Heat Wave: Your All-Inclusive Guide to the 2016 Summer Movie Season

Well cinephiles, we survived the minefields of late winter and early spring movie going. Once the previous year’s awards holdovers are out of the way, Hollywood dumps all their trash that either lacks the capacity or the inclination for success, be it critical or commercial.[1] Sure, there are certainly exceptions (Hail, Caesar!, The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Zootopia just to name a few). But the opening months of the calendar year all too often signal the industry’s obligation to offload its junk, light and heavy, before getting to the season that excites even the most casual of film fans: summer. The four-month stretch (traditionally lasting May through August) has a reputation for exclusively offering the latest in popcorn munching, big budget spectacles but there’s plenty to offer for the discerning viewer. 2016 looks like it’ll have much to choose from cinematically, whether it be the production of an above average thought or just big dumb fun. Without further ado, let’s jump into the deep end of the pool.


Raunch Dressing- R Rated Comedies to Watch For: The Nice Guys, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Central Intelligence

Summer’s always a reliable time to enjoy some hilarious comedies, especially ones of the R-rated variety, and this year is no different. First up is The Nice Guys, Shane Black’s first feature film since Iron Man 3. The crime comedy follows two private detectives (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) hot on the trail of a missing girl as they navigate the mean, conspiracy ridden streets of 1970s Los Angeles. The plot may have a been-there-done-that vibe but the unlikely pairing of Crowe and Gosling, no doubt enlivened by Black’s trademark dialogue, have all the makings of a reliable, edgy entertainment. Next is Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a mockumentary from the music group The Lonely Island (led by SNL alum Andy Samberg), that lampoons the modern popstar documentary/concert film.[2] Samberg seems like the perfect person to lampoon music celebrity, as he’s got the face to half convince you he’s a heartthrob but immediately shatters it with his own brand of self-deprecation. Even if the Lonely Island or the subject matter doesn’t get you excited, Popstar is so jam packed with top shelf comedic talent that it seems near impossible for the movie not to be wall to wall laughs. Additionally, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates[3] pushes Zac Efron and Adam Devine, two hardcore party animals, to find respectable dates for their sister’s wedding. However, they soon find out that their temporary girlfriends (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) may be even raunchier than them. A premise like that and a cast like this nearly writes itself. The same can be said of Central Intelligence, which tasks the two busiest men in Hollywood (Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart) with surviving the world of international espionage. There’s no debating that the tagline “Saving the World Takes a Little Heart and a Big Johnson” deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for its ingenuity. And if none of those sound satisfying, just go watch Keanu, the latest comedic effort from legends in the making Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele. The film narrowly misses contention quite simply because of its release in late April and I would be remiss if I failed to abide by my arbitrary categorizations.


Cannes You Dig It: The 69th Annual Cannes Film Festival

But enough about farts. Let’s transition to the arts. The Cannes Film Festival, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious film festivals, celebrates its 69th annual ceremony.[4] This year features new films from acclaimed talents like South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden), Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar (Julieta), The Netherlands’s Paul Verhoveen (Elle), and Denmark’s Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon) competing for the festival’s hallowed Palme d’Or award. Additionally, the United States is also well represented in the race with films by Sean Penn (The Last Face), Jeff Nichols (Loving), and Jim Jarmusch (Paterson).[5] The president of this year’s jury is none other than Australia’s George Miller, still basking in the universal praise of last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Some big filmmakers playing their work out of competition include Steven Spielberg (The BFG), Woody Allen (Café Society), Shane Black (The Nice Guys), and Jodie Foster (Money Monster). Notably absent in any capacity is Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which was expected to play but will instead tour the festival circuit later this year. Often times, films that play at Cannes don’t screen in American theaters until the fall or later, if they do at all. Still, I enjoy following the buzz of the films’ while secretly rooting for an American film to win the big dance, if nothing else to prove that we have much more to offer than fighting robots or spandex clad superheroes. But best of luck to all the films screening in the Riviera this May.


Film Most Likely to Cause a Headache- X-Men: Apocalypse

Following the world bending events of Days of Future Past, the X-Men franchise aims to refocus its gaze entirely on its younger mutants with Apocalypse. However, the latest film in the decade and a half old series still raises a multitude of questions that may require repeat viewings to answer: how many times will Magneto (Michael Fassbender) switch sides? Is that really Oscar Isaac playing Apocalypse under all that make-up and CGI? When exactly does Jennifer Lawrence’s contract expire? Furthermore, it’s especially awkward for this movie to be coming out just months after Deadpool, an in-franchise rebuke of the very movie Apocalypse promises to be. As a fan of the X-Men, I will be an eager audience member. But on a wider level, I wonder just how much longer this series can sustain itself with commercial and aesthetic competition both from outside and within.


The Summer’s Biggest Wildcard: Suicide Squad

Speaking of risky superhero movies…David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the third film in DC’s burgeoning cinematic universe, has the near impossible task of standing on its own, elaborating on the pre-established continuity, and setting up additional story that can be elaborated on in future films. Oh, and it must be a more satisfying comic book movie than March’s pretentious bore Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Lastly, all of these hurdles neglects to bring up perhaps the largest one of all: it’ll focus on a team of “villains.” I use that word loosely because the film will inevitably reform our protagonists into good guys, or at worst occasionally heroic antiheroes. The trailers thus far show Suicide Squad has the potential to be an even edgier Guardians of the Galaxy, itself a film that gave the genre a much needed shot in the arm. And while we’re on the subjects of shots in the arm: Jared Leto’s Joker looks to steal the show or at the very least the conversation. It’s release at the tail end of the season just gives us even more time to speculate about what this movie will end up being.

conjuring 2

Horror Standout: The Conjuring 2

From my perspective, horror movies seem to mostly disappear into the shadows while larger budgeted films soak up all the spotlight through the summer months, as the genre lies in wait until the winds of fall come calling. Even so, The Conjuring 2 will be primed to scare audiences in early June looking for a momentary break from the week to week explosions. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to their roles of Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators now tasked with expelling a poltergeist from an estate in merry old England. The Conjuring 2 is directed by James Wan, horror’s greatest contemporary auteur, and will be the filmmaker’s last movie before he journeys under the sea to helm DC’s forthcoming Aquaman movie. So, be sure to enjoy what could very well be Wan’s final scare for quite some time.


Hardly Any Other Fish in the Sea: Finding Dory and the Slate of Animated Features

The vast majority of animated films this summer inspire little confidence. The Angry Birds Movie adapts the intricate, multilayered narratives of an app you play on your phone while taking a dump. Ice Age: Collision Course takes five seconds out of its two-and-a-half-minute trailer to make a joke about the word “duty.”[6] The trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, a movie that appears for the most part fine, highlights a cute bunny (voiced by the brash Kevin Hart) unpredictably shooting excrement from his behind. It’s like the studios got together and decided to make this year’s animated schedule reek of crap. But one of the few bright spots looks to be Finding Dory, the long awaited sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Though I prefer the majority of Pixar’s other works to Nemo, Andrew Stanton’s undersea adventure is a visual treat that features memorable voice work from Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks.[7] The gang’s all back as Dory (DeGeneres) goes searching for her long lost family, with Marlin (Brooks), Nemo, and a new crew in tow. I don’t think it’s too much to assume that Finding Dory will be a film beautiful on both aesthetic and thematic levels.[8]


Game Over: Warcraft and the Coming Video Game Movie Boom

Though it seems we’re living in the era of the comic book movie, the realm of video games presents a near equally minable vault of intellectual property that makes their ascendance to the top of the food chain all the more imminent. Video game movies frequently induce chuckles (see Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat, or Doom) but a coming slate of films could very well represent a sea change for the genre’s commercial viability. Leading the pack this year, at least on the calendar, is Warcraft, an adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name The fantasy epic brings to mind an attempt to modernize The Lord of the Rings trilogy with morally ambiguous orcs and an even greater reliance on CGI. It’s disappointing that a director as talented as Duncan Jones, whose debut was 2009’s cerebral science fiction film Moon, is stuck at the helm of a movie that looks as helplessly generic as this. But it’s quality may hardly matter. If the IP proves a solid moneymaker, then Hollywood will begin adapting video game properties as rapidly as they are comic book ones. Assassin’s Creed (starring Michael Fassbender) is already coming this Christmas and a Tom Hardy led Splinter Cell movie is currently in development. Maybe I’m imagining things but it seems like we’re long overdue for video game movies to rise to a more premium place within the pop culture landscape.


The Smack Down of the Summer- Meninists vs. Social Justice Warriors Over Ghostbusters

Who would’ve thought that a reboot of Ghostbusters, the much beloved but not so secretly mediocre artifact from the 80s, would have caused such a stink? The film’s casting of female leads (Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones[9]) caused quite a backlash from self-entitled Meninists who claimed that their precious, masculine property was being transformed into a devilish gospel of femininity. The film’s trailer allowed for these men to crap all over the sampling and further insult women mindlessly over females’ tepid, but continuing, advances in the industry. On the other hand, we have social justice warriors, who broadly espouse welcome, progressive stances in a manner that can often feel abrasive and improperly directed. They have defended the trailer almost to a fault, justifying pratfalls and dialogue that most comedic tastes would deem poor. Also, there’s no denying that Leslie Jones’s character falls into centuries-old stereotypes that at best play awkward and at worst deeply problematic in 2016. As per usual, the truth on the issue is somewhere in the middle: the Meninists attacking women for no reason other than existing are morally wrong by default; conversely, social justice warriors allowing narrative standards to slip is an unhealthy move in regards to worthwhile storytelling. I hope the film defies expectations (including my own) but fear it’s entrenched attackers and defenders will fail to spark a dialogue that extends beyond its basic gender politics.


Most Low-Key 50th Birthday Party Ever: Star Trek Beyond

Ghostbusters isn’t the only nostalgia act playing in multiplexes this summer. 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, which of course was born from Gene Roddenberry’s original series in 1966. Paramount wisely decided to release the series’ newest cinematic iteration, Star Trek Beyond, in the midst of the golden commemoration. A sequel to 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek into Darkness, Beyond continues the rebooted adventures of the USS Enterprise as our beloved crew is hopelessly stranded on a faraway planet as they fend off a horde of alien attackers. The set-up sounds familiar to anyone familiar with the basic premise of Star Trek and signals a welcome change of pace to its predecessors that were forced to either layout their iconic character’s fresh origin stories or cherry pick past touchstones in the effort to rekindle fossilized moments from the past. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reprise their roles as Kirk and Spock respectively, along with the rest of the Enterprise crew. The movie is even directed by Justin Lin, hot off the success of multiple iterations of the Fast and the Furious series. There’s just one problem: no one really seems to care. A property like Star Trek just feels like it deserves more premium recognition, especially since its celebrating its fiftieth year of existence. But the sad state of affairs is that the previous two Star Trek films were respectable moneymakers that weren’t quite the hits that Paramount prayed they would be. This third entry makes it appear that Paramount has finally resigned themselves to the fact that this property can only take them so far, at least cinematically. Buzz has been almost nonexistent and it’s hard not to see it as a reflection of director J.J. Abrams’s distancing from the franchise.[10] After the agnostic Trekkie tried to fashion the brand in a mold more reminiscent to Star Wars, Abrams finally got a shot at helming his dream project with The Force Awakens. The collective cultural spotlight shines with Starkiller Base-like intensity on the galaxy far far away for the time being. Meanwhile, the final frontier looks increasingly finite by comparison


Feel Good Confederate Movie of the Year: Free State of Jones

Now that Matthew McConaughey has won universal adoration for films as varied as Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike, Dallas Buyers Club, and Interstellar, the actor looks to be testing the limits of his stardom by portraying a confederate soldier in Free State of Jones. But don’t worry: McConaughey’s character, Newton Knight, is rebelling against the Confederacy by establishing an abolitionist state in Jones County, Mississippi. Aided by fellow farmers and former slaves, Knight (himself married to an ex-slave) establishes a mixed race community that was a rarity in the post-war South. The real Knight is marred in historical ambiguities, so expect think-pieces aplenty when the movie comes out this June. With race being such a hot button issue across all forms of media, it’ll be interesting to see how Free State of Jones plays in the South and beyond. Also, McConaughey now has an excuse for his formidable facial hair.


Craziest Under the Radar, Bonkers Release You Probably Don’t Know About: USS Indianapolis- Men of Courage

While we’re on the subject of war films about obscure events, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage also fits into that category. It details the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (the ship that delivered parts of the first atomic bomb, Little Boy) at the hands of a Japanese submarine. The surviving crew members were forced to survive in shark infested waters while they waited for help to arrive. Considering that this story was immaculately told by Quint (Robert Shaw) in Jaws, it’s hard to imagine Men of Courage living up to that monologue by even a fraction. But maybe the movie will wisely be a purely trashy piece of fun. Casting Nicholas Cage, Tom Sizemore, and Thomas Jane certainly inspires confidence in this direction. The film is directed by Mario Van Peebles[11], who has mostly directed TV in the last decade, so it would be cool if it was a modest hit and helped rekindle the career of the guy behind New Jack City, a minor classic. If all else fails, maybe we can get a memorable scene or two of Cage and Sizemore flipping out on each other. Let’s not kid ourselves that the film’s Memorial Day release is some kind of coincidence.


Donald Trump Award for Most Dangerous Illegal Aliens- Independence Day: Resurgence

You remember that movie Independence Day from the 90s? You know, the one where aliens from outer space blew up the White House and countless other international landmarks? Will Smith welcomed the beasts to “Erff” and President Bill Pullman got a chance to say the title of the movie[12] while delivering a rousing speech. Then boy does Hollywood have a treat for you! Independence Day: Resurgence picks up the story twenty years later on an Earth that has strip-mined the defeated aliens for their vastly superior technology. And it looks like we caught up just in time: another wave of the aliens respond to a distress call received from the previous attack, forcing the newly minted Earth Space Defense (ESD)[13] to lead the charge at defending Earth from…Space? Sadly, Smith won’t be reprising his role of Captain Steven Hiller but thankfully Jeff Goldblum’s MIT computer expert David Levinson and President Pullman will be back in the fray. My advice? Just surrender to it. The first movie was immaculately produced, entertaining garbage so at least Resurgence appears to be living up it its predecessor. There are some genuinely epic shots in the trailers that draw attention to the scope that returning disaster artist Roland Emmerich will undoubtedly deliver. See it on the biggest screen possible or don’t see it at all.


Bernie Sanders Award for Stickin it to the Man, Man- The Purge: Election Year

Upon initially hearing the premises of The Purge films, I was dismissive about their chances of success. The “free crime, including murder, for twelve hours” concept felt like a half-baked excuse cooked up in a college screenwriting class[14] to justify the killing-off of the stories’ characters one by one. And I wasn’t entirely wrong, as the two films are essentially modern exploitation flicks that take great delight in the maiming of their ragdolls. However, I was struck by just how much the narratives challenged the very nature of the situation and their lasting effects. You came for the wanton destruction but left with a vision of a near future where institutions, public and private, manipulated what looked like an even playing field into a bloodbath against the lower classes. Election Year picks up with the previous film’s “hero” Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) heading the security of Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who is in the midst of a campaign for president that would seek to repeal the Purge. Roan and Barnes find themselves under attack from a shadowy force who wishes to keep the Purge continuing and the duo must survive the night if their mission to see the event’s cancellation has any hope for success. In a real general election year that has more than a few similarities to the film’s fictional one (hatred or distrust of the lower class, blonde women running for president), the latest entry in The Purge franchise certainly markets itself as a prescient entertainment that will serve as a brief reprieve from our equally horrific political climate.


The Pivot Towards Award Season: The Founder

By the time the dog days of August roll around, the humidity feels thicker than ever even though everyone’s ready to load up the beach gear and unpack their hoodies and scarves. But the unwelcome stay of the summer heat makes our desires for fall all the more palpable. Hollywood’s release schedule is no different. Summer movie fatigue sets in by mid to late July, as audiences have no more worlds they’d prefer to see conquered. The big budget fare that typically premiere are movies that premiere are up-in-the-air gambles that try to offer a change of pace (Suicide Squad) or hopeless also-rans that lost their soul somewhere in the filmmaking process or simply had no soul to begin with (Ben-Hur). Critics and audiences alike are ready for the fall movie season just around the corner and judge what largely pans out to be mediocre product all the harsher. However, this August’s The Founder, sure to be in the hunt for a few Academy Awards come February, offers everyone something a little different. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the business tycoon who transformed McDonalds from a California oddity into an international fast food empire. Keaton’s career comeback in Birdman has landed him a number of newfound roles that make great use of the actor’s unique blend of comedy and drama. The Founder affords the actor yet another dramatic showcase, this time with an accent to boot. Also, don’t count out Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman as Richard McDonald to be a name thrown around Oscar consideration conversations. And while director John Lee Hancock is no David Fincher, The Founder promises to be a Social Network for the fifties that’s story is just as easily digestible today, unlike the product McDonalds itself mindlessly churns out.

And finally, it’s time to unveil my least and most anticipated movies of the summer!

alice through the looking glass

Least Anticipated: Alice Through the Looking Glass

I’m surprised that it took Disney six years to make a sequel to their 2010 hit Alice in Wonderland, a film that left me enraged for a number of reasons, chief among them the realization that Tim Burton would likely eke out the rest of his career making lavish rubbish that stands in stark contrast to his inspired early work.[15] Burton has abdicated the director’s chair of Alice Through the Looking Glass to James Bobin but the trailer takes great effort to play into the former auteur’s penchant for quirk as text. All the returning players from the first film are back (Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway), likely due to a contract they were forced to sign at gunpoint in a darkened Disney boardroom in 2008. The plot looks to follow some convoluted nonsense about saving Mad Hatter from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), a character that Wikipedia describes as “a half-clockwork, half-human, omnipotent demigod who has the ability to travel back and forth through different time periods with a special skill secreted in a gold-colored chromosphere.” Simply put, no thanks.


Most Anticipated- Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: The Winter Solider is far and away my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it somehow managed to juggle continuing plot threads from previous movies (Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers) and disrupting the status quo of the universe that helped lay the foundation for future movies at a pace that made the sleight of hand all the crisper. But one quality proved most important of all: it was a good movie in its own right. The Winter Soldier had the best action out of any Marvel flick and actually brought character motivations to the forefront, a tactic all too frequently glossed over or just outright forgotten in modern action movies. Bringing directors Anthony and Joe Russo back for the sequel, Civil War, was an inevitability that ensured one of Marvel’s flagship characters remained in good hands. Only this time, the Russo’s must juggle nearly the entire roster of The Avenger’s instead of a meager two or three members. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) have been bickering since they’ve met so it seems quite natural for the two to finally duke it out officially. Superheroes fighting superheroes can be a lazy way to draw attention away from just how lackluster the villains are[16] but the conflict between Cap and Iron Man is a truly ideological one that cuts to the very heart of questions regarding security and institutional trust that fill our social media timelines every day. Marvel’s has wisely highlighted fresh additions like Black Panther and Spider-Man into their marketing, as these are the faces that will lead the franchise into the future. But for this very moment, it’s the battle between Steve and Tony that dictate where that very future is headed.

That about does it for our 2016 summer movie preview. Hang ten by the beach, argue over what truly is the song of the summer, and maybe even treat yourself to some summer lovin’.

[1] We’re glaring at you Dirty Grandpa, Zoolander 2, London Has Fallen, and Gods of Egypt.

[2] Think Katy Perry: Part of Me, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, or Justin Beiber: Never Say Never.

[3] Perhaps the most direct title of the year.

[4] I like to think of Cannes as the closest thing the film world has to an Olympics, only this competition happens every year.

[5] Jarmusch even has a documentary screening out-of-competition as a midnight offering: Gimme Danger, which recounts the story/history of the punk band The Stooges. Don’t be surprised if his prolificacy pays off with a Palme d’Or for Paterson, which also boasts the star power of Adam Driver.

[6] Get it, like dookie!

[7] Another reason to root for Finding Dory’s success is for a return to form for Andrew Stanton, whose colossal flop John Carter was the worst kind of bad movie: a forgettable one.

[8] Another potentially good animated film this summer is Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika’s latest stop motion fantasy.

[9] It really is a shame a cast as funny as this is mired in such a manufactured controversy.

[10] I should note that Abrams is still on board Star Trek Beyond in the role of producer.

[11] Son of controversial luminary Melvin Van Peebles.

[12] Which of course is one of my favorite cinematic traditions.

[13] I wish to assert here, for the record, that I consulted Wikipedia for this information, as I did not possess it independently.

[14] Trust me, I speak from personal experience.

[15] But to be fair, the writing had been on the wall ever since his terrible remake of Planet of the Apes. Big Fish has been his sole film since the 90s that expanded his visual and narrative vocabulary instead of repeating it.

[16] See Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for further examples. Or don’t. You know what, you’re better off if you don’t.


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