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Summer movie preview: July

”The Amazing Spider-Man,” ”Savages,” and more

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The Amazing Spider-Man
The half-life of pop culture keeps getting shorter. Exhibit A: It’s been only five years since Tobey Maguire was seen swinging around skyscrapers in Spider-Man 3. And even though that glum and gloomy installment divided fans of the iconic Marvel superhero, it still managed to rake in nearly $900 million around the world. So when Maguire and the original trilogy’s director, Sam Raimi, decided that they’d reached a creative dead end, Sony scrambled to keep the hand-over-fist franchise humming. After all, Spider-Man is too big a brand — and too important to the studio’s bottom line — to let die. Sony quickly rebooted the series, dipping back into the comics and spinning a new story with a new director and a new Spidey.

On paper, Marc Webb might seem an unlikely candidate to take the reins of a nine-figure film shot in 3-D and festooned with hundreds of F/X shots. The director’s previous film, 2009’s quirky rom-com (500) Days of Summer, cost a mere $7.5 million. But anyone who saw that film could tell that Webb cared about complex characters and emotions. And that’s exactly what Sony wanted to see amped up in its new Spider-Man: Peter Parker as existential high school outsider. ”You look at (500) Days of Summer and you can see that Marc is a softy,” says producer Avi Arad. ”Sam was very interested in the comic-book world and the specific look of certain panels. What Marc brings is a more realistic, more contemporary feel.”

As for the man replacing Maguire behind the mask, Webb auditioned hundreds of actors before handpicking Andrew Garfield, the 28-year-old Brit who had just popped in David Fincher’s The Social Network. What the director didn’t know at the time was just how familiar Garfield was with his webslinging alter ego. ”The first time I saw Spider-Man was on the animated TV series,” says Garfield. ”It floored me as a kid. I loved the character and pretended I was Peter Parker.” Adds Webb, ”Listening to Andrew talk about Spider-Man, you almost get the sense that playing this part was his destiny.”

To raise his Spider-Man above the standard superhero story, Webb filled his cast with actors as compelling as his leading man. Enter Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and Emma Stone as Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy. The Gwen Stacy story line is well-known to comic-book fans, but less so to moviegoers weaned on Raimi’s trilogy of films, which starred Kirsten Dunst as Peter’s other major girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. ”There’s a different texture to the relationship with Gwen,” says Webb. ”She’s incredibly smart, maybe even smarter than Peter. They have a Hepburn/Tracy dynamic that I love’.’

Another crucial departure for the new Spidey is his nemesis. The Green Goblin and Doc Ock are out, Dr. Curt Connors (a.k.a. the Lizard) is in. Webb, whose knowledge of Spider-Man minutiae borders on the obsessive, insists that the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is a more complicated baddie than we’ve seen before. Not only does his past intersect with that of Peter’s dead father, he also lost an arm, which leaves him scarred in more ways than one. ”The Lizard is the literal embodiment of the theme of our movie,” says Webb. ”We all have missing pieces — Peter is missing his parents, Dr. Curt Connors is missing his arm. It’s how we try to fill that void that defines us.”

If all this seems like a lot of change for die-hard Spidey fans to accept, Sony’s marketing team has been waging a nonstop war to win hearts and minds. In February the studio hosted a global simulcast that introduced the cast and unveiled some rough-cut scenes. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Now, less than three months before Spider-Man is reborn, Webb is busy fine-tuning the last of his film’s 3-D F/X sequences. After that he plans to go to New York City, where he just bought an apartment, and decompress by sleeping and taking in a few Broadway shows. We’re guessing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark won’t be one of them. —Chris Nashawaty July 3

Savages
”It’s just a wholesome story about drugs, sex, and violence,” says Blake Lively of Savages. To be more specific, director/co-writer Oliver Stone’s action thriller follows two best pals and marijuana growers, Chon (John Carter‘s Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Kick-Ass‘ Aaron Johnson), who run afoul of a Mexican cartel leader named Elena (Salma Hayek) seeking to control the guys’ crop of superstrong weed. Ben and Chon wind up declaring war on the cartel after Elena and her henchman (Benicio Del Toro) kidnap Ophelia (Lively), a Laguna Beach hippie who’s in a relationship with both Ben and Chon.

”It’s not wholly an action film,” says Stone of the $48 million movie, which is based on the acclaimed 2010 novel by Don Winslow. ”It’s a full-blown epic story of greed, violence, the border, the drugs, the relationships, the values of people.”

Despite Ophelia’s sordid love life, Lively (Gossip Girl) insists her character is no mere sex object. ”The thing that’s empowering about this is that she’s choosing,” says the actress. ”They’re best friends and they all love each other, and then they also all have sex with each other, too!” And though Lively spends much of the film as a kidnap victim, Stone urged her to train for her action scenes. ”I went to the gun range and my first three shots were right in the center target,” says the actress. ”[The crew] knew not to sass me, because I was packing.” —Tim Stack July 6

Ice Age: Continental Drift
No one welcomed the prospect of a fourth Ice Age film more than Ray Romano, who voices the woolly mammoth Manny and has now managed to get each of his four kids a vocal cameo in the series. ”I don’t have any more kids,” says Romano, whose daughter, Ally, 21, plays a gossipy woolly mammoth in Continental Drift. ”So I’m in the clear.” Things weren’t as smooth for Wanda Sykes, who plays the grandma of John Leguizamo’s goofy sloth, Sid. Though Sykes hoped to use her best old-lady voice, the producers had other ideas. ”What the hell do you mean, my voice is fine for Granny?” she recalls telling them. ”I should sound like Betty White.” —April Daley July 13

The Queen of Versailles
Photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield set out to chronicle billionaire David Siegel and his former-beauty-queen wife, Jackie, as they began building the biggest private house in America — a 90,000-square-foot monstrosity outside Orlando modeled in part on the Palace of Versailles. But when Siegel’s time-share business took a hit in the Great Recession of 2008, Greenfield had a much more intriguing story on her hands. ”The miraculous and magical thing was that Jackie and David were generous and trusting enough to let me stay with the story when it started to change,” she says. Her depiction of gross opulence going to seed was a fave at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. —Stephan Lee July 6

Ted
What if your childhood teddy bear came to life? What if he stayed alive long after you grew up, degenerating into a filthy-mouthed, bong-sucking little fur ball who, though he’s still your best friend, is kinda ruining your life? That’s the premise of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film, starring Mark Wahlberg as the bear’s owner and Mila Kunis (Black Swan) as his put-upon girlfriend. MacFarlane himself is the voice and motion-capture actor behind the CG — but decidedly not PG — creature. ”I’d say it’s as R-rated as R-rated can get,” says Kunis of the film. ”I mean, MacFarlane’s truly one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet, but that man can do his poo-fart jokes like no other.”

Even so, MacFarlane says he was careful not to get too gross. ”We’ve actually run into this problem on Family Guy,” he says. ”We’ll have a table read and there will be a tonnage of sex jokes or s— jokes, and at a certain point it starts to numb the audience and you lose investment in the story. The movie is very balanced. There’s a surprising amount of heart.”

Most of all, MacFarlane wanted the bear to seem truly alive, like a breathing, feeling presence rather than some computer effect. ”It’s an attempt to make a relationship between a live actor and a CG character as seamless as possible,” he says. ”The goal should be to make you forget that what you’re watching is animated.” —Rob Brunner July 13

Neighborhood Watch
It’s got all the elements of a great summer comedy: Ben Stiller. Vince Vaughn. Jonah Hill. Plus a script co-written by Seth Rogen about a misfit band of volunteer crime fighters who battle an alien invasion. ”I’m the manager of a Costco who is always starting clubs in his community — Spanish-speaking club, senior reading centers — because I don’t have any friends,” says Stiller. Vaughn plays a suburban dad who joins mostly because, according to Vaughn, ”he’s excited to get out of the house and hang with some guys.” And Hill’s character signs up after being rejected by the local police force due to emotional problems. ”You know that kid you grew up with who wanted to be in the Army since, like, the second grade?” says Hill. ”That’s me.”

Of course, the movie’s title has an unintended overtone since the real-life slaying of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood-watch captain in Florida. But Stiller, who faced a similar situation with Zoolander, isn’t worried about fallout, with the release date still months away: ”You’re talking to the guy who had the first comedy out after 9/11.” —Benjamin Svetkey July 27

Ruby Sparks
In directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ first movie since 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, a romantically deprived and creatively struggling novelist (Being Flynn‘s Paul Dano) starts writing about a make-believe girl from his dreams, only to discover that very woman (It’s Complicated‘s Zoe Kazan) sitting inside his house. ”He’s not sure if he’s going crazy or not,” says Dano, ”but from his subconscious sprang this perfect woman for him.” If only all bouts of writer’s block ended this way. —John Young July 25

Also Opening
The 3-D concert film KATY PERRY: PART OF ME offers a new way of seeing a July 4 ”Firework” (7/5)…. Two brothers compete in their own 25-event olympiad, THE DO-DECA-PENTATHALON (7/6)…. Morgan Freeman plays a washed-up alcoholic in THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (7/6)…. The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman somehow missed the memo that dealing drugs never leads to EASY MONEY (7/11)…. Diane Kruger is Marie Antoinette in FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (7/13)…. Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy use RED LIGHTS to research the paranormal (7/13)…. Freida Pinto plays TRISHNA, a woman who falls for a young resort manager from a traditional Indian family (7/13)…. Nervous wreck Mira Sorvino crashes at her disciplined sister’s NYC loft near UNION SQUARE (7/20)…. In THE WELL-DIGGER’S DAUGHTER, Daniel Auteuil deals with his convent-raised daughter’s pregnancy in pre-WWII France (7/20)…. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY profiles the Chinese artist and activist (7/27)…. Emile Hirsch hires KILLER JOE, played by Matthew McConaughey, to off his mom (7/27)…. Two South Africans are SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN in this doc about Detroit-born folksinger Sixto Rodriguez, who all but disappeared in the 1970s (7/27)…. STEP UP REVOLUTION takes the dance-flick franchise to white-hot Miami (7/27). —Grady Smith