“Game Of Thrones” has it wrong. Summer is coming. And for us dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles that means several things. Time to kick back and enjoy some good old fashioned spectacle — and, perhaps, if it’s not asking too much, a little depth, emotion, intelligence, quality filmmaking — and a chance to see just how wide the chasm is between the small movies and the BIG ones. It’s true, as our summer preview made clear, that there are just as many tiny indies, foreign titles and documentaries worth catching at the cinema this summer.
With May officially kicking off Hollywood’s most cha-chingy time of year, we hope this month’s column reflects the movies we’re most excited to see. Big, small and anything else in between. Same rules apply, as always. We want good films. So while the first movie on this list is the most obvious one, and a sure bet to win the box office this season, we imagine there are at least a few below it that are new to you, and well worth your time. Be brave and remember to vote with your dollars. If you like a certain kind of film, remember to show your support at your local theater (especially if you’re lucky to have an arthouse nearby).
Happy watching, and let us know what you want to see.
“The Avengers: Age Of Ultron”
Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.
What You Need To Know: The Marvel machine just keeps on chugging along, to the tune of good reviews (though ours was more mixed) and a helluva lot more money. Though the future continues to look golden for the now uber-powerful (and highly influential) comic book movie production company, and its proud parent Disney, there’s bound to be a negative tipping point for these movies some time. Of course, ‘Ultron’ being the sequel to the third highest grossing film of all time (for now, anyway — “Furious 7” is creeping up on its total), this will no doubt gross crazy big box office (it already has in some parts of the world) and everybody will be happy. Except for those of us who became exhausted a while ago with most of these movies. Our B- review made note of Whedon’s choice to forego an attempt to top his previous work and go for a more humanistic view. “Or at least, that’s the goal in ‘Ultron’, a darker, but not totally somber effort in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon, one that’s sometimes baggy, tedious, and episodic, but also frequently, although not entirely entertaining and satisfying. And it is a little repetitive and messy too.”
Release Date: May 1st
“Far From the Madding Crowd”
Synopsis: A headstrong young landowner is courted by three different men: an honest shepherd, a cavalier soldier, and a wealthy older man.
What You Need To Know: The difficulties in adding another version of a classic, previously adapted novel are apparent for this one. Director Thomas Vinterberg (who recently came back into favor with his searing, gut-punch melodrama “The Hunt”) breathes new life into this adaptation of the famous Thomas Hardy novel, previously brought to the screen in 1967 by John Schlesinger. It doesn’t stray too far from the source, nor does it do anything radically different in terms of adaptation and period piece visuals, but Vinterberg’s sense of immediacy, so prevalent in his two best works (The aforementioned “The Hunt” and his debut “The Celebration”), is not lost here. And don’t sleep on that cast (better yet, dream about them), especially leads Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and rising Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts. Fox Searchlight has wisely slotted this as early summer counterprogramming. Read our review.
Release Date: May 1st
“Far From Men”
Synopsis: During the Algerian Civil War, a mild-mannered schoolteacher is forced to take charge of an Algerian prisoner and transport him to the city.
What You Need To Know: Viggo Mortensen is a fascinating actor, one who flirted briefly with superstardom but instead has brilliantly wielded any power (and financial comforts) from his time in Middle Earth to partner up with David Cronenberg on couple projects and, lately, foreign auteurs in roles where he speaks no English at all. The excellent, strange and beautiful “Jauja” by Lisandro Alonso was released this March after a successful festival run, where he played a character totally alien to his previous work on screen. Now this film, from director David Oelhoffen, where he speaks fluent French (quite well, according to our review), is coming to an arthouse theater near you, and shouldn’t be missed: “A film that yet again proves our beloved Western genre’s resilience and timeless resonance, and also its usefulness in framing histories unknown to many in familiar but illuminating terms, [it] never strays far from its genre, except perhaps in its ultimate subtle moral: Nothing, not honor, duty or your personal code, is so important that it trumps the value of your life.”
Release Date: May 1st
“Welcome To Me“
Synopsis: A woman with borderline personality disorder wins the lottery and uses the money to set up her own talk show.
What You Need To Know: Though the trailer for this one mostly comes off like an SNL parody video of a certain kind of tiresome indie movie, our review out of TIFF last year was effusive in its praise for this dark but comedic effort, most especially in Kristin Wiig’s performance: “None of this would be as funny if it was done by anyone other than Wiig, who has never been funnier. Her crass, narcissistic, capricious Alice is her greatest creation” High praise indeed. We’re convinced that it’s worth seeking out, based on the positive word of mouth, but consider some of us a little cautiously optimistic. At best. “The ensemble cast, which includes Joan Cusack as a programming supervisor, all do a solid job of supporting Wiig, but ‘Welcome To Me’ is all about one lady. Without so much as the briefest cameo from an ‘SNL’ colleague, or producer Will Ferrell, we are spoiled by the comedic capabilities of Kristen Wiig, an expert doing what she does best. We wouldn’t really want it any other way.”
Release Date: May 1st
“Mad Max: Fury Road“
Synopsis: Though determined to wander the post-apocalyptic wasteland alone, Mad Max joins Furiosa, a fugitive imperator, and her band who are all trying to escape a savage warlord.
What You Need To Know: Uhh… have you seen the trailer for this shit yet? Cuz what else do you need to know? It looks awesome, totally destructive and insane. Director George Miller is back in what looks like fine form, breathing new cinematic life into his trilogy that once starred Mel Gibson, and now hands off leading man duties to none other than our most lovable badass Brit thespian Tom Hardy (in a role where he barely speaks, apparently). Miller reportedly spent years on this, with a tough shoot where the stunts were done practically as much as possible (there’s still tons of CGI in those trailers but it looks grand). We’re also very excited to see what Charlize Theron can pull off in this universe. Her icy beauty and legit acting chops could be a real jolt to this franchise, perhaps hinting at some feminine angles making their way into this macho world. We certainly hope so. This is easily our most anticipated summer movie, a gonzo, R-rated action extravaganza that looks non-stop and a flat-out blast. Expectations are now high for it, but hopefully we can put those away and just be enthralled by what looks like a crazy good time at the movies.
Release Date: May 15th
“Pitch Perfect 2”
Synopsis: The Bellas return and enter a worldwide a capella competition that no American group has never won in order to regain their status.
What You Need To Know: “Pitch Perfect” became a surprise sleeper hit in the Fall of 2012, grossing more than $100 million worldwide on a $17 million budget (not bad at all), all but ensuring this inevitable sequel. It does look like more of the same, which should do fine for the fanbase, and really that’s all that matters to make it a hit again, as the general consensus seemed to effusively sing its praises. The most interesting thing to note at this point would be actress Elizabeth Banks here making her directorial debut. That’s a very cool opportunity for her, and we hope its success actually leads to more women getting director jobs down the line, for all kinds of movies. We hear Universal is pretty happy with the end product, so things are looking good all around for this sequel (and reportedly a third one is already planned).
Release Date: May 15th
Synopsis: A bounty hunter keeps his true motive a secret from the naive Scottish teenager he’s offered to serve as bodyguard and guide while the youth searches for his beloved in 1800s Colorado.
What You Need To Know: Western. Michael Fassbender. Need we say more? Probably not, as that’s more than enough for us to buy a ticket right now, but look closer and there’s even more to get excited about with this throwback take on the genre that looks to up the thrills and the body count. There’s the other cast members, like character actor great Ben Mendelsohn playing a baddie (of course) and the ostensible lead in Kodi Smit-McPhee (quietly building an impressive CV little by little). And this movie has the freakin’ Hound in it! (I’m speaking of course about “Game of Thrones” actor Rory McCann, who we all could use more of, cinematically speaking). Our B+ review out of Sundance confirmed any surface anticipation from our end: “slow-burning and simmering, [it] knows how to kick the voltage into high gear. As the movie gallops to its inevitable epic conclusion, the narrative is like three wicks lit and racing to a thrilling and explosive ending with a high body count, but with heart and soul, too. A dark, but spirited fable about the pitilessness of the West, the meaning of home on the range and the worthwhile qualities of wicked, seemingly irredeemable men, ‘Slow West’ is a terrific little parable, and a strong debut by John Maclean worth treasuring.”
Release Date: May 15th
“I’ll See You In My Dreams”
Synopsis: A widow and former songstress discover that life can begin anew at any age.
What You Need To Know: More wise counter-programming, this one stars none other journeywoman Blythe Danner, who deserves to be known for more than just being the sixth billed actor in the “Meet the Parents” franchise. The film premiered to good notices at this year’s Sundance, and even stirred up early Best Actress chatter for Danner. Our review described the movie as sweet and lovely in the headline, no less, so we’re fans of it to be sure. “[It] offers a showcase for actors who are both breaking out and into new ground (Martin Starr), as well as to familiar faces tackling new material (Danner, Sam Elliott). It also proves [Brett] Haley’s acumen as a writer-director — the script is well-structured, refined and satisfying, and the direction is sure-handed. Not to mention, it’s refreshing to have lesser-seen romances and different kinds of friendships on screen. Emotional and entertaining.”
Release Date: May 15th
Synopsis: A troubled young girl discovers a mysterious scientific paradise and teams with a reclusive inventor to find her way back there and save the future.
What You Need To Know: The latest live-action adventure from animation genius (and just plain wonderful filmmaker) Brad Bird (“Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles”) is another attempt by Disney to strike gold by adapting, or more accurately, converting, a theme park ride in to a viable movie franchise. Even though we still keep getting “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and they keep inexplicably making billions of dollars, there was a time when that first film was at first seen as a joke only to become a legit summer movie hit and a lot of fun. With Bird at the helm along with George Clooney and a dazzling new trailer, this looks to be one of the highlights of this summer.
Release Date: May 22nd
Synopsis: A defense contractor is sent to Hawaii, where his ex-girlfriend lives, to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite, only to fall for his military liaison.
What You Need To Know: First off, Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”) compiled a great cast for his latest effort: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride and more make up this Hawaii-set tale that’s sure to look appealing on camera during these upcoming hot summer months. But will it have staying power in a super hero and action movie-packed slate? We’ll see. There’s been some rumblings that Sony isn’t thrilled about the work, but let’s just hope Crowe can get his mojo back after his pretty terrible “Elizabethtown” and the muted reaction to “We Bought a Zoo.” All we have to go on is a trailer so far, and it’s… ok, but is right in the director’s rom-com wheelhouse. Whether that’s a good thing (“Jerry Maguire”) or a bad thing (“Elizabethtown”) remains to be seen.
Release Date: May 29th
Synopsis: A wealthy but miserable slob tries to improve his life and soon becomes inextricably entangled with a self-styled guru/gym owner and acerbic personal trainer.
What You Need To Know: Writer/director Andrew Bujalski (“Computer Chess”) looks to be graduating from his mumblecore roots with this effort, easily his starriest yet. Guy Pearce is one of the great actors working today, much more flexible than he’s given credit for and capable of leading man turns as well as small character parts. This also appears to be a lot more accessible than Bujalski’s previous films, looking a lot more like something the Duplass Brothers would make, or even more so like recent Joe Swanberg efforts like “Drinking Buddies.” Our Sundance review mentions that while the film is uneven, it’s a wholly more optimistic take from the filmmaker. “A little shaggy and rough around the edges… Bujalski’s slice-of-life pictures always suggest a reality that extends beyond the limits of the closing credits. At the very least, the movie is appropriately as messy as [Cobie] Smulders’ thorny character. Much more about love than one might actually realize at first. When all is said and done, what materializes is the mismatched pair trying to make their relationship work, despite their deeply defective nature, and the fact that they’re potentially doomed to fail. ‘Results’ isn’t always a successful film, but its philosophies about the myths of perfection as they apply to love are at least credible, funny and well observed.”
Release Date: May 29th
There’s plenty of festival titles to look out for this May, seemingly making up our entire honorable mention list. We’d be remiss if we didn’t re-mention a film from last month’s column that’s officially coming out this month. “Hyena” is a gritty little British crime flick we liked quite a bit at TIFF last year. Documentarian Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil,” “West of Memphis”) finally gets to show off her first attempt at narrative filmmaking with her effort “Every Secret Thing,” which we saw at Tribeca last year and mostly appreciated, written by Nicole Holofcener. “Maggie” is certainly a different step for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a spare and sad movie about losing your daughter disguised as a zombie flick. “Aloft” is a starry drama with Jennifer Connelly.
Then there’s “The D Train,” which looks kinda amusing, and asks the question: How far would you go to be popular? Find out May 8th. Critically acclaimed SXSW 2014 drug addiction drama, “Animals” sounds bruising too. Also, we recently lost legendary documentarian Albert Maysles and we have to champion his last film, “Iris” if for nothing else than it’s the penultimate time we’ll get a film from the man (his “In Transit” is listed as completed on IMDB).
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” is a popular comedy on the festival circuit, one for the older crowd perhaps. “Saint Laurent” is a biopic about, you guessed it, Yves Saint Laurent. “The Connection,” from Drafthouse Films, is a French period crime tale with some loose relation to William Friedkin’s classic “The French Connection,” starring Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and sounds awesome on paper but has got less than stellar reviews. We still hold out hope.
Two documentaries to look out for include one for which the title explains everything (“I Am Big Bird”) and the other less so (“Sunshine Superman”), but it’s about the man who invented BASE jumping and features some stellar archival footage of these crazy people who put their lives on the line for thrills.
Lastly, there’s Ethan Hawke genre pic “Good Kill” from smart writer/director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”). “Poltergeist” is yet another remake of a classic ’80s horror title that will probably disappoint and terrify in equal measure, depending on whether you hold the original in high esteem (like us!) or not. And why not give a shot at infamous gay filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s attempt at hitting some kind of relative mainstream audience with his most accessible work to date, “Gerontophilia.”