Summertime brings torrid temperatures — and with them the need to escape into the comfort of a cool, air-conditioned movie theater. The fact that the most fun and spectacular (and frequently, most mindless) films of the year come out in summer is hardly a coincidence. Hollywood knows that kids are out of school, and people of all ages want some refuge from the bleak headlines of the world outside.
This summer is no exception, with Hollywood cranking up its hype machinery to back up some of the most outrageously effects-oriented movies ever, from television wizard J.J. Abrams’ (“Lost,” “Alias”) ambitious reinvention of “Star Trek” (May 8) to the sequels “Terminator: Salvation” (May 21), “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (May 22) and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (June 24). But here at PW, we wanted to point out a few other flicks that you might have overlooked amid the marketing hoopla.
Two distinctly different films open on May 29: “Drag Me to Hell” and “Up.” “Drag” is written and directed by Sam Raimi, the mastermind behind the “Spider-Man” film series, and marks a switch to a wildly inventive mix of sick humor and hard-R horror as it follows the twisted turns that beset a loan officer when she evicts a creepy old woman from her home — so, it’s timely, too!
Meanwhile, “Up” is G-rated and family friendly, and it’s the latest offering from the animation miracle makers at Pixar and Disney. It spotlights the 3D adventures of a depressed old man (voiced by PW’s favorite Hollywood curmudgeon, Ed Asner, who in real life is a very personable fellow) who ties a bunch of balloons together one day and flies away on an adventurous break from his boring existence. Following last year’s “Wall-E,” expect Pixar to create a film that’s as meaningful as it is mirthful.
The most popular comedy of the summer is likely to be “The Hangover” (June 5), a film that tested so well with preview audiences that Warner Bros. has already given the go-ahead for a sequel two months before it even hits theaters. Starring the alternative-comedy dream team of Bradley Cooper (“Wedding Crashers”), Ed Helms (“The Office”) and Zach Galifanakis (America’s strangest popular comic) as three guys who have to piece together just what the hell happened after the wildest Vegas bachelor party of their lives, its trailer alone has audiences laughing so hard that half the lines can’t be heard.
John Travolta is one movie star who can play villains with just as much showboating relish as he plays heroes, and he takes another wicked turn this summer as a hijacker who holds the New York City subway system hostage in the remake of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (June 12). Denzel Washington faces off against Travolta as the heroic average Joe who goes up against him, taking the role Walter Matthau played in the original 1974 action classic.
Those looking for weightier but still impressive-looking fare should turn out June 26 for “My Sister’s Keeper,” starring Cameron Diaz in what looks like a breakthrough performance: In the film, she’s a mom who has one daughter with leukemia and raises another for the purpose of someday using her as a bone marrow donor, and then she must deal with the turmoil and ethics battles that occur when the younger sister refuses to donate. The trailer alone gives emotional shivers that seem honestly earned.
The bang-up action movie of the summer is likely to be “Public Enemies,” (July 1) which teams up kings of cool Johnny Depp and Christian Bale as legendary gangster John Dillinger and the federal agent out to bring him down. The fact they’re working under writer-director Michael Mann (“Heat”) only adds to the excitement of those anticipating another macho thinking-man’s classic.
Bad-boy comic filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) is back with a vengeance July 10 with “Bruno,” which takes the hidden-camera approach of mixing a crazy foreigner in with stupid Americans to further levels of comedic debauchery. Cohen plays the title role of a flamboyantly gay fashion model who travels to America for hilarious pranks that make real people very, very uncomfortable.
If you’re craving a comic romance done in Sundance-worthy style, “(500) Days of Summer” (July 17) should fill the bill. It follows the oddball romance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (previously brilliant in “Brick” and “The Lookout”) and adorable indie-film favorite Zooey Deschanel (“Yes Man” and “All the Real Girls”).
With 15 Oscar nominations and two wins to her credit, Meryl Streep has long been considered the best film actress of our time. But the last two summers have seen her explode at the box office as well with the smash hits “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia,” and Streep looks set to continue her hot streak on Aug. 7 with “Julie & Julia,” a comedic biography of the late famed chef Julia Child that explores her double life as both popular TV host and American government spy. (We’re not making this up!)
Finally, summer wouldn’t be complete without watching the highly anticipated return of writer-director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) on Aug. 21 with “Inglourious Basterds,” starring Brad Pitt as a WW II American military officer who recruits a team of Jewish mercenaries to ruthlessly pursue — and scalp — Nazis. It should make for a righteous combination of fun action and crazed villains, and what more do we need in summer entertainment?