The summer movie! What could be as instantly gratifying as ascending from the scorching asphalt and sweaty-limbed bramble of the subways to tuck into the cool, dark chill of a movie theater— if only to help pay for some distant Hollywood producer’s his-and-hers (or his-and-his) Mercedes-Benz CL 600’s? Since that fateful June day in 1975 when a giant white shark gobbled up both the box office and the imagination of every studio marketing person west of Burbank, the summer movie has become an occasion for gleeful palm-rubbing among studio execs. It’s the designated time to roll out C.G.I. sequels and de-mothball old action heroes and gamble on at least one sex-comedy breakout—Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin, etc. Meanwhile, the obligatory serious ochre-and-red movies—boarding-school dramas and domestic excavations—stay in the cashmere drawer til Labor Day. “Summer blockbuster” has become a synonym for Moron’s Delight. Which leaves the snobs whining about the State of the Cinema.
And we say: Don’t whine! This summer looks like the smartest commercial season since 1969! Judd Apatow, Michael Moore, the new Harry Potter, plus the Soderbergh express—toot! toot!–and that’s just the studio stuff. Then there’s what used to be called the Art—indie film, or something that came with a passport. Like most things in life, it’s all about choices and picking through the fresh haul of summer movies lowered into Manhattan each summer like the catch of the day at the old Fulton fish market. Forget Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, and Pirates 3: These threequels are just what they sound like: throat-clearing.
We waded through the offerings this season to give you the best of what’s coming. Some we saw and liked, others just looked … fascinatin’! And there were a couple, we won’t lie, where the actors are just too darned beautiful to miss. Maybe they’ll wear tiny swimsuits, take illicit drugs on-screen and talk about existential topics. It all says summer to us.
This Friday brings the release of Knocked Up, a film that shows just how successful a movie can be when high and low culture, raunchy comedy and whimsical sweetness are all tossed together in perfect proportion. Writer/director Judd Apatow—long a cult favorite thanks to his work on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared —manages to pull off the same trick that he did two summers ago with The 40 Year Old Virgin (which pulled in $177 million dollars at the box office and made the top critics’ lists—an almost impossible feat considering the church-and-state-like separation of art and commerce in Hollywood) in making a movie that manages to appeal to men (vagina jokes) and women (an undertone of honest-to-goodness romance). Like Virgin, Knocked Up is based on an almost fantastical premise: for starters, that the dewy, lush beauty that is Katherine Heigl would ever get naked with a chubby, pot-smokin’, basically unemployed funny guy like Seth Rogen, let alone decide to go through with an unplanned pregnancy after a one-night stand. And yet, and yet! The movie is irreverent and pee-in-pants-worthy, with some sobering truths about marriage and commitment thrown in (“Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond,” says one character. “But it doesn’t last 22 minutes. It lasts forever.”)
While Ocean’s Thirteen (6/8) may not contain any life-affirming tenderness per se, it does manage to pack an unbeatable appeal for both genders. I mean, is there a man, woman or child (or even inanimate object) unaffected by the chemistry between George Clooney and Brad Pitt? The sparks that fly between these most hetero of debonair fellas rival those of (another summer hit) Mr. & Mrs. Smith—and when it comes to plot, well, who the heck cares? True, the 2004 sequel Ocean’s Twelve fell short of Eleven: “It wasn’t as good, and that was our fault,” George Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. “So when we started working on this one, we thought, ‘The secret is to get it back to just the guys doing what they do.’ Steven said we should call it Ocean’s: The One We Should Have Made Last Time.” Sold! With a cast that includes Al (“Hoo-ha!”) Pacino and sexy one-sided-smiler Ellen Barkin, not to mention an out-to-prove-something director and collection of actors, we’re feeling optimistic that the initial magic of the Ocean’s franchise will be in full force with this one.
Other promising movies out on the horizon include the long-awaited full-length feature of The Simpsons (7/27)—come on, it just has to be good!—which will no doubt satisfy those of us who enjoy fart jokes as much as Evelyn Waugh references. The Ten, vignettes inspired by the Ten Commandments, from the fertile comedic minds of the guys who gave us Wet Hot American Summer (indeed), Stella and The State. (Plus, it has Paul Rudd in it—and, seriously, who doesn’t love Paul Rudd? He’s managed to show up in just about every comedy-mafia offering and then some). Broken English (6/22)—starring Parker Posey and Josh Hamilton (who should be every bit as famous as his buddy Ethan Hawke)—may sound like a chick-lit premise: single girl in her 30’s meets quirky Frenchman and life changes, etc. But there’s a Cassavetes at the wheel (Zoe, daughter of Gena Rowlands and John), so we’re holding out hope.
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!
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.