So we're right on the precipice of the 2011 summer blockbuster season, and it's no secret most of the major tent-pole outings this year, like most, revolve around mega-franchises, comic book adaptations, videogame films and monumental sequels. However, if those films aren't exactly your brand of booze, but you still want to see epic-in-scale, larger-than-life entertainment...what's a mofo to do? How about all us hardened genre heads, can CARS 2 and THE HANGOVER PART 2 really sate our ever-growing bloodlust? I think not. That's why I've taken it upon myself to preview, and even rank in order of priority, my most anticipated summer genre films of the year. Trolls, apes, sharks, vampires, aliens, mysterious monsters...here's my must-see list of summer genre films 2011!
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. THE TROLL HUNTER (André Øvredal)
Despite my man Eric expressing tepid feelings, there's still something about André Øvredal's genre-tinged Norwegian mockumentary THE TROLL HUNTER that piques my interest. Now, I've never really been a troll guy, but when done right, I love the pseudo-doc format made popular in the 90s with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. For those in the know not, TROLL HUNTER follows a coterie of students in Norway that vet and suss a series of mysterious bear slayings, only to find out something much more otherworldly is responsible. Namely, TROLLS. What draws me in most from the footage I've seen so far is the solemn tone and austerity with which the subject matter is treated. This isn't a campy, schmaltzy, over-the-top kind of film...it's cinema verite approach seems like a refreshing counterbalance to your typical summer slate. THE TROLL HUNTER opens June 10th.
#9. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Rupert Wyatt)
Asinine title aside, what's not to dig about Andy Serkis in a high-tech ape getup? Determined not to let Tim Burton's 2001 debacle dissuade me, one of the major reasons I'm down to check out Rupert Wyatt's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the fact it's set in San Francisco. Petty I know, but it's my home city, and I never tire of seeing those rolling hills, trolley cars and monumental bridges onscreen. I love that shite! As for the story itself, it's an origin tale about genetic engineering and the dire consequences that lead to full-scale simian uprising. My one real hope is that Freida Pinto and Isabel Lucas remain in their luminescent human form, it'd be a shame if they're morphed into a 3-foot hirsute shit-slinger. Brian Cox and John Lithgow on the other hand, I'd love to see those two badasses match villainous wits and bring little Jamey Franco to his knees. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES opens August 19th.
#8. APOLLO 18 (Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego)
While I am a fan of the mockumentary format, I'm a bit more cynical when it comes to these found footage movies. I don't know, they often just feel too contrived to get into. However, there's something about Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego's APOLLO 18 that fascinates me. If you're unfamiliar, the film is purported to be about a real NASA mission to space that was eventually canceled in the 70s. Dimension head Bob Weinstein has claimed that "we didn’t shoot anything. We found it. Found baby!” While I hardly buy that, I am down to see what the Spanish born Gallego has to offer. If you've seen the trailer for the film, you know it has a grainy, low-fi look that, when contrasted with the high-tech gadgetry of NASA itself, creates a cool otherworldly vibe we don't often associate with outer-space pictures. I don't know, it looks trippy, sensational, and the mystery revolving around the whole thing has me invested.
#7. FINAL DESTINATION 5 (Steven Quale)
Ever the guilty pleasure, the newly minted trailer for Steven Quale's FINAL DESTINATION 5 actually looks pretty decent. Sure these movies are dopey beyond belief, fraught with stilted acting and stultifying dialogue, but if wildly inventive fatalities are your thing, the FINAL DESTINATION series is one to behold. This time out, good ol' death gets its vengeance when a slew of youngsters survive the collapse of a suspension bridge. I know these films are little more than goofy time-passers, but I quite enjoy posting up in bed late-night and watching how absurdly profligate the set pieces continue to be. Let's be honest, a large part of the appeal of horror films isn't necessarily to be frightened, but to watch the misfortune of others. And in the age of reality TV, we long to see, in a sadly detached and voyeuristic way, people suffer. FINAL DESTINATION offers that en masse. See the fifth installment of the franchise August 12th.
#6. SHARK NIGHT 3D (David R. Ellis)
The dude brought us SNAKES ON A PLANE, FINAL DESTINATION 2 and the inferior CELLULAR, now David R. Ellis' is back in action with unabashedly derivative SHARK NIGHT 3D. As if JAWS 3-D wasn't a cautionary tale, I can only hope Ellis goes the Alexandre Aja (PIRANHA 3D) route and revels and rolls around in the camp and kitsch. Just crank her to volume ten! If you missed the gist, a band of seven vacationers retreats to the Louisiana Gulf for a little R&R. There, they become predictably attacked by a school of fresh water sharks. Not much else you need to know, save for the fact Sara Paxton looks fine as hell in an underwater cage. Sure to be silly fun, I always love some B-level aqua-terror, and with Ellis' checkered resume, I can't help but have a morbid curiosity as to how this will turn out. SHARK NIGHT 3D opens September 2nd (hey, it's before the solstice, get off me!)
#5. COWBOYS & ALIENS (Jon Favreau)
Although I tend to favor Jon Favreau's earlier behind-the-camera work (SWINGERS, which he wrote, MADE), there's no doubt I wanna see what the dude has up his sleeve for the star-studded, high-concept tent-pole mash-up COWBOYS & ALIENS. I mean, come on...Bond and Indiana Jones in the same picture, with the smoldering Olivia Wilde thrown in for extra combustion...what's not to like about that shite? Really though, it's all about the marriage of western tropes with the alien invasion template, and the mixture of old and new technology that intrinsically blooms from said mélange. Coming off the underwhelming IRON MAN 2, let's hope the Favs gets back to what he knows best: character driven action entertainment. If he gives us a good story with people we can care about, we'll forgive any exorbitant CG artifice or bloated set-pieces. With Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, Paul Dano and Keith Carradine - COWBOYS & ALIENS do battle July 29th.
#4. THE LEDGE (Matthew Chapman)
Completely antithetical to the blockbuster formula is Matthew Chapman's dramatic thriller THE LEDGE, starring Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Charlie Hunnam and Terrence Howard. If for no other reason than a change of pace, THE LEDGE looks to be an unsettling treatise on the differences between a fundamentalist Christian and an all out atheist. Frightening stuff! Chapman, who write RUNAWAY JURY, BLACK WATER TRANSIT, CONSENTING ADULTS, makes his return to the director's chair after 23 years (HEART OF MIDNIGHT), directing an original script he wrote himself. I don't know, the film just looks like a taut little thriller, with a small cast and controlled budget ($10 million); a perfect antidote to the lavish, escapist entertainment the summer season churns out by the week. I dig the actors involved, particularly Patrick Wilson, who, as you can see in the trailer, portrays an ultra-creepy religious zealot willing to do whatever it takes to find his path of righteousness. Jump off THE LEDGE July 8th.
#3. FRIGHT NIGHT (Craig Gillespie)
For reasons I can't yet expound on, I have a quite a bit invested in Craig Gillespie's FRIGHT NIGHT remake (don't worry, you'll know what I mean soon enough). 3D novelty notwithstanding, one of the things that makes the FRIGHT NIGHT rehash so interesting is the international cast Gillespie and DreamWorks have assembled. Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, David Tenant and Toni Colette are just a few names who hail from abroad; Farrell's Jerry Dandridge and Tenant's Peter Vincent being the two must see curios. Set in Las Vegas, the script from vampiric-veteran Marti Noxon ("Buffy The Vampire Slayer") also deviates quite a bit from the original, which I openly welcome. With legendary makeup/FX man Howard Berger and the KNB team at the ready, not to mention the film being shot in 3D as opposed to being converted in post, here's hoping the film will be a fresh offshoot of the original and not a rote retread. FRIGHT NIGHT opens August 19th.
#2. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (Troy Nixey)
It's not often that I pine to see a remake, but since I have not seen the original on which it is based, Troy Nixey's fabled horror joint DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is one I'm definitely willing to give a day in court. After-all, the film is produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, a dude I think we can all agree knows a thing or two about terror. Or more specifically, ghastly creatures. Starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes, the film centers on a young woman sent to live with her father and his new lady friend. There, she's tormented by a throng of malefic beasties who want to claim her as their own. Co-written with del Toro by Matthew Robbins (THX-1138, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), here's a moderately budgeted ($12.5 million) horror flick with an R-rating, two attributes that are hard to find during the blockbuster season. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK opens August 26th.
#1. SUPER 8 (J.J. Abrams)
Color me in the tank for what J.J. Abrams, wunderkind de jure, has in store with SUPER 8. Although shrouded in mystery, the little we've seen so far of this 80s Amblin nostalgia piece looks pretty f*ckin rad. Fusing a personal, character driven story with the sensibilities of a tent-pole action flick, it's one of the few high-profile flicks out this summer that's actually original. It's not based on any prefabricated property, it's not a comic book or videogame adaptation, nor is it any kind of sequel or venal franchise cog. Even if the film does well, I doubt it's the kind Abrams will want to squeeze dollars out of with future installments. Not only that, I feel like Abrams is out to prove, with only his third feature film (behind MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III and STAR TREK), that he's as good a director as he is a writer/producer. SUPER 8, about a drove of adolescents who unwittingly film an extraterrestrial life-form exposed after a gnarly train-wreck, comes out June 10th.