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Summer Movie Preview

EW’s 2008 Summer Movie Preview – Your guide to June film releases, including ''Get Smart,'' ''The Love Guru,'' and more

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The Mother of Tears
June 6

Starring
Asia Argento
Moran Atias
Directed by
Dario Argento

If you'd like to see, say, a disemboweling, or a limb-severing — or acts of horror so freakish and disgusting that we can't begin to describe them in this magazine — then look no further than The Mother of Tears. This film from legendary Italian horror auteur Dario Argento, 67, is the long-awaited climax to his loosely connected, supernaturally infused ''Three Mothers'' trilogy, which began with Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). It has taken him more than a quarter century to find his way back to it. ''I remember saying, 'I want to experience some other fields,''' he says. ''But I still enjoy shocking people a lot. This is my mission.''

The Mother of Tears stars Argento's actress-director daughter, Asia (Marie Antoinette), as an art student who, after the unearthing of a mysterious urn, is repeatedly menaced by followers of the titular evil witch. That ''Mother'' is played by model-turned-actress Moran Atias, who also appears in You Don't Mess With the Zohan this summer and spends much of her screen time in Tears walking around sans clothes. ''This was very strong sexy,'' Argento says, sounding momentarily like he's been possessed by the spirit of Borat. ''The witch is naked, like the truth. Sex and horror — I like this mixture.''

Kung Fu Panda
June 8

Starring
Jack Black
Dustin Hoffman
Ian McShane
Directed by
John Stevenson and Mark Osborne

In this animated flick for kids, a panda called Po (Black) sets out to become a martial-arts expert and battle a villainous snow leopard (McShane). Black, who's also starring in the live-action Tropic Thunder this summer, was joined on one recording session by Hoffman, who plays Po's mentor. ''He gave me a couple of tips,'' says Black. And did Black reciprocate? ''Are you kidding me?'' he says. ''It's a one-way street when it comes to master-student relationships.''

Encounters at the End of the World
June 11

Directed and Narrated by
Werner Herzog

Legendary German director Herzog has traveled to the ends of the earth to make art-house classics like Grizzly Man, Fitzcarraldo, and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and with this documentary about Antarctica, he does it again — this time, quite literally. Herzog, who grew up in a remote Bavarian village without television or telephones, captures life at McMurdo Station, the National Science Foundation's headquarters and home to more than a thousand people who may be even hardier and more daring than the renegade filmmaker himself.

The Happening
June 13

Starring
Mark Wahlberg
Zooey Deschanel
Directed by
M. Night Shyamalan

It's been nearly two years since Shyamalan's offbeat ''bedtime story'' Lady in the Water tanked at the box office and the ugly details of his falling-out with Disney were publicized in the book The Man Who Heard Voices — and yet the director of such hits as The Sixth Sense and Signs sounds positively cheerful about his latest project, The Happening. ''This has probably been the most fun I've had working on a movie,'' Shyamalan says. ''The process of making and selling it has all been very nurturing and wonderful.'' How's that for a twist?

The supersecretive director will (no surprise here) cough up very few specifics about his new thriller, calling it an ''environmental nightmare'' with paranoid echoes of The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Wahlberg stars as a high school science teacher struggling to escape an invisible deadly force while trying to work out his rocky relationship with his wife (Deschanel). The film's trailer suggests the mysterious menace may be an airborne toxin, and given that the film was originally titled The Green Effect, one might guess The Happening is a kind of ''green'' horror movie — speculation Shyamalan does not deny. ''The villain is, to some extent, unseen,'' he says coyly. ''That's a very scary thing that can permeate the entire movie — even when you walk out of the theater.'' In order to boost the fear factor even further, Shyamalan was encouraged by Fox to make Happening his first R-rated movie. ''I totally got where they were coming from in terms of not pulling punches,'' he says. ''It was an easy yes.''

For his part, Wahlberg says he had quite the difficult time shaking the movie from his thoughts after seeing a rough cut for the first time. ''Night is one sick man,'' he says. ''I'm in 90 percent of the movie and I was scared to death. There were times I had to look away from the screen.'' That's exactly the reaction Shyamalan is hoping to achieve: ''It's fun to show and not show, show and not show — it keeps the audience off-kilter.''

Brick Lane
June 20

Starring
Tannishtha Chatterjee
Satish Kaushik
Directed by
Sarah Gavron

A young Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen (Chatterjee), leaves behind her small village for East London and an arranged marriage to a man who's twice her age (Kaushik), only to find herself pining for her native soil and falling in love with somebody else. But director Gavron, using an adapted screenplay from Monica Ali's 2003 best-selling novel, says the tale isn't as sad as it sounds. ''This is a hopeful story of integration of a woman who finds home in a place that for so long has been alien.''

Get Smart
June 20

Starring
Steve Carell
Anne Hathaway
Directed by
Peter Segal

Carell as an action hero? ''It just seems like the next logical step for me,'' the Office star deadpans. Not exactly. In fact, the comedic actor sort of stumbled into the part of oblivious superspy Maxwell Smart. In 2004, just after costarring opposite Will Ferrell in Anchorman, Carell was called in for a meeting at Warner Bros. Thinking it was for a cattle-call audition, he showed up with his head shot and résumé. They offered him Get Smart instead. ''It was so ridiculous,'' he says. ''That was the first I had heard about the project at all.''

The movie had been in development for years. Jim Carrey, Martin Lawrence, and Will Ferrell had all been linked to it at one time or another. Director Segal (Anger Management) had even turned it down a couple of times. The trouble, in part, was figuring out how to make the shticky, shoe-phone-using Smart — created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry for TV in 1965 and resurrected in the 1980 film The Nude Bomb — relevant to a millennial audience. It was Carell, Segal says, who broke the code: ''Steve had the idea, What if we do a comedic Bourne Identity?''

In this new version, Smart spends his days at the agency CONTROL, writing reports nobody reads. He dreams of being a hotshot field agent, and gets his chance when the evil forces of KAOS attack CONTROL's headquarters. Smart sets off to save the world, with hostile (but sultry!) Agent 99 (Hathaway) by his side. The film's tone is more slapstick than satire, which plays to Carell's strengths. That's good news, because with the actor coming off last year's disappointing Evan Almighty, Hollywood is seeking confirmation that he can open a big film. So is Get Smart smart enough to attract summer crowds? ''To be honest,'' says Hathaway, ''I put my faith in Steve.'' Good thinking, 99.

The Love Guru
June 20

Starring
Mike Myers
Jessica Alba
Justin Timberlake
Directed by
Marco Schnabel

A few years ago, a mysterious one-man show began popping up in New York comedy clubs: ''An Evening of Spiritual Enlightenment With His Holiness the Guru Pitka.'' Attendees bracing themselves for some sort of Eastern-inflected self-help seminar saw the light when the Guru turned out to be Myers, field-testing his newest character, a wild and woolly American-born, ashram-trained spiritual leader whose mantra is ''Mariska Hargitay.'' If this sounds like a rather arduous way for a major comedy star to develop material, consider that the last time Myers workshopped a character, he came up with a jaunty little creation called Austin Powers. ''Mike's like a mad scientist in a lab,'' says Guru director Schnabel.

Chronicling Pitka's misadventures as he attempts to overtake Deepak Chopra as the world's reigning relationship expert, Guru has all the trappings of a broad romp in the Powers mold, mercilessly skewering purveyors of pop New Age wisdom. But while a few religious leaders have expressed concern that the film lampoons Hinduism, Myers insists he isn't targeting any particular faith: ''[Pitka's belief system] is nondenominational and completely fictional,'' he says.

Indeed, for the comedian — who hasn't made a non-Shrek film in five long years — Guru comes from a place of deep, well, love. For more than a decade, Myers has been on what he terms a ''spiritual quest,'' soaking up the teachings of writers like Chopra, who makes a cameo in the film. In bringing Guru to summer moviegoers, Myers hopes to slip them genuine pearls of wisdom — amid the dwarf-tossing and bawdy wordplay. ''I want the film to be a real celebration of life and happiness and silliness,'' he says. ''Part of enlightenment is to lighten up.'' Dr. Evil, meet your newest adversary.

Wanted
June 27

Starring
Angelina Jolie
James McAvoy
Morgan Freeman
Directed by
Timur Bekmambetov

Summer action spectacles are clearly in the throes of a self-improvement kick: Tough-as-Kevlar superstuds muttering monosyllabic one-liners have been traded in for vulnerable Everymen, while paper-thin plots have been swapped for epic sagas. So Bekmambetov was determined to plumb new depths in this adaptation of Mark Millar's graphic novel about an average Joe (McAvoy) inducted into an elite clan of gifted assassins by a badass babe (Jolie), who trains him to avenge his father's murder. ''It's like Dostoyevsky mixed with The Matrix,'' says the director, who has established himself as the Russian Spielberg with his Night Watch series, the highest-grossing franchise ever made in the former Soviet Union.

Ironically, Jolie saw Wanted as an opportunity to lighten up after delving into some dark places, both on screen and off. ''I lost my mom, and I was in a state of wanting to get out of my head and feel wild and strong again,'' says the actress, who played aggrieved widow Mariane Pearl in last year's wrenching A Mighty Heart. ''If I didn't do something like this, I would have just had the covers over my head.'' Instead, she spent her days dangling off of cars hurtling at 100 miles per hour. Jolie commends the studio for giving Bekmambetov free rein to do away with the buffed-and-shined conventions of the Hollywood tentpole. ''[Nobody] tried to make it obvious,'' she says. ''There are really weird things in it that will make it stand out as something a little off, which is nice.''

And don't assume Jolie shied away from doing her own stunts now that she has four young kids (with partner Brad Pitt). ''I did the opposite,'' she boasts. ''I went even further, thinking, Now that I'm holding this shotgun, my little boys are going to think I'm so cool when they're 11.''

WALL-E
June 27

Robotic Voices Designed by
Ben Burtt
Directed by
Andrew Stanton

Pixar has never had a flop. Since 1995, the animation studio has released eight consecutive hits, racking up $ 4.3 billion in worldwide grosses. Now comes opus 9, perhaps the riskiest yet: a nearly photorealistic, almost dialogue-free love story set in 2805, about a lonely garbage-compacting robot, WALL-E. Left behind on a refuse-covered, water-depleted Earth after mankind evacuates to giant spaceships orbiting the planet, WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class) has toiled for 700 years, making cubes of compacted trash. When the story opens, he has only a cockroach for company, though an exceedingly cute cockroach. (''It's our version of Jiminy Cricket,'' says Stanton.) Then a sleek, white-shelled probe droid called EVE shows up, and WALL-E is smitten. He courts her incessantly, following her when she's recalled to the human race's mother ship, where a mystery unfolds about her mission.

As for that dialogue-free thing, there's a huge asterisk involved. There's actually plenty of talking — it's just not always in recognizable language. WALL-E, EVE, and the group of misfit bots they encounter on the spaceship communicate mostly in beeps and boops concocted by Oscar-winning sound designer Burtt, who devised the ''voice'' of Star Wars' R2-D2. (There are also animated human characters, including a ship captain voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin.) While it may seem like a gamble to expect kids to sit through such an unorthodox feature, Stanton knows a thing or two about holding the audience's attention. His last film, 2003's Finding Nemo, is the highest grosser in Pixar history. So far, early WALL-E footage has some online commenters carping that the lead character looks too much like that little robot from 1986's Short Circuit. But Stanton swears the inspiration came from a pair of binoculars he was playing with at a baseball game. ''It didn't dawn on me until later that there are other robots that have binocular eyes,'' he says. And they can see a hit coming a mile away.

Also playing
Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, and Judy Greer compete to be America's Next Top Quirky Actress in the road-trip comedy The Go-Getter (June 6).... Heather Graham worries about early menopause — and we get our schadenfreude fix — in Miss Conception (June 6).... Genghis Khan biopic Mongol earned Kazakhstan its first Foreign Language Oscar nom, which might just be Hollywood's way of saying sorry for the whole Borat thing (June 6).... John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott square off to be a grocery store manager in The Promotion. Can a reality show spin-off really be far behind? (June 6).... Just in time for Father's Day, Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth prove that boys really do cry in When Did You Last See Your Father? (June 6).... Weirdo Canadian director Guy Maddin describes My Winnipeg as a ''docu-fantasia.'' We doubt there'll be ballet-dancing hippos, but you never really know (June 13).... Five of the eight high school basketball stars in Gunnin' for That #1 Spot are already on March Madness teams. The others probably just went straight to Gatorade endorsements (June 27).... Eight years after his wife's murder, a doctor is accused of the crime in the twisty Gallic thriller Tell No One (June 27).... Elsa & Fred are Spanish geezers in love (June 27).... In Trumbo, Joan Allen and others perform readings of a blacklisted screenwriter's letters (June 27).... A boozing TV producer (Matthew Broderick) goes after his troubled niece (Brittany Snow) in Finding Amanda (June 27).... Brush up on your French now and you won't have to look at the subtitles while Asia Argento talks dirty in The Last Mistress (June 27).

Steve Daly, Jeff Jensen, Chris Nashawaty, Missy Schwartz, Jessica Shaw, Benjamin Svetkey, Adam B. Vary, Josh Wolk

Originally posted Apr 18, 2008 Published in issue #988-989 Apr 25, 2008 Order article reprints