The Non-Idiot’s Guide to Summer Movies

Drama Queens (and Kings)

Summer isn’t usually the time for heart-tugging dramas, but A Mighty Heart (6/22), based on the memoir of the same name by Mariane Pearl—widow of the kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl—is shaping up to be a worthy exception. For starters, wouldn’t it be nice to remember Angelina Jolie as an actress rather than an object of tabloid fascination? We all know that the woman can hold a bazooka with authority, but remember the flash of brilliance that came with Girl, Interrupted and Gia? Yes, the contacts and the ethni-fying are a little weird (not to mention the accent), but still, we’re on board. Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Road to Guantánamo) is in charge, which has to count for something. Right? Right—pass the tissues. Similarly, Werner Herzog’s latest, Rescue Dawn (7/4), starring out-of-the-Batsuit, thinking woman’s sex object Christian Bale, revisits the territory covered by Mr. Herzog’s critically lauded 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, about a U.S. Navy pilot who manages to escape a Laotian POW camp and survive in the jungle.

Audiences will soon be able to go see La Vie En Rose (6/8—see Andrew Sarris’ review on page C14), a movie that has hit huge in Europe after screening at the Berlin Film Festival last February. The biopic about the fantabulous postwar singer Edith Piaf looks good enough to get even the most lazy summer audience members to deal with subtitles, not least because of the appeal of star Marion Cotillard (the super-beautiful girl from the little-seen Ridley Scott movie A Good Year), whose performance has been earning her raves. Also? Mark our words: Within weeks of the film’s release, every hip coffee shop, boutique and fancy-pants bar will be piping in Piaf’s music nonstop (which is also a good thing).

More for smarty-pants types who secretly just want to be entertained: Sundance smash Crazy Love (6/1), a documentary by former P.R. guru Dan Klores, will definitely get under the skin of New York City viewers. You think your boyfriend is nuts? The movie allows principles Linda Riss and Burt Pugach to tell their own totally insane story: He was a peacock-strutting on-the-rise lawyer, she was a sassy and beautiful young girl from the Bronx. They met, they fell in love, she found out he was married and broke up with him, he hired goons to throw lye in her face, disfiguring and blinding her. Weirdest still is how she married him after he served time in prison. The bickering couple—still married at 80 and 68—is absolutely enthralling, and the footage of a mid-century New York can’t be beat (same goes for the appearance of Jimmy Breslin, who may be the funniest commentator we’ve ever seen).

Great (big) white hope Michael Moore is back too with Sicko (6/29), about the American heath-care industry. Under normal circumstances, this topic would be a snoozer, but when has Michael Moore ever made a boring film? Even the fickle Frenchies at Cannes liked it!

Sweet Action

And now for our favorite category, one we might want to call Franchise Installments That Don’t Look Like They Suck (you listening, Shrek the Third?). The big one is Harry Potter, the bespectacled wizard whose magic seems to be in sales. The final book in J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, hits in late July; expect a hand-wringing freak-out from publishing peeps and fans alike. But the month also brings the fifth in the movie series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (7/13). The last Harry Potter movie started getting craaaazy dark, and we can’t begin to imagine just how willing the filmmakers might be to traumatize much of their fan base with this one. The directors keep changing, from kid-friendly Chris Columbus to Mike Newell to the last go-round’s Alfonso Cuarón (who gave us last year’s sorely underappreciated Children of Men). This time it’s David Yates, whose main recognizable credit is that HBO movie The Girl in the Café. But we have faith—has J.K. Rowling ever done us wrong? And besides, how can you resist Daniel Radcliffe after his hilarious stint on Extras? You can’t. You won’t. You’ll see it. Let’s move on.

There’s one franchise that hasn’t made a misstep: the Jason Bourne movies. (In fact, many prefer the second installment, The Bourne Supremacy, to the original.) Supremacy’s director, Paul Greengrass, is back with this summer’s The Bourne Ultimatum (8/3), and we will happily place our faith in any director who coaxed New Yorkers into theaters to sit through United 93. Quick question: Is it now totally acceptable to just admit that you think Matt Damon is a great actor?

Transformers isn’t an official franchise … yet. But ask every man you know between the ages of 20 and 40 and watch for the gooey look that crosses his face when Transformers is mentioned (yes, that Transformers: robots in disguise. Argh!). Michael Bay (Michael Bay!) is behind this Fourth of July release (clearly trying to pick up the pieces from Will Smith’s Men in Black–Independence Day domination), and the original man-behind-the-summer-event-movie, Steven Spielberg, executive-produces. Who’d’ve thunk that little Shia LaBeouf, who stars with Optimus Prime and other, well, trucks and cars, would be box-office gold?

So buck up, all of you who think we’re heading into a moviegoing drought! It’s going to be the best summer ever! And if you even try to pretend that you can’t wait to see Bruce Willis back in Live Free or Die Hard (6/27)—the man has a painting rotting in an attic somewhere, we swear—then you are thoroughly un-American and don’t deserve the free A/C anyway.