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Action Figures

We look at big dollar summer movies and the 50-year-old toys that inspired them.



No one needs to tell you what the summer movie season entails anymore. The big studios love their repetition, and as much as other seasons see serial killers and Oscar performances, summer swims in fancy computer-generated imagery and family films. The summer of 2009 may have already begun with movies such as the new “Terminator” installment (reviewed on page 31), but it's shaping up to offer a few surprises, too, such as Michael Mann's  “Public Enemies” and Nora Ephron's “Julie & Julia.” The following is a list of some of the notable rides you'll be offered, with plenty of aliens and talking kids' toys, but also some semigrown-up fare offering an idea or two between bites of popcorn.

“Drag Me to Hell”
Director Sam Raimi, the man behind the “Spider-Man” movies, returns to his “Evil Dead” roots in a way with this campy-but-scary horror film. It stars Justin Long, which is a good start for creepiness. May 29.

“Downloading Nancy”
Hollywood types are going to lick the successful cyber thriller if it kills them, and perhaps us. “Downloading Nancy,” with Jason Patric and Maria Bello, is a strange hybrid indeed — part creepy erotic thriller, part Craigslist. OK, maybe that's not so strange. June 5.

“Imagine That”
Say what you will about Eddie Murphy, but he's a genius in the guise of a bozo. “Imagine That” is another old-fashioned-feeling, 1960s-Disney-type film about a father (Murphy) whose daughter has magical powers in her imagination. It will be mindless. It may or may not be any good. But it will almost certainly be a hit. Murphy plus cute little girl plus family friendliness equals I wish I were its executive producer. June 12.

“Year One”
Someone has finally figured out what to do with Jack Black and Michael Cera. Put them together. As goofy as this stoned-age comedy about Biblical times looks, something about the two actors and their opposing styles comes together like a magical Reese's comedy cup you want to see replicated, even before the first one arrives. June 19.

“The Proposal”
Ladies, here's the bone you've been thrown this summer, and what a meager one it looks like. The story in this corporate-set romantic comedy wasn't exactly clear from the trailer, but Sandra Bullock plays an exec who needs to marry her assistant to remain in the country, and Ryan Reynolds plays an actor who's never going to amount to more than this. June 19.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
Before you start justifying why a movie that had no story to begin with should get a sequel with a title that refers to something nobody can remember happening in the first place, I'll fill you in on why you really want to see this movie: the possibility of Megan Fox transforming into her underwear. June 24.

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
Where do we begin here? Everyone knows dinosaurs were invented in “Jurassic Park,” like, a decade before the first “Ice Age” movie. July 1.

“Public Enemies”
Why “Public Enemies” had to be filmed ultradrab in what looks like digital photography is a question that will have to wait for the release, but other parts of director Michael Mann's Depression-era action film about legendary bank robber John Dillinger look promising, not least casting Johnny Depp, who plays Dillinger, in a movie not directed by Tim Burton. July 1.

The only thing we have to fear from this effeminate follow-up to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's “Borat,” about a fashionista touring America, are the legions of impressed young men who chant the catch-phrases for weeks after the opening weekend. July 10.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
Hollywood's new strategy: Wear them into submission. Having lost track of these “Harry Potter” films long ago, we have lost the ability to resist them. It's best if you just get in line now, before you start hearing buzz about the next installment and become confused. July 15.

“Aliens in the Attic”
You could do a marathon of “E.T.”, “Home Alone” and “The Goonies,” and still not cover the family movie territory in this action comedy about a group of kids who discover space people attacking Earth from a base in their attic. Still, I'm holding out for the inevitable prequel: “Illegal Aliens in the Attic.” July 31.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
Once upon a time, they used to make action figures based on movies. Now a 1950s toy that became a popular 1980s Saturday morning cartoon is turned into a live action film, as G.I. Joe comes to the big screen. With “Transformers,” it'll be a big summer for Hasbro, which hasn't been on so many tongues since the Easy-Bake Oven hit the streets. Directed by Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”), it stars Channing Tatum (“Fighting”), Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller and others as the Joes and their nemeses. We are the lucky ones. In the future there will be movies about Giga Pets. Aug. 7.

“Julie & Julia”
Adaptations, plots, demanding stars: Most filmmakers have trouble handling one of these, but Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) takes on two of each with “Julie & Julia,” a two-for-your-money film about cooking sensations Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and the woman she inspired (Amy Adams), who wrote a memoir based on her year spent cooking recipes in Child's “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Aug. 7.

“Inglourious Basterds”
As unlikely as it sounds, Quentin Tarantino has made a movie that doesn't have anything to do with the 1970s. “Inglourious Basterds” (yes, spelled like that) is even set before the '70s, during World War II, about a group of soldiers led by Brad Pitt who terrorize enemy troops. Despite a potential for controversy, “Basterds” could be a welcome break from what has become slightly predictable Tarantino fare. And the realism! Only the most elite German soldiers are masters of kung-fu. Aug. 21. S


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