Movie News & Reviews

Summer movie preview: Female-driven comedies a highlight

"Mad Max: Fury Road," to roar into theaters May 15, stems from the 1980 film that made Mel Gibson an international movie star. George Miller returns to direct; Charlize Theron has a role.
"Mad Max: Fury Road," to roar into theaters May 15, stems from the 1980 film that made Mel Gibson an international movie star. George Miller returns to direct; Charlize Theron has a role. Warner Bros. Pictures

Each summer, Hollywood rolls out sequels, remakes and reboots, all indicators of a creative dry spell that predates the current California drought by at least 10 years.

The only thing less original than a summer-movie slate is pointing out its lack of originality. So we’ll focus instead on what’s new this summer season, which kicks off today with “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” (see review, Page 16). What’s new is the number of high-profile comedies starring women – unusual in a historically testosterone-fueled movie season.

They start with next week’s “Hot Pursuit,” in which Reese Witherspoon’s cop character transports Sofia Vergara’s drug-case witness, and crest at midsummer with Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck.” Schumer, star of her own Comedy Central series, wrote the film about a cocktail-swilling, commitment-phobic career gal. Judd Apatow directs.

Sure, “Pursuit” is a clear knockoff of “The Heat,” and Apatow either has directed or produced a raunchy summer comedy (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Super Bad”) for most years out of the past 10.

But we are not talking Oscar season here. This is the hot-weather, managed-expectations season. Any sliver of freshness is appreciated.

The Bee’s selective 2015 summer-movie preview celebrates such slivers. The traditional blockbusters included here (in the category “Pure popcorn”) all possess at least one intriguing quality. The category “Kernels of creativity” encompasses counter-programming such as coming-of-age movies. “Women of summer” gives props to the aforementioned women-led movies. “Local angle” recognizes movies with Sacramento-area connections and also allows me somewhere to park “Terminator: Genisys” without appearing to endorse it.

Release dates might change.

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

Pure popcorn

“Mad Max: Fury Road”: Director George Miller, after making films as diverse as “Lorenzo’s Oil” and the animated “Happy Feet,” returns to the post-apocalyptic Wasteland, with Tom Hardy assuming the Mel Gibson road-warrior role. It’s hard to tell from this movie’s all-car-chase trailer whether it is a sequel, prequel or remake. But squint through the kicked-up dust, and you can see Charlize Theron sporting a buzz cut in her role as driver for a tyranny-fleeing rebel group. May 15


“Tomorrowland”: George Clooney eases into the grumpy-older-men phase of his career by playing a reclusive, onetime boy genius who knows about a place between time and space where the best minds come together. A bright young woman (Britt Robertson) figures out the place exists and recruits the recluse to take her there. I am getting “Jumanji” vibes from the trailer for this PG-rated film, which was directed and written by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”). May 22


“San Andreas”: It will be interesting to see how the studio handles publicity for this action film about a 9.0-magnitude California Big One, given the recent Nepal quake. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a helicopter pilot who, with his estranged wife (talented, mostly TV actress Carla Gugino, finally scoring a plum role in a big-budget film), heads from Los Angeles to San Francisco to find their daughter. May 29


“Jurassic World”: It’s been 22 years since “Jurassic Park,” yet movie characters still are messing with dinosaurs. Chris Pratt (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays an ex-military man who studies living dinos at a theme park devoted to them while the park’s manager (Bryce Dallas Howard) approves genetic modifications to the creatures. Because that always turns out well. June 12


“Ant-Man”: While watching this film’s trailer, I kept thinking someone would pop up to say. “Just kidding!” Paul Rudd plays a thief recruited to wear a tiny, super-powered suit and be one with the ants in fighting crime. This seems like an idea a Rudd character would discuss with pals while lighting up in a Judd Apatow stoner comedy. But “Ant-Man” is an actual Marvel Studios movie. Andy from “Parks & Recreation” is a big action star now. So anything can happen with enough Marvel muscle behind it. July 17


“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”: Tom Cruise has survived a fall from a sheer rock face, a climb up a Dubai skyscraper and a rake over the coals by the HBO documentary “Going Clear.” In this fifth “Impossible” film, secret agent Ethan Hunt battles a rival spy organization. Though various directors have handled the “Impossible” films over the years (Christopher McQuarrie directs here), the series consistently produces stunning set pieces. July 31


“Fantastic Four”: Hollywood keeps counting on viewers having very short memories. It added an “amazing” to “Spider-Man” and called it a reboot while the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy was still warm. This new adaptation of the Marvel Comics series aims to eclipse the wan 2005 “Four” film and equally unimpressive 2007 sequel. But with apologies to Jessica Alba, this one at least stars actors of substance. Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) plays the stretchy Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) is Johnny Storm/Human Torch, Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) plays Sue Storm/Invisible Woman, and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) Ben Grimm/The Thing. Aug. 7


Kernels of creativity

“Poltergeist”: Its cast and director keep this one from being just another dip in the remake well. The always-stellar Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt play the parents of children taunted by an unseen force. Director Sam Raimi made “The Evil Dead,” the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” films and the stylish 2009 horror film “Drag Me to Hell.” And who can blame the producers for wanting some of that “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity” box office action? “Poltergeist” did it first. May 22


“Aloha”: Director Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”) taps his two loves: soft lighting, and handsome, down-on-their luck lead characters. Bradley Cooper stars as a defense contractor who has taken some professional hits. He returns to Hawaii, home of his biggest successes and his ex-flame (Rachel McAdams), who now has a husband (John Krasinski). Emma Stone plays an Air Force liaison and Bill Murray the contractor’s old boss. That’s a lot of likability in one movie. May 29


“Dope”: Trained by films such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” we have come to expect at least one indie movie per summer featuring smart, hyper-verbal teens. In “Dope,” Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a straight-A student from Inglewood who sports a modified Kid ’n’ Play haircut, fronts a punk band and accidentally tangles with a local criminal. Tony Revolori (the lobby boy from “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) plays one of Malcolm’s fellow-geek pals. June 19


“Inside Out”: The first Disney/Pixar Animation Studios film in nearly two years appears to take cues from Christopher Nolan movies. Its characters personify a girl’s emotions, then take a journey deep into her mind to retrieve lost memories. Disney Animation Studios proper has scooped up the glory lately, with “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.” But only Pixar consistently enchants adults as much as children. June 19

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”: Literate kids, part 2. This Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner stars Thomas Mann as high schooler Greg, who, at his mother’s urging, tries to befriend a girl (Olivia Cooke) who has leukemia. Greg and his pal Earl also make short films that play off the titles of classics. An example: “2:48 p.m. Cowboy.” June 26

“Magic Mike XXL”: Steven Soderbergh handed directing reins to longtime collaborator Gregory Jacobs, and Matthew McConaughey has bowed out of dropping trou in this sequel. But Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello are back from 2012’s “Magic Mike,” a crowd-pleaser not just for its dance scenes but also for its exploration of modest, blue-collar (when the strippers wear collars) dreams. In the sequel, Mike (Tatum) joins his fellow Kings of Tampa for a road trip culminating with a show in Myrtle Beach, S.C. This explains the South’s current hot-wax shortage. July 1


“Straight Outta Compton”: This is a group biopic of N.W.A., the explosive Los Angeles rap group whose highs and lows were so extreme that it’s a surprise it took this long for a film to be made. N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E died from AIDS in 1995, at age 31. Group-mate Dr. Dre reached stratospheric success as the producer behind such landmark acts as Eminem and Kendrick Lamar and co-creator of Beats headphones. The scowling Ice Cube became the star of family movies. F. Gary Gray (“Set It Off”) directs, and from the movie’s energetic trailer, it looks as if the actors captured their real-life counterparts’ voices and swagger. Aug. 14


Local angle

Ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appear alongside his younger self in “Terminator: Genisys” (July 1), which takes place in the present and in 1984. … Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox compose the Sacramento sketch duo Smosh, which has drawn a record 20 million subscribers to its YouTube channel. Their full-length film “Smosh: The Movie” will debut July in Southern California, with theatrical and VOD releases expected to follow. … Nevada County native Patrick Brice directed the comedy “The Overnight,” opening locally in July. It stars Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Adam Scott (“Parks & Recreation”), and follows a pair of neighboring couples through a night of friendly exploration.


Women of summer

Three stars of summer comedies scored previous hot-season hits: Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids,” “The Heat”), Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”) and Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia,” “Mamma Mia,” we could go on …)

If you count the $80 million-plus box office grosses for last year’s modestly budgeted (and critically panned) “Tammy,” McCarthy ranks as current box office queen. She defends her title in “Spy” (June 5), in which she plays an international cat lady of mystery. Her CIA analyst character, long confined to feeding information to glamorous (Jude Law) and/or grim (Jason Statham) agents by phone, finally goes into the field. McCarthy’s “Bridesmaids” and “Heat” collaborator Paul Feig wrote and directed.


Streep turns musical again in “Ricki and the Flash” (Aug. 7). She plays a would-be rock star who abandoned her family for the road. Jonathan Demme directs, Diablo Cody (“Juno”) wrote the script, and real-life Streep offspring Mamie Gummer plays the grown daughter whose troubles bring Ricki home. Streep learned to play guitar for the film. Based on her level of preparation for previous roles, expect shredding.

Wiig plays half of a dumb-dumb robber duo, and Zach Galifianakis the other half, in “Masterminds” (Aug. 7). Both dummies are female (Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara) in “Hot Pursuit” (May 8), which we will give the benefit of the doubt despite a trailer lousy with jokes based on ethnicity and small stature. Decide who you’re copying, “Hot Pursuit” – it can be “The Heat” or “Get Hard,” but not both.

“Pitch Perfect” came out of nowhere in 2012 to become an a cappella musical comedy sensation (the first of its kind, though that goes without saying). Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson return for “Pitch Perfect 2” (May 15), in which the singing Bellas must overcome a poor showing. Elizabeth Banks makes her feature-length directing debut with the sequel, in which she also reprises her role as a commentator.

Summer’s most anticipated female-led comedy is “Trainwreck,” (July 17), in which Amy Schumer stars as a no-strings-attached dater who considers attaching to a sports doctor (Bill Hader) who pals around with LeBron James (who plays himself in the film).

Schumer has made the news lately for her pointed, funny videos and for pranking Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on a red carpet. But she’s been a niche cable star up to now. Starring in an Apatow big-screen comedy is a career leap forward. How big of one? The popular Movieclips YouTube channel still bills the “Trainwreck” trailer as a “Bill Hader, LeBron James movie.”

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