Summer Cinema: A Vaguely Helpful Guide

Ten films to see, five worth a look, and five more to shield your eyes from

First, a warning: This isn't going to be your typical rant about how summer movies suck, and only stupid people go to see sequels, and what can the grown-ups go to, et cetera. Frankly, if you've beaten your inner child so far into submission that you can't understand why people like cartoons, explosions, or gratuitous bikini action, you might be better off visiting the opera house than the multiplex. But it might be nice to try to discern which of the digitally enhanced entertainment heading your way offers the most bang for the buck. Don't panic; we've thrown in a couple of talky flicks as well, because you gotta come down from that adrenalin rush sometime.

TEN TO SEE ON OPENING DAY

1.Transformers. More than meets the eye! Robots in disguise! Scoff if you will, but you are going to see this movie. Maybe not in the theater during the first week, but the power of hype compels you: It is inevitable. Hardcore fans of the original cartoon/toy commercial have complaints already: There are flames on Optimus Prime! Megatron doesn't pointlessly turn into a tiny handgun! Why is the kid from Holes in this, and why did they give him a stupid name like "Witwicky"? Damn you, Michael Bay! Take a breath. There is one simple reason this movie will be huge, and it's the same reason Jurassic Park was top dog back in its day—you've never seen anything like this done in live-action before on this scale. The only way it can disappoint is if Bay makes like Roland Emmerich with Godzilla: Take an hour to show the star attraction, and then have it disappear for another hour. Since Bay is all about the action money shots, that seems unlikely. (July 4)

2.Halloween. Like Transformers, people with no life are already upset over its mere existence. Here's the reality: One way or another, there was going to be another Halloween movie. Now, would you rather see Halloween Part 9, starring Busta Rhymes and some kids from The O.C.? How about Michael Myers vs. Pinhead vs. Leatherface? Or . . . would you like the director of 2005's best horror film, The Devil's Rejects, to start from scratch with a talented cast of actors who've been in actual horror movies before? At least there's a chance this version might be good. It won't be John Carpenter's movie, but last time I checked, the original was still available in stores. Tyler Mane stars as Michael Myers, with Malcolm McDowell in the Donald Pleasance role; the supporting cast includes Danielle Harris (who played Michael's young niece in the previous sequels and is now grown-up and hot), Sheri Moon Zombie, Udo Kier, Brad Dourif, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, Clint Howard, Adrienne Barbeau and Sybil Danning. (Aug. 31)

3.Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Like Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer is a classic character who simply couldn't be properly created on film until now. It's a shame he couldn't get his own movie without all the hangers-on, and even more of a shame that actor Doug Jones is being overdubbed by Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus is cool, but so is Doug). The first Fantastic Four movie wasn't great, nor was it terrible—the biggest flaw was Julian McMahon's Dr. Doom, and presumably he'll get less screen time when more characters are involved. The reason to see this is because of the Surfer, period; it doesn't get more rad (even his name is "Norrin Radd") than a naked metal dude hanging 10 through the universe. (June 15)

4.Sicko. Whatever your opinion of Michael Moore—and there's nobody who doesn't have one—his movies are guaranteed to be political-debate fodder for the rest of the year. In his latest, the Fatty from Flint delivers the astonishing news that our health-care system is pretty screwed-up—who knew? Back when Moore had his network show, TV Nation, he did a segment called "Health Care Olympics," in which he compared the emergency-room care of the U.S. to those of Canada and Cuba. When he declared Cuba the winner, network suits refused to let the segment air as filmed (they made him declare Canada tops). With Sicko, it sounds like he finally gets to make the segment he always wanted. (June 29)

5.Wristcutters: A Love Story. I've already seen this one, and it's killer, potentially the next great American cult movie. Depressed teen Zia (Patrick Fugit) tidies up his messy apartment, and then slashes his wrists. He awakens in an afterlife just for suicides, which he notes is kind of like the real world but sucks a little more. There are no stars, everything is gray, it's physically impossible to smile, every building looks like the most run-down roadside gas station you've ever seen, and the only music on the radio is by bands whose singers also killed themselves. Director Goran Dukic, working from a short story, creates a great, fully realized world on a low budget and never cops out. Most genre movies that sustain a mystery tend to deflate once the mystery is revealed, but this keeps it strange. (Aug. 31)

6.Stardust. The last movie scripted by comic-book superstar Neil Gaiman was MirrorMask, a brilliant and inventive fantasy that played a lot like an update of Labyrinth (but better). His latest resembles The Princess Bride. It's a fantasy-swashbuckler-comedy with a handsome young lad (Charlie Cox) entering the kingdom of the fairies in search of a falling star (Claire Danes). There, he encounters a host of unusual characters: Robert De Niro as a sky pirate, Michelle Pfeiffer as a wicked witch, and Peter O'Toole as an aging monarch, among others. There's a good chance that, like MirrorMask, it'll have trouble finding a mainstream audience, but don't be surprised if it has legs on DVD. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, whose Layer Cake proved Daniel Craig was badass enough to be Bond. (Aug. 10)

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