It's going to be tough for 2014's summer movies to top last year's box office record of $4.75 billion.
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Only two family-friendly releases made the studios' docket this summer: "Planes: Fire and Rescue" plus "How to Train Your Dragon 2." Both are sequels.
"The lack of kid-friendly fare," Variety's Andrew Stewart reports, "which is exacerbated by the absence of the customary Pixar release, is one factor prompting some box office analysts to predict a softer summer domestically."
Movie fans don't need to worry that this summer roster will shortchange them, however.
We have a plethora of the usual summertime genres to choose from, especially action pictures starring AARP members ("The Expendables 3"), simian conquerors ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), mutants ("X-Men: Days of Future Past"), humanoid reptiles ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"), aliens ("Jupiter Ascending") and transportation vehicles harboring secret identities ("Transformers: Age of Extinction").
Don't worry. The summer also packs in plenty of romance, science-fiction, comedies and even several documentaries.
Here's the Chicago market's most comprehensive summer movie preview, as of this publication. As always, be aware that studios change release dates the way we change socks.
"Blended" -- Third time might be a charm for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore teaming up again for a romantic comedy. They play single parents who call it quits after one date, only to be forced into sharing a luxury suite at an African safari hotel. Directed by Frank "Wedding Singer" Faraci. It might work.
"Fed Up" -- This investigative documentary narrated by Katie Couric covers a lot of health-related ground. It reveals how the powerful food industry uses funding to stifle government regulations of less-than-healthy products, and tries to explain why American kids are grossly overweight. In many respects, a real eye-opener.
"The German Doctor" -- The title of Lucía Puenzo's drama refers to Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death," an SS officer and a physician at Auschwitz. He (Alex Brendemuhl) ingratiates himself into an unsuspecting South American family.
"Ida" -- On the verge of taking her vows in Poland, a would-be nun discovers a dark family secret dating back to the Nazi occupation. From acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" -- When film franchises bring out the time travel tales, it's usually a sign of creative desperation. Here, the trailers make it look extremely engaging. The older mutants join their younger selves to alter history and save the future. Does this make them Generations X-Men?
"Black Box" -- I've seen the trailer to this indie drama and I still have no clue what it's about. Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Austin Pendleton and Josephine Decker play characters brought together in a "black box" theater where a director meets a novelist whose book serves as the inspiration for the play being rehearsed.
"Chinese Puzzle" -- Cédric Klapisch's trilogy ("L'Auberge Espagnole" and "Russian Dolls" came first) concludes with Xavier (Romain Duris) following his family to Manhattan where he tries to hit a deadline for his new novel. With Audrey Tautou and Kelly Reilly.
"Cold in July" -- After hitting us in the faces with a killer virus thriller ("Mulberry Street") and a Hitchcockian cannibal drama ("We Are What We Are"), the unpredictable Jim Mickle directs a neo-noiry tale of the misadventures of a family man ("Dexter" star Michael C. Hall) after he shoots and kills a home invader.
"The Grand Seduction" -- Sounds like a rip off of Michael J. Fox's comedy "Doc Hollywood." A tiny village must land a local doctor before businesses will locate there, so a resident (Brendan Gleeson) sets traps for a big city doctor (Taylor Kitsch).
"Just a Sigh" -- Ah, those French trains. Full of romance, adventure and new beginnings. At least for Alix (Emmanuelle Devos), an actress who falls for a mysterious Irishman (Gabriel Byrne) on the train to Paris. Forget that audition. She follows him instead. Directed and written by Jérôme Bonnell.
"Lucky Them" -- A music journalist (Toni Collette) joins a wannabe doc maker (Thomas Hayden Church) to find a missing rock singer who might be gratefully dead.
"Maleficent" -- The mistress of evil from Walt Disney's 1959 animated classic "Sleeping Beauty" becomes a live-action temptress played by Angelina Jolie in Robert Stromberg's revisionist fairy tale. Elle Fanning plays Princess Aurora (the one who pricks her finger on the magic spinning wheel). With Miranda Richardson, Sharlto Copley and Imelda Staunton.
"Manakamana" -- Co-directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez create a documentary promoted as "breathtaking, poignant and mesmerizing." Photographed on old-fashioned 16 mm. film stock entirely inside a cable car high above a jungle in Nepal.
"A Million Ways to Die in the West" -- This has the potential to be the funniest and raunchiest western comedy since Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles." Bad boy Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, cowrites and plays a cowardly sheep farmer who falls for a desperado's wife and must pay the consequences. With Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris and more!
"Anna" -- In this horror tale/thriller, a clairvoyant detective (Mark Strong) enters the mind and memories of a young woman (Taissa Farmiga) accused of an attempted triple homicide to see if she's really guilty, or harboring a secret. (My money's on the latter.)
"Edge of Tomorrow" -- Oh, no! It's "Groundhog Day" meets "Avatar" as Tom Cruise, caught in one of those time loops, gets a kajillion extra lives to keep coming back from the dead to figure out how to save Earth from alien invaders. With Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton.
"The Fault In Our Stars" -- No points for the cliched pretentious poster pose with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort face-to-face, but lying down in opposite directions. It's about a romance that begins at a meeting of a cancer support group. Based on John Green's best-seller. Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe star.
"Words and Pictures" -- Two artistic has-beens, a writer (Clive Owen) and a painter (Juliette Binoche), fall for each while teaching at a prep school. From longtime Australian filmmaker Fred Shepisi.
"Rage" -- In this action thriller, Nicolas Cage plays a respectable businessman and loving father living a peaceful life ... until somebody snatches his teenage daughter. Good thing he has a dark and violent past to fall back on. He summons his old buddies to help him find her by any means necessary.
"All Cheerleaders Die" -- It happens all the time. A party goes awry and the cheerleading squad gets killed. Next, a supernatural power intervenes and the girls mysteriously appear at school the next day with killer new looks. Another macabre movie from Lucky McKee, director of "The Woman" and the excellently creepy "May."
"Citizen Koch" -- Yep, this is THAT documentary, the one that PBS tried to kill by withholding $150,000 of the budget, then refusing to broadcast. All because it reported on big money's influence on politics, and that might upset super jillionaire public television funder David Koch. The superhero who saved the day? Mr. Campaign. Kickstarter Campaign.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" -- What? Wasn't the training in the first movie enough? Guess not. The poor beastie needs more training by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), with help from an extremely expensive voice cast: Kristen Wiig, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson and America Ferrara.
"The Human Race" -- Race or die. That's the choice given to 80 kidnapped strangers forced to participate in a race to the death. Step on the grass, you die! Get lapped twice, you die! Don't follow the rules, you die! Starring Paul McCartney-Boyington. Really.
"Night Moves" -- Three radical environmental extremists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) plot to blow up a dam in an eco-terrorism thriller directed by Kelly Reichardt, known for employing an exquisite minimalistic style.
"Obvious Child" -- A standup comic named Donna (Jenny Slate) becomes pregnant after a one-night stand. Now, she must face the uncomfortable realities of independent womanhood in what's billed as a "hilarious and totally unplanned journey of self-discovery and empowerment."
"The Signal" -- Once you hear "the signal," that means you've been chosen. For what? Laurence Fishburne's HAZMAT-attired scientist doesn't know. But he suspects that Brenton Thwaites' college student might. A science-fiction mystery fantasy from William Eubank.
"Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" -- Never heard of super agent Shep Gordon? He's a real-life Zelig with a knack for being at the right place and time to meet and then represent jillions of famous and rich people. A most auspicious directorial debut by Mike Myers!
"22 Jump Street" -- Now too old for undercover work in high schools, officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill, 30) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, 34) go deep undercover at a college where they major in "maturing." With a chilled Ice Cube and Peter Stormare.
"Jersey Boys" -- Clint Eastwood directing a movie version of the Broadway musical about the Four Seasons pop group? Yep. With a screenplay from Woody Allen collaborator Marshall "Annie Hall" Brickman. Christopher Walken leads a mostly unknown cast. (Frankie Valli isn't in this movie; he's in "And So It Goes.")
"The Rover" -- David Michod's follow-up to his critically acclaimed crime drama "Animal Kingdom." Ten years following the collapse of society, loner Eric (Guy Pearce) travels the desolate Outback. Thieves steal his car, but leave behind a wounded man (Robert Pattinson) who helps Eric track down the gang and reclaim the one thing that matters to him. (That's supposed to be a surprise.)
"Think Like a Man Too" -- Tim Story returns to direct the sequel to his 2012 comedy. Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Adam Brody, Regina Hall, Dennis Haysbert, Kevin Hart and Jennifer Lewis star.
"Drones" -- In Rick Rosenthal's real-time drama, two soldiers operate a military drone, targeting a ruthless terrorist. With time running out, they begin to suspect their commanders have hidden motives for ordering the drone strike. But what?
"Ivory Towers" -- Andrew Rossi's eye-opening doc about how escalating costs are putting higher education out of the reach for the middle class. If half of all 2012 college grads can't find jobs, what's the point of going into lifelong college debt? Lots of ground covered here.
"Third Person" -- Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, James Franco and Maria Bello star in three interlocking love stories set in Rome, New York and Paris. Directed and written by Paul Haggis.
"Transformers: Age of Extinction" -- Michael Bay returns to direct the fourth installment of the amazingly idiotic, but commercially successful science-fiction action series. This one brings in Mark Wahlberg as mechanic Cade Yeager, whose life becomes a little complicated after he discovers Autobot Optimus Prime, attracting the attention of the dreaded Decepticons. Co-starring the Dinobots Grimlock, Strafe, Slug, Scorn and Slash.
"We Are the Best" -- Two 13-year-old rebels, despite having no instruments or discernible musical talents, form a punk band and recruit their shy, classical guitar-playing schoolmate as a member. Writer/director Lukas Moodysson adapted this movie from his wife Coco's graphic novel set in 1980s Stockholm.
"Deliver Us From Evil" -- When there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? New York cop Eric Bana and Catholic priest Edgar Ramirez, that's who! Allegedly based on the real cases of NYPD's Ralph Sarchie.
"Earth to Echo" -- A simple cellphone signal leads three best pals to discover an alien being stranded on earth, and wanted by the government. Directed by up-and-comer Dave Green, who loves melding horror with humor.
"Tammy" -- Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy cowrites, codirects and stars in this road comedy about a desperate woman (McCarthy) who loses her car, husband and job, leaving her with one option: Driving to Niagra Falls with her grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon) riding shotgun.
"Life Itself" -- Steve James' documentary on Chicago's beloved movie critic Roger Ebert is a work of art and journalism, a film so personal and, yes, brave, that it was the perfect way to start 2014's Ebertfest in downstate Champaign.
"And So It Goes" -- Michael Douglas plays an egocentric real estate agent who receives a life-changing surprise: A granddaughter he never knew existed left on his metaphorical doorstep. With Diane Keaton and Frankie Valli. (Yes, the Frankie Valli!)
"Begin Again" -- Producer Judd Apatow teams up with John Carney, director of the gentle musical "Once." A lost songwriter (Keira Knightley) reeling from an unfaithful partner (Adam Levine) finds her soul mate in a disgraced record executive (Mark Ruffalo). Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener also star.
"Boyhood" -- It was called "The 12 Year Project." Every year for 12 years, director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and young Ellar Coltrane met for a few weeks to film the ongoing story of a young lad's life from age 6 to his senior high school year. And the changing relationship he shares with his divorced parents.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" -- Apes or humans? Which group will rule a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has wiped out most of humanity? (Big hint.) Andy Serkis plays Caesar. From Matt Reeves, director of "Cloverfield" and "Let Me In," so it should be intriguing.
"The Fluffy Movie" -- Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, a comedian with a worldwide fan base, performs in a one-man concert.
"Land Ho!" -- Two sixty-something ex-brothers-in-law set off on a road trip through Iceland, hoping to reclaim their youth. I'll wager they find it elusive. Directed and written by Aaron Katz and Martha Stevens.
"Aftermath" -- Following a nuclear exchange, nine strangers hide in a farmhouse cellar where they must deal with dwindling supplies, radioactive air and the greatest threat of all: hordes of zombielike refugees who want to come inside and party. Starring "Terminator 2" actor Edward Furlong.
"Jupiter Ascending" -- Chicago's Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy direct an original science-fiction thriller about a housekeeper named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who discovers her "genetic signature" proves she's royalty, and an heir to Earth. That upsets alien leader Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who puts a bounty on Jupiter's pretty head.
"Planes: Fire & Rescue" -- A quick sequel to Walt Disney's 2013 "Planes," starring Dane Cook's voice as Dusty Crophopper, who winds up in the ranks of wildfire fighters in the air. Originally intended to be a direct-to-video feature, but the dearth of animated movies prompted Disney to bump it up.
"The Purge: Anarchy" -- The annual purge -- where America suspends all laws and lets citizens kill, rape, loot, torture and rob for 12 hours -- gets a capitalistic touch with an auction for a chance to kill luminaries. A sequel to a horror thriller that came up short on its potential political/social commentary.
"Wish I Was Here" -- Zach Braff directs his first movie since "Garden State." He also plays Aidan Bloom, an actor, father and husband, who at 35 still struggles to find his identity and life's purpose. Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Jim Parsons and Josh Gad star.
"Hercules" -- Yes, another movie about Zeus' demigod son, now played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in Brett Ratner's dramatized version of Steve Moore's revisionist tale as published by Radical Comics. With Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell and John Hurt.
"Ironclad: Battle For Blood" -- One of the few survivors of the Great Siege of Rochester Castle in the original "Ironclad" (what? You missed it?) fights to protect his family's estate from fierce Celtic raiders. With Tom Austen ("The Borgias") and Michelle Fairley ("Game of Thrones").
"Magic in the Moonlight" -- Woody Allen writes and directs a comedy about an Englishman brought in to reveal a possible swindle. Starring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver.
"A Most Wanted Man" -- The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German intelligence operative running a secret anti-terrorist team in Anton Corbijn's post-9/11 spy tale based on John le Carre's 2008 novel. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright also star.
"Sex Tape" -- Rob Lowe in a comedy about sex tapes? Seriously? (He's responsible for the first celebrity sex tape in 1989, with an underage girl.) Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play a married couple who record themselves practicing "The Joy of Sex" manual, never imagining that their video might go public. Jack Black co-stars.
"Step Up: All In" -- Another sequel in the unimpressive "Step Up" dance/musical series, this time with stars from the previous films descending upon Las Vegas for their next big competition.
Also in July:
"I Origins" -- A molecular biologist (Michael Pitt), studying the evolution of the eye, makes a stunning scientific discovery that challenges his scientific and spiritual beliefs. With Brit Marling as his lab partner. The second film written and directed by Mike "Another Earth" Cahill.
"Cabin Fever: Patient Zero" -- Don't you know it. Just when you and your buddies plan the perfect Caribbean bachelor party getaway on a remote island, somebody contaminates the water with a deadly, flesh-eating virus. Starring Sean Astin, who might be taking a step up from "Moms' Night Out."
"Get On Up" -- Rock legend James Brown finally gets a big-budget Hollywood biopic starring Chadwick "42" Boseman as the musical legend. The talented Viola Davis and Octavia L. Spencer star.
"Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy" -- Chicagoans Michael Rooker and John C. Reilly play supporting characters in James Gunn's adventure starring Chris Pratt as pilot Peter Quill, forced to align himself with Gamora, Rocket, Drax the Destroyer and Groot, misfits who can help him keep the dreaded Ronan from using a powerful orb to destroy the galaxy. With Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace.
"The Hundred-Foot Journey" -- It's a high-class food fight! Lasse Hallstrom directs a tale of two culinary cultures in commercial conflict. In the picturesque south of France, the owner (Helen Mirren) of a highly rated restaurant declares war on a new Indian restaurant moving in next door, a place run by a family displaced from India. Starring famed Indian actor Om Puri. A Walt Disney production.
"Into the Storm" -- In what sounds like a remake of the Helen Hunt disaster movie "Twister," Stephen Quale's weather thriller gives us storm chasers who rush into a plethora of tornadoes slamming into a town called Silverton. Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies star.
"Lucy" -- Scarlett Johansson gives Jennifer Lawrence a run for her superhero money as Lucy, forced to work as a drug mule for the mob. She develops super powers (i.e. absorbing knowledge instantly, moving objects with her mind, feeling no pain) after a mystery drug implanted in her body springs a leak. Directed, written, edited and coproduced by famed French filmmaker Luc Besson.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" -- Producer Michael Bay's super hero origin reboot will have to really be clever to improve on the 1990 live-action adventure that heavily capitalized on "Pinocchio" and other classic kids' tales. Former "Transformers" star Megan Fox plays April O'Neil, who befriends the mutant teens who haven't come out of their shells yet.
"Let's Be Cops" -- The trailer doesn't exactly sell it. Two pals (Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson) dress up as cops for a party. They're so well-received, the pair starts to act like the real thing. Of course, no good can come from that! Andy Garcia co-stars.
"As Above, So Below" -- Several explorers regret they entered the winding catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, where they discover rooms full of old bones and a dark secret. It promises to be "a journey into madness and terror."
"The Expendables 3" -- Finally, the older action guys (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Dolph Lundgren, Robert Davi, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger) make way for new Expendables, younger, faster and more tech-savvy types. They must stop the ruthless Expendables founder (Mel Gibson!) from now destroying them.
"The Giver" -- In a future world, teenager Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) discovers how his parents and society have traded their humanity for a world without war, racism or sickness. With Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift. Yes, the Taylor Swift.
"Life After Beth" -- Talk about a case of undying love. Young Zach ("Amazing Spider-Man 2" star Dane DeHaan) is despondent upon the death of his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick). Then, she returns from the dead to supply him with zombie love. Not so despondent.
"What If" -- "Goon" director Michael Dowse switches from sports to romance in this story of two good friends (the former Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan) determined to remain platonic, despite their natural attraction for each other. Hey, any movie with Adam Driver in the cast can't be terrible.
"Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" -- Nine years after the super-stylized "Frank Miller's Sin City" comes this sequel, codirected by Robert Rodriguez and Miller himself. In a noiry tale filled with sex, violence, betrayal and revenge, Josh Brolin plays Dwight, a photographer who becomes involved with a married hottie (Eva Green). Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba fill out the cast.
"If I Stay" -- The trailers look pretty trippy. A young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) must choose between her dream of Julliard or her dream of Adam (Jamie Blackley). A car collision puts her in a coma, giving her an out-of-body experience to help her decide.
"Love is Strange" -- John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play longtime gay partners who decide to marry in the wake of New York's relaxed marriage laws. Then, one is fired by the Catholic school where he teaches, forcing the men to split up and enter the "for worse" part of their vows.
"The Trip to Italy" -- Comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reteam with their "The Trip" director Michael Winterbottom in this food-stuffed sequel. The duo embarks on a new culinary road trip, retracing the steps of the Romantic poets' tour of Italy. Expect more servings of witty banter with impersonation-offs for dessert.
"When the Game Stands Tall" -- For fans of "Remember the Titans" and "Hoosiers" comes the remarkable true story of football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport. Laura Dern and Michael Chiklis star.
"The November Man" -- Erstwhile James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan returns to his espionage days in Roger Donaldson's thriller about an ex-CIA agent brought back into action to battle one of his former pupils. With Olga Kurylenko, star of 007's "Quantum of Solace."
"Underdogs" -- Hey, you don't suppose this could be a sports movie about underdogs, could it? In the tradition of "Friday Night Lights," "Remember the Titans" and "When the Game Stands Tall" comes the fact-based story of an Ohio football team given a shot of hope from a new coach. Meanwhile, the quarterback's dad wages a legal war with a crooked corporation run by the father of the star player from the rival team. What are the odds?
"Jessabelle" -- The title character (Sarah Snook) returns to her Louisiana home where she finds an old VHS tape of her dead mother warning her that something evil is in the house with her. Dad comes in a little late with the news: "That thing on the tape is not your mother!" From the producer of "Insidious," "Paranormal Activity." Just so you are prepared.
"Life of Crime" -- Elmore Leonard penned the screenplay for this dark crime comedy based on his own novel. When kidnappers grab the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a wealthy man (Tim Robbins), he doesn't want to pay the ransom. Wait! Is this a remake of "Ruthless People," or what? With Will Forte, John Hawkes and Isla Fisher.
"The Loft" -- The body of an unknown woman pops up in a penthouse loft owned by five married men who secretly share the space for extramarital affairs. Who killed her? The men begin to suspect each other. (Who would be so stupid as to leave a body lying around a loft you secretly co-own?) Karl Urban, James Marsden lead the cast.
Also in August:
"Calvary" -- "You're just a little too sharp for this parish!" a parishioner tells Father James (Brendan Gleeson). Another one tells him during confession, "I'm going to kill you." John Michael McDonagh writes and directs a character study of a man in crisis.