Sunday, May 23, 2010

Countdown to the Summer Movie Season

Summer already? Really? As the popcorn season kicks off with "Iron Man 2" this Friday, here's a look at some of the titles we'll soon be seeing at the multiplexes and arthouses. And remember, the summer movie season has its own fizzy-lemonade personality; if you're looking for hard-hitting drama, for the most part you'll need to hang on until fall. Here we go, divided into 10 easy categories (and note that release dates are tentative and as changeable as 3D pricing):

10 intriguing indies

Let's start with a few that aren't household words, shall we? The Argentine thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes," which won the Oscar this year for best foreign-language film, turns up May 7; the Italian drama "I Am Love," which may well be a contender next year, arrives in July. (Tilda Swinton, who stars in the latter, learned to speak Russian and Russian-accent Italian for her role. So what are you doing on your summer vacation?) Other international offerings include "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky" (July 2) — you can guess who it's about — from France, and "Ondine" (June 18), about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) and a woman who just may be a mermaid, from director Neil Jordan.

On U.S. shores, "The Kids are All Right" (July 7), starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple, got raves at Sundance, as did "Get Low" (Aug. 13), with Robert Duvall as a 1930s Tennessee hermit who stages his own funeral, at SXSW. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener ("Lovely & Amazing," "Friends with Money") returns with her latest Catherine Keener-starring comedy, "Please Give" (June 18). Jeff Daniels plays a writer (as he did last year in "The Answer Man") with an imaginary superhero (Ryan Reynolds) in "Paper Man" (May 7).

James Ivory makes his first film without longtime filmmaking partner Ismail Merchant (who died in 2005, after such classics as "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day"): "The City of Your Final Destination" (June 18), starring Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney. And local filmmaker Linas Phillips will see his Seattle-to-East-Coast road movie "Bass Ackwards" on the big screen June 11.

9 action-filled adventures

Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and no tights: That's Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," buckling its swashes in theaters everywhere May 14. Angelina Jolie plays a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy in "Salt" (July 23), directed by Philip Noyce ("The Quiet American"). Tom Cruise (to whom, as it happens, Jolie's role was originally offered — back when it was written as a man) and Cameron Diaz play a fugitive couple on the run in the action/comedy "Knight and Day," opening June 25.

"The Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan returns, sans the Batcape, with "Inception" (July 16), a cerebral adventure about dream invasion starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard. Josh Brolin plays a troubled drifter and bounty hunter in the adventure thriller "Jonah Hex" (June 18), based on DC Comics characters; John Malkovich and Megan Fox co-star. An avatar — but not the James Cameron kind — tries to save the world in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender," based on the Nickelodeon series and opening July 2. (Late-breaking news: "Last Airbender" will be shown in 3D.)

A video-game series inspired "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (May 28), an action/fantasy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and, reportedly, some serious sand effects. Sylvester Stallone directs himself, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Mickey Rourke in the no-doubt extremely manly adventure "The Expendables" (Aug. 13) in which a team travels to South America to overthrow a dictator. (You just know Rocky could do this if he wanted to.) And a gang of bank robbers try to pull off the ever-popular One Last Heist as a veteran detective (Matt Dillon) attempts to thwart them in "Takers" (Aug. 20).

8 sequels, remakes and otherwise familiar endeavors

No movie this summer is likely to inspire as much squealing as "Eclipse" (June 30), the continuing "Twilight" saga of girl (Kristen Stewart), vampire (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf (Taylor Lautner). Me, I'm a little more excited for Robert Downey Jr.'s suavely sardonic superhero in "Iron Man 2" (May 7) or — on an entirely different note — Emma Thompson's hilariously proper British nanny in "Nanny McPhee Returns" (Aug. 20).

In the important subcategory of Animated Franchises We All Thought Were Over By Now, "Shrek Forever After" turns up May 21 and "Toy Story 3" on June 18, complete with, respectively, greenish ogres and chatty cowboy dolls. "Sex & the City 2," another franchise seemingly unwilling to die (aren't Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte getting tired of hearing Carrie whine about Big?), turns up May 27. "Step Up 3D" dances onto screens Aug. 6, and a remake of "The Karate Kid," starring Jaden Smith (hitherto best known as Will Smith's son, and as that cute kid in "The Pursuit of Happyness"), arrives in theaters June 11.

7 comedies about guys

Surprise ... this summer's big-studio comedies are, for the most part, about guys (or, quite often, man-children). "Get Him to the Greek" (June 4) stars Jonah Hill as an unfortunate record-company executive tasked with hauling an uncooperative star (Russell Brand) to a Hollywood concert. Adam Sandler leads a troupe of guys in "Grown Ups" (June 25) in which five former basketball teammates reminisce about their shared pasts. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play an unlikely cop duo in "The Other Guys" (Aug. 6).

"Dinner for Schmucks" (July 23), based on the French comedy "The Dinner Game" (quick, what's the French equivalent of "schmuck"?), features Paul Rudd as a guy in search of the world's oddest dinner guest (Steve Carell). "Middle Men" (Aug. 6) has Luke Wilson as a 1995 porn entrepreneur; "Cyrus" (July 9) stars John C. Reilly as a lonely man who falls in love but struggles to relate to his girlfriend's grown son (the busy Jonah Hill). And "MacGruber" (May 21), starring Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer and based on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, sounds like a twisted (and, let's hope, funny) version of TV's "MacGyver."

6 romantic wallows

Amanda Seyfried, barely recovered from the tearjerking "Dear John," suits up again for "Letters to Juliet" (May 14) as a young American in Italy who helps an older woman (Vanessa Redgrave) find true love. Vanessa Hudgens tries to shake off "High School Musical" in "Beastly" (July 30), a modern-day take on "Beauty and the Beast." "Just Wright" (May 14) has Queen Latifah as a physical therapist in love with a basketball star (Common, from "Date Night"); "The Switch" (Aug. 20) features Jennifer Aniston as a mother about to learn a surprise about her child's paternity.

Drew Barrymore continues her brave quest to find the right rom-com script (keep trying, Drew! We're all rooting for you!) with "Going the Distance" (Aug. 27) alongside Justin Long. And perhaps the summer's most intriguing romance might be "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (Aug. 13), directed and cowritten by the very funny Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") and starring Michael Cera as a young man who must defeat his true love's seven evil ex-boyfriends.

5 for the kids

The Oscar-nominated Irish animated fantasy "The Secret of Kells" arrives in theaters May 14, in traditional 2D; while the 3D animated comedy "Despicable Me," featuring the voices of Steve Carell and Russell Brand (yes, these guys get around), opens July 9. Owen Wilson goes all shaggy-dog as the voice of "Marmaduke" (June 4) and "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (July 30) has Alec Baldwin voicing a dog and Bette Midler as the titular kitty. Finally, Disney brings out a live-action adventure called "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" July 16, with Nicolas Cage as a sorcerer who must protect New York City from an evil wizard (Alfred Molina).

4 daring documentaries

"Casino Jack and the United States of Money" (May 14), directed by Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"), looks at the rise and fall of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "The Tillman Story" (Aug. 20), from filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev ("My Kid Could Paint That"), examines the death in Afghanistan of Pat Tillman, a football star turned Army Ranger. "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (June 18) follows the chatty comedian as she goes about her business, and "Babies" (May 7) is about exactly that: four infants meeting the world, in four different corners of it.

3 books-turned-movies

Pretty much every woman in America with a book club has read Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," and now it's a round-the-world movie, starring Julia Roberts and opening Aug. 13. The Swedish film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's wildly popular thriller "The Girl Who Played With Fire" arrives July 9, with the same principal cast as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (in theaters earlier this spring). And "The American" (Sept. 1), based on the novel by Martin Booth, stars George Clooney as an assassin waiting for one last assignment in Italy. (Hope he doesn't bump into the "Ocean's Twelve" gang.)

2 tales of the undead

Horror master George C. Romero returns with "Survival of the Dead" (May 28), as a zombie plague hits an island off Delaware. And Shakespeare gets a bloody twist in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead" (June 25) starring Jake Hoffman (yes, Dustin's son) as a wannabe director presiding over a very bizarre version of "Hamlet."

And 1 sing-along musical

Because it just isn't summer unless you can warble "Summer Nights." "Sing-Along 'Grease' " arrives in theaters July 8, complete with the young and very snake-hipped John Travolta. Enjoy the season

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