Despite the debut of the second Hercules this year—yawn, the weekend of July 25, 2014 will be remembered for the crazy number of very famous female actresses in new movies. Their characters come in all varieties: the sci-fi heroine (Scarlett Johansson), the mystic (Emma Stone), the lawyer (Rachel McAdams), the coming of age girls (Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen), and the irresponsible mooch (Kendrick). There should be something for everyone as young female Hollywood takes over in a rare turn of the tables.
Johansson may be taking her Black Widow street cred a little too far, but nevertheless, she's the centerpiece of a real action film for the first time (I don't count The Island as a film). Director Luc Besson loves his kick-ass girls, from La Femme Nikita to The Messenger to Colombiana, and his latest takes place in the world of drug muling. Lucy (Johansson) is one of these illegal couriers, but a drug she's transporting leaks into her system and allows her to use more than the normal 10 percent of her brain power. She becomes superhuman and turns the tables on her captors while trying to figure out what's happening inside of her. The story is patently ludicrous, but I want to see what Johansson is made of here. See it? Sure.
Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) returns with 2014's biggest budget sandal and toga movie. Like most modern Greek myth and Homeric adaptations, this movie will do blockbuster business overseas just for the subject matter alone. American audiences may need more convincing however, as the story of Hercules is treated with more than a little Hollywood glamour. The artist formerly known as The Rock was the biggest box office star last year, but he wasn't the main actor in any of the movies (Fast & Furious 6 , Pain & Gain, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and two of them were franchise films with built in audiences. Hercules is a different kind of animal that Johnson must take to the promised land by himself and I don't see it happening. It takes place after (?) the mythological hero completes his 12 labors and follows him as he takes down a crazed warlord. See it? No.
Magic In the Moonlight
Writer/director Woody Allen takes us to the South of France for his latest project, a whimsical romance about a magician and "debunker of fake spiritualists" (Firth) who attempts to expose a beautiful young psychic (Stone). But the young lady proves much more convincing than he ever could've imagined and the lifelong skeptic finds himself considering the impossible, not to mention falling in love. Magic in the Moonlight hasn't received the critical buzz Allen's great movies usually generate, but it's a likable fairy tale for adults set in a magical place. See it? Yes.
A Most Wanted Man
In one of Hoffman's final performances, he shows why he was always considered one of the most talented actors on the planet. Based on the novel by John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man stars the Oscar winner as an aged German spy wading through the bureaucratic tide while trying to investigate a suspected terrorist who has immigrated to Hamburg. Directed by Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) the film is typically slow-paced and methodical as the director allows unease to punctuate the narrative. McAdams plays the immigrant's lawyer who's in over her head, but Hoffman is the star here. Speaking with a distinct German accent, he brings le Carré's world to life and puts a new face on the classic, blue collar, spy archetype. See it? Yes.
Directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth), I Origins keeps with the director's ambitious style of big ideas within a small framework. Ian (Pitt) is a scientist who specializes in the human eye. He wants to disprove intelligent design by tracing the evolution of the eyeball to an origin species. Doing so would be a scientific breakthrough of incredible proportions, but Ian is sidetracked by an affair with a beautiful model whose eyes are unlike any he's ever seen before. They begin a whirlwind romance, but tragedy strikes and Ian's life becomes much more conventional. The third act brings both storylines together as Ian turns detective and has everything he's ever believed in turned upside down. See it? Yes.
Very Good Girls
Naomi Foner, who wrote Running on Empty once upon a time, makes her directorial debut in this familiar coming of age tale about two best friends who fall in love with the same guy in their final summer before college. There's positively nothing here to separate this film from all the other Nicholas Sparks-type predictable romances of past years. Fanning and Olsen are both big talents, but their characters are cookie cutter types and the great supporting cast is in for hire mode. Younger audiences who haven't seen hundreds of movies like this might enjoy the romantic melodrama, but they're better off going through John Hughes' entire catalogue or watching Perks of Being a Wallflower from a few years back. See it? No.
I was excited to see Anna Kendrick return to her Drinking Buddies writer/director Joe Swanberg for this new dramatic comedy. Swanberg has been one of the most prolific indie filmmakers of the past ten years but remains largely unknown outside of film circles. His writing and directorial style is authentic-made and his relationship films play out like existential slices of life. Happy Christmas is in keeping with that style as Kendrick's character, fresh off a breakup, moves in with her brother's family during the holidays and brings her irresponsible ways with her. See it? Yes.