Think Different

Could it be that this year's crop of summer movies actually requires a brain cell or two?

Wattstax: Special Edition From the director of Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory -- no kidding -- comes this documentary of "the black Woodstock," the August 1972 R&B concert held at the L.A. Coliseum. Featuring a diverse roster ranging from Pops Staples to Rufus Thomas, the show also boasts Richard Pryor in his prime. Most notably, Isaac Hayes's performances of "The Theme from Shaft" and "Soulsville" -- cut from the original release due to record company high jinks -- are back in the mix.

Whale Rider Not actually a documentary about Lara Flynn Boyle visiting her boyfriend Jack Nicholson. Rather, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera about a young Maori girl of the Whangara tribe who must struggle against both her beloved grandfather and a millennium of patriarchal rule to prove herself as a leader. The beach-dwelling tribe learns much from the girl when she demonstrates her spiritual connection to whales.

Camera Obscura It's been on the shelf for two years, but this drama from first-time director Hamlet Sarkissian could be very intriguing if pulled off correctly. It's the story of a crime scene photographer for the LAPD (Adam Trese) who begins losing his mind, starts manipulating the photos, and eventually becomes convinced that his camera can bring the dead back to life.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez get all romantic
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez get all romantic

Capturing the Friedmans This documentary follows the dissolution of a seemingly typical family, following the arrest of father and son, and subsequent ostracism of the clan by the local community. But all was not as it seemed, and as the filmmakers took a closer look, disturbing questions were raised.

From Justin to Kelly Correct us if we're wrong here, but wasn't American Idol a test of singing ability? When did the judges stop to analyze the acting talent of the contestants? Regardless, we'll all be able to judge for ourselves as winner Kelly Clarkson and finalist Justin Guarini star in this fiction film that reportedly involves a beach party. This might just put Mariah Carey's Glitter to shame -- not that it needed the help. On the other hand, screenwriter Kim Fuller did cowrite the amusing Spice World.

The Heart of Me Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams star in this 1930s-era British romance, based on the 1953 Rosamond Lehmann novel The Echoing Grove. Russell Crowe's imaginary friend Paul Bettany is the unfortunate fellow forced to choose between the lovely ladies.

Manito This gritty DV project showcases New York's Puerto Rican community through the prism of two brothers (Franky G. and Leo Minaya) at odds with each other and the world around them.

No Turning Back Possibly this year's El Norte. Sharing writing and directing duties with Julia Montejo, Jesus Nebot stars as a widowed Honduran man who overcomes tremendous odds to start a new life with his young son in Southern California. Very low-budget and apparently gripping.

Alex & Emma A Rob Reiner romantic comedy allegedly based on the Dostoyevsky short story "The Gambler" (more seriously adapted with Michael Gambon a few years back). Luke Wilson plays a novelist on deadline, while Kate Hudson is the stenographer who inspires him. As Wilson enacts scenes from the book in his head, Hudson morphs into multiple characters, thereby allowing the actress to try several different hairstyles and accents on for size. If she pulls it off, people may stop comparing Hudson with her mom.

Bollywood/Hollywood Director Deepa Mehta is best known for her hard-hitting social commentary in films like Fire and Earth, but here she tries her hand at a more traditional Indian genre -- musical comedy. Earlier this year, The Guru failed to fully integrate the Bollywood style with Western sensibilities, but if anyone can do it, Mehta can.

Friday Night Relax, it's not another tedious Ice Cube sequel, but rather the latest film from Claire Denis (whose last one, Trouble Every Day, was woefully overlooked). Based on a French novel by Emmanuelle Bernheim, who adapted it for the screen herself, it's about a night of traffic jams, carpooling, and of course a mysterious erotic encounter.

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns You probably saw that title and thought, "Hookers!" but the Johns in question are Flansburgh and Linnell, better known to the music world as They Might Be Giants. Enjoy live performances, videos, band history, and testimonials from famous fans in this documentary; that is, if you enjoy this sort of thing.

Langrishe Go Down This 1978 British telefilm is seeing theatrical release for some reason -- perhaps because it's engrossing. Youngish Jeremy Irons plays a German philosophy student who mixes it up with fallen Irish aristocracy. Harold Pinter adapted the novel by Aidan Higgins, with David Hugh Jones directing. With Judi Dench.

The Legend of Suriyothai Historical epic about Queen Suriyothai of Thailand, who died defending King Mahachakrapat. Lavish production, set in the Sixteenth Century, edited in part by Francis Ford Coppola, who loves his Pad Thai.

The Cuckoo A sweeping historical romance set in the Russian tundras, all about one bird and his unrequited love for Cocoa Puffs. Just kidding about that last part. It's a film set during 1944 against the backdrop of Finland's opportunistic war against Russia, waged to regain lost territory while the world at large was distracted by Nazis. Here, two soldiers from opposing sides become embroiled in a love triangle with a Lapp woman.

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