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Summer Movie Preview: May

”Men in Black 3,” ”Dark Shadows,” and more

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Men in Black 3

Ask director Barry Sonnenfeld how he maintained his sanity during the making of Men in Black 3 — a process fraught with production delays, an ever-evolving screenplay, and a budget that reportedly soared above $215 million — and he pauses for a few seconds before answering. ”Well, I got to lose 30 pounds through stress,” he says, deadpan. ”Some people use Metrecal and some use other methods, but I think the best dietary technique is to direct an incredibly difficult, complicated visual-effects comedy without a final script when you start.”

You might think banging out the third installment of a sci-fi comedy series that’s grossed more than $1 billion worldwide would be simple: Just take the Ray-Ban-wearing, alien-monitoring duo of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones); introduce a new extraterrestrial baddie bent on destroying the earth; and stir. You’d be wrong. The basic pitch for the threequel’s story — Agent J travels back in time to 1969 to stop an alien named Boris (Jemaine Clement) from assassinating Agent K (played in his younger incarnation by Josh Brolin) — was actually suggested by Smith during the making of 2002’s Men in Black II. But developing that idea into a workable script proved extremely challenging.

To guarantee that Men in Black 3 would be Smith’s next film and to lock in New York state tax rebates, Sony put the movie into production in November 2010 before the screenplay was finished. Working out the various logical conundrums involved in time travel was difficult, says Sonnenfeld, who’d also directed the first two films. ”Just when you think you’ve solved every problem, you wake up in the morning and go, ‘Wait a minute, if he knew that then…’ And then you’re back to square one. I can’t tell you how many times we watched Back to the Future.” Brolin says he sensed the pressure Sonnenfeld was under after he shot his very first scene — and the director burst out crying. ”Tears were flowing down Barry’s face, and I looked over at Will and Will was laughing hysterically,” recalls Brolin. ”I was like, ‘Who’s my rock here?’ That happened again and again for the next five months.”

Around Christmas, the film went on hiatus until the following April so the remainder of the script — mainly involving the 1960s portion of the story — could be finished. That decision inevitably sparked buzz about a troubled production. ”They needed to figure some s— out and they did,” Brolin says. ”It would have been dumb to say, ‘How are we going to be perceived?”’ Still, the continual script tinkering created plenty of headaches, says Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker. ”They’d write a scene where there’d be, say, six aliens, and we’d start building those. Then it was like, ‘Oh, we’ve written that scene out,”’ he says. ”It got to a point where I said, ‘Let’s just make as many cool aliens as we can, and if we can find a place to put them, great.”’ (He wound up designing 127 different aliens for the film.)

Brolin had his own challenge: trying to mimic Jones’ staccato vocal mannerisms and brusque demeanor. ”If you’re doing a bad Tommy Lee Jones impression while you’re out drinking, that’s one thing,” he says. ”Then if someone says, ‘We’re putting hundreds of millions of dollars into this movie and the weight is on you to get this right’ — you can get a little curmudgeonly yourself.”

To his relief, Sonnenfeld says, not only did Brolin nail his performance but the film as a whole came together far better than anyone — including perhaps Sonnenfeld — might have expected. ”Your first kid is special to you, but I think Men in Black 3 is maybe as good as the first movie,” he says. ”I think we’ll be validated.” That said, he doesn’t sound ready to dive into Men in Black 4 anytime soon. ”The time between the first one and the second one was five years. This one took 10 years. So I’m guessing that the fourth one will be 20 years from now.” He laughs. ”That will be an interesting one.” —Josh Rottenberg May 25

Moonrise Kingdom
Should you ever score a role in a Wes Anderson movie, don’t forget to pack your canteen. ”Doing a movie with Wes is a lot like going to summer scout camp,” says Edward Norton, who plays an earnest scoutmaster who helps lead the search for a pair of preteen runaway lovebirds (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) on a sparsely populated New England island in the summer of 1965. Anderson, Norton, Bill Murray (who plays the girl’s father), and assorted members of the cast and crew even bunked together in a big old vacation home near the film’s Rhode Island set, eating communal dinners and hanging out in the evenings. ”It was like an old summer-theater troupe,” says Norton. ”There were no trailers. Everybody just decided to stay together.”

As with all of Anderson’s films, Moonrise Kingdom places as much emphasis on meticulous visuals as plot. The obsessive director labored over such details as the scout camp’s tents and a series of custom-designed book jackets. To get the perfect interior for the girl’s house, he checked out quirky locations across the country — before finally deciding to just create it from scratch. ”We got things from all these places and mixed them together into this sort of fantasy house,” he says of the painstaking process. ”And then I realized that we’re only in the house, like, four minutes in the whole movie. But in the end I think it was the right choice.” — Rob Brunner May 25

Battleship
Just hear Peter Berg out for a second. The Hancock director admits that he too was skeptical that Battleship could work as a movie. But then he sat down with one of Hasbro’s ”toy psychiatrists” — yes, that’s a real job — to understand why the naval board game has remained so popular for 81 years. ”It first appears to be a random exercise in luck,” says Berg. ”But the second I say ‘hit’ [during a game], something kind of bizarre happens. Your goal is to kill me as ruthlessly and brutally as possible, and I am now panicked and desperate to find you. It is just unrelenting murder. There’s good DNA in that for a movie.”

Instead of depicting a conventional sea battle, Berg hit upon the idea of a maritime alien invasion (inspired by NASA’s real-life efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials). He then recruited Taylor Kitsch — whom he’d cast on NBC’s Friday Night Lights — to star as a ne’er-do-well naval officer, and music superstar Rihanna to play a grunt who’s good with a (very big) gun. ”I’ve been a big believer in musicians-turned-actors,” explains Berg, who hired country singer Tim McGraw for two of his films.

Shooting the $200 million production in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii proved a nerve-rattling challenge for the cast — even though there were snipers on hand in case of shark attacks. ”Obviously you think there’s 25 sharks waiting for you to get in the water,” Kitsch says. ”That’s just my own mindset.” Maybe he should have done Candy Land instead. —Adam. B. Vary May 18

Dark Shadows
Vampires tend to be suave, sophisticated predators. But in Dark Shadows, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is awkward and far outside his comfort zone when he wakes up in the year 1972 after being entombed for two centuries. He meets his gaudy descendants (among them Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, and Chloë Grace Moretz, plus Helena Bonham Carter as the clan’s shrink) and is compelled to protect them from the evil witch (Eva Green) who cursed him as a bloodsucker centuries ago. She doesn’t frighten him, but miniskirts and TVs do.

Director Tim Burton’s comedic thriller is based on the 1966-71 gothic soap opera, which retains a fervent fan base in part because of cheesy production values that added unintentional comic relief. Nonetheless, some fans were shocked, shocked to learn that Burton wouldn’t treat the source material with gloomy earnestness. ”It’s got ‘gloomy earnestness’ as well,” says Burton with a laugh. ”But I wanted to capture the feeling of watching the show. It was very serious, but at the same time, my memory of it has humor.” The jokes, promises screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, are made with affection: ”Few people on this earth love the original series more than Tim and Johnny, but also they wanted to have fun with it and invite new people into this world.” —Anthony Breznican May 11

Hysteria
It’s an easy sell at dinner parties, director Tanya Wexler (Finding North) says of her new movie. ”It’s a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England,” she explains. ”And people always laugh.” Hugh Dancy (Our Idiot Brother) plays an earnest young physician charged with treating women diagnosed with ”hysteria” by stimulating their blues away. He meets his match in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, a proto-feminist who calls bollocks on 19th-century medicine’s catch-all diagnosis for her gender’s dissatisfaction. Needless to say, Wexler gifted every cast and crew member with a vibrator of their own. —Karen Valby May 18

Chernobyl Diaries
Produced and co-written by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), this horror film follows six thrill-seeking Gen-Y tourists trapped in an abandoned city near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Though the format isn’t technically found footage, Peli says he still opted for ”a very natural, documentary-like feel.” Sometimes the actors didn’t even know what scares were coming. ”There would be moments when they were in a quiet situation and not sure what was about to happen next, and we would bang on something to scare them to get this very authentic reaction,” says Peli. Adds co-producer Brian Witten, ”They didn’t quite like that.” —Marc Snetiker May 25

What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Millions of copies of Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s pregnancy bible What to Expect When You’re Expecting have sold since its release in 1984, but director Kirk Jones had never heard of it before he was contacted about the film version. ”When they pitched it to me, I wasn’t aware it was a guidebook,” says Jones, a father of three. ”So when I ordered it and it arrived, my wife saw it and said to me, ‘I thought we had agreed that we weren’t going to have any more children.”’

To be fair, a self-help tome isn’t exactly the most obvious source material for a comedy. But Jones says the film will incorporate the book’s lessons into the stories of five women dealing with the ins and outs of becoming a parent, including a celebrity-dance-show contestant (Cameron Diaz), an adoption seeker (Jennifer Lopez), and a woman whose long-awaited pregnancy isn’t exactly as fun as she’d imagined (Elizabeth Banks). ”It’s great playing pregnant ladies because you can go in all types of directions,” says Banks. ”They’re forgiven for tons of bad behavior. Everyone just goes, ‘Ah, hormones!”’

Jones believes What to Expect will make a good date movie — at least for those already in a committed relationship. ”There’s a pretty strong chance that some couples will be inspired to go make a baby,” he says. ”Maybe there’ll even be a mini baby boom.” —Keith Staskiewicz May 18

The Avengers
The Avengers begins with Thor’s villainous exiled brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), attacking Earth, which impels some of the world’s strongest — and most dysfunctional — heroes to band together to defend the planet. Writer-director Joss Whedon sees the characters as a team of unstable loners, and has turned to an unlikely film for inspiration. ”Think of this as the Taxi Driver of superhero-team movies,” he says.

Rest assured we won’t see gruesome vigilante justice from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and team leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The Taxi Driver parallel for Whedon comes from heroes who are so cripplingly lonely that they’re both desperate to join a team and too neurotic to be part of any superhero club that wants them as members. ”The conflicts between them are going to define them, and the way they resolve them is — in the grand American tradition — through violence,” says Whedon with a laugh. Before they decide they’re on the same side, for example, Iron Man and Captain America gang up on Thor in a major brawl familiar to anyone who grew up with hostile brothers.

From TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly to the script for the original Toy Story, the Whedonverse has been filled with cobbled-together families of outcasts. ”Aloneness is absolutely universal,” Whedon says. ”If you don’t have that to start with, then you don’t find what is truly rich in community.” The Avengers cast put those principles to the test while shooting the $220 million über-tentpole. ”There’s a healthy competitiveness” among the stars, admits Ruffalo, the only newcomer to Marvel movies. ”So far we’re working much better as a team than our [fictional] team is.” —Anthony Breznican May 4

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen has a new character designed to make sexytime with our notions of political correctness. Just ask Ryan Seacrest, who had a tux-soiling run-in at the Oscars with the comic’s Gaddafi-like North African strongman, General Admiral Aladeen. Trading the unscripted, Candid Camera-style format of Borat and Brüno for a more traditional screenplay, The Dictator stars Baron Cohen as a tyrant who’s stripped of his power and wealth (as well as his prodigious beard) and set adrift in New York City. With revolutionary protests continuing to rock the Arab world, the movie is bound to push some buttons with its gags about oppression, terrorism, and anti-Semitism. ”What we’ve got going for us is it will be universally offensive,” says Anna Faris, who plays a lefty Brooklyn health-food co-op owner who becomes Aladeen’s unlikely love interest. ”We don’t really leave that much out.” Though the trailer features Aladeen and his sidekick (The League‘s Jason Mantzoukas) spooking a pair of tourists who think they’re plotting to destroy the Statue of Liberty, Mantzoukas insists the movie isn’t just trying to stir up controversy: ”It’s a funny fish-out-of-water love story that is a lot more about pratfalls and boners than it is about cogent sociopolitical commentary.” —Josh Rottenberg May 16

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A ragtag group of British seniors — played by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson, to name a few — retires to a shabby Indian hotel run by an ambitious entrepreneur (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel). ”The story is funny, but it also deals with some realities of being old,” says director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Like their characters, the cast lived together during the entire nine-week shoot in India’s Rajasthan state. ”I’d go to the hotel gym and pass Judi and Maggie holding hands on their way to the spa,” recalls Patel. Just like any pair of dames. —Adam Markovitz May 4

Also Playing

Six young ballet dancers compete in the documentary FIRST POSITION (5/4)…. Cancer patient Kate Hudson finds A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN with her doc, Gael Garcí Bernal (5/4)…. Kathleen Turner wishes she had THE PERFECT FAMILY (5/4)…. Ryan Gosling tackles Gen-Y political apathy narrating the doc #REGENERATION (5/4)…. In GIRL IN PROGRESS, Eva Mendes is a single mom with a 12-year-old daughter (5/11)…. Chloë Grace Moretz plays a Nebraska HICK in Las Vegas (5/11)…. Two feuding rock stars get handcuffed together in TONIGHT YOU’RE MINE (5/11)…. Lebanese women try to ease religious tension in WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (5/11)…. LOVELY MOLLY might regret moving into her late dad’s haunted house (5/18)…. >Cannes Jury Prize winner POLISSE takes place in Paris’ Child Protection Unit (5/18)…. Samuel L. Jackson longs to be good like THE SAMARITAN despite his convict past (5/18)…. Jennifer Connelly plays VIRGINIA, a single mom itching to leave her Southern town (5/18)…. Josh Lucas is a businessman who decides to HIDE AWAY on a quiet harbor (5/25)…. French blockbuster THE INTOUCHABLES explores the friendship of a billionaire and his caretaker (5/25)…. Chazz Palminteri’s cash-strapped family pursues a MIGHTY FINE lifestyle in 1970s New Orleans (5/25). —Grady Smith

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