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Summer movie preview: August

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Hope Springs
Tommy Lee Jones remembers when he met Meryl Streep. It was back in the early ’70s, when they were both young actors in separate productions at New York City’s Public Theater. ”I would open a door to a small little balcony so I could look down from above where she was rehearsing, and I would just watch her,” says Jones. ”Finally, I was introduced to her one Sunday evening. We met in the middle of Astor Place. And I remember thinking she was angelic.” Though they both appeared in Robert Altman’s 2006 ensemble film, A Prairie Home Companion, they never exchanged any lines of dialogue. But now in Hope Springs, they play a Midwestern couple who endure a weekend of therapy to try to save their floundering marriage. ”I think of it as a romantic comedy about people who have been married for over 30 years,” says director David Frankel, who assumed the helm after Mike Nichols stepped out. ”The structure of the genre holds, and yet we’re talking about two people in their 60s.”

For Frankel, the project’s biggest allure was another chance to work with Streep, with whom he’d had a ball making The Devil Wears Prada. The three-time Oscar winner was already on board to play Kay, an Omaha woman with two grown kids and a part-time retail job at Coldwater Creek. ”It’s not a bravura performance like her Maggie Thatcher or even something as stylized as Miranda Priestly,” says Frankel. ”It’s Meryl’s real hair, Meryl’s real glasses, Meryl’s real face. It’s extremely straightforward and yet she becomes Kay instantly.”

The notoriously prickly Tommy Lee Jones might not seem like an obvious choice for a romantic comedy, but Frankel says the actor was his first pick to play Kay’s taciturn husband, Arnold. ”I talked to a bunch of other directors about what it was like to work with him,” says Frankel. ”Each of them said, ‘He wants the work to be great and he pushes everyone around him to be great.’ Having made The Devil Wears Prada, which is about a woman who demands excellence at every turn, I appreciate that.”

So Frankel went down to San Antonio to pitch the project to Jones in person. (”We met,” says the actor. ”None of it really stands out in my memory. I’m pretty sure we were polite to him.” Taciturn, check!) For his part, Frankel recalls that Jones voiced a real concern that Arnold, who works in a small accounting firm and is made queasy whenever he’s asked to open either his wallet or his heart, skewed too grouchy in an early draft of the script. ”He said, ‘I’ll do anything, I’ll be tough, I’ll be demanding, I’ll be closed up sexually, but I won’t be mean,”’ says Frankel. (”That’s right,” says Jones. ”It’s a trope — the bad daddy in a chick flick. And that’s what I thought would be boring.”) The actor’s instincts, says the director, ”were 100 percent right.”

The main source of Hope Springs‘ humor, says Frankel, comes from Kay dragging a very reluctant Arnold off to a weekend in the titular coastal Maine town, where they squirm and emote on the couch. Steve Carell, who plays their earnest marriage therapist, is the film’s unlikely straight man. ”It’s a very simple, unmannered, very compassionate performance,” says Frankel.

Despite the cast’s extraordinary pedigree, one could see how a summer movie about grown-ups trying to save their marriage through talk therapy might terrify studio executives. So Frankel shot the film in just 37 days on a budget of roughly $30 million, the lowest he’s been granted for a feature film in two decades. ”But that’s how these movies should be made,” he says. ”You don’t go into it expecting to see lines of teenage boys waiting to get into Hope Springs.” On the other hand, their parents — who endured last summer’s melee of comic-book characters and flipping cars — could probably use the night out. —Karen Valby Aug. 10

Sparkle
Whitney Houston’s final movie is a remake of the 1976 musical drama Sparkle, which starred Irene Cara as a singer in a Supremes-like vocal group and featured now-classic tunes written by Curtis Mayfield and performed on the soundtrack album by Aretha Franklin (including ”Something He Can Feel,” which En Vogue covered in the early ’90s). Houston, who died just three months after production wrapped, spent more than a decade trying to kick-start the film. She served as executive producer and plays the mother of the star-in-the-making title character. ”Whitney loved the idea of folks going after their dreams, what it takes to reach your hopes and wants,” says director and producer Salim Akil. ”It was the aspirational aspect that I think she connected to.”

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who plays Sparkle, says that she identified with her character’s rough ride to success. ”I was 17 when I did Idol and was so excited to be a part of everything,” says the singer, now 22. ”Then you go through a few things in a couple of years and meet people who aren’t so nice. Sparkle goes through the same thing, and by the end she’s transformed and has found her voice.” It’s a demanding role for a first-time actress, and Sparks often looked to her costar for guidance. ”Whitney was so amazing,” says Sparks, who performs an R. Kelly-penned duet, ”Celebrate,” with Houston on the movie’s soundtrack. ”And she didn’t take any crap, either. If she wasn’t feeling something, she would let you know.” Exactly what you’d expect from a pop diva. —Rob Brunner Aug. 17

The Bourne Legacy
It’s been five years since Matt Damon hauled ass across the rooftops of Tangier in The Bourne Ultimatum. Since then, a lot has changed. Actually, everything‘s changed. After Damon and director Paul Greengrass decided to take a breather from the series, Universal was left with the thorny problem of how to keep its marquee franchise alive without its biggest marquee names. The solution: Create a new on-the-run CIA agent whose parallel story picks up where 2007’s Ultimatum left off.

Enter Jeremy Renner (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol) as Aaron Cross, another covert government-trained assassin. ”The idea was to stretch the horizon of the whole franchise and leave open the opportunity for Matt to come back when he wanted,” says director Tony Gilroy, who’s helped write every script in the Robert Ludlum saga. With Renner playing an entirely new character, Universal gets the Bourne brand at the box office without the fan mutiny that might have come from casting another actor in Damon’s role (à la Roger Moore as James Bond). Needless to say, the high-profile gig is another big step toward the A list for Renner, who also plays Hawkeye in May’s The Avengers. Not that he wouldn’t share the spotlight. Says Renner, ”I told Matt I would love for us both to do the next one together.” We’ve got the title: Bourne and Bourne Again. —Chris Nashawaty Aug. 3

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Two NBC comedy stars (Parks and Recreation‘s Rashida Jones and SNL‘s Andy Samberg) play the title characters in a bittersweet Sundance comedy about recent exes who remain friends while exploring new romantic interests. ”The idea is that you can love somebody and you get to this certain level of growth and then it doesn’t work anymore,” says Jones, who co-wrote the script with actor Will McCormack (Brothers & Sisters). ”Even if you love each other, it doesn’t mean that you’re right to spend the rest of your living days together.”

When she’s not figuring out her complex love life, trend spotter Celeste works with a bratty Ke$ha-like singer played by Emma Roberts, who describes her character as ”every stereotypical pop star morphed into one lovable head of extensions.” Celeste faces even more drama on the home front: Though she and Jesse have split, there’s some residual affection. So Jones found herself getting intimate with her costar and longtime buddy. ”I’m like, ‘I’m going to mack so hard on Andy Samberg,”’ she says. ”’And I’m going to write a whole movie with my best friend just to make that happen.”’ Mission accomplished. —Dave Karger Aug TBA

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
The third Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie is a mash-up of two best-selling children’s books by Jeff Kinney — The Last Straw and Dog Days — centering on underdog seventh-grader Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) as he works a summer job at a ritzy country club. ”Even though the actors are getting older,” says Kinney, who also serves as exec producer, ”the subject matter isn’t getting any heavier. The movies are ageless, in a way.” Kinney says his young fans will be especially happy to see two gags leap from page to screen, one involving a dog named Sweetie and another about a ”ladybug cell phone.” —Stephan Lee Aug. 3

Premium Rush
Unfolding more or less in real time, Premium Rush follows a headstrong bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who runs afoul of a corrupt NYC cop (Michael Shannon) keen on seizing his latest cargo. It’s a straightforward concept, but director David Koepp (Ghost Town) calls the film ”the most f—ed-up, difficult logistical thing I’ve ever done.” For one thing, the 2010 production occurred during New York’s hottest summer on record. For another, a collision with a cab resulted in 32 stitches in Gordon-Levitt’s right arm. What will Koepp’s next gig be? ”Whatever it is, I would like it to be people in rooms, talking.” —Adam B. Vary Aug. 24

Total Recall
Even if you haven’t seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci-fi/action mind-bender in a while, you may have total recall of its oft-quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger lines: ”See you at the pahty, Richter!” ”Consider dat a divorce.” ”Give these people ay-uh!” It’s no surprise, then, that Colin Farrell had sometrepidation about taking on one of Schwarzenegger’s best-known roles: Douglas Quaid, an Everyman factory worker who discovers that his memories have been artificially implanted and that he is actually a freedom fighter battling a totalitarian regime. ”Arnie did something that nobody else did at that time or has done since,” Farrell says. ”Don’t ask me what that is, but I’m a fan of it.”

Director Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard) says the reported $200 million update takes a dramatically different approach to the source material, Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story ”We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” ”I had no interest in just remaking Verhoeven’s film with updated effects,” he says. ”This script goes further into the head space of the character of Quaid. What would that really be like, being told you’re somebody you don’t believe you are?”

There are other major differences in tone and story line from the original movie: For starters, Farrell’s Quaid doesn’t travel to Mars (sorry, fanboys, there will be no ”Get your ass to Mars” in this version), while Kate Beckinsale’s villain is an amalgam of the characters played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside in the 1990 film. Still, Wiseman is aware that he’s potentially courting the ire of a loyal constituency. ”You’re always going to piss people off,” he says. ”It’s just part of the process until this movie comes out.” And implants some new memories of its own. —Josh Rottenberg Aug. 3

The Campaign
Good running mates are hard to find, but a Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis ballot had no trouble getting Warner Bros.’ endorsement. ”We sold this movie entirely on the pitch: two of the funniest guys on the planet ripping each other to pieces in a political campaign,” explains director Jay Roach (Game Change, Dinner for Schmucks). ”That never failed to hook anyone.”

Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a slick four-term North Carolina congressman whose Anthony Weiner-style gaffe (one of his sexy voicemails goes public) opens the door for a naive Republican challenger, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). ”It’s the story of a Beltway outsider who’s coached up into politics,” says Ferrell. ”Anyway, that’s the jumping-off point.”

From there the race elevates — or rather, sinks — from genteel debating to all-out warfare, entailing everything from accusations of communism to pornographic TV spots. ”We just started thinking, ‘What’s the craziest thing an election could see?”’ says co-writer Chris Henchy (The Other Guys), who drew much of the script’s comic inspiration from straight news and political shows. Adds Galifianakis, ”You look at the climate of political ads these days, and [this movie] isn’t too far from the truth.” Be careful, Zach: You might get a few write-in votes come November. —Adam Markovitz Aug. 10

The Expendables 2
Sylvester Stallone’s first all-star throwback epic, 2010’s The Expendables, was so brimming with manliness that some filmgoers spontaneously grew beards. For the sequel, the guiding philosophy seems to be: Bigger is better. ”More action, more humor, more stars, more everything,” promises Dolph Lundgren, who’s back as the mean Swede Gunnar Jensen. ”And we do it the old-school way, which is really the only way we know how.” That means there will be plenty of explosions, gunfights, and hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat as Stallone’s team of mercenaries seeks revenge for a fallen comrade while battling a brand-new villain played by the Muscles From Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger return in beefed-up roles, while Chuck Norris and comparative youngster Liam Hemsworth notch up the testosterone levels even higher. ”I was working with all these guys I grew up watching — it was nuts,” says the Hunger Games star. ”Once Jean-Claude kicked me in the chest by accident. It was like a present, one of the most awesome kicks you could ever receive.” —Keith Staskiewicz Aug. 17

Lawless
In the Prohibition crime drama Lawless, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Jason Clarke play real-life bootlegging siblings who hustle moonshine by the mason jar and try to avoid the long, corrupt arm of the law, embodied by a venal and vain G-man from Chicago (Guy Pearce). ”Guy was really into playing a villain and was instrumental in designing his character,” says producer Lucy Fisher. ”We ended up making him into a little homage to Nick Cave.” The raven-haired rocker himself penned the screenplay, adapting it from Matt Bondurant’s historical novel The Wettest County in the World. For director John Hillcoat, the source material was a melding of his favorite movie types. ”It combines two great American genres — the gangster film and the Western,” he says. Plus, everyone got to take the edge off by indulging in some high-octane homemade liquor. ”It’s seriously like rocket fuel,” says Hillcoat. ”All in the course of good research, of course.” —Keith Staskiewicz Aug. 31

Paranorman
It’s not easy being a preteen, especially when your only friends are dead. In this stop-motion animated adventure from LAIKA — the studio behind the 2009 hit Coraline — Norman (voiced by Let Me In‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a pariah whose ability to talk to ghosts finally comes in handy when his Massachusetts town is attacked by zombies. ”It’s John Carpenter meets John Hughes,” says codirector Chris Butler, who also lists The Goonies and Scooby-Doo among the film’s influences. ”I wanted it to be about the fairly typical obstacles that kids face — fitting in, rivalry, bullying, and zombie invasion.” Growing up sure is different these days. —John Young Aug. 17

The Odd Life of Timothy Green
All that Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) want is a child. But after countless failed fertility treatments, they bury a box in their backyard as a way of saying goodbye to their parental dreams. But the very next morning, a kind 10-year-old named Timothy Green (Dan in Real Life‘s CJ Adams) seems to have grown right out of the grass. Garner was charmed by her young costar’s boyish innocence. ”CJ would be running around kicking a soccer ball with Joel one minute,” she says, ”and the next minute be on his stomach looking for a four-leaf clover.” As if the pint-size headliner weren’t lucky enough. —Grady Smith Aug. 15

Also Opening

Rachel Weisz and Jude Law get down and dirty in 360 (8/3)…. Two teenage girls are as helpless as LITTLE BIRDS when they run away to L.A. (8/3)…. After hooking up with Adam Goldberg in 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy moves on to Chris Rock for 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (8/10)…. A ghost haunts a British boarding school in THE AWAKENING (8/10)…. Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi gives Iranian violinist Nasser Ali Khan a live-action tribute in CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (8/17)…. Twilight‘s Ashley Greene and Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton team up to confront THE APPARITION (8/24)…. Dax Shepard plays a getaway driver trying to avoid a HIT AND RUN (8/24)…. Oscar winner Jean Dujardin tells some LITTLE WHITE LIES (8/24)…. Gael GarcíBernal faces betrayal — and cliffs! — on a hiking trip across THE LONELIEST PLANET (8/24)…. The creators of the Teletubbies bounce into theaters with colorful new critters THE OOGIELOVES IN THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE (8/29)…. Orlando Bloom wants to be THE GOOD DOCTOR, but he’s interested in his 18-year-old patient (8/31)…. A yard-sale box houses a demonic spirit in THE POSSESSION (8/31)…. Pacific Flight 7500 proves supernaturally terrifying for Ryan Kwanten and Leslie Bibb (TBA)…. In THE BAYTOWN DISCO, redneck brothers brawl with Billy Bob Thornton (TBA)…. A phone call gone wrong seriously damages a girl’s life in COMPLIANCE (TBA). —Grady Smith

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