Movie News & Reviews

Summer movie preview: Hollywood plucks from the toy box for 2014

They say Hollywood makes movies for 13-year-old boys, which is imprecise. It makes movies for 13-year-old boys in 1987.

The 2014 summer movie season started with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and will celebrate action-figure-linked cinema further via Godzilla, X-Men, Transformers, Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Usually at this point, a summer-movie preview would try to shame studios for going back to the well (again). But as a “Transformers” franchise “reboot” seven years after the first film attests, Hollywood lacks a capacity for shame.

So we will look at the bright side. Maybe “Hercules” will send kids to Homer’s “The Odyssey.” And maybe Megan Fox’s participation in the Michael Bay-produced “Ninja Turtles” means her rift with the filmmaker is over. And that we, as a nation, can move on.

Below are selective lists of 10 summer spectacles and 10 quieter alternatives. (Release dates are subject to change, and in some cases, yet to be determined. If a Sacramento date is not set, we list New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco dates).

The spectacles


Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins

Director: Gareth Edwards

Release date: May 16

The ominous trailer for this film shows respected actors looking harried amid a thunder of bass beats and what might be allusions to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Then the source of everyone’s panic is revealed to be a monster from old B movies where words and actors’ lips did not match.

So we will take a wait-and-see approach. But I bought last year’s “World War Z,” a hyper-serious movie about zombies. And it’s a good sign that “Godzilla” director Edwards (“Monsters”) once made TV disaster documentaries.

Oh, and that other big-budget Hollywood “Godzilla” movie, the one from 1998 with Matthew Broderick? Just act like it never happened.

(See the movie trailer on all devices)


Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender

Director: Bryan Singer

Release date: May 23

There’s a ridiculous amount of talent in this film, which sends Wolverine (Jackman) back to the 1970s and incorporates much of the cast from previous “X-Men” films, including Fassbender, Lawrence (painted blue as Mystique), Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Director Singer returns to the franchise he started in 2000. “X-Men” films often play as B-level compared with A-grade “Spider-Man” and “Batman” comics films. Wonder if an all-star cast can change that.

(See the movie trailer on all devices)


Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning

Director: Robert Stromberg

Release date: May 30

From Disney’s animated “Sleeping Beauty” springs this origin story of the baddie so aggrieved at not receiving an invitation to a princess’s christening that she practically breathed fire. In the trailer, Jolie shoots daggers with her eyes – her go-to look in most roles. But here it inspires fear and curiosity. Maybe it’s the horns, or the rich visual world Oscar-winning production designer Stromberg (“Avatar”), directing for the first time, appears to have created.

(See the movie trailer on all devices)


Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Director: Doug Liman

Release date: June 6

Last year’s “Oblivion” underwhelmed, but Cruise goes post-apocalyptic again – and again. He plays a military officer, killed in a showdown with aliens, but forced to relive that battle in an endless loop. It’s “Groundhog Day,” without the levity, and with Blunt as Andie McDowell. If McDowell were a special-forces warrior.

(See the movie trailer on all devices)


Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett

Director: Dean DeBlois

Release date: June 13

With no Pixar film this summer (the studio pushed its “The Good Dinosaur” to 2015), this DreamWorks Animation/Fox movie is the marquee animated film of the season. Its 2010 predecessor was funny, touching and action-packed. In the sequel, young Viking Hiccup (Baruchel), who was seemingly destined to hunt dragons like his dad but instead befriended one, finds his long-lost mother (Blanchett).


Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz

Director: Michael Bay

Release date: June 27

After destroying Chicago in 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” Bay reboots his franchise, with some story continuity but a new human friend (Wahlberg) to the alien robots. Wahlberg plays a tinkerer who brings home a beater big rig that turns out to be Optimus Prime, leader of the good Transformers. But since the Chicago thing, people no longer see good and bad Transformers, considering them all robotae non gratae.

(See the movie trailer on all devices)


Cast: Andy Serkis, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman

Director: Matt Reeves

Release date: July 11

Caesar (Serkis, or rather his digital aping) from 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” returns with a group of fellow super-charged simians. But the humans are hanging in there, and challenging Caesar’s power. “Rise” star James Franco will appear here only briefly. You decide if that’s a good or bad thing.


Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt

Director: Brett Ratner

Release date: July 25

Forget January’s “The Legend of Hercules” and that pipsqueak Kellan Lutz (What? You already have?) This one stars The Rock and was directed by the Ratner (“Rush Hour”). Based on a comic, the new film presents an earthbound world free of the supernatural. So look forward to some mythical-mumbo-jumbo-free beatdowns.

(See the movie trailer here)


Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)

Director: James Gunn

Release date: Aug. 1

Marvel Comics’ Guardians are a space-based band of misfits and and protectors. Pratt’s (“Parks & Recreation”) self-styled adventurer leads, followed by a green-skinned soldier (Saldana), a lethal raccoon (Cooper) and a treelike enforcer (Diesel). Plusses out of the gate: Movies about ragtag space heroes evoke the wonderful “Galaxy Quest”; director James Gunn made the gross yet entertaining 2006 horror-comedy “Slither.”


Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Release date: Aug. 8

Martial-arts-trained turtles (this time fully computer-generated) emerge from the sewers to battle evil. Then things strain credibility: Fox plays a journalist.

(See the movie trailer here)

Quieter alternatives


Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson

Director: Amma Asante

Release date: May 16

In this British period piece based on a true story, Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral. Raised by her uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle enjoys privileges but also faces rampant prejudice. The real-life Lord Mansfield played a key role in England’s abolition of slavery.


Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman

Director: Favreau

Release date: May 16 (San Francisco)

Favreau wrote and directed and plays a creative, uncompromising L.A. chef who challenges his boss (Hoffman), alienates a top food critic with his itchy Twitter finger, and remakes himself via a rusted-out food truck. “Chef” marks the first indie film Favreau (“Swingers”) has written and directed since he went big-budget with “Elf” and “Iron Man.”

(See the movie trailer here)


Cast: Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler

Director: Frank Coraci

Release date: May 23

We are willing to acknowledge looking forward to a Sandler movie, but there are rules. It must co-star Barrymore, with whom Sandler shared a cuddly chemistry in “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates.” This pair gets the benefit of the doubt even though the premise – single parents go on a bad first date, part ways, end up on the same African safari – makes the amnesiac comedy of “Dates” appear ripped from the headlines.


Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort

Director: Josh Boone

Release date: June 6

Based on John Green’s beloved young-adult novel, “Stars” follows teens (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) who meet in a cancer support group and fall for each other. Except the girl resists the boy’s overtures because she believes she is too sick for romance.

Woodley is great in everything. Elgort showed charisma as Woodley’s brother in “Divergent” and as Carrie’s prom date in “Carrie.” He had to do a lot of convincing in that movie, too.


Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy

Director: Gillian Robespierre

Release date: June 6 (New York and Los Angeles)

In this Sundance Film Festival hit, Slate plays a standup comic impregnated during a brief affair with a young man played by the charming Jake Lacy (“The Office”). Slate is known for cussing on air during her first sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” and for roles on HBO’s “Hello Ladies” and Showtime’s “House of Lies.” But she won my heart as Mona-Lisa, most heinous member of the awful, entertaining Saperstein family on “Parks & Recreation.”


Cast: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche

Director: Fred Schepisi

Release date: June 6

It’s like it’s 2007 again, with Binoche and Owen starring in an American (-ish, since it was shot in Vancouver) romantic comedy. Owen plays a high school English teacher and writer who believes in the power of words. Binoche is a painter and art teacher who thinks images hold all the power. They both say “to-mah-to,” but she does it with a French accent.


Cast: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall (“Think”); Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon ( “Tammy”)

Directors: Tim Story; Ben Falcone

Release dates: June 20; July 2

We twin these films because neither looks like a surefire winner but can be recommended regardless: Hart and McCarthy always deliver.

Hart’s character goes solo in a crowd of couples in the Las Vegas-set “Think Like a Man Too,” sequel to the 2012 hit film taken from Steve Harvey’s advice book. A freewheeling Hart is a hilarious Hart.

McCarthy’s fired fast-food worker in “Tammy” looks like a variation on her impertinent characters in “Identity Thief” and “The Heat.” Watching McCarthy buck propriety never gets old. McCarthy co-wrote “Tammy” with husband Falcone, who also directed, and they had the good sense to cast Sarandon as Tammy’s alcoholic grandma and road-trip companion. Sarandon’s good on a road trip.


Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette

Director: Richard Linklater

Release date: July 11 (San Francisco)

Linklater followed his “Before Sunrise” couple Jesse and Celine in three films, starting in 1995. He distills that urge to revisit into one film in “Boyhood.” Linklater shot the movie over 12 years, following star Coltrane as he matured from a 7- to a 19-year-old. Hawke, star of the “Before” movies, and Arquette also spent years filming this drama about a fractured family.


Cast: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Release date: Aug. 8

An Indian family moves to France and opens an eatery near a Michelin-starred restaurant run by a snooty chef (Mirren). The Indian restaurant might be an underdog, but the movie, taken from a book by Richard Morais, is not. Hallstrom already directed the successful 2000 food-themed film “Chocolat,” and Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg produced.