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Summer movie season kicks off with 'Thor'

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Technically, it's still spring, but when it comes to the film industry, the summer season – known for blockbusters as well as big-budget bombs – is officially under way.
 
The kickoff was a few weeks ago with Kenneth Branagh's “Thor,” based on the Marvel comics’ interpretation of the Norse myth. Chris Hemsworth stars as the god of thunder, and class acts Natalie Portman and Sir Anthony Hopkins round out the cast. The result is not a great film but a good super-hero action movie.

“Priest” is another film based on a comic book (I mean “graphic novel”). Paul Bettany (the self-tormenting albino from “The Da Vinci Code”) plays a vampire killer in a post-apocalyptic milieu.
 
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is the fourth installment of one of the biggest franchises in the history of film. Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow. I saw one of the previous films (the one with Rolling Stone Keith Richards as Sparrow's dad) and that was more than enough for me. This is a series with a huge budget and even bigger receipts. But it's not my cup of tea. I'll be one of the few people who will not see it.
 
“Kung Fu Panda 2” is another sequel. There are a lot of sequels this summer. Panda 2 done by Dreamworks in its state-of-the-art computer-generated style. I liked the first installment; it was sweet and engaging, and this looks to be a worthy follow-up.
 
“Cars 2” is the latest from Pixar, the studio that gave us “Toy Story.” The first “Cars” was visually amazing and a well written, fun film. This will be the biggest children's movie of the summer.
 
“X-Men: First Class” is yet another comic book-based film and the fifth in the X-Men franchise. It's a prequel that tells the story of how the mutants got together under the auspices of Professor Xavier to form their super group.
 
Terrence Malick has directed precious few films but they have all been memorable. “Days of Heaven” was a melancholy, nearly devastating, love story set in the wheat fields of Kansas in the early 1900s. “Badlands” was another tragic tale of star-crossed lovers based on the true story of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate who went on a killing spree in 1958 that ended in 11 dead and the capture and execution of Starkweather. Fugate was only 14 at the time and was spared execution.
Malick's new film, “The Tree of Life,” stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as a dysfunctional father-and-son pair. Set in the 1950s, the film looks at the universal themes of the meaning of life and questions of faith.
 
“Super 8” was produced by sure-fire auteur Steven Spielberg. It's set in 1979 and deals with a couple of kids who, with a camera of the title, film a train accident. When they watch the footage they notice some things that change the accepted facts of the accident. This causes problems, and weirdness ensues.
 
“Bad Teacher” is one film I'm really looking forward to. Cameron Diaz is usually great, and here she's under the direction of Jake Kasdan, who directed “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” one of the funniest faux documentaries ever made and nearly as good as “This is Spinal Tap.” Diaz stars as a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed middle school teacher who can't wait to marry the man from whom she's been digging gold. She wants to retire and devote more time to drinking, partying and finding new ways to us the “f-word.” Diaz can pull off this sort of role. She's inimitably likable.
 
Speaking of likable, there are few actors who fit that description better than Tom Hanks. He's the modern-day Jimmy Stewart. He's only directed one previous film, “That Thing You Do,” the fun and tender flick about the fictitious 1960s  pop band, The Oneders. Hanks directed, co-wrote and stars in his latest film, “Larry Crowne.” It's a topical comedy/drama concerning people who are trying to get by in the 2011 world of downsizing, job loss and mortgages that still need to be paid. His character enrolls in college as an adult student to try to develop marketable skills. Julia Roberts co-stars.
 
Jon Favreau, who directed “Iron Man,” takes a weird turn with his latest film.  “Cowboys and Aliens” is described as a “Western/alien invasion” movie. Graphic novels are becoming a major source of film fodder, and “Cowboys and Aliens” is based on one written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
 
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” stars Steve Carrell as a revamp of his character from “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” He's clueless to the fact his love life is not as perfect as he believes it to be. He is devastated when he finds out his wife (played by Julianne Moore) is having an affair and wants a divorce. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directorial duo behind “I Love You Philip Morris,” are at the helm here and that gives me high hopes for this film.
 
“The Help” is based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. Every woman in any kind of book club has read it. Set in the 1950s, it involves a woman writer who decides she wants to do a book about the African American women who make their livings as domestic help for rich white Southern families. I think this may prove to be one of the best movies of the year.
 
And now, briefly, movies I will avoid like the plague:
“Rise of The Planet of The Apes,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “The Beaver” and “One For the Money.”[[In-content Ad]]

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