The stereotypical summer movie aspires to be a simple pleasure, and usually gets it half right. Simplicity is the stock-in-trade of Hollywood tentpole films. Even a full sentence may be too long to sum up a summer blockbuster's premise: Ideally, it fits into a tagline, a Tweet or an icon.
Regardless of which movie you see, where you see a film offers its own delights. Several of the summer biggies will be in 3-D (including Pixar's Up), a few will have IMAX versions, and many will play at the summertime's quintessential venue, the Starlight Six Drive-In. Doubtless a few of the season's hits will screen at the Fox Theatre Summer Film Festival, the titles of which are to be announced.
Screen on the Green continues this year at Centennial Olympic Park, and with the exception of Oscar-nominated Dreamgirls (June 4), it's devoted to 1980s flashbacks, including Back to the Future (May 28); Field of Dreams (June 11) and Home Alone (June 18) — which, granted, came out in 1990 but was made in the 1980s. For June 25, audiences voted for one of three 1980s films: Big, Ghostbusters and The Princess Bride, and Ghostbusters won.
The summer movies of '09 may make the Screen on the Green lineup two decades from now. Apart from the already released X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this summer's light on the joy of superheroes. Here's a guide to the most-hyped releases to come, along with the simple pleasures they're shooting for.
Angels & Demons (May 15)
THE JOY OF: sleek, empty eurothrillers; saying naughty things about the Catholic Church
IN OTHER WORDS: Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard reunite for the follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown published the novel Angels & Demons first, but the new film still follows Hanks as globe-trotting, conspiracy-unraveling symbologist Robert Langdon, who journeys to Rome to uncover a mystery involving the Vatican, the Illuminati and, uh, antimatter. (Note to self: Google the word "symbologist.") See review.
Terminator Salvation (May 21)
THE JOY OF: watching Bruce Wayne fight robots
IN OTHER WORDS: You know how the three Terminator movies involve killer androids from the post-apocalyptic 21st century, and only show brief glimpses of the future? Terminator Salvation finally shows us the era in which the remnants of mankind, headed by the fabled John Connor (Christian Bale), leads a rebellion against rampant machines. McG, director of the Charlie's Angels movies, takes over the franchise, and has at least delivered a cool-looking trailer.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (May 22)
THE JOY OF: skeletal dinosaurs; some funny actors; wondering how much those CGI sight gags cost
IN OTHER WORDS: In a "Let's do it again" kind of sequel, security guard Ben Stiller and living exhibits from New York's Museum of Natural History relocate to the Smithsonian. There they run into conflicts with their Washington, D.C., counterparts, including Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible, Eugene Levy as Albert Einstein, and Bill Hader as General Custer, as well as Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and the rest.
Up (May 29)
THE JOY OF: seeing another charmer from Pixar, Hollywood's most reliable "brand"
IN OTHER WORDS: Pete Docter, director of Monsters, Inc., helms another CGI tale of a fanciful friendship between a child-scaring grump and an adorable youngster. This time around, the protagonists are humans. Elderly Carl Fredricksen uses zillions of balloons to take his house on an airborne adventure, unwittingly bringing a pesky boy scout (Jordan Nagai) along for the ride. It looks like a lighthearted romp along the lines of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, only with a talking dog. It's one of Pixar's few productions rated PG.
Drag Me to Hell (May 29)
THE JOY OF: pants-wetting fear; seeing the torments of a yuppie bank officer
IN OTHER WORDS: Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man trilogy, gets back to his Evil Dead horror roots in this promisingly lurid-looking thriller in which Alison Lohman rejects the mortgage extension of a spooky old woman, only to find herself on the receiving end of a demonic curse. It could be The Omen for an age of home foreclosures.
Land of the Lost (June 5)
THE JOY OF: dinosaurs; watching Will Ferrell yell
IN OTHER WORDS: This big-budget version of the Sid and Marty Krofft 1970s cult kid's series stars Will Ferrell, "Pushing Daisies'" Anna Friel and Danny R. McBride (who's in everything these days). The threesome hits a time warp and encounters prehistoric monsters and reptilian Sleestaks. In a bit of prescient casting, Ferrell played a character named Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly, named after the original show's heroes, in Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back.
Year One (June 19)
THE JOY OF: seeing comedy's current A-list riff on the good book
IN OTHER WORDS: An odd-looking, high-concept comedy in which a pair of cavemen (Jack Black and Michael Cera) wander through the Old Testament's first couple of books and encounter the likes of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Moses, etc. Director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) pushes against the spotty track record of both prehistoric comedies like Caveman and Biblical ones like Wholly Moses.
My Sister's Keeper (June 24)
THE JOY OF: weeping uncontrollably
IN OTHER WORDS: A young girl (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin), brought into the world as a genetic match for her ailing older sister, sues her parents for medical emancipation. Cameron Diaz plays the conflicted mom and Alec Baldwin portrays the younger sister's lawyer. It's hard to imagine any summer movie being a bigger, more overt tearjerker than this one.
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24)
THE JOY OF: bigger robots and longer robot fights than Terminator
IN OTHER WORDS: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the other Autobots return, along with flesh actors Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox and Jon Turturro, to fight the Decepticons and the equivalent of their home planet's devil. I hear that the Constructicons are construction equipment machines that can combine to make one 100-plus-foot robot. Come on, who doesn't want to see that?
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1)
THE JOY OF: many, many dinosaurs; the slapstick antics of Scrat
IN OTHER WORDS: For the third CGI outing, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary reprise their voice roles as a mammoth, sloth and saber-toothed tiger. This time, the furry pals discover a subterranean realm populated by dinosaurs that threaten the mammals' supremacy.
Public Enemies (July 1)
THE JOY OF: cool actors in pinstripe suits; tommy guns
IN OTHER WORDS: Michael Mann, director of slick, macho entertainments such as Heat and Miami Vice, helms the Depression-era docudrama about bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and the FBI agent (Christian Bale) out to stop his gang's crime spree. Expect it to be this decade's answer to The Untouchables.
Brüno (July 10)
THE JOY OF: seeing straightlaced people squirm
IN OTHER WORDS: After scoring a runaway hit with Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen plays another thick-accented alter ego, gay Austrian fashion journalist Brüno, who makes unsuspecting Americans as uncomfortable as possible. The humor goes hand-in-hand with discomfort, but the sequences involving the gay marriage issue and celebrity Third World adoption look hilarious.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 17)
THE JOY OF: magical action scenes; the talent of half of England's character-actor pool
IN OTHER WORDS: The sixth and penultimate Harry Potter novel ended with some huge, tragic battle scenes. The rest of the story mostly featured fairly lighthearted hijinks at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, interspersed with the gloomy backstory of evil Lord Voldemort. David Yates, who directed arguably the franchise's best film (Order of the Phoenix) returns, so it'll be interesting to see how dark it plays.
Funny People (July 31)
THE JOY OF: not hearing Adam Sandler bray
IN OTHER WORDS: Judd Apatow, director of such decade-defining comedies as The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up (not to mention the writer/producer of seemingly hundreds of others), takes a more serious change of pace with his third film. Sandler plays a successful stand-up comedian who faces the possibility of a serious illness. Seth Rogen portrays his younger protégé, and Leslie Mann (Apatow's real-life wife) is Sandler's love interest. The bar's already set high for Apatow; we'll see how he measures up.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Aug. 7)
THE JOY OF: explosions, weapons, destruction, tight outfits, more explosions
IN OTHER WORDS: Stephen Sommers, director of the first two Mummy movies, turns actors into action figures in this adaptation of Hasbro's G.I. Joe toy franchise. Remember, this draws on its 1980s incarnation, when G.I. Joe is not a person, but an organization that takes on the terrorist group Cobra. It seems somewhat like Team America: World Police, which also collapsed the Eiffel Tower.
Julie & Julia (Aug. 7)
THE JOY OF: cooking
IN OTHER WORDS: A New York blogger (Amy Adams) resolves to cook the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meryl Streep plays Child in flashbacks to the 1940s and 1950s. Nora Ephron, who specializes in chick-flick fare such as When Harry Met Sally..., adapts the memoir of the same name. The story would seem to resist feel-good Hollywood tropes. It'll be sweet relief to see Adams and Streep out of their Doubt wimples.
Ponyo (Aug. 14)
THE JOY OF: a fable for all ages
IN OTHER WORDS: One of world's greatest animated filmmakers, Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, seems unable to stay retired. Miyazaki returns for an extremely quirky-looking film about a childlike aquatic creature and its friendship with a human. (I suspect Ponyo will be to The Little Mermaid what Miyazaki's Spirited Away was to Alice in Wonderland.) The animation style looks slightly more kid-centric than his recent fare, but it still should be lovely. Toy Story director John Lasseter produced the English-language version, with voices including Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey and Matt Damon.
Inglourious Basterds (Aug. 21)
THE JOY OF: killing Nazis
IN OTHER WORDS: Quentin Tarantino's long-gestating World War II action flick pays deliberate homage to the likes of The Dirty Dozen. Brad Pitt leads a crew of tough, Jewish-American G.I.s into occupied France with the mission to kill as many Nazis as possible. Expect lots of mayhem and old movie references: The French love interest runs a Parisian cinema.