By the end of the first weekend in June, it felt like we’d stumbled, quite by accident, onto one of the strongest summer movie seasons in years. Everyone’s report card will be different, of course, but from where I’m standing, Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Maleficent, and Neighbors were all considerably better than I’d expected them to be going in (though they are not, of course, all equally good), and if we scan back a little bit, Captain America: The Winter Soldier joins them in that company. Godzilla was a terrific opening and closing 30 minutes sandwiched around a central hour that was pleasantly uninteresting, and if that was disappointing, it still nestles comfortably in the formula of boredom punctuated by astonishment that has been part of that franchise for ages. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sucked, but it’s not like anybody cared about that one in the first place.
But then the rot starts to sneak in: 22 Jump Street was a predictably weaker sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a disappointingly weaker sequel, and Think Like a Man Too was a downright shitty sequel. In between all of that, Clint Eastwood gave us Jersey Boys, which I’m pretty sure is the worst thing he’s directed since those dodgy political thrillers in the 1990s, and Transformers: Age of Extinction was made to exist.
And as we turn to the back half of summer, all I see is emptiness. July is usually a big month, but this is some desolation we’re about to head into…
It says a lot that the most appealing wide release is Earth to Echo, a ratty-looking Spielberg knock-off done up in found footage. At least it doesn’t have Melissa McCarthy doing yet another “the fat lady curses, ha-ha” movie, the way Tammy is; and though I’m obviously going to see it, I don’t even want to talk about Deliver Us from Evil, a demonic possession movie that boasted one terrific teaser and nothing since to make it look even modestly different than every other demonic possession movie.
I entered 2014 with Richard Linklaters 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood near the tip-top of my “most anticipated” list; it’s officially moved into being the release for the whole rest of the year I’m most excited for, and being limited and all, I have no idea when that will happen. But the concept (tracking a boy’s growth in actual time) is a flawless fit for the director of the Before movies, and early word has been ecstatic.
As for wide releases, it just so happens that the only big film I’m excited about all month is the same day: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, follow-up to the surprisingly pretty great Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and God, how I wish their titles were swapped). So, yay 11 July, I guess.
There is a line in the Sex Tape trailer that goes something like “Nobody understands the cloud! It’s a mystery!”. Nobody Understands the Cloud would have been a far better title, and I expect was the pitch, of a film that combines weird levels of technophobia with weird levels of tech illiteracy into some kind of fluffy quiche of out-of-touch idiots throwing the word “Siri” at a script to seem vaguely topical. And I say this as someone who would rather cut my fingertips off than own a smartphone.
Elsewhere in a preposterously dire weekend: Planes: Fire & Rescue finds DisneyToon Studios continuing to give zero shits about telling stories that anybody might conceivably want to see, and Rob Reiner’s death march continues on to And So It Goes, sucking Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton into the wake. But I’m easily most excited-dreading The Purge: Anarchy, a universe-building spin-off of the most frustratingly half-baked horror movie of 2013.
No, seriously, how is this not September? And like, the really bad part of September.
One limited release that I’m actually excited for: A Most Wanted Man, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final non-Hunger Games feature, and an adaptation of a John le Carré overseen by Anton Corbijn, who built up a reservoir of goodwill with me in making Control that he is unlikely to ever run out. And one limited release that I feel duty-bound to see: Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, a period comedy that has way too many echoes of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion for comfort.
As for the wide releases, there’s maybe some reason to hope for Lucy, a sci-fi thriller with Scarlett Johansson, whose last such movie was one of the year’s best releases thus far. But producer Luc Besson is on a cool streak. If there’s any hope for the Brett Ratner-directed Hercules, it’s that it will be sufficiently fun in its badness for a good party movie; and those who know more than I about Gabriel Iglesias – which would consist of having heard of him more than five minutes ago – can tell me if there’s any hope for his comedy concert film The Fluffy Movie.