Top 7 summer movies I am anticipating the most

The 2010 summer movie season offers such slim pickings, I could only come up with seven movies I'm really looking forward to instead of my usual 10. But I guess seven is better than nothing. In order of release date:

JUNE 18

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Toy Story 3: Any Pixar movie automatically makes my must-see list, but I'm particularly curious about this one, since the film is the company's first "Part 3," which means the script must be extra-special. Plus, the 3D looks wonderful, and the whole Barbie-meets-Ken subplot looks hilarious in the trailers.

JUNE 25

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The Killer Inside Me: I'm a hardcore devotee of Jim Thompson's pulpy crime novels, and although this one has been turned into a film before, I really like the inspired casting of Casey Affleck as the small-town sheriff with homicidal tendencies. The film's graphic violence scandalized audiences at Sundance in January, but everyone knows Sundance audiences are a bunch of wusses.

JULY 16

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Inception: Not to put too many expectations on director Christopher Nolan, but I am counting on this sci-fi thriller - about a man (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the power to pluck dark secrets from people's dreams - to create a brand-new genre, the way The Matrix did. I believe in you, Nolan. Please don't let me down.

JULY 23

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Dinner For Schmucks: Francis Veber's French-language comedy The Dinner Game was hilarious, and the casting of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell in this Hollywood remake - probably my two favorite comic actors working in movies today - inspired great confidence. Plus the presence of director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) doesn't hurt, either.

AUGUST 13

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The Expendables: If you grew up in the 1980s, the premise of an all-star throwback to the cheesy action flicks of the era starring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke - plus cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger - is an offer you can't refuse. If you do, you're a giant girly-man.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: There's been a gradual backlash building against Michael Cera, unfairly based around the criticism that he's always playing the same character - a socially awkward, hyper-intelligent guy trying to blend into the world around them. But Cera's choice of film projects has been consistently good (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist and Youth in Revolt deserved bigger audiences) and this comedy in which Cera must do battle with his would-be girlfriend's seven jealous ex-girlfriends in order to win her hand has considerable potential. Another bonus: Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) has yet to make a movie that didn't make me cry from laughing so hard.

AUGUST 27

Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D: I dare you to watch this trailer and tell me this movie does not look awesome.

Coming soon to a theater near you, and there's nothing you can do about it

Here's the just-released new trailer for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, due in theaters June 30. Apparently, this is going to be one of those franchises where the story gets worse and worse with every installment. This thing looks atrocious. The small, modest charms of the first film seem to be forever gone, trampled under cheap-looking CGI effects and Taylor Lautner's wooden acting. It'll probably gross $200 million on the first weekend.

The ''Millennium Trilogy'' films may all be released in the U.S. this year

Tattoo  Last night I watched The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the film adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel that is showing at the Miami Film Festival next weekend

I liked the movie so much I was considering reading the other two books in the series (the third one is scheduled to be published in the U.S. in May), just to find out what happens next to the characters.

But Music Box Films, which acquired the U.S. distribution rights to all three of the movie adaptations, has announced the other two films, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, may be released back-to-back in July and August this year.

Noomi_rapace  Actress Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth Salander in the series (and is tentatively scheduled to attend the Miami screening at the Gusman next Saturday with director Niels Arden Oplev), told the Wall Street Journal that although an English-language remake of the first film is in development at Sony Pictures, she doesn't think "the Hollywood version will be as edgy as our film."

I'll say. Although Oplev's film originally aired on Swedish TV, there are scenes in it that come this close to NC-17 territory. One scene in particular - the depiction of a rape that helps explain the book's clumsier, original title, Men Who Hate Women - is so brutal it made me groan aloud.

I don't mean to scare anyone away from seeing the film, even if you're squeamish: This is a terrific, absorbing thriller with little actual violence, and I can't imagine the Hollywood remake will be as densely plotted or better acted (Rapace in particular is fantastic; she's a natural-born movie star).

I'm just a bit taken aback by the stuff the Swedes deem suitable to air on TV. I mean ... man

The first of my many articles about this year's Miami Film Festival will run in this Sunday's Herald. Some good movies are heading our way.

This is not a review of ''Avatar''

20th Century Fox has requested that critics hold their reviews until Avatar opens next week, and I don't believe in biting the hand that feeds you. But I will say this: You have to give James Cameron credit for delivering what he promises.

After all the hype about Avatar's being a revolutionary work that would forever change the way films are made, the trailer released earlier this year suggested something far less radical: A gigantic geekfest.

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And that is exactly what Avatar is: A mammoth, kick-ass spectacle about 10-foot tall blue aliens who ride around on giant flying lizards and commune with an entity known as the Tree of Souls. I acknowledge that premise is not going to sound all that appealing to a lot of people (basically, every woman I know; there's just no way this movie is going to come close to Titanic's grosses).

But Cameron - at a point in his career when he could literally make any movie he wanted - went deep and personal and made one from the heart. Whatever you may think of Avatar, you can't accuse Cameron of not dreaming big and taking huge risks. 

And although the movie's 3D strained my eyes after two hours, the computer-generated imagery really does trump everything that has come before (the finished film looks much, much better than it did in the trailers). After Titanic, Cameron was King of the World. With Avatar, he is now the undisputed King of All Nerds.

The year-end movie crunch

I spent much of last week sitting inside dark movie theaters, and tomorrow the grind stars all over again. I'll be seeing A Single Man, Nine, Avatar (finally!), Broken Embraces, Sherlock Holmes, Red Cliff and It's Complicated over the next two weeks, along with a top-secret screening of a 2010 movie I'm not allowed to talk about, plus there's a stack of screeners I need to make the time to watch (including The Messenger, The Class (which came out while I was out on sick leaveand Crazy Heart).

I'm hoping there will be some happy surprises in that bunch, since several of the big holiday films I've seen so far have turned out to be disappointments. Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones doesn't open until Christmas Day, so it's too early to go into too much detail about the movie. But since everyone else on the Internet seems to be writing about the film, I'm going to go ahead and assume I have gotten the season's biggest letdown out of the way.

Jackson

Aside from Stanley Tucci's exceptionally creepy turn as a serial killer of children, nothing in the movie works. As the parents of the murdered girl who narrates the story, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz come off more like brother and sister. As the teenaged Susie Salmon, Saoirse Ronan gives a game but generic performance: The only thing memorable about the character is that she's dead. And Jackson's computer-generated visions of heaven are cliched beyond belief. Rainbows, clouds, waterfalls, butterflies - are you kidding me? I was seriously waiting for the unicorns to pop up.

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To be fair, I didn't care for Alice Sebold's novel either, which I was never able to finish (I know, I know; the book is beloved). So maybe my problem rests with the source material. But all throughout The Lovely Bones, I kept flashing back to Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, where he melded a story of teenage murder with fantasy so effectively, and wondered if this story might have been better served by a filmmaker who didn't have quite as big of a budget at his disposal.

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Cint Eastwood's Invictus is an earnest, respectful bore - the kind of thing that would have better suited for cable TV if it wasn't for the caliber of talent involved. Morgan Freeman's performance as Nelson Mandela is a commanding and uncanny embodiment of the real man, but he's stranded in a movie that succumbs to all the worst sports-movie cliches imaginable. It is no secret that I am a diehard Eastwood fan, but this picture conclusively proves what Flags of Our Fathers implied: His chief strength as a filmmaker rests with intimate character studies and not sweeping, broad-scale historical dramas. Invictus is plodding and obvious and has shockingly few moments of genuine emotion. It's a dry history lesson, and the last 20 minutes - the 2005 Rubgy World Cup Championship - felt interminable to me.

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And as much as I wanted to like Disney's The Princess and the Frog - I love old-school 2D animation and think Treasure Planet is a hugely underrated gem - the movie felt way too schematic and formulaic, with all the requisite Disney staples - the quirky sidekicks, the catchy musical numbers, the central love story, the sinister villain - all notes the filmmakers were compelled to strike, because that is what audiences expect. There's a sense of roteness to the whole endeavor. I don't mean to suggest the film is a wash: The animation is wonderful, and kids will be entertained. But the movie falls far short of the admittedly high bar set by The Little Princess and Aladdin and The Lion King. Heck, it's not even as good as Treasure Planet.

Is it any wonrder I've been in such a cranky mood lately?

Life after ''The Road''

The-road  I finally saw The Road this morning, which I had been anticipating for a long time now. I'm not supposed to write too much about the film until the release date gets closer (it is due in theaters Nov. 25) but I will say this: Any film adaptation of The Road lives or dies by the ending. Whatever other details you change, you simply must duplicate the amazing emotional feat Cormac McCarthy pulls off at the end of the novel, or else you're left with a pointless, depressing film.

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And despite the movie's flaws, director John Hillcoat nails the ending so well I was fidgeting in my seat, trying hard not to blubber so other critics wouldn't make fun of me. The publicist who handled the screening did not fare as well: She was in all-out sob mode by the time she emerged from the theater.

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I can see why some critics dismissed The Road after it screened at Toronto and Telluride last month. This is not the kind of movie that would fare well when viewed during the exhausting crunch of a film festival. I don't agree with that over-the-top rave that ran in Esquire in May, either. But that ending is going to stay with me for a while, just like the book did. I'll be writing a lot more about The Road next month.

''The Crazies'' are back

Crazies  The Crazies is one of the three flop movies George A. Romero directed in the early 1970s after the success of Night of the Living Dead (There's Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch are the other two). Martin, his 1977 take on vampirism, earned him decent reviews and proved he wasn't a one-hit wonder. But it wasn't until Romero got back to zombies with Dawn of the Dead that his career took off.

I've never seen The Crazies, but the trailer for the remake due out early next year has made me curious. The question is: Should I watch the original before I see the new version or after?

Leon Ichaso's ''Paraiso'' returns to Miami

Paraiso  If you missed Leon Ichaso's provocative Cuban exile drama Paraiso (Paradise) when it made its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival in March, you'll have a second chance to catch it during the Miami Beach Cinematheque's A Weekend With Leon Ichaso running Oct. 23-25.

Shot entirely in Miami using local actors and crew for a measly $30,000, Paraiso centers on a Cuban balsero who encounters the dark side of the American dream on Miami's mean streets.Here's the story I wrote about the movie in March.

Paraiso will be shown at 8 p.m. Oct. 23 and 7 and 9:15 p.m. Oct. 24-25. The always-outspoken Ichaso, who is equally adept at talking about Cuban assimilation or low-budget filmmaking, will introduce each screening and participate in a post-film Q&A.

For more information, visit www.mbcinema.com Check out the Paraiso trailer below.

High hopes for Freddy

History has repeatedly taught us not to get too excited about any horror remake by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company. But I must admit to being intrigued by the teaser for their Nightmare on Elm Street redo arriving next year. What do you think?


Understanding the Coen brothers

I saw Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man this morning, and aside from thinking it is one of their best films, I also felt the movie explained a lot about the cynicism and detached attitude that permeates their entire body of work.

Serious-man

A Serious Man is the first movie by the Coens that is based on anything remotely autobiographical, and it is also the first film in which they grapple with their Jewish heritage and upbringing. This is why the movie, although just as bleak and unforgiving as their other comedies, also feels more heartfelt and personal. After seeing it, you understand the Coens' previous films a little better (even Barton Fink). The ending alone - which is pretty stunning - encapsulates everything they've always expressed in their films in a neat 60 seconds.

I've never interviewed the Coens before, but I'll talking to them via telephone for a few minutes tomorrow. The fact that they are doing phone interviews for A Serious Man is another indication, I think, of how this one means a little bit more than usual to them.

Ten fall movies I can't wait to see

My mammoth fall movie preview will run in tomorrow's paper. Here is a list of the ten films I am looking forward to the most. The preview only runs through Nov. 25, so no Avatar or The Lovely Bones or the new Almodovar.

I've ranked these in order of anticipation level. Shutter Island would have been fourth on this list if they hadn't moved it.

Theroad

1) The Road: I've been babbling about this one since they started filming, and it's finally almost here. Reading Cormac McCarthy's novel about a father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) wandering a post-apocalyptic U.S. gave me the same feeling reading No Country For Old Men did: I could practically see the movie in my head, and it was magnificent. I don't know how director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) is going to navigate the book's relentlessly grim tone, but I can't wait to find out. (Oct. 16)

Wildthings

2) Where the Wild Things Are: Even if I hadn't read Maurice Sendak's book a hundred times as a kid, the combination of Spike Jonze (directing his first movie since 2002's brilliant Adaptation) and screenwriter Dave Eggers would have still piqued my curiosity. Max Records stars as Max, the mischievous little boy who becomes ruler of a land populated by monsters. It's good to be the king. (Oct. 16)

Seriousman

3) A Serious Man: Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen go semi-autobiographical for the first time in their careers, telling the story of a Jewish academic (Michael Stuhlbarg) who seeks advice from three rabbis on how to straighten out his messed-up life. Unlike most of the Coens' recent films, this one has a no-star cast, implying a lack of the irony the brothers usually use to comic but distancing effect. The trailer alone is marvelous. If you haven't seen it, check it out here. (Oct. 9)

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4) Antichrist: Three of the most powerful experiences I've ever had at the movie theater (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville) came courtesy of Lars Von Trier. I'd be looking forward to his new movie -, about a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) mourning the death of their child - even if it hadn't caused a scandal at Cannes. I only wish I had exercised more discipline and not read so much about it, because I feel like I know too much of the story already. I just couldn't help myself. Don't make the same mistake. (Nov. TBD)

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5) The Box : Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are a married couple who receive a magic box with a single red button. Push the button and you become instantly rich, but someone somewhere in the world drops dead. How's that for a story hook? Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly gets back to basics after the fascinating, impenetrable mess of his second film, Southland Tales. (Nov. 6)

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6) An Education: Nick Hornby's novels have already generated two movies I love (High Fidelity and About a Boy), and now Hornby has written his first screenplay, based on Lynn Barber's memoir, about a teenaged girl (Carey Mulligan) growing up in 1960s London who falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). Sounds chick-flickish, but do not discount the Hornby factor. Plus the reaction at Sundance was really strong. (Oct. TBD)

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7) Nine I've never seen the original Broadway musical, so this one will be completely new to me.  But I liked director Rob Marshall's Chicago a lot more than I expected to. Plus this has Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren singing. Plus there is the Fellini 8 1/2 factor. (Nov. 25)

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8) Michael Jackson: This Is It; Despite the relentless media coverage, the death of Michael Jackson still feels somewhat surreal to me, as if it hadn't really happened. That will change, I suspect, with the arrival of this concert documentary, which consists of rehearsal footage and behind-the-scenes interviews with the singer as he was preparing for his string of London shows. Some will find it ghoulish and opportunistic, but I'm looking forward to seeing Jackson perform one final time, which I expect will be cathartic and moving on some level. (Oct. 28)

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9) The Fantastic Mr. Fox: The films of Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore) have often flirted with fantasy without ever taking the plunge. You could argue that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou did it, but I don't think Anderson pushed the movie far enough. But Anderson goes the full fantasy route with this fabulously animated tale of a fox (voiced by George Clooney) who must protect his wife (Meryl Streep) and family from mean farmers. Tell me this trailer doesn't make you want to see the movie right now. (Nov. 25)

Zombieland

10) Zombieland: One of my all-time favorite zombie movies is 1985's Return of the Living Dead: There is something about flesh-eating ghouls that lends itself to comedy, and I love how that film manages to be funny and scary at the same time (also: best ending of any zombie movie ever). This story of a group of survivors (including Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg) in a world overrun by the dead promises to strike a similar balance. (Oct. 2)

What is Christopher Nolan's ''Inception'' about?

I have no idea, but judging by the teaser trailer that is playing in front of Inglourious Basterds, the movie is going to be some kind of awesome.

Update: In Contention's Kris Tapley has scored a fairly detailed description of the plot of Inception. Go here to check it out, but be warned there are spoilers galore. Plus it is so complicated, it made my head hurt a little. I stopped reading after the first few paragraphs.

The only nugget Inception's page on imdb offers is "A CEO-type becomes involved in a blackmailing scandal." Apparently, said scandal involves zero-gravity fistfights in hallways and lots of scenes in which Leonardo DiCaprio looks totally freaked out.

Like Following, Memento and The Prestige, Nolan wrote Inception himself, which essentially translates into "There Will Be Head Games." I really like the ominous, moody music on the trailer, too. 

Whatever Inception turns out to be, you know Warner Bros. is high on it, because they're advertising the movie nearly a year before its release date of July 16, 2010. Curiosity officially piqued.

Somewhere deep within the editing bay of Avatar, James Cameron is fuming with envy.

A Puerto Rican Werewolf in London

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It's been so long since we had one, I can't even remember what the last truly good werewolf picture was. But I've had high hopes for The Wolf Man even though the original director, Mark Romanek, left the project over those pesky "creative differences" and was replaced by Joe Johnston, who isn't the first guy who springs to mind when you're thinking hardcore horror.

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These new shots of Benicio del Toro in full werewolf regalia look pretty sensational, though. Universal Pictures has changed the movie's release date three times, which is usually a sign of trouble, but the new trailer is so awesome that I am officially psyched all over again. The Wolf Man is due Feb. 12, 2010. Check out the trailer below and tell me I'm wrong (or watch it in HD here).

Our first look at ''Avatar''

The teaser trailer for James Cameron's Avatar is up and running, so we finally get a little taste of what Cameron has been working on for the past ten years.

Avatar

I don't know. Of course it will be a much different experience on a 3D IMAX screen, and Cameron's proven ability to craft an exciting narrative should not be underestimated. But this trailer doesn't exactly make me wish I could see the movie tomorrow or anything. 

I'm not seeing a game-changer here, just a really refined, state-of-the-art CGI fantasy war picture. Which is fine. I'm down with that. But if that's what Avatar is, they really should start ratcheting down the hype just a bit.

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The ''Avatar'' hype machine kicks it up a notch

Avatar-new-poster1 I'm looking forward to James Cameron's game-changing 3D epic Avatar, due in theaters Dec. 18, as much as anybody. But there's something a little desperate about the decision by Cameron and distributor 20th Century Fox to screen 16 minutes of footage for free in IMAX 3D theaters on Friday, Aug. 21.

Studios periodically invite journalists to see highlight reels from upcoming films they're high on. But it is very unusual, if not unprecendented, for a studio to invite the general public to one of these extended previews. Fox is apparently going to do everything they can to recoup their $240 million Avatar investment, and the fact they are so eager to share the movie before it's even finished suggests Cameron has hit another home run.

Regardless, I personally won't be checking out the Avatar footage, because you only get one shot at seeing a movie for the first time, and I want to preserve the purity of my viewing experience. Cameron has been working on this movie for 14 years and promises we've never seen anything like it. I can wait another four months for that.

No word yet on whether any of the South Florida IMAX screens will be getting the extended preview, which will be shown twice, at 6 and 6:30 p.m. You'll need a ticket, which will be available (along with a list of participating IMAX locations) on a first-come first-serve basis at www.avatarmovie.com beginning Monday. The film's normal trailer will also be released Aug. 21 to theaters and the Internet, so you can always opt to just watch that and save the rest of Avatar for when the movie is finished..

 
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