Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer in the Third Dimension

A quick and dirty preview of summer movies.

When the going gets tough, the tough go to the movies. The legend of the Great Depression tells us that the movie industry fares well in hard economic times. Movie attendance is up about 10 percent this year, according to the National Association of Theater Owners, whose spokesman explained: “Not everybody is broke. People still have to get out.” Movies offer a temporary escape, and they’re safer than liquor, tobacco and guns, other industries that are relatively recession-proof.

The numbers will certainly climb during the summer season, which offers the usual array of guns ’n’ ammo, sequels, remakes and animation. The lineup is slimmed down from last year — 16 percent fewer releases — which may make it competitive against last year’s blockbuster-heavy summer (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Sex and the City, Wall-E).

The season opened in early May with X-Men Origins and Star Trek, but there are still plenty of exciting movies on deck, and crucial questions to be answered. Will kids like the animated Up, even though it’s about an old man? Will the latest retro gimmick, 3-D, fill seats or be abandoned as a fad, as it was in the ’50s?

Memorial Day weekend brings Terminator Salvation (May 21), the fourth installment in the sci-fi series, which reveals the origins of the T-800 cyborg, played by the Governor of California (you couldn’t make this stuff up!), who lends voice and image to the movie, directed by McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol). Wayans Brothers nephew Damien Dante Wayans gets into the movie-spoof act with Dance Flick (May 22), a spoof of teen dance movies like Save the Last Dance. Wayans’ mash-up has rich suburban white girl Megan (Shoshana Bush) moving to the inner city, where she and street-smart Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.) try to realize their hoofing dreams.

When a movie grosses $600 million, like the 2006 Night at the Museum, a sequel is mandated by law. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (May 22) has Ben Stiller reprising his museum-watchman role, this time at the Smithsonian, where Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) and an evil pharaoh come to life. Evil Dead/ Spider-man director Sam Raimi returns after a 15-year absence with Drag Me to Hell (May 29), a horror pic that combines the foreclosure crisis with scary Hell curses (which are about the same thing). A young woman (Alison Lohman) denies a mortgage payment extension to an old lady, who puts her under an evil curse.

This summer’s Pixar entry, the first in 3-D, is Up (May 29), featuring the voice of Ed Asner as a grumpy old balloon salesman who fulfills his dream of visiting South America by airlifting his house with balloons. Directed by Toy Story/Monsters Inc.’s Pete Docter. Some naysayers have doubted that kids will embrace a cartoon about an old man, but the movie has enough color and adventure to please small fry and their owners.

One promising alternative to high-decibel summer fare is Rian Johnson’s caper film The Brothers Bloom (May 29), starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as legendary con men who team up with a beautiful heiress (Rachel Weisz) for one last job. Since Judd Apatow is going for the sentimental (Funny People), it’s up to Old School director Todd Philips to cover the raunchy comedy front. The Hangover (June 5) is about three groomsmen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianikis) who lose their about-to-wed buddy on a trip to Vegas.

It’s back to the ’70s with Land of the Lost (June 5), based on the 1974 TV series about the adventures of a disgraced paleontologist, played by Will Ferrell. Adam McKay (Anchorman) directs. Simpsons scribe Mike Reiss wrote the original script for the romantic comedy My Life in Ruins (June 5), based on his travel experiences, but Nia Vardala, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, rewrote it as a vehicle for herself (My Big Fat Travel Movie?). She plays a tour guide who leads a comically disastrous Greek tour and, of course, finds love.

In another blast from the ’70s, Tony Scott remakes the tense caper film The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 , in which gunmen hijack an NYC subway train. This one boasts a superb cast, including Denzel Washington and James Gandolfini, with John Travolta as the criminal mastermind, a role that doubtlessly suits him better than Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.

The trailer for Year One (June 19) gave me a terrifying flashback to Ringo Starr’s Caveman, but this prehistoric comedy from the Apatow factory and directed by Harold Ramis, promises some anachronistic laughs. Jack Black and Michael Cera star, in loincloths. The pleasant-looking romantic comedy The Proposal (June 19) pairs forgettable Ryan Reynolds with reliable Sandra Bullock. She’s a book editor who, facing deportation to her native Canada (oh noes, free health care!), fakes an engagement to her assistant (Reynolds). They meet his family in Alaska, and hilarity ensues. Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) directs. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an aging courtesan in Chéri (June 19), an adaptation of a Colette novel directed by the excellent Stephen Frears.

Most of the original cast returns for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24), sequel to the 2007 sci-fi movie based on a line of action toys. Michael Bay again directs, with Shia LaBeouf reprising his role as Sam Witwidky, who fights the Decepticons and the demonic Transformer known as “The Fallen.”

Writer Mark Boal spent time embedded with a bomb squad to research the war thriller The Hurt Locker (June 26), directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Jeremy Renner, Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce as bomb squad members in Iraq. My Sister’s Keeper (June 26), based on Jodi Picoult’s novel, holds the record for number of tears shed at the trailer alone. Abigail Breslin plays a 13-year-old girl whose parents (Jason Patric and Cameron Diaz) conceived her as a “harvest child” for her cancer-stricken sister, and who sues her parents for medical emancipation.

Another entry in the 3-D derby is Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1), part three of the animated series voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Queen Latifah. Miami Vice director Michael Mann returns with Public Enemies (July 1), a gangster flick featuring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as the FBI agent who pursues him. Billy Crudup plays J. Edgar Hoover — no word on whether he’ll wear a dress and feather boa.

Former presidential candidate Ron Paul is among the embarrassed victims of Bruno (July 10), Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest mockumentary, featuring Cohen’s gay Austrian correspondent character. The movie’s facetious working title sums it up: Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner.

Simpsons writer Larry Doyle adapted his novel for I Love You, Beth Cooper (July 10), about a nerdy valedictorian (Paul Rust), who declares his love for the school’s most popular girl (Hayden Panettiere), who comes to his house with her gorgeous girlfriends. The director is the un-subtle Chris Columbus (Home Alone), so expect lots of loud pratfalls and vehicles crashing through walls.

One of the season’s sure things is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (June 17), the penultimate chapter in the J.K. Rowling series, directed by David Yates. This installment focuses on the young wizard’s sixth year at Hogwarts, when he discovers a Potions book with notes by a mysterious prince. There will be dark secrets, a new romantic interest for Harry, and a big, climactic battle.

Andrew Jarecki, who made the brilliant documentary Capturing the Friedmans, makes his feature debut with All Good Things (July 17), a mystery starring Ryan Gosling and Kirstin Dunst and based on the case of real-estate heir and accused murderer Robert Durst.

Don’t go in the water! Piranha 3-D (July 17) is a remake of a 1978 movie in which killer CGI fish make a bloody mess of Spring Break. The romantic comedy The Ugly Truth (July 24) pairs Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) and Gerard Butler. She’s a romantically challenged producer, he’s the chauvinistic TV personality who schools her about the man-woman thing. Do they fall in love? Duh, I wonder!

Somebody has to save the world from evil billionaires who want to destroy the world (no, it's not Rupert Murdoch). Sounds like a job for G-Force (July 24), a group of secret-agent guinea pigs voiced by Nicholas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Penélope Cruz and others in a live-action/animation romp produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

Will audiences go for a sentimental Judd Apatow? In Funny People (July 31), Adam Sandler plays a standup comedian who learns he has less than a year to live. The movie also features Apatow regulars Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Leslie Mann. Sandler an acquired taste, but advance word on the movie has been very positive. This looks like another hit for the talented Apatow.

If you’ve read Nora Ephron’s books, you know she’s obsessed with cooking. In Julie & Julia (Aug. 7), Ephron tells the stories of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who documented her efforts to cook Child’s classic recipes. Robert Rodriguez is back in Spy Kids mode with Shorts (August 7), a family adventure about a boy who finds a wish-granting rock.

When I was a kid, my friend and I thought her brothers G.I. Joe made a more macho boyfriend for Barbie than that stiff, Ken. But Joe’s a fighter, not a lover, as proved by G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Aug. 7), a live-action movie based on yet another line of Hasbro toys, and which shows off the latest in military technology.

Entourage’s Jeremy Piven and Will Ferrell star in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (Aug. 14), a comedy about a salesman who brings his ragtag crew in to save a failing car dealership.This year’s Benjamin Button is The Time Traveler’s Wife (Aug. 14), based on Audrey Niffenegger’s novel about a man with a rare disorder that causes him to travel through time, causing romantic complications. With Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.

And the winner of the perfect summer title award goes to….Final Destination: Death Trip 3D (Aug. 18). After a horrible accident at a car racetrack, a man discovers it was actually a premonition he had of a future event. If nothing else, this movie wins the Perfect Summer Title Award. It’s a sequel, it’s in 3-D, and — death! This baby has it all.

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