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Film: Summer Movie Preview

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Iron Man. Made of Honor. Speed Racer. What Happens In Vegas. Four summer movies down, approximately 50 to go.

The official start of the summer movie season has been holding steady the past few years as the first weekend in May -- even Hollywood suits know that hot-weather blockbusters would look absurd being released in the midst of April showers. But as always, they've been careful to spread out their big-ticket items, generally allowing no more than two heavily hyped flicks per week. Here, then, is how the rest of the season pans out, with my guesses (based on trailers, general buzz and other extremely dubious factors) on what looks good, what looks grasping, and everything else in between.

10 MOST PROMISING

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. After all these many years that we've been laughing at Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford for planning to make another Indiana Jones yarn even though the initial trilogy was successfully wrapped up back in 1989 (would an aged Indy replace his trusty whip with a walker?), it only took one look at the trailer to turn around everyone's expectations. The 65-year-old Ford seems as if he's up to the challenge, Cate Blanchett looks to be absolutely wicked, and it's great to see Indy's best gal pal, Karen Allen, back in the co-pilot's seat. If Spielberg doesn't go overboard with the CGI and instead relies more on old-school charm, this could be the summer's great escape. (May 22)

SEX AND THE CITY. As proven by (among others) My Best Friend's Wedding way back in 1997 and The Devil Wears Prada a couple of years ago, it's a no-brainer to always include one female-centric project on the other otherwise testosterone-driven summer schedule. This year's counter-programming option appears to be this big-screen transfer of the hit series that ran for six seasons (1998-2004) on HBO. The series regulars (Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis) have all returned, and so has the sex: According to the MPAA, this will be rated R for "strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language." (May 30)

GET SMART. For five seasons (1965-1970), the critically acclaimed comedy series Get Smart, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, focused on the adventures of bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and his more accomplished partner, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). Adams reprised his role in the 1980 theatrical bomb The Nude Bomb and a short-lived FOX reboot in 1995; now, it's Steve Carell who steps into Maxwell's shoes (and yes, the shoe phone will make an appearance), with Anne Hathaway on board as Agent 99. Carell's channeling of Paul Lynde was the best part of the disastrous film version of Bewitched, so here's betting he can nail another iconic '60s performer. (June 20)

WALL-E. The teaser for WALL-E, about a lonely robot, did nothing for me, but the new, longer trailer holds more promise. At any rate, I'm not about to bet against Pixar, whose formidable run continued with last summer's Oscar-winning Ratatouille and looks to be extended with this guaranteed family favorite. (June 27)

THE DARK KNIGHT. 2005's Batman Begins is merely one of the best superhero movies ever made, so there are high hopes for this equally dark follow-up -- more so since it reunites the original's director, Christopher Nolan, with Bat-star Christian Bale. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman also return, Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as the love interest, and Aaron Eckhart turns up as Harvey Dent (later to become the villainous Two-Face, probably in Part 3). The biggest news, of course, is that this will feature the final full performance from the late Heath Ledger, who, if the previews are any indication, looks to be absolutely amazing as The Joker. (July 18)

MAMMA MIA! This appears to be this summer's Hairspray: a smash stage musical that's brought to the big screen dripping with A-list actors. Here, it's Meryl Streep who heads the cast, as a once-promiscuous mother whose daughter (Amanda Seyfried) is trying to figure out before her wedding day which of three guys (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) is her father. Like the stage version, this will be filled to the rafters with ABBA tunes. (July 18)

SWING VOTE. It's the simple premise that hooks me: The presidential election is at a standstill on Election Day, since both candidates are evenly tied. The White House will be decided by the vote of one man, a deadbeat (Kevin Costner) living in a small Southwestern town. Bill Maher, Arianna Huffington, Willie Nelson and man-whore Larry King are reportedly among those appearing as themselves. (Aug. 1)

AMERICAN TEEN. The jock. The geek. The rebel. The princess. The heartthrob. Sounds like The Breakfast Club, right? But it also describes the documentary American Teen, a Sundance Film Festival hit about high school kids in a small Indiana town. (Aug. 15)

HAMLET 2. This has all the makings of an indie smash, as a high school drama teacher (Steve Coogan) decides to stage his own wayward sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet; among the added ingredients not found in the Bard's original are lightsabers, a smooch between Satan and the U.S. President, and a song called "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus." (Aug. 22)

TOWELHEAD. Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball wrote and directed this adaptation of Alicia Erian's novel about a 13-year-old Arabian-American girl (Summer Bishil) who must contend with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi), her black boyfriend (Eugene Jones III) and her lecherous neighbor (Aaron Eckhart). This reportedly disturbing picture inspired an outraged commentary from FOX's film critic when it screened at the Toronto Film Festival ("the worst and most offensive movie I've seen in a while"), which automatically makes it at least worth checking out. (No Charlotte date set)

10 LEAST PROMISING

THE STRANGERS. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are terrorized by creepy people in their own home. Didn't this just come out under the title Funny Games? At any rate, I wrote about this for last summer's preview guide, so it's been sitting on the shelf for a while. (May 30)

KUNG FU PANDA. Jack Black (as the title bear), Jackie Chan and Dustin Hoffman lend their vocals to this animated martial arts comedy. If you thought the Pokemon-inspired sequence was the highlight of Horton Hears a Who!, then you should love this one (if the trailer is any indication); if, like me, you were pained by that segment, proceed with caution. (June 6)

THE LOVE GURU. Mike Myers plays a goofy guru with a penchant for ringing gongs with his penis and manhandling a dwarf (Verne Troyer, the Mini-Me to Myers' Austin Powers). No wonder Hindu groups have already been protesting this film's very existence ... (June 20)

MEET DAVE. Eddie Murphy plays a tiny alien captain whose spaceship has taken on the form of a normal-sized Eddie Murphy. Come back, Norbit; all is forgiven! (July 11)

SPACE CHIMPS. An animated tale about monkeys in space, presented in the ADD Shrek style. Any movie that includes the long-overexposed line "That's gotta hurt" (as shown in the trailer) automatically deserves inclusion here. (July 18)

STEP BROTHERS. Will Ferrell (again) and John C. Reilly (again) team up (again) to play dim-witted stepbrothers who hate each other. Enough already. (July 25)

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Brendan Fraser is back as Rick O'Connell, again finding ancient evil buried under all that sand, but former co-star Rachel Weisz, Oscar grasped firmly in hand, smartly decided to bail. She's replaced by the talented Maria Bello, probably using this fat paycheck to help her forget that the Academy cheated her out of nominations for The Cooler and A History of Violence. (Aug. 1)

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Yet another comedy sanctioned by Judd Apatow (serving as producer and co-writer), this one's about a process server (Seth Rogen) and a pothead (James Franco) who witness a murder. Quality-wise, the trailer makes it look more like Drillbit Taylor than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Aug. 8)

WILD CHILD. A Malibu brat learns about responsibility after she's sent to a strict boarding school in England. Sounds inoffensive enough until you realize the star is Emma Roberts, who helped turn Nancy Drew into one of last summer's most insufferable flicks. (Aug. 22)

COLLEGE. Three high school nerds visit a college campus hoping to get laid. Movies like this are a dime-a-dozen, but in the wake of Superbad's success, look for them to become a dime-a-hundred. (Aug. 29)

THREE SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN

THE HAPPENING. It's the end of the world as we know it, and Mark Wahlberg doesn't feel fine -- at least that's the suggestion put forth in the trailer for the latest yarn from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. Starting with his breakthrough smash The Sixth Sense, each of Shyamalan's films has been progressively worse than the one preceding it. Yet given the train wreck that was Lady in the Water, we have to assume that the roller coaster again begins its ascension with this picture. (June 13)

THE INCREDIBLE HULK. 2003's Hulk was a burp in the otherwise stellar career of director Ang Lee, a lumbering bore that provided none of the thrills or resonance of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. So for this sequel, Lee's been booted for Louis Leterrier (The Transporter and its follow-up), guaranteeing more action this time around. But if we're still stuck with the dreadful CGI effects that crippled the first film, it's all to no avail. On the acting side, Edward Norton replaces Eric Bana, while Tim Roth plays the baddie (who also gets turned into a CGI brute). Also look for a cameo from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (without his Iron Man getup, I would assume). (June 13)

THE HOUSE BUNNY. Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith penned Legally Blonde, and this indeed looks like a tepid blend of that Reese Witherspoon hit and last year's Amanda Bynes flop Sydney White, as a ditzy ex-Playboy bunny ends up tutoring a gang of college sorority outcasts. What might make this watchable, though, is the casting of Anna Faris, who bared her formidable comic chops in Lost in Translation and the Scary Movie franchise. (Aug. 22)

ALSO ON TAP

• Those proper British kids (no, not Harry, Ron and Hermione) head back to the mystical world in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. (May 16)

• Helen Hunt directs and stars in THEN SHE FOUND ME, about an adopted woman who reconnects with her birth mother (Bette Midler). (May 16)

• Two kids try to film their own action yarn in the indie offering SON OF RAMBOW. (May 23)

• An injured man (Lee Pace) regales a little girl (Catinca Untaru) with a magical tale in THE FALL. (May 30)

• A Middle Eastern assassin (Adam Sandler) decides he'd rather work as an NYC hair stylist in YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. (June 6)

• Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris (The Fog of War) examines the events surrounding the notorious photos that came out of Abu Ghraib in STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE. (June 13)

• An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (the first such nod for Kazakhstan), MONGOL focuses on the early years in the life of Genghis Khan. (June 20)

• Shadowy operatives Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman teach mild-mannered James McAvoy (Atonement) how to be an assassin in WANTED. (June 27)

• A boozy superhero (Will Smith) inadvertently does more harm than good in the comedy HANCOCK. (July 2)

Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin stars in the first screen adaptation based on the American Girl brand name: KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL. (July 2)

• Ron Perlman returns as the cigar-chomping, wisecracking hero-demon in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. (July 11)

• Using Jules Verne's book of the same name as his guide, an explorer (Brendan Fraser) decides to JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. (July 11)

• Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst directs Ice Cube and Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) in THE LONGSHOTS, the true story of a young girl who attempted to become the first female to play in the Pop Warner football tournament. (July 25)

• It's been six years since the TV series ended and 10 years since the last theatrical release, but the FBI's paranormal investigators Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are back on the case in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. (July 25)

• Evelyn Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED hasn't been revisited on film since the wildly popular miniseries back in 1981; here, director Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane) gives it a shot, with Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw as the British lads of different social standings and Emma Thompson on hand to add that touch of Brit-lit class. (Aug. 1)

• The controversial dating manual HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU has been transformed into a motion picture starring Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Affleck. (Aug. 1)

• A photographer (Bradley Cooper) attempts to track down a killer who haunts New York's subway system in THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, based on a Clive Barker story. (Aug. 1)

THE ROCKER stars Rainn Wilson (The Office, Juno's "home skillet" clerk) as a drummer who, two decades after getting kicked out of an '80s hair band, lands a gig playing for a high school rock group. (Aug. 1)

• Three houseflies stow away on an Apollo mission in the animated tale FLY ME TO THE MOON. (Aug. 8)

• Having graduated from high school, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Carmen (America Ferrera), Lena (Alexis Bledel) and Bridget (Blake Lively) are now ready to experience college life in THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2. (Aug. 8)

HENRY POOLE IS HERE stars Luke Wilson as a lonely man who's perturbed when his neighbors believe that the water stain on the side of his house contains Christ's visage. (Aug. 15)

• George Lucas milks his franchise some more with the animated offering STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. (Aug. 15)

• Three actors (Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr.) filming a war movie get involved in a real-life battle in the comedy TROPIC THUNDER. (Aug. 15)

• After a radio talk show host (Uma Thurman) ruins his life by telling his fiancée to call off the wedding, a fireman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) exacts his revenge in THE ACCIDENTAL WIFE. (Aug. 22)

• Based on a 1999 Thai thriller about a deaf-mute hitman, BANGKOK DANGEROUS Americanizes it with Nicolas Cage in the lead -- and, oh yeah, he can hear and speak. (Aug. 22)

• Shades of the Clive Owen features Children of Men and Shoot 'Em Up: A loner (Vin Diesel) tries to protect a woman from bad guys who want her baby in BABYLON A.D. (Aug. 29)

• Someone is apparently providing terrorists with classified info in TRAITOR, an espionage yarn starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels. (Aug. 29)

• In CHOKE, a con artist (Sam Rockwell) pays for his mother's (Anjelica Huston) hospital bills by bilking Good Samaritans who "rescue" him when he pretends to be choking on food in restaurants. (No Charlotte date set)

• Two supermarket employees (John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott) battle each other for advancement in THE PROMOTION. (No Charlotte date set)

• Bill Maher and Larry Charles team up to examine the state of religion in today's world in RELIGULOUS. (No Charlotte date set)

• In the award-winning Norwegian import REPRISE, two lifelong friends each strive to achieve literary fame. (No Charlotte date set)

Saddle Up For Summer Film Series

Summer cinema dwellers in the mood for classic fare can always count on the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to offer its annual hot-weather film series. This year, the theme is "Once Upon a Time In the West: Great Hollywood* Westerns (* and one Italian)." Creative Loafing will provide more details closer to showtime, but here are the dates and titles. Movies will be screened at ImaginOn, and admission is, as always, free.

June 8: Rio Bravo (1959)

June 22: The Great Train Robbery (1903) & Go West (1925)

June 29: Johnny Guitar (1954)

July 6: The Searchers (1956)

July 13: Once Upon a Time In the West (1968)

July 20: Idaho (1943) & Utah (1945)

August 10: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

August 17: Little Big Man (1970)

August 24: Ride the High Country (1962)


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