Summer Movie Preview Calendar

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BEGINNERS

Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent
Directed by Mike Mills
Rated R
Release Date June 3

Beginners is all about fresh starts — like the one between Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), after Hal comes out of the closet at age 75. The film shuttles between Hal living as an openly gay man (then developing a terminal illness) and Oliver grieving after his father's death but finding love with an eccentric beauty (Mélanie Laurent). The story May sound far-fetched, but it's based on the real-life experience of writer-director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) and his father, Paul, who died in 2004. ''Our relationship went from very nice but muted straight-son-and-straight-dad to a much more wild and uncontained relationship between a straight son and a gay dad,'' says Mills. ''We had lots of great arguments about love and relationships and what you can expect and what you can't.''

Despite the intense emotions on screen, the set was a happy place. ''There was no horrible Method pain going on,'' says Plummer. ''[Ewan and I] were just two old hams getting together and having fun.'' There was even an on-set romance — involving the dog who plays Hal's Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, whom Oliver inherits. ''Ewan and Cosmo really fell for each other,'' says Mills. ''Ewan ended up getting a dog right after we finished.'' But proving that life doesn't completely imitate art, the actor got a poodle. —Sara Vilkomerson


X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Kevin Bacon
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 3

A prequel to the previous X-Men movies, First Class promises to resolve mysteries about the past of Professor X and his team of mutants. But fans initially just care about what that past looks like. ''People want to know if he's bald, or if he's in a wheelchair,'' says James McAvoy, taking on the Charles Xavier role from Patrick Stewart. ''He's not bald, though I was quite keen on getting my head shaved. And he's not in the wheelchair, though he may be by the end of the movie.''

First Class also explores how Xavier becomes a peaceful revolutionary, leading a worldwide movement of mutants. It's clear that he hasn't yet grown into the wise old man Stewart portrayed. ''In [the other X-Men] movies, he's very selfless and egoless and sexless. He's like the personification of good,'' McAvoy says. ''We just wanted to go the opposite way. We couldn't make him a bad guy, but we've made him sort of amoral.'' In the film, set in the early 1960s, he's a little more reckless, dangerous, and, as the actor puts it, ''definitely no longer sexless.'' He's still best friends with future nemesis Magneto (Jane Eyre's Michael Fassbender), and he helps defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. ''He's not the holistic world healer he will become,'' McAvoy says. ''X-Men is always about the mutant who's uncomfortable in his own skin. He's just a little too pleased with who he is.'' —Anthony Breznican


JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER

Starring Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Jaleel White
Directed by John Schultz
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 10

Judy Moody (Australian newcomer Jordana Beatty) is an imaginative third grader on a quest to have the best summer ever by becoming the first of her friends to score 100 ''thrill points.'' Jaleel White — best known as Urkel on the '90s sitcom Family Matters — plays her wacky teacher. ''[Director] John Schultz told me to try to be part Richard Pryor and part Mister Rogers,'' says White. ''I don't know what the heck that is even now, and I already completed the role.'' —Maggie Pehanick


SUPER 8

Starring Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 10

As a cinema-loving pop culture sponge growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970s, J.J. Abrams used to make little movies with his Super-8 camera alongside pals who would grow up to have Hollywood careers themselves, actor Greg Grunberg (Heroes) and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). Not long ago, the Lost co-creator came across what he calls a ''lost film'' from his amateur oeuvre featuring another famous Friend. ''It starred Greg Grunberg and David Schwimmer. I totally forgot making it,'' says Abrams. ''It was about a kid who finds this bizarre alien thing — so I guess you can say it was a precursor to Super 8.''

With the third film of his adult directing career, the helmer of Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek has created an ode to a childhood spent making and watching movies. Set in 1979 in an Ohio steel town Abrams named ''Lillian,'' after his grandmother, Super 8 follows a group of teenagers growing up geeky before geeky became cool. Newcomer Riley Griffiths plays strong-willed Charles, the budding auteur, and Joel Courtney plays his quiet, loyal best friend, Joe, who crushes on rebellious Alice (Somewhere's Elle Fanning). One night while making a zombie flick, they witness — and nearly get killed by — a derailed train carrying cargo from Nevada's famed Area 51. Some creature of possible extraterrestrial origins breaks free, and all sorts of otherworldly hell break loose. ''When I was a kid, I was always doing violent, crazy, dangerous things on film, whether it was blowing things up, or fight scenes, or makeup effects,'' says Abrams. ''I thought it would be fun — and funny — to tell a coming-of-age story about being that age, at that time, making movies.''

Abrams began discussing the idea with Steven Spielberg — who also, famously, made Super-8 films as a kid — but Abrams says the project really jelled when he decided to combine the nostalgic story of young filmmakers with another idea he'd already pitched to Paramount: a monster movie set in a Midwestern town, inspired by the genre films he loved as a kid, like Jaws, An American Werewolf in London, and Halloween. ''I thought, 'Let's mix the chocolate and peanut butter together,''' he says. ''And suddenly there was a concoction that I was really excited about.''

Abrams, who shot Super 8 last fall in West Virginia and Los Angeles, sought to synthesize a variety of tones — humor, heart, horror — and feature relatable, emotionally complex characters. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) plays the town's deputy, a grieving widower struggling to connect with his son, Joe. ''It very much has the vibe of those early Spielberg films that capture the way people live even as they're cracking open your skull and capturing your imagination,'' says Chandler, who grooved on Super 8's meticulous re-creation of late-'70s culture, from cars to clothes to haircuts. ''My character's son is 14 in the film,'' says the actor, ''and it so happens that in 1979, I was also 14. Being on that set, in his room, it just took me back.'' Expect a Farrah pinup — or, knowing Abrams, a Star Wars poster or two. Or eight. —Jeff Jensen


THE ART OF GETTING BY

Starring Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts
Directed by Gavin Wiesen
Rated PG-13
Release Date June 17

In writer-director Gavin Wiesen's anti-Gossip Girl take on NYC high school dramas, Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) plays an artistically inclined teen who faces expulsion unless he completes a year's worth of assignments in three weeks. He finds motivation in a popular classmate (Scream 4's Emma Roberts). Highmore, a London native, mastered an American accent for the role, practicing on set and off. Roberts didn't hear her costar's true voice until seeing him at Sundance this year: ''I was like, 'I can't even believe how British you are!''' —Stephan Lee


GREEN LANTERN

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins
Directed by Martin Campbell
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 17

Blake Lively is not what you'd call a comic-book nerd — shocker, we know — so when the prospect of starring as aerospace exec Carol Ferris in Green Lantern first cropped up, she wasn't sure what to make of it. ''I'd actually never heard of Green Lantern at all, which is probably terrible to say,'' Lively admits. ''Then I got on the set of Gossip Girl and told a couple of crew members I was doing this movie, and they were freaking out.'' Indeed, to legions of fans, Green Lantern is a beloved character with a legacy stretching back seven decades. The hero, played by Ryan Reynolds in the film, is a green-suited interstellar space cop who keeps the universe safe from the likes of telekinetic villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). To lure an audience beyond the comic-book contingent, director Martin Campbell hopes to successfully blend eye-popping sci-fi adventure with the sort of gut-punching action he delivered in the James Bond films GoldenEye and Casino Royale. ''I'm always skeptical when I see a superhero movie where someone is thrown 100 yards into a brick wall and briefly shakes his head,'' Campbell says. ''In our movie, when people get hit, they get hurt.'' Just ask Reynolds, who was put through the wringer on set in the name of realism, shot 300 feet into the air on wires and propelled at 60 feet per second to create the illusion of flight. ''I started screaming the most random thoughts,'' says Reynolds. ''Something about owning my own dolphin, I remember, and something about Alan Thicke. All I could do was laugh.'' —Josh Rottenberg


MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS

Starring Jim carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury
Directed by Mark Waters
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 17

It's been 17 years since Jim Carrey became a superstar by talking to the animals, and the actor's out to show that he still has a way with the critters. Loosely based on the 1938 children's-book classic Mr. Popper's Penguins, the film tells the story of New York real estate developer Tom Popper (Carrey), who has sacrificed his family and moral compass to get ahead. But then he receives an unexpected gift from his estranged father that resets that compass: six gentoo penguins.

''Jim's one of the few actors who actually relishes working with animals,'' says director Mark Waters (Mean Girls), who borrowed Popper's pint-size tuxedoed costars while they were en route from an exhibit in Montreal back to their home in Hong Kong. ''People think of Jim Carrey as the king of improv. And it's true, whatever those penguins gave him he'd find a way to use.'' Well, almost. Waters says there were some scenes his leading man forced him to junk. ''He'd be like, 'I did a bit just like this in Ace Ventura, we can't do it!''' Then again, that film was a massive hit. Maybe audiences wouldn't mind seeing the talking-butt joke again. —Chris Nashawaty


BAD TEACHER

Starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Rated R
Release Date June 24

Last fall, Justin Timberlake told EW that Cameron Diaz, as the world's worst educator in Bad Teacher, reminded him of Bill Murray. Now he's taking it a step further: ''No one else in the world can do what she did in this movie. Not even Bill Murray. It's just one of a kind.'' For Diaz, the gleefully dark tale of a misanthrope who neglects her seventh-grade charges while keeping alcohol and pot in the classroom is the closest she's come to revisiting the comedic sensibility of 1998's There's Something About Mary. ''There's the same irreverence,'' she says, ''the blatant disregard for anybody's feelings. We're not solving any problems or making any statements here. We just made a movie to make people laugh. Period.''

Timberlake, Diaz's real-life ex-boyfriend, plays a newly arrived substitute teacher caught between Diaz and her nemesis (Dinner for Schmucks' Lucy Punch). ''The tone of this movie was so specific and so weird,'' Timberlake says. ''I kept asking, 'How can I make this more weird?''' Well, for one thing, Timberlake's dorky character croons a self-penned love song called ''Simpatico'' that's easily the worst tune since Rebecca Black's ''Friday.'' ''I didn't want it to be even good enough to be able to be used in the trailer,'' he says. Mission accomplished. —Dave Karger


A BETTER LIFE

Starring Demián Bichir, José Julián
Directed by Chris Weitz
Rated PG-13
Release Date June 24

New Moon director Chris Weitz leaves vampires behind for an intimate drama about a Mexican-born gardener (Weeds costar Demián Bichir) trying to keep his teenage son (José Julián) out of the Los Angeles gang world while avoiding possible deportation himself. ''It has as many twists and turns as a thriller,'' says Weitz of the film. Already it's generating awards buzz for Bichir, a megastar in his home country of Mexico. The story has a personal meaning for Weitz, who is one-quarter Mexican and married to a Hispanic woman. And despite its under-$10 million budget, the director insists, ''This is the biggest film I've ever made.'' Summit Entertainment seems to recognize the drama's potential: The indie distributor is releasing the film the same week it put out The Hurt Locker two years ago. —Dave Karger


CARS 2

Starring Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Directed by John Lasseter
Rated Not yet rated
Release Date June 24

Disney/Pixar honcho John Lasseter got the idea for a Cars sequel while traveling the globe promoting the blockbuster 2006 original. ''I kept looking out the window and found myself thinking about what Mater would do in these situations,'' Lasseter recalls. ''Like how confusing the streets are in Tokyo, driving on the wrong side of the road in London, and in Italy, where the traffic signals are a mere suggestion.''

In Cars 2, provincial tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) visits all three locales to cheer on his racecar buddy Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who's competing in the World Grand Prix. Mater is also mistaken for an American spy and gets swept up in a mission with two British agents: a vintage sports car named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and a high-tech coupe named Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). ''I don't think I'll ever look as good in a movie,'' jokes Mortimer. ''I would have imagined myself as a battered old Mini.'' McMissile is a stylish relic who might have felt right at home in classic '60s spy thrillers. ''He's very technical, like James Bond, but humble, like Harry Palmer,'' says Caine, who played the latter character in five films. ''He's a classy English car, which I think is a great compliment to me!'' —John Young


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