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updated: 5/11/2012 12:53 PM

Hollywood falls back on familiar franchises for summer

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  • "The Dark Knight Rises"

      "The Dark Knight Rises"

  • "Apparition"

      "Apparition"

  • "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

      "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

  • "The Dark Knight Rises"

      "The Dark Knight Rises"

  • "Chernobyl"

      "Chernobyl"

  • "The Expendables 2"

      "The Expendables 2"

  • "The Amazing Spider-Man"

      "The Amazing Spider-Man"

  • "Brave"

      "Brave"

  • "For Greater Glory"

      "For Greater Glory"

  • "Magic Mike"

      "Magic Mike"

  • "Prometheus"

      "Prometheus"

  • "Possession"

      "Possession"

  • "Battleship"

      "Battleship"

  • "The Dictator"

      "The Dictator"

  • "Lola Versus"

      "Lola Versus"

  • "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

      "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

  • "Tyler Perry's Medea's Witness Protection"

      "Tyler Perry's Medea's Witness Protection"

  • "The Campaign"

      "The Campaign"

  • "Sparkle"

      "Sparkle"

  • "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

      "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

 
 

Is it just me, or are there more colons in this summer's movie titles than in most doctors' offices?

Let's see.

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"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days." "Step Up: Revolution." "Ice Age: Continental Drift." "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." "Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog." "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted."

Nope. It's not me.

Excessive titular colonitis commonly strikes movie titles this time of year, especially when unimaginative studio marketing geniuses don't want clever or creative titles ruining their pedantic taglines and brand names for successful franchise films.

"Marvel's The Avengers" instantly threw the summer film season into warp drive last week with a box office bonanza, justly deserved by Joss Whedon's witty script and superbly wrought direction.

More superheroes are on tap, with Christopher Nolan's third Batman movie on the way, plus "The Amazing Spider-Man" with Andrew Garfield donning Tobey Maguire's spandex suit.

We've got the usual summer mix of sequels and remakes, animated adventures, comedies and scary horror tales. (Amazingly, fall-season Oscar-chasing fixture Meryl Streep even pops in with her AARP romance "Hope Springs" with Tommy Lee Jones.)

Here, then, we present the Chicago area's most comprehensive guide to commercial summer movies. Remember that the release dates are fluid, because studio execs love to move films around in a perpetual game of gaining marketing advantages.

Just be prepared for the inevitable sequel to "Marvel's The Avengers," probably with the risk-adverse title of "Marvel's The Avengers 2: The Next Marvel's The Avenger's Adventure."

MAY 16
"The Dictator" -- The democracy-loathing leader of the Republic of Wadiya ("Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen) gets abducted while on a supposedly diplomatic visit to New York. Payback for dumping those "cremation ashes" all over the stars on the red carpet at the Oscars?

MAY 18
"Battleship" -- When an alien invasion force pops up in the ocean, it's up to a state-of-the-art battleship to save the world in yet another movie inspired by a board game. (Didn't "Clue" kill that genre already?) Liam Neeson and Rihanna suit up as military types and go to war, Michael Bay style.

"Bernie" -- Jack Black's beguiling performance (he sings up a storm, too!) highlights this fact-based story of a Texas nice guy who befriends the richest and most-despised woman (Shirley MacLaine) in town. Directed by Richard Linklater. With an almost unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey as the sheriff.

"First Position" -- Bess Kargman's doc follows ballet contestants as they vie for positions in the prestigious Youth American Grand Prix.

"Mansome" -- Models, actors, experts and comedians weigh in on what it means to be a man in the 21st century during Morgan Spurlock's new documentary, produced by Will Arnett.

"Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog" -- The story of a Labrador retriever trained to be a seeing-eye dog and the blind man who resists canine help. How can this possibly fail as an unlikely buddy movie?

"What to Expect When You're Expecting" -- Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid and Anna Kendrick star in a comedy about how impending parenthood affects five couples.

"Where Do We Go Now?" -- Muslim and Christian women in what might be Lebanon (we never know for sure) band together to stop their menfolk from starting another local war that will kill their husbands, sons and brothers. Directed with fresh insights and breezy humor (with Bollywood-like songs, too!) by Nadine Labaki.

MAY 25
"Chernobyl Diaries" -- Six thrill-seekers on vacation tour a town abandoned in the wake of the ruptured nuclear station in Russia, only to discover there are more gruesome ways to die than radiation poisoning. Written by Oren Peli, who gave us "Paranormal Activity," just so you know what you're in for.

"Henning Mankell's Wallander" -- Even as Lisbeth Salander kicked criminal Swedish tush, TV series Inspector Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson) was on the prowl for Sweden's evildoers in this 2005 crime thriller.

"Hysteria" -- Directed by former Long Grove resident Tanya Wexler, this amusing British period comedy traces the invention of the electric vibrator, used by doctors to "cure" hysterical women during the early 20th century. Hugh Dancey and Jonathan Pryce star.

"Men in Black 3" -- Agent J (Will Smith) takes a page from "The Terminator" playbook and zips back in time to 1969 to stop an alien before he can kill fellow Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Directed (again) by Barry Levinson.

"The Owner" -- Twenty-five filmmakers from 13 countries wrote, produced and directed segments for this story that follows a backpack as it makes its way around the world back to its original owner. Chicago filmmaker John Versical directs a segment.

"Polisse" -- Call out the Ethics Squad! A journalist covering police officers assigned to a juvenile division begins an affair with one of her sources. Hey, didn't she see what happened to Sally Field when she tried that with Paul Newman in "Absence of Malice"?

JUNE 1
"For Greater Glory" -- An epic historical drama based on the conflict between Mexico's anti-religion president (Reuben Blades) and the Roman Catholic church. You know the authorities are bad when they put lovable old priest Peter O'Toole in front of a firing squad. With Andy Garcia as an agnostic general hired to lead the Catholics in an armed revolt.

"High School" -- A straight-A student (Matt Bush) strikes back against an authoritarian principal (Michael Chiklis) by getting the entire student body toked up on marijuana in defiance of the school's hard-line anti-drug stand. With Tom's son Colin Hanks and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as "Psycho Ed."

"I Wish" -- A 12-year-old Japanese lad starts to believe that his divorced parents will somehow get back together because of a new bullet train linking both of their towns.

"The Intouchables" -- A warm and huggy true story about a wealthy, grumpy, disabled French aristocrat (Francois Cluzet) whose life is changed by a good-humored, black Muslim caretaker (Omar Sy).

"Killer Joe" -- One-time Chicagoan and Oscar-winning director William Friedkin returns in an NC-17 rated thriller (at press time) about a young drug dealer (Emile Hirsch) who connives with his dad (Thomas Haden Church) to bump off his mom (Gina Gershon) for the insurance money. But the corrupt cop (Matthew McConaughey) who agrees to whack Mom comes with a hefty upfront price that he foregoes after he takes the dealer's sister (Juno Temple) as sexual collateral.

"Moonrise Kingdom" -- Wes Anderson's new movie takes place in 1965 when two 12-year-olds fall in love, make a secret pact and run off into an island wilderness, prompting a frantic search by a sheriff (Bruce Willis), scout leader (Edward Norton), their parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and others (Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban and Jason Schwartzman).

"Piranha 3DD" -- Judging from the trailers, this sequel to the 2010 killer fish thriller (hilariously mounted as an exploitation comedy) looks like a "Girls Gone Wild" sellout with more curves than teeth. Here, the prehistoric piranha find their way into an inland water park where bikinied babes become she's-kabobs. Christopher Lloyd returns. Elisabeth Shue doesn't.

"Snow White and the Huntsman" -- Kristen Stewart as the fairest in the land? Really? Seriously? The fairest inall the land? When Charlize Theron plays the queen? Here, the "Twilight" star plays Ms. White, spared from having her heart cut out by the queen's hunter (Chris Hemsworth) because he takes pity on her and wants to train her to become a warrior. Snow White as a warrior? Really? Seriously?

JUNE 8
"Bel Ami" -- Robert Pattinson leaves his fangs behind in 1890s Paris to claw his way out of poverty to become a wealthy man in a world "where sex is power" (according to the plot description). With Christina Ricci and Uma Thurman.

"Elles" -- A Paris journalist (Juliette Binoche) confronts her own sexual fears and desires while researching a story about two prostitutes. Co-starring Andrzej Chyra as a character called "The Sadistic Client."

"Lola Versus" -- After being dumped three weeks before her wedding, Lola (Greta Gerwig) embarks on a series of desperate encounters to reaffirm her self-worth and find her place in an uncaring world.

"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" -- Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe are still trying to get back to their New York zoo home. First, they go through Europe and join a traveling circus. Voices by Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith.

"Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" -- Are you an uptight New York lawyer with snippy, self-centered daughters you don't know what to do with? Take them to visit your old hippie mom (Jane Fonda) at her farmhouse for a summer of fun, romance, music, family secrets and self-discovery! With Elizabeth Olsen and Catherine Keener.

"Prometheus" -- The summer's big science-fiction mystery movie from "Alien" director Ridley Scott. Could it be a prequel to his 1979 super horror hit "Alien"? Will it reveal the origins of humankind on Earth? Will Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender be able to save the human race? (Yes, because Rapace played kick-butt Lisbeth Salander in the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." No acid-bleeding alien would stand a chance.)

JUNE 15
"Rock of Ages" -- That nutty Tom Cruise reinvents himself again as heavy rocker Stacee Jaxx in this 1980s-set musical tribute to musical tributes. "Footloose" remake star Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta play guitar-crossed lovers.

"Safety Not Guaranteed" -- A supermarket clerk believes he has cracked the riddle of time travel and prepares to depart, but first he advertises for a partner to come with him -- with his own weapons, of course. Mark Duplass, Jeff Garlin and Kristen Bell star.

"That's My Boy" -- Another Adam Sandler comedy. Todd (Andy Samberg) becomes upset when on the eve of his wedding, his estranged father (Sandler) shows up, desperately attempting to whip up some dad/son bonding. With James Caan, Susan Sarandon and Leighton Meister.

"Your Sister's Sister" -- What twisted webs we weave. A man (Mark Duplass) goes to an island retreat to deal with his brother's death where he meets Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), sister of his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), who sent him to the island in the first place. His affair with Hannah becomes complicated when Iris shows up at the island. Lynn Shelton directs.

JUNE 22
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" -- Four scare and seven fears ago, our 16th president (Benjamin Walker) had to deal with more than just the Civil War: the uncivil war with vampires! Is Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk) one of them? Or just a Democrat?

"Brave" -- What is it with bows and arrows all of a sudden? Hawkeye in "The Avengers." Catniss in "Hunger Games." Now Mireda (Kelly Macdonald), an experienced archer and rebellious princess, must use her skills to undo a beastly curse from a witch (Julie Walters). An animated fantasy from Pixar!

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" -- What is it with "impending end of the world" scenarios all of a sudden? "Melancholia." "4:44 Last Day on Earth." Now, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play two singles who find each other as an asteroid named Matilda is expected to smash into the Earth in three weeks. "Looks like I'm getting my midlife crisis in just under the wire," Carell says. It's a comedy, of course. With Patton Oswalt and Chicago's own William L. Petersen.

"The Woman in the Fifth" -- A mystery thriller about an American in Paris who struggles to write his second novel while working as a security guard for a French Arab's company. Then a mysterious woman enters his life, and, you know. Stuff happens. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke.

JUNE 29
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" -- Oh, no! The G.I. guys not only go another round with their mortal enemy Cobra, but now they must deal with their own powerful government that seeks to destroy them. (Is this a Tea Party movie, or what?) Starring Channing Tatum (not playing a stripper here -- see "Magic Mike" below), Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ray "Darth Maul" Park.

"I Heart Shakey" -- Shot in Chicagoland, this film tells the story of a widower, his 9-year-old daughter and their devoted mutt Shakey as they move from a small town to Chicago and must give up Shakey in their new apartment building. Starring Steve Guttenberg, Beverly D'Angelo, Ebony the Dog, plus Chicagoans Andy St. Clair, Greg Holloman and Janet Ulrich Brooks.

"Last Ride" -- The story of music's original bad boy, Hank Williams. Henry Thomas stars as the performer in this drama, subtitled "A Story of Hank Williams." With Jesse James and Fred Dalton Thompson.

"Magic Mike" -- Pumped-up Channing Tatum plays a stripper in a story based on his own life. He takes a young guy (Alex Pettyfer) under his muscular wing to teach him the ropes. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

"People Like Us" -- A fast-talking salesman (Chris Pine) learns he has a 30-year-old sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) he never knew about. As their relationship develops, he rethinks everything he thought he knew about his family. Based on a true story, with Olivia Wilde and Michelle Pfeiffer.

"To Rome With Love" -- Woody Allen strikes again with yet another romantic comedy not set in New York City. In Italy, some Americans and some Italians get involved with romances, adventures and predicaments. Starring Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page, all of whom probably worked for scale.

"Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection" -- A crooked investor (Eugene Levy) goes into the Witness Protection Program and has to live with the brazen Madea in Tyler Perry's comedy, with Romeo Miller and Downers Grove native Denise Richards.

JULY 3
"The Amazing Spider-Man" -- Tobey Maguire has hung up the tights, so "Social Network" star Andrew Garfield takes the franchise back to its alienated teen roots with yet another superhero reboot with Rhys Ifans as the Lizard, the lovely Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Martin Sheen as the ill-fated Uncle Ben and Sally Field (once a flying nun herself) as Aunt Mae. Directed by Marc Webb. Yes, that's right. Webb.

JULY 5
"Katy Perry: Part of Me" -- A musical documentary covering Ms. Perry's California Dreams Tour.

JULY 6
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- When Hushpuppy's father Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature goes nuts, temperatures rise, the ice caps melt and prehistoric creatures called aurochs are set free upon the planet. With waters rising, the aurochs on the attack and Wink's health fading, 6-year-old Hushpuppy searches for her missing mother. Looks amazing from the trailers.

"The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" -- A comedy from the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay. It's about two brothers (big surprise!) who put on their own 25-event Olympics in their backyard.

"Savages" -- A study of the power of friendship between three people (Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch) forced to square off against the brutal Mexican Baja Cartel run by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer (Benicio Del Toro). Directed by Oliver Stone, based on a Don Winslow crime novel.

JULY 11
"Easy Money" -- A Swedish thriller centered around an ambitious young man who becomes a runner for a local drug dealer.

JULY 13
"Elena" -- Philip Glass supplies the music to this Hitchcockian thriller about a Russian wife spurred to take action when events occur that threaten her inheritance from her wealthy businessman husband. Directed by both Andrei Zvyagintsev and Llorent Barajas.

"Ice Age: Continental Drift" -- A 3-D animated sequel that reunites the "Ice Age" gang, particularly Scrat (still chasing an elusive acorn) and his prehistoric pals Manny, Diego and Sid. This time they take on a group of ragtag pirates who would stop them from returning to their home.

"Neil Young Journeys" -- Jonathan Demme's doc on the life and music of Neil Young.

"Ted" -- A cherished childhood teddy bear comes to life following a magical wish by John (Mark Wahlberg), his owner. "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane writes, directs and stars as Ted, along with Mila Kunis and Giovanni Ribisi.

JULY 20
"The Dark Knight Rises" -- Christopher Nolan's final chapter in his Batman trilogy brings back Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, now weakened since his adventures in Chicago (subbing for Gotham City). A terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) blows up a football field (while in play), destroys a bridge and torments the Bat terribly as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) tries to lure the crime-fighter to the darker dark side.

"Trishna" -- Thomas Hardy's novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" gets a radical reworking from British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. Freida Pinto stars as Trishna, seduced by the son of a wealthy developer and tossed into an increasingly volatile relationship.

JULY 25
"Ruby Sparks" -- A struggling novelist (Paul Dano) creates an inspirational character named Ruby Sparks. A week later, his creation (Zoe Kazan) shows up on his couch in the flesh. He calls it "the true and impossible story of my true and very great love." From the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine."

JULY 27
"Sacrifice" -- A psychologically crippled cop (Chicago's own Cuba Gooding Jr.) teams with a priest (Christian Slater ... Christian Slater???) to solve the case of a stolen religious statue that will change their lives.

"Step Up: Revolution" -- Emily (Kathryn McCormick), who arrives in Miami to be a pro dancer, falls for Sean (Ryan Guzman), leader of an elaborate, cutting-edge flash mob called "The Mob." (How inventive!) They team up to turn performance art into protest art when a businessman threatens to develop their historical neighborhood.

"The Watch" -- Some guys stumble upon a real alien invasion while on their neighborhood watch rounds. What? Did 2011's "Attack the Block" get remade already? Written by Seth Rogen and starring Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Will Forte. The original title "Neighborhood Watch" was changed to avoid referencing the Trayvon Martin shooting.

AUG. 3
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" -- Alison Klayman's amazing doc on Chinese political activist and artist (plus social networking whiz) Ai Weiwei, who went from designing the famous birds nest structure at the Chinese Olympics to being placed under house arrest by the government.

"The Bourne Legacy" -- Matt Damon has retired from his secret agent days, so Jeremy Renner takes over the franchise in this original story (the first not based on a Robert Ludlum novel) about a new agent too smart for the deceptive people he thinks he works for. With Edward Norton as his boss, Joan Allen and Albert Finney.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" -- Champion wimp Greg (Zachary Gordon) goes to work at a country club for the summer with his pal Rodrick (Devon Bostick). Cue the tandem screaming on the amusement park ride, No. 88 on my list of 100 of the worst movie clichés.

"Queen of Versailles" -- Lauren Greenfield's doc about an American billionaire family who built a 90,000 square-foot palace for themselves before the 2008 bubble burst, precitating a real-life epic Shakespearean tragedy.

"Total Recall" -- The Arnold Schwarzenegger science-fiction hit from 1990 gets a revamp with Colin Farrell playing a factory worker who pays to have exciting spy experiences planted in his mind as a diversion, only to have them blow up into reality. With Bryan Cranston and Kate Beckinsale.

AUG. 10
"The Campaign" -- Naive Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local tourism center, becomes a congressional contender who gives the charismatic Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) a run for his office after he commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election. Billed as a "mudslinging, back-stabbing, home-wrecking comedy from 'Meet the Parents' director Jay Roach." With Jason Sudeikis.

"Hope Springs" -- Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in a bawdy sex comedy? Yes, yes, yes, yes! They play middle-agers who come to an intensive therapy program (administered by Steve Carell, no less) to save their listless marriage. "I'm glad you're here!" Carell says. "That makes one of us!" Jones replies.

AUG. 15
"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" -- A magical fantasy about a happy couple (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) who wish for a son. On a dark and stormy night, a lad named Timothy (C.J. Adams) shows up on their doorstep, presumably sparing Garner nine months of morning sickness, munchies and monitoring.

AUG. 17
"The Expendables 2" -- The first "Expendables" was a triumph of senseless brutality, poorly executed action sequences, idiotic dialogue and laughable acting. Can't wait to see the sequel, where the Expendables are motivated by cheap revenge when one of their ranks is killed. Written by Sylvester Stallone, with Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, John Travolta, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Yes. CHUCK NORRIS.

"ParaNorman" -- Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees dead people. So when a witch's curse reactivates corpses in Norman's small town, only he and his stereotypical chunky sidekick have the power to stop them. With John Goodman, Casey Affleck and Jeff Garlin. From the creators of "Coraline," so it's gotta be good.

"Sparkle" -- The late Whitney Houston stars in this remake of the 1976 musical drama, now about three sisters (Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) whose rise to fame and fortune in the music world is balanced out by the downside of showbiz. Mike Epps and Derek Luke supply the testosterone.

AUG. 24
"The Apparition" -- Maybe this will teach Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan not to mess around with supernatural experiments at a university. The force they conjured there now torments them, and it's up to a supernatural expert to save them. He's played by Tom Felton, alias Draco Malfoy from the "Harry Potter" movies. It's rated only PG-13, so it can't be very gruesome.

"Hit & Run" -- There's actually a character named Charlie Bronson in this action movie. He's played by screenwriter and co-director Dax Shepard as a con who jeopardizes his identity in the Witness Protection Program when he helps his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) escape both the cops and his old gang. With Bradley Cooper and the underappreciated Kristin Chenoweth.

"Premium Rush" -- A superfast New York bike delivery expert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) races for his life after he picks up a mysterious package and becomes the target of a corrupt cop (Chicago's own Michael Shannon).

AUG. 31
"Lawless" -- At the height of Prohibition, ambitious country boy Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) dreams of becoming Public Enemy No. 1. By expanding his family's moonshining business, he plots to launch a vast criminal empire while winning the heart of beautiful Amish girl Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). With Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman.

"The Possession" -- No, it's not about a foreclosed house, but an evil box containing a dybbuk, an evil entity from Jewish folklore. A girl (Madison Davenport) buys it at yard sale, prompting her dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to hook up with his ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick) to battle the supernatural forces. A cautionary tale about buying stuff at yard sales.

"Sleepwalk with Me" -- Self-deprecating standup Mike Birbiglia based this movie on his 2008 monologue, now an indie feature about the indecisiveness of a commitment-challenged New Yorker. Birbiglia plays Matt, eight years into a relationship with a sexy and seemingly perfect woman (Lauren Ambrose), but too tied up with his career to tie anything else, like the knot.

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