seeing this one after learning the story is told in short segments (hence the title) recounted out of order by the young protagonists who can’t remember exactly how things happened. That makes me more interested too, although I remain un-persuaded by the stupid gag-filled trailer.
Bandslam – Teen comedy-musical with a highly formulaic plot and cast of characters. The best-known member of the cast is Vanessa Hudgens, who gained a following in the coveted ‘tweener and teen market playing the ingenue in the High School Musical series. The film was directed and co-written by Todd Graff, an actor with one prior directorial credit.
District 9 – The premise: aliens of the extraterrestrial kind are living in refugee camps in South Africa, and humanity isn’t happy about it. This science fiction film with a message has been generating a lot of on-line and off-line buzz. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard – The owner of a failing auto dealership hires a maverick used car liquidator to turn things around in this comedy. Will Ferrell plays the dealer, Jeremy Piven the liquidator, and Ving Rhames plays – actually, I have no idea what character he plays, but I’m always happy to see his name in a cast list so I decided to repeat it here. This is the first film by Neal Brennan, who has extensive writing and some directing credits in TV.
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana star in this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger about the strains placed on a couple’s marriage by the husband’s involuntary, random time-traveling. German director Robert Schwentke has only a few credits to his name (Tattoo, Flightplan), but the screenplay is by industry veteran Bruce Joel Rubin, writer of Ghost, Jacob’s Ladder, Deep Impact, Stuart Little 2, and a number of other well-known, and for the most part quite well-reviewed films.
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this WWII action-drama inspired by 1970s Italian-film-with-an-American-cast Inglorious Bastards, itself inspired by The Dirty Dozen. Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, and Til Schweiger play some of the soldiers in the titular squad on a mission to kill Nazis in occupied France, while the supporting cast is bursting at the seams with familiar names. Early reports from Cannes tend towards “glorious mess.” It goes without saying this is a must-see for Tarantino admirers, and I’m plenty intrigued by the story and setting.
Post Grad – Comedy with an atypically realistic and relatable premise about a young woman who graduates from college, can’t find a job, and moves back in with her parents. Alexis Bledel (TV’s Gilmore Girls) plays the post-grad and Carol Burnett and Michael Keaton play her grandmother and dad; director Vicki Jenson comes out of animation (Shrek, Shark Tale).
The Final Destination – Having looked into the question, I can inform you this is number four in the series. One might think the studio was worried it would dampen audience interest to remind people there have already been three of these movies made. At least it’s a clever title, but is it really going to be the last one? Permit me to express my skepticism. Directed by David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2, Snakes on a Plane, the under-appreciated Cellular).
Halloween II – At first I wondered why two big horror films are opening the last weekend of August (is August the new October?), but then I was reminded that Halloween opened on the same weekend in 2007 – and was really big. This sequel to the remake of John Carpenter’s classic is the fourth film by writer-director Rob Zombie, currently forging a successful second career as a Hollywood horror maven.
Taking Woodstock – Dramatization of the staging of Woodstock directed by Ang Lee and written by his frequent collaborator James Schamus; a few of their many films together are The Wedding Banquet, The Ice Storm, Ride With the Devil, and Hulk. I have to admit I have zero interest in either Woodstock or this film, but for what it’s worth my guess is that there’s plenty of fairly serious-minded Summer of Love social history in there as well. The film is based on a memoir by one Elliot Tiber, played in the film by Demetri Martin (in his first major role). Whether that means it’s historically accurate I have no idea.