Well, it's that time again. When I was in my pre-teens summer used to be the highlight of my year, but always for vastly different reasons than the other kids. While they were out riding their bikes and playing on the beach I was always stuck indoors, screening endless mounds of VHS tapes rented from my local store (5 films, 5 nights, £5) and nestling away in the leather seats of my local multiplex. The salt which piqued my nostrils interest belonged not to the sea but the popcorn, and I always went back to school mourning those six glorious weeks where the movies had whisked me away to lost or alien lands. It really was the best of times, but now, aged 20, I see summer for the desolate cinematic wasteland it really is. Now summer runs from April to September, and is brought to us by endless sponsors and product companies. It's a corporate event, plain and simple. Turns out sharks like the sun...
BUT! All is not lost, for the arthouse/independent circuits provide an exciting alternative to the studio behemoths which are currently polluting cinemas (in all fairness, I'm quite looking forward to Prometheus). So, I've teamed up with Sam Inglis (editor of the excellent 24FPS, and host of our weekly podcast The Picture Show) to deliver a suggested programming schedule for these months. We've each picked a potentially interesting title, written up some initial thoughts and hopefully we can uncover something which might have otherwise slipped through the cracks of summer. So, without further ado, here's the list...
The Big Release: Battleship (Peter Berg, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Edge (Carol Morley, 2010)
Haven't we checked in here before? The trailer for Edge, Carol Morley's morose-looking hotel drama, might not be playing with any original ideas, revolving as it does around the meeting of six strangers at an isolated cliffside getaway, but I've got my fingers crossed. Why? Because Morley's previous film, Dreams Of A Life, was one of 2011's best documentaries; the profoundly sad examination of the life of Joyce Vincent, a young woman who died in her London bedsit in 2003 and wasn't discovered for a further three years. The film highlighted our underlying dislocation in the technological age, considering our loneliness and detachment despite being more in touch than ever. Hopefully this, Morley's first dramatic feature, will display the same insight into human relationships as her compelling breakout doc. Even if all else fails, I'll still have the magnetic Maxine Peake to gaze at...
Sam's Pick: The Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
Okay, so this isn't exactly the most offbeat choice, but in a rather ropey looking release week it's probably the most promising choice. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's horror comedy has been picking up admiring reviews which often seem to warn you off reading them until you've seen the film, because apparently even discussing it is a potential spoiler. For me the trailer has echoes both 'classic' (Evil Dead) and modern (not going to say, because if I'm right then that's a big honking spoiler). With Whedon and Goddard on scripting duties, wit is likely assured, but I wonder whether they can bring the big scares. As a Buffy and Angel fan it will also be great to see some cast members from those shows on the big screen (especially Amy Acker, whose adorable Fred is one of my favourite TV characters).
My concern is the weight of the good reviews, and that if this doesn't immediately wing its way near the top of my Best Of 2012 list (which, to be fair, says only 'The Muppets' right now) it will have to go down as a disappointment. At the very, very least there is good news in that the 3D conversion which was the first reason given for the delay in releasing this film (shot 3 years ago) appears to have been dumped for the cinema release. I'm crossing my fingers for this one.
The Big Release: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (Lasse Hallström, 2011)
Mike's Pick: Breathing (Karl Markovics, 2011)
The directorial debut of acclaimed Austrian actor Karl Markovics, Breathing won considerable acclaim during its 2011 festival run and arrives on UK shores with a glowing - almost worrying - critical reception. Markovics will be best known to UK audiences for his compelling turn in 2007's fantastic WWII drama The Counterfeiters, and hopefully he'll be able to draw out some great performances from a cast that includes Georg Friedrich and Luna Mijovic. The story centers around 19-year-old Roman (Thomas Schubert) and his attempts to reintegrate into society and confront his guilt after serving time in prison. It's not the most original concept, but the trailer suggests some off-kilter plotting as Roman takes work at a morgue and is spurred on to track down his absent mother. There are some beautiful compositions in the promo (the underwater shots are really impressive), so hopefully Markovics has a future behind the camera.
Sam's Pick: Elles (Malgorzata Szumowska, 2011)
I've always said that film is cyclical, and Elles is the third film in memory to take as its subject female students taking up sex work to pay for their education (the other being the very good Mes Cheres Etudes and the frankly awful Sleeping Beauty). Juliette Binoche plays an Elle journalist writing an article on the subject, while Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig are her interview subjects.
The French just seem to do this sort of adult storytelling well, with far less of a tendency to become preachy than American and even British filmmakers often exhibit, and that, combined with a quality cast, is why I'm recommending this. Binoche is, of course, always worth watching; an actress who really seems to lack a screen persona and change from role to role, and the younger actresses have both impressed me with recent work, Demoustier in Living On Love Alone, and Kulig as the only thing worth seeing in Pawel Pawlikowski's The Woman In The Fifth. I'm hoping for three powerhouse performances here.
The Big Release: Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey (Constance Marks, 2011)
One of the most anticipated documentaries of 2012, Being Elmo tells the story of Kevin Clash, the life and soul behind one of Sesame Street's most iconic and beloved creations: Elmo. "I wanted Elmo to represent love" reveals Clash in the utterly charming trailer, and for thousands of viewers the jolly felt fella does exactly that. Certainly the character's spirit is what captured my heart as a kid, and now I eagerly await discovering Clash's own story, which seems to be a classic triumph-in-the-face-of-adversity tale. I'm not expecting the most revealing doc in the world, but the work of puppeteers - an artform unto itself - goes largely unappreciated, and hopefully Being Elmo will shine a light on the fantastic work of the people who bring so many dreams to life. I'm not expecting to come out dry eyed.
Sam's Pick: Damsels In Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)
I've cheated a bit here and picked something I've already seen (and listed as my third favourite film of 2011) thanks to its London Film Festival screening. Since I saw Damsels In Distress it's been one of the films I most want to revisit, and that feeling has increased now, having recently re-watched Whit Stillman's previous film, 1998's The Last Days Of Disco. This film is both a continuation of Stillman's style and a bit of a departure; the hyper-intellectual and incredibly specific dialogue remains, as does the concentration on upper-middle-class young people as characters, but this film is warmer and much more straight-forwardly funny than his others (which, unlike this one, never really had 'jokes' as such). It is, and your reaction to this sentence should be a reliable predictor of your reaction to the film, Whit Stillman's Mean Girls.
I adored it, didn't stop laughing for more than 30 seconds at any one time, and found myself amused, and ultimately charmed, by all the film's characters and all its quirks (right down to the footnotes in the credits).
The Big Release: American Reunion (Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, 2012) / Beauty And The Beast (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991)
Mike's Pick: Hara Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (Takashi Miike, 2011)
Anyone who read my review of Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins might find this pick surprising, but his remake of Masaki Kobayashi's incredible 1962 Seppuku (later retitled HaraKiri) could find the madcap auteur back on form. The story is fantastic, following an elder ronin who returns to his home in peaceful 17th Century Japan and discovers the dishonorable conditions of his son-in-law's death. A quest for revenge ensues. I'm not expecting this to be anything like as good as Kobayashi's masterpiece (for one thing, Miike has shot his version in 3D), but the trailer gives me hope. 13 Assassins bit off more than it could feasibly chew, losing dramatic focus for the size of its (largely faceless) cast, but the story of Hara Kiri demands a slower, more stripped-back structure. I have my apprehensions, but the action looks great, and if Miike can reinforce it with the emotion sorely lacking from 13 Assassins, he could be onto a winner.
Sam's Pick: Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011)
I love coming of age movies; there's just something that is inherently dramatic about them, and Europe seems to be turning out a lot of good ones right now. This one sees a teenager (Lola Créton) fall deeply in love for the first time, only to be crushed when her paramour leaves for South America, and thrown into turmoil again when, years later, he comes back. This seems to be the sticking point; having seen the trailer I feel like I've seen the film in the three minute digest version. Hopefully director Mia Hansen-Løve (who made Father Of My Children, which I enjoyed, but also found overrated, last) can spring some surprises which don't appear apparent from that trailer.
What really intrigues me is the tone (which looks refreshingly adult) and the lead. Lola Créton impressed me a great deal in Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard, and from what I've seen of this it appears she gives a very different, equally strong performance here. Here's hoping for another coming of age tale to rank with Love Like Poison or Water Lilies.
The Big Release: Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Faust (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2011)
Aleksandr Sokurov is one of those 50/50 filmmakers who irks and compels me in equal measure. Russian Ark (2002), while visually stunning, is insufferably tedious, but his 1999 drama Molokh, an affecting study of Hitler's relationship with Eva Braun, remains one of the most underrated films of recent years. Faust, yet another adaptation of the classic German legend, could honestly go either way, but I'm fascinated by Sokurov's approach. The cinematic adaptation to beat it still F.W. Murnau's 1926 masterpiece, but this interpretation looks unusually distinctive; the available clips display a soft, earthy visual tone, saturated in dreamy light and cut to an equally offbeat rhythm. The (un-subtitled) trailer is stranger still, unfurling in 4:3 tableaus and indicating absolutely nothing of how Sokurov has tackled the complex source material. It could be great, it could be awful, but it's certainly going to be talked about.
Sam's Pick: Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, 2011)
The Duplass brothers continue their move toward the mainstream with this, which looks like a much more comfortable ride for multiplex goers than their patchy Cyrus was. Happily this story of a man (Jason Segel) still living in his Mother's basement at 35 looks like it will boast both some real laughs and some strongly acted drama. The cast has good form in both, with Segel's brother played by Ed Helms (who made a charming and funny lead in the underrated comedy drama Cedar Rapids), Helms' wife by Judy Greer, who makes everything better just by being in it, and Segel and Helms' mother by Susan Sarandon. The key to keeping this movie afloat will likely be keeping (unearned) sentiment at bay. I hope the Duplass brothers can manage it.
The Big Release: The Dictator (Larry Charles, 2012)
Mike's Pick: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1943)
Honestly, there's nothing I could say here that doesn't just echo all available plaudits which The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp has previously, and righteously accumulated, so I'll just be content with fawning over the film once more. Its re-release is going to be one of the cinematic highlights of 2012, and hopefully the restoration will do justice to Powell & Pressburger's visually stunning work, one of the true masterpieces of British cinema. It spans four decades in the life of Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), observing wars fought and friendships forged, especially with German office Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), which caused a stir with Winston Churchill when the film was released slap-bang into the middle of WWII. Needless to say, the film has endured and attained deserved classic status. And hopefully now some light can be shone on Deborah Kerr, wonderful in a challenging trio of roles.
Sam's Pick: The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
I love action movies. I know sometimes it seems like I don't, given my reactions to Hollywood's increasingly poor series of excuses for action cinema, but I'm actually a huge fan of the genre. The Raid looks like it's going to deliver the action goods in a wide variety of styles. The frenetic trailer is insanely fun, entertaining enough when it's showing us the fantastically violent gunplay (more about brutal expediency, it seems, than John Woo's dance sequences with added hot lead), but where it really amps up for me is towards the end, with glimpses of martial arts and machete fights. That's what I'm talking about.
Look, I'll appreciate it if it also has, y'know, a plot, and some good acting, but I'll also be happy if the film can cash the action sequence cheques the trailer is writing. This is my friend Marcey's favourite film of 2012 so far. I'd like it to be one of mine too.
The Big Release: Men In Black III (3D) (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
Wes Anderson is arguably the most distinctive American auteur working today, and certainly the one I find most interesting (well, him and P.T. Anderson; it changes day-by-day). Moonrise Kingdom finds him re-teaming with Darjeeling Limited (2007) co-writer Roman Coppola, and spinning the yarn of two New England lovers - Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) - who flee their hometown and are pursued by an eclectic search party, fronted by a dry police chief played by Bruce Willis. Anderson's picture-perfect framing, pastel-hued colour palette and gorgeous 60's soundtracking made a return in the trailer for Moonrise, which finds newcomers Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton playing alongside Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, members of the director's recurring troupe. My excitement levels are through the roof right now, and I can't wait to read the reports from the opening night of Cannes, where the film will premiere shortly before its UK release.
Sam's Pick: Free Men (Ismaël Ferrouukhi, 2011)
World War 2 has been a popular subject for cinema almost since it began, but there seems to have been a real rash of films set in that period in the last few years - my own theory being that the generation that fought it is now dying off, and the way to preserve the stories that have not yet been told from that time is through cinema; the world's cultural memory box. This film appears to tell another story I had no idea about, centering around the relationship between Jews and Muslims in Paris at the time the Nazis were rounding up French Jews.
Aside from the inherent interest in time period and story there's also an interesting cast. Tahar Rahim, who was indeed great in A Prophet, despite how ridiculously overpraised I found that film, and Michael Lonsdale, who brings quiet gravitas to everything I've seen him in recently, both take leading roles, but the real excitement for me comes from the female lead. Lubna Azabal is an actress I've been shouting about for a few years now, since seeing her in Paradise Now, and for me she's almost a guaranteer of quality; a total chameleon who is able to give shattering performances in many different languages. She's in this (seemingly as a Muslim woman Rahim is attracted to - who can blame him?) which means I'm there. This looks likely to be another quality addition to the recent range of European World War 2 cinema.
The Big Release: Prometheus (3D) (Ridley Scott, 2012)
Mike's Pick: The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
Hungarian master Béla Tarr has claimed The Turin Horse will be his final film (only his ninth in thirty-five years), and it could be one of his best. Consisting of just thirty long takes, the film begins with the whipping of a horse in Turin which reportedly lead to the mental breakdown of Friedrich Nietzche. Over the next two hours Tarr imagines the life of both the horse and owner, set against the backdrop of a small windswept village. It won't be for everyone, but The Turin Horse sounds like exactly my sort of film, and the trailer boasts some of the most extraordinary looking compositions I've seen all year. Anyone uninitiated with Tarr should probably check out Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) before seeing this one - its his most accessible, and certainly one of the most haunting, evocative films of the current century.
Sam's Pick: Himizu (Sion Son, 2011)
Is there a more vital, more exciting working filmmaker than Sion Sono? If there is I'm not sure I know his name. I discovered Sono through his insane four hour masterwork Love Exposure, which throws everything including the kitchen sink at you in a teen movie about original sin, cults and upskirt photography, and then began to go back through his catalogue (and to watch the films he's made since Love Exposure; Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance). Walking into a Sion Sono film is an adventure; I'm never sure what it's going to be like, but I'm always assured he's going to grab me by the throat and drag me through a blazingly original story and world.
Himizu appears, from the trailer, to be a family drama set in the wake of a natural disaster, but this being Sono it's bound to be a whole more more besides. Many of his recent stock company appear, so you can expect top notch performances, perhaps some contemporary resonance (the film was made in the wake of the Fukushima disaster), and a whole lot of the unexpected. I simply can't wait to see it.
The Big Release: Casa de mi Padre (Matt Piedmont, 2012)
Mike and Sam's Pick: The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Ti West's follow-up to 2009's fabulously retro House Of The Devil (his Cabin Fever sequel went straight-to-DVD), The Innkeepers looks like a classical 1960's ghost story, revolving around the last days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn and the two employees who seek to uncover the mystery of its spiritual guest - the hanged bride Madeline O'Malley (Brenda Cooney). The trailer ticks off an unfortunate number of clichés, but West is an intelligent filmmaker who really understands genre convention, and I'm hoping the distributor has just packed the promo with scares to pull in the largest possible crowd. House Of The Devil was a masterclass in build-up, eeking palm-sweating suspense from the setup, which toyed with audience expectations for a full hour before exploding into full-on satanic mayhem. I'm hoping this horror is equally creepy and low-key. If nothing else, it looks beautiful.
Well, I'm making a very heavily qualified recommendation here, based largely on good reports on this film from last year's Frightfest, from people whose opinions on horror I trust implicitly (though some of that same group also said The Innkeepers is terrible). IF you get a good ghost story right then they can be brilliant nerve jangling fare, but the trailer suggests to me that this is just the 387th recent identical noises-off horror movie. I hope House Of The Devil director Ti West proves me wrong, and in an awful release week this may be as good as it gets, but still, large pinch of salt with this one please.
The Big Release: Jack The Giant Killer (3D) (Bryan Singer, 2012) / Rock Of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
As with Colonel Blimp, there's nothing I can really add here that hasn't already been covered by a thousand reviews, essays and retrospectives. All I can say is that Spielberg's tentpole masterpiece is one of those rare films which completely lives up to its reputation, delivering thrills and spills worthy of Hitchcock himself. Jaws is a terrifying, sentiment-free film, and easily the director's darkest blockbusting hour. It's evident even this early that filmmaking was in Spielberg's blood; a genetic talent which he would hone over the next thirty-odd years, but he's made very few films this good since. From the opening attack of John Williams' score, recalling that classic Psycho riff, this one grips you around the throat and never, ever lets go. "You're gonna need a bigger boat." And with that a legend was born... along with the current blockbuster culture.
Sam's Pick: Polisse (Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011)
I like French films, can you tell? Polisse has no English language trailer, and for some reason I missed it at last year's LFF, but from what I can tell Maïwenn Le Besco's directorial debut, about a journalist who has an affair with one of the policemen she is writing about from the Juvenile Crime Division, seems to be a gritty and down to earth look at contemporary law enforcement. The cast certainly bodes well, with Maïwenn (as she's credited) taking a supporting role alongside Karin Viard, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marina Foïs, and further down the cast list Sandrine Kiberlain and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, so at the very least there ought to be some fantastic performances on show here.
For me the question will be how well Maïwenn handles the transition behind the camera, while also playing a prominent role in the film. With good and bad word out of festivals this is one of summer's unknown quantities so far, but I look forward to discovering it.
The Big Release: The Five-Year Engagement (Nicholas Stoller, 2012)
Mike's Pick: Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki, 2011)
Honestly, I'm not quite sure how to recommend this one. Where Do We Go Now? was one of my highest priorities at last year's LFF, but due to some difficult scheduling I ended up missing it. The IMDB synopsis had me fascinated: A group of Lebanese women try to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village. It sounded to me like a sociopolitical drama dealing with some subjects which really intrigue me, but the trailer actually pitches it as - and there's nothing inherently wrong with this - a whimsical, fluffy little dramedy. There are some unexpected plot turns which take the film into safer territory than I'd imagined, but the idea still holds interest for me, and Labaki is definitely a talent worth keeping our eyes on. Here's hoping this is yet another misrepresentative trailer, and the final film is a little thematically meatier...
Sam's Pick: Nothing.
No, that's not the title of a film. This is one awful, awful looking week of movies right now. I was supposed to recommend Red Lights, but then I watched (and couldn't finish) the awful, awful trailer. So, yeah, fuck all this week.
The Big Release: Friends With Kids (Jennifer Westfeldt, 2011)
Mike and Sam's Pick: Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011)
Although Friedkin's last film, the scuzzy paranoia thriller Bug (2006), was something of a letdown for me, it was notable for feeling fresher than anything the director had made in twenty years; bursting at the seams with the energy of a fresh-faced debutant, but handled with the skill of an old pro. Killer Joe is his second collaboration with the playwright Tracy Letts, and it looks to be another incisively dark picture, described by the tagline as 'A Totally Twisted Deep-Fried Texas Redneck Trailer Park Murder Story'. And if that doesn't have you excited, what will? Maybe a cast that includes the underrated talents of Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch, alongside one of the most exciting rising stars of the moment, Juno Temple. I'm expecting big things of this one, which has the potential to rank among 2012's best thrillers.
There doesn't appear to be a trailer for Killer Joe yet, so I watched a clip, and that's all I want to see before sitting down. In two minutes it sets up the situation (Emile Hirsch wants to hire Matthew McConaughey to kill his Mother, but has to offer his sister (Juno Temple) in lieu of a fee), it sets up the stark, black, and perhaps drily funny tone, it sets up what appears to be an economical style from director William Friedkin, and it hints at tremendous performances from McConaughey (great when he pushes himself) and Hirsch. I don't doubt that Temple and Gina Gershon will also be fantastic and this Southern fried Noir is right at the top of my must see list for 2012. Why can't it be June 29th now?