Having won awards at festivals around Europe, this Norwegian film about two young writers trying to make it finally comes to the States. Friends Erik and Phillip go two different ways, as the former finds rejection at the hands of every publisher he sends his work to, while the latter becomes an overnight success – suffering psychologically because of it.
The Edge of Heaven (Strand Releasing)
Written and directed by Turkish-German actor/filmmaker Fatih Akin, this Babel-like story was showered with nominations and awards across Europe, including a nomination for the Golden Palm Award and a win for Best Screenplay at Cannes. The film follows six people as their lives dramatically connect from Germany to Turkey.
War, Inc. (First Look)
Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, this star-studded film – cowritten by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser (Bulworth) and John Cusack – features Cusack as a troubled hitman (So what if we’ve seen that already in Grosse Pointe Blank? Cusack’s good at it.) hired by an American corporation’s CEO to kill a Middle East oil minister in the fictional Turaqistan.
The company is run by a former U.S. vice president (Dan Akroyd), who orders Cusack to pose as the company’s trade show producer, which keeps him busy coordinating the high-profile wedding of a Middle-Eastern pop star (Hilary Duff) and dodging the questions of a determined left-wing reporter (Marisa Tomei). Ben Kingsley, Montel Williams and, of course, Joan Cusack round out the cast.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Magnolia)
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, director Christopher Bell’s documentary explores America’s win-at-all-cost culture by examining how his two brothers – and he himself – became steroid-users.
From filmmaker Sergei Bodrov comes the wide release of the Kazakhstan production nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Guaranteed to tick many off, the story recounts the early life of Genghis Khan, glorifying a man who was a slave before going on to brutally conquer half the world.
The Promotion (Dimension)
Seann William Scott (Oh, Stiffler!) and John C. Reilly (Oh, rapidly declining talent!) play two assistant managers at a grocery chain who engage in – you guessed it – a series of outrageous one-upmanships to get a coveted promotion. We hope that it doesn’t suck because it’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Steve Conrad (The Weather Man, the amazing The Pursuit of Happyness), who also wrote the screenplay.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Columbia)
What seems to be a feature-length TV Funhouse episode – except starring Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Henry Winkler and Mariah Carey instead of, well, cartoons – this film about an Israeli Mossad agent who fakes his death so he can re-emerge in New York City as a hair stylist is naturally co-written by Sandler and “SNL”’s Robert Smigel.
Encounters at the End of the World (THINKFilm)
Filmmaker Werner Herzog (most recently, Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn) travels to the Antarctic community of McMurdo Station on Ross Island, the headquarters for the National Science Foundation and home to 1,100 full-time travelers and part-time workers (colorful characters to be sure), to explore the nature there – both wild and human. It may not sound like much, but Herzog’s artful eye and brilliant sense of humor are always worth the price of admission.
The Happening (20th Century Fox)
M. Night Shyamalan branches out from regional spookies to all-out national panic mode in this thriller about a family on the run from a natural crisis that’s killing people by the thousands. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, with John Leguizamo.
Brick Lane (Sony Pictures Classics)
Nominated for several BAFTA and British Independent Film Awards, this adaptation of Monica Ali’s bestselling novel tells the story of a young Bangladeshi woman, Nazneem, who arrives in 1980s London, leaving behind her beloved sister and home for an arranged marriage and a new life. Trapped within the four walls of her flat in East London and in a loveless marriage with the middle-aged Chanu, she fears her soul is quietly dying.
Nazneen struggles to accept her lifestyle and keeps her head down in spite of life’s blows, but she soon discovers that life cannot be avoided – and is forced to confront it the day that the hotheaded young Karim comes knocking at her door. Get Smart (Warner Bros.)
Based on the beloved Mel Brooks TV series, but brought to you by the co-writers of the god-awful Failure to Launch, this one could go either way. Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is on a mission to thwart the latest plot for world domination by the evil crime syndicate known as KAOS (led by Terence Stamp).
When the headquarters of U.S. spy agency Control is attacked and the identities of its agents compromised, the Chief has no choice but to promote the ever-eager Smart, whose dream it is to partner with Agent 23 (the Rock). Instead, Smart is partnered with the lovely-but-lethal Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).
The Love Guru (Paramount)
Guru Pitka (Mike Myers), an American who was left at the gates of an ashram in India as a child and raised by gurus, is “the second-best guru in India.”
Having moved back to the States to seek fame and fortune in the world of self-help and spirituality, his methods are put to the test when he is hired to reconnect Toronto Maple Leafs star hockey player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) with his estranged wife, who has started dating L.A. Kings star Jacques Grande (a hilarious Justin Timberlake). Thus throwing Roanoke into a downward spiral, and the Maple Leafs team owner (Jessica Alba) and coach (Verne Troyer, aka Mini-Me) into a panic.
This Larry Charles-directed documentary delivers Bill Maher’s take on the current state of world religion. Fans of “Real Time” will love it; critics will hate it.
Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot (Oscilloscope)
Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys directed this documentary about eight high school basketball stars on the fast track to the NBA. Zeroing in on Harlem’s Rucker Park, a place where basketball legends are made, Yauch spotlights the 2006 “Elite 24 Hoops Classic,” where the competition resembles anything but a game.
Lowbrow Kazakhstani director Timur Bekmambetov takes on a comic book series adapted for the screen by the guys who brought you 3:10 to Yuma and 2 Fast 2 Furious for his American debut.
Angelina Jolie (a great actress whose dubious film choices have no rhyme or reason to them) and James McAvoy (a star who shot straight to the heavens and then promptly descended on such flimsy clouds as Becoming Jane, Penelope and Atonement) meet as Fox, a member of a fraternity of assassins, and Wes, a 25-year-old cube-dwelling drone who’s about to have his world proverbially rocked, as secrets about his murdered father are revealed.
Summer = Will Smith movie season. This summer proves, however, to be no Men in Black, as Hancock – not Herbie, nor the former president – takes the screen.
Smith plays an unlikable superhero whom Angelenos at once need and can’t stand. Enter PR executive Ray Embrey (the always good Jason Bateman), who tries to restyle Hancock’s image in the eyes of the public … until his client tries to steal his wife (Charlize Theron).
The Wackness (Sony Pictures Classics)
Winning the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance, Jonathan Levine’s (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) latest centers on young Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”) in 1994 NYC, the summer before he goes off to college. With a killer hip-hop soundtrack that makes us pine for days gone by, we follow Luke as he raises money for his going-broke parents by selling pot out of an ice-cream cart, most notably to his eccentric shrink, played by the stellar (and, this summer, ever-pervasive) Ben Kingsley.
Peck gives a standout performance, and Olivia Thirlby (the annoying best friend in Juno) is superb as both the object of Shapiro’s lust and Kingsley’s neglected stepdaughter, proving that, yes, Diablo Cody’s fetid writing really does have the power to make everyone and anyone look bad.
Oh, and if you need another reason to check it out, Ben Kingsley and Mary-Kate Olsen make out.
Diminished Capacity (IFC)
A cute story with a great cast, the movie follows a man suffering from memory loss (Matthew Broderick) as he takes a trip with his high school sweetheart (Virginia Madsen) and his Alzheimer’s-addled uncle (Alan Alda) to a memorabilia show, where they try to sell a rare baseball card.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Magnolia)
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) explores the life and work of the legendary “new journalist” Hunter S. Thompson during his prime period of 1965-75. Featuring interviews with everyone from Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Buffett to Pat Buchanan and Jimmy Carter, the film also includes clips of never-before-seen home movies, audiotapes and unpublished manuscripts.
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.)
Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) put Batman back on the map with 2005’s Batman Begins. Directing the next in its series, Nolan raises the stakes with Batman 2.0’s (Christian Bale) most vicious enemy yet, the Joker.
Nicholson’s 1989 Joker was amazing, but so is the late Heath Ledger’s. He really reminds you of a young Marlon Brando, and the performance is so goddamn creepy, it gives you goosebumps.
Mamma Mia! (Universal)
For all those who’ve managed to avoid its near-decade Broadway tenure, the silly musical about a Greek island-raised, 20-year-old bride-to-be trying to locate her father out of her formerly promiscuous mom’s past before the big day arrives – all set, bizarrely and painfully, to the music of ABBA! (because it’s so great) – is finally coming to your local multiplex.
The good news – even worse news? – is that it’s got a more-than-decent cast: Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Alpha Dog, “Big Love”), Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.
Boy A (Weinstein Co.)
Nominated for several awards in Britain and Ireland, and a winner at the Berlin International Film Festival, director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe (Intermission) team up again to tell the story of Jack (Andrew Garfield), a man who has spent most of his young life in juvenile institutions for the murder of another child, and is now released back into the world. Also starring the always-great Peter Mullan.
American Teen (Paramount Vantage)
With a poster that blatantly resembles that of The Breakfast Club, documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein, who won for best documentary directing and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, must have taken a page from the teen cult classic in her exploration of what lies beneath the surface of middle America high school.
She may start out with four stereotypical subjects – the jock, the artsy girl, the geek, the popular girl – but filming the Indiana seniors daily for 10 months, Burstein captures just how complex it is for young people to find their way.
Baghead (Sony Pictures Classics)
Written and directed by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair), this conversational comedy follows a group of actors as they, in an attempt to salvage their fledging careers, hole up in a friend’s cabin in the woods for the weekend to write a script starring themselves.
Brideshead Revisited (Miramax)
This one’s an odd treat. Writers Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) and Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones) team up with director Julian Jarold (Kinky Boots) to adapt Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel about how Catholicism destroys the love affair – and respective families – of Charles and Julia Flyte. Starring Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) and Ben Whishaw (I’m Not There).
Step Brothers (Sony)
Will Ferrell plays a coddled manchild who still lives at home with his single mom. So does John C. Reilly, but with his single dad.
When their parents get married, they become oversize quarrelling stepbrothers.
The X Files: I Want to Believe (20th Century Fox)
Series writer/director team Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz reunite Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) as ex-FBI agents forced to revisit their dark past when grotesque human remains turn up in the wintry hills of rural Virginia.
Choke (Fox Searchlight)
The winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut adapts Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about a medical-school dropout (Sam Rockwell) who lures people to support him and his elderly mother (Anjelica Huston) by pretending to choke on dinner at upscale restaurants.
Oh, he also works at a colonial theme park and cruises sexual addiction recovery meetings for dates.
Swing Vote (Buena Vista)
In this well-timed political comedy, Kevin Costner does what he does best – plays a beer-drinking, lovable loser. When his over-achieving 12-year-old daughter accidentally sets off a fateful chain of events, our presidential election winds up coming down to one vote: his.
Fictional politicians, along with Tucker Carlson, Arianna Huffington, Larry King, Bill Maher and Chris Matthews, descend upon the family’s small New Mexico town.
The Pineapple Express (Sony)
No summer would now be complete without a Judd Apatow movie. And so, Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg bring to us an Apatow idea about a lazy stoner (Rogen, of course) who gets in over his head one night while buying a rare strain of weed. Hence the title.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.)
The sequel to the unexpectedly charming 2005 film, based on the bestselling series by Ann Brashares, may have added Shohreh Aghdashloo, Kyle MacLachlan and Blythe Danner to the mix, but it seems to be missing the charm of the original.
Towelhead (Warner Independent)
Premiering at this year’s Sundance, the film is an Alan Ball (American Beauty, “Six Feet Under”) adaptation of the semi-autobiographical book by Alicia Erian about a 13-year-old girl shipped from her American mother to her strict Lebanese father, where her sexuality blooms with a black boyfriend and the neighbor (Aaron Eckhart) for whom she babysits.
Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks)
This is my pick for the best comedy of the summer (if only for Robert Downey Jr.’s hilarious turn as a white actor surgically transformed black for his meta-role). Ben Stiller wrote (with Justin Theroux, director of last year’s underrated Dedication), directed and stars in this tale of a war film production gone terribly awry.
A group of self-absorbed actors (an impressive cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Tobey Maguire and Tom Cruise) set out to make the most expensive war film. But after high costs force the studio to shut down the movie, the frustrated director (Steve Coogan, under the advice of Nick Nolte) refuses to stop shooting and leads his cast into the jungles of Southeast Asia, where they are forced to become the soldiers they were just portraying.
Crossing Over (MGM)
Dealing with the border, document fraud, the asylum, green card and naturalization processes, work-site enforcement, the Office of Counterterrorism and the general culture clash, this multi-character fictional exploration of immigration in Los Angeles stars Sean Penn, Ray Liotta, Harrison Ford and Ashley Judd.
Hamlet 2 (Focus)
This summer, Steve Coogan is the man. In Hamlet 2, he plays a failed actor/not-much-better drama teacher who attempts to enthuse his high school students with a self-penned, politically incorrect musical sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Man on Wire (Magnolia)
Winner of an Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, documentary filmmaker James Marsh’s look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring, illegal, high-wire walk between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974 – what many have called “the artistic crime of the century.”
Transsiberian (First Look)
Writer/director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) delivers a murder thriller as an American couple (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) meet an investigating Russian detective (Ben Kingsley) on the legendary express train as it travels from China to Moscow.
Don Cheadle, Jeff Daniels and Guy Pearce star in this current-affairs thriller about a special operative working with a terrorist group who becomes the target of the CIA himself. The plot sounds familiar, but it appears that Steve Martin came up with this one.
“In Treatment” director Rodrigo Garcia (the son of famed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez) keeps with psychology with this story of a young grief counselor (Anne Hathaway) who works with six plane-crash survivors who start to disappear, one by one.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Weinstein Co.)
London took over from New York in recent years, and now Woody Allen seems to have swapped in Barcelona, Spain as his latest object of affection. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall play two young Americans who spend the summer in Spain, meeting and falling in love with a flamboyant artist (Javier Bardem), who has a crazy ex-wife (Penelope Cruz).
OTHER SUMMER ’08 RELEASES:
What Happens in Vegas (Fox)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Buena Vista)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount)
The Children of Huang Shi (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Foot Fist Way (Paramount Vantage)
Sex and the City (New Line)
The Strangers (Rogue)
Kung Fu Panda (Paramount)
When Did You Last See Your Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Incredible Hulk (Universal)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal)
Meet Dave (20th Century Fox)
Lou Reed’s Berlin (Weinstein Co.)
Space Chimps (20th Century Fox)
Henry Poole Is Here (Overture)
Frozen River (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal)
The Rocker (20th Century Fox)
Hell Ride (Weinstein Co.)
The International (Sony)
Mirrors (20th Century Fox)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.)
Wild Child (Universal)
The Accidental Husband (Yari Film Group)
The House of Bunny (Sony)
Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox)