Coming Distractions: Summer Film Highlights The summer movie season is about to move beyond ogres, web-slingers and pirates to wizards, wiseacres and Willis. Wedged in between, there's some serious fare, too. Bob Mondello offers a lightning roundup.
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Coming Distractions: Summer Film Highlights

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Coming Distractions: Summer Film Highlights

Coming Distractions: Summer Film Highlights

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And with ogres, web-slingers and pirates already battling for supremacy at the cineplex, the summer movie season has clearly arrived and there's lots still to come.

Our critic Bob Mondello has a selective preview.

BOB MONDELLO: Eighty-five pictures on the way and only 72 are sequels. Okay, that's not quite true but it does feel that way. So let's start with something that's fresh, that's new. That's unlike everything that's ever come before in the summer, except maybe "Independence Day" and "War of the Worlds" and everything that's ever come before in the summer.

(Soundbite of movie, "Transformers")

Mr. JON VOIGHT (Actor): (As Keller) We're facing war against a technological civilization far superior to our own.

Mr. VOIGHT: Our enemy can take any shape.

MONDELLO: "Transformers," that Saturday morning toy commercial masquerading as a cartoon now transformed into an enormous-looking live action flick with digital effect. As opposed to "Fantastic Four 2," which is almost exclusively digital effects and "Live Free or Die Hard," which is almost exclusively live action.

And then there's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which as we all know is almost exclusively magic.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix")

Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Actor): (As Harry Potter) Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now. If they can do it, why not us?

MONDELLO: Harry and his wizard buddies back for the fifth time in seven years will not be alone in catering to a young crowd this summer. There's also "Surf's Up" about penguins who have a surfing contest in Hawaii, and "Nancy Drew," "Underdog" and "Bratz". That's three movies, though it sort of sounds like just one high-concept one.

And speaking of high-concept, they don't get much higher than the one for the new Pixar picture, "Ratatouille," about a French rat, with a taste for the high life, who dreams of someday being a chef.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. PATTON OSWALT (Actor): (As the voice of Remy) I can't help myself. I like good food okay? And good food is hard for a rat to find.

Mr. BRIAN DENNEHY (Actor): (As the voice of Django) It wouldn't be so hard to find if you weren't so picky.

Mr. OSWALT: (As the voice of Remy) I don't want to eat garbage, dad.

MONDELLO: Kids, of course, aren't the only ones who like to laugh in the summer. There are plenty of comedies for adults, some of them sounding familiar like, "Ocean's 13."

(Soundbite of movie, "Ocean's 13")

Mr. BRAD PITT (Actor): (As Rusty Ryan) It doesn't matter if we win, as long as the casino loses.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Danny Ocean) Which means that we have to rig craps, blackjack, slots and roulette all in our favor.

Mr. PITT: Can you make it any more complicated?

MONDELLO: Also in the realm of the familiar is Steve Carell in a sequel to the "Bruce Almighty" called "Evan Almighty" - apparently the most expensive comedy in Hollywood history. And with Carell occupied there, the team that made "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" turned to Seth Rogan for their new comedy, about a slacker who has a one-night fling with an up-and-coming TV star. She gets - in the words of the title - "Knocked Up."

(Soundbite of movie, "Knocked Up")

Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (As Ben Stone) Okay. I know we didn't plan this but I'm on board.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) Yehey.

Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL (Actress): (As Alison Scott) It's freaking you out that we're shopping for baby clothes?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) No. I'm just pretending I'm shopping for regular clothes and I'm a giant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: That's a mainstream comedy about an unlikely couple. Romantic comedy for the indie crowd - folks who liked "Napoleon Dynamite", let's say - sounds a little different in a New Zealand spoof called "Eagle vs. Shark."

(Soundbite of movie, "Eagle vs. Shark")

Mr. JEMAINE CLEMENT (Actor): (As Jarrod) How many boyfriends have you had?

Ms. LOREN HORSLEY (Actress): (As Lily) Three. Have many girlfriends have you had?

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) That's irrelevant.

Ms. HORSLEY: (As Lily) I have two things to say. One, I'm leaving tomorrow. Two, that could change.

MONDELLO: If they're an unlikely romantic couple, how about one where there's no romance at all? Just Adam Sandler and Kevin James playing heterosexual firemen who try to qualify for benefits by posing as husband and husband in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."

(Soundbite of movie, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry")

Ms. JESSICA BIEL (Actress): (As Alex McDonough) Your domestic partnership is being challenged by the city. You guys have nothing to worry about because you're a legitimate gay couple, right?

Mr. KEVIN JAMES (Actor): (As Larry Allensworth) Oh, yeah. We're a - no, we're big time fruits.

Mr. ADAM SANDLER (Actor): (As Chuck Ford) Oh, I like men. The way they smell and...

Ms. BIEL (Actress): (As Alex McDonough) Okay.

MONDELLO: Opening the same day is "Hairspray," starring John Travolta in a dress, so that should be quite a weekend. "Hairspray" is based on a John Waters comedy, turned stage-musical, now turned movie-musical.

(Soundbite of music, "You Can't Stop the Beat")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing)'Cause the world keeps spinning 'round and 'round. And my heart's keeping time to the speed of sound. I was lost 'til I heard the drums then I found my way, 'cause you can't stop the beat.

MONDELLO: "Hairspray" actually deals with a serious topic - racial segregation during the 1960s. And so does "Talk to Me," a film about a popular African-American deejay of that period in Washington, D.C. - a guy named Petey Greene, played by Don Cheadle.

(Soundbite of movie, "Talk to Me")

Mr. DON CHEADLE (Actor): (As Ralph "Petey" Greene) Your brother say you all need a new DJ at that record station. Hey, I'm your man.

Mr. BENZ ANTOINE (Actor): (As Dewey Hughes) You're in prison.

Mr. CHEADLE: (As Ralph "Petey" Greene) That's a minor challenge.

Unidentified Woman #2: Can I help you?

Mr. CHEADLE: (As Ralph "Petey" Greene) Tell your boss that Petey Greene is on the scene.

Good evening, Washington. My guest tonight is a pimp that I wouldn't trust to wash my car. But you all have elected him city official.

MONDELLO: This sounds raucous, but when riots erupted after the Martin Luther King assassination, Greene had the influence to help calm the streets of Washington.

Another troubled but popular man of the people, especially for fans of Latin music who hark back to that era, was the King of Salsa, Hector Lavoe, who's played by Marc Anthony in "El Cantante," "The Singer."

(Soundbite of movie, "El Cantante")

Ms. JENNIFER LOPEZ (Actress): (As Puchi) All over the world, people loved Hector. With all his faults, it just made him more like one of them.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Bio-pics are almost alarmingly common this summer. Besides Hector Lavoe and Petey Greene, we'll get the life story of a French playwright in "Moliere," a French singer in "La Vie en Rose," a Spanish painter in "Goya's Ghosts," and English novelist Jane Austen in "Becoming Jane," a picture filled with sense and sensibility, pride and prejudice and lots of invented biographical details.

(Soundbite of movie, "Becoming Jane")

Mr. JAMES McAVOY (Actor): (As Tom Lefroy) If you wish to practice the art of fristion, you'll be the equal of a masculine author, your horizons must be widened.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. Lefroy does have a reputation.

Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY (Actress): (As Jane Austen) Presumably as the most disagreeable...

Mr. McAVOY: (As Tom Lefroy) Miss.

Ms. HATHAWAY: (As Jane Austen)...insolent, arrogant, impertinent of men.

MONDELLO: These are all biography as entertainment, but real life will also enter the cineplex in a more somber way in the true story of Mariane Pearl, whose journalist husband was killed in 2002, by terrorists in Pakistan. Angelina Jolie plays Pearl, and both she and the picture, "A Mighty Heart," were well received last week at the Cannes Film Festival. So was Michael Moore, reliably provocative with a new documentary called "Sicko" that deals with Americans who don't have, or can't get, health insurance.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sicko")

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Writer/Director): This is Rick(ph).

RICK: I was ripping a piece of wood, I grabbed it right here and it hit a knot...

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Writer/Director): He sawed off the top of two of his fingers.

RICK: ...and I just zipped and it was that quick.

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Writer/Director): His first thought...

RICK: I don't have insurance - how much is this going to cost?

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Writer/Director): The hospital gave him a choice. Re-attach the middle finger for $60,000 or the ring finger for $12,000.

MONDELLO: That's Michael Moore's "Sicko."

Other pictures that look potentially interesting include "Rescue Dawn," Werner Herzog's vision of Vietnam; "The Bourne Ultimatum," a third installment in an action-movie franchise for grown-ups; and "Evening," a melodrama starring Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep and Streep's real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer. And the story of a brave, heroic man who would do anything to ensure the safety of those he loves.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Simpsons Movie")

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA (Actor): (As the voice of Homer Simpson) It's time to save my family.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: "The Simpsons Movie."

Mr. CASTELLANETA (Actor): (As the voice of Homer Simpson) D'oh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CASTELLANETA (Actor): (As the voice of Homer Simpson) Why you little - I'll teach you to laugh at something that's funny.

MONDELLO: Homer, a voice of reason in Hollywood's silly season.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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