Summer movies star zombies, robots, rangers and hangovers in 2013

04/28/2013 12:00 AM

07/07/2013 2:48 PM

To say summer will bring comic-book and sci-fi films is like saying it will contain a July. It's a given – a thrilling, pyrotechnic-filled, yet reassuring given.

Just ask Damon Lindelof, a screenwriter and producer of May's highly anticipated "Star Trek Into Darkness." It's a trend he's contributed to for years. But long before he made movies, he was a movie fan with a special fondness for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

As a summer-film lover, Lindelof looks for "a sense of fun escapism," he said in a recent phone interview. "The kind of movie that feels fantastical, but it's got some kind of emotional (element). And something funny, even though it also takes itself really seriously."

Lindelof's all-time summer favorites are "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"Those movies consumed my entire summers, because I watched them so many times," he said.

Back then, only a few blockbusters came out each summer. Now they number in the double digits, with 3-D (even for May's "The Great Gatsby") and Imax almost mandatory.

Studios program summers practically by the hour, with blockbusters placed on certain dates for maximum box-office potential.

Even counter-programming - summer movies aimed at audiences not interested in blockbusters - can become part of the program. For example, an off-kilter or raunchy comedy has appeared nearly every August since "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" hit big in that slot in 2005.

Yet within this controlled system lies room for discovery. We showcase some potential finds in this preview's "Recommended for You" and "Local Spotlight" features.

Meanwhile, here's a selective look at some of the biggest films of the 2013 summer movie season, kicking off Friday with "Iron Man 3." (Dates are subject to change.)


"Iron Man 3": It's the fourth "Iron Man" film if you count last year's "The Avengers," in which Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) led the superhero ensemble. None lived up to the first "Iron Man," but this one looks promising.

One-time playboy Tony has settled down with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), thus ensuring more screen time for those light but meaningful Downey-Paltrow exchanges. Shane Black (screenwriter of "Lethal Weapon" and director of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which also starred Downey) took over directing duties from Jon Favreau, which likely means more bro and less breezy humor. Any new edge is welcome, since Stark's blithe self-regard has grown wearisome (Friday).

"The Great Gatsby": 3-D. Jay-Z. Jay Gatsby. Glittery, vibrant art deco imagery. Director Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") just might have turned F. Scott Fitzgerald's Prohibition-era morality tale into a commentary on the clear haves and have-nots in today's society. Or he might have made a dazzling but mostly empty visual feast like his "Moulin Rouge." Chief selling point going in: Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious millionaire Gatsby. Aside from Meryl Streep, he's the most dependably great of today's big movie stars (May 10).

"Star Trek Into Darkness": With the reintroduction of the classic "Trek" characters completed with 2009's satisfying "Star Trek," director J.J. Abrams went for broke on action scenes in shooting the sequel.

About 30 minutes of "Darkness" was shot with Imax cameras, screenwriter and producer Lindelof said. As "Dark Knight Rises" and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" showed, shooting with Imax cameras leads to more vivid imagery on the giant Imax screen.

The understated, likable Enterprise crew - including Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Zoe Saldana as Uhura - have returned, and previews indicate that Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's "Sherlock") will make an elegant, menacing villain (May 17).

"The Hangover Part III": Just when you thought it was safe to think of Bradley Cooper as sensitive and nuanced, he returns to sleazeball territory to remind us he has cold eyes. Here, the "Hangover" trio (Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms) head back to Vegas and ... oh, why bother? It's all bruising, gross-out shenanigans (May 24).

"After Earth": For being such a personable sort, Will Smith sure likes deserted-Earth movies.

The "I Am Legend" star here plays a military commander with a rebellious cadet son (Smith's son, Jaden). They crash-land on Earth 1,000 years after it was deemed uninhabitable.

We'll try not to judge the film by its over-the-top trailer. Let's look at credentials instead: Smith originated the story, and M. Night Shyamalan directed and co-wrote. As warnings signs go, these facts are not as alarming as, say, rising sea levels. And you never can count out Smith, a reliable movie star (May 31).

"World War Z": Brad Pitt plays a United Nations worker trying to stop zombies from taking over the world.

This picture, based on the 2006 Max Brooks horror novel, required extensive, expensive reshoots last year. "World War Z" and its apocalyptic brethren "After Earth" and "This Is the End" offer sure signs that the Mayan calendar and AMC's "The Walking Dead" have become litmus tests of viewer tastes (June 21).

"Man of Steel": It's as if 2006's "Superman Returns" never happened.

Warner Bros. has re- rebooted the franchise, with actor Henry Cavill (Showtime's "The Tudors"). He is more rugged and less classically handsome than most on-screen Supermen, and the film's trailer hints at "Spider-Man"-esque pathos.

The supporting cast, including Russell Crowe as Superman's dad, Jor-El, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane, runs deep. Director Zack Snyder's ("300," "Watchmen," "Sucker Punch") success record does not (June 14).

"The Lone Ranger": Armie Hammer ("The Social Network") assumes the role of a legitimate lawmaker who turns revenge-seeker after his brother is killed. Like all Lone Rangers before him, he becomes thoroughly unrecognizable once he dons a mask covering a third of his face.

Johnny Depp plays his partner, Tonto, and from the movie's trailer, appears comically stoic. Can Depp maintain a grave countenance in a thrill-ride adventure from his "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer? Hard to say. We also will withhold judgment on Depp playing an American Indian until seeing the movie (July 3).

"Pacific Rim": Giant robots called Jaegers (a clear nod to 1980s tennis star Andrea) battle planet-threatening monsters called Kaiju.

Bigger than the story line: This film marks visually inventive filmmaker Guillermo del Toro's ("Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy") first foray into huge-scale filmmaking. The prospect of an updated, artistically satisfying Japanese monster movie is beyond exciting (July 12).

"The Wolverine": Let's take a moment to appreciate Hugh Jackman's ability to move between musical theater in films like "Les Misérables" and installments of a comic-book franchise, in which he plays a vein-poppingly jacked mutant.

Jean Valjean and Wolverine have nothing in common besides mutton chops. And vulnerability, perhaps. Jackman always has excelled at showing Wolverine's sensitive side. If you're more concerned with action, "Wolverine" will show his mutant knife-hands coming at ya in 3-D (July 26).


You wouldn't know it from the blockbuster list, but women do star in summer 2013 films. A few of their movies link directly to "Bridesmaids," the smash-hit 2011 broad comedy that starred Kristen Wiig and introduced moviegoing audiences to Melissa McCarthy's exceptional comedic talent.

"The Heat" (June 28) teams McCarthy with another actress loved by all – Sandra Bullock – in an oddball buddy-cop comedy from "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig.

McCarthy plays a foul-mouthed cop who schools Bullock's buttoned-up FBI agent in the ways of the street. It's hard to think of a more delightful premise. McCarthy showed earlier this year that she's a box-office draw when the modestly budgeted "Identity Thief" grossed more than $130 million domestically.

Wiig goes the way of her "Bridesmaids" character by portraying a down-on-her-luck playwright who moves back home to live with mom (Annette Bening) in "Girl Most Likely (July 19).

The mother has a boyfriend (Matt Dillon) and a boarder – she rented out her daughter's old room to a young man played by Darren Criss of "Glee." I know what you're thinking: Bening as Wiig's mother? Wiig is 39 and Bening 54. There's always makeup.


Pixar can't lose. Just ask Oscar voters, who in February chose "Brave" over the superior "Wreck-It-Ralph."

You can understand how Pixar, the Emeryville animation studio behind the "Toy Story" movies, established a sterling, almost unimpeachable reputation. Even its most middling entries contain more joy, humor and artistry than most other films, animated or not.

This summer's Pixar entry, "Monsters University," (June 21), takes "Monsters, Inc." characters Mike and Sulley (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) back in time to show their matriculation at a school for scares.

In "Despicable Me 2," (July 3), the super villain Gru (Steve Carell) balances dastardly acts with duties as an adoptive dad. "Turbo"(July 17) trails in the wake of a snail (Ryan Reynolds) transformed from sluggish to speedy by a freak accident.

Preteens might prefer the live-action "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," (Aug. 23), which adapts the first book in Cassandra Clare's best- selling young-adult fantasy series and aims for the "Hunger Games" crowd. "One Direction: This Is Us" (Aug. 30) aims squarely at where it will land, with screaming pre-teen and teen girls. The 3-D documentary was directed by Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"), who surely will blow the lid off Harry's and Liam's hairstyling regimens.


Two prestigious independent films out this summer have ties to Sacramento. "Fruitvale Station" (July 26) tracks the final hours in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan, from "The Wire"and "Friday Night Lights"), the unarmed 22-year-old man fatally shot by BART police at Oakland's Fruitvale Station early in the morning of New Year's Day 2009.

The film won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award this past January, when it was called "Fruitvale." It was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who is from the East Bay but studied film at California State University, Sacramento, where he also played wide receiver on the football team.

The star and co-writer of the whimsical comedy "Frances Ha" (May 31) attended Sacramento's St. Francis High. Greta Gerwig plays an apprentice dancer trying to secure an apartment and a future in Manhattan. Speaking of "Manhattan," director Noah Baumbach, Gerwig's boyfriend and director on 2010's "Greenberg," shot "Frances Ha" in black and white.

In the spirit of services such as Netflix and Pandora that offer recommendations based on user entertainment habits, I offer these summer-film recommendations. But I have removed technology's chill and inability to gauge films artistically (which can lead to Netflix pairing "Brokeback Mountain" and "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" under its "Emotional Movies" category).

These selections are based on genre, taste, movie history and the talent involved.

See some summer movies recommended for you

Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

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