The 2011 summer movie season came perilously close to being preempted by The Rapture, but, alas, it seems God has other plans — which apparently include blessing moviegoers with one helluva good time, and damn if we don’t deserve it. What with the shenanigans in Washington and Sacramento we’ve been forced to endure so far this year, cost of living increases without salary adjustments, and the sadness we’ve all experienced as people worldwide dealt with one natural disaster after another, who couldn’t use a break from reality? This year the mashup is king, with sci-fi cross-pollinating practically every other genre and edging dangerously close to dominating the cinema entirely.

Also wearing a heavy crown this season is the rom-com, a genre we tolerate and usually, despite our best efforts not to, end up enjoying. Kids’ movies also rule, and save for a few unimaginative sequels, there’s some really good stuff in store for families. All in all, as predicted by plenty of movie geeks, 2011 looks to be a particularly good vintage for tinsel town producers. (Now, if they’d only lower those pesky ticket and concession prices.)

May 26-27
The Hangover II
Can they do it again? With basically the exact same premise as the first Hangover, which grossed in excess of $400 million worldwide, will it play out as funny in Thailand as it did in Vegas? Odds are that it will. Formulaic comedy has never been hotter, apparently.

Tree of Life
Enigmatic director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, Badlands) returns with a signature lush, thought-provoking exploration of the human condition. With its metaphysical touches, it could be right on time for this pre-apocalyptic world, though Malick’s films are not for everyone. Brad Pitt stars as a strict father in the Midwest in the 1950s. Sean Penn is his grown son. If you like deep films with lots of space to ruminate, it’s a good bet. If you’re the action blockbuster type, skip it.

June 3
X-Men: First Class
xOne of the highest-grossing superhero franchises, and possibly the most endearing to fans, this fifth in the sequence needs a lot of wow factor to keep audiences interested; if the trailer is any indication, it should succeed. Set in Kennedy-era 1960s, amid the turbulence of the civil rights movement and the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis, First Class takes us to the beginning of the saga when Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr were not yet Professor X and Magneto, they were just a couple of besties exploring their newfound mutant abilities while trying to save the world.

June 10
Super 8
Stand by Me meets E.T. While in the process of making a movie for fun, some small-town kids see a train derail and inadvertently capture something sinister on film, something that may explain why people are disappearing. Good summer goosebump stuff produced by Steven Spielberg, who has a soft spot for kids with cameras.

June 17
Green Lantern
gBe careful not to write it off as just another comic-book adaptation. Directed by Martin Campbell (Legend of Zorro, Casino Royale), this sci-fi/superhero mashup at first glance could be a nerd’s wet dream but it’s a risky treatment of a heretofore predictable genre that could also take a big dive. The spectacle alone, however, might be worth the ticket price.

The Art of Getting By
It’s always a bit weird to see a child actor grow up and fall in love on screen. Such is the case with Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland), who plays a gifted young artist with no direction who’s sweet on Emma Roberts in this feel-good indie film.

June 24
Bad Teacher
If being a middle-school student sucks, imagine being a middle-school teacher. Cameron Diaz plays a foul-mouthed, naughty girl who hates her job and will do anything to get out — even become a better teacher to win the affection of substitute hottie Justin Timberlake so she can get married and stop “working.” See this movie when you need air conditioning and there’s absolutely nothing else to do.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
So you want to be a late-night talk-show host? Well, you may want to watch this first. A behind-the-scenes look into Conan O’Brien’s life after losing his coveted job as host of the Tonight Show. Licking his wounds and attempting to remain relevant, O’Brien embarked on a 32-city “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” that resulted in this film plus validation that he will always be funnier than his TV rivals.

A Little Help
Set in NYC immediately after the events of 9/11, this is King of Queens creator Michael J. Weithorn’s big-screen debut. Starring Jenna Fischer (The Office), it’s a humorous drama about a suddenly single mother of a newly petulant preteen boy attempting to navigate very unfamiliar territory.

July 1
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
tDirector Michael Bay has saved the best for last with this, the third installment in the Transformers franchise. Megan Fox has been replaced by Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, while Frances McDormand — best-known for her Coen brothers’ film roles — John Malkovich, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) have been added to the cast. Bay has pulled out all the stops in hopes of earning approval from critics who shredded Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009 despite its massive box office take. Filmed in 3-D with the kind of mind-blowing special effects audiences expect from a summer blockbuster, plus a meaty script to back it up, this should be a crowd and critics pleaser.

Larry Crowne
King of the feel-good genre, Tom Hanks gives us that B-12 shot in the behind with this sweet story of a simple man learning how to start over well into his mid-life and the woman (Julia Roberts) who helps him find his way.

Terri
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is an overweight, good-hearted, misfit kid in a world that’s body-image obsessed and cruelly competitive. Luckily, he connects with that rare adult authority figure (John C. Reilly) who understands. A beacon on the typically shallow waters of the summer movie season.

July 6-8
Zookeeper
We want Kevin James to make a funny movie and this could be it. Dr. Doolittle and A Night at the Museum merge when the animals in the zoo take extraordinary measures to stop their beloved zookeeper (James) from leaving his job in search of a love life — they talk!

Project Nim
What happens when you raise a chimpanzee as a human? It happened during a landmark experiment in the 1970s that taught researchers as much about humans as it did about animals, and at least partially fulfilled the desire to commune with the wild. From the trailer: “The reality is, it’s not a doll, it’s not a toy, it’s not a human. It’s a chimp.” Documentaries aren’t a big part of the summer movie repertoire, and this might be difficult to find, but it will definitely be worth the effort.

Horrible Bosses
A respectable cast could save this film from being a horribly unfunny summer comedy that seems as though it should star Steve Carrell but instead features Jason Bateman as a hapless, disgruntled employee who sets out to send his awful bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston) on a permanent vacation.
 

h
July 13-15
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
The absolute last, never-to-return-again-in-any-form installment in the mega-epic Harry Potter franchise pits Harry against the loathsome Lord Voldemort in a final showdown that fans have been breathlessly awaiting. Exhale. Will Harry survive? Will Daniel Radcliffe ever be accepted in any other role? The answer to these questions, and possibly, the meaning of life can be found in the greasy bottom of your popcorn box.

Salvation Boulevard
A Coen Brothers-lite plot that pokes fun at the big money evangelical Christian community. Stellar cast includes Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Ed Harris and Marisa Tomei.

July 22
Captain America: The First Avenger
cWhen fans saw early production stills from Captain America, they were so miffed at the costumes for a particular group of characters that Paramount Pictures reportedly altered their design to better resemble the original Marvel Comics version. Comic fans are notoriously purist, and the fact that Hollywood paid attention is testament to the stranglehold the genre and its fans continue to have on the industry. This one is expected to have a darker side, thanks to Joe Johnston’s (The Rocketeer) direction. Here’s hoping fans can deal.

Friends with Benefits
Yet another hip rom-com with a title that pretty much says it all. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star.

July 29
Cowboys and Aliens
cWhile Hollywood continues to milk the graphic-novel world, in the case of Cowboys and Aliens, the graphic novelist came knocking on Hollywood’s door and finally got the attention of Jon Favreau (Swingers, Iron Man). Starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, it could be the biggest draw of the season’s genre mashups. At a time when the world needs heroes more than ever, who better than gunslingers of the Wild West to take down the aliens?

The Devil’s Double
A portrait of the highly depraved and privileged son of Saddam Hussein, Uday, and the man who was forced to be his real-life double. Among other horrific proclivities, Uday enjoyed raping and killing young teens for sport. Psychotic, sadistic, spoiled and sociopathic, Uday’s behavior earned him enough enemies to require a human decoy, someone who, it turns out, ain’t down with his doppelganger’s hobbies. Dominic Cooper plays both characters deftly, according to early reports. Prepare to be disturbed.

Crazy, Stupid, Love
Steve Carrell is once again unlucky in love when his wife strays and asks for a divorce. But when the brokenhearted buffoon gets a makeover, courtesy of smooth operator (or douchebag, depending who you ask) Ryan Gosling, they both end up with a new attitude about matters of the heart. Cute rom-com for the middle-aged set also starring Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei.

All’s Faire in Love
ZOMG! Christina Ricci brings sexy to medieval times in this (sigh) romantic comedy about a theater troupe that’s in danger of being replaced by professional Shakespearean actors (right) on the Renaissance Faire circuit. Also starring Cedric the Entertainer (?) and Ann-Margret (?!?!?!).

Aug. 5
Bellflower
There are high hopes and great expectations for this breakout indie film that was shot in Ventura County by local filmmakers (as featured earlier this year in VCReporter). It’s a sort of coming-of-age story about friends whose apocalypse fantasy is usurped by the young woman one of them falls for.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
OK, we know we will be taken over by Statue of Liberty-hating super monkeys. But how did they get so damn smart? This origin story takes place in present-day San Francisco when intelligent primates begin their quest for world domination. If you think this film is only for one type of geek, you may be wrong. The Oscar-winning visual effects geniuses at WETA Digital (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar) used their know-how to create photo-realistic apes as opposed to men in gorilla suits.

The Whistleblower
International intrigue and coverup in Bosnia starring Rachel Weisz. Good escapism potential. Also starring David Strathairn and Vanessa Redgrave.

Aug. 12
Final Destination 5
More stories about the unluckiness of cheating death. Not sure the world needs a fifth but then again, if it ain’t broke . . ..

30 Minutes or Less
From the directors of Zombieland, this 20-something action-comedy finds Jesse Eisenberg forced by hoodlums to rob a bank before the bomb attached to his person explodes. It has potential.

The Help
Based on the bestselling novel that was the subject of a questionable lawsuit, The Help tells the story of African American maids working in white households in the Deep South of the 1960s. Will the summer sleeper novel be the summer sleeper movie?

Aug. 19-20
Conan the Barbarian 3-D
It’s surprising this wasn’t remade earlier, but then it wouldn’t have been in 3-D. Director Marcus Nispel probably didn’t blink before adding this feather to his remake cap (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th). Siren Rose McGowan (Charmed), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) and Mickey Rourke support beefy Baywatch alumnus Jason Momoa in this classic good vs. evil with lots of muscle and gore flick.

Fright Night
There’s good news and bad news. The bad news — Colin Farrell just moved in next door and he’s a vampire. The good news? That there’s no more bad news. This shined-up remake of the cult classic seems to lack the gee-whiz innocence of the first, and replaces it with, you guessed it, computer-generated “wow!” (So, we lied. There was more bad news.)

One Day
A rom-com with brains and insight? Or a thoughtful drama with a few laughs? Anne Hathaway tends to choose characters that aren’t entirely vapid, and the premise is sort of interesting: Girl meets boy in the late ’80s on the day of their college graduation. Girl and boy remain friends; and on every anniversary of that day for the next 20 years, the audience gets a peek at their progress in life.

Aug. 26
Apollo 18
aAfter the Apollo 13 debacle, there were four subsequent launches, and three more that were scuttled — or were they? This over-the-top “Blair-anormal Activity in Space” should put those doubts to rest.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Highly anticipated loose remake of the 1973 made-for-television thriller about spooky things living in the furnace of a mansion and tormenting a young girl. Stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce.

Our Idiot Brother
Paul Rudd is a gullible hippie who gets dumped by his girlfriend and consequently loses his stake in their organic farm. His sisters — Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel — begrudgingly pick up his pieces, something they’re not unaccustomed to. In the process, though, they learn a few things about kindness. Even if the script is sketchy, with Rudd and Deschanel on-screen how bad could it be?   

 

For the kids and their grownups 

pMay 26
Kung Fu Panda 2
Rated G
Po is now the Dragon Warrior, but a terrible villain threatens to usurp his bliss. Po reaches back in time to find the resources to win this important battle. The cast of the first movie returns to give audiences more of the same good stuff they embraced in 2009.

June 10
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
Tweener Judy Moody is determined to have not just a great summer but a better summer than anyone she knows. She and her friends create a contest of dares to see who can catch the most thrills of the summer. With a little help from her kooky aunt (Heather Graham), she sets out on the biggest adventure ever: to find Bigfoot. Note: there may be a little raw humor, so if you’re ultra-sensitive to such things, you may want to leave the toddlers at home.

June 17
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Based on a book published in the 1930s, Jim Carrey stars as a man who inherits a family of penguins. The director decided against CGI for the bulk of the penguin parts and opted instead for the real thing with some CGI enhancement. If memory serves, Jim Carrey working with animals is a rock-solid formula for belly laughter. Get ready for the penguin craze that’s sure to follow.

June 24
Cars 2
Strap in tight, ’cause Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) return with another exciting animated adventure — this one involving espionage and spy games. Don’t eat too much candy; you wouldn’t want to get Cars sick.

July 15
Winnie the Pooh
What’s not to love about Winnie the Pooh and his loyal crew of maladjusted but totally lovable friends? There really is a Zen quality to Pooh, and what better way to introduce children (and some adults) to their humanity than through this sweet animated film. It’s why we ever loved Disney.

July 29
The Smurfs
Raja Gosnell did OK with his treatment of Scooby-Doo on the big screen, but will he succeed with the little blue men? A 3-D live action/CGI comedy based on the popular ’80s television show. In this, the smurfs find themselves in New York City’s Central Park and are quite anxious to find their way home. Voice talent includes Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), Hank Azaria, George Lopez, Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Winters and uhhhh, Katy Perry. (One of these names is not like the others, can you tell which one is not like the others?)

Aug. 19
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World
More of the same from this fail-proof young tweener franchise. Starring Jessica Alba and Jeremy Piven.     

michel@vcreporter.com