2014 Summer Movie Madness: July’s Big-Ticket Items!

By on July 2, 2014
Dawn of the Apes 2

Okay, so let’s be honest: last June was not the greatest month for movies. For every winning indie like the superlative “The Fault in Our Stars,” there was a crappy blockbuster like the latest installment of the seemingly-never-ending “Transformers” franchise. Even some of the more promising big budget efforts, like “Maleficent,” were a bit of a letdown, if I’m being honest; and the sequels, such as “Think Like a Man Too” and “22 Jump Street,” were serviceable at best but not much else.

Fortunately, it’s time to cut our losses as we head into July, which features much more promising releases, ranging from high concept horror to fist-pounding action, with a little something for everyone else in between. Let’s take a look at some of the more high-profile movies of the bunch, and keep an eye out for Part Two, in which I’ll concentrate on the most intriguing independent releases of the month.

Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon go on the ride of their lives in "Tammy."  Courtesy of imdb.com

Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon go on the ride of their lives in “Tammy.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Hoping to get a jump on the July 4th weekend is “Tammy,” the latest from superstar comedian Melissa McCarthy, opening July 2nd. It marks the first combined efforts of McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, who co-wrote the film with her, co-stars, and makes his directorial debut as well. It revolves around the titular Tammy, who loses her job and catches her husband cheating on the same day. Wanting to get away from it all, she embarks on a road trip with Pearl, played by Susan Sarandon, who went into full-on grandma-looking mode for the movie, bad wig and clothes and all.

The supporting cast is pretty impressive, including Kathy Bates (“American Horror Story: Coven”), Allison Janney (“Masters of Sex”), Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Toni Collette (“Hostages”), Dan Aykroyd (“Ghostbusters”), Mark Duplass (“The League”), Gary Cole (“Office Space”), and Nat Faxon (“Married”). However, the complete and utter absence of positive buzz is deafening. Will it be another “The Heat” or will it be more like another “Identity Theft”? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

More promising is “Deliver Us From Evil,” opening the same day. It’s “based on a true story,” for whatever that’s worth, and was inspired by a book by former NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, played by erstwhile “Hulk” Eric Bana. Sarchie is a cop who adopts some decidedly unconventional methods to solve a series of crimes, including teaming up with a priest trained in the rituals of exorcism, played by Édgar Ramírez (“Zero Dark Thirty”). Will his abilities come in handy? Well, if they don’t, then what’s the point?

Eric Bana and Joel McHale investigate spooky goings-on in "Deliver Us From Evil." Courtesy of imdb.com

Eric Bana and Joel McHale investigate spooky goings-on in “Deliver Us From Evil.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

From the looks of the trailer, this should be a fun, if gritty ride, and a neat spin on the timeworn “Exorcist” vibe, given the NY setting. What’s more, the supporting cast is interesting and more than a little left-of-center, being as how it features funny-man Joel McHale (“Community”) and funny-woman Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom”). “The Soup” guy as a rough-and-tumble cop? Now that’s scary!

This isn’t the director, Scott Derickson’s first rodeo, either, as he previously tackled the subject matter in the unique “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”- which was part courtroom drama/part horror movie- and was also behind the excellent “Sinister.” I’m so in, and hoping against hope it ends the run of absolutely dreadful horror movies this year.

Also opening on July 2nd, is the quirky kids’ movie “Earth to Echo,” which marks the directorial debut of Dave Green, who, along with screenwriter Henry Gayden, worked on the last two of the Sam Raimi-directed “Spiderman” films. Hopefully, they picked up a trick or two from the master and, from the looks of the trailer, Green certainly did.

A group of kids discover an alien life form in "Earth to Echo." Courtesy of imdb.com

A group of kids discover an alien life form in “Earth to Echo.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

It’s about a group of kids (played by a group of unknowns, which might be a plus or a negative, depending on their chops) who are about to have to move from their homes because of an impending highway construction project in a matter of days, when they start getting weird signals on their phones. Is it from someone they know, playing a trick, or is the real answer something more…alien in nature? Spoiler alert: it’s an alien. Okay, it’s not that much of a spoiler, as the trailer gives that much away.

The film started out as a Disney flick, but they dropped it, which left the door open for Relativity Media to pick it up instead, who can be pretty hit or miss, i.e. “Brick Mansions,” “Oculus” and “3 Days to Kill,” none of which are particularly great. That may seem like a bad sign, and the film is also of the “found footage” variety, if I understand correctly, which has been done to death; but there’s something charming about the preview and the whole thing seems like it might be a more down-to-earth version of something like “Super 8”-meets-“E.T.” I don’t know if I’ll see it in theaters, but I’d definitely catch it on cable, for whatever’s that’s worth.

July gets going in earnest on July 11th, with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the latest in the ongoing franchise and the direct follow-up to the surprisingly solid “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which was infinitely better than the Tim Burton version. Based on the last one alone, I’m sold this time around. Helping matters is the presence of J.J. Abrams-associate Matt Reeves, who did the underrated “Cloverfield” and the even-more undervalued “Let Me In.”

Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Toby Kebbell prepare for the "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Courtesy of imdb.com

Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Toby Kebbell prepare for the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

The Abrams connection doesn’t end there, either, as the film reunites Reeves with his former leading lady, Keri Russell, of “Felicity” fame. Reeves created, executive produced, wrote and directed that show, so it’ll be fun watching “Felicity” slide into action girl mode- though we get plenty of that on the brilliant “The Americans,” upon which Russell plays an “Alias”-style Russian spy.

Backing her up are Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”), Kodi Smit-McPhee (who played the lead in “Let Me In”), and yet another Abrams alum, Kirk Acevedo, of “Fringe” fame. Returning to the fold from the last movie is Andy Serkis, reprising his stand-out role of Caesar, plus James Franco reportedly has a brief cameo as well. Providing a little monkey love is Judy Greer, as Caesar’s main squeeze, Cornelia. Any relation to Cornelius? Find out for yourselves when the big-budget action flick rampages the screen on the 11th. Monkey…monkay-ee!

The post-modern, dystopian future rages on in “The Purge: Anarchy,” which raises the stakes on the first movie by venturing out from one location into the heart of the city, where the madness is particularly virulent. Though I liked the first one well enough, this one looks infinitely better, and if the cast is considerably lesser-known, at least the director, James DeMonaco is at the helm again.

The film does boast the outstanding character actor Michael K. Williams, aka “Chalky” of “Boardwalk Empire” and “Omar” of “The Wire,” so it’s got that going for it as well. It stars Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) and Kiele Sanchez (“The Glades”) as a couple whose car breaks down at the worst possible time: the night of the “Purge,” which, for those who don’t know, is a night on which all crime is legal and without repercussions. Awkward!

A group of thugs get their crime on in "The Purge: Anarchy." Courtesy of imdb.com

A group of thugs get their crime on in “The Purge: Anarchy.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

The trailer is an attention-getter, and it really does look to expand the would-be franchise in all the right ways, by opening up the setting and giving us a much more widespread view of what really goes down on “Purge” night. I’m in, but I’m locking my door tight when I get home! Check it out on July 18th.

In the somewhat inevitable “Sex Tape,” a couple played by Cameron Diaz (“The Other Woman”) and Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) decides to film themselves having sex- hence the title- in an effort to spice up their lackluster sex life. It works, but then Segel realizes he downloaded the footage to the dreaded “Cloud,” thus making it available to all of their friends and family. Can they get it back before the footage goes viral?

If this was real life, I’m thinking no, but this is a movie, so probably so. One quibble: shouldn’t this technically be called “Sex Video”? Or maybe “Sex DVD”? Does anybody actually use VHS these days? Whatevs. Moving on…

Jake Kasdan, of “New Girl” fame, directs, with a script co-written by Segel and his “Muppets” cohort Nicholas Stoller, so maybe it won’t be a total loss. Also helping matters is a solid comedic cast that includes Rob Corddry (“Warm Bodies”), Ellie Kemper (“Bridesmaids”), Rob Lowe (“Parks and Recreation”), and Nat Faxon (also in “Tammy” this month). Who knows? Maybe it won’t suck. Find out for yourself on July 18th.

Old people need rom-coms, too! Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton get their wine on in "And So It Goes." Courtesy of imdb.com

Old people need rom-coms, too! Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton get their wine on in “And So It Goes.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Also opening that day is “And So It Goes,” the latest romantic comedy from Rob Reiner, of “When Harry Met Sally” and “The Princess Bride” fame. The film marks the first time that movie royalty Michael Douglas, who just won a Golden Globe for his turn as Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra,” and Diane Keaton, of “The Godfather” trilogy, have teamed up together. Though Reiner can be hit or miss, the film does boast a script by Mark Andrus, of “As Good As It Gets,” “Georgia Rule” and “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” fame, so it should play well in the South, given those last two credits. All things considered, this is probably one for the parents among us- or more likely, the grandparents. Hey, old people need rom-coms, too!

On July 25th, Scarlett Johansson is back for at least the fourth time in as many months, by my count (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Under the Skin,” “Chef”) – five, if you include “Her,” which was only released around these parts in early 2014. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Check her out in “Lucy,” the latest from action pioneer Luc Besson, of “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element” and “Taken” fame. Besson loves him some butt-kicking ladies: see also “Le Femme Nikita”, its sister show, the CW’s “Nikita,” plus the American remake “Point of No Return.”

Don't mess with Scar-Jo! Sacrlett Johansson accesses the portion of her brain that allows her to kick much ass in "Lucy." Courtesy of imdb.com

Don’t mess with Scar-Jo! Sacrlett Johansson accesses the portion of her brain that allows her to kick much ass in “Lucy.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Whatever the case, you can’t get much more awesome than Scar-Jo, so I say bring that stuff on. The trailer is fantastic, and the plot looks to split the difference between “The Matrix” and “Limitless,” as she plays the titular heroine, who ends up in a drug deal gone bad, only to have said drug leak into her bloodstream, with some unexpected results: it turns her onto a superhuman able to access far more than the average 10% of the brain than most people. Morgan Freeman assists as a professor who knows the (perfect) score and fills in the blanks for Lucy. (See what I did there?) Bad-guy ass-kicking no doubt ensues, and I say yes, please. I’m all for Scar-Jo taking down names and taking action, so sign me up, stat.

Last and probably least is “Hercules,” yet another stab at the legendary Greek demigod, which also arrives on the 25th. This time around, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to fill the much-filmed hero’s sizable shoes, with a cast that includes Joseph Fiennes (“American Horror Story: Asylum”), Rufus Sewell (“Dark City”), Ian McShane (“Deadwood”), and John Hurt (“Hellboy”). “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit model Irina Shayk provides the eye candy, though her acting skills remain to be seen, and probably won’t be by me.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson tries to give Kevin Sorbo a run for his money in the latest iteration of "Hercules." Courtesy of imdb.com

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to give Kevin Sorbo a run for his money in the latest iteration of “Hercules.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Not exactly helping matters is the presence of the never-met-a-movie-he-couldn’t-make-mediocre, director Brett Ratner, the guy who futzed up the seemingly unstoppable “X-Men” franchise with “The Last Stand.” On the plus side, the reboot and subsequent sequel of that beloved franchise was pretty awesome, so maybe we should thank him. At the least, “Hercules” probably beats another “Rush Hour” movie. Myself, though, I’m just gonna stick with Kevin Sorbo and call it a day. Check it out for yourself, if you dare.

Well, that about does it for July. Be sure to keep an eye out for my article on July’s upcoming indie crop, which has some potentially great offerings as well! See you next time, and, as ever, keep an eye out for me at the movies!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
 
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