It's summer. Finally. And with warm weather comes the opportunity to see what cinematic delights the multiplex has to offer as the studios bust out their biggest entertainments. In the coming months, we're going to get dinosaurs, superheroes, and a naked Channing Tatum. In other words, it's a great time to be alive.
Since deadlines force me to write this preview ahead of schedule, you lucky son-of-a-guns reading this will have already seen all of May's big releases. Only you will know for sure whether popcorn movie season has started off with a bang or a fizzle. So tell me future self: how was the Avengers sequel? And did "Mad Max: Fury Road" live up to our sky high expectations? I've got my fingers crossed that the answer will be an enthusiastic "yes."
What follows are City Newspaper's picks for the summer flicks we're most looking forward to over the coming months. As always, remember that these release dates are subject to change, so be sure to check listings before you decide to go running off to the theater.
"Spy": Last year I included "Tammy" in my summer preview, and that didn't work out so well. For anyone. Undeterred, I'm taking a chance and including another Melissa McCarthy vehicle on this year's list. The buzz out of SXSW has been strong, so I'm maintaining high hopes for this comedy in which McCarthy stars alongside Rose Byrne, Jude Law, and Jason Statham, as a CIA analyst who finally gets the opportunity to go out in the field after a bungled mission results in all the agency's active operatives being compromised. (June 5)
"Jurassic World": As if there's any question that you'll be going to see this; the Venn diagram of the population who like dinosaurs and those who enjoy Chris Pratt is undoubtedly a perfect circle. The fourth installment of the "Jurassic" series explores what happens when some numbskulls actually manage to go through with opening the doomed prehistoric amusement park that John Hammond set out to create in the first film. And this time, they've decided to throw some genetically modified dinos into the mix. What could possibly go wrong? (June 12)
"Dope": A group of geeky high school friends from Inglewood inadvertently come into possession of a stash of Ecstasy and must keep one step ahead of the gun-toting gangbangers who'll do anything to get it back, while still finding time to navigate the world of college admissions and SATs. Mixing 90's hip-hop and "Risky Business" with the oeuvre of John Hughes, Rick Famuyiwa's indie comedy has the makings of a sleeper summer hit. (June 19)
"Inside Out": Pixar's latest takes audiences on a journey inside the head of a preadolescent girl, seen through the eyes of the personified emotions that rule her inner being: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear (voiced by Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith). Though early trailers had a weirdly regressive tone, buzz suggests that the animation studio has found a perfect mix of family-friendly humor and real heart. (June 19)
"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl": When it premiered at Sundance this year, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's film, about a teenage filmmaker forced by parental influence to befriend a classmate with cancer, ended up taking home both the Grand Jury and Audience Award prizes ("Whiplash" also managed the same feat, and that film turned out to be pretty awesome). Time Out New York film critic David Ehrlich described the film as "'The Fault in Our Stars' for Criterion Collection fetishists," and though that description suggests the story has the potential to become unbearably twee, to me it sounds like heaven. (June 26)
"Magic Mike XXL": The first "Magic Mike" was a huge hit, drawing in big box office numbers from crowds of eager women and gay men (and yes, probably a few straight male fans of director Steven Soderbergh — but we know where the real money came from), while finding a way to meld gyrating man-flesh to a surprisingly meaty (heh) story. Soderbergh didn't return to direct, though he's still on as producer, editor, and cinematographer. This time around, Tatum promises more bang for your buck, as the boys head to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, so expect a little less in the way of deep storytelling and a lot more in the way of naked dudes. Get your singles ready. (July 1)
"Self/Less": After learning that he's dying of cancer, Ben Kingsley undergoes a procedure that allows his consciousness to be transferred into the body of Ryan Reynolds. It's a pretty sweet deal until it turns out not to be so sweet after all. Director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The Fall") has a way with spectacular visuals, so I'm hoping the premise will be able match the eye candy. (July 10)
"Live From New York!": On the air for 40 years, "Saturday Night Live" has amassed no shortage of juicy behind-the-scenes stories and legends. With this documentary, director Bao Nguyen attempts to sift through the ample material, interviewing a plethora of hosts and cast members from past and present as they look back at the history of a sketch comedy institution. (July 14)
"Ant-Man": Thanks to the much-publicized departure of director Edgar Wright last year (he'd been attached to the project since 2006), "Ant-Man" has the distinction of being the first Marvel Studios movie that even fanboys are apprehensive about. Ultimately shepherded to the screen by Peyton Reed ("Bring It On"), we can only hope that the final result will be good enough to keep fans from pining over what might of been. Trailers hint that its premise — about a thief-turned-superhero who's able to shrink in size with the help of a hi-tech suit — seems to have been mined for equal parts laughs and action, and with a strong cast led by a beefed-up Paul Rudd (with Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Corey Stoll), there's still a decent chance Marvel will keep their winning streak going. (July 17)
"Trainwreck": Judd Apatow veers away from his preoccupation with telling stories about overgrown man-children to direct this romantic-comedy about a commitment-phobic career woman (Amy Schumer, who also wrote the film's screenplay) forced to rethink her monogamy-averse ways when Bill Hader comes along. Who can blame her? (July 17)
"The Look of Silence": In 2013, the Dryden screened "The Act of Killing," Joshua Oppenheimer's haunting, Oscar-nominated documentary about the former leaders of Indonesian death squads. It was one of the best films I viewed that year. In 2014, the director made a companion film, this time focusing on the victims' families, and the result is said to be every bit as devastating. So here's hoping Rochester audiences will get a chance to see the film when it receives a theatrical release this summer. (July 17)
"Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary": The animated LEGO movie came out better than anyone could have hoped, so with any luck this documentary examining the enduring appeal of the Danish building-block toys will be equally awesome (even if the head-scratching decision to cast Jason Bateman as narrator suggests that Chris Pratt had become far too busy). (July 31)
"The End of the Tour": Jesse Eisenberg stars as a Rolling Stone reporter tasked with interviewing writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) during his promotional book tour following the release of his novel, "Infinite Jest." Buzz out of Sundance was great, and director James Ponsoldt ("The Spectacular Now," "Smashed") is on a hot streak. (July 31)
"Ricki and the Flash": From director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, this musical-dramedy stars Meryl Streep as a rock musician who returns home to make amends with the family she left behind. Streep sings, plays guitar, and receives backup from Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, and her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer. (August 7)
"Straight Outta Compton": Chronicling the formation of gangsta rap group N.W.A. in the late 1980's, "Straight Outta Compton" follows the group as they achieve massive success, court nationwide controversy with their song "F*** the Police," and permanently alter the musical landscape. Produced by former members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, F. Gary Gray's film promises to be a potent blend of traditional musical biopic with a timely political undercurrent. (August 14)
"Sinister 2": The first "Sinister" made for frustrating viewing — it was great for so much of its runtime, building up plenty of creepy tension through the use of some bone-chilling 8mm home movies, but it didn't quite stick the landing. The original film's director, Scott Derrickson, returns here as co-writer only (presumably because he's been sucked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the helm of next year's "Doctor Strange"), and the new story seems to have doubled down on the presence of its lackluster boogeyman, so I'm keeping expectations low. But I'm intrigued enough. (August 21)