Happy Fourth of Jolie!

There have been just enough hot days these past few weeks to remind us what’s ahead: the crushing heat, the sticky nights and (joy!) the refreshing, Freon-filled multiplexes/oases that dot our city like Tasti D-Lites. Put away your hankies: It’s officially summer movie time! Serious films—about Iraq or oil or love torn asunder (no doubt because of war, or oil)—are on ice till September. For the next three months, its superheroes, special effects, explosions and giggles. Here’s our guide to the best.

 

The Dark Knight

The tragic death of Heath Ledger this past January has cast a very long shadow over the much-anticipated sequel to director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 turn at the Batwheel, Batman Begins. Yet, judging from the trailers and advance buzz, The Dark Knight is going to be awesome. Seriously. Sad and queasy-feelings about it aside, Ledger’s performance as the über-dark, sadistic Joker looks simply mesmerizing (and terrifying—far more than Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s Batman). We’re also glad to see frozen-faced weirdo Katie Holmes replaced by the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal as intelligent-but-hot-in-a-skirt Rachel Dawes, the love interest of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Michael Caine returns as the lovable Alfred, and Morgan Freeman sneaks in, too, as well as fellow returnees Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. New additions include Aaron Eckhart, as Harvey Dent/Two-Face and—oh, goodness!—Eric Roberts. We simply cannot wait. (Warner Bros, July 18)

 

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder, directed by Ben Stiller (who co-wrote the screenplay with buff nerd Justin Theroux), might be the funniest thing to come along in years. No kidding. The premise? A bunch of pampered actors shooting a big-budget Vietnam movie are forced into actual combat after being dropped off in the jungle. Mr. Stiller stars as an action hero (catchphrase: “who left the fridge open”) alongside Jack Black, Nick Nolte and Steve Coogen. But the real star will be Robert Downey Jr., here playing a serious Australian actor who undergoes radical surgery for his part, which he plays in blackface. Trust us: The results are hysterical (just watch Mr. Downey speak, without irony, the words to the theme song to The Jeffersons). It looks like there’s good chemistry between the actors, and there is a ton of not-so-secret-anymore cameos (Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Owen Wilson, Tobey Maguire) to boot. Fun trivia: Mr. Stiller has said he got the idea for the movie when he had a small part in Empire of the Sun. Who knew? (Paramount/DreamWorks Aug. 15)

 

Hamlet 2

More Steve Coogen! The curly-haired fop this time plays a failed actor (his main body of work includes herpes-awareness commercials) turned high-school drama teacher in Tucson, Ariz. When the school threatens to shut down the drama program, he decides to stage a show so fantastic, it would be able to save theater as we know it. What he comes up with is a politically incorrect musical sequel to Hamlet. As Catherine Keener, who co-stars, quite rightly points out in the preview, everyone dies in Hamlet, so the gang is forced to get a little creative. Cue time machines, Jesus Christ and the local gay choir singing the Flashdance theme song! Somehow, also, Elizabeth Shue plays Elizabeth Shue. Directed and written by Andrew Fleming, who previously worked on Arrested Development, this one was quite the rage at the Sundance Film Festival. (Focus Features, Aug. 22)

 

Hancock

Just as we were about to groan at the thought of the irrepressibly likable Will Smith saving the world again, he beat us to the punch by playing a superhero with an attitude problem in Hancock. His character, Hancock, apparently didn’t get the whole with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility thing. He’s more of a lazy, drinky, insult-the-kiddies, save-a-whale-and-flatten-a-sailboat kind of superpower, and the public would rather he let them be. However, after saving Jason Bateman, a PR executive, Hancock is rewarded with a massive image makeover and attempts to let the city of Los Angeles know he can do more help than harm. Peter Berg, the brain behind Friday Night Lights, directs (both Mr. Smith and Michael Mann are producers) and Charlize Theron stars as Mr. Bateman’s hottie and cynical wife. (Sony, July 2)

 

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Parka-clad snowy-boots-wearing folks literally rushed to the Sundance Film Festival premiere of the documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side). The famed author and journalist—who had a penchant for psychedelics, Wild Turkey, women and duck-calling—took his own life in 2005, though his fans are no less ardent today. Mr. Gibney concentrates on Thompson’s heyday (1965-1975) making use of never-before-seen (nor heard) home movies, tapes and passages from an unpublished manuscript, all in an attempt to uncover who the man (who wanted to “write” wrongs) really was. (Magnolia Pictures, July 4)

 

The Incredible Hulk

Wasn’t the last (disastrous) Hulk movie, like, yesterday? O.K., so it was 2003, but it still feels a bit odd and fast for another go-around with the big green guy and his anger-management issues. However, The Incredible Hulk remains an intriguing choice, since in this incarnation, our hero, Dr. Bruce Banner, is being played by brilliant and stormy actor Edward Norton. It will be interesting to see what the reedy-voiced Mr. Norton brings to the role, and we’re thrilled to see him matched up against the too-little-seen Tim Roth, who plays a former soldier that purposely tries to match our Hulk in girth and frothy rage. The lovely Liv Tyler gets shoved into the obligatory girl part; here’s hoping she gets as least as much screen time did as Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man (speaking of which, Robert Downey Jr. shows up in this one as Tony Stark, too). Of course, the buzz surrounding the Hulk has been focused mostly o
n the inevitable fallout between Mr. Norton and his bosses at Marvel. “There are aspects of my personality that I can’t control,” Mr. Norton as Dr. Banner intones in the trailer. “And when I lose control, it’s very dangerous to be around me.” We bet we wouldn’t like Mr. Norton when he’s angry, either. (Universal/Marvel Studios, June 13)