Soak up summer's best

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Several of Hollywood's most anticipated summer films -- "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Sex and the City," among others -- have already hit the big screen. But as the summer tempertures rise, there's still plenty of blockbusters coming to air-conditioned theaters near you.

FRIDAY

When we last saw Marvel Comics' big angry green guy, he was hopping around in the desert in Ang Lee's "Hulk," a critical and commercial disappointment.

The Marvel gang went back to the drawing board for "The Incredible Hulk," starring Edward Norton in a new take that the filmmakers say will channel both the comic books and the 1970s and '80s TV show starring Bill Bixby.

The movie wastes no time explaining how Norton's Bruce Banner was transformed into a man who mutates into the Hulk when angered, said producer Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios' head of production. The story hints at what happened to him then jumps into the action, he said.

"This is not an origin story," Feige said. "We are assuming everyone buying a ticket will know Bruce Banner is a scientist on the run who grows into a green hulk 9 feet tall. That's all people need to know. So the adventure is off and running right from the beginning."

JUNE 20

Maxwell Smart took himself seriously, even when he was talking into his shoe phone. So the makers of "Get Smart," an update of the 1960s TV comedy, took him seriously, too.

Taking on the character created by Don Adams, Steve Carell plays bumbling spy Max as a desk jockey finally promoted to field work, paired with veteran operative Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) as they try to stop a doomsday scenario by the KAOS crime boss (Terence Stamp). Dwayne Johnson co-stars as the superstar agent Max idolizes.

Carell and Hathaway say the idea was not to parody spy flicks but to do an authentic one with lots of action -- and loads of laughs.

"I'm not sure we actually succeed as a spoof," Hathaway said. "I think we're more silly. We're not lampooning the genre. We just have a lighter take on it."

"What about a comedic 'Bourne Identity?' You take the action in that and you make it a legitimate spy movie that's funny, as opposed to taking the cliches of spy movies and turning them on their heads," Carell said. "If the villains are like Terence Stamp, these guys are scary and actually have some threat to them. There's some sense of jeopardy. The comedy laid on top of that might resonate more."

JUNE 27

So far, the Pixar-Disney animation outfit has done no wrong, crafting such acclaimed hits as the "Toy Story" movies, "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille."

"Finding Nemo" director Andrew Stanton now offers up "Wall-E," the tale of a janitorial robot toiling away for centuries because no one remembered to turn him off after humanity trashes Earth to the point that the planet must be abandoned.

Here's Stanton's short take on the story: "The last robot on Earth crosses the galaxy for love."

"I thought it was the saddest character in the world, this poor little guy that doesn't know it can stop what it's doing," Stanton said. "It's the ultimate definition of futility. Machine or not, you have to be asking yourself, 'Does what I'm doing mean anything at all?'"

JULY 2

With such hits as "Independence Day" and "Men in Black," Will Smith has owned the Fourth of July weekend.

He aims to dominate it again with "Hancock," which co-stars Charlize Theron in the tale of a churlish superhero with real problems like the rest of us.

"It's the very authentic version of an alcoholic superhero," Smith said. "You will scream laughing, then there's some dramatic turns that just leave your jaw dropping. Huge special effects. It is all things."

JULY 11

Brendan Fraser finally offers scientific proof that there is an albino dinosaur at the Earth's core -- and he does it in 3-D.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" is a modern twist on Jules Verne's classic tale presented entirely in three-dimensional digital video that practically sets the characters and effects in the audience's lap.

Gimmicky old 3-D films "made the brain and eyeballs do calisthenics. Frankly, it made you feel kind of queasy and ill," Fraser said. "This allows you to live in the environment that the actors inhabit."

JULY 18

Batman is back with "The Dark Knight," reuniting star Christian Bale with director Christopher Nolan and pitting the soul-searching crimefighter against his greatest enemy, the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger in his next-to-last role.

With great buzz on Ledger's frantic performance and his demonic makeup, the Joker is the corrupted flip-side of Batman, who lives by a strict code despite raging inner turmoil.

"It's a fine line, something which we kind of toy with in the story, of this fine line, essentially both being freaks to most people, both being idealists," Bale said. "The Joker trying to show the hypocrisy of society and trying to show Batman that his way just ultimately can't work. These rules that he places on himself are just a joke."

JULY 25

The basic story for "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" has been kicking around in writer-director Chris Carter's head since his paranormal TV series went off the air six years ago.

Carter reunites with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson for the second big-screen adventure of Mulder and Scully, who spent years in the FBI chasing aliens and supernatural phenomena.

So what's the story? Carter's not telling, other than to say it's not about aliens but an earthbound tale "within the realm of extreme scientific possibility."

"It takes into consideration that the characters have grown or aged or progressed in the six years since we last saw them," Carter said. "I think we are true to everything that the characters have experienced not just in the last six years but over the course of the television show."

AUG. 1

After digging way down under with "Journey to the Center of the Earth," Brendan Fraser comes up for air with "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," the third outing for the adventuresome family who, as he puts it, "by some bizarre coincidence just always encounters the undead."

Maria Bello replaces Rachel Weisz as Fraser's British wife, the couple coming out of bored retirement to join their grown-up son on a dig in China, where they end up battling an ancient ruler (Jet Li) who springs back to life aiming to conquer the world.

Director Rob Cohen said it was not necessarily a hindrance that Weisz decided against returning.

"The truth is, I was happy to have a new opportunity to bring something different to the movie, so that you really have a sense of freshness," Cohen said. "I thought, Brendan will be more on his toes with a new actor, and Maria threw him as much new stuff as anyone could."

AUG. 8

America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively are back as the gal pals who like to share a particular hand-me-down in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2."

Three years have passed, they've just finished their first year of college, and "we kind of come back together to realize everyone's growing in a lot of different directions," Bledel said. "It's about the four of us finding our unique selves but finding a way to keep this relationship that means so much to us."

"I'm sure that young girls really appreciate seeing fun female relationships like this that aren't competitive or kind of just sidebars to male stories," added Ferrera.

AUG. 15

What if pampered, hapless actors went off to make a Vietnam War movie and got caught in a real battle?

That's the idea behind co-writer, director and star Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder," a comedy that features Robert Downey Jr. as a white actor portraying a black character with insanely serious devotion and Tom Cruise as a bald, raving studio boss with hilarious dance moves.

The germ of the idea struck Stiller 20 years ago, and it eventually percolated into a story about self-centered actors (Stiller, Downey and Jack Black among them) whose location shoot in the jungle pits them against brutal drug smugglers.

"The movie's kind of taking off on actors who obviously have to take it seriously when doing these films, and you see these interviews where they talk about the experience as if they've been in a real war," Stiller said. "I think it's very easy to see the humor in that."

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