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Summer movie preview

From pirates to apes to Transformers: How hot are this summer's films?

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Beginners (June 17)

The gist: A retired Los Angeles museum director (Christopher Plummer) comes out in his 70s and wrestles with cancer, to the distress of his son (Ewan McGregor).

Fresh factor: Writer/director Mike Mills heavily based the script on his own family experiences, so it's as original as such a film can get.

How's it look: I've seen it and it's moving, comparable to Hal Ashby's character studies of the 1970s.

Green Lantern (June 17)

The gist: A dying alien chooses swaggering test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) to wield the super-powered ring of an intergalactic police force, the Green Lantern Corps.

Fresh factor: Like Thor, it's based on a long-established comic book character with a cosmic mythology but no history of success in earlier movies or live television shows. So it's more of a gamble than, say, another film about Batman.

How's it look: Each trailer has been less jokey and more impressive than the last, and director Martin Campbell has a proven record with action franchises (Casino Royale, GoldenEye and The Mask of Zorro).

Cars 2 (June 24)

The gist: Racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) competes in a round-the-world tourney as tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is mistaken for a spy.

Fresh factor: It's a sequel to Pixar's most formulaic animated feature, so you almost wonder if director John Lasseter wanted to make Cars 2 to get it right the second time.

How's it look: Unfortunately, it resembles the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer without the live-action actors.

BRUCE TALAMON/UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
  • Bruce Talamon/Universal Studios

Larry Crowne (July 1)

The gist: Tom Hanks directs himself as a downsized, middle-aged man who gets a new lease on life when he goes back to college and connects with a burned-out professor (Julia Roberts).

Fresh factor: Hanks co-wrote the original screenplay with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos, so don't expect it to be avant-garde.

How's it look: Like an "inspirational teacher" movie, only the inspirational one is the student.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (July 1)

The gist: The Autobots (you know, the good robots) race with the evil Decepticons to find an alien artifact on the moon. Then there's a big spaceship invasion and exploding buildings and stuff.

Fresh factor: It's Michael Bay's second sequel to the live-action adaptation of the cartoon series based on the popular line of toys. Maybe this film will treat the robots like interesting characters.

How's it look: The trailer has lots of lavish money shots — but so did the trailer of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which was about as noisy and pointless as Hollywood blockbusters get.

SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT
  • Sony Pictures Entertainment

Zookeeper (July 8)

The gist: Kevin James of Paul Blart: Mall Cop plays a caretaker at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo who discovers the animals can talk and are eager to give him romantic advice. Adam Sandler produced and voices a Capuchin monkey.

Fresh factor: It was probably pitched as Doctor Dolittle Spends a Night at the Museum, but it isn't based on anything.

How's it look: Like the year's silliest smash. It also makes July 8 look like the weekend you can stay home from the multiplex.

JAAP BUITENDIJK/WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.
  • Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (July 15)

The gist: Harry, Ron and Hermione accelerate their quest to find the sinister Horcruxes (Horcuci?) and end Lord Voldemort's control of the wizarding world.

Fresh factor: As the eighth film in series of book adaptations, it's technically not fresh at all. But it also brings 10 years of build-up to a (presumably) whiz-bang conclusion, so it's should offer scenes you've never seen before.

How's it look: Like the biggest, most epic film in a series, and also the kind of movie could really suffer in 3-D.

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