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Summer movie preview: June

”Snow White and the Huntsman,” ”Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” and more

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Snow White and the Huntsman
How to explain the enduring allure of fairy tales? Snow White and the Huntsman star Kristen Stewart puts it this way: ”When good overtakes evil, it just feels f—ing good.” But SWATH‘s dark new take on the classic has a lot more evil than Disney-raised audiences are accustomed to seeing. In this version, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is a monstrous villain hoping to consume the still-beating heart of her stepdaughter, Snow White (Stewart), and the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) ordered to track Snow White through the Dark Forest is a despondent, hard-drinking widower. And that’s to say nothing of the fierce large-scale battle led by the armor-clad fairest-of-them-all heroine. What would Uncle Walt say?

”It was always one of the more interesting fairy tales that I read as a kid — some of those images really scarred my retina and stayed with me,” says Rupert Sanders, a first-time feature director known for his stylish commercials. ”Other [fairy tales] are a bit pink and fluffy and princessy, but Snow White has got a hard gothic edge to it. My approach was a big, epic, sweeping medieval film with the visual decisiveness of a graphic novel.” But, Sanders says, it was just as important to have an emotional story to build upon. ”A lot of time as a commercial director you get saddled with ‘Oh, he’s style over substance.’ This was a chance for me to create a great world based on a great story.”

Sanders’ clarity about how the film should look and feel won him the gig — and a $100 million-plus budget from Universal. ”The studio was very trusting,” says Sanders. ”I was expecting to be handcuffed to the set every day, spending that kind of money.” His vision also helped attract the A-list cast. ”Rupert just has an incredible eye,” says Theron. ”He knows how to create and give a sense of a real world. It’s magical, but you feel it. It has a real effect on you.”

None of the actors pretend the road through the Dark Forest was easy. ”Rupert beat me up,” Stewart jokes. ”He definitely threw me off cliffs and made me trudge through frigid, icy waters. It looks so cool, though. I can actually see the pain and discomfort and fear on my face. It’s awesome.”

Sanders definitely appreciated Stewart’s perseverance. ”What’s great about Kristen is that it’s one thing to be like, ‘I’ll jump off the building.’ It’s another thing to be s— scared about jumping and then go ahead and do it,” says the director. ”She didn’t want to ride horses, and ultimately she rode in front of 200 horses galloping at full speed across the beach in front of an army. She’s very brave.”

Hemsworth, meanwhile, inadvertently went Method to play the morose huntsman, because filming coincided with a strict diet to shed the 30 pounds he’d added to portray the muscle-bound Thor in The Avengers. ”I was mildly psychotic at times, I think,” says the actor, who’s married to Elsa Pataky from Fast Five. ”I was moody and tired — it fit the character well but not so much my home life. My wife could certainly back that up.”

Theron had a much easier time on the shoot. ”I did love being in that castle,” she says. ”How many times do you get to pretend you live in a giant old castle and scream at people and order them around?” By pure coincidence, Queen Ravenna’s royal palace was built on the same stage at London’s famed Pinewood Studios that housed the spaceship for Theron’s other big summer tentpole, Prometheus. ”There were definitely a couple of mornings when I was driving to work and thinking, ‘Okay, this is ridiculous,”’ she says with a laugh. ”You cannot be jaded about this stuff.” In Hollywood, there’s always hope for happily ever after. —Sara Vilkomerson June 1

That’s My Boy
America’s most popular man-child finally has a man-child of his own. In his decidedly raunchy new comedy, Adam Sandler plays a louche, hard-living playboy who impregnated his Mary Kay Letourneau-esque teacher when he was only 13. Years later, he shows up at the door of his now-fully-grown son, played, perhaps inevitably, by Andy Samberg. ”I felt like it was almost a birthright,” says Samberg of his role. ”We look similar, we both have similar names, we both came from SNL, and we both look amazing in profile. It was meant to be.” —Keith Staskiewicz June 15

People Like Us
Chris Pine may be reteaming with his Star Trek screenwriters Alex Kurtzman (who also directs) and Roberto Orci, but People Like Us is strictly earth-bound. After learning that his recently deceased father had a secret daughter (Elizabeth Banks) out of wedlock, Pine insinuates himself into her life but can’t bring himself to tell her about their connection — even when she begins to develop romantic feelings for him. ”If we’ve done our jobs, people will squirm in their seats and then forget about it,” Pine says. ”We’re not making a film about incest.” Now that would have been boldly going where no one has gone before. —Dave Karger June 29

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Seven years after the original Madagascar burst into theaters, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still trying to make it home to the Central Park Zoo. This time around, the mammalian friends end up in Monaco on the run from a crazed animal-control officer named Madame DuBois (Frances McDormand), who’s determined to mount Alex’s head on her wall. Since most Europeans aren’t used to seeing giraffes and zebras clop down their cobbled streets, the quartet join a traveling circus to avoid attracting too much attention. While there, Alex falls for a trapeze-loving jaguar named Gia, voiced by Jessica Chastain. ”I pretend that I know how to do this trapeze act that I’ve never done called Trapeze Americano,” says Stiller. ”It’s not very successful.”

Since all four of the main vocal stars are also parents (Schwimmer became a dad just last May), it’s easy to understand the appeal of being part of a hit kiddie franchise. Still, Pinkett Smith wonders if her offspring — Jaden, 13, and Willow, 11 — might soon outgrow the series. ”They’re gonna dig on it because Mommy’s in it, but I doubt that they’re going to watch it over and over like they did the first one,” she explains. As Chris Rock jokingly notes, ”They wanna go see Shame!” —Grady Smith June 8

Magic Mike
When Channing Tatum brought up the idea of making a movie about his pre-Hollywood stint as a stripper, director Steven Soderbergh decided his long-planned retirement might have to wait just a little bit longer. ”I immediately thought, ‘That’s one of the best movie ideas I’ve ever heard,”’ says the director, who was working with Tatum on January’s Haywire and is reteaming with him on the medical thriller Bitter Pill. ”I had never seen that world before on screen.”

Tatum stars as Mike, a veteran stripper who inducts a new recruit (Alex Pettyfer) into an all-male revue of beefcake dancers (including Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, and Kevin Nash) run by a slightly unhinged owner (Matthew McConaughey). ”It could’ve been an incredibly awkward experience, but we became an instant band of brothers,” says Bomer of dancing with his costars. ”We would all watch when someone was doing a dance number and clap when they called ‘Cut!”’

Will the average American male moviegoer be equally enthusiastic? Even Tatum isn’t certain. ”Unless you’re a guy who likes that, you’re not going to say to your buddy, like, ‘Yo, what’s up, man? After the football game tonight, you wanna go see Magic Mike?”’ he says with a laugh. Soderbergh, however, is more sanguine. ”How could anyone not want to see this?” asks the director. ”Believe me, you’d want to be one of these guys.” —Adam Markovitz June 29

Brave
For all Pixar’s success — a dozen straight hits earning a total of $7.2 billion worldwide and 40 Oscar nominations — there remains one thing the animation giant has yet to produce: a feature with a female lead. That finally changes with the medieval fantasy epic Brave, starring a red-haired Scottish teenager named Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire‘s Kelly Macdonald).

Merida isn’t just another Disney princess. Though she’s the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), she resists all efforts to marry her off to one of three suitors from nearby clans. ”She wants to be in charge of her own destiny,” says codirector Mark Andrews, ”and to say she rocks the boat is an understatement.” Instead of exchanging vows, Merida seeks the help of a witch (Julie Walters) and ends up endangering the entire kingdom. Luckily, she’s a fierce warrior — which makes her stand apart from most animated heroines.

”It’s funny to think about Merida being in a Disneyland parade,” says Macdonald. ”I can just imagine her skulking behind all the other princesses, wishing she was off on her horse somewhere.” In addition to horseback riding, Merida can climb, wield a sword, and use a bow and arrow, making her a relative of sorts to The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen. According to Andrews, though, Katniss wouldn’t have stood a chance against Merida: ”Nobody would have even gotten to those backpacks.” —John Young June 22

To Rome With Love
Originally, Woody Allen wanted to call his 43rd film The Bop Decameron. But nobody got the reference to 14th-century Italian literature. ”Not even in Italy,” says Allen. Then he tried Nero Fiddles. But overseas distributors objected. ”I guess it’s an American expression,” he says. Finally, he settled on To Rome With Love, again including a European city in his titles, like last year’s Midnight in Paris, the biggest hit of his career. The film presents various romantic vignettes in the Italian capital acted by a big international cast, with Allen himself appearing on screen for the first time since 2006’s Scoop. ”I give my traditional nonacting performance,” he says. ”I whine my way through it.” —Benjamin Svetkey June 22

Your Sister’s Sister
A Seattle slacker (The League‘s Mark Duplass), grieving after his brother’s death, retreats to a forest cabin owned by the father of his friend Iris (Emily Blunt). When he arrives, Iris’ half sister Hannah (Mad Men‘s Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there, recovering from a breakup. And then things really get complicated. ”It sounds a little bit like Days of Our Lives,” jokes Duplass of the acclaimed indie from the Toronto and Sundance festivals. ”But it’s a quirky bedroom farce.” Since DeWitt stepped in for Rachel Weisz just before shooting began, she and Blunt had precious little time to form a sisterly bond. Says DeWitt, ”We’re going to write a book on how to develop chemistry in three hours.” —Adam B. Vary June 15

Prometheus
Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s splashy Alien prequel (or is it?), has been hyped as one of the most anticipated movies of the year. At least, to a certain segment of the audience that geeks out about not only two-minute trailers but also the 20-second online teasers for those trailers. But will folks who don’t know the difference between a face hugger and a space jockey show up on opening weekend? That’s the high-stakes question facing Fox’s megabudget summer tentpole. Scott & Co. have been tight-lipped about Prometheus‘ plot — especially its ties to the director’s visionary 1979 chest-exploding classic — other than to say that the new film has strands of ”Alien DNA”” and that fans of the original will be rewarded in ”the final 12 minutes.”

Here’s what we do know: The film, written by newcomer Jon Spaihts and Lost‘s Damon Lindelof, revolves around the crew of a spaceship that heads off to a distant planet, which is home to a civilization that visited Earth long ago and left evidence of its existence. Needless to say, the mission doesn’t go according to plan. Donning the film’s snug and sexy space suits are Charlize Theron as a corporate heavy, Michael Fassbender as the crew’s mysterious synthetic life-form, and the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, as the film’s top-billed star, an archaeologist who leads the gung ho voyage. ”I didn’t want to go to Hollywood at first,” says Rapace. ”But all of the movies I love are made here — Thelma & Louise, Alien, anything with female heroines.” (Bonus: Scott directed both.)

Whether she’ll be as badass as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is anyone’s guess. Scott certainly isn’t saying. In fact, the only thing the 74-year-old director seems willing to spill is how young he feels returning to his genre roots. ”I really forgot how fun the world of science fiction is,” he says. ”It’s where anything goes. I’m already thinking about what I’m going to do for Prometheus 2.” Just don’t expect him to share what that is. —Chris Nashawaty June 8

Rock of Ages
Haven’t you always wanted to hear Tom Cruise sing ”Pour Some Sugar on Me”? In the big-screen adaptation of the big-haired Broadway musical, Cruise plays a petulant mega-rocker named Stacee Jaxx circa 1987. The star impressively belts out period hits (including Bon Jovi’s ”Wanted Dead or Alive”) and sports a revealing wardrobe inspired by ’80s hair bands. ”I wasn’t going to ask Tom to go as far as he went,” says director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) of his 49-year-old star. ”We had these pictures of the guy from W.A.S.P. in a codpiece with sparks coming out of it. And it just made Tom laugh. At an age when people are starting to play junior senators, he’s in assless chaps.”

As new Hollywood transplants trying to break into the music industry, Julianne Hough (Footloose) and Diego Boneta (90210) also wear some memorable duds. ”I’d put on something and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so gross — it’s perfect!”’ says Hough. ”There’s a purple bikini with lime green accents on it. I literally have nightmares about that bikini still.” At least her behind was covered. —Dave Karger June 15

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Six-year-old Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) may not look like much, but you’d definitely want her on your side when the floodwaters rise, prehistoric creatures start marching across the land, and the apocalypse looms on the horizon. In a dreamlike fable that won the Grand Jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the intrepid Hushpuppy tries to rescue her ailing daddy, Wink (Dwight Henry), from what appears to be the end of the world. As if the subject weren’t daunting enough, first-time feature director Benh Zeitlin cast nonprofessional actors in all the roles. As a result, the screenplay — which Zeitlin co-wrote with Lucy Alibar — ”had to be flexible enough so that when we found each actor we could change the character to fit them,” he says. —Anthony Breznican June 27

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Woe to the gullible student who turns to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter before a history test. The film weaves together real-life incidents from the life of the 16th U.S. president and a fantastical backstory about vampires backing the Confederacy and triggering the Civil War (because slaves are a convenient food supply, of course). ”I loved mixing and merging the genres,” says director Timur Bekmambetov, whose credits include 2008’s Wanted and the Russian vampire saga Night Watch and Day Watch. ”Here is the first time there is a movie with a real historical character being a superhero.”

Produced by Tim Burton from a script co-written by novelist Seth Grahame-Smith, the film hits theaters six months before Steven Spielberg’s more serious-minded Lincoln biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis. But Vampire Hunter star Benjamin Walker (Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) says he also tried to capture a realistic side of the president, even in the service of popcorn-flick fantasy. ”As Americans, we distance ourselves from Lincoln in some ways. We place him on a pedestal and remove his humanity,” he says. ”The more I studied him, the thing that was magnificent about him was he was a common man who did extraordinary things.” Lincoln was known by the working-class nickname the Rail Splitter, after all. Perhaps it’s not such a stretch to imagine him as a Head Splitter, too. —Anthony Breznican June 22

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra features several new recruits, including director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2) and stars Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis. ”The Cobra command is trying to take over the world,” says Johnson. ”I get Bruce Willis and we start kicking ass.” How much Rise of Cobra star Channing Tatum participates in the rump booting is unclear. The freshly minted A-lister has little screen time in the movie’s trailer, which hints at a terrible tragedy befalling the Joe team. Would Mr. The Rock care to comment on Tatum’s part in Retaliation? ”Um, yeah,” Johnson laughs coyly. ”He’s in the film and he reprises his role!” —Clark Collis June 29

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
While penning Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, writer-director Lorene Scafaria was dealing with a recent death in the family, a breakup, and a new relationship. ”I was obsessed with love and death,” she says, ”and I was excited to tell the story of boy meets girl with a really ticking clock.” Enter Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, unlikely partners in the last weeks before an asteroid destroys Earth. Scafaria wrote uptight insurance exec Dodge with Carell in mind, but the casting of Knightley as free-spirited Penny was more of a surprise. ”Keira never gets to be funny,” she says. —Sara Vilkomerson June 22

Lola Versus
When Lola (Arthur‘s Greta Gerwig), a straitlaced New Yorker in her late 20s, is dumped by her fiancé The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman) just weeks before their wedding, her dreams of a picture-perfect lifestyle appear to vanish, and no amount of booze or boys can help her cope. Gerwig could definitely relate to her character’s anxiety. ”When you’re 24, it’s hard to feel like you’re falling behind because everybody is falling behind,” says the actress. ”But by the time you’re 28 or 29, if someone pulls the rug out from under you, then it’s much scarier.” Seems that growing up, just like breaking up, is hard to do. —Grady Smith June 8

Also Opening

Kids compete on underground dance teams in BATTLEFIELD AMERICA (6/1)…. CHELY WRIGHT: WISH ME AWAY chronicles the country star’s decision to come out (6/1)…. Adrien Brody plays a nutso drug dealer who gets a HIGH SCHOOL student in big trouble (6/1)…. More blood will be shed in PIRANHA 3DD (6/1)…. Robert Pattinson worms his way into Paris high society in BEL AMI (6/8)…. Uptight lawyer Catherine Keener visits hippie mom Jane Fonda and finds PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING (6/8)…. Aubrey Plaza answers an ad seeking a time-travel partner that warns: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (6/8)…. A Serbian performance artist stares down willing onlookers in the doc MARINA ABRAMOVI´: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (6/13)…. When Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe’s child is killed, they go from being THE TORTURED to the torturers (6/15)…. Kristin Scott Thomas is THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, a suspicious widow who gets scarily close to Ethan Hawke (6/15)…. Rock doc NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS follows the final two nights of the singer’s recent world tour (6/29)…. Michelle Williams may be wed to Seth Rogen, but she wants to TAKE THIS WALTZ with her hottie artist neighbor (6/29). —Grady Smith

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