SURE, summertime is prime time for big action, big characters and big special effects. (And did we mention mega-big box office?) But can third helpings of popcorn movies across the board be healthy?
As it happens, there are a number of plucky directors and studios happy to act as islands in the sea of nonstop action, filmmakers who will directly challenge some of the season's heaviest hitters (think "Harry Potter" and Bruce Willis) with quieter, more thoughtful, adult-themed entertainment.
"There is a real hunger for films that are a bit more grown-up and stretch you and look at things different ways," says Julian Jarrold, whose movie about Jane Austen, "Becoming Jane," opens Aug. 3 against "The Bourne Ultimatum," the third installment of the hit Matt Damon spy franchise.
Frank Oz is best known for major studio films such as "Housesitter" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," but he too believes there's room to mix things up a little. "I like going to see big movies — I don't like seeing only the big movies," says the director, whose dark comedy"Death at a Funeral" opens June 29, just two days after Willis' fourth "Die Hard" film, "Live Free or Die Hard."
Garry Marshall and actress-director Kasi Lemmons also see openings for success in the crowded summer field. "I certainly think that in some ways, the marketplace has been educated by having indie films do well during the summer," says Lemmons, who cites the success last year of "Little Miss Sunshine."
"There is a kind of thinking that there must be another audience out there," adds the director of "Talk to Me," which stars Don Cheadle as an outspoken ex-con who becomes a radio icon in the late '60s and early '70s. The film goes head to head with "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" on July 13.
Lemmons says a mix of elements attracted her to "Talk to Me," which is based on a true story about a DJ in Washington, D.C. "When am I going to get another opportunity to do a movie that has black power, activism and music?" she remembers thinking. "I was drawn to his outspokenness."
Marshall is sanguine about the prospects for "Georgia Rule," a family drama starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan opening Friday. His easy attitude could extend from his better-positioned release date, in which his toughest competition looks to be Larry the Cable Guy ("Delta Farce"), Zach Braff ("The Ex") and raging zombies ("28 Weeks Later").
Although this film is darker than his usual fare, Marshall ("Pretty Woman," "The Princess Diaries," "Beaches") feels confident it will find its audience: "There is that boomer generation who is older now and they don't die anymore," he jokes, "and we are relying on people who haven't died to go to this movie."
He first read Mark Andrus' script a decade ago. "Nobody would make it," he says — until James Robinson and Morgan Creek Production stepped up last year. "They were brave to make the picture. It's not the highest-profile film, but we got the highest-profile actors.
"It's more serious and R-rated," Marshall says. "It's not like 'Beaches' where you are sobbing, but there are tears here about the revelation of what they discover about each other."
Oz was looking for a smaller project, and he found it in writer Dean Craig's "Death at a Funeral," a ribald British comedy about a funeral that goes horribly wrong. Peter Dinklage and Matthew Macfadyen star.
"I just do what I believe in," says Oz, explaining his choice in projects. "I don't find many good scripts. And this one I laughed out loud. I had a blast on this. I'm looking forward to doing more films like this."
Jarrold's "Becoming Jane" stars Anne Hathaway as the young Jane Austen, who falls in love with an Irish rogue, played by James McAvoy, and finds in him the inspiration for the male characters in "Pride and Prejudice."
"One of the most interesting things about the film," Jarrold says, "is that I think, sometimes, Jane Austen and period dramas can be seen as a little bit stuffy and the characters a little bit dry. They are terribly witty but not full of life. So, especially in casting Annie, we wanted to give her a strong independent and feisty exuberance, absolutely bubbling full of life. We are looking at her when she's 21 rather then when she's 40 and has had all of her hopes dashed."
Some of the other more mature-themed films opening this summer include:
"Even Money" — Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito head the ensemble cast of Mark Rydell's drama about gambling and addiction (May 18).
"Angel-A" — Rie Rasmussen and Jamel Debbouze star in Luc Besson's offbeat black-and-white romantic comedy about a down-on-his-luck criminal and a beautiful angel (May 25).
"La Vie en Rose" — Marion Cotillard plays France's "Little Sparrow," Edith Piaf, in this biopic, which also stars Gérard Depardieu (June 8).
"El Cantante" — Marc Anthony and wife Jennifer Lopez star in this biography of popular Spanish singer Hector Lavoe (Aug. 1).
"Charlie Bartlett" — Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr. star in this story of a quirky teenager who becomes popular in school when he becomes the supplier of prescription drugs (Aug. 3).
"The Ten" — Paul Rudd and Jessica Alba headline this comedic and quirky take on the Ten Commandments (Aug. 3).
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