Summer is winding down, and with it goes the last vestiges of the blockbuster season. But there are still a few tentpole movies left which, along with some offbeat choices, make for an interesting August at the theaters. There’s only one sequel and two remakes in this month’s offerings, and the rest are refreshingly off-kilter originals that hold a lot of promise for entertainment. Laika returns to deliver astonishing visuals with their latest, while the DC Comics movieverse tries to rebound from “Batman v Superman” with “Suicide Squad.” And the whole thing is capped off by one of the most enjoyable, intense thrillers released this year. It’s an intriguing and original list of films for August, so let’s get to it!
Who: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje What: A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute a dangerous black ops mission in exchange for clemency. When: August 5th Why: “Suicide Squad” looks like an absolute barrel of fun that mixes everyone’s love of antiheroes with a dash of “The Dirty Dozen.” Based on the hit comic book of the same name, the film finds a bunch of colorful supervillains riffing off each other while trying to save the world (or just themselves). The trailers make it look like a promising blockbuster, though writer/director David Ayer (“Sabotage,” “Fury”) isn’t exactly known for delivering fun films, usually preferring the grittier side of things. Perhaps he’s found the perfect balance between the ultraviolent, grim world he normally inhabits and a more heightened experience that’s actually enjoyable to sit through.
August may officially be part of the summer movie season, but with the exception of a few titles (“Fantastic Four,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), many of the new films being released this month are very un-summer-like. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course, as audiences are likely experiencing blockbuster fatigue at this point in the year, but while there are some promising movies on the schedule, you probably shouldn’t set your expectations too high. After all, in the past five years alone, there have been only a handful that we’d ever want to watch again.
Who: Miles Teller, Kata Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell What: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. When: August 7th Why: After going the lighter, more family-friendly route with its first two Fantastic Four movies, Fox has done a complete 180 with this gritty, super-serious reboot from director Josh Trank that surely marks the studio’s last chance to get it right. Unfortunately, that hasn’t shielded the project from the inevitable fanboy criticism, whether it’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, or recent rumors of the film’s troubled production. And while the casting debate is a non-starter (not only is Jordan an excellent actor, but he’s a great choice for the role), the latest trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “Fantastic Four” is going to be any better than its predecessors. Different, yes, but not better.
“Ricki and the Flash”
Who: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan and Kevin Kline What: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. When: August 7th Why: On paper, “Ricki and the Flash” sounds like a surefire hit. It boasts Oscar-winning talent in the form of star Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, and is perfectly positioned as a clever piece of counterprogramming to the barrage of superhero movies and action films. What’s not to like, right? As it turns out, an awful lot judging from the trailer. Not only has the whole rock star/estranged parent story been done countless times before, but nothing about the film suggests that it’ll bring anything new to the table, either. Though Streep’s recent trend of turning bad movies into awards contenders (see: “Into the Woods, “August: Osage County”) is certainly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that continuing here.
This has been one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory, and while it would take something really special to turn it all around, there are a few new releases this August that could at least make it a little less forgettable, including Marvel Studio’s most ambitious film to date, new installments of “The Expendables” and “Sin City,” and the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen.
“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”
Who: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel What: When space adventurer Peter Quill steals an orb coveted by a treacherous villain, he must find a way to rally a quartet of ragtag rivals to save the universe. When: August 1st Why: A few months ago, most people had never even heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that’s quickly changed following the launch of the film’s marketing campaign, which suggests that director James Gunn (perhaps Marvel Studio’s biggest risk yet) has absolutely nailed the offbeat tone of the comic book. This has been on my must-see list ever since it was announced, and that excitement has only grown with each new reveal, from the casting of Chris Pratt in the lead role, to landing Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper to voice the movie’s CGI characters, to the strong buzz emerging from early screenings that have pegged it as one of the studio’s best films to date. In other words: get ready to be pleasantly surprised.
“GET ON UP”
Who: Chadwick Boseman, David Andrew Nash, Nelsan Ellis and Viola Davis What: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history. When: August 1st Why: The music biopic is one of the most formulaic subgenres. They’re essentially all the same – a rags to riches story where the subject overcomes some kind of personal demon, usually drug addiction) – and Taylor Tate’s “Get on Up” doesn’t appear to buck that trend. The fact that the script was written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the sibling duo responsible for the excellent “Edge of Tomorrow”) instills some hope that it won’t be a complete waste of time, but James Brown’s life doesn’t really interest me, and the decision to cast Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul feels a little weird after playing another black icon so recently in “42.” What’s next for the actor? Movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Owens?
“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”
Who: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub What: Four mutant warriors fight to save their city from an evil kingpin. When: August 8th Why: There’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film – after all, we’ve seen what producer Michael Bay did to the “Transformers” franchise and director Jonathan Liebesman doesn’t have a very good track record – but the kid in me still can’t wait to see the Turtles back in action on the big screen, even if they don’t exactly look like the ones from my childhood. In fact, they look downright ugly with those oversized frog lips, leading me to wonder how that design ever made it out of the concept stage. The decision to cast a Caucasian actor as Shredder is also a bit worrying, as is Megan Fox’s involvement, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t be so bad.
In recent years, August has typically been the month where studios dump their summer fare that can’t compete with the bigger blockbusters, and although that’s probably true with this year as well, it’s hard to complain with a line-up as great as this, including the latest sci-fi treat from “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp, the sequel to “Kick-Ass” and the final chapter in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.
Who: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton and Edward James Olmos What: A DEA agent and an undercover Naval Intelligence officer who have been tasked with investigating one another find they have been set up by the mob. When: August 2nd Why: It’s hard to believe that “2 Guns” was originally planned as a post-“Wedding Crashers” reunion for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, because they’re hardly the action movie types. Thankfully, that never came to pass, and director Baltasar Kormakur ended up finding an even better onscreen duo in Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who are just as good at handling action as they are at delivering a quip. And that’s important, since it appears that the humor in Blake Masters’ script has remained mostly intact. Washington and Wahlberg are both incredibly charismatic actors that have the box office power to sell a movie on their names alone, so while audiences may have missed out on the chance of seeing Vaughn and Wilson do their version of “Bad Boys,” “2 Guns” is probably better off for it.
Who: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga What: Set in a future where the wealthy live on a space station while the rest of society resides on a ruined Earth, a man embarks on a mission to bring equality to the worlds. When: August 9th Why: Moviegoers have been patiently awaiting Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9” ever since the 2009 sleeper hit arrived in theaters, and although it’s not a sequel like some were hoping for, it is another sci-fi thriller with a socio-political message. Obviously, getting actors like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster was a huge coup for Blomkamp, but the success of “Elysium” will once again rest on its unique premise, which already has my interest piqued. The South African director proved with his debut that he’s really good at world building, and the same holds true for “Elysium,” which looks like a fully formed piece of science fiction with some great visuals to boot. And with the talent involved, another Oscar nomination certainly isn’t out of the question, though it’s just nice to see such an original voice working in Hollywood.
“WE’RE THE MILLERS”
Who: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter and Ed Helms What: A veteran pot dealer assembles a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico When: August 9th Why: It probably won’t be the best comedy you see this year (and quite likely, not even this month), but “We’re the Millers” has the potential to be a lot funnier than it sounds. For starters, the movie is directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (who made the underrated 2004 comedy “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”) and written by the same duo behind “Wedding Crashers,” which means that you can expect plenty of silliness without it going too far over the top. There are better leading men than Jason Sudeikis, who’s usually more effective in supporting roles, but the rest of the cast is great, including Jennifer Aniston (tapping into her naughty side once again after the positive reception from “Horrible Bosses”) and up-and-comer Will Poulter in what promises to be a scene-stealing performance.
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.
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.
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.