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)

Transformers. Courtesy DreamWorks LLC/Paramount
Transformers. Courtesy DreamWorks LLC/Paramount

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)

7.DOA: Dead or Alive. I've seen this one, too, and it's about time the rest of you had a chance. Not for those who like too much plot with their kung fu, this video-game adaptation cuts straight to the chase, with Eric Roberts as an evil mastermind who owns one of those mysterious islands where secret, global martial-arts tournaments are held. You know the type. Also, by sheer coincidence, most of the world's fighting experts happen to be scantily clad women, among them Devon Aoki as a runaway princess, Natassia Malthe as a purple-haired assassin, Jaime Pressly as a white-trash pro wrestler and Sarah Carter as a cat burglar. On the male side, wrestler Kevin Nash spoofs former real-life tag-team partner Hulk Hogan, and Brian J. White sports a green Mohawk. (June 22)

8.Hostel Part II. You always know exactly what you're going to get with an Eli Roth film: nudity, gore, blood, pus, mucus and an obligatory weird scene in which freaky kids beat someone up, or try to. If it doesn't make you vomit or walk out, chances are you'll be laughing along with the rest of us gore hounds. Love him or hate him, Roth has made himself the poster boy for that which culture warriors would call "torture porn" (an unfair and inappropriate label, but that's a whole 'nother essay). If you look like an overweight biker and sport several tribal tattoos, you know you'll be there opening day. (June 8)

9.I Know Who Killed Me. Full disclosure: Director Chris Sivertson is a longtime friend, but even if he weren't, the idea of the director of the balls-to-the-wall-brutal Jack Ketchum adaptation The Lost directing Lindsay Lohan in a movie with a screenplay that's been compared to David Lynch's Lost Highway seems like something worth checking out. Sivertson puts it this way: "Go out and gorge yourselves on special effects and superheroes. Eat too much popcorn and get bloated on gigantic sodas. Then when you can't handle anymore, come see this twisted mindfuck of a movie. With the possible exception of Transformers, it is sure to be the most erotic movie of the summer." (July 27)

10.Rescue Dawn. Remember in the '80s, how every other movie seemed to be about Chuck Norris escaping from a Vietnamese P.O.W. camp and blowing up a bunch of commies in the jungle? Now imagine Christian Bale doing pretty much the same thing, except that insane German genius Werner Herzog is the director. Yeah. You get it. (July 4)

FIVE WE'RE CROSSING OUR FINGERS FOR, HOPING THEY WON'T SUCK

1.Black Sheep. A movie from New Zealand about killer mutant sheep. It sounds foolproof; let's hope the film won't leave us saying, "Baaaaaaa, humbug!" (June 22)

2.Fido. At last, a genuinely new take on the zombie genre. In this world, humans beat back the undead hordes and have managed to domesticate them as servants and pets. Such an arrangement, of course, can only end badly. Billy Connolly stars. (June 15)

3.The Simpsons Movie. A friend used to say that not liking The Simpsons was akin to not enjoying breathing air. However, that 400th episode was really mediocre shit, so let's hope the writers simply used up all their "A" material on the feature film. Remember, few thought the South Park movie would be any good before they saw it. (July 27)

4.Live Free or Die Hard. A PG-13 Die Hard sequel from the director of Underworld, co-starring the kid from the Mac commercials and Kevin Smith? Sounds bad, but Bruce Willis has been roaming the Ain't-It-Cool-News talkbacks, desperately swearing it ain't. I want to believe. . . . (June 27)

5.Interview. When Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a radical Islamist, he immediately became every right-wing blogger's favorite auteur, even though none of them had seen his films or paid him much attention while alive. Shortly before his death, he was negotiating to do this remake of one of his Dutch films; in his place, Steve Buscemi directs and stars. (July 13)

FIVE TO STAY FAR, FAR AWAY FROM

1.CareBears: Oopsy Does It! Did you know there was a new Care Bears animated movie coming out? Well, now you do. There's also a live-action Bratz dolls movie. So maybe there's hope for G.I. Joe and Thundercats. But c'mon—did anybody actually like Care Bears back in the day who isn't completely embarrassed to admit it now? (Aug. 4)

2.Surf's Up. A CG movie about penguins who surf. I don't get it. Back when it was called Blue Crush and starred hot babes, I still didn't like it. (June 8)

3.License to Wed. Robin Williams stars as an annoying priest who makes marriage counseling hell for one young couple. He certainly won't have to stretch those acting muscles much to play "annoying." (July 4)

4.Hairspray. Somebody's under a misconception that kids today give much of a damn about the '50s, and also that John Waters movies should be remade by Hollywood über-hack Adam Shankman (Cheaper by the Dozen 2). Waters isn't a great director, but he does have a talent for collecting genuine eccentrics and getting them to be weird on camera. Hollywood stars playing eccentric just isn't the same thing. It made sense for Divine to be cast as a woman in the original since he was an outrageous transvestite already. John Travolta under latex drag just looks frightening and out of place. Also, the original gave us Ricki Lake. Do we really want to tempt fate twice? (July 20)

5.Daddy Day Camp. When Eddie Murphy turns down an awful-sounding family movie, it should be a huge honking warning signal. Having Cuba Gooding Jr. take it on is an even bigger one; alas, the onetime Oscar winner seems to now exclusively do movies that suck. This sequel to Daddy Day Care undoubtedly has a few more jokes about how men make terrible parents when left to their own devices. Directed by Fred Savage, of all people. (Aug. 8)

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