Updated through 5/11.
Suddenly, it's summer: trailers for X-Men: First Class, Transformers 3 and the final, no-really-this-is-it installment of the Harry Potter franchise have popped online in rapid succession, Fast Five "is racing towards a $79 million to $81 million weekend opening," and the first round of summer movie previews is out.
"As it celebrates its tenth anniversary with its fifth series entry, Universal's Fast and the Furious franchise should rightly be regarded as one of the more reliable popcorn pleasures of recent years," writes Scott Foundas at the FSLC's Blog, "and also, like the Harry Potter films, that rare long-legged franchise that has actually gotten better with age. A revved-up, nitrous-boosted makeover of the hot-rod movies of the 50s and 60s, the first Fast and the Furious (borrowing the title, though not the plot, from a 1955 Roger Corman quickie) followed undercover Los Angeles cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) as he infiltrated an elite underworld of high-octane street racers, only to end up befriending one of his suspects — the blue-collar tough Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) — and falling for Toretto's comely sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). A drive-in movie for the post-drive-in era, it established several of the series's inalienable constants: very fast cars navigating their way through very tight urban spaces; lone-wolf men (and women) of action willing to sacrifice everything in the name of honor; and just enough plot to get from one rubber-burning set-piece to the next."
"Call it a cash-grab or a no-brainer beginning to the 2011 summer movie season," writes Scott Weinberg at Twitch, "but taken on its own simple merits, and divorced from the stupidity of its four predecessors, the handily-titled Fast Five is an upgrade that does sequelizing right: it sticks with just enough of the established formula to keep the old fans happy, it brings back 'a lot of the old gang' in an affably pleasant fashion, it borrows (and quite liberally) from popular heist movies like Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job, and (best of all) it seems to actively avoid 'churning up the same old wake.'" In short, "this is a fun flick."
For James Rocchi, writing for MSN Movies, director Justin Lin "delivers the kind of explosive, operatic action sequences you normally associate with Michael Bay — but in the context of a semi-coherent and engaging script, which you normally do not."
"In a free-for-all like this," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "where the laws of gravity and dictates of narrative logic are left to eat dust, it doesn't matter when anything takes place or why. Here things happen — like two racing cars pulling, with choreographed precision, an enormous safe through Rio de Janeiro without killing the entire populace — because the filmmakers make it so. Characters, like franchises, can even rise from the dead, as with Han (Sung Kang), who checked out in the previous movie, Tokyo Drift. In genre filmmaking it's all about the eternal return…. Manufactured for extreme wows and not a single thought, Fast Five is an exemplar of industrial moviemaking calculation, one that combines demographic savvy with revving engines, grunting men, crashing cars and promenading female bumpers that are made for looking but not touching, partly to maintain the child-friendly PG-13 rating, partly to keep the men and action moving relentlessly forward."
More from Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 3/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+), Vern and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10). At Salon, Matt Zoller Seitz presents a slide show, the "10 greatest car chases of all time."
"By now you've probably seen a tentative list of all the treats the big studios have in store for your summer movie-going calendar," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "Sure, there are some interesting items snuck into the cracks and crevices of that schedule, but you could be forgiven if your overriding impression is that of a Hollywood-fed menu comprised primarily of the usual crop of increasingly desperate-seeming sequels, second-tier comic book adaptations and even a slew of earnest and obvious-sounding indie comedy-drama-dramedies." Nonetheless, he's found ten titles he's looking forward to and explains why. In order of their release: Lars von Trier's Melancholia, Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, Woo-ping Yuen's True Legend, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, JJ Abrams's Super 8, Wayne Wang's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger, Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Troy Nixey's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and John Sayles's Amigo.
Josh Bell breaks the Las Vegas Weekly's summer movie cover package into seven categories: "Superheroes and other comic-book creations," "Summertime Oscar Bait," "Auteur Visions," "Hilarity Ensues," "Romantic comedies are neither romantic nor comedic; discuss," "Sequels 2: The Revenge" and "The Horror of Remakes." For all the titles that get blurbed, there are only four labeled "Critic's Pick": The Tree of Life, naturally; Super 8; Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Crazy, Stupid, Love (image above); and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Peter Knegt notes that, "while summer will never be the independent film hotbed that is the fall, in recent years there have actually been quite a few indie breakouts during the studio's favorite months. Last year, for example, summer brought eventual best picture nominees in Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right, a slew of fantastic docs in Restrepo, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Oath, and The Tillman Story, and remarkable new foreign-language films in the likes of I Am Love and Dogtooth." IndieWIRE presents a "list of 20 specialty films coming out this summer that demand moviegoer consideration, a supplement to iW's film calendar that additionally mentions a few dozen more (check out specific listings for May, June, July, and August)." And Anne Thompson's drawn up a list of her own.
As part of its ongoing summer preview special, Movieline has "turned to the critics to see which blockbusters and potential sleepers are at the top of the experts' most anticipated lists," while each of its own contributors is presenting a batch of five, beginning with Michelle Orange and Stephanie Zacharek. Perhaps the most fun feature so far in this package, though, are tales the staff tells of summer movies past. For Christopher Rosen, for example, "summer simply isn't summer without Country Time lemonade, baseball on the radio, and Michael Bay filming an American flag in slow motion."
For its summer package, the New York Times similarly gathers memories of "Sunny-Season Faves." Miranda July, for example, recalls how seeing A Room with a View at the age of eleven turned her into "a woman in love." For Maya Rudolph, Purple Rain "was the most exciting thing I had ever seen, next to the cartoon intermission in Ms Pac-Man when the stork drops off her baby." She was 12 at the time. Douglas McGrath has found that Speed delights both his 92-year-old aunt and his ten-year-old son: "It combines the narrative briskness of Mickey Spillane with the visual excitement of a great silent swashbuckler." Eamonn Bowles: "Despite being François Truffaut's favorite American film, The Honeymoon Killers was the only movie Leonard Kastle would ever make." David Gordon Green: "In August 1986, in a summer decorated with films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Top Gun and Big Trouble in Little China, Rob Reiner's movie Stand by Me softly strolled into theaters. As it became a sleeper hit and won over the hearts of critics and crowds, it also left an impression on me that was as powerful as any film before or since…. It was the movie that inspired me to direct films and aspire to work with great actors and strive to sculpture situations that are equally epic and intimate."
Also in the NYT, AO Scott and Manohla Dargis talk girls and guns, Sarah Lyall profiles Michael Fassbender, who'll be appearing in Prometheus, X-Men: First Class and A Dangerous Method, Brooks Barnes meets Maria Bello (Shawn Ku's Beautiful Boy), Terrence Rafferty looks back to the beach party movies and surfer docs of the early 60s to contemplate the image of post-war California "as a paradise of leisure," Stephanie Zacharek and Charles Taylor look ahead to the season's most promising DVD releases, Karin Durbin alerts us to five "Faces to Watch" (Analeigh Tipton in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double, Christopher CJ Wallace in Everything Must Go, Brit Marling in Another Earth and Demián Bichir in A Better Life) and Dave Kehr lines up the release calendar: May, June, July and August.
Updates, 5/2: PopMatters launches its week-long preview.
Fast Five and Thor have both performed even better than expected at the US and international box offices, respectively. Jeremy Kay breaks down the numbers for the Guardian.
It's "Buzzing Blockbusters Day" at DC's.
Update, 5/3: The Playlist launches its series of previews: "Which Summer Films Won’t Make You Feel Like You’ve Been Lobotomized?"
Updates, 5/6: The Washington Post's summer movie guide.
"If this summer's movie posters told the truth," an admittedly amusing collection at TheShiznit.co.uk.
Viewing (1'13"). The Telegraph presents a flashy trailer for the UK distributors' marketing pitch, Summer of Cinema.