Summer Guide: The season of big-budget movies uses its brain

Explosions, pratfalls, and robots; heroes, aliens, and blondes — it must be summertime at the movies.

Beyond the flash, though, it's striking to note just how many movies will require us to actually think this summer. (Aren't we supposed to save thinking for the fall?) Maybe it's the election, but there are some pretty serious and intense flicks coming our way — docs and foreign films and dramas that don't guarantee a happy ending. The distributors must be nuts, but in a sweetly brave and naive way. So, as an act of solidarity, we're taking the pledge: For every movie we see that's playing on more than one screen at the multiplex, we hereby vow to see one film that might be good for us. Because after all, as with pop idols and presidents, we get the movies that we deserve. (All dates are tentative and may not reflect their movies' release dates in the Phoenix area.)

THRILLS & CHILLS

Rainn Wilson in The Rocker
Rainn Wilson in The Rocker
Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Christina Barcelona
Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Christina Barcelona

The Mother of Tears: Dario Argento directs his daughter, Asia Argento, as an art student who inadvertently frees a demonic witch from an ancient urn. Concludes a trilogy that began with 1977's eternally creepy Suspiria. (June 6)

The Incredible Hulk: Edward Norton goes green. (June 13)

Wanted: Angelina Jolie, once again channeling her inner assassin, teaches James McAvoy the tricks of the trade in this adaptation of Mark Miller's graphic novel. With Morgan Freeman. (June 27)

Hancock: Will Smith as a modern-day superhero who's becoming more famous for being drunk than for his ability to lift a whale with one hand. (July 2)

Hellboy: The Golden Army: Ron Perlman returns as the lobster-hued demon with the mean right punch, and this time he's guided by Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro. (July 11)

Mad Detective: Hong Kong action masters Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai team up for this tale of an insane detective (literally) and his search for two missing cops. Watch for the split personality/split screen scene. (July 18)

The Dark Knight: Batman (Christian Bale) versus the Joker (Heath Ledger). And an excuse for the tabs to rehash Ledger's death for newsstand sales. Christopher Nolan directs. (July 18)

Red: When teen hoodlums shoot Brian Cox's dog Red, the pissed-off owner seeks revenge — but the little killer's dad (Tom Sizemore) has evil ideas of his own. (July 25)

The X-Files: I Want To Believe: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return as Mulder and Scully, a sorta-kinda couple whose kid must be in high school by now. (July 25)

Midnight Meat Train: Bradley Cooper stars as a Manhattan photographer who becomes obsessed with finding a subway serial killer. The first in a series of films to be based on Clive Barker's hardcore horror collection, "Books of Blood." (August 1)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Brendan Fraser, lifelong Mummy catcher, goes to China. (August 1)

Transsiberian: An American couple (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) find themselves enmeshed in a murderous drug plot aboard the fabled express train between China and Russia. With Ben Kings­ley. (August 1)

Mirrors: In this remake of a South Korean film, Kiefer Sutherland battles a vengeful ghost in a haunted department store. In other words, stay out of the dressing room.

(August 15)

Bangkok Dangerous: Nicholas Cage is a hitman on assignment in this action thriller from China's talented Pang Brothers (The Eye), here remaking their 1999 debut film.

(August 15)

Traitor: A CIA terrorist thriller starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce and based on a story idea from — wait for it — Steve Martin.

(August 29)

Babylon A.D.: Vin Diesel in a near future world all gone to hell, trying to protect a woman whose baby will be the next Messiah. Don't worry: Vin will save us. (August 29)

DRAMA-RAMA

When Did You Last See Your Father?: Colin Firth as an English writer attempting to reconcile with his ailing, larger-than-life father, played by Jim Broadbent. Based on Blake Morrison's acclaimed memoir of his 1950s childhood. (June 6)

Quid Pro Quo: A mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) leads a young radio reporter (Nick Stahl) into the strange world of those who desire — and not necessarily in a sexual way — to be disabled or maimed. (June 13)

Brick Lane: A young Muslim woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), born in Bangladesh, rebels against convention in modern day London. (June 20)

Expired: Love — or is it abuse? — blossoms between a shy meter maid (Samantha Morton) and her aggressive co-worker (Jason Patric). This film marks a welcome return to the screen by the recently ill, and always delightful, Teri Garr, in a dual role. (June 20)

August: Josh Hartnett is a Manhattan entrepreneur riding the rise and rapid fall of the dot-com boom-and-bust. (Not a horror movie.) (July 11)

Boy A: After spending most of his life in prison for a notorious crime, a young man (Andrew Garfield) adjusts to life on the outside. (July 23)

Baghead: In a film reported to be heavier on character development than psycho-terror, two couples in a remote cabin are being watched by a potential killer. Oddly, this is a mumblecore movie (by the brothers Duplass). (July 25)

Brideshead Revisited: A wildly popular '80s PBS mini-series, Evelyn Waugh's classic novel of English manners comes to the screen with Matthew Goode as Waugh's narrator and Emma Thompson as the lady of the manor. (July 25)

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