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10 films to watch this summer

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2008 10:00 pm

This week, I was scheduled to review "Speed Racer." But, because I value both my sanity and my retinas, I thought it might be better for everyone to instead look ahead to better things that are in store for us in the coming weeks of the summer movie season. "Iron Man" got things off to a splendid start, and there are several titles - some highly anticipated, others not so much - that promise to keep the ball rolling on quality entertainment all season long. Here are the ones I'm most looking forward to, in order of potential awesomeness.

1. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (May 22, wide) - Yes, I've heard the rumors that this fourth installment in the Indy saga is a crushing disappointment that puts corny nostalgia ahead of plot and characters. But, people said the same thing about "Temple of Doom" 24 years ago, and that turned out to be a severely underrated modern classic. So, to the haters out there: You'll excuse me if I place more trust in Steven Spielberg than I do in bitter Internet nerds. As a lifelong fan of the series whose admiration often verges on giddy fanboyism, I just hope Spielberg and company don't force me to eat my words.

2. "The Dark Knight" (July 18, wide) - Director Christopher Nolan knocked it out of the park three years ago with "Batman Begins," his bold reimagining of the Batman mythos, and there's no reason to suspect that this follow-up won't be every bit as note-perfect as its predecessor. And this time, there's two aces up his sleeve: Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face (nee Harvey Dent), whose dialogue in the latest trailer made the hair on my neck stand on end; and Heath Ledger's swan-song performance as The Joker, which looks like it might be one for the ages.

In "The Dark Knight," which will be released July 18, Heath Ledger played The Joker. (Courtesy photo)

3. "Pineapple Express" (Aug. 8, wide) - This is bound to be the strangest mainstream movie of the entire season. I hate director David Gordon Green (his gruelingly boring 2003 film "All the Real Girls" stands as the single worst movie I've ever seen), but given that slow art films are his métier, I'm extraordinary intrigued that he chose to helm this action-comedy starring Seth Rogen - who also wrote the screenplay - and James Franco as a couple of potheads who go on the run after one of them witnesses a murder. The red-band trailer is fantastic, and Judd Apatow acts as producer - that's more than enough to get me excited.

4. "WALL-E" (June 27, wide) - Yet another daring prospect: a mostly silent kiddy flick starring an animated robot that falls in love. That doesn't necessarily sound like a winning formula for a box office juggernaut, but I'm prepared to believe that Pixar Animation Studios can pull it off. They've hit a bit of a slump lately ("Cars" and "Ratatouille" paled in comparison to the one-two punch of "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles"), but "WALL-E" just looks too darned cute to not be one of their best efforts.

5."The Foot Fist Way" (May 30, limited) - I don't know much about this low-budget comedy other than the fact that it has been generating buzz for years (it was made in 2006), and it has become so lauded in Hollywood circles that it launched the career of star Danny McBride ("The Heartbreak Kid," "Drillbit Taylor") well before any of us regular viewers got the chance to see it. McBride stars as a moronic martial arts instructor whose life is in shambles, and I'm hoping that, if nothing else, his shenanigans will provide a nice antidote to "Kung-Fu Panda."

6."The Mother of Tears" (June 6, limited) - Italian horror maestro Dario Argento hasn't made a respectable film in years, but this conclusion of his Three Mothers trilogy (which began with the 1977 masterpiece "Suspiria" and continued with 1980's "Inferno") may break that trend.

Seth Roden and James Franco star in the comedy, "Pineapple Express." (Courtesy photo)

7."The Incredible Hulk" (June 13, wide) - Ang Lee's "Hulk" was one of the finest superhero movies I've seen - until the last 40 minutes, when it deteriorated into an incomprehensible mess of random action. Hopefully, director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter" and its sequel) learned from Lee's missteps and will ensure that that sequel-cum-reworking - starring Edward Norton as the title character - doesn't peter out, and delivers the goods right up until the end.

8."Step Brothers" (July 25, wide) - Frankly, I've had enough of Will Ferrell. But, given that his latest has the Apatow seal of approval and doesn't involve any kind of sports, I'm willing to give Ferrell the benefit of the doubt this time. Here, he stars with John C. Reilly as one half of a feuding pair of recently acquainted step-brothers. The novel premise and promising trailer have my interest piqued.

9. "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" (July 4, limited) - Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") is fresh of an Oscar win for "Taxi to the Dark Side," and I trust that his follow-up feature will be the most compelling and in-depth portrait of Thompson that we've seen. Such a fascinating figure deserves a real film made by a real filmmaker, and this may finally be it.

10. "The Happening" (June 13, wide) - I hesitate to include this movie on the list, but despite his unevenness and smarmy nature, I must concede that M. Night Shyamalan is capable of doing amazing things (see "Unbreakable," "Signs"). The trailer and premise of his latest project - involving an unexplained event that threatens to extinguish mankind - seem a bit wonky, but I find myself strangely intrigued.



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