Summer Movie Preview: Kids, Theft, The Apocalypse And Joss Whedon

May 27, 2013
Originally published on May 28, 2013 10:31 am

Trending, trending. M Night Shyamalan sees dead people. I see trends.

This will be a summer of Adolescents Triumphant, with kids overcoming parental units specifically to tame a hostile environment, be it a planet (Shyamalan's After Earth) a woodsy suburban clearing (Kings of Summer), or a waterpark (The Way Way Back). It's also the Summer of the Steal, what with Now You See Me (thieving magicians), Bling Ring (thieving valley girls), and the docs We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks and Smash & Grab (about stealing the Pink Panther diamonds). And there's an odd plethora of Comic Apocalypses — where but the multiplex could there be more than one? — with the world as we know it ending in pratfalls (The World's End, This is the End, and Rapturepalooza).

But as I was drawing up my summer preview piece for All Things Considered, I kept coming back to a pair of one-off originals that seemed more intriguing. One offers perhaps the oddest odd-coupling of the summer — Joss Whedon and Shakespeare — while the other finds a bizarrely showbizzy way to explore one of recent history's great tragedies.

Start with the Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing directed by the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Whedon had some down-time after making The Avengers last year, and where another filmmaker might have headed to Waikiki for a well-earned vacation, he prospected for Elizabethan laughs in his L.A. living room with some actor buddies — including Angel's Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the Bard's warring wits, Beatrice and Benedick, and The Avengers' Clark Gregg as the uncle who tries to bring them "into a mountain of affection." In twelve days, for a budget that probably wouldn't have covered the catering on most of Whedon's projects, he made a black-and-white, modern-dress, startlingly hip Much Ado. Will it appeal to the Buffy and Avengers crowds? Well, odder things have happened.

And one of those odder things is the subject of the summer's most unorthodox documentary, The Act of Killing. Filmmaker Josh Oppenheimer wanted to tell the story of the death squads that killed more than a million Indonesians after the overthrow of the of the country's first non-colonial government in 1965. The military had never been called to account for the barbarism that brought it to power — in fact, with the right wing death squad leaders now regarded as heroes, it didn't really recognize the need for any sort of reckoning. So when he asked them to appear on camera, they said yes, noting that movies had inspired them in their sadism.

Their idea of appearing in a film, though, wasn't quite what the director initially had in mind: They didn't want to be talking heads, they wanted to star in the sort of picture with which they were more familiar. So he challenged them to re-enact their crimes in whatever form they chose. They chose westerns, action flicks and even musicals, and Oppenheimer ended up with footage that raised both hackles and hosannahs when The Act of Killing premiered at Telluride. It's hard to imagine it won't be controversial on its commercial release as well.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In the world of film, the Cannes Film Festival is behind us. So we can now turn our attention to the red meat of summer: blockbusters. Studios have filled their summer schedules with potential crowd-pleasers, almost 100 before Labor Day.

Our critic Bob Mondello has this selective preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Besting last year, the year of "The Avengers," is going to take some box office magic. So let's start with "Now You See Me," the story of four magicians who wow Las Vegas with quite an act.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NOW YOU SEE ME")

MONDELLO: "Now You See Me" is part bank heist, part detective flick, part thriller, and pretty much all fun. And it's not the only film this summer obsessed with theft. There are the documentaries, "We Steal Secrets," the story of WikiLeaks, and "Smash and Grab" about stealing the Pink Panther diamonds. Also, Sofia Coppola's fact-based "Bling Ring," about Valley girls who get caught stealing from celebrities and are less than contrite even when they're facing jail time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BLING RING")

MONDELLO: Uh-huh. If all that emphasis on unabashed thievery makes this sound like the summer of the steal, well, it's also the summer of the "Man of Steel" - a darker look at Superman from the folks who previously darkened his DC Comics buddy, Batman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MAN OF STEEL")

MONDELLO: Oh, I think we're ready. "Man of Steel" will be joined at the multiplex by other larger-than-life heroes, notably Wolverine, who will do battle with a bad guy known as Silver Samurai; and in the sci-fi flick "Pacific Rim," some enormous soldier-piloted robots who take on giant aliens from the deep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PACIFIC RIM")

MONDELLO: Speaking of the Apocalypse, the world as we know it has already ended several times this spring at the multiplex, and it's going to end again and again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WORLD WAR Z")

MONDELLO: In "World War Z," it ends with zombies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WORLD WAR Z")

MONDELLO: In "After Earth," it's already come to an end, our world having been human-free for about a thousand years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AFTER EARTH")

MONDELLO: Then there are the comedy Armageddons. In "Rapture-Palooza," the world ends with jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "RAPTURE-PALOOZA")

MONDELLO: Friends in "The World's End" encounter aliens on what may be the last pub crawl ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WORLD'S END")

MONDELLO: And in "This Is the End," a bunch of Hollywood comedians party like there's no tomorrow, only to discover there's kind of no tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THIS IS THE END")

MONDELLO: Other summer comedies are less apocalyptic, more odd couple-ish. The guys from "The Wedding Crashers" trying to crash Google, for instance, in "The Internship."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE INTERNSHIP")

MONDELLO: There's also a feminine twist to the odd couple-buddy cop genre in "The Heat," starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE HEAT")

MONDELLO: And perhaps the oddest odd coupling this summer, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" meets Shakespeare. Writer-director Joss Whedon had some downtime after making "The Avengers" last year, so in his living room with some actor friends...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING")

MONDELLO: He shot a black and white, modern-dress "Much Ado About Nothing."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING")

MONDELLO: Shakespeare appealing to the "Buffy" and "Avengers" crowd, well, odder things have happened. And one of those odder things is the subject of the summer's most unorthodox documentary, "The Act of Killing," which finds a bizarrely showbiz-y way to examine the slaughter of more than one million Indonesians.

The Indonesian military was never called to account for the barbarism that brought it to power for decades ago. So, when the filmmakers asked former death squad leaders to reenact their mass murders for the camera...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ACT OF KILLING")

MONDELLO: They did the unthinkable and said yes, reimagining their crimes as scenes from westerns, musicals and so forth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ACT OF KILLING")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: A more conventional documentary, "Twenty Feet from Stardom," takes a look not at the music industry's superstars but at their backup singers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM")

MONDELLO: Love spent a lifetime shining brighter than many a headliner, 20 feet from stardom.

But enough of films for adults, summer is also a time for kids which means animated sequels involving Smurfs in "Smurfs 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SMURFS 2")

MONDELLO: Minions in "Despicable Me 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DESPICABLE ME 2")

MONDELLO: And monsters in "Monsters University."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY")

MONDELLO: As well as some original characters in a "Cars" spinoff called "Planes," and "Turbo" about a snail who decides to enter the Indy 500.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TURBO")

MONDELLO: For slightly older kids, there are outsider sagas about the awkwardness of adolescence. In "The Way, Way Back," a shy boy finds acceptance during a summer spent working at a water park.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WAY, WAY BACK")

(LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: And in "The Kings of Summer," some suburban teenagers get so fed up with life at home that they spend their vacation building a house in the woods.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE KINGS OF SUMMER")

MONDELLO: According to the rules of summer, these smaller films only have to do OK while Hollywood pins its real box-office hopes on popcorn pictures. Big action movies, this year including the likes of "2 Guns," with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as undercover agents who usually work solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "2 GUNS")

MONDELLO: "White House Down," the summer's second terrorist takeover of the presidential mansion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHITE HOUSE DOWN")

MONDELLO: The sci-fi epic of "Elysium" in which Matt Damon leads a populist rebellion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ELYSIUM")

MONDELLO: And "The Lone Ranger" reimagined by the "Pirates of the Caribbean" team, with Johnny Depp as Tonto.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

MONDELLO: Hi-ho summer, away. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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