Summer 2013: The Prestige Projects

Today's crop of films might be the group I have the least amount of knowledge on as of yet. Granted, one of them is likely to be one of the bigger films of the summer and the others all come from either high profile directors or a high profile actor turned director. And while you might be able to say that four out of the five films would just have easily fit into yesterdays indie categories I don't think that is necessarily true. You see, despite four of the five films being smaller movies and receiving what will likely be limited releases they will be well known among those who follow film regularly and highly anticipated by that same crowd. Some of them have already had there premieres at certain film festivals while the biggest of the bunch was actually delayed nearly six months for reasons that are still unknown. It is hard to conjure up much to say about any of these films without giving away which of the summer films they are and general readers might in fact be unaware that such films even exist so I will simply try to create a level of intrigue for each by summing up the highlights of each film with what is the most appealing aspect of each project. Though some would call this director unappealing he has had more good will float his way over the past couple of years and looks to continue in the same vein as the films that have garnered him such positive word of mouth in his annual output. And while that seasoned director delivers his forty-eighth film with his next already in the works, we also have a directorial debut from one of the hottest stars of 2012. Then we have a director who went the complete opposite his expected direction in following up what was the biggest film of last year and easily of last summer by escaping the world of iron men and super heroes and retreating to that of Shakespeare's word. Let us continue on the trend of directors and say that a member of a filmmaking family legacy is at the helm of the next and the final film, that delayed blockbuster, has been put together taking some sacred text, often considered the greatest American novel, and been placed in the hands of an extravagant visionary who may just be perfect for the time period and tone of the source material. Time will tell, but I'm ready to become better acquainted with each one of these films.

The Prestige Projects

Clockwise from Top: The Great Gatsby, Don Jon, Much Ado About Nothing, Blue Jasmine, and The Bling Ring.
Let us begin with that well-known blockbuster that graces the background of the headlining banner for this article. The first trailer for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby premiered nearly a year ago and from that first glimpse at the footage I have been anxious to see what the creative and visually stunning director of such films as Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, and the underrated but overloaded Australia has to offer when it comes to the well known story of Mr. Jay Gatsby. The book is something most of America is familiar with given it is required reading in High School and there is also the 1974 version of the film starring Robert Redford in the main role. Though I've seen the 70's film, it has been a while as we watched it after reading the book in my tenth grade English class and I don't recall much about it. I may take a shot at re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's acclaimed novel before catching the movie so that I may have a better sense of what Fitzgerald was saying and what he was intending to get across as I'm sure I missed a good amount of it at 16, but if not I feel I can count on the film to be a truly fascinating piece of storytelling on its own. Despite the bad word of mouth surrounding the film due to its delay from last Christmas to this Summer, I on the other hand find several reasons to believe in the film. First of course is the caliber of the cast. Leonardo DiCaprio seemingly doesn't choose bad films and I doubt he would have signed onto this if he thought Luhrmann was going to badger it. Not to mention he also was able to get the white hot Carey Mulligan on as Daisy and a slew of other strong, young actors in supporting roles. The other main reason for me not to doubt the film comes in the form of the studio pushing it to Summer. Summer is not a dumping ground and though this will open a week after Iron Man 3 it will also be playing to a completely different audience, an audience tha will likely be looking for something different than the typical super hero fodder that comes out every year at this time. I believe in DiCaprio and The Great Gatsby and if the reviews and word of mouth are positive there is no telling how high this high class bird will fly.

Maybe the second highest profile film behind Gatsby is the latest from writer/director Sofia Coppola. Her follow-up to 2010's Somewhere (which I have still yet to see, but have heard nothing but good things about) is based on the true story of a group of fame-obsessed teenagers who desire to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous by tracking down celebrities homes and robbing them. It is slightly outlandish to think this actually happened for the reasons it did, but even more interesting is the fact this feels like the third in a series of films this year that turns the goal of the American dream in to a darkly funny yet bleak cautionary tale of America's youth. Following Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain, The Bling Ring will be a self-reflective look at the absurdities of a lifestyle that has become the obsession of millions of teens due to the way it is so constantly flaunted on networks such as E! and on every magazine stand you pass in Wal-Mart. Though the concept is hot at the moment and the infatuation with celebrity media and being famous for the sake of being famous might have finally reached its boiling point I am especially intrigued to see Coppola's take on the subject and she has gathered a nice bit of casting to bring this true story to life. Emma Watson proved last year with The Perks of Being a Wallflower that she was more than capable of extending her acting career well past Hermione and she looks to be continuing to prove herself with the lead role of Nicki here. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story and younger sister of Vera) also pops up here as a fellow wannabe socialite and Leslie Mann plays Nicki's mom who likely has a hand in her daughter turning out the way she has. I feel the film will likely make me mad with the stupidity of the main characters, but there seems no doubt it will be a well thought out analyzation of celebrity culture and an entertaining movie in the least.

In talking about the two directors at either end of the spectrum I was also discussing the two films I know the least about on this list. The first is from Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, after starring in The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper, and Lincoln last year and already lining up a leading role in the sequel to Robert Rodriguez's Sin City sequel, could have done anything he wanted and what he chose was to write and direct his first film. Originally called Don Jon's Addiction, the title was streamlined as simply Don Jon and centers around the titular character who Gordon-Levitt also plays, who is addicted to online pornography but wants to work to find real intimacy with someone who could be his true love. The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival earlier this year and received an overwhelmingly positive response from the critics that screened it. I am anxious to see the film as I am anxious to see what skill Gordon-Levitt has behind the camera and in the writing of a screenplay. We already knew he was a talented guy, but this could just as well push him over the edge. On the other side of that coin in Woody Allen who after delivering his biggest hit in years with 2011's Midnight in Paris, slightly stumbled with last years attempt, To Rome With Love, but is naturally back again this year with what is titled Blue Jasmine. I have yet to see a trailer for this film either and so there is no real sense of how this might turn out, but being an Allen project immediately gives it more attention than a film by a lesser director might turn up. Starring Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Andrew "Dice" Clay there has still been no official plot synopsis released, but the story is said to center around the final stages of an acute crisis and a life of a fashionable New York housewife. Admittedly, this could go in any direction, but it's always fascinating to see which direction that is.

And finally, after demolishing every box office record last year with The Avengers director Joss Whedon, who even before that success was hailed as a kind of geek God due to his credits on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the cult classic Firefly, decided to go the route of which was clearly the most obvious and direct a modern telling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Right, that is what everyone expected, right? Though I won't sit here and pretend like I know everything there is to know about Shakespeare I must admit there is something oddly intriguing about the trailer for the film. Whether it be the fact that Whdeon self-financed and shot the sub-independent film entirely at his Santa Monica home over a period of 12 days just after The Avengers wrapped or that he is well versed in both comic books and classic literature there is something undeniably fascinating about the man behind the film. I'll admit I wasn't the biggest fan of Cabin in the Woods (which Whedon co-wrote) and after listening to the commentary on The Avengers blu-ray I didn't really like the guy that much, but it would simply be ignorant to ignore that the guy has some serious intellect and is unafraid to do what he really wants to do despite now being able to cleanly fit into a niche in Hollywood. Apparently, this little passion project has been on Whdeon's radar for years though as he apparently holds Shakespeare readings at his house with friends/collaborators and this film is simply an evolution of that. I guess that might be another reason the film stars so many of Whedon's frequent collaborators including Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Amy Acker (Angel, The Cabin in the Woods), Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods), Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), Tom Lenk (Buffy, The Cabin in the Woods) Clark Gregg (The Avengers), and Sean Maher (Firefly).

Check back tomorrow for the final installment, The Ones You Might Miss...

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