Season’s Greetings

A semi-discerning look at the summer’s multiplex movie slate


et’s face it — we need summer movies.

Hollywood’s annual shucking of superheroes, Pixar and Pixar-wannabes, boy wizards and sequels to the aforementioned are a necessary fixture of the yearly slate. The money they take in is a positive sign of life in a movie business that’s been on the proverbial landslide for the last few years.

While the 2011 lineup appears to be sequel and reboot heaven, there’s plenty more to make it an appealing grab-bag of options. Here’s a discerning look inside the versatile roster. (Release dates subject to change.)

Fast Five (April 29)
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are back for one last rodeo as they try to get a big enough payday to retire their lead feet. In their way is a drug lord and a determined Fed played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Thor (May 6)
In order for The Avengers to happen next year, Marvel has to dole out a few more super flicks. Next up is Thor, Kenneth Branagh’s telling of the the Earth-born, hammer-wielding god who is banished from his home planet of Asgard by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in hopes he’ll learn a bit of humility.

The Beaver (May 6)
Jodie Foster directs Mel Gibson in this dramedy about a broken man (Gibson) who uses a puppet beaver to communicate and, hopefully, bring him out of depression. Angst runs high when his wife (Foster) and children grow tired of the gimmick.

Bridesmaids (May 13)
Kristen Wiig co-writes and stars in this R-rated comedy about a down-on-her-luck single woman (Wiig) losing her only single friend to the chains of marriage. It’s up to her to throw the best party possible. But when she doesn’t have the know-how or the money to pull it off, things go hilariously sour.

Everything Must Go (May 13)
Will Ferrell plays a recovering alcoholic who relapses and loses his wife in the process. She’s also locked him out of the house and put all of his possessions on the front lawn. He reacts by starting a yard sale in an attempt to wipe the slate clean.

Hesher (May 13)
Who better to cheer you up in wake of your mother’s death than a head-banging, malnourished, chain-smoking pyromaniac? This seems to be the remedy TJ (Devin Brochu) and his father (Rainn Wilson) realize they need when Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shows up as an uninvited tenant.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20)
At World’s End
closed with Capt. Jack Sparrow sailing away with a map to the fountain of youth. On Stranger Tides sees that adventure through with new obstacles for Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to overcome — including Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who has a rocky history with Sparrow.

The Hangover Part II (May 26)
Same party, different location. For Part II, the trio is lost in Bangkok looking for Stu’s (Ed Helms) soon-to-be brother-in-law who disappeared after the bachelor party. Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis return, along with Ken Jeong who reprises his role as quirky criminal boss, Mr. Chow. Oh, and there’s a monkey, too.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 26)
No surprise that the unexpected success of Kung Fu Panda would don a sequel. Po’s newest threat, other than large flights of stairs, is an evil peacock who plans on erasing kung fu from existence.

The Tree of Life ( May 27)
Details on Terrence Malick’s first film in six years are scarce. What is known about the auteur’s latest opus is that it chronicles a boy’s upbringing to his adult life and how he deals with the different ways his parents raise him. Sean Penn plays the adult version, while Brad Pitt plays his stringent father.

X-Men: First Class (June 3)

Like Wolverine, First Class is a quasi-prequel to the X-Men trilogy. The film explores the once budding relationship between Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and how it all went to pieces.

Super 8 (June 10)

J.J. Abrams’ homage to super-8 moviemaking and Steven Spielberg (whose also a producer on the film) is about a group of kids who witness a train crash that’s carrying mysterious cargo from Area 51. Soon after, their small town in Ohio becomes a war zone as the creature(s) who escaped from the train wreak havoc on the inhabitants.

Green Lantern (June 17)

Ryan Reynolds dons the green garb in the first of what is sure to be a couple of Green Lantern flicks. Action-movie maestro Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale ) directs the origin story that finds Hal Jordan/Green Lantern dealing with his newfound powers and telekinetic baddie Hector Hammond, who threatens the balance and peace of the universe.

Cars 2 (June 24)
The first Pixar film to get the sequel treatment, Cars 2 follows Lightning McQueen, with Mater in tow, as McQueen races in the World Grand Prix. But when Mater is mistaken for an American spy, he has to help his friend and a few British agents complete a mission.

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (July 1)
Megan Fox is out, but explosion expert Michael Bay is back for the third installment of his popular take on the famed alien robots who protect earth from the Decepticons. This time around, Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf) has to stop the Decepticons from laying waste to Chicago — where Witwicky’s girlfriend is trapped.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (July 15)
The final battle between Potter and Voldemort is here. Harry and gang travel back to Hogwarts to stop Voldemort’s death grip on their beloved school. The last installment is rumored to be the darkest, most relentlessly action packed yet.

Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
It’s weird the first avenger is one of the last to get his own movie. Chris Evans, who’s taking some flack for playing two super heroes (he played The Human Torch in Fantastic Four), plays the World War II-era hero who has to stop Red Skull — A Nazi soldier personally trained by Hitler — from taking over the world.

Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
Jon Favreau (Iron Man) directs this high-concept mash-up that combines four of the biggest idols in pop culture history — cowboys, aliens, Indiana Jones and James Bond. Gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) joins forces with nemesis Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) to defend their town of Absolution from alien takeover.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (August 5)
In the reboot of the sci-fi saga, James Franco plays a scientist who loses control of a genetically enhanced chimp who starts a rebellion against humans.

The Help (Aug. 12)
Probably the only other book-to-movie-adaptation besides Harry Potter to be so closely critiqued by its fans is The Help, the silver-screen treatment of Katheryn Stockett’s beloved best-selling novel. The story is set in 1962 and revolves around a college student (Emma Stone) and her secretive, controversial friendship with two African-American maids in a prejudice-minded Mississippi.

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