Snap, cackle, pop: Summer preview
The recession finally seems to have caught up to Hollywood. The summer release schedule, which starts Friday as opposed to Mother Nature’s standard June 21, is light on both obvious blockbusters (Christopher Nolan’s “Inception’’ and Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete’’ intrigue us) and post facto 3-D spectacles. (Apparently, the “Avatar’’ money doesn’t get spent until next year.)
“The A-Team’’ doesn’t look cheap, but 20th Century Fox will survive if no one goes to see it (that’s not a prediction, mind you). “The A-Team’’ is an action exercise, a comedy, and, sigh, a former TV show (but we’re accentuating the positive).
The action-comedy isn’t new (hello, “Beverly Hills Cop’’). But now the comedians are action figures and vice versa. That sort of hybrid represents a cost-saving measure that shows up all over this schedule. The “Iron Man’’ movies are practically about the comedy of action. Not far behind are “MacGruber’’ with Will Forte, “Scott Pilgrim’’ with Michael Cera, and “The Expendables,’’ with every musclebound, wisecracking action hero ever invented (talk about a cost-saving measure: 10 stars, one movie!).
The mash-up has even managed to suck in romantic comedy, which is already on life-support: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz shoot and giggle in “Knight and Day’’; Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher meet, then detonate, in “Killers.’’
There is plain-old romantic comedy, which has reached a single-woman-in-crisis phase, starring Drew Barrymore (“Going the Distance’’), Jennifer Aniston (“The Switch’’), and Julia Roberts (“Eat Pray Love’’). There’s plain-old comedy-comedy, too. We have Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in “Dinner for Schmucks’’ and Adam Sandler, Kevin James, et al. in “Grown Ups,’’ about a schmuck reunion.
Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep have the summer off. But if you crave a complex woman who isn’t slyly committing crimes (Angelina Jolie in “Salt’’) or slyly solving them (Noomi Rapace in “The Girl Who Played With Fire’’), they exist just below the big-budget radar: “Please Give,’’ “Mother and Child,’’ “Winter’s Bone,’’ “The Kids Are All Right,’’ and “Cairo Time.’’
This might turn out to be the sort of summer where audiences weary of schmucks go out in search of people. Here is a complete guide to your many options. Godspeed.
(Openings are subject to change)
The Exploding Girl Not a superhero movie. A drama, written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray, with Zoe Kazan as an epileptic New Yorker trying to make her various relationships work. (See story, Page N14)
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) The Coolidge’s new midnight movie brings us a German doctor (Dieter Laser) determined to make his surgical dream come true: yes, a human centipede. This is the movie many people are talking about but few stomachs can survive. Brace yourself, stomachs: That titular parenthetical threatens many sequels.
Iron Man 2 The first “Iron Man’’ was a happy surprise, a witty superhero movie that sealed moviegoers’ longstanding pop affection for Robert Downey Jr. How do you follow that up? Apparently by adding more villains. A lot more villains: Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, a Russian ironman; Sam Rockwell as rival arms merchant Justin Hammer; Scarlett Johansson as super spy Black Widow. Also suiting up are Iron Man’s pal Jim Rhodes (played by Don Cheadle this time) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who seems contractually obliged to appear in every Marvel-based movie from now until 2037). “Iron Man 2’’ may work, but that’s one crowded dance floor.
Please Give New York comedy loosely about a yuppie couple (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt) waiting for their elderly tenant next door to die so they can expand their apartment. Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet play the old woman’s roommate granddaughters. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (“Lovely and Amazing,’’ “Friends With Money’’).
The Good Heart Iceland’s Dagur Kári (“Noi the Albino’’) spins a darkly comic tale about a cynical bartender (Brian Cox) who takes an idealistic homeless man (Paul Dano) under his wing and tries to teach him the world’s wicked ways. Easier said than done. A qualified success on the festival circuit, this reunites Cox and Dano for the first time since their pairing in 2001’s “L.I.E.’’
Just Wright Queen Laitfah as a physical therapist who falls for her NBA client (Common). We say “no’’ to therapist-patient love. But “yes’’ to the rapper-on-rapper kind. With Paula Patton as Queen’s gold-digger best friend.
Mother and Child A new tale of overlapping lives from Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives’’). This one is about a woman who gave up a child for adoption decades ago, another who grew up as an adopted child, and a third who’s looking to adopt. With Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Shareeka Epps, and Samuel L. Jackson.
No One Knows About Persian Cats Bahman Ghobadi (“Turtles Can Fly’’) wrote and directed this film about two young Iranians — Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, more or less as themselves — trying to take their new rock band to Europe. Will they make it out of Tehran?
Robin Hood A new Hollywood version of the old forest tale of stealing from the rich, etc., with Russell Crowe in the title role and Cate Blanchett as Marion Luxley. Written by Brian Helgeland (“LA Confidential’’) and directed by Ridley Scott.
Letters to Juliet An American (Amanda Seyfried) goes to Verona and discovers a letter left for Shakespeare’s Juliet seeking advice written more than 50 years ago by a now elderly woman (Vanessa Redgrave). The two trek across Italy to find the older woman’s lost love. With Gael Garcia-Bernal as Seyfried’s fiancé and Christopher Egan as Redgrave’s single grandson. It’s a romance movie. You do the math. Directed by Gary Winick (“Bride Wars’’).
Daddy Longlegs Josh and Bennie Safdie wrote and directed this comedy about a manic New Yorker (Ronald Bronstein) having a hard time taking fatherhood seriously. Sage and Frey Ranaldo play his two sons.
Dark and Stormy Night and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again Two campy, low-budget romps from director Larry Blamire. In the first, a pair of 1930s reporters competes for the story of a dead man’s family being murdered by a phantom. In the second, the lost skeleton, uh, returns.
Kites Because India really isn’t that big, Rakesh Roshan’s Bollywood romance heads to Mexico, where super-hunk megastar Hrithik Roshan (Rakesh’s son) braves crime, highway car chases, and musical numbers in pursuit of his lady love, played by the Mexican soap star Bárbara Mori.
Looking for Eric A depressed English postal worker (Steve Evets) gets inspiration from the soccer hero Eric Cantona, playing himself as a figment of the mailman’s imagination. A rare, straightforward comedy from Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley’’).
MacGruber “Saturday Night Live’’ resumes its assault on the movies with this “MacGyver’’ parody starring Will Forte as a nincompoop special operative trying to save the world. How a 75-second sketch that routinely ends in annihilation becomes a full-length feature remains to be seen. With Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, and Val Kilmer.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio You can’t keep a good spy down. Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a. secret agent OSS 117, has long been France’s answer to James Bond on page and screen (the first novel actually predates Ian Fleming’s first novel by four years) and after a 35-year hiatus got a spoof-y update with 2006’s “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.’’ Liked that movie? Here’s the sequel, with more droll Gallic spy play.
Princess Kaiulani Young actress Q’orianka Kilcher is working a narrow but unique niche: historical indigenous royalty. Discovered when Terence Malick cast her as Pocahontas in 2005’s “The New World,’’ Kilcher now plays Ka’iulani, crown princess of Hawaii, who fought the island’s annexation by the United States in the late 1800s. Barry Pepper (“Saving Private Ryan’’) costars; longtime film producer Marc Forby makes his writing-directing debut.
Shrek Forever After The big green ogre makes a pact with Rumpelstiltskin that strands him in a strange parallel universe in which no one knows who he is. All the old voices are back — Myers! Murphy! Diaz! Banderas! — along with John Hamm as a fellow ogre.
Solitary Man Michael Douglas in a comedy about a slick womanizing businessman who self-destructs. With Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer, and Danny DeVito. Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien.
Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies . . . and presumably decide they can do better. Wait, they were going at the beginning of the last century? Never mind. They must have been right at home. A documentary by Arne Gilcher, with thoughts from, among others, Julian Schnabel and Chuck Close, and narration by Martin Scorsese.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time At last, a movie of the video game about an adopted prince (Jake Gyllenhaal) tasked with standing up to nasty Ben Kingsley and rescuing a thingy that controls time. Can Gyllenhaal rescue his career while he’s at it?
Survival of the Dead George Romero’s latest zombie spectacular is set on Plum Island! Guys, be careful. Undead or not, poison ivy will get you.
Soundtrack for a Revolution In this documentary, musicians including John Legend, TV on the Radio, Wyclef Jean, Angie Stone, and Joss Stone (sisters only in soul) perform the songs of the Civil Rights Movement.
Fresh Talk of sustainability? Worry about pollution? A plug at the end for a website so you can help make a difference? It must be a documentary about improving food. This one is by Ana Sofia Joanes.
Get Him to the Greek Jonah Hill is a music biz drone charged with transporting a filthy rock star (Russell Brand) to a show. There’s a rumor going around that P. Diddy steals the movie as Hill’s boss, but he couldn’t possibly top his performance at the end of season two of “Making the Band 2.’’
Holy Rollers Jesse Eisenberg plays a young Hasid who smuggles Dutch Ecstasy to New York. Will he stop tripping and make his way back to God? A dramedy based on true events, written by Antonio Macia and directed by Kevin Asch.
Killers A newlywed wife discovers her mild-mannered husband is actually a retired government assassin. What, again? Ashton Kutcher takes time out from tweeting his life to play the hit man, while Katherine Hiegl is his eager-to-play-along spouse. Robert Luketic directs with the comic stylings he brought to “Monster-in-Law’’ and “The Ugly Truth.’’
Living in Emergency Doctors Without Borders the movie! Oh, sorry, stories from medics in Doctors Without Borders. Mark N. Hopkins’s documentary has been playing festivals since 2008, leaving stunned audiences in its wake. It’s been called better than “M*A*S*H’’ and “House’’ — in England, but still.
Marmaduke To paraphrase the posters for “Anna Christie,’’ Marmaduke speaks! In the dude-acious tones of Owen Wilson, no less. The hapless Great Dane journeys from the funny pages to the big screen in this live-action family comedy. Additional voices are provided by a surprisingly high-end cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Stone, Steve Coogan, William H. Macy, and (wait for it) George Lopez. Howard Huge, call your agent.
Metropolis Fritz Lang’s still-incomplete, oft-restored futuristic masterpiece now has 25 found minutes located two years ago in a Buenos Aires museum. Bring champagne.
Micmacs A new outing in arch hyperactivity from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the fellow who brought us “Amélie.’’ This time, a group of friends set out to destroy a weapons manufacturer. In French, the full title translates to something like “Nonstop Madness,’’ so leave the energy drink at home.
Splice Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a pair of ambitious geneticists who tamper with the natural order by mixing animal and human DNA. Doesn’t anyone read “Frankenstein’’ anymore? Rumored re-edits followed a mixed reception at Sundance, but director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube’’) promises a provocative look at our genetic future and “very unconventional sex.’’
The Karate Kid You read that right. Will and Jada’s son, Jaden Smith, steps in for Ralph Macchio. Jackie Chan is playing Mr. Miyagi — only his name is Mr. Han. And Taraji P. Henson is Mom. Bring a tissue to wipe away the wax.
The Misfortunates Will a 13-year-old Dutch kid end up like his alcoholic, womanizing father? A comedy by Felix van Groeningen.
The Oath Laura Poitras’s documentary focuses on a well-positioned Al Qaeda operative (he was Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard) and the trial of his less well-connected brother-in-law who languishes in Guantanamo.
Ondine Is the woman that Irish fisherman Colin Farrell fished out of the sea actually a selkie, half human and half seal? Only writer-director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game’’) may know for sure. Certainly Farrell took to costar Alicja Bachleda; the two just had a son. Whether audiences take to this whimsical slice of Irish blarney remains to be seen.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead Best title of the summer, hands down. If this sounds like part of the recent “classics re-gore-ified’’ genre (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’’), think again. Justin Hoffman (Dustin’s kid) plays a stage director who discovers that “Hamlet’’ was actually penned by a 2,000-year-old vampire (John Ventimiglia — Artie Bucco from “The Sopranos’’) who’s still around and seriously ticked.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky You loved her in “Coco Before Chanel,’’ now thrill to the star-crossed romance between the French designer (Anna Mouglalis) and modernist composer Stravinsky (Danish hunk Mads Mikkelsen). You might want to bring your own seat cushion to tear up during the “Rite of Spring’’ premiere-riot scene.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Whether you love her or cringe at the very mention of her name, Joan Rivers is a survivor. Ricki Stern’s documentary has been winning a lot of converts on the festival circuit as it looks over a half-century in show business and offers the much made-over comedienne as a curious, flawed, but very real feminist pioneer. Oh, and the movie’s apparently hilarious, too.
Jonah Hex The DC comic about a disfigured and disgruntled US Marshal is now a blockbuster starring Josh Brolin in a 10-gallon hat. With Megan Fox, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender. Directed by Jimmy Heyward, a former animator.
8: The Mormon Proposition Reed Cowan directed this documentary about the Mormon Church’s stealth campaign to pass California’s Prop 8 in 2008, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Toy Story 3 Andy is 18 and headed to college, and after his toys climb their way out of a garbage bag, they make the crestfallen assumption that he’s thrown them out. It was his mother! Angst and adventure ensue all the same. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and everyone else resume their voice work.
Winter’s Bone Debra Granik’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s crime novel concerns an Ozark teenager (Jennifer Lawrence) left to care for her two younger siblings and find her no-good jailbird daddy after he sells the house and splits. With John Hawkes as an uncle. This year’s jury winner at the Sundance Film Festival.
Also opening: Stonewall Uprising
Grown Ups Is this “The Big Chill’’ for knuckleheads? After their beloved high school coach dies, five friends get together for the first time in 30 years. Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Kevin James play the buddies working out their mid-life comic crises. The film was shot in Eastern Massachusetts (Marblehead, Wareham), which may be great for the local economy but is starting to look like hell for moviegoers (“Furry Vengeance,’’ “Bride Wars’’).
Knight and Day Why don’t we believe Tom Cruise when he lightens up? For one thing, even as a comedian he seems heavy with vanity. Dammit, I’m funny! Still, his energy is appreciated. Here he plays a secret agent who has to put up with an extra-batty Cameron Diaz after they meet on a blind date and she sees him wipe out a plane full of people. Shot mostly in Massachusetts, this is the movie that had people losing their minds to gawk at Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise wherever they went.
South of the Border Oliver Stone’s docu-love letter to Hugo Chavez. These two had fun together when Stone popped down to Venezuela not too long ago to explain el presidente to us. It’s sure to register a 10 on the Fox News Treason-0-meter.
Also opening: Let It Rain
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse The third chapter in the saga of teenage vampophiliac Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) might as well be subtitled “Torn Between Two Monsters.’’ The heroine finds herself playing for both Team Edward and Team Jacob as her bloodsucking boyfriend (Robert Pattinson) and his lupine rival (Taylor Lautner) join forces to battle the creatures of the night. As long as the movie gives Anna Kendrick and Dakota Fanning enough screen time, it’s all good.
I Am Love Luca Guadagnino wrote and directed this romance starring Tilda Swinton as an Italian aristocrat who has an affair with her son’s best friend (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a chef. Good food, better sex.
The Killer Inside Me Casey Affleck plays a sheriff with some mental trouble in Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Jim Thompson’s pulp noir. With Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, and not a little blood.
The Last Airbender While it’s unfair to say that M. Night Shyamalan is desperate for a hit after underrated “The Lady in the Water’’ and dismal “The Happening,’’ he certainly needs for this movie not to sink. Adapted from the Asian-inflected Nickelodeon cartoon series — “Avatar: The Last Airbender’’ — the movie is about a boy hoping to stop world-ending war. Not shot in 3-D but, sadly, available that way. Losing the “Avatar’’ was probably a good call.
Restrepo The grand jury prizewinner for US documentary at this year’s Sundance embeds itself so deeply into the Army’s Second Platoon as it fights its way through the Afghanistan valley of the title that the film’s grunt’s-eye-view scaldingly eclipses the big picture. Journalist-turned-filmmaker Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm’’) and Tim Hetherington direct.
Twelve Director Joel Schumacher goes upscale but gritty in an adaptation of Nick McDonell’s novel about Manhattan rich kids falling off the ledge into drug abuse and bad behavior. Chace Crawford stays in his “Gossip Girl’’ neighborhood but plays for higher stakes as a pot dealer who gets involved with harder stuff, including murder and an uptown dealer played by 50 Cent.
Wild Grass A comedy from the great, unstoppable Alain Resnais (he’s almost 88) about two middle-aged Parisians — Resnais regulars André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma — who fall in love. She can’t stand him, until she can.
Countdown to Zero Think the nuclear arms race is over? Think again. Lucy Walker’s documentary lays out a terrifying scenario of rogue states and terrorist groups working hard on getting their hands on genuine weapons of mass destruction. Among the talking heads are Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Pervez Musharraf, and Valerie Plame Wilson.
Cyrus John C. Reilly plays a divorcé whose new girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) has a possessive adult son/roommate (Jonah Hill). Slapstick ensues in this comedy by Mark and Jay Duplass. Catherine Keener plays Reilly’s grouchy ex, naturally.
Despicable Me An animated 3-D comedy from Universal with Steve Carell doing the voice for a curmudgeonly Russian (or Franco-Italian — it’s very hard to tell) supervillain whose plans to steal the moon are sidetracked when three orphaned girls knock on his door.
Perrier’s Bounty An Irish comedy-thriller with Cillian Murphy as a fellow who owes money to the local gangster (Brendan Gleeson). Jim Broadbent plays Murphy’s dad. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon.
Predators The second sequel to the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi actioner (if you don’t count the “Alien vs Predator’’ series, which we don’t) casts Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, and Adrien Brody as future soldiers fighting off the killer-elite ETs of the title. Written and produced by Robert Rodriguez, this may be the breakthrough that ace B-movie director Nimród Antal (“Vacancy,’’ “Armored’’) deserves.
The Kids Are All Right A comedy by Lisa Cholodenko (“High Art’’), with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) find their mothers’ sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo. A crowd-pleaser this year at the Sundance Film Festival.
The Law The return of Jules Dassin’s all-but-forgotten little crime number from 1959, in which Gina Lollobrigida seduces a village of gangsters as only she could. She incites lust in order to build a dowry and run off with a penniless Marcello Mastroianni. Smart woman. Released here eons ago as “Where the Hot Wind Blows.’’
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice High-summer Nic Cage weirdness alert! The hardest-working best actor winner in show business plays a 1,500-year-old wizard — think Dumbledore on crack — who enlists the help of gawky NYU physics major Jay Baruchel (“Tropic Thunder,’’ “How to Train Your Dragon’’) in his neverending battle with evil mage Alfred Molina. You bet it’s based on the same Goethe story that inspired the Mickey Mouse segment in “Fantasia.’’ Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ramona and Beezus Author Beverly Cleary’s much-loved tomboy Ramona Quimby — 55 years in print but eternally a kid — comes to the screen in the person of 10-year-old Joey King, with
Salt As in “Salt . . . Evelyn Salt.’’ Angelina Jolie (wearing a very fetching blond French twist) tries to ignite her own superspy franchise as a CIA operative who’s accused of being a Russian agent and who goes on the lam from bosses Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor to prove her innocence. Cars crash, things blow up, Jolie has to save the Free World — it’s all very old school. Nostalgists will also be glad to see Cold War paranoia back in fashion in this rip-snorting action blockbuster.
Valhalla Rising Nicolas Winding Refn (the “Pusher’’ trilogy, “Bronson’’) wrote and directed this movie about a Norse warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) on a Crusade with Vikings. Not at all to be confused with Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novel of the same name.
Winnebago Man In the late 1980s, an RV salesman named Jack Rebney was notorious for an amusing, widely circulated VHS cassette in which he loses his temper in an obscene tirade. Ben Steinbauer’s documentary catches up with Rebney and tries to contextualize the phenomenon.
Also opening: Everyone Else
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore Summer’s least necessary sequel has one of its best titles.
Charlie St. Cloud Zac Efron as a man who survives a car crash but keeps a pact with the dead brother whose side he swore never to leave. Based on Ben Sherwood’s syrupy 2004 novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,’’ which managed to make Mitch Albom seem like James Joyce.
The Concert A janitor (Aleksei Guskov) at Moscow’s Bolshoi was a renowned conductor until being demoted for hiring Jews; 30 years later, he gets a chance to finish his interrupted concert by hijacking a Paris concert with several old friends and a superstar violinist (Mélanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds’’). It’s a comedy, albeit one that leans heavily on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
Get Low Based on a 1930s occurrence that has acquired the patina of a folk tale, this stars Robert Duvall as a small-town hermit who comes out of hiding to host his own funeral while he’s still alive and kicking. Bill Murray plays the shady mortician who obliges him and Sissy Spacek is a woman from Duvall’s past. The word on the festival front is that the movie’s a total charmer. Anyway, we’d pay to watch these three read technical manuals.
Great Directors By that title filmmaker Angela Ismailos means nine cinematic talents, all still working, whom she interviews at length. They include Bernardo Bertolucci, John Sayles, David Lynch, Agnes Varda, Richard Linklater, Catherine Breillat, and more. It’s cheaper than film school and there won’t be a quiz.
I Killed My Mother Xavier Dolan wrote, directed, and stars in this drama about a young, gay French Canadian and his difficult relationship with his mother (Anne Dorval). How does it end?
JULY (no date scheduled)
Grease Sing-Along The only people more excited than “Glee’’ fanatics are Olivia Newton-John’s accountants.
Chain Letter OMG, forward this on! It’s, like, a horror movie about teenagers who get a chain e-mail on their cellphones and who, like, don’t send it to their friends like the message tells them to and who, like, die these yucky R-rated deaths. And I swear it actually happened to a girl my friend Brittany’s cousin knows.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed A British thriller about two men (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) who kidnap a woman (Gemma Arterton) for money. Written and directed by someone called J Blakeson.
Farewell A thriller set during the early-1980s phase of the Cold War, with Guillaume Canet (“Tell No One’’) as a French intelligence officer who finds himself stealing KGB secrets. Adapted from Serguei Kostine’s novel “Bonjour Farewell’’ by Christian Carion.
Life During Wartime Who says sequels are only for the studio hacks? Filmmaker/provocateur Todd Solondz returns to the Jordan family of his disquieting 1998 breakthrough “Happiness’’ to find them still coming to terms with their lusts and despair. Ciarán Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Ally Sheedy, and Allison Janney are in the cast, and while Paul “Pee-wee Herman’’ Reubens is only in two scenes, they’re the two everyone’s talking about.
Mao’s Last Dancer Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy’’) directed this inspirational drama based on Lu Cunxin’s memoir about his conscription, by Madame Mao, to twirl in the Beijing Dance Academy. With Joan Chen and three different actors playing Lu in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. With any luck, one of them will tell Madame, “I’m tryin’ to dance you to the store!’’
Middle Men Luke Wilson plays an ambitious young entrepreneur in the 1990s who rides to riches exploiting a previously untapped Internet content stream: Porn. Based on real characters and events, it costars Giovanni Ribisi, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, and Laura Ramsey, and with any luck it could be the “Boogie Nights’’ of the dot-com bubble.
The Other Guys Will Ferrell and his funnyordie.com partner Adam McKay invite Mark Wahlberg over for a play date. McKay directs, while the stars are cast as incompetent police department detectives who get a crack at a case when supercops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson can’t hack it. What’s at stake? Wahlberg has to prove he can excel at comedy and, after last summer’s “Land of the Lost,’’ so does Ferrell.
Step Up 3D It couldn’t possibly be true, and yet. . . A new set of squeaky-clean flirts (Rick Malambri, Alyson Stoner) and their friends of color bring their dance battles to the bridge of your nose.
Also opening: Mesrine
Eat Pray Love Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling 2006 memoir about leaping from an unhappy marriage into the glamorous unknown of world travel comes to the screen with America’s Sweetheart herself, Julia Roberts, in the lead. James Franco, Billy Crudup and (sigh) Javier Bardem play the men in and out of her life; Italy, Brooklyn, India, and Bali play themselves. Ryan Murphy takes a break from masterminding TV’s “Glee’’ to direct.
The Extra Man From Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the makers of “American Splendor’’ and, ahem, “The Nanny Diaries,’’ comes this comedy with Kevin Kline as an escort to rich widows and Paul Dano as his new playwright friend. With Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, and, hopefully as potential clients, Celia Weston and Marian Seldes. Co-written with Jonathan Ames, the creator of HBO’s series “Bored to Death.’’
The Expendables A steroidal action-comedy that Sylvester Stallone directed, co-wrote, and stars in alongside Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Terry Crews, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Start saving your money now; you’ll need it to buy to some vowels.
Hipsters They had beatniks in 1950s Russia? Apparently so, and to be a jazz-loving, pompadoured “stilyagi’’ (hipster) was to flout not only conformity but the heavy hand of the government. This high-style dance musical from writer-director Valeriy Todorovskiy celebrates those who lived with dangerous brightness in a dull gray world.
Kisses Two Irish teens (Kelly O’Neill, Shane Curry) run away from home and spend Christmas on the scary streets of Dublin. Written and directed by Lance Daly.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book is now a romantic comedy about a bassist (Michael Cera) who will have himself a girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) so long as he defeats her seven ex-boyfriends. Alternative title: “Kill Bill — All of Them’’
Lottery Ticket Rapper Bow Wow (no longer so L’il) gets a choice comedy-drama role as a kid in Atlanta’s housing projects who holds a $350 million lottery ticket and has to get through the Fourth of July weekend without everyone he knows finding out. Ice Cube, Keith David, and Mike Epps costar.
Nanny McPhee Returns While you’re thinking fondly about all the joy Emma Thompson brought you in the 1990s, your children will giggle at Thompson’s black-magic babysitter and recoil from her snaggletooth. With Maggie Gyllenhaal as mom.
Patrik, Age 1.5 In this Swedish film, a gay couple hoping to adopt an 18-month-old orphan get a 15-year-old homophobe instead. Written and directed by Ella Lemhagen, an American remake seems inevitable.
Soul Kitchen The great German-Turkish director Fatih Akin (“Head-On,’’ “The Edge of Heaven’’) opts for a change of pace in this deceptively light human comedy about a Greek restaurant owner (Adam Bousdoukos) in Hamburg, his jailbird brother (Moritz Bleibtreu), and the nouvelle cuisine gypsy (Birol Ünel) he hires to cook, much to the shock of his regulars. As portraits of the new multi-culti Germany go, this sounds delicious.
The Switch Jennifer Aniston plays a single lady whose platonic friend (Jason Bateman) is actually the father of her artificially inseminated baby. It takes a couple of years but he decides to confess. This and “The Back-up Plan’’ suggest that Meg Ryan could have her career back.
Takers A heist-thriller with an all-starrish cast — Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, T.I., and Matt Dillon. Oh, and a barely billed Zoë Saldana.
Going the Distance Who says women can’t have their own raunchy Judd Apatow-style comedy romance? Drew Barrymore stars in an R-rated confection about a Left Coast woman who finds Mr. Right (Justin Long) in New York and struggles to keep the fires burning from across the country. Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston, and Christina Applegate costar, while documentary director Nanette Burstein (“American Teen,’’ “The Kid Stays in the Picture’’) makes the great leap forward into fiction.
The Last Exorcism A horror film about a priest who lets a documentary crew film his final exorcism. And don’t get too excited. That title only sounds sequel-proof.
Piranha 3D Before you get all snooty, remember that 1978’s original “Piranha’’ was directed by Joe Dante (“Gremlins’’), written by indie auteur John Sayles, and had a wicked sense of humor. Now lower those expectations, since director Alexandre Aja has mostly grim horror outings like “Mirrors’’ to his credit and the 3-D here is a post-production conversion a la “Clash of the Titans.’’ Here’s hoping for some solid B-thriller yuks from screenwriter Pete Goldfinger and his collaborators.
Machete Robert Rodriguez has made a real movie from his fake movie trailer from “Grindhouse,’’ with Danny Trejo as the eponymous Mexican ex-cop looking for the folks who betrayed him. Presumably that name is no joke. The cast ranges from cool (Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Rose McGowan) to kitsch (Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, and Lindsay Lohan). Quentin Tarantino will either kick himself or roll his eyes.
The Tillman Story Pat Tillman was a smart, articulate pro footballer who enlisted after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. Was he brought down by the enemy or by friendly fire? The US Army and Tillman’s own unit didn’t want us to know, and only high-level inquiries by the Pentagon and Congress penetrated the coverup. Documentarian Amir Bar-Lev (“My Kid Could Paint That’’) lays out the facts.