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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

August has never been the most exciting part of the summer movie season, but the studios have treated it like a warm-down of sorts in recent years, taking the opportunity to discard their misfit films with seemingly no interest in how they perform. That may change this year, however, as there are a number of high-profile movies (including several targeted at action fans) that could end up doing some pretty big business. In fact, with the somewhat disappointing summer that we’ve had so far, it’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that August might end up being the highlight of the season.

“TOTAL RECALL”

Who: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy
What: Factory worker Douglas Quaid begins to suspect that he’s a spy after visiting Rekall, a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories.
When: August 3rd
Why: While not exactly a remake in the conventional sense, director Len Wiseman’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” has nonetheless caused diehard fans of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original to scream blasphemy. But just like that movie was forced to get creative and expand upon Dick’s story, so too has Wiseman’s version, seemingly sticking closer to its source material by keeping the action on Earth. Colin Farrell is definitely an inspired choice to play Quaid (and just like Adrian Brody in “Predators,” it should help to limit the comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger), while Bryan Cranston is on such a hot streak right now that it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Cohaagen. Whether Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale or the special effects provide the film’s best eye candy, however, is still up for debate.

“CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER”

Who: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor
What: A divorcing couple tries to maintain their friendship while pursuing other people.
When: August 3rd
Why: In addition to being a smart piece of counterprogramming to “Total Recall,” the indie dramedy has been riding a wave of strong buzz since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, where most critics praised the excellent chemistry between its two stars. Though I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Andy Samberg as a romantic lead (or a serious actor, for that matter), I’ll see just about anything that Rashida Jones does these days, especially if it leads to more high-profile roles for the “Parks and Rec” actress. Jones also co-wrote the screenplay, which boasts an interesting premise that practically guarantees it won’t be anything like the typical Hollywood rom-com, with a more dramatic streak reminiscent of movies like “Annie Hall” and “(500) Days of Summer.” And if it’s even half as good as those films, we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

“HOPE SPRINGS”

Who: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell and Jean Smart
What: After 30 years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship.
When: August 8th
Why: There are usually a few movies every summer targeted explicitly towards adult audiences, and more often than not, one of them stars Meryl Streep. That’s the case once again with this geriatric twist on the traditional rom-com, which reunites Streep with her “The Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel. Unfortunately, “Hope Springs” doesn’t look nearly as good, instead hewing closer to the vibe of “It’s Complicated,” at least where Streep’s overly giggly character is concerned. The actress appears to be trying too hard to get a laugh, while Steve Carell doesn’t seem to have that much to do. The wild card is Tommy Lee Jones, who isn’t the first person you’d think of for this kind of role, but that’s exactly why it’s such a brilliant piece of casting. And if the three actors work as well together as you’d expect, “Hope Springs” might not be that bad after all.

“THE BOURNE LEGACY”

Who: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen and Stacy Keach
What: Treadstone agent Alex Cross goes on the run with one of the agency’s scientists when the shadow organization in charge shuts down his operation.
When: August 10th
Why: I was a little wary when Universal announced that they were continuing the Jason Bourne franchise without Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (or for that matter, the title character), but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s safe to say that “The Bourne Legacy” is going to be just fine without them. It was a really smart decision to bring franchise scribe Tony Gilroy back to write and direct the fourth movie, because no one knows the Bourne series better than him, and it was likely his idea to design the story so that it runs parallel to “The Bourne Ultimatum.” That way, the Jason Bourne plotline still has a part to play, making the narrative transition to Jeremy Renner’s character a whole lot smoother. And with quality actors like Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton rounding out the cast, there’s a pretty good chance this will be the best installment yet.

“THE CAMPAIGN”

Who: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Sarah Baker and Dylan McDermott
What: In order to gain influence over their North Carolina district, two CEOs attempt to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady by putting up a rival candidate.
When: August 10th
Why: The fact that I didn’t laugh once during the entire trailer certainly isn’t a good sign, but with the presidential elections just around the corner, the timing couldn’t be any better for a political comedy. Though it’s been awhile since Will Ferrell did something that really made me laugh, and Zach Galifianakis has failed to prove why he’s so popular, the two actors excel at playing big, dumb characters, and anyone familiar with director Jay Roach’s Austin Powers films knows that he loves that brand of goofball comedy. I would have preferred something a little darker – especially after Roach’s recent success on HBO films like “Recount” and “Game Change” – but that’s not really Ferrell and Galifianakis’ forte. And when you consider the current crop of politicians running for office, playing it as over the top as possible is probably the best way to go.

“THE EXPENDABLES 2″

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth
What: When one of their men is murdered on the job, the Expendables’ quest for revenge puts them deep in enemy territory and up against an unexpected threat.
When: August 18th
Why: This is the movie that fans were licking their chops over the first time around, with all the big action star icons that we were promised and more. Along with increasing Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s screen time, the film also boasts a few new additions, including Jean-Claude Van Damme as the hilariously named baddie Jean Vilain, and Chuck freaking Norris, who unfortunately is only appearing in a limited capacity. Still, something is better than nothing, although it’s strange that Steven Segal wasn’t invited to the party as well, unless Stallone is saving him for the next movie. Despite his omission, however, “The Expendables 2” is shaping up to be much better than the original. Director Simon West hasn’t had the most impressive career, but as fans of “Con Air” will tell you, he’s more than capable of delivering a kick-ass action film.

“PARANORMAN”

Who: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Leslie Mann
What: A misunderstood boy who can speak with the dead takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.
When: August 18th
Why: It’s no secret that Laika, the animation studio responsible for 2009’s “Coraline,” has a predilection for the supernatural (they even worked on Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”), so it’s great to see them back to oddball form with another stop-motion movie that both kids and adults can enjoy. Although there’s an undeniable “Scooby-Doo”-like quality to the film, it’ll be interesting to see how directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell manage the creepiness factor after many complained that “Coraline” was too scary for younger kids. (Though I’d argue that it was never meant for them in the first place.) I’m even more curious to see what it looks like in 3D, because while I’ve never been a big fan of the format, “Coraline” was one of the few movies that actually got it right, and the potential is there for “ParaNorman” to produce an equally unique filmgoing experience.

“PREMIUM RUSH”

Who: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez and Jamie Chung
What: In Manhattan, a bike messenger picks up an envelope that attracts the interest of a dirty cop, who pursues the cyclist throughout the city.
When: August 24th
Why: Though it was originally scheduled to open earlier this year, the studio’s decision to push the release date back to August likely had more to do with capitalizing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s appearance in “The Dark Knight Rises” than the quality of the movie. It makes more sense to release the film during the summer anyway, because it doesn’t look like much more than your average popcorn flick – a high-testosterone action thriller like “Crank,” only without all the manic craziness. In fact, the weirdest thing about “Premium Rush” is that it seems to have created a whole new sport by blending cycling with parkour, although some might argue that you can’t get any weirder than Michael Shannon. But the actor always brings his A-game, as does Gordon-Levitt, so I wouldn’t be surprised if “Premium Rush” turned out to be the surprise hit of the month.

“SLEEPWALK WITH ME”

Who: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane and James Rebhorn
What: A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the dangerous case of sleepwalking he’s desperate to ignore.
When: August 24th
Why: Most stand-up comics probably only dream about being involved in a movie as funny and honest as Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” let alone one that marks their directorial debut. Based on his one-man show of the same name (which was in turn inspired by actual events from his life), the film is a witty and consistently funny human comedy about the fear of commitment, and hands-down my favorite movie at this year’s SXSW. Much like Birbiglia’s stand-up in the movie, the story is entertaining because it’s so personal, and he makes it even more so by narrating the movie via segments where he talks to the audience a la Ferris Bueller. It’ll be interesting to see how the general public receives “Sleepwalk with Me” when it’s rolled out into theaters, because the film is so good that if you weren’t a fan of Mike Birbiglia beforehand, you will be afterwards.

“LAWLESS”

Who: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman
What: Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.
When: August 29th
Why: I didn’t really care for director John Hillcoat’s last two films (the post-apocalyptic drama “The Road” and the Aussie Western “The Proposition”), but I’ve been looking forward to “Lawless” since it was first announced. Formerly titled “The Wettest County in the World” after the novel on which it’s based, the movie looks about ten times more exciting than any episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” and features an ensemble cast that would make any director jealous. Not only does it boast a pair of talented leading men in Tom Hardy and Shia LeBeouf, but the film also features the likes of Guy Pearce (who shaved off his eyebrows for the role), Gary Oldman (back in villainous form), the prolific Jessica Chastain, and the underrated Jason Clarke. Though it may seem a little early to be releasing a movie with this kind of awards potential, there’s so much competition at the end of the year that separating itself from the pack will likely increase its chances.

  

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