Cool Films to Watch When It's Hot Outside

[Summer Guide 2012] Your guide to the good stuff

In a movie season worshipped for its CGI-boosted, spiritually bankrupt juvenilia, it's heartening to know that filmmakers still create—and, maybe more significantly, studios still distribute—summer entertainment for grown-ups. Not that those buckets of popcorn are going to empty themselves, but who needs to be reminded of yet another comic-book reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man), unasked-for remake (Total Recall) or Adam Sandler comedy (That's My Boy)? Here are 25 to watch for in the sweltering months ahead, from thought-provoking indies to Piranha 3DD. All opening dates are subject to change.

  

Piranha 3DD
That's pronounced "Double-D," as in the jiggly, eye-popping flesh that'll be chewed up (and spit at the audience) by prehistoric fanged fish, much as it was in the proudly, viciously campy Piranha 3D.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the waterpark, terror swims anew for survivors Ving Rhames, Paul Scheer and Christopher Lloyd, who must now keep a straight face beside wild cards Gary Busey and David Hasselhoff as—what else?—a celebrity lifeguard. Directed by John Gulager(Dimension Films, June 1)

 

Prometheus
Originally conceived as, but not exactly, a prequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi masterpiece Alien, this mega-expensive, futuristic IMAX thriller instead forges an epic new mythos about our intergalactic origins. Following an ancient star map, a quite face-huggable space crew (including captain Idris Elba, archaeologist Noomi Rapace, android Michael Fassbender and corporate thug Charlize Theron) investigates an extraterrestrial civilization on a distant, terrifying planet. Just don't expect an appearance from Lieutenant Ripley, believe it or not. (20th Century Fox, June 8)

 

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Named for the Museum of Modern Art retrospective on the Serbian performance-art sensation's four-decade body of work, Matthew Akers' doc takes a revealing look at Marina Abramovic's complicated relationships with her audience and former lover/collaborator Ulay. From vintage footage of the now-65-year-old radical's public self-flagellation to 2010's main event—a three-month, stone-faced sitting in front of curious, often-obsessive museum-goers—the film warmly and perceptively makes a solid case for asking, "Is this art?" (HBO Documentary Films/Music Box Films, June 13)

 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
On Broadway, actor Benjamin Walker already reimagined one U.S. president as an emo rock star in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, so why not play Honest Abe as an axe-wielding Abolitionist out to destroy bloodsuckers and slavery? Adapted by hot novelist-cum-screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, whose director, Tim Burton, serves as producer here) from his own faux-epistolary mash-up, Timur Bekmambetov's action-packed "secret life" chronicle promises an undead body count of at least four score. (20th Century Fox, June 22)

 

Brave
A strong-willed young woman and expert archer becomes the talk of her rural kingdom when she takes charge of her own destiny . . . and competes in the Hunger Games? Okay, so Pixar's latest CG-animated fantasy isn't that dark, but it does feature the studio's first female protagonist: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired, 10th-century princess of the Scottish Highlands, whose solo adventure begins after defying a chauvinistic tradition. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman(Disney/Pixar, June 22)

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
If Melancholia was too glum in its pre-apocalyptic anxieties, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist screenwriter Lorene Scafaria's directorial debut offers up an unlikely alternative for those who take the Mayans' predictions seriously: a rom-com! While humanity awaits doomsday by way of an inbound asteroid, a freshly dumped Steve Carell makes an unlikely connection in his neighbor Keira Knightley. Go for it, girl—it's not like you have to worry about commitment issues. (Focus Features, June 22)

 

To Rome With Love
Woody Allen's follow-up to Midnight in Paris—easily his best and biggest hit in more than a decade—continues his recent trend of filming in travelogue-friendly, European locales (see also: Match PointVicky Cristina Barcelona). Along with the 76-year-old Woodman, this year's Windsor-font-emblazoned ensemble includes Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and indie darling Greta Gerwig(Sony Pictures Classics, June 22)

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Punching way above his indie-budget weight, Benh Zeitlin's visually rapturous tale—the Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography winner at Sundance 2012—sees the lawless Louisiana bayou through the imaginative, often-blindly optimistic view of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis). Like Where the Wild Things Are as conceived by Terrence Malick, this troubling but tender 16 mm opus will permanently stain your brain with its fantastical images. (Fox Searchlight, June 27)

 

Magic Mike
Just as Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience was more focused on the economics of the high-class escort biz than it was on sexuality, it's impossible to imagine this dramatic comedy about male strippers will just be Striptease with chest grease and "banana hammocks." Based in part on Channing Tatum's experience as a 19-year-old dancer, the film stars the barrel-chested G.I. Joe as the eponymous leading man, with Alex Pettyfer as his protégé and Matthew McConaughey as a skeezy club owner. (Warner Bros., June 29)

 

Take This Waltz
Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley's sophomore effort behind the camera (following her Oscar-nominated Away From Her) again demonstrates her instincts for sharp, emotionally charged writing and richly developed female protagonists. Happily married to a cookbook-writing goofball (Seth Rogen, never better), Michelle Williams is unprepared for the heat she feels around rickshaw-driving neighbor Luke Kirby. Their unrequited eroticism sizzles like the Toronto summer, but Polley's affectionate drama isn't so much about infidelity as it is about life's thorny impossibilities. (Magnolia Pictures, June 29)

 

The Queen of Versailles
The photographer/filmmaker behind such doc provocations as Thin and Kids + Money, Lauren Greenfield hits the morbidly curious motherlode in this jaw-dropping depiction of the American Dream gone sour. When the billionaire time-share king of Florida and his ex-model wife begin construction on a 90,000-square-foot palace—the largest home in the U.S., including 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley and baseball diamond—they aren't prepared for the credit crunch to radically shrink their empire. Their post-recession behavior is the stuff of reality-TV nightmares. (Magnolia Pictures, July 6)

 

Savages
There's no historical profiling or arch sociopolitical conscience in the latest from the iconoclast behind JFK and World Trade Center, a brutal crime thriller reminding us that Oliver Stone is also the guy who wrote Scarface. Based on Don Winslow's best-seller, Savages stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as Laguna Beach pot dealers forced to square off against a corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta), a cartel leader (Salma Hayek!) and her enforcer (Benicio Del Toro). (Universal Pictures, July 6)

 

Ted
Boston slacker Mark Wahlberg might be able to salvage his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Mila Kunis if he can get his best friend since childhood to move out. Oh, and his friend happens to be a CG-animated, foul-mouthed, bong-smoking, sexually harassing teddy bear (voiced by first-time director Seth McFarlane himself, creator of Family Guy). Patrick Warburton, Giovanni Ribisi and Joel McHale co-star in this high-concept comedy of arrested development. (Universal Pictures, July 13)

 

The Dark Knight Rises
Really, who won't be watching the final act of Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy, arguably the high-water mark of superhero cinema? Christian Bale's gravelly voice returns as haunted billionaire Bruce Wayne and his winged alter-ego, now facing two foes of fanboy legend: Anne Hathaway's slinky Catwoman and Tom Hardy's gas-masked juggernaut Bane, who infamously broke Batman's back in the comics. Get off the Internet to avoid further spoilers. (Warner Bros., July 20)

 

Klown
Hands down the funniest film of the year, this irreverent Danish comedy plays like a superior, way-grosser version of The Hangover (and Todd Phillips is producing an American remake!). Discovering that everyone except him knew about his girlfriend's pregnancy, a nebbishy man-child—about to take a canoe trip to an exclusive brothel with his ultra-perverted pal—unwisely kidnaps her young nephew for the ride. From ill-advised threesomes to photographing little boy penises, they don't call them "gags" for nothing. Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard. (Drafthouse Films, July 27)

 

Killer Joe
In debt to a drug kingpin, Emile Hirsch hires a sociopathic Dallas cop (Matthew McConaughey, already earning career-high praise) to take out his mother for the life-insurance policy. Exorcist director William Friedkin reteams with Pulitzer- and Tony-winning writer Tracy Letts (Bug) for what has been labeled both a sleazy noir-thriller and an eccentric, pitch-black comedy. Either way, you know by its NC-17 rating that this bloody hicksploitation freak-out ain't going take it easy on its players. (LD Entertainment, July 27)

 

The Watch
Formerly called Neighborhood Watch before the Trayvon Martin shooting prompted an essential title change, Akiva Schaffer's profane comedy concerns four Costco employees and drinking buddies (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Submarine director Richard Aoyade) who form a crime watch to escape their humdrum suburban existence. Oh, yeah, and then they accidentally uncover an alien-invasion plot that only they can thwart to save all of humanity. (20th Century Fox, July 27)

 

The Bourne Legacy
Whoa, how do you make a Jason Bourne thriller without Matt Damon, or even the Bourne identity? Expanding on novelist Robert Ludlum's universe of top-level espionage, the underrated director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton (and screenwriter on every Bourne flick thus far), Tony Gilroy brings new hero Jeremy Renner into the fray as another bad-ass CIA operative—along with Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and the previous films' Albert Finney and Joan Allen(Universal Pictures, Aug. 3)

 

The Campaign
The mud-slinging political comedy we deserve in this circus of an election year, Jay Roach's broad farce stars Will Ferrell as a long-sitting congressman from North Carolina, whose CEO rivals dig up their own untrained Manchurian candidate (a mustachioed Zach Galifianakis) from the local tourism center. Fun fact: Galifianakis' uncle was also a North Carolina congressman, unseated by Jesse Helms in the '70s. (Warner Bros., Aug. 10)

 

ParaNorman
The Oscar-nominated animation company behind Coraline presents this stop-motion, 3D comedy-thriller about a spiky-haired misfit (voiced by Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee) with the ability to speak to the dead. Unable to win over friends or even his family, Norman's ghost-whispering sure comes in handy when his small town is overrun by a plague of zombies. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell(Focus Features, Aug. 17)

 

The Loneliest Planet
Hiking through the otherworldly Caucasus Mountains in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and his flame-haired fiancée, Nica (Hani Furstenberg), seem like the perfect hipster couple, until a subtle, split-second choice irreversibly cracks the veneer. Julia Loktev's marvelous, slow-burning follow-up to her minimalist thriller Day Night Day Night somehow manages to be both audacious and subtle: Awkward silences are deafening, and the wilderness, though wide open, brings on a devastating claustrophobia. (Sundance Selects, Aug. 24)

 

Premium Rush
Anyone who has ever shared the road with a Manhattan bicycle messenger knows they're a thrill-seeking, possibly suicidal lot. David Koepp, who also scribed this season's Men In Black III, gives the Speed treatment to the fixed-gear, no-brakes set in this against-the-clock thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a skilled cyclist whose delivery payload is being hunted by Michael Shannon's homicidal cop. One ill-timed passenger door opening and it's all over, roll credits. (Sony Pictures, Aug. 24)

 

Lawless
Adapted by Australian rock icon and screenwriter Nick Cave (The Proposition) from Matt Bondurant's true-life family tales in his lyrical novel The Wettest County In the World, this Prohibition-era crime drama chronicles the three Bondurant brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) of Franklin County, Virginia, and their fight against outsiders—including gangster Gary Oldman and deputy Guy Pearce—who want a taste of their moonshine bootlegging operation. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain also stars as Hardy's love interest from the big city. Directed by John Hillcoat. (The Weinstein Co., Aug. 31)


This article appeared in print as "Grown-Up Summer: Cool films to watch when it's hot outside."

 

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