Summer is a time of baseball, picnics, enormous Hollywood blockbusters and sometimes even the year’s best films. Here’s a list of upcoming lazy-season releases that will surely tingle the cinephile in all of us. (Or at least the people that watch E!’s “Coming Attractions.”)
“Batman Begins” — Christian Bale (“American Psycho”) stars in the fifth installment of the never-ending series. As its name implies, director Christopher Nolan promises to breathe new life into the comic icon. After all, his plot-shifting tricks worked for “Memento.” The cast is notably austere for a comic book film: Michael Caine takes on Alfred’s mantle, along with the great Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson. Hopefully ex-Dawsonite Katie Holmes won’t ruin the dour mood.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” — Although death knells toll ominously over a pairing of the saccharine Disney corporation and the wickedly funny science fiction legend Douglas Adams, things couldn’t look brighter for the long-awaited film adaptation of “Hitchhiker’s Guide.” At the head of the project is Garth Jennings, an avant-garde director who originates from what I like to call the Fatboy Slim school of music videos (past alums include Spike Jonze). The cast features hardly any big name actors (not counting the mighty Mos Def and John Malkovich), which is always a good sign. Adams’ whimsical 1978 cult classic has resisted a screen adaptation due to the work’s shifty nature — its worlds are purposefully paradoxical and impossible to visualize. Yet the trailer is ludicrously promising, with lots of humor, bright colors and puppetry. Add to that the morose voice of Alan Rickman (Snape in “Harry Potter”) as Marvin the Robot, and things look quite promising indeed.
“Bad News Bears” — This remake would surely be unnecessary if it weren’t directed by Richard Linklater (“Waking Life,” “School of Rock”). Linklater’s has the gift of gleefully including old and young viewers alike in the fun, and in “Rock” wisely treats children like the smart viewers they are. But I hope he intends to jump off from the old film’s now-cliched concept — remember “Mighty Ducks III”? — because Billy Bob Thornton as the inspiring coach doesn’t exactly sound like fun.
“Unleashed” — The writer of “La Femme Nikita” joins with celebrated “Matrix” choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping to deliver an ultra-violent Jet Li/Morgan Freeman weepy S&M thriller? Yes.
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” — It takes a comedy to fill the summer’s spy film quotient. In this supposedly witty romp, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt play a husband and wife who happen to be secret agents, and who happen to have been ordered kill each other. “Bourne” director Doug Liman’s metallic grasp of tension and release should send the film’s action sequences into orbit. And, of course, Brad and Angelina’s infidelity-inspired chemistry will be a must-see.
“Bewitched” — Maybe I’m optimistic, but Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman under the wings of veteran director Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) certainly sounds magical. Sure the plot’s inanely post-modern (Farrell plays a TV actor playing Darren Stevens, opposite an actress who turns out to be a real witch), but comedy doesn’t need to be deep to thrive. And if that doesn’t interest you, old “Daily Show” nemeses Steven Colbert and Steve Carell will unite on film for the first time.
“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” — Will George Lucas suddenly unearth his long-lost talent? No. (But we’ll all see it anyway.)
“Red Eye” — Wes Craven’s new horror sensation promises to be deviously fun. Beginning as a romantic comedy, “Red Eye” quickly does a 180, turning into a horror spree set on an airplane. Facing our country’s fears head on, Craven may just make a finer film than “Scream.”
“Everything is Illuminated” — Actor-turned-director Liev Schreiber tackles Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel as his first film. Hopefully someone in Hollywood is keeping close tabs on the undertaking, because it would be a damn shame to butcher Foer’s transcendent debut. (And that Elijah Wood is the lead doesn’t exactly instill confidence.)
“War of the Worlds” — Steven Spielberg returns with something that looks suspiciously like every other space alien attack movie. Hopefully he’s got a trick or two up his corduroy sleeve.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — Tim Burton resurrects his woefully suppressed devilishness by finally pairing with his natural double Roald Dahl, one of the few writers who share his macabre but childish sensibilities. Judging from the strangely lovable trailer (and the pretty picture above), Depp’s infantile Wonka harkens back to the classic Burton antihero Peewee Herman. Burton’s weakness has always been his storylines, which never match the sheer brilliance of his visuals. With Dahl’s borrowed words, one can only hope “Charlie” will be his comeback.
“Romance and Cigarettes” — John Turturro, of Coen Brothers fame (Jesus in “The Big Lebowski,” “Barton Fink”), debuts as a writer/director with this musical black comedy. Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet and Christopher Walken star, with names like Nick Murder and Kitty Kane to boot. All in all, a good nightcap to what looks to be a promising summer.