Before tut-tutting Hollywood for another summer of what A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis have called “sequel season, when the movie studios celebrate their lack of imagination by disguising it as populism” — a moment of reflection for one of cinematic-summer’s greatest visionaries, H. R. Giger, who passed away last Monday from injuries sustained in a fall. Outside of perhaps only Jaws or The Exorcist, summertime aesthetics were never scarier, more iconic, or influential than Alien, whose fearsome, organic, uncanny creatures, the xenomorphs, Giger birthed to the world, the sort of nightmare seen once in the darkened theatre or bedroom and never forgotten.
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Crunching numbers to quantify excitement for their 2014 Summer Film Anticipation Guide, The Dissolve assessed over 60 films for their “anticipation rating.” The results: fewer than 30% scored a 7 or higher on their 0–10 point scale, and just four were anointed an 8 or higher.
Writing in Grantland, Wesley Morris notes something actually worthy of (mildly) celebrating: a summery trend towards parity for women in starring roles or as prominent characters in ensemble, major film casts (though female directors still remain conspicuously marginal in major film releases, Lana Wachowski being the sole exception). If blockbuster films are to be made both for and by men and women, some ground has been made — it’s great to see multiple women on screen kicking butt and stealing not just scenes but whole movies — yet as lonely Lana Wachowski shows, there still remains a long road ahead for the female Michael Bay.
So with expectations appropriately set low, but with a few festival films to buoy and surprise, a modest summer movie survival guide:
Godzilla (May 16)
“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around.”
With one overachieving monster movie already under his belt (Monsters) director Gareth Edwards takes helm of the 20+ movie franchise with a gargantuan load of expectations. Visually the film movie looks astounding, appropriately dark and frightening, an atmosphere sure to be bolstered by the theatre’s sound system. With a strong cast including Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, and Elizabeth Olsen, Edwards has a chance to produce an arresting American kaiju film and an affecting metaphor of man’s miniscule scale amid an unpitying natural world, much like the first, great Godzilla from 1954.
Korengal (May 30)
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2010 for Restrepo, their bracing, more-than-embedded documentary in which they followed the Second Platoon during a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, then the most deadliest location in the war. Korengal picks up where Restrepo left off, filming the same men, in the same valley, this time endeavoring to understand the mess of fear, courage, and connection which soldiers make with the battlefield (only this time without Hetherington who was killed in 2011 in Libya while covering the conflict.)
We Are the Best! (May 30)
Never mind “punk is dead”, here’s three Swedish misfits to rock out and not give a shit. A return to his romantic, bittersweet roots, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (Together, Show Me Love, Lilya 4-Ever), directors this affectionate, roguish tale of three punks in early-1980s Sweden, rebels from talent, school, and their parents.
Snowpiercer (June 27)
Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, director of the great Mother and atypical, surprising monster movie, The Host, makes his English language debut with this whirling, crazy-quilt, post-apocalyptic train film. Mixing languages, class struggle, and something to do with a global-warming saving experiment gone wrong that left the planet quite cold, it looks like Titanic meets Battleship Potemkin. Or something along those lines. Based on a French graphic novel.
Boyhood (July 11)
A straightforward premise made in an extraordinary manner, Boyhood tells the coming of age story of its titular boy — growing up, dating, finding his way in the world — only instead of using different boys of different ages, director Richard Linklater kept his cast unchanged. Reuniting every year for twelve years to shoot an additional installment in their patient, uncanny film, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and star Ellar Coltrane grew older together, inevitably, blurringly sharing time and memories in life and the in the film. It brings to mind Michael Apted’s Up Series, but with Linklater’s warmth and perception, Boyhood looks even more evocative and moving.
Life Itself (July 11)
I grew up in Chicagoland. I read the Sun-Time’s movie reviews religiously. And I attended the University of Illinois, where Roger Ebert went to college and later held his Overlooked Film Fest (now Ebertfest). I still recall seeing him once, for just 15 seconds, while volunteering for the fest. I was more than starstruck — Ebert opened a world of life and art to me and millions of others. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) Life Itself is the Roger Ebert documentary, remembering the life of the great film critic who passed away last year, though with slightly more warts that I selectively remember him having.
Moebius (August 18)
File this under “I’ll believe it when I see it,” although I suspect many may pass on the seeing part. Directed by Korean director-provocateur Kim Ki-duk, Moebius is allegedly a black comedy — with castration as a main plot device. I like how the New York Times describes it: “Dad is having an affair, Mom decides to commit a Lorena Bobbitt with a kitchen knife, and when her efforts are thwarted, she inexplicably takes the knife to her teenage son instead. Father makes the ultimate (genital) sacrifice in solidarity with his son, and both try to adjust.”
Frank (August 22)
Aka the movie where Michael Fassbender wears a papier-mâché head the whole movie, Frank nevertheless looks like a funny, smart, potentially compelling comedy. Fassbender (Frank) plays the helmeted frontman (based on comedian Chris Sievey’s Frank Sidebottom alter ego) of an way-out experimental band with a chance to big, especially when they score an opportunity at South by Southwest. But will insanity, infighting, and the mystique of that head tear them apart?