The Help Directed by: Tate Taylor Written by: Tate Taylor (screenplay), Kathryn Stockett (novel) Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Bryce Dallas Howard
More than anything- its Civil Rights message, its 60s send-back, its self-awareness of both- Tate Taylor’s film adaptation of The Help is more proof that female-driven movies outside the rom-com purgatory are infiltrating the mainstream. That is the edgiest thing about it by far. As many critics have already remarked, it is a fairly safe movie. It tackles racism in Jackson, Mississippi in the time period surrounding the assassination of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy.
Like AMC’s Mad Men, it dresses its stars (or the white ones at least) in irresistibly colorful dresses and tortures their hair into ridiculously smoothed-out contortions. Unlike that show, it is aware of when it takes place. This script, written by the director Tate Taylor, anticipates everything it’s going to throw at you.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Directed by: Rupert Wyatt Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (screenplay), Pierre Boulle (book) Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow
Rarely does anything even hinting at the label “philosophical” come close to being produced by a Hollywood studio, especially in the summer. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is such a movie, though. More than half of it is spent meditating on the birth of free will and the nature of violence.
This reboot is actually smart, and it’s propelled by a volcanic lead performance. I’m not talking about James Franco. He plays a fairly typical scientist motivated to cure a disease for personal reasons (his dad has Alzheimer’s). I’m referring to Andy Serkis, who breathes so much life into the role of the ape Caesar that it comes close to touching what he did in the Lord of the Rings films. He shows the true artistry of motion-capture acting.
Cowboys & Aliens Directed by: Jon Favreau Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, & Hawk Ostby (screenplay), Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (comic) Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Sam Rockwell
You can almost see the studio meeting that birthed this movie. I’m sure it went something likes this:
“What’s the title?”
“Cowboys & Aliens.”
“We’ll sell the title, then. It’ll be like Snakes on a Plane! Who’s directing?”
“We’d like to get the guy from Iron Man on board. Also, we want Harrison Ford to star.”
“Great, looks like you’ve thought of everything! Here’s $100 million.”
Friends With Benefits Directed by: Will Gluck Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, & Will Gluck (screenplay) Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, and Woody Harrelson
It’s always a good thing when a modern romance reminds you of the classics, when men and women bounced snappy dialogue off each other as if they were both real people. Most romances made today are lop-sided, usually skewering one gender role in the hopes of appealing to the other. Friends With Benefits is straightforward in its intentions much like its two leads are with each other. It is seeking to debunk and even satirize the myth of true love presented in the movies, and it is very successful at that until it reluctantly caves in to those same cliches.
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are the perfect match for the verbal ping pong in the script and off-kilter enough to make the movie’s intentions palpable. They are naturally funny and have exceptional chemistry, so they and the rest of the excellent cast shine even brighter in a funny screenplay. It also helps that the director and co-writer Will Gluck knows that creating a sense of atmosphere in New York City is more important than any shot of the Empire State Building.
Captain America: The First Avenger Directed by: Joe Johnston Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (comic books) Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, and Tommy Lee Jones
If you’re sick of super hero or war movies, it might be wise to avoid the inevitable screen adaptation of Captain America. Slated as the last prequel before next year’s The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger takes place the furthest back in time: during World War II.
What’s most curious about The Avenger prequels- Iron Man & Iron Man II, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, this movie- is how different they are stylistically. That’s because they were all headed by different directors with different talents. Thor was at its best when it showed the “fish out of water” aspect of its viking, while the Iron Man movies worked best as vehicles for Robert Downey Jr.’s motormouth delivery.
Midnight in Paris Directed by: Woody Allen Written by: Woody Allen Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll
Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.” Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris. Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.
Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking. He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces. Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops. He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.
X-Men: First Class Directed by: Matthew Vaughn Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, & Matthew Vaughn Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon
Following up his post-modern polarizer Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn has decided to make an actual superhero movie. Not only that, but he also decides to make an origin story. It’s hard not to doubt his sincerity, because he had such gleeful fun deconstructing the genre in his blood-splattered last feature.
X-Men: First Class is nowhere near as bleak and melancholy as the original two films directed by Bryan Singer. It takes place in the 60s at the height of the Cold War, with its groovy suits and groovier language. James McAvoy seems to be the only one equipped with that vocabulary, though. Waltzing onto the university scene as a physics professor who also takes shots in the bar with his students, this isn’t the dry, wheelchair-confined Professor Xavier that you’re used to.
The HangoverPart II Directed by: Todd Phillips Written by: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, & Todd Phillips (screenplay) Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha
I swear I wrote this review a few days ago, but here goes nothing. The Wolf Pack packs up for another wedding, this time Stu’s (Ed Helms), and go on another drunken rage, this time in Bangkok, Thailand.
If you thought their masculinity was under fire in the first installment, wait until you get a whiff of transvestite prostitutes and staff wielding monks. They are strangers in a strange land, and xenophobia set in long before the plane landed.
Bridesmaids Directed by: Paul Feig Written by: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (screenplay) Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy
Behold something new in Bridesmaids. It’s possible that such an innovation, which is buried beneath a mound of plot cliches and character types, will go unnoticed by the masses. It is simply this: Bridesmaids takes pieces of the old genres and makes them new. It is the successful merging of the male-targeted buddy comedy with the female-targeted romantic comedy.
When two genres merge, the film either tends to lean hard on one element or another, but Bridesmaids carefully walks the tightrope between both in an effective, hilarious mix.
Thor Directed by: Kenneth Branagh Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne (screenplay), Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby (comic) Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston
It’s almost hard not to write off Thor as the beginning of an onslaught of mindless summer action movies. However, with its welcome injection of humor and a toned-down scale, it rises above that classification if only by a little bit.
The best moments of Thor occur outside Asgard, the homeworld of its hero, in a small town in New Mexico. He arrives there much like many movie aliens, and director Kenneth Branagh riffs off this aspect quite well. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings alien customs (which closely resembles stereotypical viking culture) to such places as small-town diners and hospital rooms. In one hilarious instance, he smashes a glass down on the floor and demands a refill.