Flash Cuts – Movies & Musings

Summer movie season hits full stride with the release of two popcorn extravaganzas – Marvel’s latest superhero flick and the return of Jack Sparrow in the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, possibly the most unusual and controversial Hollywood release of the year, the return of your favorite group of bachelors and Dreamworks much-anticipated sequel to Kung Fu Panda.

ThorThor (May 6) Marvel rolls out another individual comic book character, gearing up for their big Avengers movie next summer which will feature Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Captain America among others.  Although not the most popular Marvel book, Marvel has not skimped on Thor, making the unusual choice of Kenneth Branagh, mostly known for his Shakespearean films and acting than big budget directing.  Also unusual was the choice of unknown Australian actor Chris Hemsworth for the title role of the Norse God of Thunder.  Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance as Nick Fury as he has in the Iron Man films.  Synopsis:  After precipitating a war in the Norse god kingdom of Asgard, Thor is cast out by Odin, king of Asgard (Anthony Hopkins) to Earth and stripped of his godly powers.  Found in New Mexico by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor has problems adjusting to life as a mortal.  He begins a romance with Jane, but Loki, his nemesis in Asgard, sends the Destroyer to Earth to kill him.

Brides MaidsBridesmaids (May 13) SNL star Kristen Wiig and comedy producer/director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) team up for this distaff version of The Hangover.  Single and broke, Annie’s life is a disaster.  But after Annie (Wiig) is asked by her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be her maid of honor, she and her colorful group of bridesmaids must navigate the pitfalls of the wedding process from fittings to reception to a wild trip to Vegas.  Earthy, blatantly sexual and funny, this is not Sex and the City.  Co-written by Wiig and directed by Paul Feig (the TV show Freaks & Geeks), Bridesmaids is a frank look at female friendship and how it is tested by the frightening ritual of marriage.  Jilly Clayburgh plays Annie’s Mom in her last screen appearance.

The BeaverThe Beaver (May 20) Perhaps the strangest Hollywood release of the year is this dark comedy directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson.  Kyle Killen’s script topped the 2008 Black List, Hollywood’s insider list of most-liked screenplays.  After Steve Carell and Jim Carrey signed on and dropped out of the project, Foster came on board as director and convinced her old friend Gibson to take the lead.  Suffering from severe depression, Walter Black (Gibson) has hit bottom.  His sons are embarrassed by him, his wife Meredith (Foster) can’t deal with him and his toy company nears bankruptcy.  After being kicked out of the house and going on a drunk, Walter tries suicide but fails at this, too.  When he wakes up, a beaver puppet is on his hand which speaks with a  British accent (another part of Walter’s personality).  With the puppet giving him confidence, Walter turns his life around.  Patching things up with Meredith and saving his company by manufacturing hand puppets.  Only his teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin) pushes him away.  However, with things finally looking up, Walter finds the puppet totally in control of him.  Already a pariah in Hollywood after a DUI where he made anti-Semitic comments, Gibson’s standing hit rock bottom after the film was shot and a phone call of his angry tirade to his ex was made public.  Foster asked for understanding, while the rest of Hollywood ran the other way.  Referring to the film’s tone, Foster called it “probably the biggest struggle of my professional career” in The New York Times.

Pirates of the CaribbeanPirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20) Captain Jack Sparrow returns with the fourth installment of the phenomenally successful series. This time Jack has the playing field to himself with no co-stars.  Also, for the first time in the series Jack has a love interest played by Penelope Cruz, something Depp requested after taking the back seat romantically to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in the first three films. As implied by the third installment, in Stranger Tides Captain Jack takes on the quest for the legendary Fountain of Youth.  On his quest he encounters killer mermaids, zombies and, most threatening,  a woman from his past, Angelica (Cruz), every bit his equal as a pirate.  Angelica forces Sparrow on board the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), also seeking the Fountain, leaving Sparrow to wonder if Angelica is his ally or a ruthless competitor.  Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Hector Barbossa.  Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs.

The Hangover Part IIThe Hangover Part II (May 26) Smelling a hit, Warner Brothers asked writer/director Todd Phillips to write a sequel to The Hangover even before the first film opened.  When the bachelor party in Vegas comedy was a worldwide hit, Part II hit the ground running.  To no one’s surprise, the plot to Part II is nearly the same as Part I, except the story is transplanted to Thailand and an actual wedding takes place. Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to Thailand for Stu’s wedding.  After the insanity in Vegas, Stu is taking no chances and wants a safe pre-wedding brunch.  Of course, things don’t go as planned.  Controversy hit the production when Phillips cast Mel Gibson in the cameo part of a tattoo artist.  Coming on the heels of Gibson’s abusive phone calls, members of the cast and crew (including Galifianakis) refused to work with the actor, forcing Phillips to replace him with Liam Neeson before shooting.  Ironically, months later, due to editing choices Phillips had to re-shoot the scene with Nick Cassavetes replacing Neeson due to Neeson’s unavailibility.  Mike Tyson appears again as himself.

Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda 2 (May 26) In 2008, Dreamworks animated story of Po, a panda who dreams of being a kung fu master was a surprise hit, racking up $600M worldwide.  Synopsis: Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five – Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. Jack Black (Po), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane) and Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu) all return in their respective roles.  Gary Oldman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny McBride and Michelle Yeoh are new additions.